March 2013

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2013 RotoAuthority League

SUNDAY: The league has now been filled.  With so many good applications, chose randomly.  If you did not receive an email, you did not get a spot.  We will have a post up soon for the Silver League, and after that we'll have another for people who just want to get together and set up their own.

TUESDAY: A date has been set for the 2013 RotoAuthority League.  The draft will take place Thursday, March 28th at 8pm central time with Yahoo.  It will take several hours and all participants must be present for the entire time.  The specs of the league follow.

  • $100 buy-in to be paid via LeagueSafe prior to the draft
  • Payout of $900/$200/$100
  • Mixed 5x5 league with AVG, HR, RBI, R, SB for hitters and ERA, WHIP, K, W, SV for pitchers
  • 12 teams, three of which are currently open
  • Positions of C, C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, CI, MI, OF, OF, OF, OF, OF, DH, SP, SP, RP, RP, P, P, P, P, P, Bench, Bench, Bench
  • Lineups set daily
  • Unlimited transactions, trades approved automatically
  • 162 maximum games played per position, 1500 innings for pitching
  • Bottom four kicked out each year, unless I am in the bottom four.  This happened in 2011 and 2012, so at this point I am the league's doormat.

As I mentioned, this competitive league has three open spots.  If you are interested in joining, please make your case in the comments section.  You must include your email address.  The thread will close end of day Wednesday.

If you don't make it into this league, don't despair!  We will be running the RotoAuthority Silver League again, the winner of which automatically joins the main league the following year.


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How to Win: Home Runs

Homers are everybody's favorite category. Or almost everybody's. Well, they're mine. My favorite hitting category, at least. Yes, that's it: home runs are my favorite hitting category.

Why the affinity for the longball? Just because they're awesome? Because I grew up watching Ken Griffey, Jr. and the rest of our 90's heroes launching them all around town? Or because I've watched so many games at Safeco Field that I don't really remember what they look like in person and I have to resort to rooting them on in fantasy? Maybe.

But mostly it's because homers are simple. Hit the ball hard enough and high enough and nobody cares what the defense is, or what the rest of your lineup looks like. Good pitchers usually keep homers down, good hitters usually hit some out. Some parks add to homer totals, others kill them--but it isn't too hard to find out which ones are which.

Not only that, but I'm a sucker for a freebie. (If that's even possible--I mean, it's free...) Every homer is a free Run Scored and a free RBI and the best way to do well in those categories is to have a bunch of guys who do well in this one.

This is a theme I've been on all year long, but consider this article my crescendo: power is down, and the game is different. In real baseball, strikeouts are up, steals are up and homers and slugging percentage are down. For fantasy, that means that you have to pounce on power earlier than ever, because mediocre players that still hit 30 bombs are nearly a thing of the past. In 2009, there were 86 players with 20 homers or more. Last year, there were just 78. Last year the majors slugged just .405--down from .418 in 2009 and .432 ain 2006. When you're asking yourself why you should pay first round prices for a player who only helps in three categories (cough, cough, Jose Bautista), there's your answer.

Since we're lucky enough to be reviewing a category that actually tends to correlate from year to year, here are last year's top 24 home run hitters.

2012's Top 24

1. Miguel Cabrera, 44 (3B) 
2. Josh Hamilton, 43 (OF)
2. Curtis Granderson, 43 (OF)
4. Edwin Encarnacion, 42 (1B)
5. Ryan Braun, 41 (OF)
5. Adam Dunn, 41 (1B)
7. Giancarlo Stanton, 37 (OF)
8. Adrian Beltre, 36 (3B)
9. Josh Willingham, 35 (OF)
10. Jay Bruce, 34 (OF)
11. Robinson Cano, 33 (2B)
11. Adam LaRoche, 33 (1B)
11. Chris Davis, 33 (1B/OF)
14. Josh Reddick, 32 (OF)
14. Adam Jones, 32 (OF)
14. Alfonso Soriano, 32 (OF)
14. Carlos Beltran, 32 (OF)
14. Mark Trumbo, 32 (OF)
14. Ike Davis, 32 (1B)
20. Chase Headley, 31 (3B)
20. Andrew McCutchen, 31 (OF)
22. Mike Trout, 30 (OF)
22. Prince Fielder, 30 (1B)
22. Albert Pujols, 30 (1B)
22. Corey Hart, 30 (OF/1B)
22. Pedro Alvarez, 30 (3B)
22. Jason Kubel, 30 (OF)

Don't you love it when there's a tie at the end? It's even better when we're left with a big, round benchmark. I can pretty much guarantee that this won't be the exact list of league leaders from next year, but I'd be willing to bet that most of these guys will comprise most of next year's leaders. 

I listed each player's position to highlight the fact that only one of last year's 30-HR hitters played outside of the traditional power positions: Robinson Cano.

Just because they didn't top 30 doesn't mean you can't find some power at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop. Consider these guys:

Catchers:

1. Wilin Rosario, 28
2. A.J. Pierzynski, 27
3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 25
4. Buster Posey, 24 
4. Mike Napoli, 24
6. Matt Wieters, 23
7. Yadier Molina, 22
8. Russell Martin, 21
9. Brian McCann, 20 

Not to mention guys who could easily better their 2012 totals: Carlos Santana, Ryan Doumit, Victor Martinez, Jesus Montero, J.P. Arencibia

Catcher: not a bad place to sneak some power into your lineup--they look especially good when you consider how few plate appearances the typical catcher gets.

Second Base

1. Robinson Cano, 33
2. Aaron Hill, 26
3. Rickie Weeks, 21
4. Ben Zobrist, 20

Here are some under-20's who could bounce back or take a step forward next year: Dan Uggla, Ian Kinsler, Chase Utley, Danny Espinosa 

Yeah, second base is a desert when it comes to power. That's why the top guys are going off the board so quickly, and why everyone else just sticks around looking awkwardly like the last kid picked for the kickball team. (Or they steal bases, I guess.)

Shortstop

1. Ian Desmond, 25
2. Hanley Ramirez, 24
3. Jimmy Rollins, 23
4. J.J. Hardy, 22
5. Ben Zobrist, 20

Some guys who might help with better health or more playing time: Troy Tulowitzki, Jed Lowrie, Stephen Drew (I guess), Josh Rutledge

Shorstop might actually be better off than second base, but you know things are bad when Lowrie can tie for sixth-most shortstop homers while playing just 97 games. The bar is low enough that even the 15-homer-range performances of guys like Asdrubal Cabrera, Derek Jeter, and Starlin Castro count as pretty good. 

