September 2012

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This "Week" In Streaming Strategy: October 1-3

Three more days.  Three days in October.  Three days of the Condor (pretend my nickname is "The Condor").  If you're in a fantasy league that ended on a usual weekly deadline and didn't include Monday thru Wednesday, well, that's weak sauce.  If your league doesn't run the full 162-game slate, then you're missing out on the utter PANIC of the last few days as managers race to stream players like crazy to use up their remaining games and innings.  I, for instance, am a good 60 innings under my cap in one league and thus am streaming one or two different starters per day, to great results!  Thank you, Marco Estrada!  

Let's look over the remaining MLB schedule and pick out some of the best streaming options for the the last-minute frenzy...

* Hisashi Iwakuma.  The Mariners are at home for their final series, and while they're facing a hard-charging Angels team, I'd still favor Safeco Field over a team fighting for their postseason lives.  The M's are starting Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma and Blake Beavan over the series.  I'm guessing King Felix probably isn't available for a quick streaming start and while Beavan's home ERA (4.12) is almost a full run lower than his road ERA (5.11), his unimpressive peripherals don't merit a pickup.  Iwakuma, on the other hand, is not only a beast in Seattle --- a 2.70 ERA in 16 home games, as opposed to a 4.20 ERA on the road --- but he also has owned the Angels, posting a 3-0 record and a 1.54 in four games against them this year, three of them starts.  Iwakuma is available in a measly 27% of Yahoo leagues and he's arguably the best streaming pitching option of the week.

* Justin Smoak.  If you heard some weird sounds emanating from the Pacific Northwest over the last month, it may have been the sound of the Smoak Monster tearing the cover off the ball.  Smoak is hitting .343/.418/.614 in September and has an .842 OPS in 138 plate appearances since returning from a stint in the minors.  It's almost like he's a different person....okay, fine, I'll stop with the LOST references, but I would've had a field day had his Yahoo ownership percentage matched one of the Numbers.  Still, Smoak is owned in just 14% of Yahoo leagues and he's facing a good opponent, as he has a 1.004 OPS in (small sample size alert!) 45 at-bats against the Angels this season.  It's usually not a good move to recommend a Mariners hitter for a home series but for Smoak in this series, I may have found a loophole.

* Jim Thome, Chris Davis.  HIS NAME IS JI.... The Orioles finish their dream season with a huge three-game set in Tampa Bay, and the Rays are sending three right-handers (Alex Cobb, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson) to the mound.  Who better to combat those arms than two big left-handed bats like Thome and Davis, the former a long-time destroyer of right-handed pitching and the latter one of the game's hottest hitters in September?  HIS NAME IS CHR...  Davis just launched his 30th homer of the season on Saturday night but is still available in 42% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, while the great Thome is available in a stunning 98% of leagues.  Of the two, I'd actually say that Davis is the lesser bet given his home-road splits (.891 OPS at Camden Yards, .721 OPS elsewhere), so pretend it's 2001 and go hard into the last week with old man Thome.

* Jonny Gomes and Chris Carter.  Gomes and Carter have picked a bad time to go into slumps, but for this all-important series against the Rangers and with southpaws Martin Perez and Matt Harrison scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, the A's are likely to turn to their lefty-mashers at 1B and DH.  This may come at the expense of benching the scalding-hot Brandon Moss, however, so keep an eye on those A's lineups to make sure they're actually putting Moss on the bench before making any changes.  It wouldn't surprise me if the A's play the hot hand and keep Moss in the lineup at the expense of other Gomes or Carter.  Moss is, in any case, a great pickup for Wednesday's game against righty Ryan Dempster.

* Paul Maholm.  This going to stun you, but the Pirates aren't very good against left-handed pitchers.  I know!  The Pirates!  The modern-day Murderer's Row!  The Bucs only have a .697 team OPS against southpaws this season and that number is probably dropping given the absolute rock-bottom status of the Pittsburgh nine right now.  I wouldn't like their chances against a Little League team right now, let alone the Braves in their season-ending series.  (Note to the MLB schedule-maker: having this year's Bucs wrap up their collapse against the Braves, of all teams, was just cruel.  What next, is Francisco Cabrera going to throw out the first pitch?)  Maholm has pitched well since coming to Atlanta, and minus two blowout starts against the Phillies and Brewers, has a 1.95 ERA over his other eight outings as a Brave.  Maholm, of course, spent his first seven seasons in Pittsburgh and apparently knows how to handle his old teammates, judging by his 2.08 ERA in two starts against the Bucs this year.  On the bright side for the Bucs, at least Maholm won't no-hit them....probably.

* Benchings.  This is just a general end-of-season reminder that lineup maintenance is more important than ever at this time of year.  If you have any stars who play on the Reds, Giants, Nationals, Braves or (almost) the Cardinals, don't just assume they'll be starting as per usual over the last three days, as managers may want to give their regulars a break before the playoffs.  The only thing worse than picking a bad streaming player is picking a good streaming player....and then leaving him on your bench since you just couldn't bear to sit, say, Jay Bruce, who ended up taking the night off while your streaming player had three hits. 

