February 2013

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2013 Position Rankings: Outfielders

That's right, it's finally here: RotoAuthority's 2013 Position Rankings! Yeah, we're excited. So excited that we're kicking it off with the outfield, just to be that awesome. After a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff, we've prepared tiered rankings that go 60 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. That's enough discussion--I mean, you probably skipped this paragraph and went right for the rankings anyway.

Early 1st Round

1. Mike Trout, LAA
2. Ryan Braun, MIL

These guys should be pretty obvious. What might be less obvious is how far they are from anyone else.

Mid-Late 1st Round

3. Andrew McCutchen, PIT
4. Giancarlo Stanton, MIA

I know Stanton's a bit against the grain here, but he's got so much power I don't care. In a better lineup, he'd be up with Trout and Braun.

2nd Round

5. Jose Bautista, TOR
6. Carlos Gonzalez, COL
7. Matt Kemp, LAD
8. Jason Heyward, ATL
9. Bryce Harper, WAS
10. Adam Jones, BAL
11. Justin Upton, ATL

Bautista's great...but in only three categories, while CarGo's perpetual small injuries really hurt his overall stats. Kemp lost speed last year and I'm not 100% confident that he'll get it back right away; combined with October shoulder surgery, that keeps him out of my first round. Heyward and Harper could take huge steps forward. So could Upton, but he's proved capable of taking big steps back too. No matter who you take, a lot of OF's are going in this round.

3rd Round

12. Matt Holliday, STL
13. Curtis Granderson, NYY
14. Josh Hamilton, LAA
15. B.J. Upton, ATL
16. Jay Bruce, CIN
16.5 Adrian Gonzalez, LAD (1B--18 games in OF)

Holliday is pretty underrated--sometimes consistency can keep your price down, I guess. If Granderson's lousy batting average was a BABIP lull, this will be a bargain. If it was a portent of decline, this could be way too high. I think his power is worth the risk. Hamilton is set for a decline, but his 2013 forecast looks better than his keeper future.

4th-5th Rounds

17. Yoenis Cespedes, OAK
18. Mark Trumbo, LAA
19. Shin-Soo Choo, CIN
20. Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS
21. Allen Craig, STL (1B)

Cespedes did a bit of everything last year, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if he improved on that performance. Especially with a little more health. Trumbo could rack up some huge RBI totals hitting in the lower half of the Angels' lineup, while Choo should score a ton or runs leading off for Cinncinnati. Ellsbury's 2011 power surge seems like forever ago, but the real risk for him is health. Healthy, and he's an elite OF even without the power. Craig carries health risks too, and it took until his late 20's for him to break out. I'm not screaming "fluke," but I do think there's plenty of downside to go with the potential.

6th-7th Rounds

22. Carlos Beltran, STL
23. Alex Gordon, KCR
24. Nick Swisher, CLE (1B)
25. Austin Jackson, DET
26. Josh Willingham, MIN
27. Ben Zobrist, TBR (2B/SS)
28. Michael Bourn, CLE

Beltran is totally underrated, but he isn't healthy or young, so I can understand some caution. What he is, though, is very, very good, so draft him anyway. If Gordon puts a few more of those 50 doubles over the wall, this could be well under his value. If it doesn't you'll wish you waited a couple rounds on him. Swisher is Matt Holliday lite--he does the same thing every year, therefore impressing no one and keeping his price down. Jackson's always-high BABIP keeps him useful; his wheels and his place atop the Tigers lineup make him very valuable. 

8th-9th Rounds

29. Desmond Jennings, TBR
30. Chris Davis, BAL (1B)
31. Alex Rios, CHW
32. Melky Cabrera, TOR 

Jennings is a good bet for steals and a decent bet for some improvement. Rios's up-and-down history keeps me scared away--which means he could be a great value for anyone braver than I am. What will a post-juice Cabrera do? Probably rack up runs and RBI's playing for Toronto.

10th-11th Rounds

33. Hunter Pence, SFG
34. Nelson Cruz, TEX
35. Angel Pagan, SFG
36. Shane Victorino, BOS
37. Alfonso Soriano, CHC
38. Norichika Aoki, MIL
39. Torii Hunter, DET

 A lot of people think Pence is on the way down, and AT&T park isn't helping. There's upside in going against the grain, but don't reach. Cruz didn't switch ballparks, but he has that PED clinic thing hanging over his head. Don't look now, but Soriano had a very productive year at the plate. Maybe it's time to stop punishing him for taking all those big checks from the Cubbies. I'm not overly optimistic about Hunter, but I think he'll see plenty of RBI opportunities.

12th-13th Rounds

40. Josh Reddick, OAK
41. Martin Prado, ARI (3B)
42. Andre Ethier, LAD
43. Nick Markakis, BAL
44. Ryan Ludwick, CIN
45. Coco Crisp, OAK
46. Ben Revere, PHI
47. Alejandro De Aza, CHW

Ludwick has a lot of power, and, if healthy, he could be one of the outfield's best bargains. Crisp and Revere make great late round speed grabs. A little good luck, and they could give you nearly all the value of higher-priced speedsters at a fraction of the cost.

14th-16th Rounds

48. Mike Morse, SEA
49. Carlos Gomez, MIL
50. Ichiro Suzuki, NYY
51. Jayson Werth, WAS
52. Adam Eaton, ARI
53. Carlos Quentin, SDP
54. Wil Myers, TBR
55. Carl Crawford, LAD
56. Cameron Maybin, SDP
57. Starling Marte, PIT

You know who I never thought would impress me? Carlos Gomez. But check it out, speed and power. Ichiro isn't who he used to be, but don't be shocked if he helps out in runs and steals without hurting in average. Werth's power disappeared last year, so this is purely an upside play. Eaton and Myers have impact-level talent--the only question is when they come up to the Show. Should Myers win the job out of camp, move him up this list. When will Crawford get back? What will he be like when does? I don't know, so I'm not going to count on him for anything.

17th-18th Rounds 

58. Jason Kubel, ARI
59. Dexter Fowler, COL
60. Michael Cuddyer, COL
61. Denard Span, WAS

Yeah, you get a free bonus player--I just couldn't kick Span off the list. Kubel and Cuddyer could do a lot for your power, but they have a lot of health questions. Fowler does everything--except rack up big totals in homers or steals.

Bench OF's to Target (19th Round and Beyond):

Depending on how deep your league goes, you might need to reach a little further into the pool. Instead of taking whichever random guy is next on your draft website's list, grab a bench player to suit your real needs.

Power: Dayan ViciedoGarrett JonesRyan Doumit (C), Jeff Francoeur,  Chris YoungMatthew Joyce

Speed: Brett Gardner, Juan PierreDarin MastroianniPeter BourjosDrew Stubbs

Youth/Upside: Justin RuggianoBrandon Moss (1B), Lorenzo Cain,  Oscar Taveras, Leonys Martin

Balance: Michael SaundersCorey Hart (1B), Cody RossLogan Morrison, Colby RasmusDavid Murphy

As always, the outfield is deep. Your best strategy will depend on how many  OF's your league requires you to start each day. If you start five, then you should start grabbing them early. If you only play three, you can afford to get premium players at other positions and fill in your outfield a little later. In either case, I always like to get some extra steals towards the end of the draft and the outfield is a great place to find them.

