100 facts to know for 2012
Just because it's a cliché doesn't make it any less appropriate.
The glass is half-full.
The glass is also half-empty.
That expression is often used to determine whether a person is an optimist or a pessimist, but it's also a way to present data, right? If I ask you to describe the glass, you can choose the positive way or the negative way. It's all about you and the feelings you project on the glass. Now lie back; we have 54 more minutes. Tell me about your childhood.
While you do, I want you to think about where you would draft a specific baseball player for 2012. Lemme describe him:
Despite an increase in at-bats and games played for this player in 2011, he had his lowest home run total in the past five years, his second-lowest RBI total in the past eight years and even had fewer stolen bases than he had in either of the previous two seasons. It's not all bad news, as he did increase his batting average last season. That said, he did so with his highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in five seasons (and one that is much higher than his career mark), so you could argue his batting average is likely unsustainable.
This slugger also had his highest ground ball percentage in six seasons, so maybe it's not surprising that he grounded into the most double plays in his career. As if that's not enough to raise a red flag, we're not even halfway through spring training, and he's already dealing with an injury. We always advise you to jump off the bandwagon a year early rather than a year late, and you have to wonder if his team is thinking the same thing about this nine-year veteran. It signed a free agent in the offseason who is going to start at this player's position, leaving our guy without a natural defensive position.
So whatever you do, make sure you avoid Miguel Cabrera.
Everything I wrote about Cabrera above is 100 percent true. It is also, by design, entirely misleading.
Cabrera is my No. 1-ranked player for 2012 and as close as you can get to a sure thing. It helps that he'll almost certainly add third-base eligibility for this year and next.
I love manipulating stats. I love it because I love my job. And for me and anyone who provides analysis for a living, that's what we do: We manipulate stats.
Oh, most people don't want to admit that. Most people offering fantasy advice or waxing philosophic on politics, celebrities, news or anything else will deny it, but it's true. We all manipulate stats. I do it in every single article I write, all the podcasts I do, every single TV or radio appearance.
Now, I never manipulate them to the extent I showed in the Cabrera example above, but the reason we all do it is because we have to.
I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. There are two reasons for the manipulation. The first (and most simple) is, frankly, time. As in, we don't have enough of it. When I am on "SportsCenter," I get between 45 seconds to a minute to tell you something. I can't possibly give you a complete picture of a player in 45 seconds, let alone multiple players, which is what I'm usually tasked with. Even on the podcast or in a column -- even a crazy long one -- I have only a finite amount of time/space to work with. I can't speak/type/gesticulate wildly all day any more than you can listen/read/tolerate me. Ultimately, this is a hobby, and if you're not at least slightly entertained, you're going elsewhere.
But even if I both had all the time in the world to completely break down every facet of every single player and you had to the time to absorb it all, it still wouldn't matter. Because here's the second thing: It's impossible -- and I mean impossible -- to get a complete statistical overview of a player.
From the basic stuff like ERA and home runs to more advanced things such as GB/FB (ground ball-to-fly ball ratio), K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings), plate appearances/strikeouts and BABIP to really hard-core things such as XBT% (extra bases taken percentage), O-Swing% (percentage of pitches outside the strike zone a guy swings at) and wRAA (runs above average based on weighted on-base average).
There are hundreds of those stats, and they all have some form of insight as to how a player has performed and, by extrapolation and interpretation, might perform in the future.
And that's before you get into things such as park factors, where the player is hitting in his lineup, his teammates, the manager's approach, how someone is scoring the game (we've all seen the obvious error scored as a hit for the hometown hero, or vice versa for an away player), weather and, of course, opportunity and playing time.
So it's a lot of information, and some of it (such as how a play is scored or the weather) is nearly impossible to predict or truly quantify.
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On top of that, to project based on past performance assumes (that's a dangerous word in fantasy) that the player is 100 percent healthy -- many hide or are unaware of nagging injuries -- is taking the exact same approach as before (ie. no adjustments to batting stance or trying a new pitch, gripping the ball slightly differently, trying to hit more line drives than home runs, etc.) and that there isn't some off-the-field issue we're unaware of, such as the player going through a divorce, has a substance-abuse problem or is about to be in a scandal for texting pictures of himself to a game-day hostess. Plus, as I tried to drive home in this year's Draft Day Manifesto, even if you knew the stats in advance, winning in fantasy has a lot more to do with how you put those stats together than any one projection in a vacuum.
