Stock Watch: Cross Your Fingers

Starting next week, I envision this column getting pretty trade-suggestion heavy, between speculating about real-life trades and their potential impact on fantasy values and our own fantasy trading deadlines, which start showing up quicker than I think—probably mid-August for most of us.

So let’s take a little time to enjoy the subtler flavors of the waiver wire, just for a little. While we’re at it, let’s try and keep ourselves concentrated on the subgroup of players who’ve actually been good in the last month. This is the part of the year when you grab who you can and you cross your fingers that good play is more than an aberration. Sometimes it even is.

Shallow Leagues (Under 50% Owned)

I mentioned Dellin Betances (48%) yesterday, but seriously, if you have room for any non-closer, you have room for Betances. Even in shallow leagues, keep him in mind, especially if you’re starting to punt saves or needing to reduce your innings pitched. 

Speaking of relievers, Santiago Casilla (48%) hasn’t allowed an earned run on the month, but has notched five saves and recently put out a fire started by Sergio Romo. Pick him up. (Not Romo…pick up Casilla.)

All-Star super-utility-man Josh Harrison (45%, plays three positions) hasn’t hit that much over the last month, but he has managed seven steals. His multi-position eligibility makes him all the more useful in shallow leagues, I would think.

Danny Salazar (44%) started yesterday, but as of this writing (before yesterday’s start) it was unclear whether or not he’d be staying in the Bigs. Check out the latest news before dropping someone good for him, but don’t let him stay unowned for long, unless you see he's headed straight back to the Minors.

Stephen Vogt (39%) has hit over .370 in the last month getting playing time behind the plate, at first, and in the outfield. The A’s are the quintessential example of “better than the sum of their parts” and their players can make your fantasy team that way too. At least, if you have daily changes they can….

Kolten Wong (39%) is in the middle of a crazy-hot streak right now, batting over .350 with five homers and three steals. He seems like an up-and-down kind of player so far…so enjoy the up times with him.

Jacob deGrom (39%) has just rocked the last month: 2.10 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 25.2 IP. Ride the lightning. 

Chris Young (36%) has actually been striking people out lately; he’s managed 27 K’s in his last 31 IP, all while keeping his WHIP at an even 1.00. 

Carl Crawford (35%) has not hit, but a sense of duty reminds me to inform you he’s off the DL and has stolen two bases since returning to play. Buywer beware.

Charlie Morton (34%) has also struck out more people than usual lately (30 in 33 IP), and allowed just a 0.91 WHIP. 

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

I mentioned Jake Odorizzi (29%) yesterday, since he’s so good for your strikeouts, but even over the course of a pretty good last month (3.09 ERA), he’s still killing WHIP’s with a 1.50 mark. Ouch.

Marcus Stroman (29%) looks very, very good. He’s got a sub-1.00 WHIP, an ERA under 2.30 and nearly a strikeout per inning over the last month. This young pitcher is the guy to target in this section.

Wade Miley (27%) has been pitching extremely well too: 32 strikeouts in 32.2 innings, a 2.76 ERA, and a 1.07 WHIP.

Chris Carter (26%) has smacked six homers in the last month and become a batting average machine. Okay, so he’s hitting about .270 on the month, but for him, that’s…well, I never thought it would happen.

Omar Infante (26%) is hitting over .350 on the month, so he’s regressing to his normally nice mean batting average. I’ll take it, and I’ll take the recent hot hitting in its own right.

Odrisamer Despaigne (25%) finally has a couple strikeouts, but his rate is still ridiculously low. As are his rate stats. I don’t know what his deal is, but I’ll use a roster spot to see if it’s even close to real. Even if it’s not, there’s always PetCo Park.

Danny Santana (24%) is back from the DL. He’s not doing much, but he’s still shortstop eligible and therefore interesting—and that’s before we talk about second and outfield.

Edinson Volquez (24%) has put up a great ERA over the last month and gotten four wins for his trouble…but he isn’t generating the strikeouts. That worries me, but maybe it shouldn’t, since he was never all that good when he was striking people out. Jeff Locke (23%) can tell a similar story, but he’s never generated whiffs.

David Freese (23%) is having a hot month, but rising tides raise all boats—even Mr. Freeze—or something like that. Anyway, Freese’s hot month is good for the Angels, and the Angels’ hot play is good for Freese’s numbers. A hot player on a hot team is just the sort of thing you want contributing to your team.

Remember Chris Coghlan (23%)? No? I can’t believe you! Well, apparently he’s back, and hitting .333 with three homers and three steals. And playing third. I’m intrigued, I’ll admit.

Denard Span (21%) continues to hit a bit (.301 average) and steal some bases (four). That seems pretty useful, right?

Deep Leagues (Under 20% Owned) 

Lorenzo Cain (20%) has snagged six bags in the last month and continued to hit good enough to survive in your lineup.

James Loney (19%) has hit .301 in his last month…which is pretty much what he does. I’m truly inclined to think that boring-but-reliable batting average is worth more than 19% ownership.

Trevor Bauer (17%) isn’t helping you in WHIP (but he’s better than Odorizzi!), but deep leaguers ought to take a chance on a guy with his history of promise and a solid 3.13 ERA and 28 strikeouts in his last 31.2 IP.

When we last checked in on Conor Gillaspie (17%) he had just hit his first homer of the year. Now he’s up to four. It hasn’t been long since I mentioned him in this column. I don’t know if his homer swing was missing, but it really does help to know that he’s got one, at least. Just a .280 average on the month, though. Way to disappoint us, Conor. 

Arismendy Alcantara (15%) should be owned immediately. Immediately! The dude’s already got three steals in just 35 at-bats, plays a middle infield position, and is an actual prospect with real-life promise. And his competition is Darwin Barney. Pick him up.

Brandon McCarthy (9%) is off to a pretty good start in New York, and he’s striking out almost a batter per inning over the last month. I’m still not excited about his batted-ball profile in Yankee Stadium, but I guess it can’t be much worse than it already is.




RotoAuthority Unscripted: I Bet You Didn't Know Day

Last night I was up way too late writing this article and it occurred to me that I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. In fact, I couldn’t really think of anything truly notable to say. And that’s when it hit me: it was time for another “I Bet You Didn’t Know Day,” wherein I peruse the various leaderboards, statistics, and assorted metrics and look for things that surprise me. Then I hope that they surprise you too. But even if the nuggets of baseball strangeness that I uncover don’t merit more than a raised eyebrow and a muttered, “I’m gonna check that out myself,” they should amount to something that actually matters for the health of your fantasy baseball team.

Except for this one: Billy Hamilton grounded into a double play. It doesn’t really matter—but it is pretty impressive. Well played, whichever team pulled that one. Well played.

Some More (Mostly) Relevant Thoughts on Speed

Hamilton also leads baseball with 15 caught stealing—six more than second-place Dee Gordon—but his 38 steals still leave him with a success percentage over 70%, so I guess he isn’t in line for a red light anytime soon. 

With 41 swipes, Jose Altuve is the only other player with more steals than Hamilton (bringing that number to two more players than anyone predicted). But Altuve’s only been caught three times. (That’s a 91% success rate, if you’re counting at home.)

Elvis Andrus has 20 steals already, which is pretty nice—but they come with nine times caught. With so many years of high CS totals, I guess you shouldn’t worry much about Andrus getting the red light. Unless Texas ever changes managers….

Charlie Blackmon is the surprise All-Star of the year so far, but if he’s not on your team, you might not have known he’s swiped 18 bags so far. Another surprise base stealer (not to mention, surprise All-Star) is Todd Frazier, who’s got 15.

As always, remember to lower the minimum plate appearances requirement whenever you sort by stolen bases: Eric Young, Rajai Davis, Jarrod Dyson, and James Jones are all in the top 20 in the category but won’t appear on any searchable list that demands the player be qualified for the batting title.

Brian Dozier has just a single steal in the last 28 days, and just four between June and July. That’s after posting six in each of the first two months. So maybe don’t trade for him expecting speed.

Some Thoughts on Pitching

WAR is far from a perfect proxy for fantasy value. It’s too predictive, and too good an indicator of real talent. But, just for fun, can you name the top ten starting pitchers in fWAR? If you can’t, prepare to raise a skeptical eyebrow, as the list is graced by Corey Kluber (3rd), Garrett Richards (7th), Jose Quintana (9th and making my incessant suggestions to pick him up sound pretty smart), and Phil Hughes (6th). Yes, that Phil Hughes. Go ahead and tab over to your league's waiver wire just to check and see if any of these guys are still unowned in your league. Believe me I’ll wait. 

If it wasn’t late already, I’d be checking too.

Alfredo Simon is tied for the league lead in wins with 12. If you watched the All-Star game, that probably doesn’t surprise you. If you watched the All-Star game, then maybe you will be surprised that the guy’s got a 5.05 K/9. Whether he comes back to earth or not (and he will), you don’t want that on most fantasy teams.

Speaking of K/9, you won’t be surprised to hear that the three leaders in the stat are Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, and Stephen Strasburg. (If you are, you’re in the wrong game, and probably the wrong website. No, wait…let’s not be exclusive. Stick around, check it out. You’ve got time for a new hobby, right? I promise it won't become life-consuming.) Anyway, you might be surprised to hear that the next name on the list belongs to Jake Odorizzi, who owns a 10.34 K/9. Admittedly, his BB/9 of 3.48 gives him some trouble, but he’s providing a surprising amount of value for a guy who feels like a fringy player. 

It seems to me that pitchers are showing more control than they used to: only four qualified starters are walking over four batters per inning. (Though most of the Cubs are close.) So be strict on you pitchers in the WHIP category. (You can add your own joke.)

Dellin Betances has 88 strikeouts. That’s 23 more than the next best reliever, Sean Doolittle. It’s good for 62nd among starters, which is pretty impressive considering that he’s pitched about half as many innings as the guy ahead of him (Wily Peralta). 

