June 2012

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Injury Watch: The Beach, The Bay, And Boston

Summer is dead ahead, and today's Injury Watch column takes a look at two players with water-related surnames. I swear, it isn't intentional; sometimes things just work out that way. Today we'll take a look at an injury slowing a young career, another potentially ending a veteran's career, and we'll close things out with a look at the most screwed up outfield situation since, well, the Athletics in Spring Training. Let's get to it!

Brandon Beachy, Braves
Last year, Brandon Beachy astounded scouts and fantasy mavens alike by emerging as a No. 2 or 3 starter during his rookie season. This year, Beachy's K/9 numbers have dipped, but he was still pitching well until a ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear derailed his season. Beachy will see Dr. James Andrews today, but Tommy John surgery is the very likely endgame here. His season is probably done, and if it's the zipper, then he's going to miss a chunk of 2013 as well.

Beachy will probably be immediately replaced in the Atlanta rotation by Jair Jurrjens. My favorite joke about Jurrjens is that he's so good about racking up Js (in his name), that he totally forgets about the Ks. Do you know who you DON'T want on your fantasy team this year?

Jair Jurrjens.

Jurrjens was terrible in four starts at the beginning of this season, then fared little better upon a demotion to Triple-A. The Braves were crazy not to deal him when he had value, and now they're paying the price. I guess what I'm trying to say here is don't add Jair Jurrjens. Don't do it.

But you've gotta replace Beachy with someone, probably. Since Beachy hasn't been a strikeout ninja this season (only 7.56 K/9), you're probably looking to replace his sparkling ERA and WHIP while hoping for a modest number of wins. How about looking at Jarrod Parker of the Oakland Athletics? Parker is posting a great 2.82 ERA so far this season, and is probably available in your league considering he's at 20.1% ownership in ESPN leagues. The thing is, like Beachy, Parker's 5x5 stats don't tell the whole story. A SIERA of 4.61 and xFIP of 4.50 indicate that he's more league-average than world-beater. But pitching in Oakland can lead to some nice matchups, so he's worth a look.

Jason Bay, Mets
On June 15, Jason Bay, fresh off the disabled list, suffered an extremely disheartening injury during a game. Bay, who has struggled in terms of both performance and injury since joining the Mets, suffered another concussion during a collision with an outfield wall, and is still experiencing concussive symptoms. While everyone hopes for the best, this is the sort of lingering injury that could affect Bay on and off the field for an indefinite period of time. I wouldn't expect much, if anything, in terms of Major League performance from Bay in 2012.

If Jason Bay is on your fantasy baseball team, we can assume one of three situations. The first is that you're in an extremely deep league, like an ottoneu or Scoresheet league. The second is that you're playing NL-only. And the third is that you, like Jason Bay, have suffered severe head trauma recently. In any of the first two cases, you may be looking for a replacement. May I suggest another New York outfielder in Kirk Nieuwenhuis?

Now that Bay won't be stealing any of Kirk's playing time, fantasy owners can pencil him in as an unfettered OF in any deep format. So far, Captain Kirk has managed six homers and four steals, but his batting average and runs scored are where he can really help a fantasy squad. Currently, he's hitting a cool .290 and has already scored almost 40 runs a season, despite being owned in less than a quarter of ESPN leagues. While you shouldn't expect Nieuwenhuis to be a world-beater, in his 245 plate appearances this season, he's been about 15% better than league average as a hitter, and that will play in both fantasy and real life.

The Red Sox Outfield
As anyone who vaguely follows the Sox knows, the Red Sox outfield has been a disaster of massive proportions in 2012. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford got little and no time in the lineup, respectively, so far this season due to injury. Cody Ross has been injured. Marlon Byrd was acquired, then released after being really bad at baseball. Darnell McDonald has been slightly more effective as an emergency pitcher than he has been as a fill-in outfielder. And on June 17, two (TWO!) more Red Sox outfielders left the game with injuries. Ryan Sweeney was placed on the DL with a fractured big toe and Scott Podsednik (who really shouldn't be on an ML roster anyways) joined him on Tuesday with a groin strain.

So...who's left? Well, at least on Tuesday Cody Ross made his return from the 15-day DL...and promptly homered. That's gotta be a sight for sore eyes for both Sox fans and fantasy owners. Ross makes a serviceable fifth OF in most fantasy leagues due to his power, as long as he's got an everyday job. Until Crawford and Ellsbury come back, you can bet that he will.

Also, former Top 100 prospect Ryan Kalish has finally returned to the majors after missing time with neck and shoulder surgery last year. Though Kalish hasn't done much in his two games for Boston so far, he's put up promising numbers in the minors showing gap power and the ability to rack up 20-40 steals over a full season. Kalish is all potential at this point, but expect him to get every opportunity to stick in the Sox outfield. He could be a decent OF option in AL-only and deep or keeper leagues.

Finally, as much as he's a great story, don't invest heavily in Daniel Nava. Nava has posted a phenomenal average and OBP in his time in Boston, and his Triple-A stats suggest he's a decent enough player. But with players like Ross, Kalish, and Sweeney (when he returns) in the outfield, it's hard to imagine that the Sox will try to find a place for Nava. And eventually, Crawford and Ellsbury will return, and it's hard to imagine Nava as the last man standing. But if you've already got him, keep running him out there until that hot bat cools off.