* Dan Johnson.  That's right, Dan Johnson!  Forget the stats, I love superstition!  Since last we left Tampa Bay's Mr. Clutch, he was outrighted by the Rays in November and he chose free agency, eventually signing a minor league contract with the White Sox.  Johnson is currently on the Sox big-league roster and has been seeing some pinch-hitting appearances lately.  With this AL Central race going right down to the wire, there could be another chance for Johnson to create some more late-season magic.  If you (against all common sense) picked up Johnson for your fantasy team and he actually delivered a big hit that helped both Chicago win the division and you win your league, you could tell that story on message boards for the rest of your life.  And imagine if the guy who finished behind you was a Red Sox fan?  Oh man, this is too crazy NOT to work.


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's Stock Watch recommended starts for Andy Pettitte (6 shutout innings and a win), Eric Stults (quality start and a win) and Lance Lynn (one earned run and a win).  Hopefully the following recommendations for pickups over the last few days of the season are also successful:

  • A.J. Griffin - After rough starts at Detroit and New York, Griffin returns home to an excellent pitchers' park and gets the weak Seattle offense on Friday.  Griffin has 60 strikeouts to 15 walks on the season with a 2.80 ERA and 3.71 SIERA.
  • Dan Straily - Coming off a strong start in Texas, minor league strikeout machine Dan Straily gets Seattle's offense at home on Saturday.  Run, don't walk, to your computer to claim Straily as he is owned in only 9% of Yahoo leagues.
  • Tommy Milone - Notice a pattern?  Also pick up this Oakland starter for his Sunday start against the Mariners.  Milone has been incredible at home with a 2.68 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.
  • Erasmo Ramirez - Facing Milone on Sunday in Oakland, Ramirez has a .99 WHIP in 52 2/3 innings on the season, and is owned in only 3% of Yahoo leagues.
  • Marco Estrada - Owned in 29% of Yahoo leagues, Estrada gets the Astros offense on Saturday and should be claimed where available.  Estrada has struggled in two of his last four starts but still is averaging more than a strikeout per inning and has a 1.17 WHIP.
  • Anibal Sanchez - Dropped in many competitive 12-team mixed leagues after getting beat around in the American League, Sanchez threw a dominant complete game shutout in his last start and gets the Twins on the road on Sunday.
  • Josh Collmenter - For those in deep leagues that are desperate for starting pitchers to close out the season, Collmenter is worth a start on Sunday when he faces a Cubs teams that may lose 100 games this season.  Collmenter got the win and pitched well in his last start in San Francisco.
  • Stephen Drew - Owned in only 20% of Yahoo leagues, Drew has been hot in September with 4 HRs, 12 RBIs and a .295 AVG.  Drew also has a seven-game hitting streak that includes two four-hit games.
  • Andy Dirks - Also enjoying a hot streak with hits in 13 of his last 29 at-bats that includes a home run and four RBIs.  Dirks is starting every day for a Tigers team fighting for the playoffs, has a season batting average well over .300, and is owned in only 9% of Yahoo leagues.


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The Best Fantasy Starting Pitcher Of 2012

Two weeks ago we voted on the best non-Mike Trout fantasy position player of the season, with Yoenis Cespedes beating Todd Frazier and Bryce Harper by no small margin. The Athletics' outfielder has contributed in all five traditional scoring categories, so it wasn't the most difficult choice.

The crop of rookie starting pitchers is surprisingly strong, strong enough that preseason top megaprospect Matt Moore won't even garner much Rookie of the Year consideration. The left-hander hasn't been bad by any means, but expectations were (unrealistically?) high. Matt Harvey had as good a big league debut as anyone, but he was unable to accumulate a meaningful amount of innings. Wei-Yin Chen had a fine first season in MLB, but he basically a league average producer. With all due respect to Mike Fiers (only 121 1/3 innings) and Lance Lynn (technically not a rookie due to service time), here are the three best fantasy starting pitchers of the year...

Yu Darvish | Rangers | 16 W | 3.90 ERA | 214 K | 1.27 WHIP | 184 2/3 IP

I don't love the idea that veterans of the Japanese league are considered rookies, but the rules say they are and that's all that matters. The 26-year-old Darvish has lived up to the hype this year, particularly of late. He owns the third highest strikeout rate (10.4 K/9) among qualified starters and has pitched to a 2.13 ERA with a 60/14 K/BB in his last seven starts (50 2/3 innings). His early-season walk problems -- 5.05 BB/9 as late as mid-August -- have been assuaged, bringing his WHIP down to respectable levels. The ERA is still dangerously close to the 4.08 league average, however.

Wade Miley | Diamondbacks | 16 W | 3.32 ERA | 134 K | 1.20 WHIP | 187 IP

Few teams can match the upper level pitching depth that Arizona has, but it was 25-year-old Miley who broke out of the Trevor Bauer/Tyler Skaggs/Patrick Corbin crop to became an impact pitcher as a freshman. The southpaw ranks 21st out of 91 qualified starters in ERA, though his strikeout rate (6.5 K/9) hardly stands out. Miley came into the season with relatively little hype and has exceeded all expectations, even earning a trip to the All-Star Game. In a world where pitcher wins and ERA are so important, he reigns supreme among rookies.

