October 2012

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October Heroes = April Fantasy Warnings

Every baseball fan has an interest in the postseason, but let's be honest -- if you're a hardcore fantasy player, the playoffs seem just a little bit anti-climactic.  After all, the "real" playoffs have already taken place if you're in a head-to-head fantasy league.  The Giants and Tigers still have to decide the World Series, but that pales in comparison to when your Teixy's Midnight Runners team beat your arch-rival Wolfgang Amadeus Cozart in an epic weeklong fantasy finale that came down to one batting average point.

After analyzing your fantasy roster(s) for six-plus months and making moves on a daily basis, once the regular season ends, you're just suddenly...watching the games.  That's it.  No wondering how each at-bat could affect your roto stats or taking note of two-start pitchers or keeping an eye on streaming matchups.  It can be a relief to finally just revert back to being a pure baseball fan in October without having any ulterior fantasy motives clouding your enjoyment of the postseason.  And yet, you're reading Roto Authority this month so CLEARLY you can't wait to begin the 2013 fantasy campaign.  Here's how the MLB playoffs can be a harbinger for next year's fantasy owners...

* Extra Innings.  Unless you're the Washington Nationals, teams generally throw caution to the wind when it comes to letting their pitchers throw in the postseason.  Pitch counts, innings caps, starts on regular rest?  Pfft, this ain't a May series against the Royals.  If a team needs a pitcher to throw, he throws, as winning a World Series trumps all.  It's a sacrifice that pitchers themselves are happy to make; what young starter doesn't want to be the next Jack Morris by growing an awesome mustache carrying your team on your back to a championship?

The reciept for being a postseason horse, however, can often come the next season.  Perhaps the best recent example is Cole Hamels, who won both the NLCS and World Series MVP awards en route to helping the Phillies the 2008 World Series.  Hamels posted a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts and looked to have firmly taken the mantle of Best Pitcher In Baseball, thus making him one of the first few pitchers taken (or perhaps the first pitcher taken) once the 2009 fantasy draft season rolled around.  Unfortunately for those owners, however, Hamels underachieved, posting a career-worst 4.32 ERA in 32 starts and battling elbow issues.

Hamels' postseason heroics made it easy to overlook his age (25) and that he was entering just his fourth pro season in 2009.  He pitched 132 1/3 Major League innings in 2006, 183 1/3 innings in 2007 (plus 6 2/3 more IP in one postseason start) and then a whopping 262 1/3 combined regular season and postseason innings in 2008.  With that kind of major increase in innings, it's no wonder Hamels had arm problems the next season.  This year's playoff workhorse can be next year's fantasy bust, especially when you're dealing with a younger pitcher.

Is there a Hamels from the 2012 postseason?  The top four starters in innings pitched through the LCS series are Justin Verlander, Matt Cain, CC Sabathia and Kyle Lohse.  These are four veterans who are used to pitching a lot of innings and pitching in the postseason, so theoretically the added workload shouldn't be a problem for them come 2013.  (With the caveat that Sabathia is having his arm checked out, though that could stem from related injuries during the season moreso than his 21 1/3 postseason innings.)

Among young pitchers, however, I'd be worried about Jarrod Parker.  The A's right-hander pitched 130 2/3 minor league innings in 2011 and also made his Major League debut that season, tossing 5 2/3 innings for the Diamondbacks.  This past season, Parker's innings count jumped from 136 1/3 IP all the way to 214 2/3 IP, combining his totals from the minors, Majors and two postseason starts.  It's a big increase for a pitcher who doesn't turn 24 until November and who missed all of the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery.  I have to pick between Parker or another similarly-talented pitcher in a draft next spring, I'll go with the guy who has fewer red flags.

* Inflated Values.  If you were a Delmon Young owner this season, how galling was it to see Young suddenly come alive against the Yankees and win the ALCS MVP?  If he keeps it up through the World Series, there will surely be some fantasy owners who will think this is a sign that Young has finally turned a corner and will mark him down for a draft pick in 2013.  These fantasy owners are fooling themselves.  Four good games shouldn't erase the .267/.296/.411 stinkbomb that Young posted over 151 regular season games, nor should it erase his middling career numbers.  

Young is likely to join the likes of Jeff Suppan, David Eckstein, Cody Ross and Edgar Renteria as recent surprise LCS/World Series MVPs who followed up their big postseasons with mediocre performances the next season.  Every fantasy owner knows enough to be wary of small sample sizes during the season, yet a hot 20-plate appearance stretch in October is often not taken with the same grain of salt.  Some of it is just pure emotion; what Giants fan wouldn't have felt good about taking Ross in their 2011 drafts, just months after Ross helped bring San Francisco its first Series? 

To paraphase Tom Hanks, however, there's no emotion in fantasy baseball!  The emergence of unlikely heroes is one of the reasons why postseason baseball rules, but there's a reason why the Youngs, Rosses and Renterias were Cinderellas in the first place.  Enjoy these guys getting their days in the sun and then keep them in the shadows come your next fantasy draft.