Draft Round Battles: Alex Rios Vs. Hunter Pence

Alex Rios was considered to have one of the best bounce-back seasons of 2012, and Rios' "bounce" actually took him to some of his highest levels yet in terms of 5x5 productivity.  Rios posted career highs in batting average (.304), homers (25) and RBI (91), and scored the second-most runs (93) of his career while also adding a healthy 23 steals.  Keeper league owners who hung onto Rios through gritted teeth after his terrible 2011 season were nicely rewarded for their loyalty.

Hunter Pence owners see Rios' situation as a best-case scenario for their guy.  Pence's 24 homers, 104 RBI and 87 runs in 2012 actually topped his 2007-11 career averages but he hit only .253/.319/.425 for the lowest OPS of his six-year career.  This number was largely fueled by the .671 OPS he posted in 248 PA after being traded to San Francisco, plus a lackluster postseason that saw Pence produce more in clubhouse motivation than he did at the plate.  

It was easy to predict some regression for Pence following his .361 BABIP-fueled 2011 campaign but still, this was a troubling drop for a player who had been a very solid fantasy outfielder over the previous five years.  Pence had just a .743 OPS with the Phillies as well, so you can't blame the move to AT&T Park on his down season...though I am going to use the ballpark as an excuse to avoid Pence in my 2013 fantasy draft.  With Petco Park and Safeco Field both moving their fences in next season, AT&T might cement its place as the most pitcher-friendly stadium in baseball.  Frankly, I'm hesitant to take any Giants hitter besides Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, and even the Panda is a bit of a risk given how his consistency seems to yo-yo from year to year.

Pence will be a free agent next winter and has more incentive than ever to put up a big season, but I'm not really a big believer in the "contract year" phenomenon, especially when more evidence seems to exist that Pence might be starting his decline just before he hits the open market.  Pence struck out a career-worst 21.2% of the time in 2012 and he stole a career-low five bases.  Not that he was ever a big speed guy to begin with (he averaged only 12 swipes a year from 2007-11) but it's another sign that Pence might be turning into a one-dimensional player who relies on home runs to be successful, and that's not a winning formula for a guy who spends half his year trying to hit in a homer-dampening park.

Rios, in contrast, plays in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, so he's already got an edge on Pence from the get-go.  I'm admittedly not 100 percent sure on Rios in 2013 since he may be due for another one of his down years.  If Sandoval was kind of a yo-yo in terms of consistency, Rios is basically Harvey Lowe.*  Rios had put together three solid years in Toronto before plummeting to a .691 OPS in 2009, playing so poorly that the Jays just outright let Rios (and his hefty contract) go to the White Sox on waivers that August.  Rios rebounded for a .791 OPS/21 HR/88 RBI/34 SB season in 2010, then hit the skids again in 2011 before coming back in 2012.

* = if this isn't the most obscure link in Roto Authority history, then I give up

You simply don't know which player is going to show up from year to year when you draft Rios.  The outfielder just turned 32 yesterday, so it seems unlikely that he'll get better than he was last year, and all you can hope for is a repeat performance or only a minor dip.  Not only could there be a natural decline at the plate at Rios' age, but the advancing years will eventually take a toll on his speed; that'd be a big loss for a player whose fantasy value is given a nice boost from his stolen bases.

As indicated by Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position reports, Rios (82.12 ADP) is being taken roughly a round ahead of Pence (97.43 ADP) in most drafts, which seems fair given their 2012 numbers.  I tend to agree with the mock drafters.  Rios showed signs of growth as a batter, hitting more line drives (21.8% of all balls hit into play) and making more contact (86.9% of all swings) in 2012 than ever before in his career.  Those numbers allow Rios to take full advantage of his ballpark, whereas Pence will be hard-pressed to regain his stroke in San Francisco.  Since Barry Bonds left after the 2007 campaign, no Giants hitter has hit more than 26 homers in a season and only six Giants overall have reached the 20-homer plateau.  Pence has solid power but isn't a big slugger --- it's easy to imagine him failing to hit even 15 long balls in 2013.

I don't mind Rios as a second outfield choice and I like him a lot as the third outfielder, though most fantasy owners don't have their starting OF set by the eighth or ninth round.  While Rios certainly has his question marks, I wouldn't be worried if he fell on my roster on draft day.  I'd hesitate to take Pence altogether, and if I did end up drafting him through clenched teeth, he's the kind of player I would try to unload for an upgrade before Opening Day.  Unless Pence shows up at my front door and delivers a phenomenal speech to change my mind, Rios is the better option of the two.

Fantasy Stars: Bottom of the Third (Round)

It's the final edition of Fantasy Stars, which I know brings tears to my eyes and yours. Dry 'em off, though, because we at RotoAuthority are kicking off our Player Rankings in just two days! 

After a whole week of waiting, here are the last of our fantasy stars. Check out the top half of the third round here, and last week's bonus column here. As always on Fantasy Stars, the Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers come from MockDraftCentral and come from 154 qualifying drafts. The stats shown with the position players are the Big 5:  AVG/HR/R/RBI/SB and IP/SV/K/ERA/WHIP for relief pitchers. (No starters this round.)

Bottom of the Third (Round)

31. Craig Kimbrel, RP         ADP 33.23

32. Hanley Ramirez, SS     ADP 34.44

33. Jason Heyward, OF     ADP 36.45

34. Allen Craig, 1B              ADP 37.51

35. Starlin Catro, SS           ADP 37.52

36. Ian Kinsler, 2B             ADP 37.88

31. Craig Kimbrel, RP  62.2/42/116/1.01/0.65 (Saves, in bold, replace wins here.)
Kimbrel is the only elite relief pitcher and he's the only one that you can justify taking anywhere near this early. He isn't a tier ahead of all other relievers, he's several tiers ahead. Between his otherworldly excellence, and the paucity of other dependable closers with the track records to keep their jobs through rough patches, Kimbrel really stands out. Just look at those ratios, let alone the whiffs. He gives you half of a great starter's K's in under a third of the innings. If you play in a standard league, the kind with an innings cap, he's a great choice here.

If you're in a weekly league...I'd actually pass. The low innings that are a strength with a cap are a weakness without one, just as they are for all mortal relievers. Yes, he's the best, but in head to head, you don't necessarily want the best. At least not in the third round.

A final note of caution comes in just two words: Eric Gagne. Remember how good he was? Yes, Kimbrel strikes more guys out, yes his ERA and WHIP make it look like 1968...but great relievers flame out in a way that other players don't; they're subject to a lot more luck than other players, plus the usual injury cautions that come with pitchers. Even the best reliever in the game carries a lot of downside.

32. Hanley Ramirez, SS .257/24/79/92/21
Remember the days when Hanley used to arm-wrestle Albert Pujols for the number-one overall pick? I do, and maybe Hanley does too. After a horrific and injury-marred 2011, he bounced back pretty well in 2012. Not all the way back to the top--leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of all who drafted him with such hopes, I'm sure. Considering his numbers in line with those of other shortstops, not to mention the fact that a whole year in Los Angeles' lineup instead of Miami's, and I could see Ramirez inching up closer to his glory days. Not all the way there, but closer.

