The Proof Is In The Peripherals: August 22-28

TPIITP is back after a week's vacation, as I was on a trip to lovely Chicago.  As you might expect, this trip involved a lot of baseball, and since this column is all about digging into the advanced metrics to find hidden gems, can I point out just how crazy underrated U.S. Cellular Field is as a ballpark?  You never hear anything particularly good about the Cell yet I had a very enjoyable time watching two games there last weekend.  Basically, U.S. Cellular's biggest crime seems to be that it shares a city with Wrigley Field, so it can't help but suffer by comparison.  Clearly, the Cell needs plants on the outfield walls in order to compete...I'd suggest a series of venus flytraps, if for no other reason than to see if a plant is really a better fielder than Dayan Viciedo.

Now that I'm back, let's dive into this week's look at the peripheral numbers...

* Till We Meet Again.  There's a lot to like about Chris Tillman, de facto ace of the "how are they doing this?!" Baltimore Orioles.  He's been one of the game's hottest pitchers in August (posting a 1.57 ERA over his last four starts) and while he hasn't quite made the step to ace like some thought he would during the offseason, he's been a thoroughly solid rotation arm.

If you're guessing this is the point of the paragraph where I do one of my patented "....so you should trade him" turns, you're right.  And I'm very predictable.  Tillman's 4.15 FIP, 4.32 xFIP, 4.39 SIERA and 6.23 K/9 are all more suited to a borderline rotation guy, not someone you necessarily want making key starts for you down the stretch in your fantasy league.  The only 5x5 category I'm confident Tillman can deliver in is wins, as the O's are beating everyone in their path right now.

Tillman is the perfect type of above-average starter that you'd ideally like to pair with another slightly above-average starter to package in a trade for an upper-tier ace, if you've got another manager in your league who's having rotation depth issues.  Find the guy in your league who, for instance, just lost Garrett Richards for the season and if he has another top-level arm, offer up Tillman and another pitcher to obtain some quality over quantity.

* Duff Light.  Speaking of pitchers on AL contenders who are outperforming their peripherals...geez, that's a long "speaking of"....here's Danny Duffy of the Royals.  Going into the season, the Royals desperately needed one of their young pitchers to step up and bolster James Shields, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie, and the Duffman thrusted in the general direction of the problem by posting a 2.53 ERA through 128 IP (20 starts out of 26 appearances).

While the southpaw has been a reliable arm for K.C., there are some warning signs.  Not only does Duffy not strike many batters out (6.89 K/9), he's also issuing a lot of free passes (3.16 BB/9) and getting bailed out by a .231 BABIP.  His 5.7% home run rate has also helped limit the damage, yet Duffy is allowing a lot of fly balls --- his 47.5% fly ball rate this season is a career high.  Playing in Kauffman Stadium helps keep those flies in the park, yet overall, the advanced metrics aren't impressed by Duffy's performance.  He has one of the largest gaps between an ERA and an xFIP (4.48) or SIERA (4.32) of any pitcher in the league, not to mention a 3.79 FIP.

Beyond the peripherals, there's also the fact that Duffy might be a candidate to run out of gas.  He underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2012 and didn't return to the majors until August of the following year.  Duffy has already thrown a career-high 128 innings this season and, with the Royals in a pennant race, it's unlikely they're going to shut him down unless he's actually suffering from arm trouble.  Since Duffy hasn't gone longer than seven innings all year, it could be that Kansas City has intentionally been limiting his starts in order to keep him fresh, though I'd still be wary that Duffy could start to struggle with the more mileage he puts on his left arm.  Basically, if you have Duffy and Tillman in your rotation, package them up and see if you can trade for an ace!

* OshJosh B'GoshJosh Harrison has been a terrific Swiss Army knife of a player for both the Pirates and for fantasy owners in 2014.  The utilityman qualifies at 2B, 3B, SS and the outfield in most leagues, making him a one-man bench for owners looking to sit a regular starter in a tough matchup.  Not that Harrison hasn't been worthy of starting assignments himself --- his .359 wOBA ranks him 30th in all of baseball and he's hit a cool .304/.341/.484 with 10 homers, 38 RBI, 58 runs and 17 steals over 404 PA.  This was even enough for Harrison to earn a spot on the NL All-Star team.

Harrison has basically been an everyday player for Pittsburgh already as Clint Hurdle has sought to keep his bat in the lineup, but Harrison looks to be the Bucs' answer at third base for the rest of the season given Pedro Alvarez's defensive struggles.  The question is, should you also be sticking with Harrison down the stretch as you head toward your fantasy playoffs?

My answer is yes, as you might've guessed from my praise of Harrison over the previous two paragraphs.  What, you thought I was going to make a predictable turn again?  Pfft, NO.  Harrison's versatility and season-long production makes him a solid member of any fantasy lineup, though I do have a couple of caveats.  Since this is Harrison's big breakout year, it wouldn't be a total surprise if he suddenly came back to earth --- for instance, if his .338 BABIP dipped down towards the league average.  That BABIP might also explain why Harrison's contact rates are actually all career lows, though they're not too far out of whack with his career averages.

I wouldn't hit the decline button if someone offered me a more established star in exchange for Harrison, yet I also wouldn't be going out of my way to trade a player who has more than surpassed expectations this season.  The BABIP is a bit of a concern, but since Harrison is one of the quicker players in the game, that number could be a product of his ability to beat out ground balls.  Four positions, helps in all 5x5 categories...is there anything this guy can't do?  Can he help me with my taxes?




Closer Updates: Cards, Mets, Nats, Pirates, Reds, Tigers

As the fantasy baseball playoffs inch closer and closer, you’re likely looking for any advantage which might push you over the hump. Of course, scouring through all the box scores to find that perfect candidate can be a bit daunting. Fortunately, we’ll be exploring a few potential saves candidates and looking further in-depth into a few bullpen situations. With a little luck, we will help bring a title to your squad this season.

Cincinnati Reds – As the Redlegs make a playoff push (2nd in the NL Central), look for them to potentially rest Aroldis Chapman (26 saves, 2.82 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 17.4 K/9). Right now, he’s day-to-day with an “achy” shoulder. There’s no long term cause for concern, but Jonathan Broxton possesses a solid stat line (6 saves, 1.43 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) and might be a good candidate for stealing some saves if manager Bryan Price wants to rest Chapman’s arm until it comes back to full strength.

Detroit Tigers – Inexplicably, Joe Nathan is still the closer in Motown. After a horrendous season (26 saves, 5.28 ERA, 1.61 WHIP), he always perform just well enough to keep the job. Over the past month, there were glimpses of the old Nathan and it seemed he was getting his act together. Before long, he began struggling mightily, again, over the past week especially (2 saves, 6.00 ERA, 2.33 WHIP). Go pick up Joba Chamberlain (2 saves, 3.26 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) if you’re looking for some strong value late, even though it doesn’t quite seem that manager Brad Ausmus is ready to give up on Nathan just yet.

New York Mets – If you’re scrounging for saves, another speculative pickup is Jeurys Familia. With Jenrry Mejia far from a sure thing (18 saves, 4.04 ERA, 1.53 WHIP), it’s very possible that Familia sneaks into the job before season’s end. He’s been spectacular all season (3 saves, 2.02 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) and could become a solid asset for the Mets if he can prove a decent fit for the ninth inning.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Former Brewers and Indians closer John Axford (10 saves, 3.69 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in 2014) was picked up off waivers by the Buccos, becoming another one of their midseason bullpen projects (see Ernesto Frieri). Although he has not been as dominant as his 2011 campaign, Pittsburgh is hoping there may still be some tread on those tires. Even if there is, he not coming close to Mark Melancon (22 saves, 2.28 ERA, 0.94 WHIP) and Tony Watson (1.84 ERA, 1.04 WHIP).

San Francisco Giants – Earlier this week, Sergio Romo (23 saves, 4.24 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) earned a save by relieving Santiago Casilla (10 saves, 1.62 ERA, 0.90 WHIP). Does this mean that Romo has the job back? Not quite… Casilla is still the guy to own after manager Bruce Bochy reinforced that Romo only had the ninth for that particular evening.

St. Louis Cardinals – Another prospective pickup for saves is Pat Neshek, who has had an excellent season for the Cards (0.84 ERA, 0.58 WHIP). Trevor Rosenthal has struggled over the past two weeks (2 saves, 7.94 ERA, 2.47 WHIP) and St. Louis is the middle of a playoff push. If Rosenthal continues to allow runs, or needs some rest in anticipation of the postseason, Neshek could easily step in and convert the save. He’s already done it four times this season.

Washington Nationals – Although he had a stellar start to the season, Rafael Soriano has performed poorly in the past week and allowed runs in two straight appearances. It might just be a blip considering he converted a save on Wednesday night, but keep an eye on Tyler Clippard (1.64 ERA, 1.02 WHIP) and Drew Storen (1.56 ERA, 1.07 WHIP). Conventional wisdom says that Clippard would be first in line, but it’s been clear in the past that the Nats prefer to leave him in a setup role, even when the closer is struggling. My money is on Storen.