Quick Hits: Ryan Dempster is hitting the DL with a right latissimus dorsi strain, and he may not be back until early July. DO NOT DROP HIM. He's been good enough to stash on your DL unless you're crazily desperate. ... Yoenis Cespedes still is out of the lineup with a nagging hamstring injury, missing the whole last week with this ailment. If you play in a weekly league, I'd sit Yoenis until he's played a few full games in the field, but I'd expect him back this weekend.  ... The Rays will be without Evan Longoria for a bit longer(ia) as the All-Star 3B was pulled from a rehab game yesterday. There's no timetable for his return from a hamstring tear, but the good news is that Longo says that this is not a "re-injury." ... Freddy Galvis will have plenty of time to recover from his back fracture while serving a 50-game suspension for using a banned substance.


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Closer Updates: Cubs, Twins, Tigers

Do I follow @closernews on Twitter for all the latest on closer situations? That's a clown question, bro; of course I do.

Cubs
I feel like such a dirty hypocrite. I've said since he was on the DL that Carlos Marmol would be reinstated as Cubs closer once he returned. Sure enough, despite not really pitching well enough to warrant the promotion, Marmol is back in the role after picking up a rocky save against the Red Sox.

So, why am I being a phony? Because Marmol has been languishing on the wire in the MLBTR League -- which is an active, relatively competitive league -- and yet I can't pull the trigger on picking him up. He's too up and down for my tastes, and I'm having enough trouble managing my ERA and WHIP with Mat Latos putting up bricks just about every time out. Plus, I have three decent closers in Jim Johnson, Casey Janssen and Tom Wilhelmsen. I "paid" for only one of them on draft day, for those of you keeping score at home. 

So, Marmol remains owned in just 47% of Yahoo! leagues, and if you're desperate for saves -- and can withstand the ocassional nuking to your ratios -- the right-hander is your guy.

Yes, there's plenty reason to think the Cubs' handling of Marmol is in anticipation of a potential deadline trade. After all, if they're going to try to ship him out, they'd be well advised to prop up his value as much as possible. And how strongly could they pitch him if he's not even in the best reliever in his own horrid bullpen? Of course, it's no secret that Marmol has been sharply trending downward for well over a year now, but you can't fault the Cubs for trying to convince everyone otherwise. 

All of which is to say, yes, Marmol might not be for long as Cubs closer -- and that end could just as easily arrive by trade as by ineffectiveness. But in the meanwhile, saves are saves, and if you need 'em, here's an opportunity. Car-Mar was a stud in the not-too-distant past, and stranger things have happened than for a talent arm to take off.

Twins
Matt Capps was pretty terrible as Twins closer in 2011, eventually losing his job to Glen Perkins and later Joe Nathan. He's rebounded to some extent this season and has actually flown under the radar as an underwhelming but servicable dirt-cheap closer type.

The news hasn't been great for Capps of late, though. First, he took a loss on Friday while coughing up a pair of earned runs. Then, he was unavailable Saturday and Sunday due to shoulder inflammation. Hmm ... What is it they about correlation and causation, again? Anyway, Twins GM Terry Ryan says Capps is fine, but ya know, I like my team-spun info with a big fat grain of salt.

Meanwhile, Perkins is again looking like a pitcher who is kicking down the dang door for his chase at closing despite his team's protestations over his handedness. Previous generations tied lefties to chairs and threw them in lakes, so impeding Perkins' path to the ninth inning is relative progress. Anyway, Capps might be injured, and even if he's not, he's looking like a sensible trade candidate (though I wonder which contender would consider him an upgrade), so Perkins may see a half-season audition to close before the Twins again bring someone in and bump him down the ladder in 2013.

Perkins is probably gone in most holds leagues, but I think there's room for him as a solid handcuff candidate in standard leagues and a must-add in anything deeper than that. Of course, the Twins could always pull a fast one and filibust a Jared Burton type into the role, but for now I'm assuming talent wins the day.

Tigers
We should all be so fortunate as Jose Valverde in these ugly times. No matter how close he comes to the verge of losing his job, Jo-Val seems to scrape together a competent-enough string of outings to quell the mob and live to see the light of another day.

But the odds have to catch up to Papa Grande at some point, right? This aggression 4.92 SIERA will not stand, man. I mean, 4.92! That's pretty terrible. The 1.12 K/BB is just as bad. There's not a lot to like here.

In fairness, Valverde has always been one of those guys who manages to confound the advanced ERA estimators. But that was when he had the vaunted ability to miss bats. Now, he's just a big-bellied, skinny-legged, past-his-prime closer who lacks control and the ability to miss bats. Ugh.

Meanwhile, Joaquin Benoit continues his redemption song after an up-and-down first year in Detroit. He continues to rack up whiffs, and his low-low 2.05 ERA is within a stone's throw of his 2.29 SIERA. He's long had the stuff to close. Now, he just need the opportunity to do it.

Come on, Valverde: Give someone else a chance.


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Silver League Update: Running Away With Steals

I was perusing the waiver wire, looking for ways to help my moribund team, when I stumbled upon fantasy gold: a free-agent hitter with 16 steals! That's nearly a 40-steal pace. Now there was what I needed ... then my brain switched back on and I remembered that I'm running away with stolen bases, and that Jordan Schafer's .251 average and two homers probably weren't going to help me claw my way up anywhere. Why do we draft base-stealers early again?

