Closer Updates: As, Angels, Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Jays, Mets, Reds, Yankees

This week we’ll be bringing you another round of updates from the closer world. With a slew of injury updates and depth chart shufflings, the ninth inning continues to bring us some of the most unforeseen changes in the fantasy landscape.

Chicago Cubs – Since Jose Veras got the boot as the Cubs closer, Pedro Strop has struggled to dominate the ninth in his place. Strop has been adequate this season (1 save, 3.52 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 11.7 K/9), but certainly has little job security. If he struggles, Hector Rondon (1 save, 0.84 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.3 K/9) and Justin Grimm (0.84 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 11.0 K/9) have each pitched well enough to deserve a shot.  

Cincinnati RedsAroldis Chapman threw live batting practice behind a screen this week. The next step in his recovery will be batting practice without a screen before a few rehab appearances. Jonathan Broxton has done an admirable job replacing Chapman (2 saves, 0.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 12.0 K/9), but he will return to a setup role once Aroldis returns in mid-May.

Houston Astros – The closer-by-committee experiment has continued in Houston. In the last week, only Josh Fields earned a save opportunity. Meanwhile, Anthony Bass earned two holds and Matt Albers got one. Chad Qualls has struggled over the same time frame and Jesse Crain is still far from returning to the big leagues.

Los Angeles Angels of AnaheimErnesto Frieri has had a rough season thus far (2 saves, 5.40 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 11.9 K/9). Although Halos manager Mike Scioscia has recently stated that Frieri is still the closer, it may be a matter of time before Joe Smith (4.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 10.0 K/9) takes over the ninth.

Milwaukee BrewersFrancisco Rodriguez has had an unbelievable week with six saves in the last eight days. That type of consistency and an impressive stat line (9 saves, 0.00 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 13.1 K/9) make it unlikely that Jim Henderson (4.15 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 13.5 K/9) will be taking back the ninth any time soon.

New York Mets – It’s official – Jose Valverde is out as closer for the Metropolitans after a dismal start (5.23 ERA, 1.55 ERA, 10.5 K/9). After pulling Valverde, manager Terry Collins turned to experienced closer Kyle Farnsworth (55 career saves). Farnsworth has pitched well this season (2 saves, 0.96 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 5.8 K/9) and might have the savvy to keep this job all season.

New York YankeesDavid Robertson returned to the Yankees Tuesday after a stint on the 15-day disabled list for an injured groin. Robertson will immediately return to the closer role and relieve Shawn Kelley of his substitute closer duties (4 saves, 1.86 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 9.3 K/9).

Oakland Athletics – Although Jim Johnson (and his contract) will certainly have an opportunity to regain the ninth inning, when that will occur is uncertain. Until then, Luke Gregerson will lead the committee (3 saves, 3.09 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 5.4 K/9) over Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook.

Toronto Blue JaysSergio Santos is another setup man who has been marginally effective as an interim closer (5 saves, 7.11 ERA, 2.21 WHIP, 18.5 K/9). Given Casey Janssen and his recent setback during a rehab stint, Santos might be holding onto the closer gig longer than most expected. Janssen, who was expected to have returned from the disabled list by now, has been shut down and his timetable for return is still unclear.

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.




RotoAuthority Unscripted: Johan Santana to Return Again, Again

Ten years ago, Johan Santana was the best pitcher in baseball. Actually, his numbers aren't as eye-popping now as they were then--a testament to the state of pitching and hitting in this decade--but believe it: the dude was awesome. And he might be coming back soon.

Okay, so this news isn't exactly the biggest resurrection of the week, and I'll be honest with you: if all your leagues are relatively shallow, this post won't be super-helpful for you. Still, anyone with a history of greatness like Santana's has earned being watched. Mets fans may disagree (I'll understand), but even the little bit of Johan that we got in 2012 (8.54 K/9, 2.85 K/BB, with a bad homer rate and ERA) offers something to be interested in.

