August 2012

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

Well, in case you didn't notice, the trade deadline has now passed in many leagues. The way I found out involved my attempts to offer a trade. Well, I didn't need pitching that badly. I mean, 10th place in ERA is pretty good, right?

Whether you're behind in ERA like I am, or about to start your head-to-head playoffs like my wife, I thought I'd examine some pitchers that might be able to help us over the five and a half weeks we've got left. Last week we talked about pitchers who should be able to help in WHIP (sorry if you grabbed Marco Estrada because of me...), but ERA works a little differently. Specifically, it's a lot more luck dependent, so instead of looking at pitchers who've been pitching to good ERAs for the past year or month, I'll take more of a look at who has an easy--or hard--schedule coming up. Who will they play? Where will they play? You could probably use this same tactic to make educated guesses about wins, but then you'll have to care about who your pitcher plays for.

Ricky Nolasco (23% owned)  and Carlos Zambrano (20%)
I know what you're thinking: you hate Ricky Nolasco. He's tantalized too many times, and finally, this year, he's just plain been bad. True enough. You probably hate Big Z too, but the offenses they'll be facing for the rest of the season are here to help them out. While the Fish have a six games left  against the Braves (7th best offense), they also have six against the Mets (15th) and Phillies (23rd). More games against the Brewers and Nats shouldn't be too bad. Even Cincinatti is only 16th in runs scored, but I'd tread carefully there. Remember, the ERA isn't just up to Nolasco or Zambrano (who aren't horrible) it's also up to the hitters they face.

 Clayton Richard (21%) and Jason Marquis (5%)
With Padres pitchers, the good news is usually that they'll be pitching at home, and that's what these Pads ought to be doing. First, I suggest some patience. Pick these guys up for the playoffs (or just September) because the rest of August isn't exactly friendly. Starting on September 3rd, all but three of the Pads' games for the rest of the month will be at home or home-away-from-home in Los Angeles or San Francisco. They get six games against the Melky-less Giants (17th), and six more against the Dodgers (24th). They only way it could be better is if they could play themselves too....

Jhoulys Chacin (16%) and Drew Pomeranz (3%)
Speaking of guys who get to play the Padres, here are a couple of Rockies who haven't exactly been good this year. Or even okay, but Colorado pitchers are basically the opposite of their San Diego counterparts: don't play them at home. This pair at least has good enough stuff to put together a few good starts in a row. In theory. Starting this week, they're on the road against the Mets (15th) and Cubs (30th!) before going back home. I know they face the Padres in Coors, but I don't recommend the risk. In September the Rox have road games against the Braves (7th--don't push it here), Phillies (23rd), Giants (17th), and Dodgers (24th). 

Joe Blanton and Aaron Harang (both 19%)
I've recommended Blanton before and my wife paid for it, but I'll go ahead and do it again, just for fun. Most of their home starts and any starts in San Francisco or San Diego are favorable though, so I have to think the end of the year is a good time to have these guys. Sure enough, they've got nine games against the Giants (17th), three home games against the Marlins (29th), and six games against the Padres (28th). Go for it.

Barry Zito (19%)
Remember when this guy won the Cy Young? Now he's the only member of his own rotation available in enough league to mention here. Like his Dodger nemeses above, his home park makes nearly every game there worthwhile; the chance to pitch in LA and San Diego is just gravy. The Giants and Dodgers (24th) will square off nine times (in case you missed it above), while the Giants get the Padres (28th) six more times. Making things even better are the three games against Houston (27th) and the Cubs (30th). Even games against the D-Backs and Rockies seem more palatable when they happen in San Francisco, so why not enjoy some park-factor Zito stretch-run heroics?

Bronson Arroyo (15%) and Mike Leake (10%)
NL Central teams don't get the home park benefits of their Western opponents, but the good ones still get to play bottom-feeder offenses. The Reds get seven games against Philly (23rd), six against the Astros (27th), six against the Pirates (20th), and three each against the Marlins (29th), and Cubs (30th). Other than some Cardinal games to skip, look for Arroyo and Leake to boost their ERAs until the season ends.

Any Brewers Pitcher You Can Get Your Hands On
In the next two weeks, the Brew Crew has seven games against the Cubs (30th). Their other games are against Pittsburgh (20th), who they play a total of nine times until the end of the season. They've also got four games against the Marlins (29th), three against the Astros (27th), and three against the Padres (28th). It should get better for Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, and company.

Jeff Karstens (10%) and Kevin Correia (3%)
With Correia coming back to the rotation there's an opportunity for success, but only if you're careful. The Pittsburgh schedule mixes three Padres (28th) starts, six Astros (27th), and seven Cubs (30th) with land mines like the Reds, Cardinals, and Braves. Tread carefully, but expect to sit your Buccos on the bench a couple times.

Patrick Corbin (15%) and Joe Saunders (14%)
Out of all the teams I looked at, the D-Backs might just have the friendliest schedule. Keep in mind that their home park is decidedly unfriendly, but it's still a good schedule. They have four games against the Marlins (29th), nine against the Padres (28th--only three in Petco, though), five against the Dodgers (24th--three in LA), nine against the Giants (17th--six on the road), and three against the Cubs (30th). In all of September, the only games to avoid are three at Coors Field. You don't have to be that good to succeed with a schedule like this one.

