July 2012

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Closer Updates: Marlins, Red Sox, Twins

Don't be misled by the relative lack of tweets from @closernews over the next couple days. It'll return to keeping you posted on all things stoppers just as soon as the regular season resumes ... when Fernando Rodney closes out the NL All-Stars (and assures the Orioles home-field advantage in the World Series).

Heath Bell still stinks, and Juan Carlos Oviedo is beginning a minor league assignment in anticipation of his return from suspension for identity fraud. So, naturally, the only thing for Ozzie Guillen to do was suggest that Bell and Oviedo could share save opportunities once JCO is back. This is easily the most ingenious plot twist the producers of "The Franchise" have come up with yet.

Anyway, am I taking this seriously? Frankly, yes, because it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and that's exactly what I expect out of the Fish these days. The Marlins would have been justified in making this move basically at any point this season, and yet they've waited till now? And for a so-so pitcher in Oviedo who's coming off a personal scandal?

The soonest Oviedo can be activated is July 23, at which point you have to figure he'll need a few Major League outings before he's thrown back into high-leverage situations. That could push back a potential return to closing around Aug. 1. So, if you've got some bench to play with and you're desperate for saves, Oviedo is a guy you can pounce on now. The payoff probably won't be huge, but there's no sense in leaving saves on the wire if you need 'em and your team is in contention.

Red Sox
So, yeah, Andrew Bailey ... The latest on him is that he might not be back till late August or September after having his rehab throwing sessions scaled back, according to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe.

Obviously, this is not good news. And there's not a whole lot of case-specific insight I can offer on this other than that the 40% of you Yahoo! leaguers who are still holding on can move on, unless you have no more pressing uses for your DL slots.

Despite an ugly ERA and a couple notable blown saves, Alfredo Aceves' peripherals have settled nicely, culminating in a 3.38 SIERA. Ideally, you'd like to see him whittle that down closer to 3.00, but the point is he's capable of holding onto the gig and should do so with little competition. He'll help your team if it needs it, and if you had designs on flipping him, his trade value just increased substantially.

That being said, Bailey has become yet another in a long line of closers this season who've furnished the don't-pay-for-saves set with plenty of ammo. I'm probably overstating things a bit here, but I do wonder whether we'll see owners drafting differently next spring.

Contrary to my conservative estimate for his return from the DL, Matt Capps could be back with the Twins once games resume, which would basically amount to the minimum stay if you factor in the All-Star break. I don't suspect anyone is especially pleased by this development, certainly not Twins fans nor Capps owners of years past -- and perhaps not Capps' current owners.

It's been whispered in other dark corners of the interwebs that Capps will immediately return to closing, but I'm not necessarily sold on that. Jared Burton and Glen Perkins have split closing duties in Capps' absence and done a (mostly) nice job, and, well, Capps is Capps.

Regardless of what the Twins ultimately decide, though, Burton's and Perkins' owners should hold on till Capps is back, healthy and effective. It's worth mentioning again that Capps is something of a trade candidate, so even if Burton and Perkins are banished back to the seventh and eighth innings once Capps is back, they would of course pick up the slack in the event he were traded.


Rumors are kicking up that the Royals will take offers on Jonathan Broxton. I do think that he'll drew a lot of interest considering his history and season performance to date, but glancing at the peripherals, a firm caveat emptor is in order. Anyway, Greg Holland is the guy to look at as a handcuff. ... Nationals righty Drew Storen has begun a minor league rehab stint and will soon rejoin the big club. Davey Johnson sounded firm in declaring Tyler Clippard his one-and-only closer, but I'm calling bullshyte on that if Storen comes back strong and Clipp hits a rough patch. ... Blue Jays closer Sergio Santos has finally been cleared to ramp up his rehab efforts after so many starts and stops. I'm cautiously optimistic that this time's the charm, but in any event, it'll be at least a couple weeks till he's back and probably more, by my calculation. Casey Janssen owners should sit tight ... Mets closer Frank Francisco, too, is rehabbing and is expected to get his closing job back upon his return. Similarly, though, Bobby Parnell owners may as well hold on as long as they can.

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Product Review: FantasyBaseballAlerts.com

For those of us in daily leagues, it's crucial to know who is playing and who is sitting. Nothing wins fantasy leagues like deciding whether to start Zack Cozart or Alexei Ramirez. Okay, so the gains are at the margins, but leagues are won and lost in the margins, and not just on draft day.

I'm pretty sure that if I had the time, I could figure out on my own -- just before the games start -- which of my players are in the games and which are sitting on the bench ... but I don't have that kind of time, and chances are most of you don't either. And if you do, you're probably too lazy to do it. Or maybe you're winning your fantasy league and gloating about how your winnings keep you from needing a real job. That's where the FantasyBaseballAlerts.com service comes in.

