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FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

FANTASY BASEBALL 2017: Two guys who are mid-round Chris Sale & late-round Clayton Kershaw

Relative to active players, Clayton Kershaw has no level comparison at this stage in his career. His contributions on the mound are so unparalleled one could get away with assuming he’s been performing an entire standard deviation better than any other hurler in the game since his arrival. With a league-leading 2.06 ERA, 2.60 xFIP, 67 xFIP-, and 23.8 K/BB ratio since 2011, his 42.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is almost a third higher than the second-best WAR recipient among starting pitchers in that time frame!!

All of this is meant to assure you that, no, the Kershaw apprentice I am about to cover is not going to produce an MVP-caliber campaign in just 150 innings pitched, or a K/BB ratio higher than about 95% of all relief pitchers in the same season. However, 2016 had said apprentice showing flashes of a particularly golden Kershaw season that should at least whet the appetite of those chasing a potential late-round ace.

Here’s what Kershaw accomplished in his 2012 season, which – for fun – is going to be the comparison point I will be using for Player “X”.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

 

Now, let’s take a look at Player “X”‘s numbers from this past baseball season.

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Source: Fangraphs.com

Notice any similarities? In 121 innings pitched, Player X managed to keep pace with a full season of (2012) Kershaw in regards to K/BB%, HR/9, and FIP-. He even bested his superior in FIP, leaning on a 48.1% groundball rate that justified his ability to control the home run ball – and also calls foul against those putrid BABIP and LOB% rates. He’s a late-round-instead-of-mid-round sleeper due to his injury woes (in four years of MLB service, his 121 innings pitched in 2016 is his career high), but amidst the skepticism lies a 28-year old in his physical prime, with a fastball that touches 100 miles per hour and a ridiculously scary cutter/slider hybrid – and in 2016, it looks like he may have put everything together.

With the suspense on high, I now present to you: Player X – James Paxton. 

 

Regardless of the outlook, he’s a guy I’m targeting in all leagues because his improvements a season ago were the product of a simplified delivery . Where he was all herky-jerky in the offing is where he has subtracted to achieve promising gains in velocity, which correlates with the increasing amount of success he experienced with his “slutter”. That pitch produced massive amounts of missed swings, as it accumulated 28% and 35% whiff rates in August and September of last year, respectively. As a result, he racked up an outstanding 11.7% swinging strike rate in general, which would’ve ranked 16th in baseball among all starting pitchers had he qualified.

However, the new delivery Paxton relied on in 2016 made the biggest difference in regard to his command. Between 2015 and 2016, his first-pitch strike rate shot up by almost nine percent, helping shave his walk rate by over five percentage points. In layman’s terms, his control went from Francisco Liriano to David Price in one whole year!

The sustainability of this level of performance hinges entirely on both the repeat-ability of his delivery and his own health; two factors that could fall squarely on its head right at the dawn of the 2017 season. So, Paxton should be, at best, a back-end member of your pitching staff in any league – but a draft pick nonetheless. Take him knowing the risks involved, but well aware of the upside he carries if everything falls in place at once.

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Before being traded to the Red Sox this offseason, Chris Sale was THE difference between a win or a loss for the Chicago White Sox every five days. Despite pitching in a homer-friendly ballpark behind the worst offense in the Majors according to WAR, Sale demonstrated a poise and longevity on the mound that extended past his unforeseen durability. As a result, he’s been a top-5 fantasy stalwart as a starter – but I can’t help but feel like he continually flies under the radar alongside the Kershaws and Scherzers of the world.

Therefore, Player “Y” seems like an incredibly appropriate sleeper comparison; he, too, was just about the only true saving grace in his ballclub a season ago, but he went relatively unnoticed in a year where rookie pitchers flooded fantasy baseball message boards and Kyle Hendricks nearly rode a Changeup and a World Series run to a Cy Young nod. Like with Kershaw-Paxton, we’re gonna start with two identical seasons and start with one from Sale’s career. This time, however, we’re going side-by-side with the 2016 performances of both starters.

Here’s an advanced look at what Sale’s 2016 looked like:

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Source: Fangraphs.com 

 

 

Now, Player “Y”:

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Source: Fangraphs.com

A gradually declining groundball rate and subsequent drops in whiff and swinging strike rates led to Sale having his first +1 HR/9 season of his career, but none of that mattered because he still produced a 5-Win (I.E. Cy Young-caliber) season off the heels of a career-high 3.58 ERA. Because he didn’t throw 226 innings like his superior, however, Player “Y” amassed just a 2.8 WAR mark in 179.2 innings pitched – but you wouldn’t know it if your only source of comparison were these two tables.

That 5-Win threshold is the upside possessed by Danny Duffy, the well-deserving recipient of a 5-year, $65 Million contract extension about a week ago. Before we dig a bit deeper into his fantasy value, let’s take a look at what he brings to the table:

Yep; he sure did break the Kansas City Royals single-game strikeout record for a starting pitcher! This was the pinnacle of what could have been a hardware-heavy campaign had Duffy pitched a full 34-35 starts with 200 innings – but, again, we must consider exactly how he’s reached this point.

Like Paxton, he (super-duperly) changed his delivery in 2016, opting to work exclusively from the stretch a-la Yu Darvish and Carlos Carrasco (the latter of which I’m sure one good friend of mine will appreciate seeing acknowledgments here). Again, like Paxton, this led to an uptick in velocity, and universally jaw-dropping increases in command. You think Paxton’s walk rate was bad? Duffy never posted a double-digit K/BB rate in his entire Major League career up until this point. You know what his K/BB% was last season? 20 percent!!

Add in the night-and-day difference in plate discipline-based peripherals, and what we – and millions of restless Royals fans – got in return for his advancements was a pitcher we didn’t see coming, but probably should have all along. Believe it or not, Duffy has a devastating slider AND changeup! By just simply finding the strikezone, his slider picked up a six percent jump in whiffs relative to his career usage, while the changeup induced swings and misses at a rate of 19.78 percent; eight percentage points higher than his career averages prior to 2016. The respective strikeout rates on both pitches last year? 41.1 and 30.1 percent! In regards to whiffs, Duffy virtually carries Sale’s slider, Marco Estrada‘s changeup, and Max Scherzer‘s fastball (fun fact: last season, both fastballs carried just a single percentage of disparity).

Until he finds a true groundball offering (his two-seamer, quite frankly, is a shit pitch that generates far more fly balls than anything else), home runs are going to be Duffy’s bugaboo, and unfortunately I can’t envision a season going forward where his Bronson Arroyo-esque HR/9 rate in 2016 will deflate to anything considerably lower. Also, the wheels fell off rather abruptly in September/October, during which he posted a 5.50 ERA and served up nine bombs (despite his xFIP sitting at a pretty 3.56 mark during that period). Endurance from Duffy is going to be a question mark going into 2017, as he bested his professional baseball career-high in innings pitched a year ago; Kansas City paid him like an ace, but there’s no guarantee he drops a top-20 campaign on us just yet. He’s also an injury risk in just about the same vein as Paxton, so there’s that, too.

Still, he’s the (slightly) healthier, more reliable option of the two lefties I’ve covered here, which makes him a much safer draft pick in either the middle rounds or that awkward phase in the draft where all elite names are off the board and owners begin to farm for key position depth in certain areas. That being said, I absolutely love everything about Duffy post-delivery change, and I personally wouldn’t mind reaching a little for his services on draft day. In leagues that include quality starts, strikeout-walk rates and/or innings pitched, I highly recommend that you do as well.

 

Other left-handed starters to consider on draft day (Some are recommended for deeper leagues):

Sean Manaea

Robbie Ray

Blake Snell

Daniel Norris

Matt Boyd

Julio Urias

–  Tyler Anderson 

Tyler Skaggs

 

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*Fantasy Baseball 2015* The “Wire” – Week 2 Hitters

*Fantasy Baseball 2015* The “Wire” – Week 2 Hitters

*THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE PERTAINS SPECIFICALLY TO 10-16 TEAM ROTISSERIE AND HEAD-TO-HEAD FANTASY LEAGUES*

Every week, I’ll provide a list of current waiver-wire players who are widely available (no more than 50% owned in ESPN standard leagues), and break them down with a detailed analysis. Said analysis is to explain why each player would be worth considering when you’re aiming to add a particular player to your fantasy team. Mostly all positions will be covered in some capacity each week, so be sure to stay tuned!

Ahh, the first week of baseball. Green grass, jet fighters flying over packed stadiums, and pesky adolescents skipping school. Couple that with the emergence of the Spring season and some immediately warm weather and you can make the case that these past seven days were quite refreshing. Unfortunately, most of us can’t bask in the sun forever, especially since the start of the baseball season also means the commencement of our fantasy season. Managing our lineups and keeping them in tip-top shape can seem just as maddeningly exhausting as watching Jose Valverde close out ballgames, so thankfully we’ve got baseball stats and a whole lot of available online information to rely on. I truly believe that research and a firm understanding of who you own are keys to winning it all come September, and suffice to say that marriage of knowledge starts with working the waiver wire.

Since this post is only following the first 5-6 games of the regular season, it’s important to take anything and everything with a grain of salt. Plenty of owners in my public leagues have already ran into “Panic” mode, and have dropped nearly half their team (for example, David Wright, Pedro Alvarez, and Hunter Pence were all on waivers in one of them yesterday.) You just need to remember that baseball players are still human beings like the rest of us – even Clayton Kershaw, who currently owns a 5.84 ERA, and Giancarlo Stanton, who’s currently slugging .211. With that in mind, let’s go shopping and try to find a player out there who just might be capable of filling in a hole in your team that’s just been exposed.

Hitters

Anthony Gose, OF (45.7%) and Jose Iglesias, SS (47.7%,) Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers are partying like it’s 1984, and they’re sure as hell hitting like it, too. They lead the Majors right now with 47 runs scored (7.8 per game!), with a .355/.433/.550 team slash line and .983 OPS. It’s no surprise that they’ve kicked off the year with a 6-0 start. However, one would find it hard to believe that Anthony Gose  and Jose Iglesias played bigger parts in the team’s overall offensive output than Miguel Cabrera  and Victor Martinez.

Anthony Gose: .450 avg, .450 OBP, .800 SLG., 1.250 OPS, 6 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB

Jose Iglesias: .526 avg, .550 OBP, .579 SLG., 1.129 OPS, 4 R, 2 SB, 0% K rate

Miguel Cabrera: .520 avg, .586 OBP, .840 SLG., 1.426 OPS, 4 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB

Victor Martinez: .286 avg, .444 OBP, .286 SLG., .730 OPS, 0 R, 3 RBI

There are two things you must consider as I run this comparison: 1) Even in a small sample size, one simply cannot keep up with Miguel Cabrera’s production, and 2) Gose and Iglesias are both performing way, way, way over their heads right now.

That last part will probably have you begging to wonder why I’d even consider them as worthwhile waiver-wire options. The answer for which is simple: small sample sizes could help you win now. The Tigers are obviously running on all cylinders at the moment, and both guys are immediately cashing in. Especially Gose, who has the distinct advantage of leading off ahead of Kinsler, Miggy, and V-Mart. So long as they stay hot (which won’t matter much, because all three are great hitters on a regular basis,) Gose will score runs quite literally all the time. He also has a lot of speed, as evidenced by both his minor league track record (45+ stolen bases in 4 of his 5 seasons between A-AAA ball) and his relatively small Major League rap sheet (15 swipes in 94 GS for Toronto in 2014.) Between him and Iglesias, I’d most certainly rather have Gose, particularly because he is capable of getting on base with his eyes (9.1 BB rate last season,) and has lived off of a .300+ BABIP for practically his entire professional career. Pick him up immediately, ride the hot streak, and hope that he can sustain relevance past the end of April. Chances are, he can.

As for Iglesias, we are definitely looking at a streaker who’s mainly getting so much attention right now because he’s positioned at a relatively shallow position. As I run through his numbers again and again, I fail to ignore his meager 4.8% BB rate and .526 BABIP (which is “coincidentally” identical to his batting average.) This means he’s bound to fall off the table soon. On top of that, Iglesias has NO power (.079 career ISO in 486 PA) and hasn’t flashed much speed (8 career MLB stolen bases.)Hopefully, those 2 bags he’s swiped so far will be the start of a 10-15 steal campaign – the kind that he hinted at in the minors. But even so, we’re looking at an 8-hole hitter with no one to drive him in, and not much more than the promise of a .300 average beyond maybe 40-50 RBI (In other words, Marco Scutaro from 2-3 years ago.) Again however, you might as well enjoy the wave he’s surfing on before the tide comes in. Just understand that he’s more of a cortisone shot to the hip than the full surgery and recovery.

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Pretty Much the Entire Oakland Athletics Lineup

The most ironic ballclub in Major League Baseball continues to make people scratch their heads, as the Oakland Athletics rank 2nd in the Majors in runs scored, despite starting Opening Day with Josh Donaldson traded away, Brandon Moss in Cleveland, and Coco Crisp on the DL. Their hot start can be attributed to a motley crew of no-bodies who’ve come from out of left field, and have promoted a considerable degree of fantasy relevance.

The first of which is Ike Davis (0.3%,) who has got to be striving to prove something out there with the green-and-gold. with 4 runs scored, 4 runs driven in and a .316 batting clip, he’s hit the ground running. I expect this level of production to fade a tad, but not to the point where you can’t roster him anywhere. He draws plenty of walks, and has a 10%+ walk rate in every one of his professional baseball seasons, so any sudden rise in BABIP (like the .429 mark he has right now) will make him a top-15 first baseman by season’s end – especially when you factor in his 25-homer power. All the guy really needs is a little bit of luck.

Same thing goes for Brett Lawrie (25.3%,) though I doubt the change in scenery will instantly turn his career around. Like Davis, he’s had the misfortune of battling a poor career BABIP for what seems like forever now, but also like Davis he carries the batted ball skills necessary to post a solid stat line if his .311 mark from 2011 rears its head again. His career 11.3 HR/FB rate and .159 ISO also leaves some optimism for another breakout season, and that could happen at any given moment. Unfortunately for him, though, he’s still not walking enough (6.5 BB rate) and striking out too much (25.8% K rate), so his upside remains capped in a 12 ounce soda bottle. If you absolutely need a middle or corner infielder, you could do better, but you could also do much worse.

There are three other Athletic hitters who’ve contributed handsomely this week (well, two did, one just came back,) and I have reason to believe that they’ll be the most valuable of the overall bunch by the end of the season. Say hello to Mark Canha (9.2%,) a power bat with some neat minor league stats. Although he’s yet to register a walk in the Majors this season, he has managed to limit the strikeouts (8% K rate) and his 10%+ career minor league walk entails that he’s pretty good at taking pitches. He’s also the recipient of 6 RBI already, with a homer and a .560 SLG.; signs that his performance in AAA last season (20 homeruns, 82 RBI, .505 SLG.) could transfer over to the Bigs. This is an exciting player to watch in deeper leagues, because his career numbers suggest a sleeper is in the making; from batting average and on-base percentage, to batted ball profile and power numbers. The only thing potentially holding him back is playing time, with the A’s featuring a crowded outfield even without Crisp playing right now, and a infield consisting of Billy ButlerStephen Vogt, and Ike Davis who I mentioned earlier. However, he found his way into the starting lineup yesterday, even despite the fact that Josh Reddick came back from the DL and Oakland was facing Felix Hernandez, a dominant right-handed starting pitcher. Nonetheless, Canha’s gonna have to hit until the cows come home if he expects to play everyday, but I think for right now he’s worth an add in knee-deep mixed leaguers and all AL-Only regardless of what role he has down the line.

People have been asking me about Marcus Semien lately, but since I haven’t been able to see him hit yet in 2015, I don’t know what kind of conclusion I could draw up from his current .296 batting average and 6 RBI. What I can do, however, is perhaps provide a template of what value he could have to your fantasy team. ZiPS and Steamer project about a .240 batting average. 15-17 homers, and 60-75 RBI. For a guy who registers as both a second baseman and a shortstop, that’s a steal. Better yet is the fact that his minor league numbers reflect those projections, including his 19-homer, 60-RBI campaign back in 2013. Since he upped his performance in AAA last season with 20+ homers and 80+ RBI, we just might have ourselves the next Ian Desmond in a couple of years. Semien is not the be-all and end-all for those looking for infield help, but if that’s your weakness you have to try him out for the next couple of weeks.