That's it for those I recommend from the NL, but I'll be back next week with more ideas about how to navigate the end of the year in the AL. In the meantime, good luck, because that's what you really need to get a month of good ERAs.


 


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This Week In Streaming Strategy, August 20-26

I've been playing in a fantasy league with my old friends from my hometown since 1999, and in that time, one guy (let's call him "Brent" since...well, that's his name) has never won a title. He's the Chicago Cubs of our league, usually finishing in the lower half of the standings. Well, 2012 looked like it might finally be Brent's year, as he's been battling two other managers for the top spot all season long. Brent avoided the injury bug, snatched Mike Trout off the waiver wire in April and drafted very well, led by his mid-round pickup of Melky Cabrera ...uh oh.  Yeah, needless to say, the dream might be dead.

Before Brent makes a Melky/Steve Bartman photo collage, let's help him out with a few streaming picks to snatch him (and you) a few extra points this week. Why am I being so magnanimous in helping out my fellow manager? I am WELL back in this league. That's what happens when Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria are your first two draft picks.

* Mike Leake.  The Reds right-hander is coming off his best start of the season, a complete-game, four-hit, one-run gem against the Mets last Wednesday.  Leake has been a sneaky-good (snleaky?) fourth or fifth starter option for fantasy owners this year, posting a respectable 4.29 ERA (3.71 xFIP) with a 3.06 K/BB rate.  Those numbers get even better if you ignore Leake's 6.65 ERA in four April starts.  He won't strike out a ton of batters (just a 6.1 K/9) but his peripherals are pretty strong, and he is a good play for Monday's start in Philadelphia since Leake is a decidedly better pitcher on the road than he is at home.  The righty has a 3.13 ERA in 10 road starts, as opposed to a 5.40 ERA in 13 starts at the Great American Ballpark.  For this reason I'd use caution before Leake's second start this week when he's back in Cincy facing the Cardinals, but I'd definitely give Leake a start against the Phillies.  Leake is owned in just 10 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues so he's almost surely available for a streaming pickup.

* Juan Pierre.  Following the trades of Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, the Phillies waved the white flag on the 2012 season and shifted into full-scale "play the kids" mode.  This has meant lots of Domonic Brown and John Mayberry and less of veteran Pierre, though this could change with the news that Nate Schierholtz will miss a month with a broken toe.  Schierholtz's absence removes one more left-handed bat from the mix and with the Phils set to face right-handed starters in six of seven games this week, Pierre (.328/.368/.405) should see an uptick in playing time.  You know what this means, fantasy owners --- sound the CHEAP STEALS ALARM!

* Brett Wallace.  In a way, the Astros are a perfect team for streaming purposes since you know that virtually the entire roster will be available on a fantasy waiver wire.  That's a pretty dark bright side if you're a Houston fan but hey, I'll give one of your guys some dap this week.  Wallace has been seeing time at both first and third against right-handed pitching, hitting them hard to the tune of a 1.027 OPS in 79 plate appearances.  The Astros are scheduled to face righties in five of six games this week and with Wallace owned in a measly 2% of Yahoo fantasy league, now is a good time to buy subterrean-low on the 2008 first-round pick.

* Ubaldo Jimenez, Roberto Hernandez, Zach McAllister.  None of these guys are exactly great fantasy options  --- Jimenez has been a bust, Hernandez has made just one start in his return to the majors since his "Fausto Carmona" identity was revealed as false and McAllister has had a few bumpy start since his stellar July.  Still, the three Indians right-handers get the streaming nods this week since they're scheduled to start against the Mariners at Safeco Field.  The last Cleveland no-hitter was Len Barker's perfect game on May 15, 1981 and if you think I'm nuts for bringing that statistic up, is it really that far-fetched given everything else we've seen at Safeco this season?!

* Francisco Liriano.  I'll confess, I recently committed one of the cardinal fantasy sins -- I streamed Francisco Liriano.  I bought into the "huh, he's pitched well in his first two starts with the White Sox, maybe Don Cooper straightened him out" hype.  Liriano proceeded to then get bombed for six runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Athletics, causing me to cut him from my roster and then slap my forehead for about ten minutes straight.  Liriano then pitched well against the Blue Jays in his next outing, so if you subtract the Oakland start, Liriano has a 2.60 ERA with a 3:1 K/BB ratio in three quality starts since coming to Chicago.  Don't be fooled.  Given that Liriano is set to face the Yankees on Tuesday, let me pass on this advice from Joey Tribbiani if you're thinking of biting the apple and streaming Liriano: DON'T DO IT.

