July 2012

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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's Stock Watch recommended selling at peak value on C.J. Wilson based on his relatively poor K/BB ratio giving him a lofty SIERA. After giving up seven earned runs in his start this week, Wilson's SIERA sits at 4.22 with a 3.63 FIP. Wilson remains an excellent sell-high candidate based on his 2.82 ERA.

Buy

  • Ben Sheets - The Braves bypassed sleeper Kris Medlen and disappointing prospect Julio Teheran for Sheets and were rewarded with six shutout innings in his first start. Sheets' average fastball was clocked at 90.9 in his first start, which is two MPH down from his last (semi-) healthy seasons in 2007 and 2008.  Still, in a small sample size Sheets has struck out 15 batters to 2 walks in 16 2/3 innings between Double-A and the Majors, and since he's pitching in the National League, he should be claimed off waivers in leagues where he is unclaimed.
  • Michael Fiers - Fantasy owners are beginning to take note of Fiers' dominant ways this season, as his ownership percentage in Yahoo! leagues has creeped up to 48%.  Fiers' 2.01 ERA is legitimate based on his excellent 54/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in only 53 2/3 innings pitched and sparkling 2.26 FIP.  Fiers only averages 88 MPH on his fastball, and there is a risk that hitters will adjust after seeing him another time through the league, but enjoy the ride while Fiers continues to deal.
  • Todd Frazier - With Joey Votto out of the Reds lineup, Frazier should see every day at-bats and take advantage of a favorable hitting ballpark.  Frazier has legitimate power that is shown by his .277 ISO on the season (which would rank 10th in MLB if he had enough plate appearances to qualify).
  • Justin Smoak - He may be entering a hot streak as he has home runs in two of his past four games.  Smoak has the lowest BABIP in MLB among qualifying hitters at .217, and his power potential (particularly when Seattle is on the road) is worth claiming in 12-team mixed leagues.
  • Coco Crisp - Nothing has gone right for Crisp this season, but he is coming off a 49-steal season and is only owned in 27% of Yahoo leagues.  Crisp has shown signs of life with four hits and two steals in his last two games.
  • Sergio Romo - Santiago Casilla has been a train wreck lately with five blown saves in his last seven chances.  Next in line should be the filthy Romo and his 0.66 (!) ERA.
  • Drew Storen - Back with the Nationals and threw a clean inning in his first appearance of the season yesterday.  Storen is back at a time when Tyler Clippard has shown some chinks in the armor with five earned runs in his last two innings. After the Nationals announced that Clippard would remain in the closer role, many owners cut Storen, but he should be claimed in leagues where he can be benched in the short term in the hopes that he works his way back into the ninth-inning job.
  • Steve Cishek - When Cishek was bypassed for a save chance on Monday for Mike Dunn, many owners figured that a closer committee was in place.  However, Cishek was dealing with a bout of the flu and all indications are that he should get the Marlins save chances going forward.  Recent trade rumors involving Heath Bell may further signal that the organization has soured on Bell and is ready to let Cishek run with the job.

Sell

  • Ryan Dempster - Dempster is a hot commodity on the MLB trading block and may be wearing a new uniform as soon as this weekend.  Hopefully you can get a nice haul for Dempster like the Cubs are trying to do by selling high.  Dempster's strikeouts per nine innings this season sits at 7.34, which is his lowest strikeout rate since 2003.  In addition, Dempster is benefitting from the highest left on base percentage among qualifying starters in MLB at 85.5% (his career rate is 72.2%).  Dempster's SIERA of 3.82 is about what you should expect going forward this season.


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Squeezing Steals Out Of Anthony Gose

Injuries have defined the Blue Jays' season so far, with the pitching staff feeling the brunt of the impact. The injury bug leaked over to the position player side of things on Monday night, when Jose Bautista came up holding his left wrist after pulling a ball foul down the line in a game against the Yankees. He left the game and x-rays were negative, but an MRI revealed what is either inflammation or a strain depending on who you ask. It's probably a little of both, the two can be related. Either way, Bautista has been placed on the DL and will miss at least two weeks.

To take his spot, Toronto recalled top outfield prospect Anthony Gose from Triple-A. He was hitting .292/.375/.432 with 18 doubles, ten triples, five homers, and 29 steals in 436 plate appearances for Las Vegas at the time of the recall. The left-handed hitting Gose sat on Tuesday night - understandable against CC Sabathia -  before making his first start and going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts yesterday. He is expected to be the everyday right fielder during Bautista's absence with the occasional game on the bench against tough lefties.

The 21-year-old Gose is well traveled already, going from the Phillies to the Astros in the Roy Oswalt trade before being flipped to the Jays for Brett Wallace. ESPN's Keith Law ranked him as the 59th best prospect in baseball before the season, noting that Gose now "stays back better and repeats his swing in a way he couldn't before, resulting in higher-quality contact and the chance for average power." His outfield defense - he's a true center fielder playing right in deference to the incumbent Colby Rasmus - is excellent and enough to keep him in the lineup even when he's struggling at the plate, and playing time is always a concern for fantasy rookies.