* The Reverse Is True.  Along the same lines, the small sample size of a playoff series also shouldn't dissuade you from taking an obviously good player who just had a bad few games.  Yadier Molina, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Buster Posey and Robinson Cano are just a few of the first-tier fantasy stars who have had tough postseasons, yet they should absolutely still go early in next year's drafts.  Younger stars like Adam Jones, Matt Wieters or Madison Bumgarner struggled in October and aren't as established as the first-tier guys, yet I'd still happily take any of them next season. 

There are surely a few guys whose fantasy value has been torpedoed by their performances this fall, such as Jose Valverde or Alex Rodriguez, yet those guys were harmed less by their disastrous postseasons than by their shaky numbers during the regular season.  I was already planning to avoid Valverde like the plague in my next draft; his losing his closer's job during the ALCS was just the final nail in the coffin.  Valverde and A-Rod were question marks already, but if you think Cano's stock has dropped just because of his bad playoffs, then I hope I'm in your league next year.

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Transaction Analysis: Bell, Young, Pennington

Back in my day, it was considered rude to make major deals during the playoffs, distracting from the main event and all. Luckily this three-team deal didn't offend me so much as feed my need for constant baseball information. I mean, it sure beats speculating on the Marlins' next soon-to-be-fired manager.

Those Marlins sent away the underperforming and outspoken Heath Bell, mostly for the chance not to pay him quite as much. Arizona got him and sent away their own underachiever, the mercurial Chris Young, who went to Oakland. The A's also sent the D-Backs Cliff Pennington, so the two teams basically swapped shortstops going into next season.

Heath Bell

If you've got Bell in a keeper league, it's time to drop him, because he doesn't project to be fantasy relevant to begin 2013. Arizona manager Bob Melvin has already told Bell that he'll be setting up behind J.J. Putz. Look for David Hernandez to hold down the eighth and pick up most of those vulture-saves. If Bell manages a comeback he or one of his new 'pen mates might be trade bait, but that's a thought for another article. Steve Cishek gets a small boost in presumptive value: unless the Marlins spend on an outside closer again, he should have an inside track keeping the closing job with Bell out of the fold. 

Cliff Pennington

Pennington might just have benefited the most by this trade. In Oakland, he'd lost his job to former D-Back and former intriguing fantasy pick, Stephen Drew. In Arizona, his job competition will be Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald. And sure, Pennington put up a putrid .215/.278/.311 triple-slash line last year, but his career numbers are a lot better than that--.249/.313/.356, so still pretty bad. He once stole a few bases, though (29 in 2010) and he'll have a positive park factor in his favor for the first time in his career. While the Oakland Coliseum depressed runs to the tune of a .888 factor (22nd highest), his new arena increased them at a 1.171 rate, the sixth-highest in baseball. He could be a decent low-risk, mild upside shortstop pick next year, which is a lot more than I could have said before this trade.

Chris Young

Young presents more of a quandary than Bell or Pennington. Bell can be dropped off your fantasy board, unless your league consists solely of Diamondbacks relievers. Pennington can be added back onto it, albeit pretty far down. But Young...what to do with him?

He's a tough player to evaluate, presenting as he always does, both risk and opportunity. Good Chris Young hits over 20 homers, steals over 20 bases, and goes to All-Star Games. Bad Chris Young hits just .239 for his career, sometimes drops near the Mendoza Line, can't take a walk, and never puts up the same season two years in a row. He certainly struggled last year, but that might be attributed to injuries. Or might not.

Will his change of scenery be good or bad? I can't quite say. Arizona seemed like they've given up on him, so getting out is probably good, but going into Oakland isn't exactly good news for a hitter, what with that .888 park factor (.859 for homers). The outfield situation there is crowded too, with Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes contributing a lot from the corners (while on the field), and Coco Crisp playing well in center. The A's are paying Young quite a bit, though, and probably didn't to it so he could ride the pine full time, though GM Billy Beane seems to think that having too many outfielders is a good problem to have. It's entirely possible that Oakland decides to get all Earl Weaver on us and play mix and match, giving significant but reduced playing time to all four outfielders, plus DH Seth Smith. That route might be good for the A's but will hurt the fantasy value of all players involved.

Young is a talented player--I mean, he must be, right?--but the situation is pretty murky for now. I don't like the change of park, but I do like Young's odds of being rejuvenated by a change of scenery--who likes playing for a team that obviously wants to get rid of you? The bottom line is that it's hard to tell how much playing time he might get; unless Coco Crisp gets traded we might not know how the playing time will be distributed until Spring Training, or maybe until the season starts. For now, don't count on Young, but don't count him out either.

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Better Luck Next Time: Tim Lincecum

It was a disappointing fantasy season. Not for me -- I was pretty excited to land in fifth place in the Silver League, plus my Orioles made the playoffs -- but for many. Think of the first-round busts alone: Troy TulowitzkiAdrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Justin Upton, and my own Jacoby Ellsbury ... wow, that's a rough list for Red Sox Nation already.