A part of this is me adjusting to the realities of standard roto style and the fact that all those steals Emilio Bonifacio got me will count forever, but I think a real part of this is just how much baseball is returning to the stolen base. My mind seems to be stuck in the dark ages when one or two center fielders might steal 45 bases but nobody else would get more than a handful. Having one player carry you to respectability just doesn't cut it anymore. Not when Jordan Schafer is on the Silver League waiver wire.

The issue here isn't that the leaders are stealing more and more bases (we aren't back to the 80s yet), but it's that more and more players are stealing some bases, and those who would have stolen a few five years ago are now stealing many. Beyond that, speedy prospects like Mike Trout are bigger parts of teams' plans than in years before. The whole thing has added up to a league leader in steals who is only owned in 12% of Yahoo! leagues: Tony Campana.

With 23 steals Campana is on pace for about 55. A player like that should certainly be owned, despite the fact that he doesn't do very much else, but he doesn't need to come at a premium price in next year's draft. Michael Bourn has led the NL in steals three seasons in a row, but should you spend an early-round pick on him? He (usually) provides more in batting average than the likes of Campana and Schafer, but that's about the only difference.

When you sort players by most stats, you get a pretty good correlation between the top players and the highest ownership rates. Of the top 25 base stealers (11 bags or more) five of them: Campana, Rajai Davis, Juan Pierre, Cliff Pennington, and Jarrod Dyson are owned in fewer than 20% of Yahoo! leagues. You can add another three when you expand the list to those with at least 10 steals: Ben Revere, Gerardo Parra, and Maicer Izturis. (Shafer is actually owned in 27% of leagues.) These aren't the only places to grab some extra bags if your team needs to speed up: Scott Podsednik has just resurfaced with the Red Sox, while Ryan Theriot and Everth Cabrera have stolen six and five bases in the last two weeks, respectively. Both are owned in just 6% of leagues.

I had expected to see a few more power/speed studs, but only four players have as many as ten homers and ten steals. There's a reason why  Andrew McCutchen and Hanley Ramirez are gone in the early rounds, but Ryan Braun would be a first-rounder without the steals. And Jason Kipnis owners are just lucky. Dropping the steals limit to nine lets us add Adam Jones and Carlos Gonzalez to the list. 

I had hoped to capitalize on just such a power/speed combo when I drafted Jacoby Ellsbury with the 11th overall pick and, while I'm missing the power he might have given me, my team doesn't miss the speed. Though I traded Bonifacio over a month ago (and then he got hurt--sorry King Fish 2.0), steals from my role players have kept me in first. The ragtag club of Kipnis, Pierre, Jason Heyward, Alexei Ramirez, B.J. Upton, and Michael Saunders have been more than adequate, though Upton was the only one I drafted early for speed. I list so many players because stolen bases are all around. Sitting on the bottom of the pile in the other three counting stats, I wish now I'd spent even less on early round steals.

Looking at the waiver wire, I wish I were losing in steals, because I can't see any category that it would be easier to climb in, with a little effort. Hopefully nobody in the Silver League reads this...

 


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This Week In Streaming Strategy

Another week of interleague play is on the docket, and thus we have another week that will require a few more daily lineup adjustments than usual. The Dodgers, Cardinals, Giants and Braves get to use designated hitters for the full week in AL ballparks, while the Blue Jays, Twins, Rays and Mariners will send their pitchers to the plate over six games in NL stadiums. Here are a few streaming dos-and-don't from those clubs...

* Bobby Abreu. It looked it might be the end of the road for Abreu after he was unceremoniously released by the Angels, but Abreu has recaptured his old form since joining the Dodgers, hitting .293/.393/.415 in 118 plate appearances. Abreu is the logical choice to serve as the Dodgers' DH this week when Dem Bums travel to Oakland and (revenge time for Bobby!) Anaheim. The matchups also work in Abreu's favor, as the Dodgers are slated to face right-handed starters in five of six games. Abreu is owned in just 4% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, so he's a canny pickup for those looking for a short-term bat.

* The Twins. Joe Mauer (hamstring) and Josh Willingham (knee) are both dealing with minor injuries that could impact their availability for Minnesota's upcoming NL road swing. Mauer was limited to a pinch-hit appearance on Saturday, while Willingham DH'ed instead of playing in left field. If these injuries worsen or even just linger, the Twins might not get much out of their two biggest hitters this week given that they'll lack the cushion of the DH spot. Keep an eye on Mauer and Willingham's daily status reports to monitor their condition. If they're out, Ryan Doumit becomes the Twins' catcher, while Willingham's spot would be filled either by light-hitting backup outfielder Darin Mastroianni or by the Babe Ruth impersonator known as Trevor Plouffe (with Jamey Carroll taking Plouffe's spot at third).   

* Matt Adams. The Cardinals face right-handed starters in four of six games next week, so the left-handed-hitting Adams is the favorite to start at DH in those games (or at first base, with Allen Craig or Carlos Beltran serving as DH instead). I sung Adams' praises last month and while he's only been OK (a .752 OPS), I'm sticking with my recommendation of Adams as a solid streaming pick. Hey, if I can watch an entire season of Up All Night waiting for it to break out, I can surely give Adams more than a month.

* Nate SchierholtzAubrey Huff got a little carried away celebrating Matt Cain's perfect game last week, thus making Schierholtz the primary left-handed DH option on the Giants roster. Schierholtz was briefly a hot fantasy commodity in April thanks a couple of strong weeks at the plate, but now he isn't even a starter, as Gregor Blanco has usurped the right-field job in San Francisco. This week of interleague action is a good opportunity for Schierholtz to get hitting again, as five of the Giants' six opposing starters this week are right-handed.  It's quite possible that Pablo Sandoval or Buster Posey could get DH starts, but Schierholtz should be a decent fantasy play for the days ahead.

