April 2012

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Silver League Update: Best and Worst April Values

All the cool kids quote T.S. Eliot when they sum up April baseball, but I'll try to resist the temptation. Still, this is the month where things happen that are crazy enough to make The Waste Land seem intelligible. Consider this one: Chone Figgins has more home runs than Albert Pujols. Infinitely more. Baltimore and Washington are both in first place, and the worst team in baseball isn't the Houston Astros. 

There are good reasons why the baseball season lasts longer than a month.

There's still time to climb out of the hole, no matter how bad it is (almost). If the E-Z sliders can begin the week in first place, drop behind me and into 10th or 11th ... and then back up with the contenders, anything can still happen.

Speaking of anything happening, King Fish 2.0 has reverted to its original name and claimed the top spot in the standings, despite taking Pujols with the first overall pick. I was looking over his team, actually, and wondering what it has that I don't (runs, homers, RBIs) that got me thinking--who are the best and worst values of the young season? Since there can only be one per position, that's how I sorted them. 

You'll notice a lot of first- and second-round picks among the bad values, but don't worry fellow owners: it's players like these that usually turn it around and make us all forget nightmarish Aprils. Among the best values, I ignored the Matt Kemps and Josh Hamiltons of the world--great players having great months isn't great value. That's what you pay for.

Catchers

A.J. Pierzynski has four homers and an average near .330. And he was taken in the 24th round. Did I really pass him over for John Buck? Other catchers have been good -- even great -- but not the last ones taken in the draft. Sure, he'll cool down, but it sure was a nice April.

Geovany Soto, 14th round. Catchers are usually horrible, so it wasn't easy to make the choice. Soto isn't the only terrible catcher out there, but hitting just .135 while driving in nobody but himself is a special kind of execrable. I wonder how many different synonyms for "bad" I'll have to use in this article?

First Base

After years of sneaking Edwin Encarnacion late in drafts only to have him be pretty worthless, the 16th round seems like great value for him. With six bombs, an average over .300, and three steals thrown in for fun, he's hitting like it always seemed like he should have hit. It's not unreasonable to think he's continuing beyond a corner that he began turning partway through last year.

Albert Pujols wins this one pretty handily, as the first overall pick has been hitting like, well, Figgins -- but without the steals. His average is below .230, and he's barely got 10 runs and RBIs combined. He's done. King Fish, I'll give you Chris Davis for him. Everyone else: Don't worry. He'll round back to form sooner than later.

Second Base

Mike Aviles doesn't just play three of the four shallowest positions in fantasy baseball, he's been killing the ball to the tune of a .293 average, four homers, and healthy run, RBI, and steal totals. Let's see ... five categories and three positions ... yeah, he was a good pick in Round 22. Before we get too excited, remember that Aviles has done impressive things in small sample sizes before.

Robinson Cano plays for the Yankees, was drafted in the first round, and has just three RBIs. Ouch. I know his owners were looking for more when they drafted him; I'm pretty confident they'll get it. Like Pujols, he's far too talented to be washed up. You know, like Hanley Ramirez last year.

Shortstop

Derek Jeter has done his best to make up for his double-play partner's deficiencies and prove his doubters (me, and Yankees haters everywhere) wrong with a .386 average, four homers, bunches of runs and RBIs, and plenty of clutch hits. Yes, an end to this level of production will come eventually, but it isn't this month. Picked in the 11th round, his overall production tops the current giants at his position.

Speaking of current giants, Jose Reyes must be having trouble adjusting to Miami, because he's off to a terrible start, with only nine runs and RBIs combined. He's stolen four bases, but that's small consolation for the team that picked him in Round 2.

Third Base

This is the position that really got me thinking about this article, seeing that David Freese, of all people, has 20 RBIs, five home runs, and a batting average over .340. One more good month doesn't make me a Freese believer, but my skepticism is wearing a little thinner. I thought he was a reach in the 13th round, but he's showing me. I still don't really expect it to last, so if you can get value out of him in a trade, I say go for it.

Mark Reynolds has gone from being my preseason I'm-sure-he'll-hit-a-ton-of-home-runs pick to being my least favorite player in baseball. I took him over chuckles and calls of, "Reach!" in the seventh, and it looks like everybody knew what I didn't. Even the Orioles knew, but that didn't help them trade him away. The "slugger" has yet to hit a longball, has just three RBIs and a batting average under .160. Maybe he'll turn it around. Maybe he's this year's Adam Dunn. Maybe his career has fallen off the same cliff Richie Sexson's did...

Outfield

Carlos Beltran, Andre Ethier, and Nick Swisher are my value choices in the outfield. Beltran and Ethier were grabbed in the 10th round, Swisher in the 12th, and all three are mashing the ball. Not in the same way that superstars like Kemp are, but in a way that shames quite a few of the outfielders taken above them. All three have at least five homers and good run and RBI totals. Ethier and Swisher have good batting averages, while Beltran makes up for his .253 average with five steals.

