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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 2016** The Sudden, Subtle Regression (?) of Jacob DeGrom

**FANTASY BASEBALL 2016** The Sudden, Subtle Regression (?) of Jacob DeGrom

 

There’s no denying the upside and the potential of the New York Mets and their sweeping starting rotation, and as a fan of a notable crosstown rival who seems to rely much too heavily on decaying free agent contracts it’s rather refreshing laying witness to a natural, organizational revival happening elsewhere. Of course, the majority of the Mets’ recent success is the result of their quality arms, and I’m sure the fantasy community has responded in draft boards and such. From Noah Syndergaard to Steven Matz, New York’s now-popular starting rotation has become as desirable as the talent level they possess. Even Bartolo Colon is viewed more comfortably these days as a dependable streaming option.

But if these first seven weeks are any indication, that allure may not always translate into pure results. In the case of Jacob DeGrom, he’s done his part to justify his draft price at least to a decent extent. He’s got a 3.07 ERA and 1.24 WHIP all while collecting 3 victories, and a brief look at his plate discipline peripherals will tell owners that he’s the same Cy Young-caliber starter from a season ago. Here are my two cents in the matter: Extended research has led me to believe that there’s a decent argument in selling DeGrom. All the convincing you really need as a current owner is to: A) watch any one of his previous starts if you have the resources, and/or: B) take a very close look at ALL of his 2016 numbers. Let’s start with the basics. A year ago, he finished the 2015 season as one of the top starting pitchers in all of fantasy with a 2.52 ERA over 191 innings and a 22.2% K-BB ratio. His fastball was absolutely elite, almost averaging 95 miles per hour and generating one of the best run values out of any starting pitcher’s fastball in the big leagues – all while being complemented with an arsenal with +15% K material and a wipeout changeup that had a fantastic 32.4% K rate on its own. There was no secret to the “how” in regards to DeGrom’s immediate success carrying over so seamlessly a year ago, and these graphs should give a pretty good idea of how he found so much consistent success in 2015.

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In nearly every month, Degrom featured one different pitch that famished opposing hitters more than the rest, which meant adjusting by neutralizing just a single one from his repertoire did little to no good in the long run. He had the benefit of putting away batters with whatever pitch he wanted, and even if one were to remove his changeup or curveball from the equation we’d still be talking about an 8 K/9 type starter because of his fastball/slider/sinker offerings.

I’m showing you all of his work from last season because it all applies to my argument against keeping him in fantasy: his pure performance thus far has not come close to this level of excellence, yet his surface stats suggest otherwise. For example, here are a few more graphs I plucked out from this season that point to – or at least are pointing to – decline:

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Allow me to explain what’s happening here by comparing these two graphs with the previous two. Last year, DeGrom’s pitch usage never leaned too far into the two-pitch territory we’re starting to see from him (or at least, starting to see from him this month). In other words, he threw more sinkers, changeups and curveballs in 2015, which led to almost half of his pitch usage stemming from offspeed pitches, breaking balls or pure downward movement offerings. It made him deceptive, and hard to gauge. This year, he’s trending in the wrong direction, almost going away from his elite changeup and above-grade sinker, and throwing his curve less in the process; the results showing that he’s becoming more lenient on his fastball and slider. Right now, he’s becoming more predictable.

Now, I would stand by this decision if those two pitches were his best, but even when you factor in the fastball that’s hardly the case right now. First of all, DeGrom’s four-seam fastball and sinker are off by a full two miles per hour, and the K rates for both have dropped about 11 and 8 percent, respectively. Furthermore, his changeup has seemed to have lost its magic, with a tremendous dip in whiffs and strikeouts (20% drop in K rate) – which leaves only his slider and curveball as the only two pitches in his arsenal that have been virtually unfazed by these changes (although the slider is also experiencing a noticeable dip in whiffs itself).

His pitch selection/effectiveness is not the only concerning development, however. His Skill Interactive Earned Run Average (SIERA, which measures a pitcher’s pure performance by including batted balls with the usual independent pitching numbers) is at 4.23 right now; nearly a run and a quarter higher than his actual ERA. Even though he’s getting just as many swinging strikes and chases outside the zone as he’s always gotten, he’s getting hit much harder when guys make contact; presumably the result of him throwing so many more fastballs (51-point increase in wRC+ between 2015-2016) and sliders (38-point increase in wRC+). I believe it’s also important to note that the velocity drop I mentioned before has affected his entire arsenal, so I’m curious if that is the main culprit for the harder hits and fewer strikeouts.

