An Adventure, An Introduction, and Three Guiding Principles

When Bret approached me about helping him expand The Dynasty Guru to include dynasty football and basketball content, I was intrigued. I had just started my own blog (RIP “TheNostraThomas.com”) and in its short life, I really enjoyed the creative outlet and sharing my enthusiasm for the dynasty format with others.

I hemmed and hawed—people seemed to really think the URL was clever. How could I give that up? Could I really turn my back upon the dozens upon dozens of mothers and in-laws that I sent my articles to after weeks of loyal reading?

Then he told me the specifics of what an incredible following he and his colleagues at TDG have already garnered. I could not resist but to jump on the bandwagon and, Godzingis* willing, help it grow further.

I could not be more excited about getting started at TDG. If you’re like me, you come to TDG for the rankings and stay for the thoughtful analysis of specific players throughout the year. In the short term, I will focus on producing rankings for hoops and football, along with contributing to the baseball rankings, and update them as much as I possibly can.

Whether you choose to follow those rankings is up to you, but perhaps I can pull back the curtain in to how I evaluate players.

I owe much of my success in dynasty sports to three philosophies that govern most of my decisions.

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How do quality starts change pitcher value?

A few weeks ago I joined a twenty-team auction dynasty league. The settings for this league were a bit different than any other league I had been in, even beyond the dollar value attached to each player. This league uses quality starts instead of wins, and on-base percentage and slugging percentage instead of batting average. Even though I have until the offseason to develop a valuation system, I was immediately curious of the effect that replacing wins with quality starts would have on player value. I previously had resisted proposals to convert my long-time dynasty league into using quality starts rather than wins .Although I recognize that wins are an imperfect statistic and very team dependent, I felt no more positively about quality starts. You can make the case that a pitcher deserves better than nothing for a 1-0 loss. However, I would argue that it’s no different than a hitter who hits 4 doubles without a home run. Sure, the rarest statistic isn’t obtained but all the smaller pieces, the strikeouts, lack of base runners, lack of runs, all go into the end result. I would counter with the opinion that a pitcher who allows three earned runs in six innings is not any better than a pitcher who allows four earned runs in nine innings. In fact, I’d say he was markedly less valuable.

 

Either way, here are the results of my study. For this edition, I focused solely on quality starts and wins with all statistics from the 2015 season.

 

Below is a list of all players whose rank improved by 20 or more spots due to the change from wins to quality starts.

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Playing The Stock Market – Dynasty Baseball Edition

I’ve never agreed with the thought process that a complete tear-down is the way to re-build a dynasty team. It can work and it can be fun, but it takes forever to see improvement in the standings. Drafting can be a crapshoot and you really can’t afford to miss. A top five pick in 2014 landed you Kyle Schwarber, Nick Gordon or Alex Jackson. I can’t imagine you would be very pleased about two of those today and the other probably won’t see catcher eligibility again.

I have found incredible success in actively trading players like stocks month-to-month and year-to-year. The goal is simple, buy a player today who could or will be more valuable in one year relative to what you paid. It can happen week-to-week if you are diligent. In three leagues, I moved on Matt Shoemaker the day after his May 21st start where he threw 50% change ups and plan on selling at the deadline. His acquisition cost was so low, that the return on this short investment will be immense. This strategy can and should be employed by teams who are contending as well.

The following six players are guys that I am investing heavily in before the trade deadline:

Wilson Ramos (C) WAS – Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy and Willson Contreras aren’t going anywhere in your league. Since Mike Piazza did it in 2000, four catchers have finished a season with a higher ISO and lower K rate than Ramos is flashing this year. Ramos has stopped swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and popping up. This is peak Victor Martinez stuff. He is a free agent this winter and if he ends up in the American League with the ability to DH on his days off from behind the plate, we could be looking at the new #1 dynasty catcher moving forward. Pay the price.

Derek Dietrich (2B/3B/OF) MIA – Remember this guy? Me neither. He never appeared on a top 100 list, but he’s hit at every stop in the minors. Dee Gordon’s suspension forced him into an everyday role at second base and all he’s done since is hit like a top 10 second baseman. With Martin Prado set to be a free agent at the season’s end, Dietrich has positioned himself for the lion’s share of the third base plate appearances in Miami in 2017. If he can improve a bit versus left-handed pitching, he has the ability to produce a top ten second baseman season next year.