On the bad side of things, we've got two first rounders and a second-round pick. Jacoby Ellsbury has been about as bad as a first rounder can be, batting under .200 and then getting hurt. Justin Upton hasn't been quite so bad, but hitting under .230 with just one homer and one steal isn't exactly first-round material. Meanwhile, Giancarlo Stanton was supposed to anchor his teams in the power categories and has just one home run. Ouch. Fortunately, all three are good bets to put their terrible Aprils behind them. Honorable mention to Carl Crawford, picked in the seventh round. I assume missing time was factored into that pick, but with a delayed timetable, he's still a disappointment.

Yeah, April. Weird things happen. If you can use those weird things to your advantage (like enjoying a Jeter hot streak or trading for a slumping Stanton), so much the better. If you can't, the last thing you want to do is make a panic trade of an overachiever for an underachiever. Eric Hosmer was just traded for Yadier Molina; that's not the sort of trade that usually ends well.

Those in head-to-head leagues know that April isn't the cruelest month: September is.


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This Week In Streaming Strategy

A few tips on how to maximize your fantasy potential for your coming head-to-head matchup this week, or, if you're in a standard 5x5 roto league, here's how to start off May by snagging some extra points ...

* Garrett Jones, Alex Presley. It's time to sound the bell once more for the righty-mashing Jones. After the Pirates face Mike Minor and the Braves on Monday, it's nothing but right-handed starters for Pittsburgh's remaining six games of the week. Jones is finding new life in his platoon role, as he entered Saturday's action with a .915 OPS against righties and just two PAs against left-handed pitching this season.  It's getting to the point where Jones is an auto-start in your first base, outfield or utility spot if he's scheduled to face a right-hander. As for Presley, he's at best a borderline starter (even in deeper leagues) and doesn't provide much outside of batting average.  That said, he's another left-handed hitter who should benefit from the Pirates' righty-heavy schedule, so it could behoove you to give Presley at least a few starts off your bench this week.

* Jon Jay. With Allen Craig due to return from the DL sometime this week, the platooning cavalcade known as the St. Louis Cardinals will get yet another quality name thrown into the mix for playing time.  Now that Matt Carpenter has come back down to earth, Craig will probably be slotted at first base until Lance Berkman is healthy, thus keeping the Cards' outfield as Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran playing every day and a Shane Robinson/Jay platoon in center. After missing six games with a shoulder injury, Jay returned with a bang, delivering back-to-back three-hit games on Friday and Saturday.  While he has a solid career line against southpaws, the left-handed-hitting Jay has been used almost exclusively against righties this season, and with St. Louis set to face four righties this week, keep Jay in your lineup as long as he's hot.

* Chris Davis. As a longtime member of the Chris Davis fanclub, I'm delighted that he's getting a chance in Baltimore and hitting well (an .852 OPS entering Saturday) as the left-handed half of the Orioles' first-base platoon. This week, the O's face right-handed starters in five of six games, and while this quintet features some major AL East names (Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz), these five have ranged from average to horrible thus far in 2012. There's plenty of opportunity for Davis to keep swinging a hot bat this week, and he's only owned in 14% of Yahoo leagues.  Get him in your lineup!

* Tommy Milone. One of the big pieces that came to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez trade, Milone has done an excellent job of filling Gonzalez's shoes in the Athletics' rotation. Milone has an even 2.00 ERA through four starts and is coming off eight innings of shutout, three-hit ball against the White Sox in his last outing. Slated for two starts this week and at just 21% ownership in Yahoo leagues, Milone should be a great pickup, right? Not so fast.  Milone is set for road starts in Boston and Tampa Bay this week, which represent a significant uptick in competition. Milone faced the White Sox (18th in MLB in team OPS), the Angels (23rd), the Mariners (22nd) and the Royals (7th, but weren't hitting well over the first week of the year when Milone faced them) in his first four starts. The Red Sox and Rays, by contrast, rank second and fifth in team OPS. Milone is a ground-ball pitcher with good control --- 13 strikeouts and six walks in 27 IP, with a 44.3% ground ball rate --- but it will be a tall order for him to weave his way through those tough AL East lineups.  You could argue I'm selling Milone short here, so I'll make this promise: if he makes it through these next two starts relatively unscathed, I will sing his praises in next week's column.

* Kyle Drabek. The Blue Jays righty has gotten off to a nice start in 2012 but it's easy to forget that he also looked good in the early going in 2011. Drabek had a 3.30 ERA through his first five starts last season before the wheels began to fall off, culminating in Drabek's eventual demotion to the minors.  (And to think, some clown picked Drabek to be Rookie Of The Year in 2011.) Drabek's unimpressive K:BB ratio of 18:13 this season and his advanced metrics -- .226 BABIP, a 4.14 xFIP and a 5.22 FIP --- indicate that he's been more than a little fortunate to post his 2.25 actual ERA. Drabek is scheduled to make two starts this week, one on Monday against Yu Darvish and the powerful Rangers lineup, and then in Anaheim on Saturday against the Angels, who have been punchless thus far but certainly have the bats to turn things around.  If you're looking to add a two-start hurler this week, stay away from Drabek since he could be in for some regression.

