August 2012

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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's Stock Watch correctly anticipated that the path to Boston's closer job was opening for Andrew Bailey but also recommended selling Andre Ethier right before a hot streak in which he had consecutive 4-for-4 games.  Hopefully this week's edition is less of a mixed bag:

Buy

  • Casey Kelly - After an incredible 39 to 3 strikeout to walk ratio in the minor leagues, including 14 strikeouts to zero walks in 12 innings for AAA, Kelly moved into the Padres rotation this week with a solid six innings and zero run performance.  The Padres have a juicy schedule for pitchers with 15 of their remaining 27 games at home this season, and six of the away games in LA or SF.  Grab Kelly off waivers now but leave him on your bench for Saturday's start in Colorado.
  • Pedro Alvarez - A notoriously streaky hitter, Alvarez is hot again and capable of carrying an offense for a week or two.  Alvarez has three home runs and seven RBIs in his last two games, and is owned in less than half of Yahoo leagues.
  • Ronald Belisario and Brandon League - With Kenley Jansen sidelined indefinitely and potentially missing the remainder of the season (he missed almost a month last season with a heart related condition), owners should be quick to pounce on Jansen's replacement.  The Dodgers have indicated that Belisario and League will share the closer role for now, but either could run with the job.
  • Josh Donaldson - Owned in only 5% of Yahoo leagues, Donaldson has home runs in back-to-back games and is worth rostering as a second or third catcher while he is hot.
  • A.J. Ellis - As owners in daily leagues stream hitters to maximize games played, catcher is the position where hitters can be freely streamed without concern for approaching the standard 162-game cap.  Ellis is a good streaming option as he was dropped in many leagues after a hot start but has turned it on in August by hitting .293 with three home runs and twelve RBIs.
  • Adam Lind - With a demotion to the minors earlier in the season, Lind has become a largely forgotten source for power.  However, Lind is back and hitting cleanup for the Blue Jays yet is owned in only 21% of Yahoo leagues.  Owners fighting for points in HRs and RBIs to finish the year should claim Lind where available.
  • Trayvon Robinson - On the other hand, owners looking for speed should pick up Robinson from waivers.  Yahoo is showing a 0% ownership rate for Robinson, yet he has three steals in the last three games after collecting 19 steals and 9 home runs in 381 plate appearances for AAA this season.
  • Shelby Miller - After beginning the season slowly, Miller has been downright filthy at AAA since July 30 with a 52 to 4 strikeout to walk ratio in 38 1/3 innings pitched.  The Cardinals have indicated they are planning on recalling Miller when rosters expand and the top prospect should be preemptively claimed in leagues where minor league players can be picked up.

Sell

  • Tommy Hanson - After giving up three earned runs with eight hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings in Petco during his last start, owners in 12-team mixed leagues can drop Hanson to stream starters with good matchups or to claim a needed hitter.  Hanson has pitched more than 5 1/3 innings in only one of his last seven starts, and he has been hit around in all three starts since returning from the disabled list with an ugly 5.74 ERA and 1.85 WHIP.  


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Three September Call-Ups To Watch For

The calendar turns over to September this Saturday, meaning clubs will expand their rosters and call-up extra players for the stretch run. Most September call-ups are spare parts - third catchers, extra left-handed relievers, etc. - but every so often a team will bring a top prospect to the big leagues and give him a month's worth of playing time. David Price and Francisco Rodriguez are the two most notable September call-ups in recent memory, as both went on to become key components of a deep playoff run. Impact like that is the exception though, not the rule. Here are three high-end prospects who could make their way to the big leagues next month and actually have some fantasy value...

Jurickson Profar | SS | Texas Rangers

The 19-year-old wunderkind from Curacao has emerged as baseball's top prospect this summer. Profar has hit .280/.367/.452 with 14 homers and 16 steals in Double-A this season, which is insane production given his age relative to the competition. It's worth noting that he's played some games at second base lately and in each of the last two games, he was used off the bench as a pinch-hitter. It's very possible the Rangers are preparing him for a call-up, though Jeff Wilson of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram says it may not happen until the end of the Double-A postseason.

Fantasy owners should keep the plight of Mike Olt in mind when considering Profar's fantasy impact. Texas called up their other elite prospect in early-August and he's gotten just 32 plate appearances so far, including only six starts in 26 team games. Perhaps things will be different later in September after the Rangers clinch a playoff berth, but I would be skeptical right now. Profar is a definite keeper long-term, but his 2012 impact may be severely limited.

Wil Myers | OF | Kansas City Royals

After starring at the Futures Game in Kansas City and for most of the season in Triple-A, the 21-year-old Myers may finally get a chance to crack the outfield in Kauffman Stadium next month. He's hit a whopping .307/.384/.589 with 35 homers in 568 total plate appearances, pretty much confirming that he's ready for the next level. Calling up Myers could require the team to either finally bench Jeff Francoeur or sit Lorenzo Cain, the latter of whom might actually have a future with the team. If he does get the call and does play everyday in some outfield position, Myers could be a nice little late-season boost for fantasy owners, potentially chipping in something like 5-6 homers the rest of the way. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Shelby Miller | SP | St. Louis Cardinals

Earlier this week Joe Strauss of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (on Twitter) that there is a "strong sentiment" within the organization to promote Miller, the 21-year-old flamethrower who's pitched to a 4.89 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 130 2/3 Triple-A innings this year. Those numbers aren't all that impressive overall, but the right-hander has a 57/4 K/BB in his last eight starts and seems to have figured some things out.