Jarrod Parker | Athletics | 12 W | 3.44 ERA | 134 K | 1.26 WHIP | 175 1/3 IP

Parker, 23, was another one of those high-end pitching prospects in the D'Backs system before they traded him to Oakland in the Trevor Cahill deal before the season. He stepped into the rotation in late-April and carried a flat 3.00 ERA into late-July. August wasn't very kind (4.71 ERA), but Parker has since rebounded in September (2.31 ERA). He doesn't have the one or two real standout categories to his credit like Darvish (strikeouts) or Miley (wins and ERA), but he has been a rock solid contributor in all non-save scoring categories. It's worth noting that his teammates share some of the blame on the low win total, as Parker has left a game either tied or trailing despite allowing two runs or fewer on seven occasions.


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Injury Watch: Finishing Strong

Today's edition of Injury Watch is the last one with a full slate of MLB games in front of it. We're down to the wire, and it's time to take a look at the last, best players dealing with injury issues as we prepare for October.

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

With news that Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will get at least one more chance to start before the end of the season, Dodgers fans and fantasy mavens should be rejoicing. Heck, anyone who likes to see good pitching should be pretty pleased.

The reigning Cy Young champ has been dealing with a hip impingement. At first, the thought was that he may need surgery, but now it appears that Kershaw will throw and see if there's any pain. If not, he'll make his scheduled start on Friday against the Rockies.

In case you haven't been keeping track, Kershaw's 2012 hasn't been quite as awesome as his 2011. This season, Clayton has only racked up 12 wins and 211 strikeouts, both numbers considerably less than his 2011 numbers. At the same time, his K/9 rate is hasn't fallen too much, moving down to 8.97 from 9.57, and his FIP still sits at 2.99, which is quite close to his sparkling 2.68 ERA. This "down" season from Kershaw is still one of the best in the majors, so he's still certainly an elite pitcher.

When it comes to fantasy, your options are clear. Basically, if you already have Kershaw, you should try to start him as the season winds down. If you don't have him, grab him if someone was foolish enough to drop him. And, given how that outing goes, you might feel just a bit more comfortable drafting him first (or close-to-first) among starters for 2013. Less-than-100-percent Clayton Kershaw is a heck of a lot better than almost any other start at full strength.

Josh Willingham, Twins

Offseason import Josh Willingham has certainly been one of the two best hitters on the Twins this season, along with Joe Mauer. While both players have been pretty consistently healthy this season, Willingham is now due to miss time due to a strained left shoulder. While his MRI revealed only a strain, a shoulder issue will almost-definitely affect his play leading up to the end of the season.

Josh has been pounding the ball so far in '12, and is working his best season ever with the bat. With 3 HR and 110 RBI (not to mention a sterling .378 wOBA), he's been a fantastic fantasy contributor in almost any format. If the strain isn't too serious, I wouldn't worry about Willingham being limited for next season. But keep in mind that this is a career year, and he may not hit quite at this level next season or any other in the future.

Do yourself a favor, and don't make it a point to start the Hammer for the rest of the season. But you should definitely consider adding him in the offseason, leading up to 2013. Perhaps his raw numbers won't be quite as impressive as his 2012 campaign, but there's also a non-zero chance that Willingham gets moved in the offseason or during 2013 to a team where his bat might play with more potency.

Quick Hits: A's starter Brett Anderson is suffering from a strained oblique, and will miss the rest of the regular season. He may be able to return for the playoffs, which would be a big boon to the Athletics. ... Mets closer Frank Francisco is out for the rest of 2012, but a mysterious tweet indicated he will miss 2013 as well. Though this could have been a mistake, Francisco isn't an elite back-of-the-bullpen option anyway. Draft accordingly in 2013. ... Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez will miss the rest of the season with a broken hand, and will have the chance to up his game in 2013. ... David Freese is hobbling on a sprained ankle. He may be ready for game action over the weekend, so he's worth monitoring. ... Chris Young of the Diamondbacks is still out with his right quad injury, but Adam Eaton is doing a great job Wally Pipp'ing Young. He won't be rushed back. ... Outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins are still day-to-day with minor injuries. Both could be back any day now. ... Yu Darvish missed his Tuesday start with neck stiffness, and may be held out until the playoffs.


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Closer Updates: Nats, Padres, Dodgers, Reds

As with last week, there's no shortage of bullpen shakeups to cover this week. Before we get down and dirty, your weekly friendly reminder to follow @closernews on Twitter, especially if you find it hard to respect me for not telling you the truth or not telling you face to face.

Nationals
Tyler Clippard's respectable season numbers (3.67 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) are a testament to how well he pitched prior to this month, because he has suffered through a nightmarish September: 9.64 ERA, three losses, one blown save. Clippard's tough stretch has culminated in a demotion, with Drew Storen being named Washington's primary full-time closer by manager Davey Johnson. Obviously, Storen, now owned in 61% of Yahoo! leagues, is a must-add if he has somehow slipped through the cracks in your league. Johnson said he'll still mix in Ty-Clipp, so he's worth holding onto if you're desperate, but I'd be surprised if he earned more than one save the rest of the way.

Padres
Finally, Huston Street has made his long-awaited return from an August calf strain. The right-hander earned a save in his first outing back on Sunday, although he coughed up a run along the way. Even still, the guess here is that Street will be the Friars' sole closer the rest of the way. The team was very cautious in monitoring his comeback, presumably because they wanted to minimize the chance of a possible re-injury. With that in mind, I have to think Street is essentially 100% healthy. Luke Gregerson owners might want to hold on to see how San Diego's next save chance shapes up, but I'm also not averse to cutting LG before then if someone better is sitting on the wire.