* Jesus Montero. The Mariners have been more or less splitting Montero's time between DH and catcher, but this week, Montero will get a full dose of action behind the plate in NL stadiums. Montero has been very inconsistent in his first full Major League season, but disappointed Montero fantasy owners could be in for a boost this week -- he entered Saturday with a .973 OPS when playing catcher, as opposed to a .555 OPS as a DH. This is where I'd normally make a crack like, "Seattle's lineup is so bad that replacing their DH with a pitcher is an upgrade," except I don't think I'd even be joking.  The Mariners are tied with the Athletics for the lowest team OPS (an ominous .666) in the American League and Michael Saunders' modest .791 OPS is the highest of any M's regular. 

* Aaron Harang. Finally, let's look at a two-start pitcher to avoid this coming week.  Harang has been solid for the Dodgers this year, posting a 3.59 ERA --- and a legit one, as Harang has a 3.61 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, with a BABIP of exactly .300 --- with a 2.21 K/BB ratio and a career-best 0.7 HR/9.  He's facing the Athletics and the Angels this week, so why am I recommending that you don't start Harang given his light-hitting opposition and his quality numbers?  It's simple; Harang may be a creation of Dodger Stadium.  Harang has a 2.51 ERA and an opponents' batting line of .200/.299/.364 in five home starts this season, as opposed to a 4.37 ERA and a .283/.342/.411 line in eight road starts.  That road opponents' OPS is admittedly not all that imposing (though the Mariners would take it for a cleanup hitter) but still, Harang's away numbers are enough to give you pause before taking him for two road starts against AL lineups, even weak AL lineups.  


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's Stock Watch recommended Trevor Plouffe as a waiver wire add, and all he has done in the six games since is hit five homers with 10 RBIs. Here's hoping these recommendations work out as well:

Buy

  • Matt Moore - Despite 54 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings since May 1, Moore's season stats still are ugly with a 4.59 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.  However, his SIERA is down to 3.86 on the season and the best is yet to come with Moore in 2012.  A nice buy-low target from owners that are paying too much attention to his season ERA/WHIP numbers.
  • Ivan Nova - His strikeout rate per nine innings has skyrocketed this season from 5.33 to 8.00, and he has collected eight wins pitching for the Yankees' powerhouse lineup.  A 3.53 SIERA gives hope that his 4.64 ERA will come down when his 16% HR per flyball ratio evens out closer to the 8.4% he had last season.
  • Brandon Belt - Swinging a hot bat with home runs in three straight games (including in yesterday's start against a lefty).  Time to pick up Belt from the waiver wire and hope the ride continues. Aubrey Huff's injury should also provide more playing time for Belt.
  • Brandon Moss - Another hot bat, Moss has four homers in the past three games and looks to be running away with the A's first-base job.  Moss has put up good power numbers in Triple-A the past three seasons, and it may now be transferring to the Majors after bouncing around three organizations.  Moss should be claimed off waivers.
  • Ryan Raburn - Back with the Tigers and 2-for-3 in his first start. Raburn is a decent speculative add from the waiver wire for teams hurting at MI.
  • Ryan Cook - Oakland claims to be using a closer-by-committee, but Cook converted both save opportunities in the last series against the Rockies, and Brian Fuentes continued his slide by giving up two more runs in relief yesterday.
  • Tyler Clippard - I certainly missed in my projection for Henry Rodriguez, but I am again touting a non-Drew Storen Nationals closer as having the potential to run with the job.  Clippard was one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball last season and has been nothing short of spectacular since moving into the closer role. It's going to be tough for the Nationals to remove him from the job, even after Storen returns. Not a bad idea to pick up Clippard from an owner that believes he only has a few weeks left in the closer role.
  • Casey Janssen - Sergio Santos suffered a setback in his rehab, which will extend Janssen's run as the Toronto closer. With Santos struggling earlier in the season and Toronto still near the .500 mark, we may not see Santos regain his closer spot until late in the season or next Spring.

Sell

  • Alfonso Soriano - Leading MLB in home runs since mid-May (right at the time this column suggested you pick up Soriano from waiver wires), Soriano is the streakiest of hitters that will go just as ice cold as he has been red hot.  Soriano also has been hobbling around all season with word leaking that his knees are causing him all sorts of pain. Sell Soriano's hot streak to a power-starved owner that has starting pitching or stolen bases to spare.
  • Jeremy Hellickson - Eight earned runs yesterday has pushed his ERA up to 3.45 on the season, and his 5.24 FIP indicates this number is likely to keep rising. Hellickson has managed to survive in the AL East with a K/BB well below 2, but savvy owners will be looking to trade him to an owner that overvalues Hellickson's fortunate ERA.
  • Ricky Romero - Another AL East starter whose value is inflated by his sparkling numbers last season.  Romero is walking an unsightly 4.48 batters per nine innings this season while his strikeouts per nine innings are down from last season.  That is not a good combination, and owners thinking that Romero and his 4.15 ERA are a good buy-low trade target should think again. Romero's 4.79 FIP and 4.36 SIERA indicate that he is fortunate to have his ERA that low.


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Recent Call-Ups: Conger, Kirkman, Moore

Let's round up three recent call-ups and their fantasy impact. Two hail from the AL West, the third from the NL East.