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: Super Pitching Edition

If it feels like it’s been a long time since Stock Watch was back to normal…well, that’s because it was. Well, the normal format is back. Sort of. No more trading advice, since that time has passed. There are still plenty of opportunities on the waiver wire, though, and when we hit the September roster expansion there will be plenty more. Too bad our fantasy rosters don’t expand too…. 

Also, it’s been so long since I did this that I ended up writing over a thousand words just on the pitchers. So…yeah. Super pitching edition! We’ll be back with hitters next week…. 

Shallow Leagues (30-50% Owned in Yahoo! Leagues)     

I think there’s a misconception out there that shallow leagues are easy to win, something for novices. But that's not completely true, because there’s so little room for error. You take a chance on a guy with upside and you don’t have any choice but to throw him right into your lineup. What’s that mean for you now? Well, it means I’ll try to find only good players to throw in this category.

Mike Fiers (49%) has, um, caught fire. His ownership has skyrocketed too, but you can consider this a green light to take the chance on a player who’s torched the competition before (and burned his owners before too). 

Chris Young (46%) is not real. I mean that literally. He is a FIP-ignoring, strike-throwing, ratio-lowering robot. That’s not as good an explanation as what you can probably find on Fangraphs, but at least we both understand it. Anyway, he’s done it this long, has a favorable park and his team is winning games. Go for it. (But spoiler alert: the Mariners’ September schedule doesn’t look too good.)

Marcus Stroman (45%) might have gotten dropped after his last start (less than an inning of work). This bad one was his second bad start in his last three, but the rest of his work has been stellar. I can understand being worried that the rookie is gassed, but if you need some upside, here’s your play.

Kyle Hendricks (42%)is getting outstanding results (he hasn’t allowed more than one run in a game since his debut). More good news is that he allowed more than half of his season’s walk total in his first two starts, so his control has largely been better than his final line indicates. Hendricks is not missing bats, though, and that worries me. This is an upside-play, to be sure, but I don’t think the performance is real.

James Paxton (41%) is back from injury. He was straight-up dominant at the beginning of the year and was the sort of prospect that performance isn’t shocking from. Snatch him back up.

I promised myself (and my wife) that I wouldn’t talk up Brandon McCarthy (41%) ever again. It seems like every time I do, he becomes horrible almost instantly. But he has been flat-out dominant since going to the Yankees. His AL ERA is 2.03 and he’s got season-long strikeout-to-walk ratio over 5.00. Seriously.

Danny Salazar (39%) is a high-risk/high-reward type at this point, but there must be teams out there that could benefit from taking a chance on him now that the pre-season hype has worn off. 

Collin McHugh (39%) appears to be better than he’s getting credit for. With over a strikeout per inning and a team that’s not as bad as everyone still thinks, there’s something here. His games logs don’t show any sign that the magic fairy dust is wearing off, and sometimes it never does.This is one guy I expect to draft next year.

Jesse Hahn (32%) isn’t really on this list for shallow leaguers, as he just got sent down to the minors. But rumor has it that he’s coming back for September when rosters expand. He’s been lights-out, so anyone with room on their roster still should consider stashing him. 

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

Matt Shoemaker (28%) has pitched pretty well, plays for a first-place team and (spoiler alert) the Angels have a great pitching schedule in September, with nearly every game in favorable parks. This guy could quietly have a big last month for fantasy owners. 

Vance Worley (23%) might be falling apart as I type, as he’s had two bad starts in a row. Still, the Pirates need any pitching they can get and Worley has one great attribute: impeccable control. The pitcher hasn’t allowed more than two walks in any start this year. That’s a chance worth taking in plenty of leagues. 

Nathan Eovaldi (23%) is another super-control guy: he’s allowed more than two walks in a game just twice all season—and he’s been pitching since April 1. He’s also three good starts removed from a late-July rough patch. 

Deep Leagues (10-20% Owned) 

Jeremy Hellickson (18%) has largely pitched well since his return from the DL. What else is there to say? 

Chase Anderson (15%) has been quietly delivering OK pitching for most of the year. I wasn’t excited and I wasn’t going to list him—then I remembered that in deep leagues sometimes a nice dose of just OK is exactly what you need. So, if you do, here he is.

Trevor Bauer (15%) just got lit up, and he’s hardly been consistent this year, but he’s shown flashes of his prospect status more than once. He’s certainly a more exciting option than most of the players this deep into Stock Watch.

Roberto Hernandez (15%) should enjoy pitching for the Dodgers down the stretch. A decent pitcher on a good team is about the best bet you can make if you’re in need of wins help. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug one of my few fellow Oregonians in baseball: Jimmy Nelson (14%). Also, he’s shown good control, and his overall numbers are bloated by a single bad start in July. He’s looking like a useful back-end rotation piece, and he pitches for a good-hitting team. 

Hector Santiago (12%) should, like his teammate Shoemaker (above) enjoy a pitching-friendly schedule for the Angels in September. Plus, he still misses bats and the Halos score a ton of runs. Beware of the walks, though.

Super-Deep Bonus (Less than 10% Owned) 

Roenis Elias and Tsuyoshi Wada (both 8%) have pitched very well over the last month and (obviously) aren’t on many radars.

You should never take me at face value when I talk about Chris Capuano (3%). For some reason, I’ve always rooted for him, and always expect him to be awesome. So I’ll just present the facts: he has struck out lots of batters and allowed too many runs since joining the Yankees. He is also available in your league. Don’t get too excited, but don’t mind me while I look at that cherry-picked strikeout-to-walk ratio since the beginning of August: 28:3.




September Schedules Part 2: NL East, AL Central, NL Central

Last Friday we kicked off our September Schedules preview with an introduction of purpose and methodology, then evaluated the upside-down AL East. If you missed it check it out. All I’ll recap here is that I’m using Fangraphs WAR to grade team pitching and wOBA for hitting, and ESPN’s 2014 Park Factors. If I make recommendations based on other stats, factors, or extenuating circumstances, I’ll let you know.

Today we'll hit the NL East, the AL Central, and get halfway done with the NL Central. Next week, we'll finish it all off. This is a long one, so watch for the page break.

Atlanta Braves
Home: 13 (0.947—19th—pitching favorable) | Road: 12
Opponents: Phillies (6), Nationals (6), Pirates (4), Mets (3), Marlins (3), Rangers, (3)

Most of the Braves’ road games are in parks that have favored hitters this year—Texas and Washington, and, surprisingly enough, Pittsburgh and Miami. However, all those games are in the first half of the month: after the 15th every game will be in Atlanta or Philadelphia, which have both played pitcher-friendly. So if you can grab Atlanta pitchers off the wire in the second half of September, go for it. It helps that the Braves get nine games against two of the three worst offenses in baseball (Phillies and Mets), and six more against the below-average Rangers and Marlins. I like Braves pitchers in September.

The hitters won’t enjoy the park effects, so consider dropping fringy Atlanta guys for the second half of September. Plus, they get six games against Washington, the best pitching staff in baseball by WAR so far. Braves hitters do get to beat up on the Mets and Phillies, who are bad on both sides of the ball, and the Pirates, who are the worst pitchers in the game. So, there are pluses and minuses for the hitters.

Final Grade: Good news for Braves pitchers, with great matchups loaded into the second half of the month. Pick them up! Hitters get easy opponents but tough parks—it probably evens out.

Miami Marlins
Home: 13 (1.032—11th—moderately favorable for hitters)| Road: 14
Opponents: Nationals (8), Mets (6), Phillies (6), Brewers (4), Braves (3) 

The Marlins’ road games are a mix that looks like it should help pitchers a little, doing a bit to neutralize Miami’s hitter-friendly home park factor. Only their last four games of the season at Washington are in hitter-friendly road parks…but the Nationals’ league-leading pitching staff should more than balance that out. The good news for Miami hitters is that only the Nationals and Braves offer not-terrible pitching opponents. With so many games against the Mets, Phillies, and Brewers, Marlins hitters get a




RotoAuthority League Update: Deadline Deals

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 trade deadline passed yesterday in the RotoAuthority League. Let's take a look at the deals that went down in the week leading up to the deadline.

08/10 - Men With Wood agrees to trade Chris Carter and J.P. Arencibia to A Century of Misery for Salvador Perez

Sitting in second place, Men With Wood is naturally looking to do anything possible to pass up current leader E-Z Sliders and take home the title. The long-time league participant has had a dominant offense all season; in fact, this squad leads the league in HR, SB, and runs while sitting in second in RBI. The one weakness offensively for this club is the AVG category. With this deal, though, Men With Wood addressed that need in more ways than one. Not only is Perez a skilled batsman and a reliable contributor in AVG relative to other catchers, but removing Carter and Arencibia from the roster should also benefit this owner in the category.

For me, this was purely a speculative deal for upside. I'm taking a chance that the recent hot streak by Carter is mostly for real. On a recent episode of the BaseballHQ podcast, Cory Schwartz of MLB.com suggested that Carter has made legitimate changes in his approach and may no longer be a killer in the AVG column. Given that I currently reside in the middle of the standings, I'm looking to swing for the fences with a (very) slim chance at third place.