Late Draft Power Hitters

If you don't like the idea of spending high picks on "power" hitters at premium positions or stacking your OF while filling your 1B, 3B, and CI positions as fast as possible, then make sure you scrape around the middle and late rounds for power hitters like the ones below. Actually, you should do that regardless, because you can't really have too much power.

Since I like big, round numbers, check out these hitters that you should be able to get after pick 150:

Pedro Alvarez, Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Ludwick, Adam Dunn, Andre Ethier, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Todd Frazier, Brandon Moss, Dan Uggla, Mark Reynolds, Jedd Gyorko, J.J. Hardy, Carlos Quentin, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Lance Berkman, Chris Young, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Olt, Cody Ross, Tyler Colvin, Jed Lowrie, Justin Smoak, Adam Lind, Matt Joyce, Carlos Pena, Johnny Gomes

Obviously, some of these guys are better than others, and there are varying degrees of safety and potential to be had.

Some More Power-Related Statistics

We can find more power hitters (especially the ones that didn't finish the season) by looking up some stats a little further under the hood than home runs.

Isolated Power

1. Giancarlo Stanton, .318
2. David Ortiz, .293
3. Josh Hamilton, .292
4. Jose Bautista, .286
5. Edwin Encarnacion, .277
6. Miguel Cabrera, .277
7. Ryan Braun, .276
8. Josh Willingham, .267
9. Adam Dunn, .263
10. Jay Bruce, .263
11. Wilin Rosario, .260
12. Curtis Granderson, .260
13. Ryan Ludwick, .256
14. Jason Kubel, .253
15. Garrett Jones, .242
16. Mike Napoli, .241
17. Scott Hairston, .241
18. Tyler Colvin, .240
19. Aramis Ramirez, .240
20. Adrian Beltre, .240
21. Adam LaRoche, .238
22. Mike Trout, .238
23. Robinson Cano, .238
24. Alfonso Soriano, .237 

HR/FB%

1. Adam Dunn, 29.3
2. Giancarlo Stanton, 28.9
3. Josh Hamilton, 25.6
4. Mike Napoli, 25.5
5. Wilin Rosario, 25.5
6. Chris Davis, 25.2
7. Pedro Alvarez, 25.0
8. Curtis Granderson, 24.2 
9. Robinson Cano, 24.1
10. Michael Morse, 23.4
11. Miguel Cabrera, 23.0
12. Justin Maxwell, 22.8
13. Ryan Bruan, 22.8
14. Matt Kemp, 21.7
15. Mike Trout, 21.6
16. Chase Headley, 21.4
17. Josh Willingham, 21.2
18. Ike Davis, 21.1
19. Kendrys Morales, 21.0
20. Mark Trumbo, 20.6
21. Bryan LaHair, 20.5
22. Dayan Viciedo, 20.5
23. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 20.0
24. David Ortiz, 20.0

A Brief Note on Park Factors

Park factors are typically listed for total runs scored, but that won't necessarily help you in homers. The HR factors are slightly different, and there are further differences for hitters of different handednesses. Below are 2012's top homer producing parks:

1. Milwaukee, 1.631
2. Cincinatti, 1.592
3. Colorado, 1.493
4. Chicago (White Sox), 1.349
5. Baltimore, 1.314
6. Arizona, 1.192
7. Texas, 1.168
8. New York (Yankees), 1.143
9. Los Angeles (Dodgers), 1.125

All nine of these parks add at least 10% more homers than league average. Notably, Yankee and Dodger Stadiums actually suppress runs on the whole, despite adding homers. 

And Now a Wet Blanket: "Just Enough" Homers

ESPN's HitTrackerOnline lists various types of home runs--all useful for planning your fantasy team--but here we're looking at those homers that only barely cleared the wall. Maybe in a different park, or with different weather conditions or with springier center fielders these balls would have stayed in the yard. Unsurprisingly, lots of "Just Enoughs" indicate lots of total homers--and a decent chance that a player's homers may decline without such good fortune.

16: Miguel Cabrera
15: Adrian Beltre
14: Ryan Braun
12: David Wright, Josh Hamilton
11: Josh Willingham, Hanley Ramirez, Ike Davis, Corey Hart, Chase Headley
10: Matt Holliday, Jed Lowrie, Brian McCann, Hunter Pence, Garrett Jones, Giancarlo Stanton, Jay Bruce, Jason Heyward, Wilin Rosario, Edwin Encarnacion, Nick Swisher
9: Justin Smoak, Robinson Cano, Yoenis Cespedes, David Ortiz, Billy Butler, Matt Weiters, Curtis Granderson, Matt Kemp, Carlos Quentin, Carlos Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse

Having lots of "Just Enoughs" isn't a kiss of death, but it isn't a good sign. Consider players like Wright, Lowrie, and Smoak, for whom more than half of their homers were close, to be risky plays next year. Players like Headley and Butler, who took big steps forward, appear to have had some help in the luck department. 

When you are mentally discounting players for close homers, don't cut them all away--having several of these is a perfectly normal, even necessary, part of hitting home runs.  

A Few Final Words

Power hitting is still the name of the game in fantasy baseball. When one category practically controls two of the others, that's just how it has to be. In the past three years, home run hitting--and offense in general--has been dropping. Expect to pay more to get less when it comes to homers. You aren't getting hosed; that's just the new market price. Just as one-category base stealers were once prized commodities, now even power hitters with serious flaws will command early draft picks and hefty auction prices.

It also seems to me that homers are particularly concentrated in the outfield and on the corners. I strongly suggest making sure your lineup is fortified with several such players, even if it means waiting a little to fill scarce positions. What I really don't recommend is spending early picks on outfielders and corner hitters who aren't big helps in power. 

If I could turn sixteen hundred words into three, this is what it would look like: pay for power. Win homers and you (almost) can't avoid finishing with the leaders in Runs and RBI's. The cost has risen, but so has the value of each home run.



Sleepers & Busts: Lesser-Discussed Prospects

Every year there are prospects who break camp with their teams and provide lofty returns on a minimal investment in the draft. While there's plenty of buzz around names like Wil Myers and Oscar Taveras already (despite Taveras not having a spot to claim on the Major League roster), here are some names to keep an eye on in the late rounds and dollar portions of your drafts and auctions this Spring...