* Josh Rutledge.  Congrats to you if you've been riding the Rutledge train for the last month.  Called up from Double-A on July 13, Rutledge has hit a whopping .328/.346/.607 in 127 plate appearances since, making him a godsend for fantasy owners looking for a midseason boost at shortstop.  It wasn't totally out of nowhere (Rutledge has an .870 OPS in 947 minor league PAs, albeit none above the Double-A level) and with five hits in his last 11 at-bats, Rutledge isn't exactly slowing down.  Heck, I'm not even saying he's an outright bad play this week, since there are certainly worse options for a middle infield spot than riding a hot hand.  I will note, however, that Colorado is set to face right-handed starters in six of seven games this week so the right-handed hitting Rutledge should, on paper, be in tough.  Of course, Rutledge has a .967 OPS against righties this season, so might well be eating these words by this time next week, but I'll advise you to exercise some caution with Rutledge.  If you have another decent shortstop option to insert on the days when the Rockies face, say, R.A. Dickey or Matt Harvey, I might put Rutledge on the bench.


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RotoAuthority Live Chat

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


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's Stock Watch recommended claiming Eric Young Jr. as an upside second baseman for the remainder of the season.  With two home runs and a steal this week, Young should be claimed in any leagues in which he remains on waivers.

Buy

  • Gregor Blanco - With Melky Cabrera out the remainder of the season, Blanco should see everyday playing time in the outfield.  Blanco has 19 steals on the season and has some pop with 5 home runs in 350 plate appearances.  Steals and saves are the two scoring categories where points can most easily be obtained this late in the season in leagues where teams are bunched up.  Blanco can have an impact in steals, and can also allow an owner to trade steals to a team right under a competitor in that category by replacing the speedster on his roster with Blanco.  Knocking a competitor down a point in steals has the same impact as gaining a point in the category.
  • Darin Mastroianni - Similar to Blanco, Mastroianni can have a big impact in steals while Denard Span remains sidelined.  Mastroianni has 14 steals and 3 home runs in only 128 plate appearances this season.  He also stole between 30 and 45 bases each season in the minors entering this year.
  • Jon Rauch - After recording saves in the last two Mets victories and bailing out an ineffective Frank Francisco in both games, the Mets may be forced to give Rauch a look at closer.  Rauch has "closer experience" having saved 21 games in 2010, and Francisco may not be entirely healthy.
  • Jon Jay - With 2 home runs, 3 steals and a .392 batting average in August, Jay has been shifted to the lead-off spot in the Cardinals lineup.  Jay is enjoying a career best BB/K ratio of .67, and is taking more walks while striking out less than he has in either of his previous MLB seasons.  This improved batting eye is a good sign that Jay is developing as a hitter and should be able to sustain a batting average in the .290 to .300 range.
  • Doug Fister - Enjoying another second half surge, Fister should receive plenty of run support and is a good bet for wins and helpful ratios the remainder of the season.  Fister has a 1.52 ERA and .86 WHIP in the second half this season after putting together a 2.47 ERA and .91 WHIP in the second half last year.
  • Ben Zobrist - Now has shortstop eligibility in Yahoo leagues after getting a look at the position and performing well defensively.  Zobrist's power/speed combination is quite valuable at the shortstop position.
  • Eric Chavez - Continues his hitting onslaught with 4 home runs and 9 RBIs in August, and is playing nearly every day with Alex Rodriguez out until September.  Yankee Stadium led all of MLB by a wide margin with a home run park factor of 116 for left hand hitters.

Sell

  • James McDonald - The good times are over and it is now time to cut bait in even 14-team mixed leagues.  McDonald has an 8.71 ERA and 2.03 WHIP in the second half, and there are rumblings that he may get shifted to the bullpen so Kevin Correia (!) can remain in the rotation.  With the Pirates chasing a playoff spot they will not remain patient through McDonald's command problems.
  • Jarrod Parker - Parker's ERA has been on a steady climb since bottoming out at 2.46 on July 2nd.  Parker has given up four or more earned runs in five of his last seven starts, and his SIERA sits at 4.29 on the season.  Parker has thrown more innings this year than in any professional season, and now is the time to include Parker in a larger deal to a pitching starved team while his season stats look respectable. 


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Cubs Turn The Reigns Over To Jackson & Vitters

The Chicago Cubs started a new era in franchise history when the Theo Epstein-led regime took over this past offseason, and they've systematically started a rebuilding process by trading veterans and acquiring young talent. Players like Sean Marshall, Carlos Zambrano, and Ryan Dempster were traded for prospects and/or salary relief in recent months, and youngsters like Anthony Rizzo and Darwin Barney were eased into the starting lineup. Following the trade deadline, the Cubs recalled two of their highest profile prospects and have handed them regular playing time. Let's look at their fantasy value.

Brett Jackson | OF

Jackson, 24, was the 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft and steadily climbed the minor league ladder before making his debut. He's only hit .188/.257/.281 in 35 big league plate appearances so far, but he's a .282/.379/.488 career hitter in the minors with 10+ homers and 20+ steals in each of the last three seasons. Jackson also provides a lot of value with his center field defense, but that's irrelevant in fantasy.

The biggest problem with the outfielder is, by far, his knack for the swing and miss. Jackson has whiffed on 24 of the 159 pitches he's seen in the big leagues, a tidy 15.1%. The league average is slightly more than half that at 9.0%. He's struck out 18 times with the Cubs already, and in the minor leagues more than one-quarter (26.4%, to be exact) of his plate appearances ended with strike three. That's astromical for a top prospect and a massive hole in his game that could be his ultimate downfall. Jackson will get a chance to play for the rest of the season, but outside of a handful of steals and maybe a few homers, his fantasy value is nil until he can put the ball in play consistently.

