RotoAuthority Unscripted: Ow! Ow! Ow!

It's been a painful year so far. Not for me, and (hopefully) not for you either. But it sure has for baseball players. Maybe every year starts like this and we all just forget, but there do seem to be more injuries going around lately than in times of yore more or less recent memory. Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so, since I've heard theories on the matter blaming everything from youth baseball leagues to the reduced use of PED's. Aside from the question of, "If the major effect of PED's is to reduce injuries, what is the rationale for banning them and punishing their users?" I'm inclined to think there isn't anything truly special going on: if injuries happen at random intervals, we should expect to eventually see years when more of them happen. It's the baseball season counterpart to Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable.

Regardless of the underlying reasons (or lackthereof) for all these injuries, they're a fact we've got to deal with and if you haven't got an injured guy on one of your fantasy teams, you don't have enough teams. (Or you get tomorrow's newspaper today....) It started before the draft, with something like half of the top pitchers getting little red crosses next to their names on my cheat sheet: Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Mike Minor, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mat Latos, Doug Fister...Darvish is the only one who's even back yet. The flood spread to super-utility post-hype sleeper Jurickson Profar, hit closers Aroldis Chapman, Casey Janssen, and Bobby Parnell (helpfully after you drafted him), prospect Taijuan Walker, and lights-out Walker replacement James Paxton. The injury wave hit Jose Reyes' always-hurt hamstring, Ryan Braun's thumb, Bryce Harper's face (and Omar Infante's too), Josh Hamilton's brain thumb and seemingly half of the quality third basemen: Adrian Beltre and Ryan Zimmerman. Matt Moore may be headed for Tommy John, and Avisail Garcia will miss the rest of the season.

And this isn't everybody! It's just a few names I cherry-picked while skimming CBS's "Injury Report." There are plenty more.

What is the point of brining up all these names and injuries? Is it to show off how many baseball players I can name? C'mon, I posted the player rankings--I think we both know I can list a lot of ballplayers.

No, my point is to show you just how widespread the injury phenomenon is. Your team is not the only one in your league splattered in red injury news marks. You're not the only owner in your league trying to decide whether to keep Carlos Quentin or Josh Johnson stashed on the DL to accommodate the injury to David Robertson and let you pick up Shawn Kelley. Almost everyone's team is playing through some sort of injury--just be glad you aren't A.J. Burnett and trying to play through something called an inguinal hernia. Yeah. Ow. See: managing your DL isn't so rough.

If this were a self-help site designed to help you cope with the psychological stresses of the fantasy season, this is where I'd offer you some friendly reassurance and perhaps a shoulder to cry on. I'd help you feel better by telling you how many teams I own Beltre on, or remind you that Alex Cobb should still be a good pitcher in six to eight weeks. But that is not our purpose here; our reason for writing is nobler, more ambitious: it is to help you win. (Unless you're my competitor in the RotoAuthority Silver League. If you are, quit reading and checking your team so I can cash in.)

There's an old saying in English that goes something like this: "The Japanese word for problem is the same as the word for opportunity." I have no idea if that's true in Japanese, but it's a cliché in English now--and for once it holds true. I mean, it helps that you may be working with someone else's problem right now, but still.

Take what's happened to me in one league: someone decided to release Ryan Zimmerman instead of DL stashing him. Maybe that's the right call for their team (I don't remember their DL/bench situation--maybe they're just too crowded) and maybe it's not. On my own team, I have three third basemen and room on my bench for an injured upgrade. Ideally, I'd trade Jedd Gyorko or Kyle Seager and snag Zim off the waiver wire. We'll see. But it's an opportunity.

What about when my own players are injured and I'm reduced to picking up Conor Gillaspie or Juan Uribe? For one thing, I can let that be a lesson in the strategic choice not to back up a position because my starter is too good to afford losing anyway--not a good call. (Hopefully I remember that one next year.) Also, I can trade the hurt guy.

This, too, is an opportunity. For one thing, you've got the chance to deal a player you can no longer use. It's tough, because most of your league doesn't want to be trading for an injured player...but it's doable because some dope (me, in the previous example) thinks they can get value later by trading for an injured guy now. Ideally, the player you trade is someone like Zimmerman or Josh Hamilton--someone who was playing well before he got hurt. It doesn't work so well if they looked really bad before going on the DL. Say you trade one of those guys for another player you can actually use for the next couple months--but one who's worth only about half to two-thirds their value--essentially a fair trade. Not only do you get the near-term production, you also mitigate your risk. Injured players don't always come back the same, and often have setbacks that delay their return to play. It is good to get rid of injured players. If you can get more than a fair trade (say, a player worth five months of Hamilton or Zimmerman's production) even better.

With the right construction of rosters, this is actually the sort of trade that can benefit both owners. Star players can be worth much, much more than the next best guys. That's why Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout cost over $60 in Yahoo! auctions and nobody else usually topped $50. If you've got a backup worth more than your league's replacement level, offering something decent but below-market for an injured star can pay big dividends later in the season. Of course, it adds to your team's floor, but it probably adds even more to its ceiling. In head-to-head formats with playoffs, this is strategy is exponentially more useful.

What about when your team sustains a major injury? There's nothing good to be had from losing Matt Moore for much or all of the season. True enough (apart from losing his contribution to your WHIP), but even bad injuries have one bit of opportunity: the replacement player. Now, in Moore's case, that player is Erik Bedard. He's been good before, so it's worth watching to see what he does. That's sort of a middle-of-the-road case. With Beltre, you want no part of what Josh Wilson does in the interim. But with Zimmerman, the upshot is that Danny Espinosa comes up to play second, while Anthony Rendon moves to third. Is that a slam-dunk pickup? Of course not. But is it a potential opportunity now available that wasn't there before? Yup. And you don't even have to lose Zimmerman to cash in on Espinosa.

Don't despair of your team's injuries--everyone else has them too, to one degree or another. Use the injuries and the opportunities they present as best as they can by being active in trade talks and on the waiver wire. Andrew Gephardt wrote yesterday that the best thing you can do in April is nothing at all, and he's right...until you develop a need or sense an opportunity.




RotoAuthority League Update: Early Surprises

The RotoAuthority League is a highly competitive 12-team fantasy baseball league run by Tim Dierkes. The settings consist of standard 5 X 5 Rotisserie scoring and 23-man lineups along with 4 bench spots. In an effort to keep owners interested as well as to infuse new blood into the league, the teams that finish below 8th place are kicked out of the league each year. The author of this column just hopes he isn't one of them.

We hear it all the time, but it’s worthy of repetition: the MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re just finishing up the first couple miles on this marathon, yet many fantasy owners respond to the first weeks as if they mean something. In reality, though, we’ve learned hardly anything at this point. Indeed, the best course of action for a fantasy owner in early April is probably no action at all.

Having said that, now may be the time to speculate on players off to fast starts while their market prices are down. If these players prove to be for real, the asking price of their owners will never be lower. With the Buy Low/Sell High mantra on the minds of most fantasy owners, Buying High may be the optimal route for a true heist today. Just ask anyone who traded for Jose Fernandez last April. Let's take a look at a few interesting names among the top 25 on the ESPN Player Rater and see if any may be for real.

The Bombers - Dee Gordon (2)

Yes, believe it or not, only Giancarlo Stanton has been more valuable than Gordon entering play Monday. It doesn't hurt that he stole four bases yesterday. That now gives him nine on the season, or three times the output of Billy Hamilton. Will it be Gordon, not Hamilton, who dominates the SB category this season? I still don't think Gordon can hit, so I wouldn't count on a positive contribution in the AVG category. Still, the Dodgers seem set on giving him everyday playing time. Given his speed, Gordon will certainly rank among the leaders in the SB column. That's not too bad for a Round 18 pick out of the Bombers.

Guitar Masahiro - Charlie Blackmon (10) 

Coors Field truly does wonders for the stock of hitters in fantasy. It's gotten to the point that if you know a player is going to get consistent at-bats for the Rockies, you might as well speculate on him. Blackmon appears to be on the better side of a platoon in center field and has made the most of time thus far, hitting an absurd .488. Blackmon should be able to make enough contact to continue to provide a positive contribution in AVG.  Hitting atop the order will also help him in the runs category even if it he's not in the lineup everyday. My concerns would be that he lacks the tools to produce much in power and speed. Even so, the park effects of Coors Field cannot be overstated. Accordingly, this is a Mixed League outfielder whom I'd rank among the top 50 at the position going forward. At this point, no pickup has been more valuable than this one by Guitar Masahiro.

Men With Wood - Emilio Bonifacio (11)

Few players possess such a wide discrepancy between real value and fantasy worth than does Bonifacio. This is a fringy MLB player who probably should be no more than a bench player at this stage in his career. Then again, if the Cubs are going to give him playing time, the speed will play in today's Roto game. Men With Wood took Bonifacio in the last round of our draft; given that our league allows for daily lineup changes, that pick looks quite clever in retrospect. After all, Bonifacio is eligible at 2b, 3B, and OF in Yahoo leagues, so Men With Wood can plug the speedy utility player into his lineup if any of his regular starters are getting a day of rest. If you can find an owner in your league who thinks Bonifacio is for real, I'd sell as soon as possible; after all, the Cubs are likely to see what players like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant are made of after the All-Star break. Still, this is a valuable option in the short term.