On the mound, and in the second and third rounds of most drafts, things might have gone a bit better, but not for those sad souls who relied on Tim Lincecum. Thanks to the work of his teammates, his real life team is faring a lot better than many of his fantasy squads did, though they're fighting for their life after Lincecum was roughed up by the Cardinals. His stellar relief against the Reds seems to have prompted mildly premature talk of a comeback, but unless your rooting interest is somewhere in this series, you're probably already starting to wonder: what on earth should we do about Lincecum next year?

Lincecum is in an odd situation, to put it mildly, as 2010 and 2011 had seen him slip from sure-thing Cy Young winner to the status of a mortal ace. He seemed safely lowered on most draft boards behind the very best of pitchers in the expectations that his slow decline could continue. And then--just as the Mayans predicted--the End of the World hit in 2012.

He wasn't the worst pitcher in baseball, just the worst to qualify for the NL ERA title, with a 5.18 ERA that was nearly two full points above his career mark. Now, that number could be a bit misleading, as his FIP was just 4.18 (but a full run worse than in 2011!). His xFIP was better still, sitting at 3.82. Not exactly horrible, but certainly not what you paid for. So, what to do next year. Do we hope he was unlucky? Do we worry that maybe his traditional stats are reflecting a skill change not priced into his advanced metrics?

The easy answer for your fantasy baseball team, of course, is to let him be someone else's problem. Of course, you missed out big if you let players like Adam Dunn or Joe Mauer be someone else's "problem." The first thing that came to mind with Lincecum's year was Greg Maddux's 1999 season. This was the season that prompted Voros McCracken to suggest that a pitcher might not be in total control of his ERA. His ERA jumped from a miniscule 2.22 to a just-OK 3.57. It wasn't the jump that Lincecum made this past year, but it was at least as surprising for many. Looking at Maddux's numbers, we see a big jump in FIP as well, from 2.81 to 3.40, and a major dip in his strikeout rate: from 7.51 to 5.58. It was his BABIP, however that told much of the story, both of his great 1998 and his 1999: it moved from just .262 all the way to .324, more than .40 points above his career average. Maddux, of course, bounced back plenty--fantasy owners were well rewarded in 2000. How comparable is Lincecum.

Setting aside their vast differences as pitchers, there are similarities in their pitching records--and big differences. Both pitchers saw serious changes in their advanced metrics, though it's hard to say whether those might have been "real" or the result of having to pitch through bad luck more often. Some good news for Lincecum is that, unlike Maddux, he didn't see a decline in his K/9 rate and it remained above a batter per inning. That fact alone should give him some fantasy value next season, even if his ERA remains a problem.

Unlike Maddux, BABIP doesn't seem to be at the heard of Lincecum's 2012 struggles. His .309 mark isn't far above his career .295, and below what he posted in 2010. His homers allowed might be a bigger cause, as his HR/9 rate rose from just 0.62 in 2011 to 1.11 2012. His walk rate spiked to, to a career high 4.35 BB/9. So he put a lot more batters on and allowed more homers.

Anyone who watched Lincecum this year will tell you that control and homers can't be the whole story. His fastball velocity was down to just 90.4mph, compared to 92.2 last year, and all the way down from 94.0 in 2008. Maybe as a result, his line drive rate rose almost five percentage points, at the expense of his ground ball and fly ball rates. Batters were definitely hitting him harder, though exactly why remains unclear. I don't have the solution to the mystery--if I did, I'd have sold it to the Giants well before writing this article. Maybe we'll know by the beginning of the 2013 fantasy draft season and from that information we'll have a perfect idea of what to expect for next year.

Don't bet on it. Like all mysteries, this one probably has an explanation of some kind, but I wouldn't count on getting a public answer that's usable on draft day. Instead, here's the strategy I'm thinking of: don't reach on him or make him one of the top pitchers off the board. If someone wants to take a risk like that, let them. You can get someone else to equal his 2010-11 production at that price. Rather than give an exact dollar value or draft round, though, I'd suggest targeting him for your number three pitcher. If he repeats this season, you'll have two better pitchers and at least Lincecum will get strikeouts for a competitive team. Even if he doesn't pull anything back together, his ERA might well close in on his more palatable FIP and xFIP.

Lincecum's talent--and youth, as he's still just 28--are good reasons to bet on a comeback. Great young pitchers have flamed out early, and he could be one of them, but pitchers as good as he has been seem a lot more likely to regain excellence than fall off a cliff at this stage in their careers. Certainly, the Giants have enough invested in his talent that they won't be giving up. If you can get your hands on him when everyone else is picking up pitchers with lower ceilings and question marks of their own, go for it. For a price like that, I'd love to see him on my roster next year.

