April 2013

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This Week In Streaming Strategy: Week 5

Looking ahead at the matchups that are on the horizon, here's a rundown of scarcely owned players who can provide short-term fantasy boosts...
  • Kyle Kendrick (Yahoo: 25% | ESPN: 23%), Andrew Cashner (27%, 5%), Jonathan Pettibone (1%, 1%), Dillon Gee (7%, 0%) -- What do all four right-handers have in common? Facing a Giancarlo Stanton-less Marlins offense within the next week. It's redundant to pick on the Marlins, but this is a group that's hitting .226/.287/.312 as a team. Wade LeBlanc is a career .252/.279/.262 hitter. It's barely a downgrade from the rest of their lineup when he's in. Those matchups are listed in my preferred order, for what it's worth.
  • Cashner, in particular, is a great add for today because he's set to face the Cubs tomorrow. You'll have a hard time finding a widely available starter with that combination of strikeout rate and matchup friendliness.
  • Patrick Corbin (48%, 74%) -- I'm not really sure why Corbin's owned in less than half of Yahoo leagues thus far given his strong start, but he's facing a lame-duck Padres offense that shouldn't give him too many problems. Corbin's not the ace he's looked the part of thus far, but he's gone at least six innings in each outing with two or fewer earned runs in each start. Show him some love, Yahoo managers.
  • David Phelps (6%, 1%) -- Phelps has whiffed 22 hitters in 17 innings so far in 2013 after posting an 8.7 K/9 in 99 2/3 innings last season. On Wednesday he gets to face the Astros, who are making a run at becoming baseball's all-time whiffiest team. Phelps has been killed by a .357 BABIP, 66 percent strand rate and 14.3 percent HR/FB, so there's reason to expect he can outperform the ugly picture painted by his 5.27 ERA.
  • Nick Tepesch (9%, 2%) -- Tepesch and teammate Justin Grimm have been impressive thus far, but it's Tepesch who strikes me as the better play against the White Sox. Tepesch has limited the damage more effectively against right-handed hitter, which combats the Sox two biggest offensive threats in Alex Rios and Paul Konerko. He's also put the ball on the ground at a 57.4 percent clip -- significantly higher than Grimm. Either is likely a reasonable play against the Sox, but I favor Tepesch slightly.
  • Justin Morneau (55%, 60%), Oswaldo Arcia (2%, 1%), Aaron Hicks (3%, 1%) -- The Twins are headed to Cleveland on Friday to face a trio of right-handers -- Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Zach McAllister -- that have struggled against left-handed hitters. Masterson's control woes are nothing new. McAllister is a homer-prone fly-ball pitcher. Jimenez has just been lost against everyone since 2011. Hicks has been lost himself, but he's hitting .263 with a .333 OBP over his past eight games and should see some free passes against a walk-happy staff, which will give him some stolen base opps. Morneau and Arcia should see plenty of men on base in front of them, leading to ample RBI opps against a trio that's weak against lefties.
  • Andy Dirks (2%, 1%) -- Dirks is hitting a whopping .196/.311/.275 on the season, so this is a bit of a leap of faith. If you're in a deep league and in need of an outfielder (that's you, Peter Bourjos owners) or just like to make crazy gambles, Dirks is a career .285/.336/.441 hitter against right-handed pitching, and the Tigers will face plenty of it against the Astros from Thursday to Sunday. Not only that, but the woeful 'Stros have yielded a .909 OPS to left-handed hitters this season. If there's anything that can cure Dirks' slump, it's a four-game set against sub-replacement-level pitching. Dirks did also just club his first homer of the season -- another reason for optimism.
  • Chris Denorfia (5%, 4%) -- Speaking of deep league pick-ups or gambling fliers... Denorfia is a known lefty masher (.317/.382/.456 in his career) that will be getting a run of lefties including Travis Wood, Wade Miley, Patrick Corbin and Wade LeBlanc in the coming six days. He's been tremendous through 23 games thus far (.316/.373/.447) and could kick contribute in both homers and steals. You could probably do worse than playing those odds.


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RotoAuthority League Update: Top Pickups

The RotoAuthority League is a highly competitive 12-team fantasy baseball league run by Tim Dierkes. The settings consist of standard 5 X 5 Rotisserie scoring and 23-man lineups along with 3 bench spots. In an effort to keep owners interested as well as to infuse new blood into the league, the teams that finish below 8th place are kicked out of the league each year. The author of this column just hopes he’s not one of them.

Fantasy baseball truly is a grind. We spend the winter analyzing statistics from every angle, fine-tuning dollar values, and practicing strategies in mock drafts. It seems like Draft Day will never get here, but at long last it finally comes.

But then something strange happens...

We're reminded that, oh yeah, we're going to play this thing out, and it's going to require a daily commitment like you wouldn't believe. Now granted, a solid draft is key to success in a fantasy baseball league. (Otherwise, why spend far too many words writing a draft recap about it, amirite?) More so than in the past, though, in the modern era this game we play really begins after Draft Day.

In a world in which we're constantly inundated with information, we see very little variance among player rankings across various sites. The term "sleeper" has become obsolete. So if everyone knows everything, how can one get ahead? Well, in-season management may very well be the new inefficiency.

Sure, some picks are better than others (like yours truly selecting the injury-prone Jose Reyes in Round 2), but the real edge in this game doesn't come on Draft Day. In a league like the RotoAuthority League with daily pickups and lineup changes,  the most crucial facet of this game is now in-season management.