Dodgers
Kenley Jansen has looked sharp in three outings since returning from the irregular heartbeat that sidelined him for a few weeks. The only problem is, none of those outings has been a save situation. I predicted last week that the Dodgers would shoehorn Jansen back into the ninth after only an outing or so, but clearly they are taking a more conservative approach, allowing Brandon League to soak up a couple more save opps. The Dodgers are close enough in the wild card race that they can't just put up the white flag, but will that result in Don Mattingly erring toward preserving the status quo? It seems that way to me.

Reds
Aroldis Chapman returned to the hill in a non-save situation on Saturday after missing nearly two weeks due to shoulder fatigue. The question now is whether Chapman is now available for regular closing duty. My guess is no. The Reds have already clinched their postseason berth and have little reason to push the fireballer other than to tune up for the playoffs -- but that goal can be accomplished in any number of situations. I think Chapman might see another save chance just because the Reds might want to see how he responds in that setting, but Jonathan Broxton owners should hold on.

Mets
Frank Francisco hasn't pitched since Sept. 16 due to elbow tendinitis, but the Mets insist they're not ready to shut down the right-hander for the season's balance. Francisco's poor season had already stifled his ownership rates, but he's now rostered in just 58% of Yahoo! leagues, and I don't blame owners for having little patience. Hold onto Double-F if you have the room and need saves, but don't torture yourself over your decision on this one. Jon Rauch is the guy you want to snap up if you're scrounging for Mets saves.


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Silver League Update: How'd It Go? (Part II)

This week, as the Silver League begins its final stretch, we'll continue our team review series. Last week, we looked at the bottom four teams in the league and focused mostly on the mistakes and misfortunes that brought them there. It was a bit of a down article. Next week, we'll take a look at the top four and bask in the glow of their successes. This time, though, we've got that space where most of us seem to end up residing: the middle. Our seasons weren't horrible, maybe they were even competitive, but at the end of the year we still aren't taking home any cash. Yeah, I say "we" because you'll be seeing my own team in here...

The Playmakers--58 points, 9th place

R   HR   RBI   SB   AVG  W  SV   K   ERA   WHIP
9      8       2       9        3       8   5     8      4           2

Savvy readers will be quick to notice that a ninth place team is not among the middle four--and that last week's article mentioned a completely different team in ninth! Yes, the Rally Beers moved up into eighth, ruining my neat little plan. Good for them.

Top 6 Draft Picks:
Jose Bautista, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Michael Bourn, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips 

What Went Well:
First of all, I can't help but notice how odd it is that this team has nine points in runs, eight in homers, but just two in RBIs. Aren't those supposed to be correlated? That definitely speaks to something going right, including good seasons from top of the order hitters like Bourn, Phillips, Austin Jackson, and Marco Scutaro. Seventh-round gem Adam Jones has helped all around, but more in runs than RBIs. Ditto for MVP candidate and ROY certainty Mike Trout. Adam LaRoche was a great waiver wire snag.

What Went Wrong:
Anyone who drafted Tim Lincecum early knows the Playmakers' pain.  His 2013 draft value will be an interesting question for the offseason, but he wasn't even the worst Giant pitcher to land on the Playmakers, as cool Beard-related promotions couldn't keep Brian Wilson off the DL all season. Having Heath Bell and Frank Francisco was like adding...injury...to injury. Speaking of injuries, the one that hit David Ortiz certainly hurt this team, but the one that ended Joey Bats' season didn't.

Major Moves:
The Playmakers made two trades this season, one which truly lived up to the name: Joey Bautista for Mike Trout in mid-July. I panned the trade at the time: Bautista was a known first-rounder who was swatting homers like flies. Trout was...so good he had to decline. Well, Trout didn't come back to earth and is enjoying one of the best rookie seasons ever. Way to go Playmakers, for making a gutsy trade that worked.

They also flipped Jay Bruce and Matt Moore to the Rally Beers for Austin Jackson. I liked that move last week for the  Beers, so I can't like it this week for the Playmakers. 

Analysis:
Though the Playmakers are stuck in the nine-spot right now, they aren't destined to remain here, even with just over a week to play, as the pack is tight from tenth to third. This team has hit some rough luck and I hat to think where they'd be without trading for Trout. Well, no I don't. If they don't make that trade, they'd have no chance of passing me....

King Fish 2.0--63.5 points, 7th place

R   HR   RBI   SB   AVG  W  SV   K   ERA   WHIP
5     10     10     1       10    5.5  1      5     7            9

Top 6 Draft Picks:
Albert Pujols, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence, Starlin Castro, Matt Wieters

What Went Right:
In a word: power. Look at that: ten points in homers, RBI, and batting average. Angels Pujols and 17th-round success Mark Trumbo both have 30 bombs. Rickie Weeks slipped a lot, but Aaron Hill bounced back in a big way--both have over 20 homers, as do Pence, Konerko, Wieters, David Freese, and Mark Reynolds. Gio Gonzalez was an 11th round ace, and Wade Miley was a surprise success story.