Josh Reddick is the one guy in Oakland I’d feel comfortable picking up without hesitation. No matter what the skeptics will make of his oblique strain in Spring Training, or his poor overall output in 2014, Reddick seems primed to return to his 30-homer, 90-RBI ceiling – remember that he was shelved last year for a knee injury before putting together a .299/.337/.533 slash line with 8 homers after the All-Star Break. If his knee is in the same shape now as it was then, there’s no reason to bet against a bounce-back campaign from the 28-year old. Since the outfield position is incredibly deep, however, I’d wait and see with him a bit before pouncing. But that’s only if your outfield is already well taken care of.

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Adam Lind, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers (46.4%)

I’ll keep this one short. Adam Lind is a value play in daily leagues with his ability to mash right-handed pitching like nobody’s business. He also came into the season for a rather cheap price, as hardly anyone drafted him in most leagues due to a disappoint 94 games played and 6 home runs last year. This makes him a sneaky first baseman to pick up in deeper leagues, and I think that his 7.3% HR/FB rate from last year will be corrected with a healthy dose of dingers in Milwaukee. He’ll be a boost in batting average (.300 batting average over the last two seasons), hit for above-average power, and find himself sandwiched between Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez basically everytime he’s in the lineup (which is usually against righties, and only righties.)

Royals vs. Rockies

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals (37.7%)

For reasons I can’t truly explain, the Royals have been slotting Mike Moustakas into the two-hole, and for the most part it’s been a huge success. His two homers and 6 RBI can attain to that. What impresses me so far about Moustakas, though, is that he’s continued to improve his plate discipline. Although we’re still talking about a small sample size, he’s walked  just below 7% of the time (which is almost higher than any other mark he’s ever put up in the Majors so far,) and has only struck out 10% of the time (which is lower than any other mark he’s ever put up in the Majors so far.) Anyone who cuts down on Ks and sees more pitches is bound to see their batting average go up, and in the Moose’s case, he’s currently enjoying a .333 clip and a solid .313 BABIP as a result. Now, no one knows whether or not this is a forecast of the breakout we’ve all been waiting for, but I think he’s both seeing and hitting the ball well right now, which makes him worth a look in most leagues until he cools down.

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Kevin Keirmaier, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (18.8%)

Oh, the curious case of Kevin Keirmaier. What we have here is a guy whose Major League track record far supersedes his Minor League numbers in just about every counting stat possible. For example: Keirmaier, since being called up last season, has nearly as many homers in his 378 career plate appearances than in his 1300+ Minor League at-bats combined. Capable of stealing over 25 bases, he has the potential of finishing the year with Carl Crawford-type of numbers, all with a solid average and ample number of runs scored from the leadoff spot. The opportunity is there, with Tampa Bay clearing the way for both him and Steven Souza, Jr. to strut their stuff everyday, so keep a keen eye on him in whatever league you’re playing in.

Other hitters to consider: Angel Pagan, OF, San Francisco Giants (58.3%,) Derek Norris, C, San Diego Padres (36.8%,) Devon Travis, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays (18.7%,) Kendrys Morales, 1B, Kansas City Royals (15.3%,) DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Colorado Rockies (14.2%,) Jake Lamb, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks (12.6%,) Stephen Vogt, 1B, Oakland Athletics (10.6%,) Travis Snider, OF, Baltimore Orioles (11.9%,) Dalton Pompey, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (10.6%,) Dustin Ackley, 2B, Seattle Mariners (6.3%,) Seth Smith, OF, Seattle Mariners (3.3%)

 

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Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange: Playoff Edition (Week 22-23)

Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange: Playoff Edition (Week 22-23)

Congratulations, reader! You’re in the playoffs! Now, pat yourself in the back, crack a nice, quirky smile, and put your damn pants back on for goodness sake.

With that out of the way, let’s assess exactly where we all are in the Fantasy world with the next 4 weeks (or two, depending on the league settings) determining who gets that custom WWE championship belt Ebay’ed to their front door step in October.

First things first: You can no longer hold onto, stash, bench, or even hope for players you own who are experiencing a precipitous drop in overall performance covering any longer than three weeks. That means you get rid of highly touted (yet remarkably underachieving) hitters like Brandon Phillips and Josh Hamilton, and reach a little bit in certain positions that are or have been lacking. For example, the middle infield spots have been going through a bit of an unusual revelation lately. Dustin Ackley (2B/OF, Seattle Mariners,) Asdrubal Cabrera (SS/2B, Washington Nationals,) Luis Valbuena (3B/2B, Chicago Cubs) and Justin Turner (3B/2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers) have all produced at a fantasy-relevant level since the All-Star Break, and yet only one of these guys are owned in more than 90% of all ESPN leagues (Ackley.) Their combined OPS is a neat .829, and most important is that not a single one of these fellows have netted less than 100 plate appearances in less than 30 games started. That last bit may sound irrelevant, but putting into consideration that expanded rosters still have a chance of cutting into their playing time(s) is less of a red flag than it may seem because of the positive performances. So, in other words, you’ve been granted the seeds to playoff success (or, at least some of them) in deep leagues if you’ve been struggling mightily up the middle.

Going back to my point earlier about dropping guys you’ve been holding onto for too long; yes, it’s a tough decision at first, but ultimately you’ll find yourself better off in the long run. Let’s not forget that there are only four whole weeks left of play, so doing a little research beforehand is acceptable; anyone could get hot if their peripherals suggests they should. But Let’s take a dive in the waiver wire, and discover some diamonds in the rough along our journey.

*SIDE NOTE: All players are owned in less than 90% of all ESPN fantasy leagues.*

Diamonds in the Rough

Trevor Plouffe, 3B, Minnesota Twins

Trevor Plouffe wins my award for “Strangest Streaker in Fantasy Baseball” for a long list of reasons, but mainly because he’s gotten hot and cold in every month since 2012. For the single fact alone that we’re talking about the playoffs here, and Plouffe is just coming off one of the best months of his Major League career (.317/.372/.558, 5 homers, 24 RBI in August,) this has the potential of being the ultimate power play for desperate owners who dropped Todd Frazier before Todd Frazier realized that Todd Frazier was Todd Frazier, and that Todd Frazier in particular was pretty darn good. During the month of this past April, girls from around the world were raiding the streets tossing their panties over fire hydrants and unsuspecting misogynists because the bastard had finally discovered some plate discipline (13.6% BB rate, 20% K rate,) and did so while demonstrating that 2012 June-July power we all secretly gushed over (.478 SLG, .887 OPS.) I think it’s fair to assume every other month besides last month never happened, especially since the 28-year old is playing the best baseball of his life right now. In that aforementioned month of August where he hit everything, he carried with it an impressive list of (advanced) counting stats: .402 Weighted On-base percentage, 160 wRC+ (which stands for “Weighted Runs Created” and to put that into perspective, the league average is 100 and applies to all ballpark factors,) and a .929 OPS. All of this going on with a ridiculously awesome 10.6% K rate! He has unarguably been the best third baseman in fantasy over the last 30 days, and the way he’s pulled it off makes it very easy to assume he could wrap up September with a Herculean vengeance. This last bit goes to all the ladies out there: his BABIP was a mere .322 in this period. Ladies, please, keep your panties on. Anyway, to simplify it all for you: Trevor Plouffe is outplaying this guy and that guy, and doing it with style. And I’m certainly respecting his skills right now.

Justin Turner, 3B/2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

Yes, I know, I already mentioned Justin Turner and how you should go pick him up if you need help at short or second base. But his case goes much deeper than name-calling (and by that I mean bringing him to your attention.) One can assume it’s his teammates, others will point to the change of scenery, but all of a sudden this guy’s been hitting .322 for Los Angeles the entire year. The ENTIRE year! The dude’s getting on base 39% of the time and slugging .445. You know what Turner’s best year was in the Majors before 2014 ever even happened!?!? Last season. I know; anti-climactic, isn’t it? He hit a modest .280.319.385 in 86 games with the Mets in 2013. You can blame the lack of spectacular eye-popping statistics on the Mets just being the Mets, but you can also kinda blame that on Turner as well. Citi Field didn’t grant him the .397 BABIP that he’s clinging to for dear life down in Chavez Ravine, so something’s definitely changed about him…or maybe not. But would do you seriously wanna bet against that sort of thing in September? I wouldn’t. His peripherals are good (9.1% BB rate, 23.8% line drive rate, 141 wRC+,) and despite a groundball rate nearing 50%, he’s making decent contact with a 78% clip. Long story’s short, this is definitely a season the regression fairies ignored completely, but the guy is really not that bad either. Couple that with the increase in playing time (he has played in 34 of 45 games for LA since the All-Star Break) and we may have a true winner here at a variety of different positions as the season winds down (at least in NL-only or deep 10-12 team mixers.)

Adam Eaton, OF, Chicago White Sox

I’ve got a question for all the die-hards out in the Southside of Chicago: Don’t you ever get tired of hearing about Adam Eaton? I know I have, and I haven’t even rooted for the Pale Holes since underdogs like Freddy Garcia and John Garland were taking the world by storm back in ’05 and riding off into the fantasy-relevant sunset with World Series rings shortly after. In regards to this season alone, he has been on the DL more times than Dee Gordon, Denard Span, and Ben Revere have homered. Now bear with me here and don’t let that sink in too much ’cause that may not exactly be true, but Eaton has been an annoying player to own in fantasy all year long. Just advising you guys out there to go add him again because he’s healthy is a risk in and of itself, but with only 30 games left he may be worth gambling on. He’s still having a productive all-around season, even if the power is still totally nonexistent. Because of his gorgeous .310 batting average, Eaton’s managed to somehow still slug over .400 (with one homer!) all the while maintaining a run-scoring pace that would soar just above 100 in a span of 162 full games played. That would also have him predicted to hit 35 doubles and about 14-15 triples if he never missed a game, which would play beautifully in leagues that count extra base-hits. Before I get carried away, the point is that he’s proven to be a solid leadoff hitter when he’s healthy, and the only thing that could stop him from performing is himself (which, in a sense, is a bit literal since half of his injuries were inflicted by him running into walls and diving into bases.) Desperate shallow league owners are spending a weekend in Vegas with poker chips and a dangerous case of amnesia, but everyone else should take a flier if their outfield needs a serious boost.

Phil Hughes, SP, Minnesota Twins

Shut up. Phil Hughes is not a reach. If you really think that, then you’re most likely one of the 97% of league owners who are too busy looking at Kate Upton’s tits on Dropbox than acknowledging Justin Verlander’s counting stats. Something told me going into the season that eventually Phil Hughes would figure it out with Minnesota, but I still can’t figure out whether or not that’s because of the big ballpark in Target Field and the offseason adjustments or because I’m a Yankee fan. Whatever it is; it’s working. And on top of all that this young fellow right here has made it his life’s mission to become the next Bret Saberhagen. In fact…look out Bret Saberhagen! This is a little diddy I stumbled upon recently in regards to control pitchers, and it just so happens to be a compiled list of the greatest K/BB seasons in Major League history.

Rank Player (age that year) Strikeouts / Base On Balls Year
1. Bret Saberhagen (30) 11.0000 1994
2. Phil Hughes (28) 10.4667 2014
3. Cliff Lee (31) 10.2778 2010
4. Jim Whitney (26) 10.0000 1884
5. Jim Whitney (25) 9.8571 1883
6. Hisashi Iwakuma (33) 9.7692 2014
7. Curt Schilling (35) 9.5758 2002
8. George Bradley (27) 9.0000 1880
9. Pedro Martinez (28) 8.8750 2000
10. Greg Maddux+ (31) 8.8500 1997
11. Henry Boyle (23) 8.8000 1884
12. Pedro Martinez (27) 8.4595 1999
13. Ben Sheets (25) 8.2500 2004
14. James Burke 8.2258 1884
15. Clayton Kershaw (26) 8.0800 2014
16. Charlie Sweeney (21) 8.0238 1884
17. Tommy Bond (28) 7.9444 1884
18. Carlos Silva (26) 7.8889 2005
19. Greg Maddux+ (29) 7.8696 1995
20. Curt Schilling (34) 7.5128 2001

Ok, now tell me what you see. No, you idiot! I’m not talking about Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez peppering the list (although I’d really, really love to someday.) I can only imagine what kind of video game these guys were playing when they did this, because it definitely was not MLB 2K13. All of them do have one thing in common, though: They go camping together every Summer and drive through the woods of Vermont until they hit the Green Mountain National Forest. From there, Saberhagen sets up the fire at nightfall, Maddux supplies the refreshments (ox and deer with two kegs of Poland Spring,) and Martinez, Silva, Schilling and Hughes (Lee and Iwakuma were too pussy to do it this year) join hands and skip around the fire singing some old Native American ritual until the fire dies down and the ghosts of Jim Whitney, James Burke, and Tommy Bond appear. The three C’s (Confidence, Composure, and Control) are taught vehemently by these phantoms, and the minute they veer off into the wind the gentlemen involved in the ritual are granted the ability to throw a baseball within every quadrant of the strikezone with consistency (another C!), but must adhere to the amendment that they are forbidden to walk a batter. The consequences? I’d love to tell ya, but they are too raw and unspeakable for me to even be discreet. Back to reality! Phil Hughes has more wins than Felix Hernandez, fewer walks allowed than Clayton Kershaw, and has a 2.75 ERA in the second half of this season. Hate to be blunt, but he’s a must-own down the stretch in all leagues. Do I have to spell it out for you?

Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets

After landing on the DL back on August 11th for Shoulder Tendinitis, fantasy owners far and wide dropped Jacob deGrom faster than a dubstep beat at an Avicii concert. Then he came back healthy and everything just a couple weeks ago, but his ownership continues to pale in comparison to his stats. I get that rookie starters don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt considering his first start back was pretty bad, but I’d definitely take him over, I don’t know, Tim Hudson? Believe it or not, but he’s still owned in more leagues than deGrom even though he’s only barely besting the youngster in wins and walks. What deGrom brings to the table is as clutch as it gets this time of year, as we’re talking about a 4+ K/BB ratio, balanced opposing BABIP (hurting the chances for a random period of absolute suckiness,) and impressive arsenal and skill set. I’ve got a funny feeling that he knows just how nasty his fastball is, with a glaring 43.6% usage rate coinciding with an even more glaring 29.4% K rate (remember that this does not take into account his two-seamer and cutter.) All of his off-speed pitches generate a swinging strike and K rate greater than 12 and 19 percent, respectively.

“I still don’t understand it, though. How good is that, really?”

Are you aware of the term “the proof is in the pudding?” You are? Okay. Well, it’s entirely irrelevant here, but at least I caught you off guard. Anyway, nearly all of deGrom’s advanced stats for each one of his pitches are identical to those of former Royals great Zack Greinke. And you don’t need a reality check to know how great that guy is. Dynasty league owners have stepped upon a pot of gold, while everyone else better start rushing to the waiver wire (available in over 41% of ESPN leagues) and cashing in before the bank’s closed and the word is out.

Jordan Schafer, OF, Minnesota Twins

The record third Twin to be mentioned in the same post is an unlikely source of a particular category that’s easy to draft for but hard to find at the end of the year. The funny thing about Jordan Schafer is that it wasn’t too long ago when he got a couple chances to leadoff for the Atlanta Braves before tapering off and getting released earlier this season. You’d think a team that was so desperate to add speed like the Braves would’ve reconsidered slotting him in there over Heyward and stretching out that lineup a bit, but that’s none of my business. What’s happened for him since is, though; as much mine as it is yours. In 27 games (87 at-bats) with the Twins, Schafer is batting .333 with 14 runs scored and a WHOPPING 14 stolen bases!! That there is the secret ingredient I was alluding to; the main reason why this guy has deserved an opportunity to display his skills on the big stage in the first place. I could continue to dig into his peripherals and such, but I would also like to be awake so I could finish this post. Schafer’s numbers powers-wise are as boring as an English class taught by Ben Stein, and he’s likely to hurt your batting average more than help it if you lock him in your lineup everyday in daily leagues. I like him as an AL-Only/12-team deep league 3rd or 4th outfielder, and I’m actually not even insulting him when I say that. If you pick him up, you’re doing it for the steals and steals alone. Play those cards right, and he’s sure to return the favor without any collateral damage.

