The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Season Review

No awards show is more star-studded than the TPIITP Gala, which rewards outstanding achievements in the field of excellence.  Forget the Cy Young or the MVP, every ballplayer dreams of taking home one of these coveted prizes...uh, except the negative ones.  Okay, this entire thing is a sham.  Not quite as much of a sham as the Golden Globes, but still.

BABIP Buster Of The Year: Any number of sluggers have to be excused from this list since BABIP doesn't count homers, so why am I citing Brian Dozier, he of the 23 long balls this season?  It's because Dozier breaks the mold of the slow-moving slugger and is a force on the basepaths -- he racked up 21 steals in 2014 and ranked fourth amongst all qualified hitters under Fangraphs' Base Running (BsR) metric.

All that speed and shrewd baserunning, however, didn't help Dozier produce more than a .269 BABIP.  He still had a terrific season (23 homers, 71 RBI, 112 runs, 21 steals and a .242/.345/.416 slash line) but something even better could be on the horizon if Dozier gets a bit more batted-ball luck and improves his contact.  I'd also point the finger at the Home Run Derby for his midseason slump, as that contest is notorious for ruining players' swings for weeks at a time.  Dozier was already one of the top fantasy second baseman on the board for 2015, so it's scary to think what he could do if the BABIP fairy turns his way.

BABIP Squanderer Of The Year: We have our first multi-time TPIITP award winner, as Chris Johnson takes home this prize after winning the 'creation of the year' honor in 2013.  The difference is that last season, Johnson rode a high BABIP to a nice year at the plate, whereas in 2014, not even his .345 BABIP could make him even a league-average hitter.  Johnson hit .262/.292/.361 with 10 homers, 58 RBI, 43 runs scored and a measly 82 wRC+ over 611 PA, making him a lacking option both in the Braves lineup and on your fantasy roster.  It should be noted that Johnson now has a .357 BABIP for his career (2476 PA), which is the 15th-highest BABIP of any player in the history of baseball (!) with at least 2000 plate appearances.  In short, Johnson's career is going to be a unique gem for sabermetric analysts to study for years to come.

BABIP Creation Of The Year: This category forces me to eliminate several speedsters, since they help "create" their own high BABIP due to their ability to beat out grounders.  Superstars also generally have a high BABIP since they're just really good at hitting, so while Jose Abreu, Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton all finished top-eight in the BABIP standings, they're certainly not mirages. 

No, I'm going to single out the Marlins' Casey McGehee, who returned from a season in Japan to make himself fantasy-relevant by hitting .287/.355/.357 with four homers, 76 RBIs and 56 runs scored.  It was a nice little comeback that was underwritten by a .335 BABIP, and I'm not sure anyone should be too keen on picking up McGehee in next spring's fantasy draft.  Honorable (dishonorable?) mention goes to Joe Mauer, who I'm giving a pass due to an injury-riddled season.  Mauer did, however, post the highest strikeout rate of his career and his lowest wRC+ since 2005, so if it wasn't for his typically high BABIP (.342), you might hear a lot more about his decline rate.  I'm not keen on drafting Mauer in 2015 either, but I'd still feel better with him in a regular role than McGehee.

The Lucky Hurler Award: This award goes to the pitcher who had the lowest BABIP, highest strand rate and biggest negative gap between his ERA and his FIP, and so technically, it should go to Doug Fister, who ranked first in strand rate and ERA/FIP, plus the fifth-lowest BABIP.  The actual winner, however, is the Mariners' Chris Young, whose .238 BABIP (just percentage points behind Johnny Cueto for the lowest in baseball), 80.2% strand rate (sixth) and ERA/FIP gap (3.65 ERA, 5.02 FIP) earns him the nod since were it not for these peripherals, Young wouldn't have had any value whatsoever.

Fister's peripherals are to be expected, given that he's a low-strikeout guy and a groundball specialist (48.9% GBR in 2014).  Young, however, doesn't just not miss bats, he doesn't get grounders either --- his 22.3% grounder rate was by far the lowest of any qualifed pitcher in baseball.  His ERA predictor peripherals were off the charts (not just a 5.02 FIP, but a 5.19 xFIP and 5.24 SIERA) and you can just about entirely chalk Young's 2014 campaign up to pitching at Safeco Field.  Tip your cap to Young for a fine season and keep him away from your 2015 fantasy roster.

The Unlucky Hurler Award: This was a very tricky award to parse this season since we had several distinguished candidates.  Let's check out the top 10 finishers in each of the BABIP, strand rate and ERA/FIP categories, and feel free to sing along if you wish...

BABIP: Colby Lewis, Brandon McCarthy, Phil Hughes, Nathan Eovaldi, Travis Wood, Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang, Jose Quintana, Justin Verlander, Wade Miley

Strand rate: Clay Buchholz, Eovaldi, Dan Haren, Kyle Gibson, Wood, Matt Garza, Verlander, A.J. Burnett, Lewis, Quintana

ERA/FIP: Buchholz, Eovaldi, Hughes, Verlander, Lewis, Gibson, Wood, Drew Hutchison, Santana, Bartolo Colon

So right away we have four guys (Lewis, Eovaldi, Wood, Verlander) who finished in the top 10 in every category, and several more just missed; Buchholz, for instance, was 16th in BABIP with a .315 mark.  I hesitate to call pitchers like Hughes or Quintana "unlucky" since everyone agrees they had awesome seasons even without much peripheral luck, and this even extends to McCarthy, who revived his fortunes after being traded to the Yankees.  As for Buchholz, knee problems might've played a role in his lack of success, so he might've been hampered by a different kind of bad luck.

Let's focus on our unfantastic four, and of this bunch, Eovaldi had the lowest home run rate, lowest walk rate and highest grounder rate.  His 4.37 ERA was boosted by a .323 BABIP and 65.5% strand rate, as his ERA indicators (3.37 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, 3.91 SIERA) are more forgiving.  Out of a deep field, I give Eovaldi the slight nod, though if "internet photo scandals" were a stat category, Verlander would've had a strong case.




Closer Updates: End-of-the-Season Edition

As this season sadly comes to an end, it’s time to stop by once more for a final edition of Closer Updates. First, we’ll take a quick look at all of the teams in the playoffs – just in case you’re playing in some form of a postseason fantasy baseball league. Then, we’ll dig into some recaps of each team this season and top it off with the occasional helpful nugget.

Playoff Teams

Angels – Early in the season, Ernesto Frieri was the guy to own in Anaheim. However, his early struggles led to a temporary reprieve from great setup guy Joe Smith. Shortly thereafter, the Halos acquired Huston Street and grabbed a closer having an elite season (41 saves, 1.37 ERA, 0.94 WHIP) for the stretch run.

Athletics – The A’s started the season with poor bullpen performances (remember Jim Johnson?) and, unfortunately, ended it the very same way. A number of candidates tried to replace Johnson, to varying degrees of success. Look for Sean Doolittle to have the job going into next season.

CardinalsTrevor Rosenthal came into this season as the closer once Edward Mujica went off to Boston. Fortunately, he took to the ninth inning quite nicely (45 saves, 3.20 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) and received some great support from Pat Neshek. If the Cards will do well this postseason, they’ll need these two to stand strong.

DodgersKenley Jansen went into the season as a top tier closer. Not to disappoint, he came through with another season of incredibly strong numbers (44 saves, 2.76 ERA, 1.13 WHIP). If the Dodgers starting rotation get off to a good start in the NLDS, Jansen could really prove his value early and often. On another note, don’t forget that Brian Wilson made his return to baseball, and Dodgerville, this season.

GiantsSergio Romo had the job early on, but his struggles led to a Santiago Casilla staffed ninth inning before season’s end. Without missing a step, Casilla became an effective closer (19 saves, 1.70 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) and didn’t really give Romo a shot to get his old gig back.

Nationals – Even though the Nats bullpen is currently a closer-by-committee, they have a number of effective relievers. Rafael Soriano started the season on a tear, but Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard stepped in and are looking to man the eighth/ninth innings this postseason.

Orioles – After Jim Johnson went out west, Zach Britton stepped into the closer’s chair and delivered nicely (37 saves, 1.65 ERA, 0.90 WHIP). There might’ve been some early doubters, but Britton proved that he can effectively close at the big league level and O’s are now a force to be reckoned with.

Pirates – Although the Bucs won’t be advancing in this year’s playoffs, they have to be proud of the dynamic one-two punch that developed this season in Mark Melancon (33 saves, 1.90 ERA, 0.87 WHIP) and Tony Watson (2 saves, 1.63 ERA, 1.02 WHIP). With these two anchoring the bullpen, they’re poised to be good for a while.

Royals – One of the best bullpens in baseball this season has been the team in KC. Led by Greg Holland (46 saves, 1.44 ERA, 0.91 WHIP), this gang of relievers was outstanding this season and may well help them throughout the playoff push.

TigersJoe Nathan had a rough season (35 saves, 4.81 ERA, 1.53 WHIP) and Motown paid for it. However, they never really had anybody better (sorry Joakim Soria) and his contract certainly warranted some playing time. Look for this experiment to continue…

Non-Playoff (American League)

Astros – Trying to determine who would be closing for the hapless Astros has been a challenge almost all season. Well, at least until Chad Qualls arrived (19 saves, 3.33 ERA, 1.15 WHIP). Surprisingly, the journeyman reliever provided much needed consistency for a bullpen stuck in dumpsville.

Blue JaysCasey Janssen started the season on the DL, but bounced back into form quite nicely in the beginning. However, he lost steam down the stretch (4.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in the season’s last month) and a number of relievers stepped in to fill the void. Many whispers in Toronto indicate that Janssen has likely closed his last game for the Jays.

IndiansJohn Axford was expected to be the Tribe’s closer this season, but he sputtered out of control early and Cody Allen took over the reins (24 saves, 2.07 ERA, 1.06 WHIP). Look for Allen to be effective in the role once again next season.

