May 2012

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Jered Weaver's Back Brings Garrett Richards Back

Initially it looked like a hamstring or ankle injury, but earlier this week the Angels lost ace right-hander Jered Weaver to the disabled list with spasms and a strained muscle around a disc in his lower back. It sounds -- and looked -- pretty painful, and right now it's unclear how long he'll be out.

"Hopefully it won't be too long before he's out there pitching, but we don't know what the timetable is going to be," said manager Mike Scioscia to Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. "I think everyone believes it's going to be manageable, and hopefully it won't be too long, but we have to give him enough time ... It's significant enough where it's going to take a couple of weeks. When he's back in the rotation is when he's healthy, and when that time frame comes isn't certain."

Taking his place in the rotation will be 24-year-old right-hander Garrett Richards, who appeared in seven games (three starts) with the Halos last season. He wasn't very good in his first taste of the show, pitching to a 5.79 ERA with nearly as many walks (seven) as strikeouts (nine) in 14 innings. Richards jumped right from Double-A to the big leagues though, and early this year he was able to get some Triple-A innings under his belt to continue his develop. He's pitched to a 4.31 ERA with unimpressive strikeout (7.67 K/9) and walk (4.63 BB/9) rates in 52 1/3 innings across ten starts. I have to think the Angels would have preferred to give him more minor league time, but duty calls.

Baseball America ranked Richards as the team's third best prospect before the season, saying "a No. 3 profile is the most likely outcome" in their subscriber-only scouting report. PitchFX data available at FanGraphs corroborates their report of a legitimate mid-90s fastball with a hard, mid-80s slider and a nascent mid-80s changeup. It's the kind of stuff that makes you wonder why Richards didn't rack up more strikeouts in the minor leagues, when he posted a 7.9 K/9 and whiffed just 21.1% of the batters he faced. Most hard-throwers are up around 25% in the minors thanks to pure velocity.

Coming into the season, Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS system thought Richards was a true talent 5.48 ERA pitcher at this point of his career. That's really harsh and despite his status as one of the club's top prospects, it's very much in line with what you'd expect given his recent minor league performance. The schedule will help him a little bit in the coming weeks. Richards will start against the Mariners in a few days (the Halos took advantage of today's off day to rearrange their rotation) after throwing a perfect tune-up inning last night, then he lines up for dates against the Dodgers, Giants, and Dodgers again. One of those three games (the first Dodgers matchup) will be in an NL park. You can use him as a matchup guy if you're desperate for counting stats late in the week, but otherwise Richards is unlikely to contribute much in a standard 12-team mixed league with 5x5 scoring. Sit this one out and hope one your opponents decides to roll the dice.



April 17, 2012

The game that colored my entire fantasy season to date was on April 17 at Yankee Stadium, a Tuesday. I was there for a ho-hum matchup between the Yankees and Twins, which is a strange coincidence because I'm not a fan of either team. My girlfriend, Lindsay, and I got $6 nosebleeds -- a terrific bargain -- because we hadn't been to a game in a while and were seeking to break up midweek monotony.

The dusk air felt like warm bathwater, imperceptible if not for the ocassional kickup of a breeze. We basked in it during the outdoor stretches of the commute from my downtown office to the stadium, and we joked that we were tempted to walk the whole way. We'd chosen the right evening to see a ballgame, and we were jovial about that, and I was excited that I'd be seeing some of my fantasy players.

At first, the ballgame was a terrific one for me from a fantasy perspective. The red-hot Josh Willingham homered while we were finding our seats. I thought he might have a good game, as he was facing a left-handed pitcher in CC Sabathia. Another of my players, Nick Swisher, had two hits and a walk. And little Brett Gardner, my team's primary base-stealing threat along with Elvis Andrus and Jemile Weeks, had a terrific game. In four plate appearances, he had two hits, two walks, three runs scored, a rib-eye steak and a stolen base. Not bad at all.

In the third inning, though, there was an awkward moment when Gardner made a sliding catch of a sinking line drive in left field (off J-Will's bat, no less). It looked painful, and Gardner was slow shaking it off. I was concerned -- probably more concerned than anyone had a right to be over a second-tier player in an uncritical April game.

I tried to rationalize. It couldn't have been a terrible injury, right? I mean, he looked OK, and he stayed in the game.

But Gardner was placed on the DL the next day with what was supposed to be a relatively minor elbow injury. Roughly six weeks and a couple setbacks later, and Gardner is only now beginning to show signs of coming back. My team, meanwhile, is tied for seventh place in the MLBTR League -- with only two points in the steals category. That night in mid-April may as well have been a lifetime ago.

***

April 27 was a sunny Friday in the New York area. That was the day the Nationals called up Bryce Harper. I plucked him off my league's waiver wire that afternoon, as my work day was winding down. As I later left the office to kick off the weekend, I was pleased with myself for having stolen him out from under my leaguemates. In fact, I didn't especially want Harper -- I was worried that the Nats had rushed him -- but I figured I could at least flip him based on his name value, if nothing else.

The player I really wanted -- the one I'd come thisclose to scooping off the waiver wire just a day or two earlier -- was Mike Trout. I was still seeking a replacement for Gardner's steals, you see. But benches are short in the MLBTR League; there are three spots, and with a 1500-inning cap, I lean toward carrying two or three extra pitchers so as to stay on pace to meet the minimum and keep up in wins and strikeouts. So, I couldn't justify stashing Trout when he was still on the farm with no hint of being recalled.

As I rode the train out to Long Island for dinner with the missus and her dad, I opened my computer to kill some time and tweak my fantasy lineups. Sure enough, Trout had been called up shortly after Harper -- and I missed the frenzy while in transit.