Accordingly, with just about a month in the books, I figured it might be a good time to see which players have been the top free agent acquisitions in the RotoAuthority League thus far. Here then are the top 10 most valuable players according to the ESPN Player Rater among those who went undrafted in this league:

1. Clay Buchholz

2. John Buck

3. Nate McLouth

4. Vernon Wells

5. Justin Masterson

6. Hisashi Iwakuma

7. Ervin Santana

8. Jim Henderson

9. Travis Hafner

10. Brandon Crawford

So which of these players have staying power? Will Buck follow other aging catchers and have one of those randomly good seasons? Could McLouth recapture the fantasy gold of 2008? Do Vernon and Hafner still have something left in the tank? Can Masterson and Ervin enjoy bouceback campaigns? Well...

I'm a skeptic by nature, and in all honesty this list doesn't look all that appealing to me. If anything, this list is a reminder that the season is still young, and we have very little idea as to how it will play out. If you take a random sample of a month at any time during the season, players like these can certainly be in the midst of a hot stretch. Things just get magnified when that hot stretch takes place in April.

So, yes, Clay Buchholz may finally be living up to the high expectations that we placed upon him. But the rest of this list? Well, who knows.

The real lesson here, though, is to capitalize on these stretches in leagues with daily lineup changes. Did Brandon Crawford figure out how to hit? Well, you're not going to lose all that much by making the free agent pickup. The potential reward far outweighs the risk, and in today's game speculative moves like these can make the difference between cashing or not.



Stock Watch: I'll Bet You $10...

Years ago, some friends and I went to a baseball game. We were sitting up in the cheap seats, watching a rare close game for the Mariners in the ninth. One of my friends was...ah...not so baseball-astute, so I offered him a bet when Richie Sexson came up to bat. (I told you this was a long time ago.) I told my friend, I'll bet you $10 that Richie doesn't hit a home run. My friend chided me for my pessimism and was eager to take the bet, which I hadn't really expected but wasn't about to let go of now. Fortunately, a third friend interevened and tried to explain the low odds of even the best hitter putting the ball out of the park at any given moment. Reluctantly, my friend called off the bet and my conscience felt a little better.

Moments later, Sexson hit a home run.

In fantasy baseball (and much of life, perhaps), every move you make is its own gamble, small or large. There are two good reasons to make a bet: one, the side you're taking has a very good chance of coming to pass (me, wagering that Sexson will not homer right  at this moment), whether the gain is small or large; two, the potential gain is very large, and just possible enough to justify the fact that it will probably not pay off (my friend, wagering that Sexson will homer right now). Over the long run, these are the bets that pay off and win fantasy leagues. 

Some of the bets I'll suggest below are of the kind that I think likely to happen...others are riskier choices that may end up with a bigger payoff. What about bets that combine the two? You made those in your draft.

Trade For

Dan Haren has started to pick up a little velocity on his fastball, sitting at about 90mph for much of his most recent outing, while striking out five and walking none (interestingly, the third start this year in which he's performed that feat). Is he all the way back, or even definitively healthy. Well, no. This is one of those riskier options. If he takes off, he could be a bargain-bin ace. Or maybe he'll fall again. The trouble is that once you know for sure that he's on track he won't be on the trading block anymore.

Josh Reddick is finally on a hot streak, though he's striking out a ton and batting just .155 with one home run. Very disappointing for those who had dreams of another 30-HR season, which may already be out of reach. The good news is just .192 (last year it was .269). He's pounding the ball into the ground at a 39.6% rate (up 10% from last year!), and popping up 20% of the time. His HR/FB rate has dropped to just 4%. So why am I interested in getting this guy? Well, because these are all things the young hitter should be able to fix, and his current stretch of success might be suggesting that he already has.

Anthony Rizzo is a simple case of BABIP value, so if his owner is statistically inclined, don't expect to pry him away. If not, consider that his miserable .195 AVG will go up when his unsustainably bad .170 BABIP does. The homers are already among the league leaders, so an excellent season could well be in the making.

Lucas Duda remains unowned in a significant number of leagues (CBS: 70%/ESPN: 34%/Yahoo!: 24%), but his 17 walks are tied for fourth in baseball, and his .438 OBP sandwiches him in between Miguel Cabrera and Dustin Pedroia on the leaderboard. With five homers to go along with the on-base, I'm on board with trading for Duda, as he's looking like a relatively low-risk bet.

Pick Up

Andrew Cashner (CBS: 39%/ESPN: 2.4%/Yahoo!: 17%) is a strikeout machine and he appears to be in the rotation for good. He immediately becomes the Padres' best pitcher and he's a smart add for any fantasy team. Grab him while you can, because these low numbers are likely to spike in the next week.

David Phelps (CBS: 11%/ESPN: 0.1%/Yahoo!: 3%) will be slotting into the Yankees rotation. If he pitches well, he might even stick over Ivan Nova, though that isn't necessarily a given. He hasn't gotten good results out of the bullpen (ugly 5.29 ERA/1.47 WHIP), but he's been racking up strikeouts (22 K's in 17 IP). He's worth a try, especially in deeper leagues.

Carlos Ruiz (CBS: 50%/ESPN: 13%/Yahoo!: 21%) is coming back from his suspension, so nab him off the waiver wire if he's available. He mashed last year and, while he isn't incredibly likely to repeat those numbers at age 34, there's little reason not to give him a chance.

Trade Away

Matt Moore just won his fifth game of the season, and he's dealing to the tune of a 1.12 ERA, an 0.88 WHIP, and a 10.69 K/9. So why am I considering offering him up in trades? Because a young pitcher who was expected to do well, and is pitching amazingly can fetch a huge return. Am I betting against Moore breaking out and joining the aces this year. Not really, I think there's a great chance he does. But, as with Matt Harvey and Shelby Miller last week, I think Moore represents an opportunity to get even more value back than he'll give for the rest of the season.

