<
>

The Talented Mr. Roto faces the facts

3/7/2014

I am sure you are hip.

Most fantasy baseball players are up to date on all the latest trends and catchphrases the kids like to use. But on the very off chance "#tbt" means nothing to you, I will tell you that it stands for "Throwback Thursday" and if you search Twitter or Instagram for that hashtag, you'll see pictures of the person posting from, you know, back in the day.

Back in the day, you see, was a simpler time. When fantasy baseball first gained national recognition in the early 1980s, there was no Internet. No mobile phones. No instant highlights, no tablets, and cable TV was just breaking through. People could enjoy a nice refreshing Tab cola while driving without a seat belt as the latest Thompson Twins song blared from the radio. We knew they'd rock forever.

There were no bloggers, no email alerts, and frankly, no guys like me.

In short, the biggest thing we didn't have was ... information.

It was much easier to win back then if you had some intel. Which setup guy was going to get the closer job? Who was getting called up to play shortstop? Which aging vet had finally lost his job? Info was king because it was so hard to get. There was no way to read the beat reporters of every major league team or even see local newspapers unless they were delivered to you. Heck, rotisserie standings had to be calculated by hand and were mailed (or, if you were fancy, faxed) once a week. If your commish was on the ball.

So if you had some information on a player's role or playing time or some such, it was a huge advantage at the draft.

These days, of course, it's just the opposite.

Now it's all Twitter and 24-hour tickers scrolling by and text alerts from your 15 different apps. There's actually too much info. We have people analyzing every motion, every pitch, every at-bat. Every sound bite is played over and over and every tidbit of info is out there. Buster Olney is fantastic. The problem is everyone knows he is. Is there a guy in your league who doesn't follow Buster? Exactly.

And then there's the stats. And stats about which of the other stats are more statistically relevant. There's no advantage to info or stats because everyone has them. If you are in any kind of real league where people are paying attention, the only advantage might be a faster Internet connection or a better smartphone to make a quick pickup. Otherwise, it's 10 or 12 guys looking at all of the same names, numbers and rankings.

So the key to winning is parsing that data. Figuring out what to believe and what to ignore. Because I want to tell you a secret.

Come closer, my pretty, as I tell you something that absolutely no fantasy analyst wants you to know.

Stats can say anything you want them to.

Consider Mr. Max Scherzer. A fine pitcher, he put it all together last year for a career season, going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP and 240 strikeouts in 214 innings on his way to winning the AL Cy Young Award.

So ... what to make of this? Has Scherzer arrived as one of the elite pitchers in the game? Or is there some regression there, where he'll be good, not great and won't earn a profit on what is sure to be a high draft choice or a substantial auction price?

You could certainly argue he got lucky, especially with that defense behind him. Last year Scherzer allowed a .260 BABIP. His average BABIP for the rest of his career is .316, and the lowest single-season BABIP he'd ever allowed prior to last season was .300 in 2010.

Of course, you also could point out the improvement he made with his curve. He didn't throw it very much prior to last year, but in 2013, hitters had just a .200 average, a .257 slugging, a 23.1 strikeout percentage and a 25.6 miss percentage on the 239 curves he threw to lefties.

If I want to talk up Scherzer, I use the eye-popping numbers from last year and lean on the stats about his curve. If I want to talk him down, I bring up the BABIP, the only three losses and obvious regression, and maybe I throw in some concern that he's going to be worried about the contract.

I can talk up or talk down anyone; I just have to choose the right stats for the job. Or just ask the SWAN -- Zach Jones of ESPN Stats & Information -- or the terrific Tristan H. Cockcroft -- the Sultan of Stats -- to get me the right numbers for the job, as I did at many different points throughout writing this column. They are both stats studs.

I purposely lie to you. I'm not saying I make things up. I don't. Everything you read is true, heavily researched and thought out, and is a 100 percent true, can't be argued with, fully vetted fact.

But it's only some of the facts. The facts that support whatever opinion I have of a player. I mislead you and I do it on purpose.

And I'm not alone.

Every person doing any kind of fantasy analysis does it. Frankly, anyone who does any kind of analysis or is paid to give his opinion does it. The guy trying to sell you a car? He does it. The two guys arguing about the economy or politics? They do it. The high-powered CEO, the pop culture commentators, the woman in the cube next to you who has that big presentation to make to your boss next week? They all do it. Everyone who has appeared on one of ESPN's many debate-style shows does it, and I most certainly do it.

We do it because there's too much info and not enough time. So we pick and choose. I study all the stats, do the research and talk to as many folks as I can, then I decide which stats I want to use. If my research shows I should like the guy, I tell you positive stats. If it's the other way, I highlight the negative.