So in an attempt to make sense of the chaos and force ourselves to make a decision on a player, we must make choices. I study the stats, do the research and talk to as many folks as I can (including our crack ESPN Stats and Information staff, especially Justin Havens and Mark Simon, who helped with this article, along with my friend Paul Sporer, whom you should follow on Twitter at "@sporer"), and then I choose which stats I want to show/discuss/butcher.
If I like the guy, I tell you positive stats. If I don't like the guy, I highlight the negative. Just like I showed in the Cabrera example, I can talk up or talk down anyone; I just have to choose the right stats for the job.
We all do that. Every single time. Never forget that. No stat exists by itself.
So your job is to decide whom to trust, whom not to, find out whom you agree with and whom you think is a moron. Take it all in and make your own call, because you're the one who has to live with it.
Everything that follows is absolutely true. They all are facts. There are 100 of them below. Some are about baseball players and teams. Some are about me. And not one of them tells the whole story.
100 Facts you need to know before you draft
1. Over the past three years, of all the players who finished in the top 10 on our Player Rater yet were drafted outside the top 40 (i.e., the players who greatly outperformed their draft slots), 73 percent of them were veterans coming off down seasons.
2. Since 1999, Paul Konerko has averaged 147 games played and 30 homers per season.
3. Konerko is one of two players in all of baseball to hit .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in each of the past two years.
4. The other? Miguel Cabrera.
5. Meanwhile, Mark Teixeira's last .300-30-100 season was back in 2008.
6. Teixeira has an average draft position (ADP) of 24th overall.
7. That's almost two full rounds before Konerko (current ADP: 42nd).
8. Last year, Player A had the following line:
9. Last year, Player B had the following line:
10. Player A is Alex Avila. He is currently being selected, on average, in the 13th round of ESPN live drafts.
11. Player B is Brian McCann. He is currently being selected, on average, in the seventh round of ESPN live drafts.
12. I have tremendous guilt about my dog. With my newborn twins around, my dog, Macy, who is 13 years old, can't be inside as much as before, so she doesn't get nearly as much attention as she used to. She has never really liked other dogs; what she really needs and craves is human attention. I don't know what to do.
13. Part of me feels like I should give her up for adoption, because that might lead to a better life for her. But another part of me loves her too much to do that. She has been with me through a lot -- a cross-country move, a divorce, a new marriage -- and as the current Mrs. Roto and I joined families, she really was all I brought to the party. I'm concerned that what's best for my dog isn't best for me. But then, who gives away their dog after 13 years? Is it a jerk move to give her away? Is it a jerk move to keep her if she could have a better life with someone who could give her more attention? I think about this a lot.
14. Last season, Howard Kendrick had 197 plate appearances as the No. 2 hitter for the Angels, his most common lineup slot.
16. This offseason, the Angels signed Albert Pujols.
17. Kendrick is a career .292 hitter, and he scored 86 runs last year.
18. Last season, only four players in baseball hit .295 or better and had at least 25 home runs, 20 stolen bases, 90 runs scored and 90 RBIs. They are: Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Gonzalez.
19. Only one player in baseball has achieved those marks for two straight seasons: Carlos Gonzalez
20. Kemp, Braun and Ellsbury are all being drafted among the first eight picks overall.
21. CarGo is being drafted at the end of the second round.
22. Oh yeah, and CarGo is just 26 years old.
23. On the Fantasy Focus podcast, we have a sound effect that we play sometimes called "comedy goalie." We play it whenever a joke or comment one of us makes (almost always one of mine) needs to be edited out for whatever reason. It's a phrase I picked up from my old sitcom-writing days, because on this one show I wrote for we had one writer who never pitched jokes of her own. But anytime someone else would pitch a joke, she'd say, "That's not funny." Or, "That's hacky. I heard that on 'Friends.'" Or just something negative. We started calling her the "comedy goalie" behind her back. "No comedy is getting in here! I'm blocking everything."
24. Why did I bring this up here, randomly, on Nos. 23 and 24? Oh, no reason. No reason at all.
25. Last year, including the postseason, Justin Verlander threw 4,301 pitches.
26. In fact, Verlander's 4,301 pitches were the most thrown in a regular season and postseason since 2002.
27. It's also 557 pitches more than he threw in 2010.
28. xFip (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) is considered a good indicator for future performance.