Jedd Gyorko, 2B/3B, SD - ADP 224

I already covered Gyorko in another post here, so I won't go too in depth in this portion. But it should be noted that Gyorko started Spring Training on an absolute tear, clubbing three early home runs. He's cooled since that time, but given that his main competition at second base is the light-hitting Logan Forsythe, Gyorko has a a real chance to crack the Opening Day roster as the second baseman. He's a third baseman right now in Yahoo leagues (not ESPN), meaning he'll ultimately carry dual position eligibility as well.

Gyorko ranked 71st on Baseball America's Top 100 prospect list this year and 50th on MLB.com's edition.

Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL - ADP N/A

Arenado isn't even being drafted right now over at Mock Draft Central, but that figures to change if he continues to rake the way he has thus far in Spring Training and force the Rockies to think about giving him the Opening Day job at third base.

Arenado, the No. 52 prospect according to BA and No. 62 according to MLB.com, had a down year at Double-A last season, but it didn't do much to alter his status as a top prospect. He hit .285/.337/.428 with 12 homers in 573 plate appearances just one season after belting 20 bombs in nearly the same amount of playing time. BA praises his quick hands and bat speed, stating that he has the ability to use all fields and should eventually blossom into a high-average, 20+ homer bat at the Major League level. He won't provide any speed, but with a home park like Coors Field to take advantage of, he brings plenty of power and RBI upside.

That might happen sooner rather than later, as the soon-to-be 22-year-old is 7-for-17 with four homers this Spring, and the Rockies are considering him for an Opening Day roster spot.

Aaron Hicks, CF, MIN - ADP N/A

Hicks entered Spring Training as the No. 72 prospect according to BA and the #98 per MLB.com, though he's previously ranked as high as 19th on BA's list. He's another name that's not being drafted over at MDC, but Hicks entered Spring Training as a serious candidate to become the Twins' everyday center fielder right out of the gate. He's only improved those chances in limited at-bats thus far. Hicks is 7-for-22 with a homer and he picked up another two hits (including a second homer) in Minnesota's game against the Puerto Rican WBC team.

He's yet to draw a walk, but his traditionally patient approach is one of the things Minnesota likes most about him. It's led to a career .379 OBP in the Minor Leagues and a .384 mark at Double-A last season. Hicks getting on base is important to fantasy owners, because he brings 30-steal upside to the table (32-for-43 at Double-A last season). He also has double-digit homer pop in his bat. A switch-hitter, Hicks has historically been much stronger at the right side of the plate, but he posted an .828 OPS as a lefty last season as well. That natural right-handed stroke fits in well at Target Field, where lefties struggle to hit for power while right-handers have thrived (see: Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe, Michael Cuddyer).

Hicks could end up hitting leadoff atop an order that features Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau in the 3-4-5 spots. Keep an eye on his Spring performance to see if he can edge out Darin Mastroianni and Joe Benson for the starting job. Manager Ron Gardenhire has already voiced his desire for Hicks to make the team, and he could be a bargain in drafts if that happens.



Go Bold or Go Home: Aaron Hill is the 2B for You

There aren't too many good second sackers around these days--not that there ever were. So why can you get one of the best ones in the sixth round? Well, if you're drafting against me, you probably can't.

Going into last year, Aaron Hill was persona non grata, after a lost 2011 split between Toronto and Arizona. Even his desert resurgence wasn't enough to pique my interest...and then 2012 happened. Here's what his stats looked like:

.302/.360/.522, 26 HR, 44 2B, 14 SB

Not too shabby. Now, I wouldn't take him over Robinson Cano (duh), but here are the numbers of the other three second basemen that I listed above Hill on our Second Base Rankings.

Dustin Pedroia: .290/.347/.449, 15 HR, 39 2B, 20 SB

Ian Kinsler: .256/.326/.423, 19 HR, 42 2B, 21 SB

Ben Zobrist: .270/.377/.471, 20 HR, 39 2B, 14 SB

It's obvious enough that Hill had the best 2012 by far, but we aren't drafting for last year. What can we expect for next year? Here are their Steamer projections for next year (courtesy of Fangraphs.com):

Hill: .268/.327/.442, 20 HR, 33 2B, 10 SB

Pedroia: .290/.364/.454, 17 HR, 39 2B, 20 SB

Kinsler: .264/.347/.444, 21 HR, 36 2B, 17 SB

Zobrist: .262/.363/.439, 19 HR, 35 2B, 11 SB

Honestly, none of these are the most amazing of projections, but how different does Hill look from the others? Not very, though Pedroia does stand apart a little, and Zobrist's ability to play shortstop and outfield gives him extra value. Hill comes out resembling Kinsler the most, though there reasons to worry about Kinsler going forward. Even if Hill is fifth-best among this group, is he three rounds worse? More like three picks worse, at the most.

So why am I so excited about Hill? Well, it's because I think there's a great chance that he beats that projection, and more reason to be optimistic about him than any of his immediate competitors.

Remember that lost 2011 season? I don't know what happened that season, beyond a plummeting HR/FB rate, but when I look at his recent seasons it's that bad one that stands out. I know what you're thinking: what about that horrible 2010, when he hit just .205? That was pretty bad, wasn't it? Let's see you try to hit for average with a .196 BABIP and a LD% that dropped by nearly half. What he did manage to do was launch 26 homers. For all I know, his 2011 woes came from trying to fix a 2010 that wasn't broken. Even if they didn't, whatever caused that lost season is long over--except in the eyes of a computer-generated projection system.

Discounting that year, Hill has hit 26 homers or more in three of the last four seasons and has hit for a helpful average in two of them. If 2010 was the result of bad luck, and 2011 the result of...something that ended with Hill's trade to Arizona, then the years worth remembering are his excellent 2012 and his even better 2009, when he hit 36 homers and topped 100 in Runs and RBI. The fact that he's shown this kind of excellence before reassures me that last year wasn't a fluke. It might be over his true talent level, but maybe not by as much as mock drafters and projection systems think.

Playing in Arizona, he'll get home park benefits that were sixth in baseball for runs and homers last year, and he should be planted firmly into a solid situation for counting stats, with Paul Goldschmidt, Martin Prado, and whichever outfielders happen to be on the lineup card that day. While the other top second-sackers have good hitting environments and supporting casts (not counting Zobrist, but you wanted him at short anyway), they don't have a big advantage on Hill in that department.

Hill is far above the players in tiers below him--including Jason Kipnis, who's getting drafted 24 picks ahead of him, and Brandon Phillips, who comes just one pick later. After that, you run into Jose Altuve, Danny Espinosa, and Rickie Weeks and you know you're in trouble. With an ADP of 74.75, it seems like a pretty big reach to go for Hill as early as the fourth round, but I can easily see you getting a bargain there. Projection systems have him looking very similar to the hitters getting drafted in that range, and they might just be unduly pessimistic about him.