Mariners – Another acquisition at the beginning of this season was Fernando Rodney, who led a surprisingly Seattle club to a strong season. He matched his career best 48 saves and proved that aged relievers still bring something to the table.

Rangers – After Joe Nathan bolted for Detroit, the Rangers relied upon Joakim Soria for their closing duties early on. When he was dealt (also to Detroit), Neftali Feliz picked up the slack (13 saves, 1.99 ERA, 0.98 WHIP). While Feliz may have the early jump on next season, it’s still up in the air despite the strong finish.

RaysGrant Balfour had the job early on, but lost it to the seemingly ever-present closer-by-committee. If one thing is for certain, it’s that there is a ton of uncertainty going into this bullpen next season.

Red SoxKoji Uehara had another outstanding stretch and pitched like a top notch closer for most of the season (26 saves, 2.52 ERA, 0.92 WHIP). Although he was shut down in September, the 39-year-old is a fine wine who seems to get better by age.

TwinsGlen Perkins had a strong season up in Minnesota (34 saves, 3.65 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) … until he got hurt at the end of the season. Jared Burton stepped in admirably, but Perkins is still the closer there.

White Sox – After an absolute train wreck at the beginning of the season, the White Sox finally settled on Jake Petricka as their closer… and he proved to be adequate, when healthy. Not to worry if you own him in some super deep dynasty format, it seems that he’ll have the job going into Spring Training and possibly beyond if rumors in Chicago are true.

YankeesDavid Robertson took over the closer gig and really shined (39 saves, 3.08 ERA, 1.06 WHIP). However, All Star setup guy Dellin Betances is looming and might have his eye on the job next year.

Non-Playoff (National League)

Braves – Another Bravos season, another dominant outing from Craig Kimbrel (47 saves, 1.61 ERA, 0.91 WHIP). Obviously, he’s poised to be an unbelievable closer for years to come. Invest in him and it pays dividends...every season thus far.

BrewersFrancisco Rodriguez came out strong this season and looked like the K-Rod of old (44 saves, 3.04 ERA, 0.99 WHIP). Even though he ended with strong numbers, many believe that they’re ready to insert Jonathan Broxton into the ninth inning next season.

Cubs – After a rough start to the season, the Cubbies finally settled on Hector Rondon and he delivered (29 saves, 2.42 ERA, 1.06 WHIP). They might be lucky enough to have found a closer after a rough season in Wrigleyville.

DiamondbacksAddison Reed arrived in the desert this season and he came through (32 saves, 4.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP). He’s 25 years old with 101 career saves. Look for him to be a highly effective reliever for years to come.

Marlins – Many thought that the Marlins would try to deal Steve Cishek, but they kept him around and he gave them a surprisingly reliable closer in return (39 saves, 3.17 ERA, 1.21 WHIP). His name will undoubtedly continue to come up as acquisition target this offseason.

Mets – It was a rough summer in Queens after a number of different relievers failed to hold onto the gig once Bobby Parnell fell to injury. Finally, Jenrry Mejia emerged as a reliable option (28 saves, 3.65 ERA, 1.48 WHIP) and many think he might have the fast-track to the job next season.

Padres – Before the trading deadline, the Pads traded away Huston Street and relied upon their other relievers. It paid off, despite a late injury to Joaquin Benoit (11 saves, 1.49 ERA, 0.77 WHIP), with Kevin Quackenbush being the nicest surprise (6 saves, 2.48 ERA, 1.10 WHIP).

PhilliesJonathan Papelbon wasn’t the most popular closer this season, but he pitched quite well (39 saves, 2.04 ERA, 0.90 WHIP). The Phillies have talked about moving him, but he’s got a massive contract. Which means, of course, that whoever pays him that much money will certainly be having him close… probably Philadelphia.

RedsAroldis Chapman started the season with a rough come-backer to the face and a short stint on the DL. Not to be counted out, he returned with a bang and had another outstanding season (36 saves, 2.00 ERA, 0.83 WHIP). Look for him to be great, yet again, next season.

Rockies – In the beginning of the summer, everyone thought that Rex Brothers would storm out of the gates and steal the job from LaTroy Hawkins. However, Hawkins remained consistent (23 saves, 3.31 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) and Adam Ottavino emerged as the Rockies’ best setup guy.

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.




RA Retrospective: We Went Bold...Did We Go Home Too?

It is perhaps not completely pertinent to note that I’m writing this only a few, very short hours of sleep after one of the greatest playoff games of my lifetime. It makes me feel better that the playoffs are here and takes the sting out of the suddenly-gone fantasy season. As you can tell, I’m not an A’s fan. 

The upshot is that if you see typos here, don’t be as quick to judge as I usually am…up late watching baseball is the only valid excuse for such things.

The other upshot is now I wish I had TV…

Okay, now that I’ve gotten my rambling homage to last night’s amazing game out of the way, let’s actually introduce the article: each preseason the RA staff produces a series of articles offering bold advice and suggesting that you (proverbially only, I promise) go home if you don’t take it. How were our results? As is customary with bold advice, the results were a mixed bag. I review our collective boldness below. 

CC Sabathia Will Regain His Form

This one came from Mark, but I was plenty on board with it, snagging CC Sabathia on at least one team. So we went bold.

And yeah, we went home. Or at least, the team (teams? I can’t even remember) that I got the big Yankee on definitely finished out of the money. In case you didn’t think about any players but your own, CC managed just 46 IP before getting injured, posting an unpleasant 5.28 ERA for his trouble. So it’s hard to say he regained his form in the sense of “helped your fantasy team or his own real-life one.”

But there is a technicality that intrigues me for Sabathia’s future: he posted a FIP of 4.78 (yeah, still bad), and an xFIP of 3.11 (straight-up good). The return of his strikeout ability (9.39 K/9) and one of the lowest walk rates of his career (1.96 BB/9) probably helped on the good side. On the bad…well, it was probably that 1.96 HR/9. No, that’s not a typo (I checked, like, three times), CC had identical walk and homer rates per nine innings. So that’s probably part of the difference in his peripheral and real numbers. Is it enough to say that he “regained his form?” No…I mean, being injured for most of the year is the opposite of being a good draft pick. But I’ll be watching his health next spring and maybe sneaking him onto some rosters. 

Masahiro Tanaka is the Next Great Fantasy Import 

I’d love to take credit for this one, but it was all Luckey. Even with Masahiro Tanaka’s injury, I suspect plenty of his owners got positive value. His super-high mock draft price (remember those?) cooled off a lot in my real drafts, to the point where I (an admitted skeptic) considered taking him. The fact that I nearly got beat in the RA Silver League by a team named after this guy testifies to his fantasy worth. In an anecdotal, non-analytic sort of way…

Anyway, Tanaka went 13-5 in 136 IP, with over a strikeout per inning and a miniscule walk rate (1.39). He posted a 2.77 ERA…and a 2.58 xFIP. So yeah, well played Luckey.

For all that, I’m not planning to draft Tanaka next year. Why? Well, he seems to have just missed the chance for us to see if the league will figure him out the second time around, a problem that has hit Japanese import pitchers in the past (I think anyway…I’ll look for real evidence before making my draft choices…) and plenty of other phenom pitchers with similar IP totals (Dontrelle Willis anyone?). I actually think Tanaka’s real, but the downside of paying an ace price for him before he’s truly proven is pretty steep.

Carlos Beltran is a Top-10 OF

Andrew called this one, but I’m not leaving him alone out there: I drafted Carlos Beltran on several teams, and while I didn’t think he was really in the top ten, I thought he was closer than most pundits.

This one couldn’t have gone much worse, with ol’ Beltran showing his, well, age. He didn’t hit and he was injured a lot, batting just .233 with 15 homers in only 449 PA. He did enjoy a monster couple weeks there that provided some hope down the stretch…and then slid back into awful. This one sent me home in particular, but what will I do with Beltran next year? Is he a good bounceback candidate…or is this the end of the line for him as he rides off into the Hall of the Very Good?

Everth Cabrera Cheats and Steals, but Doesn’t Lie 

This was my call, and I followed it up by grabbing Everth Cabrera in multiple leagues. Maybe next year’s snappy column title will be “Everth Cabrera Lies, Cheats, and Doesn’t Steal Much,” because this one failed about as badly as they can.

The Padres’ shortstop played half the year, cut his walk rate by about 40%, inflated his whiff rate by about 30%, and was just 18 for 26 in steals. He batted just .232 with a .272 OBP and just a .300 SLG. Hopefully you didn’t have him in a league that counts OPS. So Cabrera slid back in every way he could have. Was it thanks to losing those PED’s? Jhonny Peralta didn’t seem to miss ‘em. Can it all (or mostly) be chalked up to the injuries? It’s tough to say. His speed at such a scarce position makes him a hard guy to forget about, but I don’t think I’ll be counting on him to anchor my steals category or my SS position next year.

My Guys

Another of my posts, this one took note, not of who I was plugging in columns, but who I was actually mock drafting. It had enough players to have some hits in with the misses, so that was cool.

My frequent picks included Yan Gomes (win!), Brandon Moss (win!), Aaron Hill (ouch), Everth Cabrera (ugh), Aramis Ramirez (okay, I guess), Matt Holliday (eh…okay), Leonys Martin (not bad, but not special), Colby Rasmus (back to bad), Anibal Sanchez (not even a win before he got hurt), Matt Cain (I have to look away), Francisco Liriano (only good after I dropped him), Scott Kazmir (finally, another good one!), and Josh Johnson (literally useless).

I think Holliday was the only one of these guys I didn’t end up drafting. Gomes was the best one, as I had him on a couple squads, including a league-winner. Moss and Kazmir were very helpful for about the same amount of the season, and Ramirez could have been a lot worse. Like most third basemen this year. Martin delivered the steals. 