From the name, it's easy to see what it offers alerts about -- sent via email, text message, or both. I get the emails, so that's what I'm reviewing, but I recommend the SMS version, because some of the updates come in pretty close to game time. It's not that I'm too cheap to pay the $4.95 a month for the texts, it's just that my location makes texts from America really expensive. The email option is now completely free, so there isn't a lot of downside to trying it out.

It can notify you (or not) about players being activated or deactivated from the DL and other restricted lists, called up from or sent down to the minor leagues, traded, and benched for the day. Of these, I've found the benchings alert to be by far the most helpful; chances are most engaged owners will, too, as we usually know when our players hit the DL or get sent down. I've also been using the minor league callup alert to keep track of prospects like Trevor Bauer, Anthony Rizzo, and Wil Myers.

As of now, the alerts are sent out prior to game time and, really, why would you want to know your player was sitting on the bench after you can't change your lineup? Even Yahoo! tells you that. I couldn't find out exactly which sources FantasyBaseballAlerts generates its notices from (I mean, would you give that away?), but it monitors "a combination of feeds" and tracks players across the majors and minors.

The alerts are all customizable, so if you don't want to keep hearing that your injured player is on the DL day after day, you can switch off any alerts you don't need. Or you can just opt out of updates for DL players entirely. That's what I do. You can sync it to any Yahoo! team right now, and other league providers are supposed to be on the way. For now, I've had to manually input the players I want to know about in my CBS league, which isn't the worst thing that's happened to me in fantasy baseball.

There aren't a lot of things to complain about, but FantasyBaseballAlerts also doesn't give info on looking ahead -- it presents only the facts, so no projections about how long someone will be on the DL or when they will start next. Since so many of their products are new, I've experienced one or two technical bugs (for instance, the website has responded better to Internet Explorer than to Safari), but nothing's been a big deal. I haven't had any problems with the actual alerts, but I wouldn't be shocked if it missed the occasional benching here and there -- there's a lot to keep track of.

For now, I'm not getting any alerts about when my pitchers have starts, but I'm told they are forthcoming and would include info on last-minute changes (at least I'm no longer getting alerts telling me that they're all benched anymore). Of course, last-minute changes usually involve your pitcher missing a scheduled start, but who wants to take their chances losing out on a Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw start that one time they get pushed up a day because someone got hurt? Not me.

The FantasyBaseballAlerts team seems pretty committed to updating their product; a lot of the features I've described have either been added or changed (for the better) in the few weeks I've been testing the service. In the mix for the near future are plans to add syncing ability to CBS and ESPN leagues and to add player news reports "as they happen across the Internet." For my part, I'm looking forward to more updates from FantasyBaseballAlerts, and I'm certainly going to keep using it.

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Silver League Update: The Silver All-Star Team

With the All-Star break upon us, forcing us to take a rest from checking our lineups and reading box score, it seems as good a time as any to reflect upon the (half) season behind us. Gone are the hopes of spring, and the ability to remind ourselves that "it's still early" or "it's only been a couple starts, Lincecum'll snap out of it." Ahead of us are the pennant race, and the inevitable, artificial comparisons of play before and after the All-Star break. Soon we'll hit the trading deadline, and curse the baseball gods when our closer is traded into a setup role, praise them when our pitchers are traded away from the Cubs.

But for now, we have rest. And if your team is worth owning this year, it's driving you crazy. If you're like me, it's nice just to have a break from seeing how much farther behind your team is today than yesterday. In that spirit, the Silver League Update will celebrate one player from each team today -- that's right, we're having our own All-Star game. Well, more like an All-Star team, really.

Like most leagues, the Silver League has distilled its competitors from, well, the rest of us. Sitting alone atop the standings are the E-Z Sliders, nine points above the second place team. Two more teams, the Spirit of St. Louis and the Great Badbonis are about as far from first as they are from fourth, while the rest of us are spread out more or less evenly until we reach number twelve. Each team has its bright spots, though, (some more than others) and each gets just one representative on the Silver All-Star Team. Since this year's game will be held in Kansas City, we'll include a DH with our eight position players, two starters and lone reliever.

C   A.J. Pierzynski, Mr. Perfect 56 We're all pretty accustomed to Pierzynski by now -- you can count on
     him for a decent .280-ish average and not much else. Well, with 16 homers in the first half, he's
     outperformed stars like Carlos Santana, Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, and even Mike Napoli. Got to
     like that for a guy you probably drafted as a second catcher or claimed off the waiver wire.

1B Edwin Encarnacion, E-Z Sliders Before this year, fantasy writers had spent entire careers predicting
     Encarnacion's breakout, and then apologizing for him in the fall. This is the first year that I decided to
     go against these experts' advice -- even though I am one at heart. Well, the E-Z Sliders were smarter than
     that and have been enjoying his 22 homers, near-.300 average and the nine steals he's thrown in just for

2B Jason Kipnis, Inch’on Wyverns This is my team, and Kipnis has been one of the few bright spots.
     Actually, he's been the only one. But he's been pretty awesome, adding power (11 homers), and great
     speed (20 steals) without hurting the average. I'm not ready to say he's the next Robbie Alomar, but I'm
     guessing he's one of next year's top second sackers.