Mystery Team had gotten him. Damn you, Mystery Team.

That night, after a dinner in which I may or may not have had a few pops, I made what I thought was a bold trade offer: Harper for Trout, straight up. Stud A for Stud B. Do you want power or do you want speed? Do you want DiMaggio or do you want Williams? I was sure he'd accept, if only for the sheer novelty of it, the excitement, the buzz.

Mystery Team declined it, though. He included a note, something to the effect of, "This would certainly turn heads in the league, but I think I'll pass."

Like any shrewd owner should do, however, Mystery Team circled back to me a couple weeks later, offering Trout -- whose stock was by now through the roof after lighting up the league -- Jhonny Peralta, Carlos Pena and Alex Gordon for Dustin Pedroia, Swisher and Santiago Casilla. I let the offer languish without a reponse for a week. I don't typically do that -- I almost never do it, actually, because I think it's rude -- but I was crippled by indecision. I couldn't accept that offer, since I had no use for Peralta or Pena, and because I couldn't afford to part with Pedroia, but I desperately wanted to counter.

So, over the holiday weekend, I finally whittled it down to something that I thought would work for both sides. I pitched Will Middlebrooks, old friend Willingham and Casilla in exchange for Trout and Gordon. And, somewhat to my surprise, Mystery Team accepted. I finally had Trout -- he and B-Harp in the same outfield! Trout stole two bases in his first game with Breaking Abad, and he homered the next night.

I haven't yet decided how I'll handle Gardner when he returns from the DL (my outfield is pretty crowded), although I could certainly use his speed. It may not matter at this point because my team has had a rash of injuries: Evan Longoria, Roy Halladay, and now perhaps Pedroia. But it was all set in motion on April 17, and I'm OK with that if it means I get to root for Trout and Harper all year.


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Closer Updates: Angels, Marlins, Rays,

Say what you will about Keith Olbermann's politics, but the man knows baseball, as evidenced by his faith in @closernews for the latest on bullpen situations. You should follow, too, if you don't already.

Angels
Mike Scioscia doesn't like anyone, and fantasy owners are no exception. First, he had the nerve to quick-hook Jordan Walden out of the closer's role after a poor but not awful start to the season. Now, he's settled into a really frustrating pattern of randomly assigning save opportunities to Scott Downs on some days and Ernesto Frieri on others. Ugh.

And that's kind of where this thing is right now: a weird platoon, of sorts. While many of these committee situations are resolved by attrition, you'd have a heck of a time figuring out which of Downs or Frieri will slump first. Downs may be more subject to the vagaries of the BABIP Monster based on his groundballing ways, but it hasn't hurt him yet, and while Frieri boasts a ridiculous strikeout rate (16.28 K/9), he doesn't have the sharpest control (4.76 BB/9), so you could easily envision a situation in which he issues a walk and a homer or something.

The Halos could always defer to Frieri by falling back on his pedigree as a prototypical closer type, but Scioscia has proven he's not a slave to dogma. So, for now, both pitchers must be owned until some other pattern emerges -- and don't forget that Walden is still lurking back there, too, for those of you who are speculating in super-deep or holds formats.

Marlins
It's nearly impossible to correctly recount all the twists and turns in this saga, with Miami still struggling to find ninth-inning stability. The Marlins have determined that Heath Bell will see their save chances so long as he's pitching, and the results have been painful. It's tough to determine from where I sit whether he has simply aged in dog years or is perhaps injured, but this one doesn't look to be "working itself out."

Bell was pulled from save chances on consecutive nights on Friday and Saturday, getting himself into a mess in both games before being bailed out by Steve Cishek and Randy Choate, respectively. Predictably, he received a save chance two days later, on Monday, and converted a clean one. Go figure.

I've written here before that the Marlins will stick with Bell, so I don't want to belabor that point, but in the meanwhile, the supporting players in the bullpen could continue to vulture saves when Bell clearly "doesn't have it" or is in the midst of one of his brief demotions. Cishek, in particular, makes for a strong target in deeper leagues, as he'll contribute nicely in strikeouts and ratios. Randy Choate is an option, too, though circumstances will have to conspire to reward his LOOGY-ness.

Rays
Tampa Bay's bullpen has been surprisingly settled this season. Fernando Rodney was only the Rays' second option to close after Kyle Farnsworth went down with an elbow injury -- Joel Peralta got first crack but threw up a couple of clunkers. But Fern-Rod has acquitted himself quite nicely, parlaying a repertoire tweak into newfound ninth-inning success the way Farnsworth did last season. The Rays must have realized that coaching up busted-out closers is the new market inefficiency, eh?

Anyway, Rodney's rare flareup over the weekend shouldn't incite panic yet; he ought to be perfectly secure in his standing as Tampa's closer. Farnsworth, meanwhile, is on the rehab trail and expects to be back from the DL by the end of June. It'll be a bitter pill for the loyal owners who held onto K-Farns after his injury, but I don't expect him to get his job back once he returns. Rodney has simply pitched too well to be stripped of the gig now.

Worth Noting: Cubs right-hander Rafael Dolis' inevitable regression arrived swiftly and pronouncedly, resulting in his demotion to Triple-A Iowa. He can safely be cut in all leagues, obviously. Chicago will look to James Russell and perhaps Shawn Camp in the ninth inning for the immediate future, but Carlos Marmol has been activated off the DL and will challenge for the job at some point, depending on how soon he can find any semblance of a groove. If you notice him string together even two consecutive easy outings, it's probably worth it to pounce. ... Sergio Santos is not progressing much in his return from shoulder inflammation, so it looks like Casey Janssen should hold onto the closer's job in Toronto through mid-June at least.