The pitching was actually where it really got ugly; while I think Sanchez could have gotten back to a near-ace level (and I think he will next year), Cain was an unmitigated disaster and Johnson didn’t pitch.

I mentioned at the end of the column that I was really amenable to injury risk and I think I spread the risk out a little better in most of my actual drafts…but yeah, I saw a lot of red DL flags during the season. 

Joe Mauer, First-Round Value

Well…nope. Sorry Joe, but the whole playing first base all year thing just didn’t seem to help. Instead of hitting like a first baseman while playing catcher for your fantasy team…well, at least you could still slot him in at catcher. 

Worryingly, it was Joe Mauer’s power that cooled off the most. I’ll be surprised if it returns after a year as rough as this one. I made Mauer a key target in a keeper league when he was a prospect, and he’s paid off for me for a decade now…but without catcher eligibility going into next year (he didn’t catch at all this year), I’m gonna have to release him. It's gonna hurt. Mauer isn’t that old, and it’s not too late for him to provide some real-life value at first, but if his power doesn’t increase it’ll be hard to see much daylight between him and James Loney next year.

Big Papi, Big Value

It feels good to be right, finally. I compared David Ortiz to similar first basemen (Prince Fielder, Freddie Freeman, Albert Pujols, and Eric Hosmer) and suggested that he might be the best…but was getting drafted the latest. (I also hedged this bet by suggesting that it might be rational to take Freeman ahead of Ortiz based on his youthful potential.)

With 35 homers, Ortiz provided some very nice value relative to his draft position. A strong comeback from Albert Pujols and a much better lineup gave the Angel a better than expected year (and way more runs scored than Ortiz), but I think anyone who drafted Big Papi was pretty pleased with what they got. Certainly happier than Fielder or Hosmer owners. 

This is another one I actually drafted on—Ortiz made it onto two or three of my teams, plus one of my wife’s. We were pretty pleased.

Justin Masterson, Top-15 Pitcher

Talk about saving the best for last. There were plenty of reasons to like Justin Masterson going into the season—well, mostly there was great strikeout potential and the fact that Cleveland looked good enough on paper to net some wins for their putative best pitcher.

Things are…different now. I wasn’t as in on this prediction as some of the others—I thought Masterson would merely be very good, instead of a fantasy ace, but not even that came to fruition. Then he was traded to the National League, so I picked him up and advised everyone else to do so. Hopefully you ignored me.

With a 5.88 ERA in just 128 IP, Masterson’s season was an unmitigated disaster. He still managed some strikeouts, but a bloated BABIP and a high walk rate were more than the whiffs could overcome. I don’t know yet whether Masterson is someone to forget about going into next year, or a great flier for the back of your fantasy rotation, but I’ve got a couple months to decide. 

Instead of harping on our mutual batting average of boldness, I’ll end this column with two predictions that are quite certain: 

1)   The A’s will not win the World Series this year, but may in the future.

2)   Tonight’s Pirates-Giants matchup will not be nearly as exciting as last night’s Royals-A’s epic.

Enjoy the playoffs, everybody. RA will finish out this week, then we'll see you in January.




RotoAuthority League Update: Final Standings

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 is glad he wasn't one of them.

Final Standings

1. E-Z Sliders 102

2. Men With Wood 95

3. Guitar Masahiro 81

4. Smell the Glove 79.5

5. A Century of Misery 72.5

6. Pulling Brzenk 63.5

7. Bewsterville Bruins 62

8. The Jewru 56

9.  Spirit of St. Louis 51

10. The Bombers 45

11. Gramma Nutt Crushers 37.5

12. Cobra Kai 35

Well, it turns out I wasn't premature when I declared E-Z Sliders the inevitable champion a week ago. While Men With Wood put up a valiant effort all season long, ultimately the roster for E-Z Sliders was simply too good. When I analyzed the draft way back in the spring, I immediately identified the pitching on this squad as potentially electric. That proved to be the case, as the E-Z Sliders led the league with 47 pitching points. In the end, though, that only tells half the story. After all, the offense on this squad was even more dominant, accruing 55 out of a maximum possible total of 60 offensive points.

While the lead was slim at times during the season, it was a rather dominant performance by the E-Z Sliders. Way back in April, I broke down the draft for this club, as this owner had already emerged from the pack. It's hard to believe now, but Jose Altuve was viewed as a mid-level second baseman this spring. Well, this owner made arguably the top pick of the draft in grabbing the Astros breakout star in Round 8. There were few other excptional picks, but there were hardly any misses either. In short, this owner put together a solid game plan from beginning to end this season.

Men With Wood deserves some attention for finishing runner-up and in the money. After barely avoiding the bottom four last year, this club enjoyed a tremendous bounceback season, cashing for a third time. Meanwhile, Guitar Masahiro eked past Commissioner Dierkes in the season's final weekend to finish in the money for the first time.

With the thrill of victory, of course, also comes the agony of defeat. Newcomers Spirit of St. Louis, the Bombers, and Cobra Kai could only last one season. Finally, previous champion Gramma Nutt Crushers unfortunately got the boot from the league. It's always sad when one of the veterans is forced to say goodbye.




RotoAuthority Unscripted: Win it Any Way You Want

  The morning after the regular season ends is always a time of somber reflection for fantasy players.

Or it’s the time when you rush desperately to your computer to see if you added things up correctly in your head last night and see if your really did hang on and win your fantasy league by a single point.

Maybe it’s a little of both.

Whether your league’s winner ran away with it all like the Orioles, barely limped into the finish like the Tigers; whether your playoff seat was safe for months like the Nationals or you fell just short in your last desperate gasp like the Mariners…where was I going with this? After a moment’s pause and another sip of replacement-level coffee I remember: there is no one way to win a fantasy baseball league (or come close), no matter how often you’ll hear otherwise.

I played in three leagues this year with rules universal enough to bother discussing here, and none of the winners were put together with exactly the same strategy—despite what you’ll hear about drafting (or not drafting) starters, paying (or never paying) for saves, or steals or whatever else. Today we’ll take a look backwards (‘cause what else are we gonna do?) and take note of three of the thousands of possible winning combinations of players that formed fantasy baseball teams. 

Old Hoss Radbourn

If you don’t know who the original Old Hoss was, look him up. True to his legacy, this winning squad of mine was pretty dominant in pitching. (Untrue to his legacy, wins were my worst pitching category.)

I almost always go after strikeouts, because they’re the only truly predictable pitching category, and they brought me 12 points (first place). I also finished with 11 in WHIP and saves, 10 in ERA (thanks to a lousy last day), and 9.5 in wins. So you can win the league by going for pitching—really. My hitting got (most) of the job done, as I scored 9.5 or better in average (lucky me), homers, and steals. I was okay in RBI (7) and my weakness was in runs (just 4 points). So you can win with a below average category. And there’s enough luck in runs scored (and RBI) for you to do well in overall hitting and still have the category for an outlier.

Or you might not. The teams that came in second and third in this league managed 11 or 12 points in runs, homers, and RBI. So you can do it that way too. Considering I was just one point away from second place myself, it would be dishonest to say that the power-counting-stats approach isn’t a good one. It totally is and it nearly toppled me. 

How’d I build this squad? Looking back with some surprise, I didn’t draft as heavily on pitching as I usually do. Andrew McCutchen was my first choice, and a rock. Joey Votto (fail—even winning teams have them) came next, followed by Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Sale, David Ortiz, and Greg Holland (see, paying for saves). A winning team always strikes gold on some mid- and late-round picks, which I’ll call a mix of luck and preparation. Mine were Jose Altuve (9th round), Scott Kazmir (18th), Ian Kennedy (20th), Todd Frazier (21st), and the fact that two of the four closers I drafted kept their jobs all year long (Steve Cishek was the other one).

This is why the draft is only half the ballgame (or less). I survived injuries and ineffectiveness to plenty of my picks: Hyun-jin Ryu, Matt Cain, A.J. Burnett, R.A. Dickey, and pretty much all of my late-round hitters. You know what? This wasn’t a good draft at all.

Fortunately, I made a big trade when I saw how painful my pitching was, swapping Stanton (and some other stuff) for Clayton Kershaw (and less other stuff). That was my only trade (that I remember) and it was the turning point in this team’s season. My preferred strategy is to get two aces and play matchups, and that’s what Kershaw let me do.

On the waiver wire, I made use of pieces like Adam Dunn, Josh Beckett (hey, he was really good for awhile there), Jake McGee, Chad Qualls, Danny Santana, Josh Harrison (yeah, that helped), Jenrry Mejia…and I practically streamed my way through September to meet the innings cap, all for one more point in wins.

How’d I win? A clutch trade, an active waiver wire, an early draft with no more than one loser (Votto), and some late-round shots in the dark that paid off. I paid a little more than usually recommended for saves and starters, and I don’t regret it.

RobertCop

If my squad (above) was the Tigers, limping into the division win at the last day, then this squad (owned by my boss, Tim Dierkes) was the Angels, dominating the season and finishing far ahead of the competition. This team finished first in runs, RBI, wins, strikeouts, and WHIP. In a league that counts holds and OPS, this team bagged 10 points in homers, average, and OPS, and at least seven points in every other category. Now that is a balanced team.

How’d he do it? In a draft with its own ups and downs, naturally. Edwin Encarnacion, Votto (I’m not the only one!), Jose Reyes, Jose Fernandez, Hunter Pence, Matt Holliday, Jonathan Lucroy and a bold, early choice of Jose Abreu ended up being a pretty nice collection of talent. RobertCop managed to bank early returns in pitching from Fernandez and from Masahiro Tanaka, but that ended up being only about one great season between them. How’d this team still dominate the pitching categories? Enter Corey Kluber (19th round). This squad also got some great work out of Frazier (23rd), Dioner Navarro (21st), and Brett Gardner (14th).