08/16 - Brewsterville Bruins agree to trade Doug Fister, Denard Span, and Danny Santana to Guitar Masahiro for Clayton Kershaw, Charlie Blackmon, and Yangervis Solarte

This one certainly caught my eye. At first glance, it sure seems like the Bruins acquired Kershaw at a discount. Blackmon has really slowed down since May, and Solarte was released immediately after the deal was processed. Accordingly, this trade really boils down to a consolidation move for Kershaw. Guitar Masahiro does get a highly underrated arm in return in Fister as well as some speed from both Span and Santana. Even so, I'm surprised this is the best return Guitar Masahiro for the incomparable Kershaw. One can make the case the Dodgers ace should go second overall in drafts next spring.

08/16 - A Century of Misery agrees to trade Johnny Cueto and Chase Utley to Guitar Masahiro for David Ortiz and Hunter Pence

With six weeks to play, it's all about gaining points in the standings when it comes to assessing deals. I sure have enjoyed owning Cueto this season, but I'm willing to cash in my chips at this point. As I analyzed the standings, it became clear that there was a greater opportunity to gain points in the offensive categories compared to the pitching ones. Along those same lines, I tend to devalue AVG as the end of the season draws near with a smaller sample size of at-bats, so I was more willing to deal Utley than I would have been at the outset of the season. In return, Ortiz remains a highly skilled bat and a personal favorite of mine while Pence is having yet another quietly productive campaign while contributing a little bit all over the place.




September Schedules Part 1: AL East

Mark has the day off today, and I can’t do what he does…so I’ll just get a head start on what I do. September is approaching faster than it looks. Seriously, I was walking on brown leaves all the way to the coffee shop where I’m writing this, and that means it’s time to start planning for the Most Important Month of the Year.*

*Tied with all the others in roto-style fantasy leagues and in real baseball, technically.

Your roto league has split into the haves and the have-nots and you’ve just got to keep it together for one more month if you’re on top (like I am), or make one last push for semi-respectability (also like me).  Of course, you might be playing in a head-to-head league, in which case we’re rolling into the playoffs and forgetting all that went on before for a last-month roll of the dice 

It’s time to load those dice in your favor.

The league I’ve played in longest is a highly non-standard head-to-head, multiple-opponents, points-counting, weekly-changes, one-free-agent-per-week type of league. It’s intense and it involves a lot of planning ahead. For years, it seemed like my uncle was killing us all with good luck in September, and then we figured out his trick: he was loading up on pitchers with extra two-start weeks in September by trading for them and picking them up off the waiver wire weeks in advance. Well played, Uncle Steve.

Of course, now that everyone has the Internet (seriously, the league is that old), that trick is a little harder to pull. But you know what? It’s still worth doing and now is the time to get started. Since most of us aren’t in weekly-change points leagues, two-start pitchers aren’t quite our targets. Who can we target instead for 5x5 purposes (or points purposes, those will work too)? Players with favorable schedules.

Over the next few articles on RotoAuthority Unscripted, we’ll be, well, working with a script. Team-by-team, we’ll see who has favorable schedules throughout September, for hitters and for pitchers, looking into opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as home and away park factors. Over the course of the whole season these issues don’t matter all that much, and when they do matter, they’re factored into draft slot or auction value. But over the course of a single month, things can be very skewed. This is your shot to skew them in your favor. 

To keep my evaluations more uniform and less subjective, I’ll be using Fangraphs WAR to grade team pitching and wOBA for hitting, and ESPN’s 2014 Park Factors. If I make a suggestion based on something else—like the fact that a team has changed their players significantly during the season, a la the Oakland pitching staff--I’ll let you know where I’m coming from. 

So that’s more than enough introduction for one article…which is why I’ll be trying to post this in relatively bite-sized chunks. But here’s the first installment anyway. And don’t forget: these figures are all for the month of September—you’re on your own for the last two weeks of August.

Let’s get rolling with the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles
Home: 14 (0.863 park factor—30th—very pitching favorable) | Road: 13
Opponents: Yankees (8), Blue Jays (6), Red Sox (6), Reds (3), Rays (3), Twins (1) 

First of all, I wouldn’t get too excited over the fact that Camden Yards has been the most pitcher-friendly in baseball this year, as it played as a hitters’ haven in ’13, ’12, an ’10, and neutral in ’11. They also get four games at Yankee Stadium, which has played as the second-best pitchers’ park this year—but again, I suspect that to be a bit of an outlier. With other away games in Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Boston, the park factors combine to be pretty neutral.

The O’s have six games against the heavy-hitting (third in baseball) Blue Jays and the rest are from mid-pack teams when it comes to hitting. If you believe the park factors for Baltimore and New York are sustainable, then you might want to target Orioles pitchers.

At bat, the O’s play three of the top pitching clubs in baseball: the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays...but all three of those teams have lost significant pitchers to trades and injuries. Unfortunately, their hitters don’t get to exploit any true bottom feeders either.

Final Grade: Neutral for hitters and pitchers

Boston Red Sox
Home: 12 (1.034 park factor—10th—hitting favorable) | Road: 14
Opponents: Yankees (6), Orioles (6), Rays (4), Royals (4), Blue Jays (3), Pirates (3)

A lot depends on if you really believe that the Orioles and Yankees parks really deserve their slots as the best pitchers’ parks in baseball. If you do, that will partially even things out…but if you don’t, this could be a pretty hitter-friendly schedule as far as the parks go. I’d play it safe and not get too excited about the Sox’s waiver wire pitchers—especially since nearly half of Boston’s games (12) come against top-six offences (Baltimore, Toronto, and Pittsburgh). Yeah, I’d avoid Boston pitchers next month.

Hitters should have a medium-favorable schedule on the parks (again, unless you really buy the Yanks and O’s as the two hardest parks to hit in—which would make it closer to neutral). Sox hitters will face plenty of bottom-half opponents, but only the Pirates have truly weak pitching. 

Final Grade: Boston hitters should have a good month, but stay away from their pitchers.

New York Yankees
Home: 17 (0.877—29th—very pitching favorable) | Road: 10
Opponents: Orioles (8), Red Sox (6), Rays (6), Blue Jays (4), Royals (3)

With all those Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards games—a huge majority—the entire park factor grade comes down to what you think of those teams’ yearly park factors. It’s worth keeping in mind that New York has played neutral once in the last four years and as a hitters’ park in the other three. So no, I do not think those factors are sustainable. But that's how the parks have played so far and you can't just write it off either. I wouldn’t bet heavily either way on Yankees players based on park factors. 

Their opponents, however, are a different story. The Orioles, Blue Jays, and Rays can all hit; while the Red Sox and Royals aren’t intimidating, that’s not enough for me to recommend Yankee pitchers.

The hitters will get to face weaker Baltimore and Toronto pitchers—as well as the depleted Boston and Rays staffs, leaving the Royals as the top pitching opponents. (Though the Rays might still be better even without David Price). I’d still go ahead and snag Yankee hitters off the waiver wire or put them in your lineup.

Final Grade: Yankee hitters are neutral to favorable, but their pitchers look risky.

Tampa Bay Rays
Home: 13 (1.049—7th—hitting favorable) | Road: 12
Opponents: Yankees (6), Blue Jays (6), Red Sox (4), Indians (3), Orioles (3), White Sox (3)

Most of Tampa Bay’s games are in hitters’ parks this year, at home and in Toronto, Boston, and Chicago. For pitchers, that’s exacerbated by the fact that most of their opponents are decent or better at the plate: only the Red Sox are below average. Of course, Tampa Bay has pretty good pitchers, but this will cut into their numbers.

Hitters get better news though: the Orioles, White Sox, and Blue Jays are bottom-third pitching staffs, while the Yankees and Red Sox are (as mentioned above) pretty significantly depleted. I’d feel comfortable picking up Rays hitters that are on the fringe.

Final Grade: Rays pitchers are good enough not to avoid, but their schedule won’t do them any favors. Rays hitters make good waiver wire targets and should be picked up.

Toronto Blue Jays
Home: 13 (1.092—5th—very hitting favorable) | Road: 13
Opponents: Orioles (6), Rays (6), Yankees (4), Mariners (4), Red Sox (3), Cubs (3)

Toronto’s home games aren’t quite balanced out by playing in pitchers’ parks on the road, but Seattle, Chicago, and whatever is happening in Baltimore and New York could take some of the shine off Blue Jay hitters and save their pitchers from a couple beatings. Actually, the Orioles are the only top-third offense that Toronto hurlers have to face, giving their pitchers a pretty neutral schedule altogether. 

The Blue Jays hitters should be a little better off: their opponents look mostly mid-pack in pitching quality, but remember the pitchers dealt away by (or injured on) the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and Cubs. These aren’t the pitching staffs who put up those numbers. And the Orioles are still pretty marginal. Sit your hitters for those four games in Seattle, though. 

Final Grade: Toronto looks pretty neutral on both sides of the ball: maybe a little unfavorable for their pitchers, but a little helpful for their hitters.




Closer Updates: Bucs, Cards, Cubs, Mets, Tigers, White Sox

After all the hoopla from the trade deadline settled down, it has become fairly humdrum on the closer circuit again. Besides a few injury developments and a couple of updates, this week has been a little light. However, there should be more than one helpful nugget in this week' article.

