February 2013

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Sleepers & Busts: NL West Outfielders

Hunter Pence, SF - ADP 99

There was a time when Pence looked to be emerging as a consistent 25-homer, 20-steal threat, which would easily position him as an elite outfielder given his consistent batting average. That proved to be a pretty fleeting thought, however, and at this point Pence is being drafted more on name value than actual performance.

Pence has seen his stolen base totals plummet from 18 in 2010 all the way down to five last season. Following his trade to the Giants last season, he attempted just one steal. While that attempt was a success, it's probably in the best interest of Giants, fantasy owners, and Pence himself that he stop running. He's a 63 percent base-stealer for his career, so let's not pretend that a return to 15-18 steals is in the offing.

Pence's stolen base total isn't the only thing that's eroding. In 2012, he posted the worst swinging strike rate (12.9 percent), contact rate (72.6 percent) and strikeout rate (21.1 percent) of his career. He'll spend his first full season at AT&T Park as opposed to hitter-friendly venues like Minute Maid (Houston) and Citizens Bank (Philadelphia), which in addition to having deeper dimensions in general also is home to a towering right-field wall that will prevent chip shots like this one from becoming long balls.

In an admittedly small 196-plate-appearance sample size, Pence is just a .253/.318/.425 hitter at AT&T Park, and his other skills are deteriorating. If Pence is simply a .255-.275 hitter with 20-homer power, little speed and an average supporting cast... is he worthy of a Top 100 pick? 

Pence is coming off the board directly ahead of Max Scherzer (whom I love, in case you missed it), Jimmy Rollins, Jose Altuve and Danny Espinosa -- all of whom I prefer to Pence. In terms of outfielders, Austin Jackson, Nick Swisher (a more consistent source of 25ish homers, plus solid RBI and Runs totals), Carlos Beltran and Shane Victorino are all coming off the board well after Pence. Each should produce more value. Don't be fooled by Pence's name.

Final Ruling: Bust

Carlos Quentin, SD - ADP 226

Put aside the fact that we all know Quentin is made of something roughly as durable as a sheet of glass and an eighth grade paper mache project for a second and stick with me.

Quentin laid off out-of-zone pitches at much better rate than in his two previous seasons and became ravenously aggressive on pitches within the zone. The only player with at least 300 PAs who swung at more strikes than Quentin was Josh Hamilton, but Quentin swung at 16 percent fewer pitches outside the zone. Hamilton swung at those strikes because he swings at everything; Quentin's swung because he knew he was being hyper-aggressive on hittable pitches.

And the best part is... it worked! Quentin hit .261/.374/.504 in 86 games, with each rate stat representing his highest total since '08.  His 10.6 percent walk-rate was also his best since that season, and his 12.1 percent strikeout rate was a career-best.

Quentin's probably (ok, certainly) going to wind up spending some time on the disabled list this season. When healthy though, his numbers from 2012 were the best he'd managed since his breakout 2008 season. Playing at Petco Park hurt his numbers a bit, as evidenced by a slight downward trend in his plate appearances per homer (21.25), but his occasional deep drives to right field may yield an extra homer or two, given Petco's new dimensions.

Ichiro Suzuki, Lornezo Cain, Dexter Fowler and Justin Ruggiano -- the four outfielders coming off the board ahead of Quentin -- don't offer nearly the same power upside. He might only garner 400 plate appearances, but those could very well be very fruitful in terms of power output.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Will Venable, SD - ADP 303

Speaking of those new dimensions at Petco Park, is anyone happier with them than Venable? Venable hit .239/.301/.340 at home last season and hit .286/.365/.509 on the road. That pronounced split has held true throughout his career, as he holds a .675 OPS at home compared to a .799 mark on the road.

That's not the only pronounced split with Venable, whose .583 career OPS versus lefties is dwarfed by his .772 mark against right-handers. If you decide to pursue him on draft day, you should know you're not getting an everyday player. And when he does start against a lefty, get him out of the lineup.

Venable is incredibly valuable when he's in the lineup though. A career 83 percent thief on the basepaths, he's averaged 26 swipes over the past three seasons. He's also averaged 10 homers in that time, and the friendlier dimensions at Petco Park figure to pad those numbers a bit.

Venable posted the best strikeout rate of his career in 2012 (20 percent) -- the second straight season in which he's improved his whiff rate. Both his line-drive and ground-ball rates were career-bests as well, which is a nice thing to see for a hitter whose value is derived more from his wheels than his guns. His plate discipline improved across the board -- fewer chases, more swings at strikes, more contact, and fewer whiffs.

Venable's coming off the board after names like Leonys Martin, Delmon Young, Lucas Duda, Cody Ross and Jeff Francoeur (yes, really -- and 40 spots later than Frenchy, no less!). He's a must-draft in NL-only formats, and even those in deep mixers will be able to glean value from his stellar play against righties, presuming you have a suitable backup when Venable's against a southpaw.

Final Ruling: Sleeper



2013 Position Rankings: First Basemen

Our position rankings are rolling along today with first basemen. If you're just catching the series, check out Catchers and Outfielders. After a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff, we've prepared tiered rankings that go 40 players deep. The players are divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price.

If a player has other positions in parentheses, that means you can draft and start him there. Speaking of players with other eligibilities, their rank here only represents their rank as a first baseman--basically, Carlos Santana's ranking represents when you should nab him even if you've got your catcher slot filled by Buster Posey.

Finally, there's a strategic reality to be aware of before you go into the draft: first base is weak this year. Really weak. A lot of the old stalwarts have fallen off the map, and their younger replacements haven't brought their game to an elite level yet. You'll still have to pay a premium for first basemen, but don't be shocked if you aren't getting the production or the certainty you've been able to expect for the last two decades.