As someone who closely observes fantasy-relevant starters, Jacob DeGrom worries me for a number of reasons. These days, he’s hardly topping 94 on his fastball after throwing as hard as 97-98 at times a year ago, and he’s completely redone his pitch sequencing, fixing a good thing that was never broke. Also, I can’t help but feel that maybe all of this has to do with him hiding an ailment or experiencing some sort of diminished confidence. Where’s that changeup he rode to Cy Young consideration? Why is he going to his fastball and slider so much? And where are all the strikeouts? (9.66 K/9 in 2015, 6.59 K/9 in 2016.) I did catch wind of him having some sort of mechanical issue with his delivery, but when he did last season it didn’t affect him nearly as much and he re-adjusted rather quickly in comparison. Looking at everything presented here, I’m sure some of you might be thinking that it’s only been seven starts, and he’s already past his lat issue from April, but it’s been a very telling seven starts that appear very uncharacteristic on his part. He could bounce back right before our eyes and become a mid-2s, top-15 starter (let’s not forget that this walk rate is still pretty good), but at this rate he’s lucky to even have the 3.07 ERA he’s escaped with thus far.

My advice right now would be to listen to whoever’s out there in your league anticipating the bounce back, or at the very least tune in to his next start and pay close attention to his stuff. If his pitches continue to look like a pale imitation of what he had to offer a season ago, it might be time to consider baiting him to potential suitors for an ample return on investment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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**FANTASY BASEBALL 2016** Buy-Low Candidates for the Month of May

**FANTASY BASEBALL 2016** Buy-Low Candidates for the Month of May

Hey guys! I know it’s been a while, but I’m glad to be back writing up fantasy baseball posts and informing you all on the fantasy landscape as it currently stands. For my first week back, I’ll be touching base on a specific grouping of players who I feel could be very influential to any fantasy team’s success, and giving you my two-cents. Considering that there is so much data available these days, I figured I’d back up my opinions with whatever I could find; hopefully providing readers with a more tangible outlook on whoever’s being discussed.

Today’s post is covering a number of players under a specific category pre-determined by the fantasy community. And since it is May right now, I felt that it’d be appropriate to start labeling these guys as such considering some people I know who are fantasy baseball-ing are freaking out already, from a player roster-ing standpoint. So, without further ado, let’s get started, shall we?

 

Buy-Lows 

Paul Goldschmidt

Chris Archer

David Price

Zack Greinke

J.D. Martinez

Corey Kluber

Miguel Cabrera

Carlos Rodon

 

A near-100-point difference between his current season BABIP and his career BABIP has thus far led to Paul Goldschmidt finding himself with an ugly .222 batting average, even despite his ever-increasing walk rate and still-present power and plate discipline skills. As far as hitters go in general, he’s probably been the unluckiest of them all in 2016, and no heatmap or ballpark speadsheet is required to prove that when the only stark difference in his numbers so far is his 10-percent increase in soft-hit rate. He’ll heat up in no time; just don’t tell his owner that when you negotiate terms.

 

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Chris Archer  and David Price are like the Paul Goldschmidts of starting pitchers, and I’m not just saying that because they’ve also fallen into an insanely huge heaping of bad luck. Archer’s fanning far more batters than he’s ever fanned, but seemingly every time he allows contact it’s finding seats; his 23.5% HR/FB rate is over twice as high as his career norm! One thing that is entirely his fault, however, happens to be his walk rate, and if his 52.6% F-Strike rate doesn’t go up we’re looking at a Yu Darvish-lite who’ll have stretches of unpredictability that could downright frustrate even the most patient of fantasy owners. Still, he’s too good at the swing-and-miss, and I doubt he’ll be a 4 BB/9 guy forever, so that 3.27 xFIP is most likely the gateway into a prosperous ROS for the 27-year old.

Ditto for Price, who’s been even better than Archer from a skills perspective, yet even more unlucky in the process. You already know about his track record and pitching in the AL East his whole career (the latter part one of the main reasons why he should’ve been one of the first SP’s to exit draft boards this season, especially with that Boston offense), but I’m desperately pleading folks to buy because his 6.00 ERA is almost THREE AND A HALF POINTS HIGHER THAN HIS xFIP!!!!

I’ve watched a lot of Corey Kluber, some of Zack Greinke, and highlights of Carlos Rodon, and I can honestly tell ya if I had the opportunity to own any one of the three at a discount price, I’m pouncing without a moment’s notice. Kluber continues to get BABIP’ed around like nobody’s business (although he also needs to cut down on the free passes), but his curveball/slider combo is still one of the nastiest in baseball, and his groundball rate is (almost) back to its 2014 level. Few starting pitchers in baseball are as criminally underrated.

Greinke’s still pitching like he’s in LA (3.22 xFIP last season, 3.51 xFIP this year) but is getting beat up like he’s hurling meatballs in Colorado (5.26 ERA in 2016). Greinke owners probably predicted a dropoff in numbers with the move to Arizona, but all of his peripheral stats, from K-BB ratio to batted ball calculations, line up with his three years of work with the Dodgers – so it’d be unwise to cast him off as a bust when this slow start is probably just the fantasy Gods reminding us that he’s outpitched his ERA estimators by a LOT over the last few seasons.