The scary thing is that, while Betances has a very nice 13.58 K/9, it is just blown out of the water by Aroldis Chapman. He’s whiffing 18.30 batters per nine innings. Which, yes, is just over two per inning. Uh…wow.

Do you know who the leader is in Holds? (No.) Do you care? (Probably not, but you should, because these guys turn into closers sometimes.) Anyway, it’s Brad Ziegler, with 26. He’s been a closer before, so he’s someone to remember for this season, and in the future. Tony Watson, Will Smith (not the actor—I think), and Tyler Clippard are the only others over 20.

The top two pitchers in blown saves are Luke Gregerson and Bryan Morris* (six and five, respectively). Both have ERA’s under 2.10. No wonder they abbreviate blown saves “BS.”

*Actually Morris is tied with a bunch of people. But they didn't exactly fit the comment.

Back to Hitting, Briefly

Michael Brantley’s fifth-place .326 average is fueled by a pretty-normal .325 BABIP. Don’t confuse it with teammate Lonnie Chisenhall, who is getting the same average out of a .367 BABIP.

Victor Martinez now has a below-average BABIP of .296. He’s hitting .322, good for 8th in baseball. The next highest-ranked player with a sub-.300 BABIP is Erick Aybar (45th), who’s batting .283. Which is still kind of impressive.

Hey, I told you it would be brief. Tune in next time for more surprises…unless we do something different.




RotoAuthority League Update: Midseason To-Do List

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’s not one of them.

We've passed the All-Star break in the RotoAuthority League, and I'm still hovering in the middle of the pack in the standings. I'm confident my team will avoid finishing in the bottom four and thus a boot from the league; however, at this point I'm unsure if my team is capable of taking home the title. Still, I'm a firm believer that every move upward in the standings is a worthy endeavor. Even taking money out of the equation, I fight for every point in the standings. A fourth-place finish won't get me any money in this league, but it still means more to me than fifth place -- just as seventh place is worth more to me than eighth place, and so on. With that in mind, let's look at what fantasy owners should be doing at this stage in the season.

1. Analyze the standings

The key here is to determine how many points you can gain in each category. It's important to be realistic with those goals. Even though we're at the All-Star Break, we've already passed the halfway point; in fact, the season is roughly 60% done. What really matters is how closely stratified each category is in your league. In the RotoAuthority League, for instance, the rate categories of AVG and WHIP are tightly packed. While randomness may play a critical role in a small sample size of just twelve weeks, hitters who project to hit for a good AVG are a tad more valuable in this particular league. Meanwhile, it's just as important to identify the categories in which you're unlikely to gain many points for the balance of the season. I've actually been punting saves since April, so closers are worthless to me at this point. The plan may burn up in flames, but at this point you must have a plan as to how to approach the standings.

2. Speculate with the MLB trade deadline in mind

Some player values can change quite drastically as a result of trades, so fantasy owners must be quick to respond to the news in July. Unfortunately, in the RotoAuthority League the Commissioner just happens to be the creator of MLB Trade Rumors, so I don't stand a chance of learning about a trade in time to act upon it. For the rest of you out there, though, keep in mind that relievers lie at the top of the list of players whose value may change in the next couple weeks. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs recently created a custom Trade Chip leaderboard and listed the following closers as potential trade candidates: Joaquin BenoitLaTroy Hawkins, Jonathan Papelbon, Chad Qualls, Addison Reed, and Joakim Soria. The primary setup men for these closers appear to be Dale ThayerAdam Ottavino, Ken Giles, Jose Veras, Brad Ziegler, and Neftali Feliz, respectively. Depending on the size of your league, some of these guys should be plucked off the waiver wire in preparation for the deadline.

3. Send out trade offers

During the season I try to avoid having many trade offers on the table for one main reason. That is, another fantasy owner could accept a trade shortly after a player leaves a game with an injury without giving me a chance to withdraw my offer. To me, any such trade should be reversed, but I've played in leagues that have a rationale of tough luck in that situation. One benefit to the All-Star break is that you don't have to worry about any players getting hurt. I sent out offers left and right in my leagues last week, and the responses were quicker than usual. My theory is that fantasy owners often wish to make sure that no players involved get hurt when games are in progress, but that's not a problem during the break.

So what kinds of offers should you be sending out? Well, it's all about gaining points in the standings. Don't worry too much about value at this point. Consider the needs of other owners first, and then make an offer that makes sense for both sides. You'll be amazed at how much easier it is to get deals done when you're only focused on particular categories.




The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 18-24

Let's look into the advanced metrics to see who you should or shouldn't have on your fantasy roster in the second half of the season...

* ProTextion.  Still available in 33% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, Mark Teixeira is a terrific pickup if you're looking for some power down the stretch.  My wrist started to ache while typing that last sentence since merely writing about Teixeira will cause wrist injuries by osmosis. Yet, while the veteran is still prone to missing a game or two with one injury setback or another, when Teixeira is on the field, he's still very productive.

Teixeira has a .241/.341/.464 line, 17 homers, 48 RBI and 39 runs scored through 305 PA this season.  In comparison to the average Mark Teixeira season of recent years (he slashed .252/.347/.484 from 2010-12), that's not a big dropoff, and the 2014 campaign even shares some vintage Teixeira traits like a low BABIP (.242) and a lotta pop (.222 ISO, 18th-highest in baseball).  He's both seeing and swinging at fewer pitches within the strike zone as compared to his career averages, though none of his other metrics are drastically out of whack with what we've come to expect from Teixeira.  Teixpect?

Presumably you've had a good first baseman on your roster for much of the year and aren't looking at Teixeira to take on a starting position...or hey, maybe you are if you're a Joey Votto owner or something.  Given Teixeira's health issues, I'd also be hesitant to hand him an everyday job; in fact, I platoon Teixeira with TPIITP favorite Lucas Duda in one of my leagues.  For bench depth or a utility role, Teixeira is a terrific option, particularly if he's playing at Yankee Stadium (his home OPS is .074 higher than his road OPS).  I'm knocking on wood as I'm saying this, but if Teixeira stays healthy, there's no reason why he can't be the same power threat he's been for over a decade.

* X Marks The Bench.  On the morning of June 8, Xander Bogaerts owners could wake up feeling pretty good about their move to draft the young shortstop/third baseman.  After a 2-for-5 performance against Detroit the previous night, Bogaerts was hitting a cool .299/.387/.452 and looking all the world like the young star the Red Sox (and fantasy managers) were hoping to get in his first full season in the bigs.

Since then, however, it's been a different story.  I'm going to issue a parental advisory for this next set of statistics since parents shouldn't be exposing young children to numbers like this.  Between June 8 and July 13, a period of 114 plate appearances, Bogaerts has been hitting .103/.140/.131 with one homer and five RBI.  I mean...wow.  I'm not saying I'd do better than that over a similar timespan (I'd swing and miss every time and start crying about 60 PA in) but the very fact that I'm even borderline speculating that my overweight carcass could outperform a Major League ballplayer indicates just how poorly Bogaerts has been playing.

This is one of those slumps that forces a fantasy manager to reconsider having a guy on his roster, no matter who it is.  Sure, this slump is some ways a case of course-correction (Bogaerts enjoyed a .384 BABIP prior to June 8, and a .132 BABIP after, averaging out to a .302 BABIP for his full season) or simply an extreme case of a young player adjusting to the league after they've had a chance to get some video on him.  That said, man alive, having a player throw up a .271 OPS on your roster for over a full month is a recipe for fantasy disaster.

Should you cut Xander Bogaerts?  It's a close call for me, but I'm leaning towards no.  On the one hand, while he's a heralded prospect, we have no evidence that he'll be able to cut it in the Show so there's no evidence that he'll necessarily be able to come out of his slide.  On the other hand, Bogaerts does have dual-position eligibility so he can help your roster as a utility bench guy if nothing else.  He's also (somewhat surprisingly) played the third-most games and received the third-most PA of anyone on the 2014 Red Sox, so fatigue could be a factor as well.  This four-day All-Star break could be just what Bogaerts needs to recharge the batteries.

If you're in a no-bench league, you'll have to cut him simply because you can't afford to waste any more at-bats.  If you're in a league with a bench, for the love of Zod, get Bogaerts out of your starting lineup ASAP but hang onto him for at least a few more weeks to see if he can shake off the cobwebs.  If that doesn't work, the Sox should consider hiring former Tigers first baseman Dave Bergman as a hitting coach -- everyone knows Bogey and Bergman have great chemistry.  #NailedIt  #MarkHasAFilmDegree

* What Will Phil Do Next?  Felix Hernandez is a very solid guess as the starting pitcher with the most fWAR in baseball this season.  Jon Lester is a bit more surprising as the next name on the fWAR list, though the Boston southpaw is having a monster year.  As for who's third on the list, surely your mind will lean towards Adam Wainwright, Yu Darvish, Clayton Kershaw or any of the game's star-studded aces, yet the actual answer is.....Phil Hughes.  Yep, that Phil Hughes.  Only King Felix and, uh, Prince Jon have topped the 3.7 fWAR Hughes has generated over his 121 2/3 innings of work for the Twins this season.

The fantasy buzz around Hughes going into the season was that the extreme fly ball pitcher would perform much better at spacious Target Field than he did at Yankee Stadium, and sure enough, he's rebounded very nicely from his dreadful 2013 season.  Hughes has a 3.92 ERA through 19 starts, a 10-5 record, a 7.99 K/9 and (dig this) a 9.82 K/BB rate.  That K/BB number is so gorgeous that it may be the direct opposite of the Bogaerts slump slash line; parents, your kids can start reading the column again!  Hughes only has an 0.8 BB/9, easily the best of his career and the best of anyone in the bigs this year except for Hisashi Iwakuma, who's also the only one topping Hughes in the K/BB category.