Chicago Cubs – After a stint on the disabled list, Neil Ramirez (6.75 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 13.5 K/9) was recently activated. Before stumbling and falling to injury, Ramirez was a solid set-up man in Wrigleyville. Although he will not become the handcuff for Hector Rondon (15 saves, 3.38 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) immediately, he’ll have a chance to move into higher pressure situations. Kyuji Fujikawa (2.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP) is another reliever who has returned after a long DL stint, but consider him behind Pedro Strop (2.62 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) in the pecking order.

Chicago White SoxMatt Lindstrom (6 saves, 3.32 ERA, 1.47 WHIP) was activated from the disabled list earlier this week and manager Robin Ventura stated that he will be used in high-leverage situations moving forward. If Lindstrom proves that he’s dependable, he should move past Zach Putnam (3 saves, 2.21 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) and snag the job from Jake Petricka (8 saves, 2.30 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) – who will remain the closer for now…

Detroit Tigers – Over the past seven days, the Tigers bullpen took another blow when recently-acquired Joakim Soria (10.38 ERA and 2.77 WHIP in Detroit) hit the disabled list with a left oblique strain. Consequently, Joe Nathan (5 saves, 3.86 ERA, 1.71 WHIP in the last 30 days) has a firmer grip on the closer job and Joba Chamberlain (3.26 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) has moved up the list as the primary set-up guy.

New York Mets – After fighting through two injuries (a sore calf and a hernia), Jenrry Mejia (17 saves, 3.89 ERA, 1.55 WHIP) was given the day off earlier this week after blowing a save over the weekend. If Mejia pitches ineffectively over the next week or so, Jeurys Familia (3 saves, 1.97 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) should be next in line. In fact, Familia scavenged a save earlier in the week and could be a strong speculative pick moving forward.

Pittsburgh Pirates – After trading for Ernesto Frieri, the experiment has run its course (10.13 ERA and 1.78 WHIP in Pittsburgh). Last week, Frieri was designated for assignment and might be a long way from closing in the future. For now, Mark Melancon (22 saves, 2.15 ERA, 0.89 WHIP) and Tony Watson (1.43 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) are still the one-two punch in Pittsburgh.

St. Louis Cardinals – Former closer Jason Motte (4.91 ERA, 1.50 WHIP this season) was placed on the DL in the past week with a lower back injury. Although it will not impact Trevor Rosenthal’s job, it firmly placed Pat Neshek in the #2 spot. If Rosenthal (35 saves, 3.13 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) gets heavy usage while the Cards make a playoff push, Neshek (3 saves, 0.73 ERA, 0.57 WHIP) could provide on occasional save for those managers who are desperate enough.

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: Fantasy Trading Deadline Part 3—Pitchers

There are only a couple days to go before most of us blast by the August Fantasy Trading Deadline, largely cementing the key players on our teams. It’s the last chance to make a big change, so get your offers in quickly and send a decent offer first. Naturally, our third installment of this series is the last, as it won’t be terribly helpful next week. You can find part one here, about some risk/reward management for trades, and part two here, dedicated to hitters to target and broken down by category. 

So click on those links and read those pieces if you’ve got time. But if you need to make a big splash in the pitching categories, you don’t have much time. So get your league pages up and ready to offer trades as you read. Or, better yet, if you’re lucky enough to play in a league where people still call each other to talk trades, start looking for phone numbers you never use anymore and get ready to wheel and deal like Billy Beane.

Today we’re going to look at the four starting pitcher categories, since RotoAuthority has an entire column dedicated to closers that pretty much tells you what you need to know every week. All I’ll add about saves is this: if you need ‘em, now is the time to suck it up and pay the market price. Saves tends to be a volatile category, and if the likes of Jake Petricka and Jenrry Mejia can actually move you up a few places in the standings, don’t be afraid to roll the dice and trade someone good to get them. (See part one of this series.)

What we aren’t going to do this week is the obvious: if you truly need pitching it’s easy enough to target a four-category monster like Clayton Kershaw or David Price, or even a three-category lock like Chris Sale or Felix Hernandez. So yes, if you need help in all four starter categories, by all means, trade for a stud pitcher if you somehow can. (Look for someone who’s too close to their innings cap!) But that advice is as easy to give as it is difficult to make happen in a real league. So this column will focus more on those less-than-perfect pitchers who might only be a true asset in the category you’re trading to get.

Strikeouts

This is probably the easiest category to go out and trade for. You need some quantity, but you only have so many roster slots and so many more innings before you reach your cap. Fortunately, you probably have more innings left than most people if you are behind in strikeouts. Unfortunately, this is such a high-total category that it can be tough to claw your way up it. We’ll try.

Looking by K/9, the top four pitchers are true superstars. Assuming you don’t have the hitters to offer in trade for Yu Darvish and Stephen Strasburg, have you thought of Jake Odorizzi? The Rays’ hurler has a 10.20 K/9, a hair better than Max Scherzer’s mark. Corey Kluber (9.80) won’t come cheap anymore, but he’ll still probably cost less than most of the names around his spot on the list. Padre pitchers are like fantasy gold: Ian Kennedy (9.53) and Tyson Ross (8.96) will help with more than just the strikeouts. Garrett Richards (8,85) could still be a relative bargain. Some more pitchers who’ve shown flaws but still managed to whiff 8.00 batters per nine or more include: Zack Wheeler, Jesse Chavez, Wade Miley, Tim Lincecum, Lance Lynn, Roenis Elias, Drew Hutchison, Chris Archer, Jason Hammel, and C.J. Wilson

If you’re more of a “What have you done for me lately?” sort of person, these guys have been getting the whiffs in the last thirty days: Alex Wood (37 strikeouts), Julio Teheran (36, and with a bad ERA on the month, so his owner might want to deal him), Drew Smyly (34), Alex Cobb (34), Francisco Liriano (33), Brandon McCarthy (33—but buyer beware, I’ve advised him before and it hasn’t gone well), Ervin Santana (32), R.A. Dickey (31), Bud Norris (29), Gio Gonzalez (29), Mike Leake (29), Chris Tillman (28), Jake Arrieta (28). Even Bartolo Colon has been in on the strikeout action in the last month, with 28 in 32.2 IP. Waiver Wire Options abound in strikeouts if you can afford to take hits in ERA and/or WHIP. Fortunately, many such options also help out in wins, balancing things a bit. 

ERA

Looking at some of those names on the strikeout lists, I’m reminded that sometimes the best thing you can do for your ERA is a little addition by subtraction. If you can afford the strikeouts or wins, consider trading or dropping your least good pitchers and replacing them with high-quality relievers—or not at all. This is especially important when you might be running into your innings cap faster than most of your leaguemates.

But most of us probably want to do some addition by addition, so here are some of the better choices to target: Phil Hughes (2.64 FIP, 3.88 ERA), Jordan Zimmermann (2.68 FIP, 3.06 ERA), Hyun-jin Ryu (2.79 FIP, 3.21 ERA), Jose Quintana (2.92 FIP, 3.04 ERA), Kennedy (3.10 FIP, 3.51 ERA), Lynn (3.15 FIP, 2.97 ERA), Archer (3.18 FIP, 3.33 ERA), Hisashi Iwakuma (3.18 FIP, 2.86 ERA), and Dallas Keuchel (3.28 FIP, 3.07 ERA). This list was compiled by looking at  the best FIP's in baseball, but now here are some buyer-beware candidates whose ERA’s are beating their FIP’s: Henderson Alvarez (3.38 FIP, 2.34 ERA), Tanner Roark (3.37 FIP, 2.86 ERA), Sonny Gray (3.35 FIP, 2.86 ERA), Jeff Samardzija (3.37 FIP, 2.91 ERA), and Tim Hudson (3.44 FIP, 2.81 ERA).           

WHIP

The good news is that you usually get a good WHIP with your ERA. The bad news is that it can be hard to get one without paying the price for two when you only need to (or only can) make up ground in one category or the other. Still, here are some guys to look for when trying to help out your WHIP: Iwakuma (0.97), Roark (1.09), Chris Young (1.12), Matt Garza (1.13), Hudson (1.14), Rick Porcello (1.14), Alfredo Simon (1.16), Kyle Lohse (1.16), Colon (1.16), Jared Weaver (1.19), Jason Hammel (1.19), and Nathan Eovaldi (1.20). 

You can also target pretty much anyone with a low walk rate and hope for the best when it comes to hits over the rest of the season: Hughes (2.4 BB%), Hudson (3.9%), McCarthy (4.2%), Alvarez (4.8%), James Shields (4.9%), Dan Haren (4.9%), Hiroki Kuroda (5%), Jason Vargas (5.2%), John Lackey (5.4%), and Leake (5.5%).  

Wins

Wins are a tough one, because what you really need here is quantity, and you’re only going to manage that if you’ve got room left in your innings cap. For this one, I’d suggest looking for top teams and targeting any pitchers you can find on them. The Dodgers’ Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez comes to mind, as do his teammates Haren and (better yet) Ryu. Porcello, Doug Fister, Gonzalez, Lohse, Wily Peralta, Yovani Gallardo, Wilson, Scott Kazmir, Hammel, Liriano, Justin Masterson, Lackey, Lynn, Chris Tillman, and Marcus Stroman, are all targets too. Why? Because they play on good-to-great teams that win by scoring some runs and should be fighting (or cruising) through the rest of the season.