Bryce Harper and Justin Upton are off to fantasy baseball's best starts and here I am recommending you send them packing. I wasn't high on Upton before the season began, I'll admit, but even I can see that he's not in line for another disappointing 17-HR campaign. But here's the thing: Upton won't be hitting 88 homers (his current pace), and Harper won't end up with 60, or a .374 average (probably). Both guys are superstars and both are having great months. There's no better time to trade them, especially with their level of youth and hype. Don't do it if you can't get an absolutely outrageous return, but I'd be willing to bet you can.


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Closer Updates: Cubs, Tigers, Brewers, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Royals

At this point, the question on everyone's mind is this: will we go a week without the Cubs changing closers? Okay, maybe it's not on everyone's mind, but I'll bet it weighs deeply on yours if you've found yourself drawn into that particular fray. Fortunately, while there might be turmoil on the North Side, things might just be calming down a bit around the rest of the Majors.

Cubs

Quick, guess the two most recent Cubs to save a game! That's right, Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. If this isn't a mixture for excitement, I don't know what is. Expect strikeouts and lots and lots of walks in the ninth inning while these guys tackle the job. The good news is that Marmol has been pitching well enough to drive his ERA all the way down to 4.35, having not been scored upon since April 6th. The bad news is that his WHIP still sits at 1.80, and he walked five batters and hit one in his last three appearances. I think the Cubs will take any opportunity they can get to let Marmol save games, as his trade value is a lot better if he can be passed off as a "proven closer." If he falters before Fujikawa returns or he is traded, Gregg looks like he'll be in line for most of the saves. Why? Well, why not? It's bad news for Shawn Camp and James Russell, though they aren't officially out of the saves mix.

Tigers

Speaking of pitchers out of the saves mix...Jose Valverde is back. Up in the Majors, he's already saved a game in his lone appearance and owned in 58% of Yahoo! leagues. Go ahead and snag him in just about all formats. He probably doesn't have the most job security in the world, but I imagine that the Tigers won't want to throw themselves back into closer-uncertainty-land soon after leaving it. He might get more rope than most pitchers of his skill level. On another note, Bruce Rondon is up in the Majors, though his manager seems pretty happy not to be using him in the ninth. If Rondon is lights out and Valverde gets lit up, a change is possible. Sorry, Joaquin Benoit hopefuls... 

Brewers

Nothing's wrong with Jim Henderson, who's saved the game in his last three appearances, but rumor has it that John Axford might be back in the old job soon. There hasn't been an official timetable or anything, but the Ax Man hasn't allowed a run or walked a batter since April 9th. If he's righting the ship, he'll get the job back, whether Henderson has an 0.90 ERA or not. The only good news for Henderson owners (at least, the ones who don't have Axford too) is that he's pitched well enough to be worth keeping around.

Red Sox

Joel Hanrahan is starting his rehab assignment and is eligible to come off the DL on Monday. The Sox traded for him to be their closer. Andrew Bailey has filled in and done a great job. The Sox also traded for Bailey to be their closer. Management hasn't said anything definitive, other than it might be a fight for the job. So, I guess this counts as bad news for owners of both. Bailey has pitched better this year, but it's probably fair to say than Hanrahan will have to be bad not to win his job back. That's certainly possible. Whatever ultimately happens, expect Bailey to keep the job for several days while Hanrahan is allowed to get back in the swing of things.

Diamondbacks

J.J. Putz has gotten himself in enough trouble that his manager had to reassure everyone that he was "still the closer." Things got bad enough that Matt Reynolds saved two games last week, one in relief of Putz, the other in relief of David Hernandez. This one is worth keeping an eye on, though Putz managed his fourth save on Thursday to go with the three he's blown. So far, there's no change, and Putz should have a bit more leash left; the veteran closer has proved himself over the years to the point where Arizona probably won't demote him for a bad couple weeks. If his struggles get worse, Reynolds, Hernandez, and Heath Bell may all get a crack at the job.

Royals

Nothing but good news for Greg Holland owners, as he's pitched his ERA all the way down to 5.14 with five consecutive scoreless outings. In fact, all the runs he's given up this year came in one inning, pitched across two horrific days. He's got 14 strikeouts in his seven innings pitched and seems to have gotten away from any controversy over his bullpen role. Making things easier for him, Kelvin Herrera has had two disastrous outings and actually pushed his ERA above Holland's. Why all this talk about ERA, you wonder, in this age of better statistical analysis? Closing is about results, not process, and good results keep jobs.

Add-Vice

Not as easy a week for speculative pickups, as most of the pitchers involved will be already owned. If Valverde remains available, he's by far the best pickup (unless Holland or Putz are somehow on the waiver wire). Axford is actually less owned than Valverde (just 51% of Yahoo! leagues), so it's a good time to get him. Marmol is on a hot streak and has at least a share of the closing job; he should be owned in more than just 39% of Yahoo! leagues. Leave Gregg and the others alone. Bailey is owned in three-quarters of leagues, and he's worth keeping as a setup man if he continues to pitch as he has. 



Prospect Prospectin': Own Rendon

Surprise, surprise, Ryan Zimmerman has hit the DL. To fill in for him, the Nats have called up their top prospect, Anthony Rendon. Davey Johnson has said that when Zim returns he’ll reclaim the hot corner, but after batting only .226 through the first 15 games and a whopping 4 throwing errors, I wonder how long the team can keep justifying playing their $100 million man. Rendon has looked a bit overmatched in his first week in the bigs, but it’s just a matter of time before that sweet swings starts connecting with some fastballs. Rendon was red hot in the minors to begin the year, and has always had the potential to be an all-star... this could be his chance to finally prove what he’s capable of. Obviously scoop him up right now in keeper leagues (if he’s not already owned), and take a flyer on him in mixed leagues as well.