Josh Vitters | 3B

The third overall pick in the 2007 draft, the 22-year-old Vitters took a little longer to get to the show than first overall pick David Price and second overall pick Mike Moustakas. The third baseman has produced just a .103/.100/.138 batting line in 30 plate appearances since being recalled, though he put together a .304/.356/.513 performance in Triple-A earlier this year. He's a .283/.327/.455 career hitter in over 2,100 minor league plate appearances.

While Jackson is prone to swings and misses, Vitters is the polar opposite. His problem is that he makes contact a little too easily, and often puts pitches in play that he shouldn't be swinging at in the first place. The ability to get the bat on the ball is why he was drafted so high, but the lack of plate discipline has kept Vitters from realizing his full potential during his climb up the minor league ladder. That doesn't mean things won't click in the future, but for 2012 we have another guy with little to no fantasy value. The Cubs are headed in the right direction and have done a smart thing by giving Jackson and Vitters an extended look at the end of the season, but unfortunately neither player is worth a fantasy roster spot at this point of their careers.



Injury Watch: The Late Season Shuffle

Today's Injury Watch focuses in on players who play critical roles for up-and-coming playoff contenders. Whether you're a veteran third baseman who shows real toughness, or a young shortstop looking to comeback strong in his breakout season, there's room for you in this week's column.

Brandon Inge, Athletics

I hope the Oakland Athletics knew what they were acquiring when they added Brandon Inge during the 2012 season. Inge has been known through much of his career as a stellar defensive third baseman, who also used to be able to hit ok. Despite some late-game heroics after coming over to the A's, it looks like his time as an ok-hitting third baseman are over. He's currently posting a .224/.285/.384 slash line with the A's, which is "good" for an 81 wRC+. Not awesome.

But do you know what is awesome? Brandon Inge, in the midst of making a diving stop down the line, separated his right (throwing) shoulder as he stopped the ball. Wait, hold on, that's not awesome. What's awesome is that (a) Inge immediately popped the shoulder back into place (b) played through the rest of the game and (c) drove in a run with a single later on in that tilt. Give the guy crap about being a poor hitter, if you like, but that's some tenacity, commitment, and toughness.

Anyways, one assumes that the adrenaline wore off after the game, and the cool heads in the A's training room have chosen to put Inge on the 15-day DL. The A's, fighting for a playoff berth, will call up another catcher-third base hybrid player, Josh Donaldson, to take Inge's spot on the roster.

Donaldson is an odd duck, at least so far in 2012. Anointed an early-season sleeper once Scott Sizemore's injury took him out of the Oakland third-base picture, JD failed to impress in an early-season audition. That's probably an understatement, actually. Donaldson was BAD, posting a wRC+ of 8, meaning he was roughly worth 8% of a league-average hitter in over 100 plate appearances. However, once he was sent down to Triple-A, Donaldson started crushing the ball. In 2011, his Triple-A numbers weren't terribly impressive, but in 2012, those numbers have been terrific. Donaldson has been hitting for power (13 HR, .598 SLG) and getting on base (.402 OBP), and now will presumably get another crack at ML pitching.

When it comes to your fantasy team, you probably weren't rostering Brandon Inge. But maybe Donaldson could be worth a shot. First, and most importantly, Donaldson carries catcher-eligibility in most leagues. So if you're not running Joe Mauer or Buster Posey out there every day, you may be looking for an upgrade at that position, perhaps as well as third base. Second, Donaldson's Triple-A numbers indicate a history of decent power, as he's posted 48 HR in Triple-A over parts of the last three seasons. Homers in the PCL aren't exactly super-tough to come by, so take those with a grain of salt. And finally, the A's are actually sporting a pretty nice offense right now, led by MVP-candidate Josh Reddick and post-hype prospect Chris Carter. So there's a nice chance that Donaldson could rack up a few R and RBI as well in this role.

So while Brandon Inge wasn't a fantasy factor, Josh Donaldson, just like he did before the season started, could be. Don't set your expectations too high, as Donaldson is a player who, before a nice stretch in Triple-A this season, hadn't recently seen the kind of success that proves future value. But like the rest of the A's team this season, there's a chance he could jack up his performance as the team rallies for a playoff slot.

Ian Desmond, Nationals

The word is out that Ian Desmond could return to the Nationals as soon as Friday from his oblique injury. Desmond, who'd been raking before the injury, tore his left oblique and has been out of action since July 21st. Desmond, who stepped onto his first All-Star team during the middle of the season, was the Nationals' best hitter for much of the season.

From a fantasy standpoint, Desmond's surprise combination of home runs (17) and steals (15) has been huge, especially from the shortstop position. But should you expect that to continue as Desmond returns? Maybe yes, as Desmond's power increase this season has been sustained. The one thing that you might want to take into consideration is that an oblique injury like Desmond's could sap some of his power. But Desmond has really come on in 2012, and remains available in 30% of ESPN leagues. So if he's on your waiver wire, and you're not already running a Jose Reyes or Elvis Andrus out there, you might want to give him a long look.