Triple-A Las Vegas is one of the most extreme hitters' environments in baseball, inflating offense by almost ten percent according to the park factors at StatCorner. It would be easy to write off Gose as a product of that ballpark if he had a huge home/road split, but this year it was actually a reserve split. He hit .259/.351/.395 in 46 home games compared to .313/.397/.469 in 46 road games before the call-up. Besides, we're not looking at Gose as someone who can come up and mash, adding homers and RBI to our counting stats. He's a steals candidate.

Gose has swiped at least 45 bases in each of the last three seasons - including two 70+ steal seasons - and is likely to get there again this year. He's efficient (74% success rate) but not insanely successful in his stolen base attempts, so keep that in mind if you use net steals. Bautista isn't expected to miss too much time but Gose could still force his way into the regular lineup with an assist from Rajai Davis' recent slump. If he proves useful over the next two weeks, the at-bats will be there for him in left field. You might take a hit in batting average and almost certainly will get no help in the power or run production departments, but steals can be hard to come by this late in the season and few players offer as much stolen base potential as the guy Toronto just called up.


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Injury Watch: The Great Canadian Power Outage

This week's Injury Watch is destined to focus on MVP-caliber players who will be missing time due to serious injury. Both players have strong ties to the Great White North, and both players will have their teams scrambling to find replacements. On the fantasy side, these are the type of players that you simply can't replace, but I'll do my best to find you someone who can fit the bill until they return.

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

I'm not a Jays fan, but this is a particularly disappointing injury. Due to Bautista's circuitous route to superstardom, I'm especially disappointed by the prospect of the ML's pre-eminent home run hitter missing time in the prime of his resurrected career. Joey Bats injured his left wrist while swinging during Monday's game against the Yankees. Bautista has been diagnosed with what's called "inflammation" by his team, and has already been placed on the 15-day DL. X-rays and and MRI confirmed that there's no fracture in the wrist, but Jose felt a "popping" sensation while swinging, and the exact nature of the injury is still unknown at this time.

Losing Bautista can cripple a fantasy team that depends on the powerful hitter, much the same way that it will be a serious blow to Toronto. Worst of all, some wrist injuries zap a player's power even after they return to the lineup, which means that Bautista could be feeling the effects of this unfortunate accident all the way through to the end of 2012.

As always, we can look to the built-in injury replacement, which is Blue Jays callup Anthony Gose. Gose is a high-profile, high-ranking prospect, but he's not exactly the power hitter Joey Bats is. Truthfully, I harbor little to no hope that Gose will be a good fantasy fit for 2012. Unless you are truly desperate for steals, give Gose a miss and look for an option that might give you more production across multiple categories. But keep an eye on Gose for 2013 and beyond, he's got tools like a Home Depot.

Instead, go with someone that the 2010 version of myself would have avoided like the plague: Brennan Boesch. Boesch can be had in 78% of ESPN leagues, and is in the process of regressing his season line to something more like what should be expected of a player like him, rather than the unmitigated disaster that was the first half of his season. Boesch has some pop, and living in Detroit's lineup means that there's a reasonable chance for him to stack up context-based stats like runs and RBIs when the offense is rolling. He won't replace Bautista's production -- if you want that you'd better go trade for Ryan Braun or something -- but he could be a nice fit until Joey Bats returns from his injury. (Note: if you play in an OBP league, forget everything I just wrote, skip Boesch, and go with someone like Daniel Nava instead.)

Joey Votto, Reds

I'd argue that no player is more integral to the success or failure of his team at this very moment than Joey Votto (though Andrew McCutchen probably has a case as well). The Reds are a solid squad, but Votto has been the second-best pure hitter in baseball in 2012 (again, McCutchen!) with a remarkable 183 wRC+ and a triple slash line of .342/.465(!)/.604. To put that in perspective two things: (1) that wRC+ number means that Votto is 83% better than league average at hitting, which is INSANE and (2) that triple slash looks a lot like Barry Bonds's career slash line. Joey be hittin'. Joey Votto makes Mike Trout look like Robert Fish. Joey makes House Party look like House Party 2.

So yeah, the fact that Votto has a torn meniscus in his right knee, and should miss about a month of time as a result of Tuesday's surgery, means that the Reds are losing one of the most fearsome hitters in all of baseball, and their lineup will suffer for it. A meniscus tear isn't the big deal that an ACL tear is, but it could cause him to lose a little power once he's able to come back, if the slugger isn't healed up 100%. Travis Hafner recently had arthroscopic surgery on his knee and missed a little over a month, but Lance Berkman looks to miss 8-10 weeks with his knee injury. Personally, I'd look at a little over a month for Votto as a reasonable time to miss, given how little we know about the injury or if Votto will need a long rehab assignment.