Is it simply the change of scenery at work here?  It could be giving Hughes a mental boost to escape the short right field porch in the Bronx, yet interestingly, Hughes actually has a 5.37 ERA in nine home starts this year, as opposed to a 2.78 ERA in 10 road outings.  It's not Target Field helping him, it's just that Hughes' greatly improved control is helping limit his damage.  Hughes' 57% swing rate is way above his 49.3% career average, yet his contact rates are only a bit above career norms -- batters may be swinging more, but they're not necessarily doing much with those swings.

Of course, those swings are doing some damage.  Hughes' 3.92 ERA is inflated by a .341 BABIP, as the righty is posting a 2.62 FIP, 3.22 xFIP and 3.25 SIERA.  He's been particularly unlucky over his last six starts -- a 2.20 FIP over that stretch but also a .402 BABIP and a 5.49 ERA.  The good news for you is that this recent cold spell might've been the reason why Hughes is owned in only 55% of Yahoo leagues, so you can snap him up and reap the benefits once his luck starts to turn.

* The Captain.  I forget if they mentioned it during Tuesday's All-Star Game broadcast, but 2014 happens to be Derek Jeter's last season.  You may be feeling sentimental about this and you're considering putting one of the game's greats on your fantasy roster for the very last time.  And lookit that, he's even available on your league's waiver wire!  What's the harm in adding Jeter once more for old times' sake?

Plenty.  Unless your league counts "Leadership" along with the 5x5 stats, Jeter's .272/.324/.322 slash line, two homers, 25 RBI, 31 runs and six steals over 371 PA doesn't translate to much fantasy value.  The near-total lack of power is the real eye-opener, as Jeter's .050 ISO is the lowest of any qualified player in baseball.  While shortstop is a thin position (only nine have a wRC+ over the average 100 mark), Jeter's 80 wRC+ still ranks him behind 17 other shortstops.  Even Bogaerts, after over a month of that ghastly cold spell, still has an 82 wRC+ to top Jeter.

One plus in Jeter's favor is that he's managed to stay healthy this year, so provided his leg issues are behind him, he'd be least be a reliable place-holder for you if your regular shortstop was lost to the DL.   (It's not like the Yankees will bench him too often during his final season.)  It's unfortunate that a longtime fantasy star like Jeter is now merely a waiver wire fill-in during his last year, but that's the way it goes.  I somewhat doubt that the rest of the league's hurlers will follow Wainwright's lead in grooving pitches for Jeter to hit, so while Jeter may have two-plus months left in his actual career, his fantasy career is already at an end.




Closer Updates: All-Star Edition

As you already know, there’s a nice break each summer when baseball fans focus their attention on the midsummer classic and its festivities. In that vein, we’ll be bringing you an All-Star Edition of closer updates this week – focusing on the relievers which were featured on each league’s squad. Although the closers are surely grabbed up in your league, a few of these setup men have been having great seasons and could potentially help in your respective leagues.

American League

Dellin Betances (New York Yankees) – When Mariano Rivera left the Yankees bullpen, many wondered aloud whether they should look for reliever help via free agency. Rather than make a move, the Bronx Bombers stayed with the homegrown trio of David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren – who have each had strong seasons. While they have all been good, Betances’ numbers (1.46 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 13.7 K/9) have gotten him to the ASG.

Fernando Rodney (Seattle Mariners) – One of this season’s surprises has been Rodney, who recovered nicely after an average 2013 (3.38 ERA, 1.34 WHIP). So far, this season has been a different story and Fernando is looking better than ever (27 saves, 1.98 ERA, 1.13 WHIP). If the Mariners keep winning games, expect his dominance to continue.

Glen Perkins (Minnesota Twins) – The Twin Cities had to have been happy to see Glen Perkins on this year’s roster. Perkins has been a solid closer since earning the job in 2012 (76 career saves) and he’s made two consecutive trips to the ASG. This season has been another strong one (22 saves, 2.97 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 11.2 K/9) and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down.

Greg Holland (Kansas City Royals) – The AL’s best closer over the past few seasons has been Holland and this year is no exception. He has a monster 13.8 K/9 (career 12.5 K/9) and has consistently held down the ninth (25 saves this season). His name has been floated a bit as we near the trade deadline, but he’ll still be closing if moved.

Koji Uehara (Boston Red Sox) – The 39-year-old reliever earned his first ASG appearance this season and for good reason (18 saves, 1.65 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 11.7 K/9). Although he has only closed for a few years, and he doesn’t have too many more seasons ahead of him, Koji’s been a pure force in the role. If he keeps drinking from the fountain of youth, then maybe he’ll be back next season too.

Sean Doolittle (Oakland Athletics) – After some soap-opera drama in Oakland early on, Doolittle eventually rose above Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson on the depth chart as closer. Once he took the job, there was no looking back and his first All-Star nod has been well deserved (14 saves, 2.89 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, 13.0 K/9).

National League

Aroldis Chapman (Cincinnati Reds) – Despite a gruesome early season injury, Chapman has returned to form nicely (21 saves, 2.12 ERA, 0.78 WHIP). He’s still throwing the heat and possesses an 18.2 K/9 so far. Expect him to keep it up through 2014 and beyond.

Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves) – Another closer on top of his game is Kimbrel, who holds another solid stat line this season – 1.91 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 14.8 K/9. If the Braves keep winning ball games, Craig could earn 60 saves (he’s got 29 so far).

Francisco Rodriguez (Milwaukee Brewers) – One of the season’s biggest surprises has been K-Rod. Going into his fifth All-Star game, Rodriguez has stormed back on the scene this season (27 saves, 2.58 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 10.3 K/9). Although he’s unlikely to top the 62 saves he posted with the Angels in 2008, he could have another 50+ save season this year.

Huston Street (San Diego Padres) – One name that has been tossed around as trade bait is the two-time All Star Street, who has had another solid season in 2014 (24 saves, 1.09 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 9.3 K/9). If he is moved, Huston may become a setup guy elsewhere. If he remains in a position to close games, or stays with the Padres, expect him to finish the season strong.

Pat Neshek (St. Louis Cardinals) – One of the NL’s non-closer invitees was Neshek, who has begun to creep into the closer conversation recently after scavenging a few saves from Trevor Rosenthal. Neshek is having a great season (0.70 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 8.7 K/9) and could provide a lot of value if you’re looking for a setup guy.

Tony Watson (Pittsburgh Pirates) – After an unreal first-half of the season, Watson earned his first All-Star bid this summer. With an excellent stat line (1.42 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 10.2 K/9), he made the Pirates decision to trade Jason Grilli an easy one. Expect him to keep setting up Mark Melancon as the Bucs make a push for the playoffs.

Tyler Clippard (Washington Nationals) – As one of only two representatives of the Washington Nationals, Clippard earned his spot after a tremendous beginning to the season (2.03 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 11.9 K/9). With Rafael Soriano closing effectively (22 saves, 0.97 ERA, 0.81 WHIP), Tyler has given the Nats a firm one-two punch to end 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.




RotoAuthority League Update: One Man's Midseason Trade Advice (Part 2)

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’s not one of them.

To continue last week's theme, let's take a look at hitters and pitchers whom I view as Buy Low and Sell Low candidates going forward.

Buy Low

Jed Lowrie

The Coliseum still ranks in the bottom half of the game in runs. Accordingly, it's not surprising that several Athletics can be found among the list of hitters with the lowest BABIPs. Given Lowrie's high hard-hit ball rate, however, we can safely say that the Oakland shortstop has been unlucky in the batted ball department this season. In terms of power, he's actually increased his flyball rate, but his HR/FB% has cut in half. Lowrie hasn't ever hit even 20 HR, but he'd certainly emerged as a legitimate source of power relative to other middle infielders. If you're looking to acquire a SS or a 2B, Lowrie makes for a good target, as he qualifies at both slots. Depending on the size of your league, he might even be available on the waiver wire. If not, the good news is he certainly won't cost much given his lack of production this year. In short, send out a feeler offer to the Lowrie owner in your league; I'm quite bullish on the A's shortstop for the stretch run.

Alex Cobb

A popular target in the middle rounds, Cobb has failed to live up to the expectations of fantasy owners who drafted him this spring. After missing a month with an oblique injury, the young Rays right-hander has been decent but not exceptional in 76 innings this season. With a 4.14 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP, Cobb has surface statistics that are rather mediocre in today's game. At this point, he's unowned in about a quarter of ESPN leagues, so he shouldn't cost a ton to acquire via trade. I still view this as a highly talented arm, and he still hardly ever induces hard contact. There's a reason he's posted an ERA right around 3.50 with over 400 MLB innings under his belt. Upon closer examination, his peripherals aren't all that different from those he posted in his breakout campaign last season. Overall then, I'd expect a performance more in line with his 3.38 SIERA.

Sell Low

Shin-Soo Choo

I viewed Choo as undervalued this preseason, so I guess I'm lucky to only own him in one league. After all, the Rangers outfielder has been one of this year's greatest disappointments, fantasy or otherwise. Given that he'd gone 20/20 three of the past five seasons, I viewed Choo as a relatively safe option to contribute in four categories. The power isn't down all that much, as he's still on pace for 16 HR; however, he's also on pace for just 5 SB. Meanwhile, the career .285 hitter is hovering around .250 this season. The runs are still there, but I honestly thought he could challenge among the league leaders in that category. Going forward, I really don't expect things to get much better. For one, Choo could see more and more days off as the Rangers give more playing time to the kids. In addition, the veteran outfielder just isn't hitting the ball hard very often these days.  I expected big things for Choo in Arlington, but now I'm rather bearish on his outlook in the future.

Shelby Miller

Miller entered this season as one of the fantasy arms many thought could take the leap to borderline elite status. Well, the young Cardinals right-hander has certainly struggled in his sophomore campaign. The strikeout rate is significantly down while the walk rate has noticeably spiked. Oddly enough, one can make the case that things will only get worse for Miller in the second half. After all, only Chris Young had a worse SIERA among qualified starters entering the weekend. It's premature to give up on this former top prospect in dynasty leagues, but I'd sell this arm for anything of value in the short term. At this point, Miller is all name and no value in redraft leagues. Try to shop him to the owner in your league who overvalues the upside of young players.