29. Last season, Zack Greinke's xFIP was 2.56, best in baseball.
30. Madison Bumgarner's xFIP was 3.10, seventh-best in baseball
31. one spot ahead of Verlander's xFIP rank.
32. And tied for 12th with an xFIP of 3.25? Anibal Sanchez.
33. One last xFIP note: Jonathon Niese had a fine 3.28 xFIP last year.
34. Back to Bumgarner: He has 15 K's and just one walk in 14 2/3 spring training innings (through March 21).
35. As long as we are talking spring stats, Francisco Liriano has 18 K's and two walks in 13 innings.
37. I have become obsessed with the show "Storage Wars." Michelle Beadle and I discussed this on her podcast last week. Where did Barry get his money? What's the story with Jarrod and Brandi? Who is Dave fooling? Is it real? How many lockers do they shoot to get the three decent ones they need for an episode? What's with all the other people that show up at these auctions? So many questions. I could watch that show all day. Correction: I do watch that show all day.
38. In the past two years, as a starter, C.J. Wilson's home numbers look like this: 216 2/3 IP, 189 K, 76 BB, 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.9 K/9 rate, 16 home runs allowed.
39. On the road? Try this: 211 IP, 187 K, 91 BB, 2.56 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 10 home runs allowed.
40. As Todd Zola notes in his players changing teams (Insider) article, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington inflates run-scoring by 19 percent. And Wilson's new home park, Angels Stadium: It depresses runs by 9 percent.
41. James McDonald's first four starts in 2011: 19 IP, 10.13 ERA, 1.95 WHIP, 5.7 K/9, 5.7 BB/9.
42. McDonald's last 27 starts: 152 IP, 3.49 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9. That's useful in NL-only leagues.
44. From that point on, Luebke had a 3.31 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and was 12th in the majors with 111 strikeouts over that time frame.
45. In 2011, Chris Heisey hit a home run every 15.5 at-bats.
46. As a comparison, Pujols hit one every 15.6 at-bats.
47. Heisey has a chance at being the Cincinnati Reds' everyday left fielder.
48. More fun with AB/HR ratios: Allen Craig homered every 18.2 at-bats last season.
49. And David Ortiz hit one every 18.1 at-bats.
50. I like to work at night, and sometimes it's easier to work late at the office. For instance, I am writing this sentence at 1:21 a.m. The lights in my building are on timers. So even if I'm at my desk working, the lights turn off all around me every 20 minutes or so. I have to get up from my desk and walk around, waving my arms, to get the sensors to pick me up. I feel like an idiot doing it, and I'm sure I look like an idiot doing it.
51. Here's another blind resume: Player A hit .311, with 106 runs, 29 homers, 112 RBIs and 22 steals in 159 games played.
52. Player B: .284, 78 runs, 18 HRs, 79 RBIs, 20 SBs, 134 games played.
53. Player A's line shows David Wright's averages from 2005 to 2008.
54. Player B's line shows Wright's averages from 2009 to 2011.
55. Last season, Jeff Francoeur had a .285 average, 77 runs, 20 homers, 87 RBIs and 22 steals.
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56. There's position scarcity and track record to consider, of course, for both guys, and I'm not saying they're the same player but Wright is being selected, on average, in the fourth round of ESPN live drafts, while Francoeur is going in the 18th round.
57. Over the past five seasons (2007-11), only four shortstop-eligible players have had a season in which they posted a .290-plus batting average and 40-plus steals.
59. Over the past three years, Andrew Bailey's WHIP is 0.95.
61. Over the past three seasons, Bailey has a 2.07 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 174 strikeouts in 174 innings and is 75-o- 84 in save chances (89.3 percent conversion rate).
62. Over the past three seasons, Jonathan Papelbon has a 2.89 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP and 239 strikeouts in 199 1/3 innings and is 106-of-120 in save chances (88.3 percent).
63. Papelbon is going seven rounds before Bailey in ESPN live drafts.
65. That's the same number as R.A. Dickey.
66. I know it's the most clichéd thing in the universe, but I can't tell you how much my outlook on everything has changed now that I have kids. I mean everything. It's indescribable.
67. Peter Bourjos's pre-All-Star break numbers in 2011: 33 runs, 3 HRs, 17 RBIs, 11 SBs and a .272 average in 287 at-bats.