Cobra Kai -Brian Dozier (14)

Out of all these names, Dozier just might be the most legitimate. It speaks to just how early we are in this season that the Twins second baseman can be hitting .191 yet still rank among the top 15 overall on the ESPN Player Rater. Much of that has to do with the fact that other than Alexei Ramirez, Dozier is the only player with at least three HR and three SB. At this point, however, I think it's safe to say that this is what we should expect out of him. After all, he did have 18 HR and 14 SB over 147 games last year. The AVG won't be pretty, but a middle infielder who's a rather safe bet to go 15 / 15 is valuable today. It's safe to say Cobra Kai will return a profit on this Round 22 pick.

Guitar Masahiro - Adam Eaton

Another wise selection by Guitar Masahiro, Eaton may also hold staying power. Few players were as popular on sleeper lists last spring. Unfortunately, fantasy owners were left waiting and waiting for the outfielder to return from injury. This spring, Eaton didn't get quite the buzz, perhaps due to the crowded White Sox outfield. Well, he's clearly the guy in center field for the Pale Hose. Like Coors Field, U.S. Cellular Park can significantly boost the fantasy worth of hitters. The team may not be great, but the offense should be fine. If Eaton can approach double-digits in HR and SB, he'll provide enough value in AVG and runs to continue to be a Mixed League option. Like Blackmon, this looks like roughly a top-50 outfielder going forward who shouldn't be on any waiver wires at this point.




The Proof Is In The Peripherals: April 11-17

With only a couple of weeks of baseball in the books, it's still a little early to start picking out guys who are over- or underachieving based on their advanced metrics.  Ergo, this week's column will focus on two players who already had red flags on them heading into 2014, plus one bit of wackiness....

* This Land Is Verland.  Much has been written about Justin Verlander's below-average 2013 season, as he posted five-year lows in strikeouts (217), innings (218 1/3), fWAR (5.2) and K/BB rate (2.89), while also posting five-year highs in WHIP (1.315), walk rate (8.1%), ERA (3.46), xFIP (3.67) and SIERA (3.61).  Combine this with a fastball that has been steadily declining for five seasons now, and you have a year that makes you wonder if all those workhorse innings are finally starting to catch up to the V-Man.

Verlander's two 2014 starts haven't done much to inspire confidence.  While he has a 2.57 ERA over his 14 innings, Verlander's xFIP is a garish 5.91 thanks in large part to his lack of strikeouts.  The Tigers ace has only five K's thus far --- since the beginning of the 2009 season, this is only the second time that Verlander has recorded so few strikeouts over a two-start period.  Adding insult to injury, Verlander has just as many walks as strikeouts.

I feel I should be writing OF COURSE, IT'S STILL EARLY in big neon lights for every entry here, plus Verlander's next start is against the Padres at Petco Park, so he could easily throw a gem and make this entry obsolete.  Still, for Verlander owners counting on their man to return to his top-of-the-rotation form, the early results aren't promising.  Just throwing it out there...you might want to start quietly seeing what you could get for Verlander in a trade.

* Got Melk?  Several of the early-season hot bats have yet to record their first walk of 2014, and since Melky Cabrera has a decent career walk rate of 7.2% and owns a career .337 OBP, the free passes will eventually come.  At the moment, I doubt the Blue Jays are too concerned about Cabrera's lack of walks given that he's hitting a cool .333/.333/.644 through 45 plate appearances.  That slugging percentage really stands out given that Cabrera already has four homers through 10 games, which is more than he hit during the entire 2013 campaign.

Power has never really been a big part of Cabrera's game (a career .411 SLG and he averaged only eight homers per 162 games from 2005-13) and even in the homer-friendly Rogers Centre, it's very unlikely that Melky is a Jose Bautista-esque late-blooming slugger.  What is good news, however, is that Cabrera is looking like a real ballplayer again.  In 2013, Cabrera could barely run or swing the bat with any authority whatsoever, and it wasn't until September that he had a benign tumor removed from his lower spine -- no wonder his health was affected.

There were some whispers that Cabrera was struggling because he was off PEDs, but with a freak injury like a spinal tumor, it's much more likely that the tumor was the source of the Melkman's problems last year.  I had him pegged as a sleeper outfielder in my drafts and he's paid big dividends thus far.  This is almost a case where Cabrera's early numbers didn't matter, since as long as he was running and swinging with no issues, you know he's likely to return to his normal production levels (and, ideally, his 2011-12 production levels).

* Homer Happy.  Finally, this was just too good a statistic to pass up: the one pitcher in baseball whose name is literally Homer has a 100% home run/fly ball rate through his first two starts.  Two balls in the air = two homers for Jhonny Peralta and Yadier MolinaHomer Bailey has done a great job of keeping the ball on the ground (60.6% ground ball rate) and is just getting burned for it, as opponents hold a .438 BABIP against him.  Bailey's 7.71 ERA is countered by a 3.41 xFIP and 3.70 SIERA so there's no point in panicking, yet that homer rate is pretty amusing.  Imagine if it kept up?  Surely, David Dewitt Bailey would have to pull a Mike/Giancarlo Stanton and start insisting that he be called by his heretofore unrevealed birth name of "Grounder."




Closer Updates: A's, Astros, Cubbies, Jays, Mets, Redlegs, White Sox, Yanks

It’s time to check up on the closer scene once again. In addition to some position battles and struggling closers, we’ll also take a look at a few injury situations this week.

Chicago CubsJose Veras hasn’t had a great start to the season (0 saves, 10.13 ERA, 2.63 WHIP) and there are already rumblings that Pedro Strop should take over the closer role. Strop is clearly a part of the Cubs’ future plans, has pitched well thus far (1 save, 2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) and may take the job in time, but manager Rick Renteria seems to be sticking with Veras in the short term.

Chicago White Sox – With early frontrunner Nate Jones battling injury, Matt Lindstrom has held the closer title for the White Sox since Opening Day. However, Lindstrom has been a bit underwhelming in 2014 (1 save, 9.00 ERA, 2.33 WHIP, 6.0 K/9) and this bullpen could continue to be shuffled as the season progresses.

Cincinnati Reds – Although Aroldis Chapman has been resuming baseball activities with some light workouts, he is still far from returning to the big leagues. In his stead, J.J. Hoover has struggled and the Reds will likely look to Jonathan Broxton (who was just re-activated from the DL) to close until Chapman returns.

Houston Astros – The closer-by-committee competition in Houston has come down to two different relievers, Josh Fields (1 save, 0.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 9.0 K/9) and Chad Qualls (1 save, 6.75 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 10.1 K/9). Each have a single save this season and only time will tell whether Fields or Qualls can take over the ninth.

New York Mets – With Bobby Parnell on the DL for the rest of the season, Jose Valverde seems to have inherited the closer role in Queens. Valverde has the pedigree of a good closer (career 3.17 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 287 saves) and he may be in line for another solid season for the Mets.

New York Yankees – On the other side of town, closer David Robertson also hit the DL with a groin injury. Robertson had been strong this season and the Yanks will likely look to a committee to replace him (led by Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Dellin Betances).

Oakland Athletics – The Jim Johnson experiment has struggled since Opening Day. In his first five appearances, Johnson has earned one save, two losses, and two blown saves… not to mention that batters are hitting .529 against him. If these struggles continue, Ryan Cook or Luke Gregerson might get the call pretty soon.

Toronto Blue JaysSergio Santos has pitched well in place of the injured Casey Janssen so far (3 saves, 2.70 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 12.6 K/9) and should continue to do so. Janssen is recovering nicely from a lower back injury and will return in the next couple weeks after a few rehab games.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.




Stock Watch: There's No Downside....

Just over a week is on the books, and you’ve either started climbing above the fray or digging yourself in a hole, at least head-to-head owners are, since their games are logged and on the books forever. Meanwhile, roto players get to keep yo-yoing up and down the standings like crazy for a little while longer.

The same small samples that are causing your standings to reshuffle themselves every day are the same ones that have me reluctant to tell you who to trade for or trade away, so we’ll do one more week (at least) of waiver wire only action here on Stock Watch.

This is the time of year to take chances on the waiver wire, as the best opportunities may still be available and the safe fallbacks will still be there if things don't work out. Just like trying to pressure my college buddies into doing something stupid, I'm here to tell you there's no downside...but this time it's true.

Shallow League Targets (40-50% owned)

Grady Sizemore (47%) is back? There’s no way to know for sure yet (and I wouldn’t bet on the speed), but even the slight chance that he can return to 75% of what he used to be means he should be owned in all formats. If he gets hurt or falters, you can always find another low-upside OF to replace the guy you drop. Do this.

Justin Smoak (45%) gets a lot of bad press, but what’s your real cost of adding him while he’s hot? If you can’t answer that question, pick him up. If you can, fair enough.