The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 11-17

The injury bug hit one of my teams hard this week, as I currently have Joey Votto, Masahiro Tanaka, Adam Lind, Andrew Cashner and Edwin Encarnacion ALL on my disabled list.  I have a bigger DL than a bench at this point.  The bright side of my injury-prone week?  This is the team that's already in second-last place, so hey, nothing is being lost!  Pride went out the window a long time ago in this league, so sure, bring on the injuries.  Let's have Ian Desmond hypnotized into thinking he's a chicken, or have Gregory Polanco get punched out while arguing about British prime ministers.  I don't care any more, bring on the pain. 

While I've gone all nihilistic in this league, I still care about my other leagues, and thus am still looking at the advanced metrics to see who I (and you) should be keeping an eye on....

* Who, Leo?  Some genius fantasy baseball writer told the world back in March that Julio Teheran was due for a better season than Shelby Miller, and as usual, you can take my predictions to the bank!  #BrokenClock  If you have Teheran on your team, however, it might be time for a sneaky sell-high maneuver.  The timing may not be totally perfect given that Teheran just got rocked by the Mets in his last start, but wait for the Braves righty to post one more quality outing and then open the bidding.

Why am I a bit worried about Teheran?  How about the fact that by the standards of the xFIP- metric, he's a perfectly league-average (100) starter?  Teheran has benefited from some healthy BABIP (.258) and strand rate (78.9%) luck this season, and his 2.57 ERA isn't quite as rosy when compared to his 3.34 FIP, 3.70 xFIP and 3.60 SIERA.  Not that these are exactly bad numbers or anything, but they do hint that Teheran is due for a bit of regression in the second half.

Teheran also owns a 44.3% fly ball rate, the fourth-highest of any qualified starter in baseball, and his 36.2% ground ball rate is the sixth-LOWEST of any qualified starter.  It should be a crime to allow so few grounders when Andrelton Simmons is playing behind you.  That kind of high-flys/low-grounders combination is kind of an ominous one, especially since Teheran isn't missing bats (7.65 K/9) at any special rate.

It all adds up to you trying the old "geez, I hate to give up Teheran, but if it's for your more established SP, I guesssss I could do it" routine on a rival manager in your league.  If this rival also owns Shelby Miller, pass along some condolences.

* Moose Calls.  If you drafted Mike Moustakas and started him all this time through his terrible early-season struggles....well, that was a bad move.  You cost yourself a lot of 3B at-bats.  Wow, what were you thinking, not even benching him?  You're a terrible fantasy manager!  Get out of here!  Be ashamed!

...uh wait!  Come back, straw man reader!  I may have been a bit harsh, given that now (FINALLY) Moustakas is starting to show some life.  Heading into Thursday's action against Detroit, Moustakas had posted a .276/.341/.526 line, six homers, 16 RBI and 13 runs over his previous 86 PA.  That is eons ahead of what he did in his previous 167 PA, which was a miserable .518 OPS, four homers, 20 RBI and 10 runs. 

Moustakas' turnaround roughly coincides with his demotion to the minors, and it seems like that time on the farm helped get the Royals third baseman's bat cooking.  Perhaps even more promising are two more stats from his last 86 PA --- the Moose is walking almost as much as striking out (9.3% walk rate, 10.5% K-rate) and his BABIP over his hot stretch is only .242, so if anything, he could be picking up even more hits over his stretch.

This could be one of those treasured post-hype prospect situations that canny fantasy owners absolutely love.  Moustakas is only owned in 19% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, and while his start was so awful that you can't blame anyone for dropping him, there's plenty of room to add him to at least your bench to see if his hot streak is for real.  I personally hope he ends up living up to his prospect hype, as otherwise, my Canadian rock band's name of Mike's Moose Stalkers is going to be pretty obscure.

* The Donald.  Just when you thought the baseball punditry had run out of ways to praise the Athletics' awesome 2014 season, I've got another high point for you.  Oakland is still running roughshod over the league despite the fact that their ostensible best player has been below replacement-level for over a month now.

Josh Donaldson was looking like an MVP candidate over his first 60 games, yet since then, that talk has quieted down considerably.  Going into Thursday's game with the Giants, Donaldson had hit only .144/.186/.255 with two homers, 13 RBI and eight runs over his previous 118 PA.  It was fair to assume a bit of regression after his red-hot start, yet there's "regression" and then there's "falling off a cliff." 

As a Donaldson owner in one of my leagues, I've been watching with horror at what's been happening over the last month and even benched my former lineup cornerstone a couple of times.  (Since my luck is awful, one of those bench games was Donaldson's 2-for-7 outing against Miami on June 28, one of just two multi-hit games he's had over this slump.)  I'm not sounding any alarm bells yet and in this league, I don't really have to since I have Matt Carpenter to slide into my 3B spot and stash Donaldson on my bench until he heats up.  If you don't have a super-solid replacement like Carpenter, however...

It could be that Donaldson is simply slumping and somehow having trouble finding holes in that spacious Coliseum outfield given his .252 BABIP.  But still, don't forget that Donaldson was a complete fantasy non-entity only 15 months ago.  Compared to his breakout 2013 season, Donaldson's contact rates are down (particularly his ability at making contact outside the strike zone), his line drives are way down (20.6% to 12.8%) and he's also walking less while striking out more often.

One bad month obviously doesn't negate the eight months of terrific hitting that preceded it, yet I'm just wary enough about Donaldson that I might float him in a few trades this week.  It's not quite a Teheran-like sell-high scenario, though hopefully I can attract a fellow manager who is still on the Donaldson-for-MVP train and hasn't bothered to look at the monthly splits in a while.  This isn't a solution for everyone since, again, I have Carpenter in this league and can afford to be flexible --- if you have Donaldson and no decent backup, all you can do is ride out his slump and hope that Donaldson starts mashing again soon.  A lengthy slump would really screw up this "everything is working out for the A's" narrative, and I always hate having my narratives ruined by stupid reality.




Closer Updates: Astros, BoSox, Giants, Padres, Rangers, Redlegs, Royals, White Sox

After last week’s closer swap between the Pirates and Angels, we’re going to take a deeper look at a few situations which might develop as the trading deadline gets closer. Don’t worry though, we will also take a look at a few closer battles that are still up in the air.

Boston Red Sox – Quite a few talking heads have mentioned that Koji Uehara might be on the trading block for Boston. Because they’re currently dead last in the AL East, they may opt to be sellers at this year’s trading deadline and Koji makes sense. The 39-year-old closer is certainly effective (18 saves, 1.30 ERA, 0.74 WHIP), but is unlikely to be a building block of the Red Sox future. If he’s dealt, look for Edward Mujica (2 saves, 5.51 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) to earn a lion’s share of the save opportunities. Junichi Tazawa is a great reliever (2.78 ERA, 1.21 WHIP), but seems to prefer a setup role.

Chicago White Sox – This bullpen picture is still quite unclear in Chicago. Matt Lindstrom, who has been on the disabled list with an ankle injury, should return in a few weeks and might be worth stashing. In the meantime, the battle is still between Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka. Putnam still has the edge (2.34 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), but Petricka has performed well in the past two weeks (2 saves, 0.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP) and is gaining some momentum.

Cincinnati RedsAroldis Chapman has pitched well since missing the early part of the season with an injury (5 saves, 1.59 ERA, 1.24 WHIP). Saves chasers remember that Jonathan Broxton was very effective as Chapman’s replacement (5 saves) and is still sporting a 0.62 ERA. If the Reds decide to deal during the trade deadline, Broxton (and his 117 career saves) might be on a few radars.

Houston AstrosChad Qualls has emerged to be the Astros’ most dependable closer (9 saves, 2.05 ERA, 1.08 WHIP). Jesse Crain is still set to return at some indeterminable point-in-time, which might make Qualls disposable. Rumor has it that a few teams are interested in Qualls as a closer / setup guy. If he leaves and Crain is not ready, Houston’s bullpen will become a mess (again) in short order.

Kansas City RoyalsGreg Holland is having another excellent season (23 saves, 1.93 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) and probably won’t be leaving KC anytime soon. However, the Royals have an elite bullpen with Wade Davis (1.19 ERA, 0.82 WHIP), Kelvin Herrera (2.23 ERA, 1.24 WHIP), and Aaron Crow (2.45 ERA, 1.01 WHIP). When the trade deadline approaches, Davis should be on a few GM wish lists and could be an effective closer somewhere else almost immediately.

San Diego PadresHuston Street has been quite effective for the Padres this season (23 saves, 1.13 ERA, 0.78 WHIP). If they go on a losing skid and decide that the division title is too far out of reach, they might trade the 30-year-old closer for some younger prospects. In that instance, Joaquin Benoit would likely get the first save chances in San Diego.

San Francisco Giants – You probably recall that Sergio Romo recently lost his gig as closer after a tough month (2 saves, 12.91 ERA, 2.09 WHIP). Manager Bruce Bochy has insisted that reliever Santiago Casilla (3 saves, 1.08 ERA, 0.84 WHIP) now has the job, so look for him to continue getting save chances in the short term. If he hits a groove, he might keep the gig for the rest of the season.

Texas RangersJoakim Soria (16 saves, 2.76 ERA, 0.82 WHIP) and Jason Frasor (2.86 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) are both names that have been surfaced as potential trade candidates this summer. If Soria is moved, Frasor would likely take the reins for Texas. If Frasor is dealt, Neil Cotts (3.65 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) would move into a setup role.

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: Enjoy the Magic (While It Lasts)

Sometimes, in fantasy baseball, you need to look at the long stretch of season ahead and think about what moves make sense for the long haul. If you're in a keeper league you need to be thinking about next year too, and the one after.

But this isn't one of those times. Sometimes you just have to grab a player who's performing well--even if you don't really think they'll keep it up. Sometimes, you just have to enjoy the magic. While it lasts.