If you own Votto in a fantasy league, at least there is one silver lining for you: first base is a pretty stacked position. My favorite add right now is Adam Lind, who is owned in about a quarter of ESPN leagues. Lind is in the midst of a sizzling hot streak, posting a wOBA of .438 in July to go with a .341 batting average to go with three HR and 11 RBI. Get in while the getting is good on Lind, because his performance is likely to regress back to his career numbers. I've thought that Adam Lind couldn't be as bad as he has been in 2011 and at the beginning of this season, and he's probably not, but keep your expectations low, and don't be afraid to swap him out for another 1B once his roller coaster of a season goes for another dip.

Quick Hits: BONUS CANADIAN! Jason Bay is finally off the 7-day concussion DL, and should see regular playing time in left field for the Mets. The bad news? A healthy Jason Bay isn't very good anymore. Avoid him. ... David Ortiz looks to miss at least a week of time with a strain in his right heel. He'll wear a walking boot, and should be another blow to an injury-prone Red Sox squad. ... The White Sox will lose Gavin Floyd to the DL with right elbow tendinitis. While there's not any indication that Floyd has any sort of structural damage, elbow issues cause many fans and fantasy owners to catch their breath. ... Matt Capps hit the DL with a shoulder issue, which is probably a good thing for Twins fans and fantasy mavens looking for confirmation about his role change. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton might still share closing duties, but I expect Perkins to get more looks.  ... Scary news about Mets starter Dillon Gee: the doctors treating his right arm injury couldn't even find a pulse in the arm the day after his final pre-ASG start. ... Sergio Santos is out for the year, making me feel extra-stupid about drafting him in every fantasy league I was in this season.


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Closers: Marlins, Mets

If you want to get me out of your head, you can follow the latest closer developments on Twitter at @closernews.

Marlins
For all the shakeups we saw early in the season, Miami's closer situation has been closely followed but otherwise fruitless for storm saves chasers. I've written about it countless times, and yet it's taken till mid-July for the sharks to see anything more than a few heaps of chum.

Ozzie Guillen announced during the All-Star break that he'd be going to a closer committee once the second half commenced. Sure enough, Steve Cishek saw the Marlins' first save opportunity thereupon, converting for the vaunted five-out save. It's worth noting that Heath Bell tossed a scoreless inning in his second-half debut on Sunday, entering the game with the Fish facing a four-run deficit.

It's a small sample size to draw any definitive conclusions, but the best we can infer for now is that Cishek is the first option. Of course, Guillen did say he'd be using a committee, so the newly activated Edward Mujica and LOOGY Randy Choate cannot yet be ruled out, nor can the demoted Bell, who lost his job similarly in May and quickly regained it.

But for now, Cishek is the better own, and those who scooped up Juan Carlos Oviedo last week in response to Guillen's excitement about his return can safely reconsider, as Oviedo's minor league rehab assignment has been put on hold due to right elbow discomfort. It doesn't sound promising, and though it may amount to little more than a false alarm, it will likely delay Oviedo's return and perhaps furnish a hopeful such as Cishek enough time to run with the job.

Mets
Bobby Parnell owners got good and bad news over the weekend. On an upbeat note,  Frank Francisco's minor league rehab stint was shut down before it ever even started, as he apparently hasn't healed sufficiently from his oblique injury. As we've noted before, that ailment has a history of giving fits to the afflicted. I'd have to guess this could set back Francisco's return another week or two, and that could be a conservative estimate.

Unfortunately, Parnell celebrated his presumptive ninth-inning extension with a blown save on Saturday, his first since taking over for Francisco as Mets closer. I don't think this incident alone will have much bearing on Parnell's standing as Mets closer. However, based based on his unsuccessful stint as stopper last season, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a relatively shorter leash if he begins to slump. I have no reason to think he will slump -- the peripherals all check out -- but it can only take a few bad outings before a guy is on the ropes.

The bottom line is, hold onto Parnell if you had designs on cutting him in anticipation of Francisco's return. Parnell should get another couple of weeks, although it's worth keeping an eye on his next outing, which could determine whether his seat starts to get a little hot.

Francisco owners are now in the tricky spot of guessing whether he'll reclaim the closer's role upon whenever he finally returns. My initial instinct was that he'd get the job back, but the longer he's out, the less likely that scenario becomes. For me, he'd fall into the hold-if-you-can-but-cut-if-you-must category.

Quickly
Blue Jays stopper Sergio Santos will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, meaning Casey Janssen's grip on the job -- already strong -- just got a wee bit tighter. Janssen should have every opportunity to get through the rest of the season as Toronto's closer, and based on the peripherals, he should be able to do it. Santos should be cut in all yearly leagues, and even those in keeper leagues may want to look elsewhere. ... Drew Storen, the Nationals' former closer, has seen his minor league rehab stint mucked up by arm fatigue. It doesn't sound major, but it appears that Storen's return to the Majors may be pushed back a week or so. Tyler Clippard has been lights-out there, but it'll be interesting to see how Washington handles Storen, a young player in whom they have invested a lot of resources since drafting him in the first round in 2009. ... The Twins will ease Matt Capps back into closing in his return from shoulder stiffness, meaning Glen Perkins and Jared Burton owners should sit tight till Capps has fully regained the job. ... Red Sox right-hander Andrew Bailey's on-again, off-again rehab from right thumb surgery is back on again, but he's still no fewer than a couple weeks off, barring setbacks.