Danny Salazar, SP, Cleveland Indians

I kinda have to talk about Salazar’s replenished performance now after last night’s a$$ whoopin of the Detroit Tigers (CG SHO, 8 H, 0 BBs, 9 Ks,) and with a now 2.30 ERA and 45:11 K/BB ratio through 47 second-half innings, I’m willing to bet the guy chin-strapped lads across Ohio couldn’t get enough of is finally back. Remember that BS story I invented for Phil Hughes and his historical companions? If Salazar continues to pitch at the more recent pace he’s been on (27:5 K/BB ratio over his last four starts,) we may very well see him setting records and shit just like everyone else. Now, of course seeing him pull off a full season with a BB/9 under 1.5 is still an extreme stretch, but he’s certainly harnessed his control since coming back from AAA Columbus (2.11 BB/9 since the ASB.) And to be totally honest, that was really the only roadblock in his path to success all season long. This is a scary revelation for fellow division rivals and AL opponents alike, because when Salazar’s on his stuff plays everywhere. With K rates north of 16% (highest is 45.1% on his changeup) and swinging strike percentages ranging from 5 to 25 percent on all his pitches, he definitely has all the tools necessary to absolutely obliterate the competition in September.

“But which leagues should I add him in?”

All of them, young Padawan. All of them.

Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox

For as much as I was taught to hate and completely despise the Red Sox (of whom will never be forgiven for the July 24th, 2004 fight involving Don Zimmer being shoved to the ground by Pedro Martinez,) I was also taught to recognize greatness when it’s present. That is not to mistake me for one who’s placing rookie outfielder Mookie Betts on an towering pedestal high above the clouds hovering Yawkey Way. However, as the hilarious Larry David once said while intercepting a chat-and-cut, “That would work on about 99% of people, but I happened to be on line.” Clever, ain’t it? And I’m still not talking about Betts’s numbers yet; I’m referring to his maddeningly low ownership percentage (34.1%.) Here is a guy who’s been raking like the leaves of Autumn have already started falling, all the while claiming his rightful place in Beantown as the everyday starting center fielder. But you people wanna cling onto Mark Trumbo and Brandon Moss like they’re saving your fantasy life right now (again, none of my business.) Since being called back up in late July for being the wrong kind of bad boy in early June, Betts has carried a .279 batting average and .470-ish slugging percentage, with four homers and 10 RBI. Those numbers don’t stand out much, but also consider that he’s done his recent damage in under 100 at-bats. If we do the math and calculate projections for what kind of hitter Betts would turn out to be in a full season of plate appearances (don’t forget the 4 stolen bases!) we wind up with something like a 80/24/75 slash with 20+ swipes. Somewhere out there, 34-year old Ryan Braun from the future is smiling with his smug face. 2014 Hunter Pence, though, is kinda jealous. A wealth of solid minor league stats, as well as some tasty hitting peripherals (21.4% line drive rate, 41.7% FB rate) tell a very compelling story for his average going on the rise, and hint at some sneaky power towards season’s end. There’s a lot to like (and even some to love) about Mookie Betts, and just knowing that he is capable of adequately producing in every category makes him the Jesus Christ of AL-Only championship contenders. You should probably pick him up in all your other leagues, too. I mean, It’s not like anyone else in your league knows who he is.

Closers to Vulture

Jenry Mejia, SP/RP, New York Mets (Available in 27.3% of all ESPN leagues)

Eric O’ Flaherty, RP, Oakland Athletics (Available in 41.6% of all ESPN leagues)

Aaron Sanchez, RP, Toronto Blue Jays (Available in 97.9% of all ESPN leagues)

Very Deep League Power Plays

Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies (Available in 19.2% of all ESPN leagues)

Angel Pagan, OF, San Francisco Giants (Available in 36.3% of all ESPN leagues)

Jake Peavy, SP, San Francisco Giants (Available in 47.2% of all ESPN leagues)

Lorenzo Cain, OF, Kansas City Royals (Available in 57.9% of all ESPN leagues)

Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers (Available in 64% of all ESPN leagues)

Miguel Gonzalez, SP, Baltimore Orioles (Available in 92.1% of all ESPN leagues)

Jarred Cosart, SP, Miami Marlins (Available in 92.4% of all ESPN leagues)

Vidal Nuno, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (Available in 94.6% of all ESPN leagues)

Odrisamer Despaigne, SP, San Diego Padres (Available in 95.6% of all ESPN leagues)

Derek Holland, SP, Texas Rangers (Available in 98.6% of all ESPN leagues)

 

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Fantasy Baseball: Trade Market, May 2014

Fantasy Baseball: Trade Market, May 2014

Here is a list of the following players I’ve seen dropped in all of my fantasy baseball leagues over the last month: (*= injured player)

*Brandon Belt (healthy at time of drop)

Aaron Hill

Homer Bailey

*Mark Teixeira (was on DL at time of drop)

*Michael Cuddyer

Yordano Ventura

*Mat Latos

*Doug Fister (was on DL at time of drop)

Lance Lynn

Everth Cabrera

Jose Altuve

Danny Salazar

*Hisashi Iwakuma (was on DL at time of drop)

Jason Castro

One thing all of these guys have in common is that they’re all owned in at least half of all ESPN leagues (if you exclude Castro, 90% of all ESPN leagues.) Another, more crucial attribute that all of these gentlemen share is a track record, which should create plenty of head-scratching for fantasy owners across the country when they see these folks on the waiver wire. If someone came up to me and said, “Hey, guess what?? I just nabbed a .280 hitter with 50-stolen base potential off waivers from some dude who didn’t want him anymore” I’d immediately grow some concern for the human race. When you’re in a league that runs on a waiver order like most of mine and you find yourself on the bottom third of said order, these kinds of transactions can be absolutely maddening. The fact that Homer Bailey can be taken on a flier in any league because his original owner gave up on him is kind of sad, which, mind you, is perhaps the greatest understatement of understatements. I’m not out here to throw any of my league mates under the bus, but I can’t begin to imagine what must be going on in their minds when they make these kinds of moves. This is sort of the norm in fantasy baseball throughout the month of April, so unsurprisingly the complexion of most leagues are already changing at a rapid fire rate in May and beyond. I’ll show you exactly what I mean.

List of players added for aforementioned dropped players:

Emilio Bonifacio (for Homer Bailey)

Tanner Roark (for Jason Castro)

Aaron Harang (for Lance Lynn)

Homer Bailey (for Mat Latos. Go figure)

Everth Cabrera (for Aaron Hill. Makes sense I guess)

Devin Mesoraco (for Brandon Belt)

Ben Revere (for Michael Cuddyer!?)

Zach McAllister (for Yordano Ventura)

Jose Altuve (for Everth Cabrera)

*Mike Minor (for Doug Fister)

Chris Colabello (for Mark Teixeira)

Ok, let’s review. There are only three moves here that were even remotely smart. Dropping Tex for Colabello at the time was relatively considerable, and swapping Cabrera for Altuve is fine if it’s position-specific. One who chooses to stash Minor over Fister isn’t gaining much besides some extra Ks, but in that situation I’d drop anyone else to get him. Fister’s no slouch and will be pitching in the NL all season, so why not have both?

Now the rest of the batch.

-As much as I’d love to say that Emilio Bonifcacio should be owned in all leagues until he cools off, there’s no way in this green Earth that I’d ever consider dropping an ice-cold Homer Bailey for his services. That’s highway robbery. You might as well e-mail the guy who picked him up and relay all of your credit card information since you’re already inviting him to steal from you.

-The Tanner Roark-Jason Castro swap is justified since the former owner of Castro also owns Jonathan Lucroy. No argument there, and it’s tough keep even that much talent with the rough start he’s had.

-The guy who dropped Lance Lynn for Aaron Harang obviously doesn’t know who either pitcher is, and will most likely run his team to the ground for the sake of owning the hottest waiver wire players all year long. Still, Lynn really isn’t a very good fantasy starter either, besides from the fact that he wins practically everytime he’s on the mound.

-The Devin Mesoraco pickup is a toss up as far as eventual results go, even though I highly believe that he’s for real and will contribute plenty for fantasy owners. But won’t Brandon Belt do the same thing? And this guy also has Yadier Molina, so it’s not like he desperately needed to upgrade the position. Whatever.

-Anyway, dropping Cuddyer for Ben Revere is chuckle-worthy, especially since Cuddyer’s only expected to miss about a week and a half…or so I thought. Cuddyer has recently reported that his hamstring isn’t healing as quickly as he had hoped, and his 15-day timetable for return appears to be anything but certain. Still, Cuddyer’s become a god in Colorado and absolutely loves hitting there, so Revere would have to hit about .320 and outpace Billy Hamilton in stolen bases by A LOT in order to truly replace him.

-Zach McAllister for Yordano Ventura because Ventura had one bad April start to kick off his rookie season??? Bro…WTF!? McAllister’s career numbers are pedestrian at best, especially if you consider his home/road splits that actually reveal that he’s even worse on the mound at Progressive Field. The only notable statistic that McAllister wields right now is his 2.51 BB/9 rate and 0 HR/9. We must remember that he’s still a fly ball pitcher (1.17 GB/FB rate) with a 7.22 K/9 which is probably as high as it’ll get for him all year long. So, regression is bound to come a knockin’ any day now. I’ve already mentioned in detail all the underlying factors that make Ventura such a must-add in all formats, but seeing as how he’s already bounced back in Baltimore last Friday (8 innings, 9 baserunners, 0 Rs, 8 Ks) and is currently blowing nearly all of McAllister’s peripherals out of the water makes the move look simply retarded. No offense to the guy who did it, of course.

If you’re smart enough to realize that all of the guys I’ve mentioned who were dropped carry significant fantasy value regardless of their slow starts, you are most certainly on cloud nine because you made it a priority to pick them up. Some championship teams are made at the end of April, and most owners can thank their league mates for that. You’d be surprised how many solid players I’ve seen dropped over the last couple years I’ve been doing fantasy baseball. It’s no secret that most team owners are still evaluating their lineups and studying their strengths and weaknesses, but I’ve learned that no matter what happens it is in one’s best interests to stick with their mid-round draft picks for at least another month or two. Giving someone else the chance to cash in on a struggling player because your overall team has yet to figure it out could potentially become the greatest mistake you’ll ever make. Patience must be exercised in fantasy baseball more than in any other sport, because it’s by far the least consistent in terms of individual player production. So with the month of April in our rear view mirror, I’d like to take this opportunity to go over a list of sell-high and buy-low targets in the hopes that those who are still struggling to find success could turn things around.

“Sell-highs”

Dee Gordon, SS/2B, Los Angeles Dodgers

As you all well know, it’s far too late to scoop up Dee Gordon and his “100-stolen base” potential off the waiver wire, unless all of your league mates mentally left for the Hamptons
after the draft. For everyone else who grabbed him and hoped for lighting in a bottle: Kudos. What he brings to table is the stuff that dreams are made of, if dreams were fantasies in which a shortstop can do more for their owners than swipe bags. Gordon is the current owner of a .344 batting average, he’s scored 23 runs to go along with his 24 steals, and has proceeded to do most of this damage as LA’s everyday leadoff hitter (!) His hot start has raised eyebrows across the country, but it also raises a wee bit of concern for stat trackers. For all the blazing speed he possesses, Gordon could be facing a drop off in average with a current 3.11 GB/FB rate. Although a 14.3% Infield Hit and 55.6% Bunt hit rates are undoubtedly boosting his .404 BABIP, these aren’t exactly the two most justifiable indicators to a player’s true success at the plate. In other words, Gordon can only remain THIS creative with fair balls inside the diamond for so long. I don’t believe we’re looking at Emilio Bonifacio circa 2009, because if I did he wouldn’t be in this article now, would he? However, his .324 clip is bound for regression, and we are most likely witnessing Gordon at his absolute highest price value. If you keep him, you run the risk of not getting a helluva lot for him via trade. But if speed kills your opponents most weeks and your team’s overall batting average has seen an impactful uptick due to his services, you have all the permission in the world to ride him for as long as you have to.

Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinnati Reds

According to FanGraphs, Johnny Cueto is outpitching his FIP and xFIP by a seemingly ridiculous amount. For all the shutouts and complete games, the sabermetrics surrounding his 1.43 ERA and 0.73 WHIP suggests that this run simply cannot last. Is this me stating that Cueto’s start to the season has been fluky? Is this slang for “It is within your best interests to sell as high as you can”? Am I just venting because I had to settle for Francisco Liriano after my friend drafted Cueto ahead of me? These are the questions that matter, folks! It’s amazing how perfect you have to be in order for your peripherals to finally agree with you as a baseball pitcher. Putting Cueto’s dominance into perspective; Corey Kluber — pride of Birmingham, Alabama — has actually pitched better than Cueto according to FanGraphs. When comparing the two, Cueto has a slight upperhand in xFIP by a few points, but Kluber holds a distinct advantage in FIP even with an opposing BABIP 200 points higher than Cueto’s. However, Kluber’s numbers are relatively ugly: 3.48 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 57 Ks, 58 Hits allowed. No way is that going to be the case come September if he continues to throw the ball like this, which now puts Cueto’s overall value into question for many. Trust me, you don’t wanna be there when that happens. However, in defense of Cueto none of his underlying numbers tell us that we should prepare for the worst. Let’s remember that his K rate has gotten a cortisone shot of a jolt; now up to 28.9% for the year (a career-high.) Although he’s not inducing a crazy amount of groundballs like he did in 2013, his GB/FB rate is still sitting at a neat 1.59 while being complemented by a lowered 16.5% line drive rate. I love, love, love his increased use of his two-seam fastball, and I hope he continues to rely on it more considering how many batters he’s struck out looking already. So, Johnny Cueto is essentially just another classic case of pitching so well your peripherals aim to find signs of regression. While that regression will come — no one has ever finished a season with a .151 opposing BABIP and 100% strand rate — it won’t hurt his fantasy value much; I still think he could finish as a top-15 fantasy starting pitcher by season’s end. But right now, there’s no telling just how much you can possibly get back for him in a trade.

Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees

The Asian Sensation of 2014, Masahiro Tanaka so far has pitched like someone who hasn’t lost a game in nearly two years. While I don’t personally believe this stretch of perfection will last much long, there’s a lot of pre-season skepticism from many critics (myself included) that has been nullified by his sparkling first six starts. His initial draft value looks like a joke now, especially when you consider his three double-digit strikeout performances and 51-6 K/BB ratio. His splitter has always been considered the “out” pitch to his repertoire, and that is most certainly the case with an overall 22.5% usage and 52.7% K rate. His deep array of varying pitches makes him a dangerous threat on the mound most nights (especially considering his slider and cutter,) and seeing how his xFIP (2.18) is actually .40 points lower than his actually ERA (2.57) screams “Sell high.” However, as much as I love watching him put away Major League lineups and pitch out of slow starts, the advantage of pitching in a league where no one has ever seen him before remains in the back of my mind. Not that he’ll fall off or hit an impenetrable wall, but there’s always that slight chance that his regression will be worse than we expected. But again, I could say the same thing for a lot of future fantasy aces who are off to hot starts (Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha, Yordano Ventura.) I firmly believe that owners could get a whole lot in return for just Tanaka’s numbers alone, which are still a bit skewed by some bad luck (like his 19.4% HR/FB rate, for example.) Lord knows what the future will hold for Tanaka, but in my opinion he’s only just started to really impress.

Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies

Undoubtedly the biggest waiver wire pickup of the year, Charlie Blackmon has taken what was a neat little opportunity to win the final everyday outfield spot in Colorado and has ran with it, turning heads from Denver to Maine with a .348/.385/.583 slash to go along with 30/7/25/8 production. Compare those numbers to, say, Mike Trout, and you’d honestly believe that you had gotten a #1 fantasy draft pick for free. What Blackmon has done atop the Rockies lineup is beyond incredible, and I have reason to believe the good times will continue to roll for at least a little bit longer. Last season, he had a great slash line and was also hitting for both average and power, but he was the owner of an atrocious .14 BB/K ratio. That alone (besides his Swinging Strike percentage, of course) is the only major difference between 2013 Charlie Blackmon and the 2014 hybrid we’ve come to know as Charlie Blackmon. He’s now walking at a 4.8% clip (up from 2.7% last year) and is only striking out 7.6% of the time thanks to a bolstered up 91.9% contact rate. All those numbers I’ve just mentioned are career-highs by an astoundingly egregious margin, in case you wondered if Blackmon was just hitting out of his mind. This is also the hottest Blackmon will possibly ever be this year, so enjoy it while it lasts. Or trade him for a top-20 starting pitcher or something. You choose. Anyway, don’t trade him and you get a potential 30/30 candidate with a .300 average, and I’m saying this based squarely on Blackmon’s peripherals. I’d be lying if I said that his serge onto the scene was nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals

This is the classic case of “Sell High. Sell High Now. Sell High Quickly,” something I’d like to turn into a weekly fantasy baseball column in the future. Now, raise your hand if you thought Anthony Rendon was ever going to be a top-15 fantasy second baseman AND third baseman at any point of the 2014 season. Very good! It’s almost like I’m talking to myself here. Look ma, no hands! NO HANDS!! You know what Rendon accomplished in his first big league season last year? 40/7/35 with a .725 OPS. Look, I’m not here to hate on the kid or anything; I appreciate seeing the youngsters get out there when the season starts and getting the chance to watch them tear it up. However, in Rendon’s case, his .295/.331/.518/.849 slash line and 22/5/23 production is the equivalent of watching the Padres on Opening Day and saying to yourself, “Wow this is great!” before it all falls down and reality gives you a big smack across the face. Forgive me for being crass, but quite honestly the baseball gods will eventually get off their high horse and force regression to play its hand like it’s supposed to. Rendon’s Swinging Strike percentage has gone up, he’s chasing more pitches outside the strike zone, and he’s clinging on to a .330 BABIP due to a ludicrous 43.8% fly ball rate. If you’re putting that last statistic into perspective, note that Giancarlo Stanton currently owns a 29.7% HR/FB rate while only hitting 39.8% of balls in the air with a .316 BABIP. This isn’t me comparing him to one of the elite power hitters in the game more so than it is me stating that he’s maintaing his average and slugging peripherals due to a shamrock’s worth of luck instead of a truly potent bat. Let me explain. He’s sitting at a .295 clip while walking only 5.4% of the time. That’s first of all. This is second: Rendon can hit all the fly balls he wants, but a line drive rate of only 21.4% (last year’s being 25.5%) means they better be leaving the yard, or his 10.2% HR/FB rate looks plenty worrisome. Now, I haven’t been watching any Nats games, so I can’t tell you exactly if Rendon’s fly balls are gappers or just falling in front of outfielders playing deep, but anyone who is this productive with his peripherals and lack of plate discipline needs to be demonstrating true Isolated Power, which he currently is at .223. Yet, according to the aforementioned numbers this can only drop from here on out, so do yourself a favor and put a mean ole’ price tag on him while you still can. The way I see it, he’ll still produce enough to be owned in most leagues throughout the year, but this isn’t 2013 Josh Donaldson or 2014 Brian Dozier. Speaking of 2014 Brian Dozier…

Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins

What is boggling my mind about this guy is how inconceivably elite he’s been (8 homers, 32 runs scored, 11 stolen bases) while being equally lacking at the dish (.227 BA, 19.9% K rate.) Still, Dozier has pretty much been a top-5 fantasy second baseman this season, regardless of how poorly he’s hitting so far. Just imagine how much more valuable he’d be hitting at a higher clip, but while you’re doing that think of the vast majority of owners out there who are picturing the same thing. There’s a solid chance the Twins continue to hit the rest of the year (and I’m not just saying that because Joe Mauer’s no longer in the three-hole, thank GOD,) so Dozier being the Major League leader in runs right now is legit. The steals? Not so much. Dozier hasn’t sniffed at any more than 14 steals in any season, Minors or Majors. Make sure to avoid telling your leaguemates that, by the way. Could lead to awkward conversation. What should continue to trend upwards, though, is his power. Dude had 18 dingers last year, despite hitting half the time in the graveyard that is Target Field. That doesn’t mean his current 19.2% HR/FB ratio is sustainable – he had it at 9.2% last season with the same overall peripherals – but his improved discipline at the plate is begging and pleading for brighter days at the plate. From here on out, I could see the average getting a bump, the steals slowing down, and the power to coast. Dozier’s definitely a 20/20 guy, and if you can make that claim and do it in the most convincing of fashions you should be able to squeeze out a ton of potential trade value out of him right now.

Jon Lester, SP, Boston Red Sox

Owners must be feeling pretty smitten with the remarkable jump start Jon Lester has provided for them, and there’s a lot to be excited about for those who are planning to stick with the veteran lefty. First off is the glaring 10.7 K/9, helped greatly by Lester’s increased use of his cutter and near-complete negligence of his changeup. Look deeper into his rediscovered propensity to strike out everybody and you’ll find that he’s also darting more first-pitch strikes than ever before: a 62.2% clip. His 9.6 Swinging Strike rate is also the third-highest in his career, behind only his two best seasons in the Bigs (2009-2010) where he compiled a collective 450 strikeouts over a span of just 411.1 innings. Lester’s arm and durability has never been in question, but his lack of missed bats in recent years has. It’s good to see that no longer is the problem, and his improved control (1.85 BB/9, 5.80 K/BB ratio) currently places him back into the elite class of fantasy starters. It’ll be difficult to expect Lester to experience a rough stretch of any kind with a 2.12 FIP and 2.58 xFIP, and IF he keeps working at this pace he will easily rank as a top-10 fantasy pitcher in all leagues. All in all, this means two things: 1) You got Lester for an extremely low price and 2) You can sell him for an exponentially higher price if you act fast.

Nelson Cruz, OF, Baltimore Orioles

Some would say that he’s aiming to regain his stock value after his PED conspiracy last season. Others would assume that playing at Camden Yards is boosting his power numbers. Everyone else is under the impression that he’s juicing again. I personally believe in all of the above. The point is that Nelson Cruz is currently a top-50 player, hands down. I’m not saying that’s going to last, and I’m also not agreeing to the notion that his production down the line will be as empty as the outfield seats at Tropicana Field. This is a guy who, at this stage of his career, will always end up providing pretty good numbers, but is no longer capable of performing at an elite level. People forget that Cruz has struck out over 20% of the time in all but one full baseball season in his MLB career. his Swinging Strike percentage has constantly hovered over 10%. His groundball percentage has continued to climb year after year since 2012. The worst part is that the highest BB/K ratio Cruz has ever had was .61, and that was six years ago. For those who are smoking the funny stuff and believe that Cruz’s awesome start to the year is the result of him finding something; don’t kid yourself. The power is still there, but the peripherals are Allllllll the same. Yeah, he’s already got the 10 homers and the 30 RBI and it’s only May, but his production has always peaked in these first two months for nearly every season he’s had in the Bigs. For the simple reason alone that he has yet to change any faucet of his game, Cruz is a risk to own down the stretch when you know there are avid owners in your league who are willing to give up anything to have him. Not that he won’t finish the year with his usual 75/25/80 numbers and a .260-ish average, but consider that this rate of production can only slow down from here.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

Before we get started here, I’d just like to point out that at his current pace, the 34-year old King Albert would finish this 2014 season with 45 homeruns, 117 RBI, and 103 runs scored. “But aren’t those Miguel Cabrera’s projections?” you might ask. Well, you’d be surprised when I say that Pujols, who had trudged through the entire 2013 season due to a bout with plantar fasciitis, is current outpacing Cabrera in almost every offensive category. This is great news for owners who expected him to bounce back with a clean slate of health and happy feet, as it should considering this is still one of the great hitters to have ever graced this game. But the bad news is right around the corner, and it’s not very welcoming. Remember how I was talking about Nelson Cruz showing signs of offensive regression because of negatives like an ever-increasing groundball rate? Pujols has the same problem, and it’s much, much worse. He’s killing worms at a 47.7% rate, by leaps and bounds the highest percentage of that category in his career. You would hope that he’s countering that with more solid contact, but he’s not even fulfilling in that respect, either. His line drive rate right now is a relatively putrid 14.6%, meaning that the only way Pujols has managed to hold on to his .276 average for the year is by hitting the most conveniently placed fly balls anyone has ever seen. “But wait. It says here that he’s only hit 37.7% of batted balls in the air…” Interesting fact, young Padawan. That statistic carries with it a monstrous asterisk, as Pujols is banking on a 18.8% Infield fly ball (4.8% being successful hits) and a 20.4% HR/FB rate to bail him out of his confusing .250 BABIP. In other words: when Pujols makes perfect contact the ball goes straight over the fence, but when he doesn’t he either rolls it over to short, bloops the ball, or pops it up. Forget about hard hit singles or outfield-splitting doubles, because these peripherals suggest that Albert won’t be doing much of those at all. If you know what’s best for your fantasy team, understand that this isn’t a good thing to let play out. Who knows where Pujols’s production will go from here, but the current top-5 first base production is more of a red herring than a telling tale of concrete stats. The silver lining to his great start is beginning to open up, and the sell-high window will soon start to close.

Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Milwaukee Brewers

“Gee, I wonder who the #1 relief pitcher in all of fantasy baseball is right now…” If you thought it was Craig Kimbrel you were close, but if you guessed Chad Qualls or Sergio Santos then you’ve got an awesome sense of humor. The urgency of owning reliable closers is a factor no fantasy owner should ignore, especially now since we live in an age where some bullpens are so bad Jon Hamm could get the call for a save opportunity. It’s truly amazing how quickly K-Rod has figured it out this season after blowing two-thirds of his save opps last year with the Brew-Crew, and he has the adjustments to thank for that. Rodriguez has gone back to hurling his two-seamer just as often as his fastball, with a 25% spike in pitch usage between today and his 2013 season. The overall effects have been great, to say the least: a 1.38 GB/FB rate, 36.1% K rate, 1.80 BB/9 (a career-high) and a neat .200 opposing BABIP. But it is his changeup that has really spearheaded his success. Batters have a combined .139/.139/.222/.383 slash line against it, with an astonishing 52.8% K rate. The best part? K-Rod has not thrown any one of his other pitches more. Milwaukee’s seemed to have found the winning formula in the difficult NL Central, and if they’re going to give the Cardinals and friends a run for their money they need Rodriguez to keep this up more than ever. Is there reason to believe that he can’t keep this up? Absolutely not. He’s utilizing his arsenal and attacking hitters like a top-5 closer would, and you should run and tell your friends how much you won if or when you trade him for a top-15 starter, infielder, outfielder or catcher.

“Buy-Lows”

Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers

For a guy who’s played everyday and driven in 100+ RBI in nearly every season in the Majors, Prince Fielder has been teasing our projected draft value of him over the last couple of seasons. Last season’s final bout with Detroit raised huge red flags concerning his ability to hit fastballs harder than 94 mph, and that issue unfortunately remains. What’s worse is that Fielder’s hitting more groundballs than ever before: a ridiculously high 50.9% rate! With everyone and their mothers putting infield shifts on power-hitting lefties, this helps to explain why his batting average this year (and some of last year) has been crumbling. But a .246 BABIP? An 8.3 Infield Fly ball rate, but an even 8.3 HR/FB rate in Texas?? Hey baseball gods, can you give the guy some rope? I think he deserves a break. Prince’s fly ball rate is still in the 30s, and he’s still walking as much as he’s striking out (yes, they’ve both happened a lot already.) There’s not a doubt in my mind that Fielder’s trending downwards and he’s looking more like a 25/90 HR-RBI guy than the 35/110 nightmare he was in Milwaukee and Detroit, but Fielder hasn’t completely fallen off the table. His numbers just need a wake up call, and with the weather warming up you should aim to “take him off someone else’s hands” before he gets hot along with it.

Martin Prado, 3B/2B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

I will forever be kicking myself for holding on to Martin Prado for this long in one of my leagues, while I’m forced to watch the Charlie Blackmons and Howie Kendricks of the world get scooped up by others. His inability to do anything even seemingly productive through the first month and a half of a baseball season is absurd, especially when you consider that he’s playing home games in the warm weather of Chase Field. It’s not something I can explain, let alone understand. You just need to know that this man occupies three different positions, winds up batting close to .300 every year, and carries an outstanding amount of run-scoring potential. At this point in his career, Prado’s simply a perennial slow-starter, as proven by his combined .651 OPS over the last two seasons. His K rate right now stands at a disgusting 16%, but last season it was hanging around 12% and he finished the year with it at 8%. Plate discipline is not his only growing pain, as Prado’s also putting the ball on the ground twice as much as he is putting it in the air. For someone who relies on hitting for a high average to make up for a lack of speed, this is the scariest statistic of them all. Even if Prado’s strikeouts go down, he’ll still be grounding out way more than half of the entire league. Still, his success is simply a matter of making contact, as his current BABIP stands at .297 and his line drive rate looks exactly like it has for centuries. His luck so far this season has been nonexistent, but so has the patience of many fantasy owners. You can most likely get him for a half-full bag of $2 potato chips right now, and the eventual return would definitely be worth the investment.

Allen Craig, 1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals

From hitting bombs, to hitting only when there are runners in scoring position, to not hitting at all, no one’s buy-low window is wider than Allen Craig’s. We continue to watch him evolve into a different hitter each year, and unfortunately 2014’s version of the everyday right fielder is a transformation we’d like to see reversed. I don’t know if Craig knows what to do when he makes contact anymore, with a career-low 17.9% line drive rate and a career-high 59.8% groundball rate. We can argue ’till the cows come home that Craig purposefully tries to find holes in the infield when he’s hitting those grounders, but I doubt he’s seen his .221 batting average and .250 BABIP. While I don’t believe that his philosophy in hitting will ever be as successful as it was last year, I like how his 16% HR/FB rate looks like that of his breakout campaign in 2012. If this keeps up as his average continues to rise, he should wind up becoming the 25/100 threat we all wished he would. If only his fly ball rate (22.3%) was on the rise, then I’d totally be all over Craig right now. Still, this guy bats in the middle of a very potent lineup, and no one finishes a full season without a big slump unless they’re Mike Trout or Troy Tulowitzki, so if someone’s on the verge of actually dropping him why not take a chance?

Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Cole Hamels has never had a FIP over 4 or one under 3 in any full season in his career, which means that he is one of the more consistent pitchers in the game, but not exactly a staff “ace.” Seeing as how he’s pitched 200 innings for four consecutive seasons, there’s no reason to be worried about trading for him even despite missing a few starts to begin the year over a biceps issue. But I’d be lying if I said his 5.32 ERA and 2.40 K/BB ratio weren’t concerning. His control seems to be a bit off, and while the rest of his strikezone-based peripherals are similar to those of his other seasons, his 51.9% first-pitch strike rate is relatively poor. That would explain the unusual walk rate and unfortunate .408 BABIP. However, Hamel’s stuff hasn’t lost its luster, he still has a 9.13 K/9 and his tERA (a fancy way of saying FIP, while also taking into account all batted balls) is a pretty good 3.77. You won’t fall “in love” with Hamels, but he’s certainly an asset and an ideal #3 starter in all leagues.

Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

It might be difficult to claw Machado away from another owner considering he JUST came back from the DL, but it definitely won’t hurt to try. His 88/14/71 slash production helped propel him into the top of the second tier of third baseman in fantasy baseball last year, and despite only walking 4.1% of the time he hit for a cool .283 average. Despite having a relatively slim 20.3% line drive rate last season, his ability to hit a third of his batted balls in the air aided to his bountiful 51 doubles. There’s some hidden power in that bat, and Machado’s upside tells me that he could up his homerun total to 20 this year and maybe even 25 some time soon. One last thing: Although his first 10 games this year have left much to be desired overall, Machado’s walk rate has climbed way up to 9.3%, and his K rate has dropped a little bit to 11.3%. If that continues to hold, Machado would wind up being a huge steal from someone else once he finally gets his feet wet in 2014.

 

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Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange Week 4: Lickin’ Their Chops

Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange Week 4: Lickin’ Their Chops

*Disclaimer: Due to a variety of setbacks and computer problems, I haven’t been able to post any fantasy baseball articles recently. It’s also important for me to note that some of the following stats behind certain players may not be up-to-date because I’ve been working on this post for the last couple of days. Last, I will be posting a new series of baseball posts pertaining to the trade market, as well as continuing my “notes and thoughts” series which I opened up around Opening Day.

Here’s another billing of stock-risers and stock-fallers for this week and beyond. Let’s not forget my pre-set system of urgency for each available free agent.

!!! – Must Add

$ – Worth a Look

# – Position/Category need

? – Speculative/Stash

“Hitters on the Rise”

!!! Justin Morneau, 1B, Colorado Rockies !!!

Had it not been for my personal skepticism of his hot start and the home ballpark he plays in, Justin Morneau would’ve been in my last article pertaining to fill-in free agents on the waiver wire. But quite honestly, he should be spoken of just about everywhere right now because he’s continuing to supersede expectations in 2014. Morneau’s peripherals so far justify any arguments about his return to form, from a 21.3% line drive rate and career-high 19.2 HR/FB rate, to contact and K rates that hint that there may be flashes of his 2006 MVP season throughout spurts of his playing time with the Rockies. Morneau’s BABIP has always hovered around or well over .300, which is no different now with a .360 clip and I can’t even bring myself to calling that a fluke because it once sat at .385 in 2010 with the Twins. For someone who’s been battling the ill effects of a concussion for well over four years, it’s extremely encouraging to see him rise back up to performing at an elite level again with the stats to prove it. Not that I’m saying he’ll remain a .356 average or hit 40 homers, but the move to Colorado and the deep lineup this team represents point to a plethora of signs that suggests that Morneau could easily turn out to become an extraordinary fantasy sleeper and a potential comeback player of the year. He’s worth a look in all leagues, and at the very worst he’ll end up being an emergency fill-in who can provide meaningful power at home with close to 80 RBI.

$ Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland Indians $

Brantley’s consistency and willingness to maintain a play style is both a strength and a weakness for him as a developing fantasy asset, but there are a couple stats I’ve researched that bring me to the conclusion that he may be changing things up a bit. If you look at the body of work this kid has laid out in the Majors already, you’re initial prognosis will be that he’s a line drive hitter who’ll put the ball on the ground as a means to find holes when there are runners in scoring position. That means that he is sacrificing power for average, as well as giving away potential RBIs in the air. Last year, Brantley’s career season, he only had 39 extra base-hits and slugged a hair under .400, but had 73 RBI and stole 17 bases. This year, his groundball rate has gone up by almost 10%, but his HR/FB rate has soared from 6.8% to 18.2%. This tells me that he’s stretching out his swing a bit for more power, which may be the case considering that he’s nearly halved his homerun total from last season in 102 April plate appearances. The initial results of Brantley’s relatively unusual start to the season may not ring true the rest of the way, but even with a little more focus on leaving the park Brantley could be shooting his fantasy value way up. He already has the legs to be a 20/20 guy. He just needs the mindset. If Brantley is indeed aiming for a longer swing and more gofer balls, his average won’t go any further than .265-.270. Nonetheless, he literally walks more than he strikes out and he’s batting fifth in a strong Indians lineup that hasn’t woke up yet, and when it does he’ll be an even more serviceable asset than he has been during his current hot stretch.

# Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami Marlins #

Let’s be honest. A year ago, you can scroll down the entire Marlins roster, compare it with the AAA affiliate of any other Major League ballclub, and fail to find any considerable difference between them. If only I was joking. A vast majority of Miami’s roster was littered with call ups and prospects their GM office traded for, so I guess you can already imagine what it must’ve been like to be a Marlins fan in 2013. The good thing about this is that some of these talented young bats and arms are making a serious case for fantasy relevance, and Marcell Ozuna himself appears to begging for a deep league flier. Batting 2nd for the Fish most nights, Ozuna has the opportunity to rack up run after run after run hitting in front of the all-powerful Giancarlo Stanton, and he’s already answering the call with a .304 batting average and 13 runs scored on the young season. It’s hard to extensively research him and discover the reasons for his early success, but it helps for anyone to have a 9-19 BB/K ratio and a 79% contact rate in the early going. Now I am beyond concerned that he’ll come down to earth a bit with his current 53.4% groundball and 13.6% infield flyball rate, but he gets the bat on the ball enough and is showing good enough plate discipline. Ozuna may not have a chance to be a .300 hitter all year, but in a 10-12 teamer where one’s outfield looks worse than others, I say go for it and enjoy the ride.

$ Carlos Ruiz, C, Philadelphia Phillies $

Chooch will always carry baggage with him no matter what league you own him in, particularly because of his spectacular 2012 season being followed up by a 25-game suspension to begin his 2013 campaign. The steep drop off in fantasy value for Ruiz is due in large part to the steep drop off in production over the last two seasons, as he went from a .325/.394/.540/.934 slash with 16 homers and 68 RBI in 2012 to a .268/.320/.368/.688 slash with 5 dingers and 37 ribbies last year. There’s not a single doubt in my mind that he doesn’t even sniff at the numbers from his former season had he not taken any adderall to begin with, so his recent hot streak and NL Player of the Week honors is more of the exception than the rule. So in that regard, Ruiz’s fantasy value is up in the air. Or so I thought…

-His current 19% Infield fly ball and 12.5% infield hit rate leads me to the conclusion that most of his hits right now are bloops and frozen ropes into shallow left/center, which is as fluky a statistic as they come for a guy who’s not hitting for much power (only a 4.8% HR/FB rate.)

-One of his distinct advantages right now is his line drive rate, which is sitting at a career-best 26.2%. So, maybe Ruiz is trying his hardest to square the ball up and focus on peppering it to the outfield, since his fly ball and groundball rates show little disparity (34.4% and 39.3%, respectively.) For those at home who still don’t know where I’m getting at, Ruiz’s current .296 batting average and .333 BABIP is a result of him giving up power to hit for average, which has a great chance of sustaining itself if he maintains his approach.

-If there’s anything absolutely concrete about Chooch’s performance so far, it’s his plate discipline. Even for a guy who’s had a BB/K rate over one three times in his career, his 1.30 BB/K mark is downright amazing. I’ve always been impressed with how he can run a deep count and prevent an opposing pitcher from having too much of an upper hand with two strikes, and this season is no different, especially with an equally impressive 86% contact rate.

When you add it all up, Ruiz comes off as someone who’s had one great year, got caught cheating, and then discovered something later on. He’s slowly becoming a gap hitter who’s main focus is to go all doubles and take his homers when he can. If I were to show you the differences between his batted ball stats now and those from his career, you’d certainly agree. What this means for his fantasy value is contingent on where he’s placed in the lineup most nights, so for example if he finds his way into the 5 or 6 hole he could provide some extra RBI. Trust me, he won’t be nearly as valuable as Yadier Molina or Buster Posey, but he’ll provide a neat boost in average and runs in most leagues — he’s scored 18 times already this season.

? Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates ?

All you have to know about Polanco is the following:

2014 AAA Statistics (In 23 games, 100 at-bats:)

.400/.460/.644/1.104 slash, 4 HRs, 24 RBI, 12 XBHs, 4 SB, 9 BBs, 15 Ks

Now let’s look at what the Pirates have done as a team through 26 games and a combined 890 at-bats:

.221/.296/.351/.647 slash, 28 HRs, 94 RBI, 56 XBHs, 14 SB, 84 BBs, 214 Ks

Of course, the Pirates as a whole are out-producing Polanco. But by how much? If you take the time to divide the production numbers with the stolen bases by nine, the results you get will provide quite the telling tale:

Average production among individual Pittsburgh Pirates hitters:

3 HR, 10 RBI, 6 XBH, 1.5 SB

Let’s say Polanco was called up before the season started. If his current AAA production held up in the Majors this season, he’d already be outpacing his contemporaries by three times as much on average. That’s almost as if Jose Abreu’s scorching hot start to the season were to be currently followed up by all of his other teammates batting just over .180 with 3 homers and 10 ribbies a piece. The reason why Polanco is only a speculative add or a stash in all leagues is because his eventual call up is still in question. Manager Clint Hurdle is skeptical about his ballclub’s obscenely slow start to the year offensively, so in order for this talented young prospect to get a chance right now someone has to get hurt. This isn’t great news for fantasy owners or those who are interested, but if the Pirates continue to disappear at the plate through the month of May and June, Polanco will get his chance to prove himself. You don’t have to pick him up right now, but all hands are on deck so keep the keenest of keen eyes on him as he’s perhaps the best hitting prospect not on a Major League field.

# Omar Infante, 2B, Kansas City Royals #

There was no way Infante was going to avoid mentioning after going bonkers last week with a homer and 8 RBI. There’s also no way Infante shouldn’t be owned in leagues as deep or any deeper than 10 teams. His 2013 season with Detroit was cut short due to injury, but he still managed to put up an awesome .318/.345/.450/.795 slash line with 54/10/51 production in only 118 games played and 476 at-bats. As much as I hate rooting for players who haven’t consistently found playing time throughout their careers because of health or opportunity, Infante has every chance to become lightning in a bottle for many owners and for this Kansas City offense as their everyday #2 hitter. Although Infante’s not multi-position eligibility, he could potentially end up becoming a poor man’s Martin Prado with 500+ at-bats under his belt. None of his hitting peripherals stand out (besides from an alarmingly high 25% Infield Fly Ball Percentage,) but as long as he’s hitting line drives at a rate higher than 20% and striking out less than 10% of the time, Infante will be more of a blessing than a curse for anyone willing to take a flier on him.

Other notable pickups for deeper leagues 10-teams and above:

-Michael Morse, OF, San Francisco Giants
-Dayan Viciedo, OF, Chicago White Sox
-Matt Joyce, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
-Miguel Montero, C, Arizona Diamondbacks
-Eric Aybar, SS, Los Angeles Angels
-Nick Markakis, OF, Baltimore Orioles

“Hitters on the Decline”

I know what I’m going to do next is extremely lazy, but the list of players both currently owned and on the waiver wire who are watching their stock fall is slim. So, I’m going to jot down a select few who most owners have trusted over the last week or so and why they have done everything but produce:

George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
-.176 BAA due in large part to an alarmingly high 31.9% K Rate
-Currently batting cleanup, but scuffling with a meager .167 BAA with RISP
-Verdict: Keep him in deeper leagues (12-team mixed leagues and beyond,) but drop him in all others. He’s not worth the stash if your overall offense is scuffling.

Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds
-Currently on the 15-day DL with a hamstring issue (will be out until at least May 11)
-Verdict: Keep him if you have no top-20 catcher to back him up AND your team isn’t littered with injuries up and down.

Carl Crawford, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
-Batting .204 on the year and forcing Don Mattingly’s hand in regards to platooning him with Scott Van Slyke.
-Showing flashes of speed, but not enough to warrant a starting roster spot most nights ( 4 stolen bases this season.)
-A career-high 89% contact rate is encouraging, but finding himself unlucky with a .246 BABIP
-Verdict: Drop him in shallower formats. With a growing injury history and Mattingly splitting most of the playing time amongst his four outfielders, Crawford’s days as a power-speed threat with 100-run potential may be over (unless, of course, he or one of his constituents are traded.)

Must-drops

-Grady Sizemore, OF, Boston Red Sox
-Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Mets
-Jedd Gyorko, 2B, San Diego Padres
-Russell Martin, C, Pittsburgh Pirates
-Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres

“Pitchers on the rise”

!!! Josh Smith, RP, Los Angeles Angels & Hector Rondon, RP, Chicago Cubs !!!

It’s amazing how the closer’s role could change for a reliever faster than the sun setting and the moon rising, but luckily for all the scavengers who don’t believe in paying for a valuable ninth inning arm like Craig Kimbrel or Kenley Jansen, this season has seen many a scenario. I remember looking at Ernesto Frieri and his draft price in all of my fantasy drafts and constantly asking myself, “What does it take for him to finally not be fantasy relevant anymore???” No one was bounced around more than he was in my fantasy league last year, yet he blew more save opportunites than all the crappy closers I was forced to live with at the time. I could imagine Mike Scioscia having secret engagements with Joe Smith during pre-games this year telling him, “I just need an excuse. All I need is an excuse.” Frieri’s numbers as the–ahem–closer are so bad that I refuse to post them. All you need to know is that you’ll probably never see his face on your draft boards for a very, very long time. Thank Heavens. If you don’t deal with relief scavangers like I do in my main league and Smith is still available, go ahead and pick him up. His initial numbers over the last 4-5 years are great, and his peripherals agree.

Ditto for Rondon in regards to number crunching, and ditto to Chicago’s ninth-inning troubles, because lord knows if even Billy Crystal would’ve made more comedic relief on the mound than Pedro Strop and Jose Veras. Rondon’s fastball isn’t that much faster or better than that of the two aforementioned cornballs, but compared to both them and his big league arrival last season he’s not playing any games. He’s currently the owner of an outstanding 16-to-4 K/BB ratio, sports a 93.3% strand and 1.91 GB/FB rate, and has yet to allow a homer in 15.1 innings. He’s getting after it, and “it” is indeed the “save,” of which he’s already garnered 3 within the past week. If he could keep this up long enough, Rick Renteria will have no other choice but to render him the Cubs’ official closer, instead of saying some dumb shit like “the situation’s pretty fluid.” I’m adding him immediately, no questions asked.

!!! Nate Eovaldi, SP, Miami Marlins !!!

Nate Eovaldi is the type of pitcher no one drafts because of a lack of track record and initial skepticism of that pitcher’s upside. This happens all the time, yet rightfully so. Eovaldi seemed to at best be just another mid-level streamer coming into 2014, with a mediocre 6.6 K/9 clip to go along with a nice 3.39 ERA. Because of his ballpark and the division he pitches in, I’m sure a ton of people across many fantasy leagues have streamed him at home this year. Those same people have got to be wondering, “Great Scott! He’s giving me Ks! And he’s not even walking anyone!! This is the best streaming option I’ve ever had! Now let’s drop him for Bronson Arroyo at San Diego.”

Please, don’t drop Nate Eovaldi for Bronson Arroyo.

Now, I’m gonna throw some numbers at you here, and hopefully you do a better job understanding them than you do reading them…

K Rate: up from 17.3% last season to 23% this season

BB Rate: down from 8.9% a year ago to 3.3% in 2014

Groundball %: up by almost 12%

Line drive rate: down by 12%

The main culprit(s):
-Use of slider has gone up to 25%
-First-pitch strike rate up to an impressive 68.4%
-Swinging Strike percentage up to a career-high 9.6%

Go. Pick. Him. Up. Now. Eovaldi seems to be the real deal, and with a current 2.20 FIP and 3.15 xFIP under his ledger, regression will him as hard as a soft pillow to the face. It probably won’t hurt at all to be there when that happens.

$ Ian Kennedy, SP, San Diego Padres $

Kennedy’s case for being on this week’s installment of FBSE is very similar to Eovaldi’s, but his appeal isn’t quite as significant. No matter, anyone who’s almost won a Cy Young, pitched 2 relatively sub-par follow-up campaigns, and rises back up in a new ballclub another year later with familiarly awesome numbers deserves my attention. With a 3.42 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, most former fans of the bearded righty are probably crying foul over his hot start. But how “hot” has Kennedy really been thus far? His FIP is in another area code, and his xFIP is actually telling us that he hasn’t been as good as he should. His fastball velocity has seen a small uptick, but he has found a way to mix it beautifully with his curveball. A balanced attack to say the least, Kennedy has been dropping the hammer to an all-time high rate of 13.1%, while combining it with his returning slider at a 3.9% clip. This suggests that the little extra speed Kennedy is garnering from his fastball is making all the difference now that he’s putting opposing hitters off balance more often. The game-changer for Kennedy though hasn’t only been his breaking stuff (which includes his newfound knuckle-curve, according to sources,) but his Zone%, which, for those of you who don’t pay attention to advanced sabermetrics, is the percentage of pitches a batter sees that are called strikes. His Zone% currently sits at 52%, by far the highest rate of his career, and a great way of proving how aggressively he’s been attacking the strikezone without constantly going off the plate for swings and misses. About a week ago, I looked at his 9.43 K/9, 1.93 BB/9 and 0.64 HR/9 and wondered how they are all managing to eclipse those of his career year in 2011. All of the advanced statistics do more than spell it out.

$ Jason Hammel, SP, Chicago Cubs $

Sheesh. There really has been a lot of great starting pitching out there on the waiver wire recently. I’m always hesitant to say anything positive about anyone from the Cubs, and maybe that’s the reason why Starling Castro AND Anthony Rizzo are both batting over .300 with solid all-around production. Sometimes what you expect leads to something completely different, like drafting Johnny Cueto and getting Pedro Martinez. Or drafting Francisco Liriano and getting Eric Bedard. Baseball players are douchebags, man. Maybe not all of them — Justin Morneau just tied up my fantasy league matchup with a homer, preserving my undefeated season — but you get the idea. Jason Hammel is an annoying player to analyze, because his career numbers are more sporadic than Atlanta’s offense on a month-to-month basis. Sorry, I’m venting a little bit there. It just pisses me off that when I start Alex Wood, I have to see him lose after throwing 8 innings of one-run ball every five days. What kind of Major League team tortures their players like that? OH, MY, GOD!! What was I on about earlier!?!? Oh right. That Hammel dude. Yeah, he’s pretty good, and besides from pitching in perhaps the worst win-garnering environment in all of baseball, he carries the same peripherals that I mentioned before with Nate Eovaldi and Ian Kennedy. All you really need to know is that he’s not big on Ks, with a league-average 21.4% K rate, but he doesn’t walk a lot at all and keeps the ball on the ground (46.7% groundball rate.) He also did this same thing in 2012 with the Orioles, so a healthy Hammel is worth the investment in a vast majority of fantasy leagues.