The more I've thought about it, the more I've come to realize that I'd probably rather take the chance that he reaches his upside over any of the more conventional choices in his tier. There's a very good chance that he finishes 2013 second at his position only to Robinson Cano. Just like last year.



2013 Position Rankings: Third Basemen

After what seems like forever of ranking thin positions, namely Second Base and, oddly enough, First Base, we come to a relatively deep position. Not super deep, like Outfield or, unbelievably, Catcher, but deeper than it has been in years past, and deeper when compared to other infielders. It isn't often that I would consider getting my CI from third base, but I could this year. 

After a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff, this round of rankings goes 30 players deep; they're 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. With third base squarely in the middle of the position scarcity spectrum, some of these players you'll want at third, but for others you'll have to pay middle infield prices. On this list, they're ranked where you should get them as a third baseman.

Early 1st Round

1. Miguel Cabrera, DET

He's the only infielder among the plausible top three players; if your league discounts steals at all, he's a slam-dunk first choice.

2nd Round

2. Adrian Beltre, TEX

I can still hear Giants fans at a Mariner game chanting "Bellllll-troids! Belllll-troids!" Not that I think he's on the juice or anything, but playing in Texas instead of Seattle is even better than chemical enhancement. Also, Beltre is quite a bit better than any third baseman below him on this list.

3rd Round

3. Evan Longoria, TAM
4. David Wright, NYM
5. Hanley Ramirez, LAD (SS)

Longoria came back strong at the end of last year, and before his injury, he was an easy choice for the late first round. I think he's a great risk here. I think it's time to admit that Wright isn't the player he used to be. That said, he's still among the class at his position. As a shortstop, I'd consider Ramirez in the second--that's how short that group is. If he's your third baseman, I'd reach for him in the third, but be happy to get him in the fourth.

4th Round

5. Ryan Zimmerman, WAS
6. Aramis Ramirez, MIL

Zimmerman isn't developing into one of the game's premier players, and he won't be the Face of the Nationals with Bryce Harper on the team, but that's good news for fantasy drafters, because Zim's brand of low-key excellence should play very well in a quality lineup. Ramirez is just a hair behind in my mind, mostly because his age brings a slight risk of sudden decline. That said, he's been one of baseball's best sluggers for the last two years.

5th Round 

7. Chase Headley, SDP

This choice was a tough one for me, and I know some at RotoAuthority would put him at the top of the previous tier. I just can't, though. His year came from out of nowhere, and even Petco's moving fences can't convince me that he'll sustain last year's production level. I don't think he'll drop to where he was before, but any chance that he does makes him hard to take before the fifth. I'll settle for possible lower production for the relative safety of those above him.

7th-8th Rounds

8. Brett Lawrie, TOR
9. Pablo Sandoval, SFG

Lawrie disappointed in his first full season, but he's got the talent and the lineup to take a big step forward. He's at least as big a risk as Headley two or three rounds earlier, but he probably doesn't have as high of an upside. (Not that anyone but Chase Headley's parents thought he had that kind of upside.) Pablo could be a huge bargain, in this range, as the main risk with him is his health. Fortunately for you, his World Series production doesn't seem to be inflating his ADP. After these guys, I would wait a nice long time before taking a third baseman from the position's middle class.

12th-13th Rounds

10. Will Middlebrooks, BOS
11. Todd Frazier, CIN
12. Martin Prado, ARI (OF)  

Middlebrooks and Frazier both killed the ball in a partial season and displaced fragile veterans. Both play in friendly home parks,  have good or amazing lineups around them, and are young enough to have real hope for the future. Actually, they were both so good in 2012 that it's all I can do to keep them this low. Small sample size, I remind myself, small sample size. Still, I wouldn't be shocked if either or both were among the top at the hot corner going into next year. Prado is way less exciting, but he is much safer and should be very helpful in batting average and runs scored. Sometimes very different players have very similar value.

14th-15th Rounds

13. Pedro Alvarez, PIT
14. David Freese, STL
15. Kyle Seager, SEA
16. Mike Moustakas, KCR 

Here is where you really get the chance to pick your poison. With Alvarez you get all-power, horrible-average. He's on the top of these players thanks to the fact that 30 bombs and the chance to improve are pretty good, even for the CI spot. Freese isn't exciting or durable, but he helps in average. Seager was a pleasant surprise out of Seattle, and perhaps he will be able to put a few more balls over the shortening fences in Safeco Field. Moustakas...well, he was a big prospect going into last year, and even the chance that he puts it all together makes him worth grabbing around here.

17th-18th Rounds

17. Manny Machado, BAL
18. Kevin Youkilis, NYY (1B)

By this time, you're hopefully filling out your CI and Utility spots, which means any third baseman you take should be a better hitter straight-up than any possible first baseman. That means that our round recommendations can really break down. Save these guys for later if there are useful first basemen. If not, maybe you should be jumping on them earlier, because, to me, this is the last group of full-timers who could be described to have a moderately high upside.

Machado's prospect status was through the roof going into last year, and he held his own at just 20 years old. He'll take his lumps, but some power and a little speed seem like reasonable possibilities. Youk is sort of the opposite of Machado, with the Yankees and fantasy teams trying to squeeze the last drops out of his career. The chance that there's even a little left in the tank makes him worth taking a flier on.

20th-22nd Rounds

19. Chris Nelson, COL (2B)
20. Michael Young, TEX (1B)
21. Chris Johnson, ATL
22. Jeff Keppinger, CHW (2B)
23. Mike Olt, TEX 
24. Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE

Anyone who plays in Colorado is interesting, all the more so if he's got multi-position eligibility like Nelson does. If he's assured a spot, you could even bump him up a round or so. Young doesn't have much left but a chance to start, which is what you can say about Johnson and Keppinger too. Olt and Chisenhall don't have starting jobs at the moment, but they've got more upside than those above them. Olt, in particular, makes a better bench stash than anyone else in this tier, because if he has a hot streak you can expect the Rangers to find him at bats at first base and DH.