Interestingly, the team paid a little for saves (mid-round picks on Bobby Parnell and Jim Henderson) and got nothing for their investment—yet still managed an above-average finish in the category. Just because I paid for saves doesn’t mean you have to. After all, he got Francisco Rodriguez on waivers. James Paxton, Gregory Polanco, Travis d’Arnaud, Jose Quintana, Chad Qualls, Jake Arrieta, and Collin McHugh all made an impact off the waiver wire (to one degree or another). He also made good use of non-closers to excel in holds, ERA, and WHIP.

Also interesting: this team didn’t make a single trade, in what was a very inactive trading league. Apparently it wasn’t necessary.

This team won it through an excellent draft—but it still wasn’t (and didn’t have to be) a perfect one. His waiver claims didn’t include any of the year’s most amazing surprises; instead, they were a steady stream of quality players making marginal upgrades at a lot of positions. This team didn’t pay for saves, but it paid a little for pitching—and even though it lost a bet on Fernandez’s health, still came away looking good. If enough things go right, plenty of things can still go wrong on the way to a dominant season.

Springfield Sultans

This team won a head-to-head league, but the principles are similar enough. This squad had a winning record in every hitting category and dominated wins and strikeouts. Lest you think they were a streamer, it’s worth noting they played nearly .500 ball in ERA and WHIP. Their only bad category was saves.

In the auction, this team put down big money to secure Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen, so that’s a pretty good hitting base right there. Josh Donaldson and Starlin Castro also came up big for this offense—though they swung and missed on players like Eric Hosmer, Brett Lawrie, and Martin Prado.

This squad wasn’t afraid to take on injured pitchers like Hisashi Iwakuma and Cole Hamels, and Hyun-jin Ryu, and that patient risk-taking reaped significant rewards. Andrew Cashner and Lance Lynn added plenty of value too, though this team wasn’t without it’s pitching bombs: Shelby Miller and Tony Cingrani didn’t do them any favors. 

This team did most of its heavy lifting in the auction, making no trades and only 24 waiver wire moves all season. But the moves they did make counted. Charlie Blackmon was the biggest-impact, while John Lackey, Mark Melancon, Chad Qualls, Seth Smith, Kyle Seager, Josh Harrison, Lonnie Chisenhall, Hector Rondon, Carl Crawford, and Carlos Carrasco all helped to one degree or another. Where was I on these waiver wire moves? Seriously. Anyway, this owner got a lot of value (and plenty of saves) without paying for it in the auction.

While auction strategies are a bit different to draft strategies (obviously), this owner bet big on the biggest talent and it paid off. This was a bold, risky team coming out of the auction with a lot of value tied up in a few players, and their best pitchers all acquired on injury discount. Could it have gone another way? Totally. But it worked.

There you go, three teams, three strategies, three paths to victory. Next year: win it your way.

 




The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 26-28

It's becoming somewhat of a TPIITP tradition to devote the final regular season column of the year to revisiting my first regular season column of the year, which was devoted to a single player or topic rather than delving into the usual peripheral-related fantasy recommendations.  Two years in a row...that counts as a tradition!  Last April, I looked at a few pitchers vying for the title of "the Bizarro Jeremy Hellickson" --- namely, the pitchers who weren't performing well due to some bad peripheral luck from 2011-13.  With the 2014 season now virtually in the books, two of the six pitchers I cited saw their fortunes turn around, while the other four continued to have Lady Luck toss her drink in their faces.

First, the non-factors.  Mike Pelfrey only made five starts due to injuries, Joe Blanton all but officially retired after being released by the A's in April*, and Jeff Francis was a fantasy non-factor in pitching 20 innings for the Reds, A's and Yankees.  Francis' small innings total makes it an unreliable sample size, yet even still, you could say he was unfortunate to post his 5.85 ERA given that his predictors (4.18 FIP, 3.59 xFIP, 3.37 SIERA) were all much more respectable and he was simply done in by a stunningly low 50.6% strand rate.

* = Blanton's release came roughly a week after I wrote "If Blanton gets called up for a spot start or two at the Coliseum sometime this year, there are worse streaming choices" with the logic that his advanced metrics were due for some kind of a correction.  Uh, um, ah, er....

That leaves three pitchers who threw legitimate innings in 2014.  Let's start with the best of the bunch, Rick Porcello.  The Porce was a force for the Tigers, posting a 3.31 ERA over 201 innings, and he still has one more start to go tonight.  Porcello posted a .296 BABIP and a 73% strand rate, both of which were rather modestly better than the league average yet streets ahead of what Porcello had averaged in those categories over the previous three seasons.  As a result, Porcello actually outperformed his ERA predictors (3.57 FIP, 3.68 xFIP, 3.89 SIERA) and ridding himself of the Bizarro Hellickson label once and for all.

Porcello seems like he's always going to be the type of pitcher who is a bit more valuable in real life than he is in fantasy ball due to his low strikeout totals (career 5.46 K/9) yet still, what fantasy rotation couldn't use a durable guy with a 3.31 ERA?  Perhaps the most promising sign for Porcello is that his 8.6% homer rate was well below his 11.1% career average, so if he's learned how to keep the ball in the park, that'll definitely help keep his ERA at the levels necessary to be of interest to roto owners.  I think we can officially pencil Porcello in as a mid-to-late-round option for your 2015 drafts.

Jordan Lyles, meanwhile, seems cut from the same cloth as Porcello -- not many strikeouts, heavy on the grounders, has to avoid the long ball to stay successful.  That last point is a particular hurdle for Lyles given that he pitches for the Rockies, and yet he was in large part able to deliver in 2014.  Limited to 21 starts due to a broken hand, Lyles delivered a 4.15 ERA, 6.38 K/9 and 51.6% grounder rate over 121 1/3 innings, and essentially pitched just as his advanced metrics (4.33 FIP, 4.04 xFIP, 4.15 SIERA) indicated.

It's always risky to bank on any Colorado starter for fantasy purposes, and it's not like Lyles is generating the big K numbers to give him some value if his ERA did blow up.  The best I can say about Lyles is that he did well to keep himself in the fantasy conversation despite wearing the purple pinstripes, and you could keep an eye on him as a very deep pick next season.  Not to put the Blanton jinx on Lyles here, but really, "there are worse streaming choices" than Lyles in a road start in 2015.

 So five pitchers in, and we've still yet to hit on someone who truly continued his bad luck...until we reach Ricky Nolasco.  The righty signed a four-year, $49MM free agent deal with the Twins last winter and then proceeded to have just about the worst full season of his big league career.  Nolasco's 5.47 ERA was belied by a .355 BABIP (the highest of any pitcher in baseball with at least 150 IP) and a downright decent 4.29 FIP, 3.99 xFIP and 4.07 SIERA.  Homers played a factor, as 11.5% home run rate was his highest in four seasons, yet since the best of his metrics didn't show anything too untoward, it all just comes down to that ungainly BABIP. 

In a just world, we'd be mentioning Nolasco as a good borderline draft option like Lyles or, since he's always been able to eat innings, maybe even on Porcello's level.  As it is, you'll have to wait and see if 2014 was just simply bad luck for Nolasco or if his fantasy relevance is indeed coming to an end.  The bright side of his poor season (well, despite that big contract) is that Nolasco gets to wear the Bizarro Hellickson crown, and I'm sure he's super-proud of that distinction.  Who needs a Cy Young when you can achieve a metaphorical honor in a fantasy baseball column?  Should I actually have a crown designed and then mail it to Nolasco so he can wear it around like the Wiz?




Closer Updates: Bucs, Jays, Nats, Padres, Phillies, Twins, White Sox

Welcome to yet another edition of Closer Updates. As we enter the regular season’s final weekend, it’s time to scour through the league’s bullpen to find a hidden gem (or two) for your final championship push. Of course, don’t forget to follow @CloserNews over the next few days as well – it’ll have the most up-to-date breaking news regarding closers and potential saves.

Chicago White Sox – Despite their bullpen’s rocky journey this season, manager Robin Ventura appears ready to place his confidence in Jake Petricka (14 saves, 2.88 ERA, 1.35 WHIP). Although Petricka has been battling with Zach Putnam (6 saves, 1.98 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), look for him to be the guy for the remainder of the season and possibly beyond.

Minnesota Twins – After Glen Perkins (34 saves, 3.65 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) fell to a left forearm strain injury in the past week, Jared Burton (1 save, 1.59 ERA, 0.71 WHIP in the past two weeks) has taken over the ninth inning in the Twin Cities. Look for Burton to be an effective closer in the role during the last weekend and a solid opportunity for saves if he’s still out there on your respective waiver wire.

Philadelphia Phillies – Following his 7-game suspension, Jonathan Papelbon (2.10 ERA, 0.90 WHIP) has returned to the ninth inning in Philly. On Wednesday, he earned his 38th save of the season and sent Ken Giles (1 save, 1.24 ERA, 0.80 WHIP) back to a setup role. If someone dropped Papelbon during his suspension, scoop him up and hope that the Fightin’ Phils win a close ballgame before season's end.

Pittsburgh Pirates – In the past week, Tony Watson (1.44 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) earned his first two saves of the season. Watson has been unstoppable this season and the Pirates have been on quite the run. If they keep winning and want to keep Mark Melancon (32 saves, 1.93 ERA, 0.89 WHIP) from heavy use, Watson could steal another save this weekend.

San Diego PadresJoaquin Benoit (9 saves, 1.55 ERA, 0.80 WHIP) has returned to the major leagues after a stint on the DL. Kevin Quackenbush has been wonderful over the past month (5 saves, 1.50 ERA, 1.33 WHIP), but manager Bud Black hasn’t ruled out a return for Benoit to the ninth. If you’re prospecting, Benoit might be worth a flier.

Toronto Blue Jays – Another notable rumbling on the closer scene is Aaron Sanchez (2 saves, 0.73 ERA, 0.89 WHIP) up north. After Casey Janssen has struggled this season (5 saves, 7.88 ERA, 1.50 WHIP in the past month), Sanchez converted the save opportunity on Wednesday night. He has a bit of potential and many believe that they intend to move him into the rotation next season. However, he may be given one or two chances to close before this season is done.