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Silver League Update: Scrambling For Saves

It happens to all of us. You feel like you set a strategy for a category, you draft, and you come away feeling mostly good. But two months into the season, you're floundering.

I don't believe in paying for saves -- I mean, what if you drafted Mariano Rivera and Heath Bell and thought you were set? Instead, I believe in quantity over quality and a quick trigger finger on the waiver wire. Strategy: check.

Coming out of the draft, I drafted Carlos Marmol late, thinking he could anchor me with strikeouts and (relative) job stability -- remember, the Cubs had just traded Sean Marshall and installed a stats-savvy front office -- so they wouldn't be tossing Marmol aside over a bad outing or two. Then, I grabbed Grant Balfour for a good whiff rate and a big home park. I took my chances with Greg Holland, hoping that his 2011 success would count for more than Jonathan Broxton's "experience." I could have taken Jim Johnson too, but years of rooting for the Orioles in real life have given me this ironclad rule: never get a Baltimore closer. Feeling mostly good: check.

When Broxton got the job, I didn't sweat it. I made a trade, getting Sean Marshall, and I felt good again.

Abject saves failure: check.

The trouble with playing in a really competitive league is that by the time you realize your closer has lost his job, someone else already has his replacement. Or all three committee members. So much for my quick trigger finger. Now, I didn't write this article to get your sympathy (though I'll accept it), instead, I'm writing it because I'm at a turning point in my decision-making process--one that many of you are at too, unfortunately.

I've found myself with three saves-related points so far, thanks to this year's set of quality closers out for the year and the fact that someone else always punts the category. But with no real prospects for saves on my roster, I have to ask myself: Do I just give up and slip further downward, or do I try to scrape things together from the waiver wire?

My first inclination was to give in to the inevitable, forget about saves, and grab the best relievers I can, regardless of any save opportunities they might have. If you're close to slipping into the bottom and far from climbing up even one rung, maybe this strategy is for you. Tim Collins has struck out 34 batters in 22.1 IP, with good ERA and WHIP,  and is available in 99% of Yahoo! leagues, but he isn't exactly close to save chances. Some other quality relievers that aren't obviously close to getting saves include Brad Lincoln (1.11 ERA and 0.90 WHIP, 2% owned), Koji Uehara (1.04 ERA, .052 WHIP, 5% owned, but No. 3 on the Texas depth chart) and Sergio Romo (0.64 ERA, .086 WHIP, but stuck behind a dominant Santiago Casilla--he's owned in 26% of leagues). 

Real teams have had so much upheaval in their closer situations in the last couple weeks that there are a surprising  number of pitchers in line for saves on more than a few waiver wires. Those in shallower leagues and those who find themselves just lucky could go after any number of pitchers for saves. If you're in a deeper league, you may have to dig a little deeper down.

Top Tier

As the current Blue Jays closer, Casey Janssen is owned in only 37% of Yahoo! leagues. His numbers (18 K's in 18 innings and an 0.94 WHIP) are plenty good enough for him to hold the job until Sergio Santos returns, and maybe after. Tyler Clippard (46%) may well be owned in your league, but his co-closer, Sean Burnett (12%), probably isn't. With an 0.66 ERA, Burnett might inspire enough confidence to hold the job until Drew Storen returns. Per @CloserNews, Ernesto Frieri (36%) is in line for a piece of the Angels' saves picture and he's striking out over 16 batters per inning. He should be owned whether he takes over as closer or not.

Tom Wilhelmsen (7%) isn't famous and hasn't been awesome (4.44 ERA, 1,40 WHIP), but he strikes people out (11.1 K/9) and might be chair of the new committee in Seattle. James Russell (7%) and Shawn Camp (3%) are sharing the duties in Chicago for the moment, but the Cubs may turn things back to Marmol eventually.

Tomorrow's Closers Today

If you're in a deep league -- like the Silver, where Wilhelmsen, Russell, and Camp are all owned -- then you may have to plot a different course. The strategy is simple and common enough: find a struggling closer and get his setup man on your team. First on this list is David Hernandez (11%) and his 13.1 K/9. Though J.J. Putz has his manager's public confidence (for all the good that does), he's injury-prone and has an ERA over 6.00. That's a great combination.

Frank Francisco has been pretty bad so far, and Bobby Parnell (5%) got some closer-talk last year, so there could be an opportunity there. In Cleveland, Chris Perez has been pretty good, but how long will that last? If the answer isn't "all season," then there's a chance we could see Vinnie Pestano (22%) in the closer's role. With his strikeouts and good ratios, he's worth owning in plenty of leagues, even if Perez never implodes. Matt Capps has nine saves, but just nine strikeouts, so it feels a bit like a matter of time before he hands the job over to someone else. Glenn Perkins (1%) would be a likely choice for the job, as he's striking out over a batter per inning. Brian Fuentes doesn't inspire much confidence and Ryan Cook (16%) has a perfect 0.00 ERA and an 0.70 WHIP. A couple blown saves and the job might be his.

If you're really confident in your ratios, you could dive into the White Sox's closer mess, as Addison Reed hasn't been pitching especially well. Maybe they'll finally give Matt Thornton (27%) his turn, give the job back to Hector Santiago (12%), or put another starter into the closer's role for a day. Neither Thornton nor Santiago has been lights out though, so I don't know if I'd go that route unless you're really desperate. Check out our handy Closer Depth Chart if you aren't sure where to look for saves.