Hank Conger | C | Angels

Had it not been for an elbow strain earlier this season, Conger would have been up a long time ago. Chris Iannetta broke his wrist in early-May and the Angels had to turn to Bobby Wilson and John Hester to replace him while their top catching prospect was out. Now that he's healthy -- and Bobby Wilson is on the 7-day concussion DL -- Conger is in the big leagues but playing second fiddle to Hester. He's only started three of eight games since being recalled, including just one of the last six. Hester's solid batting line -- .256/.333/.349 with one homer in 48 plate appearances -- is a hindrance, as is manager Mike Scioscia's affinity for defense-first catchers.

Conger, 24, is seen as an offense-first backstop with a line drive swing from both sides of the plate according to Baseball America. He has more over-the-fence power from the left side and his minor league plate discipline rates -- 14.4% strikeouts and 8.7% walks -- are evidence of his contact-oriented approach. This isn't another Mike Napoli situation but it's similar, the Angels are focused more on defense than offense behind the plate and that works against Conger. With Wilson expected back as soon as this weekend, Conger might find himself back in Triple-A. He's a fantasy non-option until we know he's going to get regular at-bats.

Michael Kirkman | RP | Rangers

The Rangers have lost Derek Holland (shoulder), Neftali Feliz (elbow), and Alexi Ogando (groin) to the disabled list in recent weeks and with Roy Oswalt still a few weeks away, they had to dip into their farm system for a replacement starter. Kirkman, 25, has 29 appearances and 48 2/3 big league innings to his credit already, but all of them have come in relief. He's worked primarily as a starter in Triple-A but his performance hasn't been anything to write home about: 5.25 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 5.8 BB/9. The walks are a problem now and have been throughout his career based on his 4.9 BB/9 in over 600 minor league innings.

I like Kirkman -- who Baseball America ranked as the teams 28th best prospect coming into the season -- more than most because he's a four-pitch lefty with some funk and deception in his delivery. He's slated to start at home against the Astros on Saturday, making him a fine end of the week candidate if you're desperate for counting stats or need to roll the dice on someone for help in the rate categories. Kirkman might not be long for the rotation with Holland reportedly on the mend, but if he sticks around he'll pick up SP eligibility soon enough.

Tyler Moore | OF | Nationals

Bryce Harper garners all of the attention and rightfully so, but the 23-year-old Moore has two straight 30 homer seasons to his credit in the minors and tagged Triple-A pitching to the tune of .310/.372/.660 before being recalled. He hit two homers yesterday -- the first two of his big league career -- and has started three of Washington's last five games after coming off the bench for the previous month. Baseball America only ranked Moore as the team's 16th best prospect coming into the season because of his high strikeout rate (23.5% of all minor league plate appearances) and defensive shortcomings, but they do acknowledge that his right-handed pop is very real. He's totaled at least 70 extra-base hits in each of the last two minor league seasons.

With Steve Lombardozzi starting to come back to Earth a bit -- .238/.289/.333 in the last 33 team games -- Moore could see more time in left field, particularly against left-handers. He's not going to give you much average or even OBP, but Moore will hit some homers and drive in some runs if given the playing time. Keep an eye on their lineups the next few days, if Moore starts to see more and more playing time, grab him if your team is power-starved.



Injury Watch: Morrow, Ogando, Roberts

Hey there, folks. I'm Bryan Grosnick, and I'm the newest member of the RotoAuthority writing team. Each week, I'll be exploring some of the most important and interesting injuries in baseball, and how you can adjust your fantasy squad to take advantage, or at least limit the damage. Today, we'll take a look at two young, productive starters who'll miss time due to injury, as well as the return of an old friend at second base.

Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays

I'm a registered sucker for Brandon Morrow. I add him in multiple fantasy leagues every year, and this one finally seemed like the year that the copious strikeouts lead to great wins and ERA numbers in addition to his always strong strikeout rates. Weirdly, this year his gaudy whiff numbers have been down, but those numbers and his WHIP all were looking up from his previous career numbers.

Unfortunately for his owners (like me), Morrow strained an oblique muscle after just nine pitches on Monday, and now looks to hit the DL. Oblique injuries can linger, and while it may not be time to drop Morrow based on this one injury, you may need someone to fill his slot in your rotation while he misses a few weeks to the DL. This is a stash-and-save guy, not a drop.

While Jesse Chavez is likely going to replace Morrow in Toronto's rotation, he's not the first guy I'd go to to fill out my squad. If he's still available in your league (and he's available in about half of ESPN leagues), I'd take a long look at Felix Doubront of the Red Sox. Let's be real for a minute ... if you own Morrow in fantasy, you're probably a sucker for strikeouts. And Doubront right now has the sixth-highest K/9 of qualified starters in the Majors. But if Doubront is owned in your league (or you're biased against Red Sox or AL East pitchers), give Erik Bedard a look. Bedard has a very sharp 8.76 K/9 right now, and as long as he stays healthy, he'll put up solid numbers in Pittsburgh.

Alexi Ogando, Rangers

Just as Alexi regained a spot in the Rangers rotation, the injury bug bites and now he'll miss time due to a right groin strain. Ouch. As of today, he's expected to miss four-to-six weeks with the injury. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that in your typical shallow 5x5 league, he's safe to drop. By the time he comes back, there may not be a spot for him in the Texas rotation, and setup guys (no matter how good they are), don't fit on every fantasy squad.