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Silver League Update: All Star Trading

In leagues all across the country, the All-Star break is a prime time for fantasy owners to get together, perhaps watch the Midsummer Classic, and toss trade offers around with a few beers. More for your competitors being the usual strategy. OK, so this isn't exactly the 90s, but the All-Star break still affords a great chance to shoot a few emails or Yahoo! messages around the league and see what happens. I was pleased -- as a writer -- to see that two trades went down in the Silver League around the break. I wasn't as pleased as an owner, since I wasn't a part of either. 

The Great Badbonis were the busy team, active in both trades. Sitting in third place, but closer to first than fourth, the pressure is on the Badbonis to turn it up over the second "half" of the season. To put their position a little more specifically, they're doing well in average (nine points out of 12) and steals (11), but getting hit pretty hard in runs, RBIs and homers. On the pitching side, they're scoring nine or 10 in all categories but wins -- they could use a little quantity. Their first trade, with seventh-place McRuder, is an attempt to address just that need, and it's a trade I can understand from both perspectives.

McRuder Gets                Badbonis Get

R.A. Dickey                            Chris Sale
Trevor Bauer 

There aren't many times to trade quality for quantity, but there's more to this trade than that. Dickey and Sale were both All-Stars, but both come with question marks. For Dickey it's pretty simple: can the 37-year-old knuckleballer keep pitching like he has? For those who haven't been paying attention, he's got a 2.66 ERA and a 9.14 K/9. Despite throwing the knuckler, it looks like more than smoke, mirrors, and luck: his FIP is 2.77 and his xFIP is 2.95. For the moment, he's for real. For the moment, doesn't necessarily mean more than that though. Such is the nature of the knuckleball. Bauer, the uber-prospect is a similar case in risk/upside. In three starts he's struck people out but issued too many free passes. Predictable enough results, but a greater cause for concern is that he had a 4.43 BB/9 in Triple-A. Of course, he had a strikeout rate of 11.28, but the point is he isn't a slam-dunk prospect like Stephen Strasburg was a couple years ago.

What makes this trade reasonable for a team like the Badbonis, who -- I assume -- aim to increase their wins without hurting their other excellent numbers is that Sale comes with his own risks. Before the season, I decided to stay away from Sale, along with Neftali Feliz and Daniel Bard as simply too unpredictable, making the transition from reliever to starter. If it weren't for Sale, I'd feel pretty smart, because he's been completely dominant, to the tune of a 2.19 ERA. His FIP isn't as good, but it's still a shiny 2.58. The xFIP is closer to worrying, at 3.25, but I'd have drafted Sale if I thought he'd be even that good. Some regression is probable, as it is for Dickey, for no reason other than that most pitchers don't stay that good for very long. Those that do go to the Hall of Fame. But regression isn't the real reason I'd trade Sale -- it's that he's supposed to have an innings limit, perhaps around 170, which would be 30 innings past his previous high. Those should be 70 very good innings ... but he's still the sort of pitcher to trade when you're in contention. All the more so when you're doing well in the rate categories.

This trade makes sense to me for both teams; they have different needs, different pitching categories to shore up. Moreover, their places in the standings mean that they need to take different kinds of risks.

The second trade is still a Badboni trade, but this one ... well, you'll see. When The Playmakers shopped Jose Bautista to me a little while back, he said he was looking for something like Prince Fielder and then some. I made a comment about shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic and had to decline. To be fair, Bautista has been a lot better than the powerless Prince, and so has the guy The Playmakers ultimately did trade for.

Playmakers Get                Badbonis Get

Mike Trout                              Jose Bautista

Above, I noted that the Badbonis were doing very well in average and steals and in dire need of some home runs, so this is exactly the trade to make. Bautista's 27 homers will fit in nicely, but Trout's 30 steals and .348 average won't be missed like they would on most teams. My gut reaction to this was that The Playmakers got robbed, but Trout has been really, really good, belting 12 homers to go with the steals and average. I can see the allure. The stat need was there too. I checked and, sure enough, the sixth place Playmakers have ten points in homers, but only three in batting average and five in steals. Bautista's .242 average might have something to do with that.