If you're like me, and down to no serious help in saves, you've got nothing to lose by taking your chances on unproven relievers with job shares, or quality setup men who might fall into the job down the road. If you're down to one mediocre closer, though, you might want to consider trading him away. A point is a point, no matter the category and any time you can get solid value for the mercurial performance of a relief pitcher you should consider it. In general, I'd say trade that closer away in a head-to-head league, but keep him roto style.

 This has been a big year for closers losing their jobs and getting hurt, and the more uncertainty there has been, the more uncertainty you can expect. Teams like the Cubs, White Sox and Nationals have proved how many changes a team might make in just a couple months. Every time a change is made, that's a new opportunity for you. 


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This Week In Streaming Strategy

First, a word of regret.  In last week's column, I advised against playing Dan Uggla in the Braves' four-game series against the Reds due to the fact that Cincinnati was sending four right-handed starters to the mound during the series. I backed up this advice by saying, "The "sit Uggla" item is the official Mark's Public Apology choice of the week, as if Uggla has a big series in Cincinnati, I promise to rebuke my bad advice in next week's column."

Well, Uggla went 2-for-12 over those four games, with those two hits being a home run and a double. Uggla also added four walks during the series, adding up to a total line of .167/.375/.500.  Clearly, that was good enough for your fantasy lineup, so to Uggla owners everywhere, I apologize. In the words of the legendary Smooth Jimmy Apollo, when you're right 52% of the time, you're wrong 48% of the time. Let's see if I can make up for it with some better streaming recommendations for this coming week...

* Bronson Arroyo. The veteran bounced back from two subpar outings with a terrific start against the Braves last week, and we may be able to officially state that Arroyo is having a comeback year.  Arroyo has a 3.22 ERA (3.71 FIP, 3.72 xFIP, 3.68 SIERA) in nine starts and has a league-leading 1.2 BB/9.  Even if the right-hander regresses at some point, it almost surely won't be this week, as Arroyo is scheduled to face two of the league's worst offenses in the Pirates and Astros. Arroyo is owned in just 8% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, so he is the perfect candidate to fill that week-to-week streaming fifth starter's role in your fantasy rotation.

* Mike TroutRoto Authority's Mike Axisa sounded the warning bell on Trout earlier this week, noting that it was unrealistic to expect the rookie to keep putting up superstar-caliber numbers at age 20.  Sure enough, Trout has started to come back to earth, hitting just .091 in five games before stroking two hits on Saturday. I agree with Mike's overall point and, in fact, just dealt Trout in one of my fantasy leagues in what will hopefully end up as a sell-high maneuver for me. That said, this upcoming week looks pretty favorable for the right-handed-hitting outfielder. While the Halos are scheduled to face right-handed starters in four of six games this week, two of those righties are the strugglng Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova.  (Trout's splits actually show that he performs better against RHP, but with only 250-odd Major League plate appearances, it's too soon to say that Trout is a reverse-splits guy.)  Keep Trout in your lineup through the Yankees series, but maybe sit him down when the Angels face Yu Darvish and Colby Lewis later in the week.

* Yonder Alonso. Don't be scared off by his unimpressive power numbers (one homer, 14 RBIs) since otherwise, Alonso has been the second coming of Tony Gwynn. Alonso entered Saturday's action with a .349/.438/.494 line in May, equally good both at and away from Petco Park and was even beating the splits and torching southpaws to the tune of a .917 OPS in 48 plate appearances.  Like Trout, there's bound to be some regression given that Alonso's BABIP sits at a whopping .370, but Alonso is showing all the signs of becoming a solid, money-in-the-bank contact hitter. The Padres face right-handed starters in four of their six games this week, and by this point, I have enough confidence in Alonso to start him against almost any left-handed starter too. I believe "showing confidence in a Padres hitter" is one of the top entries under the heading of Famous Last Words, but still, there's a lot to like about Alonso.

* Scott Diamond. [obvious sportswriting cliche] The young southpaw has been been a real Diamond in the rough of the Twins' 2012 season!  [/Obvious sportwriting cliche]  Diamond has been terrific in his four starts, posting a 1.78 ERA and a 5.67 K/BB ratio. He has a very high 61% ground ball rate, but other than that, Diamond has thrived on skill, not luck -- his FIP/xFIP/SIERA are a still-terrific 3.02/2.77/2.69, respectively, and his BABIP is an even .300. Diamond is scheduled for two starts this week, one against the light-hitting Athletics and the other against the Indians, who are susceptible to left-handers (a team OPS of .652 against southpaws, 23rd in baseball) since their everyday lineup is heavily comprised of left-handed bats. You can still mine some value from Diamond (groan) this week before he turns back into (easy setup) a lump of coal.

* Ricky Romero. The Blue Jays ace has been battlng control problems all season long, with a 5.1 BB/9 rate that is well above the career 3.5 BB/9 rate that he carried into the year.  Romero has had three shaky starts in a row and now faces two hot offenses in the Orioles and Red Sox this week, both of whom rank in the top five in team OPS against left-handed pitching this season. I would consider sitting Romero against Baltimore on Tuesday just to be safe and, even if he pitches well, I'd probably sit him against Boston on the weekend simply because the Sox are Romero's toughest opponent -- he has a career 6.45 ERA in 14 starts against the Red Sox, though he dominated them in a start back on April 11.