While he probably won't be the immediate replacement in Texas's rotation, it may be time to bring in Roy Oswalt, if he's available in your league. Oswalt won't set the world on fire, and he has to deal with some tough park effects in Arlington, but he's still an above-average starter. He won't strike guys out like he did in his heyday, but he's great at limiting walks and almost always posts an ERA under three-and-a-half. The Rangers are an elite team, and they're as good a bet to stack wins as anyone. The only question is when Roy will be ready for the call to the major leagues.

Brian Roberts, Orioles

Welcome (back) to Birdland, Brian. After 13 months off the field, Roberts returned to major-league action on Tuesday. Best of all, he managed a single to lead off the game for the O's, and as of this writing, he's 2-for-3 with a sac fly on the evening. This has got to be music to fans of the Orioles, and for people desperate for a 2B looking for help on the wire.

Here's the bad news, though. Brian Roberts was not been very good in limited action in 2011, and his skills appeared to be on the way down in 2010 as well. In previous years, you bought Brian Roberts hoping for 10 homers, 30+ steals, 90+ runs and an above-average batting average. But given the injury concerns, and it being unrealistic to expect a return to his career numbers at the age of 34, I'd temper my expectations and hope for about a third of those numbers. For the rest of the season, I could see 3 HR, 10 SB, 30 R and an average hovering around .270. That's not bad off the wire, but it's also not worth dropping Dustin Ackley over.

So who would I drop for Roberts? I wouldn't run Jamey Carroll or Jemile Weeks out there over Roberts at this time. Daniel Murphy probably isn't going to out-produce Roberts unless an injury recurs. But your usual top-twelve 2Bs are all safe, as no one should bail on Ben Zobrist or Kelly Johnson for Roberts. But time will tell if the old Brian Roberts is back for the long haul.

Quick Hits: Roger Bernadina left Monday's game with a strained hamstring, and he'll be re-evaluated on Tuesday. But seriously, what are you doing with Roger Bernadina on your fantasy squad? He's walking at a good clip, but people in 5x5 leagues should look for, well, anyone else as a replacement. ... Chase Utley is starting his rehab assignment this week, so look for him to reach the majors around the end of June or early July, barring a setback. Just keep in mind that, like Roberts, he may not be the Chase of old right away. Or, sadly, ever again. ... The Braves skipped Tim Hudson's most recent start due to painful bone spurs in his ankle, but Hudson had a strong bullpen session this week, and looks to make his regularly-scheduled start on Wednesday


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Closer Updates: Athletics, Mariners, Giants

We spotlight three California teams this week. For less west coast bias, check out @closernews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates.

Athletics
"You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wild, they die of shame."

Anthony Hopkins uttered that gem in "The Edge," a mediocre, little-known survival flick I stumbled upon on Netflix a few months back. I never would have guessed I'd quote Hopkins from anything other than personal favorite "Silence of the Lambs," but sometimes life surprises us, eh?

Anyway, I thought this pearl of wisdom was perfectly appropriate advice for those of us -- including yours truly -- who bought into the "new and improved" Brian Fuentes a few weeks back. We mustn't die of shame, as it were, for having been fooled by a pitcher who has so quickly reverted back to his old, terrible form. Instead, let's soldier ahead and uncover some solutions.

Last week, after Fuentes' third meltdown in four appearances, Manager Bob Melvin has said he'd be going to a three-man committee of Ryan Cook, Grant Balfour and, yes, Fuentes, one which will be dictated on a game-to-game basis by rest and matchups. Setting aside Fuentes and Balfour, both of whom fantasy owners are in no rush to add or hold onto based on their respective performances during their runs as closer, let's have a look at Cook.

The righty has generated some buzz in his first year with Oakland, remaining unscored upon till late May. He boasts a pretty 0.69 ERA and strong strikeout rate that look great on paper, ut the 5.19 BB/9 and subsequent 3.90 SIERA suggest that it's entirely unsustainable. Cook may be one of those pitchers who can defy advanced ERA estimators, but I want to see more than one-third of a season's worth of data before I concede that. Between the small sample, strong defense and pitcher-friendly home ballpark, it's more likely that Cook has been the beneficiary of some good luck so far.

If I were forced to throw my hat into this three-closer circus, I'd start with Cook based on the outside chance that he can keep up this pace and run away with the job. But that's as much a condemnation of Balfour and Fuentes as it is a vote of confidence in Cook's skills or that the A's are inclined to give him a fair shake.

Mariners
I believed that the M's preferred to have Brandon League closing even after they demoted him, but I was pretty nervous about that call when I saw no-name relievers like Tom Wilhelmsen and Steve Delabar continue runs of excellence in his stead. It seemed it'd be tough for League to reclaim the job with those strong arms in front of him, even accounting for the Mariners' likely interest in trading him prior to this summer's deadline.

But sure enough, after League posted just 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball since his demotion, the M's announced he would soon be their closer again. Clearly, the team has faith in League and were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after his slow start, but the guess here is that the move is also designed to prop up his stock in anticipation of the soon-to-heat-up trade market.

In any event, League is worth an add if he's hit the wire in your league. He could well be traded within the next six weeks, at which time he may become some other team's setup man, so he can't be counted on for saves through the season's balance. But whatever he contributes should make him worth an add at the cost of dropping the last player on your roster. Wilhelmsen owners (of which I am one) should hold on for now, because there's no guarantee League will rediscover last year's form, but it's looking like T-Wil's reign may soon end -- or perhaps be interrupted till League is dealt.