68. Bourjos after the 2011 All-Star break: 39 runs, 9 HRs, 26 RBIs, 11 SBs and a .270 average in 215 at-bats.
69. Despite getting only 301 major league at-bats as a rookie in 2011, Lucas Duda had 17 extra-base hits on two-strike counts, tied for most on the team.
70. Prince Fielder hit 24 home runs at Miller Park last season.
71. Nine of those home runs would not have been home runs at his new home, Comerica Park.
72. No one hit more home runs last year after the All-Star break than Dan Uggla.
73. He also hit .296 over that time frame.
74. Speaking of second-half power, Uggla, Ellsbury, Evan Longoria, Pujols and Ian Kinsler were the only players to hit more home runs after the All-Star break than Josh Willingham, who had 18 home runs and 54 RBIs in 243 post-ASB at-bats.
76. Fowler also had 10 steals and hit .288 in 271 post-ASB at-bats.
77. I recently spoke at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Had a total blast. Awesome event. Was really nervous before it, and I don't usually get nervous these days. But it was all about analytics, and while I know my way around a stat book, Bill James I am not. I've never hung my hat on being the "statiest" guy around. Rather, I'm the guy who makes up words like "statiest." But it turned out great. I was well-received, I met tons of amazing people and I can't wait to go next year. The lesson, as always, is nothing productive comes from fear.
78. Speaking of that conference, I met a super smart kid named Mike Attanasio. We discussed Aramis Ramirez, who is on my "hate" list for 2012. We talked about his home/road splits, his age, his six home runs at Wrigley last year that wouldn't have left Miller Park, etc. Well, when signing with the Brewers this past offseason, Ramirez stated that he was looking forward to playing in Miller Park's temperature-controlled environment. So Mike looked at Aramis' stats by temperature and sent me a whole study. Below is a snippet of his report:
79. When playing in 30-to-50 degree weather in 2011, Ramirez posted these numbers: .240 AVG, .333 OBP, .360 SLG, 1 HR and 2 RBIs in 57 plate appearances.
80. Ramirez in 60-70 degrees in 2011: .309 AVG, .373 OBP, .436 SLG, 4 HRs, 23 RBIs in 126 plate appearances. According to Mike's calculations, 44 of Ramirez's first 51 games this season will be in weather that is likely to be 60 degrees or above, perhaps helping him avoid a slow start.
81. I still don't like Ramirez where he's being drafted, but it's interesting, no?
82. In 2011, there were only 13 pitchers who threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, struck out fewer than six batters per nine innings and had a K/BB ratio worse than 2-to-1.
83. Of those 13, the guy with the second-lowest ERA was Paul Maholm at 3.66.
84. And the lowest ERA? Jeremy Hellickson's 2.95.
85. Hellickson's xFIP, however, was 4.72.
86. Over the past three seasons, only one major league team has had more save opportunities than the San Diego Padres.
87. The top five teams in save opportunities from 2009 to 2011: the Giants (197), Padres and Braves tied (194), Marlins (192) and the Washington Nationals (191).
88. The Philadelphia Phillies, who have been to the postseason each of the past three seasons (the timeframe I referred to above), are middle of the pack, tied for 14th with 180 save opportunities.
89. Over the last three seasons, with Ozzie Guillen as their manager, the Chicago White Sox attempted 535 steal attempts, fifth-most in the majors over that time frame.
90. Guillen now manages the Miami Marlins.
91. Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Emilio Bonifacio all play for Miami.
92. The "personal" stats are often more hard to come up with than the player stats. Probably should have thought about that before I agreed to write a book, huh?
93. Michael Morse joined the Nationals' starting lineup on June 10, 2010.
94. From June 10, 2010, to the end of last season, Morse, who qualifies in the outfield and at first base, hit 46 home runs, had 134 RBIs and posted a .297 average over 767 at-bats.
95. From June 10, 2010, to the end of last season, Matt Holliday had 44 home runs, 153 RBIs and a .308 average over 822 at-bats.
96. Holliday is being selected, on average, in the fourth round of ESPN live drafts.
97. That's four rounds ahead of Michael Morse.
98. As of this writing, Ryan Raburn is hitting .462 this spring and leads the majors with six home runs.
99. Last year, the spring training leader in home runs was Jake Fox of Baltimore, with 10 homers and a .297 average.
100. I actually like Raburn, but come on. It's just one stat!
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