* Every Pirates batter besides Andrew McCutchen.  Those of you with weak stomachs may wish to skip this section. The Pirates are averaging a measly 2.83 runs per game this season, having scored a league-low 130 runs over their 46 games.  (The historically-bad 2010 Mariners lineup managed 3.17 runs per game.)  The Bucs are at or near the bottom of the league in virtually every major offensive category.  Aside from McCutchen and hot-hitting Josh Harrison, no Pirate has an OPS above .700. Several Pittsburgh batters who were thought to be decent fantasy options going into this season --- Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Alex Presley --- have ranged from disappointments to outright failures. I can make four observations from this mess.  First, it's a testament to Pittsburgh's underrated pitching staff that this banjo-hitting team has a respectable 22-24 record. Secondly, McCutchen is suddenly a great bet to lead the league in internentional walks. Thirdly, if you have any non-McCutchen Pirate in your fantasy lineup, park him on the bench or drop him outright. Fourthly, it's going to be awfully embarrassing come football season when the Steelers' Troy Polamalu gets more hits than half the Pirates' lineup.


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's Stock Watch recommended Bud Norris as an under-the-radar starter, and Norris lived up to the recommendation with seven shutout innings and a win on Monday (his fourth straight start with a win).

Buy

  • James McDonald - I listed McDonald as an underrated pitcher in the spring. In that same post of late-draft starters to target were Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy and Chris Capuano. Waiting on drafting starters to take these four late in the draft would have made you the post-draft favorite to have the worst pitching rotation but would have resulted in the opposite. McDonald is throwing a slider on 18.5% of his pitches this season after never having thrown this pitch in his Major League career. He is also generating 9.9% swinging strikes, which is well above his career average. After carrying a high SIERA following his first few starts, this mark is down to 3.14 on the season. His 2.38 FIP also indicates a low ERA is sustainable. See if the McDonald owner in any of your leagues wants to "sell high".
  • Brian McCann - His low BABIP of .241 has depressed his batting average despite a line-drive percentage of 20.3%, which is higher than his career mark. McCann has also missed games this week with an illness, which extends the window for owners to buy low.
  • Gordon Beckham - Worth an add off waiver wires to MI or backup MI, as he has turned his season around in May, hitting five homer runs and 12 RBIs. His .218 BABIP is also well below his career mark of .280.
  • Ernesto Frieri - The window to acquire Frieri on the cheap is closing fast, as he picked up the save on Wednesday in extra innings. Frieri has been lights out with the Angels and has not given up an earned run since the trade in early May. Last night, Frieri and Scott Downs were both warming up in the ninth inning of Dan Haren's shutout, so the closer role is still a time share.
  • Carlos Marmol - Predictably, Rafael Dolis has been rocked recently and his hold on the closer job is more an indictment of the Cubs' bullpen than an earned position. Marmol is regaining his confidence and working his way back from a leg injury in the minor leagues, and I expect Marmol to regain the closer role very shortly after being activated. Stash Marmol on your DL or bench as the Cubs will want to increase Marmol's trade value by putting him back at closer.
  • J.D. Martinez - Widely released when he cooled down from his fast start, Martinez is showing signs of life this week and should be picked up off waiver wires where available. Martinez has nearly tripled his walk rate this season, which is a sign of better plate discipline and good things to come.
  • Jeff Francoeur - Another outfielder cut by many owners after struggling through the first six weeks of the season. Frenchy was 20/20 last season and is heating up as he hit two homers this week after a four hit game on Sunday.

Sell

  • David Wright - Leads all hitters by a wide margin in BABIP at .470, compared to his career .344 mark. Despite the inflated .405 batting average, he only has five homers and four steals. ZiPS projects a .291 average with 13 homers and 14 swipes for the remainder of the season. Given Wright's .400-plus average and name recognition an owner should be able to deal him for a player that will provide superior value for the remainder of the season.
  • Dee Gordon - Still held in high regard by fantasy owners after his fast start to the season, Gordon's performance does not live up to the hype. After stealing 10 bases in 87 April at-bats, Gordon only has two steals in 66 May at-bats. To make matters worse, the Dodgers demoted Gordon to the eighth spot in the lineup, which is death to steals in the National League. Deal Gordon to a team hungry for steals and then pick up Cliff Pennington or Everth Cabrera off waivers to take Gordon's spot.
  • Brandon League - A free agent after the season, League is very likely to be dealt in July and may move to a seventh- or eight-inning role with a contender. League's walk rate has skyrocketed this season and he is sporting a poor 4.47 SIERA.


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Mike Trout And Sustainability

The Nationals made waves when they called up Bryce Harper in late-April, so much so that Mike Trout returned the big leagues on the same day and was barely noticed. The 20-year-old Trout has actually out-produced his 19-year-old top prospect counterpart so far, and in fact he's producing like a top-five fantasy outfielder. He's hit .315/.382/.539 in 102 plate appearances this year, clubbing four homers and stealing six bases in his 23 games. There is no question he has the talent to play like this, but the question becomes how long can he keep it up at his age?

Over the last 50 years, only 23 players have qualified for the batting title as a 20-year-old. Alex Rodriguez circa 1996 was by far the most productive of the group, hitting .358/.414/.631 with 54 doubles, 36 homers, and 15 steals. Only three others managed to hit .300 (Ken Griffey Jr., Starlin Castro, and Claudell Washington) and only two others hit more than 20 homers (Griffey and Tony Conigliaro), though eleven of them stole at least 15 bases and five stole more than 20. That isn't to say Trout can't put up numbers like that -- what those guys did has zero impact on him going forward -- it just goes to show how rare it is for a player this young to be that productive.