There's very little in this world that I am good at, but one thing I am truly fantastic at? Manipulating stats to say what I want them to.

If you're having a little bit of déjà vu, it's because I make this confession at the top of this column every year. I want to be truthful about everything, so I happily cop to trying to manipulate you because I feel it's important. Extremely important.

Throughout this preseason, you will have countless analysts tell you all sorts of reasons to draft this guy or avoid that one, so I want you to be aware that every stat thrown at you is really just reflective of an opinion.

Read your magazine blurbs, check out the player profiles and projections in our draft kit, listen to podcasts and radio. Devour all the articles you want. Study every stat ever and you still won't have a complete picture. It's impossible because even if you were able to memorize every stat and put it into context, you don't know which player is hiding an injury. Which one has a marriage breaking up and which one has unknowingly changed his grip by three-tenths of an inch and is suddenly getting hammered inside and doesn't know why.

Your job? Figure out what analysts you trust and whose thinking aligns with yours, question everyone and everything you hear, take it all in and then make your own call.

Ultimately, that's all that any of us is doing: taking a small piece of a big picture and making a call.

Everything that follows is 100 percent accurate. Some are about players, some are about tendencies and not a one of them tells the whole story.

These are 100 Facts You Need To Know Before You Draft. And what you do with them is up to you.

1. There are only two players in Major League Baseball who have hit at least 20 home runs in 12 straight seasons. David Ortiz ...

2. ... and Alfonso Soriano.

3. 2010. 2011. 2012. 2013. Albert Pujols has had fewer home runs and a lower batting average, on-base and slugging percentages in each of those seasons than in the previous.

4. In the past two seasons, only three players have hit 60 home runs while also hitting over .300 in both years: Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano and ... Adrian Beltre.

5. Speaking of Cano: Since Safeco Field's first full season in 2000, there have been only three 25 HR seasons by Mariners left-handed hitters (Raul Ibanez twice, Russell Branyan once).

6. In 163 career plate appearances at Safeco Field, Cano has four home runs. Four.

7. Yes, they moved in the walls in Safeco. Some of the walls.

8. But they didn't touch the right-field power alley.

9. In the past two seasons, among batters with at least 700 cumulative at-bats, only Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion have a better home run-per-at-bat rate than ... Brandon Moss.

10. In the past three seasons, only Miguel Cabrera (323) has scored more runs than Ian Kinsler (311).

11. If we expand it to the past four years, only Miguel Cabrera (434) has scored more runs than Austin Jackson (395).

12. Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson and now Ian Kinsler all play for the Detroit Tigers.

13. There are only three players in Major League Baseball with 40 home runs and 50 stolen bases in the past two seasons combined. Mike Trout, Alex Rios and ... Carlos Gomez.

14. Gomez's OPS has risen in four consecutive seasons.

15. Gomez didn't play three consecutive games with at least four at-bats for the Brewers until June 19, 2012.

16. Since June 19, 2012, Gomez has received 842 at-bats and used them to score 137 runs, hit 41 home runs, with 115 RBIs and 70 steals.

17. Since June 19, 2012, there are only two players in Major League Baseball who have at least 130 runs, 40 home runs, 115 RBIs and "just" 40 steals. Gomez and ... Mike Trout.

18. If I raise the minimum to 64 steals, the list becomes ... just Gomez.

19. From the start of July to the end of last season, only Victor Martinez (.367) had a higher batting average than ... Jayson Werth.

20. And only Mike Trout (1.048) had a higher OPS.

21. Michael Cuddyer's BABIP last season was .382.

22. His previous high in a full season is .328. His career BABIP is .312.

23. From 2010 through 2012, Cuddyer had a .237 BABIP on ground balls. If you apply that rate to his 2013 ground balls, he'd have lost 18 hits.

24. With 18 fewer hits he's a .294 hitter.

25. Matt Kemp has played only 179 games in the past two seasons.

26. His per-162-games averages in those two seasons are 99 runs, 27 HR, 93 RBIs, 17 SB, while batting .290.

27. For comparison sake, last year Adam Jones hit .285 with 100 runs, 33 HR, 108 RBIs and 14 SB season and was a top-five outfielder on our player rater.

28. Prior to this two-year stretch, Kemp had played at least 155 games in four straight years.

29. Kemp is currently going in the eighth round of ESPN live drafts.

30. Kris Bryant was the very first position player selected in the 2013 MLB draft. He played 16 games at high Class A last year and when the season starts, the Chicago Cubs minor leaguer will be just 22 years old.