Louie, Louie

Luis Jimenez

Jimenez has been swinging a hot bat and scoring a lot of runs for the Los Angeles Orange County Angels of Anaheim San Diego.  Alberto Callaspo could return from the DL as soon as this weekend, but Jimenez could absolutely replace him at third by the end of the season. Last year Jimenez hit  .309/.334/.495 at Triple-A (which is actually lower than his 5-year minor league average of .302/.338/.518), with had 16 HRs and 17 steals in 122 games.  He’s a plus defender and has shown good power at every level of the minors.  Right now he’s batting two spots in front of Trout - imagine what he could do in that lineup batting after Trumbo.  Mike Scoscia has done stranger things in his day (like consistently benching Napoli), and he loves good defenders, so I can see Jimenez finding his way into more playing time as the season progresses.  He’s worth taking a flyer on in every league - especially if you drafted Moustakas at 3B, who looks like he couldn’t even hit Brett Myers’ wife (sorry, couldn't help it).

Burgos and Fries

Hiram Burgos

Even though his name sounds more like a Rabbi than a big leaguer, Burgos had an outstanding 2012 between High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, to the tune of a 1.95 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 8.1 K/9 in 171 IP. That’s a lot of innings for a minor leaguer, and with Chris Narveson hitting the DL, Burgos could be in line to replace him permanently in the rotation. He pitched well against the Cubs in his debut, allowing only one earned run in five innings and no walks (with only one strikeout, though). In deep leagues or NL-only leagues, Burgos is definitely worth picking up because of his 2012 performance alone.

Pretty Bone

Jonathan Pettibone

John Lannan could miss 6 - 8 weeks, and Pettibone looks stellar in his debut against the Bucs, giving up 2 ER over 5 1/3 IP and 6 K’s and no free passes. At 6”5’, Pettibone looks intimidating on the mound, but is actually more of a groundball pitcher than a flamethrower. Charlie Manuel hasn’t committed to using Pettibone exclusively in Lannan’s absence, but if he stays consistent it will be hard to justify replacing him. In daily leagues, Pettibone is worth grabbing for his matchup at Citi Field this weekend, and in other leagues might worth a stash as well. Plus he’s got an awesome name, so there’s that.

Deep-Seated Issues

Carlos Martinez

The Cardinals bullpen is a disaster. Motte is out, Boggs has been mindbogglingly bad, Rosenthal’s year has been anything but rosy, and the Cards were forced to go with Edward “6 Career Saves in 382 Innings” Mujica. Yes, Mujica has looked pretty good thus far, but it seems like only a matter of time before he fails. That’s where Carlos Martinez comes in. He’s worked as a starter so far in his minor league career, but there are rumors out there that he will be called up to the bullpen, and definitely worth taking a flyer on in deep leagues if you’re hurting for saves. With an upper-90’s fastball and a nasty curveball, Martinez actually profiles better as a reliever than a starter.

Better Lucky Than Good

Patrick Corbin

He’s not a rookie, but Corbin is relatively unheralded so I’m including him becaues he is an absolute must-add in all leagues. Many assumed that Tyler Skaggs or Randall Delgado would get the first crack at the 5th starter job in Arizona this year, but it’s been the consistent-if-slightly-unexciting Corbin that’s taken the job and ran with it. Corbin has been extraordinarily lucky with over a 90% strand rate through 19 innings this year, but it still takes a confident, skilled starter to shut down the Brewers, Dodgers, Yankees, and Giants in his first 4 games of 2013. 

Buy High

Shelby Miller

Miller is living up to the hype, and boasts a ridiculous 2.16 ERA, 9.36 K/9, and 0.88 WHIP on the season. This youngster is the real deal. In redraft leagues I’d buy now before his value skyrockets ever further, and in keeper leagues I’d consider going so far as to consider giving up a Cliff Lee-type. That’s how good this kid is. It’s Miller time!

 

 


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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: April 24-May 1

Time for our weekly look at which players are having some good luck, some bad luck and those whose fortunes are mimicking Jerry Seinfeld's even-steven act.

They're Just Too Good To Be True: Welington Castillo.  Every fantasy owner dreams of drafting a stopgap second catcher in the 20th round or later and then watching in joy as that roster filler delivers a breakout season.  Castillo isn't exactly a total diamond in the rough --- he had some strong minor league numbers and hit .265/.337/.418 in 190 PA in 2012, but obviously, nobody quite expected his current production.  Though 57 PA in this young season, Castillo is hitting .352/.375/.463 and I probably just need to stop right there and point out that small gap between Castillo's average and OBP.  He has taken exactly zero walks and as his .111 ISO suggests, he isn't showing much pop. 

If you're a Castillo owner in a single-catcher roster format, don't get any nutty ideas about trading your (presumably better) starter since you'll be left holding the bag when Castillo comes back to earth.  Keep hiim as your backup or, even better, see if you can swap him to a less-informed manager who doesn't read this column is dazzled by a high batting average.  If you have two starting catchers in your format, I'd also advise seeing if you can sell high and move Castillo for a more proven backstop.

Full disclosure: I may be biased against Castillo simply because of his first name.  I grew up in London, Ontario, where Wellington Road is one of our major streets.  As such, Castillo's lack of a second "L" really sticks in my craw....yeah, this is some REALLY insightful fantasy analysis. 

Don't Take Your Eyes Off Of Them: These are the players whose peripherals match their production, for better or for worse.  Yes, I realize this concept doesn't exactly match the category title but that's the price I pay for trying to shoehorn a Frankie Valli song into a fantasy baseball column. 

