Saturday, April 08, 2006

Team Sports Matters Takes The Field

Thanks to Greg from SportsBlah, the SportsMatters braintrust spent the past two weeks locked in a room, armed only with our spreadsheets and an endless supply of dangerously cheesy® Cheetos.

Aside from stopping occasionally to reminisce about the 1994 demise of the morbidly-named Cheetos Paws (not made from real endangered cheetah paws), we were diligently focused on building a roto-team that we hoped would make Billy Beane proud.

From DIPS to ZIPS, with a stop at PECOTA in between, we scoured the net for data that might give us an advantage over our 11 rivals in an all sports-blog 5x5 league pioneered by the SportsBlah gang.

Our reputation is on the line as we take the field against Baseball Mike, RotoAuthority, Insomniacs Lounge, Taylor Bunts, Game Four, The Sports Pulse, CubDumb, The Zoner, The RotoKings and everyone’s favourite pirates, the Blog Pirates.

And so as we celebrate the resumption of the great game of baseball, we introduce to your new hometown heroes, Team Sports Matters.

INFIELD: In a series of pre-draft memos, Team SportsMatters agreed on two draft strategies: the first based on a top-two pick, and the alternative scenario based on a later slot in the order.

We knew everything was coming up roses when we avoided the moral quandary that comes with the dreaded first pick, and instead won the coveted number-two hole, which conveniently rhymed with our first selection, Albert Pujols.

It’s hard to go wrong when your infield is anchored with the greatest young star since DiMaggio. But the wait for the snake is killer.

The fright became delight at the second strike, when Jose Reyes was added to the roster.

His legs and guile deliver that scarcest of roto resources, the stolen base, and the owners are convinced 23 year-old promises to do be more than a one-category wonder once the season commences.

In a league with middle and corner infield roster slots, Team Sports Matters is well placed to contend. Avoiding the high-priced Wright and Figgins, the owners chose to man third base with veteran Scott Rolen, who returns to the field after 2005’s season-ending shoulder surgery. Rolen has been in the league ten years, but he’s only turning 31. We ranked him sixth at his position, with the potential to do better.

With Pujols manning the right side, the owners were in no mood to spend a high pick on a back-up, so we zeroed in on under-priced contenders to produce at the corner infield position: Coon Rapids’ native Dan Johnson, who should see a full-season of action, and the slugger with ankles of tin, Frank Thomas.

Believe it or not, Thomas is not the oldest member of the Sports Matters infield. That honour goes to Craig Biggio, our middle infield backup to our promising second baseman Rickie Weeks.

Weeks has a ways to come to match Biggio, but the Sports Matters squad projected the contribution of both players at roughly the same level – at the top end of the second tier of two-baggers. Chase Utley he ain’t.

But in a year where Soriano and Kent move to cavernous parks, and Roberts rides a reputation built on half a season’s work, we think that either the kid or the oldster will work out just fine, and several competitors will be left with little to show for their investment at the position.

The middle infield was completed with Mr. I-slipped-carrying-venison, Clint Barmes, who can provide pop and power. At the very least, we expect to start him when he’s at home, and we think the 27 year-old has a much higher ceiling.

Veteran catchers Michael Barrett and Jason Kendall round out the infield. While neither has the glamour of Martinez or Mauer, both make respectable contributions, and Kendall is capable of leading his position for runs and stolen bases.

OUTFIELD: The Team Sports Matters outfield is all about balanced production from a roster of proven performers. You won’t find the high priced superstars, or the promising prospects.

Instead, in a league that fields five outfielders, the owners put together a group of six that includes five All Stars, and five players between the ages of 30 and 32. All bring multi-year production records and high reliability scores.

We project three of them to be in the top-fifteen in overall production at the position.

At the heart of Sports Matters offense are outfielders Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells, Jim Edmonds, Preston Wilson, Geoff Jenkins and Jacque Jones.

BATTING SUMMARY: The draft approach appears to have produced a balanced team (which is, after all, what we intended it to do).

Team Sports Matters’ active batting roster averages 29 years of age, and only one active roster player is over 32. Two bench players, Biggio and Thomas, are older.

Optimistically, before taking into account the inevitable injuries and random events, we believe the weekly active roster is capable of producing an average batting line of AB: 550, AVG: .289, R: 92, RBI: 92, HR: 25, SB: 13.

On a weekly basis, that works out to about 46 runs and ribbies, a dozen homers, and a half-dozen stolen bases. Is it enough balance to compete across the board? We're about to find out.

After using the first two picks on Pujols and Reyes, the owners turned their attention to the mound, and were delighted (and frankly a little stunned at the opportunity) to use pick #26 to scoop-up Chris Carpenter. Joe Nathan followed in the fourth round.

In round six the owners pounced on the languid Andy Pettitte. The 33-year-old Louisiana boy has gone in the sixth or seventh round of most drafts, but by Sports Matters’ estimation should have ranked much higher.

By draft’s end, the pitching staff had an average age of 31, largely due to 38 year-old Tim Wakefield (round 22) and Trevor Hoffman (round 9) pulling up the average. Four starters have reliability scores over 0.80, which is solid for starting pitching.

More importantly, the pitching staff includes two top-level pitchers (Carpenter, Pettitte) when our draft plan projected we would only be able to get one; we also secured two closers (Nathan, Hoffman) who project above the 90th percentile in Saves production.

Rounding out the rotation are a set of LIMAs: Freddy Garcia (round 13), Chris Capuano (round 18), Esteban Loaiza (round 20), and Aaron Heilman (round 24).

PITCHING SUMMARY: Our best guess is that the core six starters will all rank in the top-40 for total production across the non-save pitching categories. As long as Hoffman stays healthy, we're reasonably content with the closers, although always on the look-out to take in a stray during the season.

SO HOW'S IT WORKING? Short answer: five days in, it's too early to tell. Also accepted as an answer: it's going terribly, largely due to miserable first starts from Wakefield, Garcia, and Pettitte and Carpenter. But by next week they should each have knocked 10-points off their ERA.


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