Shallow Leagues (30-50% Owned)

Okay it’s time. Henderson Alvarez (50%) has an ERA under 2.30 and he’s still just 50% owned. Yes, he’s overperforming his abilities. No, he doesn’t strike anybody out. But really. At some point you have to just enjoy the magic that’s there instead of ignoring it just because it will eventually go away. It’s time.

Taijuan Walker (49%) absolutely must be owned. He isn’t destroying his competition, but he’s an electric young pitcher with more impact potential than just about anyone else on the waiver wire. Not only that, but he’s got a very friendly home park, and—don’t look now—his Mariners aren’t bad and ought to help him win a few ballgames. Come on, shallow leaguers.

Josh Harrison (46%) has managed to get MI/CI/OF eligibility and make the All-Star team. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not sure about him for the whole season, but if you need someone now, go for it.

Brock Holt (45%) can play the corners and the outfield, so that’s pretty awesome. Also, he’s got a very nice little hitting line. Like Harrison, I don’t feel very confident about projecting Holt (for better or worse) for the rest of the season—but if you have a hole to fill, fill it with a guy who’s hitting. Maybe he won’t stop. 

Wilson Ramos (44%) might be finding his stroke, after spending most of the early part of the season on the DL. An above-average catcher flyer.

Why do I keep trying to match you up with Jose Quintana (44%)? Because he’s awesome, and so are you: you deserve each other. Seriously, the White Sox like him so much they aren’t listening to offers, which means the folks who know the most about him are on my side of this one.

Rumors have popped up involving Jake Peavy (39%) going to St. Louis. I’d take a chance on the veteran getting new life with a change of scenery. I mean, I wouldn’t go out trading for him, but I’d consider lifting him off the waiver wire before someone else gets the chance. This just in: maybe not. (Check out the link to see the talks progress or devolve.) What you don’t want is the Peavy of the possible future in which he stays with the Sox, so maybe wait on this one. 

You know, a mostly empty .270 batting average isn’t that bad for a shortstop these days. Or for a batting average, for that matter. Think about picking up the captain, Derek Jeter (36%) as he rides into the sunset.

Danny Duffy (34%) warrants more of an eyebrow raise than most Royals pitchers; though I’d like a few more strikeouts, I do like the WHIP.

Scooter Gennett (33%) is still hitting the ball, by the way. Go figure.

Oscar Taveras (31%) is back, also. Perennially worth the flyer, it seems.

Collin McHugh (31%) is still pitching very, very well. Over a strikeout per inning, so that’s always nice.

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

Charlie Morton (25%) is pitching pretty well, in his usual, unexciting fashion.

C.J. Cron (23%) is starting to look interesting, with a solid batting average. If you’re like me and just lost Joey Votto to another DL stint, think about Cron.

If you like living on the edge, Jake Odorizzi (22%) gives you a ton of strikeouts. And the occasional total implosion thanks to all the walks. It’s an exciting ride either way.

Denard Span (20%) isn’t a bad hitter and he’s got some speed (13 steals). He’s a good choice if you need to balance stolen bases and, you know, actual hitting categories.

Deep Leagues (Under 20% Owned)

Is Logan Forsythe (19%) the new Ben Zobrist? He plays 3B/SS/2B/OF, sort of hits and plays, well not that much. Okay, so if you need him, he’s probably already owned because your league is really deep, but his multi-position eligibility means he ought to be on our radars.

Lucas Duda (19%) continues to emerge from the shadow of the Ike Davis platoon experiment. I think he’ll be rising up the first base rankings.

Largely because I didn’t feel confident plugging him earlier in the season, Lorenzo Cain (17%) refuses to stop hitting. Seriously, he’s got a .311 batting average, yet is available in 83% of leagues? He even steals bases. Time to follow this week’s theme and enjoy the magic.

Josh Willingham (15%) has shown a little pop for the Twins and could find himself a friendlier home park soon enough.

I’m not sure who or what James Jones (15%) is, or why he’s getting enough at bats to steal 17 bases, but hey, we’re just here to profit from the production.

Has Vance Worley (13%) come back to life for Pittsburgh? Maybe. Not a lot of whiffs, but PNC Park is a good place to pitch.

You know who else won’t stop hitting? Drew Stubbs (11%). Yeah, weird. But add him to the list of Colorado outfielders you wouldn’t have expected to want. If nothing else, consider him for a home/road platoon slot on your roster.

Odrisamer Despaigne (10%) only have five strikeouts in 19.2 IP. That’s kind of crazy, and yes, it makes me worry. But he’s still got an ERA of 0.92 and a WHIP of 0.97. Enjoy it.

Conor Gillaspie (8%) finally has a home run! And it didn’t even cost him his .310 average.

Jeremy Hellickson (7%) isn’t the most awesome (or consistent) name in fantasy baseball, but he is coming off the DL. He’s helped (and hurt) fantasy teams in the past, so at least he’s a somebody.

Robinson Chirinos (5%) has quietly picked up nine homers in 179 AB playing catcher for Texas. Hey, deep leaguers need backup catchers too.

Josh Rutledge (3%) hasn’t flashed much power, but he plays all three premium infield positions and spends his home games at Coors Field. A lot more teams could use a backup like that.

Logan Morrison (3%) is getting more playing time lately and making some use of it. He’s worth keeping an eye on.

Tsuyoshi Wada (2%) is coming up to make his Major League debut for the Cubbies. If you remember his name, it’s because he come over from Japan some time ago but was derailed by injuries. Well, he’s up now. So, enjoy, very deep leaguers.




RotoAuthority Unscripted: Getting Ahead of the Next Trade

Let’s be honest, you hadn’t gotten to work following my advice and trading for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. I sure hadn’t, and yeah, I’m kinda kicking myself. Because their value just went way up. With improved defense around them, a great park, and a good bullpen, I’d say both pitchers have gotten a chance to hang on to the good luck that helped them start the season. And that’s despite the trip to the AL and the fun they’ll have pitching to real hitters instead of their fellow pitchers. But it doesn’t include the (hopefully) better run support they’ll get from their new team. But hey, don’t take my word for it….

So yeah, it’s probably too late to get value on Samardzija and Hammel. I mean, you can give it a try, but you’ll probably have to pay a fair price. Who wants to do that?

So, we’re going to do something a little different and try to get you (and me) out ahead of the next trade of this All-Star trading month. To do that, we’ll turn our attention to big-sibling site MLB Trade Rumors’ recent polls: Which Starter Will Be Dealt First and Which Position Player Will Be Dealt First.

David Price has been scheduled to get shipped out of Tampa Bay for years now, and this may finally be it. The time seemed right…and then the Rays started to do some winning, which may complicate things. While the Dodgers and Mariners have been mentioned, we’ve also heard that Tampa Bay would be willing to trade him within the division. Considering what Oakland had to give for Samardzija and Hammel, you have to think the Rays will be looking for a huge return, including ready-now or nearly ready prospects. My gut (note: not a very reliable source) tells me that the Rays hang onto their star. With possibilities on the West Coast in the mix, I’d try to play up fears that he goes to, say, Toronto, and trade for Price.

Jon Lester is next on the list, and rumor has it that extension talks aren’t going all that well. My first thought was that this was a bit of a red herring as far as trades go; the Red Sox are surely thinking of themselves as 2015 contenders, even if they’re willing to pull the plug on this year…but remember that time they traded their entire team to the Dodgers? They certainly could deal Lester, and pretty much any contender would put him in a better situation, at least as far as the park goes. Go ahead and trade for Lester.

Cliff Lee is the third marquee pitcher on the list, but he’s hurt and the Phillies have the tendency to be delusional about their near-term playoff chances. The more I think about it, the more I think Lee stays put and the Phils try to build around him and Cole Hamels. So don’t give up the farm for Lee thinking he’ll soon be pitching in LA or Seattle. Consider him even—not much change in his value.

Alex Rios may be on the trading block and out of Texas. This can’t be good news for a guy who’s already lost a lot of power, as I don’t see the Rockies swinging a deal for him. If I had Rios, I would trade him away. The good news is that there’s a good chance the Rangers just hold on to him until next year, but the downside of almost any trade could be serious for Rios owners.

Josh Willingham (is he really the next most interesting guy on this list? Ouch.) has flashed a little power for the Twins. Fortunately, he’s on the trading block, and almost any other place will be better for his homer power than Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Mariners have come up the most often in connection to him. I’d still trade for Willingham and hold out hope for the proverbial mystery team. Even in Seattle, his value shouldn’t really go down.

Daniel Murphy actually beats Willingham as an interesting trade piece, especially for those of us looking for speed, batting average, and runs scored. I don’t think they’ve come up in Murphy rumors, but the Blue Jays could probably use a second baseman. Almost anywhere would probably help Murphy cross the plate more often, and getting out of CitiField is always nice. As an added bonus, Murphy is one guy the Mariners probably won’t be stealing into their run-killing park. Trade for Murphy.

Ian Kennedy was such a good bounce-back target before the season because he would be pitching in San Diego. Now he might be getting traded out of Petco Park. (Insert animals running loose joke, I suppose.) That isn’t ideal, except for in the wins category. I would deal him away before he ends up pitching for the Brewers or the Orioles or something. 

Bartolo Colon’s ability to never walk anyone will play in any home park…but I’m still leery of seeing what happens to this very hittable pitcher in a higher-scoring environment than the one he’s currently in. Sure, the prospect of more wins is enticing, but I’d still deal him away just like Kennedy. If your league is even deep enough to own him….

Ben Zobrist is on your team because he plays every position. Probably not because he can hit…because he isn’t doing much of that. While someone as versatile as Zobrist is as hard to trade away in real baseball as fantasy, he could find himself on the move. My first reaction to that (at least, after disbelief that the platoon-and-matchup loving Rays could ever trade him away) was that that would be good news: a friendlier park and a better offense might help him out. And then I had a horrifying thought: Zobrist could get traded into a utility role on a contender. Even dropping his playing time to the large half of a platoon is serious trouble for Zobrist’s fantasy value. I would trade him away just in case.