Anyway, my "for better" guy this week is Dexter Fowler.  Much has been made about Fowler's red-hot start to the 2013 season and while I don't think he'll continue his current power pace and end up with 50+ homers, there are some intriguing indications that Fowler actually hasn't yet hit his overall stride.  Fowler's production has been almost entirely based around his home runs --- he's hitting .250, his OBP is .348, his BABIP is a shockingly low .211 and his line-drive percentange stands at 20%, down from 27.2% in 2012.  Now, it's worth noting that Fowler posted career-highs in all these categories last year, including a whopping .390 BABIP, so it's quite possible that he's just balancing out a bit.  That said, if Fowler gets the BABIP up to around the usual .300 mark, he'll be an even better hitting force.  

There are two ways to read this, of course.  The negative spin would be that Fowler is actually underperforming, and we're just not seeing it since we're all dazzled by the homers.  I'm not sure this is necessarily the case given the BABIP and the fact that Fowler plays at Coors Field, where logical statistical analysis goes to die.  If you're saying Fowler will be a fantasy liability once his power dips, my counter would be that his power probably won't dip that much given his 81 home games in the thin air.  At worst, Fowler is a must-start every time the Rockies play at home.  At best, he's on pace for a season that will cement him as a fantasy regular, so don't go trading Fowler quite yet thinking he's just an early-season wonder.  

On the flip side of Fowler is Victor Martinez, whose awful start to the season is borne out by the numbers.  V-Mart has only a .190 BABIP and his walk and strikeout rates are roughly around his career norms, but in terms of power, Martinez makes Welington Castillo look like Johnny Bench.  Martinez has just one extra-base hit in 77 PA and his ISO is just .015.  There's a time for "it's early" and "he's having bad luck" and there's also a time for realizing that this is a 34-year-old who is trying to return from a torn ACL that cost him an entire season.  Despite Martinez's strong track record, I would be wary about giving him much more time to prove himself.  If he isn't looking like the old V-Mart after a few more weeks, it's time to bench or even cut him outright.

Hold Them (On Your Roster) So Much: Vance Worley.  The Twins right-hander drew some sleeper buzz during this spring's fantasy drafts as a 25-year-old live arm who was going from hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park to pitcher-friendly Target Field.  Thus far, however, the Vance Vance Revolution has yet to take place.  Worley owners no doubt took a big gulp upon seeing his 7.11 ERA through four starts (rim shot) and dropped him en masse, which is why he is owned in just 3% of Yahoo fantasy leagues.  If you're in an auction league and still have Worley around since he's harder to drop, take heart, since he isn't likely to continue being a drain your pitching numbers for much longer. 

While Worley has the 7.11 ERA, his advanced metrics are much better --- he owns a 3.28 FIP, 4.14 xFIP, and a 4.31 SIERA.  These admittedly aren't great numbers themselves, especially since Worley won't provide big strikeout totals given his career 7.6 K/9.  That said, one metric that is swinging his way is his 0.47 HR/9, which would be a career-best for Worley and likely a direct benefit from the move to Minnesota.  Worley owns the single biggest BABIP (.403) of any pitcher in baseball, so once those balls stop dropping in for hits, Worley's ability to keep the ball in the park would translate to much better results.  The light bulb might've flicked on already given that Worley pitched very well against the White Sox in his most recent start. 



This Week In Streaming Strategy: Week 4

As sample sizes grow larger and become more defined over the course of the season, streaming matchups become less about guesswork and more about trends. We're still pretty early in the year, but here are some matchups that could prove beneficial over the next several days, particularly for those in deeper mixed leagues...

Mark Buehrle (Yahoo: 21% | ESPN:  6%) and J.A. Happ (Yahoo: 13% | ESPN: 5%) -- Buehrle faces the Yankees on Thursday, and Happ gets the nod on Saturday. Both will face a Yankees lineup that's been absolutely abysmal versus left-handed pitching. As a team, the "Bombers" (I have to use that term facetiously given the context) have hit .190/.262/.299 against lefties. Buehrle faced them last week and whiffed seven hitters with one run allowed in seven innings. Happ, who's actually a strikeout pitcher unlike Buehrle, could break double-digit Ks as they flail away.

Edwin Jackson (Yahoo: 44% | ESPN: 37%) and Carlos Villanueva (Yahoo: 30% | ESPN: 28%) -- Both righties are going to take on the Marlins this week, with Jackson going on Thursday and Villanueva getting the nod on Sunday. We all know the Marlins can't hit, but they've at least held their own against left-handed pitching (if ranking 20th with a .645 OPS is considered "holding your own," anyway). Against right-handers, the Fish are batting an impossibly bad .199/.250/.255. Jackson and Villanueva should both turn in quality starts (and likely considerably better) with strong K numbers against that anemic offense. Scott Feldman will face the Marlins as well, but he's considerably less talented than the first two names here and has shown command issues thus far. He's a riskier stream but should be available in just about any format short of "Chicago players only."

Wade LeBlanc (Yahoo: 1% | ESPN: 0%) -- LeBlanc is probably a better stream for deeper mixed leagues than standard 12-team or shallower, but his FIP (3.98) is more than two runs better than his ERA (6.27), and he's pitched right around that level for the past two seasons (4.04 FIP in '11; 3.98 in '10). The Cubs are hitting .196/.265/.311 against lefties. LeBlanc does carry a reverse-platoon split, but that actually bodes well for him as nearly all of the Cubs starters are right-handed hitters. It's that tired old "reverse-platoon lefty against a bunch of righties who can't hit lefties" matchup that you hear about ad nauseum.

Gavin Floyd (Yahoo: 6% | ESPN: 3%) -- Floyd's 4.98 ERA isn't exactly dazzling, but his 3.99 FIP and 3.22 xFIP are considerably stronger. He also faces a Rays team that ranks 25th in OPS against right-handed pitching. Floyd has been plagued by homers but the Rays are a middle-of-the-pack team in long balls versus righties, and no team has hit line drives at a lower clip against righties than Tampa Bay's meager 15.6 percent. Floyd has 24 Ks in 21 2/3 innings this season as well, so he can contribute in multiple facets.