“Pitchers on the Decline”

Again, I hate to be all half-assed, but I figured If you don’t even want the guys I’m going to mention why waste my time over-analyzing them?

Michael Pineda, SP, New York Yankees
-Suspended for using pine tar against the Red Sox a little while back. Don’t worry, the umpiring crew already gave him neck for that.
-Was later placed on the 15-day DL for a minor strain of the teres major muscle. Sounds serious.
-Verdict: Keep him in 12-teamers with multiple DL spots, drop him everywhere else. There are literally three pitchers in this article who are better than him.

Jason Grilli, RP, Pittsburgh Pirates
-Placed on the 15-day DL with an oblique strain
-Verdict: keep and stash in most leagues, and handcuff him to Mark Melancon for the rest of the season in deeper formats. Grilli’s building up a bit of an injury history, but he’s been super productive as the Pirates’ closer so at the very least he could be a sell-high option once he’s healthy again and proves so.

Sergio Santos, RP, Toronto Blue Jays
– 0-2, 20.25 ERA, 3 blown saves in six appearances since April 17th.
-Verdict: Drop. Do it now. Do it quickly. Also, hope and pray that Casey Janssen was dropped in your league, and pick him up.

Aaron Harang, SP, Atlanta Braves
– 4.2 innings, 10 hits, 9 ER allowed versus the Marlins on Tuesday.
-Verdict: Drop and think of him purely as a streaming option at home from here on out. Harang was dodging so many statistical and sabermetric bullets, you’d think he was the John McClain of fantasy baseball. Until he can blow up a helicopter or leap off 4-story buildings without so much as a scratch on his back, this joy ride is over.

Must-drops

-Jenry Mejia, SP, New York Mets
-Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants
-Luke Gregerson, RP, Oakland Athletics
-Zach McAllister, SP, Cleveland Indians
-Ernesto Frieri, RP, Los Angeles Angels

I’ll be right back at it next week. Good luck out there and happy hunting!

 

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Opening Day Baseball Notes and Thoughts

The calendar’s turned, the season’s changed, and the game most of us live, sleep and dream has arisen from the fumes of jets soaring through baseball parks across the nation. March 31st is an exciting time for anyone willing to spend three hours of their lives relishing in gratification or wallowing in shame for 162 days, and they’ve got their favorite ballclubs to thank for that. Even Sunday Night Baseball’s endeavor in San Diego was thrilling enough to enthrall us right back into the joy and excitement of watching your team win, and the pain and disappointment of seeing their lead slip away in defeat.

Anyway, March 31st was yesterday, and I prefer to live in the now, which just so happens to be rantin’ and chantin’ about what happened yesterday, today. Of course, emotions were flying and a few stars were on display, but those moments alone don’t do Monday’s antics enough justice. Below I’ve bulletpointed most, if not all of the important scenes from Opening Day. Buckle up!

-“The first game of the afternoon would be the Cubs and the Pirates.”

Probably 80% of the country found that to be a bit ridiculous, considering how we didn’t wait all this time to watch Starling Castro ground out to short ten times in a row on national telivsion. But this was hosted at PNC Park, the 2nd most beautiful venue in all of baseball (AT&T Park is still my #1,) and the Pirates are actually really, really good. They’re aiming to make consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in over twenty years, and they played yesterday as if that’s only just a part of the master plan. Francisco Liriano had his Randy Johnson going on, striking out 10 in 6 innings to tie the franchise record in K’s on opening day. Jeff Samardzijia followed suit with 7 innings of shutout ball, himself. Unfortunately for him, Neil Walker took matters into his own hands and went bridge in the 10th to ensure that the soldout Pittsburgh crowd didn’t wasted their time watching some of the worst RISP at-bats in baseball history.

-How ’bout those Tigers roaring back in the 9th to let Kansas City know who daddy is? Ned Yost needs to pay a little more attention to the linescores, since James Shields was approaching the 100s in his pitch count before the bottom of the 7th inning even started. Not the 5th. Not the 6th. The 7th inning. It’s OK to go to one of the strongest bullpens in the American League at that point, even if your ace is avidly trying to keep up his pace for another 200-inning season. Anywho, as luck and a wee bit of home-field advantage would have it, Detroit figured out a way to get under his skin a bit, and tie it up with a two-out triple by none other than 2003 World Series Game 4 walkoff home run-hitting 37-year old shortstop-turned first baseman-turned back to shortstop Alex Gonzalez. It’s funny, he actually accounted for one of KC’s runs by mishandling a routine groundball by Norichika Aoki earlier on, so I guess he sort of had to come in clutch to redeem himself. I’m going to go out on a whim and assume that Miggy Cabrera ended up paying for his dinner following the game, ’cause Gonzalez also walked off on a line drive single off Greg Holland that would’ve been a lineout had the Royals infield not played so shallow as to avoid the runner on third from scoring, but I digress.

-The Mets pull a How I Met Your Mother series finale on the night of the How I Met Your Mother series finale!

I won’t spoil anything for those of you who have yet to see the final episode (which begs the question as to why you haven’t seen it yet,) but let’s just say that it resembled the roller coaster that was Opening Day at Citi Field. When Andrew Brown goes yard off Stephen Strasburg, Juan Lagares finds his power stroke for the first time in his life, and Bobby Parnell paints an absolute masterpiece of a fastball on the inner-third of the strikezone with two outs and two strikes in the ninth, all is right in the world and every soul in Queens is meant to live happily ever after. NOT!! Terry Collins pulled a Ned Yost, no one besides Jose Valverde found the strikezone, and that Bobby Parnell pitch I mentioned before ended up being a ball because Travis D’arnaud doesn’t know how to frame strikes. To make matters worse, the Nats scored 4 in the 10th and never looked back, and David Wright decided to be Captain America when the world was all but capable of being saved. This is why I’m a Yankees fan.

-24 runs on 30 hits in Arlington, Texas. The Phillies-Rangers games was a shootout unlike any other on Opening Day, and unfortunately for guys like me I had the displeasure of not being able to watch it. Cliff Lee pitched more like Jamie Moyer, and every Ranger on the field looked like Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa for one night only. Even though he got the win, he had to scratch and claw his way through the worst five innings he’s probably ever pitched for the Phightin’s. I do feel bad for Tanner Scheppers, though. His first Major League start ever, and he had to face the pressure of a packed house, thin air, and a power hungry National League lineup. No easy task, I’ll tell you that much. Ron Washington should’ve known better. Even my mom would’ve been wondering why this kid was on the mound, and she barely knows how baseball’s even played. I bet Jimmy Rollins gave him a hug and a kiss after the game for helping him hit his lucky 200th career blast and match his season totals from a year ago in one swing of the bat. Texas fans were probably livid over the fact that Martin Perez wasn’t given the nod, as they rightfully should, and I’m sure Freddy Garcia is out there somewhere laughing at all the carnage. Seriously, who did they think they were taking a setup man with little to no starting pitching experience and throwing him out there for 5-6 innings of work with only two pitches in his repertoire? You’ve gotta assume that they’ll at least be on top of the free agent market for an arm sooner or later. Maybe they’ll scoop up Mark Mulder from an ESPN desk somewhere and give him 150 frames. I’d love to see that. Still, the bottom line is this: Monday afternoon for the Rangers was sort of like going clubbing and hoping for a one-night stand with Brooklyn Decker, only to ultimately end up with Brook Shields. Learn from your mistake, move on, and forget it all ever happened.

-As the regular season starts for the Brewers, the Braves offense finds themselves stuck in Spring Training. This must’ve been a weird game for Braves fans, but no weirder than the following statistic. Did you know that since last season the Brew-Crew has defeated Atlanta five times and ALL of them were shutouts?? This is the same team that owned the 4th overall ranked offense in the National League. Julio Teheran now knows that he’s gonna have to beat some sense into his peers if he’s ever going to find himself victorious on Opening Day. Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton, and Evan Gattis left a combined 8 men on base, all while going 0-fer in the process. This team has too many of these guys for their own good, and unless they have another historical April they’re going to make a lot of opposing Major League pitchers look really good, just like they did for parts of last season. Yorvani Gallardo had a pretty impressive linescore regardless, with six shutout innings and four K’s over four hits, so hopefully this is the start of a comeback to being the ace that led this team to the NLCS not too long ago. It’s also nice to know that Ryan Braun was greeted with a standing ovation for lying to his teammates on national television and being suspended for PEDs. I was quietly enjoying the Pirates game when ESPN decided to air a live feed of his first at-bat back, so you could imagine the frustration I had to sit through.

-Grady Sizemore hits his first home run in over 900 plate appearances, only to be dumbfounded that the rest of his team couldn’t reach home plate.

I truly can’t believe that the Red Sox-Orioles game was one of the lowest scoring games of Opening Day. Both Jon Lester and Chris Tillman bounced in and out of trouble like a whack-a-mole to a hammer, and the big guns in both lineups bore the life out of me by blowing plenty of run-scoring opportunities with runners on. I’m going to put my money on tomorrow’s matchup looking a helluva lot like yesterday’s fiasco in Texas. Also, I was keenly watching Grady Sizemore’s at-bats and he should probably be leading off instead of Daniel Nava. He’s got that kind of batter’s eye that makes him seem selective, when he actually wants to pounce on the first thing that cuts across the middle of the plate. Let’s not forget that he was a near 30/30 guy when he was healthy, too.

-Ditto for the Cardinals-Reds, but part of me expected no less than a 1-0 Red Birds shutout. Yadier Molina decided to put matters into his own hands in the seventh when Cueto turned around to check his texts before realizing at the last second that Brayan Pena wanted the fastball down and not down the middle. I think Adam Wainwright could’ve mowed down this Reds lineup in his sleep, especially after watching that hilarious double play by Joey Votto. Cincinatti will have problems scoring runs in the middle of that lineup so long as Votto thinks it’s best for him to take a thousand pitches before breaking the plate. BOLD PREDICTION: Jay Bruce bats third by the end of the year, Brandon Phillips cleans up and nabs another 100-RBI season, and Votto continues to fulfill his dream of walking a billion times in the season as the everyday leadoff man. Back to the game. This was a fun pitcher’s duel, and chances are the entire opening series will play out exactly the way yesterday’s proceedings did.

-The new-look Chicago White Sox looked awfully good in the Cell, smacking the daylights out of Ricky Nolasco while – GASP! – preserving a win for Opening Day ace Chris Sale. There are two guys in this team’s lineup who I expect great things from: Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu. They both bring plenty to the table offensively, and helped contribute greatly to yesterday’s victory. I find their already demonstrated skillsets to develop into a one-two punch in the top of the lineup all year long, and considering the fact that they’ve raked everywhere else should raise all sorts of confidence for fans on the South side. The White Sox won’t pitch a lick (besides Sale, of course,) but their offense is revamped and reloaded. Scoring runs for them shouldn’t come at as much of a premium as it did last season.

-The Toronto Blue Jays may need a reality check, and fast. R.A. Dickey fell apart faster than a demolished building over TNTs, and Jose Reyes found his way back onto the Disabled List before the first game of the second was even over. He’s probably better off. The Blue Jays got spanked, and the Price was right for Tamba Ray all the way through the last pitch. This still raises red flags for a team littered with other red flags. Toronto’s starting rotation leaves no glimmer of hope, even if you consider the inclusion of Drew Hutchinson. Their one-two guys are Dickey himself and Mark Buehrle, who both have respectable track records, but have no business trying to win games in the AL East from a statistical standpoint. Seriously, they’ve been that bad when pitching in this division. If their general office is going to rely on their farm system to save them in June, then calling that sort of thing “wishful thinking” would be an extreme understatement. It sucks have to watch the same team hang their hats on being the basement ballclub in their division, but because of the fact that their pitching woes were never addressed during the offseason, their chances of competing look very, very slim.

Thinking positively, these Tamba Bay Rays seem to be leaving a different smell in the air this season. Wil Myers, Matt Joyce and Evan Longoria will be looked upon to do the damage they inflicted on the knuckleballer and his boys on a daily basis, and there’s no reason to assume they can’t if each one of them is healthy. In other words, this is no longer the same offensively-challenged offense that most of us scoffed at years ago. I know it’s only one game, but this matchup was in my opinion the most polarizing of all Opening Day matchups on display. The Rays look like they can score runs at will, and the Jays have already begun trending downward.

-After last night’s dazzling Opening Day debut, ESPN should declare every Monday night start with Jose Fernandez toeing the rubber as “Fernadez Day.” The linsecore leaves quite the telling mark: 6 IP, 1 R, 5 H, 9 Ks. He had his mother AND his grandmother in attendance, and they were certainly treated to a gift wrapped up in a wonderful pitching performance. His reaction to Carlos Gonzalez’s solo shot basically sums up his demeanor on the mound, and was only one of the many animated moments he expressed in Miami last night. He’s the most fun a baseball fan could ever have watching a ballgame on television, and the Marlins as an organization can do no wrong in building around him and Giancarlo Stanton while making him a marketing extraordinaire. He enjoys being in the spotlight, so why not put his face on the map?

-With Patrick Corbin done for the season, and Brandon McCarthy ending up as their best starter for Opening Day, the Arizona Diamondbacks are essentially the Toronto Blue Jays of the National League. McCarthy had a good start to his start that ended up in bedlam, and the D-Backs bullpen once again found a way to put their team in a position to lose. I love the lineup, though, and there’s a chance that they’ll lead the league in runs scored and home runs with the addition of Mark Trumbo, but there’s only so much offense they can support their arms with on a nightly basis. The Mad Bum was Mad Dumb, but I firmly believe that his short leash was due to the defense behind him letting him down. Bumgarner could’ve gone 6 innings if he truly had his way. I can’t remember the last time the Giants scored 9 runs, but batting Brandon Belt second in front of Angel Pagan is a pivotal move that could pay dividens for Bruce Bochy. Belt did cash in handsomely last night, going 3 for 5 with a homer and three runs scored. Sandoval, Posey, Pence and Mike Morse followed him in that order, which is more than enough reason for me to believe that San Francisco may have something going for them offensively this year. We’ll see.

-The King’s Court must’ve been scrunched up somewhere in the left field bleachers of Angels Stadium, because Felix Hernandez TOTALLY had his way with this Los Angeles lineup. Sure, Mike Trout went fishing on a sinker that didn’t sink enough off the plate, but he was rolling afterwards. And when you let a former Cy Young get in his groove, you might as well step up to the plate without a baseball bat. The boxscore says 10-3 Mariners, but Jered Weaver actually had the lead in the 7th before coughing it up. At least he tried. Kevin Jepsen came in for relief in the 9th, but the results were nothing but comedic. Five earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning. Because of him, someone out there did the Happy Dance because they own Justin Smoak in their fantasy baseball league (three-run homer with two outs, in case you’re wondering.) Robinson Cano’s season debut was pretty good, going 2 for 4 with a double and a walk, so there shouldn’t be much concern about him slumping at the dish from the jump. For those of you who play fantasy baseball, pay attention to Abraham Almonte and Brad Miller, two guys who could easily go 10-10 with a lot of runs scored. They could be a surprisingly good one-two tandem in this lineup as the season rears on. Kyle Seager has no business batting 6th for Seattle, by the way. If Llyod McClendon expects him to do his usual damage, he should at least be batting him behind Smoak. Seattle’s one of my fringe teams for 2014, and if last night indicated anything for me they look like they could possibly contend in the AL West if the momentum remains.

-The Cleveland Indians forgot to read 50 Shades of Sonny Gray, but the Oakland A’s forgot to read the baserunning instruction manual prior to the game. I’ll get to the pitching duel and Gray’s performance first. In six innings of work, Gray exhausted himself to the tune of 105 pitches thrown. You can blame the three walks for that, but his 7 Ks and 9 groundball outs are enough for both his manager and his fantasy league owners to write home about. This kid is nasty. His stuff is great. His ceiling is nonexistent. And last night was just the beginning. Justin Masterson was even better, going 7 innings with only 1 walk and throwing 92 pitches. The next time they meet will certainly be quite the juicy matchup.