Waiver Wire Options: pretty much anyone unowned who pitchers for a team in the pennant race. This is also a category in which some targeted free agent moves can come in handy, either as options to keep or streamers to cycle through. Check out my upcoming series on September schedules, and tune in to Stock Watch next week, when all our coverage will be devoted to the waiver wire. ‘Cause, obviously…..




RotoAuthority Unscripted: Waiver Wire Wayback

It has been a terrible week for injuries, I know. My teams are riddled with little red DL markers too: the likes of Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and Josh Beckett have all hit the shelf, among others—Beckett perhaps for good. But I’m not here to talk about their replacements--though I suppose pitching for the Dodgers can’t be a bad situation for newly-acquired Roberto Hernandez (fka Fausto Carmona, not to be confusted with the onetime Devil Rays closer from a long time ago). Anyway, I’m not, partly because you’ll be getting a pitching edition of Stock Watch tomorrow and partly because I did an injury replacement piece here last week.

But Beckett’s injury got me thinking. He was someone I advocated for pretty early on in the season, and I felt (and still feel) pretty good about that call. But I started wondering: how else did I do?

So today we’ll take a look at some of my most useful suggestions from early April…and yeah, we’ll chuckle over my other ideas too.

Most of my suggestions came from editions of Stock Watch, though there’s a particularly embarrassing entry in this column describing why you shouldn’t give up on Alejandro De Aza or Alfonso Soriano. Yeah, I hope you missed that one. If you didn’t, you’ll have to search for it, ‘cause I’m too embarrassed to link to it. Self-evidently, that one counts as a big swing-and-a-miss.

Homer Picks

We’ll start with the good, including plugging this article’s inspiration, Josh Beckett, for the first time on April 26. I went from skeptic to owner and the team I got him on is my best this year. Coincidence? Maybe. Drafting Jose Altuve doesn’t hurt….

I was a little behind on fellow Dodger Dee Gordon: he was already owned in 38% of Yahoo! leagues when I advised picking him up in the first week of April. Again, I had been a skeptic.

I feel good about advising Justin Morneau early on too, though only shallow leaguers got to enjoy the suggestion. I’d say Colorado has been good for the slugger: he’s hitting .321 with 13 home runs.

Shallow leaguers also got my advice to take Miguel Montero, which I think remains good advice.

It was a quick mention, but I can still take credit for suggesting the resurgent Phil Hughes, and you know I’ve been plugging Jose Quintana all year. I also advised a few other pitchers who hadn’t even started yet: Tim Hudson, Drew Smyly, and Rick Porcello. Hudson, in particular, would have made you happy if you’d taken him.

He’s not a superstar, but if you grabbed Marcell Ozuna off the waiver wire in the season’s first week, I bet you’re glad you did. 

It wasn’t until the second week of the season (too late for me) that I jumped on the Melky Cabrera bandwagon. But since he was still available in 68% of leagues, better late than never I guess.

The second week is also when I came around to this year’s true waiver wire superstar: Charlie Blalckmon. Like Cabrera, he was taken in 42% of leagues already, so I can’t take credit for discovering him so much as passing news of him on.

I was a little bolder with Mike Morse, who was owned in less than a quarter of leagues when I plugged him on April 9. His recent performance hasn’t been awesome, but he’s delivered plenty of value to his owners.

Jon Niese is kind of the pitching equivalent to Morse: despite the fact that things haven’t been great recently, you’ve still benefited from having him on your team for the good times.

Jake Odorizzi has had his ups and downs, but if you’ve been playing him since early April are you happy? I’m guessing you are. 

I didn’t want to write good things about Alcides Escobar after getting burned so bad in 2013, but if you picked him up when he was only 28% owned, you got a better shortstop than most of us have.

Whiff Picks

I was a big fan of Grady Sizemore’s comeback, and a hot (ish) first week convinced me there was something there worth picking up. Maybe his current stint with the Phillies will work out, but in the meantime this one is a black eye for me.

The worst part about advising Sizemore? I did it two weeks in a row. I did the same with Dustin Ackley, who’s MI eligibility will no longer be fooling me into thinking he’s a bargain.

Suggestions of Justin Smoak and Yonder Alonso would have been good to miss in the season’s first week.

I really though Dan Straily would get straightened out—and I really didn’t think the A’s would send him to the minors and then trade for three pitchers in July.

For some reason, I also thought Brandon Morrow would be relevant again. Why?

Seeing some decent control, I got pretty excited over Tyler Skaggs. It didn’t last and now the former top prospect is heading for Tommy John surgery. Classic swing-and-a-miss!

I also thought I was starting a worthwhile bandwagon for Ryan Ludwick (3% owned at the time), but he hasn’t gotten the playing time and hasn’t performed well enough to deserve it.

I think Martin Perez got injured right after I suggested picking him up. Nice.

Seriously suggesting Ike Davis and Mike Olt seems pretty silly now, but the true whiff here is that I gave Lucas Duda only passing mention after Davis went to Pittsburgh.

Also shameful: around the end of April I thought I saw the light at the end of the tunnel for for Mike Moustakas. Turns out it was nothin’ but a burglar’s torch (What? No one else listened to the rest of the songs on the “Centerfield” album?).

I seemed to think early on that Corey Hart was a good idea. Rest assured, I no longer think that.

Well, I’m pleased enough and a bit surprised that my suggestions have done as well as they have—at least that my April ideas have. Hopefully a few of these guys made it on to your team, because that injury problem I mentioned in the intro? The best time to solve it was in April when you built your team’s depth.




The Proof Is In The Peripherals: August 8-14

Big news from my own fantasy team's front this week --- I traded Mike Trout.  It was a nervy deal for obvious reasons, as while I pulled back Doug Fister, Ben Zobrist and Jayson Werth in the 3-for-1 swap, you always hate giving up the best player in fantasy (and, let's face it, real) baseball.  My rotation and middle infield needed help, however, and between this trade and my being the lucky duck to snag Javier Baez on the waiver wire, my middle infield situation went from Jed Lowrie, Enrique Hernandez and DJ LeMahieu to Lowrie, Baez and the Zobocop.  Besides, Trout was on the cover of Sports Illustrated a few months ago, so the cover curse should be kicking in any minute now.

Here are this week's players whose production doesn't quite pass the smell test in terms of their peripheral numbers...

* Fist Of Fury.  So naturally I checked out the advanced metrics on my new purchases before making my big Trout trade, and generally liked what I saw.  Zobrist is having a nice year overall and while he hasn't returned to his prime power levels, he's hitting the ball much better than last year.  Werth is doing basically what I expected of him, as his inexplicable 2013 power surge is settling back down to his usual levels but he's still producing good offensive numbers overall.

Fister was the worry, and it's a sign of how poor my staff otherwise was that I'm semi-rolling the dice on this one.  On paper, Fister has lived up to preseason expectations that he would thrive pitching in Washington, as he's delivered a 2.49 ERA and 11-3 record over his 16 starts.  Peripheral-wise, the Fist may be punching above his weight class.  His 3.73 FIP, 3.69 xFIP and 3.77 SIERA hint that his ERA could be due for a boost, he isn't recording many strikeouts (5.68 K/9) and he's being aided by a .270 BABIP and an 83.5% strand rate.

Now the strikeouts were expected, since Fister has always been a ground-ball pitcher (49.3% GBR, 48.9% this season).  What raised my eyebrows, however, was that contact rates on both pitches inside and outside the strike zone are markedly up from his rates in 2012-13.  His 33.6% fly ball rate is also well above his FBR 25.4% FBR from 2012-13 and while that 48.9% grounder rate is still very good, it's also a drop from 54.3% last season.  Nationals Park has been one of the league's tougher stadiums for home runs over the last seasons, and this might be what's helping keep Fister's fly balls from turning into big flies.

That said, it's not like he'll be going to a new home stadium anytime soon, and Marlins Park and Citi Field are also pretty forgiving stadia for a flyball-prone NL East starter.  I'm holding my breath and hoping that Fister can overcome his shaky advanced metrics, though if you don't feel like taking the plunge and trading for him, I wouldn't blame you (especially not if it's part of a package for Trout.)

* Indigestion Due To OverEaton Some good news and bad news for Adam Eaton.  The bad news is that when I run this post through the Baseball Reference player name linker, his name is still automatically linked to former Padres righty Adam Eaton, who hasn't pitched since 2009.  I propose that we refer to these players (who aren't related) using old-timey British vocabulary style in order to tell them apart, so the ex-Padre can be Adam Eaton the Elder and the White Sox outfielder can be Adam Eaton the Younger. 

Anyway, onto the good news for Eaton the Younger, as he's finally received some playing time this season to count as a qualified player.  This is no small feat given how he's been plagued by injuries both major and minor over the last two seasons; in 2014 alone he's been dealing with a bad hamstring, sore legs, a bad wrist and a jammed middle finger.  And man, maybe I shouldn't even be bothering writing this entry given that Eaton hurt his back after running into the outfield fence and missed yesterday's game because of his latest knock.  Still, this all being said, Eaton is now a qualified player, so I can officially warn you away from having him on your roster due to his massive BABIP.