Giants
Santiago Casilla has returned from a minor knee ailment he suffered by absorbing a comebacker, so there's not a lot to discuss here from that angle. However, it's worth having a look at how Bruce Bochy divvied up the save chances during Casilla's absence. 

Once again, we were reminded that despite his dominance, Sergio Romo was not the automatic next-in-closer (as he wasn't when Brian Wilson was lost for the year). Because of his frailty, the Giants continue to handle Romo with caution; he's pitched just 17 innings in his 22 appearances. Thus, they're hesitant to be bound to deploying him in all proper save situations when in fact he may not always be available. So when they encountered five save chances while Casilla was out, three went to Romo and one apiece to Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt.

Romo is owned in many standard roto leagues, which is fine by me because of his ridiculous ratios and strong strikeout rates, but if you're handcuffing him on the off chance Casilla gets hurt or is for some reason demoted, there are better places you can look for such an investment. Calculate your investment in Romo accordingly.

Quick-ish Hits
Rafael Soriano was unavailable Monday night due to a blister, but the injury is not believed to be serious. David Robertson is on a minor league rehab stint, but the Yanks have said previously that Raf-Sor will remain closer when D-Rob returns. ... Sergio Santos suffered another setback during a recent bullpen session. Casey Janssen remains Toronto's closer for the foreseeable future. ... Drew Storen threw off a mound recently and is progressing nicely from elbow surgery. He is still expected back around the All-Star break.

 

 


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Silver League Update: Change Happens Fast

When I check on the Silver League, I usually go straight to my team for the bad news. Usually, I see that I've lost a point, or gained a half-point, something like that. Most days, it seems like everything is completely set in stone, and that if I'm ever going to climb out of the eight-ninth range, it will take months of building. But, at least, I'm not going to fall into last in a day, right?

When several of my pitchers -- Max Scherzer, Brad Lincoln, and probably some others -- combined for about 20 innings and an ERA over 6.50, though, I had a feeling I'd be making a pretty big drop. ... Sure enough, I began last week in the middle of the pack in ERA, and I felt pretty good. Now I'm in 11th, and I have to admit that my team really has no strengths beyond stealing bases. I may be first in strikeouts and second in wins, but if my ERA Armageddon proved anything, it's that I only have those categories from sheer quantity of pitching.

I only dropped four points that day, which isn't really all that bad when you're 30 points out of first and 10 points from seventh, I guess. It got me thinking, though; in a way, it gave me hope. What goes down can come back up -- at least in the volatile ratio categories.

Before you rain on my parade with "facts," like how much easier it is to fall in a category than rise, or how much harder it is to dig yourself out of an early hole than bounce up and down all season, consider this: McRuder --league doormat for two months -- is suddenly on my heels for eighth place (or "best bad team," the way our scores break down). To put this in perspective, I'm sure it was only a couple weeks ago that I was still in eighth or ninth, but as far from McRuder as I was from the top couple teams. His team has gone off like a rocket, and it's making me kind of nervous. And hopeful.

Not all of McRuder's rise can be attributed to batting average, but lots of it can. After a little while of searching, I found a cool graph and the line shows McRuder with just two points in average only three weeks ago--it goes basically straight up from there. By last week, he was mid-pack. Now, he's sitting in second place and should be congratulating himself for not giving up on the year. For the last two weeks, he's gotten some pretty gaudy averages, both from superstars like Joey Votto (.512), and from role players like Yadier Molina (.415), Michael Brantley (.362), Kendrys Morales (.361), and Allen Craig (.344). The result has been about fifteen points of batting average.

I was going to write about how McRuder increased in runs and RBIs thanks to the extra hits dropping in (it seemed like a perfectly fair assumption, right?), but more "facts" got in the way. Somehow, he's still near last in both categories. If his hitting keeps up, though, you'd have to expect some kind of increase there.

Unfortunately, leagues aren't won or lost thanks only to the rate categories -- those counting stats still matter. They can be a lot harder to make progress in, but if you find yourself falling behind in them maybe the thing to do is to trade away some rate-category value for a power hitter or a strikeout pitcher. If average and ERA can change this much in a couple weeks, that means they can change with or without the influence of any one player. The same can't be said for a single hitter on a home run binge or a pitcher on a dominant outing.

The point, I suppose, is not to give up. Don't just bank on luck -- I've written enough posts on McRuder and his trades to know that's not what he's doing -- but what's been bad can still turn good. Sure enough, the day I wrote this, I picked up three points. It seemed like so many -- just nine more days like that and I'm (almost) in the lead!


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This Week In Streaming Strategy

Interleague play is in full swing and eight teams will spend their entire week playing under the other league's rules.  The White Sox, Red Sox and Yankees will be in NL ballparks for all six games this week, while the Padres, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Pirates and Brewers play their six games in AL stadiums.  Let's focus this week's column on some players from these affected teams, plus a couple of two-start pitchers...

* Jim Thome.  This is only partially a sentimental pick for one of my favorite ballplayers.  Thome has been limited to just 32 plate appearances this season due to a month-long DL stint and the fact that he can't play the field anymore, thus limiting to just pinch-hit duties for a National League team.  This upcoming week, however, the Phillies play three games each in Minnesota and Toronto so Thome will be able to fill the DH slot and have an opportunity to produce, given that four of the six games are against right-handed starters.  We've already gotten a taste of Thome as a DH during the Phillies' series in Baltimore, as Thome went for 5-for-9 with a homer and two doubles on Friday and Saturday.  HIS NAME IS JI....Jim Thome.