If the Cardinals do recall Miller next month, they'll have the option to use him out of the bullpen or instead of Joe Kelly in the rotation. I wouldn't count on him replacing Jason Motte as closer, so he would have the most fantasy value as a starter. The September schedule is loaded with intra-division games as always, meaning a whole lotta games against the lowly Astros and Cubs. St. Louis also has a West Coast swing through San Diego and Los Angeles on their slate, adding two top pitcher's parks into the mix. Miller definitely offers some impact potential going forward, assuming the club actually decides to call him up and insert him into the rotation down the stretch.



Injury Watch: A Long Look To 2013

Today's Injury Watch is here to give you a little bit of guidance, not just for the end of 2012, but we'll also look at some injuries that may affect player performance all the way to 2013.

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

Just a few months ago, Jose Bautista was the king of Canadian baseball. Possessed of otherworldly power, baseballs screamed in fear as they rocketed off his bat and soared into the stands at the Rogers Centre. This week, baseballs everywhere rejoiced, as word came out that Bautista would miss the rest of the season with surgery on his bothersome left wrist. The surgery to address tendon inflammation in the wrist will take place sometime next week.

As I've mentioned in previous articles, one simply does not replace Jose Bautista's production in fantasy by scouring the waiver wire or shuffling their lineup. Bautista is simply too good, and too important. And heaven help you if you were running him out there at 3B, because the prognosis is not good for replacing him with anything. (Brett Wallace, maybe? Is Chipper Jones on the wire?)

What you should begin to consider, is where Jose Bautista might end up on draft boards for 2013, or under what circumstances you might want to keep him. The short version is, don't go overboard, but you may want to drop him a few spots from where you were going to project him before the injury. And where you should have projected him before the injury is probably a few spots lower than where you drafted him this year.

Last season, Bautista brought something exceptionally valuable to the table: third base eligibility. In 2013, he'll be an outfielder only in most leagues (perhaps a first baseman in leagues with flexible eligibility rules). Bautista is also aging, and his power production has slipped from its heights in 2010-2011 this season. Lastly, wrist and hand injuries do tend to sap power, even after the player is back in the lineup. Now, given that Joey Bats will have the entire offseason to recover, its more than likely that there will be no long, lingering effects. But it's also possible that there will be. And Jose Bautista with diminished power isn't a second-round draft pick in fantasy. He's just another mid-to-upper-tier outfielder. So be cautious when looking to pick him up in the offseason. While you might get a good value if you buy low and Bautista rebounds, you also might be investing in a diminishing product.

Yadier Molina, Cardinals

Cardinals fans, I don't want to worry you overmuch, so hear me out before you freak out. Yadi was involved in a collision at home plate last night, and left the game with a possible concussion. As of right now, Yadi is day-to-day, but given how concussions and their symptoms affect different people in different ways, there's a non-zero chance that this injury could linger as the season finishes up.

The reason I've shoehorned Yadier into this idea of players who could be affected by their injury in 2013, is that concussions are scary business, and post-concussion symptoms can stick with a player for years. Jason Bay, Justin Morneau, and Brian Roberts are all players who lost considerable time on the field, and dealt with concussion issues during off-seasons. Again, Molina still hasn't shown that he has severe symptoms, or anything of the like, but if he does, there's a chance that these could carry over to another season.

Replacing Molina in your fantasy lineup is kind of a foolish enterprise, because he's pretty amazing. He's posted a 145 wRC+ this season, easily the best of his career, while hitting for improved power, and even stealing double-digit bases. Among regular catchers, only Carlos Ruiz and Buster Posey are hitting better than Yadier, and Ruiz is languishing on the DL. Quite frankly, he's gone from being an ok-starter in fantasy to an elite option, only hurt by his lack of top-end numbers and some average context stats (R and RBI).

As a temporary Yadier fix, I'd look to Erik Kratz. Kratz, who usually sits at third or lower on the Phillies' depth chart at catcher, has been just crushing the ball since getting playing time at Citizens Bank Park. He's already managed 7 HR in just 95 PA, and with Carlos Ruiz still a little while from returning to Philly, he should get plenty of opportunities to beat up on September pitching callups during September. While Kratz is unlikely to stay this hot, and is even more unlikely to hit for a Molina-esque batting average, he'll still plug in pretty well in your fantasy lineup.

Quick Hits: Matt Kemp slammed into an outfield wall during Tuesday's game, injuring his jaw, knee, and chin. He's only likely to sit out a couple of games, but I think most Dodger fans got a good scare out of this collision. ... Fellow Dodger Chad Billingsley has found himself on the DL with right elbow pain, which is definitely not good news as the Dodgers attempt to lock themselves into a playoff spot. ... Mike Napoli is still not feeling 100% in his left quad, so his recovery may take a bit longer than expected. ... Two Mets starters, Dillon Gee and Johan Santana, are both expected to miss the rest of the season. Gee received good news on an angiogram in his right shoulder artery, and Santana has lower back inflammation, but the out-of-contention Mets won't rush either pitcher back. ... Ben Sheets is back to the DL, which may cut his comeback short for the season. Sheets is dealing with right shoulder inflammation, and his 15-day DL start date was August 25. Rays bopper Matt Joyce left the game on Tuesday with a forearm strain, and he's day-to-day for the time being. ... Lance Berkman looks to be ready to return soon from his knee injuries, as he played first base in his fourth Triple-A rehab game yesterday. ... Joey Votto is finally playing in rehab games, as he attempts to return to the Reds following a meniscus tear in his knee. ... Placido Polanco should be ready to play any day now, but Kevin Fransden might've stolen his starting spot at third base. That's gotta be kind of depressing for both Polanco and Phillies fans.