23rd Round and Beyond

25. Matt Carpenter, STL (1B, OF)
26. Nolan Arenado, COL
27. Jordan Pacheco, COL (1B)
28. Trevor Plouffe, MIN
29. Josh Donaldson, OAK
30. Pedro Ciriaco, BOS

At this point, we're looking strictly at bench bats and those not expected to win job fights. Carpenter will probably be super-subbing for St. Louis again, and he could spot-start for a fantasy team too if his playing time develops into a pattern. Either Arenado or Pacheco could win the third base job in Colorado over Nelson. Or Nelson could end up playing second base. Regardless, any starting infielder in Colorado is worth taking a flier on. Plouffe spent half a season hitting the tar out of the ball for Minnesota...and the second half flailing helplessly. I guess it's better than a full season of helplessness. Donaldson might get most of the playing time at third for Oakland, or he might not. Ciriaco is only a choice if Middlebrooks flames out badly.

Some Guys who Can Play 3B for a Yahoo! Team

a. Mark Trumbo, LAA -- 5th Round 
b. Mark Reynolds, CLE -- 14th-15th Rounds
c. Jedd Gyorko, SDP -- 16th-17th Rounds
c. Marco Scutaro, SFG --  18th-19th Rounds

Trumbo's high-power, low-average profile looks better compared to third basemen than it does outfielders, but not by a huge amount. I wouldn't take him until Headley is gone. Reynolds is a borderline starter at third, but he gets a little extra CI value because he can actually back up both positions that can play there. Gyroko is assumed by many to be starting at second, since he won't be chasing Headley off third (sorry, I couldn't help it). He and Scutaro get a bunch of extra value as bench players if they have 3B eligibility, because you can slide them in and out of your MI and CI spots, giving you a free backup outfielder, extra reliever, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

The group of players at third base isn't elite by any means, but it has a stronger middle class than the rest of the infield, relative to what you expect of them. Lately, third had been a lot more like second base and shortstop, but this year a lot more of the players can compete with a thinned out first base. The bottom still drops off, though, so I suggest locking up third and CI quickly.



Draft Round Battles: Rodney Vs. Axford

Here's my working theory for Fernando Rodney's 2012 season.  When Mariano Rivera blew out his ACL on May 3, he decided to bestow the Closer's Matrix Of Leadership on to Rodney since...well, I don't know, maybe Mo has a soft spot for Joe Maddon.  Anyway, after taking the Matrix in a ceremony that presumably involved both men singing "The Touch," Rodney turned into Rodimus Prime and proceeded to dominate the ninth inning as few closers ever have, posting an 0.58 ERA over 62 1/3 innings after May 3.

Granted, the theory has a few holes.  For one, Rodney already had an 0.73 ERA in 14 games before May 3.  Secondly, the Closer's Matrix Of Leadership may be (MAY BE) completely fictional.  But still, I'm at a loss to think of any other reason for Rodney's incredible, improbable all-timer of a 2012 season.  The longtime journeyman reliever suddenly exploded with one of the best relief seasons in baseball history and became the best example yet as to why nobody is better at bullpen reclamation projects than the Tampa Bay Rays.

Of course, the problem with a Cinderella season is that everyone presumes midnight is about to strike.  On Roto Authority alone, Bryan Grosnick has called Rodney's season "somewhat of a mirage" while Steve Adams labelled Rodney as a bust simply because there is so little chance that Rodney has suddenly eliminated all his bad habits and turned into an elite pitcher at 35 years old.  Most notably, Rodney carried a career 4.9 BB/9 from 2002-11 and then posted only a 1.8 BB/9 in 2012 --- does anyone think that will happen again, or that Rodney will be helped by another .220 BABIP?

Let's compare Rodney's advanced metrics with those of his Draft Round Battle opponent, Brewers stopper John Axford...

Rodney: 2.13 FIP, 2.67 xFIP, 2.24 SIERA, .220 BABIP, 9.2 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 27% strikeout rate, 57.9% ground ball rate

Axford: 4.06 FIP, 3.29 xFIP, 3.10 SIERA, .307 BABIP, 12.1 K/9, 5.1 BB/9, 30% strikeout rate, 46.3% ground ball rate

Rodney is clearly better overall but it's a closer gap than you would at first suspect given Rodney's all-world season and that Axford temporarily lost his job as Milwaukee's stopper.  Axford posted a 4.67 ERA but, as the metrics show, he didn't really pitch that badly aside from a bump in walks, and Axford had been a bit prone to free passes (3.7 BB/9 from 2009-11) even before 2012.

Of course, the one metric I left off that list was Axford's achilles heel for 2012 --- the long ball.  Axford's HR/9 jumped from 0.3 over his first three seasons to a 1.3 HR/9 in 2012 and a whopping 19.2% of his fly balls allowed went for homers.  Oddly, Axford's fly ball rate (29.7%) was a new career low, so it's possible he may have been a victim of his home turf; by the park factor metrics, no stadium was more homer-friendly than Miller Park in 2012. 

After breaking out in 2010 and delivering a strong 2011 season, it seemed like Axford was establishing himself as one of those reliable closers you could pencil in for 30+ saves and strong peripherals every year.  He certainly took a step back last year but it hasn't hurt him greatly in this spring's early fantasy drafts.  Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position report places Axford as the fifth closer taken and the 105th player drafted overall (108.89 ADP). 

He is one spot behind, you guessed it, Rodney, who checks in as the 89th overall player drafted with a 92.53 ADP.  I was a bit surprised to see Rodney that high given the seemingly universal reservations that everyone has about him for 2013.  MDC's numbers, however, are generated by mock drafts that feature pretty hardcore fantasy managers, so this isn't a case where Rodney's draft spot was boosted by auto-drafting or newbies who are dazzled by an 0.60 ERA.  It speaks to the overall volatility of the closer's position that, for as many question marks as these guys have, every closer behind them on the list also carries a lot of uncertainty headed into next season.

So our choice is between a guy with a long history of being average coming off one magnificent season against a guy with a short history of brilliance coming off a pretty average season.  It's a tough call.  For as much as critics cite Rodney's past, don't forget that Axford is still very much an unproven entity.  His rise from bartending and cellphone sales to a Major League closing job is a great story but it wouldn't be surprising if Axford joins the long list of closers who ended up on the scrap heap after one or two good years.

That said, I would recommend Axford as the better pick on draft day because, while we've seen both he and Rodney pitch at their best, I'd prefer to have Axford if he pitches at his "worst."  Even if Axford duplicates his 2012 season, he'll still help your team by racking up K's and collecting his share of saves.  If Rodney pitches to his low (such as his 2010-11 seasons) then he's not worth having on your fantasy roster.  There's also the fact that if Axford struggles a bit, he's not likely to lose his closer's job against since Francisco Rodriguez isn't there as a backup option for the Brewers.  Rodney doesn't have that luxury in Tampa Bay as Maddon won't hesitate to make a switch at closer if things are going awry. 