Melky Cabrera (42%) is kind of like a baseball soap opera, with all the injuries and PED usage…but he is hitting the ball, and he has hit well before. The upside is probably better than someone on your team.

Charlie Blackmon (42%) will probably platoon, but he’s got the good half and plays in Colorado. At his ownership rate, it’s possible that he’s already taken in all the leagues in which he’s actually useful for the long term, but anyone swinging that hot a bat at Coors Field ought to be picked up for the short term in plenty more formats.

It’s cheating a little to suggest Taijuan Walker (51%), but he’s schedule to make one last rehab start and come back for the Mariners. If you’re in the 49%, now is the time to make your move.

Kyle Lohse (44%) isn’t on this list for striking out eight hitters in his first start; he’s on this list for being pretty good and usually a nice help in WHIP. Take a look if that’s what you need.

Rick Porcello (42%) and his rising strikeout rate got decent fantasy coverage in the pre-season, but only whiffed three guys in his first real start. Time to move on. Right? No? Well, then a guy with good peripherals, a rising strikeout rate, and a great team around him should be owned in more leagues then.

Leagues of Moderate Depth (20-40%)

Dustin Ackley (37%) is great because MI/OF eligibility is really handy if you’ve got a pretty short bench. There have always been rumors of his ability to hit, and while I never saw much evidence of their truth while living in Seattle, he’s been plenty playable so far. Moderate-depth leagues are (often) particularly suited to his versatility too.

Chris Owings (29%) stole the shortstop’s job in spring and now he’s stolen three bases already—pretty good for a waiver wire MI. Expect his ownership rates to rise as more people take notice, as very few playable SS options remain on the waiver wire for long.

Asking if you believe in Casey McGehee (26%) is like asking if you believe in ghosts. I’m on the fence about both, but in the right situation, I’d take my chance on him. For one thing, batting after Giancarlo Stanton shouldn’t hurt.

Michael Morse (24%) is someone I was intrigued by before draft day…and unlike many such players, he’s actually hitting the ball. He was so bad last year that it’s easy to forget how good a hitter he was from 2011-12.

Jose Quintana (37%) pitched pretty well, but this mention is more for his overall good-albeit-not-truly-awesomeness last season. For most leagues of this size, that’s probably better than one or two pitchers on each team. He doesn’t have to be a first choice to be a good choice.

Tyler Skaggs (25%) showed something truly amazing against the Astros: control. I know it’s the Astros, but the biggest negative about Skaggs is that he hasn’t been in charge of where the ball goes. I’d like to wait until he faces tougher tests…but he might be gone by then. Get him while you can, because the reward is an impact pitcher.

Shallow Leagues Only Get Outfielders (0-20%)

Marcell Ozuna (10%) was a person with some promise before the season, and maybe there’s something in the Miami water, but he’s been hitting the ball well. Youth and upside aren’t always the same thing, but this time they are.

Matt Joyce (8%) is another platooner, but he ought to see plenty of DH at bats, and he usually ends up with around 20 homers. If he can platoon for the Rays, he can platoon for deeper fantasy teams.

Ryan Ludwick (3%) was one of my 2013 pre-season guys…and lost basically the whole year to an Opening Day injury. Rough for me, worse for him. His 2014 is already better, though, as he’s hitting the ball with some authority. Some roto authority…sorry. But pick him up.

Martin Perez (16%) might be the only guy after Darvish worth owning in the Texas rotation. (Said the Tanner Scheppers owner.)

Pedro Strop (15%) could take over Jose Veras’s job, but we’ll see how quick the Cubbies are with the hook.

Embarrassingly, I’m not able to pronounce Jenrry Mejia (9%) name no matter how hard I try. Fortunately, I didn’t have to, to pick him up. The strikeout potential and the home park make him well worth the risks. Not for shallow leagues only.

Jake Odorizzi (7%) is a young pitcher who plays for Tampa Bay. Yes, that should be enough to make him interesting. Keep an eye on him, at the least.

Jonathon Niese (7%) appears to be healthy. Back from the DL, at the very least. Two years ago, he was quietly excellent, and I suspect he’ll return to that level.

Brandon Morrow (6%) used to be the king of strikeouts and walks. After so much time off (and weird 2012) I really don’t know what to expect. But the chance is there and he’s worth owning or watching at this ownership rate.

Edwin Jackson (2%) is sort of the prototypical low-upside, low-downside guy. Or, he was before we saw some luck-related downside last year. He’s got a good start under his belt and should be remembered in weekly formats and as a spot starter.

Edinson Volquez (2%), like Skaggs above, showed amazing control in his first game, issuing only one walk. I say amazing, not because of the feat itself, but because it was Volquez doing this. (And against the Cardinals too!) If he can keep up his control (huge if, I know) he could be a great pickup in a lot of formats.

Colby Lewis (1%) is supposed to start on Saturday. I wouldn’t slide him into your lineup for that first game back, but he’s well worth some serious attention.




RotoAuthority Unscripted: Giving Up So Soon?

RotoAuthority Unscripted: Giving Up So Soon?

Last night I was perusing the waiver wire—actually, it was my league’s Add/Drop list, but we’ll get to that—and saw an old friend with a fat red minus sign next to his name. Someone had dropped Alfonso Soriano.

“What’s this business?” I wondered. Is the old guy already hurt? Nope…just starting the season 1/19. Oh. “Well, that’s fine,” I muttered (really, I do much of my thinking aloud, profound thoughts or otherwise) and jumped to add him. That’s when I realized that I didn’t really have anyone bad to drop him for. My Util slots were filled with decent non-OF’s, and my three starting outfielders were either stars or hitting the ball pretty well. No room to drop a pitcher, either.

So I moved to drop one of this season’s best power hitters: Alejandro de Aza. It was more difficult than expected, but I guess that’s how it goes when you drop someone with three times as many homers as your pickup has hits.

I like de Aza: a little power, a little speed, a little average, and a “merit-based” job sharing situation that should mean that if he’s hitting well enough for your fantasy lineup, he’s hitting plenty well enough for the White Sox. So this article isn’t about how you shouldn’t get too excited about his multi-homer hot start (or about his low-average, no-steal simultaneous slow start). In fact, de Aza is just collateral damage on a short roster, while the real key is Soriano.

Soriano was pretty high on my personal lists going into the season and RA tabbed him as the 37th overall outfielder. (Pretty near de Aza, actually.) Overall, Sori’s got some holes in his game, but there is something you can count on him for: homer power. He’s knocked 20 homers or more for 12 years in a row (including twice while playing in fewer than 120 games), for four different teams in five different home parks, on World Champions* and, well, the Cubs.

*Actually, he hit only two homers with the 2000 World Champion Yankees.

Power is a rare commodity, and even rarer on the waiver wire, so when I saw that Soriano was available, it was the sort of chance I had to take. Dropping Soriano now would be a big overreaction to a bad first week. Soriano hits big and misses big; a really ugly week is nothing to be surprised over. Could it be the beginning of the end for him? Sure, it might be.

But there are plenty of other explanations and my guess is that, over the course of the season, Soriano will still be hitting baseballs out of Yankee Stadium’s short porch and driving in the likes of Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. His career has been too long and too good to let him go over an out-filled first week. If he has this week later in the season (and he probably will) nobody will bat an eye: it’s just another arbitrary stretch of games in a long season made of them. It just happens to look like his season numbers right now. If you’ve got Soriano, don’t give up hope.

Now, I’m not blaming the owner who cut him. Like me, this owner jumped on an opportunity, seeing Domonic Brown on the waiver wire. (I will blame whoever dropped Brown.) I thought this would be a double-caution about overreacting to a bad first week, but Brown’s hitting nearly .400—so I have no idea why he was available. In this case, I applaud my opponent’s willingness to make a player change for even a (likely) small upgrade—these are the sorts of moves that win fantasy championships, and just as I shouldn’t let my enthusiasm for de Aza keep me from getting Soriano, neither should your faith in Soriano (or any other on-the-fringe player) keep you from dropping him for an upgrade.

This brings me to my two universalizable axioms of the day:

1.    Don’t give up on your rankings so soon.
If you thought Alfonso Soriano was pretty good a week ago, nothing should have really changed your viewpoint on that yet. This goes for any player who isn’t already hurt, benched, or demoted (whether to the minors, the bullpen, or out of the closer’s role).

 2.    Watch the drop list—every day.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve been too lazy to check the league-wide drops every day and had to kick myself because I only saw a great value on the waiver wire as the player was being added to a rival’s team. I mean, this already happened to me: I could have had Brown over Soriano, conceivably. See who your rivals drop and watch for valuable assets, even ones you didn’t know you needed. And don’t just see the first two or three transactions that show up on your league’s home—scroll through them all.

Remember: it’s too early for a quick trigger on the drop player button, but never too early to jump on an add. April is a tough month to navigate, because you can’t trust anyone’s hot start…but you can’t afford to ignore them either. It’s a paradox, so you have to take each situation as it comes. And you thought draft prep was hard—welcome to the regular season.