He won't be 30 until after the season and he made it up to the Majors nice and young, which gives him a better-than average shot of staying productive longer. I like him a lot as the number-two shortstop in the game, but if you draft him and he's better than he was last year, don't thank me--thank my wife, because it was she who first looked at Hanley's numbers with an objective eye and suggested a rebound to me. I was gonna take Starlin Castro....

33. Jason Heyward, OF .269/27/93/82/21
Heyward isn't 24 yet and he's already one of the best outfielders in baseball. He's got the track record and the prospect-pedrigree to get better, and he makes a very nice upside play here in the bottom of the third round. He's the third Braves outfielder being drafted, but he's got a great chance to be the best next year. If he inches the average up just a little, he becomes a 5-category player, since he added a bit of speed to his game last year. (I'm telling you, all the cool kids steal bases these days.) 

That same average represents his risk factor, but it isn't a huge risk. If he plays exactly as he did last year, this will be only a small overpay. How many already-good, former top-prospects don't get even better at age 23? Not enough to make me think twice about drafting Heyward here, or even higher.

34. Allen Craig, 1B/OF .307/22/76/92/2
Allen Craig is 28. He's not elderly, by baseball's standards or those of the real world, but he is too old to have been a prospect last year. He burst onto the scene like one, with 22 homers and a great average in just 514 PA. He'll go into next year as the Cardinals' first baseman, and he'll have some good hitters around him. But he's 28, and he turns 29 in the middle of the season.

I'm not ready to relegate him to the Quad-A status of a half-year wonder--he really does seem better than that--but he's being drafted closer to where the elite first basemen are than those with serious question marks, and he has those question marks. His position isn't as deep as it once was, and drafters are reaching for production there, but this is a reach too much. At this point in the draft, you're better off skipping by first base, taking from another position, and grabbing a similarly risky player a few rounds later. Or, you could just take the much safer and still excellent Billy Butler. Could Craig be better than Butler next year? Sure. But Craig could be terrible next year, and Butler almost certainly won't be. 

35. Starlin Catro, SS  .283/14/78/78/25
Right here you can read what I thought of Castro two weeks ago, in spot 30. My feelings haven't changed. He's a great player, an elite shortstop, and he isn't as good as Jose Reyes. He's a good enough choice here, but only if Reyes and Ramirez are off the board. 

36. Ian Kinsler, 2B .256/19/105/72/21
Our own Mark Polishuk discusses the relative merits of Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia here, but I'll just look at Kinsler for the moment. First of all, look at his stats from year to year: is he a power hitter or isn't he? Is he a speed guy, or isn't he? I guess he's both, but with all the time he misses it's hard to be sure.

He's now had two full seasons in a row, which is weird enough, but this time his performance slipped badly, especially in homers and steals. If he's a 20/20 guy with a lousy average and a ton of runs scored, there are a lot of better second basemen. If he's a 30/30 guy with a lousy average and a ton of runs there's only one better second baseman. So who is he? I honestly don't know, but at 31 the former looks more likely than it ever has before. There's a lot of risk here, and there are several second sackers who have lower risk factors and lower price tags. No, Pedroia, Ben Zobrist, Jason Kipnis, and Aaron Hill don't have the upside that Kinsler has, but they won't cost you as much either.

Here's a re-ranked third round, for tradition's sake: Strasburg, Longoria, Ramirez, Gonzalez, Wright, Heyward, Upton, Kimbrel, Bruce, Castro, Kinsler, Craig.

Finally, several players fell out of the Fantasy Stars rankings altogether: Yadier Molina, Cliff Lee, David Price, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jose Reyes. I would definitely take Reyes in the third round (right ahead of Wright), but all the others look a lot more sensible in their new landing spots.

These rankings will change and change again before draft day, so keep mocking, and keep checking the rankings. Remember, though, that ADP won't let you read the minds of the other owners in your league. If he's your guy, and you're getting value, grab him now, even if ADP says he should still be around by your next turn. You never know who's having the same thought as you.

Finding This Year's Starting Pitching Sleepers

Of fantasy baseball's top 36 starting pitchers from 2012 (according to ESPN's Player Rater), 21 of them were drafted outside of the top 100 players (according to Mock Draft Central ADP data from March 2012).  That's a solid 58% of your number three or better fantasy starters, all drafted in the ninth round or later.  What do these guys have in common?  How can we identify them for 2013?

Low Strikeout Guys (Kyle Lohse, Wade Miley, R.A. Dickey, Jason Vargas, Johnny Cueto, Matt Harrison)

All of these pitchers had a K/9 at or below 6.1 in 2011.  It always stings to draft a guy like this, knowing he'll net you just 110-130 Ks and hurt your all-important K/9 in leagues with innings caps.  And since they don't miss bats, these pitchers are always at the mercy of hits allowed.  It's hard to trust strong ratios from these types, though Lohse and Harrison have now done it two years running.  Your best bet among low strikeout starters is to target someone who at least has the stuff for strikeouts and/or has done it in the past, such as Cueto heading into 2012.  Jeremy Hellickson, Ricky Romero, and Wandy Rodriguez are a few examples of pitchers who were players with low K/9s in 2012 who could rebound or take a step forward in that department.  If you're going to draft a low strikeout guy with no real K potential, at least aim for one with great control and a nice groundball rate, like Tim Hudson.

Old Guys (R.A. Dickey, Hiroki Kuroda, A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster, Ryan Vogelsong, Kyle Lohse)

Kuroda, in particular, had to have been going in the 15th round because he was 37 years old.  The others had additional issues, whereas Kuroda's biggest secondary concern was a move to the AL East.  Fantasy owners still don't trust him, as he's going in the 14th.  All of these players can still be had outside of the top 100 picks with the exception of Dickey, who at 91 still has one of the higher ADPs you'll see for a reigning Cy Young award winner.  I'd take a shot with him at that spot.

Bad Ratio Guys (A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster, Jason Vargas, Max Scherzer, Homer Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, Jonathon Niese)

In a league where only 70-odd starting pitchers are drafted, it's hard to feel good about taking someone coming off a season in which he had an ERA around five or a WHIP over 1.40.  Heck, Alex McCrum was just telling you that even a WHIP in the 1.20s isn't anything special these days.

That's where an ERA estimator like SIERA comes in.  Niese posted a tidy 3.42 SIERA against a 4.40 ERA in 2011, and sure enough, his ERA came down the following year.  Based on 2012 numbers, SIERA gives love to Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Jeff Samardzija, Alex Cobb, Dillon Gee, Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Pat Corbin, Carlos Villanueva, Edwin Jackson, and Ian Kennedy.  There are some very talented pitchers in that list who are going late in part because of ERAs around 4.00 in 2012.  SIERA didn't love the 2012 seasons from Jon Lester, Tim Lincecum, Mike Minor, or Derek Holland, but they're also intriguing bounceback or breakout candidates.  