Marlon Byrd is slugging nearly .500. Credit the Phillies for believing in him, I suppose. Well, credit them when they turn him into a prospect. The upside of a Byrd trade is the chance to move into a better lineup for more counting stats. The downside is missing out on summer in a small park. I’d call this one about even—unless he gets traded to another hitters’ haven, his value will probably remain more or less the same.

Chase Headley seems to be drawing interest. I guess memories of one great season speak louder than a sub-.300 OBP. With teams like the Blue Jays and Yankees reportedly making calls, Headley could be facing one of the biggest possible park factor shifts. I’ll take a flyer on that. Keep an eye on him if he’s on the waiver wire, and think about trading for Headley. It feels really weird writing that.

Bonus: Stay away from Brandon McCarthy in New York. Sure, he’ll get better run support, but his flyballing ways were trouble in Arizona; they won’t get much better in New York and he’ll have to face tougher offenses and DH’s. Not for me.

Things change quickly in the month of July, so keep refreshing MLBTraderumors.com to see who you should be trading for and away. Good luck out there.




RotoAuthority League Update: One Man's Midseason Trade Advice (Part 1)

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’s not one of them.

It's around this time each season that many fantasy writers across the Interwebs write articles about their midseason trade targets. I know this column is intended to update you, the reader, on the goings-on of the RotoAuthority League. Given that the standings in that league have stagnated over the past couple weeks, though, please allow me to endulge myself this week with my own personal trade advice as we approach the All-Star Break.

When you break it down, fantasy baseball really comes down to two variables. On the one hand, there's a generally accepted market value for a player at any given time. Sure, this can vary widely across leagues, but there usually exists some relatively established value for a player across the countless fantasy websites. On the other hand, there's the expected fantasy worth of a player going forward. Once again, this can vary dramatically among fantasy players. Some fantasy owners place far greater emphasis on the in-season statistics while others care more about the rest-of-season projections. The tricky part, of course, is that this involves forecasting the future.

Ultimately, this hobby that we play really comes down to the variance between market value and actual value. Naturally, we seek to acquire players whom the market is undervaluing and trade away the ones the market is overvaluing. For as long as I've played this game, I've always been among the most active owners in my leagues, and it's precisely this gap between market value and actual value that makes this game so fascinating to me.

Now through the years, sabermetrics have become so mainstream that you can't simply rely on the secondary statistics alone anymore. Still, that just makes this game even more appealing to me. Similar to poker, there are pure numbers guys in every fantasy baseball league, there are owners who make decisions strictly based on gut feelings, and there are other fantasy owners who fit somewhere along the spectrum between these two extremes.

With that in mind, players really fall within one of four quadrants at any given time. There are Buy High, Buy Low, Sell High, and Sell Low candidates. Let's take a look at a hitter and a pitcher who fit each of these descriptions based on what I expect going forward. This week we'll examine the Buy High and Sell High candidates, and next week we'll take a look at some Buy Low and Sell Low options.

Buy High

Jose Abreu

I actually really liked Abreu in the preseason, but I somehow only ended up with him on one team. At this point, I think we can all agree that this is one of the top power hitters in the game. Even so, I still think there's a buying opportunity here. After all, for me personally, there are only six hitters I'd prefer going forward: Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Troy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, and Paul Goldschmidt. That's it. Rotoworld, on the other hand, recently ranked Abreu just 27th overall for the rest of the season. With the continued decline in power in today's game, Abreu is truly a fantasy monster. He hits the ball hard, and he hits the ball incredibly far. If you can acquire him for anything short of the equivalent of a superstar, get the deal done before your league's trade deadline.

David Price

Ideally you would have already dealt for Price a couple of weeks ago. After all, the Rays ace has been dominant lately with at least nine strikeouts in each of his past six outings. Still, there's an argument to be made that things will only get better for Price down the stretch. As we all know by now, the Rays southpaw is clearly on the trade block. While some may argue that the environment around him is likely to worsen if he leaves Tampa Bay, I'm willing to gamble that the Rays deal him to a team in the NL. If that proves to be the case, this is a top-five starting pitcher going forward. It seems that K-BB% is the new pitching sabermetric du jour, and Price just happens to rank first in all of baseball in the category. With a move to the NL, one would only expect even better results. Given the pristine peripherals he's currently posting in the AL East, it's downright scary to contemplate what he might do in the NL West, for instance.

Sell High

Alex Rios

Like the Rays, the Rangers are in the midst of a miserable season and likely to be sellers at the deadline. From a fantasy perspective, Rios is having a decent campaign, thanks in large part to his SB total. A move out of Texas, though, could be potentially damaging to his fantasy value. More importantly, though, it's worth noting that the Rangers outfielder simply isn't hitting the ball with the same kind of force anymore. In fact, he ranks in the bottom third in the game in hard contact. Meanwhile, the low HR output isn't a fluke, either. Rios is currently outside the top 200 in batted ball distance. The Rangers right fielder does have a good line drive rate, but I'd still expect some regression in his high BABIP. Overall then, I'd cash in on Rios to a team looking for a reliable source of speed.

LaTroy Hawkins

I have to give some credit to Hawkins; I sure didn't think he'd last this long in the closer role. Remarkably, the forty-one-year-old journeyman has only one blown save all season, so he should have a relatively long leash at this point. From a real baseball perspective, I guess it's possible that Hawkins could be sufficiently adequate in the second half that he maintains the closer job, although I doubt it. From a fantasy viewpoint, however, I can just about guarantee that he won't be helpful to his owners in the standings. Let's start with the fact that the Colorado closer ranks dead last in all of baseball in K%. In fact, Hawkins is on pace for just 24 strikeouts this season; that's downright laughable in today's game. Even with good surface statistics, the veteran ranks outside the top 40 among relievers on the ESPN Player Rater. With an ERA two runs below his SIERA, a correction is likely to come at some point for Hawkins. At that point, he'll only contribute in the saves category. In short, I'd take just about anything of value for this closer.


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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 4-10

Happy birthday, America!  What better way to celebrate Independence Day than with the July 4th tradition of seeing how players correspond to their advanced metrics?  It's a little-known fact that George Washington would often talk John Adams' ear off about how he felt BABIP was an overrated statistic....what's that?  I got an F-minus in third-year American History, why do you ask?

* Kazmanian Devil.  The old "now I'm a pitcher, not a thrower" narrative haz been the theme of Scott Kazmir's imprezzive comeback, both last season in Cleveland and now thiz season with the A'z.  If you spent a mid-to-late round draft pick on Kazmir last spring, you're undoubtedly overjoyed by the resultz thus far...which is why it *might* be time to sell high.

His recent seven-run blowup against the Mets notwithztanding, it's not like I'm expecting Kazmir to suddenly fall off a cliff the rest of the way; heck, pitching in Oakland alone (1.61 ERA in seven home starts) will keep the southpaw relevant.  Kazmir's peripheral numberz paint the picture of a quality starter, albeit one who is getting a bit lucky.  A .257 BABIP and a 81.3% strand rate are major reasonz why Kazmir's 2.61 ERA is noticeably below his 3.41 FIP, 3.45 xFIP and 3.36 SIERA, not to mention a 48.4% ground ball rate that sitz way above his 39.9% career average. 

Befitting that aforementioned "pitcher, not a thrower" thing, Kazmir's K/9 is 7.93, not only lezz than the 9.7 K/9 he posted during his 2004-08 glory yearz but also below the 9.2 K/9 he had last year with the Tribe.  Now, if your biggest problem as a fantasy manager is that one of your top starterz *only* has a 7.9 K/9, you are leading a charmed life.  That said, fewer strikeoutz translatez to slightly lesser fantazy value, so if you can spin Kazmir off in trade for a starter with equal numberz and more K's, than that's definitely worth exploring.  (Why your fellow manager would trade such a starter is beyond me; maybe he's a big Moneyball fan and wants an Athletic on his team.)

After getting ace-level production from a pick in the second half of your draft, you can further maximize the value of your shrewd move by dealing Kazmir before he regrezzez.   

* Bourn Legacy.  In the spirit of the July 4th holiday, I'm taking a vacation by simply linking to my item about Michael Bourn from my column of roughly 48 weeks ago.  Everything written last year still applies since Bourn is on pace for the exact same numbers as last season...

2013: Six homers, 50 RBI, 23 steals, 75 runs, .263/.316/.360 slash line, .338 BABIP, 23% strikeout rate, 7% walk rate over 575 PA

2014: Two homers, 20 RBI, seven steals, 35 runs, .266/.312/.367 slash line, .343 BABIP, 22.3% strikeout rate, 6% walk rate over 300 PA

I feel like some Doublemint gum after looking at those lines.  The only real difference in Bourn's statistics is a drop in disappointed fantasy managers since they stayed the heck away from him after his 93 wRC+ season.  I said it before and I'll say it again, Bourn is simply not worth having on your roster now that he's no longer putting up his big stolen base numbers.  

* Ich Bin Ein Right-Hander.  Everyone knows that the Padres' desultory lineup is the reason for their rough season, as once again, San Diego's rotation is putting up good numbers with the help of Petco Park.  One of the few Padre hurlers who isn't benefiting, seemingly, is Ian Kennedy.  Not only are his home/road splits virtually identical, his 3.87 ERA is a full run above his 2.87 FIP (3.14 xFIP, 3.12 SIERA), and that somewhat high ERA is masking some otherwise tremendous numbers from the veteran righty.

It seems like everyone forgot that Kennedy posted a 4.9 fWAR season only three years ago, though he didn't make the next big leap to ace-hood that many expected in 2012 and then almost fell off the radar after a below-average 2013.  The advanced metrics, however, indicated that Kennedy's 2013 season wasn't really as bad as his 4.91 ERA would indicate, so if you're a canny manager who drafted Kennedy expecting a rebound and a Petco boost, congratulations.