Washington Nationals – Even though the Nats keep winning ball games, their pecking order for the back end of their bullpen is still uncertain. With six games in the next four days, a number of candidates could steal a save this weekend. Look to pick up Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, or Drew Storen for this stretch. If any of these guys are available, they might just get you a couple of saves this weekend.

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: The Last Chance or the Bitter End?

Can you believe it’s the last Stock Watch of the year? Me Neither. And yet, here we are, at another end-of-the-season frenetic pennant race. And at the end of the season, all the old rules are gone.

You might have noticed things getting a little weird on your waiver wire. If you didn’t, check out my post from yesterday. See, I told you things have gotten weird. 

Things like this move I made this morning: I dropped the perfectly good Charlie Blackmon for the perfectly terrible Emilio Bonifacio. Yeah. Why? Because Blackmon has only four games left (instead of five), one in San Diego and three in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and I need steals. Injured and disappointing players are finally getting tossed back into the free agent pool, giving you the possibility of seeing Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez on the wire, along with Joey Votto and Jacoby Elsbury. Don't get excited. That’s just a sample from my leagues; where it really gets strange is in just how much our waiver wires will begin to differ in the final days of the season, especially after ace pitchers throw their last regular season games. (I predict some Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale drops in the near future, among others.)

So there’s a lot to sort out. Especially when you remember to check in on any starter you pick up and see who he’s facing and in what park. Case in point: Derek Holland (39% owned in Yahoo! leagues) is pretty widely available. He’s got a 1.31 ERA in 34.1 IP on the season and a history of talented pitching.  A good pickup. But his last start will be in Texas against an Oakland A’s squad that isn’t as bad as their “historic” collapse—and that seems to be un-collapsing. Not so good. I’m still on the fence with Holland, but I’m inclined to let him go at this point. 

Let’s check out some high-potential hitters the usual way, and then check out some starters, with extra emphasis on who they’re playing and where. 

Shallow Leagues (30-50% Owned)

Adam Eaton (47%) continues to play well, does a little of everything.

Javier Baez (45%) does everything but batting average…at which he is very, very bad. But the Cubs are committed to him.

Steve Pearce (44%) is on such fire that I can’t not recommend him. Maybe only 44% of leagues are still going on?

Nori Aoki (41%) is hitting over .380 over the last month. Sustainable? Obviously not. A good predictor of his talent? Certainly, no. Worth using? Yeah. Also, didn’t his name used to be longer?

Chase Headley (39%) has been a pretty good, quiet producer for New York. Especially in runs scored.

Kennys Vargas (39%) might be the best source of power on the waiver wire. Well, him and Pearce.

Jed Lowrie (39%) has had a rough year, but some games in Texas could be just what he needs.

Dioner Navarro (34%) is still playing at home, and the Blue Jays are scoring tons of runs.

Domonic Brown (33%) is back from his hand injury, and he’d finally been hitting before. He’s got to be desperate to earn next year’s playing time, so take a chance if you’re desperate too.

You know I want you to pick up Kolten Wong (32%).

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

Adam Lind (30%) has been pretty much on fire lately, batting over .340 in the past month.

Adam Dunn (30%) will be playing in Texas. How is that a combination to leave on the waiver wire. Pick him up!

A.J. Pollock (29%) offers good speed…and actual hitting ability. Not common at this stage of the game, not at all.

Lorenzo Cain (29%) offers even more speed…and he’s been hitting well too. Definitely useful as the season winds down.

James Loney (27%). Batting average. You already know.

Jordy Mercer (26%) has had a nicely productive little month. Remember, he’s a shortstop—it doesn’t take much.

Luis Valbuena (23%) defied my prediction and kept hitting. Thanks a lot, Luis.

Avisail Garcia (22%) is making the most of his mostly-missed season.

Justin Turner (20%) has got to get an award for most valuable part-timer or something.

Deep Leagues (Under 20% Owned)

Chris Coghlan (18%) is batting .320 in the last month.

Oswaldo Arcia (15%) is a relatively promising power source.

Wilmer Flores (14%) is making me want to hit up a Mets game before the season ends. Because he’s hitting so well, just so that’s actually clear.

Jake Marisnick (13%) has offered a little bit of everything this month.

Tyler Flowers (10%) has been on this list so much that I’m inclined to think he’s actually good. Maybe I'll draft him next year.

Arismendy Alcantara (10%) is yet another all-power, sub-Mendoza young Cub. I guess it’s just the two of them, but it seems like a lot.

Speaking of power, Dayan Viciedo (8%) can’t hit for average either, but he’s smacked five homers this month.

Daniel Nava (5%) has been playing well enough to use lately.

Jarrod Dyson (5%) has not, but he’s your guy if you lost two points in steals in the last two days—like me! 

Jose Ramirez (5%) is a lot better, just because he plays short. Also a speed source.

Rougned Odor (4%) not only has the coolest name in baseball, but he’s playing at home and on a nice hot streak.

Welington Castillo (3%) is contributing across the board for deep leaguers in need of a catcher.

Freddy Galvis (3%) has been a pretty hot hitter since returning to the Majors last month. And he plays pretty much every position.

Some Pitchers to Go For

Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to pitch against Boston this week, so if someone gave up on him, scoop him up. Or just don’t forget to take him out of that DL slot.

Mike Fiers gets the Cubs on the last day of the season, so that’s pretty nice.

Jake Peavy should enjoy facing the Padres, even though the game will be in San Francisco.

C.J. Wilson just got rocked for a 54.00 ERA, but his final start will be against the deflated Mariners, in Seattle. Good chance of a bounceback.

I’m picking up Bartolo Colon right now for his final start: at home against the Astros. Who could ask for more? I’m picking up Jon Niese too, for the exact same reason. You know what, I’m just gonna give in and become a Mets fan.

Aaron Harang recommends himself by facing the Phillies.

Tsuyoshi Wada gets to face Milwaukee, which seems like a pretty good opportunity, given their play. It looked like a terrible matchup when I first looked at the schedule over a month ago, but hey, things change.

I kept thinking Cory Rasmus was the knockoff Colby Rasmus or something. Turns out he pitches for the Angels, is off to a really strong start, and gets to face the Mariners.

Two guys for today: Yusmeiro Petit (against the Padres) and Edinson Volquez (against the Braves). Good enough pitchers, fantastic matchups. And then you can drop ‘em, because their regular seasons will be done.




RotoAuthority Unscripted: Your Guide to the End of the World

Okay, maybe “end of the world” is too dramatic. Technically we still have the playoffs to look forward to, and I guess some of you probably have those new “fantasy football” teams to manage in the fall. But for us at RotoAuthority (or, at least me, I actually didn’t think to ask the other guys) fantasy baseball has been life since January and the nail-biting end-of-the-season pennant races carry with them an air of finality. Win or lose, the game will be over soon. 

Well, that’s kind of depressing. Fortunately, it gets worse. 

That’s right, just like in the times before the real end of the world (as depicted in the movies), a time of anarchy and social breakdown is upon us in the fantasy baseball realm. Check out your league’s transaction pages. Seriously, tab over to your league home and scroll through your league’s transactions. They’re crazy.

Proof that the World is Ending

My personal favorites are the ones where somebody picks up an injured star like David Wright or Starlin Castro…and then drops them in their next waiver move.

But some are more illustrative: one team picked up Mike Zunino and dropped Jacoby Ellsbury.  The latter might be back this week, but who can take a chance on his return for injury? And given the choice of pickup, I’m willing to bet this owner needed power anyway.

Here’s another: this owner dropped suddenly-awesome pitcher Carlos Carrasco for Jake Marisnick. Not only is the speedy outfielder surging in popularity, but Carrasco won’t pitch again until the last day of the season…and you really never know what will happen on the season’s final day. For this owner, the possibility of one last Carrasco start in five days wasn’t enough to keep them from getting almost a week’s worth of Marisnick. Plus, maybe Carrasco will still be on the waiver wire in a couple days....

How about this: Alejandro De Aza added, Michael Morse dropped. This owner is riding De Aza’s hot streak (which is getting him playing time) and enjoying De Aza’s speed. As for Morse? How well will his power play in the last week? Probably not too good, as he gets to fight for the NL Wild Card on the California coast.

One owner added Steve Pearce and dropped Juan Lagares. This one interests me because it would be totally reasonable the other way around. Clearly, this owner doesn’t need speed and does need power—if someone needs speed, I’d expect Lagares to find his way onto another team pretty quick.

Jay Bruce got picked up and Josh Hamilton dropped. Bruce actually stuck around on the waiver wire for a long time—it wasn’t until now that someone was willing to take the batting average risk. 

Closers (especially of the newly-minted variety) are showing up in a lot of transactions too, as owners sort out who can actually use a few more saves from the likes of Ken Giles, Zach Putnam, and Edward Mujica.

Owners who are coming close to their innings cap are shedding starters like…well, like stuff you shed. I was gonna say flies, but that didn’t make sense and it was gross. Many of those with daylight between their team’s IP total and the league cap are streaming starters to gain ground in wins and strikeouts. If you’ve got a shallow league, you might even be able to target nothing but the next day’s best matchups and help your ERA and WHIP too.

How to Thrive in the Apocalypse

When I was in college, I had some friends that, I think, actually would have welcomed a zombie apocalypse for its survival challenge. Maybe this feeling wasn’t so uncommon given how many movies and TV shows are out there on exactly this topic, but thriving in the fantasy baseball apocalypse was never really on anyone’s radar. Until now.

Step One: Take stock of the situation. There are no actual zombies here, so take the opportunity to check your place in the standings of each category carefully. Where can you move up in less than a week? Where might you lose ground? Or, if you’re playing for your life in the playoffs, what are your opponents’ strengths?

