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”.




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



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.



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:





Now, Player “Y”:



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


**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?



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.




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.




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?”.



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)

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.)


-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.


-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!

Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange Week 3: Lending a Helping Hand

The scariest thing about drafting or picking up a free agent off the waiver wire is the inherent risk of injury, be it either of the chronic or fluky variety. Although I cannot stress enough how early it is in the season, every league owner who’s experienced at least one player injury already should be rather cautious about their future transactions. For example, David Robertson’s groin problems sending him to the 15-day DL last week, Alex Cobb’s flaring oblique putting him out of action for about a month, Matt Moore getting shelved for his elbow (poor baby,) and Adrian Beltre just recently going on the DL for his quad, which has to be the scariest injury of them all. These are just a few of the already vast ailments that have plagued some of the more promising, productive faces in the MLB this season. The worst part is that nearly all of their replacements are absolutely worthless from a fantasy perspective. Sure, Shawn Kelley is well worth a short-term flier for saves until Robertson comes back, but I’d be foaming at the mouth if the guy I played against this week added Kevin Kouzmanoff and slotted him in his third base spot all week long. This week of FBSE will delve into guys who could fill in certain spots and provide a little extra reward if you’re lucky. Of course, there’ll be others who’s stock has seemed to plummet, and they’ll get their just mentioning as well. Let’s not forget about my system of symbols showing the level of urgency you should have for adding each of the following free agents.

!!! – Must Add

$ – Worth a Look

# – Position/Category need

? – Speculative/Stash

“Hitters on the rise”

# Trevor Plouffe, 3B, Minnesota Twins #

*Disclaimer: If you don’t own Adrian Beltre, own a solid 2nd-3rd tier third baseman, and/or have drafted another proven corner infielder who’s sufficient enough to replace another injured corner infielder, please, please move on. Trevor Plouffe will not be batting anywhere near his current .326 batting average, and if you fall into such a blinding haze over his fast start and drop Pablo Sandoval for him (which actually happened in one of my leagues,) then you have already screwed yourself over. Listen to me here. DO NOT drop Pablo Sandoval for Trevor Plouffe.*

But here’s why you should add Trevor Plouffe: he’s a great fill-in third baseman. People tend to forget that two seasons ago he erupted for 24 homers and 55 RBI in just 422 at-bats. Power at that time was his only proven attribute, but here in 2014 he may have stumbled upon some decent plate discipline. Last season, he had a 6.5% Walk Rate, 21.5% Strikeout Rate, and a 0.30 BB/K Rate, all adding up to a .309 OBP and 112 strikeouts in 477 at-bats. In 2014? 16.1% Walk Rate, 14.3% Strikeout Rate, and a 1.13 BB/K Rate. That’s incredible improvement, even for a sample size as small as a 1/16th of an entire season. His O-Swing% (Percentage of pitches swung outside the strike zone that were swung at) has also seen a ridiculous decrease from last year as well, from 29.3% to 14.5%. This helps to justify his ability to get on base with his eyes, while offering a glimmer of hope for those who really want him to take off. He does have a career 77% Contact Rate to boot, though I believe it’s fair to say that his .395 BABIP right now is bound to tumble down many a flight of statistical regression stairs. If his patience at the plate is legit — I’m not yet convinced all these underlying peripherals are going to stick with over 150 games left in the season — he could be on the verge of a breakout year if they remain within the current vicinity. He still has yet to provide enough evidence that he’ll be your definitive answer at third base this year, but as a third base fill-in, he’s worth a look. He’s got a firm hold at the three-hole for the Twins most nights, so a 75/25/80 slash line with a .260-ish average is quite possible.