First of all, I have little doubt that Trout will steal a boatload of bases this season. He stole 56 bases in 2010 and another 54 between the Majors and minors last season, so that's very clearly a huge part of his game. If Trout plays every day the rest of the season, he could steal 30+ bases very easily. Forty might be pushing since it's already late-May, but I wouldn't put it past him. The kid is going to steal a ton of bases for your fantasy team, that's all but certain. At the plate, maintaining a high average might be a little more difficult.

Trout's batting average is propped up by a .381 BABIP at the moment. That's obviously extremely high but it's incorrect to simply say his performance will suffer going forward because his BABIP will come back down to Earth. Trout is exactly the kind of player that will consistently post higher than usual BABIPs, meaning a speed guy who doesn't hit a ton of true fly balls. Guys like Austin Jackson (career .371 BABIP), Carlos Gonzalez (.346), and Emilio Bonifacio (.340) have similar offensive profiles and sky-high BABIPs. Now Trout's BABIP is sure to come down a bit, as .381 is a bit nutty, but he's capable of maintaining a .340+ pace and that will hopefully keep his batting average right around .300 mark.

Over-the-fence power is a different story. Trout did hit 16 homers between the Majors and minors last season but he is stuck in a division with not only some really good pitching, but also some big ballparks. His home park in Anaheim has a home run park factor of 93 for right-handed batters according to StatCorner, meaning it suppresses homer output by righties to roughly 93% of the league average. Safeco Field in Seattle is notoriously unfriendly to right-handers (83 HR factor) and the Coliseum in Oakland is even worse (80 HR factor). The Ballpark in Arlington is his one divisional reprieve (114 HR factor). The Angels will play 76 of their 117 remaining games (65.0%) at home, in Seattle, or in Oakland, so that's going to hurt Trout's power. Double-digit dingers seems inevitable, but I would be skeptical about his ability to threaten 18-20.

One non-statistical concern I have about Trout is his durability. He's not injury prone or anything like that, but reports indicated that he looked noticably worn down late last year and in the Arizona Fall League. Remember, he's still a 20-year-old kid who only has two full seasons under his belt. The 162-game grind is tough, especially for a leadoff hitter and base stealer who takes a pounding sliding into second and diving back to first on pickoff throws. This has nothing to do with Trout's skills and talent, but anecdotally there is a slight concern about his ability to maintain a high-level of performance right through the end of the fantasy season.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS system projects a .272/.342/.427 batting line with 11 homers and 26 steals out of Trout for the rest of the season, which is actually a bit below my expectations. That's a valuable player but probably not a top 20 fantasy outfielder. Trout is clearly one of the most exciting and best all-around prospects to break into the big leagues in quite some time, but as Matt Moore and Brett Lawrie owners are finding out, that doesn't guarantee instant and sustainable success right out of the chute.



Rain, Miasmas, and Pitching Speculation

After a bonny weekend, rain coats the northeast. I grind some Bolivian to drip.

My miasmal ERA and WHIP in the MLBTR league (due in no small part to a highly dubious Philip Humber post-perfect game spot start) forced me back to the waiver wire well. I dropped the bucket down and caught an Anthony Bass. Good colleague Mike "Giancarlo" Axisa recently wrote on Bass over at Rotographs, so I will not deliberate here. A good park, obviously, and he continues to miss bats.

Glancing today at the wire, the pickings are noticably slim. There is Trevor Bauer, but the Diamondbacks rotation is documentedly logjammed. Bauer's first start in Triple-A scintillated: 8 IP, 4 H, 11 K, 1 BB, and there has been talk that the Diamondbacks could shop Joe Saunders. With Daniel Hudson coming back from injury, however, a potential Bauer call-up remains difficult to predict. 

There was Bud Norris, but Tim Dierkes scooped him up. Mike Podhorzer notes that Norris's F-Strike% is nearly identical to last year's (58.9% in 2011, 60.2% in 2012), and suggests that Norris will not finish with a BB/9 under 3.00. Still, if Norris can maintain a K/9 near 9.00 and a BB/9 around 3.00, while having more luck with wins, he should finish as a very nice pitcher. 

Wade Miley has fared very well, with a 5-1 record and a 2.19 ERA, but I would stay away. ZiPS projects a 4.79 ERA for Miley for the season's remainder, and a current 4.06 SIERA justifies this predicted regression. PITCHf/x does show improved fastball velocity (90.3 in 2011, 91.2 in in '12), yet a decrease in SwStr% (7.8% in '11, 7.5% in'12) gives little reason for excitement. 

I started Jason Hammel for both of his two worst starts and disgustedly cast him back into the fray. Yes, he's a mean sinkerballer now, but I can't stomach him in the AL East. Still, if he maintains the 60% ground ball rate, a high SwStr%, and solid control, he should at least be serviceable. 

Does it make sense to hold on any these players? Perhaps a more logical strategy is to hold four solid SP and two elite middle relievers, while using a seventh starting pitcher spot to stream. As the MLBTR league includes holds and saves as rotisserie categories, I currently have seven relief pitchers on my roster.  In a league with an innings pitched limit, however, streaming is not particularly viable. 

I have not yet conceived of the best strategical approach to a league such as this, with a 1500 innings pitched limit and both holds and saves as rotisserie categories. Entering the draft, I placed a high priority on elite holds relievers with clearly defined roles (Tyler Clippard, Jonny Venters, Vinnie Pestano), as I felt these players were unique in their projectibility for contributions in four categories. Several weeks into the season, however, I see that paying for holds is nearly as folly as paying for saves. Consider Josh Lindblom or Pedro Strop

One has to conceive of a particular threshhold for these waiver wire starting pitchers. How many bad starts do you give them before you drop them? One start is not enough, and four bad starts is too many. Ratios and other wire possibilities are the expense. Do you wait two starts, or three? This is seemingly quite an important strategic decision, and I do not have an answer steeped in analysis. Far from it. If you have the patience, I say wait three starts. If the performances are bad, bad, good, bad, bad (and you will have to decide what your criteria are for a good start) that is also clearly a drop. I'm not doing the math here, but if any of you number theorists want to give it a go in the comments, surprise me. 