Still, it would make me very nervous to trade my first-round pick for a rookie. Especially when that rookie is sporting a .401 BABIP. I'm not saying Trout isn't a great talent, having a great season, or going to compete with Bryce Harper for best player in baseball for years to come in the manner of Ted Williams and Stan Musial. OK, maybe they won't be that good. But, Trout will have to be to keep up a .401 BABIP. Maybe the hits will keep dropping in all season long, but maybe that BABIP normalizes at a still-high .330. His number on the season will still be great, but there's a decent chance they won't be superstar awesome for the next two and a half months. The most important thing is that they don't have to get very much worse at all to not be worth giving up Joey Batts to get. With a .213 BABIP, there's every reason to think Bautista's average will improve. If it doesn't the Badbonis will just have to enjoy that .292 isolated power.

This trade isn't the steal I first thought it was, but it does seem like The Playmakers could have gotten more for their marquee player. Or they could have gotten their average and steals from a less exciting source. I mean, I would have taken a lot less for Juan Pierre ... Still, sixth place calls for bold moves, and this one sure is bold. After this weekend though, I'd be looking over my shoulder at the Great Badbonis with a little more nervousness if I owned the E-Z Sliders or the Spirit of St. Louis.  


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This Week In Streaming Strategy, July 16-22

After a week-long hiatus and a baseball-themed vacation in Washington D.C., This Week In Streaming Strategy is back.  The vacation by the numbers: five Nationals games, two Smithsonian Museums, one delicious giant slice at We The Pizza and 100 degrees-plus every single day as Washington suffered one of the hottest weeks in its history.  The only things hotter than the D.C. weather are these fantasy baseball recommendations!  (Clearly the time off didn't improve my pun-making or paragraph transition skills.)

* Travis Wood.  There haven't been many positives for the Cubs this seaso,n but Wood's return to the Majors and development into a solid member of the Chicago rotation has been a bright spot for the Northsiders. Wood has a 3.05 ERA in 10 starts and ... OK, well, I realize that I do the "oh, this guy has been putting up good numbers but STAY AWAY FROM HIM THIS WEEK OR ELSE!" reversal in pretty much every column, so let's just cut to the chase right now and say that Wood is a ticking time bomb. His BABIP is an unsustainably low .218, his FIP/xFIP/SIERA numbers are 4.69/4.55/4.65, he has an unimpressive 6.1 K/9 rate. Basically, when it comes to narrowly avoiding disaster, Wood is topped only by Buster Keaton.  Wood is set to face the Marlins and Cardinals this week, but I'd skip him as a two-start option since you never know when he'll start pitching to form.

* Scott Diamond.  Here's another southpaw whose advanced ERA estimators (3.85 FIP, 3.53 xFIP, 3.49 SIERA) are notably higher than his actual ERA (2.62), and yet just as in the organic material world, Diamond is more valuable than Wood. While Diamond has just 45 strikeouts in 79 innings pitched, he has shown good control with an impressive 3.75 K/BB rate and avoided home run danger thanks to a 59% ground-ball rate.  Diamond starts at Target Field against the Orioles and then on the road against the Royals this week, and while he's been better at home, I'd be comfortable putting Diamond in a fantasy roster against either opponent.  The word isn't quite yet out on Diamond, as he's owned in just 42% of Yahoo fantasy leagues and thus could be available for streaming purposes this week.

* Jason Vargas.  This could be a big week for the Mariners southpaw, as his Monday start in Kansas City has been considered by some (such as Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times) to be somewhat of an audition to prove to potential trade suitors that he can pitch away from Safeco Field.  I'd say the verdict is in: no, he can't.  Vargas has had drastic home-away splits in three of his four seasons as a Mariner, including this year's 2.84 ERA in eight home starts and 5.09 ERA in 11 away starts.  Another warning sign is Vargas' .248 BABIP this season, which indicates that he's been a bit lucky no matter where he's pitched.  Vargas will pitch on the road against the Royals and Rays this week, and while both clubs are in the bottom-third of team OPS against left-handed pitching, I'd still stay away from Vargas as a streaming option until he gets back to his home park.  If Vargas is traded to a team with a more hitter-friendly stadium, his fantasy value might drop off the board altogether.

* The Mariners lineup, en masse.  It's not news to say that the M's are having another brutal year at the plate, but their .715 team OPS on the road is actually respectable, ranking 15th in baseball.  Though the Mariners are on the road all this week, however, don't be fooled into starting any stray M's you may have on your bench since they're scheduled to face four left-handed starters this week, including three in a row from Monday through Wednesday in Kansas City.  Seattle is hitting a miserable .229/.279/.343 against southpaws this season, making many a garden-variety left-hander suddenly look like Warren Spahn.  But really folks, let's put the splits aside and just say that if you're still counting on a Mariner player to be a fantasy contributor for you here in the month of July, you're long overdue to make an upgrade for the stretch run.  (Note: the last time I dissed an entire lineup like this, the Pirates went on to lead the majors in runs scored over the next month. Maybe this entry should be taken with a grain of salt.)