There's no timetable yet and no need to be rushing off the waiver wire for him. And you don't need to release Doug Fister or Derek Holland to clear a spot on your DL just to get Santana. No, this isn't the herald of Santana's triumphant return, so much as it is a piece of information for you to stash away.

Fantasy baseball is about finding an edge against tough, informed competition. It certainly isn't about beating the bottom six teams in your league--there's a good chance you did that on draft day against average-quality competition. I know this because my research random stab in the dark suggests that over half of fantasy baseball owners do not seek out advice, news, or articles beyond what's offered on ESPN and their fantasy website provider after their draft. But I digress. Long story short: your goal is to beat your tough competition too. And that means looking for advantages where nobody else is.

What I'm not going to do is speculate (too much) on what Santana is likely to be if and when he does make it into Baltimore's rotation. I'll leave that to people who are actually scouts and can look at what he does and tell us about it. But you know I will be paying attention to those scouts and the updates that come from them. For the moment, I'm going to assume that the 2012 version of Johan (a little good, a little bad, a little really awesome) returns more or less intact, with the chance of his HR/FB rate regressing to something better than horrible. If he's less than that, the aforementioned scouting professionals, plus TV commentators, peanut gallery members, and (maybe) the Orioles' coaching staff will notice and pull the plug on the grand experiment in time reversal.

And if he's better than that, he absolutely has to be on your team. Again, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that I know or think I know that Santana will come back and be awesome. Honestly, the chances are that he won't so keep your expectations tempered, even if you were a Twins fan in the '00's but have since moved to Baltimore and switched allegiances.

But I am saying that this situation is worth paying careful attention to, because Santana offers much greater potential reward than most deep-league waiver wire options. Yes, his floor is that of uselessness—but that’s true of every player waiting in the minors, sitting on the DL, or pitching for Baltimore. Essentially, the cost of Santana will be the same as the cost of your next Mets or Cubs closer lottery ticket, one-game platoon streamer, or backup to your backup catcher. The reward, though, is a serious impact pitcher (low probability) or a high-K, questionable-ERA guy (very reasonable probability) of the sort that’s plenty useful in deep formats.

All the eyes in your league will be on Santana’s teammate Kevin Gausman, or on Noah Syndergaard when and if they get the call to the show. Everyone will know it when Taijuan Walker and the rest of the Mariners’ rotation come back from the DL, and they’ll see Holland’s return from a mile away. Those pickups (if they aren’t already stashed) will be the product of whoever’s got the most FAAB money or the highest waiver priority, or whoever’s got the fastest Internet connection after the news hits Twitter. These guys have a real chance of providing a serious impact—but odds are, they’re ending up on someone else’s team.

Santana, however, isn’t likely to get quite the same fantasy reception. In fact, I expect experts and owners to be pretty tepid, even if TV commentators get really excited. But if, say, Gausman came up and struck out nearly a batter an inning with a low 4.00’s ERA, that would be a pretty good result. Santana did that in 2012 (okay, so his FIP was in the low 4.00’s, not his ERA, but still…). Think of Santana as a prospect without the hype and keep tabs on him. If the news takes a different turn and he doesn’t look good, well, there you go. But if things continue to progress towards him pitching in the Major League rotation, the risk (nothing, assuming you have someone you can drop without missing) versus reward makes him well worth the pursuit.

Editor's Note: You may have noticed some problems with RotoAuthority in the last couple days, as our blog host has been hit with an attack beyond this author's technical understanding. Hopefully, things are resolved, but bear with us if the situation continues. We'll be updating the site as regularly as possible to fill all your fantasies...I mean, your fantasy baseball needs.




RotoAuthority League Update: Early Trades

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.

04/11 - Smell the Glove agrees to trade Homer Bailey to the Brewsterville Bruins for Jason Heyward

Here we have a swap of a pair of players who both look like excellent Buy Low candidates to me. As Mark Simon of ESPN notes, Jason Heyward has still been making hard contact but just hasn't been getting results. His plate discipline metrics look fine to me, and I fully support the idea of looking to acquire him.