That's a .367 BABIP, to be precise, tied for third-highest in the majors among (hey!) qualified players.  Eaton has quietly been one of the better hitters in baseball over the last couple of months, hitting a cool .355/.425/.477 with 27 runs scored and seven steals over 222 PA.  His power numbers are barely worth mentioning (zero homers and 17 RBI) over that stretch yet Eaton's fantasy value is derived from how he can help you in the other three of the offensive categories in 5x5 leagues.

The BABIP, however, casts a shadow over that batting average.  Eaton is also only 12-for-20 in steals all season, so what should be his calling-card statistic has been mostly held in check, likely due to his leg problems.  He might still be quick enough to beat out a few grounders and thus keep that BABIP above the average, yet some regression is inevitable, and with no power, a sure-to-drop average and only decent run and steals potential, you're suddenly looking at a player who is hurting rather than helping in the majority of your regular categories.  That's not worth a starting outfield spot unless you're really hard-up for steals or average and simply want to ride Eaton until his hot streak finally winds down.  If you know of such a hard-up owner in your league and you own Eaton, I'd try to sell high now and reap the benefits.

* If The Shoe Fits... Matt Shoemaker has already been a nice find for fantasy managers who took a chance on the 27-year-old righty, as constant injuries to the Angels' regular starting five have gotten Shoemaker a regular turn in the Los Anaheim rotation.  He's pitched well this season and if he's still available in your league, I suggest you grab him quickly since the Shoe might start Making your roster feel very....uh, footloose?  This analogy may have gotten away from me a bit.  ("No, keep going!" -- Rex Ryan)

If anything, Shoemaker could be primed for even better results in the weeks ahead.  Shoemaker's 4.02 ERA is all right, but the advanced metrics say it should be much lower given his high strikeout rate (8.55 K/9), low walk rate (1.75 BB/9), high BABIP (.321) and slightly-inflated 73% strand rate.  If the 4.02 ERA doesn't float your boat, how does a 3.24 xFIP or 3.22 SIERA sound? 

The one giant caveat for Shoemaker is that he looooooves pitching in Angel Stadium as evidenced by his 6.16 road ERA (over 30 2/3 IP) and his 2.86 home ERA (over 56 2/3 IP).  It's a red flag, true, but maybe it's just more of an orange flag given that he's pitched as home twice as much and his road ERA is inflated by one brutal eight ER/four innings outing on June 27 in Kansas City.

Am I saying it's worth picking up Shoemaker and ignoring those home/road splits?  Shoe betcha!  (I'll stop.)  He's a nice pickup if you're looking for some rotation help and while I'd keep him limited to home starts for now, one good road outing would be enough for me to slot him into my fantasy rotation.




Closer Updates: Giants, Mets, Rangers, Rays, Tigers, White Sox

After a few weeks of exploring the All-Star Game and trade market, we’re back to focusing on those usual suspects – pesky closer battles and teams utilizing the closer-by-committee approach. Of course, there is some of the same old stuff, with a few suggestions as to who might snag you a stray save in the coming weeks.

Chicago White Sox – With a ragtag group of relievers in Chicago, Jake Petricka has emerged as the short-term solution at closer (7 saves, 2.09 ERA, 1.27 WHIP). Although Nate Jones is out for the rest of the year with Tommy John surgery, Matt Lindstrom is expected to return from injury soon and could immediately challenge Petricka for the job. Javy Guerra (3.45 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) and Ronald Belisario (6.23 ERA, 1.39 WHIP) are outside threats as well.

Detroit Tigers – According to some reports, former closer (and blown save artist) Jim Johnson has just been signed by the Tigers. With the recently acquired Joakim Soria struggling (12.27 ERA and 3.27 WHIP with Detroit) and Joe Nathan (6 saves, 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in the past month) only improving slightly, Johnson is the perfect fit for this dysfunctional bullpen. The most promising solution to their ninth inning woes could be Joba Chamberlain, who has pitched better than most of the bullpen (2.93 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) and has some closing experience (7 career saves).

New York Mets – Another bullpen that has suffered its own share of growing pains this season resides in Queens. Mets’ fans must be happy that Jenrry Mejia has emerged (over Jeurys Familia, Vic Black, and Carlos Torres) as a dependable option in the ninth inning. With a 3.66 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and 16 saves, Mejia might just be able to start getting comfortable in the role.

San Francisco Giants – When Sergio Romo lost the closer’s role in Frisco, many thought that it wouldn’t be long before he took back the ninth. However, Santiago Casilla has been strong (1.23 ERA and 0.82 WHIP over the past 30 days) in Romo’s stead. With Jeremy Affeldt (1.38 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) and Jean Machi (1.68 ERA, 0.95 WHIP) both pitching very well, Romo’s return seems that much tougher.

Tampa Bay Rays – After some dispute a while back, Jake McGee has emerged as the closer in Tampa (12 saves, 1.44 ERA, 0.82 WHIP). Despite Grant Balfour and Joel Peralta in the bullpen, Brad Boxberger has been making some strides this season (1 save, 2.00 ERA, 0.82 WHIP) and turned a few heads. If the Rays fall out of playoff contention (they’re 9.5 games back from the division lead now), Boxberger might be able to snag a save opportunity or two moving forward.

Texas Rangers – With Soria in Detroit, Neftali Feliz has inherited the closing gig and pitched well in the role (3 saves, 3.18 ERA, 0.88 WHIP in the past two weeks). Shawn Tolleson (3.31 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) and Neal Cotts (3.38 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) are the current setup guys and benefit the most from the Soria trade – especially if you’re searching for holds. Each will get some save opportunities too if Feliz isn’t up for the job, with Cotts likely the first candidate.

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: Fantasy Trading Deadline Part 2—Hitters

Even as Major League trades just get more complicated, we fantasy owners are hurtling towards our more concrete trading deadlines—probably around August 17th, but check the rules for each of your leagues. Last week, we discussed players to target if you need to add upside to your squad—or if you need to eliminate risk. Today, we’ll simply take a look at some hitters who shouldn’t be impossible to wrest from the clutches of your opponents who offer help in the five standard categories.

A note for all those offering August trades: don’t waste time trying to get the perfect deal, or trying to “win” a trade. Fill in your needs for a cost you can afford. That’s it. 

Average

With a .300 average, Daniel Murphy is a pretty valuable second base option—but his speed hasn’t matched last year’s numbers and he isn’t such a superstar that he shouldn’t be available. First baseman Justin Morneau’s .307 mark is sustained by a very reasonable .317 BABIP, so he’s a good candidate to keep hitting for average in the last part of the season. Kurt Suzuki has gotten a lot more attention this year than in the past, thanks in large part to a .305 batting average; his is also buoyed by a reasonable enough .325 BABIP.

Nick Markakis isn’t a premium name, and his .288 average doesn’t jump off the page—but it does come in a lot of at bats, giving it extra weight thanks to his spot in the order, playing time, and small number of walks. You could say the same things about Ian Kinsler (also a .288 average) and Hunter Pence (.291).

If you need some steals with your average, Ben Revere offers 30 of the former while batting .303. Alexei Ramirez (17 steals, .288 average), and Denard Span (23 steals, .296 average) are other good choices for speed and batting.

Howie Kendrick (.283) and Jonathan Lucroy (.307) are reliable choices who always seem to help in this category.

Off the waiver wire, think about Conor Gillaspie (21% owned in Yahoo! leagues, .317 average) and James Loney (23%, .290). Even Derek Jeter (41%, .277) has something left to offer.

Home Runs

These three near-stars offer nice power numbers at the expense of average: David Ortiz (26 homers), Brandon Moss (23), and Josh Donaldson (23). All three are batting .251 or under. Of course, Chris Carter blows them all out of the water, with his .216 average and 22 homers. He may be available on your waiver wire too.

Marlon Byrd (21 homers) is underrated. Albert Pujols (21) has been disappointing. Lucas Duda (20) has snuck up on people. Carlos Santana (20) has felt like a disaster. Chris Davis (18) has been a disaster. Khris Davis and Evan Gattis (17 each) weren’t given high expectations before the season. What do all these guys have in common? You ought to be able to trade for them, despite the fact that they’re likely to contribute in homers for the rest of the season.

Jimmy Rollins and Jhonny Peralta (15 homers each) haven’t been that good—until you remember that they play shortstop. At second base, Neil Walker (16) and Luis Valbuena (10 homers in just 317 AB) make good trade targets.

Off the waiver wire, some usual suspects are still available: Mark Reynolds (17% owned, 19 homers), Mike Zunino (17%, 17), Juan Francisco (15%, 16), Colby Rasmus (21%, 15), Dayan Viciedo (8%, 13), Mike Moustakas (16%, 13), and Matt Dominguez (9%, 13). Needless to say, all these guys will be giving you serious trouble in batting average. That’s why they’re free.