Do they have Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon? Forget about steals. Do they have seven closers? Maybe toss yours and concentrate on starts. Where will your squad be playing? Your Colorado guys might have killed it for you last week (I know that I enjoyed the five combined homers from Michael Cuddyer and Wilin Rosario)…but the Rockies are on the road for the rest of the season, and in extreme California pitchers’ parks, so you know how I repaid ‘em? By sending them to the waiver wire, of course. Hey, the end of the world is a cutthroat place.

Step Two: Think Short-Term. Very short term. You aren’t trying to build a new civilization underground—you’re just trying to go out with the biggest bang you can. That might well mean having an unconventional-looking team. Maybe you need to make up ten steals, so you pick up Lagares, Marisnick, Jarrod Dyson, Jordan Schaeffer, Emilio Bonifacio, and Lorenzo Cain. Maybe you can snag a couple points in homers an RBI, so you go after Pearce, Arismendy Alcantara, Tyler Flowers, Wilmer Flores, and Kennys Vargas. Or maybe you actually need to take care of your batting average, so you don’t do either of those things.

Short-term thinking is most important with your pitchers, however. With just one or two starts left, none of these pitchers will be throwing at their true talent level; instead they’ll be rooted in particular parks and against particular opposing hitters. Some of those situations will be a lot better than others. Sure Taijuan Walker is an electric arm and a great strikeout generator…but do you really want him against Toronto? Sonny Gray has had an excellent year…but his last two games are against the Angels and in Texas. Maybe that’s not so good. Danny Salazar’s got his last game today against the Royals—that’s not bad. Derek Holland has just one more start, at home, against Oakland. That’s pretty bad. Yusmeiro Petit will face the Padres. Got to love that, even if it’s in San Francisco.

You get the idea. Good pitchers may be a bad idea. If you’d leave them on your bench, it’s time to drop them. Lesser pitchers with good matchups may be a good idea. There is a tomorrow, but there’s no next week. Go get ‘em.




The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 19-25

In the words of Billie Joe Armstrong, wake me up when September ends.  I'm in the worst part of the year for any fantasy owner  -- eliminated from head-to-head league playoffs and not close to first place in my 5x5 leagues.  Now I'm just playing out the string, putting in time, rotating my daily lineups in a futile hope that it'll be nothing but five-hit games and no-hitters for my players over an entire 10-day span and I'll somehow roar into first place Rocktober-style.

If you have somewhat more realistic dreams of a fantasy championship, try some of these roster adds or drops on for size...

* Ells Bells.  Players with Jacoby Ellsbury's speed simply don't post a .143 BABIP for weeks at a time, yet that's what the Yankee outfielder has laid on his fantasy owners' doorstep in the month of September (heading into Thursday's play) like a dog that happily brings home a dead squirrel.   As you might expect, that tiny BABIP has led Ellsbury to post an ugly .141/.164/.250 line with one homer, five runs, three RBI and two steals over 67 September plate appearances, putting a sour end to an otherwise fine first season in New York.

There seems little doubt that the sprained ankle Ellsbury suffered in late August is still bothering him, and had the Yankees not been playing for their postseason lives, I've gotta believe Ellsbury would've gone to the DL to fully recover.  Instead he's trying to tough it out, and without power nor the ability to beat out grounders, he's only hurting both the Yankees' lineup and your fantasy roster.  If you've got Ellsbury on your roster for a head-to-head league final this week, get rid of him entirely --- his ankle isn't getting any better playing virtually every day, so there's little chance he suddenly returns to form. 

* Extranori-ary.  I threw Nori Aoki under the advanced metric bus back in June and it was the right move at the time, as he continued to struggle (especially in terms of fantasy value) until the end of August.  Then, suddenly, he exploded.  He was already having a nice September before his absurd 11-for-13 stretch over his last three games; in classic powerless Aoki fashion, nine of those hits were singles and the other two were doubles, but still, am I seriously nitpicking 11-for-13?  Come on, Mark!

Now hitting a cool .423/.492/.519 in 59 September PA, Aoki has suddenly put himself very much in the conversation as a last-minute secret weapon for your fantasy pennant race.  If you have an outfielder who, say, plays for the Yankees and is nursing a bum ankle, now might be the time to cut this hypothetical person and pick up Aoki.  He's not giving you much aside from average (zero homers, six RBI, four runs) but at this time of year, you have to ride the hot hand. 

Aoki's September BABIP is a whopping .468, and while that's clearly not going to last, he's also been walking (10.2% BB rate) more often than he's been striking out (8.5% K rate) this month.  His early-season swoon was partly related to the fact that Aoki was uncharacteristically swinging and missing more than he was taking free passes, but he's been getting back in form since --- his walk rate has topped his strikeout rate in every month since May.  A productive Aoki is a valuable fantasy asset, and if you're willing to risk trusting the Royals' hot-or-cold offense for a couple of weeks, Aoki is a decent bet to help your average and run totals.

* Peave Of Destruction.  The Giants traded for Jake Peavy to replace Matt Cain in their rotation, but instead Peavy seems to literally be becoming Cain.  I dunno if this is a Cage/Travolta Face/Off situation or what, but Peavy has taken Cain's mantle as the guy who puts up ace-level numbers while outperforming rather middling advanced metrics.  In 10 starts as a Giant, Peavy has a 2.16 ERA, despite a 6.89 K/9 that explains much higher ERA predictors like a 3.71 SIERA and 3.76 xFIP.  He's not getting any major BABIP or strand rate help, and his batted-ball rates are about the same as they were for his 2014 Boston starts, so I can't figure out...

...oh, wait a second.  I have some breaking news.  Turns out it's a lot easier for a pitcher to keep baseballs inside AT&T Park than it is at Fenway, as Peavy has a 2.7% home run rate with the Giants, compared to his 12.2% homer rate with the Red Sox.  While this could change depending on clinching situations or not, Peavy's final two regular season starts will be at Dodger Stadium (another pitcher-friendly locale) and then at home against the Padres, a gimme if there ever was one.  Peavy is somewhat surprisingly still available in 35% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, so by this point, why fight the Cain wave?  Pick up Peavy and enjoy the benefits.

* Middle Of Nowhere.  I end this week's column with not really a warning about Will Middlebrooks, since I imagine any fantasy manager with a brain jumped ship on him ages ago.  I just wanted to point out Middlebrooks' incredible wRC+ for the month of September --- it's 2.  That's right, two.  2.0.  As in, one less than three, one more than one.  That is what Middlebrooks produced over his first 51 September PA.  Sadly, he got two hits on Thursday night, so our fun can't continue.  He's probably all the way up in the double digit wRC+ by now, laughing it up.

You wonder how much patience the Red Sox have left for Middlebrooks given that they're still waiting for him just to stay healthy, let alone have a breakout season.  If Boston does cut bait, I'd keep an eye on Middlebrooks' next destination to see if he has any post-hype prospect sleeper potential.  He's absolutely the proverbial 25th player you draft on your 25-player roster next spring, yet maybe a change of scenery is all that's needed to turn the lightbulb on for this guy.  In the meantime....a 2 RC+!  Great scott!  I mean, like, I could probably have do that in 51 Major League plate appearances, and I was once cut from a house league baseball team.




RotoAuthority League Update: Last Mile of the Marathon

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.

The Race for First Place

1. E-Z Sliders 102

2. Men With Wood 90

Every fantasy league is different. In some of my leagues, there are as many as three owners who could still very easily take home the title this season. Well, things won't be as exciting this week in the RotoAuthority League. With just a week to play, some may still view it as premature to announce the 2014 RotoAuthority League champion. I feel rather confident, however, in stating that E-Z Sliders will take home the title this season. 

If that proves to be the case, it would certainly make for a worthy champion. For my money, no owner acquired more value on Draft Day. Oddly enough, during the season this owner made the second-fewest acquisitions in the league and just a pair of trades. Contrast that with likely runner-up Men With Wood. This owner has showed up and then some throughout the daily grind of the MLB season. All told, he's made over 230 moves, 60 more than any other team in the league. There are many ways to skin a cat, and there are many ways to be successful in fantasy baseball.

The Race for Third Place

3. Smell the Glove 86

4. Guitar Masahiro 82.5

Commissioner Dierkes has been fighting off Guitar Masahiro for weeks now, but he only needs to hold him off for one more week to get his money back with a third place finish. Both owners are close in innings pitched, so there's no advantage on either side there. I still don't see the order here changing over the next seven days, but stranger things have happened.

The Race to Avoid the Bottom Four

5. A Century of Misery 76

6. Pulling Brzenk 65.5

7. The Jewru 56

8. Brewsterville Bruins 55.5

9. Spirit of St. Louis 48

10. The Bombers 45

11. Gramma Nutt Crushers 38

12. Cobra Kai 36.5

While some may feel safer than others, at this point the majority of the league only cares about avoiding the bottom four and a boot from the league. I've opted to place my squad in this group because my chances of third place are all for naught at this point. Pulling Brzenk too is languishing in the middle of the standings but at least will be back next season. Likewise, next year's invitations for the Brewsterville Bruins and the Jewru look relatively safe now, but I'm sure those owners will breathe a tad easier once the standings are finalized in a week. The clock is ticking for newbies Spirit of St. Louis, the Bombers, and Cobra Kai as well as a veteran in the Gramma Nutt Crushers. I'd like to wish good luck to all of these owners fighting for their fantasy lives over the randomness that is one week's worth of games.

Standings as of Sunday, September 20th




Closer Updates: A’s, Cards, Nats, Phillies, Rays, Royals, Red Sox, White Sox

If you’re still checking for fantasy updates at this point in the season, you are either dedicated to winning the consolation bracket or ready to take home a fantasy championship. Either way, sit back and get comfortable. It’s time for some closer updates…

Boston Red Sox – After pitching sparsely over the past month, Koji Uehara is back in action for the BoSox (26 saves, 2.56 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 11.2 K/9). Because he’s a little rusty, expect Edward Mujica (6 saves, 4.03 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 6.4 K/9) to continue to get save opportunities in the near future. That being said, do not be surprised if Koji sneaks in and snags a couple of saves while Boston starts to play for next season.