Often a promising player can be on the cusp of fantasy greatness with improvement in one area, like Gio Gonzalez dropping his walk rate from 4.1 to 3.4 per nine in 2012.  Maybe this year we'll see better control from Edinson Volquez, Yu Darvish, Matt Moore, or Felix Doubront, taking them to the next level.

Guys Coming Back From Injuries (Jonathon Niese, Homer Bailey, Jake Peavy, Adam Wainwright, Jordan Zimmermann, Kris Medlen)

Niese missed time in 2011 due to an intercostal strain, so there was never a concern about his arm.  Peavy and Bailey were coming off much more serious issues entering 2012, so the fact that they held up comes as a surprise.  But as Wainwright, Zimmermann, and Medlen reminded us, full recovery from Tommy John surgery is commonplace.  Zimmermann's TJ procedure actually took place in August of '09, but entering the 2012 season he was still being drafted in the 11th round perhaps because of the innings cap he'd been under in '11.

Players returning from injury, carrying an injury-prone reputation, or just coming off an injury-shortened season that you may consider rolling the dice on for 2013 include C.J. Wilson, Doug Fister, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Brett Anderson, Scott Baker, Derek Holland, Matt Garza, Josh Beckett, Tommy Hanson, Andrew Cashner, and Tommy John survivors Brandon Beachy (potential late June return), Cory Luebke (late May return), Daniel Hudson (July), and Felipe Paulino (July).

Unproven Guys (Ryan Vogelsong, Kris Medlen, Wade Miley, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn, Chris Sale)

These six top 36 fantasy starters fell outside the top 100 players chosen heading into the 2012 season mostly because they lacked strong track records of big league success.  Some, such as Darvish and Sale, came with fantastic pedigrees, while a guy like Medlen wasn't supposed to be this good.  Medlen, Lynn, and even Sale weren't locks to hold down starting jobs in 2012.

For 2013, the unproven bracket includes Aroldis Chapman, Matt Harvey, Hisashi Iwakuma, Dylan Bundy, Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Shelby Miller, Tyler Skaggs, and a host of others.  But beware: while Matt Moore was pretty good fantasy-wise in 2012, he was drafted before more proven commodities like Gio Gonzalez, Adam Wainwright, Jordan Zimmermann, and Max Scherzer, and that was a mistake.  I'm curious if hype will push Chapman down from his current 131 ADP to something closer to the 100 range.

Perhaps the real sleepers among starting pitchers don't come until the first 150 players are off the board.  Given that restriction, here are my top five for 2013:

  1. Lance Lynn.  Lynn throws hard, he's in his prime, and he got into better shape over the offseason.  I expect him to build upon his success from 2012, with the only threat being the Cardinals' rotation depth.
  2. Homer Bailey.  You can grab Bailey in the 14th round for a reason: no one knows if he can handle a 200 inning workload again.  But entering his age 27 season following a strong second half, I'll take my chances.
  3. Tim Lincecum.  I'll feel better about Timmy if just a little bit of that velocity comes back.  But to add value in the 17th round, Lincecum doesn't need to strike out 250 or win another Cy.  If he can provide those same 190 Ks with decent ratios, that would be acceptable in this draft position.
  4. Jason Hammel.  I believe that Hammel really did turn a corner last year with the O's.  Can he top the 180 inning mark for the first time?  Does it matter, when you grab him in the 24th round?
  5. Ivan Nova.  Most likely, you will be able to grab Nova for a bench spot, that's how down on him people are after a 7.05 ERA in the second half.  But the peripherals still looked good, and he should be entering his prime.

Full Story |  Comments (0) | Categories: Starters

How to Win: WHIP

It's time to WHIP your roster into shape. Let's WHIP up a great pitching staff. Who's the majority WHIP of your fantasy team? And as many other cliched puns on WHIP as you can think of. Now that we've gotten that out of our systems, we can all agree never to speak of this again.

Another thing we can agree on is this: WHIP is a great category. After all the team- and luck-dependencies of Runs Scored and ERA, WHIP should come as a breath of fresh air. It's not that there isn't any luck that goes into the process--there certainly is--but there isn't nearly as much of it. WHIP tells us a lot about a pitcher's true talent level, which is nice--we can trust it. The only downside is that everyone else can trust it and the opportunity to game this system is a lot less than it could be. The good news, though, is that we get to list 24 pitchers below, precisely because we can expect most of them to be among the league leaders. To give you a little extra edge, the minimum IP for these guys is just 120, so maybe some of them will have slipped through the cracks of your opponents' preparation. 

 2012's Top 24

1. Kris Medlen                       0.91
2. Jered Weaver                   1.02
2. Clayton Kershaw             1.02
4. Matt Cain                            1.04
5. R.A. Dickey                        1.05
6. Justin Verlander              1.06
7. Kyle Lohse                          1.09
8. Jake Peavy                          1.10
8. David Price                          1.10
10. Madison Bumgarner     1.11
10. Cliff Lee                              1.11
10. Brandon Morrow           1.11
13. Cole Hamels                     1.12
14. Gio Gonzalez                    1.13
15. Chris Sale                          1.14
15. CC Sabathia                      1.14
15. Marco Estrada                1.14
15. Felix Hernandez            1.14
19. Mike Minor                      1.15
19. Stephen Strasburg         1.15
21. Mat Latos                         1.16
22. Hiroki Kuroda               1.17
22. James Shields                1.17
22. Jordan Zimmermann 1.17
22. Johnny Cueto                1.17
22. Mark Buehrle                 1.17
22. Jon Niese                        1.17 

Did you notice the freebies? Thanks to the miracle of rounding, a six-way tie brought us to 27 names. Lucky us. By the way, when I searched for pitchers who threw at least 120 innings, I got 121 entries. The worst WHIP belonged to Ricky Romero--an ugly 1.67. More usefully, perhaps, the median number is 1.27 and is shared by many; the 2012 average was 1.31. Interestingly, as recently as 2009, the league average was 1.39. So don't be too impressed with WHIP's in the 20's. Baseball isn't the same game as it was half a decade ago, and you get to have higher expectations from your pitchers.

WHIP comes from two places, obviously enough: walks allowed and hits allowed. A pitcher with a consistently low WHIP probably keeps both of them pretty far down, most of the time. That said, one is much easier to control than another, and it is, you guessed it, that walk rate. Who's keeping their walks down? Let's see:


1. Cliff Lee                                1.19

2. Bartolo Colon                      1.36

3. Blake Beavan                       1.42

4. Kris Medlen                         1.50

5. Bronson Arroyo                  1.56

6. Joe Blanton                         1.60

7. Scott Diamond                    1.61

8. Kyle Lohse                           1.62

9. Tommy Milone                   1.71

9. Wade Miley                         1.71

10. Clayton Richard              1.73

11. Mark Buehrle                    1.78

12. Tommy Hunter                1.82

13. Marco Estrada                 1.89

14. Dan Haren                       1.94

15. Jordan Zimmermann    1.98

15. CC Sabathia                      1.98

Of these pitchers (all those under the arbitrary milestone of 2.00/9 with at least 120 IP), most had helpful WHIP's. Some had very helpful numbers. A couple were...not so helpful: Beavan, Blanton, and Richard were barely better than average (for their inning count), while Milone and Haren were both worse than average. For Haren, it seems to be related to his injury issues last year. For Blanton, it seems to be that he's chronically too hittable. The others could have had similar issues, or they just could have gotten a few bad bounces on balls in play.