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Stock Watch: 2012 Season in Review (Misses)

Last week's Stock Watch reviewed many of the best "Buy" / "Sell" recommendations of the year, and this week will review many of the worst "Buy" / "Sell" recommendations:

  • On April 13, Stock Watch recommended selling Fernando Rodney - "Closer injuries have been widespread early this season, and some owners are left short in saves. See if an owner is desparate enough to give you good value on Rodney before the inevitable blowups occur."  Rodney of course proceeded to have the lowest ERA ever by a qualifying reliever at .60 with 48 saves, a 0.78 WHIP and a 76/15 K/BB ratio in 74 2/3 innings.  Unbelievable.
  • On April 20, Stock Watch recommended buying Francisco Liriano - "He has shown improved velocity between starts (max velocity increasing from 92.7 to 93.3 to 95 in his three starts) despite horrible results this year - 11.91 ERA compared to 5.70 SIERA. If Liriano was cut by an impatient owner in your league, he is worth picking up and taking a chance on in a favorable home ballpark for pitchers."  Liriano was up and down, but mostly down, the rest of the season with a 4.83 ERA and awful 4.8 BB/9 rate (but an excellent 9.8 K/9 rate).  
  • On April 20, Stock Watch also recommended selling Jake Peavy - "Has been dominant this season in two of three starts, and avoided a bombing in his start at Texas. But he carries a massive injury risk and pitches in a park that balls will start flying out of when the Chicago heat sets in. I would inquire to see what you can get in trade for Peavy if you have an abundance of starting pitching, and see if you can turn the 235.0 ADP pick into a top-150 player. But, do not give Peavy away, as his average fastball velocity is up from 91.27 in 2011 to 92.12 in 2012."  Peavy kept rolling after April 20 with a 3.43 ERA and 9 wins.  Peavy proved an excellent late round draft pick in 12-team mixed leagues and enjoyed an unexpectedly healthy season.
  • On April 27, Stock Watch recommended buying Javy Guerra - "When other owners are zigging, you should be zagging. Following Guerra's blown save on Wednesday, many owners are looking to dump. But, Don Mattingly reaffirmed Guerra as the closer on Thursday. Also, Guerra's loss on Tuesday was caused by Matt Kemp not making a catchable play in center field, and on Wednesday, Guerra was singled to death by a very good Braves lineup. I like Guerra to have a decent amount of leash still as the closer given his success last year and excellent pitching before the Braves series, and I would be looking to get him when his value is far down. Guerra also showed the moxie of a closer by taking a wicked line drive off his chin on Wednesday and staying in the save situation."  Guerra lost the closer role almost immediately after this recommendation, and had no value the remainder of the season.  Lesson here is to draft talent and not roles where the back end of a bullpen is unsettled.
  • On May 4, Stock Watch recommended buying Jonathan Broxton - "Although widely doubted (including in this column), Broxton has been impressive in converting four straight saves and has a long leash as closer, with setup man Greg Holland on the DL. Owners should feel confident in Broxton's job security if targeting lower-tier closers in trade."  Broxton was traded to a set-up role with the Reds later in the season, and the lesson here is to be careful in targeting impending free agent closers for losing teams that may look to dump at the trading deadline.
  • On June 8, Stock Watch recommended selling Kyle Lohse - "A 5.08 ERA in May is likely a sign of things to come for Lohse, whose career ERAs for July, August and September are 5.02, 4.67 and 4.60 respectively.  Lohse's overall 2012 numbers still look good so see if you can include him in a larger deal to upgrade elsewhere on your roster."  Lohse kept on rolling after June 8 with a 2.67 ERA and 11 wins.
  • On June 15, Stock Watch recommended buying Ivan Nova - "His strikeout rate per nine innings has skyrocketed this season from 5.33 to 8.00, and he has collected eight wins pitching for the Yankees' powerhouse lineup.  A 3.53 SIERA gives hope that his 4.64 ERA will come down when his 16% HR per flyball ratio evens out closer to the 8.4% he had last season."  After June 15, Nova struggled with a 5.34 ERA and only 4 wins in 16 starts.  Lesson here is to be very hesitant in relying on AL East starters, particularly those pitching in the Yankees home park.
  • On July 27, Stock Watch recommended selling Matt Harvey - "After dominating the Diamondbacks Thursday night, Harvey is going to a popular name in fantasy circles this week.  Those owners in re-draft leagues that are fortunate enough to have claimed Harvey off waivers should be looking to sell to an owner that will overpay for rookie hype.  Harvey showed typical control issues for a young starter this year in Triple-A, as he walked nearly four batters per nine innings, and may initially struggle in the majors as he learns command.  Stock Watch also recommended selling Trevor Bauer in re-draft leagues for many of the same reasons. RotoAuthority's Mike Axisa recently warned about the Mets' poor defense potentially inflating Harvey's WHIP and ERA, as well."  Harvey dominated down the stretch with a 3.00 ERA and 9.8 K/9 rate after July 27.  Although relying on rookie pitchers is usually problematic, Harvey proved an exception with a strong rookie season.