* Kendrys Morales. Speaking of that Jays/Angels series, with Ricky Romero throwing against Texas on Wednesday, it means the Halos will avoid Toronto's ace southpaw and get all righties (Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez, Drabek and Drew Hutchison) during their four-game set.  The Angels are also scheduled to face two right-handers and struggling left-hander Francisco Liriano in their series with the Twins earlier in the week, so it all adds up to a prime opportunity for Morales to take off.  The switch-hitter has much stronger numbers against righties over his career and even though it seems Morales hasn't quite returned to his pre-injury form yet, he was still hitting .311/.354/.444 against righties in 2012 heading into Saturday's game with Cleveland.  The Halos badly need something to spark their lineup and a big week from Morales against all this right-handed opposition could do the trick.


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's edition of Stock Watch recommended buying Ryan Zimmerman, but in the last week Zimmerman has come down with a shoulder injury and appears headed for the disabled list. If you own Zimmerman, a back-dated DL trip is probably the best scenario to avoid a re-occuring long-term injury. Let's hope these recommendations have a better result:

Buy

  • Henry Rodriguez - H-Rod is dealing, and in his last appearance, the Padres' announcers were surprised at his consistent 100-mph heat and, as they called it, a "Nintendo slider." Davey Johnson told the Nationals' announcers that H-Rod would have been used had a save scenario existed in Wednesday's game following his save on Tuesday. Also, H-Rod was warming up in the top of the ninth inning yesterday to come into a save opportunity had the Nationals taken the lead. At this point, if Brad Lidge gets another save opportunity, Nationals fans may revolt. There is no guarantee that Drew Storen comes back from elbow surgery this season, and it is not beyond the realm of possiblity that H-Rod ends the season as a top five closer. Buy on the cheap while you have the opportunity.
  • Javy Guerra - When other owners are zigging, you should be zagging. Following Guerra's blown save on Wednesday, many owners are looking to dump. But, Don Mattingly reaffirmed Guerra as the closer on Thursday. Also, Guerra's loss on Tuesday was caused by Matt Kemp not making a catchable play in center field, and on Wednesday, Guerra was singled to death by a very good Braves lineup. I like Guerra to have a decent amount of leash still as the closer given his success last year and excellent pitching before the Braves series, and I would be looking to get him when his value is far down. Guerra also showed the moxie of a closer by taking a wicked line drive off his chin on Wednesday and staying in the save situation.
  • Matt Holliday - His .210 BABIP is over 100 points below his BABIP for every season he has been in the Majors, resulting in a .205 batting average and a drop in perceived value. Strangely, his strikeouts are up even though his swinging strike rate is at 9.5%, which is below his 10.8% career average. But, his lowest career batting average by month is April, and last April he only hit two home runs.
  • Brennan Boesch - Hitting second for Detroit is one of the best hitting slots in the Majors, and a .228 BABIP has driven his average just above the Mendoza Line. His groundball rate has spiked this year, and he has not been patient enough at the plate to work counts into good hitting situations as shown by his horrible 1.3% walk rate. Still, he has two home runs in the past four games, and you should jump on the chance to acquire him if an impatient owner is ready to cut bait.
  • Chris Davis - He's ripped home runs in back-to-back games and could be entering a hot streak. Davis is an excellent power source with multi-position eligibility that is available on many waiver wires.
  • Pedro Alvarez - Alvarez is another power source who is heating up -- also with home runs in back-to-back games -- and is widely available on waiver wires. It may be tough for owners burned by him last year to click "add," but he is a good speculative buy given his immense potential.
  • Jarrod Parker - He turned in a solid first start and has a very high upside. He's more valuable in daily leagues, where he can be benched for away games against tough offenses.
  • Tommy Milone - ZiPs calls for a 4.09 ERA from Milone for the rest of the season, but those owners in daily leagues with deep benches can beat that projection by at least a half-run by only starting Milone at home or in favorable road matchups. He's available on the waiver wire despite an excellent start to the season based on low strikeout rates and lack of name recognition.
  • Chris Sale - A 3.09 SIERA, 2.83 FIP and 9.00 K/9 show his good start is for real.
  • Neil Walker - His strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate are down from last season, and his .260 BABIP is dragging down his batting average.  Pick up Walker on waiver wires where impatient owners pulled the plug, or do not hesitate to grab him as a throw-in to complete a trade.
  • Marco Estrada - Available on most waiver wires in 12- and 14-team mixed leagues, Estrada has a 13.09 K/9 rate this season and is in the rotation -- and pitching against pathetic NL Central lineups -- following the injury to Chris Narveson. Estrada's SIERA was 3.29 last year and is currently at 1.70 on the young season. It will be interesting to see if he can carry this success as a starter, but he's worth a speculative add off the waiver wire to find out.