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Closers: Red Sox, Padres

As soon as you're done with your three-game suspension, be sure to check out @closernews on Twitter for the up-to-the-minute updates on breaking bullpen situations.

Red Sox
Andrew Bailey's tough debut season in Boston might actually be ending on a high note. Alfredo Aceves? Not so much. Bailey, only a couple weeks back from a season-long stint on the disabled list, appears poised to overtake Aceves as Red Sox closer.

In a very small sample of just 5 1/3 innings through Monday's action, Bailey's peripherals have been underwhelming. But he's mostly managed to keep runs off the board, posting a 1.69 ERA. That's not enough of a sample for us to definitively declare that the old Bailey has returned, but often times, perception is reality in the bullpen's version of 'Game of Thrones,' and the fact is that Bailey's surface stats indicate that he is back on top of his game.

Aceves, meanwhile, has seen an otherwise decent season go completely off the rails over the past month. In fact, as recently as the tail end of Bailey's minor league rehab stint, I touted Aceves as likely to hold onto his job, what with there being little incentive for an out-of-contention team to demote an adequate closer. But since then, Aceves' ERA has jumped from 3.57 to 4.60. Since Aug. 1, the right-hander has posted a 10.24 ERA in 9 2/3 innings of work, with 10 strikeouts, 13 hits and four walks. Oof. The timing, of course, couldn't have been worse, what with Bailey -- whom the team anointed its closer of the future when it acquired him in an offseason trade with the Athletics -- looming as his rehab stint wound down. Then, Aceves' on-field frustrations culminated in off-field mishap -- some kind of door-slamming altercation with manager Bobby Valentine -- which resulted in a team-imposed three-game suspension. When it rains it pours, Alfredo.

Valentine, as he is wont to do, has been coy about Bailey's and Aceves' respective roles once the latter's disciplinary sabbatical has run its course (he should be back in uniform Tuesday night). But the tea leaves all point toward Bailey seeing the lion's share, if not all, of the team's save chances for the season's balance. He wields knockout stuff when he's on top of his game, and as mentioned earlier, Boston acquired him last offseason with designs on having him pitch the ninth, a role he manned capably for the A's in his three seasons with them. Aceves, on the other hand, was thrust into closing mostly by chance when Bailey went down with his injury and Mark Melancon was demoted to the minors after a horrible start to the season. In fact, Aceves is a former starter whom the Red Sox probably had pegged as a long reliever/emergency starter.

Finally, it's worth noting that the Red Sox are in reboot mode now since the trade that relieved them of Adrian Gonzalez's, Carl Crawford's and Josh Beckett's respective burdensome contracts, so the thinking here is that they'll probably be looking to put every player in his right place with an eye toward 2013. Bailey's place is almost certainly closing; Aceves' may be on another team, as he's clearly fallen out of favor.

Aceves owners should hold on till he's been activated and officially given the boot, but in the meantime, Bailey should be scooped up in all leagues. This situation shouldn't take more than a couple days to resolve itself.

Padres
Speaking of being done dirty, poor Dale Thayer learned that interim closerships apparently wait for no man, woman or child, as Friars manager Bud Black has suddenly taken a liking to Luke Gregerson in the ninth inning. LG first earned a save on Sunday while Thayer was still on the paternity list. Easy enough. But Dale-lightful was back in uniform on Monday, and with a save situation taking shape for the Padres in the latter innings of their tilt against the Braves, Black called upon Thayer to set up in the eighth before handing the ninth-inning save chance off to Gregerson, who converted. Interesting.

Gregerson's saga has been a weird one. He boasts "closer stuff" but has been passed over in favor of the journeyman Thayer for closing duties during both of Huston Street's DL stints this season. Well, "passed over" may not be an accurate way to phrase it. Recall that Gregerson was given first crack at closing for the Padres during Street's first DL stay, but he blew the save. Enter Thayer. When Street went down for a second time, there was no such opportunity to be had for Gregerson; the Padres simply handed over closing duties to Thayer.

So, why the aversion to Gregerson in the first place, and why have the Padres seemingly had a change of heart now? One fairly common response to the first question is that Gregerson's reliance on the arm-taxing slider renders him a less-than-ideal candidate to be pegged to the constraints of a narrowly defined role like closing, which could call for him to pitch three or sometimes four days in a row. However, he's pitched on three consecutive days four times this season, which isn't excessive but is plenty enough to prove the Padres aren't shy about doing it. Maybe the Padres felt like he didn't have the mental makeup to handle the gig after he blew the aforementioned save? And the second question of this mystery is equally perplexing. Perhaps the Friars simply realized that Gregerson is a better pitcher than Thayer? (he is)

In any event, all the debate may not amount to much. Street is expected to soon begin a minor league rehab stint, after which he should return to closing. In the meanwhile, Gregerson is a worth an add if you're duking it out for every last save you can get your hands on. Thayer owners should sit tight for one more save chance to see how it plays out, but if he's skipped over again, cut away.