Runs

In this category, Pence (79 runs), Anthony Rendon (79) and the much-slowed Brian Dozier (78) top the runs charts. Actually, Dozier is tied with Mike Trout, but good luck landing that fish in a trade. (What?) These (probably) attainable sluggers are scoring more runs than driving them in: Antony Rizzo (75), Brett Gardner (71), Freddie Freeman (70), Kinsler (70), Span (70), Melky Cabrera (70), and Matt Carpenter (69).

Some more players who ought to help out by scoring runs include Kendrick (62), Christian Yelich (61), Elvis Andrus (59), Kole Calhoun (57), Desmond Jennings (57), Adam Eaton (55), Markakis (55), Austin Jackson (54), and Ben Zobrist (54). Each of these players has totaled quite a few more runs than RBI on the season. What does that tell us? Simply that they’ve been hitting in the part of the lineup that allows them to cross the plate more often, as opposed to plating others.

Since getting on base should lead to more runs, think about these high-OBP players when going after this category: Mike Napoli (.381 OBP), Seth Smith (.382), Santana (.374), Adam LaRoche (.373), Casey McGehee (.371), Matt Holliday (.370), Lonnie Chisenhall (.368), and Gillaspie (.368)

RBI

Adrian Gonzalez (72 RBI) stands out as a guy who’s knocked in a lot of runs despite a relatively low homer total (15) and a pretty marginal batting average (.259). Good lineups help, don’t they? Donaldson (78), Pujols (70), Yoenis Cespedes (67), Justin Upton (64), Morneau (63), Torii Hunter (62), and Jayson Werth (62) all know something about good lineups too.

Kyle Seager (67), Ian Desmond (66), Miguel Montero (59), Starlin Castro (59), and Kinsler (59) offer nice RBI power at premium positions. 

Sluggers Duda (62) and LaRoche (56) are relatively unheralded, while Holliday (58) and Evan Longoria (57) are contributing RBI despite otherwise disappointing seasons. All four can make pretty good trade targets.

Stolen Bases 

After this year’s Big Three of steals, Revere leads the league with 30, but Rajai Davis and Eric Young (26 apiece) aren’t far behind. With the David Price/Austin Jackson trade, expect Davis to get more playing time and more chances to steal. Young is probably on your waiver wire, but that’s just because he can’t really hit.

Span and Alcides Escobar (23 steals each) can hit though. (I can’t believe I just wrote that, after what Escobar did last year.) Elvis Andrus and Starling Marte (21 each) also belong in the steals and a little hitting category. Rollins (22) and Jose Reyes (20) are higher caliber hitters, so they’ll cost a bit more.

Jarrod Dyson (22 steals) is barely owned—he’s on teams in just 2% of Yahoo! leagues. So there’s no excuse if you need speed. (Never mind that he doesn’t really play all that often.)

It’s worth noting that needing steals isn’t that bad a problem to have; these guys tend to be pretty available.

Good luck filling out your category needs through trades. We’ve got one final installment of this series coming up next week; after that Stock Watch will be shifting into our post-deadline coverage, concentrating on waiver wire players.




RotoAuthority Unscripted: Replacing the Irreplaceable--Goldschmidt and McCutchen

Maybe someday, years from now, this will be remembered as the day Javier Baez made his debut. Maybe someday, while he’s giving his Hall of Fame induction speech after having led the Chicago Cubs to several World Championships, you’ll think back on this day with a tear of gratitude in your eye—grateful that you read this and remembered to scurry over to your fantasy baseball website and pick him up, that you got in on the ground floor of Baez’s career because you read this column.

Or maybe not. But if you haven’t checked it yet, go check your site just in case. Baez might still be there.

Okay, that’s done and you're back. Which is good, because this column isn’t about Baez; that was just a public service announcement.

In the last couple days, we’ve had several star players either hit the DL or get the bad news that they won’t be coming back from the DL this season. Or both. How do you replace Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Cliff Lee, or Matt Cain? Well…you don’t. But technically you have to try. And frankly, it might be tough to replace what you hoped to get from those “star” pitchers, even if it won’t be any trouble replacing what you actually got from them. And I know you didn’t draft Gonzo without his backup in mind, so I’m not going to worry too much about him or the hurlers. The big hits are Goldy and McCutch.

We’ll take a look at similar—albeit lesser—players that could be available via trade or the waiver wire to help you recoup some of your production. 

If you don’t have these guys you can skip today’s column…except that anyone who can stand in for Goldschmidt and McCutchen can probably play just fine on your team anyway. So don't touch that dial....

Replacing Paul Goldschmidt (broken hand: out at least 8 weeks)

“Realistically, he’s done for the year.” –Manager Kirk Gibson

19 HR/75 R/69 RBI/9 SB/ .300 AVG/.396 OBP/.542 SLG 

Good luck finding another slugging first baseman with some speed…though you could try swinging a trade for Todd Frazier (16 SB), but then he’s been arguably better than Goldy and plays third base, so good luck with that. Jose Bautista is another high-end possibility to replace Goldschmidt’s production (five surprising steals even).

Chris Carter is one of only four first basemen (Goldy included) with more than one steal in the last month, and he’s knocked eight homers in that span. As a plus, he’s only owned in about half of fantasy leagues, so he might be on your waiver wire.

Lucas Duda (68% owned in Yahoo! leagues) is still available in the shallowest leagues and may be easier to pry away from his owner than others. We’ve thrown the speed away at this point, though. Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira make decent trade targets as well; they’ve delivered some nice power, but don’t expect much out of the average category.

For waiver wire searchers, Juan Francisco (15% owned) and Mark Reynolds (17% owned) might be available, though you’re going to really be hurting in average if you go that route.

A final, unorthodox choice could be Daniel Murphy, who produces not in power but in speed (11 steals) and average (.296). Of course, he's currently manning someone’s second base slot, so that might make him more expensive than most single-digit-homer first basemen.

Full disclosure: CBS.Sports’s Scott White put out a whole column on this topic, but I promise I didn’t read it until I wrote the above. He’s got some ideas I didn’t think of, so go check it out. Subscription required…I think? 

Replacing Andrew McCutchen (oblique: perhaps 3-4 weeks)

17 HR/64 R/67 RBI/17 SB/.311 AVG/.411 OBP/.536 SLG

The bad news is that power/speed outfielders who hit for average don’t grow on trees. That’s why we picked this one in the early half of the first round. The good news is that there might be more such players in the outfield than at first. 

A pretty good comp is Hunter Pence, who’s going 15/10 in homers and steals and batting .289. Breakout All-Star Michael Brantley has maybe been even better than McCutch, with 16 homers, 12 steals and a .322 average, as has Charlie Blackmon—14 homers, 20 steals, and a .296 average. Okay, maybe not better. Quieter breakout player Brett Gardner has 15 homers, 18 steals and a .284 average, so similar-ish players aren’t quite as hard to find as I’d expected. Carlos Gomez 15 homers, 22 steals, and a .291 batting average is another star-level guy you could look to. Another  Hmm…Pence is looking easier and easier to trade for….

I tried to look for a true power/speed threat without the corresponding good batting average to keep the trade price down—kind of what B.J. Upton used to be—and the closest I could come was Desmond Jennings (9 homers, 13 steals, .240 average). Actually, Curtis Granderson (13 homers, eight steals, .220 average) was closer…no, he’s been pretty much the same, but with his number dragged down by a worse April. This position isn’t what it used to be…year ago. 

How about some cheaper options? McCutchen’s teammate Josh Harrison has five homers and five steals this month and has flashed good skills in both categories. If you want a buy-low candidate, Jay Bruce has 10 each of steals and homers…but the average isn’t there on good years. Shin-Soo Choo is another buy-low guy who profiled as a McCutchen-lite last year…and has thus far been a bench outfielder…lite.

Drew Stubbs is having a resurgent year that just won’t seem to quit (five homers, four steals, a .363 average this month) and is available in most leagues (just 17% owned). If Gonzalez misses time, Stubbs’s play should be even safer. Rookie Arismendy Alcantara (14%) has shown some power/speed ability and is still on plenty of waiver wires. Those in very deep leagues might want to consider Grady Sizemore (6%), who’s smacking the ball well for his new Phillies squad.

To all of us that just lost McCutchen or Goldschmidt there isn’t much to say…other than at least you probably couldn’t have lost both first-rounders, right?




RotoAuthority League Update: Midsummer 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.

It's been awhile since we took a look at the trades in the RotoAuthority League. The owners haven't been as hyperactive as they were in April and May, but there were still several deals processed in June and July.

06/03 - Men With Wood agrees to trade Corey Dickerson to Brewsterville Bruins for Trevor Bauer

At the outset of June, Men With Wood and Brewsterville Bruins exchanged a couple of players who have received a good deal of praise in the fantasy community. The Bruins have gotten the better end of this deal in retrospect, as Dickerson has been highly productive this summer. Some may view the Rockies outfielder as a Sell High candidate; however, no player in the game has a higher xBABIP. As long as he can get at-bats, Dickerson is a legitimate fantasy option in Mixed Leagues.