Sell

  • Kirk Nieuwenhuis - He's playing every day with injuries to Andres Torres and Jason Bay, but his average is inflated with a .429 BABIP and is not sustainable while striking out nearly 30% of his plate appearances.
  • David Freese - The .339 average is carried by a .425 BABIP despite his line drive rate decreasing from last season. Also, his BB rate is down compared to last year, while his strikeout rate is up. His strong start to the season has me selling high before another injury happens, particularly if he were my second third baseman leaving the draft.
  • Ubaldo Jimenez - The right-hander is walking more batters on the season than he is striking out, resulting in an ugly 5.60 SIERA, and his fastball is averaging less than 93 mph on the season (compared to 96.57 in 2010). He's OK to cut in 10-team mixed leagues and to bench in 12-team mixers.
  • James McDonald - He's enjoying a fast start, but keep your expectations in check, as his SIERA is 4.73, while his swinging strike rate of 6.6% is way below his career average. Plus, wins are tough to come by on the Pirates.


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RotoAuthority Live Chat

Click below to read a transcript of today's live chat with Steve Adams!


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Athletics Turn To Jarrod Parker For Rotation Help

Trading for prospects is nothing new for the Oakland Athletics, who turned the duo of Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez into seven prospects in separate trades this past offseason. Left-hander Tommy Milone, who came from the Nationals in the Gonzalez trade, has been in the A's rotation since Opening Day. Last night he was joined by the recently recalled Jarrod Parker, who came from the Diamondbacks in the Cahill trade. Replacing the generally ineffective Graham Godfrey, Parker held the White Sox to one run in 6 1/3 innings yesterday afternoon. He struck out five and walked just one, getting 17 of his 19 outs on the infield. It was a strong if unspectacular debut.

The 23-year-old Parker came to the Athletics with some big league experience. He threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dodgers is his first (and only other) big league start last September before making Arizona's playoff roster. In his lone appearance in the NLDS against the Brewers, Parker allowed three of the four batters he faced in relief to reach base. He pitched to a 3.79 ERA in 130 2/3 innings Double-A innings before the callup, showing the typical control problems associated with recent elbow surgery; Parker walked 3.8 BB/9 in the minors last year after missing all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery. In four Triple-A starts before his callup, he struck out 21 batters and walked just six in 20 2/3 innings. The performance is there, and the scouting report backs it all up.

Baseball America has long touted Parker as a future high-end starter, ranking him no worse than 46th on their annual Top 100 Prospects List every year from 2008-12. They ranked him as the top prospect in Oakland's farm system following the trade, saying he "has true frontline-starter potential and isn't far away from reaching it" in their subscriber-only scouting report. Reports of a mid-90s four-seam fastball, low-90s team-fastball, mid-80s slider, and mid-80s changeup are corroborated by the PitchFX data from his start last September as well as yesterday afternoon. Parker generated 11 swings and misses with 99 pitches yesterday, an excellent rate even if it came against the team with the third highest strikeout rate -- 21.8% of plate appearances -- in baseball.

So what does this all mean from a fantasy perspective? For one, Parker has the stuff to miss bats and rack up strikeouts. Keeping the ball out of play is a great way to escape jams, as is playing in a huge ballpark. The Coliseum in Oakland is one of the pitcher-friendliest parks in the Majors, as is Safeco Field and Angels Stadium. Outside of the Rangers lineup and the ballpark in Arlington, it's a pretty good division for a pitcher. The only problem is that while Parker will get some help keeping his ERA and WHIP down, he won't win you many games. He's a three-category asset in a standard 5x5 scoring league.

Parker's upcoming schedule isn't all that great, so you're going to have to keep him glued to the bench if you pick him up right away. If you don't pick him up right away ... someone else will. Parker's next start will come at Fenway Park against the Red Sox, then he lines up for home dates against the Blue Jays and Tigers before going on the road to face the Rangers. If another owner in your league doesn't play the matchup  game and gets frustrated by Parker's performance against those clubs, I'd look to buy low on him in about three weeks. Other than Matt Moore, I don't think there's a more fantasy-ready pitching prospect this season than the former Diamondbacks right-hander.


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When and Where Will Allen Craig Play?

Allen Craig's rehab stint began Saturday with a home run, and Craig singled in his first three at-bats on Monday. That sly dog Tim Dierkes drafted Craig in the 24th round of the MLB Trade Rumors fantasy draft and assuredly is awaiting his return with relish. The question is, of course, when and where will Craig play?