David DeJesus (Yahoo: 3% | ESPN: 2%) -- DeJesus is hitting .405/.500/.811 over his past 10 games with three homers. He's starting every game versus righties, and he'll have a run of pretty underwhelming righties coming up in the form of Kevin Slowey, Alex Sanabia and Ricky Nolasco.

Jesus Montero (Yahoo: 50% | ESPN: 35%) -- Montero finally hit his first homer last night, and he'll face Garrett Richards, C.J. Wilson, Joe Blanton and Jason Vargas in the Thursday-Sunday series with the Angels. The Halos are the most homer-prone team in baseball, and while manager Eric Wedge has limited Montero's playing time (because getting Kelly Shoppach ABs is crucial for the Mariners' long-term outlook or something) hopefully Monday's bomb gets him in the lineup more. If Kendrys Morales is available in your league he's probably the preferred Mariners add. If you're feeling lucky, slightly delusional, just plain bored or all three... you can roll the dice on Justin Smoak as well, but the power has just never developed for him.

Jeff Baker (0% in both Yahoo and ESPN) -- Baker's not owned because Baker doesn't do a whole lot for fantasy players except mash left-handed pitching. Luckily, he's facing a pair of low-strikeout lefties in Pedro Hernandez and Scott Diamond in the Rangers' upcoming series with the Twins. Baker is 4-for-12 with a homer in four starts against lefties this season, and for his career he's triple-slashed .297/.347/.502 against them. He's unlikely to be pinch-hit for late in a game either, as Minnesota's closer Glen Perkins is of the left-handed variety.


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RotoAuthority League Update: The (Very) Early Leaders

The RotoAuthority League is a highly competitive 12-team fantasy baseball league run by Tim Dierkes. The settings consist of standard 5 X 5 Rotisserie scoring and 23-man lineups along with 3 bench spots. In an effort to keep owners interested as well as to infuse new blood into the league, the teams that finish below 8th place are kicked out of the league each year. The author of this column just hopes he’s not one of them.

With only three weeks in the books, it's still a tad early to draw any reasonable conclusions as to which team is the favorite to win the RotoAuthority League. If we take a look at the standings through Sunday, though, it's interesting that three teams have jumped ahead of the pack:

  1. Men With Wood 88.5
  2. Smell the Glove 84.5
  3. Yu at the Animal Zoo 80
  4. Gramma Nutt Crushers 69.5
  5. Forty 2 Twenty 4 64.5
  6. Reedy 64.5
  7. A Century of Misery 63.5
  8. Say It Ain't So Cano 60.5
  9. UP 56.5
  10. Philly Cheez 56
  11. E-Z Sliders 54
  12. Brewsterville Bruins 38

As you can see, there's a 10-point gap between the top three and rest of the league. Let's take a closer look at how each of these squads has risen to the top. As a reminder, the RotoAuthority League utilizes a straight draft as opposed to an auction. This makes it a little tougher to determine the most profitable players relative to draft position. Thanks to the fine work by Bill Macey of BaseballHQ, however, we can convert ADP values into equivalent auction values. In this way, we can see not simply the best players thus far but which ones have been the best bang for the buck.

Men With Wood

In my draft recap for the league, I indicated that if I were forced to pick a favorite strictly based off the draft, Men With Wood would be my choice. Now this may just be a coincidence, but the fact remains that this roster looked solid at the time and still does. Men With Wood has benefited tremendously from three draft picks so far. Further proof that there's often wisdom in the masses, Josh Rutledge and Todd Frazier have more than lived up to their pre-season hype. A twelfth round draft pick, Rutledge is currently performing at a 5th round level. Even more impressively, Men With Wood came right back in Round 13 pick with Frazier, who has performed as a 2nd rounder to date. Meanwhile, in Round 19 Men With Wood somehow managed to snag A.J. Burnett, who has the 4th best SIERA  among qualified starting pitchers at 2.37. More so than anything else, however, this owner has outmanaged the rest of the league in free agent acquisitions. From John Buck and Travis Hafner to Daniel Nava and Gerardo Parra, Men With Wood has been able to grab several hitters who have produced at a $10 level at minimum. Long story short, Men With Wood isn't going anywhere.

Smell the Glove

In my draft recap I also described a positive outlook for the roster run by the Commissioner of the league, Tim Dierkes.  Three draft picks stand out as the leading contributor toward the success of Smell the Glove thus far. First of all, Tim wasn't afraid to select the maddeningly inconsistent Alex Rios in Round 7. All Rios has done so far is contribute significantly in all five Roto categories. Last year's bounceback campaign isn't looking so strange anynore. In addition to Rios, Dierkes made two of the best handful of picks with endgame selections of Dexter Fowler in Round 17 and Jed Lowrie in Round 23. Fowler and Lowrie are each playing at roughly a $30 level on a combined investment that equates to $5 in auction. With all of these offensive bargains, it's not surprising that Smell the Glove currently has the most hitting points. Sure, the season is young, but these draft day bargains may prove to vault Dierkes back in the money after a couple of down seasons.

Yu at the Animal Zoo

Finally, we have our owner who cleverly chose to wait until after the draft (and after he had Yu Darvish on his roster) to pick a name. I said in my draft recap that this owner had the top staff in the league, and the early results certainly aren't changing my mind. In fact, Yu at the Animal Zoo remarkably leads four of the five pitching categories at this point. Unlike Men With Wood and Smell the Glove, though, I actually don't see as many truly breakout performances on this roster. Sure, Round 7 selection Wilin Rosario and Round 17 pick Starling Marte are each providing over $10 in profit on their modest investments. Beyond that pair, however, this roster is simply filled with reliable players who are performing as they should. Led by top overall selection Miguel Cabrera and aces Felix Hernandez and Darvish, this team looks rock solid on paper. The scary thing for the rest of us is that last year's AL Cy Young Award winner David Price is off to a rough start, yet this owner is still running away with the pitching points. Overall then, this roster might just need an average number of hitting points to finish in the money.