* Chris Carter.  This is just a good old-fashioned "ride him until he cools off" recommendation.  Carter has four homers in eight games since being called up from Triple-A Sacramento so if you're looking for a cheap short-term 1B/utility type, he's your man.  The A's are at home this week and while it's worth noting that three of Carter's bombs have been hit away from the Coliseum, his yard-going might not be abated his opposition.  Of the six pitchers Carter and the A's are scheduled to face this week, three (Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Colby Lewis) rank among the top 12 in the AL in HR/9 among qualified starters, Roy Oswalt has been inconsistent since returning to the Majors, and Freddy Garcia is Freddy Garcia.  There's definitely opportunity here for Carter to keep mashing.

* Lou Marson.  I cited the Indians catcher as a possible darkhorse fantasy candidate last winter with the logic that Marson would get significant at-bats due to the lack of right-handed hitting options on the Cleveland roster and the team's desire to use Carlos Santana both behind the plate and at first base or DH.  Marson has a very solid .293/.388/.394 line through 116 plate appearances, though his deployment as a lefty-killer hasn't exactly gone to plan --- Marson is actually hitting much better against righties (.835 OPS) than against southpaws (.723 OPS).  That being said, Marson is looking more and more like the top catching option when a left-hander is on the mound.  The Tribe are scheduled to face at least two lefties this week (Matt Moore on Tuesday and David Price on Thursday) and maybe more depending on how Baltimore's scattered rotation shapes up next weekend.  If you're in a league with two starting catcher spots and have been struggling to fill that second backstop position, you could do worse than a promising young hitter like Marson.

* Matt Moore.  I hardly need to tell you to start Moore at all times, but it just occurred to me that Moore might be the greatest two-start option in history this week.  He has two starts, at home, against two of the worst-hitting teams in the league against left-handers in the Indians and Mariners.  Forget about picking up fantasy wins, Moore might threaten Johnny Vander Meer's record this week.


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RotoAuthority Live Chat

Click below to read a transcript of this week's live chat with Steve Adams...


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Nothing increases a player's value more in a standard eight- or 10-category league than when a reliever moves into the closer's role.  This month's trading deadline provides the best opportunity to pick up future closers from the waiver wire and either move up in saves or make a deal to solidify your roster in other areas (I recommend dealing a closer to a team that is right below your opponent at the top of the standings in saves so your opponent drops in saves while you increase points in other categories).  This week's Stock Watch will emphasize relievers you should be claiming off waiver wires because they may soon jump into the closer's role:

Buy

  • Mat Latos - After giving up only two earned runs in his last three starts covering 25 innings, Latos is finally out of his season-long funk after an offseason trade to the Reds.  With a 4.13 ERA on the season, perhaps Latos can still be acquired on the relative cheap from a disgruntled owner that suffered through Latos' terrible start to the season. Last year Latos had a slow first half before compiling a 2.87 ERA and 1.00 WHIP after the All-Star break (however, the opposite was true in 2010).  Compared to last year, Latos is walking fewer batters and (predictably) giving up substantially more home runs with a HR/FB percentage that has nearly doubled after his move from the Padres to the Reds. Settling into his new surroundings, I expect Latos' second-half ERA to be in line with his current SIERA of 3.63, which is exactly half a run lower than his ERA.
  • Max Scherzer - Has the second highest K/9 innings rate (11.19) and the second highest BABIP (.349) among qualifying starters.  Scherzer has five straight quality starts that has brought his ERA all the down from a 5.88 mark on June 6 to its current 4.72.  Here is another starter that may have left owners who drafted him with a bad taste in their mouths after his slow start.  Scherzer's 3.08 SIERA shows the upside that exists with a BABIP correction despite pitching in front of the Tigers' poor defense.
  • Michael Brantley - Owned in only 27% of Yahoo leagues, Brantley should see increased RBI opportunities as he hit between fourth and sixth in the Indians last series of the first half.  Brantley has two home runs and seven RBIs in 27 July at-bats, and he offers a decent power/speed combination with an improving batting average that has spiked based on a substantial reduction in strikeouts this season while keeping his walk rate steady.
  • Juan Carlos Oviedo - The Marlins have finally moved to a closer committee after Heath Bell's latest blown saves.  The pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez has closer experience and could see save opportunities by the end of the month. Ozzie Guillen recently mentioned Oviedo as a candidate for saves.
  • David Hernandez - With the Diamondbacks shopping Justin Upton and seemingly willing to make trades targeted at 2013 and beyond, J.J. Putz may be dealt since Hernandez is waiting in the wings to assume the closer job under a recently extended contract that bought out two arbitration years.  Hernandez has been filthy this season while striking out 57 batters in only 37 1/3 innings and rocking a 2.38 SIERA.
  • Luke Gregerson - Only owed in 3% of Yahoo leagues, Gregerson's strikeout rate has returned to a dominant 9.46 per nine innings this season.  While Dale Thayer has predictably fallen flat lately, Gregerson has only given up four earned runs in 17 1/3 innings since June 1.  With Huston Street likely being dealt by the Padres, I anticipate Gregerson getting the first shot at closing.
  • James Russell - Here is a a deep sleeper for saves that I anticipate getting a chance over the final few months of the season if Carlos Marmol is dealt. Russell received the save opportunity when Marmol was unavailable on July 2, and he has an excellend 2.38 ERA on the season.
  • Wilton Lopez / Brandon Lyon / Matt Belisle / Rex Brothers/ Greg Holland - These relievers all could be closing for their respective teams by Aug. 1, but it is unclear if they would step into the role.  Holland has not been regularly used in the eighth inning, and Lopez/Lyon (I prefer Lopez) and Belisle/Brothers (I prefer Belisle) would be competing for the job.