What Went Wrong:
Looking at those top three picks, it's easy to see how King Fish 2.0 has been working their way out of a big hole since the beginning of the year. Pujols has rebounded a lot, but bad stats in April keep counting all year; the same goes for Cliff Lee. Halladay's injury and the struggles of Weeks and Chris Young. Matt Capps and Jordan Walden were a last-place disaster as closers and Starlin Castro leads the team with just 25 steals.

Major Moves:
The only major trade the King Fish made was with me, and it couldn't have been more of a disaster. (Sorry, King Fish): they gave me Corey Hart for Emilio Bonifacio on May 17. Bonifacio would spend the next month and half on the DL, come back to steal nine bases, and land back on the DL toward the end of August. It was worth a try, but the baseball gods clearly didn't want this team stealing bases.

Analysis:
This team really is in the middle of things. They could move up into the top half, or slide into the lower half in the next week without surprising me. Some of the best news for King Fish 2.0 is that most of their bad luck hit early in the season and their team is better now than it has been for much of the year. Which is bad news for me....

Inch'on Wyverns--64 points, 6th place

R   HR   RBI   SB   AVG  W  SV   K   ERA   WHIP
 1      3       4      11      6       12   2    12     6            7

Top 6 Picks:
Jacoby Ellsbury, Prince Fielder, Dan Haren, David Price, B.J. Upton, Michael Morse

What Went Right:
Looking up at those top picks, part of me wants to say, "Just David Price." But Fielder has hit the ball, and Upton and Morse have been very strong since returning from early injury. Jason Kipnis was a great pickup in the 14th (recent slide notwithstanding). I've plugged Marco Estrada more than a few times, and I'll do it again: he's been great for this team, especially since the Brewers decided to win again. Emilio Bonifacio's 20 steals in the first month and a half are still a big part of my rank in that category.

What Went Wrong:
Ellsbury as a first round pick was a huge bust, as were all the closers I drafted: Carlos Marmol, Greg Holland, and Grant Balfour. It didn't help that I let go of all three of them before they regained their jobs. Alexei Ramirez was supposed to be a power hitter, I thought, but I guess not. Early in the season, my top four OF were injured and Torii Hunter was the best one standing. Of course, I can't forget the horror of Mark Reynolds....

Major Moves:
I made the trade above with the Playmakers and one trade with McRuder early in the season; both are a big part of my Wyverns not being last in the league. I sent Haren (before he could disappoint anyone), Holland, Ricky Nolasco, and Yonder Alonso away to get Jason Heyward, Mike Minor, Max Scherzer, and Sean Marshall. The trade hurt me a lot early on, with how badly Minor and Scherzer pitched, but then Scherzer turned into an ace. Marshall might have lost his job, but he got me enough saves to keep me in second-to-last-place. 

Analysis:
At sixth place, I'm sitting right in the middle of the standings, but I've used almost all of my pitching innings. That's a big part of why I'm at the top of wins and K's, but it also gives everyone else a chance to catch up on me a lot, as I've dropped nearly all my starters for relievers to keep my IP down. What will happen? I don't know, but I'll be very excited if I move up to fifth. Shocked if I move ahead of that. I think this really is an average team.

McRuder--67.5 points, 5th place

R   HR   RBI   SB   AVG  W  SV   K   ERA   WHIP
6      5       1      7        9    10.5  12  11      2           4

Top 6 Draft Picks:
Joey Votto, Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Lawrie, Ryan Zimmerman, Desmond Jennings, Madison Bumgarner

What Went Right:
Trades are what went right with this team, because the draft and the season's first couple months did not. Even nearly halfway through the season, I really thought McRuder was dead in the water and out of the competition. Their meteoric rise was fast and surprising enough I gave it a whole article; a lot had to do with trading for the innings-limited Stephen Strasburg and Chris Sale when news of their limitation first intensified.  Saves off the waiver wire have gone great for them too: Addison Reed, Rafael Soriano, and Tom Wilhelmsen are not the closers you'd expect to see on the league leader in saves. Coming away from early season trades I discussed last week with both Joey Votto and Robinson Cano didn't hurt.

What Went Wrong:
McRuder admitted to us that his plan is to send out as many trade offers as possible early in the season, which is good because that's what this team had to do. Draft choices like Zimmerman and Lawrie were painful, as was the John Axford closer experience. The back half of the draft really didn't produce much, which is the sort of good luck a good team usually needs.

Major Moves:
McRuder made ten trades and nearly 200 waiver wire moves, so their final team really didn't resemble the drafted team much. McRuder's strategy was a simple one, but a tough one: make a million trades and win by a little almost every time. The trades had their ups and downs, but the net effect was huge, bringing in Cano, Strasburg, Sale, Matt Cain, Dan Haren, Soriano, Bryce Harper, and Willin Rosario, among others.

Analysis:
There was a point this season when McRuder was as far from 11th as the 11th place team was from first, or at least that's how it seemed. After the Strasburg and Sale trades things have been uphill ever since and they've charged into fifth. They're 6.5 points from fourth place, but I could still see them breaking into the top. I'd root for them, but I'm the one trying to give chase.

Every year some teams make better predictions, better trades, and get better luck than others. Those teams are coming up next week.

 


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This Week In Streaming Strategy: Sept. 24-30

This is it.  The last full week of the baseball season, the last week of head-to-head fantasy league playoff finals and (really) your last chance to pick up significant points through strategic player streams.  Let's see what players can still make a big impact in a short amount of time.