With Lance Berkman out, Matt Carpenter has filled in admirably at first. Could Craig see time at first upon his return if Berkman is still injured? Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote that "Matheny said he wasn't sure what position Craig will play - left, right, or first base - when he takes the field Tuesday." Obviously, Matheny was speaking only of Craig's rehab assignment, but could this indicate that the Cardinals plan on giving Craig a look at first base? He ended up serving as the designated hitter in Tuesday's game, but it will be interesting to see where he plays going forward. If Jon Jay struggles to return from his shoulder injury, Carlos Beltran could move to center field and Craig could see time in right. With a .399 wOBA in 219 plate appearances last year and three minor league seasons with wOBAs over .400, Craig certainly warrants your attention. It is difficult, however, to project more than 400 plate appearances for Craig in 2012.  

Andres Torres also began a rehab assignment, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and two stolen bases on Monday. If he's been dropped in an NL-Only league, stash him on the DL and see if he can regain the leadoff spot when he returns to the Mets. With Jason Bay now on the DL with a fractured rib, Torres shouldn't have any issue getting back into the lineup right away. Torres was 0-for-4 on Tuesday night, but played center field without issue. 

Josh Johnson was dealing in Flushing on Tuesday night. I really should have said something about buying low on Johnson, but I suppose I was too busy with Francisco Liriano and Tim Lincecum. Hopefully you struck while the iron was hot and Johnson was cool, because the location and stuff he showed Tuesday tonight against the Mets was vintage Josh Johnson. It only makes sense that it would take a few starts for him to find his rhythm after going an entire year without pitching in the Majors. 

Tim Lincecum's fastball was still at 90-91 on Monday, but he showed better location, setting up his breaking pitches. In the fourth, the fastball dipped to 89, and he missed badly a few times. The fifth inning was pretty ugly, but Emmanuel Burriss and Brandon Crawford bailed him out with a nifty double play. Lincecum walked five batters in all. He'll face the Padres this weekend. If you can still get a deal on Lincecum, capitalize before he pitches well against San Diego and the buy-low opportunity vanishes.  

Tuesday marked the Kansas City Royals' 12th consecutive loss, and the luster has worn off. Eric Hosmer, everyone and their mother's preseason darling, continues to hit the ball on the ground at an alarming rate for a projected power hitter (48.1% in 2012, 49.7% in '11). Hosmer's pedigree and minor league numbers speak for themselves, however, and he will be fine. Alex Gordon's start is the more concerning of the two, as the Royals gave Gordon a hefty $37.5 million contract in the offseason. Gordon hasn't exactly been consistent since entering the bigs, and he has struck out 20 times in his first 71 plate appearances in 2012. 


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Closer Updates: Blue Jays, Red Sox, Nats

I would have published this sooner, but with three lefties coming up, my editor pulled me in favor of a LOOGY ...

Blue Jays
I said last week I wasn't all that concerned about Sergio Santos' sluggish start -- unless it was on account of an injury, which we would have had no way of knowing. Sure enough, the flame-throwing right-hander hit the DL late on Saturday due to right shoulder inflammation.

Am I worried now? I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. I don't own Santos in either of my leagues, but that wasn't by design; I like him quite a lot and expected him to have a strong season. Now, however, things are murky. The Jays say the ailment is not serious, and I suppose there's no reason not to take them at face value, but ... it's still an arm injury.

Meanwhile, Francisco Cordero has been named closer in Santos' absence. I'm no fan of Cordero's, but I was able to snatch him up when news broke of Santos' injury, and I suggest you do the same if you still can. I'll be gritting my teeth through his save opps (including Sunday's underwhelming performance), but saves are saves, and I need 'em in my primary league.

I fully expect Cordero to cede the job back to Santos when the latter is ready to to return, but I'm not assuming Santos will necessarily be back right away, either. Santos owners are frustrated, I'm sure, but your only option is to sit tight for now and stash him on your DL.

Red Sox
Smart money had reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard returning to Boston's bullpen at some point this season, but I'm not sure anyone thought it would happen this soon. Then again, who could have foreseen things going as poorly as they have so far?

The trouble, for our purposes, is that the Red Sox are calling this a temporary move; Bard will only be available in relief while one of his turns in the starting rotation is skipped. Further complicating matters, they've also been cagey as to exactly what role he will fill during this cameo. If it all sounds unusual to you, that's because it is.

I was able to read the tea leaves and nabbed Bard before the announcement was made, but now I'm feeling like I may be stuck with Louis Friend. Will he remain in the bullpen for the long-term? Will he close if so? Well, now that I've completely revealed my bias, I don't mind saying that I hope so, but Bobby Valentine said Monday he doesn't think there's a strong temptation to move Bard back to the 'pen permanently. Why he phrased it in such a creepy way, I can't say, but the point comes across.