1st Round

1. Albert Pujols, LAA
2. Joey Votto, CIN
3. Prince Fielder, DET

These guys are pretty easy to rank. Though Votto and Pujols come with more question marks than usual, the supra-elite production we've seen from them before is enough to keep them at the top of the pile. Fielder is close, much closer to Votto or Pujols than he is to any other player. So close that if you prefer his consistency to their upside, we'll understand.

2nd-3rd Round

4. Edwin Encarnacion, TOR
5. Adrian Gonzalez, LAD

These guys are fair value in the third, but I can totally understand reaching for them in the second. First is just that shallow, that it's worth banking that Encarnacion can do it again or that Gonzalez will find his lost power. Plus, Gonzo's average and lineup will keep him valuable even if the power doesn't come back on, and E5 was so good that he can slip a lot and still be one of the top third basemen. Yeah, things are that thin.

5th Round

6. Billy Butler, KCR
7. Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
8. Allen Craig, STL (OF)

Call me crazy, but I prefer Butler's consistent production and recent power surge to the relative unknowns of Goldschmidt and Craig. I know this seems low on Goldy, but would you take him in the second round if he wasn't stealing bases? He's got plenty of potential, but his ADP doesn't reflect that--it reflects a proven star and that isn't what he is. Craig is going too high too. He's not young and he's got a career full of injury-shortened seasons. Was he great last year? Yes. Will he be great again if healthy? Probably. See: question marks.

6th Round

9. Anthony Rizzo, CHC
10. Freddie Freeman, ATL
11. Buster Posey, SFG (C)

Rizzo is full of potential and Freeman still has room to grow. That said, players like these used to be had a lot later in the draft. It feels like a reach to me, but that's the change of market value. I prefer Rizzo because he's got the best chance to make a big jump instead of a little step. Unless your league doesn't allow catchers, you can't get Posey at this point. This is where I'd slot him in at first, as I expect some regression from any MVP season.

 7th-8th Round

11.5 (David Ortiz, BOS--DH only)
12. Mark Teixeira, NYY
13. Paul Konerko, CHW
14. Adam LaRoche, WAS
15. Adam Dunn, CHW

Ortiz can't play first, but at this point you might be taking your utility player or DH. If you are, take Ortiz above any available first baseman. Age and injury risk are all that keep him this low, because his production is top-notch when he's healthy. I still hesitate to write Teixeira's name down, even this much lower than his ADP. He truly seems to be on the decline, and he's at the point of his career where the downward slide could really accelerate. Maybe he rights the ship and I reevaluate during the season, but right now he isn't where I'd place my bet. Konerko and LaRoche are consistent and unexciting. Oddly, I think Konerko is a little overrated and LaRoche a little underrated despite similar profiles. Dunn's good years kill your batting average, but his power is getting rarer and rarer, so I'd still reach for him here.

9th-10th

16. Eric Hosmer, KCR
17. Chris Davis, BAL (OF)
18. Carlos Santana, CLE (C)
19. Joe Mauer, MIN (C)

Hosmer will either be a steal here, or a hideous bust. I don't imagine for a second that he'll give ninth round production, but I couldn't say with any confidence whether he'll be better or worse than this. The power that Davis showed last year was no surprise, but the respectable batting average sure was. In case you already have Posey catching for you, here's where you should grab Santana or Mauer to play first.

11th-12th Rounds

20. Nick Swisher, CLE (OF)
21. Ike Davis, NYM
22. Mike Napoli, BOS (C)

Swisher takes a slight value hit at first, but he's still a really consistent performer with versatility. Davis could be a decent value play here. Napoli will be playing first for the Sox, but you probably don't want him out from behind the plate on your team.

13th-14th Rounds

23. Lance Berkman, TEX
24. Todd Frazier, CIN (3B)

The chance that Berkman has any gas in the tank at all makes him worth a flier. He could be massive value here, though the risk is high. Frazier is an interested and underrated player. After an impressive partial season, he won't be battling the ghost of Scott Rolen for time at third base.

15th-16th

25. Justin Morneau, MIN
26. Kendrys Morales, LAA

Morneau is one of those fallen stars, but at least he's picked himself up to the kind of mediocrity that allows you to play him at utility or corner infield. The move to Safeco scares me: I don't know what difference the moving fences will make, but I do know (sort of, not like I'm a meteorologist or anything) what that humid Seattle air does to fly balls. Plus, Morales isn't that awesome in the first place. 

 17th-18th

27. Yonder Alonso, SDP
28. Chris Carter, HOU
29. Michael Cuddyer, COL
30. Mark Reynolds, CLE

Alonso might be able to take advantage of the shortening fences in Petco, and he's young enough to improve the old fashioned way. Carter could hit a bunch of home runs, and the Astros will have little choice to be patient with any batting average issues that hit him. A healthy Cuddyer could be pretty valuable splitting time between your OF and CI spots, especially in daily leagues where you can take shameless advantage of his home park. Reynolds is like Adam Dunn lite: lower ceiling, (usually) lower floor. We miss that 3B eligibility--though he managed 15 games there last season, so if your league has less stringent requirements than most, lucky you.

19th-20th

30. Brandon Moss, OAK
31. Ryan Howard, PHI
32. Garrett Jones, PIT

At this point, it's worth taking any chance at all that Moss's fluky looking season can be repeated. Howard isn't much more than a famous name who strikes out a lot at this point. He's getting drafted way higher than this...but I can't think of a good reason why. Jones will probably be platooning a bit more, but you can use that to your advantage with a little bit of a bench and daily changes.

21 and Beyond

33. Corey Hart, MIL (OF)
34. Justin Smoak, SEA
35. Carlos Pena, HOU
36. Brandon Belt, SFG 
37. Adam Lind, TOR 
38. Tyler Colvin, COL (OF)
39. Mitch Moreland, TEX
40. Todd Helton, COL 

Hart will be injured, and it remains to truly be seen for how long. If we get definitive good news, I'd bump him up, maybe up several rounds. If not...maybe I wouldn't draft him at all. Maybe Smoak can take advantage of the new dimensions in Safeco. I'm skeptical, but this is the time for chance-taking. If Reynolds is Dunn-lite, maybe Pena is Reynolds-lite. Belt believes he found his stroke late last year. If he did he could finally be fantasy-viable. Lind is a memory of a great 2009, and fading fast. Toronto seems to be giving him one last try, so your fantasy bench could too, I suppose. Colvin plays in Colorado, so that's always interesting. Well, usually interesting, since Todd Helton is only number 40 because round numbers make us all feel more comfortable.