 

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Rodon still has control issues, but the main culprits for his 4.99 ERA (and 1.26 difference between that and his xFIP) are both his .336 BABIP and his 17.1% HR/FB rate; two factors that appeared to have been aided substantially by his home ballpark. Something I’ve noticed with Rodon that seems especially promising is his continued reliance on his two-seamer, which has not only boosted his groundball rate (currently at an impressive 50.9%), but has also generating enough strikeouts – along with that devastating slider – to justify his 9+ K/9. However, his 8.1 swinging strike percentage is concerning, and you have to wonder if maybe – just maybe – his new contact-oriented approach is going to plummet his strikeout totals in the long run. Still, the upside is too great, and whoever has Rodon in your league is probably considering dropping him right now.

 

The Tigers offense is better than this, and if last week is any indication Detroit’s big bats might finally be waking up. As a proud owner of Miguel Cabrera, I was expecting a helluva lot more than 6 homers and 20 runs batted in through May 15th. Like most of the guys on my buy-low list, though, I’ve been observing him closely, and he constantly looks like he’s one swing away from a ridiculously torrid stretch. For those in pursuit, it’s safe to assume that his .286 batting average is the result of fewer hard-hit balls and a slightly-decreasing plate discipline profile. However, that’s counting the season in full; since the calendar flipped to May, nearly all of Miggy’s counting and peripheral stats have trended upward. He’s batting over .300 this month, his walks have gone up, and his wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) has seen a 26-point jump between now and April. Miggy’s currently at his most affordable price in ages, so if you’re hurting for a solid corner infielder I say “why not?”.

 

 

 

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**FANTASY BASEBALL 2016** Quick Looks: Baltimore Orioles (Infield)

**FANTASY BASEBALL 2016** Quick Looks: Baltimore Orioles (Infield)

Alas, Baseball is back, everyone!! The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, and the path to Opening Night is getting shorter. While March is otherwise known for being Winter’s last hurrah, the rest of us are well aware that it’s only a matter of time before the coats get hung back up and the grass grows green. Spring is fast approaching, and the advent of America’s Pastime looms anxiously. 

With that in mind, I plan to make the month an exciting one by taking a brief look at each of the 30 Major League Ballclubs until the end of the month. This should be of great use for those in deeper league formats because it exposes the potential gems the fantasy waiver wire might have to offer over the course of the season. Also, though: you get a crystal clear overview of the fantasy landscape that sort of puts a value tag on each individual player who’s bound to conjure up at least a modicum of playing time. 

I’ll be covering both the American and National Leagues alphabetically, with today’s discussion focusing squarely on the Baltimore Orioles – a ballclub that somewhat defines the very nature of this topic piece.

 

BALTIMORE ORIOLES INFIELD

 

 

 

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Anyone who’s new to baseball, yet keen enough to comprehend the importance of a ballclub’s various attributes will find the Orioles’ infield an immediate strength. Chris Davis totally rebounded from his pedestrian 2014 with a 47-homer, 117 RBI campaign that saw him sitting among the very top of all fantasy first baseman rankings. Without going into too much detail explaining how he managed to pull it off; research suggests that he altered his approach to his strengths, pulling more flyballs and making harder contact than ever before. He still strikes out way too much, but considering the overall wealth of power he’s provided the last four seasons combined (coupled with the fact that he did have one of the worst single-season BABIP marks I’ve ever seen back in that disastrous 2014 season), I wouldn’t be surprised if he was taken off most standard draft boards within the first 2-3 rounds.

 

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Manny Machado‘s supposed gap power mutated into systematic wall-scraping almost overnight, as the now 23-year old superstar third baseman saw a 22-homer jump prior to playing just over a half season’s worth of games in his 2014 debut. Even scarier is how much more aggressive he got on the base paths, as the young stud managed to pull off an immensely impressive 20 steals on the side. These things, however, do little to describe just how ridiculously impressive Manny Machado’s entire skillset truly is. He has an amazing eye for the plate (25.7% O-swing rate), makes a ton of contact (6.8% swinging strike rate, 91.1 F-Strike Contact rate), and is one of the game’s most disciplined at-bats (9.8% BB rate and 15.6% K rate). All of these things come together to define an elite ballplayer who has the potential of finishing the next 7-8 years as one of the top-5 best hitters in the game. Given all the upside he already carries, Machado absolutely needs to be an early-round priority in any league.