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Stock Watch: 2012 Season in Review (Hits)

This week's Stock Watch's 2012 Season in Review will discuss many of the best "Buy" or "Sell" recommendations of the year:

  • On April 6, Stock Watch recommended buying Edwin Encarnacion - "Double-E was sandwiched in order between Jose BautistaAdam Lind and Lawrie. It's a good place to be."  Encarnacion was a fantasy MVP with 42 home runs, 110 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and a .280 batting average.
  • On April 27, Stock Watch recommended claiming off waivers Marco Estrada - "Available on most waiver wires in 12- and 14-team mixed leagues, Estrada has a 13.09 K/9 rate this season and is in the rotation -- and pitching against pathetic NL Central lineups -- following the injury to Chris Narveson. Estrada's SIERA was 3.29 last year and is currently at 1.70 on the young season. It will be interesting to see if he can carry this success as a starter, but he's worth a speculative add off the waiver wire to find out."  From April 27 to the end of the season, Estrada struck out a batter per inning with a 3.75 ERA.
  • On May 4, Stock Watch recommended claiming off waivers Ernesto Frieri - "Traded to the Angels and may find himself in the closer role in short order. Frieri has struck out 18 batters in 11 2/3 innings on the season with a 1.95 SIERA. Frieri also has closer experience as he saved 17 games in 2010 for the Padres' Triple-A affiliate with a 11.71 K/9 rate."  Frieri ended up running with the Angels' closer job and collected 23 saves.
  • On May 11, Stock Watch recommended selling Brett Myers - "Fast start should net a good return from owners that have lost saves in the year of the closer carousel. He's not guaranteed to close if he is traded, and I am skeptical he can keep his walks per nine innings at .84, which is far below his 2.96 career average."  Myers did end up being traded into a set-up role.
  • On May 18, Stock Watch recommended claiming off waivers Everth Cabrera - "Recalled by the Padres to play SS, Cabrera had 15 SBs in Triple-A this season and could be a cheap source of speed from the waiver wire if he can get himself closer to the top of the Padres lineup from the seventh slot he occupied last night."  Cabrera was a difference-maker as he ended up wining the National League stolen base crown.
  • On May 25, Stock Watch recommended buying Carlos Marmol - "Predictably, Rafael Dolis has been rocked recently and his hold on the closer job is more an indictment of the Cubs' bullpen than an earned position. Marmol is regaining his confidence and working his way back from a leg injury in the minor leagues, and I expect Marmol to regain the closer role very shortly after being activated. Stash Marmol on your DL or bench as the Cubs will want to increase Marmol's trade value by putting him back at closer."  Marmol was lights out as a closer after May 25 with a 2.66 ERA and 18 saves.
  • On June 1, Stock Watch recommended buying Paul Goldschmidt - "Dropped in many 12-team mixed leagues after a slow start, Goldschmidt has been hot in May with a .314 batting average and homers in two of his past four games. Goldschmidt even will chip in a few stolen bases, so he should be claimed where available on waiver wires."  Goldschmidt was a fantasy beast from June through the rest of the season with 28 home runs and 22 steals.
  • On June 15, Stock Watch recommended selling Ricky Romero and his then 4.15 ERA - "Another AL East starter whose value is inflated by his sparkling numbers last season.  Romero is walking an unsightly 4.48 batters per nine innings this season while his strikeouts per nine innings are down from last season.  That is not a good combination, and owners thinking that Romero and his 4.15 ERA are a good buy-low trade target should think again. Romero's 4.79 FIP and 4.36 SIERA indicate that he is fortunate to have his ERA that low."  After June 15, Romero was a total disaster with a 7.11 ERA in 98 2/3 innings and only 2 wins.  Owners should not stick with struggling AL East starters, particularly ones that are walking a substantial amount of batters.  Stock Watch had also previously recommended selling Romero on May 18.
  • On June 22, Stock Watch recommended running to your waiver wire to claim Anthony Rizzo - "Per Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs can promote Rizzo tomorrow while still delaying his free agency from 2017 to 2018. Expect the Cubs to do so in the near future as Rizzo has nothing left to prove in AAA, as he hits .360 with 23 home runs and 59 RBIs in 261 plate appearances. In shallow leagues where Rizzo is available on the waiver wire pick him up immediately. In other leagues, see if the owner stashing Rizzo has a need you can fill and get Rizzo before he is activated and the hype makes him unattainable. Rizzo should enjoy immediate success having learned some tough lessons in San Diego last year, and stepping into a Wrigley Field that plays like a hitter's paradise with the wind blowing out in the hot summer air."  Rizzo enjoyed immediate success in Chicago, and Stock Watch was very bullish on him from the start.
  • On June 22, Stock Watch recommended buying Miguel Montero - "Finally coming out of a season-long funk, now is the time to buy Montero while his season stats still look poor.  In June, Montero has hit .302 with five home runs and 17 RBIs.  This is consistent with Montero's career in which April and May have been his worst hitting months. In the RotoAuthority League, I had a decision last week whether to deal Montero or MLB home run leader among catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia - I decided to move Salty."  Montero certainly turned his season around and hit .301 after June 22.
  • On June 29, Stock Watch recommended selling Trevor Bauer - "Despite posting excellent strikeout numbers and a low ERA in the minors this season, Bauer's 4.6 walks per nine innings mark is a red flag for his chances of enjoying immediate success in the Majors.  Bauer continued his wild ways by walking three batters in his four-inning debut. While Bauer's future is certainly bright, the 21-year old makes for an excellent sell candidate in re-draft leagues to an owner that is buying the rookie hype."  At this time Bauer was receiving a ton of hype.  Hopefully owners in re-draft leagues were able to quickly trade Bauer.
  • On July 13, Stock Watch recommended buying Mat Latos - "After giving up only two earned runs in his last three starts covering 25 innings, Latos is finally out of his season-long funk after an offseason trade to the Reds.  With a 4.13 ERA on the season, perhaps Latos can still be acquired on the relative cheap from a disgruntled owner that suffered through Latos' terrible start to the season. Last year Latos had a slow first half before compiling a 2.87 ERA and 1.00 WHIP after the All-Star break (however, the opposite was true in 2010).  Compared to last year, Latos is walking fewer batters and (predictably) giving up substantially more home runs with a HR/FB percentage that has nearly doubled after his move from the Padres to the Reds. Settling into his new surroundings, I expect Latos' second-half ERA to be in line with his current SIERA of 3.63, which is exactly half a run lower than his ERA."  After July 13, Latos rocked a 2.84 ERA and 7 wins.
  • The same July 13 Stock Watch recommended buying Max Scherzer - "Has the second highest K/9 innings rate (11.19) and the second highest BABIP (.349) among qualifying starters.  Scherzer has five straight quality starts that has brought his ERA all the down from a 5.88 mark on June 6 to its current 4.72.  Here is another starter that may have left owners who drafted him with a bad taste in their mouths after his slow start.  Scherzer's 3.08 SIERA shows the upside that exists with a BABIP correction despite pitching in front of the Tigers' poor defense."  After July 13, Scherzer had an incredible 2.69 ERA and 8 wins.  Lesson to learn here is that a strong strikeout rate with corresponding low SIERA is an indicator of good things to come.  Stock Watch also recommended buying Scherzer on May 11.
  • On July 13, Stock Watch recommended selling C.J. Wilson - "After enjoying a spectacular first half, now is the time for pitching-rich owners to see what they can get for this "ace" pitcher.  Wilson's strikeouts are way down (7.11 K/9 compared to 8.30 last year) and his walks are way up (3.96 BB/9 compared to 2.98 last year).  His success can be partly attributed to a .242 BABIP that is nearly forty points below his career average.  ZiPS projects a 3.48 ERA for the remainder of the season, which is far below his current 4.28 SIERA."  At this time, Wilson had a 2.43 ERA.  After the recommeded sell, Wilson imploded to a 5.74 ERA in 84 2/3 innings.
  • On July 20, Stock Watch recommended claiming on waivers Steve Cishek -
    "When Cishek was bypassed for a save chance on Monday for Mike Dunn, many owners figured that a closer committee was in place.  However, Cishek was dealing with a bout of the flu and all indications are that he should get the Marlins save chances going forward.  Recent trade rumors involving Heath Bell may further signal that the organization has soured on Bell and is ready to let Cishek run with the job."  Cishek was a solid closer for the rest of the season with 13 saves and a 3.80 ERA beginning July 20.
  • On July 27, Stock Watch recommended claiming on waivers Justin Ruggiano - "With Emilio Bonifacio shifting to second base after the trade of Omar Infante, Ruggiano should be in line for everyday at-bats. Ruggiano has both seven home runs and steals in only 137 plate appearances, and he showed a good power/speed combination for the Rays' Triple-A minor league club with 15 home runs and at least 23 steals in both 2009 and 2010."  Ruggiano ended up being a difference-maker for fantasy teams down the stretch and ended the year with 13 home runs, 14 stolen bases and a .313 batting average.