Justin Turner (3B) LAD – Since the beginning of 2014, Turner has quietly been an elite hitter. His 141 wRC+ is ranked 17th among qualified hitters, one point behind Michael Brantley and J.D. Martinez. He combines borderline elite plate discipline with loud contact and lots of fly balls. Turner is a free agent this winter and feels like a New York Yankee. Holes at first base, third base and designated hitter create a perfect fit. This is a top ten fantasy hitter in Yankee Stadium even without the luxurious beard.

Jason Heyward (OF) CHC – Heyward’s value has essentially bottomed out. Here is the link to his 7-day rolling wOBA since 2014. It can’t get any worse than this. However, his plate discipline hasn’t eroded and his BABIP is over 30 points lower than his career average. This is an easy buy-low call. His value one year from today will be substantially higher than it is now.

Robbie Ray (SP) ARI – His terrible win/loss record and ERA likely make him very available in your league. Ray is 24-year-old starting pitcher who throws left-handed and averages nearly 94 miles per hour with his fastball. He is currently sporting nearly identical strikeout and walk rates as Jake Arrieta while maintaining near elite contact rates. If the light turns on in 2017, the return on this investment will be colossal.

Matt Bush (RP) TEX – Bush is holding elite velocity and consistently throwing three pitches. He’s pretty clearly next in line for saves in Texas and Sam Dyson is starting to look like the overuse is catching up to him. Bush has mentioned on several occasions that he would like the opportunity to start in the future and the Texas Rangers under Jon Daniels have shown a willingness to allow relievers to give starting a run. It hasn’t always worked, but C.J. Wilson has an extra 50 million dollars in his account because of it. I do have to mention that Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers and Alexi Ogando appeared to all break almost immediately, but they did get their shot.

I’ll continue to touch on this series weekly with pop-up dynasty buys and sells.

Clearing the Path for Prospects

Change can be a good thing. Whether it comes from clearing a logjam at a certain position or merely granting a change of scenery, the trade deadline often opens up spots for big leaguers and prospects alike to really show what they can do and hopefully  to set the foundation for their careers moving forward.  This year, several prospects changed teams.  You already know about Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Lewis Brinson, and the other top-tier names. They’re good anywhere.  Other names, however, may have been given a new lease on life by the 2016 trade deadline.

Harold Ramirez, OF, Toronto

In one of the most cheapskate cost-efficient confusing moves of the deadline, Ramirez was sent to Toronto along with former top 12 pick, catching prospect Reese McGuire in a Francisco Liriano/Drew Hutchison swap, serving a sort of “Lirano Tax”, if you will. Before being a sweetener to incentivize the Jays to pay Liriano’s $13.6 million 2017 salary, Ramirez kicked around top 100 prospect lists. He entered 2016 as the 80th best prospect in the game, according to Baseball Prospectus. Signed at age 17 by the Pirates, Ramirez was seen as a speedy outfielder known for putting the ball in play. Thus far in his career, he has been, well, a speedy outfielder known for putting the ball in play.

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Rising Prospects

In the near future there will be many prospect list updates. At that time you can expect your league-mates to quickly add players with helium. The players discussed below range from must owns in deep leagues to prospects that could be considered for top-100 lists in the near future.

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Can Swanson & Albies Save Atlanta?

Batman and Robin. Peanut butter and Jelly. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant (Err, wait, bad example. Nevermind). It’s rare to get the opportunity to see two separate pieces grow together to form a dynamic duo. It’s probably even less likely to see in baseball, as teams rarely have both a need and the time to allow prospects to develop at the same time and level. While it isn’t the norm, this is exactly what the Braves are doing with Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies.

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Breaking the First Half in Two: Part Two

This article is the second part of the “Splitting the First Half in Two” series. For simplicity’s sake, “first half”=April 1st to May 22nd, “second half”=May 22nd to July 14th.

Disastrous first half, solid second half

Russell Martin, .172/.180 vs. .273/.484

Seriously, a .180 slugging percentage? It’s almost hard to believe, but Martin had only  one extra-base hit entering May 25th. That was good for an, um, 12 wRC+ through 131 plate appearances.