# Yangervis Solarte, 3B/OF, New York Yankees #

Yankee fans across the tri-state area are subject to hold their breath each and every time one of the Yankee vets do so much as cross first base. New York’s roster ranks among the very top in average age between teammates, so manager Joe Girardi is forced to mix and match his starting lineup basically everyday to keep his guys’ legs fresh. This plays well into the hands of Yangervis Solarte, who at the relatively tender age of 26 had found himself on the outside looking in for well over 2,000 minor league plate appearances prior to this season. The recent injury to Mark Teixeira may have changed the complexion of the Yankee infield significantly (wait, Francisco Cervelli AND Kelly Johnson have been sharing first base duties??) but it has also arranged an everyday spot in the lineup for Solarte as New York’s primary third baseman. Thanks, A-Rod. No, seriously, thanks, A-Rod! Solarte swings a good bat, and has hit the ground running with a .357 average and 6 doubles in 57 at-bats. His approach at the plate is reminiscent of Derek Jeter in his mid-90s youth, and by that I mean he doesn’t take walks for an answer. His career-high in walks in a minor league season was 41, yet he still managed to knock 149 hits with a respectable .745 OPS. So far with the Yankees he has constructed a 16.7% line drive rate and a 47.2% fly ball rate, so there’s some sneaky 15-homer power there as well. In case some of you are wondering if Solarte can keep pace with his batting average: he can’t. He hasn’t hit over .329 in a minor league season, and that was his only .300+ BA year. However, his BABIP has constantly hovered over .300 throughout his baseball career, and has only once drawn a disparity from his actual batting average that was more than 30 points. In other words, this guy’s not the next Paul Molitor, but he can definitely hit. Solarte is currently New York’s number 9 hitter, and I don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future, barring injuries. However, this team is going to score runs everywhere in the lineup, and the Yankee’s bottom half can hit enough to create plenty of sneaky RBI opportunities for him. Until Teixeira comes back, Solarte’s a sure bet to be a considerable boost to rosters in most formats, especially since he’s now multi-position eligible.

# Rajai Davis, OF, Detroit Tigers #

Anyone who gets a chance to leadoff the Tiger’s lineup with a healthy Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera behind them deserves a roster spot in nearly every format. Rajai Davis must be licking his chops nowadays with Andy Dirks missing time (12 weeks to be exact) due to lower back surgery, and the starting left field gig seemingly all to himself. He’s got 50-stolen base speed, as well as a world of run-scoring potential in a predictably potent Detroit starting nine. However, you must be mindful of the fact that he strikes out a lot for a leadoff hitter, and doesn’t walk nearly as much as he should, so his current .352 batting average and 93% contact rate are just a Mitsubishi Mirage (see what I did there?) Still, if you need the extra boost of speed and aren’t willing to trade for a Billy Hamilton or Everth Cabrera, look no further.

Here are other guys you should consider picking up, just ’cause

$ Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals $

This kid is money. After being called up late last season to do absolutely nothing at the dish, Kolten Wong has developed a knack to undermine his doubters with a strong start to the season. All of his numbers right now appear to be on pace with his minor league production: a .279/.354/.349 slash line (don’t worry too much about that slugging percentage,) a 5/5 K/BB ratio, and three stolen bases. His speed will ultimately be judge, jury and executioner in regards to his fantasy value, but the fact that he’s starting to consistently hit Major League pitching is a great sign. A host of other features are also benefiting his fantasy stock this year, from his everyday two-hole spot in the lineup against righties to a chance to get plenty of at-bats against lefties. With a contact rate in the 80s and a BABIP that’s finally in line with that of his overall minor league career, Wong has all the pieces to be a consistent hitter, run-scorer, and stolen base threat. He’s a great asset to own in most formats, and is probably a must-own in deeper ones, too.

# Kelly Johnson, 2B/OF, New York Yankees #

The move to Yankee Stadium gives Johnson a significant boost in his power numbers, yet the one thing some of you don’t know is that he’ll be first-base-eligible soon with Mark Teixeira on the DL. That’s awesome news, even though he won’t hit any higher than .240 this season. As the most versatile player in New York’s starting lineup, Johnson is the safest bet to be in the starting lineup, especially against right handers. So, he should have absolutely no problem surpassing 20 homers and 75+ RBI by season’s end. Although His plate discipline peripherals represent demons that he’ll never fight (he usually strikes out a quarter of the time, for example,) that short porch in right will be rather generous for a guy who’s fly ball rate has remained in the high 30s-low 40s his whole career. Back to his potential three-position eligibility. That alone makes him worth a look if your roster can afford it, as you can plug him in in daily leagues when the matchups for other players looks more daunting than you feared. If you truly have no second baseman and lack outfield depth, Kelly Johnson’s efforts could be a gift from the heavens for some.