Silver League Update: Into a New ERA (AL Edition)

Sometime soon, September will be upon us. September, with expanded rosters, rookie cups of coffee, real-life playoff chases, and teams jumping into and dropping out of contention left and right. Head-to-head leaguers will be in the thick of their own playoffs, shuffling their pitchers around the machinations of first-place teams who are trying to set their rotations for the postseason, and cellar-dwellers giving AA-level pitchers a look and resting their (and your) rotation regulars. Yeah, fantasy baseball gets a little more complicated next month, and most of us are already past our last chance to make trades.

Last week, I tagged a few NL pitchers whose schedules might help them put up good ERAs over the next few weeks. Some of them are talented enough to deserve ownership on merit ... and others are Joe Blanton. I don't know what's going on with him, but I'm done recommending that pitching in Los Angeles and the NL West will help him be useful. Now that I've admitted that, he'll be pitching a perfect game soon, just watch.

This week, we'll do the same thing, but with AL pitchers. If the Silver League has split into two tiers: the teams that might win (the E-Z Sliders and the Spirit of St. Louis), and everybody else, I'm near the bottom of everybody else. (But not at the bottom!) In recent weeks, my ERA has skyrocketed to just third-worst in the league, and I'd love to keep that trend going. Whether you're playing to salvage pride or win the whole league and a big stack of cash, here are some pitchers that should be able to help out down the stretch. At the least, their schedules are set up for them to succeed.

Carlos Villanueva (26%) 

I wasn't expecting to recommend any Blue Jays in this article, even though Villanueva might be one of the most under-owned pitchers out there right now. I figured their schedule would be a lot tougher looking than it is, but the Orioles (19th best offense, six games against) have been winning with smoke and mirrors, and the Rays (21st, seven games) have been winning with pitching. That actually sandwiches them around the Pirates for runs scored. You've still got the Red Sox (where at least you could get an ugly win) and the Yankees to worry about, so I'd leave your Jays on the bench for those games. As a bonus, the schedule gods granted the Jays three games against Minnesota (15th) and three against Seattle (26th). Oddly, all the favorable games come in September, so you might want to wait a bit before depending on either of these guys, but that's good news for the playoffs.

Brett Anderson (22%), Daniel Straily (6%) and Travis Blackley (3%)
As spacious as O.co Coliseum is, it makes almost every home game a favorable one for A's pitchers. Combine their home games with games at Angel Stadium and Safeco Field--which have been even easier on hitters this year--and they'll play 18 of their 28 September games in friendly confines. Of course, the Angels (5th best offense) have been able to hit this year, so tread carefully. The Mariners (26th, lowest in the AL) are another story, especially at Safeco, so their games are a great bet, and the A's will play them six times in September. They also have three games against Cleveland (22nd) before August ends.

Hisashi Iwakuma (17%), Blake Beavan (6%), and Kevin Millwood (4%)
Just as A's pitchers can be favorable options for the stretch run, so can any pitchers that play them. Their offense is 25th, second-worst in the AL. As I mentioned above, the Mariners will play them six times in September. Safeco Field helps pitchers so much that it really does make any start there a pretty favorable one. Though I'd be wary of playing Iwakuma, Beavan, or Millwood against the Red Sox (3rd best), even at home, the Mariners' other 14 games in Seattle ought to help your ERA. Just don't expect too many wins....

Scott Feldman (11%)
Do you know what's so great about pitching for Texas? It's not their home park of course--it's their homes away from home...and the offenses that live there. They get six games each against the Mariners (26th) and A's (25th), half of which will be on the road. I know, that's not all that impressive. Some Septembers the Rangers get to play all their games against the A's and Mariners. This year's good news comes in the form of a two-week road trip to begin the month against the Indians (22nd), the Rays (17th), and the Royals (23rd). They get three more games against the Tribe at home, leaving them with just three home games that aren't against one of the worst offenses in the league. It's such a good schedule that I'd actually consider trading for Ryan Dempster in leagues that still allow trades. His owner probably won't ask much for him. Derek Holland is owned in 52% of leagues, but if it's not yours, I might just snatch him up.

With all this action in the AL West (thank you Oakland and Seattle), you'd think I'd mention some Angels pitchers...but they're probably all owned in your league, and except for Jared Weaver, going through some serious struggles. If you still have time, go ahead and pry Zack Greinke or Dan Haren from a frustrated owner and watch the waiver wire if any Angels pitchers get hurt.

I wanted to say good things about the idea of picking up Alex Cobb, but there is nothing friendly about the Rays' schedule. Just say no.

Zach McAllister (10%)
The Indians' schedule isn't uniformly favorable, but McAllister has already shown more this year than quite a few of the pitchers I've mentioned so far. Also, Progressive Field has played as a pretty good pitcher's park this year. Starting this week, the Tribe has four games against the A's (25th), and they play seven games against the Twins (15th) and Royals (23rd) before September ends. Unfortunately, they also get six each against the Rangers (1st), White Sox (6th), and Tigers (10th), so you'll have to pick your starts carefully. 