31. Or, 9 months and 12 days older than Bryce Harper.

32. Only two players have played at least half their games at shortstop in the past two seasons while batting at least .280 and hitting at least 40 HR: Hanley Ramirez and ... Ian Desmond.

33. In his limited time with the Reds last season, Billy Hamilton had 18 stolen base opportunities (on first or second base with the next base open).

34. He attempted to steal 14 times and was successful 13 times.

35. Hamilton played in only 13 major league games last season; his steals were the most in the major leagues during that span. In those 13 games, he had only 19 at-bats.

36. Including all levels of the minor leagues, Hamilton has played 515 professional baseball games, stealing 408 bases. That makes his per-162-games average 128 steals.

37. More speed: In the past two seasons, Everth Cabrera has 81 stolen bases in 210 games.

38. Among players with 210 or fewer games in that span, nobody else has more than 66 stolen bases.

39. For his career, Everth Cabrera averages a stolen base every 11.66 at-bats.

40. Last season, Jonathan Villar averaged a stolen base every 11.66 at-bats. He is currently going in the 22nd round. Or 11 rounds later than Everth Cabrera.

41. Since June 1, there have been 11 shortstops who scored more runs, 22 shortstops who hit more home runs, 20 shortstops who had more RBIs and one shortstop who stole more bases than ... Jean Segura.

42. There also were 21 shortstops with at least 200 at-bats during that time frame who hit better than Segura's .261.

43. Let's pile on. Among qualified hitters, when Segura was behind in the count, he chased the sixth-most non-strikes (48.1 percent).

44. Only five right-handed hitters had more hard-hit fly balls and line drives to right field than Starlin Castro's 34. His BABIP on these (.500) was 112 points lower than the major league average.

45. Castro has had at least 640 at-bats for three straight seasons. He is just 24 years old.

46. From 2011 to 2013, among the 102 left-handed batters with at least 1,000 plate appearances, Brian McCann's 47.2 pull percentage was 14th highest. And his "far right" pull percentage during that time frame was 13th highest.

47. Only eight stadiums in baseball have a right-field wall farther out than Turner Field's 330 feet.

48. Only Fenway Park and AT&T Park have a right-field wall that's a shorter distance from home plate than Yankee Stadium's 314 feet. And only five stadiums have a right-field fence that's shorter than Yankee Stadium's 8 feet.

49. After a career of playing his home games at Turner Field, and six straight seasons of at least 20 home runs, left-handed pull hitter Brian McCann will play his home games at Yankee Stadium.

50. According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker's "Golden Sledgehammer" rankings (for hitters with at least 18 home runs), Coco Crisp ranked dead last, with a 368.9 feet average home run distance. Second to last? Matt Joyce, with a 382.5 average home run distance.

51. And only five hitters had a lower home run distance average than Domonic Brown's 386.8 feet.

52. In fact, Brown hit nine home runs that were 370 feet or less in length. That was the second-most in the majors. Only ... wait for it ... Coco Crisp had more (11 home runs last year that traveled 370 feet or less).

53. In 2011, Curtis Granderson had a 17.3 miss percentage on fastballs 93 mph or faster. In 2012, it was 22.2 percent.

54. And in 2013 ... it was 31 percent.

55. From 2012 to 2013, there were only two players in baseball who swung more often at non-strikes than ... Josh Hamilton and his 40.1 percent chase rate.

56. From the day of Yasiel Puig's MLB debut through the end of the regular season, his 30 swings and misses on first-pitch non-strikes was tops in major league baseball.

57. No player had a higher BABIP on soft-contact fly balls than Chris Johnson last year. Lotta bloopers to right field. And only -- you guessed it -- Michael Cuddyer had a higher BABIP on soft-contact balls in play than Johnson.

58. Last year, Mike Napoli came to the plate with 456 total runners on base. Among players with at least 250 plate appearances, no player had a higher baserunner-per-plate appearance average.

59. Prior to last season's 92, Mike Napoli's career-high RBI total was 75.

60. According to the Bill James Historical Abstract, there have been only three minor leaguers to record a 40/40 season.

61. In 2013, George Springer of the Astros came within three home runs of having one.

62. In fact, there have been only three minor leaguers with at least 30 home runs and 40 steals in the past 40 years: Darryl Strawberry (1982), Ruben Rivera (1994) and ... George Springer.

63. Among active players, the only pitcher in Major League Baseball with 1,300 innings pitched through his age 25 season is Felix Hernandez.