Even in the deepest of years I feel pretty comfortable taking an elite first baseman early in the draft. This year, that's even more true. Any of the top three can anchor your team, but everyone after that is a serious question mark. Plenty of players could make (or remake) their mark as an elite hitter this year, but who knows for sure which ones really will. I suggest taking two or more, again, just as usual but for different reasons: it's time to diversify the risk at this position in a way most of us never have. 



Draft Round Battles: Swisher Vs. Sandoval

All of our Draft Round Battles thus far have focused on two players who play the same position, with the thought being that if you reached a point in your draft when you're specifically looking for that position, you have an either-or proposition.  This week, however, we're going to branch out a bit and compare first baseman/outfielder/arbiter of marital toothbrush etiquette Nick Swisher with third baseman/Bay Area headwear craze catalyst Pablo Sandoval.

Why compare these two?  Both are currently closely linked* on Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position rankings; Swisher is being taken 111th overall (115.18 ADP) while Sandoval is close behind at 116th (119.98 ADP).  Both come around that tenth round position in the draft, when you've already taken the elite bats you hope will be your lineup cornerstones and are now shopping for some solid, second-tier options.

* = Victor Martinez is the only other position player between the two but since he's a big injury red flag for me, I'm ignoring him completely.  Sorry, V-Mart shoppers!

Another reason for this comparison is to revisit one of my cardinal rules of fantasy drafting --- don't be swayed by October results.  Sandoval, of course, is coming off a monster postseason in 2012.  The Panda hit .364/.386/.712 in 70 postseason PA, capped off by his three-homer performance in Game 1 of the World Series.  Sandoval joined such immortals as Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols as the only authors of a three-homer performance in the Fall Classic, and while nobody is suddenly putting Sandoval on the level of those guys, just being in that company tends to raise one's profile.  As the ADP chart indicates, Sandoval has been taken as high as 66th overall in some drafts, which could be a case of an overzealous Giants fan, or maybe a sign that more than a few fantasy managers are now putting Sandoval in the top tier of third basemen.

That said, Sandoval has also been drafted as low as 179th overall in some drafts, which is comically low but also indicative of managers being attentive to his faults.  Sandoval has been an inconsistent player over his five-year career, posting a .943 OPS in his first full season in 2009, slumping to a .732 OPS in 2010, bouncing back up to a .909 OPS in 2011 but only playing in 117 games due to a broken right hamate bone, and then posting a .789 OPS while only playing in 108 games due to breaking his LEFT hamate bone.  

Granted, the net result is still a third baseman with a career .844 OPS at AT&T Park, so it's not like Sandoval is completely falling off the map in his "bad" years.  Even his injuries, while wrist-related, aren't terribly serious since both hamate bones have been outright removed so there's no threat of a recurrence.  Health-wise, Sandoval's weight again looks like an issue, but as Prince Fielder and David Ortiz have shown us, big guys can still produce big numbers without breaking down.*  At age 26, Sandoval is just entering his prime so while I'm being a nitpicker here, there's also plenty of evidence to suggest that Sandoval could be on the verge of his best season yet.

* = also, I'm eating a giant meatball sub as I write this, so I'm the last person to be criticizing someone else's weight issues.

But is he a better draft option than Swisher?  That's the rub.  For a guy who has played four seasons with the Yankees, makes sitcom guest appearances and is married to a well-known actress, Swisher's actual abilities on the field almost seem underrated.  Swisher was a model of consistency for the Yankees, with an average seasonal performance of .268/.367/.483 with 26 homers, 86 RBI and 83 runs in 625 PA from 2009-12.  There's no reason to believe that leaving the Bronx for Cleveland will impact these numbers, as Swisher actually had a higher OPS on the road than he did at Yankee Stadium in three of his four years in New York.

Sandoval has both the higher ceiling and lower floor, while Swisher is steady Eddie year in and year out.  While it's very possible Sandoval has a better season than Swisher in 2013, however, I'd actually still advise taking Swisher in a draft for two strategic reasons.

* Positional versatility.  One of the underrated joys of the fantasy season is when a player is installed at a new position and you happily count down the games until he gains eligibility at that new spot on the field.  I look forward to telling my grandkids one day about the Great Ben Zobrist Shortstop Push Of 2012.  This might be a personal preference of mine, but I love having multi-position players since it allows for so much flexibility when drafting or managing lineups throughout the season.  Even when it's two theoretically deep positions like OF and 1B, the fact that Swisher plays both allows you to mix and match things on draft day.  Now, you might argue that Swisher's .850 OPS (from his Yankee years) is a bit low for a fantasy first baseman, but that brings us to...

* Positional depth.  If you filter the ADP list to look at just the third basemen, there aren't any weak names ahead of Sandoval on that list.  Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman, Chase Headley (two former Draft Round Battle opponents) and Brett Lawrie all project as solid-at-worst for 2013.  Even behind Sandoval, it wouldn't surprise me to see David Freese break out, Mike Moustakas or Pedro Alvarez stay consistently productive over a full year or young stars like Will Middlebrooks, Manny Machado or Todd Frazier come up big in full seasons.