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Closers: What We Learned In 2012

This season must be considered yet another vindication for the don't-pay-for-saves crowd. With so much bullpen turnover in 2012, particularly in the early going, there's a good chance that any owner who drafted a closer -- regardless of the round -- got burned. To wit, here's a quick rundown of each team's Opening Day stopper compared to who finished the season in the ninth:

AL East
Rays: Joel Peralta - Fernando Rodney
Orioles: Jim Johnson - Johnson
Red Sox: Alfredo Aceves - Andrew Bailey
Yankees: Mariano Rivera - Rafael Soriano
Blue Jays: Sergio Santos - Casey Janssen

AL Central
White Sox: Hector Santiago - Addison Reed
Tigers: Jose Valverde - Valverde
Royals: Jonathan Broxton - Greg Holland
Indians: Chris Perez - Perez
Twins: Matt Capps - Glen Perkins

AL West
Angels: Jordan Walden - Ernesto Frieri
Athletics: Grant Balfour - Balfour (with changes in between)
Mariners: Brandon League - Tom Wilhelmsen
Rangers: Joe Nathan - Nathan

NL East
Nationals: Drew Storen - Storen (with changes in between)
Braves: Craig Kimbrel - Kimbrel
Mets: Frank Francisco - Francisco (with changes in between)
Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon - Papelbon
Marlins: Heath Bell - Steve Cishek

NL Central
Reds: Sean Marshall - Chapman
Pirates: Joel Hanrahan - Hanrahan
Cubs: Carlos Marmol - Marmol (with changes in between)
Astros: Brett Myers - Wilton Lopez
Cardinals: Jason Motte - Motte
Brewers: John Axford - Axford (changes in between)

