September 2012

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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

With trading deadlines having passed teams can focus on waiver claims that can help during the stretch run of the season or in head-to-head playoff matchups. Stock Watch over the last few weeks of the season will focus on players available on many waiver wires.

Buy

  • Norichika Aoki - Owned in only 14% of Yahoo leagues, compare the Brewers lead-off hitter's stats to the last outfielder on your active roster. Aoki hit .299 with eight steals and 10 runs in August, and is enjoying a solid season across the board with seven home runs and 22 steals.  His modest .305 BABIP supports the legitimacy of his .288 batting average for the season, and his .77 walk-to-strikeout ratio shows a control of the strike zone that should avoid a prolonged slump during a head-to-head playoff matchup.
  • Adam Eaton - Hit .381 (with an inflated .432 BABIP) while collecting 38 steals and seven home runs in 562 plate appearances for the Diamondback's Triple-A affiliate this season.  Eaton has started the first two games since his recall and already collected three runs with four hits in eleven at-bats. Eaton should be picked up by teams desperate for speed.
  • Mark Reynolds - Finally crossing the 50% ownership threshold in Yahoo leagues at 52%, Reynolds is single handedly carrying fantasy offenses with eight home runs in his last 7 games.  A notoriously streaky hitter, get Reynolds on your team and enjoy the ride in those leagues where he remains on waivers.
  • Mike Minor - Courtesy of a slow start to the season, Minor remains mostly a streaming option in many 1- or 12-team mixed leagues. However, Minor should be a stabilizing force in fantasy rotations with a 2.56 ERA and .93 WHIP in the second half.  Minor is also rocking a 46-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the second half and is coming off a seven-inning shutout performance.
  • Everth Cabrera - Owned in only 5% of Yahoo leagues despite 28 steals and eligibility at both 2B and SS, Cabrera has shifted around the Padres lineup but may get a chance to hit leadoff for much of the rest of the season.  He also is tied for second in steals among Yahoo-eligible 2B and fourth among SS, despite only receiving 361 plates appearances this season due to his later call-up date.
  • Andrew Cashner - Returns Friday night for a home start against the Diamondbacks and should be claimed and activated in all leagues.  The Padres have a pitcher-friendly schedule the remainder of the season and Cashner can provide excellent strikeout numbers.
  • Dan Straily - Scratched from his Triple-A start scheduled for Friday, Straily may return to the Oakland rotation to replace Brandon McCarthy. Straily is another big strikeout pitcher that enjoyed a 3.18 ERA and 12-to-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 17 innings over his first three Major League starts earlier this year.  He also rocked 11+ strikeouts per nine innings in the minor leagues this year.
  • Jason Hammel - After his impressive performance against the Yankees on Thursday in his return to the Baltimore rotation, Hammel has a 3.46 ERA, 3.19 FIP and 8.82 strikeouts per nine innings this season.  Pick Hammel up in leagues where he was dropped following his trip to the DL.
  • Chris Archer - In leagues with deep benches, Archer is worth a stash now in the event he is moved into the rotation to provide rest to Alex Cobb.  Archer struck out 14 batters in 11 2/3 innings earlier this season, and enjoyed a 9.77 strikeouts per nine innings rate in Triple-A this season with a 3.66 ERA.

Sell

  • Ryan Vogelsong - After an excellent first half, Vogelsong has slumped to a 5.20 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in the second half.  Owners cannot wait on Vogelsong to figure out his problems during the head-to-head playoffs.  I prefer Cashner or Minor to Vogelsong for the remainder of the season.


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Closers: Dodgers, Padres, Red Sox

For all the latest on closers and their potential rehab setbacks, be sure to follow @closernews on Twitter.

Dodgers
It appears that the only obstacle to a long stretch of dominance for Kenley Jansen may be his own health. Having claimed closing duties early in the season, the hard-throwing right-hander was authoring a terrific campaign, sitting on a 2.54 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 25 saves and 86 strikeouts in just 56 2/3 innings through last week. Then, out of nowhere, the bad news broke that Jansen would be out indefinitely after suffering a recurrence of the heart condition that sidelined him for a month last season and for a spell during Spring Training this year.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has been noncommital about naming a proper replacement for Jansen, saying that Ronald Belisario and Brandon League, both right-handers, would share closing duties in Jansen's absence. It's only been a week since Jansen went down, so it might be too soon to infer much from a small sample of games, but the Dodgers have been involved in several close games in that time, and there are some interesting trends to note. While Belisario is enjoying a better season than League and was called upon for the first post-Jansen save chance, he has since been used in situations not typically reserved for closers, including pitching the top of the ninth with his team trailing on Sunday and then making a one-out appearance in the seventh inning on Monday that eventually led to a League save.