Meanwhile, few SPs make for better trade targets than Bailey right now. The ugly 8.16 ERA on the surface masks the same great skills the right-hander displayed last year. Maybe we shouldn't expect a league-average HR/FB rate for Bailey in the Great American Ballpark; however, the current 60% rate is simply laughable. I'd expect a performance more in line with his 3.17 SIERA going forward.

04/15 - A Century of Misery agrees to trade Edwin Encarnacion and Cody Allen to Pulling Brzenk for Stephen Strasburg and Martin Prado

Here we have my first trade of the season in this league. If you've been following my work this year, you know I have a Man Crush on Encarnacion. Accordingly, it's rather surprising that I received a trade offer in which I was willing to move Edwin. It's possible I'm overreacting to small sample sizes; however, given his slow start, I've begun to worry about the offseason wrist surgery affecting his power. Edwin should be fine eventually, but it still may be awhile before he's back to his old self.

Like Bailey, Strasburg looks like a prime Buy Low candidate. Despite his poor results thus far, his skills have actually improved. I really could care less about results in April, and he's striking out one in every three batters. Needless to say, I think he's on the verge of a special campaign.

I'm not sure I would have dealt Edwin straight up for Strasburg. By adding in Prado, though, last year's champion ensured that he'd get Encarnacion from me. I certainly could see Cody Allen usurping the closer role from John Axford later this season, but I wasn't going to let a middle reliever deter me from agreeing to the deal.

04/17 - Smell the Glove agrees to trade Buster Posey, Sonny Gray, and Hector Rondon to the Jewru for Greg Holland, Yan Gomes, and Edward Mujica

Commissioner Tim Dierkes has been looking to acquire a closer ever since news broke that Bobby Parnell would be out for the year. In this deal he downgrades from Posey to Gomes at catcher while adding an elite closer in Holland in exchange for a quality arm in Gray. Rondon may very well prove to be the guy to close out games on the North Side in Chicago, but the Commish recently dropped him anyway. Lastly, given that Koji Uehara is certainly an injury risk, Mujica is a sneaky piece for Dierkes to acquire.

Overall, I prefer the haul for the Jewru purely from a value perspective. Context always needs to be kept in mind, though. This league places a significant premium on the value of closers. In trading for a closer, you practically know going in that you're going to get the short end of the stick. With that in mind, I don't think Dierkes lost all that much here.

04/18 - Gramma Nutt Crushers agree to trade Junichi Tazawa to Pulling Brzenk for Shawn Kelley

It's always a tad exciting when a big trade goes down in one of your leagues. This is not one of those deals. I'm not exactly sure why either owner felt the need to make this trade. I'd understand a little more if the Gramma Nutt Crushers owned David Robertson, or if Koji Uehara were a member of Pulling Brzenk; however, neither is the case. At any rate, it's possible both of these relievers adds a handful of saves while posting good ratios.




The Proof Is In The Peripherals: April 18-24

As you might expect, most of the game's hottest hitters at this point in the season still have comically-inflated BABIPs.  (Case in point: Chase Utley's unreal .475 BABIP.)  A few of these top bats, however, have yet to be kissed by the BABIP cherubs, which could be a hint that their strong starts are a little more sustainable.  Let's dip into their advanced metrics to see what's up....

* Joey BatmanJose Bautista's emergence as a major power hitter has come with little-to-no help from BABIP.  The Toronto slugger has only a .256 BABIP since the start of the 2010 season, and even that modest figure was boosted by a .309 mark in 2011.  Bautista only has a .226 BABIP so far this year but it hasn't impacted his hitting, as he carried five homers (tied for the AL lead) and a .267.459/.644 line into Thursday's action.