A couple more names stand out to me on this list: check out Zimmermann and Sabathia riding the end of it. Right now, they are the 23rd and 20th starters off the board at MockDraftCentral, giving both triple-digit ADP's. Keeping their walks down and pitching in front of powerful offenses seems like a recipe for more success than they're being given credit for. 

Miley's presence here is also interesting. When I see a young starter have surprising Big League success, I'm usually a little hesitant. Usually someone like that has great stuff, no idea how to harness it, and the league will figure him out by his second season. A good red flag for a guy like that is, of course, his walk rate. Miley's kind of the opposite, and that makes him interesting. Especially for this category.

I'd also like to use this opportunity to plug Marco Estrada. Again. Look how good he is! 

 Good WHIP, Lousy ERA

If WHIP and ERA are siblings, WHIP is the quiet, studious one and ERA is the high-drama, high-energy one. Guess which one gets more attention? Guess which one we'll vote Most Likely to Succeed in the end? A pitcher with a great ERA will never fly under the radar. Even Joe Morgan will notice. Someone with a good or great WHIP, but a mediocre or lousy ERA might just escape some notice. Not only that, but just about anyone is more likely to underperform their true talent in ERA than overperform it in WHIP. Peavy, Bumgarner, Sabathia, and Estrada all had top-20 WHIP's, but ERA's in the 3.30's. Mike Minor was right there with them in WHIP, but sported a 4.16 ERA.

Some more pitchers on the WHIP leaderboard but closer to the middle of the pack in ERA include: Latos, Kuroda, Shields, Buehrle, Niese, Jason Vargas, Miley, Doug Fister, Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, and Travis Wood.

After Wood, we start getting past WHIP's of 1.20 and into the territory where both numbers are in the middle of the pack. To make a real mark in team WHIP, a pitcher has to be very good indeed, because the median is so low.

A Few Final Words 

The best thing you can do for your team WHIP is to be aggressive when you bid or draft. Jump an extra dollar or an extra round on one of those pitchers with a helpful WHIP, even if they came with a marginal ERA last year. The band of successful pitchers in this category is pretty small. As pitching has gotten better in the last couple years, so have the numbers required to win your fantasy league. Because WHIP is so (relatively) predictable, I suggest aiming high and getting multiple good-to-great WHIP starters, and peppering your staff with relievers who get saves or strikeouts and--quietly--don't walk anyone. 

Full Story |  Comments (0) | Categories: How to Win | Starters | WHIP

Shutdown Corner: NL West Closer Roundup

Welcome back to the (sixth and final) divisional closer roundup here at Shutdown Corner. It's taken us a long time to get here (and out AL West and NL East roundups need a little updating by now), but we're here! We're finally ready to roll out the division that's home to the defending World Series Champions -- the NL West. And, to acces any of the previous round ups, follow the following links: AL East, AL CentralAL WestNL East, and NL Central.

If you haven't been following along at home, here's our closer tiering system for the pre-season:

  • Tier 1: World-class reliever, capable of putting up a season for the ages.
  • Tier 2: Very good closer, both stable and effective.
  • Tier 3: Average closer, may be lacking either stability or effectiveness.
  • Tier 4: Poor closer, either completely ineffective but stable, or very unstable.

Arizona Diamondbacks: J.J. Putz

Aside from a lost year in New York, J.J. Putz has quietly been one of the more consistent late-inning options in baseball over the past seven seasons. Last year, Putz sparkled in the Arizona sun, posting fine alphabet-soup rate stats (2.82 ERA, 2.38 FIP, 29.8 K%, 1.03 WHIP) while logging 32 saves. He rolls into 2013 with a firm grip on the closer spot in Arizona, despite strong relievers behind him in David Hernandez, Brad Ziegler, and Heath Bell.

Putz's Achilles heel is his durability, as he's usually only able to throw between 50-58 innings per season. Given his injury history, a short DL stint is likely during a season, and an extended one certainly isn't out of the question -- meaning you should have a backup plan ready to go for when he goes down.

I recently had a discussion on Twitter with someone who firmly believes that David Hernandez is going to be the closer when J.J. inevitably hits the DL or needs a n extended break. I'm not entirely sure that's going to be the case. New addition Heath Bell is one of those guys who has the "proven closer" label, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he gets first shot to close when Putz goes down. For this reason, it's a little tough to predict who should be your handcuff if you want to grab a backup for Putz ... but remember that Hernandez projects to have much better rate stats than Bell.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (great numbers, doesn't pitch much more than 50 innings per season, serious injury risk, good competition)

Next in line: Heath Bell or David Hernandez

Colorado Rockies: Rafael Betancourt

If you really want to talk about consistency, though, the first second name on your lips (after Mariano Rivera) should be the Rockies' Rafael Betancourt. Betancourt is a rare pitcher who has thrived pitching for the Rockies, using a simply two pronged philosophy: (1) strike everyone out and (2) don't walk anyone.

Revolutionary, I know!

At any rate, 2012 was a bit of a down season for the purple-clad closer, as both his K% (24.2%) and BB% (5.1%) slipped a bit from his stellar stats in the previous few seasons. With Rafael entering his age-38 season, I think that we should temper our expectations for him in 2013. He's certainly still a good closer to draft, but signs point to him entering a decline phase.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (good stats, starting to decline, age is an issue, younger competition in the bullpen)

Next in line: Matt Belisle or Rex Brothers

Los Angeles Dodgers: Brandon League

I'm not gonna lie, this is a weird one. The Dodgers already have a weapon of mass destruction in their bullpen: the heater-tastic Kenley Jansen. But because the team is flush with cash, they made a huge investment in League which seems to indicate that he'll be given the ninth-inning duties. League doesn't have the strikeout rate of a top-tier closer (17.9% in 2012), but he improved upon arriving in L.A. and has a legitimate out pitch. Nevertheless, strikeouts are the most important thing in my eyes, and anyone with that much trouble getting Ks isn't a safe bet. No matter how much the Dodgers are willing to spend.

Don't be fooled, though -- Kenley Jansen is coming for this spot. Jansen strikes out guys with authority (39.3% strikeout rate in 2012) and would be a lockdown option in the ninth if it weren't for continued medical worries about his heart. If you're going to pick one setup man to handcuff at the start of the season, make it Jansen, as his strikeouts will play in almost any league, and he could be closing again by June.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (too few strikeouts, too many walks and meltdowns, good competition in the bullpen)

Next in line: Kenley Jansen

San Diego Padres: Huston Street

If you could be sure that Huston Street would pitch a full season, I'd have you draft him in the top 5-10 of all closers in baseball. Both recently, and over the life of his career, he's proved an ability to strike guys out, limit walks, and he pitches in the hurlers' haven that is PetCo park.