Now, the miscue. Josh Donaldson probably went back to the locker room after the game to make sure all of his stuff was still there, because his own teammates robbed him of a two-run go ahead double. Instead, with runners on first and second and one out in the 8th inning, the deep fly ball he hit off the top of the center field wall turned out to be just a single that moved everyone up. My inital reaction was a speechless expression of disappointment. I couldn’t scream and yell in anger if I wanted, and I own Donaldson in half of my fantasy leagues. Still, seeing that knock come without a run or two really did piss me off. I thought these guys learned to advance on deep fly balls in Little League. Who stays put on a deep fly ball when they’re on second base!? What were they thinking!?!? If only Shaquille O’Neal played baseball, he’d be all over this play on some post-game show somewhere. Of course, Jim Johnson couldn’t hold off the Murderous Row that is the bottom third of the Cleveland Indians lineup (relax, I’m only being overly sarcastic,) and allowed them to break even in the ninth. He looked like he still needs a few more tuneups before he’s ready to roll, and he’s not the only reliever who fell apart yesterday, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt…

I’m going to be averting from TV Reviews a bit as the season goes on, and this Notes and Thoughts series will be a staple I will put up at least a couple times a week for baseball fans.

Happy Baseball, everyone!

 

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Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange Week 1: Draft Fallout

Last thursday night, I became the proud owner of Red Birds And Pinstripes, the name of my brand-new, redrafted fantasy team in my friends’ keeper league. The title says it all, as it’s meant to pay tribute to the success of both the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees throughout baseball history (and it’s also the perfect culmination of my two favorite baseball teams mashed into one fantasy beast.) The problem I have with said squad is that it’s missing a very important feature: stars from either ballclub. Carlos Beltran? Nope. Jacoby Ellsbury? Nada. Matt Holliday? Allen Craig? Masahiro Tanaka? Shelby Miller? No, don’t care too much anymore, almost, and maybe next year. However, I did end up claiming three very viable x-factors for both franchises, as I wound up escaping the thrifty draft storm with Matt Carpenter, Alfonso Soriano and Matt Adams. In case you’re wondering, yes, I did have to give up an arm (quite literally, in fact) and a leg to do so. The very man who slipped from my fingers in this year’s draft will also make a guest appearance in this week’s article, as well as a slew of other hitters, pitchers, and snitchers who’ll either see their stock raise or plummet. I’ll do my best to organize the mess I’m about to make, especially since I’m basically going to write what I would say to someone who would understand it, instead of going all statistical on ya’ll.

“How does a player’s fantasy stock rise/fall?”

Just like the intangibles I mentioned in part three of my draft day series, most players this year who are bound to exceed or surpass their draft value will do so for a myriad of underlying reasons. A boost in performance could be because of a more favorable home field environment due to trade, protection or manager adjustment to their team’s respective lineups, or an overall feel-good team chemistry. Besides ballpark of course, I believe the Dodgers have done thier homework in that regard. So have the Rangers, White Sox, Yankees (as usual,) and even the Mets. But that’s just scratching the surface. Anyway, any one of the aforementioned factors could be immense enough to turn a struggling player’s career around like a roundabout in London, but from a fantasy perspective it only matters if said athlete is playing every day, or pitching every fifth.

In order for the same player, or other players if you will, to gracefully fall and deplete their fantasy value, these same factors will most likely have to come into play. Pitch in DC your whole career with a sub-3 ERA just to be shipped to Colorado for having a hot head. Create the reputation as one of the elite fantasy shortstops in the game, just to resort to a near half-decade’s worth of crucial injuries. Be the “speedster” in your lineup for God knows how long, only to be forced into a more aggressive spot in the order to replace someone who was traded away, eventually depleting your ability to steal bases at will and hit for average. These things matter. And in 2014, one of the most heralded seasons in decades for big trades and pivotal moves, the outlook surrounding new faces in new faces is bigger than ever. I have a scary feeling that a lot of prized possessions in many fantasy lineups will dissapoint, but only a few of them will come out amassing a season for the ages. And vice-versa. It’s something you need to keep in the back of your head, but not something you should automatically predict.

But enough background. Let’s get to it. I’m excited to be covering players across Major League Baseball, and with the involvement of a bevy of different fantasy leagues, I probably won’t ever be as enthusiastic over the sport as I will be this year. That being said, The Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange (or FBSE, if you’re into uncool abbreviations) is ready to roll.

Hitters on the “Rise”

-Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, New York Yankees
Now, don’t read too much into this, you’ll be disappointed ’cause there’s not much needed for me to say. Ellsbury is a career .297 hitter, who also sports a career .352 OBP at Yankee Stadium. Even if he doesn’t hit the 18 homers he’s projected to, he’ll most likely have the green light to run in one of the most stacked Yankees lineups in recent memory. Imagine the season Matt Carpenter had last year, but with like 50 more stolen bases, and you’ll see why Jacoby Ellsbury’s draft value is at “keeper” status.

-Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Like I said with Ellsbury, you can move along. He’s just come off a career year, has yet to reach his prime, and now has Mark Trumbo (who’s on my fantasy squad) hitting him. Welcome to the desert, every pitcher in Major League Baseball.

-Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
The most consistent third baseman in all of baseball, Beltre now has the luxury of protecting Prince Fielder, while watching Sin-Soo Choo dance to Gungnam Style on the bases. I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume 30more homers and 110+ RBI barring injury or sudden decline.

-Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers
Everyone wants to hate on the big fella for having such a terrible fastball-hitting, contact-making, homer-producing season last year in Detroit (by his standards.) Well, they must’ve been blind to the fact that the greatest hitter of all time(?) batted in front of him, and Comerica Park is bigger than Michigan itself. Well, he’s in Texas now, and the ball knows how to do nothing else but fly down south. Oh, and Adrian Beltre will be batting behind him. Wonder what all those right-handers who retreated before are gonna do now…

-Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Don’t mistake my praise for reverence. I still hate Braun for lying on TV and ruining my fantasy team’s success last year. But Jonathan Lucroy, Jean Segura, and Carlos Gomez love him so much that their talents have caught up with them. Go ahead and predict what his numbers will be, but he could legitimately win an MVP with this developing supporting cast. Unfortunately.

-Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers
He’s in Detroit, bro. AND a perennial 20-20 threat, getting a chance to bat in front of Miguel Cabrera. I must admit, it’s a little scary how often Miggy’s being referred to, already. But anyway, Kinsler’s ability to shatter most of his career highs in this lineup is alarmingly apparent.

-Alex Rios, OF, Texas Rangers
With a career-high 42 swipes in 2013, Alex Rios may have presented Ron Washington with the proudest single-player stretch run he’s ever managed. Rios’s 2014 may very well be the peak of his power-speed brilliance, with a high-flying offense and a versatile array of skills. And if he ends up batting fifth in THIS lineup, he could even reach close to 100 ribbi steaks with ease.

-Kyle Seager, 3B, Seattle Mariners
Seager has gotten as much attention for his improvements at the plate as OK Go has gotten for their amazing CD albums and low-budget Rube Goldberg Machine music videos. But with the addition of Robinson Cano, and the potential offensive boost provided by a reinvigorated Dustin Ackley and/or Brad Miller/Nick Franklin, he could find himself on the map if his 80/23/70 slash line potential stays put. Of course, he’s also on this list because he could shatter all of those numbers with more protection in the lineup, but he’s got a steady contact rate, walks a lot, has an ever-increasing Isolated Power, and is only 26. You drafting, bro?? Go get ’em, champ.

-Wil Myers, OF, Tamba Bay Rays
Watch out. The day one officially announces that Evan Longoria was healthy enough to play a full season with Wil Myers will be a scary one for the rest of the American League. The Ray’s offense will go as they both go, and if Myers if every bit the 30-homer, .300 hitter he flashed in AAA, these Tamba Bay Rays will have an excellent chance to win the AL East (although I most certainly hope not.) For fantasy owners, the last thing you need to worry about with the youngster is a sophomore slump. He WILL wreak havoc this year.

-Mark Trumbo, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
I’ve always liked Mark Trumbo, and I’ve always thought his power has only been matched by a distinct few since reaching the Bigs. With the move to Chase Field, I believe his true potential as the ultimate 5-hole guy will be realized, and 40 homers and a 100+ RBIs will be accomplishments he’ll glide through. He’s been working on a consistent swing all Spring, and while that may not help his awful strikeout or walk rates, you have to expect his BABIP to get a substantial upgrade with the change of focus and scenery. Paul Goldschmidt must be foaming at the mouth right now.

-Jonathan Lucroy, C, Milwaukee Brewers
I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume that Lucroy’s 11.9 K rate and 87% contact rate were best among qualified catchers in the Majors, and even with Braun creating foes over in California for taking PEDs, he ended up with 18 homeruns and 82 RBIs. He’ll be this year’s cleanup hitter for the Brew Crew, and from a fantasy perspective will make a lot of Buster Posey owners look really, really stupid.

-Wilin Rosario, C, Colorado Rockies
Baby Bull, Baby Bull!! Ranked at a laughable #97 in standard league roto drafts, Rosario has the tools and play time necessary to become the best fantasy catcher by the end of the season (and yes, that includes Yadier Molina and Carlos Santana.)He hasn’t gotten more than 460 at-bats in a single season, but Walt Weiss aiming to put him at first base against lefties entails that he’ll be one of the few at his position to lobby for 500-550 trips to the plate. If that becomes the case, and Cargo and Tulo are healthy for most of the season, he could wrap up 2014 as the only 30-homer, 90-RBI backstop in the game. We could be looking at a Mike Piazza-lite here, folks! Like Lucroy, his production was also hindered by the lack of support from other teammates due to untimely injuries. To assume that won’t happen again would be foolish, but regardless Rosario’s stock is absolutely at an all-time high right now.

-Matt Adams, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
In only 319 at-bats last season, Matt Adams had 17 homers, 51 ribbies, and facilitated his power with an incredible .220 ISO. The fact that he justified his 21.8% FB/HR rate with a cool 19.1 Line Drive percentage means that this level of production ‘aint goin nowhere in 2014. Christmas has come late for Adams, as he now has the rights to being St. Louis’s everyday first baseman with Carlos Beltran bailing and Allen Craig moving over to the outfield. All he needs to do now is learn to use the whole field, which he has actually been doing throughout spring training! For power-hitting and run producing enthusiasts, Adams is every fantasy baseball fan’s dream, projected to bat cleanup in the best run scoring team in the National League. Just don’t expect him to be batting .280 in a full season.

-Brian McCann, C, New York Yankees
It’s as simple as this: a perennial 20-homer catcher, in a ballpark suited for his left-handed pull tendancies, while batting in the middle of a lineup overflowing with power and runs waited to be driven in. Don’t make me put up his year-average numbers…

-Aaron Hill, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks
I don’t care how old he is (32,) or how many games he lost due to injury in 2013 (75.) Aaron Hill is the most underrated second baseman in fantasy baseball when he’s on the field, and his consistent BABIP, contact rates, and K Rates suggest the same. But the main reason why his stock rises is because of the lineup surrounding him. Chances are he’ll be Arizona’s 2-hole hitter for the year, hitting in front of MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and power-hungry Mark Trumbo. If pitchers are going to be successful against the D-Backs, they HAVE to pitch to Hill, and he WILL make them pay. Let’s not forget two things about this man: 1) He wanted to be traded to Arizona because that’s where he currently lives and 2)he’s only two years removed from this: .302 BA, .360 OBP, .522 SLG, .882 OPS, 26 homeruns, and 85 RBIs. I’m sorry, you drafted Robinson Cano in WHAT round!?!?

-Martin Prado, 3B/2B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ok, ok, maybe I’m being a little biased with all these snakes on the plane (for that, I mean D-Backs.) But let’s face it: their team and venue is one of the most fruitful in fantasy baseball. Prado gets on this list for the same reason Aaron Hill does: he’s going to do exactly what you need him to, at a very, very low price, with extra bats bolstering a few of their counting stats. But Prado posseses one extremely satisfying advantage: he performs well in any spot in the batting order. His second half was unbelievable, driving in 48 with a .324 batting average and .864 OPS. His newfound comfort in his brand-new home will also help translate into another .300 season, with plenty of runs and RBIs to go with it. And you gotta love how he can fill two of the most shallow positions in the game.

-Jed Lowrie, SS/2B, Oakland Athletics
I talked about Lowrie already in my shortstops article (Part 3 of my draft day series.) For those who need further proof as to why his draft stock rises, this year is his contract season. And he just broke out to become a top-10 shortstop in 2013.

-Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinatti Reds
Go ahead and try to project how many steals Billy Hamilton will end up with. I dare you. In fact, if you do correctly project it by the end of the year, I’ll shave all my hair off, auction it, and then send the profits over to your home. The bottom line is that he had as many stolen bases as games played last season. Sure, part of that has to do with him pinch-running in late innings, but that kind of speed isn’t fluky. He has a great eye, and will be on base more often than your typical leadoff man. So, for the simple fact that he stole 100 bags twice in the minors, that sort of thing can easily translate to the kind of numbers Vince Coleman produced over at St. Louis back in the 80s. And he made Ichiro in his prime look like Jason Giambi in his 40s.

-Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves
“B#$%@, please! He hit .248 last year.” “C’mon, the guy is known more for his defense than his bat.” “Are you kidding me!? He slugged .399 with a .682 OPS!”

So what?

People expect so much from a guy they’re hoping and praying to break out because he started the fantasy season on the waiver wire and they decided that drafting shortstops are overrated. Those people are idiots. All you need to know is that Simmons made considerable improvements across the board in his second half, is a viable candidate for 20 homers, 60 RBIs and 80+ runs, and gets the benefit of the doubt for his slow start to 2013, considering it was the first year he’s played a full season in the Majors. If you let a full seasons worth of shortstops go and end up having to draft him, don’t go biting your nails or anything. He’s only 24 years old, and carries more upside at his position than most.

-Kole Calhoun, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout, meet your duck. Home is now your pond, so swim in it to your heart’s content. Going largely undrafted in most ESPN standard leagues, Calhoun is that afterthought kind of guy who justified pure fantasy production but was forgotten because he showed it in the middle of September. Last year, he managed a respectable .282/.347/.462 slash line, with 8 homers and 32 ribbies in 222 at-bats. For Opening Day’s leadoff hitter, batting in front of the league’s most fearsome outfielder in Trout, that’s awesome. He only scored 77 runs between AAA and the Bigs in 2013, but that number could skyrocket with either his eye, his bat, or his legs. He sported a 9.5% BB rate last season, stole a comibned 12 bases between the Minors and Majors (which is not a lot, but it helps,) and looked great against lefties with a .340/.500/.889 slash line. He won’t at all hit that well against southpaws for a full season, and he’ll probably have a ceiling for RBIs, but that’s okay. He has a steady bat, and is capable of avoiding any sort of platoon because he hits righties and lefties successfully. I already know you didn’t draft him, but if you could just go to your waiver wire real quick…

-Mark Teixiera, 1B, New York Yankees
All he has to do is stay healthy and play 150+ games. He’s only three years removed from a year like that, where he put up a .248/.341/.494 slash line with 39 bombs and 111 ribbies. He still hasn’t won me over in real life ’cause he’s absolute trash in the postseason, but he can still help save your fantasy season before it’s too late. If you drafted him or are still waiting for draft day to come, understand that this is the sleeper of all sleepers for this year’s draft.

Hitters on the “Fall”

-Rosinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Remember those 2012 stats I put up for Aaron Hill, the #99 overall player in standard league drafts? Here’s what ESPN’s #1 second baseman on their player rater average from 2011-2013: 29 homeruns, 106 RBIs, .309 BA, .370 OBP, .533 SLG, .903 OPS. Yeah, looks good, right? Certainly better than Aaron Hill’s 2012 performance, but let’s really sit back and ask ourselves HOW much better those numbers are. If you already drafted Cano and expect him to just wake up meeting all of those averages from his last three seasons, that’s fine. No one’s looking around throwing red flags over Cano’s incredible consistency and ability to provide power and a solid batting average to a slim position. But the one knock I have on him is his draft position: He’s #9 overall. Compared to Jason Kipnis who could go 30/30 at #18, or Matt Carpenter who can bat .300 and score a million runs a day at #66, Cano’s overall numbers do anything but stand out. And that’s where his value plummets. The move to Safeco Field, with a much lighter-hitting Mariners lineup, are both concerning factors that could definitely affect his success back west. They don’t help to pull a convincing case for being a first-round pick for most fantasy owners, either. Now, I love Robinson Cano. I think he has the most beautfiul swing in the game, and I used to try to imitate it everytime he went deep in Yankee Stadium. But I’m sure as hell not drafting him in the first or second round in any league. He’s 31, his supporting cast pales in comparison to the ones he had before, his stadium plays against some of his power, he doesn’t steal bases, and second base isn’t THAT shallow. Think about it this way: If you want an elite second baseman who could literally fill up the stat sheets with ease, wait an extra round and go straight for Jason Kipnis instead. (bold prediction here: He’ll supplant Cano as the #1 fantasy second baseman come October.)

-Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinatti Reds
Everytime I pop open my copy of MLB 11: The Show (before it inevitably shuts off on me moments later,) an intro plays that displays the heated 2010 NL MVP battle between Joey Votto and Carlos Gonzalez. In that year, Votto hit 37 homeruns, drove in 113, and batted .324 with a .600 slugging percentage and an unholy 1.024 OPS. If those numbers were to be translated into last season, his overall draft position at #20 would make him the greatest steal in fantasy sports. Unfortunately, the former Toronto native has let sabermetrics and the art of plate discipline get to his head. In 2010, he walked 91 times and maintained a .424 OBP, highlighting his already present excellence at the dish. The most impressive statistic regarding Votto in 2013 was not his power, it was his BB/K ratio, a masterful 135/138. In leagues that account for OBP, he’s a godsend. However, in leagues like mine, where batting average is the only counting statistic of efficiency, that only matters if he’s scoring runs, which he did (he had 101 runs scored last season) and driving guys in when the opportunity presents itself. Well, how does 24 homers and 73 RBI sound for your first fantasy baseman in this year’s draft? Not so satisfying, huh? Let’s put this into perspective. Allen Craig played 28 less games, sported a batting average 12 points higher, and drove in 24 more runs to put him 41 whole spots further back in standard league dratfs. Freddie Freeman comes a whole round behind Votto, while carrying the same advantages as Craig AND Votto with more homers. Plain and simple, Joey Votto is no longer the ultimate 3-hole he’s percieved to be, and those who did draft him have already hurt their team’s success by ignoring his constituents. Lord knows if he’ll ever decide to produce instead of provide, and at a position that demands production Votto seems reluctant to justify his asking price. If you haven’t drafted yet, let someone else deal with him.

-Buster Posey, C/1B, San Francisco Giants
So long as Posey remains a hair behind Chris Sale, tip toes ahead of Jay Bruce, and leagues above Wilin Rosario and Jonathan Lucroy in standard league rankings, my outlook on him will remain: he will once again be fantasy baseball’s most overrated hitter. Seriously, what are you getting from this guy that’s so elite? a .294 average? Okay, Yadier Molina tops him in that category. A .460 slugging percentage? I could stuff my entire infield and draft Lucroy for that. 72 RBIs? Wilin Rosario only had, like, 60-something less at-bats and drove in more (with a similar overall batting average and slugging percentage, I might add.) Oh, alright! I get it now. He hit 15 homers in 2013. Gee, that’s a lot of round trippers! I must be some kind of stupid to ignore that. Wait, what’s this?? Wilson Ramos hit 16 dingers in almost 200 less plate appearances???

Awkward…

-Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
If you’re in a league that only accounts for on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS, by all means take Joe Mauer as your starting fantasy catcher. If not, and homeruns, runs scored and RBIs still count for some weird reason, then you require a reality check for drafting him. Like an ice cream cone on a scorching hot summer afternoon, Mauer’s power has evaporated faster than you ever had a chance to taste it. He played a full season last year and all he has to prove is a .324 batting average, which is amazing, but does nothing on its own. his 62/11/47 slash line suggests that he was afraid to score, go yard, and drive people in. Most of it was the poor Minnesota lineup he found himself in, as well, but the last thing you should do with a former MVP is make excuses for a down year of these proportions. I’m not blaming Mauer for such a disappointing fantasy season, but the Twins have nobody to help him at all, and even when they do, he’s only good for batting average and RBIs. In the last three years, Mauer has launched 24 homers. I can’t even count with my fingers the number of catchers who’ve circumvented that number in a single season over the last 4-5 years, while driving in and scoring more runs. Mauer’s draft position is sky-high, but his draft value is at an all-time low. Seriously, what’s with all these overrated catchers this year?

-Josh Hamilton, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Hmm, let’s see. Take an aging power hitter and trade him from a homer-hitting park to one more pitcher-friendly, ends up experiencing a dip in ISO, walk rate, and BB/K. Oh, and he ends up slugging 100 points less with half of his homers the year before disappearing with it. What else did you expect, LA? You’re certainly no Doger blue, I’ll tell ya that much. Look, he’s ranked at #104 in standard league drafts. I guess he’s a serviceable fourth outfielder…if all you did was draft outfielders. I just don’t understand how ESPN finds him more valuable than Alex Cobb, Brian McCann, Martin Prado, or Matt Adams. Shake. My. Head. You want me to really call him out? Sure. Alfonso Soriano is 38 and had a way better overall 2013 than Hamilton. You can pretend Mr. Tobacco here doesn’t exist and draft the Fonz at #143.

-Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Tampa Bay Rays
I despise the Rays, and I also despise Ben Zobrist for once again defying the odds to end up with an incredibly overvalued draft position (#62.) Yeah, he’s got multi-position eligibility, which is great…but so do Martin Prado and Jed Lowrie. Please tell me you didn’t let a 77/12/71 slash line with meager batting average/on-base peripherals fool you into thinking that he’s more worth a draft pick than Matt Carpenter, Greg Holland, or Hunter Pence, did you?

-Desmond Jennings, OF, Tamba Bay Rays
Maybe I’d give Desmond Jennings some mercy if he learned how to play second base or something. He’s listed at #89 in standard league drafts, just for batting .252 with a 82/14/54 slash line and 20 stolen bases. I know what you’re thinking. “Wow! That’s amazing!” “He’s got sleeper written all over him!” “And I’m only using exclamation points just to show how ecstatic I am about his draft value!” Here are two things wrong with this absurd ranking:

1) It’s higher than that of Masahiro Tanaka, Doug Fister, Shelby Miller, Gerrit Cole, Shane Victorino, Will Venable (a true 20-20 threat,) and Manny Machado. MANNY. FREAKING. MACHADO. All of these guys listed above are totally undervalued, by the way.

2)If you let him go and wait, say, seven or so more rounds (depending on the league depth, of course,) you can or could’ve drafted an Alejandro De Aza with more pop and a better batting average, or an Austin Jackson with more run scoring potential and steals.

Just get your Evan Longoria or Wil Myers and keep it pushing.

-Michael Bourn, OF, Cleveland Indians
Bourn’s stolen base numbers took a huge dip last season, amassing only four more swipes in over 400 more at-bats than he did in his rookie season with the Phillies. And that’s it. Really. He’s not good at anything else at this stage of his career, and even if he plays leadoff all season long for Cleveland, he won’t get on base enough to make much of a run-scoring impact to justify overlooking fellow speedsters Brett Gardner or Adam Eaton in a draft. Which is probably exactly what you did already. Shame on you, reader. Shame on you.

Next up, pitchers. Tighten your caps and grip your seams, we’ve got arms to bear.

Pitchers on the “Rise”

-Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Marlins
Fernandez once said during the offseason that he wants to complete 2014 with an ERA somewhere under 2.00. I think he can do it. He’s got more upside than anyone else in this draft, and adjusted to Major League hitting faster than the Road Runner to Wile E. Coyote’s faulty traps. He almsot won the Cy Young last year, and with numbers that support him through and through (2.88 FIP, 9.75 K/9, 0.5 HR/9, .182 opp. BA)he could definitely move up the fantasy food chain at a rapid-fire pace.

Doug Fister, SP, Washington Nationals
Basically every counting statistic and peripheral was improved yet again by the ex-Tiger, and Fister’s alarmingly high opposing BABIP from a year ago should become a thing of the past with the move to Washington. Because of the fact that he relies heavily on the groundball (a 2.17 GB/FB ratio last season,)this solid Nationals infield will eat up way more grounders for him than Detroit’s pourous defense ever did. With awesome control, a decent K rate and a FIP that’s begging for a breakout year, Fister’s career numbers just might get a signifcant boost across the board.

-Trevor Rosenthal, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
Rosenthal was just getting his legs under him when he was granted the closer’s role late last season, and he responded with an incredible 12.9 K/9 and an awfully impressive postseason. So, I guess it goes without saying that a relief pitcher with Kimbrel-esque stuff, closing out games for one of the best teams in the league for a full season, will have plenty of save opportunities, and rack up even more than the 108 strikeouts he did in 2013.

-Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves
Here in lies your Opening Day starter, Atlanta. Be very excited. Last season Teheran posted a 2.96 second half ERA, and bolstered his K/9 ratio up to the low-9s in the process. In fact, everything improved with Teheran over the year, as his walk rate, WHIP and opposing batting average all faced significant decreases. There’s no leash on his innings this time, either, as he threw for 185.2 of them in 2013. He may not be the first ace you want to draft, but he is most certainly one who’s worth his draft value, as he’s poised to shatter all of his pre-season predictions.

-Michael Wacha, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
“Hey, look! Oh, it’s just another Cardinal. This guy is obsessed with these red birds.” You know what, I am. So what? You wanna fight about it? Didn’t think so. Wacha has already been mentioned in part 1 of my draft day series, so there’s that. Trivia Question coming up. You know what Pedro Martinez used to say about his stuff during the NLDS/NLCS on TBS post-game shows? He imitated the sound effect of Pac-Man chomping. Wonder what that sounds like…

-C.C. Sabathia, SP, New York Yankees
Can’t forget about my pinstripes! If Sabathia is anywhere near as good during the year as he was last night in Tampa, then he is 130% worth his draft value (#152.)It seems as though he’s figured out how to pitch with a slow-motion fastball, and it seems as though I’ve underestimated his weight loss and confidence boost. I wish him all the best to whoever drafted him in my league, especially since I’ve been waiting for 2009 C.C. to hit the mound since, well, 2009. And we all remember how the Yankees finished their season in 2009. Control is his best friend, and if Sabathia pays for its season tickets, the reward for fantasy owners will be immense.

-Andrew Cashner, SP, San Diego Padres
The Padres suck, but their starting rotation is actually pretty amazing if you do enough research. It makes absolutely no sense. But drafting Cashner, who is exactly one spot above C.C. Sabathia, is strictly common sense. His second half last season went totally unnoticed, but he was among the league leaders in ERA (2.14,) WHIP (0.95,) and opposing batting average (.194) in that span. The inherent spike in strikeouts through his final two months of the year was more of a “finally/it’s about time” sort of thing rather than a fluke: he averaged a 94.5 mph fastball all season long, and figured out how to implement it with his filthy slider. I’ve run out of superlatives for these types of guys, so I’ll just say that his stock resembles that of an arrow pointing up and growing larger as you look at it.

-Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinatti Reds
An extreme groundballer with an ERA under 3 over the last three years, Johnny Cueto presents himself as one of the most fruitful of fantasy draft steals. He’s so good when he’s on the mound, that sometimes you have to look over your shoulder and hope the fantasy baseball police doesn’t come and arrest you for draft robbery. He has been getting lucky, no doubt, possessing a 78.2 strand rate, and an okay 7.57 K/9 ratio. But then again, I chalk that up as more of a guy who gets better when the game speeds up on him. Shoulder injuries have been a bit of a pain for fantasy owners to deal with, especially last year where he only managed to throw 60.2 innings. However, he’s starting to acknowledge that, as he’s working on his delivery to eliminate the possibility of another similar ailment. The Reds’ rotation would look awfully nice if that would translate into another 200 innings for Cueto, and guys like you and me would be on the moon.

-Ivan Nova, SP, New York Yankees
Nova’s not someone you can heavily rely on for strikeouts, as he only managed a 7.49 K/9 rate with New York last season. However, if you can sacrifice a couple extra K’s, the rest is history. His second half was unbelievable, flailing his 93 mph fastball and ship-wrecking curveball to the tune of a 2.78 ERA and two shutouts. When he has his way and is pounding the strike zone, Nova is forcing hitters to knock grounders to no avail and amassing quick outs frequently. He’ll be able to go 200 innings without feeling it, and although the walks will be an obstacle he’ll have to traverse, he doesn’t give up homers, even in Yankee Stadium. Hope you didn’t sleep on him.

-Alex Cobb, SP, Tamba Bay Rays
Ditto for Cobb, except for the fact that his K/9 was almost a whole point higher than Nova’s last year. He has the best changeup in baseball, neutralizes lefties, and has the chance of finishing 2014 as the most frequent groundball inducer in baseball history. You don’t understand the anger I had to hold inside when someone else drafted him in my friends’ league, so I went and drafted him in every other one I joined. Problem solved.

-Yordano Ventura, SP, Kansas City Royals
Here’s how highly I think of Yordano Ventura: he could leapfrog well over a hundred draft spots by the end of the year, and write his own pre-season predictions right now if he wanted. I only had to watch him pitch once to be convinced about his stuff, his increased control, and his confidence (a major factor for young starters without an innings limit.) For all you Royals fans out there, his 97-102 mph fastball has always had all the bite and break it needed to make him a fantasy stalwart. The problem he had in 2013 was that he never got comfortable with his curveball/changeup when he came to the Majors, and his control wavered. The scariest thing about Ventura today is that not only has he figured out how to utilize his curveball for both strikes and strikeouts, he has spent all spring training mastering his fastball control. Don’t believe me? Let’s compare what he did in the Cactus League with his minor league averages:

Career Minor League Per-Year Averages:
93.1 IP, 85 hits allowed, 6.5 HR allowed, 34 BBs, 107 K’s, .244 opp. BA, 3.54 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

Spring Training 2014 stats:
15.1 IP, 10 hits allowed, 1 HR allowed, 1 BB, 15 K’s, .185 opp. BA, 1.76 ERA, 0.72 WHIP

Small sample sizes always leave a larger suspension of dibelief, but consider that Ventura had to fight for his rotation spot this year and needed to prove that he could make the necessary adjustments to handle Major League pitching. He certainly held his own in the minors, and seeing as how he walked one guy all Spring while working on this secondary pitches is highly encouraging on the basis of maturity. I saw this same exact thing with Shelby Miller last year, and he rode me to the playoffs with a fantastic rookie campaign without even being drafted. Ventura’s upside, because of his sharper off-speed stuff, is shockingly higher. Dose in a little bit of that closer-caliber fastball goodness and signs of excellent pitch command and we’ve got what seems to be another waiver-wire winner in 2014.

Pitchers on the “Decline”

-Homer Bailey, SP, Cincinatti Reds
Let’s making something very clear: I have nothing against Homer Bailey. His K rate, groundball rate, and HR/9 are one of the many improvements to his game. But unfortunately, this article is about players who’s stock justifies or supplants their DRAFT POSITION, and his is just too high. For those of you who did draft him, I hope you at least got Masahiro Tanaka or one of the many great starters within the 90-100 range beforehand. He belongs there instead of being 20 spots ahead of them at #74.

-Matt Moore, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Matt Moore wins the award for “luckiest starting pitcher in fantasy baseball” for his 2013 performance. His 17-4 record last year was a product of a world’s worth of run support, and his overall numbers only look so enticing because he somehow managed a .272 opposing BABIP. Here come the underlying numbers: a 4.10 FIP, 1.88 K/BB ratio, 4.55 BB/9, and a decreased 92.4 mph fastball velocity. Gambling on him getting more K’s than walks most nights carries the same risk as actual gambling, and with a lack of consistent command every start in 2014 will be a roll of the dice for the young lefty. I’d rather wait an eternity and go for a more proven arm in Francisco Liriano.

-R.A. Dickey, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
I’ve actually recieved a recent trade proposal for R.A. Dickey, to which I laughed at and adamantly rejected. Those who drafted him in last season’s draft and expected the Cy Young winner from the Mets were staring at fool’s gold, and the same rules apply here. What destroyed Dickey’s temporarily elite starting pitcher status was primarily the move to Toronto and the AL East, but also a lack of command and consistency. In 2013, his HR/9 soared to a career-high 1.40, the K/BB rate returned to his career averages, and his lack of inducing a ton of groundballs helped raise his ERA and FIP to a juditiously poor 4.21 and 4.73, respectively. 40 is the new 30 for knuckleballers, so hopefully he figures it out on the mound sooner or later, but I’m not owning him just to bank on that. Nooo thank you. At #132, you can forget all about fantasy draft logic and pick him up over, say, Cole Hamels (#136,) Michael Wacha (#142,) Jon Lester (#145,) and Andrew Cashner (#151.)

The FBSE is back on in two weeks for another slate of risers and fallers. For those who are drafting this weekend, remember one thing: you don’t have to take my opinions up on every player, but don’t ever draft without a plan, and you must not draft a player too high because you like him or you recognized him from a Head and Shoulders commercial. To everyone else, good luck this year and may the best-haired degenerate win.

 

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