Seeking Help For @CloserNews

As you already know, the place to go for up-to-the-minute bullpen updates is @CloserNews on Twitter. This season we're looking for candidates to assist in covering late night games. If you're interested and willing to help, send an email with your qualifications to CloserNewsHelp@gmail.com. Duties include monitoring games, reviewing box scores, checking bullpen usage reports, and updating the Twitter feed with relevant breaking news.


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RotoAuthority League Update: Closer Chaos

The RotoAuthority League is a highly competitive 12-team fantasy baseball league run by Tim Dierkes. The settings consist of standard 5 X 5 Rotisserie scoring and 23-man lineups along with 4 bench spots. In an effort to keep owners interested as well as to infuse new blood into the league, the teams that finish below 8th place are kicked out of the league each year. The author of this column just hopes he isn't one of them.

Over the next six months, I probably won't write about closers all that often. Here at RotoAuthority we already have great work put forth by my colleague Luckey Helms in the weekly Closer Update as well as the must-follow @CloserNews on Twitter. Given what we witnessed over the first week of the season, however, I feel no choice but to discuss how bullpens in flux have impacted the league.

Since the RotoAuthority League Draft two weeks ago, we've already seen an astounding total of five changes in who's getting the ball (or who we thought would get the ball) in the ninth. At this rate, it's possible we could be looking at unprecedented turnover in closer roles this season.

A Century of Misery

Demotion - Nate Jones

My squad comes first alphabetically, so I'll reluctantly have to start here. Jones displayed excellent skills last season, and he was a preseason target of mine. I thought I had gotten decent value when I grabbed him at the end of Round 15, given that only five closers were still on the board at the time. Well, I guess this is Exhibit A in support of the notion that roles matter in drafting closers. Even though we as a fantasy community had all assumed that Jones would be the guy, Manager Robin Ventura had yet to make a decision. Now Jones is on the DL, and my squad doesn't have a single closer. This isn't exactly the start I had in mind.

Brewsterville Bruins

Promotion -  Jose Valverde

Demotion - Casey Janssen

I think it says a lot about the volatility of closers that Valverde wasn't even in the Yahoo player pool until March 27th. The Brewsterville Bruins wisely picked up the veteran reliever just a few days later, and now he's the closer for the Mets. In Toronto Janssen may be on the DL, but it sounds like he could be back as soon as he's eligible to return. Overall then, the Bruins have witnessed a net positive from the recent closer turmoil.

E-Z Sliders

Promotion - Josh Fields

Demotion - Jim Henderson

The Astros were said to be going with a closer-by-committee, and that still may prove to be the case. Most fantasy pundits, though, believed Chad Qualls would be the first one to get a shot a the job. Instead, it was Fields who came in for the first save opportunity for the Astros. It doesn't take a whole lot to be a successful closer, so the young reliever could certainly hang onto this job all season long. That's not too bad for a player who went undrafted in this league. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, fantasy owners were surprised when K-Rod, not Henderson, came in for the first save chance on Opening Day. Manager Ron Roenicke has indicated that Henderson could regain the role , but for now the E-Z Sliders are left patiently waiting to get any value of their Round 14 pick.

Men With Wood

Promotion - Francisco Rodriguez & Sergio Santos

Perhaps no owner has benefited more from the early-season closer madness than Men With Wood. First, this owner skillfully drafted Santos in Round 25, and then he grabbed K-Rod minutes after the veteran entered the game in the ninth on Opening Day. Santos may not have the job much longer, but he could certainly be closing once again this season should Janssen struggle or be traded. I personally don't have much faith in K-Rod, but that doesn't matter all that much. He's the guy right now in Milwaukee, and role takes priority when it comes to closers.

Smell the Glove

Demotion - Bobby Parnell

Tim Dierkes will be without his Round 15 selection for the rest of the season, as Parnell is set to undergo Tommy John surgery. Dierkes's two other closers, Ernesto Frieri and Jonathan Papelbon, are also off to poor starts. Accordingly, the bullpen for Smell the Glove doesn't look all that great right now. Still, few owners are as active on the waiver wire as Tim, and I'm confident he'll be just fine in the saves category.

Spirit of St. Louis

Promotion - Matt Lindstrom

Like Men With Wood, Spirit of St. Louis was on the ball when he grabbed Lindstrom just minutes after news broke that Robin Ventura had named the veteran reliever as his closer. If you count Aroldis Chapman on the DL, that gives this owner a total of four closers, a true luxury when it comes to trade negotiations in this league.




The Proof Is In The Peripherals: The Bizarro Hellickson

We kicked off last year's Proof Is In The Peripherals series by looking at Jeremy Hellickson, the man who dodged advanced metric bullets for three seasons before things went south for him in 2013.  If Hellickson had all the good luck on his side for three years, I had to wonder, who had all the bad luck?  Who was the anti-Hellickson?  Who was the guy who watched Hellickson highlights on his TV while angrily muttering to himself and eating a tuna sandwich made of bread that expired three days ago? 

In my search for the MLB pitching equivalent of Garry Jerry Larry Gergich Gengurch, I focused on three categories for the period between 2011-13: BABIP, strand rate and ERA-FIP (namely, who had the biggest negative gap between his ERA and his FIP).  Then, I lopped out a couple of high-ranking names that don't have any/much fantasy relevance for your 2014 team --- the retired Derek Lowe and reliever Brian Duensing, who doesn't appear headed back to the Twins rotation anytime soon.  That leaves us with five starters who have had nothing but buzzard's luck over the last three seasons...  

* Rick Porcello, .325 BABIP (sixth-highest of all pitchers), 68.7% strand rate (tied for 14th-lowest of all pitchers), 4.56 ERA/3.83 FIP (seventh-largest gap of all pitchers)

I've written about Porcello in the past and he has some breakout buzz around him.  Of all the guys on this list, Porcello is the one I'd feel most comfortable about putting into my rotation, as I believe the best is yet to come for the 25-year-old.  Fun fact: Porcello's 3.19 xFIP last season was the 13th-best of ANY qualified starter in baseball.  He's just a bit of advanced metric fortune away from becoming yet another quality starter in the Detroit rotation. 

* Ricky Nolasco, .314 BABIP (12th), 68.7% strand rate (tied for 14th), 4.29 ERA/3.58 FIP (8th)

I'm slightly more bullish on Nolasco than Alex Steers McCrum is, since I'm intrigued by how Nolasco's home run rates have dropped in each of the last four years and now he's pitching at Target Field.  The righty also bumped his K/9 back up to match his 7.45 career average, so I could see Nolasco being at least a guy to stream for a few starts here and there if he gets on a hot streak as he did last season after his trade to the Dodgers.

* Jordan Lyles, .307 BABIP (25th), 62.9% strand rate (1st), 5.35 ERA/4.54 FIP (5th)

This is the kind of strand rate madness that happens when you're a regular starter for the 2013 Houston Astros.  The hits just keep on coming for Lyles, as he was traded to the Rockies in the offseason and now is only a temporary starter in the Colorado rotation until Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood are healthy.  Lyles is a good groundball pitcher, so pitching to contact might not totally doom him in Coors Field, yet with little to offer in strikeouts and (probably) in wins or ERA, why bother having Lyles on your fantasy roster?

* Mike Pelfrey, .319 BABIP (7th), 68.9% strand rate (16th), 4.80 ERA/4.16 FIP (11th)

Pelfrey's bad luck went beyond just the advanced stats, as he only made three starts in 2012 and then missed the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  His 2013 numbers, therefore, have to be taken with a grain of salt given that it generally takes two years to fully recover arm strength following such a procedure.  That said, Pelfrey has only 5.2 K/9 over his entire career and was only a borderline fantasy guy in his best years with the Mets.  Skip him.

Honorable Mention: Joe Blanton, Jeff Francis.  Frankly, my search for the Anti-Hellickson really led to these two.  Blanton ranked first in BABIP (.330), 13th in strand rate (68.6%) and fourth in ERA-FIP gap (5.23 ERA/4.32 FIP), while Francis was the only pitcher to crack the top eight in every category --- .329 BABIP (6th), 67% strand rate (8th) and a 5.33 ERA/4.24 FIP (2nd).  The only reason I can't award either man the Anti-Hellickson Crown outright is because both men are currently pitching in the minor leagues.

In Francis' case, you could chalk his luck up to pitching at Coors Field, yet his away splits have actually been worse than his home splits over his career.  You can safely write him off as a fantasy option under even the more dire of circumstances, as if he does get called up to the Reds, it's not like he'll get much help from the Great American Ballpark.

Blanton is a more curious case.  He has a 3.53 xFIP from 2011-13 but a 5.23 ERA, thanks in large part to a propensity for giving up the long ball.  You (and the Angels) would've thought that moving to Anaheim from homer-happy Philadelphia would've helped things last season, but nope, Blanton instead posted the worst home run rate (19.1%) of his ten-year career.  In a bizarre twist, the thick Pacific air of Angel Stadium seemed to hurt every home run hitter except for those facing Blanton.  The gap between his real-life stats and the advanced metrics are just so out of whack that I can't *quite* entirely write him off, especially since he signed a minor league deal with the A's and could get to throw in another pitcher-friendly ballpark. 