So while these small-sample trends make League the better add than Belisario at the moment, I don't think we can say this one has necessarily been settled, especially considering Mattingly's original declaration at the outset.

Of course, all of this may be moot depending on what happens with Jansen. The Dodgers were expected to make an announcement as soon as Tuesday as to whether he would return at some point this season. My initial instinct is to guess that he'll be shut down, considering he's dealing with such a serious medical condition, but that is mere speculation. In the meantime, League is where I'd look first for a replacement, and then to Belisario.

Padres
With Huston Street's DL stint creeping up on a month, his owners got some bad news over the weekend. Street apparently suffered something of a mild setback during his rehab from a calf strain, and there's still no timetable in place for his return. With about a month remaining on the season's calendar, there's still time for Street to return and accrue a handful of saves for his owners, but the window is closing.

I said when Street went down that the Padres probably wouldn't be in a huge rush to get him back on the mound -- because of Street's recently signed extension and the team's place in the standings -- and that appears to be the case. This can only be a good thing for owners of interim closer Luke Gregerson, who should see a handful more save chances before Street elbows him back into a setup role. Gregerson blew a save chance on Monday and has allowed runs in back-to-back outings, but I'm thinking he should get another go-round before Bud Black considers making a(nother) change. There's only so short a leash you can place on your closing candidates before you've cycled through them all.

Hold onto Gregerson if you own him now, and if he's still kicking around on your league's wire (only owned in 18% of Yahoo! leagues), give him a long look if you're in need of saves. He should have the gig for at least another week and perhaps more, and he should do a fine job.

Red Sox
Short of an official announcement, it was nonetheless all but certain last week that Andrew Bailey had overtaken Alfredo Aceves as Red Sox closer following Aceves' brutal August and team-imposed three-game suspension. But just in case there was any lingering doubt, the Red Sox since then announced that Aceves would be starting over the season's final month, clearing the way for Bailey to man the ninth inning, just as they'd planned when they acquired him last offseason from the Athletics.

I will admit, I had this one wrong. When Bailey was nearing his return, Aceves was still pitching capably and the Red Sox were still on the fringes of playoff contention. What would be their motivation to make a switch? Well, Aceves played his cards about as poorly as one can, and Boston's season went completely off the rails.

Bailey is owned in only 62% of Yahoo! leagues, so be sure to snap him up if he's fallen through the cracks in your league. It's hard to say whether he's back to his old form considering he's made only eight appearances so far this season since returning from the disabled list, but the upside is enough to warrant the benefit of the doubt. Now, if only the Sox could get him a save chance ...



Silver League Update: Too Far Ahead

I never really thought there was such a thing as too many strikeouts. This, I have come to realize, is more of a personality trait than a real strategy. See, I've never been too fond of leaving important things up to others. Maybe it comes from years of playing on second-string Little League teams (where my ninth-string bat put me), knowing that every time an opponent made contact someone would make an error. Maybe me. Strikeouts, though, strikeouts you can trust. Remember when Crash Davis tells Nuke LaLoosh that grounders are "more democratic?" Well, that's when I stopped trusting his life advice. 

I'm starting to think that old Crash knew what he was talking about all along. My last series has been a chronicle of my attempts to repair ugly ERA and WHIP numbers, but my one pitching stat that isn't ugly is strikeouts. I've sat atop the Silver League standings in that category for awhile now, but it wasn't until today that I realized that I can stop looking over my shoulder. With 1222 K's (more by the time you read this), my staff is rocking an 8.58 K/9 ratio and a ridiculous 92 whiff lead on second place McRuder. I say ridiculous, because those 92 give me exactly one point! Efficient business, this isn't.

To this day, I have a hard time trusting anything but strikeouts. Pitchers who succeed without many of them seem like they're going to blow up at any moment. Only a lifelong appreciation for Tom Glavine has allowed me to trust in the likes of Matt Cain. Meanwhile, I spent years drafting Daniel Cabrera and Oliver Perez all over the place--I knew they would come around eventually!