 

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Very few positions in baseball offer as many impact sleepers as second base, and Jonathan Schoop lends heavily to that philosophy. Behind the terrible plate discipline (0.11 BB/K ratio) and insanely aggressive approach (61% swing rate), lies an improving product with the ability to leapfrog over the best in the Bigs in a fortnight. In just 86 games played and 321 plate appearances, Schoop nearly matched his previous career-high in home runs with 15, and notched 73 R+RBI with a .279/.306/.482 slash line (good for a 112 wRC+). Had his knees been under him all season long and was capable of collecting over 150 games of playing time in 2015, there’s a decent chance he’d be labeled in many people’s current discussions as pre-Atlanta Dan Uggla’s second coming. Other awesome numbers to consider come in the form of his batted ball profile, as he’s greatly increased his opposite field% (a big reason why his 2015 BABIP was so goddamn high) and jettisoned his hard hit rate by well over eight percent (which, in other words, meant that his rate of hard contact was less like Stephen Drew‘s and more like Robinson Cano‘s). Somehow, he’s only projected to be the 20th best second baseman according to ESPN, and I’d be lying if I told you they weren’t being excessively conservative here.

Unlike his constituents, there really isn’t much to see here with J.J. Hardy. He hasn’t hit 20 or more homers or slugged over .400 since 2013, and although that’s not too long ago it’s important to consider he’s also 33 with dwindling contact rates and increasing strikeout totals.  His notoriously pedestrian batting average clips offer little to no compensation, and since we ALL know this mo-fo doesn’t steal bases we’re pretty much left with a 39-year old Derek Jeter doppleganger. I guess the best way for me to sum up J.J. Hardy at this stage in his career is: do you really want this on your fantasy team?

Ditto for Ryan Flaherty, who’s only real staying power is his pop (9 homers in 301 plate appearances in 2015). Since he makes minimal contact at the plate and doesn’t run at all, it’s impossible for me to imagine – barring injury – him getting any regular playing time in Baltimore – let alone the deepest of fantasy leagues.

Jimmy Paredes qualifies as more of an outfield option than an infield one, Christian Walker‘s an unproven first base prospect with no where to go even if disaster strikes, and Hyun Soo Kim will probably patrol left field. So, with that in mind, Baltimore features only one other decent infield option: Mark TrumboAnd, to make things clear here, 2016 will perhaps be the last time he ever qualifies at first base or the outfield, ever. So, for Trumbo, he needs a renaissance now – especially if fantasy owners are going to trust him. Truthfully, though, he should be trusted as an asset in most leagues anyway, since I’m assuming Baltimore will be wise enough to stick him into their DH spot a la David Ortiz, and his foot problems are finally in the rear-view mirror. Last season was a pretty good indicator of the latter, as the 30-year old picked things up a bit during the second-half of 2015: .282 batting average, 11 homers and 32 RBI in 66 games played. Let’s not also forget that Trumbo was on track to becoming one of the more revered power hitters in the game before he was shipped off to Arizona in ’14, and from there we’ve got ourselves a pretty damn fine end-of-draft buy. Just remember that he’s not exactly a .300 hitter or anything like that.

 

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Matt Wieters rounds out the Orioles’ projected starting infield, and despite all the injury woes that have put severe clamps on his playing time the last couple of seasons he comes into Spring Training with a full bill of health. All you need to know about Wieters, given that he’s a catcher and the catcher position’s always unpredictable, is that he was one of the rare fantasy gems behind the plate before the injury bugs came into play. From 2011-2013, he launched 78 dingers and averaged 71 RBI, with a passable batting average. His game solely depends on leaving the yard and driving home a respectable amount of men on base, and nothing statistically suggests that’ll change in 2016 – barring any significant collapses. Since he missed so much time last season, he comes off as more of an end-of-draft pick you could sneak in at a crazy-low price – you’ve just gotta remember that he’s down there somewhere.

If, in any event, Wieters spends most of his 2016 the same way he spent most of his 2015 campaign, the Orioles are lucky enough to have a backup as capable as Caleb JosephHe’s got particularly good pop against righties, and thrived with runners in scoring position last season in the wake of Wieters’s injury. The wealth of playing time he had in 2015 proved that he’s a Major League catcher with upside. The problem with Joseph, however, is that he’s still slightly more upside than current production. He’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts (20.3% K rate in 2015) a bit and make harder contact (30.6% clip) if he’s to be considered a guaranteed solid option both in fantasy and real life, because he’s struggled to carry even a decent batting average through either of his first two Major League campaigns. He is getting better (he sprayed the ball way more often in ’15 than in ’14, helping lead to a near-30 point boost in batting average) and his defense behind the plate is plenty serviceable, so at the very least he’s worth keeping an eye on in AL-only leagues.