$ Yan Gomes, C, Cleveland Indians $

Yan Gomes was barely even drafted in most leagues, even despite a .294/345/.481/.826 slash line and 11 homers in 293 at-bats last year. NEWS FLASH EVERYONE: Yan Gomes is the Cleveland Indians’s everyday catcher (even though Carlos Santana will spell him here and there.) You’re probably wondering what he’s done so far, and the way I see it he’s only roared back onto the scene with a .270/.349/.459/.808 slash with a couple homers in 37 April at-bats. He’s got very sneaky power from a fantasy perspective, and is capable of posting a 20-homer season with 120+ games under his belt, which he will be granted this season. Forget about how many times he’ll strike out (of which there will be plenty,) and remember that you drafted Wilson Ramos and got one measly little game out of him before he hurt himself. Again.

“Hitters on the Decline”

Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres

I guess you can make a case for Headley and say that he’s starting to heat up recently, with a homer and three RBI in the three game set against Detroit this weekend. However, I would refuse to stand up for him now after witnessing such an outstanding drop off in production from a couple years ago. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the only reason Headley’s fantasy relevant today is because he got extremely lucky in 2012, when he hit 31 homers and drove in 115. Let me show you my what has led me to this conclusion: Nearly all of his plate discipline and batted ball peripherals from the last three years have been like apples and oranges, except for his bloated 21.4 HR/FB rate. Last year after his breakout campaign Headley hit 18 fewer homeruns due to a HR/FB rate that dropped by an astounding 11%, yet that drop only placed it right back to the level of his career average. We must also remember that Headley’s groundball rate has crept near 50 percent throughout his career, so the fact that Petco Park couldn’t hold him in 2012 is perhaps the most statistically incomprehensible occurrence I’ve ever studied in my years as a baseball fan. If you drafted him and have noticed his putrid start, you’d only be doing yourself a favor by letting him go.

Eric Aybar, SS, Los Angeles Angels

Aybar’s stock falling might be temporary at best, but at worst he may be one of those guys you use to look up to years before as a solid fill-in who should no longer be on your radar. He’s been batting ninth for almost the entire season so far, and Kole Calhoun seems to have supplanted him as the year’s everyday leadoff man from here on out. Aybar won’t be scoring many runs, has little power (as you should know by now,) and has been less and less of a factor on the base paths over the years. His .205 average to kick off the season and zero stolen bases is part of the reason why he’s under this column, but his drop off in production across the board throughout the years is the main culprit here.

“Pitchers on the Rise”

$ Tyler Skaggs, SP, Los Angeles Angels $

Through two starts this season, Skaggs has put up a 2.40 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and one walk through 15 innings. The last thing I want you to do is take that to the bank and rush to the waiver wire to get him, since his first two trips to the bigs in 2012 and 2013 were God awful. Still, this is someone you can use in deeper or 10-12 team mixed leagues if you lost Alex Cobb or even James Paxton to injuries. I always offer my eyes to a pitcher’s underlying statistics before deciding whether or not he’s worth a flier, and with Skaggs there is quite a bit of a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Last season with Arizona, he served up over a homer and a half per nine innings, and his average fastball velocity was sitting at 89.2 MPH. Those numbers were large reasons for his egregious 5.12 ERA and 5.01 FIP.

But here’s where things begin to lean in his favor…

Skaggs reportedly adjusted his pitching delivery this Spring, which in turn has led to a three-MPH uptick in velocity (for those at home who aren’t doing the math, he’s been averaging 92.2 MPH on his heater this year.) He has also worked on a two-seam fastball to help induce more outs on contact, as his 5.4 K/9 rate in 2014 suggests. The results from that experiment has been an unfathomable 3.11 GB/FB rate so far into the young season. That would help explain his current drop off in homers allowed, from 7 in 38 innings pitched last year to just the one in his last start through 15 frames. Even though he showed good command with a solid 3.38 BB/9 in 2013, Skaggs seems prepared to even lower that in return for a boat load of extra outs. None of these stats are concrete, and there are already a number of pitchers who are performing way beyond the rule of averages right now, but if I had to make a case for Tyler Skaggs figuring it out with a sub-4 ERA and great control peripherals I most certainly would.