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Closer Updates: Reds, Cubs, Nats, Mets

Chris Perez may not enjoy playing in front of 5,000 fans, but there are roughly 12,000 followers over at @closernews who are at the ready for updates on him and all the other stoppers in MLB. You should, too, if you don't already.

Reds
Aroldis Chapman is one of the fascinating stories of the season. He has ditched the control problems that ailed him intermittently in 2010-11 and become an overwhelmingly dominant relief pitcher. Now, aided by Sean Marshall's less-than-impressive start, he's forced the Reds' hand in promoting him to the closer's role.

If you drafted Ar-Chap with this momentous ocassion in mind -- and absorbed his terrific stats in the meanwhile -- good for you. For what it's worth, I was skeptical of his control issues coming into the season and thought Marshall would be able to hold the job without trouble. Sometimes, the right circumstances and a little fervor can make things happen. Lesson learned here, though I wonder whether we'll see another reliever with similar circumstances to Chapman's anytime soon.

Anyway, Chapman has top-closer upside, but there's reason to think he could fall short of it. For one, the Reds are playing it conservatively with respect to his workload. They don't like him pitching on consecutive days (let alone three in a row), although the two occasions he's done it this season were both last week. So, maybe those were test runs. Still, it indicates a concern about how to best use and protect his arm. There's also the issue of whether he'll be converted to starting at some point. The Reds had him in the starting rotation in Spring Training but got cold feet, perhaps because the 'pen didn't look quite as deep without Ryan Madson. I doubt they'll move him now, in-season, because that can be dicey, but you never know.

So, if you own the left-hander and want to hedge against either of those factors eating into his value (particularly the workload quirks), flip him now for dollars on the dollar while Chapmania is running wild. Otherwise, feel free to sit back and enjoy his contributions to your ledger. Marshall can safely be dropped in non-holds leagues, but bear in mind he might still vulture the odd save if the Reds keep the bubble wrap on Chapman.

Cubs
This season will go down as a forgettable one for the Cubs, and their bullpen is no exception to that theme. Between Jeff Samardzija's transition to starting and an offseason trade that sent Marshall to the Reds, the "stalwarts" of the relief corps were Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood. Marmol did little to shake off his bipolar 2011, struggling badly out of the gate before being demoted from closing and then DL'd earlier this month. Wood looked every bit his age (including an umpteenth career DL stint) before suddenly and dramatically hanging 'em up last week.

Meanwhile, accidental Rafael Dolis has picked up the slack competently, but don't be fooled: His true talent is closer to his 4.82 SIERA than his 3.75 ERA.

Now, Marmol is set to begin a Minor League rehab assignment, a stint probably designed to massage all of his strained hamstring, eternally wonky mechanics and bruised ego back into form. There's little to suggest that'll actually happen, but it seems to come as quickly as it goes for Car-Mar, so you never know. The early reports indicate that a setup role is his likely first destination, but the guess here is that if Marmol can string together a few decent outings, the Cubs will shoehorn him back into the ninth. After all, he's an overpaid reliever on a bad, rebuilding team, which usually make for strong trade candidates when that time rolls around. A healthy, solid stretch as closer will boost his value, and the Cubs would be wise to facillitate that.

His ownership is down to 39% in Yahoo! leagues, so there's a chance you could recoup strong value if you stash him on your bench.

Nationals
After withstanding a few weeks of up-and-down performance from interim closer Henry Rodriguez, Nats skipper Davey Johnson seems ready to look elsewhere, perhaps even a committee. I can't say I'm terribly surprised, as H-Rod's control has always worried me, but I don't want to gloat about it (even though I'm gloating about it). #humblebrag

Thumbing through the list of candidates who might see a lion's share of save opps, Tyler Clippard jumps out. We've grown accustomed to him being passed over the past few years, as the Nats have preferred to reserve him for the occasional two-inning stint, but a quick glance at his game logs from this year reveals that he's yet to pitch more than one inning in any outing this season. If he's now a one-inning reliever, why not make that one inning be the ninth?

The other candidates include Craig Stammen, a former starter who seems to have assumed Clipp's old role as a long-ish man who can also throw in high-leverage situations. Left-hander Sean Burnett is still kicking around the back of the 'pen, too, and although his peripherals are strikingly similar to Clipp's, he's been used more like a LOOGY this season.

Clippard is the add from where I sit. Note that anointed closer Drew Storen isn't due back until sometime around the All-Star break.

Mets
Frank Francisco is carrying on the fine tradition of bad Mets closers, making seemingly every save chance a rollercoaster ride. At 3.79, his SIERA says he's not pitching nearly as poorly as his 7.56 ERA and 2.04(!) WHIP suggest, but boy, it's hard to believe that if you've seen his past few outings, as I have. (Full disclosure: I actually liked Francisco as something of a sleeper based on his league change and somewhat unfair rep as someone who had no business closing.)

Anyway, if the gap closes between his SIERA and ERA -- as it "should" -- then there will be better days ahead. Maybe the Mets know this, because they've stuck with Double-F despite having a couple chances to look elsewhere, particularly at Bobby Parnell, who appears to be coming into his own (finally).