Since BABIP isn't really a factor in his production, Bautista's other metrics suggest that his early-season success has been due to a) pitchers not giving him anything to hit, and b) Bautista crushing it out of the park on the rare occasions when he does see some good pitches.  His 29.4% home run rate is obviously unsustainable and will drop, and you'd suspect the same will happen to Bautista's 26.2% walk rate, which is almost double his career average and six percent higher than his previous single-season high. 

That said, Bautista is only swinging at 18.1% of pitches outside the strike zone, which is a notable drop from his 24.4% mark from 2010-13.  A little more patience at the plate makes Joey Bats all the more dangerous. If Bautista's walk rate settles even halfway between 26.2% and the 13.1% from last year, that's still a big increase in his offensive value and, fantasy-wise, it would lead to more runs scored due to greater on-base numbers.

Though this is Bautista's age-33 season, nobody really doubted that he would still be a premier hitter as long as he could stay healthy, so the jury is still out on whether Bautista can avoid the knocks that led him to miss 114 games in 2012-13.  The injury bug is still the only major red flag on Bautista since otherwise, his bat looks as strong as ever, and the extra walks are a good sign.

* Zobocop.  I've long been Roto Authority's most ardent Ben Zobrist supporter, so I was more than a little concerned when Zobrist's power fell off a cliff in 2013.  The pop has returned thus far in 2014, as Zobrist is slugging .472 and already has three dingers (after hitting just 12 all of last season).

So all is good, right?  Well, not exactly.  Zobrist's 17.6% homer rate is well above his 10.7% career average, so that's going to dip a little.  What's more troubling is that Zobrist's line drive rate is 10.9%, while his ground ball rate is 52.2% --- both numbers represent around a nine-percent dip and rise, respectively, from his 2013 rates.  His infield fly ball rate is also up to 17.6%, about a nine-percent increase over his career average.

So essentially, Zobrist isn't the hitting the ball as hard and most of the time, he's hitting it either on the ground or popping it up.  Since his BABIP is only .279, it's not like a lot of these grounders are getting through, either.  (His batting average is .283.)  It's kind of a weird collection of stats for Zobrist and it seems like his offensive production thus far is being mostly carried by that inflated home run rate and a 15.6% walk rate, which would be a career-best if sustained.  I'd keep as eye on Zobrist since, if his peripherals don't normalize, they could portent a more significant problem than just a loss of power.  Still too early to think about trading or releasing him from your fantasy roster, obviously, but still, have an eye.

 * Commissioner Gordon.  Finally, we'll look at a player who isn't off to a good start.  There's no truth to the rumor that Alex Gordon's 2014 season is being sponsored by Del Monte, since Gordon has done little more than produce cans of corn since Opening Day.  Gordon took an even-steven 50% fly ball rate into Thursday's action, which isn't necessarily a bad thing...but when only 4.8% of those flies are leaving the yard, there's a problem. 

Curiously, in other aspects of hitting, Gordon has never been better.  He's drastically cut back on his strikeouts, he's making contact on a whopping 96.7% of pitches within the strike zone and he's on pace for the best overall contact rate (86.2%) of his career.  A .268 BABIP could be partially to blame, though with just an 11.9% line drive rate, it's not like Gordon is hitting the ball with much authority.  You could chalk it up to the team-wide power malaise that has struck the Royals in the early going, or maybe Gordon needs another visit from George Brett to get his hitting back on track.  It's not like Brett is busy posing with pop stars or anyth....oh wait...  




Closer Updates: As, Astros, BoSox, Braves, Brewers, Cubbies, Jays, Mets, Reds, Rockies, Yankees

Welcome back to another edition of Closer Updates. This edition will be chock full of injury updates and insight into this ever-changing MLB closer landscape. In addition to a few relievers being relieved of their ninth inning gigs, we’ve also got some injury scares and other relevant notes.

Atlanta Braves – Bravos fans and Craig Kimbrel owners held their collective breath when a sore shoulder shut the reliever down for the past few days. However, Kimbrel should not hit the DL and will be back to action soon after experiencing no discomfort in a recent bullpen session.