Rick Porcello (8%)
Not being one of the bad teams in the AL Central, the Tigers have a pretty favorable schedule coming up. They'll play the Indians (22nd) six times, the A's (25th) three times, the Twins (15th) six times, and the Royals (23rd) a whopping ten times before the season ends. That's good news if you own any Tiger starter, even one struggling as badly as Anibal Sanchez, and it might just make Porcello--or Drew Smyly, if he stays in the rotation--worth grabbing.

As you might expect, the American League, with its DHs and better "quality of play" isn't as fertile territory for picking up mediocre starters with favorable schedules, but it gives a little better than nothing. There are definitely some names worth thinking about, with McAllister and Villanueva seeming like decent pitchers, Porcello and Feldman having really good schedules, and Brett Anderson just plain intriguing as he returns from injury into a pennant race and a favorable schedule. He'd be my number one choice going forward. Choices like these, and the other ones you'll make for the rest of the season don't come with a lot of certainty, they're about putting yourself in the position to get better luck than your opponents. 


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This Week In Streaming Strategy, Aug. 27-Sept. 2

I'm going to wait until next week's column to deal with the bounty of streaming possibilities that can stem from the September roster expansions, so it'll be seven days before we look at which unfortunate veterans will have their playing time slashed in favor of the hot new prospects.  It's probably bad marketing to promote the next week's column before getting into the actual column in front of you now, but hey, I'm no Don Draper.  (Though to my female readers, just so you know, I am basically a dead ringer for Don Draper.) 

Here are this week's streaming yays and nays...

* Brandon Moss, Seth Smith.  The A's are scheduled to face right-handed pitchers in their first five games of the week, so you can get some mileage out of the left-handed hitting sides of Oakland's 1B/DH platoons.  Moss has pretty severe splits (.891 oPS vs. righties, .577 OPS vs. lefties) but his emergence has been one of the many reasons why the Athletics are surprise wild card contenders.  As for Smith, he has long been a streaming favorite going back to his days in Colorado, carrying a career .869 OPS against righties and a meagre .590 OPS against southpaws.  Smith's .252/.358/.454 line against righties this season is a bit down from his career numbers but those are still solid numbers for a fantasy lineup.

* Chris Carter, Jonny Gomes.  Of course, with the A's facing all these right-handers, that means Carter and Gomes will platoon themselves onto the bench for much of the week.  Keep them out of your fantasy lineup until the weekend, when the A's are tentatively scheduled to face back-to-back southpaws in Jon Lester and Franklin Morales.  I say "tenatively" since apparently the Red Sox could trade anyone at any time.

* Josh Beckett.  Speaking of that huge Red Sox/Dodgers trade, Beckett's fantasy value shot right up with the news.  Not only did Beckett seem like a player in dire need of a change of scenery, that change brought him to the National League and a pitcher-friendly ballpark.  With all this being said, I would exercise some caution for Beckett's first start in Dodger blue, as it will come on Monday at Coors Field.  Unlike most pitchers, Beckett has solid numbers (3-0 with a 3.60 ERA in four career starts) in the thin air, but given how Beckett has pitched this year and how well the Rockies have hit right-handed pitching, I would exercise caution and keep Beckett on the bench.  Go ahead and start him for his second outing of the week, which will be at Dodger Stadium against the Diamondbacks on the weekend.

* James Loney.  Speaking of a change of scenery, could the much-maligned Loney get a bounce from moving to Fenway Park?  For all his struggles, Loney has always been able to hit right-handers fairly well (career .797 OPS against RHP) but even those splits have cratered this season, as he has just a .667 OPS against righties.  Also, Loney won't get much of a Fenway bump given that the Red Sox are on a west coast road trip in Anaheim and Oakland for the latter six days of the week.  I'm not going out on a limb in saying that Loney is a poor fantasy option and a change of uniform won't help matters...at least not this week.

* Bud Norris.  A Houston Astro having a tough year in 2012?  Shut the front door!  Norris has been something of a fantasy bust given his 5.19 ERA and 5-11 record, but these numbers bear closer examination.  Norris still has 130 strikeouts in 131 2/3 innings and his advanced metrics (3.94 SIERA, 4.09 xFIP, 4.37 FIP) indicate that he's been very unlucky...y'know, like he had the worst team in 10 years playing behind him or something.  If the advanced stats don't float your boat, consider simple home/away splits.  Norris has a 2.18 ERA in eight starts at Minute Maid Park and a garish 7.27 ERA in 15 road starts, so maybe Norris' real unluckiness comes from simply having his turn in the rotation come up way more often when the Astros are away from home.  Norris is set for two home starts this week against the Giants and Reds, and despite the stiff competition, Norris' home dominance make him a great two-start option.  He's owned in just 31% of Yahoo fantasy leagues so if you're in need of a streaming starter this week....unavoidable cliche alert....this Bud's for you!