This situation is a mess. I'm going to hold onto Bard because I'm needy for saves, and Bard's upside as a closer is pretty big, but if you're in any better standing, you can safely pass.

Nationals
In case you missed it last week, Drew Storen is out for an undefined period of time after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. Washington hopes to have Storen back before the All-Star break, but in the meanwhile, Henry Rodriguez and Brad Lidge will share closing duties.

That's a double helping of ugh.

H-Rod's surface numbers look great right now, while Lidge's do not, but don't be fooled: both options are underwhelming. The right-handers should be owned, because saves are saves, but neither of these guys is going to provide long-term surplus value, and the fact that they're cast in a platoon only further diminishes their already dubious contributions. These remains are better left for the saves bottomfeeders in your league.

Storen, obviously, is a strong undisputed DL stash. You can take a risk on dropping him outright -- and there's a decent enough chance that he washes out completely that it wouldn't be insane from the perspective of lost stats -- but someone will snatch him off your wire with the quickness.


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Silver League Update: Wisdom of the Crowd - Pitchers

Things have tightened up a bit in the Silver League as the hottest and slowest starts begin evening out, but four familiar teams sit on top of the standings: Spirit of St. Louis, Mr. Perfect 56, E-Z Sliders, and the twice-renamed Tupac to Shoppach. I'm beginning to think they have good teams.

Last week, we took a look at the wisdom of the Silver League crowd to see which rarely owned hitters have a place on our teams and which popular hitters don't. This week, we'll be doing the same thing, but with starting pitchers. I'll examine pitchers on our waiver wire that are owned in more than 30% of Yahoo! leagues and those we do own that are rostered in fewer than 20% of leagues. 

Popular Pitchers We Don't Like

Topping this list is Clay Buchholz, owned in 58% of leagues. Buchholz, who isn't pitching well this year and was mediocre last year, is probably owned by the strength of his reputation. After all, he once had an ERA under 3.00 and pitches in Boston. What more do you need to be a famous person? The thing is, he was never as good as his 2010 surface numbers suggested, and may not be that great at all. Stay away.

Alexi Ogando (49% owned) is either owned for his middle-relief prowess or because owners didn't realize he was going back to the 'pen. If you're in the latter group, don't admit it, just drop Ogando quietly. If you've got him as a non-closing RP, I hope there aren't any closers or decent setup men on your waiver wire, because Ogando isn't any higher than third in line for Texas' save chances. That said, he's certainly pitching well.

The same can't be said for Jair Jurrjens (also 49% owned), who's been straight-up awful. His pitch-to-contact ways have collided with more walks than strikeouts. He's probably also owned because of past lucky-good years, because he's more of a borderline rosterable pitcher when he isn't in a cold stretch. There are almost certainly lots of better options available in your league.

Bartolo Colon (41%) however, is off to a great start, after implausibly reinventing himself last season. It was so implausible that he wasn't on a lot of fantasy radars before the season, but it looks like people are catching on. He's got an impeccable WHIP, and I know he's pitched mostly against Seattle this year, but things like the unbalanced schedule and a great pitcher's park are worth taking into account. I only wish I could squeeze him onto my roster ...

Francisco Liriano (35%) will keep getting chances because of that one year he pitched like Johan Santana ... back when Santana pitched like a first overall pick. Liriano's got talent, but he keeps sending mixed messages with it. There's that almost-12.00 ERA, but as Tom Warman wrote in this week's Stock Watch, his velocity has been increasing from start to start. I say, roll the dice and give him a try, but don't drop someone you'll miss for him.

Rounding out the group of ex-famous people is Barry Zito. He's off to a good start, and, like fellow former Cy Young winner Colon, pitches in a friendly park and has some weak-hitting division rivals. Still, he's got just 10 strikeouts in 21 innings. He might not be awful, which would be an accomplishment, but I'd stay away in standard leagues.

 Our Favorite Unknowns

Ross Detwiler (20%) has seen his stock go up pretty consistently. And why not? He's striking out nearly a batter per inning, with an ERA and WHIP both under 1.00. Not only that, but the Nats were willing to send reliable innings-eater John Lannan -- and his $5M salary -- to the minors to keep Detwiler in the rotation, essentially giving up on a Lannan trade. I wondered before the season if Washington knew something we didn't, and the results so far suggest they do. I'd take Detwiler over anyone on the above list.

Henderson Alvarez (16%) intrigued in a brief callup last year and he's been, well, OK so far. The ERA doesn't impress, but the WHIP is good. He isn't striking many people out, but he's got decent upside and a team that ought to win ballgames, especially once summer hits and the Jays get the traditional break from the rest of the AL East. I think you can take him or leave him, but he's got a better chance of being good than most pitcher's with his ownership rate.