After Craig Kimbrel goes, your draft is likely going to see four or five rounds go by before managers start dipping back into the closer pool.  Past Jonathan Papelbon and Jason Motte, any of the six next guys on the ADP list (Rodney, Axford, Joe Nathan, Rivera, J.J. Putz, Sergio Romo) could be the next closer taken and it wouldn't be a surprise.  A healthy (and presumably re-Matrixed) Rivera, for instance, has more fantasy value than Rodney or Axford.  If you get the chance to pick between Rodimus Prime and the Ax Man, I would take Axford since there's less chance that the bottom will fall out on his performance. 

Also, if I'm nice to Axford, he might randomly show up at my apartment and teach me how to grow a sweet mustache.  You can't put a fantasy value on that.



2013 Position Rankings: Second Base

Position rankings hit the real infield today, with second basemen. Traditionally a thin position for fantasy production; the keystone isn't an exception this year. Maybe the best you can say for it is that it's still richer ground than shortstop, as the top of the field is pretty talented and decent options are present until near the middle rounds. The bad news is that it drops off really far after that. The worse news is that you're probably going to need two second sackers, because you really don't want to fill your MI slot with a shortstop.

Last week, we looked at First Basemen and Catchers. Before that, we led off with the Outfield. This round of rankings goes 30 players deep; they're 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. For most such players, second base is probably the position at which you'll be drafting them.

1st Round

1. Robinson Cano, NYY

Yup. He's going among the upper picks this year and he's worth it.

3rd-4th Rounds

2. Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3. Ian Kinsler, TEX
4. Ben Zobrist, TBR (SS, OF)
5. Aaron Hill, ARI

The second tier at second base has slipped a little, with (relatively) down seasons from Pedroia and Kinsler flattening their value out a little. As Mark put it some time ago, Kinsler has the higher ceiling and the lower floor, but his overall direction isn't promising. The good news is that Zobrist continues his quiet brand of goodness and super-flexibility. The better news is that Hill put up a great year, with 26 homers that bested everyone at the position not named Robinson. In context, it looks to me like his lousy 2011 was the outlier year.

5th-6th Rounds

6. Jason Kipnis, CLE
7. Brandon Phillips, CIN

Kipnis really cooled off in the second half, so I have minor doubts for next year. But only minor ones, as his speed is good and he was expected to proved even more power, so he could grow into increased homer totals. Phillips does a little--but not a lot--of everything, and should benefit from a powerful Reds lineup.

7th-8th Rounds

8. Jose Altuve, HOU

Altuve gives good speed and he hit for average last year. I tend not to trust anyone for whom batting average is a primary skill, because a little bad luck can go a long way when it comes to hurting a guy like Altuve's value. Also, who will hit him in? That said, if you took him, be glad: you just reached the end of the second basemen you're happy you drafted.

10th-11th Rounds

9. Danny Espinosa, WAS (SS)
10. Rickie Weeks, MIL

Espinosa has a little power and a little speed, but he's got a good chance to be a liability in batting average. He reminds me of a less-proven Brandon Phillips. He's worth taking a round or two earlier as a shortstop. Weeks should bounce back, right? There's a good chance he won't spend most of next season under the Mendoza line, and a healthier BABIP would make him significantly more productive. Unfortunately, his history of injury still affects his value. After this, the second basemen take another significant turn downward.

15th-16th Rounds

10.5 Kyle Seager, SEA (3B--18 games at 2B)
11. Dan Uggla, ATL
12. Chase Utley, PHI
13. Neil Walker, PIT
14. Howie Kendrick, LAA

I told you there would be a long drop. If he's eligible in your league, Seager could be a sneaky-good choice for second. Uggla lost just about everything last year, but before that he was so good that all he has to do is get a little back and you get great return for this kind of inpvestment. Cross your fingers and hope for a little more BABIP and a few more balls over the fence. Can Utley keep his body together? He was pretty good in 77 games last year, but you better have a backup. Better yet, make him the backup. Walker and Kendrick are similarly unexciting, relatively solid plays at this point. Especially if you're looking for a starter at second.

18th-19th Rounds

15. Jedd Gyorko, SDP
16. Dustin Ackley, SEA

If Gyorko gets the official starting job from San Diego, go ahead and bump him into the next tier. He's an interesting prospect, who could have some real pop in his bat. Ackley has some presumed upside, but with two seasons under his belt he hasn't shown much of it.

20th-22nd Rounds

17. Chris Nelson, COL (3B)
18. Omar Infante, DET
19. Marco Scutaro, SFG (SS)
20. Daniel Murphy, NYM
20.5 Michael Young, PHI (3B/1B--16 games at 2B)
21. Jeff Keppinger, CHW (3B, 1B)
21.5. Emilio Bonifacio, TOR (OF--15 games at 2B)
22. Kelly Johnson, TBR

Nelson has some pop and plays for Colorado, always a nice mix. Remember how Phillips did a little of everything, and then Espinosa did even less? Well Infante does less than him, but at least he does it in all five categories. Scutaro is a better than average bet in batting average, and he makes a useful MI selection because he can play second and short. Murphy hit 40 doubles to go with an average near .300, which means he should be in good position to take advantage of whatever scoring opportunities happen for the Mets. Young has descended into mediocrity, but that's better than what anyone below him can say for themselves. If your league has 15-game eligiblity or less, he could be a decent MI; Bonifacio could net you some steals under the same circumstances. Keppinger might put up an acceptable average but won't do much else. Johnson is caught in the Tampa Bay mix-and-match, but if he gets regular playing time he could be useful at MI.

23rd Round and Beyond


23. Brian Roberts, BAL
24. Gordon Beckham, CHW
25. Johnny Giavotella, KCR
26. Logan Forsythe, SDP
27. Darwin Barney, CHC
28. Maicer Izturis, TOR
29. Jemile Weeks, OAK
30. Cliff Pennington, ARI (SS)

Let's face it, these guys are warm-bodied injury replacements for deep leagues. Technically, there is some upside to be found here, but not enough to consider betting on for more than a bench role.

Things start breaking down quickly at second base, with all the options after number ten or so having low upside, low chance of reaching their upside or both. Not only that, but two of the top nine will probably be drafted as shortstops, thinning things out even more. Moral of the story: don't be the last team to take a second baseman. In fact, the overall weakness of the position makes me readier than usual to grab one of the top players, even though several of them come with serious question marks. No wonder Robinson Cano is getting drafted as high as third overall.