64. Through his age 24 season, Masahiro Tanaka has 1,315 innings pitched.

65. In the past four seasons, there have been only three pitchers who have started at least 30 games each year and had an ERA under 3.40: Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez and ... Hiroki Kuroda.

66. Last year, the Yankees scored 4.40 runs per 9 innings for Andy Pettitte. They scored 4.53 per 9 for CC Sabathia. As a team, they averaged 4.01 per 9 for the season. But when Kuroda was on the mound, they scored 3.16 per 9.

67. It was the third-worst run support average among qualified starting pitchers.

68. In the past three years, only Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander have more quality starts than Cole Hamels.

69. Last year, Hamels' 17 non-win quality starts were tied for the most in a single season. In major league history.

Bonus fact. Sometimes you dig up all sorts of stats on a guy and make yourself fall in love with him, only to hear reports of shoulder fatigue the day your column is supposed to be published.

70. Since 2001, CC Sabathia has thrown 43,390 pitches. That leads the majors.

71. Sabathia's average fastball was 91.3 mph last season.

72. In 2011 it was 93.9 mph.  In 2009, it was 94.1 mph.

73. Since 1920, only two pitchers have made at least 25 starts with an ERA under 2.20 at age 20 or younger: Dwight Gooden in 1985 and Jose Fernandez in 2013.

74. In the past three seasons, there have been only three pitchers who have had at least 191 strikeouts each year and an ERA of 3.37 or lower: Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee and Madison Bumgarner.

75. Kershaw and Lee are being drafted as top-six pitchers. Bumgarner is outside the top 10.

76. Yu Darvish allowed a home run on 13.5 percent of his fly balls last season, the fourth-highest rate among qualified starters.

77. That figure was 8.5 percent in his rookie season.

78. Last year, Justin Masterson allowed a well-hit average of .120, third-best among qualified starters.

79. Masterson also had a higher percentage of opponent plate appearances end in strikeouts (24.3 percent) than Justin Verlander (23.5 percent).

80. Masterson is going in the 19th round.

81. Aroldis Chapman is only the second pitcher in history to manage better than 15 strikeouts per 9 innings in consecutive seasons.

82. Since R.A. Dickey's first year with the Mets in 2010, his "fast knuckler" (the 78 mph one) has limited batters to a .197 average with a 29.6 percent strikeout percentage.

83. In 2012, Dickey threw the pitch 45 percent of the time. Hitters hit .185 against it with a 34.3 percent strikeout rate.

84. In the first half of 2013, he threw the pitch 19 percent of the time. Hitters hit .236 against it with a 28.3 strikeout percentage.

85. In the second half of last year, with his back issues behind him, he threw it 43 percent of all pitches. Hitters hit .202 against it with a 29.6 strikeout percentage.

86. Last season, Travis Wood was sixth in quality starts, 10th in quality start percentage and second in non-win quality starts.

87. He was dead last in run support per 9 innings among qualified pitchers, receiving 3.03 RS/9.

88. When Doug Fister was with Seattle, he had a .292 BABIP, a .222 ground ball BABIP and a .373 ground ball/line drive BABIP for the "far left."

89. With Detroit, he had a .307 BABIP, a .231 ground ball BABIP and a .441 ground ball/line drive BABIP for the "far left."

90. Miguel Cabrera played the "far left" infield for Detroit the past two seasons.

91. This year, Cabrera will play first base for Detroit, and Fister will pitch for the Nationals, where Ryan Zimmerman is known to flash a little leather at third base.

92. Last year, there were four pitchers who induced ground balls at a rate higher than 50 percent while also striking out more than a batter an inning: Felix Hernandez, Stephen Strasburg, Justin Masterson and A.J. Burnett.

93. If we lower the K/9 requirement to better than seven while keeping the ground ball rate at 50 percent or better, we add one more name to the list ... Rick Porcello.

94. Porcello is just 25 years old.

95. Sonny Gray made his major league debut on July 10.

96. Since July 10, his 2.67 ERA is 16th best in the major leagues, better than that of among others, David Price and Cole Hamels.

97. His ground ball percentage was 52.9 and his K/9 was 9.42.

98. From 2011 to 2013, when David Robertson pitched on consecutive days and/or three or more consecutive days, he had a 3.02 ERA in 53 games.

99. In the same time frame, when Robertson had any kind of rest, he had a 1.54 ERA in 152 games.

100. Last year, Mariano Rivera had 16 games (of 64) where he was asked to pitch with no rest.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is the writer and director of the academy Award winning film "Gravity." What? You were promised 100 facts, not 101. He is, factually, the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. You may also have heard: He's written a book.