Martin, thankfully, has been able to pull out of the slump, and less whiffs is a driving force behind the improvement. Normally a hitter who strikes out less than 20% of the time, Martin had a 33.6% strikeout rate in the ‘first half’ (complete with a poor walk rate, for good measure). He was swinging and missing at an uncharacteristic rate, and the lack of contact was an at bat killer. Martin has made improvements, allowing for a strong lead up to the All Star Break, but his average has been buoyed by a strong BABIP and the strikeouts are still higher than normal. The 33-year old catcher is much better than a .180 slugging percentage, but don’t count on Martin to repeat 2014 or 2015 in the coming months.

Logan Morrison, .176/.255 vs. .273/.472

Call it a cop out, but I’m only going to list a few statistics of note about Morrison and allow you to draw your own conclusions.

April: .100/.156/.133, .171 BABIP, -23 wRC+

May: .351/.455/.486, .411 BABIP, 162 wRC+

June: .229/.299/.429, .232 BABIP, 97 wRC+

July: .220/.273/.400, .231 BABIP, 79 wRC+

I’d like to add that Morrison had a .238 BABIP in 2015 and is not very good at baseball.

Corey Dickerson, .180/.451 vs. .275/.458

Once in a while, a player has a season like Corey Dickerson, just to remind us that luck rules all. Dickerson hit for solid power early in the season but hits were few and far between, leading to an abysmal .180 batting average and 76 wRC+. He made a few adjustments (namely whiffing less and hitting less fly balls), and suddenly had a solid .275/.321/.458 line in the ‘second half.’

The adjustments alone shouldn’t have taken him from well-below-average hitter to above-average hitter, so we have to look at luck for answers. And…yup, a .182 BABIP gave way to a .339 mark. Other than the incredibly low BABIP that is back to normal levels for Dickerson, a change in approach could shed some light on the stark difference in performance. The Tampa Bay Ray has traded away power for contact, which looks to be the right move on the whole. Expect middling power and middling average in the second half, which isn’t anything to get excited about, but an improvement over his early season performance.

Curtis Granderson, .200/.419 vs. .281/.497

Granderson’s turnaround is fairly straight forward—he experienced terrible luck early on, but otherwise looked pretty much like the same player he was in 2015. A few more strikeouts and a couple of less walks and line drives weren’t doing him any favors, but there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary going on other than a .222 BABIP. Granderson did the smart thing and remained steady, keeping his approach the same and waiting for results to eventually come. They did, with his BABIP improving to .322 and everything else following suit. Ignore the currently low batting average and expect Granderson to continue hitting like he has been recently.

Chase Headley, .213/.279 vs. .284/.453

Apparently Chase Headley likes to live on the wild side—whether that be in the form of a 145 wRC+ with the Padres in 2012, or no extra-base hits and a 23 wRC+ through May 11th of this season. Headley was, to put it lightly, a disaster at the plate early this year. He was physically incapable of driving the ball. Then, nothing short of a miracle happened, and Headley hit a home run. The next day, he hit another one. Suddenly, Headley remembered how to make hard contact with the baseball.

Headley is an extremely weird case, because ever since those home runs, he’s walked less, struck out more, and regressed some plate discipline-wise. Despite this, his 23 wRC+ has given way to a 117 mark, and Headley has remembered how to hit for power. The mediocre plate discipline numbers are cause for concern, though, as is the high BABIP. He should be able to hit at about a league average rate going forward, which is fine, but nothing very interesting for a third baseman.

Normal ‘first half’, WTF ‘second half’

Ian Desmond, .271/.452 vs. .370/.587

Considering how poorly 2015 treated Desmond, calling this ‘first half’ normal may be understating things. In reality, Desmond had an exciting (and surprising) start to this season…and then went crazy. The 30-year old is on his way to setting a new career high in stolen bases, home runs, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and walk rate. Desmond’s ‘second half’ featured a 162 wRC+, and he’s started off the real second half with three home runs in six games.

Obviously, there’s some batted ball luck to take note of, especially Desmond’s .445 BABIP from May 22nd on. This probably means a .370 batting average isn’t sustainable, but you already knew that. The .389 BABIP he has on the season is nothing to be terrified by, though—regression is, of course, going to come, but Desmond’s always had a high BABIP. Desmond’s always been a free swinger, but he’s cut down on those tendencies a bit and the improvements look sustainable. Maybe Desmond won’t continue hitting this well, but he’s had a monstrous bounce back year and is capable of being an excellent source of power and speed (with a little bit of average thrown in for once) for the rest of 2016.