Of course, you can't ever be sure that Street will be healthy for a full season. Last year, Street only logged 40 appearances, but still recorded 23 saves for an unremarkable Padres squad. His injury risk hasn't kept him out of action for a full season yet during his career, but all the "minor" injuries he's sustained over the past three years are painting the picture that if health is a skill, it's one Street doesn't quite have.

Luke Gregerson will probably get first chance to close when/if Street succumbs to injury, but don't sleep on Brad Brach, who strikes everybody out and has only the slightest idea of where the strike zone begins and ends. If Brach can get the ball over the plate with a bit of regularity, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Padres bail on both Street and Gregerson, and hand the ninth over to the youngster.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (good numbers, good situation, moderate injury risk)

Next in line: Luke Gregerson or Brad Brach

San Francisco Giants: Sergio Romo

Sergio Romo's 2011 was about as good as a late-inning reliever could hope for. While no one would expect that 1.50 ERA and 40% K-rate to hold up, Romo's 2012 was pretty awesome as well. The ERA jumped all the way up to 1.79, and the strikeouts still came in bunches, though not as often as in 2011. With Brian Wilson long gone, Romo has inherited the coveted ninth inning role for the defending champs, and looks to hold it down with authority.

Everything would be great ... if it weren't for the fact that the Giants still treat Romo with kid gloves. Romo relies on a wipeout slider, and considering how much it taxes his elbow, the Giants tend to use Romo sparingly throughout the season. In 2012, Romo made 69 appearances, sure, but only logged a little more than 55 innings. There's a pretty fair chance that, while Romo will be the guy for the Giants, he may not be available on back-to-back days in some instances, and that other relievers will vulture some save chances. Nevertheless, the good signs are too many to ignore, and he should be considered a Tier 2 closer for the 2013 season.

The Beard is dead. Long live The Beard.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (fantastic stuff, injury / workload remains a risk, good competition)

Next in line: Santiago Casilla

As always, check out @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute closer updates, and find me at@bgrosnick for everything baseball. Next week we'll write about something other than closers by division ... so get excited!

All data from FanGraphs.

Full Story |  Comments (0) | Categories: Closers

Sleepers & Busts: Ninth Inning Headscratchers

There probably isn't as volatile position in fantasy baseball as relief pitching. A year ago at this time, Andrew Bailey was a middle-tier closer. Heath Bell was regarded among the best in the game at his position. The name "Tom Wilhelmsen" would've induced a "Who?" from most fantasy players. And Craig Kimbrel -- wait, no... he was still awesome.

The Kimbrels of the world are few and far between, though. Closers are tricky because their stat lines are subject to such small sample sizes. As fantasy players, we'll often forgive (or forget) a starter's abysmal first six weeks if he kills it the rest of the season. Relievers don't have that luxury. Those ugly six weeks for the starter are close to the equivalent of a closer's full-season workload.

Guys like Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan have earned our trust over the years by proving their dominance over a large sample. When they're drafted, we're not paying for just their previous season. We're paying for their previous seven or eight seasons. That's an important distinction, but clearly not one everyone is buying into...

Fernando Rodney, TB - ADP 92

I remember being somewhat surprised that Rodney even got a Major League contract when the Rays signed him last winter. After all, Rodney was coming off a five-year stretch of a 4.42 ERA, 4.24 FIP and 4.33 xFIP. His 8.2 K/9 over those 266 innings looked decent... until you juxtaposed it with a 5.2 BB/9.

What Rodney did in 2012 was nothing short of amazing, but it was also in 74-inning sample. Even if you believe that Rodney miraculously learned to eliminate walks from his repertoire, the odds of him repeating a .220 BABIP and a ludicrous 89.4% strand rate are astronomical. And I for one don't believe the walks are gone for good. It's not as if Rodney was suddenly firing first-pitch strikes and working ahead of every hitter he faced. He threw first-pitch strikes at a 60 percent clip, which is above average, but below the 62.7 percent marks he posted in 2011 and 2009.

I'm not buying an age-35 renaissance for a previously replacement-level reliever. Even if you are, he's bound to regress to something closer to a 3.00 ERA. Is he worth taking 10 places before Nathan? No chance. Heck, he's going three picks ahead of CC Sabathia on average (Nothing makes sense anymore in this world). In my mind, he becomes a reasonable risk around pick 136 -- after Rafael Soriano. However, he's not going to last that long in drafts, so I'm steering clear entirely.

Final Ruling: Bust

Casey Janssen, TOR - ADP 212

Some 130 picks later in the draft, Janssen is coming off the board as one of the "well, what the hell, let's go with this guy" closers. I'm not really sure why that is, because Casey Janssen has been a pretty damn good pitcher for three straight years now.

Dating back to 2010, Janssen has a 2.87 ERA, 3.17 FIP and 3.19 xFIP. He's fanned 8.8 batters per nine innings, which is four times more than he's walked. He doesn't induce a silly amount of ground balls, but he's been right around the league average during that stretch (45.6 percent).

Admittedly, Janssen is coming off November shoulder surgery, so he's not completely without risk. However, he's also coming off the best strikeout and walk rates of his career. And, unlike some stoppers going ahead of him (I'm looking at you, Brandon League), he's shown no discernable platoon split in recent history. In fact, Janssen has been markedly better against left-handed hitters than righties in each of the past two seasons.

I'm buying Janssen ahead of League, Kenley Jansen (only because he won't start the season in the closer role), Steve Cishek and Jonathan Broxton -- all of whom are going before him.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Jose Veras, HOU - ADP 237

I can safely say that when Tim Dierkes approached me about writing for RotoAuthority last season, never in my absolute wildest dreams did I imagine writing a post that focused on Fernando Rodney, Casey Janssen and Jose Veras. But here we are!

Veras will have the dubious task of protecting that roughly 40 games in which Houston will actually bring a lead into the ninth inning (sorry Astros fans). He's currently the 35th reliever coming off the board at MDC, and I assume he'll jump to 36th as Bobby Parnell will now leapfrog him with Frank Francisco temporarily on the shelf.

I'm well aware that the Astros are bad. I'm also aware that Veras doesn't exactly carry an illustrious Major League track record. Still, there's no justifiable reason to draft non-closers like Drew Storen, Ryan Cook and Kyuji Fujikawa ahead of him on Draft Day.

And really, there's some things to like about Veras. Over the past three seasons, his ERA/FIP/xFIP is a reasonable 3.73/3.68/3.84. To go along with a respectable ERA, Veras has a blazing 10.3 K/9. Sadly, the caveat is that that number is barely more than double his walk rate.

Veras is going to put his fair share of batters on base, but if the end result of the 2013 season resembles something like his 3.73 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 over the past three years to go along with 20-25 saves, the 20th-round price tag currently attached to him will look like a bargain. Instead, he's going seven picks later than Bruce Rondon, who's never thrown a Major League pitch and has worse command at Double-A than Veras has in the Majors. Tyler Colvin, Oscar Taveras, Garrett Jones, Rondon, Cook and Fujikawa are just a few of the names going ahead of Veras whom I think he should leapfrog.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

All draft data courtesy of MockDraftCentral.com.