A.J. Burnett (12%) made Left is Right look good for picking him up in time for his first start. Burnett came back from his injury quicker than expected and delivered a dominant outing. I feel good for saying good things about him before his injury and bad for not picking him up. Even with a lousy return, I'd have suggested picking up Burnett (really). His strikeout-pitching ways should play nicely away from the AL East. Beware: you shouldn't expect a good WHIP and you should prepare for the occasional blowup.

Chris Capuano (9%) is delivering good strikeouts, but his ERA and WHIP numbers haven't been awesome. I like to give benefit of the doubt to strikeout pitchers, especially those that keep their walks down. Looking deeper into his numbers, you can see that most of his runs and walks came in his first start of the year. When considering pitchers at this stage of the season, you should always check out their game logs--two good games and one bad one are a lot more promising than three marginal games.

Juan Nicasio and Drew Pomeranz (both 7%) are worth their fliers, but Pomeranz has more upside to deliver, as the top prospect in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal. Neither pitcher is off to an auspicious start, but Nicasio showed flashes of excellence last year, and Pomeranz is striking out nearly a batter per inning. If you have roster space, Colorado pitchers can be put to use in road games only, making them a bit better than their total numbers.

Finally, Tommy Milone (6%) is off to a decent start with the A's, posting a low ERA and WHIP. His strikeouts aren't what I normally like, but -- like the Colorado starters above -- Oakland starters present an opportunity to use them in home games and against the Mariners. Pitchers like this have their uses, for sure. 

The nature of pitching and the prevalence of streaming means that there will be wide variance in which starters are owned, but hopefully this will help you make a decision or two, even if you're only picking someone up for a day. If you know any other pitchers that deserve to be owned (or dropped) in more leagues, let us know in the comments -- last week's discussion was great.


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This Week In Streaming Strategy

A few days ago, my friend Don tweeted the following: "I just realized I'm looking for fantasy baseball advice on a blog written by the guy I'm against this week. Damn."  Truly a proud moment of my tenure at Roto Authority. Let's see if I can keep the good vibes going and plant a bunch of trojan horses to fool my fantasy opponents uncover some good and bad streaming options for the upcoming week ...

* Chris Getz. Six of the Royals' seven games this week will be against right-handed pitching, thus giving plenty of opportunity for the left-handed-hitting Getz. Kansas City's second base situation is not exactly a platoon, but you'd think that Getz would be a logical pick to see the lion's share of starts this week over Yuniesky Betancourt, a right-handed bat.  The Royals have been regularly starting Betancourt due to his hot bat, but this is the same player who has a career .685 OPS, he'll come back down to earth soon.

* Henderson Alvarez. Owned in just 16% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, Alvarez allowed six runs in 6 1/3 innings against Tampa Bay on Thursday but pitched well in his first two outings of the season. One of those outings was against the Orioles, whom he'll face again on Tuesday at Camden Yards. Alvarez's other start this week will come against the light-hitting Mariners on Sunday at Rogers Centre. This is kind of a borderline recommendation, since Alvarez has been victimized a bit by the long ball this year (four HR in 19 1/3 IP) and has middling peripherals. With two of the AL's weaker teams on the slate this week, however, Alvarez stands out as the best widely-available two-start pitcher.

* Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Sweeney. The Red Sox are set to face righties in six of seven games this week, thus making these two into quality streaming plays. The switch-hitting Saltalamacchia has much better career splits against right-handed pitching (.768 OPS) than he does against left-handed pitching (.601 OPS), so this might the week where the catcher breaks out of his early-season slump. Sweeney is Boston's one healthy left-handed outfielder, so he'll be the one lineup constant this week as the Sox try to cobble together a decent outfield out of a collection of second-stringers.

* Marlon Byrd, Darnell McDonald, Jason Repko, Cody Ross. And hey, while we're at it, here are those second-stringers!  All four are right-handed hitters, so they're in tough against the steady diet of right-handed pitching against whom Boston is scheduled this week. The newly acquired Byrd will probably see the most playing time, but the other three will be fighting for at-bats. It's best to just stay away from Boston's outfield this week, aside from Sweeney.

* Philip Humber. Let's not go nuts over one legendary game. Unheralded pitchers who toss perfect games or no-hitters always see a bump in ownership following their big starts, but in most cases, there's a reason these guys are unheralded in the first place. Humber is the same pitcher he was before Saturday's perfect game; a solid fifth starter option with decent peripherals (a 2.83 K/BB in 2011 and a 16:3 K:BB ratio in 14 innings this year). Let's also not overlook the fact that his masterpiece took place at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field and against the woeful Mariners' lineup. Humber's next start will be back at U.S. Cellular Field against the Red Sox, so not only can Johnny Vander Meer rest in peace, it's up in air as to whether Humber can even deliver a quality start. I'd pass on Humber this week, but perhaps keep an eye on him for a spot start later in the year if he continues his good form.