Call me crazy, but I like the depth at third base more than I like the depth at first or even in the outfield.  Many of the top names at 1B (Pujols, Votto, Encarnacion, Goldschmidt) are kind of questionable due to age or decline, injury, or being unproven either because they're just young or because they could be one-year wonders.  There may be even fewer sure things once you get into the outfield.  I feel like you can get away with passing on Sandoval in a hypothetical tenth round and still find a very good third baseman later, whereas if you pass on Swisher, you may find yourself rolling the dice on more than one outfielder.  You're likely not going to use Swisher every day at first anyway, but the ideal scenario would be that you draft a big-hitting 1B early and then snatch Swisher later to bulk up your outfield.

It's an unconventional move to pass up a powerful third baseman, but I just think Swisher can fill more holes in a lineup and is a safer choice.  Even if Sandoval ends up with better overall numbers than Swisher, hopefully you've made up those numbers at your hot corner by taking another good third baseman. 



Wanted: Mock Drafters

We at RotoAuthority are gearing up for our annual writers/readers mock draft at MockDraftCentral.com. It will be held next week, Sunday at 8:00pm CST.

The RotoAuthority writers will all be in on it, and we're looking for several engaged readers to draft with us. Even if you're not drafting, there will be the chance to follow along and chuckle at our picks--and see us put our money where our mouth is on our Go Bold posts....

  • 12 teams
  • Mixed
  • Classic 5x5 roto
  • 26 rounds
  • 90 seconds between picks
  • 2 C, 1 1B, 1 2B, 1 SS, 1 3B, 1 MI, 1 CI, 5 OF, 1 UTIL, 9 P, 3 BE

If you're interested in joining the draft, post in the comments (with your e-mail address)--or better yet--on Facebook with a little bit about why you should be drafting with us. Maybe a little about your loyal readership won't hurt either. If you're in, we'll let you know with an e-mail or a Facebook message.


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2013 Position Rankings: Catchers

Welcome back to RotoAuthority's Position Rankings. Last week, we ranked Outfielders, and today we continue on with Catchers. Slightly less numerous in real and fantasy baseball, our catcher list goes up only to 30...but do you really want the catchers after that? Probably not, and if you do, they'll be waiting on the waiver wire. The players are divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price. Positions in parentheses mark other eligibilities the player has. As before, these rankings were crafted after a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff.

2nd Round

1. Buster Posey, SFG (1B)

I'm not normally an advocate of taking a catcher in the second round...but I'd probably make an exception for Posey. He's the top catcher by a mile.

4th Round

2. Carlos Santana, CLE (1B)
3. Yadier Molina, STL
4. Joe Mauer, MIN (1B)

I agonized for a while over who to install second on this list, Santana or Molina. Finally, I was won over by the possibility of Santana building on his power and the likelihood of Molina's homer total returning to its 2011 level. Mauer is more easily behind the other two, because his low power reins in his upside and his history of injuries makes his downside extra-steep.

5th-6th Rounds

5. Wilin Rosario, COL
6. Matt Wieters, BAL
7. Mike Napoli, BOS (1B)

Rosario came out of nowhere (or almost nowhere) to lead catchers in home runs. There seems to be a pretty good chance he does it again, playing in Colorado. Playing first for Boston, Napoli could put up some big numbers. Unfortunately, his health status limits his draft position almost as much as it did his real-life contract. If his own team isn't sure about him, neither am I.

9th-10th Rounds

8. Salvador Perez, KCR
9. Miguel Montero, ARI
10. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
11. Victor Martinez, DET

Perez has put up two awesome partial seasons, and you can count me among those who think he can put them together. This Montero seems to be the rare case of a player getting overrated who does lots of things pretty well but excels in none. I don't think he's in line for a bad season or anything, but I wish he had more power. Martinez is a big question mark, having missed all of last season, but the extra plate appearances he could get as a full-time DH make him a worthy risk.

11th-12th Rounds

12. Brian McCann, ATL
13. Jesus Montero, SEA

A disastrous BABIP killed McCann's batting average last year, but I'd still be willing to draft him closer to his old position if he were expected to be healthy to start the season. Instead, expect to shelf McCann for a little while, though his exact timetable is in flux. He should still be great value, though--by the end of the year you'll have forgotten the weeks you spent with a placeholder catcher. This Montero should benefit from the moving fences in Safeco, though by how much remains to be seen. He could still make the jump to elite-hitting catcher, but the chances go down each year.

13th-14th Rounds

14. Ryan Doumit, MIN (OF)
15. A.J. Pierzynski, TEX

Doumit has some sock, and should get extra at bats playing in the outfield. His ranking makes him among the first second catchers, but don't be unhappy if he's your starter. Pierzynski shocked us all last year. We aren't exactly expecting a repeat, but if even a little of that power sticks with him in Texas, he will be huge value at this point.

17th-18th Rounds

16. J.P. Arencibia, TOR
17. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, BOS

These guys are the same. Lots of power, awful batting averages. Last names that make me question everything I know about spelling. There's a pretty big gap between these two and Pierzynski, because their downside is so low, and even at their best that batting average really drags you down. But they do hit home runs....

20th-22nd Rounds

18. Tyler Flowers, CHW
19. Rob Brantly, MIA
20. Wilson Ramos, WAS
21. Chris Iannetta, LAA

There's another big jump, as we get to the last few catchers started in two-catcher leagues. Flowers is interesting, but his upside appears to be joining Arencibia and Saltalamacchia. Accordingly, make sure they're off the board before you nab Flowers. Brantley could contribute in average, while Ramos and Ianetta might add a few bombs.

23rd and Beyond

22. A.J. Ellis, LAD
23. Welington Castillo, CHC
24. Russell Martin, PIT
25. Alex Avila, DET
26. John Jaso, OAK
27. Travis d'Arnaud, NYM
28. Carlos Ruiz, PHI
29. Yasmani Grandal, SDP
30. John Buck, NYM 

Well, it gets pretty rough back here. Fortunately, only three teams are selecting a starter from this bunch (and one of those is just an injury-replacement for McCann). Ellis and Jaso should get a bump if your league counts OBP. If it doesn't, at least they might score some runs. D'Arnaud is pretty much a prospect stash, while Ruiz and Grandal should only be stashed if you have a ton of bench spots or your league lets you keep suspended players on something like the DL.