SS Trevor Plouffe, Spirit of St. Louis Trevor who? Yeah, Plouffe wasn't exactly pegged as a breakout
     star before the year began, but he has absolutely ripped the ball while playing all over the infield for Spirit
     of St. Louis. Most of his value has come from his 19 homers, but what else could you ask for from your
     shortstop, especially in a year when the elite options haven't been. This was an easy call, even though
     Plouffe has great (fantasy) teammates.

3B Miguel Cabrera, Left is Right Cabrera might be the least surprising name on this list. Already a top
     first baseman, he shifted to third to make room for Prince Fielder. All he's done is hit 18 homers with a
     .324 average and 71 RBIs. Who cares about defense with numbers like those? (Answer: anyone who owns
     a Tigers pitcher.)

OF Adam Jones, The Playmakers Jones has tantalized O's fans and fantasy owners for a few years
     now, he's even made a real All-Star team, but this year he's different and the Playmakers are reaping the
     benefits: 20 homers, a .293 average, and 11 steals -- he's become a real five-category player. That's what
     separates him from Jose Bautista and David Ortiz on his own team.

DH Billy Butler, Busey’s Bandits Butler, quietly as ever, is putting up great numbers for Busey's Bandits
     and playing DH for his real team. With 16 homers, an average near .300, and 52 RBIs, Butler gives power
     at the DH discount. All that, and he's eligible at first base, thanks to interleague play.

SP Gio Gonzalez, King Fish 2….0 I'm pretty sure that even the King Fish wouldn't have expected
     Gonzalez to be their All-Star representative, not with Albert Pujols and Cliff Lee on the team. Gonzalez
     has been fantastic, though: he's won 12 games and struck out 118 batters in 101 2/3 innings, while putting
     up stellar rate stats. It's performances like that that have kept the King Fish afloat despite what they've
     gotten from Pujols and Lee.

SP R.A. Dickey, McRuder If Gonzalez is unexpected, there might not be a word for Dickey's place on this
     team, let alone the NL All-Star team. It's deserved, even though McRuder has Stephen Strasburg and
     Matt Cain. Dickey's knuckler has whiffed 123 batters in 120 innings, posted a 2.40
     ERA, and an 0.98 WHIP. Oh, and he's won 12 games too. Not bad for a waiver wire pitcher that nearly
     every Major League team gave up on.

RP Craig Kimbrel, The Great Badbonis Who else was this going to be, really? Kimbrel is the new star
     of relief pitchers (for the moment, at least), and it's easy to see why: 24 saves, 54 K's in 32 innings, a 1.41
     ERA, and an 0.72 WHIP. He's the best closer in baseball, and one of the few early-pick relievers who've
     delivered anything on the investment.

Well, like ever year, it's been a mix of expectations fulfilled -- and dashed. Surprise players, good and bad, have been winning and losing leagues all year long. There's plenty of year left and plenty of baseball still to play. For now, though, it's time to enjoy a game that can't torpedo you in the standings and offer a few trades around the league.

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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's Stock Watch recommended selling Trevor Bauer to owners in re-draft leagues that would overpay for the rookie hype. After Bauer gave up six earned runs in 3 1/3 innings with four more walks this week, he may end up on waiver wires soon in shallow mixed leagues.


  • Josh Johnson - After giving up five earned runs in five innings this week, Johnson's season stats are at a mediocre 4.06 ERA with a 1.39 WHIP and only five wins.  But, Johnson has the second highest BABIP among qualifying starters (behind Max Scherzer) and has been pitching much better lately with a 1.87 ERA in 33 2/3 June innings.  Johnson's swinging strike percentage is higher than it was last year, when he enjoyed a 1.64 ERA in an injury-shortened season. Johnson's strikeouts are down this year, which has left his SIERA at 3.86, but his FIP of 3.07 and low left on-base percentage hint at Johnson having a strong second half.
  • Yasmani Grandal - RotoAuthority's Mike Axisa had a nice column yesterday on the spark Grandel has provided to fantasy owners. Although he will not continue to hit for the kind of power shown this past week, Grandal's 136/100 K/BB ratio over 709 minor league plate appearances -- including more walks (37) than strikeouts (35) in Triple-A this year -- demonstrate a command of the strike zone that should result in a nice batting average at the second catcher slot.  
  • Tyler Colvin - The homer binge continued for Colvin yesterday, as he hit three home runs in the four-game series at St. Louis. Colorado cannot keep Colvin's bat out of the lineup while he cranks out 11 home runs in only 188 plate appearances, and if Todd Helton's injury puts him on the DL, then Colvin will have a clear path to everyday playing time. Colvin's ISO is 50 points higher than his breakout 2010 season, and he is making better contact with a line-drive percentage higher than either of the past two years.  Colvin continues to strike out at an alarming rate, so do not expect the .300+ average to continue, but his power potential makes him a must-add.
  • Mike Leake - Four straight excellent starts have Leake's season stats down to a respectable level after he had a 6.21 ERA as late as May 16 and was banished to waiver wires in all mixed leagues.  Leake's first July start continued a hot trend that saw him enjoy a 2.55 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 42 1/3 June innings. Leake's peripheral numbers are in line with last season, so we're not looking at a breakout candidate, but pitching in the NL Central makes Leake a solid end-of-the-rotation starter in 12-team mixed leagues.
  • Marco Estrada - Another NL Central starter worth taking a chance on in mixed leagues, Estrada is rocking a 9.75 K/9 innings rate and 3.08 SIERA on the season. Estrada is also coming off two solid starts in a row that included a 12-strikeout performance in six innings against the Reds in Cincinnati.  
  • Adam Lind - Hitting out of the fifth spot in a powerful Toronto lineup, Lind has shown signs of life since his promotion from the minor leagues and is worth picking up for a power potential that is demonstrated by his 26 home runs in 542 plate appearances last season.