So from the numbers, all hail Rick Porcello as the Bizarro Hellickson, while Blanton lurks as the deposed king in exile.  If Blanton gets called up for a spot start or two at the Coliseum sometime this year, there are worse streaming choices.




Closer Updates: As, Astros, Brewers, Cubbies, Dodgers, Jays, Mets, Orioles, Reds, Rockies, White Sox

It didn’t take very long for the closer conversations to start up around the big leagues. This week we’ll take a quick run around the league and discuss several different developments on the bullpen front. From injuries to surprise replacements, we’ve got a bit of everything for you.

Baltimore Orioles

Tommy Hunter was given the closer title just before Opening Day and he certainly earned his first save of the season against the Red Sox despite allowing two base runners early. Given that Hunter performed well in this high pressure situation, his job security got a little bit better.

Chicago Cubs

Jose Veras had a tremendously rough outing in his first save opportunity of 2014 (38 pitches, 1 hit, 1 earned run, 2 walks, 1 strike out, 1 blown save). If his struggles continue and Pedro Strop pitches well, Veras might be on the hot seat before too long.

Chicago White Sox

This closer situation is still quite uncertain. Ronald Belisario and Matt Lindstrom have both pitched well thus far, but Nate Jones has not. In his first 2014 appearance (17 pitches, 2 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, and 1 blown save), Jones pitched poorly and opened the door for Belisario and Lindstrom.  For now, Lindstrom has the closer job.

Cincinnati Reds

Without Aroldis Chapman, Cincy is still looking for their closer. Because the Redlegs have not committed to J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, or Logan Ondrusek, former closer Jonathan Broxton may take the gig outright next week (or whenever he returns from the DL).

Colorado Rockies

LaTroy Hawkins had a rough outing during in his first save for the 2014 Rockies (36 pitches, 2 hits, 1 earned run, 1 walk, 1 strikeout). This could be a blip on the radar, but if he continues to need 30+ pitches for a save – Rex Brothers might be manning the ninth before we know it.

Houston Astros

Josh Fields earned the Astros’ first save of 2014 and looked good doing it (1.0 innings, 10 pitches, 1 strike out). Chad Qualls struggled in his first appearance and Matt Albers pitched well in his first two outings. At this point, it looks like Fields has a slight edge in this race.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen is fine, but Dodgerland will be missing Brian Wilson for a little while. Wilson hit the DL this week with nerve irritation in his elbow and is being shelved indefinitely. Without a timeline for his return, Chris Perez should be next in line if Jansen struggles.

Milwaukee Brewers

The biggest closer surprise came when Brewers’ skipper Ron Roenicke sent in Francisco Rodriguez for the Brew Crew’s first save opportunity. Apparently Rodriguez, rather than Jim Henderson, is the pitcher to own in Milwaukee’s bullpen. However, Roenicke also stated that he hopes Henderson will re-take the role in time.

New York Mets

Bobby Parnell’s return to Queens did not last nearly as long as everyone had hoped. Although Tommy John surgery is not certain, an extended trip to DL is. Look for Jose Valverde to pick up Parnell’s save opportunities and he just might be the Mets’ closer moving forward.

Oakland Athletics

Jim Johnson’s Oakland debut was not exactly what Athletics nation was looking for. With a poor outing, Orioles fans could hear the home crowd booing all the way in Baltimore. Thus far, Johnson has two blown saves in his first two save opportunities of the season. Unless the Indians are simply Johnson’s kryptonite, this might the beginning of a rough season.

Toronto Blue Jays

With Casey Janssen on the DL, it seemed that Sergio Santos would be the closer in Toronto. However, Santos has been inconsistent thus far and Brett Cecil stepped in for his second career save on Wednesday against the Rays. We’ll have to stay tuned, but Cecil might be the one to own pretty soon.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.




Stock Watch: Opening Week Lottery Tickets

Ever unsure whether to pick someone up off the waiver wire or just stand pat? Spend your time wondering if your slumping third OF will rebound…or if you should trade him while you still can? Trying to figure out whether to sell high on a surprise player…or buy high on him in another league?

That’s why we have Stock Watch, and it’s back for another year of player value analysis. Each week, we’ll take a look at players who should be available on waiver wires around the fantasy world, plus we’ll look into which players you should try to target in trades and which ones you should try getting onto someone else’s roster as soon as possible.

This week being just barely underway, we’ll take a look at some widely available players with the potential to make an impact and we won’t worry about suggesting trades; for the next couple weeks, my suggestion is: don’t. Enjoy the team you drafted, and if someone else comes to you with a deal that works, that’s great. If not, give your players time to, you know, actually play. So we’ll add that feature in coming weeks.

Closers Have it Worst

Opening Week is rough on closers. Especially Brewers closers. (How the tables have turned, Jim Henderson!) I’ll let Luckey Helms tackle these guys in his column and over at @CloserNews, but I’ll quickly say this: add Jose Valverde, Matt Lindstrom, and Francisco Rodriguez while you still can! Actually, you probably can’t, because you already did on the advice of @CloserNews. If you didn’t, someone in your league did.

Swimming in the Shallow End (40%-50% owned in Y!)

If your league is pretty shallow (like a standard Yahoo! public or pro league, or a 10-team format), some of these guys might be available. If not…well, they probably aren’t. Ownership rates are for Yahoo! leagues unless otherwise specified.

Justin Morneau (49%) and Chris Carter (49%) both offer flawed power for your Util slot or your bench. I love these guys in daily leagues: Morneau ought to put up good numbers during his home games and Carter can be plugged in any time and have a better chance of throwing you a bench homer than anyone else. Adam Lind (42%) and Colby Rasmus (42%) could also provide some bench power. It’s worth remembering that players with power are very hard to find on the wire later in the season, as these guys tend to get scooped up as injury and failed-gamble replacements.

Grady Sizemore (49%) is killing it already (in one game…). Could he be this year’s comeback star? Why not—the one thing we know for sure is that his ceiling was once sky-high. No reason not to buy, since you can always pick up a replacement 4th OF later on.

Miguel Montero (46%) has already put one out of the park (though he’s had a few more at bats than most players, since he got to play in the Australia games). I’m guessing he’s only available in one-catcher leagues, but if you were betting on Wilson Ramos, Montero might make a good replacement.

Dillon Gee (47%) gave an encouraging (but not awesome) start already, and he’s a decent guy to add. John Lackey 45%) deserves a shot in more leagues than this, having pitched well last season and playing for a Red Sox club likely to bring him some wins.

Medium-Depth Leagues (20%-40% owned in Y!)

If you’re looking for speed or MI help, there are two guys you should target: Dee Gordon (38%) and Emilio Bonifacio (31%). Neither looked all that likely to get a lot of playing time for most of the spring…but both may be starting on a regular basis, and both can fly.

Eric Young (27%) can help in speed but not play MI, while Kolten Wong (32%) can play MI but doesn’t offer as much speed. (But maybe he can hit.)

If you’re looking for a flexible backup, Dustin Ackley (23%) has a good game under his belt (maybe that sample size is too low) and plays in the infield and outfield. His teammate Corey Hart (365) and Adam LaRoche (24%) offer upside for owners in need of some 1B power.

There are a lot of interesting guys with some potential here. None of them have pitched yet, but keep an eye on Drew Smyly (35%), Rick Porcello (38%), Dan Straily (38%), Tim Hudson (35%), and Jose Quintana (35%).

Tanner Scheppers (25%) got beaten badly, but I’ll give him a mulligan on an Opening Day that also featured Cliff Lee getting rocked. This experiment may be short-lived, but it isn’t over.

Wade Miley (22%) whiffed eight Giants, so he’s showing something good.

Deep League Opportunities (under 20% owned)

Justin Smoak (12%) had a great Opening Day, and deep league owners have to pounce on things like that. Miami’s Marcell Ozuna (7%) made a nice splash in his first game of the season. It’s young (or young-ish) players like these that often make the best early waiver wire picks in deep leagues.

Cody Asche (6%) was part of the Texas-Philly offense explosion in which I had both starting pitchers…anyway, I’d take his Opening Day with a grain of salt--and yet consider picking him up. We’re making wild stabs in the dark here. If they work out, the results could be great. If not, it’s not like you’re dropping established players to snag these lottery tickets.

James Loney (15%) and Yonder Alonso (11%) may be oh-for-the-season, but still project to put up palatable averages. If your team need someone to “do no harm” they might be good targets.

Staff injuries mean that James Paxton (16%) and Martin Perez (15%) should have nice long leashes—which is exactly what fantasy managers want out of young pitchers. Keep them in mind. Tyler Skaggs (10%) threw hard in Spring Training, which is probably good. The Angels may have to depend on him too. The Twins will be depending on Phil Hughes (11%), so snatch him up at the first signs of success.

Brandon Morrow (7%) appears not to be hurt yet, so remember his old strikeout days when you go to the waiver wire. Jenrry Mejia (5%) looked good at the end of last year and is worth thinking about in these deep leagues.

If you remember nothing else about the season’s first weeks, remember this: now is the time for high-impact pickups. Yes, the sample sizes are small, but that doesn’t mean you can’t win big on an early lottery ticket.