Sell

  • C.J. Wilson - After enjoying a spectacular first half, now is the time for pitching-rich owners to see what they can get for this "ace" pitcher.  Wilson's strikeouts are way down (7.11 K/9 compared to 8.30 last year) and his walks are way up (3.96 BB/9 compared to 2.98 last year).  His success can be partly attributed to a .242 BABIP that is nearly forty points below his career average.  ZiPS projects a 3.48 ERA for the remainder of the season, which is far below his current 4.28 SIERA.


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Four Prospects To Watch In The Second Half

As we come out of the All-Star break, we're going to see a number of top prospects join their big league club down the stretch as they push for a playoff spot. Some may have a huge impact like Mike Trout has already had for the Angels while others may just be complementary pieces shoring up the bench or bullpen. Here's a look at four high-end prospects who could assume important roles in the second half and have real fantasy value. I've including their ranking among Baseball America's Top 50 Prospects midseason update for reference.

Matt Harvey | SP | Mets | Baseball America: #34

The Mets got some unfortunate news earlier this week when right-hander Dillon Gee had to be placed on the disabled list after feeling numbness in his fingers. He was diagnosed with a blood clot in his shoulder and may still need surgery. The team has yet to announce his rotation replacement, but right now it seems like the immortal Miguel Batista will be a temporary solution. With Harvey tearing up Triple-A, he becomes the prohibitve favorite to fill Gee's spot if he misses an extended period of time.

Harvey, 23, has pitched to a 3.39 ERA in 18 starts and 98.1 innings for the club's Triple-A affiliate this season. His strikeout (9.3 K/9) and walk (3.8 BB/9) rates are very good, though they're better measured in terms of percent of batters faced -- he's struck out 24.2% while walking 10.0% of the hitters to step in the box against him this year. The walks are a bit of a concern because they will boost his WHIP, but Harvey can miss bats and that will cure a lot of ills. Throw in a pitcher friendly ballpark and you're looking at a potential fantasy weapon down the stretch.

Wil Myers | OF | Royals | Baseball America: #3

The 21-year-old Myers has had a busy week, first starring in the Futures Game before winning the Triple-A All-Star Game MVP Award last night. He's hit a combined .327/.403/.676 with 27 homers in 363 plate appearances split between Double and Triple-A this season, and in reality he probably should have been up a few weeks ago. Lorenzo Cain is just coming back from a groin strain and Jeff Francoeur has been unable to replicate last season's success, so the Royals can make room for Myers if they really want to get him in the lineup. Either way, expect him to rake and become an instant fantasy starter as soon as he's recalled and given an everyday job.

Mike Olt | 3B | Rangers | Baseball America: #11

Olt, 23, has had a huge year - .292/.403/.574 with 22 homers in 348 Double-A plate appearances this summer - and he doesn't figure to need much Triple-A time before being big league ready. The problem is that there's no obvious opening for him in Texas with Adrian Beltre manning the hot corner, though they've had him work out at both first base and right field this season. Of course that also makes Olt one of the very best pieces of trade bait in the game. The Rangers could go big game hunting - Zack Greinke? Cole Hamels? Justin Upton? - with their top third base prospect going the other way. That could land Olt in the big leagues down the stretch and third base is a sneaky shallow position. Keep an eye on Texas and their trade deadline dealings, because they could have big fantasy implications for more than the obvious reasons.

Tyler Skaggs | SP | Diamondbacks | Baseball America: #7

The arrival of Trevor Bauer has been a little underwhelming so far, but he's not the only high-end pitching prospect the D'Backs have on the cusp of the show. Skaggs, a 21-year-old southpaw, pitching to a 2.84 ERA in 13 Double-A starts before jumping to Triple-A and making two starts. His strikeout (8.7 K/9 and 23.2% of batters faced) and walk (2.6 BB/9 and 7.0%) rates are excellent, it's just a matter of making room for him in the rotation. Daniel Hudson's injured elbow opens a starting job that will likely be filled when Joe Saunders comes off the DL (Josh Collmenter is filling in for the time being), but the veteran southpaw always seems to be involved in trade rumors. Skaggs probably has the most to overcome to reach the show in the second half, but he has fantasy impact potential once he does arrive.