Boston Red Sox – After discovering tightness in his shoulder during a pregame long-toss session last week, Koji Uehara was shut down and Edward Mujica has been closing games in his stead. Look for Uehara to return soon after three solid bullpen sessions and an MRI which showed no ligament damage.

Chicago Cubs – After a very poor start to the season (4 appearances, 2 blown saves, 12.27 ERA, 2.46 WHIP), Jose Veras has officially lost his closer title in Wrigleyville. Pedro Strop (1 save, 4.76 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) and Hector Rondon (1 save, 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) are the two candidates most likely to replace him.

Cincinnati RedsAroldis Chapman is steadily making progress in his return to the big leagues. After throwing a bullpen session earlier in the week, Chapman appears to be getting close to being cleared to throw batting practice. After that step and a few more bullpen sessions, we’ll have a much clearer timeline. Jonathan Broxton, who recently returned from the DL, should be covering the ninth in Chapman’s absence.

Colorado Rockies – Although many pegged Rex Brothers as the closer-in-waiting in Colorado, LaTroy Hawkins has performed well so far this season (5 appearances, 3 saves, 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP). The Rockies didn’t sign Hawkins to ride the pine and they will look for Brothers to improve his season numbers (3.18 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 4.8 K/9) before getting any save opportunities.

Houston Astros – Manager Bo Porter has done a great job sticking with the closer-by-committee approach. Thus far, three different relievers have earned a save for the Astros. Anthony Bass (5.06 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 1.7 K/9) leads the field with two, while Chad Qualls (3.86 ERA, 1.93 WHIP, 9.6 K/9) and Josh Fields (3.86 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 11.6 K/9) each have one.

Milwaukee Brewers – Although manager Ron Roenicke said that Jim Henderson would have an opportunity to pitch his way back into the closer role, Henderson has pitched poorly so far (7 appearances, 5.06 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) and may be squandering that opportunity. If he doesn’t get his act together soon, Francisco Rodriguez will continue to get more comfortable closing for the Brew Crew.

New York Mets – With Bobby Parnell out for the season, veteran closer Jose Valverde was supposed to take the ninth inning in Queens and run with it. However, Valverde has been underwhelming thus far (4.26 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) and has also allowed home runs to three of his last eight batters faced. Without much reliever depth, the Mets might look to Kyle Farnsworth (1.35 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 5.4 K/9) sooner rather than later.

New York Yankees – After hitting the DL earlier in the month with a groin injury, David Robertson is nearly ready to resume closing duties for the Yanks. Though Shawn Kelley has performed admirably in the role (7 appearances, 3 saves, 2.84 ERA, 0.79 WHIP), Robertson will take the role back when he returns to the team early next week.

Oakland Athletics – It’s official, Jim Johnson has lost his job as closer for the As. With a horrendous start (7.56 ERA, 2.16 WHIP), Johnson will try to work his way back into the good graces of Athletics manager Bob Melvin. While he takes that road to redemption, Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson will share closer duties.

Toronto Blue JaysCasey Janssen has begun his rehab in Florida after suffering from a back strain at the end of Spring Training. If all goes well, Janssen will return to the Jays this weekend and take back his closer job from Sergio Santos (4 saves, 3.38 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 18.6 K/9).

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: For You with Quick Trigger Fingers

This one is for you, everyone who's been just itching to send out a flurry of trade offers. Whether your team seems to be sinking fast or rising high (or doing something else cliché) you're wanting to get in there and make a deal. Okay--go for it.

A recent trend in fantasy trade advice is to buy high at this point in the season, and it's a sensible trend: buy high on a hot-starting player whose owner doesn't believe in him. The player keeps producing (even if not at the sky-high levels of the first week) and things work out for you and bad for your opponent. Everyone's happy. Well, you are.

But there are tons of players off to good starts--who to choose? Below are some players that I think can find the sweet spot between season-long production and low expectations from current owners.