RotoAuthority Unscripted: Walking the April Line

If you’re like me, you just quit a full-time job. Possibly one that you did while at your full-time, job. You’re all done with your fantasy drafts. You have all your teams and you won’t be drafting, or auctioning anymore, no matter how many times you see the draft room in your sleep. You won’t be ranking players in your head, on paper, or on your computer. Sure, you can check out RotoAuthority’s rankings…but why would you? Your teams are drafted. No more mock drafts, no more mock auctions, no more thrills of nabbing Kyle Seager for $2 even though you already have two third basemen. No more wondering how to evaluate injuries to Clayton Kershaw or Yu Darvish. No more getting a great deal on Cliff Lee…just enjoying his first disaster start of the year.

There is no more preparation, and no matter how much Draft Day feels like Game Day…it’s no more than half the battle. (Unless your league’s talent level is really low, I guess.)

What should you do with yourself now that you aren’t mock drafting, prepping rankings, scouring injury reports, and the like?

Well, you can start with getting a healthy hobby. I suggest watching baseball and setting your various fantasy lineups. Because, by healthy, I mean healthy for your fantasy teams. But you should also rest.

Rest from the urge to fix every roster hole now and with a trade. Sure, keep an eye on who drops whom, look over the waiver wire to see if anyone stands out, but don’t go blowing up your team. Hoping for Tanner Scheppers to be this year’s Chris Sale—or at least, C.J. Wilson? One bad start doesn’t torpedo his chances. Hoping for Billy Hamilton to steal you a title (sorry—no choice)? He isn’t getting send down after one oh-for-four with no steals. Breathe easy.

Every league seems to have someone send out a million trade offers before the season or in the first week. If you’ve really got a glaring need (like, you didn’t draft a shortstop), it’s smart to put some feelers out there, but don’t be the owner that offers trades just to offer trades, just to be doing something. Remember, you’re the fantasy owner, not the fantasy player. Yes, it’s an adjustment to being out of control, but that’s what we are for the moment. An offseason’s worth of preparation is more trustworthy than a game or two worth of at bats.

There’s a second thing to do, though, and that one, you’ll enjoy more than an admonition to take it easy. You need to become best friends with the waiver wire. What does that not mean? It doesn’t mean picking up and dropping players left and right, or streaming like crazy, or shuffling out half your drafted team. Instead, it means knowing the available players in your league(s) and what they’re doing. This is where opportunity comes from, and this is the large part of what will win and lose your league(s) from here on out.

The first week is a quandary for me (and every other fantasy player). On the one hand, you’re dealing with small samples and rule-exceptions. You’re dealing with players who’ve only played against two opponents, starters who’ve only faced one or two lineups, closers who’ve only had one chance to blow it. There is absolutely nothing concrete to be learned in the season’s first week. (Statistically speaking, that is. If Jose Reyes hits the DL, or Jim Henderson gets pulled from the closer’s role, that’s a different story.)

And yet, you still have to make your move on this information. It may not happen every year, but it’s a common enough story that plenty of fantasy leagues have been won with help from a plot like this: unheralded player or seemingly-low-upside-prospect wins a starting job in Spring Training. Nobody notices. Said player has a monster first week and jumps from 1% owned to 30% owned. Said player continues to produce all year long and becomes an early-round draft pick for years to come. Think I’m kidding? Last year it was Jean Segura. Before that, it’s been Ben Zobrist and Dan Uggla—the good Uggla, not the version we have now.

The story has gone other ways too: über-prospect gets surprisingly early callup and probably isn’t ready. Dominates all season. (Think Jose Fernandez.)

Player with some promise but a game full of flaws (and strikeouts) clubs several homers in the first week. Doesn’t stop. I’m not actually sure if this is how Chris Davis burst onto the scene two years ago, but it seems to fit.

Some guy you never heard of gets tabbed to fill in for a closer who needs to “regain his stuff”…and then goes on to lead the league in saves. (This is a natural part of the life cycle of the closer.)

All of these things happen. They don’t all happen each year, of course, and the false promises always do. Sometimes that closer does regain his stuff, sometimes the strikeouts overcome the homers, sometimes the prospect goes back to the minors, and sometimes that great first week (or month) becomes the highlight of Chris Shelton’s career.

The upside is worth it, though. The first couple weeks should be your most aggressive on the waiver wire, because they can have the biggest impact. Getting the Seguras, Fernandezes, and Davises of this year (if there are any) will make or break most fantasy leagues. Dropping your backup shortstop or seventh starter will probably not.

No, I don’t know who will break out this week or next, and I certainly don’t know which breakouts will be for real. Like everyone else, I’ll be gambling with my first few free agent moves. The key here is to go for the longest-term upside. You’ll still be able to find almost-competent replacement players later on, but April is your best shot to make a bold addition to your team. Go for it.

But not at the expense of players you trusted enough to target. Drop the fliers, the fillers, and the had-to’s—but don’t ditch your sleepers or your cornerstones, either for the waiver wire or the trade market.

So, it’s a paradoxical bit of advice to start the season: trust the planning you already did by sitting back and relaxing—but keep your eyes open for potential breakout players and jump on anyone who might qualify.

That’s the line we walk in April. Good luck staying on it.

And yeah—be glad baseball’s back.




RotoAuthority League Update: Draft Recap

The RotoAuthority League is a highly competitive 12-team fantasy baseball league run by Tim Dierkes. The settings consist of standard 5 X 5 Rotisserie scoring and 23-man lineups along with 4 bench spots. In an effort to keep owners interested as well as to infuse new blood into the league, the teams that finish below 8th place are kicked out of the league each year. The author of this column just hopes he isn't one of them.

The RotoAuthority League draft took place a week ago. As always, it was a grueling three hours that really put our decision-making skills to the test. Full draft results can be found at the link at the bottom, but here's a quick look at how each team turned out in order of draft slot.

1. Men With Wood

Previous Finishes: 2008 – 8th, 2009 – 4th, 2010 – 2nd, 2011 – 1st, 2012 – 5th, 2013 - 8th

It's a luxury to own Mike Trout in any league, and it's always interesting to see how an owner chooses to build around the closest thing to a perfect fantasy player. Intended or not, Men With Wood placed a premium on quality outfielders early when he selected Carlos Gomez and Giancarlo Stanton once the draft snaked back to him. Offense was clearly a priority for this owner, as he didn't take a pitcher until Jordan Zimmermann in the seventh round. The bullpen is deep with three closers in Addison Reed, Steve Cishek, and Fernando Rodney as well as three quality setup men in Rex Brothers, Danny Farquhar, and Sergio Santos. As usual, I expect Men With Wood to be a contender this year.

2. Yu at the Animal Zoo

Previous Finishes: 2013 - 1st

Like I said last week, it's a tad scary that last year's champion gets to build his team around Miguel Cabrera once again. This owner chose to follow up Miggy with the currently red-hot Jose Bautista and then a pair of aces in Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander. The reigning champ continued to stockpile power with picks of Wilin Rosario, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters. In addition to that dynamic duo at the top of the staff, this manager has a pair of arms with sky-high ceiling in Gerrit Cole and Yordano Ventura. The one weakness on this roster may be relief pitching, but this owner is incredibly active on the waiver wire.

3. Brewsterville Bruins

Previous Finishes: 2011 – 5th, 2012 – 2nd, 2013 - 4th

I projected this squad to draft Paul Goldschmidt with the third pick overall, but instead the Brewsterville Bruins selected a relatively safer option for my money in Andrew McCutchen. After grabbing the dominant Yu Darvish on the way back, this manager continued to load up on across-the-board contributors like Dustin Pedroia and Alex Rios. If you subscribe to the theory of drafting last year's bums because regression is a powerful force, then this roster is for you. The Bruins envision bounceback campaigns from Albert Pujols, Jason Heyward, and Starlin Castro. As always, the Bruins have a very reliable roster that should be right in the thick of things come September.

4. Spirit of St. Louis

Previous Finishes: N/A

Spirit of St. Louis built a strong offensive foundation by drafting just one pitcher over the first nine rounds. This owner places at least some value in scarcity, as he owned a player at every infield position by the end of the seventh round. Homer picks or not, this manager somehow ended up with five Cardinals by Round 20. Overall, I expect this squad to do well in the offensive categories, so the fate of Spirit of St. Louis will ultimately come down to its pitching staff.

5. Smell the Glove

Previous Finishes: 2008 – 1st, 2009 – 6th, 2010 – 5th, 2011 – 12th, 2012 – 11th, 2013 - 2nd

After all these years of playing with Tim Dierkes, I was virtually certain that he'd take Carlos Gonzalez with the fifth pick overall, so I for one was certainly surprised when he chose to go with Ryan Braun instead. Dierkes is clearly on the side of "steroids, schmeroids" when projecting Braun for this season. As usual, Tim then built his roster inside-out by filling up most of his infield with Evan Longoria, Buster Posey, Eric Hosmer, and Elvis Andrus. Dierkes is on record that he's a believer in Masahiro Tanaka, and he put his money where his mouth is by taking the new Yankees starter in the sixth round. Smell the Glove then continued to add power with middle-round picks of Jonathan Lucroy, Domonic Brown, and Aaron Hill. Finally, I like what Tim did late with high-upside plays like Khris Davis, Avisail Garcia, and Javier Baez. Ultimately, this roster will be fine offensively, so the true test will be the performance of Tanaka coupled with the health of Cole Hamels.