Injury Watch: One Power-Hitting Outfielder and Two Light-Hitting Shortstops

In this week's edition of Injury Watch, we're covering a host of tough National League injuries. Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon probably couldn't be more different in terms of hitting style and ability, but both will leave big holes in their teams, as well as in fantasy squads. And Braves breakout star Andrelton Simmons will need replacing as well. Get all the details and more quick hits in this week's edition of Injury Watch!

Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

So how does one replace the massive power of Giancarlo in a fantasy context? The short answer is that you can't, simply because so few players have Stanton's massive power potential. If Tyler Colvin is still available in your league, he may be the right guy to bring in, but less than 30% of ESPN leagues still have Colvin (13 HR in 2012) available on the waiver wire. And though Brian LaHair hasn't been hitting so well recently, he might still be available for your squad, and can bring the bat.

But you know who's available in almost every league, and has been hitting for real, ultimate power? Scott Hairston of the New York Mets. The Chin has twelve homers on the season, which is remarkable for a part-time player who's only logged 196 plate appearances. But Hairston really is a platoon player and pinch-hitter, so if you add him to your squad, you may only want to use him against lefties. But Hairston is a professional hitter, and can help to make up for some of the loss of Stanton. Just don't make the mistake of cutting Giancarlo from your squad. If he comes back this season, you could benefit from him returning to the lineup.

Andrelton Simmons, Braves

The Braves haven't been too lucky on the injury front this season, what with losing Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery already this year. Now they'll be without the NL Rookie of the Month for June, Andrelton Simmons, due to a broken bone in his pinky finger. Simmons will have to wear a cast for four weeks, and will be re-evaluated after it comes off, so don't expect him back with the team until at least mid-August. In his absence, Tyler Pastornicky will get his old job back, but he's not really much of a fantasy option at this point in his career. I'd expect Simmons will have the shortstop job handed back to him with a quickness when he's ready to return.

But I know what you're really here for. You're not here to wonder on who could replace Simmons in your fantasy lineup, since you're probably not running Simmons out there on a regular basis. No, you're here for a picture of Andrelton Simmons possibly pooping his pants while fielding a groundball. Fortunately SB Nation obliged. (Sidenote: he's probably not doing that, but it's a weird picture.)

If you DO need to replace Andrelton Simmons, I recommend another NL shortstop in Ruben Tejada, who is now fully recovered from an injury of his own. Tejada has hit very well in his limited action in 2012. No, his .325 batting average isn't quite sustainable (benefiting from a BABIP of .393), but he is a very good bet to help your team in two categories: average and runs scored. With no HR power to speak of and a spot atop the Mets lineup, he's unlikely to offer up help in those categories or stolen bases, but he's still a valuable player, especially in OBP and deep leagues.

Dee Gordon, Dodgers

You know who else has a hand injury that should keep them out until August or September, plays shortstop, and is playing through his first full ML season? That's right, Dee Gordon, leadoff hitter and shortstop for the Dodgers, will miss several weeks due to a torn ligament in his right thumb. Though the surgery was successful, and Gordon can begin taking part in baseball activities shortly, the young Dodger will probably miss a substantive amount of time leading into the final months of the season.

Dee was a popular fantasy sleeper this season, due to the young shortstop's blazing speed potential. And while Gordon's 2012 hasn't been very good from a holistic perspective (-0.8 fWAR, 63 wRC+), he's been delivering the steals. With thirty on the season, Gordon has been one of the most productive sources for SB in fantasy. So if you're looking to replace Dee, you're probably looking for something different than Ruben Tejada above.

Another SS waiver option could be Everth Cabrera of the San Diego Padres, if Tejada doesn't float your boat. Cabrera is a slightly better bet to hit for power (two HR in 2012 to Tejada's zero), but his real value is in stolen bases. Everth already has 15 SB in just 176 plate appearances, and while his wRC+ sits above average for the league, he's unlikely to be a really productive hitter for any fantasy squad. But if you need steals, Cabrera is a very cheap source of them.

Quick Hits: Welcome back to the major leagues, Ben Sheets! Sheets, who hasn't pitched in the majors since July 2010, starts on Sunday for the Braves against the Mets. I wouldn't buy Sheets now, but I'd consider his upside and see how he does. He could be a cheap, effective pickup for a fantasy squad if he's anything like the old Ben. ... Jaime Garcia of the Cardinals is finally throwing again after an elbow injury knocked him out of commission in early June. As of now, he may return to the Cards in August. ... Dan Haren has hit the DL with lower back stiffness. Despite his down 2012, keep him and keep him playing when he comes back in late July. He's still an awfully good pitcher. ... Reliever Luis Perez of the Blue Jays can join the 2012 Tommy John club. He blew out his UCL and will miss the rest of the season. ... Both Jesus Montero and Franklin Gutierrez of the Mariners are suffering from concussions. At this time, Montero's seems a little less serious than Guti's, but these are injuries that require extra care and consideration.


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