* Norichika Aoki.  With Corey Hart taking over the first base spot in Milwaukee, Aoki has found regular playing time as Hart's replacement in right.  Between the Brewers getting to use a DH all week and Aoki's hot bat (a .297/.353/.477 line in 144 PAs), you can count on him as a full-time starter for this round of interleague action.  Though the left-handed hitting Aoki has performed equally well against both lefties and righties, it certainly helps that the Brewers will face right-handed starters in five of six games this week.

* Jason Kubel and Gerardo Parra.  Arizona seems pretty set for interleague action, as Kubel will spend at least five games at DH while Parra, Chris Young and Justin Upton man the outfield.  Kubel has an .871 OPS this season yet is only owned in 41% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, while Parra has a .297/.371/.461 line against right-handed pitching and is owned in just 18% of Yahoo leagues.  Both are good plays this week with the Snakes facing right-handed starters in five of six games.

* Red Sox regulars.  After dealing with so many injuries that he had trouble finding warm bodies to fill a lineup, Bobby Valentine has had a nice problem over the last couple of weeks in having too many good hitters for too few spots in the batting order.  With David Ortiz locked in at DH, the Red Sox have juggled Kevin Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks at third, with Adrian Gonzalez also seeing increased time in right field to fit Youkilis in at first.  Without a DH next week and facing right-handed starters in four of six games, Boston's musical chairs will get even more interesting.  If you own Ortiz, expect him to be out of the starting lineup on Sunday when the Sox face southpaw Paul Maholm and possibly one other day, with Big Papi donning the first baseman's glove for the rest of the week.  (Ortiz should play on Tuesday against lefty Mark Buehrle since Ortiz is a career 20-for-58 with a .973 OPS against Buehrle).  If you own Youkilis or Middlebrooks, be prepared to make a daily check of your fantasy lineup to see who's starting, though Youkilis has seen the lion's share of playing time since his return from the DL.  If you own A-Gon, you're probably fine standing pat -- Gonzalez has played in all 59 of Boston's games this season, though Valentine could use the loss of the DH as an excuse to give Gonzalez a day off.

* Adam DunnDayan Viciedo's hamstring injury could simplify any lineup-juggling, as if Viciedo has to miss significant time or go on the DL, Chicago can just slot Dunn in left field for the week.  (Huh, that's weird, ominous organ music started playing when I typed 'Adam Dunn in left field.')  The White Sox face all right-handed starters this week except for Clayton Kershaw on Friday and Chris Capuano on Sunday, so expect Dunn to ride the pine for those two matchups with Viciedo or Brent Lillibridge in left.  Paul Konerko should be in his usual spot at first all week since the White Sox obviously want to keep in the lineup under any circumstances. 

* Yankee regulars.  I wouldn't expect any major changes to the Yankee lineup, except that Alex Rodriguez will probably get an off-day from third base in favor of Eric Chavez at some point during the week.  Four of New York's six games are against right-handed pitching, so expect the right-handed hitting Andruw Jones to play left field during those two games against southpaws (Tuesday and Friday).

* Max Scherzer.  The Academy of Fantasy Baseball Arts & Sciences annually awards the A.J. Burnett Trophy to the pitcher who generates the most frustration amongst fantasy owners by ranging from brilliant to terrible on a start-by-start basis.  Owners are afraid to drop this pitcher in fear that he'll eventually turn the corner, and thus they hurt their staffs all year long by keeping a guy whose stats don't merit a roster spot.  It's only June, but Scherzer is a big candidate for the AJBT.  He leads the majors with a 11.2 K/9 ratio, and he yet has a 5.88 ERA and opponents are hitting .299 against him.  It's fair to say that Scherzer's woes are due to bad luck and the Tigers' terrible defense (Scherzer's FIP and xFIP are 4.43 and 3.41) yet unfortunately, you aren't allowed to lower your fantasy ERA through advanced metrics.  Scherzer is slated to start against the Cubs and Rockies this week and I definitely would use caution for tabbing him as a good two-start option since he's pitching at homer-friendly Wrigley Field and Colorado has baseball's fourth-highest team OPS (.783) against right-handed pitching.  Of course, any true AJB Trophy contender would obviously excel after he's benched, so expect Scherzer to pull a Vander Meer this week if you actually do sit him.  So...wait...does this mean you should start him?  I've gotten myself confused by my own reverse psychology.  Maybe just trade Scherzer and let a rival manager worry about him.

* Kyle Kendrick.  The right-hander's mediocre stat line this season is somewhat misleading, as 17 of his 26 earned runs allowed have come in just two starts and a disastrous one-inning relief appearance.  If you remove those three outings from the equation, Kendrick has a much more impressive 1.88 ERA over his other 10 appearances, the highlight of which was a complete-game seven-hit shutout of the Cardinals on May 26.  I'm admittedly doing some cherry-picking with stats here, but Kendrick is a decent and widely-available two-start candidate for the week.  He starts on Tuesday in Minnesota against the punchless Twins and then should go on Sunday against the Blue Jays in Toronto.  I'd definitely start him against the Twins (heck, I'd start my grandma against the Twins) and then you have the option of quitting while you're ahead and benching Kendrick for Sunday, or starting him if you're feeling lucky.


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