* Norichika Aoki.  If you're looking for both an NL Rookie Of The Year dark horse and a big reason why the Brewers have caught fire in the second half, look no further than Aoki.  He quietly stepped into an everyday role as the Brew Crew's right fielder and leadoff man in June and has put up very solid numbers, stealing 28 bases and taking a .311/.388/.467 line against right-handed pitching into Saturday's action.  Milwaukee opens its week with four straight games against right-handed starters and could face as many as two more righties depending on how the Astros set their rotation for next weekend's series, so Aoki is well-positioned to keep delivering.  Aoki is still available is 46% of Yahoo fantasy leagues so get him as quickly as you can.

* Alcides Escobar.  The Royals shortstop has had a reverse-splits season, hitting better against right-handed pitching (.304/.336/.412) than left-handed pitching (.274/.333/.339) despite being a right-handed batter.  With Kansas City facing at least five right-handed starters out of seven games this week, this is a good time to jump on the bandwagon, as Escobar is owned in just 66% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, and I'd suspect he's a backup in several of these leagues.  (To wit, I've put Escobar on my own bench in the wake of Ben Zobrist gaining shortstop eligibility.)  Escobar is an intriguing young player who deserves a better fantasy fate than this, especially since he also has 31 steals in 36 attempts this year.  That's right, it's time to sound the CHEAP STEALS ALERT.  Imagine if you literally stole your fantasy playoff matchup thanks to one stolen base?  We'd have to sound the OH, SWEET IRONY alert, which oddly sounds a lot like George Plimpton sighing.

* Andy Pettitte.  Let's take a moment to acknowledge how crazy it is that it's 2012 and I'm still writing about Andy Pettitte as a viable fantasy option.  I think I'd ultimately hesitate before putting the guy in the Hall of Fame, but there's no doubt that Pettitte has had a tremendous career and is still more than capable of shutting down Major League lineups at age 40.  Pettitte looked solid in his return from the DL last Tuesday, throwing five shutout innings against Toronto, and I'm recommend him as a good two-start option for this week.  Pettitte faces the Twins on Monday and is lined up to face the Blue Jays again over the weekend --- both with middle-of-the-pack numbers against lefty pitching and playing out the string on the season.  Both starts will be on the road, and while Pettitte has performed better at Yankee Stadium this year (1.85 ERA in seven home starts, as opposed to a 5.40 ERA in three road starts), it's too small a sample size to predict that Pettitte is prone to struggling outside the Bronx.  Pettitte's long DL stint may have made many fantasy owners forget about him, as he is owned in only 25% of Yahoo fantasy leagues.  You could take a chance on a younger, fresher face as a streaming starter this week, or you could pick a guy who has pitched well in umpteen clutch games over the years.  Umpteen, by the way, is also the name of a new drama on The CW this fall, chronicling the high school days of Jim Joyce, C.B. Bucknor, Marty Foster and other men in blue back when they were just boys in blue.  I expect ratings gold.

* Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez.  I'm very hesitantly recommending these two just because the Pirates are scheduled to face right-handed starters in all seven of their games this week, setting up these two righty-killers (Jones has an .881 OPS and 22 homers against RHP this year, Alvarez an .837 OPS with 23 homers) for a big week, in theory.  Then again, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "In theory, communism works!"  Jones and Alvarez are both notoriously streaky hitters and they've both been ice cold in September, with their slumps a big reason why the Pirates have fallen apart down the stretch.  If you have the roster space and pressing need for some first base/outfield or third base help, I'd pick up Jones or Alvarez and stream them accordingly for a few days to see if they can turn things around with all these favorable matchups.  As a Jones owner myself, I'll be feeling the pain of my own recommendation if he doesn't turn things around.

* Alejandro De Aza.  Robin Ventura benched De Aza for two games last week, saying the center fielder was pressing a bit at the plate and in need of a rest.  (And, Ventura also used the opportunity to get Dewayne Wise's hot bat in to the lineup.)  Since returning, however, De Aza has started all five games and gone 10-for-22 at the plate, including a four-hit outing against the Royals on Wednesday.   De Aza's production has taken a dip in the second half of the season but he's still hitting .291/.347/.428 against right-handed pitching this season, and with the White Sox facing righty starters in at least five of seven games this week, Ventura will surely keep his regular center fielder in the lineup as long as he's swinging well.  With De Aza probably back in Chicago's lineup for the duration, that doesn't leave much room for...

* Dayan Viciedo.  The righty-heavy slate of opposing pitchers is a bad sign for Viciedo, who has just a .625 OPS against right-handers this season.  (And a 1.003 OPS against southpaws, to be fair.)  With so many righties coming up, the White Sox may give Wise more playing time than Viciedo; Wise is a lefty bat, hitting the ball well right now and brings much more to the table than Viciedo in terms of defense and base-stealing.  I'm not suggesting that you add Wise since his career numbers indicate that his hot streak won't last long, but if you have Viciedo, I'd suggest leaving him on the bench and going with another option this week.