Kennedy is striking out more batters (9.55 K/9) and inducing more grounders (41.3% GBR) than ever before, though his .326 BABIP indicates both that some of those grounders are getting through and also explains why his ERA is significantly higher than his peripherals.  His star dimmed a bit after a few blah starts in June, though those poor outings could help you pick him up given that Kennedy is still available in over a third of Yahoo fantasy leagues.  Kennedy is far from your usual "Padre spot starter when they're at home" guy since he's pitched well everywhere, and could be a major second-half contributor to your team if his luck balances out.

* Wrecking Ball.  Speaking of NL West pitchers who are doing better than their real-world numbers would indicate, I give you Wade Miley.  He can't stop (he won't stop) giving up homers, as his 16.8% HR rate is third-highest among all qualified starters.  Miley's troubles with the long ball have left him with a 4.61 ERA despite an array of nice peripherals --- 4.13 FIP, 3.33 xFIP, 3.45 SIERA, a career-best 8.42 K/9 and a very solid 48% grounder rate.

This season has seen a marked increase in Miley's use of his slider.  He's now throwing it a quarter of the time (up from 16.5% in 2013) and with good cause, given how it's been his best pitch over the last two seasons; opponents only have a .594 OPS against Miley's slider (which I want to nickname "the Milder") in 2014. 

The problem is that while Miley has also cut back on his use of his two-seam fastball, it's still his worst pitch and the biggest reason for his home run issues.  Over Miley's career, opposing hitters are slashing .285/.338/.445 against his two-seamer.  That works out to a 128 wRC+, which also happens to be the career wRC+ of Dave Winfield, Jim Rice, Chase Utley and Zack Wheat, to name a few.  If you throw a pitch that turns batters into those guys, I'd suggest you stop using it altogether, not 33.6% of the time like Miley is doing this season.  In fact, only 12 qualified starters in baseball have thrown a higher percentage of two-seamers than Miley has this season, so Wade, dude, stop the madness!

Homers have generally been a problem for Miley over all four of his Major League seasons, and since I can't see him quitting the two-seamer cold turkey, adding him to your rotation now might only hurt your ERA (and forget about wins given how the D'Backs have played this year).  A homer-prone pitcher isn't helped by Chase Field, obviously, and since Miley has pitched better in away games both this season and over his career, I'd recommend him as a decent streaming option when he's lined up for a road start.  It's no surprise that Miley's best season (2012) was the one when he only had a 6.9% homer rate, so if he ever learns how to keep the ball in the park, the lefty could be a real breakout star.




Closer Updates: Astros, Bravos, Cubs, Giants, Halos, Pirates, Rangers, Rays, Tigers, Tribe, White Sox

After a few quiet weeks, the closer scene started to sizzle again after a reliever swap between Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. In this week’s edition, we’ve also got a demotion out west and some closer-by-committee position battles. For good measure, we’ll sprinkle in an injury update (or two) too.

Atlanta Braves – Despite a heavy workload over the last week (4 appearances, 4 saves, 0 earned runs allowed), Craig Kimbrel is still looking like the same old stud for the Bravos. However, David Carpenter should be recalled from Triple-AAA Gwinnett this week and, once that move happens, Carpenter should quickly supplant Shae Simmons and Luis Avilan as a top setup option.

Chicago CubsHector Rondon has been fairly consistent over the last week for the Cubbies (3 saves, 1 earned run). Although his season numbers are just decent (11 saves, 3.62 ERA, 1.30 WHIP), he has converted 11 of 13 save opportunities so far and is a solid speculative option to gather up any of the Cubs save opportunities. If he fails to be consistent, Neil Ramirez is the one to watch (3 saves, 1.25 ERA, 0.88 WHIP).

Chicago White Sox – With manager Robin Ventura unwilling to name a closer, two candidates lead their closer-by-committee: Jake Petricka (2 saves, 1.94 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) and Zach Putnam (1 save, 2.30 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). Both have average strikeout rates (6.6 and 7.2, respectively) but lots of potential. Keep an eye on this situation if you’re desperate for saves – I’d probably go with Putnam.

Cleveland Indians – Even though manager Terry Francona is unwilling to name Cody Allen the “official” closer, Allen has done well enough in the position to deserve a little leash. With a couple of four-out saves and an impressive track record (8 of 9 save opportunities), he’s a good option to keep the gig for the rest of the season.

Detroit Tigers – After all that chatter about Joe Nathan, he seems to be back into his rhythm in Motown. In the past week, Nathan has two appearances and two saves. That being said, Joba Chamberlain (2 save, 2.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) isn’t out of the picture just yet – Nathan gave up two earned runs in those same appearances.

Houston AstrosChad Qualls, who has been consistent this season, was dealing with a slight groin injury earlier this week and a stray save opportunity fell to Tony Sipp – who converted. However, Qualls was warming up in that game just in case and should be ready to go moving forward... In other Astros reliever news, Kyle Farnsworth didn’t last long and was optioned to Triple-A last week.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – In the past week, the Halos dealt troubled former closer Frieri to Pittsburgh for Jason Grilli (11 saves, 4.37 ERA, 1.54 WHIP). Although he will not immediately take the job from Joe Smith, Grilli will make a push for the gig once he gets his groove back. If that happens, he can be a top-flight closer (49 career saves).

Pittsburgh Pirates – Like the Angels, the Pirates were ready to trade one inconsistent closer for another – swapping Grilli for Ernesto Frieri (11 saves, 6.00 ERA, 1.36 WHIP). With a degree of confidence in Mark Melancon (and a solid backup option in Tony Watson), the Bucs took on the troubled Frieri. If he takes advantage of the fresh start in the National League, he could become a valuable weapon in their bullpen moving forward.

San Francisco Giants – One closer who lost his job in the last week is Sergio Romo. Romo has struggled over the past month (5 saves, 9.72 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) and manager Bruce Bochy expects them to go with a closer-by-committee approach in the short term. For now, it appears to be a race between Santiago Casilla (1 save, 1.15 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) and Jeremy Affeldt (31 appearances, 1.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP), with Casilla having the early edge.

Tampa Bay Rays – After a rough start to the season, it seems that Grant Balfour may just be working his way back into the closer role. But… it only seems that way. On Tuesday, manager Joel Maddon gave him the save opportunity and credited it to “good karma.” Chalk this up to a one-time occurrence and expect the Rays to stay closer-by-committee with Jake McGee leading the show (followed by Joel Peralta and Juan Carlos Oviedo).

Texas RangersJoakim Soria has struggled in the past two weeks (0 saves, 13.50 ERA, 2.25 WHIP) and it’s a situation worth keeping an eye on. If these troubles continue, look for Jason Frasor (2.08 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) and Neal Cotts (3.38 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) to step in.

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: Switch the Power On (While You Still Can)

It’s been way too long since I’ve done a normal Stock Watch column, so let’s skip the intro (I’m pretty sure you do anyway) and get right to the good stuff. 

Trade For 

Cliff Lee is about to start his rehab assignment, which means it’s about time to start preparing trade offers for him. Trading for injured pitchers is always a risky move, but getting quality pitchers at a discount is a worthy investment.

James Shields continues to underperform, but he’s been such a good, consistent pitcher for so long that it’s hard for me to think it will last forever. Plus, he hasn’t been truly bad in real baseball (unlike a fellow AL Central ace we’ll see below)…just not helpful for his fantasy teams.

Jeff Samardzija remains a trade away candidate for the Cubs, so he remains a trade for candidate for you—his fantasy value would go up at pretty much any plausible destination.

Robinson Cano seems to have found his power stroke in recent weeks. It’s probably nothing more than catching up to the percentages, so your last chance to pry him from disappointed owners might already be slipping by. But you can make the deal more assured that he’s the Cano you know….

Joey Votto has not shown that he’s returning to his old self yet, and yeah, I am getting worried. But fantasy baseball is a game of gambles, and betting that as consistently excellent a player as Votto eventually returns to form seems like a bet worth making.

Mark Trumbo looks like he’s about two weeks away from a return. While he might encounter setbacks, his foot injury shouldn’t hurt his power. (‘Cause, obviously, that’s never been a problem for Albert Pujols.) But really, the scarcity of homers and Trumbo’s ability to hit them makes him a valuable commodity.

Trade Away

A good start against the Astros might earn you more bites on Justin Verlander, but it’s hardly enough to renew my optimism for the fallen ace. I'd still be shopping him.

Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle have been amazing. Let’s give them that. They’re very good real-baseball pitchers; let’s give them that too. But their strikeout rates are going to hurt your team in the long run. Sell high, especially to a team with a lot of innings to fill up before reaching the cap.

With Alex Wood making a triumphant return to the Majors and the Braves’ starting rotation, it’s probably time to consider dealing him if you play in a head-to-head league. Why? Because I suspect this isn’t the last time Atlanta messes with his playing time to keep his innings down. Maybe it is, but it seems like the chances of him pitching from the ‘pen or being shut down altogether in September seem fairly high—especially if the Braves either lock up the division or fall from contention. Not what you need in the playoffs.

Vague rumors have cropped up that Alex Rios—and every Ranger not named Darvish or Beltre—might be on the trading block this month. If you’re only counting on the steals from Rios, fine, but I’d be very worried about the rest of his production if he does move out of Texas. 

Matt Adams is still sporting a bloated batting average, and I still don’t believe in it. 

Gregory Polanco is off to a nice little start to his Major League career. So you know what to do: trade him before he hits the mostly-inevitable “downs” of a rookie season’s ups and downs.

Pick Up

Shallow Leagues (30-50% Owned)

Josh Harrison (43%) is still hitting the ball and has IF/OF eligibility. I’m not really a Harrison believer, as he wasn’t that special of a prospect—but I’ll happily use a waiver claim to get him. Plus, he if keeps it up a little longer, he might have some trade value.

Mookie Betts (41%) isn’t off to the best Major League start ever…but how often do potentially-viable shortstops show up on the waiver wire? Pretty much never. Roll the dice (or place your bet) if you’re still trotting out the likes of Everth Cabrera or Jonathan Villar

Who is Jesse Hahn (38%)? Well, he’s pitching lights-out and plays for the Padres. You had me at Padres, Jesse Hahn.