 

 

 

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**FANTASY BASEBALL 2016** The Non-Keeper League’s “Prime 9” – Starting Pitchers

**FANTASY BASEBALL 2016** The Non-Keeper League’s “Prime 9” – Starting Pitchers

Hey guys! Glad to be back working on the fantasy outlook of this year’s upcoming baseball season. These next couple months is going to require a whole lot of dedicated analysis, depth chart cross-referencing, and looking back at many of last season’s player statistics. With that said, I’m hoping that my new situation will allocate me more time to invest in mapping out a clearer, more successful draft plan for those who happen to stumble upon my posts – and if I’m lucky enough I might even be able to stay active during the course of the regular season.

This week’s featured discussion is all about the very best of the best, with each post covering each respective playing position. I figured that since I’m going to cover as much of the fantasy talent pool as I can, a great place to start would be with labeling the top performers in the game. How I’m going to proceed with said labeling is simple: I will display my personal list of the nine best players at each position – in other words, a top-nine within the prime 9 – with detailed explanations for most of them meant to justify my stance.

Keep in mind that my opinions are influenced both by a large gathering of data and statistics, and the fact that I’m looking art things from the perspective of an ESPN standard league (I.E. 10-12 teamers with usually 7-9 pitcher spots and a relatively shallow bench).

 

So, without further ado – here are my Prime 9 for the 2016 basebeall season!

 

1A: Starting Pitchers

1. Clayton Kershaw

2. Chris Sale

3. Max Scherzer

4. David Price

5. Jake Arrieta 

6. Zack Greinke

7. Madison Bumgarner

8. Carlos Carrasco

9. Corey Kluber

 

  • Jake Arrieta may have won last year’s Cy Young, but the far-and-away (at least in terms of WAR) #1 pitcher in the world throughout the 2015 season was Clayton Kershaw. Even despite spending much of the first half fighting off the BABIP demons that thrust his current skill level into myriad skepticism, the tall, bearded left-handed finished the year yet again with a ace reliever’s K/9 rate, a microscopic walk rate, and more innings pitched than anyone else in baseball. Once again, his ERA estimators found him to only be just a few shades worse than his sub-2 ERA performance suggested, and his groundball tendencies continued to trend upward (although it did fall off by a percentage point last year). Oh, and did I mention how he lead the Majors in every rotisserie category besides wins and ERA? Kershaw’s career trajectory speaks enough to justify his placing at the top of the starting pitcher pile, and regardless of how many times opposing ballclubs knock him around in April – you’re gonna wanna have him around for when he spends the rest of the season unleashing the wrath of his revenge.

 

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  • I’ve seen enough of Chris Sale to proudly make the following bold statement: he is today’s version of Randy Johnson – from the herky-jerky side-arm delivery, to the bullet-speed fastball and knee-buckling/awe-inspiring slider. Sans Kershaw, no one is nastier, no one as frightening, and no one nearly as game-changing. His steadily-improving soft-hit% and even steadily-er declining xFIP are mere supporting notes to his otherworldly strikeout ability and elite-level control, and when they culminate the results are mesmerizing. Since 2013, Sale is third among all qualified starting pitchers in strikeouts (barely lagging behind Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer due to over 60 fewer innings pitched), second in xFIP, and ninth in WHIP. It’s really hard to believe he’s still getting better as he’s coming into 2016 at age 26 (!), but that’s exactly the case – and that’s incredibly exciting news for Chris Sale fans. I will say that Sale’s bugaboo has recently been his slightly sporadic health, but even that is worth the risk of a first or second-round draft pick because his skills – and upside – are totally out of this world (seriously, mark my words if we see a 300+ strikeout season in the horizon).

 