NL West
Giants: Brian Wilson - Sergio Romo/Javier Lopez
Rockies: Rafael Betancourt - Betancourt
Padres: Huston Street - Street (with changes in between)
Dodgers: Javy Guerra - League
Diamondbacks: J.J. Putz - Putz

As you can see, the odds of a reliever going wire-to-wire  as his team's closer aren't very good. Of our 30 Opening Day closers, only 10 of them -- Johnson, Valverde, Perez, Nathan, Kimbrel, Papelbon, Hanrahan, Motte, Betancourt, and Putz -- made it through the season without either being demoted or seeing time on the disabled list at some point. I'm not very good at the maths, but by my calculations, 66.6% (with a bar over the last six, since it goes on for infinity) of our Opening Day closers lost their jobs at some point. This is why most fantasy pundits recommend holding off on closers till the early or mid-teen rounds in a 12-team draft. In fact, the late-teen rounds might even be the savvier value play for closers; I don't mind bragging that I nabbed Johnson in the 18th round in my primary league.

However, what makes this debate interesting is that it's not necessarily cut-and-dry. Those who dare to gamble an early-round pick on a stud closer are sometimes rewarded. For example, coming off a brilliant 2011, Kimbrel was just as good, if not better, this season. He was popped in the seventh round of my league this year, and there's no way around the fact that he was actually a bargain in that round. As of Tuesday morning, Yahoo! ranks him as the 17th best player in all of fantasy this season, while ESPN's weird algorithm pegs him as 10th best -- no, not merely the 10th best pitcher; the 10th best player overall. Elsehwere, Papelbon was also something of a value pick, trumping his ADP of 100 by a healthy margin as he pulled in at No. 44 in Yahoo! leagues and No. 43 in ESPN leagues.

And therein lies the rub. Value can be extracted from early- and mid-round closers on draft day -- but it's an extremely risky proposition. I'll look at that in a separate post. 

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this season's most valuable closer relative to his ADP: Rodney. This year, as is the case most years, the closers who yielded the most value are the ones who went undrafted and then managed to tear off 20 or 30 saves -- or even more than that. Rodney became the patron saint of that set in 2012, rivaling Kimbrel's ranking in Yahoo! and ESPN while going largely undrafted in most leagues. Chapman fell under the same umbrella, as well. It's no knock on Kimbrel, but in terms of fantasy, any owner worth his salt would rather have spent his Kimbrel pick elsewhere and then nabbed Rodney or Chapman. It's not that simple, obviously. One must be quick to the draw on the waiver wire in such cases, and even then, no one could have foreseen Rodney's brilliance. In Chapman's case, he was mired behind a very good reliever in Marshall on Cincinnati's depth chart; who predicted that Marshall would be out of the job by mid-May?

And so it goes.

So, what did we learn? We re-learned that it's most prudent not to (over)pay for saves, but we also learned that as is often true in life, those bold enough to defy convention are sometimes rewarded.

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

This last week was an up and down week for some of us in the Silver League. My own Inch'on Wyverns bounced from sixth down to ninth and up to fifth. With just a couple days left and only 1 2/3 innings left before I max myself out, I don't know where I'll end up. What I do know, is that I won't be cracking the top four, and neither will anyone below me.

Last week, we looked at the middle tier of teams, where my own is fated to stay. Two weeks ago, we saw the bottom four teams. Those recaps had a lot that went wrong, but these next four will be a different story.

The Great Badbonis--77 points, tied for 3rd place

R   HR   RBI   SB   AVG   W     SV   K   ERA   WHIP
 2     2       5.5   11        3    10.5  10    11    11        11

Top 6 Draft Picks
Evan Longoria, Hanley Ramirez, Cole Hamels, Carlos Santana, Craig Kimbrel, Shin-Soo Choo 

What Went Well
Not power, that's for sure, though Josh Reddick certainly did his part off the waiver wire. I'm sure this isn't the only good team to pick him up. Alex Rios turning back into a good player wasn't bad, either. I wasn't impressed at the time, but the early draft of Kimbel anchored a good relief corps, getting vintage Joe Nathan must have been nice too. Hamels led a very impressive pitching staff, but getting Chris Sale in the 19th round really cemented the rotation for a team that will probably finish no lower than third in any pitching category. Alcides Escobar led a swift team on the bases.

What Went Wrong
Well, three of their top four draft picks are pretty cringe-worthy, though you can hardly fault strategy there. At least Ramirez produced a few steals. Aside from the top picks, Choo, Brett Gardner, and Andre Ethier provided various levels of disappointing in the top ten rounds. Considering what happened at the beginning of the draft, I'm surprised and impressed that this team was this successful.

Major Moves
Desperate for power, the Badbonis traded a surging Mike Trout for Jose Bautista and his home run swing. That one really should have turned out better, but their next big trade did: they got R.A. Dickey and Trever Bauer for the supposedly innings-limited Chris Sale. As with Trout, both pitchers were good bets to slow down. Like Trout, Dickey didn't and the Badbonis got to miss out on Sale's fade. 

This is basically a six-category team: pitching and steals. Even though almost everything that could have gone wrong with the offense did, this is still a successful team. They have no chance of falling below fourth or above third, but this is a more than respectable finish for a team that basically punted their top pick.