* Trevor Cahill.  The right-hander enjoyed significant home/road splits over his first three seasons in Oakland, so the question for Cahill coming into his first year as a Diamondback was whether he could learn to pitch effectively away from the O.co Coliseum.  On the bright side, the answer seems to be yes, as Cahill has a 2.91 ERA in 15 road starts this season.  On the down side, Cahill hasn't quite mastered his new home ballpark, as Cahill has a 4.96 ERA in 15 starts at Chase Field this year.  Even though Cahill is scheduled to face the hapless Rockies and Cubs this week, I'm not recommend him as a two-start streaming option.  The first start is at Coors Field so that's a red flag in and of itself, while the start against the Cubs is in the unfriendly confines of Chase Field.  Cahill has thrown three straight quality starts and is trying to finish strong after a middling 2012 season but I'd stay away from him this week.


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

With under two weeks remaining for the season this week's Stock Watch will target players that are widely available on waivers and may provide a boost in the standings:

  • Starling Marte - Stole two bases on Thursday and has been hitting out of the leadoff spot since returning from injury.  Marte is owned in only 9% of Yahoo leagues, but he can provide a nice power, speed and runs boost down the stretch.  ZiPS even projects Marte to hit .290 for the remainder of the year.
  • Logan Forsythe - Qualifying at 2B and 3B in Yahoo leagues, Forsythe has quietly enjoyed an excellent September with 2 HRs, 10 RBIs, 15 runs and 3 steals.  Plug Forsythe in as an off-day replacement for your starting hitters at either 2B or 3B to make sure you use as many games played from these positions as possible.
  • Jason Bourgeois - Owners in daily leagues that are looking for speed should plug Bourgeois into lineups on days he is starting.  Bourgeois is a burner on the basepaths but does not provide much of anything else.  But many leagues are tight in steals with points to be earned quickly.  Bourgeois is only owned in 1% of Yahoo leagues.
  • Lonnie Chisenhall - Hitting .276 with 2 HRs in 32 plate appearances since returning from injury this month, Chisenhall is only owned in 3% of Yahoo leagues.  Chisenhall should provide decent power numbers with a serviceable batting average, and makes for another roster streaming option.
  • Chris Nelson - His ownership has creeped up to 26% in Yahoo leagues during his hot streak, but grab him in leagues where he remains on waivers.  With 2B and 3B eligibility, Nelson has raked in September with 3 HRs, 12 RBIs and 12 runs.  Nelson's 22.4 strikeout percentage will depress his batting average but ride the hot streak while it lasts.
  • Eric Stults - Starts on Sunday in San Francisco and has actually had a better pitching line on the road this year than at Petco with a 2.31 ERA and 1.12 WHIP.  Stults can be plugged into a RP slot in Yahoo leagues and is a good spot start option this weekend.
  • Lance Lynn - Dropped in most competitive leagues when he was banished to the bullpen, Lynn has pitched consecutive excellent starts for the Cardinals on their playoff push.  With a pitching matchup against Houston on Monday, Lynn should be claimed off waivers where available and started.
  • Andy Pettitte - Back from injury and looked good in his first start with five shutout innings and a victory.  Pettitte has been surprisingly effective this year given missing the entire 2011 season, and he should be picked up by owners looking for starters to fill out their available innings.  Pettittle should be in all lineups for his Monday start in Minnesota.


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Orioles Give Bundy A Late Season Promotion

The Orioles are right in the thick of the AL East race, and last month they decided to bolster their roster by calling up infielder Manny Machado. He hasn't been great in his 153 plate appearance sample (.264/.276/.426 with four homers), but he has solidified what was an ugly third base situation. Baltimore took things one step further yesterday, calling up right-hander Dylan Bundy to pitch out of the bullpen during the final two weeks of the season. Monday's marathon 18-inning game against the Mariners stretched the Orioles bullpen thin, prompting the call-up.

At just 19 years old and one year removed from being drafted out of high school, Bundy is the youngest pitcher on a big league roster at the moment. He is the game's top pitching prospect and arguably the best prospect in baseball overall, regardless of position. Baseball America had him in the top spot of their midseason top 50 while ESPN's Keith Law had him second behind only Jurickson Profar in his midseason top 25 (Insider req'd). Bundy's minor league numbers are off-the-charts good, including a 2.08 ERA in 103 2/3 innings while climbing three levels from Low Class-A to Double-A. He struck out 119 (10.3 K/9) and walked just 28 (2.4 BB/9) while surrendering only 67 total hits and six homers. The scouting report backs up the performance as well. From Baseball America's preseason subscriber-only scouting report...

Tick off everything scouts want in an ace, and Bundy has it. Fastball? He pitches at 94-98 mph and touches 100 with his fourseamer, which features explosive life. He also uses a low-90s two-seamer to get groundballs and also has a cutter in the same range that essentially gives him a third plus fastball. Complementary pitches? In addition to his cutter, his upper-70s curveball already grades as a plus pitch, and he shows good feel for a solid changeup. Mechanics? Bundy is a great athlete with good body control, so his mechanics are clean and balanced and he repeats his delivery well. That should give him good command, and he also shows a great feel for his craft.

Bundy has yet to appear in a game with Baltimore (hey, it's only been one day) and it's very unclear how the Orioles will use him going forward. Manager Buck Showalter hinted that the right-hander was going to be the first out of the bullpen last night, but instead he turned to his core relievers like Darren O'Day and Pedro Strop in the tight game. Given where we are in the season, how Showalter uses Bundy is going to be the driving force behind the youngster's fantasy usefulness. If he's not going to pitch, he's not worth a roster spot. It's that simple. Despite his age, he has the potential to be absolutely dominant in short bursts (one or two or three innings at a time) out of the bullpen, enough so that he will have fantasy value despite a presumed lack of saves. We just don't know how often we're going to see him.

