Leaps of faith
Matthew Berry [ARCHIVE]
ESPN.com
June 14, 2012
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So this past Monday night in San Francisco, at the Fantasy Sports Trade Association's Business and Technology Conference, was a pretty heady night for me. I was inducted into that organization's Hall of Fame. Not to be confused with the FSWA (Fantasy Sports Writers Association), which focuses solely on content and fantasy analysis, the FSTA covers the entire industry of fantasy sports. And I was shocked and humbled to be inducted into its Hall of Fame this week.
Of course, being inducted into a Hall of Fame comes at a price: You have to make a speech. It's a nerve-racking thing, trying to figure out what to say about yourself, especially when the truth of the matter is, I wouldn't have had any kind of career, let alone be standing on that podium, if not for an insanely long list of people who all had one thing in common. They took a chance on me.
No one enjoys reading a long list of names they're not familiar with, so I will spare you the list I read Monday night. But it was expansive and filled with people to whom I am forever indebted. I have published the speech on my Facebook page for those who care, but here's the short version: I am humbled, honored and shocked. No journey is made alone, and I'm here as a result of many people taking a giant leap of faith on me. With no justifiable reason for them to do so.
You see, most of the time, that leap of faith involved giving me a chance to show I could do something I'd never done before. From the first time someone published a fantasy column of mine, to the first person to put me on the radio and then eventually TV, to all those who partnered with and contributed to my two websites, and all the way to getting a chance to be a part of the Worldwide Leader, my life has been a series of blind leaps of faith by people who had every reason to doubt me, and then gave me unwavering support when I screwed up along the way, which was often. Those leaps of faith that so many people took on my behalf helped not just professionally, but personally. Without fantasy, I never move to Connecticut, I never meet my wife, and I don't have five great kids.
Therefore it's only natural that my column this week be all about taking a leap. Of faith. But unlike the people who have helped me throughout my career, in baseball, we do at least have some data to help us take that leap. So as we hit the middle of June, I'm taking a leap of faith that ...
... Melky Cabrera is a top-10 outfielder the rest of the way. I've written about Melky before, and I think folks realize he's having a good season. But do they realize how good? The sixth-best outfielder on our Player Rater so far this year and he was the eighth-best outfielder for the entire 2011 season. Walking more and striking out less than he did in 2011. I know people will point to his inflated BABIP as a sign he's getting lucky, but he's being even more selective at the plate this year and making the most contact of his career (tied for 17th-highest contact percentage in baseball). Last year was the first season he got 600 at-bats. Barring injury, this will be the second. Ultimately, his average is going to come down and the power will rise a bit, but you get 650 at bats and make a lot of contact, good things usually follow.
... That Chris Davis has finally figured it out. The classic "Quad-A" guy, he went from batting .192 in 2010 to .266 in 2011 to .301 this season. Big leaps, but his BABIP this season is .367, only one tick above the .366 he posted last year. He's lowered his strikeout rate (it's still not great, but it's better), but the key for me is that he's figured out how to consistently barrel up fastballs. The last time he has significant at-bats in the majors, 2009, he hit .210 on fastballs, missing 36.8 percent of the time. This year, he's hitting them at a .346 clip, missing on less than 25 percent of them.
... That Tony Campana leads the majors in steals, with more than 65. Look, we know he's fast. He's got 21 steals. It's the playing time that's the issue, and that's why he's available in 85 percent of leagues. Just eight at-bats in his last six games. But despite that, he leads baseball in stolen bases, and the encouraging thing to me is that although he's been sheltered from lefties during his major league playing time, he actually hit .300 (6-for-20) against lefties in the minors this season. It's a tiny sample size, but it's still better than if he'd gone 0-for-20 against them. Plus, he's a lifetime .303 minor league hitter. He's hitting a respectable .261 against lefties this season for the Cubs, and come on: He's got Joe Mather and Reed Johnson in front of him. He's on pace for just 314 at-bats -- and 55 steals. Imagine if he got anything close to full time? If you need speed at all, he needs to be owned.
... That we are all Kipnisses. Another case of yeah, yeah, you know Jason Kipnis is good. But how about "potentially the No. 1 second baseman next year" good? Obviously, let's see how the rest of the year plays out and it's still probably a bit too early for that talk, but he's in the discussion. Before you talk luck, did you know his BABIP and his HR/FB rate are actually down from his 150 plate appearances last season? (BABIP .313 in 2011, .303 this year, HR/FB was 20.6 percent in 2011 and is just 14.3 percent this year, per Fangraphs). His strikeout rate is way down from last year, and he's not only the No. 1 second baseman on our Player Rater this year, he's that good by a large margin.
... That Jed Lowrie will stay healthy and the power is not a fluke. The health thing is a gut call, but I have bribed Stephania Bell not to trade for him in any of her leagues, so that mitigates the risk somewhat. Currently on pace to hit 31 home runs, he may not get there, but he's absolutely pushing past 20 if he stays on the field. Two things I really like: His 14.3 percent HR/FB rate isn't that crazy and as The SWAN, Zach Jones of ESPN Stats & Information, tells me (he helped with this entire column), only Colby Rasmus has a better well-hit average (.293) than Lowrie this year (.289). Incidentally, Andrew McCutcheon is third with a .286 well-hit average.
... That R.A. Dickey can feel confident in legally changing his name to R.A. Diculous. Props to my Twitter follower @Coachescala for that joke, but people thought I was nuts for putting Dickey above the Wandy Line a while back. I've written about him a lot, both in the preseason and when we did our Top 250 ranks for the rest of the season in mid-May, when I was the only guy to rank him. He's currently fourth on the Player Rater among starting pitchers; I feel confident he'll finish as a top-15 pitcher and possibly top-10 depending on wins (always tough to gauge). I feel like I always talk about him, but then he goes out and throws a one-hitter, strikes out 12 and improves to 10-1 with a 2.20 ERA.
I've given the insane stats on him in terms of quality starts before (he's basically...
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