Chicago White Sox – Earlier this week, Jake Petricka (13 saves, 2.83 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) blew a save and further endangered his grip on the closer’s role. After Zach Putnam (2.00 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) earned his fifth save on Tuesday, it still remains unclear who exactly has the gig. Look for this to be fluid over the next two weeks, with Petricka barely ahead of Putnam.

Kansas City RoyalsGreg Holland (42 saves, 1.57 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) has returned to the mound for KC and will be good to go moving forward. Assuming that he remains healthy, Holland should be back to form and can be a solid closer the rest of the way. However, Wade Davis should remain a strong RP to own given his season numbers (3 saves, 0.82 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 13.2 K/9) and position as Holland’s handcuff.

Oakland Athletics – In the past week, Sean Doolittle (21 saves, 2.20 ERA, 0.68 WHIP) has returned to the fold and reclaimed his closer role. Manager Bob Melvin reiterated as such, so look for him to be the man to own in Oakland for the rest of the season. Sorry for those hoping that Eric O’Flaherty, Luke Gregerson, or Dan Otero were going to emerge from the A’s former closer committee.

Philadelphia Phillies – After Jonathan Papelbon was suspended for seven games because of a Michael Jackson impression, look for the Phillies to turn elsewhere for saves while he serves his time. The first option? Ken Giles. He’s been a force this season (1.08 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 13.0 K/9) and might be able to keep the gig after Papelbon returns to action.

St. Louis Cardinals – With manager Mike Matheny stating that he’d prefer not to use closer Trevor Rosenthal (44 saves, 3.31 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) on back-to-back days, Pat Neshek (6 saves, 1.41 ERA, 0.68 WHIP) has just become a much more valuable commodity. If Matheny sticks to his word, look for Neshek to have a couple of save opportunities over the Cards’ final stretch run.

Tampa Bay Rays – After struggling recently, Joel Peralta (16.88 ERA and 3.00 WHIP in the past fortnight) might be on the hot seat in Tampa. If these struggles continue, look for Brad Boxberger (2 saves, 2.29 ERA, 0.83 WHIP) and Grant Balfour (12 saves, 5.34 ERA, 1.55 WHIP) to steal a few save opportunities.

Washington Nationals – The Nats have continued to roll, despite some uncertainty at the back end of their bullpen. Rafael Soriano has been inconsistent (6.10 ERA and 1.74 WHIP over the past month), to say the least, and Drew Storen (7 saves, 1.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) seems to have a lead on the job right now. Don’t forget Tyler Clippard (1 save, 2.06 ERA, 1.01 WHIP), who remains in the mix too. Either way, keep in mind that this situation remains a dynamic one and change can happen at any point.

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: Late September Hope

I was thinking to myself that the end of the season is truly the mirror image of its beginning. 

Then I realized how obvious that idea is and I felt kinda dumb.

I guess breaking it down won’t do it much good, but maybe it’ll help a little. We’ve got about two weeks of games left at this point (more like 11 or 12 games actually), and instead of making our waiver wire picks based on a small sample size we hope to extrapolate into a large one, we’re making picks based on a nice, large sample…and hoping they work out over a stretch of 12 games.

And I thought the era of two Wild Cards was supposed to give us hope in late September.

The good news, though, is that there are things we can know about and can predict: things like quality of opponents and tendencies of parks. The sorts of things that help fuel those epic late-year drives…and the collapses that are their all-too-frequent corollaries. Stock Watch won’t be a perfectly exact science this week…but it ought to do you better than random guessing.

But no promises.

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

Javier Baez (47%) will wreak havoc on your batting average—but that power is here to play. Consider him a situational pickup for those who’ve give up average or who are so good they can handle his sub-Mendoza line.

Adam Eaton (46%) is playing good and stealing bases. His schedule is pretty mixed, but those games in Detroit don’t look as bad as they used to.

Russell Martin (46%) is way better in real baseball, but he’s got plenty of fantasy value. The Brewers’ and Reds’ pitching staffs should see to that. Jordy Mercer (31%) is another Pirate who could have a good end to the year.

Lonnie Chisenhall (42%) doesn’t have any schedule-related extremes that should keep you from picking him up if you need 3B help. He’s not as good as the beginning of the season, but he’s not useless either.

Kennys Vargas (40%) has too many games in Minnesota (which should help his team score runs but depress his homers), so if you’re looking for homers look elsewhere—but, then again, Vargas has a lot of power and isn’t facing any pitching that still scares me. Call him a maybe, I guess.

Dioner Navarro (40%) is a great potential source of homers. All the rest of his games are at home, at Yankee Stadium, or in Baltimore. But mostly at home. Pick him up. Adam Lind (31%) should also enjoy the last couple weeks of the season.

Kolten Wong (34%) is a must for anyone interested in speed or second base. Why do I keep talking this guy up? Because he’s playing the Brewers and Reds at home (hitters’ park, bad opposing pitchers) and finishes the season in Arizona (extreme hitters’ park, terrible opposing pitchers). You don't have to be good to hit with a schedule like that! Pick up any Cardinals you see.

By the way, why is Steve Pearce (34%) still on the waiver wire? Seriously.

James Paxton (47%) should be owned just about everywhere—he’s picked up right where he left off at the beginning of the season. He should rise above some relatively tough matchups.

Brandon McCarthy (41%) has been great and should also get two more starts after today’s: at home against a (probably) resting-the-veterans Orioles and then against the Red Sox.

Henderson Alvarez (40%) is another guy starting today who should get two more starts: his are against the hapless Phillies and against the, again, probably resting-the-stars Nationals at the very end of the season. Jarred Cosart (30%) gets those same matchups.

Bartolo Colon (38%) should be pitching the last game of the year against the Astros. At home. Got to like that. 

Jake Odorizzi (37%) is really good. But that’s tempered by the fact that his last couple starts are nothing exciting.

Derek Holland (35%) not only looks good for this year, but I’d be getting ready to draft him for next year.

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

James Loney (28%) shouldn’t be prevented by his schedule to keep doing what he does.

Juan Lagares (27%) looks like he’s emerging as a steals threat. Also, most of the rest of the Mets’ games are on the road. Not that he’s a power guy, but it should help. Travis d’Arnaud (25%) should also be happy to be playing on the road for a while.

A.J. Pollock (23%) has just been great since coming back. Arizona’s got a hitting-favorable schedule, but I’d have been recommending Pollock anyway. 

Drew Stubbs (22%) is just the guy for your team…through Sunday. This series at home against Arizona is just the time to use Stubbs. Then let him go, because the Rockies finish the year on the road in San Diego and Los Angeles.

Lorenzo Cain (22%) keeps on stealing…when he plays.

Oscar Taveras (21%) is another Cardinal to take advantage of.

Yusmeiro Petit (29%) doesn’t seem to have much left to prove. Roll him out there.

Don’t use Jorge De La Rosa (23%) tonight, but his next start will be in San Diego; then he should get the season’s last game in LA, against a Dodgers team that will (presumably) be preparing itself for the playoffs. A sneaky-good pickup, if you ask me.

Deep Leagues (Under 20% Owned)

Guess who Jon Jay (17%) plays for. Yeah, the Cardinals. Go for it.

Avisail Garcia (17%) is an interesting see-what-you-have kind of play.

Conor Gillaspie (15%) doesn’t have the time to help your batting average, but if you’re needing a third baseman to do no harm, he’s your guy.

Mike Zunino (14%) and Mark Reynolds (13%) offer power-at-all-costs. Same as always.

Oswaldo Arcia (11%) has been relatively productive lately; home games could cost him homers but help in other areas.

Gerardo Parra (9%) and the Brewers have a pretty good hitting schedule for the rest of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised if they produced decently—which is usually a lot to ask at this level of ownership.

Jose Ramirez (6%) is finding favor with the Indians, plays both middle infield positions and steals some bases. Cool.

Chris Owings (6%) should benefit from Arizona’s favorable schedule for hitters.

If Jarrod Dyson (5%) can steal bases off the bench for Kansas City, he probably can for you too, if you’re desperate for speed.

Trevor Bauer (14%) has a couple of okay starts left…I guess I’m not that excited, but this is the level at which excitement is usually unwarranted.

Shane Greene (12%) should have three starts left. So if you need quantity, he could be your guy. The Blue Jays, Orioles, and Red Sox could be easier opponents, though.

Jeremy Hellickson (10%) gets the White Sox and Indians. Could be worse.

Odrisamer Despaigne (7%) has two starts left, both against the Giants. His next one is at home, so he’s worth using for that. See how hard the Giants are fighting for the Wild Card before making a decision to use Despaigne in the less-friendly game at San Francisco next week.

Drew Pomeranz (5%) is supposed to get a spot start against the Phillies on Saturday. That’s the sort of thing to watch for and take advantage of.

Run Away (Seriously, Don’t Pick These Guys Up)

Brandon Belt, Michael Morse, and Angel Pagan all look like they could help a shallow league team…but they can’t. After today’s Arizona game, the Giants will be doing nothing but play in pitchers’ parks in San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Stay away from Giants hitters.

For the same reason we like the Blue Jays’ hitters, we have to stay away from their pitchers—even the highly talented ones like Marcus Stroman. Save Blue Jays pitchers for next year.




RotoAuthority Unscripted: A Second Base Cage Match

This is an article about old versus new. This is an article about years of production versus what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? This is an article about season-long performance and predictability versus unexpected hot streaks. And I don’t know how it’s going to end. 

Yes, you guessed it. This article is about Chase Utley and Luis Valbuena.

I suppose a bit of context is in order. In the RotoAuthority Silver League, I entered the month of September (or at least I exited August) with a pretty sizeable lead of 14 points in the standings. I kind of figured on coasting into championship, since the lead hadn’t changed much in at least a month or two.