* Derek Holland.  Another Texas-based starter gets my recommendation as a two-start option this week.  Holland's 4.92 ERA looks better in the light of a 4.05 SIERA but overall it's been a roller-coaster of a season for the young left-hander.  This week, however, he is set to face two of the league's worst lineups against left-handed pitching.  The Rays' .685 team OPS against southpaws ranks 22nd of 30 teams, while the downward spiral known as the Cleveland Indians are even worse, ranking 27th with a .659 team OPS.  A word of caution: Tampa Bay's numbers are skewed by having Evan Longoria absent for much of the season, so his presence will obviously make the Rays a tougher test for any lefty.  Overall I'd still feel comfortable starting Holland against the Rays on Monday and then it's all systems go against the Tribe on the weekend.


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's Stock Watch recommended claiming Jon Jay, and that has paid immediate dividends, as Jay went 10-for-25 with five runs and a steal since then.

Buy

  • Andrew Bailey - Unscored upon in his first three outings of the season, his path to the closer spot may have opened up on Thursday as Alfredo Aceves had an ugly meltdown by blowing a save while giving up five earned runs, including giving up two runs in the top of the 10th inning after Cody Ross hit a ninth-inning home run to get Boston to extra innings.
  • Tyler Colvin - With Michael Cuddyer back on the disabled list, Colvin has been getting everyday playing time and has been providing serious value to owners with three steals, four runs and a home run in the Rockies' four-game series against the Mets this week. Colvin has hit .362 with five steals, twelve runs and eleven RBIs in August, and is still owned in only 23% of Yahoo leagues.
  • David Murphy - Quietly hitting .312 and owned in only 22% of Yahoo! leagues, Murphy has been hot with seven runs, a home run and five RBIs in the last five games. Murphy has the best walk to strikeout ratio and highest line drive rate of his career.
  • Andrew Cashner - Working his way back from injury, Cashner threw two shutout innings in his last rehab appearance and could provide excellent strikeout rates just in time for the fantasy playoffs. Pluck him off waivers and stash until he returns to the rotation in September.
  • John Axford - He's back in the closer role with the Brewers, as manager Ron Roenicke indicated that Axford would see save opportunities going forward.  Pick Axford back off waivers in leagues where he was dropped after being demoted. Axford was a fantasy stud last season and should be fine going forward as his SIERA is 3.11 on the season and his strikeouts have increased from last year.
  • Daniel Straily - Bartolo Colon's suspension opens a rotation spot back up for minor league strikeout machine Straily.  
  • Zack Cozart - Turning it up since the calendar switched to August, Cozart is hitting .304 with four home runs, nine RBIs and 11 runs this month.  Cozart is hitting out of the lead-off spot in a good offense with a favorable home park, and could provide sneaky value from the MI slot the remainder of the season.

Sell

  •  Anibal Sanchez - After being dealt to the American League, Sanchez has been a fantasy bust with a 6.33 ERA and 1.85 WHIP in 27 innings.  Sanchez's strikeout rate is way down from 9.26 per nine innings last year to only 7.84 this season.  Not surprisingly, hitters are not swinging and missing as much this year as his swinging strike percentage is similarly down from 10.9% to 9.7%.
  • Andre Ethier - In leagues where the trading deadline has not passed, owners should look to take advantage of the disconnect between Ethier's popular name and poor recent production.  Ethier is hitting only .252 in the second half with two home runs, and he is suffering through the worst strikeout rate of his career this season.  


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D'Backs Turn To Skaggs As Latest Rotation Aid

The Diamondbacks came into the season with perhaps more high-end young pitching than any other team in baseball, and they've had a chance to cycle through pretty much all of it this year. Right-hander Archie Bradley is still several years away, but Patrick Corbin has settled in as a solid rotation fixture while the mega-hyped Trevor Bauer got a brief four-start audition earlier this summer. Yesterday Arizona turned to 21-year-old left-hander Tyler Skaggs to start game one of a doubleheader. He, like Corbin, was part of the Dan Haren trade, and yesterday's MLB debut featured two runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Marlins despite more walks (five) than strikeouts (four). Apparently it wasn't a one-start deal either...

Skaggs, 21, was considered the 13th best prospect in baseball before the season and the seventh best prospect at midseason by Baseball America. In their subscriber-only scouting report, they mention that he sits anywhere from 88-93 mph with the fastball and backs it up with two offspeed offerings: a sharp curveball "that's a true swing-and-miss pitch" and a changeup that is "at least an average pitch." PitchFX data from yesterday's game (available at Brooks Baseball) confirms Baseball America's report while noting that he also threw a handful of cutters as well.

Prior to being recalled, Skaggs pitched to a 2.87 ERA with 8.5 K/9 (23.1% of batters faced) and 2.7 BB/9 (7.4%) in 122 1/3 minor league innings. He made 13 starts with Double-A Mobile before moving up and making another nine with Triple-A Reno. This was the first year of his career in which he struck out fewer than a batter per inning, though few top prospects maintain their minor league 9+ K/9 in the show. Yesterday's five-walk, four-strikeout showing can be chalked up to jitters at this point, I see no reason to believe it's indicative of a long-term problem.

The D'Backs bounced Corbin back and forth between the rotation and bullpen and few times earlier this season, and right now Skaggs' role with the club is undefined. Veteran southpaw Joe Saunders is on trade waivers and prime candidate to be moved, so that could free up a rotation spot. The only left-hander in Arizona's bullpen at the moment is the shaky Mike Zagurski, who was designated for assignment and outrighted to Triple-A earlier this month only to be recalled when Takashi Saito was placed on the DL. If Saunders is not dealt, Skaggs could wind up working as a reliever for the next few weeks.