Chris Johnson (36%) has managed to get his average to creep up over .280. A high-BABIP guy, he could be a nice boost in the BA category, plus he can sub in at first and third.

Speaking of middle infielders, Scooter Gennett (35%) keeps, well, scooting along with a .311 average. Is your MI player really better than that?

If Jose Quintana (34%) hits the trading block, he should get a nice boost in value—especially if he goes to a team with a real bullpen. 

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

Adam Dunn (30%) has seemed stuck at about 12 homers for a long time now, so there probably isn’t a huge rush to pick him up. But his average really doesn’t hurt as much as it used to. If you’ve got a couple bench slots (which you probably don’t, seeing as this is the medium leagues section, but hang on for a second), he’s the sort of guy I like to platoon with an empty average type, or an all-speed guy, and just play the matchups. 

Andrew Heaney (28%) is off to a pretty rough looking start—but I’ll take a 12:3 strikeout to walk ratio any day. The Marlins prospect ought to be able to lower his ERA in a hurry. 

Roenis Elias (25%) doesn’t have amazing season stats, but playing half his games in Seattle ought to help you get more bang for your buck. Or less bang, since the term seems to suggest homers and runs scored. Either way, he looks like a useful half-time starter at a minimum. 

Colby Rasmus (25%) is pretty much like Adam Dunn, but younger and with longer hair. And you can play him in the outfield. Anyway, he’s healthy again, so pick him up if you need homers.

Denard Span (22%) should be owned in pretty much every five-OF league. And maybe he is, I guess. Decent speed and just good enough hitting skills to keep him from hurting you in average, maybe even helping in runs. My fifth OF’s aren’t better than that.

Steve Pearce (22%) once was a prospect (I think—it’s been awhile), and I’ve been kind of skeptical of him, but he just keeps hitting, so he should get the playing time. Go for it. 

Deep Leagues (Under 20% Owned) 

Omar Infante (18%) has shown some signs of life lately. Over the years, he’s been a consistently just-good-enough MI with decent averages, that I think he’s a good candidate to raise his current average to the level where it helps your team.

Juan Francisco (18%) is yet another all power, no average type. This article needs a theme, so I’ll go ahead and recommend him. Plus, he has dual eligibility. Maybe platoon him and Johnson?

For those who don’t hate the batting average category, consider Lorenzo Cain and James Loney (both 18%).

Lucas Duda (17%) might actually be a good player, so take him over the other options here just in case.

I’m surprised as anyone to recommend Chris Young (13%--the pitcher), but this article makes me willing to use him for his home starts. But only in leagues where I can spare the strikeout hit.

Conor Gillaspie (9%) still won’t agree to bring his batting average down to where no-namers without any home runs should be keeping it. So I’ll just keep mentioning him until he does. If he’s on your waiver wire, don’t complain about your place in the batting average standings.

James Jones (8%) is kind of a poor-man’s Eric Young. So take that or leave it, I guess.

Odrisamer Despaigne’s (7%) ERA and WHIP are both under one. He also has just three strikeouts. I’m sure all those numbers will normalize to a certain extent, but since he pitches for San Diego, he could be a sort of Chris Young-lite. Maybe that’s stretching  the terms of fantasy viability, but we’re talking deep leagues at this point.

Josh Rutledge (3%) plays for Colorado, is hitting okay already, and was once a promising middle infielder. Why is he available in 97% of leagues?




RotoAuthority Unscripted: Obligatory Writer's Block Half-Season Post

All right, I’ve sat at my computer for almost two hours now trying to think of a really good, really original post for today’s column. Nothing’s going on, and I’m finding myself going back to Facebook more often than Fangraphs as the morning drags on and my coffee runs out. This is the danger of an unthemed Unscripted column.

So here it is, my obligatory observation of the baseball season’s halfway mark, in which I shall remark upon some several things of note. Well, things of note to me. The one promise I’ll make is this: Andrew Gephardt, I won’t be stealing the ideas from your column yesterday. Click here for those too lazy to scroll down…either way check out his 10 strange but true facts and be enriched.

Also read my stuff, but no guarantee about enrichment, seeing as I (just this morning) jettisoned my favorite second baseman of the season—Aaron Hill—and had to read about how Ian Kinsler has been one of the best of the year. It’s amazing that my various teams are more of a mixed bag than a disaster. (And perhaps a reminder that my fantasy advise should be judged in aggregate. Anyway, thanks for nothing, Aaron.)

Thing Number 1: Steals Are Alive Again

The Major Leagues have stolen 1417 bases so far this season, good for a pace of 2934 (based on it being roughly halfway, and all—it isn’t exact, I know)—or significantly more than last year. It’s still less than the 3200+ that we saw in 2012 and 2011, but I wonder if the pace will actually pick up with returns to health from speedy guys like the one-dimensional Eric Young, and superstar Bryce Harper, as well as the recent enough promotions of Gregory Polanco, Mookie Betts, and the like. Okay, so totals as big as a season’s stolen bases won’t be changed terribly much by my cherry-picked examples, but your fantasy team might. Steals still abound on many waiver wires, so don’t despair if you need more points in the category…and don’t get too comfortable just because you’ve built yourself a lead.

Thing Number 2: Power Is Down, Strikeouts Are Up

The leaguewide strikeout rate is now at 20.3%, or the highest it’s been in the last five years (or maybe ever for all I know that’s relevant to your fantasy team). I have vague memories of 20% being a bad number for how much you strike out, but since my little league whiff rate was about 70% (but hey, I had a 30% walk rate), who am I to criticize? Anyway, what’s relevant is this: Mark Buehrle and Bartolo Colon are trouble for your team in the strikeouts category—you’ve gotta miss bats to get things done on the fantasy mound. Unless you still play in a 4x4 league, I guess.

Meanwhile, fewer balls are traveling out of the park than in years past. It’s beyond the scope of this study to wonder whether that’s just because we get more homers in the hotter second half of the year (but if you know, let me know in the comments), but so far we’ve got a league ISO of just .139, which isn’t exactly bringing back the Dead Ball Era, but it certainly makes you appreciate Jose Abreu (.346 ISO) all the more. It probably even makes you wish you traded for Khris Davis (.231) in April.

Even if the pace picks up in the second half due to weather, pitcher fatigue, or whatever else might do it, the general point remains true: this scarcity of power is surely driving up the cost of homers on your trade market, so even if no-average guys like Adam Dunn are floating around on your waiver wire you kind of have to take a shot. I still might not reach all the way to Chris Carter in a batting average league though….

Thing Number 3: Never, Ever, Trust Relief Pitchers

I’m looking at RotoAuthority’s 2014 Closer Rankings next to our current Closer Depth Chart and a lot of these names are different. Some have changed over and over again. The half-season advice is pretty much the same as I would give before the season: don’t pay for saves at all…or pay a lot for them. Splitting the difference is what kills you. 

Our top four closers are still rocking, and only one of the top 12 (Jim Johnson) has lost his job (so far). After that, though, 11 of the last 18 closers have already been replaced, permanently or temporarily. Two of them even got traded for each other and out of both closer jobs. Perhaps it always feels this way, but it seems like teams are readier than they have been in years past to replace their closer. Johnson and Grant Balfour were, notably, acquired with high price tags and still deposed, which might be a bad sign for the struggling Joe Nathan

I’d happily advise simply ignoring closers on draft day based on this…but so many owners are already doing that that it’s getting harder to snatch up the decent closers on the waiver wire…and giving Ronald Belisario the opportunity to wreck your ERA and WHIP for a few weeks.

Thing Number 4: 7 Players on a Quarter of the Best Fantasy Teams*

Okay, so these guys are on 25% or more of the 500 best Yahoo! Public teams. If you’re in a Yahoo! Public league, you share my skepticism that your league leader is really one of the best fantasy managers, but there it is: these guys have been surprises, to varying degrees, and their owners are pretty happy with what they’ve got. I don’t own one of them, in any league. 

Masahiro Tanaka: this guy has somehow managed to exceed the sky-high expectations our entire country put on him. I guess we should have known better, since he’d been living up to Japanese expectations for some time now, which make the Yankees’ look pretty tame. I see no reason to think Tanaka isn’t for real; he’ll be a top-10 pitcher next year.

Francisco Rodriguez: Remember the pimply-faced 20-year-old who dominated the playoffs in 2002? No? Well that’s okay, because K-Rod has brought it back this year as one of baseball’s best closers. I have to think he’ll be a draftable closer again next year, but see Thing Number 3 to learn how confident I am in any closer. Still, he was a great first-week waiver wire snag. Well played, teams with the highest waiver priority. 

Dee Gordon: What? It’s not like you thought Gordon was going to get the second base job out of Spring Training either. I’m pretty sure Gordon himself didn’t. Steals players are fickle, but he’s kept it up long enough that he’ll be a league leader in the category even if he misses the rest of the season. I guess it’s too late to offer a lowball trade for the guy.

Jose Abreu: Tim Dierkes was talking up Abreu a lot before the season and got his man in the MLBTR Staff League. So, no wonder he’s winning. Abreu is the new Dunn—as in, the Dunn who used to be a must-own.

Johnny Cueto: I mentioned him a little bit a couple of weeks ago as a guy who tends to beat his peripherals. I’ll stick by that, and say that I expect he’ll continue to perform at a high level, and perhaps regress less than most stats-savvy owners might expect. 

Jonathan Lucroy: He’s pretty much the only catcher who’s lived up to expectations. And this year seemed to be so deep in catcher quality too…just another position full of players not to trust? Probably not. As for-real as Lucroy is (at least as a high-level catcher, if probably not as baseball’s best), buying low on his disappointing compatriots is worth doing.

Sean Doolittle: Johnson's replacement took a little while to take over, but he's run with the job. He's proof that a good fantasy season is much more than what happened on draft day.

 

 

 

 

 





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