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Stock Watch: Sell High, Buy Low, Steal Healthy Guys

Finally! We now have data we can work with, understand, and safely extrapolate over the course of a full season.

Or...not. But we have gone on long enough that hot and cold streaks have lasted long enough to impact multiple weeks of fantasy play--not to mention the real standings, but why mention those here. The fantasy game is the real Big Show, after all.

Trade for These Guys

Giancarlo Stanton and Adam Dunn
Both of these guys are off to hideous starts, and both were expected to be among the HR leaders when the season started. Stanton, in particular, was supposed to be a cornerstone of many teams (most of mine, in fact), but he's produced just a single Run Scored for all four counting stats and just a .182 BA. Next to him, Dunn actually looks pretty good, with his two homers and his .105 average.

So, why trade for these guys? Because the power they had before the season still exists. Stanton has been dealing with nagging injuries that might scare off frustrated owners, but should explain away his struggles when combined with the caprices of the Gods of Small Sample Size. Speaking of sample size, it should be no surprise that Dunn has cold weeks. The fact that they're coming at the beginning of the season simply means you might be able to get a good deal on him. These two still have power that's almost unrivaled in baseball, and getting either at even a small discount would be a great idea for most teams.

Final bonus: Stanton may be traded at some time this season, and pretty much wherever he goes, he'll have a better lineup to drive in and offer him protection.

David Ortiz, Chase Headley, and Brett Lawrie
I shied away from this trio in drafts, as I wanted to avoid spending early picks on injured players. That didn't stop me from getting players like Corey Hart, Brian McCann, and Colby Lewis to stop up my DL slots like glue, but that's another story. This story is about how now is the time to trade for any of these three players.

The theory is this: when you spend the first weeks of a season without a particular player, you discover that you don't really need him. This lends owners to undervalue these nearly-healthy or newly-healthy players and overvalue their opportunity to finally get some use out of them via trade. It works particularly well if the owner has needs in other positions that can't be filled by the returning player. As Ortiz, Headley, and Lawrie come off the DL, it could be time to swoop in with a trade offer. Of course, this strategy won't work on every owner (it did on me last year)--some will cling to the returned player like he's their team savior. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work.

Julio Teheran
He was the trendiest Spring Star to draft in the final weeks of the season, as he mowed down everyone he faced and seemed to be finally building on his top-prospect talent. Now he's sporting an ERA of 7.31 and is owned in only 34% of Yahoo! leagues. The thing is, he's still the guy he was going into that amazing Spring Training: a high-level prospect pitching for a good team. He could right the ship, and if you nab him now the cost won't be more than a waiver claim in many leagues. If you do trade for him, you shouldn't be paying much. Any more and I don't really recommend going after him.

Waiver Claims and Free Agents

Last week, I spent several entire minutes explaining why Ted Lilly was a good pickup. Then the Dodgers installed Chris Capuano into their rotation and I rewrote it all at the last minute. Well, look who's starting now. Yeah, Lilly is the one who will get the starts for LA, even though the team doesn't seem convinced he's ready. Nab him now and leave him on your bench for a start or two, because if he is ready, he's probably still the above-average pitcher he used to be. If he isn't that guy, it will probably be apparent quickly and you can cut him loose.

I was looking over the list of pitchers by Yahoo! Rank (not the most scientific thing to do in the world, I know), and one guy stood out by ownership rates. Everyone around was in the 80's or 90's by percent owned. And then there was Carlos Villanueva, sitting right there at 17%. When someone on the waiver wire is ranked exclusively with the pitchers owned in nearly every league, it's time to take notice. Sure enough, Villanueva has pitched very well. If his next start weren't against the Reds, he'd be on two or three of my teams already. Monitor him for his next start and grab him up afterwards.

By the way, Villanueva's teammate Travis Wood looks pretty good so far too. Jeremy Guthrie and Zach McAllister are both pitching well also. Guthrie actually has some good history to back him up (though no history of help in strikeouts), but McAllister has more upside. If you need strikeouts, Felix Doubront is always great for those. He isn't much good for other things, though, like ERA and WHIP. Pitching for Boston and striking people out makes him a great choice for streaming.

As for hitters to pick up, Didi Gregorius is a great choice, as the prospect will be filling in for the injured Aaron Hill, as Cliff Pennington will move over to second base. He's already hit a home run, and any pop you can get midseason out of your SS or MI slot is great. Another interesting option is Nolan Arenado is lighting up the minor leagues, to the tune of a .417 average with three homers and 11 doubles. Chris Nelson and Josh Rutledge aren't exactly off to amazing starts, so Arenado might be able to force the Rockies to bring him up. If your league has a minors slot, pick him up. Even if not, he makes a very strong stash option right now.

Sell! Sell! Sell!

Well, it's not quite so urgent as that, but we've gotten to the point of the season where it might be possible to capitalize on some hot starts. Second basemen Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips are both tearing the cover off the ball, with five and four homers, respectively, BA's over .300 and double digits in runs and RBI. The only knock so far is that they have but one steal between them. Probably they're scoring before they even get the chance to steal. These starts aren't sustainable of course, unless they both post career years. Having the depth to deal either of these players away is unlikely, but if you do, now is a great time to reap extra value and let them settle back down to earth with a new owner.