Catchers are surprisingly deep this year. Most years, the names start getting ugly really fast, and you're getting a scrub if you don't have a top-six backstop. This time around, though, you can get some quality catchers quite late. In a two-catcher league, my favorite pre-season strategy for this position is to get both of my starting catchers between the ninth and fourteenth rounds, landing me two of the players ranked between eighth and fifteenth on this list. I won't have paid a premium price for my first catcher, and I won't be stuck with bad production with my second. In a single-catcher league, I'll probably try to be among the last to draft a catcher, because the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth catchers are all pretty good. Unless, of course, Buster Posey falls to the third round....



How to Win: RBI

Runs Batted In are a tough category to prepare for. Like Runs Scored, they depend partly on the skills of the hitter you want to draft, but heavily on the context he plays in. With Runs, you wanted the hitters who sat at the top of their lineups, now you want the bashers driving those guys in. Unfortunately, we've got the same problem we had then: most of the best RBI guys are the best hitters in baseball. That means that the edge you get is going to be more on the margins. Unless you get some seriously good luck or short yourself in a another category (like speed), you probably aren't going to run away with this one, but that doesn't mean you can't win it....

2012's Top 12

1. Miguel Cabrera            139
2. Josh Hamilton            128
3. Chase Headley             115
4. Ryan Braun                   112
5. Edwin Encarnacion    110 
6. Josh Willingham        110
7. Prince Fielder               108
7. Alfonso Soriano          108
7. Adrian Gonzalez         108 
10. Billy Butler                  107
11. Curtis Granderson    106
12. Aramis Ramirez        105
12. Albert Pujols              105

On a list like this, you'd expect to see elite power hitters in elite lineups, and that's mostly what you get. Obviously, everyone on this list had a great year last year, but some of the names don't seem to come from baseball's top offenses. Willingham comes from the middling Twins, while Headley's Padres and Soriano's Cubs come from the bottom ranks of last year's offensive teams. So, apparently you can get some RBI's on mediocre offenses, but other than that, I don't see much from last year's leaders that can help us find true value.

RBI's Without Homers
Often, RBI's are connected to homers, but that means paying extra for the double-category production. These guys won't put too many balls over the fence, but they'll knock in some runs anyway. If you want some sneaky RBI value, try some of these hitters: Adrian Gonzalez (108 RBI's, 18 HR), Torii Hunter (92, 16), Miguel Montero (88, 15), Joe Mauer (85, 10), Starlin Castro (78, 14), Brandon Phillips (77, 18), Justin Morneau (77, 19), Jason Kipnis (76, 14), Chris Johnson (76, 15), Marco Scutaro (74, 7), Alexei Ramirez (73, 9), Alex Gordon (72, 14), Martin Prado (70, 10), Neil Walker (69, 14), Howie Kendrick (67, 8), Shin-Soo Choo (67,16), Michael Young (67, 8), Austin Jackson (66, 16). I didn't include everyone with more than 66 RBI's and fewer than 20 homers. Instead, I was looking simply for hitters that don't get a large part of their value from hitting home runs--or a lot of their price tag from a power reputation.

2B+3B Leaders
If you aren't putting the ball over the fence, you're still going to need some kind of power. Since doubles and triples usually bring in the same amount of runners (most or all of them),  I've just added the stats together. Here are the leaders:

1. Alex Gordon                 56
2. Aramis Ramirez          53
3. Albert Pujols                50
3. Aaron Hill                 50
5. Robinson Cano       49
5. Jose Reyes                49
7. Adrian Gonzalez         48
7. Martin Prado               48
9. Ian Kinsler                47
10. Ben Zobrist             46
11. Alex Rios                   45
11. Shin-Soo Choo           45
11. Nelson Cruz             45
12. Paul Goldschmidt 44
12. Joey Votto                44

The list continues on, and anyone with 35 or more doubles and triples is going to get some extra RBI's, on top of however many you might expect from his homers, lineup, and park. How good is Joey Votto, by the way? Forty-four doubles and triples in less than 400 AB--there's a reason you can't get him after the first round. Pujols, Kinsler, and Gonzalez, all disappointed to one degree or another--but they still batted runners in with extra-base hits.Knowing who smacks in extra-base hits is important, because you won't find that info listed with your fantasy stats. 

Of course, all the doubles and triples in the world aren't going to send many RBI's Jose Reyes's way, leading off as he does. That's why it's worth remembering a player's place in the lineup. 

Middle of the Order Hitters

A hitter in the right lineup slot can bring in a lot of runners, especially with a couple high-OBP hitters setting the table. Looking for a strong overall offense isn't so important when it comes to RBI's--you just need a decent hitter and runners on base. Without reiterating all the power-hitting superstars, here are some hitters likely to get some good RBI opportunities: Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks, Nick Swisher, Victor Martinez, Carlos Pena, Chris Carter, Howie Kendrick, Kevin Youkilis,Brandon Moss, Kendrys Morales, David Murphy, Colby Rasmus, Jason Kubel, Ryan Ludwick, Carlos Gomez, Garrett Jones, Yonder Alonso, Jayson Werth.

Remember that context is key, even when considering context. Remember to count a hitter's home park for or against him--but do it after the players around him. Everyone knows to get the hitters from Colorado and Texas, but consider Chicago (White Sox), Boston, Baltimore, Arizona, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and--surprisingly enough--Detroit, Minnesota, and Atlanta. 

Mid-Order Steals

Stolen bases are showing up everywhere in today's game, not just in the top couple spots in the lineup and the AL nine-hole. Sure there are elite power-speed players out there, but there aren't many to go around. That doesn't mean you can't squeeze some RBI's out of your speedsters. Check out these mid-order guys who steal a few bases: Shane Victorino, Starlin Castro, Alex Rios, Ian Desmond, Hanley Ramirez, B.J. Upton, and Michael Saunders. All the guys above managed  20 steals or more, but you don't need to get your steals in bulk to help yourself in RBI's. There are quite a few hitters who add 10-15 steals but bat in the middle of the lineup. Grabbing several of them can pad your steals total without compromising your Runs Batted In.