6. The Jewru

Previous Finishes: N/A

Perhaps no owner spoke louder with his picks than this one last Monday night. Right from the start, the Jewru swung for the fences with Bryce Harper at sixth overall. This owner then calmed down for a bit with relatively safe picks of David Wright, Jay Bruce, and Cliff Lee. However, the Jewru then took the player who embodies high risk / high reward more so than any player in this game with the selection of Billy Hamilton in Round Five. And yet, this manager was far from finished with highly volatile picks. From Xander Bogaerts to Anthony Rendon and Taijuan Walker, this roster is loaded with upside. Let's face it, though: Billy Hamilton is going to win or lose leagues this year. If the Reds speedster proves he can hit well enough to stay in the Bigs all year, this owner may get first round value out of that fifth round pick. Then again, Hamilton could easily bust and wind up in the Minors by May. One thing is certain: the Jewru could care less about finishing in the bottom four and getting booted from this league; he's in it to win it.

7. The Bombers

Previous Finishes: N/A

If you look at the first five picks for the Bombers, one is clearly not like the others. Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Felix Hernandez, and Matt Holliday put up numbers year in and year out. At pick 42, however, the Bombers couldn't pass up the chance to draft the ultimate wild card in Yasiel Puig. Some fantasy pundits view Puig as an elite top-15 player while others consider him to be a risky top-50 option. For the most part, this is a safe roster that I'm confident will avoid the bottom four. If Puig proves that last year was no fluke, though, this squad will have just what it needs to finish in the money.

8. Guitar Masahiro

Previous Finishes: 2012 – 8th, 2013 - 6th

Well, the owner who went by the name of Say it Ain't So Cano last year opted against drafting Robinson Cano in Round One, choosing Clayton Kershaw instead. Guitar Masahiro then selected Troy Tulowitzki for the third year in a row. This manager took an interesting approach to drafting pitchers. After grabbing Kershaw, Guitar Masahiro didn't select another starting pitcher until Matt Moore in Round 12. Instead, this owner drafted four closers in Koji Uehara, Glen Perkins, Jim Johnson, and Huston Street. That should come in handy, as there's always an owner in need of saves. Just a speculation: we might have a Boston sports fan here, as this owner drafted a grand total of eight Red Sox.

9. Gramma Nutt Crushers

Previous Finishes: 2010 – 1st, 2011 – 8th, 2012 – 4th, 2013 - 3rd

I really like how the Gramma Nutt Crushers started the first three rounds of this draft with picks of Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder, and Shin-Soo Choo. That's about as safe as it gets. On the pitching side, this owner chose to embrace a tad more risk with Danny Salazar and Michael Wacha behind staff ace Chris Sale. After loading up on power early, the Gramma Nutt Crushers picked up some speed later on from Desmond Jennings, Brett Gardner, and Rajai Davis. In general, this looks like a balanced roster without any real categorical holes.

10.  Cobra Kai

Previous Finishes: N/A

Last week I gave my best guess as to which player each owner would select in Round One. Well, outside of the first two picks (which probably shouldn't even count), this is the only other pick I predicted correctly. Cobra Kai took five-category stud Adam Jones and then came back with last year's best player on a per-game basis, Hanley Ramirez. This owner clearly buys into the idea that elite catchers are worthy investments, as he not only took Joe Mauer in the third round but also Brian McCann in the fifth round. This manager also made a couple interesting selections with the well-hyped Jose Abreu in Round Six followed by the enigmatic Matt Kemp in Round Seven. In addition, Cobra Kai made it known that he doesn't care about a player's age. This roster has plenty of youth in players like Jose Fernandez, Zack Wheeler, and George Springer. There are all sorts of ways this squad could go this year, but it's certainly not short on talent.

11. E-Z Sliders

Previous Finishes: 2013 - 5th

I haven't seen Adrian Beltre go in the first round of 12-team leagues all that often this year, but I view the Rangers third baseman as worthy of Round One. After grabbing the consistent Beltre, E-Z Sliders drafted a pair of outfielders with first-round talent in Jacoby Ellsbury and Justin Upton followed by a couple of aces in Max Scherzer and David Price. This pitching staff could be special, as this owner also was able to get lights-out closer Kenley Jansen and the electric Anibal Sanchez. In general, the E-Z Sliders took a value-based approach. There seemed to be quite a few "look at me" picks throughout the draft, and this owner skillfully scooped up undervalued veterans like Alexei Ramirez and Torii Hunter when they fell too far. Given that I had to follow this owner, I know there were several times in which he drafted the player I had at the top of my rankings.

12. A Century of Misery

Previous Finishes: 2009 – 5th, 2010 – 4th, 2011 – 4th, 2012 – 3rd, 2013 - 7th

And finally we get to my squad. I wanted to play it safe at the turn, but I couldn't pass up the power of Chris Davis. I actually consider Davis to be overvalued this season, yet I somehow own him in four out of nine league this year. After Davis, I came back with Edwin Encarnacion; if you've read my work at all, you know by now he's a personal favorite, especially with third base eligibility in Yahoo leagues. I’m only guessing when it comes to the strategies of other owners in this league, but I can tell you my plan was to simply trust my rankings and draft the best player available as often as possible. In the past I've loaded up on offense, but I'm not so sure that's a recipe for success anymore in today's game. I can't say I'm happy to have only one closer, but I'm usually able to grab one or two off the waiver wire over the course of the season. I also have several next-in-line setup men in Mark Melancon, Cody Allen, Carlos Martinez, and Tyler Clippard. On paper my squad is rather boring, but I feel better about this one than how I felt about my team from last year.

So who's going to take home the title this season? Which squad do you like best?

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Go Bold Or Go Home: Justin Masterson, Top-15 Pitcher

Among all qualified starters in baseball last season, only five pitchers threw 193 or more innings, struck out at least one batter per inning and had a SIERA of 3.32 or better.  Four were Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer; the fifth was Justin Masterson.  So by that metric, Masterson is actually a top-FIVE pitcher in the big leagues, so I not only proved my "top fifteen" point, I went above and beyond!  That was easy!  See you next week, folks!

.....okay, fine, it'll take more than some statistical cherry-picking to get the job done.  Fair enough.  There seems to be some inherent resistence to acknowledging Masterson as a top-tier fantasy pitcher, given his modest 218.80 average draft position (hat tip to Mock Draft Central) that ranks him as the only 56th-highest pitcher taken in this year's drafts.  Even if you don't agree with me that Masterson is on the verge of a major breakout, I think it's safe to say that there aren't 55 guys better than the Indians ace.

In fact, forget being 'on the verge,' it's possible Masterson took his big step forward last year.  Masterson has always been known as an elite groundball pitcher --- he led the league with a 58% ground ball rate in 2013 and he has the sixth-highest GBR of any pitcher in baseball over the last four seasons.  What changed Masterson's game last year, however, was his ability to miss bats.  Masterson had a career 7.1 K/9 over his first five seasons but he bumped that up to a career-best 9.1 K/9 in 2013.  In the Roto Authority starting pitcher rankings, Alex Steers McCrum even lumped Masterson into his group of "strikeout pitchers with too many walks." a designation that would've seemed unlikely a year ago.

There's a terrible pun coming in a few paragraphs, just so you know.  Be ready.

It seems like Masterson was able to goose his strikeout numbers by cutting back on the use of his sinker.  Masterson used his sinker a whopping 58.3% of the time in 2012, well above his career 44.5% mark, and it's perhaps no surprise that Masterson changed things up given how he struggled that season.  In 2013, however, the righty cut his sinker rate down to 49.4% and increased the use of his slider to 26.9%, by far the most Masterson has thrown the pitch in any of his four full Major League seasons.  If Masterson keeps the sinker in check, there's no reason he couldn't have another season of averaging at least one strikeout per inning. 

So that's the strikeouts accounted for, and Masterson should still get his fair share of wins given that the Tribe projects to be a pretty good team this season.  My only concern is that his ERA and WHIP could be slightly above what you'd want from the ace of a fantasy rotation.  Ideally you'd like a pitcher with a sub-3.00 ERA and a sub-1.20 WHIP, but with Masterson it could be more likely that he'll post something in the neighborhood of a 3.30 ERA and a WHIP in the 1.20-1.30 range.  This comes with the territory of having an ace groundball pitcher and an infield defense that includes UZR/150 nightmares Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis, not to mention the possibly-comic stylings of Carlos Santana as a regular third baseman.  Still, while grounders are still Masterson's bread and butter, his increased strikeout prowess will help him overcome his infield's miscues.

Seriously, it's one of the more obvious, no-creativity puns you could imagine when discussing Justin Masterson, so of course Mark can't help but make it.  Brace yourself.