Go Bold or Go Home: You're a Square if You Don't Draft Carlos Marmol

Last year I loved Carlos Marmol. I listened to some advice that ended up being less than awesome and I was psyched for an underrated fireballing closer. I knew then that I'd be taking some lumps and popping Tums like candy during his appearances, but I also knew he'd get me saves and strikeouts. Lots and lots of strikeouts.

Then he lost his job basically right away and sent me on the track to finish second-to-last in saves. (Sean Marshall and Grant Balfour contributed to that experience as well.) So thanks for that, Carlos.

But I'm here to say that if you let Marmol slip by you in your fantasy draft, you're making a mistake. My reasoning is simple: saves are saves, and the more you can rack up, the better. Moreover, a closer in the hand is worth two or three in the bush. Maybe more, and Marmol will be starting the year closing for the Cubbies. Will he get tons and tons of saves? No. Will he be any more reliable than he has been in the past? No. Will he have more job security? No, he might even have less, since he's a trade candidate (though the fact that he is means the Cubs have a reason to keep him in the 9th inning as long as they can). So...why again do I think you should draft this guy?

The price is right. He's getting taken in fewer than nine percent of mock drafts over at Mock Draft Central, and his ADP is a paltry 233.62, putting him in the 19th round. He's going totally undrafted in over 60% of mocks. Right now, he's the 35th relief pitcher off the board, putting him behind five, count 'em five, non-closers or job sharers. Including his own setup man, former Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa. Now, there are some elite non-closing relievers out there, but the value of even the 20 saves that Marmol put up last year is something no non-closer can match. For the extra-nervous among you, check out this alarmingly-titled piece that reiterates Marmol's possession of the closer's job in Chicago.

I can honestly say that I think the Cubs' plan is to trade Marmol around the time of the deadline and let Fujikawa close. That's fine with me, though, because they'll want to maximize Marmol's trade value before the deadline, and that means giving him a little more patience. He'll fetch a higher price as long as he's got that "closer" tag and the Cubs want that price as much as you want some bonus saves. In standard roto, who cares when you get the saves--all that matters is that they're in your column at the end of the year. Head-to-head players will be a little more eager to have a backup for him.

The plan could go off the rails, of course. For instance, the Cubs could actually contend (not likely, but their starting pitching has a lot of upside), in which case they might just want Marmol around because (secret!) he isn't actually that bad. Not only did he put it together pretty well in the second half last year (1.52 ERA), and score just fine in save chances (20-for-23 is hardly panic-worthy), he did decently enough at keeping the ball in the park (0.65 HR/9) and his FIP was a sort-of acceptable 3.98. Are these great, inspiring numbers? No. Obviously not. Are they so bad that Marmol will definitely kill your ERA and WHIP? No, they're really not. And while he's not killing your rate stats, he can add a lot to those saves and strikeouts.

Don't go overboard. I'm not saying you should draft Marmol to be your first closer. I'm not even saying you should use your 15th round pick on him. But I am willing to say that you should not let Carlos Marmol go undrafted in your league. If you don't grab him--or worse, you let someone else do it--you're leaving value on the table. And that's what squares do.

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Draft Round Battles: Jason Heyward Vs. Adam Jones

Taking a page from the Columbo book of storytelling, I'm going to remove the suspense early: I favor Jason Heyward ahead of Adam Jones in 2013 fantasy drafts.  My usual strategy is to take a more established player over a promising but semi-unproven one but in Heyward and Jones, I feel better taking Heyward's upside ahead of Jones' solid but not quite elite game.

It's a bit of a bold statement on my part since Jones projects as a stable bottom-of-the-second-round choice in most fantasy drafts.  The Orioles center fielder was an all-around fine fantasy performer in 2012, delivering career highs in homers (32), runs (103), batting average (.287), slugging (.505), steals (16) and he even threw in 82 RBIs to boot.

A lot of nice numbers, indeed, but there was one career-best that Jones couldn't top.  His .334 OBP in 2012 fell short of the .335 OBP he posted in 2009.  I don't care that he fell short of the mark; I care that in five seasons as a Major League regular, Jones hasn't been able to do better than a .335 OBP.  Walks have always been an issue for Jones and his career 0.25 BB/K rate may be the only thing holding him back from being a truly elite outfielder. 

It's almost a Moneyball cliche at this point but I always hesitate before drafting a hitter who doesn't have a solid OBP.  Heyward, to be fair, also had a .335 OBP in 2012 and only a .319 OBP during his 2011 season, a year marred by nagging injuries and perhaps just an old-fashioned sophomore slump.   What did catch my eye, however, was Heyward's .393 OBP over 623 PA in his 2010 rookie season, which was part of an .849 OPS that happened to top any of Jones' seasons.  Heyward only did it once, but a .393 OBP at any age is very impressive, and doing it in your age-20 season was off the charts. 

Fans and pundits had high expectations of Heyward in his rookie year and he delivered, though his mediocre 2011 and a Jones-esque 2012 have served to lower expectations slightly...if you call being the 32nd player taken overall in Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position rankings as "lowered expectations."  Still, there's just a bit of post-hype malaise surrounding Heyward, as is the fickle nature of fantasy owners towards any heavily-touted rookie that doesn't immediately start rattling off the Cooperstown-caliber seasons.

I referred to Heyward's 2012 year as Jones-esque because...

Jones: 697 PA, 32 HR, 82 RBI, 103 runs, .287/.334/.505, 16 steals,, 125 OPS+, .361 wOBA, 126 wRC+

Heyward: 651 PA, 27 HR, 82 RBI, 93 runs, .269/.335/.479, 21 steals, 117 OPS+, .351 wOBA, 120 wRC+

Jones had the better season but the gap was closer than you might have thought.  Heyward's rebound from his tough 2011 campaign somewhat flew under the radar, while Jones leading the Cinderella Orioles back to relevance understandably drew a lot more attention.

Now, I will freely admit that the "post-hype malaise" I mentioned earlier could also easily apply to Jones as well.  He was a former first-round sandwich pick in the 2003 draft and ranked 28th on Baseball America's list of the game's 100 best prospects heading into the 2007 season.  Jones, though, is only breaking out now, at age 27.  It's possible this is his ceiling, or it's also possible that he's already hit his ceiling and he'll perform closer to his pre-2012 norm (a 101 OPS+) in 2013.

What it all boils down to is that I just think we've yet to see the best of Heyward, whereas I think Jones may have already peaked.  If the two players produce the same offensive numbers in 2013, I really believe that would represent a worst-case scenario for Heyward.  It's easy to see him exploding for a .900 OPS or better, whereas I'm not sure what more Jones can do to improve unless he suddenly gains a lot more plate discipline.  They may have a 10+ point gap in ADP now, but I see Jones and Heyward both still sitting on a lot of draft boards by many a third round, and if you're faced with a choice between the two, go with the younger option in this case. 