So between the Mets' relative "faith" in Fran-Fran and the hope that he'll continue to chip away at his ugly numbers, he could be someone you might consider acquiring for a song. He's only owned in 70% of leagues, so that could be an option. And if he's owned in your league, and you're so inclined to try the trade route, you could probably get him in exchange for roster filler. There's a strong chance you'll get what you pay for, but there's also a non-zero chance you'll recoup some sweet correction-phase stats.



Silver League Update: To Stream, Or Not To Stream

That is the question. Of this week, at least. Streaming starts has gone from something that one annoying owner in your league does to an acceptable, normal strategy. I mean, we publish a weekly column dedicated to smart streaming here at RotoAuthority. But common strategy isn't always good strategy. Should you stop streaming? Should I start?

The conventional wisdom holds that streaming is good on your wins and strikeouts, but no good for you ERA and WHIP. This certainly seems to make sense: as you add starts throughout the week you add strikeouts with them (even if it isn't many per start) and increase your chances of lucking into wins. Of course, since you're picking up the players that aren't considered worthy of a permanent roster spot, you're going to get some ugly starts that drag your rate numbers down. Right?

I decided to look into the Silver League's transaction report and see if the conventional wisdom is true. (Remember when everybody thought bunting was a good idea?) Perhaps more importantly, I thought I'd try to check on how true it is. What if streaming buys you tons of wins and K's, but only hurts your ERA and WHIP a little? Or, what if it kills your ERA and WHIP but adds next to nothing in wins?

There are plenty of ways, it turns out, to rack up a huge transaction number without streaming pitchers like crazy, and of McRuder's 70 moves, not that many have been to add starting pitchers. He's added nine starters since the beginning of May; at three per week, that makes him our top streamer. (We have an innings limit of 1500, so adding a starter every day just doesn't make sense.) Even with all those moves, though, He's not sitting well in the pitching categories: he's got four points in strikeouts, two in WHIP, and he's dead last in ERA ... and wins. Maybe three starts a week just isn't enough to drag those wins up.

JamesRiverTrophyCarp has made 52 moves, and he's made six starter adds in the last month. That's still about two new SPs a week, so we'll count him as a streamer. He's doing a bit better than McRuder in the pitching department, with 5 1/2 points in wins and eight in strikeouts. His ERA and WHIP are hurting, though, as he's got just two and three points in those categories. I can't say that his streaming is responsible for those numbers, but if it's helping, it's not helping enough.

Spirit of St. Louis might be living proof that streaming can be done properly. He's added a little over two SPs a week for May and he's got 11 points in ERA and 10 in WHIP. He's also got 11 points in strikeouts and is generally dominating the Silver League pitching landscape. It makes his 9 1/2 points in wins seem paltry. Maybe he should stream even more.

On the other side of the coin, I was surprised to see my own stuck-in the-mud Inch'on Wyverns team leading the pack in strikeouts and second in wins with just 16 moves on the year. I was more impressed with myself before I noticed that I'm not so much restrained as carrying eight starters and on track to crash into the innings cap before the year is up. Of all the "streamers" above, only Spirit is even close to my 439 IP total. All those pitchers have apparently been better than the average streamed pitcher, but not good enough to put my ERA (five points)and WHIP (seven points) into the top of the pack.

Joining me in the middle of the ERA (eight points) and WHIP pack (six points) are the Busey's Bandits. They haven't been streaming, but are tied with Spirit in wins (9 1/2 points). The E-Z sliders have made just 15 moves and their strikeouts might be suffering for it, as they've got just two points in that category.

Finally, and as counterintuitively as possible, The Great Badbonis have made just 14 moves and have between 10 and 12 points in all four starter categories, including the lead in wins. And before you fret about their unbalanced team, consider their perch on top of our overall standings.

So, do you need to stream to win? No, apparently not even in wins and strikeouts. (Though having too many innings pitched helps.) Will streaming kill your rate stats? No, apparently not. You should, though, pair your streamed starters with some good relievers, as Spirit has. It helps when they have closing jobs, but it isn't necessary.

To give some perspective on who the streaming-caliber pitchers are in our league, here are a few pitchers we've added or dropped (or both) in the last few days.

Ross Detwiler
Christian Friedrich
Felipe Paulino
Jarrod Parker
Andy Pettitte
Jake Westbrook
Ryan Vogelsong
Barry Zito
Ricky Nolasco
R.A. Dickey
Aaron Harang
Wei-Yin Chen 

Of course, your league will be set up in it's own way -- even within the standard 5x5 scoring, there seem to be millions of variations of league depths and rules -- so the truths of our league may not mean too much to yours. In a shallow enough league streaming might make no sense. In a deep enough league it might be impossible. In a league with no innings limit, you might have owners streaming a start or two every day. Maybe this is winning you tons of games ... or losing them.

It also occurred to me that the more people streaming in a league, the less effective streaming is for everyone. If the best one start is getting streamed off the waiver wire each day, that's probably a pretty good start. But by the time the best five or six starts are streamed each day, well, they get worse and worse each time. Making yourself the seventh might not be a wise move, even if you need the counting stats. 

One league worth of data isn't enough to prove the conventional wisdom about streaming true or false, but it's got me thinking that how the strategy is executed is a lot more important than whether or not you employ the strategy in the first place. What do you think? Are you a streamer and killing your league's pitching categories? Are you streaming and you're the one who's getting killed? Add a comment and tell us how it's been for your league. If you do, make sure to include your league format, so we know whether or not we can safely copy you. 


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