Left Is Right--77 points, tied for 3rd place

R   HR   RBI   SB   AVG   W     SV   K   ERA   WHIP
7     11      12   3.5      2      8.5      6     10    9          9

Top 6 Draft Picks
Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Yovanni Gallardo, Ben Zobrist, C.J. Wilson

What Went Well
Well, having your top pick compete for the Triple Crown is pretty good. Sure RBIs are outdated, but they're a fantasy category nonetheless. Granderson's solidified himself as a fantasy superstar with his second 40-HR campaign in a row. Josh Willingham was a great 18th-rounder and Ryan Ludwick chipped in a lot off the wire. They picked up Pedro Alvarez and ran with him at the right time too.

What Went Wrong 
Teixeira's injury and Zobrist's overall low production hurt the early picks. Dee Gordon was supposed to be the centerpiece of this team's efforts on the basepaths, but that didn't go so well. Despite all the great power hitters, this team hurts in batting average.

Major Moves
Left is Right got Kendrys Morales for Wilin Rosario, and flipped Willingham for Shane Victorino. The second trade, especially, wasn't so successful, though I can understand the need to go after some steals. It wasn't a trade, but snapping up the scuffling Mat Latos was a great move. (For the record, I tried to get him but didn't have the waiver priority....)

Though tied with the Great Badbonis, Left Is Right is basically their opposite: a balanced team with strengths and weaknesses on each side of the ball, a team getting great seasons from their top two picks. The result has been the same so far, and each team will finish third or fourth.

Spirit of St. Louis--87.5 points, 2nd place

R   HR   RBI   SB   AVG   W     SV   K   ERA   WHIP
10   6        9        8      12      2       11 7.5    12          10

Top 6 Draft Picks
Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Kinsler, Andrew McCutchen, David Wright, Matt Cain, Buster Posey

What Went Well
Almost everything, to tell the truth. Posey has had of the best catching seasons since...that year Joe Mauer was so awesome and McCutchen brought his game a step up. Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes was a good pickup in the 14th round, and Johan Santana paid off big in the 17th. Particularly since St. Louis traded him before his injury. That wasn't the only trade that helped this team. Would you have predicted that Fernando Rodney, Aroldis Chapman, Greg Holland, and Kenley Jansen would be worth 11 saves points before the season?

What Went Wrong
Tulo was a disaster, and a reminder of why I used to be scared to pick him in the first round. Kinsler wasn't exactly up to his usual standards and Drew Storen got his job back way too late to be worth his draft position. Somehow, despited their great stats in other categories, this team can't seem to get wins, despite being just 20 IP from the cap.

Major Moves
Spirit of St. Louis kicked off trading season by dealing Mariano Rivera for Adam Wainwright. Wainwright didn't have to do much to make that a win. They flipped Shaun Marcum and Neftali Feliz for Shane Victorino, which should have been too high a price but ended up being a lucky escape. Then they sent Victorino away for Josh Willingham, which was a big upgrade. They also sent Cain, Rafael Soriano, Santana, Bryce Harper, and Chase Utley to McRuder for Carlos Gonzalez and Andrew Cashner. So...yeah, they were busy.

This was a great team all year long, even without their top pick. They fought for first for a long time, but they won't be cracking the top spot in the next three days. They also can't fall out of second place, no matter what happens. 

E-Z Sliders--98 points, first place

R   HR   RBI   SB   AVG   W     SV   K   ERA   WHIP
12   7        11    10     11      12       8     5     10         12

Top 6 Draft Picks
Justin Upton, Clayton Kershaw, Jared Weaver, Nelson Cruz, Alex Gordon, Aramis Ramirez

What Went Well
With only one below-average category, this is a very balanced team, with a lot of things going for it. Kershaw and Weaver anchored the pitching staff. In some ways they were the pitching staff, which might have kept the strikeouts down. Carlos Beltran (10th round) and Melky Cabrera (14th) carried the offense through the first half, but weren't quite so helpful after the All-Star break. Edwin Encarnacion (16th), however didn't let up. It figures this would be the first year I don't draft him in the last five. Jason Motte carried this teams saves and Everth Cabrera did the same with stolen bases.

What Went Wrong
You don't expect the first round pick to be the answer for the team that wins your league, but that's how it happened here. Don't expect Upton to go in the first next year. Similarly not awesome were the Sliders' next two hitters, Cruz, and Gordon. The good news is that at least they all produced. 

Major Moves
The E-Z Sliders made only one trade, and it wasn't a good one, as they got Jonathan Lucroy and Eric Hosmer for Yadier Molina and Addison Reed. Who would have thought Molina would be a better hitter than Hosmer this year?

The Sliders competed all year long, and it was close for a little bit, but they've spent the last couple months running away with it. This is a great team, and they've dominated a competitive league. They clinched first place a long time ago.

The Silver League was really competitive this year, but Spirit of St. Louis and the E-Z Sliders spent the last half of the year above that competition. Unlike leagues with playoffs, where seasons turn of good and bad Septembers, the E-Z Sliders put this championship together over the course of the whole season. For the rest of us, better luck next year. 

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