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  • Max Scherzer arguably had the best season of his career last year with Washington, and skeptics believe that he’s actually gotten even better as his new chapter with the Nationals wears on. Like Kershaw and Sale, Scherzer’s an otherwordly strikeout maven, and because his last 4-5 seasons are seemingly rife with extraordinary consistency (with the advantage of a totally clean bill of health during that span) placing him just below the two southpaws was an absolute no-brainer for me. With Scherzer, you always know what you’re going to get: top-of-the-class strikeout potential, a lot of innings pitched, a lot of flyballs (and a lot of homeruns allowed), and hardly anything else in between. He’s probably the safest fantasy ace out there, and if you’re looking for a quality arm in the first-round – or lost out on the other two guys I just discussed – look no further.
  • 4, 5 and 6 are where I truly needed to dive into some critical research to affirm my stance on these particular rankings. David Price relies heavily on his four-seam, two-seam and cut fastball for success, but in recent years he’s seen a spike in K/9 thanks to the evolution of his changeup. By increasing its usage rate by over five percent the last two seasons, Price’s swinging strike rate has gone up by almost three whole percentage points!! The result as been one of the league’s best strikeout-to-walk ratios in recent memory, and coupled with his own unwavering consistency of success on the mound (xFIPs of 3.30 or lower in each of his last five seasons), I find Price among the very best the sport has to offer in 2016.
  • Jake Arrieta has little else to prove in my eyes, but although I predicted he’d breakout as a true Major League ace in 2015, the year he had still came with a little bit of luck on his side. Among the top-15 starting pitchers in ERA last season, he has the fifth-widest discrepancy between actual ERA and xFIP – so the odds seem to be against him enjoying another historical campaign of this magnitude. However, he’s my #5 best starting pitcher to draft for a reason: beyond all the lucky outs and high strand rates lies a guy who’s pretty damn nasty. Every one of his offerings besides his sinker registered a 25%+ K rate, and his 11.1% swinging strike rate ranks among the top-20 of the entire league. His extreme groundball tendencies have allowed him to register ridiculously high soft-hit and incredibly low hard-hit percentage rates, and coupled with the strikeout ability (and 2.66 xFIP in over 380 combined innings since 2014), we’ve got ourselves an even better version of Felix Hernandez. If you don’t believe he’s this good, then you simply haven’t watched him pitch; he makes for one of the most uncomfortable ab-bats you’re likely to see from the right side of the rubber.
  • Perhaps the only reasonably-priced blockbuster acquisition of the Winter Meetings (given the circumstances behind the signing itself), Zack Greinke cashed in on a Cy Young-worthy 2015 and has found a new home in Arizona, where his very presence could make a huge difference for the D-Backs in a number of areas. For the sake of this post, however, let’s focus on his main selling point: his arm. Since 2012, only five other starting pitchers have been more valuable than Greinke in regards to WAR, and four of them I’ve just discussed. A large amount of that has to do with his unwavering excellence in practically every important measure of statistics. Within that same span of time, Greinke is 11th among all qualified starting pitchers in innings pitched, 12th in strikeouts, and a whopping 3rd and 7th overall in ERA and WHIP, respectively. Lastly; Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw are the only two individuals to gather more wins in that span, and coupled with the D-Backs having scored the 8th most runs in all of baseball this past season, there’s plenty to be excited about here for those who play rotisserie or most category leagues.

 

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  • Last season, Madison Bumgarner bested his previous career-high in strikeouts with 234 and WHIP with a 1.01 clip; won 15+ games again; threw for more innings and fewer walks than ever before; and finished with a sub-3 ERA for the third year in a row. He’s also 26 and has already posted three separate top-15 starting pitcher campaigns, so yeah; he’s definitely worth at least a second-round pick in all standard leagues.

 

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  • Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber were the nastiest 1-2 punch in the Majors last year, but thanks in large part to a ton of terrible BABIP-induced luck, their respective seasons have gone down more in secret from the masses. Did you know that last season both Carrasco and Kluber closed out the top-five in K-BB%, were top-ten in xFIP- (Carrasco third, Kluber seventh), and despite having abnormally high BABIPs finished within the top-15 in WHIP? Had the baseball gods not mired them in such misfortunes, chances are at least one of them would’ve intensely contested for a Cy Young award. Let’s not also forget that the Indians are going to be much better both at the plate and on the field, so wins will be easier to come by for these two in 2016. However, I can understand how either pitcher rounding out my Prime 9 may be a bit of a stretch. Carrasco barely averaged over six innings a start in 2015, and it’s still uncertain if he’s physically durable enough to be a 200+ innings eater down the line. Kluber’s groundball rate fell sharply over the course of the year, leading to a career-high flyball rate and a spike in HR/9. If you can overlook these concerns – and conform to the fact that nothing ever really went their way for most of the 2015 season – then you won’t regret taking them on the very, very cheap come draft day.

 

 

 

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*Fantasy Baseball 2015* September’s Drive to Survive – Hitters

*Fantasy Baseball 2015* September’s Drive to Survive – Hitters

*The article officially begins after the underlined, which is from yesterday’s post covering pitchers.

You’d be amazed how quickly perspectives could change in September. Division leads could evaporate into heated dogfights between rivals jostling for position, supposed “aces” of staffs could collapse and fall victim to the fatigue of the stretch run, and everyday players’ groin strains or hamstring ailments, usually requiring brief 5-15 day stints on the bench or in Minor League rehab, could shelve them for the rest of the year. These unfortunate occurrences have the potential to be death to a Major League squad, and surprisingly enough they’ve become a natural part of the game. Anything could happen, and anything does happen quite a lot in baseball during those final 30-35 days of the season.

The worst part is realizing that these circumstances play a substantial role in the complexion of your fantasy team. All the hard work you may have put in to your pitching staff in order to get your foot in the door of the postseason could be vanished by terms as haunting as “innings limit” or “skipped starts.” Teams who fall apart and lose their ways could damage the confidence of their star players, thus leading to individual cold stretches that just so happen to have spurred right when your matchups began to count more than ever. Moreover, these developments, as I’ve already hinted, usually never reach a solution at this point of the baseball season. Half of your entire roster can consist of players who carried your team all year long, and are having as difficult a time staying on the field as they are producing to their expected level of output. And I haven’t even mentioned the impact September call-ups could lay in the aftermath of all this.