A Few Final Words

Finding RBI's can be as simple as spending extra dollars or higher draft picks on the best hitters, in the best lineups, and friendliest parks. It's not to say that getting elite players isn't key...it is, but it's not really a strategy. The trick to succeeding in RBI's and finishing near the top of the pack at the end of the year (or week to week, if that's how you roll) is to add a few extra RBI's in on as many players as you can. Finding those sneaky doubles hitters, and making sure your later draft picks are hitting behind someone with a good on-base percentage can add quite a few ribbies to your fantasy lineup.

As with Runs Scored, RBI's aren't a category you can really plan on winning. There's so much luck involved in the difference between a little success and a huge amount, that a single waiver-wire selection can change the whole game. The one thing you want to avoid most is to assume that RBI's are nothing but luck, short yourself in the kind of players you'll need, and end up--avoidably--in the cellar. You can't win RBI's on draft day, but you can definitely put yourself in position to compete in the category and do enough to keep your team near the top of the standings.



Shutdown Corner: How To Identify Potential Closers

Greetings, RotoAuthority readers! Now that our division roundup is done, it's time to get a little meta. Speculation is a big part of picking up fantasy baseball players, and today I'd like to provide you with a few principles that might help you identify potential closers as Spring Training and the 2013 seasons go on.

Remember, last season, by June almost half the teams in baseball had turned over their expected closers. Being able to identify the next man up early, so you can add and stash him on your bench, can be extremely valuable. Use these tips to find the right guy.

Listen to the manager ... and the GM!

The biggest and best thing that you can do to identify a potential closer is to listen to what his manager, or failing that, his GM, is saying. If a manager is constantly calling one of his setup guys a "potential ninth-inning option" or a "shutdown guy," then that player might have first crack at the closer slot. Remember, the manager tends to make the on-field decisions, so listen to what they're saying. They're the decider.

Oh, but be careful when reading about the next potential closer ... there's a big difference between what the manager actually says and what a beat writer or blogger might be speculating about. Make sure that the information you get is from a trusted source or straight from the manager's mouth, rather than delving into someone's raw speculation.

Another corollary to this is the money issue -- if a reliever is getting paid like a closer (say, anything more than $3-$5 million per season), then they probably get first shot at the job. Trust me on this.

Keep an eye on "proven closers!"

They might not always be the "best" options to close, but managers have historically chosen to give former closers the first chance to close, rather than young pitchers without ninth-inning experience. If a team has a guy in the bullpen who formerly saved a hundred or two hundred games, expect them to get the first shot at the ninth.

A good example here is the situation in Arizona. J.J. Putz is an injury risk, and behind him are three very, very good relievers: David Hernandez, Heath Bell, and Brad Ziegler. Ziegler is something of a ground-ball specialist, so he's probably not going to close. But Hernandez has been phenomenal as a setup man for the D'backs, where Bell is a recent acquisition whose star has fallen over the past couple of seasons.

Nevertheless, Bell has a history of pitching in the ninth, with 153 saves in his back pocket. For this reason (as well as his closer-quality contract), I actually think that Bell might get the first chance to close instead of Hernandez, who is a better reliever. This sort of thing might also happen in New York (with Brandon Lyon over Bobby Parnell) or Cincinnati (Jonathan Broxton over Sean Marshall).

Stay away from left-handed relievers!

Quick, name all the left-handed pitchers who racked up ten or more saves in 2012. Go ahead, I'll wait.

If you're like me -- and I'm a closer expert, remember -- you probably thought "Aroldis Chapman, Glen Perkins ... uh, I don't know!" By my quick count, the only closers who managed that last season were those two guys and Sean Marshall. That's crazy, right?

The truth of the matter is that left-handed pitchers don't seem to get a lot of closing opportunities. Managers like to mix and match, using lefties more in situational roles ... and oftentimes lefties don't have the raw fastball power that managers look for in their closer. So in a situation like Oakland, where there are two nice options to close instead of Grant Balfour (Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle) ... I'd always err on the side of the righty. That means I'd be more likely to pick up Ryan Cook than Doolittle if Balfour isn't ready to go early in the season.

Performance is good, but strikeouts are better!

When looking for potential closers, it's certainly important to look for relievers who are pitching well. But at the same time, performance isn't everything. Look for guys who have a lot of strikeouts who are pitching well, before adding a guy who has good performance without the Ks.

Finally, if you want to keep up-to-date with everything closer-related, follow @CloserNews on Twitter. And don't hesitate to drop me any questions on the Twitter machine, as you can find me at @bgrosnick.

All data from FanGraphs.



Catchers And First Basemen With Speed

It would have been awesome to own Royals catcher John Wathan in a rotisserie league in 1982.  The 32-year-old set the single season stolen base record for catchers, with 32.  The only other backstop to reach 30 swipes in a season was Ray Schalk in 1916.  In more recent times, Jason Kendall, Ivan Rodriguez, Craig Biggio, and Russell Martin stole 20 or more bases while qualifying at catcher in fantasy leagues.  Pudge owns the only 20/20 season for a catcher.  Check out his 1999 line: .332-35-113-116-25!

Speedy first basemen are more common in baseball history than you might think; even if we raise the bar from 20 to 100 games played at the position, there have been 41 player-seasons of 30+ steals from first basemen.  Ten of those seasons have occurred since 1990.  A 25-year-old Gregg Jefferies hit .342 with 16 home runs, 83 RBI, 89 runs, and 46 steals for the Cardinals in 1993.  Otherwise, Jeff Bagwell is the only first baseman to steal 30 bags in a season since 1990 (he did it twice).  You probably recall Derrek Lee as a first baseman with decent wheels, but did you know Ryan Klesko stole 46 bases from 2000-01?