How to Win: Wins

Wins are as mercurial a category as any you'll find in fantasy baseball. According to ancient sabermetric tradition, it was Storm Davis and his 19-win season in 1989 that helped us to realize that last year's wins don't tell us much about what kind of pitcher someone is. After all, Davis had pitched quite poorly that year and went on to have a terrible rest of his career. The flip side of the coin happened this year, with Cliff Lee and his paltry six wins. The Phils weren't as good as they had been recently, but come on, six wins? For a pitcher with a 7.39 K/BB and a 3.16 ERA? Something here isn't fair.

You were perfectly aware of this unfairness, of course, and you've been hoping to exploit it successfully for quite some time. Unfortunately, that's a little easier said than done. Last year was a pretty good year for pitchers winning a lot of games, so we'll take a look at the leader list, not because it's likely to tell us next year's biggest winners, but because it might give us a hint as to what type of pitchers might be giving us value in the category.

2012's Top Winners:

21 Wins: Gio Gonzalez
20 Wins: R.A. Dickey, David Price, Jered Weaver
19 Wins: Johnny Cueto
18 Wins: Matt Harrison, Lance Lynn
17 Wins: Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, Chris Sale
16 Wins: Matt Cain, Wade Miley, Hiroki Kuroda, Yu Darvish, A.J. Burnett, Madison Bumgarner, Kyle Lohse, Tim Hudson, Yovani Gallardo, Phil Hughes, Max Scherzer
15 Wins: CC Sabathia, James Shields, Ian Kennedy, Zack Greinke, Barry Zito, Stephen Strasburg
14 Wins: Clayton Kershaw, Clayton Richard, Jason Vargas, Mat Latos, Adam Wainwright, Ryan Vogelsong

As you can see, there are some wide disparities in skill, team quality, and pitcher type on this list, which is exactly what you would expect. The good news is that it can't be completely random; the majority of these names are guys you count on to be among the best pitchers in baseball.

Set those aces aside for a moment, along with guys like Sale and Miley who surprised us by pitching like them last year. What about the other guys, why are they here? Blind luck. Definitely some of it. But maybe a little more. Harrison, Lynn, Lohse, Kuroda, Hughes, Hudson, Zito, and Vogelsong all pitched for playoff teams last year. The three who didn't pitch for playoff teams all came from very pitcher-friendly parks: Burnett, Richard, and Vargas.

How much of this is signal and how much is noise? It's honestly hard to tell for sure. After all, Vargas was pitching for the same team as Felix Hernandez, and won one more game. We probably aren't going to be confused about which one is the better draft choice. All got several more wins than Edwin Jackson, even though he pitched for the best team in baseball. So it's definitely a noisy pattern, but it seems to make sense logically: great pitchers tend to get some of the higher win totals, and most of the other good win counts come from the ranks of the pretty good who play on good teams. Plus Barry Zito, for whom “pretty good” is a bit of a stretch.

Decent Pitcher, Good Offense

The goal here isn't to target the top aces out there, instead it's to find some mid-draft starters that might be extra helpful in wins. What they do in other categories is their business.

Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster (BOS); Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd (CHW); Anibal Sanchez (DET); Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton (LAA); Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes (NYY); Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando (TEX); Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson (TOR); Mike Minor, Paul Maholm (ATL); Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey (CIN); Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers (MIL); Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn (STL); Dan Haren (WAS); whoever ends up filling out the Dodgers' rotation.

Obviously there are quite a few pitchers who make it into this category. Some are sleepers for other reasons, and others have touched ace status before and could do it again. There are a wide variety of price tags that count as “mid-range” and I recommend getting a couple of them. You never know who next year's Matt Harrison or Lance Lynn could be. They could even do it again.

I'd also consider paying a little extra for those with shutdown bullpens. In case of a tie, consider pitchers from Atlanta, Washington, St. Louis, and the Yankees a little more highly than others.

Turning Signal Into Strategy

Quantity is the name of the game in Wins, just as it is in Strikeouts. Getting good pitchers won't be enough to take this category—you need lots of pitchers, pitching lots of innings to come away with the lead at the end of the year, or just to win it week to week. There are two basic routes you can go for this category: streaming and non.

Streaming (In Full and in Part)
If you really want to win this one, stream. Rotate as many starters as you can on and off your roster and soak up the joys of wins and whiffs. Your ERA and WHIP won't like you, but maybe you weren't going to do well in those categories anyways.

There are problems with streaming of course: unhappy commissioners and leaguemates, weekly instead of daily changes, limited roster moves, and innings limits. There's also the fact that most streamed pitchers are sort of bad (or really bad in a deep league) and likely to hurt you in ERA and WHIP disproportionately to how much they help you in Wins and Strikeouts. Plus, the more of your league that streams, the worse the options are for everyone. Given all those drawbacks, I don't like this strategy much. (Also, I don't think it's terribly fun, but that's for you to decide, I guess.) The only time I'd stream would be in a shallow head-to-head matchups league, which is what a lot of the public leagues out there are.

If full streaming isn't right for your team or your league, a sort of measured streaming might be. Isolate next week's best two-start option off the waiver wire and snatch him up. Keep him for the week and drop him after his second start for next week's top candidate. In most leagues, chances are this will be a pitcher on the fringe of being worth hanging onto, so he's probably decent. You can try padding your win total this way without hurting your ERA and WHIP too badly, especially if you get to play specific matchups. You can do this with two pitchers a week, I suppose, but any more than that and you're just streaming and subject to its downsides. I think this one is best for a head-to-head league.

If you play in a league with weekly changes, then you're already all over those two-start guys, sometimes weeks ahead of time. Keep on keeping on.

What if you don't stream?
There are a few options open to those who cannot or should not stream. First of all, in a head-to-head league, expect to lose to the streamers when you play them. Even if it's not really a good idea, these leagues always have some streamers. Against the others, though, and in any roto league with an innings cap, you still want to get ahead of the competition.

One thing you can do is bulk up on mid-draft pitchers. Don't just take one or two from the back end, but take three or four across multiple strata. What I normally do, is  grab two aces and then sit on starters for a long time. This strategy seems to work well in a number of contexts (especially my offense), but it can be a detriment in the wins column. By filling out your starting rotation a little earlier you can bring a few more wins in without hurting your rate stats. This strategy could have netted you guys like Harrison, Lohse, Kuroda, and Hughes last year. If it did, then you were probably pretty happy. Of course, it might also have gotten you Josh Beckett, Ted Lilly, John Danks, and Shaun Marcum, so maybe you weren't too enthused. If you do go this route, expect to play with a short hitting bench (or none at all, in a shallower league).