06/13 - Brewsterville Bruins agree to trade Justin Verlander and Pedro Alvarez to A Century of Misery for Doug Fister and Martin Prado

Looking to discard Verlander from their roster, the Brewsterville Bruins actually had some trouble finding a taker for the Tigers right-hander. Maybe I'm the sucker in the league because I proved to be the one who took on the struggling ace. Since this deal, Fister has clearly been the more valuable pitcher from a fantasy perspective, and now Alvarez may be a bench player. Here's one I regret in hindsight.

06/23 - Smell the Glove agrees to trade Jonathan Papelbon and Michael Morse to The Bombers for Jason Heyward and Kole Calhoun

Prior to the trade deadline, there was speculation that the Phillies might ship Papelbon out of town. Commissioner Dierkes may have had that in mind; in reality, though, the primary objective here was to boost his offense, as his pitching has been superb. Ironically, it's been Calhoun and not Heyward who's proven to be the true prize of this trade. The Angels leadoff man has been quietly productive since returning from the DL and emerged as a solid OF3 in Mixed Leagues.

07/10 - Brewsterville Bruins agreed to trade Devin Mesoraco to A Century of Misery for Gregory Polanco

In need of a power bat, I chose to move the uber-hyped Polanco for a catcher enjoying a breakout campaign in Mesoraco. I was ecstatic to make this deal at the time, and I expect it to continue to look prudent going forward. Given that the Bruins got the better of the Verlander deal, this helps me sleep a tad easier.

07/16 - Guitar Masahiro agrees to trade Curtis Granderson to Smell the Glove for Joe Smith

Yet again, Commissioner Dierkes dealt a closer in preparation for the MLB trade deadline. In this case, that move proved to be truly prescient. After all, just a couple days later the Angels traded for Huston Street, relegating Smith to a setup role. After a slow start, Granderson has been decent for the Mets. Sure, he doesn't help in the AVG category, but a .230 in today's game isn't as disastrous as it was five years ago.

07/16 - Pulling Brzenk agrees to trade Jose Bautista and Derek Norris to Brewsterville Bruins for Alex Rios, Sean Doolittle, Casey Janssen, and Oscar Taveras

Looking to make up ground in the saves category, Pulling Brzenk acquired a pair of closers in Doolittle and Janssen along with a couple of struggling bats in Rios and Taveras. In return, the Bruins landed a pair of All-Star power bats. You have to admire the effort of this squad as it seeks to avoid the boot from the league. The Bruins may not be invited back next season, but they're certainly not going down without a fight. If only every fantasy manager put forth this type of effort in all of our leagues...

07/28 - Guitar Masahiro agrees to trade Mark Trumbo to A Century of Misery for Alex Gordon

Last week I chose to Buy (Very) Low on the struggling Trumbo, who clearly has been subjected to a good deal of misfortune this season. I had high hopes for Gordon this season, but he's been underwhelming up to this point. With Billy Butler also struggling and Eric Hosmer now on the DL, the Royals offense will struggle to score going forward. In short, this is a classic exchange of underperforming players each owner is tired of seeing on his roster. With only two months remaining, we're really just throwing dice at this stage in the game anyway.




The Proof Is In The Peripherals: August 1-7

We're officially into the dog days of summer, as I wore sandals yesterday.  Big step.  Let's look into the advanced metrics to see which players may fade in the summer heat and which players may heat up in the, um, heat.  Really should've consulted my thesaurus for that last sentence but still, onto the peripherals!

* Stone Cold Austin.  New Tigers hurler David Price was obviously the big wheel of the huge three-team blockbuster between Tampa Bay, Detroit and Seattle yesterday, yet Austin Jackson is a pretty notable name also on the move, now plying his trade as the new Mariners center fielder.  With Jackson's name in the headlines, let's look ahead to see how he'll fare hitting at Safeco Field...

...poorly!  The answer is poorly.  Sorry to be so anti-climactic.  It's a simple answer since virtually every hitter struggles at pitcher-friendly Safeco, and Jackson is likely no different.  On the plus side, bringing in the fences at Safeco prior to the 2013 season helped increase batting totals to right and center field at the ballpark, and while Jackson is a right-handed batter, his spray charts over the last three years indicate that he can line the ball all over the field, while most of his flies (though none of his homers) go to right field.  This means that Jackson should still be able to find the holes just as well in Seattle as he did in Detroit (career .357 BABIP) and keep up his production for the season.

So why is that a 'poorly'?  Because Jackson has been secretly pretty mediocre this season, batting .273/.332/.398 over 420 PA with four homers, 33 RBI, 52 runs and nine steals.  That works out to a barely above-average 101 wRC+ for the season, and that's despite his usual excellent BABIP showing at .334.  Jackson's RBI total will drop since he'll be hitting leadoff in Seattle after spending a large chunk of his season hitting further down in the Tigers batting order, and yet despite being the leadoff man, I'd still expect his run total to drop given that the Mariners lineup is significantly weaker than Detroit's.  So that leaves fantasy owners with an outfielder who suddenly isn't really delivering at any of the 5x5 categories and is absolutely not worth a spot in an everyday lineup.

I'd be shopping Jackson heavily if I had him on my roster.  He'll end up in the 20-steals range but that's not nearly enough for him to count as a "speed guy" who you can stick in your lineup and just suffer his low overall batting totals for stolen bases alone.  The bottom line is, going to Safeco Field won't hurt Jackson's 2014 fantasy production since there wasn't much there to begin with.  You should've been shopping him weeks or even months ago.

* Lack Attack.  Speaking of players who switched teams yesterday, what are the Cardinals getting from their new right-hander?  As it turns out, they're almost literally getting an average starting pitcher.  Here are John Lackey's stats this year as compared to the league average pitching totals, going into Thursday's action...

Lackey: 3.60 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 3.35 xFIP, 3.52 SIERA, 7.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 0.98 HR/9, .298 BABIP, 73.7% strand rate, 46.9% grounder rate

The League: 3.79 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, 3.71 SIERA, 7.73 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, 0.88 HR/9, .296 BABIP, 73% strand rate, 45.2% grounder rate

First of all, this is definitely a sign that hitting stats are in decline since Lackey is having a pretty good season, yet it's basically just the norm across Major League Baseball.  But look at those numbers --- aside from almost one fewer walk per nine, Lackey's numbers are virtually identical.  It bodes well for the Cardinals that he's done this in a hitter's paradise like Fenway Park, so moving to the National League should (if anything) improve Lackey's numbers.

Lackey's 2014 stats are also very close to what he did in 2013, with the only real difference peripheral-wise being a drop in fly ball rate (35% to 31.6%) and he's using his fastball much more often and his slider much less often now than he did last season.  Suffice it to say, it seems like Lackey has found a consistent groove since he finally got healthy, and I'd expect that to keep going as he moves to his new team.

If you're in one of the 24% of Yahoo leagues where Lackey is still available, I'd pick him up as a very useful addition to the middle-to-back end of your fantasy rotation.  His 11-7 record is nothing to sneeze at already, and playing on a better team could get Lackey up into the range of 16 or 17 wins.  You could say he isn't *lacking* in any category, though that would such a lame pun that it's not even worth using as an ironically bad pun...uh, like I just did.  Rats, too late.

* Conman.  This entry on Conor Gillaspie is about six weeks overdue, as I was originally going to write about the White Sox third baseman's breakout season back in June.  This was right in the midst of an overall tough month for Gillaspie, a 'June swoon' if you will, and I figured that the regression was already taking place and my recommendation to avoid picking him up was just piling on the poor guy.  As if sensing my pity and getting offended by it, Gillaspie proceeded to post a .341/.426/.573 line with four homers, 11 RBI and 17 runs in 94 July PA going into Thursday afternoon's tilt with Detroit. 

So, thus chastened, I'm finally getting avoid to writing about Gillaspie as the calendar turns to August...and I'm still recommending you avoid trading for him or, if you already own him, to sell high.  Gillaspie does have something of a pedigree --- the Giants drafted him 37th overall in 2008 and he has a few solid minor league seasons to his name --- so his breakout isn't a total shock, and he could be going into his prime as he just turned 27 years old. 

This all said, I can't avoid that glaring .369 BABIP staring me right in the face.  Gillaspie's season-long .321/.375/.459 slash line is being heavily buoyed by that BABIP, and should that batted-ball luck turn, he can't fall back on much power; his four July homers were his only long balls of the season.  While 500 career PA (his total going into 2014) is admittedly a small sample size, Gillaspie's advanced metrics don't point to any particular reason why he's hitting so well in this season as opposed to his forgettable first few seasons in the bigs.  Gillaspie's walk, contact, strikeout and swing rates are all basically the same as his career averages, so I'm forced to conclude that BABIP is the only real answer to his great production.  Either that or else someone mistakenly called him 'Cole Gillespie' for the millionth time, causing him to snap and channel all his frustration into crushing baseballs.

By this point Gillespie....er, GILLASPIE might be having one of those magical BABIP-fueled Chris Johnson-esque kind of seasons, yet still, I'd bet on some regression before the season is out.  His big year is flying under the radar (he's owned in only 20% of Yahoo leagues) so this could be a case where you pick him up off the waiver for the sole purpose of using him as trade bait.  If you've been riding Gillaspie since he started heating up in May, congratulations, it's time to cash in your chips and move him for a more established third baseman.





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