So who can you add if Desmond isn't available in your league, but you'd like to add a little pop? You could consider Zack Cozart. Cozart, the Reds' shortstop, has 13 HR on the season, which is slightly fewer than Desmond's HR total. Granted, Cozart doesn't offer the steals and batting average that Desmond does, but he'll do in a pinch, and is available in 75% of ESPN leagues. 

Quick Hits: Colby Rasmus looks to return today for the Blue Jays. The centerfielder has missed nearly a week with a groin injury, and was pulled from the lineup last night, but will probably return today. ... In other Canadian news, there's no timetable for Joey Votto's return from a meniscus tear. While the Reds are surging in his absence (thanks Todd Frazier!), I'm certain they'd like to have him back before playoff time. ... Will Middlebrooks is probably out for the rest of 2012, making that Kevin Youkilis trade look even worse in hindsight. ... Pablo Sandoval finally returned from his hamstring injury last night, and had a productive outing going 1-2 with a walk. Sandoval probably won't play much first base (where he suffered the injury), but should slot in for regular time at 3B. ... I'm always thrown when I see words used to describe injuries that I'd never really seen before. So the fact that Matt Garza has a "elbow stress reaction" and won't be pitching again this season, well, that sounds mildly scary. I bet the Cubs wish that they'd traded Garza while they had the chance. ... Dillon Gee will likely miss the rest of the season as he recovers from a blood clot in his shoulder. ... Rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal is about to begin a rehab assignment, and could return to the Padres by the end of the month. ... Michael Cuddyer of the Rockies is eligible to come off the DL on Thursday, and given that he's already playing in his rehab assignment, I'd expect he'll be activated shortly after he's eligible. ... Mike Carp is returning to his native home, the disabled list. In the meantime, the Mariners will go back to using Justin Smoak at first, and Smoak has made some adjustments to his swing, so perhaps Seattle fans will have a whole new context in which to be disappointed by Smoak's production?


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Closers: Padres, Angels, Brewers

For all the latest on closers and low-pressure eighth innings, be sure to follows @closernews on Twitter.

Padres
Huston Street's 2012 is a two-sided story of brilliance and what could have been. The Padres' stopper has been dominant when he's been healthy, but after straining his calf over the weekend, he's on the disabled list for the second time this season and what amounts to the fourth* time in the past two seasons. So while his owners have relished the 0.75 ERA and 0.53(!) WHIP, those contributions have been offset by somewhat by his modest 21 saves.

*Street was shut down toward the end of 2011 though he was not technically placed on the DL.

With Padres holding Street's rights for at least a couple more years, I'd expect them to play his rehab and return conservatively. And while this is completely baseless speculation, I wonder if they wouldn't shut him down if he progresses slowly or suffers a setback in rehab.

Following Street's injury, the Padres were mum about who would close in his stead. The primary candidates were thought to be Dale Thayer, who overachieved as Street's stand-in in May, and Luke Gregerson, who is enjoying another successful year but has traditionally been handled delicately. The guess here was that stuff would win the day, so Gregerson is where I was looking first. But in something of a surprise move, the Friars went back to Thayer, who profiles more like a middle reliever than late-inning guy on account of his modest strikeout and groundball rates, for the first post-Street save chance on Monday night.

Thayer should be the first guy you add if he's still out there, and though the Padres and Bud Black showed no inclination to experiment with a committee last time Street was injured, those of you who miss out on Thayer may want to snap up Gregerson and hope that Thayer slumps and relinquishes the job.

Angels
The Halos' bullpen became far more predictable once Scott Downs and, to a lesser extent, former closer Jordan Walden were both shelved due to injury: Ernesto Frieri had the job all to his lonesome. But now Downs and Walden are both nearing returns, and Downs in particular could vulture the occasional save from Frieri down the stretch, just as he did prior to being added to the DL.

After a terrific start to the season, Downs looked very mortal in a few of his outings leading up to this DL stint, although you wonder if those struggles could be attributed to the injury. In any event, Frieri has come down to earth a bit, too, and with the Angels fighting for every win they can get as they pursue the postseason, my guess is that no one's job is set in stone. Frieri should be gone in any league worth its salt, but Downs may have been cut loose when he was injured, so if you're desperate for saves, he's a guy who will probably chip in a few (with a slight chance of more) during the season's final weeks.

As for Walden, his odds of closing upon his return are remote (pretty surprising considering his run as the team's stopper last season), but he has overpowering stuff, so it will be interesting to see how the Angels use him if he goes on a hot streak now that he's supposedly healthy. He's not worth an add, but keep an eye on him.

Brewers
After seeing magic dust wear off John Axford, the Brewers decided to find the next Aford, turning over the reins of their beleaguered bullpen to the equally nondescriptly named Jim Henderson. The soon-to-be 30-year-old tenuously seized Milwaukee's closing gig shortly after his Major League debut, which is really pretty shocking if you think about it. Anyway, in the extremely small sample size of his Major League career to date (nine innings through Monday night), Henderson's peripherals look sharp -- and eerily similar to Axford's circa 2K11: very strong strikeout and groundball rates, and a decent walk rate.