  • Chase Utley - Utley's name still carries significant value to many owners, and two home runs in his first five starts gives you ammunition to try and peddle Utley to an owner hoping to recapture the glory years of 2005-09.  But, the reality is that Utley is not healthy enough to start every game, and the chronic soreness in his knees has most likely taken away the speed element of Utley's game.  
  • A.J. Pierzynski - The All-Star snub is enjoying a monster season with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs at the midpoint of the season. Pierzynski is nearly at his career high home run total of 18 that was set in 2005, and his home run pace is buoyed by an out-of-nowhere home run-per-fly ball percentage of 20.8% that is more than double his career rate and more than three times his rate last season. Time to sell high before the home run pace reverts back to career norms by dealing Pierzynski to a team weak at catcher. Between Pierzynski and Grandal, I prefer Pierzynski, but given the opportunity I would pick up Grandal from waivers for my second catcher slot and then deal Pierzynski to help in other areas.

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Grandal Sparks The Padres, Fantasy Lineups

Catcher is baseball's weakest offensive position - the league average for backstops is .246/.314/.397 this year - and arguably the shallowest position in fantasy. You have the elite guys like Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer, the bottom-feeders like Miguel Olivo and Russell Martin, and not a whole lot in-between. Any time an A.J. Ellis-type surprises, he's plucked off the waiver wire in short order. Unless you're rostering one of the top guys, you almost have to hunt catchers like saves in free agency and ride hot streaks.

The latest catching fad is 23-year-old Yasmani Grandal, a switch-hitting rookie who's clubbed four homers in five games since being called up by the Padres last week. Part of last winter's Mat Latos trade, Grandal became the first player in baseball history to hit a home run from each side of the plate for his first two career big league hits. His pinch-hit, two-run dinger off David Hernandez yesterday gave San Diego their fifth straight win. Overall, Grandal has a .300/.300/.900 batting line in 20 plate appearances, a shiny performance in an insignificant sample.

Baseball America ranked Grandal as the fourth best prospect in Cincinnati's system prior to the trade, then placed him 53rd on their Top 100 Prospects List this spring. "[He] will provide above-average offense" because he "has a balanced approach, controls the strike zone and uses the entire field," they wrote in their subscriber-only scouting report. Grandal backed up that scouting report by hitting .335/.443/.521 with more walks (37) than strikeouts (35) in 235 plate appearances in Triple-A this year before being recalled, and it's worth noting that Tucson is a pretty neutral offensive environment according to StatCorner. He's a career .315/.415/.498 hitter in 709 minor league plate appearances after being the 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft.

Now obviously Grandal will not continue to hit homers at this pace, especially since he's yet to step to the plate at Petco Park since being recalled. His five games since last week have been played in Coors Field (two) and Chase Field (three), some pretty good hitting parks. Petco is quite the opposite. That said, the catcher offense bar is so low these days that Grandal is worth a roster spot just on his potential. He'll always be at the platoon advantage as a switch-hitter and he has the skill set to hit for average and pop some homers. His runs scored and RBI totals don't figure to be anything special given the lineup around him, but getting help in two of the traditional 5x5 scoring categories from your catcher is more than most guys can offer. There aren't many position players on the Padres worthy of a fantasy roster spot, but Grandal is clearly one of them.

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Injury Watch: The Ulnar Issues of Daniel Hudson and Lonnie Chisenhall

It seems like this is the time of year where everyone's schedule for returning from injury is "after the All-Star break." But here at IW, we try to be just a little more specific than that. So not only will we update you on two players with much more specific return times, but they also have very different injuries in similar body parts. Daniel Hudson (UCL surgery) and Lonnie Chisenhall (ulna fracture surgery) both need a long look for fantasy owners, and reasonable replacements.

Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks

Ugh. Dan Hudson, like so many other starters this year, has torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and will have Tommy John surgery in the next couple of days. Mid-season TJ surgery really, really takes a chunk out of your playing career. If all goes well, one might expect to see Hudson back in the D-Backs' rotation sometime around mid-to-late 2013.

Hudson hadn't been pitching very well in 2012, almost entirely due to a greatly-increased propensity for home runs. Despite striking out and walking batters at nearly the same rate as 2011, Hudson was giving up home runs to the tune of 1.7 HR/9, a wildly high number. That lead to a nasty (bad nasty, that is) 7.35 ERA, which is no good for your fantasy squad.

So who could you use to replace Dan Hudson on your fantasy team? If he's not already snapped up in your league, Trevor Bauer is not only another Diamondback, but he's also a decent ringer for Hudson in terms of projection. While Bauer projects to strike out more than his share of hitters, he's a young pitcher who occasionally leaves the ball up in the zone, leaving him homer-prone. Bauer's taken in more than half the ESPN leagues out there, and our own Mike Axisa wrote a strong piece all about him earlier in the week.

If Bauer's already off the board (and even if he's not), how about looking at Andrew Cashner. Cashner brings very serious heat to the party, and pitching in PetCo Park means that he's not the risk for HR that Hudson / Bauer are. Before his start on Tuesday night, Cashner had been lights out in his first two starts of the season, and flashes the potential to be a world-class K artist. Expect a strikeout every inning when Cashner takes the hill and, so long as he stays healthy, he'll be a fantasy mainstay for a number of good teams. Our Tom Warman thinks that it's a better option to buy Cashner over Bauer, and I agree with him.

Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians

How much does it hurt to get hit by a major league fastball, you guys? Cleveland's third baseman of the future got absolutely drilled by a Troy Patton pitch back on June 27, and the result was a fractured ulna. If that wasn't bad enough, Chisenhall recently required surgery to repair the injury on Sunday, and now looks to miss ten to twelve weeks. In other words, he'll be back LONG after the All-Star Break.

Though Jack Hannahan has gotten the bulk of time at the hot corner for the Tribe this season, Chisenhall is still a top prospect and young position player. Chizz had actually been playing pretty okay recently, despite a complete unwillingness or inability to draw a walk (one walk in 74 plate appearances). He's managed three home runs in 24 games in 2012, and had posted a wRC+ of 104, putting him slightly above league average in terms of overall offensive performance in this small sample. Though his plate discipline issues are troubling, there's still potential for him to be a solid fantasy regular due to his latent power.

For your fantasy squad, here's the nitty-gritty. In a normal 5x5 redraft league, he's a drop, if you had him on your team for some reason. In any redraft league, he's a drop. In any OBP league, keeper or non-keeper, he's probably a drop. That OBP is going to be straight up ugly for most of his career. In a deep AL-only, mixed, or dynasty league, you may want to hold on to him on your DL, but you'll still probably need a replacement.

Might I suggest Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds? Frazier is absolutely murdering the ball of late, and now has 8 HR on the season and a wicked slash line of .278/.344/.562(!) to go with a load of R and RBI. Though he might lose playing time once Scott Rolen's back from his injury, Frazier has hit at every level and should continue to thrive in the majors. Oh, and he's also still available in almost every ESPN league given his 0.6% ownership rate.

Quick Hits: Chris Carpenter is going to have surgery to address his (ominous-sounding) thoracic outlet syndrome, and will miss the rest of the season. Basically, there's too much compression of his blood vessels and nerves in his shoulder and upper body. While it sounds terrible, Carpenter is confident that he'll return for the 2013 tilt. ... Matt Kemp is likely to begin his rehab assignment in the next day or so. This is important for fantasy fans and for the Dodgers, who, to put it bluntly, are a terrible offensive team without him. In all likelihood we'll see Kemp in Chavez Ravine, you guessed it, immediately following the All-Star Break. ... Ian Stewart of the Cubs will miss the rest of the season with surgery on his wrist. I guess we'll all have to wait until next year to continue being disappointed by his performance. Stewart appears to have lost all fantasy value entirely, and will probably be displaced next season by Luis Valbuena or Josh Vitters. ... Giancarlo Stanton has had lingering knee soreness all season long, but it finally caused him to take a rest on Tuesday. Stanton doesn't believe that this will affect any other games going forward, the Home Run Derby, or the All-Star Game. But you may want to keep an eye on this.

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Closer Updates: Giants, Red Sox, Twins

For the latest breaking stories in the #untuck fad that's gripping the nation, be sure to follow @closernews on Twitter.

Sergio Romo has been breaking hearts for a couple years running, it seems. Every time a Giants closer hits a rough patch, Romo's admirers become giddy at the possibility of the right-hander taking over the ninth inning. Indeed, the prospect of owning a closer who strikes out 11.51 per nine and boasts a 2.17 SIERA is quite exciting. Except, here we are, and circumstances have yet to conspire for the right-hander to take the reins.