Boy, was I wrong.

Hat tip to the owner of Tanaka Flocka Flame for shrinking that lead to 3.5 points, despite being without their name-inspiring star. So, I’m not exactly coasting like I expected to. Desperate might not be quite the right word…but maybe it is.

My hitting needs some more work, as I can conceivably pick up points in Runs, HR, and RBI—and I need to not lose them in AVG and SB. Which brings me to my dilemma.

Assuming for the moment that I don’t have the flexibility to drop anyone else, am I better off taking the surging Valbuena over the slumping Utley?

Let’s take a look.

Round 1: Recent Performance

In the last 30 days of 5x5 stats (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG)
Valbuena: 18/6/10/1/.292
Utley: 6/0/11/2/.189

Obviously, it’s an easy win for Valbuena—that’s why we’re having this conversation, and that’s why his ownership is up from 4% (in Yahoo! leagues) on August 27 to today’s 23% number. He leads my waiver wire with those 18 runs scored and six home runs—though Oswaldo Arcia beats him on the latter account in plenty of free agent lists, I suppose.

Notably, it’s not a knockout, as Utley bests Valbuena in RBI and steals. Plus, while the batting averages would be nice to switch retroactively, is there any indication they’ll continue? And it’s not like runs scored are the most predictive stat in the world.

Winner: Valbuena. On to the next round.

Round 2: 2014 Season

On the season, 5x5 plus some more: (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG/SLG/OBP)
Valbuena: 499 PA 61/16/48/1/.245/.329/.440
Utley: 617 PA 69/11/76/7/.273/.342/.414 

Utley runs up huge advantages in RBI, steals, and average—making it harder for me to believe Valbuena really will out-average Utley over the rest of the season, but Valbuena does noticeably better in power. Some of that difference—especially in RBI—can be chalked up to a big difference in plate appearances, so that makes Valbuena’s runs total even more impressive compared to Utley’s. Looking a little further under the hood, we can see that Valbuena’s got a strikeout percentage of 20.8%, compared to Utley’s 13%; Valbuena’s BABIP is sitting at .286, while Utley’s is .297. So, over any relevant stretch of time, it seems likely that Utley will outperform Valbuena in batting average, but I’m comfortable enough predicting that Valbuena will hit for more power. Call this one for Utley, but by perhaps less than it seems.

Winner: Utley

Round 3: Career Track Record

Uhh…yeah. You don’t need the stats to back this up, but I’ll give you them just so you can be reassured that I’m not lazy. Well, not that lazy, anyway.

Again in the (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG/SLG/OBP) format.
Valbuena: 205/45/170/6/.228/.309/.374
Utley: 921/228/884/136//286/.370/.489 

I told you. Considering his shorter career, Valbuena’s career numbers are perhaps more relevant than Utley’s, but that doesn’t make this fight any less daunting for the upstart. It also gives us even more to worry about in the batting average department.

Winner: Utley But enough about the past. What about the future?

Round 4: Schedule and Teammates

Anyone who’s played fantasy baseball for more than a week or two has figured out that player performance has a bit of variation from week to week and month to month. With about two weeks left to go (is that it?) we have to take the context of the games each player will be playing into account.

Also, anyone who’s played fantasy long enough to start a second season knows that runs and RBI have about as much to do with the player generating them as they do his teammates helping him along—or getting in the way. 

On the season, the Cubs’ current roster of players has only generated about 3.0 more WAR than the Phillies…but they’ve done it with nearly 1000 fewer PA, because so many Cubs players have come up from the minors recently. Despite the gap in PA, the Cubs have actually hit 24 more homers than the Phils, and the squad has a .311 wOBA compared to the Phillies’ .297 mark. If you’re starting to think of this in degrees of badness, I’ll agree…but the degrees are relevant: the Phillies are a lot worse.

How about their place in those lineups? Valbuena has been bouncing around the top of the order in the last week, recently behind Jorge Soler and the recently-returned Anthony Rizzo, and in front of Welington Castillo. Chris Valaika, Javier Baez, and Chris Coghlan have also been batting in front of or behind Valbuena. Uh…keep in mind this is about degrees of bad, though things look a lot better with Rizzo back. 

Utley’s team has been a lot more stable, so it’s more fruitful to look at his season-average lineup slot: typically third behind Jimmy Rollins and Ben Revere and in front of Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd. So it’s no surprise that Utley has more RBI by a wide margin. The lineup-context makes things look more salvageable for Utley in this, now very extended round.

But how about the schedule?

Well, I profiled the Cubs’ and Phillies’ schedules in the same article. Let’s see how they look: about Philadelphia, I said, “You don’t want any part of their lineup.” For Chicago, however, I suggested that “Cubs hitters could be sneaky-good, with a slate of bad pitching staffs to face in the last month.” But that was on the month. Half the month is gone. So, who are the Cubs and Phillies really facing?

Cubs: Home (9): Reds (2), Dodgers (4), Cardinals (3); Away (3): Brewers (3)

Phillies: Home (3): Braves (3), Away (9): Padres (3), A’s (3), Marlins (3)

Wrigley Field (park factor of 0.894) has been the one of the worst parks to hit in this year, and while the Phils’ Citizens Bank Park is also pitching-friendly (park factor 0.917) it’s still friendlier to hitters than the Friendly Confines has been. The Cubs’ three games in Milwaukee are also in a pitchers’ park…while the Phillies get games in the hitting Death Valley that is San Diego, but get some good news: Oakland and Miami have, somewhat surprisingly, played as hitters’ parks this year. Park-wise, I’ll give this to Utley.

Unfortunately for both players, though, their schedules feature games against four of the top five pitching staffs in the NL (two series each, of course). The Cubs and Valbuena get a reprieve in the form of Reds and Brewers games, while the Phillies have to take on the Padres at home and the A’s.

Recapping a long Round 4: The Cubs’ lineup is a little better, and their schedule is a little easier. The Phillies’ home park is less unfavorable, and Utley hits near players that are at least sort of producing within his bad lineup.

Winner: Tie! I know, I know, we all hate ties, but this one does seem to be pretty close, with the most relevant information being that neither player is in a good situation.

Final Winner: Chase Utley

Yes, champion fends off the challenger in this cage match. Valbuena has put up a great month so far, but should we be surprised? There was a reason I said Cubs hitters could be “sneaky-good” this month...but Valbuena actually hasn't. In fact, he put up his impressive 30 day numbers almost entirely in the last couple weeks of August. Go figure. Maybe his "hot streak" has already cooled off.

After getting really excited to pick up Valbuena (he just about had me after Round 1), I have to say I don’t really recommend it. I’m sticking with the more consistent—albeit slumping—Utley.

Feel free to second-guess me when the rest of my lead slips out of my fingers….




RotoAuthority League Update: A Fortnight to Go

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.

The Race for First Place

1. E-Z Sliders 102

2. Men With Wood 92

Is it still premature to declare a champion? I'd hate to jinx the E-Z Sliders, but it sure looks like this club will be drinking Yoo-hoo in a couple of weeks. Led by stellar weeks from Carl Crawford and J.D. Martinez in hitting as well as Mike Fiers and Jacob deGrom in pitching, this squad has all but locked up first place. Team MVP Jose Altuve continues to pave the way offensively, as he picks up multi-hit games seemingly everyday. Meanwhile, Tigers aces Max Scherzer and David Price have once again put in strong campaigns to help lead a strong staff. Given the stratification of the categories in the standings, this double-digit lead with two weeks to play is nearly - but not quite - insurmountable. I'm sure I'll have more kind words to say about the excellent job this owner has done managing once the league championship is officially decided.

Men With Wood isn't going down without a fight, but this squad is simply running out of time at this point. Mike Trout has changed his game this year, but he's still the best in the business. In addition, Carlos Santana and Shelby Miller have begun to turn around their disappointing seasons. Where this owner has really shined, however, has been on the waiver wire. Chris Young has been very productive in pinstripes while Carlos Carrasco has been lights-out down the stretch. As usual, this diligent owner has found a good number of gems from the free agent pool this season. It looks like there's too much ground to make up for this owner to take home the trophy, but that doesn't take anything away from another successful season for Men With Wood. This will be the third time in the past five seasons this club has finished in the money, a truly impressive performance.

The Race for Third Place

3. Smell the Glove 83.5

4. Guitar Masahiro 80

5. A Century of Misery 74

6. Pulling Brzenk 63

Little by little, Guitar Masahiro continues to cut into Commissioner Dierkes's lead in the race for the final spot that receives a payout. While I feel confident declaring E-Z Sliders the inevitable league champion this season, this race is still too early to call. These two clubs are neck and neck in innings, but it's worth noting that Guitar Masahiro is next-to-last in strikeouts. Accordingly, this owner could pass up some teams simply by volume if other bottom-dwelling clubs fail to reach the innings maximum. We have a race on our hands then, but I still view Smell the Glove as the more likely to finish in third place. Like Men With Wood, that would prove to be Dierkes's third finish in the money in the league's seven-year history.

The Race to Avoid the Bottom Four

7. Brewsterville Bruins 56.5

8. The Jewru 56

9. Spirit of St. Louis 47

10. The Bombers 46

11. Cobra Kai 40.5

12. Gramma Nutt Crushers 39.5

I'd hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there's now a clear line between eighth place and ninth place at this point. It looks like the veteran owner of Brewsterville Bruins will live to see another day after spending much of the season in last place. First-time participant, the Jewru, also would be safe if the season ended today, but it sure hasn't been a kind year for the other newbies to the league. After all, Spirit of St. Louis, the Bombers, and Cobra Kai may all be one-and-done as owners in this league. Finally, one of the league's most successful owners, the Gramma Nutt Crushers, will unfortunately have to say goodbye in a couple of weeks.

 Standings as of Saturday, September 13th




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