If you’re not in the playoffs for your current fantasy baseball league, this probably isn’t the article for you. Quite a few no-names are expected to pop up throughout this post, with the focus falling squarely on helping competing owners get a competitive edge in any feasible way possible. Those who are out of it are either scoping out players they can’t wait to draft next season, or deciding who their flex is going to be this Sunday in fantasy football. If you believe that you fall into said categories, very little here will interest you. As for the rest, I am prepared to drop the insight you’ll need to bring the fantasy title home.

Today’s post will tackle a group of hitters I feel is capable of making the biggest two-week impact. Like with my assortment of pitchers in yesterday’s post, I will not be covering players who are currently owned in more than 40% of ESPN leagues. Most peripheral stats are still fair game in evaluating most of the following hitters, so if you wind up getting picky with your moves I’d suggest paying closer attention to those as a way of easing your decision-making.

POWER HITTERS

Khris Davis, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (37.6%)

The only feasible explanation for Khris Davis‘s ownership rates being at their current state would be his .244 batting average, as his 23 homers and 59 RBI in only 349 at-bats points to a potential top-10 outfielder in any league format. Well, actually, now that I think about it – Khris Davis has also registered most of this production in spurts, which may also have something to do with that. He has three different months where he’s finished with a +.500 slugging percentage, +4 homers and +12 RBI, and the other two have seen rather diminishing returns: a mid-high .300 slugging percentage, and a combined 3 home runs and 19 runs+RBI. Picked as a big-time sleeper yet again in 2015 (surprise-surprise, he subverted expectations last season after trailblazing his way to a .279/.353/.596 slash line in 2013,) Davis has continued to frustrate owners on a game-to-game basis. But he’s not being mentioned here for sporadic play. Since the All-Star Break, the 27-year old has rediscovered his power stroke, mashing 17 homers with 41 RBI, a .295 ISO, and .537 slugging percentage. Among all qualified outfielders, he ranks 5th, 5th, 5th and 12th respectively in those categories, suggesting that maybe those peaks and valleys most owners have been discouraged by are beginning to finally clear the way for some consistency – and top-flight fantasy value. Another impressive statistic – this time of the full season variety – is his 10.4% walk rate; a near-five percent increase from a year ago (that slow transformation into the potential late-round sleeper of 2016 is unfolding right before our eyes, people!) Now, before you go rushing to the wire and picking him up just because, I have to note two important things here you must consider:

  1. His road OPS for the season is under .600, and including their three-game stint with the Cubs the Brewers have three more series away from Miller Park before coming home for the final three games of the season. You wanna know who the Brewers are playing in those other two series? The St. Louis Cardinals, and the San Diego Padres. Yup.
  2. Despite all the praise for his power and discipline, Davis still just doesn’t make enough contact at the plate to help owners in batting average. His .242 post-ASG batting average, 68.6 Contact%, and 26.1% K percentage on the year can attest to that.

If you believe his final act of the season will be hampered by these factors, then it’d be best to either play the matchups with him and wait until Milwaukee gets back home, or just leave him alone. Otherwise, go add him now and ride him to either glory or oblivion.

Danny Valencia, 3B/1B/OF, Oakland Athletics (30.8%)

This could very well be the first and last time I ever mention, discuss or refer to Danny Valencia in a fantasy baseball post, as his career performance is as up-and-down as any other journeyman you can think of. But In 2015, things have come with a bit more smooth sailing for him, as he’s (supposedly) conquered the daunting undertaking of having sustained success against right-handed pitchers. Even more eye-opening is the extent to which he’s overcome such an insufficiency: His OPS, weighted on-base (wOBA) and weighted runs created plus (wRC+) are all much higher against righties than lefties. If learning that a guy famous of absolutely crushing opposite-handed pitching has spent the entire season dominating same-handed hurlers to an even more extreme extent doesn’t convince you he’s worth an add in all leagues, then I don’t have the slightest clue what will. I guess pointing out that he’s also slashing .290/.336/.521 with 18 homers and 60 RBI in only 328 at-bats could help spew some enthusiasm.

Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles (22.6%)

Blessed with a wealth of power at a position lacking any of the sort, no other middle infielder in the waiver wire is a better bet to blast off into the sunset of the 2015 season in style than Jonathan Schoop. Had he qualified, Baltimore’s starting helm at the keystone would’ve had the second-highest ISO (only falling behind Brian Dozier,) and the fourth-highest wOBA of all second basemen in the Majors. All of this in the heavenly confines of Camden Yards; a hitter’s paradise perfectly catering his swing. That short porch in left field could not be in a more convenient spot for him, as his 44.3% pull rate and 312 feet average distance on flyballs and home runs will allow him to take full advantage of those ballpark factors. That’s important to remember, as the Orioles will spent all of next week at home (while spending this week on the road against the struggling Nationals and Red Sox, which doesn’t hurt, either) I don’t believe in his .287 batting average (he’s walking 3% of the time with a .338 BABIP,) but this is perhaps the greatest power play (excuse the pun) you can make at second base, especially at this juncture. Don’t forget Jonathan Schoop in the offseason, etiher: folks across most fantasy circles are already considering his second-half push (9 home runs, 27 RBI, .789 OPS) as a harbinger for a breakout 2016 campaign.