Fantasy Stars: Leapfroggers

Welcome to a very special episode of Fantasy Stars. See, a funny thing happened to MockDraftCentral this week--everyone's ADP seemed to be bouncing around like crazy.  As in, players I didn't get the chance to discuss before have leapfrogged their way into draft positions I discussed a month ago. Others have fallen similarly far or altered the order within their own positions. With so many players moving up, down, or sideways, this seemed to be a perfect time to catch up on the changes that have ruined the continuity of this series. 

Whether big risers or fallers, I'll discuss them below before getting to the real bottom of the third. If I've written about a player in this space before, expect their comments to be pretty short, for the sake of everyone's sanity. If you missed it, check out last week's edition of Fantasy Stars to place everyone in context. 

As you can see below, basically the entire first half of the third round consists of new faces. Great. More work for me, more analysis for you.

As always on Fantasy Stars, the Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers come from MockDraftCentral and come from 154 qualifying drafts. The stats shown with the players are the Big 5:  AVG/HR/R/RBI/SB for position players and IP/W/K/ERA/WHIP for starting pitchers. 

13. Curtis Granderson, OF (Top of the Second, Riser) .232/43/102/106/10

He's a riser, and wow, did he rise! From somewhere in the depths of the fourth round (I had thought I wouldn't get to profile him), Granderson has risen to the very doorstep of the first round. Unfortunately, that means I don't get to talk about what a great value he is in the fourth, or what a worthwhile risk he is in the third. Instead, I have to say mean things about a guy that hit 43 homers. Thanks a lot, mock drafters.

In all seriousness, this is an overpay. I can understand it, and I can sort of understand taking him with Giancarlo Stanton still on the board--their supporting casts couldn't be more different. The crux of the issue with Granderson is this: was his horrific .260 BABIP last year bad luck, or the harbinger of imminent decline? Moreover, he's never been good with the BABIP, and usually been bad with the batting average. If he's launching 43 bombs in New Yankee Stadium, I don't really care. But if his batspeed is slowing with age (he'll be 32) it could take enough of that power with it to really hurt his value. I like Granderson. I like the risk, and I think he'll pan out next year. But when I can choose to risk the thirteenth pick of the draft, I want the 23-year-old who keeps getting better, not the 32 year-old who just slipped a lot.

14. Buster Posey, C (Top of the Second, Faller) .336/24/78/103/1 

I wrote more extensively about Posey when he was a first-rounder and I didn't totally oppose him there. I did think that the first round was a bit too early for a catcher, but here, only a few picks later, I feel a lot more comfortable. For the team using this pick, there's no way Posey lasts until their next selection, and if he's your guy, don't let him slip by. That said, he isn't my guy at this point in the second round, mostly because catchers don't hit like that every year, even the very best ones. Plus, catcher remains deeper than usual this year. 

16. Clayton Kershaw, SP (Top of the Second, Faller) 227.2/14/229/2.53/1.02

Another first-rounder from January, Kershaw has retained his spot at the top of pitching's pecking order. I still like him, but he's still too reminiscent of other pitchers that you can get later--lots later. If you're taking a pitcher this early, you know who I want you to take.  

24. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B (Bottom of the Second, Riser) .280/42/93/110/13

I've been an Encarnacion proponent for a long time, and 2012 was the year I finally let him go to someone else in all of my leagues. So, yeah. Anyways, I don't see anything in what he did that makes me think that he isn't for real. Forty-two long balls is a lot--more than I'd usually project for anyone--so don't be surprised if they go down a bit. Fortunately, he plays in a great lineup, in a helpful park, and the standard at first base is lower this year than at any time in recent memory. He's not a sure thing, but with the 24th overall pick, he doesn't have to be. I predict that he'll be going in the first round next year. Sounds like the same path as a teammate of his once took.... 

26. Evan Longoria, 3B (Top of the Third, Riser) .289/17/39/55/2

In just 79 games, Longoria hit as many homers as Justin Upton did. Consider also that he plays a premium position, and has a longer track record of consistency than Upton the Younger. So, why, exactly is Longoria going two rounds later?

Yes, he was hurt last year, but no, he doesn't appear to be hurt anymore. It looks like mock drafters have gotten that message and I expect Longoria's stock to continue to rise. As a bottom of the first/top of the second guy just a year ago, I think you'll be able to get that kind of production at a mild bargain. Of course, if he stays here in the third round, it will be a pretty big bargain. He's worth the early risk--the reward is huge.

27. B.J. Upton, OF (Top of the Third, Riser) .246/28/79/78/31

I like the elder Upton better than his over-hyped brother, but that batting average really is a killer. His low OBP (.298 last year) keeps his Runs Scored down too. You can't even blame it on his BABIP, because he posted an average-looking .294 last year, and he's been within ten points of that mark for three years in a row.

Luckily for Upton, I secretly hate Batting Average, so I'd draft him towards the beginning of the third (depending on the other OF's out there) for the power, speed, and the chance to move into a weaker league and a friendlier home park. I like him better than most of the OF's getting drafted behind him. The only one I feel strongly about is Matt Holliday, but their skills don't overlap enough for an apples-to-apples comparison. I might take Jason Heyward over Upton too, but I might not.

28. Stephen Strasburg, SP (Top of the Third, Faller) 159.1/15/197/3.16/1.15

He's a great value here. Grab him. Use your second-round pick on him. If you don't think you'll be able to get him in the second, pull the trigger in the first. He's got all the makings of being that one great pitcher in baseball that's worth the extra price.  

29. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (Top of the Third, Riser) .299/18/75/108/2

Gonzalez dipped a bit going from the Padres to the Red Sox in 2011, though you'd never know it without looking at the .380 BABIP that powered a .338 average and .410 OBP. The decline he hit in 2012 was a lot steeper, and it's definitely more worrisome in the context of a possible change in skills. (Gonzalez is 31.)

All that said, I'd take a risk on him here, in the third round. I'd rather place my bet on a bounceback with the Dodgers than on players new to the scene like Paul Goldschmidt, Allen Craig, or Anthony Rizzo. Looking down the list of first basemen, Mark Teixeira, Paul Konerko, and Ryan Howard are all older and even more likely to naturally decline. That leaves Billy Butler and Freddie Freeman to compare him to, and neither of those guys has the elite ceiling that Gonzalez does. I say go for it. (But make your CI a first baseman just in case.)

30. Jay Bruce, OF (Top of the Third, Riser) .252/34/89/99/9

Bruce's low average and OBP keep him from being an elite performer, in fantasy baseball as well as real. Fortunately, Dusty Baker's New Red Machine (can I call them that yet, because this lineup is gonna be really, really good) doesn't care about OBP and I don't care about BA. So Bruce is as entrenched in my fantasy rankings as he is in Baker's lineup card.

The case against--batting average--is simple. He hurts you in that category, and he does it without having low BABIP's. The case for him is just as simple: he has serious power, in a great lineup, in a great park. He'll rack up points in three categories. He could even throw in double-digit steals, because that's how they roll in Cincy.

Expect more big shifts in ADP as we get closer and closer to the start of the season. Spring Training will provide real information for all of us, and drafters will be responding to expert rankings as they come out. Say, speaking of expert rankings, ours are starting next week on Wednesday. We'll get to the last real episode of Fantasy Stars next Monday.


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