Inconveniently enough, though, he's allowed earned runs in three of his past five outings, which can't help him in his bid to run with the job. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said after Henderson's clunker on Sunday that Jim-Hen will get a bit more leash before the Crew looks elsewhere (for the umpteenth time this season) for another closer. And although it's been my unscientific observation that the bullpen is the place where late bloomers are likeliest to carve out Major League niches for themselves, I'm not especially optimistic that Henderson will be able to keep his manager's faith for too long.

I keep waiting for Axford to get finally hit his stride this season and grab ahold of the gig once and for all, but that ship may have sailed. Whether's that due to injury or just plain old regression, I can't say, but the only way to play this one for now is to chase each guy the Brewers trot out there. Axford may be worth a stash on a bench, but he's shown little make me believe that's anything more than a hail mary at this point.

Quickly
 A's
closer Ryan Cook was demoted to the eighth inning for a couple of appearances to get himself straightened out, leaving things to old friend Grant Balfour in the meanwhile. I'm taking the A's at face value on this, but the situation looks very fluid to me. ... Red Sox righty Andrew Bailey was scheduled to be activated from the disabled list Tuesday, but there have been no indications that he'll close. I like Alfredo Aceves to hold the job based on merit, so I'd drop Bailey if I were in a roster squeeze, but there's no harm in holding onto him for a week or two if you have the space. ... Twins righty Matt Capps underwent an MRI which revealed only shoulder inflammation, but he's not close to starting a throwing program. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton remain entrenched as co-closers. ... The Marlins' plan to ease Heath Bell back into closing may have blown up in their faces with his four-run debacle Sunday. I wouldn't go out of my way to add him if he were on my wire; Steve Cishek owners should sit tight. ... The Royals have once again announced that Aaron Crow is a candidate to move to the rotation next year. This is why I leaned toward Greg Holland taking over for Jonathan Broxton when the latter was traded at the deadline, so keep it in mind moving forward.


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Silver League Update: WHIPing Your Team Into Shape

Before the season started, I made a plan for my pitching staff that emphasized the pitcher's strikeout rate pretty heavily. Thinking scientifically, I figured that would be a better indicator of this year's performance than things like last year's ERA and WHIP. I tried to pay attention to K/BB rate, too, but looking at my roster, I realize that I just can't seem to resist a good whiff rate. This strategy compulsion has given me pitchers like Anibal Sanchez, Chris Capuano, staff ace David Price, and poster child Max Scherzer. It's also landed me the full twelve points in the strikeout category ... and just three in both ERA and WHIP. I've been contemplating trades for pitchers that can help me out, but in order to make a trade work, you need quality players and depth, two things I don't have much of. As always, I'm off to the waiver wire.

Max Scherzer's had his ups and downs this year, but the strikeouts really have been great; his 168 K's in 133 2/3 IP have been good for a rate north of 11 K/9. His WHIP has been a different story -- an ugly story that ends with the number 1.42. He might strike everybody out, but he lets everybody else on base. Sanchez features a not-that-great 1.34, and all the other bums that have pitched for my team over the course of the year have combined for a WHIP of 1.30 even, good for 10th place. With the leader sitting on a  1.15 team WHIP that plenty of good starters would be happy to have, I've got a bit of work to do to catch up.

The first thing that I did, and that everybody else should do is pick up Marco Estrada (11% owned). He's winless and holds an ERA over 4.00, pitches for a bad team in a tough park, but don't let that stop you --that's the only reason he's probably available in your league. How often do you combine a strikeout rate over 9.00 and a WHIP of 1.14 and stay on the wire for 80 IP? I don't know. He's basically my best pitcher. (No offense, David Price, you're awesome too.)

Here's another pitcher I've been thinking about: Joe Blanton. He's 26% owned (probably due to my mention of his last week), but if you play in the three-quarters that can still get him, notice that he's got an 0.93 WHIP in the last 30 days. On the season, it's a less-exciting 1.20, but the move to Dodger Stadium and the chance to pitch frequently in San Francisco and San Diego has got to help things a bit.

Jose Quintana (27%) has continued to pitch decently well, though July wasn't exactly his best month. He's now got over 90 innings of 1.09 WHIP ball under his belt and might just snag some wins for the first-place White Sox. Like Quintana, Travis Blackley (5%) doesn't miss many bats, but he's got a 1.13 WHIP and gets to pitch in Oakland. Mark Rogers has only pitched 17 innings, but they've been good ones, with 20 strikeouts and a nifty 1.13 WHIP. He's got good stuff and, with 1% ownership, I can almost guarantee you can get him if you want him. 