I bring all of this up in the name of looking at some catchers and first basemen who might be able to steal you ten or more bases in 2013.  At catcher, of course, you're not going to find much.  Yadier Molina stole 12 bases last year; he's flirted with ten a few times before.  Martin and Joe Mauer are probably your only other outside threats.

First base is interesting.  In the last five years, there have been 17 player-seasons of 10+ stolen bases by first basemen.  A couple of the higher totals came from Paul Goldschmidt and Eric Hosmer last year, at 18 and 16 respectively.  Goldy "has deceptive speed," D'Backs former first base coach Eric Young told MLB.com's Steve Gilbert in August.  Young felt Goldschmidt could steal 25-30 bases a season if he wanted to, but probably won't given his role as a power hitter.

Hosmer also stole 11 bases in his debut season in 2011, even though he only played 128 games.  Count me among those who expect some level of bounceback from Hosmer overall this year, though the eighth round feels early for a guy who was as consistently bad as he was in 2012.  For that matter, I can't see taking Goldschmidt 20th overall.  You can probably get the same level of production out of Jason Heyward, with more upside, ten picks later.

You may recall that in 2009, Mark Reynolds stole 24 bases to go along with his 44 home runs for Arizona.  Since then he hasn't attempted nearly as many steals, but he still has a shot at ten if healthy.  Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Belt, and Michael Cuddyer also have the ability.  The beauty of getting a dozen steals out of first base is that those are a dozen most other teams in your league are not getting from the position, so it really does put you ahead.


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Sleepers & Busts: Shortstop Speedsters

Elvis Andrus, TEX - ADP 130

One year ago, Andrus entered the season ranked as a Top 5 shortstop by most rankings. A year later, he's dropped to the No. 8 shortstop over at Mock Draft Central, and while that's more accurate, I still feel like if you draft him at his current position you're paying for the name more than the production.

Andrus' average has risen steadily each of the past three years, but that doesn't mean it's safe to expect growth from last year's .286. Andrus' jump from 2010-11 was the result of a markedly increased line-drive rate (19.3 percent to 23.1 percent) and a reduction in his infield pop-ups. Both of those numbers took steps back last season, but his average leapt again based on his .332 BABIP. That's a healthy jump from the .312 mark he carried into last season.

Andrus' stolen base total dropped to 21, and it did so thanks to a paltry 67.7 percent success rate in 31 attempts. Since going 33-for-39 (84.6 percent) in his rookie season, Andrus has gone 90-for-127 (70.8 percent) from 2010-12. While he runs a lot, he's not exactly a great base stealer, and last season was the worst of them all.

He'll also lose the added benefit of Josh Hamilton driving him in. Mike Napoli, too, is gone. The Rangers' lineup in general doesn't look as threatening as it once did, given Hamilton's departure and an aging Nelson Cruz. It's still solid, but it's fair to expect a decrease in runs for Andrus given the changes.

Elvis is still just 24 years old, so he could surprise with some power, but over four years he's basically been a steals-and-runs shortstop, and there's plenty of reason to believe he'll disappoint in both of those categories in 2013. Still, he comes off the board before Dan Haren, Greg Holland, Matt Moore, Salvador Perez and a host other players, including the comparable Alcides Escobar. I'd pass at his current slot.

Final Ruling: Bust

Alcides Escobar, KC - ADP 215

Speaking of Alcides, he's coming off the board a full 85 picks later. That's seven full rounds of difference between shortstops who went .293-68-5-52-35 (Escobar) and .286-85-3-62-21 (Andrus).

Andrus clearly wins in the runs and RBI departments, but Escobar stands to make up a lot of ground as the Royals' projected No. 2 hitter in 2013. After spending the first three months of the year primarily in the 7, 8 and 9 spots for Kansas City, Escobar jumped to the two-hole and never looked back on July 1. He scored 39 of his 68 runs in those 81 games (58 percent) and picked up 32 of his 52 RBIs (62 percent).

Unlike Andrus, Escobar is an 81.3 percent base stealer since being traded to Kansas City (61-for-75), and last season's 35-for-40 (87.5 percent) effort was remarkable. It's fair to expect a step back in last year's 23 percent line-drive rate, which would lower his .344 BABIP and .293 average. Still, Escobar finds himself coming off the board in the late 17th round -- after the likes of Hisashi Iwakuma, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Mark Reynolds, Justin Ruggiano and Dustin Ackley. If you're looking for a shortstop and/or speed in the tenth round, wait back and grab Escobar three or four rounds later instead of taking Andrus. 

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Everth Cabrera, SD - ADP 269

Cabrera is primarily a one-trick pony in his own right, but it's quite the trick. The 25-year-old led the National League in stolen bases last season despite playing in just 115 games. Cabrera swiped 44 bases in 48 (!) attempts -- good for a mind-blowing 91.6 percent success rate.

Cabrera only hit .246 last season, but he did so with a solid enough 9.6 percent walk rate that he got on base at a .324 clip. Even if he repeats his ho-hum batting average, he'll reach enough to burn up the base paths and set the table for Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin and possibly Jedd Gyorko.

There's reason for optimism with Cabrera's average, though. He's a strict line-drive (19.1 percent) and ground-ball (60.7 percent) hitter. Cabrera only hit fly balls 20.2 percent of the time -- an excellent trait for someone with his skill set. Granted, it means he's not likely to take advantage Petco Park's new hitter-friendly right field dimensions, but if you're drafting E-Cab with power in mind you've erred somewhere along the way.

Cabrera's .702 batting average on liners last season was below the league average. If he can raise that number and cut down on his strikeouts as he did in Triple-A (17.3 percent K-rate vs. 24.5 percent in the Majors), there's room for him to improve his average. His main problem is that he simply needs to be more aggressive. Cabrera doesn't swing outside the zone because he simply doesn't swing much at all. He swung at just 41.2 percent of the league's offerings (46 is average).