The trouble is that I've paid a price for those strikeouts. Sometimes they cost a high draft pick, like with David Price. Other times, the price has been putting up with otherwise subpar results. Sure, I'm glad to have Max Scherzer now, but he was killing my ERA for awhile. I put up with some terrible starts from Mike Minor and Ricky Nolasco just because they came with a few strikeouts. A part of me is still itching to draft Minor next year.

On top of all that is that the sheer quantity of pitchers I've used has left me pretty close to the innings cap with just a month to go. If you don't have a cap, then expect most everyone to stream, but when you only have 1500 innings, they're all valuable. I've only got 218 innings left--the fewest in the league--and I'm still not even in the middle of the pack when it comes to ERA and WHIP. My wins are good, but forget about saves (that's another story anyway). I'm not at the drop everyone for relief pitchers, but I'm getting close. 

Close enough that the next week or so will be sort of like a new Spring Training for my starters. I've averaged about 250 IP/month, which means I need to cut about 30 innings from my staff. I'd rather not go cold turkey for the last week, so someone's getting replaced with a reliever. Since there aren't many self-respecting leagues with available closers on the waiver wire, I can't go that route. Still, there are some decent relievers out there, just waiting to join Frank Francisco, David Hernandez (why isn't J.J. Putz hurt yet?), and Sergio Romo.

I'd love to grab a few more saves, so I could always try a number two on RotoAuthority's Depth Chart. Vinnie Pestano (26%) has been great, with a 2.08 ERA, but Chris Perez hasn't just failed to implode, he's pitched pretty well. Shawn Camp (1%) hasn't been awesome, but he might vulture a save chance from Carlos Marmol. If the Cubs ever get any.... Pedro Strop (21%) has been very good, to the tune of a sub-2.00 ERA. I could even hold out hope that demoted Bay Area closers Santiago Casilla (46%) and Ryan Cook (38%) could get their jobs back.

If I'm resigned enough in my chances to get another point in saves, then Tim Collins (3% owned) leaps immediately to mind, what with his 85 Ks in 62 innings. That's the kind of efficiency I should have been going for all along. Jason Grilli (15%) has 75 Ks in 49 innings, with a 2.20 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. Is this the same Jason Grilli I took a rookie year flier on and busted big? Collins won't be stealing saves anytime soon, but maybe Grilli could. Alexi Ogando (32%) has been good since returning to the bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth (21%) hasn't allowed a run in a month, and teammate Jake McGee (2%) has been even more dominant in that time. Jonny Venters (23%) is good for the ERA and the strikeouts, but iffier with the WHIP.

So, I've got a lot of options, and so does anyone in my position. Unless it's a really deep league, there will always be more good relievers than roster spots. If you find yourself forced to load up on them, take solace in the fact that they can still chip away at those ratios. The biggest lesson I've learned is for next year: don't try so hard to win a category that you blow it away.  Winning by a single strikeout is so much more efficient than 92.


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This Week In Streaming Strategy, Sept. 3-9

Here are some fantasy streaming recommendations so you're not "laboring" to make roster decisions over the holiday weekend.  Ha ha ha, timely humor!  And what's the deal with airplane food?!

* Trevor Plouffe.  The former Twins first-rounder exploded onto the scene earlier this season after a ridiculous stretch of 10 homers in 14 games. We all knew this power wasn't sustainable and yet even some modest pop combined with Plouffe's versatility (he qualifies as a 2B/3B/SS/OF in Yahoo's system) made him a fantasy darling. It's safe to say the bloom has come off the rose, as Plouffe's numbers go poof against right-handed pitching. Plouffe carried a .228/.285/.399 line against righties into Saturday's play, as compared to an OPS of 1.005 against southpaws. The Twins are scheduled to face right-handed starters in five of their six games this week, so no matter where you have Plouffe in your lineup, insert a better option instead.