Trade For

Melky Cabrera got written off as a PED product by most...but what if he's not? What if he can hit? If his current owner grabbed him as a late-round flier this could be a great buy-high opportunity. Of course, if the owner's been a true Melkman believer for years, it'll be a different story.

Adam LaRoche made his owners and the Nationals suffer through a horrific 2013. Well, a bad one, anyway. It's not like he went all Chone Figgins on us or anything. Regardless, he's hitting the ball now and has spent enough time as a good hitter to suggest it could continue. His owner probably drafted him without much in the way of expectations.

Aramis Ramirez is old and injury-prone...but he's hitting, and he's always hit. I believe in him more than most of his owners, and you should too.

Anthony Rendon sort of made us forget about him as a prospect last year, but he's starting to make up for it. It's not proof that he's ready to break out as an awesome 2B/3B option...but it's certainly not evidence against it.

Christian Yelich is another young guy off to a good start. That's a great sort of player to target at this stage, because you're taking the chance that they could be for real and making a stride that established players don't make. Wait too long, and the price goes way, way up.

Andrew Cashner is striking people out! That's all we had left to ask for. Snap him up.

Stephen Strasburg is also striking people out, despite being in the middle of getting clobbered by the powerhouse Marlins as I write this. His ERA ought to be nice and inflated, which is always good in trade negotiations with worried owners.

CC Sabathia is another guy with good strikeout numbers and an ugly ERA. It's better than the other way around, and it might mean good things for him as the year progresses. Take a chance, especially since his rate stats should have him priced to move.

Trade Away

Chase Utley is a guy I like, but his injury history sort of looms over everything. He's raking now, like crazy, so his trade value should be pretty high. Consider moving him if you have MI depth.

Charlie Blackmon is going nuts with batting average and high altitude. I don't buy it. He probably won't anchor a trade offer, but he's a good player to include to ostensibly sweeten a deal.

Adam Eaton is hitting but not giving us what he was really supposed to: steals. I don't want a speed guy who doesn't steal bases, so I'd deal him while everything else looks good in case there's a reason he isn't running.

Scott Kazmir is absolutely dealing so far. I'm a believer, but he can't keep it up. (No one can.) Because of his crazy story and former glory, he's the sort of guy that could fetch more in a trade than his draft slot would suggest.

Chris Tillman is putting up great rate stats...which probably won't last too long in the AL East. Another guy that makes a good deal "sweetener."

Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse are powering the Brew Crew to greatness and maybe they'll continue to do so, despite swapping strikeout rates. Actually, it is the whiffs that make me want to deal them. RotoGraphs gave us great evidence about why Gallardo's strikeout rate is staying down, and Lohse, well, Lohse probably hasn't magically turned into Nolan Ryan.

Pick Up

Jose Quintana (45% owned) is looking like a must-own. He was worthy last year....

Justin Morneau (44%) is hitting and plays for Colorado. What more could you possibly need?

Adam Dunn (34%) is not yet murdering batting averages. Cool. Also, his homers are still valuable. I especially love him as a head to head bench guy to play when you need the longballs and RBI.

Rajai Davis (32%) is smoking on the basepaths. Not quite Dee Buttersnaps Gordon-style, but good. Another tactical option for head-to-head benches.

Mike Moustakas (27%) is bad. But it's time to bench him, not give up entirely. That can wait another week or two. Also worth a chance if you were one of the many owners to lose their good 3B this week.

Devin Mesoraco (25%) is killing the ball like a non-catcher. Your team should be part of this.

Chris Owings (23%) is outproducing plenty of starting shortstops.

Mike Zunino (15%) and Tyler Flowers (14%) are also hitting, but more quietly than Mescoraco. Zunino's prospect pedigree makes him especially interesting.

Jason Kubel (13%) is hitting over .380 and is only one season removed from hitting 30 homers. He deserves more owners than this. Bold prediction: he keeps producing and tops the 80% owned mark by the end of the season.

 All right, good luck out there on the trade market. Now you just have to find other owners willing to pull that trigger....


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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.





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