Pay extra for pitching. This one is simple, and it's the opposite of a strategy I suggested when talking about Runs Scored. Whether you're in an auction or a draft, you can always unbalance your team. In select leagues it might even be a good idea. If you think you can get all the hitting bargains, maybe you can afford to pay a little extra for a truly great pitching staff.

If you play standard roto, I definitely believe you should max out your IP. If you can get good pitching, do it. If you can get lots of it, do it. Once you've built up a good Wins total, trade a couple good starters near your deadline—trade 'em cheap if you have to—preferably for closers. Then, as you near your IP limit, start dropping starters in favor of the best relievers on the waiver wire. It won't be a game changer in the rate stats, but it won't hurt and it will let you tack on some strikeouts too.

A Few Final Words
There are a lot of things that go into a successful year in the Wins category, and only some of them are under your control. Complicating matters further, is the fact that slight changes in your league rules can make big differences in how to win, Wins. The strategies of your opponents will come heavily into play too. The good news is this: with a decent starting staff, you can probably expect to be near the middle of the pack in wins. Normal variations of luck could be enough to vault you up to the league leaders in the category, while paying attention to the waiver wire and the play of your own pitchers should be enough to keep a decent staff from foundering on luck alone.

If there was a category that I would give up trying to win it would be this one. Not that I would punt it—not by a long shot. But playing to win in this one is likely to leave you shorted in another category or three. Instead, I recommend aiming for that mid-pack ranking, and hoping to land near the top.  At the end of the day, though, someone who spent too much on the quantity of their pitching is probably going to win this one. I should know—I did exactly that last year.



Shutdown Corner: Handicapping the Tigers Bullpen

During our breakdown of the different divisions, I basically stated that the Detroit Tigers closer situation is a crapshoot. With incumbent closer Jose Valverde potentially out of baseball, the Tigers are looking to pull someone out of their bullpen morass and anoint a new closer. Given that the Tigers look to be very competitive again in the 2013 season, fantasy owners want to draft this team's closer, as they chase their saves.

In an attempt to give you the best shot at squeezing value out of the Tigers' relief situation, I'd like to provide my own odds as to who is the closer for the brunt of the season. Most of this info is based on a combination of projected effectiveness, as well as projected use.

5% chance of closing: someone not mentioned below already in the Tigers organization

You've always got to put some money on the field, in cases like this. The Tigers have a number of people who are competing for a long-relief bullpen slot (Drew Smyly, perhaps Rick Porcello) or toiling in Triple-A. I wouldn't bet on any of these folks garnering time at the back of the bullpen, but you never know.

5% chance of closing: Phil Coke

Coke has done a pretty okay job as a reliever for the Tigers, but he has a few strikes against him. First, he's a lefty, and lefties don't close very often. Second, Coke doesn't have the wipeout stuff most teams look for in a closer. What he does have is tenure, and that appears to be valued by some managers. But more than likely, he'll be the primary lefty setup man, and not a serious contender for saves. (Holds are another matter entirely.)

5% chance of closing: Brayan Villareal

Villareal did a very nice job over nearly 55 innings last season for Detroit, posting a 29.2% strikeout rate and a 2.63 ERA. The real reason I don't see him getting so much consideration is that he's been dealing with some elbow soreness during the offseason. He's still kind of a young guy, so I could see someone with more experience getting the job over him ... and the top contender for the spot is like an amped-up version of him at this point. We'll get to that in a minute.

10% chance of closing: someone currently outside the Tigers organization

Last year, the Tigers waited until the "last minute" to add Prince Fielder to an already-stacked team. Who's to say that the team doesn't do something similar during Spring Training of this season. There've been rumors linking the currently-unemployed Brian Wilson to the team recently, and while I'm not sure that'll happen, it's a possibility. There's also the possibility that the team will make a deal mid-season, and that this person will end up leading the team in saves. When in doubt, say "I don't know" and move on.

10% chance of closing: Octavio Dotel

Each of the next three guys brings something to the table: strikeouts. In truth, Dotel gets a ton of Ks, but not as many as the guys after him on the list. Beyond that, he's a wanderer, having spent his career with nearly a dozen teams, his K-rate has dropped a bit, and he's entering his age-39 season. While the Tigers are likely to go with whomever is the best pitcher as closer, I'd have a tough time imagining that Dotel will get the position for full season, and then the Tigers might have to look again for options for 2014.

15% chance of closing: Al Albuquerque

Albuquerque has one thing in particular going for him: a righteous career ERA of 1.59. His FIP (2.11) tells the story of someone who didn't *quite* pitch that well, but those rate stats in his limited action of 56+ innings speak to real talent. But Albuquerque hardly pitched in 2012, and though his strikeout numbers are great, he may not be considered reliable enough to hold down the ninth inning.

25% chance of closing: Joaquin Benoit

Yawn. Joaquin Benoit is actually pretty boring, especially for a guy who strikes out a bunch of guys (29.2% K-rate last season), and gives up more than a few homers (1.77 HR/9 in 2012). But he's boring because he's relatively consistent on a season-to-season basis, and he's been around for a while. Though he had a down 2012, Benoit brings the combination of capability and tenure to a Tigers team looking for both, and that makes him an attractive option as an early-season closer. If he can stay consistent and maintain his recent increase in strikeout rate, I could see him riding out the whole season as the stopper for the Tigers.

25% chance of closing: Bruce Rondon

The prohibitive favorite for the position, Rondon brings prospect shine and the unearthly stuff to the discussion. Going into Spring Training, he's considered by many to be the likely guy for the ninth, despite having never thrown a major-league inning. Rondon brings 100 mph heat, but the problem is that no one is quite sure where the ball will end up after he throws it. The catcher's mitt, the third row, Ann Arbor ... your guess is as good as anyone else's.

Personally, I don't think Rondon will open the season as closer, and that Benoit will. Bruce'scontrol just isn't there yet, something he demonstrated in his most recent Spring Training outing. I'd obviously much rather pick the field over Rondon, especially to start the season. Nevertheless, if he heats up in Triple-A, he'll find himself on the major league roster soon, and his electric stuff will shift him into a ninth-inning role eventually.

In the end, I wouldn't go deeper than a 25% chance that any of these guys wins out. We'll need to get deeper into Spring Training before my confidence rises in Rondon or anyone else. And even then, as we all well know, things will definitely change during the season.

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.


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