* Justin Ruggiano. Consider this my weekly case of throwing shade on a good fantasy story (And while we're at it, why is "throwing shade" a negative term?  This summer's brutal heat has made shade a valued commodity, so bring it on). Ruggiano has been one of the few bright spots for the Marlins this season, hitting .329/.389/.597 in 241 plate appearances. While his .818 OPS against right-handed pitching is nothing to sneeze at, that's still close to 500 points below his 1.290 OPS against lefties, so it's clear that Ruggiano adheres to normal splits for a righty bat. As good as Ruggiano has been, he isn't nearly proven enough to be a lineup fixture, so you might use one of your other fantasy outfielders during this week when Miami faces right-handed opponents in six of their seven games.  As usual, I am prepared to eat my words during next week's column should Ruggiano keep up his hot hitting. Prove me wrong, Justin!  Prove me wrong!

* Ross Detwiler. Shutting down Stephen Strasburg will certainly be a blow to the Nationals' pitching staff and World Series hopes, but beyond just Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson picking up the slack, you also have the oft-forgotten fifth man in the Washington rotation.  Detwiler has been a thoroughly solid and steady fifth man for the Nats, eating innings and relying more on grounders (a 52% groundball rate) than power pitching (5.62 K/9).  Detwiler's 3.32 ERA looks less impressive through the lens of advanced metrics (3.66 FIP, 4.21 xFIP, 4.19 SIERA) and while I wouldn't recommend picking him up for the rest of the season, he has two good matchup this week.  The Cubs and their 29th-in-baseball .625 team OPS against left-handers are up on Monday, followed by the Marlins and their .679 team OPS against lefties (ranked 24th in the majors) on the weekend.  Both starts are also at home, where Detwiler has a 2.74 ERA in 14 games (11 of them starts) this season.  The only way this week could shape up any better for Detwiler would be if he starts punctuating each strikeout by yelling "The Det has been paid!" and then rubbing his fingers together like he's holding money.

* Scott Rolen. Weep for the Reds and their embarrassment of riches as Joey Votto returns from the DL and Cincinnati suddenly has more potent bats than spots in the lineup.  #firstplaceproblems  As Jonah Keri outlines, Votto's return will push NL Rookie of the Year favorite Todd Frazier into a possible super-sub role, subbing Votto at first, Rolen at third and Ryan Ludwick and/or Drew Stubbs in the outfield.  For those wondering why Dusty Baker doesn't just install his hot rookie at third base and stick old man Rolen on the bench...well, Rolen has a .966 OPS over his last 126 plate appearances.  The Reds are careful to give Rolen regular rest, so in this next week, I would guess Rolen starts no more than four of Cincy's six games, with one of those sits coming on Sunday when the Reds are (tentatively) set to face Astros lefty Fernando Abad.  If you have Frazier and are bemoaning his loss of playing time, it might be a smart move to pick up Rolen --- owned in just three percent of Yahoo! leagues -- as a handcuff and then keep an eye on the daily lineups to see who's starting.  Rolen is a very solid 3B bench bat to have, especially since he's hitting like the Rolen of old.

* Tom Milone. Just as many rookies come back to earth at some point during their first full season, Milone had four rough starts in a row from July 26 through August 17, somewhat normalizing his ridiculous home/away splits.  Don't get me wrong, they're still ridiculous (Milone has a 2.34 ERA in 12 starts in Oakland as opposed to a 5.30 ERA in 13 road starts) but they're not quite as lopsided as earlier in the season. Over Milone's last two outings, he has allowed just one run in 14 innings, so I think we can safely say that the A's southpaw is back on track.  He's at home against the Angels on Monday and then heads to Seattle's Safeco Field on the weekend, leaving fantasy owners with a dilemma. Milone isn't very good on the road ... but this is Safeco, where perfect games grow on trees and hard-hit line drives just die on the vine.  Milone has a 2.77 ERA (four ER in 13 IP) over two starts at Safeco already this season so I'm comfortable in picking him up as a two-start option and pitching him in both games. Also, forget my campaign to anoint Milone with the "Mayday" nickname; given those splits, shouldn't we just call him Home Milone?

* Ezequiel Carrera. No team is happier to see August end than the Indians, who went a putrid 5-24 in the month and had a collective team OPS of .644 in the first 28 of those games.  Virtually the only Clevelander who did anything at the plate in August was Carrera, who hit .306/.346/.486 in August and has more or less taken over the everyday left field job.  Carrera's playing time could be altered once the rosters expand but he should be the first choice starter for the coming week, when the Tribe faces right-handed starters in five of six games. 


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