With a full season near the top of the order, Cabrera could surpass 70 runs and 50 steals. With an uptick in average, he has a great shot to outperform his 22nd-round ranking. Yet Cabrera is coming off the board around the same time as minor leaguers Mike Olt, Leonys Martin and Travis d'Arnaud; non-closers David Hernandez and Vinnie Pestano; and innings eaters like Jason Vargas and Brett Myers. He's worth reaching on several rounds early, as the upside is far greater than most of his peers at that stage in the draft.

Final Ruling: Sleeper



Go Bold or Go Home: Max Scherzer is a Top 10 Starter

Raise your hand if you've said it before: "This is the year Max Scherzer puts it all together." That should cover just about everyone, right? Well don't worry, I'm not going to make that claim in this post. Because Scherzer has already put it all together, the face value numbers just didn't reflect that last season. But they will this year.

Scherzer led baseball in K% (29.4), K/9 (11.08) and SIERA (2.99) last season. He finished 10th in FIP (3.27), 11th in K/BB (3.85), and his average fastball velocity (94.2 mph) trailed only David Price, Jeff Samardzija, Justin Verlander and Matt Moore. Scherzer's 12.2 percent swinging-strike rate tied him for second in the Majors behind only Cole Hamels (12.9 percent). His contact rate on out-of-zone pitches and strikes were both roughly seven percent better than the league average.

Scherzer confounded hitters across the board, but his overall numbers were shrouded by a slow start and a pair of minor maladies that limited him to 187 2/3 innings. Those maladies include hamstring tightness leading up to the All-Star break and shoulder fatigue that caused his velocity to drop into the low 90s in his final three starts. The velocity drop sounds troubling, but Scherzer's velocity has performed similarly in the past without leading to major injury, mitigating the need for major concern. There's also the fact that in those three starts, he allowed four runs in 11 innings with 11 strikeouts. It's not as if when the velocity faded, Scherzer was torched by the opposition.

 Beyond that, there's the matter of Scherzer's defense. Yes, his infield defense will likely be horrid. Again. However, Scherzer is an extreme flyball pitcher. Detroit's primary right fielder last season was Brennan Boesch, who by all measures was a defensive travesty. Boesch was worth -8 runs according to The Fielding Bible and posted an even more unsightly -18.2 UZR/150. Detroit right fielders as a whole posted marks of -17 and -17.5 in those categories, respectively.

Boesch will be replaced by Torii Hunter. At 37 years of age, Hunter is clearly no longer the standout center fielder he was in his early years with Minnesota. However, advanced defensive metrics still love Hunter's glove in right field. The Fielding Bible rated Hunter at +15 runs, and UZR/150 agreed by doling out a generous +13.0 runs to Hunter's right field defense. If those numbers hold true, that's at least a 30-run swing for the Tigers in right field alone. Scherzer threw roughly 13 percent of Detroit's innings last season. Assuming a 30-run uptick in right field defense, Scherzer could expect to shave four runs off his ERA. That alone would have dropped his total to 3.54 instead of 3.74.

In left field, Tigers hurlers were unfairly subjected to 226 innings of Delmon Young "playing defense" -- which can be more accurately described as "breathing and occupying space while adding the occasional 360 for dramatic effect." Andy Dirks graded out well according to The Fielding Bible (+3 runs in 464 innings) but not so much according to UZR/150 (-13 runs). Either way, he's a marked upgrade over Young. If he's considered to be even a league-average glove in left field, Dirks will combine with a strong center fielder (Austin Jackson) and an elite defender in right (Hunter) to provide plenty of cushion for Scherzer's 41.5 percent flyball rate -- which ranked tenth among qualified starting pitchers.

Scherzer is currently going as the 21st starting pitcher off the board -- good for an average draft position of 102, per Mock Draft Central. A look at the pitchers separating him from the Top 10, however, reveals a host of red flags. Names like Jered Weaver (declining velocity/whiffs), Yu Darvish (awful command), Madison Bumgarner (brutal second half), Kris Medlen (no track record), R.A. Dickey (short track record, move to AL East), Roy Halladay (injuries) and Chris Sale (velocity drop, lack of track record) are all going ahead of Scherzer, but is that the right call?

Scherzer is a guaranteed strikeout monster. He's whiffed 9.3 hitters per nine innings in his career and is coming off of a ridiculous 11.1 K/9 in 2012. He plays in a fairly weak division (despite improvements to the Indians) with a potent offense behind him that should lead to plenty of wins. He's walked just 2.7 hitters per nine innings over the past two seasons, which should result in a solid WHIP if his BABIP regresses from last year's .333 toward his career .312.

Scherzer flashed the type of dominance of which he's capable from May 20 through season's end in 2013 by posting a 3.02 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 14 wins and 183 strikeouts in 146 innings. If he can shake the early-season doldrums that have plagued him throughout his career, he has all of the tools to be one of the game's best starters. That may be easier in 2013 than most seasons, as the Tigers have seven games against Houston, three against Seattle and ten against Minnesota in the season's first two months. As a whole, Scherzer's early schedule doesn't look terribly intimidating.

Perhaps the biggest mark against Scherzer is that he's never topped 200 innings in a Major League season, but he'd have pushed to do so had he remained healthy in the final weeks of 2012. He's averaged 193 frames over the past three seasons, and there's little reason to expect a drop-off in 2013. Rather, a step forward is more likely if he can get a strong start out of the gates.

Peripheral stats love Scherzer, and given the questions surrounding the second tier of starting pitchers, it's fair to say that the 28-year-old has a legitimate chance to soar through fantasy baseball's pitcher rankings this season. His 4.6 fWAR already ranked 14th among qualified starters, and given expected regression due to age or lack of stuff from some players ahead of him, everyone's favorite case of heterochromia iridum will finish the season among the ten best arms in fantasy baseball.





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