Long-term, Bundy is one of the top keeper pitching prospects in baseball. In the short-term though, it's tough to consider him worth a roster spot in fantasy crunch time. The Orioles have a great bullpen and a lot of established relievers that will get the call ahead of him, so his usage figures to be too sporadic to count on. You're definitely better off keeping a reliever, even just a strong setup man, who you know is going to pitch down the stretch. Bundy is a great young pitcher and will be a fantasy factor for years to come, but his time is not now. Enjoy his appearances as fan, but don't put yourself in a position to obsess over them fantasy-wise.


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Injury Watch: Late-Season Slowdown Edition

Hey there, RotoAuthority readers! We've reached the point in the season where teams aren't even bothering with the 15-day DL in some cases, as rosters have expanded, and there's less than 15 days left in the regular season.

On a only-kind-of-related sidenote, today's article is dedicated to my wife, Sarah. She's currently missing time after arthroscopic knee surgery. While she's on the 15-day DL, I expect she will need no rehab assignment, and is due to come off before the end of the season. Anyways, on to the injuries!

Chris Carpenter, Cardinals

Surprise, surprise, Chris Carpenter is on his way back. After suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition where excess pressure is placed on the nerves or arteries in the upper chest and shoulder region. While it was initially thought that Carpenter would miss the entire 2012 season, it now appears that he will make a few appearances at the major-league level as the Cardinals attempt to hold on to their position near the top of the wild card race.

Carpenter, a long-time fixture at the top of the Cardinals' rotation (and the disabled list), has a career 3.76 ERA and 3.80 FIP -- but those numbers don't tell the whole story of his success. Carpenter has also won two World Series rings with the Cards, and his pitching stats have improved significantly since playing for the Cardinals starting in 2004. Last season, Carpenter struck out 7.24 batters per nine innings, and racked up 5.0 fWAR.

The Cardinals are desperately trying to hang on to the last wild card spot, and currently sit 1.5 games ahead of the Dodgers for that last postseason berth. If they were out of contention, one might imagine that Carpenter would continue to get rest, but with the season on the line, the veteran ace should see use in at least two -- likely three -- games, plus any possible time in the playoffs.

The question is, if you still have a team that needs starts, wins, or rate stats, should you start Chris Carpenter? My advice is that yes, yes you should. Carpenter may be available on the wire in your league, especially if several league-mates have already checked out. And although we really don't know what kind of pitching shape Carpenter will be in, he pitches for a solid offensive team that's playing hard for a playoff spot. Best of all, if the current schedule holds, he'll draw the terrible Chicago Cubs and the even-worse Houston Astros for his first two starts out. Those are two eminently-beatable teams with weak offenses, so I'd give Carp a shot.

Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

Let's talk briefly about another injury-prone superstar: Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo, a perennial MVP candidate, has been limited to just 47 games and 203 plate appearances so far in an injury-plagued 2012. He was still pretty ok with the bat in that limited time, posting 114 wRC+, as well as 8 HR, a .287 batting average, and solid R and RBI numbers.

Since early in the season, Tulo has been battling a groin injury that's proven tough to overcome. Last week, Troy headed back to Denver to consult with doctors about a next course of action. It's possible he could return for, say, the last week of the season, but chances are that he's done for the year, especially with the Rockies well out of playoff contention.

I don't know if you've been hanging onto Tulo in the hopes that he'll come back this season, but if you have, it's probably time to cut bait. The odds of him not only returning this season, but also mashing the cover off the ball as well, are pretty slim. Tulo was having a down year with the bat in the games he did play, and groin issues can sap power and (especially) speed. Stick with Joshua Rutledge until next year ... and consider drafting Tulo a little later than you would usually in next year's drafts as well. These injury issues are a little disconcerting.

Quick Hits: Braves shortstop Paul Janish dislocated his shoulder on Tuesday. Janish, who's been filling in for Andrelton Simmons (who also has a shoulder issue) and Alex Gonzalez as the backup SS, doesn't have a firm timetable for a return. ... Brandon Inge is now definitely out for the season, after surgery on his shoulder. Looks like the A's will have to mix and match at third base during the post-season, not that it would be any worse than running Inge out there. ... Clayton Kershaw saw a hip specialist on Tuesday, and is re-starting a throwing program to see if his impingement will prevent him from pitching again in 2012. If Kershaw needs surgery, there's a chance he won't be healthy to start 2013. ... Giancarlo Stanton is dealing with a strained left intercostal muscle, and might return to the Marlins' lineup this weekend. Baseballs everywhere are terrified. ... Padres closer Huston Street looks to be returning to action before the end of the season. He's currently dealing with a left calf strain, and has been lights out when healthy this season. ... Finally, with Jason Hammel still dealing with a knee issue, and the Orioles just having come off a big 18-inning game on Tuesday, uber-prospect Dylan Bundy will be coming up to the majors today. Thanks to this particular injury, the surprising Orioles will have a chance to replace their current ace with a potential one.


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