At 34% owned, Ross Detwiler will be unavailable in many leagues. Count the Silver League one of them, because I picked him up as I wrote this. Hopefully his 1.18 WHIP will help me out. In the last month, that same number has been 0.95, so I feel pretty good about him. The guy I dropped, Wei-Yin Chen (46% owned) has a nice 1.11 WHIP in that same time frame. Bartolo Colon (27%) also has a 1.11 WHIP on the month. A surprising name among those who've had great WHIP months: Mike Minor (41%). He was one of my strikeout kings early in the year, but his WHIP was killing me. Well, now it's killing everyone else, sitting at 0.88. Scott Feldman isn't too far behind with an 0.99 WHIP, and he's a bit easier to get, owned in just 15% of leagues.

Blake Beavan (5%) isn't owned in many leagues, but he is in the Silver. Maybe his 0.90 WHIP on the month has something to do with it. As a Safeco pitcher, he can be used for home game matchups. Barry Zito (18%) shares a 1.15 WHIP with Tommy Hunter (1%). Clayton Richard (18%, 1.15 WHIP) and Jason Marquis (2%, 1.19 WHIP) can be useful given their home park in San Diego. Joe Saunders (14%, 1.14 WHIP) might be the opposite: best when he's playing on the road. Francisco Liriano (48%) has been pretty decent, with a 1.19 WHIP, though he hasn't been helpful in ERA. Erik Bedard (28%) has put together a good month, with a 1.08 WHIP, as has the always-difficult-to-spell Jeff Samardzija (43%) with a 1.09 number.

I'm actually surprised that there was this much WHIP help on the waiver wire. Detwiler looks like an interesting pickup, and I'm already starting to wonder who I should drop to get Minor. Estrada might be the best of the bunch, though. Hopefully the rest of your league looks at that 0-5 record and shies away. Like ERA, WHIP changes fast. The guys on this list would change a lot if it were made a month from now, or a month ago. The best thing to do is keep on top of it, instead of being as surprised as I was by some of the pitchers on this list.


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This Week In Streaming Strategy: August 13-19

We're getting down to the nitty-gritty of fantasy seasons, and if you're in a head-to-head league, you've even got your playoffs coming up soon.  An extra hit here or an extra strikeout there could turn a league, so these streaming tips have never been more important.

* Wilson Betemit.  Mannymania may be running wild in Baltimore, but one of the men that the marvelous Manny Machado displaced at third base is still a valuable asset to the Orioles.  Betemit's fielding at third may be akin to watching Scrat try to hold onto an acorn but Betemit has been a force (.873 OPS) against right-handed pitching this season.  The O's are set to face right-handed starters in all six of their games this week so Betemit is a good bet to start every game at either first base or DH.  Betemit is a cheap power source for your fantasy lineup and he can fill more than one hole given his eligibility at first, third and outfield.

* Ben Revere.  The Twins led baseball in runs scored during July, which is pretty jaw-dropping considering how poor this lineup was over the first three months of the season.  Between the Twins in July and the Pirates having a historically low-scoring April and May before leading the league in June runs, it's anyone's guess as to who will lead the league in scoring in August.  I predict it will be the 1906 White Sox, who end up traveling through time and switching places with the current Sox after A.J. Pierzynski invents a real-life flux capacitor.  Anyway, one of the big reasons behind the Twins' offensive surge was Revere, who is your classic top-of-the-lineup speed threat that also has a .350 OBP, to boot.  The left-handed hitting Revere has been a reverse-splits this season (.365/.389/.394 against lefties, .297/.330/.365 in over twice as many plate appearances against righties), but I'd still consider him a good play this week when the Twins face right-handed starters in five of six games.  Revere has 27 steals in 32 chances this year and since nothing can grab a fantasy owner's attention like cheap stolen bases, I'd recommend picking up Revere since he isn't just empty-calorie steals; he can also help you in the average and runs categories.

* Gavin Floyd.  The Blue Jays' injury problems have reached critical mass, leaving behind a starting lineup that's essentially just Edwin Encarnacion and a Triple-A barnstorming team.  (So maybe the Jays will end up leading the league in runs scored in September?)  When a team can't hit, however, there's fantasy gold to be mined from streaming a pitcher who can benefit from Toronto's misfortune.  Five of the seven starters -- Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, Ryan Dempster and Matt Harrison -- scheduled to face the Jays this week are almost surely already gone from your waiver wire, and the sixth is Francisco Liriano, who is so unpredictable I wouldn't trust him against an actual minor league lineup.  That leaves just Floyd, available in only 27% of Yahoo fantasy leagues and a good bet to pick the bones of the makeshift Blue Jays lineup.  Floyd has average numbers across the board for the season as a whole but he shown good recent form, posting a 2.63 ERA over his last eight starts.  He's slated to start against the Jays on Wednesday so keep him in mind for a mid-week pitching boost.

* Hunter Pence.  Giants GM Brian Sabean says his team has the financial resources to extend both Pence and Melky Cabrera but if I'm Sabean, I'm focusing on the Melkman this offseason and leaving Pence to prove himself worthy of a new deal over the course of the 2013 season.  Pence has been in a calamitous slump for over a month, hitting just .163/.207/.221 since July 8.  He's just the kind of good-but-not-elite player who can kill a fantasy season by going bad --- fantasy owners coast on Pence's reputation and don't stop saying, "oh, he'll snap out of it" until it's too late.  This upcoming week doesn't provide many hitting breakout opportunities for Pence, as the Giants face Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg this week and then play a three-game series at Petco Park.  If you have other outfield options, I'd recommend giving them a shot and relegating Pence to the bench.