Other players to considerTravis Shaw, 3B/1B, Boston Red Sox (24.2%,) Greg Bird, 1B, New York Yankees (17.6%,) Justin Bour, 1B, Miami Marlins (11.3%)

CONTACT SPECIALISTS

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Francisco Cervelli, C, Pittsburgh Pirates (28%)

If you happen to own one of those “five-foot pool” deep mixed or NL-Only leagues where got lucky in every position besides catcher, and you need a boost in batting average where it counts, Francisco Cervelli is your guy. Batting just a literal tick under .300 with 50 RBI, the Pittsburgh backstop has most definitely found a home for him to play above-average, everyday baseball. His 7% swinging strike rate and 0.54 K-BB ratio help label him more as a guy who keeps his batting average up from having an experienced approach at the plate than just a BABIP-induced fluke. Even though his power and run scoring numbers are mostly pedestrian, he absolutely makes up for it with his ability to get knocks – at least in batting average-dependent leagues. Pick him up and plug him in if the situation calls for it.

Alex Rios, OF, Kansas City Royals (25.8%)

The term “contact specialist” should very loosely describes what Alex Rios is at this point of his career, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that his last couple of months have proven him worthy of the claim right now. Hitting .293 in 181 at-bats since the All-Star Break, Rios has certainly found his way on base more often than others recently, which is even truer when you narrow his performance down to the last month. Since the calendar turned to September, Rios has owned a .366/.386/.610 slash line in 11 games, with counting stats across the board (including a stolen base.) Although he’s currently sitting somewhere around the bottom third of the Kansas City lineup, the Royals collectively score in bunches (fourth in the Majors in runs scored this season) which allows Rios ample opportunity to both drive home or score from his teammates. As long as he could stay hot, you won’t need the Mike Trouts or the Andrew McCutchens of the world to do everything in your outfield.

Thomas Pham, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (22%)

The Cardinals have experienced so many injuries this season, you would’ve figured guys like Stephen Piscotty and Thomas Pham were planned mid-season call-ups from the jump. And while the former player has seen his production wane over the final weeks of the season, the latter is just getting warmed up. An impressive mix of power and speed in the minors, Pham has finally started to apply his skill set in the game’s biggest stage, as he’s been a rock star in September (.333 BA, 4 home runs, and 22 runs+RBI in 42 at-bats.) His recent bump up into the top of the lineup has helped him maintain a steady dosage of counting stats, and the extra power on tap in recent weeks has been quite the boon, too. his 11% BB and 22.1% K rate for the year suggest that his patience has allowed him to finally breakout, and with no better time to heat up than the home stretch into October, those in most leagues should have no problem giving him a shot to make them winners.

Other players to considerAngel Pagan, OF, San Francisco Giants (24.7%,) Chris Coghlan, OF/2B, Chicago Cubs (22%,) Eddie Rosario, 2B/OF, Minnesota Twins (12.6%) 

SPEEDSTERS

DeShields

Delino DeShields, Jr., 2B/OF, Texas Rangers (25.3%,) Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins (15.5%,) and Kelby Tomlinson, SS/2B, San Francisco Giants (12.3%)

Only 9 of his 23 stolen bases have come in the second-half, but Delino DeShields still makes for a worthwhile Hail Mary for swipes in practically any format. The Rangers’ lineup has been causing plenty of trouble recently, and no one is more equipped at this point of the season to create havoc on the base paths than DeShields. Look for Texas to enforce his speed with the season winding down.

Ditto for Aaron Hicks, who, in my mind, is the better free agent acquisition of the two for his power and improving batting average. He’s only swiped 5 bases since the All-Star Break, but 3 of them have come this month, so those in deep AL-Only leagues should expect him to get the wheels spinning at least a couple more times.

Kelby Tomlinson is mostly likely going to finish out the year at the keystone for San Francisco, with Joe Panik unable to escape his chronic back problems and getting shelved onto the 60-day Disabled List. With a combined 70 minor league stolen bases over the last two years, it seems that all he has to do to become a threat on the basepaths is get on base. If he can hold onto that 8.2% BB rate, and stay lucky with the balls in play for just a little while longer (current .358 BABIP,) Tomlinson should quietly give you an advantage in swipes for the rest of the season.

 

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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.)

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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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