The latest rash of Romo hysteria has broken out over the past couple weeks, as incumbent Santiago Casilla has slumped to some extent after getting out of the gates better than any of his owners could have hoped for in taking over for the injured Brian Wilson. Casilla coughed up runs in three consecutive outings from June 22-24, then wasn't exactly sharp in his next two outings, on June 26 and on Sunday.

So, is Romo a must-add? Well, he's good enough to be owned in many non-holds leagues based on his ridiculous strikeout rates, ratios, and the possibility of him snatching up the odd save here and there, but this seems a perfect opportunity to gently remind you saves vultures that Romo is rather fra-gee-lay -- and the Giants handle him accordingly.

From this, I think we can divine a couple inferences. First, without a no-brainer alternative to Casilla, I don't think the Giants are especially motivated to make a change -- nor should they be, as Casilla has pitched well (3.01 SIERA) overall despite his recent struggles. Secondly, even if the Giants were to demote Casilla, it might only elevate Romo to some kind of ninth-inning platoon along with Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez in order to limit Romo's workload. Note that Romo has logged only 22 2/3 innings to Casilla's 31 -- and the latter even missed a week or so due to a minor injury.

The bottom line is, Romo is a nice own, but don't break your neck to acquire him if he's already off your wire, and if you do get your mitts on him, don't expect him to produce any more than a handful of saves in the second half.

Red Sox
After a minor setback a couple weeks back, Andrew Bailey has resumed his rehabilitation from the right thumb surgery he underwent earlier this year. The right-hander is long-tossing and nearing bullpen sessions, and if those go well, he would then be cleared to begin a minor league rehab assignment. In my amateur assessment, I'm thinking that should put him on track for a mid- or late-July return, barring setbacks, of course.

Interestingly, though, manager Bobby Valentine recently declined to commit to making Bailey the Red Sox's closer upon his return from the DL.

I can't hold it against Bobby V. for wanting to show a little faith in Aceves while Bailey's return is still a ways off, but I'm calling bull on this. Boston acquired Bailey to close, and though Aceves has overall been decent this year (3.20 SIERA), there's some room for improvement there. Not to mention, Aceves has been a swing man throughout his career, so he's probably best deployed as a long reliever and occasional spot-starter, anyway.

There's not much action fantasy owners should take right now. Aceves should still be owned, of course, but Bailey's looming return makes me quite uncomfortable about Aceves' long-term prospects, so risk-averse owners may want to cash out while Bailey's comeback is far enough off the radar. Bailey should be owned, too, and if he's languishing on your wire, snatch him up and stash him on your DL/bench with the quickness.

Fantasy owners (and Twins fans) rejoice: Matt Capps' return may not be far off! Jokes, jokes. The right-hander is targeting the Twins' first game back from the All-Star break to make his highly anticipated return from the DL, which is probably on the shorter side of things considering he was dealing with the dreaded shoulder inflammation.

The Jared Burton-Glen Perkins platoon has gone smoothly for the Twins but annoyingly for fantasy owners who own only one of those fellows. However, I'd expect the Twins to reinstall Capps as their closer once he's back, if for no other reason than because they overlooked his mediocrity in naming him their stopper out of Spring Training and stuck with him before his injury despite so-so results. Maybe they're loyal to a fault, or maybe they just see something in Capps the rest of us don't.

That being said, Capps remains a trade candidate leading up to this month's deadline, and while I have a hard time imagining any team being motivated to acquire him, stranger things have happened. In which case, we might be right back to square one: another Burton-Perkins platoon? Ugh.

Mets manager Terry Collins said injured closer Frank Francisco will likely reclaim closing duties from interim stopper Bobby Parnell upon his return from the DL. I'm taking Collins at face value on this one. ... Rays righty Kyle Farnsworth is back from the DL and, as promised, not closing. It would take a deep Fernando Rodney slump and a prolonged period of excellence for K-Farns to get back into the ninth, from where I sit.

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Silver League Update: Running With It

Like most of us who play fantasy baseball, I like to think I look at baseball form an analytical, sabermetric angle. When I evaluate a player, I try not to look at output stats like wins, runs, RBIs, and such. We all know how little a pitcher has to do with how many runs his team scores (unless he's Micah Owings or Babe Ruth), and I don't care how often you get on base, you probably won't score too many runs in the next two hitters in your lineup are Chone Figgins and...any other Mariner. Going into this season, I had the attitude that the final runs scored and RBI totals were going to be little more than a crapshoot and the best anyone can do is to draft good hitters in good lineups and hope for the best.

Well, now I'm sitting in twelfth in runs scored (just eleventh in RBIs!) and I'm starting to wonder if maybe there's something I should have known earlier.