* The Phillies.  From 102-game winners in 2011 to a team that I can just list as general stay-aways for an April fantasy week and everyone understands. The Phils have scored just 42 runs (second-lowest in baseball) in 15 games this season and have been especially atrocious against right-handed pitching, posting a team OPS of just .606 against righties. The Phillies will face at least four right-handed starters in their six games this week, and while only a couple of those names (Josh Collmenter, Trevor Cahill, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija) are particularly challenging, it might be best to just give your phantasy Phillies a break en masse this week. Even the better bats like Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino or Jimmy Rollins have fared worse in their careers against righties, and of this trio, only Victorino is performing anywhere close to his usual standards. There's nothing worse than a team-wide malaise to drag down individual fantasy stars, and such a slump might be occurring in Philadelphia.


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Another week is in the books, and another top closer was lost with Brian Wilson out for the season following Tommy John surgery. One owner's loss is another's gain, as owners fast on the draw were able to get a closer off the waiver wire in Santiago Casilla. Last week's buy/sell recommended grabbing Casilla at a time when he was still available on many waiver wires. 

Buy

  • Juan Pierre - Two hits yesterday raised his batting average to .333, and he has three steals. Meanwhile, John Mayberry was hitless yesterday and is hitting .189. Pierre may see the majority of at-bats in left field in the (at least) near future. Time to pick him up where available if you are short on steals.
  • Anthony Rizzo / Nolan Arenado - Both are tearing up the minors (Rizzo is hitting .393 with seven homers in 56 ABs at Triple-A; Arenado is hitting .364 with a 1.030 OPS in 44 ABs in Double-A), and in leagues with deep benches--particularly head-to-head leagues -- are excellent pickups in anticipation of potential June callups. Chris Nelson has proven a poor option at third, and Colorado can only wait so long to call up Arenado. The Cubs are already in "Wait for Next Year" mode and should give Rizzo a shot at further developing in the Majors by trading Bryan LaHair or shifting him to a corner-outfield position.
  • Francisco Liriano - He has shown improved velocity between starts (max velocity increasing from 92.7 to 93.3 to 95 in his three starts) despite horrible results this year - 11.91 ERA compared to 5.70 SIERA. If Liriano was cut by an impatient owner in your league, he is worth picking up and taking a chance on in a favorable home ballpark for pitchers.
  • Austin Jackson - He's hitting .300 and leading off for a potent offense, which should result in a 100-run season if he stays in that spot. Most impressively, he entered yesterday with a 14.8% walk rate, which easily beats his walk rates in 2011 (8.4%) and in 2010 (7.00%).
  • Ryan Zimmerman - After having two home runs blown back by a fierce Wrigley Field wind on Opening Day, Zimmerman had been struggling before breaking out with a home run yesterday and line shots the entire series against the Astros. Zimmerman appears healthy and therefore his value should exceed his ADP of 39.6. He's a star player that could still be attainable at a decent price given his .236 batting average.
  • Luke Scott - He's hitting .312 with 14 RBIs and should finish the season as one of the best waiver-wire or late-round additions. Scott is hitting in a great lineup behind Evan Longoria, and he will pad his stats with high-scoring games in AL East ballparks. He also has a decent chance of staying relatively healthy as the full-time DH.
  • Chase Headley - Has shown improved plate discipline this season with a 19% walk rate entering yesterday -- and an even one BB/K ratio. These ratios indicate Headley has developed as a hitter, and his .289 batting average last season was not an outlier. Although Petco Park will keep his power numbers in check, he will steal 10+ bases and have nice counting stats hitting third for San Diego. A draft bargin with an ADP of 232.5.

Sell

  • Jeremy Hellickson - He picked up a win yesterday, and his ERA sits at an impressive 3.26. But his SIERA entering yesterday's start was an ugly 6.18. Perhaps Hellickson is a Matt Cain type who can consistently outpitch his SIERA, but in the AL East, I am not taking that chance, and I am looking to move him before his ERA spikes.
  • Gaby Sanchez - Fast out of the gate last year (.293/3/10/15/0 in March & April) before his typical second-half fade, this year Sanchez is hitting only .244 with zero home runs, five RBIs and three runs. He also has a terrible BB/K ratio of 1:11, which does not bode well for his chances of developing as a hitter, particularly in a cavernous home park. I cut Sanchez in the RotoAuthority League yesterday, and I would recommend looking for other options if you have an abundance of first basemen (in the 12-team RotoAuthority League, I had four first basemen, and we only carry three bench spots).
  • Jake Peavy - Has been dominant this season in two of three starts, and avoided a bombing in his start at Texas. But he carries a massive injury risk and pitches in a park that balls will start flying out of when the Chicago heat sets in. I would inquire to see what you can get in trade for Peavy if you have an abundance of starting pitching, and see if you can turn the 235.0 ADP pick into a top-150 player. But, do not give Peavy away, as his average fastball velocity is up from 91.27 in 2011 to 92.12 in 2012.


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