I like Skaggs quite a bit and think he could really help both the D'Backs and fantasy owners down the stretch. Certainly more than Saunders will, anyway. If they keep their young southpaw in the rotation, his next two starts figure to come on the road against the Dodgers and Padres, and those are two pretty decent matchups. If they stick him in the bullpen, then he's not worth a roster spot. It's not like he's going to usurp J.J. Putz or anything. Bauer's performance was disappointing given the hype, but I believe Skaggs is a better bet to have immediate impact given his lack of control and walk issues in the minors.



Injury Watch: Boom Or Bust

Today, in our Injury Watch column, we're going to look at a few risky injury-related moves you could make in order to maximize the end of your fantasy season. We'll look at two strong starters coming off lots of injury-related rest, as well as a superstar outfielder who's played like anything but a superstar.

Jaime Garcia, Cardinals and Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays

On Sunday, Jaime Garcia had an excellent return to the mound, coming off of shoulder and elbow issues in his left arm. Garcia threw eight shutout innings and logged double-digit strikeouts against Pittsburgh, giving the Cardinals a much-needed boost. Meanwhile, Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays looks to come off the disabled list and give his team a shot in the arm on Saturday. Both pitchers are solid #3 options (or better) for fantasy teams, but with each pitcher having question marks, are they good fits for your fantasy squad?

Garcia's big question mark is that, if he's not healthy enough, will he go back to being the not-so-good pitcher he was for parts of the middle of this season. Before he hit the DL, had a rough outing in June in a tough May in which his peripherals were ok, but he gave up more than a few runs. But Jaime's been awfully consistent since coming into the league, and there's a non-zero chance he's the second-best pitcher on the Cardinals through the rest of the season.

As for Morrow, he's a strikeout machine. His 2012 K/9 numbers have been down from his previous two seasons in Toronto, but he's actually been more effective in terms of walks (2.78 BB/9) and ERA (3.01) this season. While the Rogers Centre remains a dangerous place for pitchers, due to it's ability to summon HR, Morrow remains a solid option at the middle of a rotation.

Near the end of the season, there's only so much you can do to win your roto league. But if you play head-to-head, either of these guys can be a great weapon, provided you use them correctly. For Garcia, that means start him at home. For Morrow, that means start him against weaker offenses at home, and on the road. Both pitchers can rack up strikeouts in bunches, but are a little worrisome coming off of long injury breaks.

As it stands right now, Garcia's owned in a little more than half of all ESPN leagues, and Morrow's got something closer to 65% ownership. Pounce on these guys now, especially if you've got borderline guys in your rotation. These are the types of players that can really help your team down the stretch, especially if you can afford to pick-and-choose their starts.

Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

I'm a pretty conservative guy when it comes to fantasy players. If a player has an excellent track record of performance, I stick with the guy through long, painful slumps. I don't drop players willy-nilly just for the sake of "shaking up" a lineup. But with the slumping Justin Upton now dealing with a hamstring injury, should we be ready to take the leap and drop the younger Upton brother? It probably depends.

First, it would be reductive and a little simplistic to say that Justin Upton has had a "disappointing" season to this point. Coming off a near-MVP season in 2011, the young D-Backs right fielder seemed poise to make a leap into real superstardom, and anchor many a fantasy squad with his potent bat. Instead, Upton's power has completely disappeared, going from 31 HR in 2011 to just 9 so far in 2012. His wRC+ is actually below league-average (98), due to his playing in the friendly confines of Chase Field. Granted, he's still an above-average fielder and baserunner, but that hardly helps fantasy types.

Now, we don't know the absolute severity of Upton's hamstring injury, one he sustained while running the bases on Tuesday night. But if Upton's mobility is down, that will probably restrict his SB production, and that's just about the only thing (well, other than runs scored) that players in 5x5 leagues are getting out of the young star.

So, with all this data behind us, I say that it may be ok, believe it or not, to cut bait on Upton. I can't stress this next point enough, though. Don't drop him if you're still rostering guys like Alejandro De Aza or Brett Jackson. But say, Angel Pagan, Drew Stubbs, Ben Revere, or Coco Crisp are on your wire? They're not as sexy of a name as Upton, and may provide less power in some cases, but they're all better bets for steals. Or if Wil Myers gets a September callup, he could be a viable bat through the end of the season.

The big takeaway here is that the season is almost over, and Justin Upton is now injured, in addition to not-really-improving. I'd be comfortable drafting him in 2013, but if you have a (legitimately) better option on your waiver wire, you may feel free to drop the guy.

Quick Hits: Josh Tomlin of the Indians is set for Tommy John surgery. This could help explain why Tomlin has been so bad thus far in 2012 (5.09 FIP), but probably not. ... Carl Crawford will undergo Tommy John surgery as well on Thursday. He may be ready for Opening Day 2013, but Boston may have forgotten all about him by then (or not). ...  Impressive Pirates rookie Starling Marte strained his right oblique this week, and has hit the DL. He should be back sometime in September. ... Mets reliever Tim Byrdak, well, his whole body seemed to explode. He'll need surgery both on his left shoulder and his right knee. We won't see Byrdak, or his Hulk Hogan-mustache until the second half of 2013, at the soonest. ... New Phillie Nate Schierholtz broke his big toe, and instead of finally getting to play every day, will spend time on the 15-day DL. Tough break (pun intended). ... Jose Bautista update! Bautista has progressed in his rehab, and may be back to save your fantasy team this weekend. ... Alejandro De Aza has hit the 15-day DL with bruised ribs on the left side. No word yet on whether or not he will take this opportunity to turn back into a pumpkin.