Trying to be fair to myself, I figured that batting order could matter a little, and parks too, so I wasn't surprised at all to see Ian Kinsler topping the runs scored chart with 59. Kinsler's got everything you'd expect out of a great run scorer: awesome hitter, great park, great lineup, and leading off. The only thing he's missing is a top-notch OBP. Following him on the list, though, is Carlos Gonzalez, who doesn't hit leadoff. He's got all the other factors, though without Troy Tulowitzki to hit behind him, I wonder if he'll slip further down the leaderboard as the season progresses. The next two hitters on the list are David Ortiz and Jose Bautista, two more middle-of-the-lineup hitters. It's worth noting that these hitters play for four of the top five run-scoring teams in baseball, and all but Bautista play in parks that have increased runs so far this season.

The rest of the top run scorers are -- unsurprisingly --a bit of a mixed bag. You've got superstars like Joey Votto and Robinson Cano next to players like Melky Cabrera and Alejandro De Aza. There are two Yankees on the list and three Rangers, but Giants and A's make it on too. Speedsters like Elvis Andrus are right there with power hitters like Josh Hamilton. Let's face it, there are plenty of ways to score a run. Aside from all being good hitters (or at least off to good starts) the ting most of these hitters have in common is that they fall into one of two groups: top of the order hitters (mostly with speed), and middle of the order power hitters.

Not everything that's true for the very best will run true for the middle of the pack players that can end up making so much difference, let alone the free agents you can use to bolster your team now. Diving further into the information, I see three players among the top 50 run scorers (that is, the second page of Yahoo! stats) that are owned in fewer than half of all leagues. Carlos Pena (44% ownership, 44 runs scored), Zach Cozart (26%, 43 runs), and Marco Scutaro (34%, 41 runs). Pena will kill your average, but those runs are a nice complement to his homers. Cozart plays short and helps in a category; that's better than you can say for plenty at his position. Scutaro might be the most desirable of the three. Yahoo! has conveniently placed him right next to Derek Jeter, whom he trails by just three homers, one RBI, and thirteen points of batting average. With Coors Field and two positions of eligibility, grab him if you're in one of those 66% of leagues where he's available. 

I thought about looking at the top run scorers among likely free agents, but that doesn't honestly seem very helpful -- just because a player has scored some runs this season, doesn't mean he'll keep scoring them at the same pace. Assuming for a moment, that all or almost all middle of the order hitters are taken in most fantasy leagues, let's take a look at some leadoff and number two hitters that might be available and ready to score some runs. The following hitters are owned in 80% of leagues or more, and bat near the top of their respective lineups. It's not exactly a group of All-Stars, but at least I've weeded out the Willie Bloomquists of the world.

Jordan Schafer (21% owned--I'm already cheating a little)
Gordon Beckham (19%)
Denard Span (18%)
Kirk Nieuwenhuis (14%)
Gregor Blanco (8%)
Norichika Aoki (7%)
David DeJesus (4%)
Mark Ellis (3%)

Yeah...I said they weren't All-Stars. They can have some value, though, and in a category like runs you can only help yourself on the margins with free agents. Some of them are better pickups than others. Schafer is a pretty prolific base stealer and Beckham sort of has that old upside. DeJesus is the outfielder who (supposedly) won't be losing playing time to Anthony Rizzo. Leading off, Aoki stands to benefit if the Brewers get things in gear over the next couple weeks. If they sell, you probably won't want too much to do with him, though. Ellis was scoring pretty well before he got hurt and  should be back soon--extra use for those of us in MI leagues.

Nieuwehhuis and Blanco have been the most successful so far, but I'm the most wary of those two. Nieuwenhuis (doesn't he have a nickname yet?) is likely to keep regressing, and the contending Giants might think of Blanco's lineup spot as a place to improve at the deadline. 

While you're looking for hitters on the waiver wire, don't forget to think about how their environments might change this month. 

Runs scored -- as I'm learning -- isn't an easy category to prepare for, but it might be even harder to improve midseason. The best news I can think of is that it is such a volatile category. A hitter with lots of homers is pretty likely to keep on homering. A hitter with lots of runs...it's a little harder to tell. Finally, if you really need the help on the margins, considering adding a platoon hitter -- or flat out streaming at bats. 




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This Week In Streaming Strategy, July 2-8

The favorite fantasy column of both Kenny Rogers AND Dolly Parton, it's This Week In Streaming Strategy!  Okay, well, I can't guarantee that.  Kenny probably prefers the Silver League updates, the silver-bearded son-of-a-gun that he is.  Anyway, onto this week's best and worst streaming options...

* Homer Bailey.  It was only back in 2007 that Baseball America tapped Bailey as the fifth-best prospect in baseball, followed up by his #9 placement the next season.  The former seventh-overall pick hasn't converted on that potential yet but he's at least turned into a capable big league starter and this week, even a good fantasy streaming option.  This season, Bailey's homer-friendly stadium in Cincinnati hasn't been very Homer-friendly, as he owns a 5.22 ERA in eight starts at the Great American Ballpark.  On the road, however, Bailey has a 3.09 ERA in seven outings, and this week will pitch in the very hurler-friendly confines of Petco Park and Dodger Stadium.  Hey, speaking of which....

* Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter, Trevor Cahill, Trevor Bauer.  Of these six, Cueto, Miley and Cahill are almost certainly gone in your league, but check to see if the others are hanging around on the waiver wire -- only 46% of Yahoo fantasy owners have picked up promising rookie Bauer, and Leake & Collmenter are owned by just 12% and 4% of owners, respectively.  Why am I hyping these six starters, plus Bailey?  Because they're all scheduled to face the ice-cold Los Angeles Dodgers this week.  L.A. has lost 11 of their last 12 games and have been shut out an embarrassing five times in their last six games.  With Matt Kemp still on the DL and Andre Ethier struggling, the weak Dodgers lineup has lost their two tentpoles, leaving behind an offense that scored only 83 runs in 28 June games and hit just six homers.  I repeat, the ENTIRE TEAM COMBINED hit six homers in a FULL MONTH.  Twenty-nine individual players hit six or more homers in June, for pete's sake.  Needless to say, the Dodgers have surpassed even the Mariners and Padres as the ideal opponent to stream a pitcher against.  Things won't improve for the men in blue until Kemp returns, Ethier gets it going or maybe if Carlos Lee decides to come aboard.  That must be a fun recruiting call for Ned Colletti.  "Hey Carlos, remember the 1906 White Sox?  They won the World Series!  Lightning can strike twice, baby!"

* Ricky Romero.  I need to advise against Romero this week just to get the bad taste out of my mouth from his three-inning, eight-run disasterpiece last Wednesday in Boston.  I own Romero in a league and had every intention of sitting him since he's been struggling and Boston is his worst opponent.  A no-brainer benching, right?  Well, it is unless you forget the game was a matinee start, so I had the fun experience of checking the box score in mid-afternoon and seeing my life flash before my eyes.  Romero is a two-start option this week and if you haven't already given up on the Blue Jays ace, it may be safe to do so now.  Romero has a 4.94 ERA and is on pace for a career-low K/9 and a career-high BB/9.  (His record, however, is 8-2, which is yet more evidence to prove that win-loss records are a mirage.)  The southpaw was pegged by some as a regression candidate after his strong 2011 season due to unimpressive peripherals and sure enough, Romero has fallen back to earth with a thud.  He's scheduled to start this week on the road against the Royals and White Sox, and while neither club hits lefties particularly well, I wouldn't start Romero against a high school team at this point.  Streaming tip: don't forget, that second start against Chicago is an AFTERNOON GAME.

* Tim Lincecum.  Freak owners everywhere were ecstatic following Lincecum's seven shutout innings against the Dodgers last Wednesday, as it was the type of vintage-Timmy performance that has been all too rare in this rough season for the Giants ace.  Lincecum is set to make two starts this week, but I wouldn't quite jump back on his bandwagon yet.  As noted, his Wednesday start was against the punchless Dodgers.  That game was also in San Francisco, where Lincecum has been okay this season (3.99 ERA in eight starts), whereas his two starts this week are on the road, where Lincecum has a horrid 7.59 ERA in eight outings this season.  Lincecum is slated to face two ostensibly weak lineups in Washington and Pittsburgh (more on that in a second), but I'd keep the Freak on a leash for Tuesday just to see if he's really back or not.

* Neil Walker, Michael McKenry.  In my last column of May, I advised against having any Pirate besides Andrew McCutchen on your fantasy roster given how the Bucs were collectively delivering a terrible offensive season.  Naturally, the Pirates then went on to score the most runs (146) of any Major League team in the month of June.  It's been a stunning turn of events for the Pirates, who have benefited from McCutchen continuing his MVP-caliber performance as well as streaky hitters like Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez (a streaming pick from last week) both heating up at the same time.  I want to focus on McKenry and Walker, however, as the former is a good streaming pick and Walker is a better longer-term answer.  McKenry has hit well while filling in for the injured Rod Barajas and if he keeps it up, may win at least a share of the starting job given that Barajas hasn't produced much this season.  McKenry has a solid .265/.357/.453 career line in six minor league seasons and at age 27, who knows, he could be a breakout candidate if given the playing time.  If not, then you can at least ride him for another six or seven days until he cools off.  As for Walker, he posted just a .620 OPS over his first 38 games of 2012 but a .284/.358/.411 line in 36 games since, returning to his status as a quality fantasy option at second base.  Walker is owned in just 46% of Yahoo leagues, so there's still opportunity to snatch him up.

* Jim Thome.  Finally, we can't forget the newest Baltimore Oriole, whose fantasy value has skyrocketed since yesterday's trade.  Thome will once again see regular at-bats as Baltimore's DH against right-handed pitching, and as fate would have it, the Orioles are set to face righty starters in six of seven games this week.  It's worth noting that the O's are in two pitcher-friendly parks this week (three games at Safeco Field, four at Angel Stadium) but even still, if you're looking for a big bat on the waiver wire, try to grab Thome unless another manager in your league has beaten you to the punch.

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