C.J. Cron, .252/.374 vs. .305/.580

I like Cron and was happy to see him appear on this list, but there’s two things we need to address with him. The first of which is a broken hand that will keep him sidelined for six to eight weeks. The second is a five game stretch leading up to the end of the first half when he went 11-24 with five home runs and a double. If we remove that ridiculous run, Cron’s ‘second half’ line is only .286/.330/.480…significantly less impressive and possibly not enough to make this list.

Despite these disclaimers, Cron deserves some recognition. Going into this season, the biggest knock on the first baseman was his poor plate discipline—too many strikeouts and not enough walks. Naturally, the 26-year old has bumped his walk rate up by 1.7% (to 5.9%) and cut his strikeout rate by 6% (to 14.3%). Cron’s swinging at less pitches outside the strike zone than ever before, and his hard contact rate is vastly improved from last year to this. Cron’s mini-rampage may inflate his numbers a bit, but he’s also having one of the most understated breakouts in baseball this season. It’s a shame this injury will keep him from building on the successful campaign for now, but Cron is an excellent target in all fantasy formats once he’s 100%.

Matt Carpenter, .258/.522 vs. .349/.620

Believe it or not, Matt Carpenter has been one of the best hitters in baseball this season. He was always pretty good (note the career 136 wRC+), but this season’s .298/.420/.568 performance is something special. Carpenter’s ‘first half’ had a mediocre .258 batting average, but he also had a 141 wRC+ and .522 slugging percentage that would have been a career high. Naturally, he improved across the board in the ‘second half.’

Now, we’re left to figure out whether Carpenter’s dramatic improvements (most notably the increase in walks from 12.2% to 16.5%) are real.  The plate discipline metrics paint an interesting story—compared to last year, he’s been more selective at the plate, allowing for more contact and less whiffs, but in 2015 his approach regressed some, meaning the ‘improvements’ are simply on par with career averages. With that in mind, the walks will probably taper off a bit, but should still allow for a near-elite on base percentage. On the other hand, the power looks real—his hard hit rate has soared to 44.5%, his fly ball rate is at a career high, and Carpenter—once he gets back from an oblique injury—should be able to continue on a career year. Just be careful about buying into his stock right now, as oblique issues can be challenging to make a quick and full recovery from.

Seth Smith, .236/.364 vs. .311/.525

You may be a bit confused as to why I have both Seth Smith and Matt Carpenter in the ‘normal first half’ group, considering the differences in their numbers, but it’s all about context. Carpenter has been a top shelf hitter for years, while Smith has been surprisingly solid, but still nothing special. This makes Smith’s ‘second half’ outburst—a .311/.368/.525 line complete with a 142 wRC+ all the more noteworthy.

Smith doesn’t really have any standout tools—he used to be able to hit home runs in the high teens at Coors, but Safeco Field is quite different—but happens to be a solid pure hitter. This is important to remember because while the newfound power and high average from the ‘second half’ isn’t real, the early-season struggles can also be largely disregarded. Smith is going to settle in between the two halves, most likely as a boring outfielder that doesn’t hit for much power, doesn’t steal many bases, and doesn’t have a great batting average. Nothing overly fun, but at least he walks at a decent clip and has some pop.

Didi Gregorius, .259/.370 vs. .333/.548

When Didi first came to New York in the offseason before the 2015 season, there was talk that he would platoon and cede at bats against southpaws to Brendan Ryan. This was backed up by his .137 batting average against left handed pitchers in 2014, and his .247 mark the following year didn’t alleviate many concerns. This season, Gregorius has a .366 batting average against lefties. Seriously.

This incredible turnaround (which doesn’t seem to be as fluke-y as you may suspect) has been present since the start of the year, but didn’t initially show up in the overall statline because Gregorius struggled against right handed pitchers. A slow starter in each of his two seasons with the Yankees, it was really only a matter of time until he started to hit righties again and put up improved numbers. Now, he’s hitting against both sides, while also flashing uncharacteristic power. It’s hard to see the home runs continuing at this rate, but his average is real, making him a solid fantasy shortstop that can chip in a handful of home runs and stolen bases with a helpful batting average.