Speaking of playing over your head, check out Matt Harvey and Shelby Miller. I like both for the rest of the season, but not nearly at the level they're doing now. Both are among the league's best pitchers so far, with miniscule ERA's, sub 1.00 WHIP's, and at least a strikeout per inning. As flamethrowing youngsters, you can expect enthusiasm for their season and careers to be high. As young pitchers, you can expect them to hit the occasional rough patch over the course of the season. Trade 'em now, enjoy the production of the steadier veterans you can get in return, and don't feel bad when they end up with good-but-not-ace numbers over the course of the season, probably with low IP totals.

Paul Maholm isn't exactly a top prospect, but he's having the best couple weeks of his life. He's been a pretty average pitcher for the better part of the last decade, and I don't think that's likely to chance in 2013. If you can find someone who does, deal Maholm away. If you can't, ride the wave while it lasts. 

Finally, we've got Jarrod Parker. I wasn't incredibly excited about Parker going into the year (I can't stand pitchers with low strikeout rates), but he was quite useful last year. Well, he's been horrible this year and I'm losing patience and the A's have Dan Straily waiting in the minors. If you can ship Parker off to an owner that buys into his youth and upside, do it. If you can't, don't be surprised if the A's cut him faster than you do.


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Closer Updates: Cubs, Cardinals, Red Sox, Brewers, Astros

Just when you think things are settled in the world of closers...they aren't. This week sent more injuries our way, plus flame-throwing relievers that couldn't cut it, and K-Rod's return as we know it. Here are the saves-chasing updates from around the Majors.

Cubs

If your closer's team never shows up in this column, so much the better. If your closer's team is the Cubs, well I feel bad for you son, because they've been a mainstay here on Closer Updates and I see no reason why they might leave. The latest issue is that newly anointed closer Kyuji Fujikawa has hit the DL with a strained right forearm. He'll be out until at least late this month, and could be missing more time. Rumor has it that he'd been experiencing pain for some time, so perhaps this explains why his ERA is at a Marmolian 12.46. Speaking of Carlos Marmol, he won't be closing yet (though he's strung together a couple passable outings and gotten his ERA to around half of Fujikawa's); instead, the Cubbies will be going with a committee led by Shawn Camp and James Russell. The Cubs have a lot invested in using either Marmol (for the trade value) or Fujikawa (because they signed him as a free agent) in the closer's role, so expect the committee to last no longer than necessary. I'll be staying away from this mess for now, as half a temporary closer's job on a lousy team just doesn't seem worth the roster space.

Cardinals

No, I don't have any word on Jason Motte's timetable, but that doesn't mean there weren't more changes in the St. Louis bullpen picture. Neither Mitchell Boggs nor Trevor Rosenthal managed to run with the job, despite ample opportunity and talent. If Thursday's usage was any indication, the Cards will turn to Edward Mujica for their ninth inning leads needs. This had been pondered last week, and it looks pretty likely at this point. In case Mujica falters, I wonder if Fernando Salas might get a chance to close again. This is purely speculation on my part (How smart would I feel if I'd been speculating on Mujica two weeks ago!), and he's off to a pretty horrid start, but he did notch 24 saves with a 2.28 ERA two years ago. Maybe Mike Matheny remembers that as vaguely as I do. For the moment, Mujica is definitely the add.

Red Sox

Joel Hanrahan is the latest "safe" closer to land on the DL. He's got a hamstring issue and, like Fujikawa, is tentatively expected back by the end of the month. Also like Fujikawa, he's got a four-digit ERA. Unlike the Cubs, however, the Sox have a strong bullpen, led by Andrew Bailey. Bailey has the all-important Closing Experience, not to mention 12 K's in 7.1 IP, a 1.23 ERA, and an 0.68 WHIP. Even manager John Farrell admits that Hanrahan might not return to the closer's role; it very much looks like Bailey could take the job he was traded for and run with it. He's a great add, but if he doesn't work out, Boston might turn to Koji Uehara, who is lights-out but not generally trusted with a full closer's workload.

Brewers

Like their NL central kinsfolk the Cubs, the Brew Crew seems destined to appear in this space with some frequency. No big changes here, however: Jim Henderson is holding the job down just fine. If he's on your league's waiver wire for some reason...well, probably it's because you don't count saves or you've just got eight teams or something like that. If not, pick him up already. Francisco Rodriguez is back in the fold, though it will be a month or more before he's even eligible to take the job away from Henderson. Good news if you've been holding onto John Axford (like me): he's pitched more or less capably in his last few outings. We were starting to think this was impossible. Keep the faith if you can spare the roster spot, as Axford remains a good candidate to reclaim the ninth inning at some point this season.

Astros

Jose Veras finally got a save opportunity on the woebegone Houston Astros. Naturally, he blew it. So far, however, there are no rumblings about replacing Veras. Owned in only 35% of Yahoo! leagues, he remains a good pickup for someone in dire need of saves. Well, a better pickup than trying to muddle your way through the Cubs' mess, anyways. If he does end up getting demoted, maybe we'll see Rhiner Cruz (who's pitched a lot late in games for the 'Stros) or Hector Ambriz (who's pitched pretty well lately) getting a shot in the ninth. For now, though, it's still Veras.

Add-Vice

The top closer add here should be Bailey. He's pitching extremely well and he's got a decent chance to steal his old job (that he never really had) back while Hanrahan languishes on the DL. Edward Mujica is owned in only 32% of Yahoo! leagues and deserves to be snapped up next. After that, you've got Henderson who won't be available in many leagues (so grab him if yours is in the minority). Veras is the next guy to grab, though it might be another couple weeks before he gets a save chance. I really don't recommend getting involved in the Cubs' mess, but if you have to, James Russell is probably the guy, mostly by virtue have having blown a save least recently. 





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