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Closers: Giants, Mets, Athletics

For all the latest breaking news on closer shakeups, be sure to follow @closernews, where temporary closer demotions quietly morph into permanent ones. 

Giants
We've seen a few shrewdly handled closer committees over the past couple years, two of which now belong to the Giants and manager Bruce Bochy, who deserves plenty of real-life credit for playing matchups toward the end of getting outs and winning games -- rather than being a slave to flimsily defined niche roles such as setup man and closer.

Real-life credit is fine and all, but Bochy's saber bullpen is not going to win him any friends in fantasy circles, as we fake gamers are sick of playing Whac-A-Mole with potential Giants closers. But unfortunately for those who are speculating for saves as the season's final month approaches, they'll have to look beyond San Francisco (unless willing to sacrifice any semblance of roster efficiency), as there looks to be no end in sight to the Giants' mix-and-match philosophy.

Here's the confusing "pattern" with which we have to work: Since July 31, Jeremy Affeldt has two saves, while Clay Hensley and Javier Lopez each have one. Both of Affeldt's saves spanned longer than one inning (1 1/3 and two). Hensley's and Lopez's saves were both of the one-out variety. Lethal setup man Sergio Romo, meanwhile, has none; ditto for ex-closer Santiago Casilla. Nothing is jumping out at me here from which I can confidently infer anything. While Affeldt looks to have had an early edge in the committee, Bochy's willingness to lift him from a save chance on Saturday night in favor of Hensley kind of tells us all that we need to know. No one is promised anything here.

My sense is that any yearly leaguer who is willing to dip his or her toes into these waters must be in contention and desperate to add saves or prevent a close competitor from accruing more of them. In which case, Affeldt is probably the place to start, but short of adding Lopez and Romo -- and perhaps even Hensley and Casilla -- there's bound to be plenty of frustration for owners who are out to mine saves from this bullpen. It's hard to fathom a scenario in which owning three relievers from the same 'pen is a net win for a fantasy roster (even two is pushing it), so perhaps it's best to leave this piecemeal arrangement alone.

Mets
In truth, the 2012 Mets could have had a weekly slot as one of the three featured bullpens in this column. Between Frank Francisco's perpetual mediocrity, Bobby Parnell's inability to seize a closing opportunity when one is presented to him, and Jon Rauch's Jon Rauchness, the Amazin's have plenty of options, but all are flawed in some way such that job security is always a concern, regardless of who's filling in or bailing out at a given moment.

Most recently, a red-hot Rauch was called upon to bail Francisco out of a couple of hairy situations, earning saves in both cases. Fantasy owners are all too familiar with Rauch, and the Mets too were apparently wary of looking too much into his recent run of success, as his unexpected saves didn't translate into any kind of role change. Parnell, similarly, ceded closing chores back to Francisco after being awarded the gig when Frank-Frank was on the DL in June and July.

With little to play for, uninspiring alternatives, and Francisco on the books for 2013, perhaps the Mets are simply disinclined to rock the boat now. Certainly, they would have been within their rights to make a full-hearted change at several junctures this season. With Francisco's ownership down to 62% in Yahoo! leagues, there's roughly one-third of you who have the opportunity to snap up a free closer off the wire right now. It seems woefully naive to point out the discrepancy between Francisco's 6.06 ERA and 3.76 SIERA, but I just did, so if you want to hang your hat on anything -- however glass-half-full it may be -- in hopes that there's some chance of improvement, there it is.

In the meanwhile, Rauch and Parnell are not worth stashing until I see something out of the Mets to suggest otherwise. With so few bats missed, Rauch's nice run may soon end -- and with it, his chances of vulturing some saves. And while I think Parnell has the chops to close, the Mets might not even consider him next in line.

Athletics
I have to admit: When the A's switched back from Ryan Cook to Grant Balfour as their closer for what they said would only be a couple of save chances, I didn't know what the heck to think in terms of laying out a sensible fantasy strategy. Cook had been so good before settling into a nasty post-break slump, and Balfour's career was seemingly on life support when he relinquished closing duties earlier in the season.

So far, it has paid off for the A's. While Cook's sabbatical has extended well beyond the original two save chances that were prescribed, Balfour has banked each of his first four save chances since reclaiming closing duties -- and Cook is showing modest signs of progress, going unscored upon in each of his past three outings.

Whether the A's will once again flip-flop when convenient remains to be seen, but my guess is they'll keep things as is. Age and experience aside, Balfour and Cook are strikingly similar pitchers. Balfour's peripheral line: 7.67 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, 36% GB rate, 3.76 SIERA. Cook's peripheral line: 8.94 K/9, 4.03 BB/9, 42% GB rate, 3.56 SIERA. If anything, Cook looks like a slightly better pitcher, but not by much, and unless Balfour slumps the way he did earlier in the season, the A's will probably look for (finally) some continuity.





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