Between the flaws of a poor infield defense and a too-high walk rate (his 3.54 BB/9 ranked a mediocre 73rd amongst all qualified starters), Masterson definitely has a few warts, but I have a couple more reasons why I think he'll end the year as a top-drawer fantasy starter.  Injury concerns aren't really a factor given how Masterson is averaging 199 innings over the last four years, plus there's the ever-popular "contract year" narrative.  The Tribe had been talking to Masterson about an extension but talks have fallen through, so it's very likely that the right-hander will test free agency next winter.  Not that Masterson isn't a motivated guy anyway, but he'll have all the more incentive to perform well, as he'll have a $100MM+ contract waiting for him if he duplicates last season's numbers in 2014.

As noted, Masterson is way off the radar of many fantasy owners, so even if you missed him in your draft, there's still a chance to acquire him in a trade before Opening Day.  If you have a promising but unproven arm like Zach Wheeler or Tony Cingriani (to name a couple of pitchers ahead of Masterson on the ADP list), I'd certainly see about unloading either for Masterson.  Your rival manager may think he's getting a steal in picking a hot young arm while you can sit back and take comfort in a more reliable option.

Are you ready?  Here it comes.

All things considered, owning Masterson could end up being a masterpiece of fantasy roster move.

...wow, could that have been shoehorned in any more?  Brutal.




How to Win 2014: OPS

Maybe you’ve already drafted and this column won’t be super-useful for you…but maybe you’re like me and you’ve still got an epic weekend packed with as many fantasy drafts as you and your supply of chips, beer, pizza, coffee, diet coke, chicken wings, and whatever else it is you use to power through will hold out. With the real baseball season (if your league doesn’t count the Australia games, neither do I) shockingly close, it’s the best time to draft anyway. Today’s episode of How to Win busts open the standard 5x5 categories with perhaps the most common sixth hitting category: OPS. Chances are this one comes into play somehow in just about every non-standard league, and while I might have drafted for my 6x6 format last week, I’m still here to do the research, just for you.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that OPS affects pretty much every other part of baseball and can still be informative in standard 5x5 formats—particularly for Runs and RBI.

OPS is an odd stat, insofar as it straddles modern sabermetrics and old-school baseball card stats. Made up of On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage (you knew that, I know), it directly reflects what actually happened in ballgames (though it requires some difficult math one instance of addition)…and yet it isn’t terribly luck-based. Basically, OPS is a stat for everyone, in a way that batting average and WAR are not.

Except Alcides Escobar. Sadly, OPS is not for him.

OPS Leaders 2013 (min. 300 PA)

 

Name

PA

OBP

SLG

OPS

1

Miguel Cabrera

652

0.442

0.636

1.078

2

Hanley Ramirez

336

0.402

0.638

1.04

3

Chris Davis

673

0.370

0.634

1.004

4

Mike Trout

716

0.432

0.557

0.988

5

David Ortiz

600

0.395

0.564

0.959

6

Carlos Gonzalez

436

0.367

0.591

0.958

7

Paul Goldschmidt

710

0.401

0.551

0.952

8

Troy Tulowitzki

512

0.391

0.54

0.931

9

Jayson Werth

532

0.398

0.532

0.931

10

Joey Votto

726

0.435

0.491

0.926

11

Yasiel Puig

432

0.391

0.534

0.925

12

Michael Cuddyer

540

0.389

0.530

0.919

 Wow…a stat leaderboard more or less correlated with the players who had the best seasons. Enjoy it for a moment, because we don’t get such things in fantasy baseball very often. It’s worth noting that a certain amount of luck does exist in the stat, in the form of high batting average players. Looking at you, Michael Cuddyer.

Since OPS is a component stat, and being great at both components is just a fancy way of being a great ballplayer, let’s look at each half, then dive into a position-by-position breakdown.

OBP Leaders 2013 (min. 300 PA)

 

Name

PA

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

1

Miguel Cabrera

652

0.356

0.348

0.442

0.636

2

Joey Votto

726

0.360

0.305

0.435

0.491

3

Mike Trout

716

0.376

0.323

0.432

0.557

4

Shin-Soo Choo

712

0.338

0.285

0.423

0.462

5

Andrew McCutchen

674

0.353

0.317

0.404

0.508

6

Joe Mauer

508

0.383

0.324

0.404

0.476

7

Hanley Ramirez

336

0.363

0.345

0.402

0.638

8

Paul Goldschmidt

710

0.343

0.302

0.401

0.551

9

Jayson Werth

532

0.358

0.318

0.398

0.532

10

Freddie Freeman

629

0.371

0.319

0.396

0.501

11

David Ortiz

600

0.321

0.309

0.395

0.564

12

Matt Carpenter

717

0.359

0.318

0.392

0.481

 These guys can be counted on for walks—and therefore runs. At this elite level, most are fuelled by strong averages and high BABIP’s—making Choo look all the more impressive.

SLG Leaders 2013 (min. 300 PA)

 

Name

PA

ISO

AVG

OBP

SLG

1

Hanley Ramirez

336

0.293

0.345

0.402

0.638

2

Miguel Cabrera

652

0.288

0.348

0.442

0.636

3

Chris Davis

673

0.348

0.286

0.370

0.634

4

Carlos Gonzalez

436

0.289

0.302

0.367

0.591

5

David Ortiz

600

0.255

0.309

0.395

0.564

6

Mike Trout

716

0.234

0.323

0.432

0.557

7

Paul Goldschmidt

710

0.249

0.302

0.401

0.551

8

Troy Tulowitzki

512

0.229

0.312

0.391

0.540

9

Yasiel Puig

432

0.215

0.319

0.391

0.534

10

Edwin Encarnacion

621

0.262

0.272

0.370

0.534

11

Jayson Werth

532

0.214

0.318

0.398

0.532

12

Michael Cuddyer

540

0.198

0.331

0.389

0.530

Just take a second and look at Davis’s ISO. Wow. Unlike most of the other leaders, nearly all of his slugging came from extra-base hit power—and you know that wasn’t a bunch of triples. It’s also impressive just how much the two shortstops on this list distance themselves from the rest of their position. It’s almost enough to make me want to draft them early instead of waiting for some fleet-footed steals specialist in the late rounds.

Let’s see what OPS means for each position.

Catcher
OPS Leader: Joe Mauer, 0.880
Top-12 Average: 0.815
Top-12 Range: 0.771-0.880
Worth Noting: There’s a big dropoff from Mauer to the next guy. And a really big drop from the first 12 to the next 12 for those on you in two-catcher formats: their average OPS is just 0.717.

First Base
OPS Leader: Chris Davis, 1.004
Top-12 Average: 0.881
Top-12 Range: 0.819-1.004
Worth Noting: Yeah…the average first base starter is better than the top catcher. And the top catcher is pretty good.

Second Base
OPS Leader: Robinson Cano, 0.899
Top-12 Average:  0.800
Top-12 Range: 0.745-0.899
Worth Noting: The next 10 players after Cano and second-place Carpenter OPS just 0.783.

Third Base
OPS Leader: Miguel Cabrera, 1.078
Top-12 Average: 0.842
Top-12 Range: 0.758-1.078
Worth Noting: The top performers are pretty decent, but it’s a quick slide into numbers that more resemble middle infielders than first basemen. Don’t go looking here for your CI if you can help it.

Shortstop
OPS Leader: Hanley Ramirez, 1.040
Top-12 Average: 0.804
Top-12 Range: 0.736-1.040
Worth Noting: Only three players topped the 0.800 mark in 300 PA. Only one of those players (Tulowitzki) did it in over 500 PA. Without the top two, the next 10 average 0.768. And you thought second base was rough.

Outfield
OPS Leader: Mike Trout, 0.988
Top-36 Average: 0.840
Top-36 Range: 0.776-0.988
Worth Noting: Looked at this way, OF and 3B appear pretty similar—but plenty of leagues require four or five outfielders while allowing you just one third baseman in the starting lineup. The next 24 outfielders OPS average is just 0.748…so still pretty close to the 12th-place 3B, and better than the 12th place player at second and short. Just one more reason not to even consider filling your Util slots with anyone but first basemen and outfielders.

OPS is strongest by far in the traditional power positions. If your league replaces BA with OPS, or just adds the category, you should definitely prioritize either the top two or three players at the infield positions, or go all in on 1B and OF.

OPS is also in opposition to stolen bases. If you're in a 5x5 league with OPS, prioritizing power/speed guys is all the more important, because high-steals guys who may not kill you in average (like Jose Altuve or Elvis Andrus) will tank your OPS. If you're in a 6x6, though, the extra category just downgrades the importance of steals, so feel free to bulk up on power.

Whether OPS (or either of its components) are direct categories in your league or not, keeping OPS in mind when drafting is well worth it. Since it provides a good rough guide to overall hitting contribution, it will affect playing time in real baseball. Since it measures how often a player gets on base and how hard he hits the ball, it will come out indirectly in Runs and RBI as well.

This is the last of How to Win 2014, so hopefully it’ll help you power through the last, glorious weekend of drafting. Baseball is just about upon us, and on Monday RotoAuthority will be in full regular-season mode.





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