$ Kyle Lohse, SP, Milwaukee Brewers $

Because of how he masks the same play style on the mound as Mark Buerhle and Tim Hudson, Kyle Lohse is only as good as the offense behind him. And right now, it’s pretty good. There were stretches last season where, even if Lohse threw for 8.2 innings of one-run ball like he did yesterday afternoon, he’d still end up with either a loss or a no-decision. However, the return of Ryan Braun and the mental resurgence of everyone else in the lineup has helped lead this team to a nine-game winning streak and an MLB-best 10-2 record. It appears that Kyle Lohse will get the run support he dearly deserved last season, when he went 11-10 with a 3.35 ERA. That’s huge for fantasy owners, and others who desperately want or need to take a flier on a solid starting pitcher. Lohse is an excellent arm who seems to never get the respect that he deserves. In his last three seasons, Lohse has averaged 199.1 innings pitched, with a 3.16 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and a 1.72 BB/9 rate. He even threw better in Miller Park than on the road last season, with an outstanding 2.97 home ERA. Because he doesn’t miss a ton of bats (don’t mistake his 9.15 K/9 this year as a statistic that’ll stick,) his FIP and moderate GB/FB rates take a considerable hit every season. I get that, but I’ve yet to believe that he’ll regress now after out-pitching those peripherals ever since he moved to the National League seven years ago. Lohse should win a bunch of games with the Brew-Crew collectively figuring it out at the plate, and with his otherworldly control his numbers should be right around where they’ve been for what seems to be forever now.

$ Jose Quintana, SP, Chicago White Sox $

Chris Sale isn’t the only lefty who’s been dealing down in the south side of Chicago. Jose Quintana’s consistency has been overlooked for so long most fantasy owners are afraid to stream him. I don’t get it. Just yesterday I took a stroll down his career statistics and they’re all pretty solid for someone who’s owned in a tenth of leagues across
the world. Quintana’s K rate has gone up year after year, he’s kept his BB/9 under 3 throughout his 3-year career, and has been really good at the Cell with a 3.53 ERA across 31 starts. His development as a starting pitcher is particularly encouraging given his age — he’s only 25. He’s continuing to show signs of more promise this year with a 8.53 K/9 and 2.45 GB/FB rate through his first three starts this season, so for those who need a replacement for an injured arm Quintana should fit the bill quite nicely in the short term, and perhaps even the rest of the year.

“Pitchers on the Decline”

Jim Johnson, RP, Oakland Athletics

Johnson’s control woes and inability to close out ballgames has forced Bob Melvin’s hand and has stripped him of the closer job for the time being. In just 5.1 innings pitched, he has a blown save with nine hits and six walks allowed. A common theme throughout the season has been the art of the blown save, and unfortunately for Johnson he may be one of the few who could find themselves under a completely different role in the season when all is said and done. The closer-by-committee that Bob Melvin has decided to roll with doesn’t help matters either, so finding a replacement for saves in the interim involves a lot of soul searching and even more luck. The way I see it, he’s worth stashing in deep leagues, but you’re better off letting him go for an extra starting pitcher or hitter in shallower ones.

Rex Brothers, RP, Colorado Rockies

Over the course of the last week, Colorado has made it very clear that LaTroy Hawkins will take over the closer duties, with Rex Brothers holding the fort in the 8th inning. Although I don’t agree with this gameplan, it is what it is, and Brothers is free to be dropped in all leagues besides those that count saves. You might get lucky and still have Hawkins available in your waiver wire, so if that’s indeed the case make your move, quick,

I’ll be right back at it next week with another FBSE update.

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!

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???


-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.