* Martin Prado.  Speaking of bad slumps by good players who have five-letter last names that start with P, here's Prado.  The Braves outfielder has hit .252/.317/.319 since June 23, throwing shade on what was looking like a breakout fantasy campaign.  Prado, a right-handed hitter, has a .710 OPS against right-handed pitching this season, so I'd play him on Monday and Tuesday (against Padres southpaws Eric Stults and Clayton Richard) but then think about benching him for the rest of the week, as Atlanta is scheduled to face just one more lefty starter.  He just isn't a player you can plug into your fantasy lineup and forget about, especially at this time of the season.  Fun fact: both Prado and Pence are on my team in the MLBTR fantasy league.  *forehead slap*

* Josh Beckett.  So you're sitting at your computer and looking at this week's available two-start candidates on your league's waiver wire.  Beckett's name unsurprisingly pops up -- he's owned by just 65% of Yahoo fantasy owners and 53.9% of ESPN fantasy owners -- and your mind starts racing.  "Hmm, well, hey, it's Josh Beckett, right?  I know he's struggled this season but man, he's just got so much stuff.  Maybe if I stream him for just a start or two I can catch lightning in a bottle and then quit while I'm ahead."   At this point, I dive through the window screaming NOOOOOOOOO!!!! before you can click the 'add player' button.  After taking a few minutes to clean up my wounds (after all, I did just dive through glass), I quickly point out that Beckett's two starts this week are against the Orioles and Yankees.  No good can come of this.  Relieved and still a little taken aback by the whole melodramatic window entrance, you agree to leave Beckett on waivers for good.  I walk off into the sunset, off to another town to help another woebegone fantasy owner.


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's Stock Watch recommended claiming Kris Medlen where available, and after another strong start this week giving up only one earned run Medlen's stock continues to rise.  

Buy

  • Eric Young, Jr. - Started four of the last five games as injuries and trade have opened up playing time.  Young is enjoying a nice season with a .299 and 12 steals in 152 plate appearances, and has a chance to establish himself as the Rockies' lead-off hitter for the remainder of the season.  Young's batting average is inflated by a .355 BABIP but the speed is for real.
  • Manny Machado - Another middle-infield eligible player that could provide sneaky value over the remainder of the season, Machado was called up by Baltimore to provide an offensive boost at 3B for their playoff run.  Machado has been rated the last two seasons by Baseball America as a top-15 MLB prospect, and he has shown a power/speed combination in the minors that is certainly intriguing to fantasy owners.  Machado has also demonstrated a good eye at the plate with 48 walks to 70 strikeouts this season at AA, which is a good sign for a future bump to his minor league career batting average of .263.
  • Jean Segura - Continuing with the middle infield eligible theme, Segura was also recalled this week and may pay dividends to fantasy owners this season.  Segura is a less-heralded prospect (ranked #55 overall by Baseball America before this year) than Machado, but his minor league statistics have been more impressive as Segura is three years older and was given more time to develop before being recalled.  Segura had stolen 37 bases with seven home runs in 451 minor league plate appearances this season.  Since Segura is currently hitting 8th in a National League lineup, Machado should be targeted before Segura.
  • Jim Henderson - Saved consecutive games for the Brewers this week, and may be given an opportunity to run with the job after previous closers John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez both struggled with 5+ ERAs.  Henderson has a 10/1 K/BB ratio in seven innings for Milwaukee, and has put up big strikeout numbers in AAA with 56 strikeouts in 48 innings this season.  Henderson's ERA in the minors was 1.69 with a 2.91 FIP.
  • Alex Cobb - Gave up one run in seven innings with seven strikeouts against Toronto in his last start, and has thrown three consecutive quality starts.  Cobb's 4.32 ERA does not jump off the stat sheet, but he has a 3.33 FIP and 3.59 SIERA.  Take a chance on Cobb in his next start at Seattle.
  • Grant Balfour - Pitching much better recently with no earned runs allowed in July and one earned run in five August innings, Balfour may shift back shortly into a closer role as Ryan Cook has allowed nine runs and blown four saves over his last eight appearances.  With Oakland in the midst of a playoff run and every save given heightened importance, their patience in Cook will be tested.

Sell

  • Mike Fiers - The Brewers have announced that they will "monitor" Fiers' innings, and the Brewers' beat writer speculates that Fiers may only have 35 innings left this season.  Even though Fiers has been a dominate stud and waiver wire gem, owners may want to explore selling Fiers before a shutdown becomes imminent.  Owners in head-to-head leagues should also be concerned that Fiers will not be available for the fantasy playoffs.
  • Dexter F0wler - After starting the season on a relative home run and RBI binge, Fowler's power production has predictably fallen off the table with only five RBIs in July and none so far in August.  Fowler's walk, strikeout, line drive, ground ball and fly ball rates are close to his career rates, and his batting average is more the product of a slightly inflated BABIP rather than an advanced hitting approach.


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