April 2013

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Prospect Prospectin': Don't Lyle-Overpay for Cingrani

Carlton Risk

Tony Cingrani

Cingrani has been downright ridiculous in Triple-A this year, striking out 26 batters in 14.1 IP with only 2 BB and O ER. Minor league bats have been deceived by his low-90’s fastball and his 11-5 curve, but he’s going to have to work on his secondary stuff to last in the big leagues. It’s actually kind of strange that the Reds would call up their best pitching prospect as a temporary fill-in for Cueto, and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens to Cingrani once Cueto returns. If he succeeds, he might replace Mike Leake at the back of the rotation, but calling him up before he develops a solid changeup could easily backfire. In keeper leagues he’s obviously worth taking a flyer on, but in redraft leagues I wouldn’t give up too much FAAB for this hot but unproven commodity who doesn’t have overpowering stuff and may not even have a job in a few weeks.

Praying for Injury

Matt Adams

The worst part about fantasy sports is that evil, guilty satisfaction you get way deep down when an opponent’s player gets injured. Hopefully, I’m the only terrible person who feels that. Luckily, with Cardinals players, you don’t have to pray too hard for players like Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and Allen Craig to hit the DL. And once one of them goes down, Adams is going to be the beneficiary of a lot of ABs. Even if the Cardinals stay healthy, Adams is going to force his way into more playing time if he keeps hitting anything close to as well as he is now, batting a preposterous .611 with 3 HRs and 8 RBI in only 20 plate appearances.

 Buy-Curious

Jedd Gyorko

Gyorko hasn’t flashed any of the power he flaunted in the minors last year with his 30 bombs and .547 slugging percentage. In fact Gyorko has a big goose egg in the home run category, which is partially due to the fact that only 43.4% of the pitches he’s seen have been fastballs. He’s been chasing curveballs out of the zone, probably putting too much pressure on himself to produce in the heart of the lineup - which is exactly why he’s a great buy-low candidate. His owners are certainly growing impatient, wondering if this over-hyped prospect was worth the pretty penny they had to pay to acquire him on draft day. Gyorko’s value is only going to increase once he starts taking advantage of Petco’s new fences and once Headley comes back and he gains 2B eligibility. Now is the time to make a lowball offer and see if someone bites - and it wouldn’t hurt to remind them that Alexi Amarista is playing so well right now that he might even steal ABs from Gyorko.... Fantasy baseball is all about taking calculated risks, and Gyorko’s upside is high enough that you can easily justify taking a risk on acquiring him.

Deep League Diamondbacks

Didi Gregorious

Middle Infielders have been dropping like flies - first there was Hanley and Jeter, and now there’s Reyes and Hill, and even Espinosa is dinged up. If you’re hurting at the MI position, check out the Dutch Didi Gregorious, who will in all likelihood be filling in at SS while Pennington is manning second base during Aaron Hill’s absence, and who could easily steal Pennington’s job away from him by the end of the year. Gregorious doesn’t have blazing speed or double-digit pop, but he’s shown glimpses of excellence this year, hitting .387 with 2 HRs and 1 SB in 7 rehab games. Be gregarious and take a flyer on the Flying Dutchman.

A.J. Pollock

The Diamondbacks’ first round draft pick in 2009, Pollock has a full-time job with Eaton and Kubel out of the lineup. Capable of 30+ steals over a full season, Pollock will give you good average, speed, and has even shown glimpses of power, hitting two longballs in one game against the Pirates last week. If you’re in a deep league, you could do worse than this former top prospect in a hitter’s park. 

Adam Eaton

If you’re in need of speed and have room on your roster, stash Eaton now and reap the stolen bases later. Dem's good Eaton!

I Think I McCann, I Think I McCann

Evan Gattis

My colleague Alex Steers McCrum thinks he's a "sell," and it wouldn't be a bad idea to sell high on Gattis, but if he’s still available in your league, scoop him up and play him until McCann gets back. His whole team is en fuego, plus anyone who can do this off a high-and-tight 96-mph Stephen Strasburg heater deserves some love!


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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: April 17-23

"Things might not look good on the surface, but they could be on the upswing if you look closer."  That isn't just the opening line of my online dating profile, but also the mantra of The Proof Is In The Peripherals, which takes a weekly look at the players who are playing better than their 5x5 stats may show, or the players whose numbers look good now but are really just smoke and mirrors.  This week we'll take a look at...

Don't Believe It: Ross Detwiler.  It's still early enough in the season that you're bound to see some very hilarious advanced metrics, and exhibit A is @NationalDet (sadly, clever Twitter handles aren't a countable stat in most fantasy leagues).  Detwiler has a cool 0.69 ERA through his first two starts but his FIP is 4.26, his xFIP is 4.87 and his SIERA is 4.68.  Detwiler's career ERA significantly outperforms his career peripherals so this is no surprise, merely the most glaring example yet.  With only a career 5.5 K/9 (including a 4.2 K/9 this year), Detwiler provides little for you in the strikeout category, and if you're taking a semi-flier on the fifth spot in your fantasy rotation, you should be aiming for more than a groundball specialist.

The Nationals have so many elite young stars that, in the spirit of "the cook is a Navy SEAL?!" from Under Siege, Detwiler is kind of an afterthought despite being the sixth overall pick of the 2007 draft and he has a 3.63 ERA through 349 2/3 career innings.  A 27-year-old southpaw with this kind of pedigree would carry a much higher profile on most teams but in Washington, he's just a back-of-the-rotation guy.  As such, Detwiler carried a bit of under-the-radar fantasy buzz this year as someone who might be primed for a breakout and (just like his bigger-name rotation mates) would benefit from pitching at Nationals Park and having that loaded lineup give him plenty of run support.  I'm not saying Detwiler won't evolve into a better pitcher down the road or even later in the year, but don't over-react at that tiny ERA and jump at him on your waiver wire just yet.  Maybe let another owner take him now and then, after Detwiler comes back to earth in a couple of starts and the other owner releases him in disgust, pick up Ross The Boss on the rebound as his performances get back to normal.

Believe It: Jarrod Parker.  Permit me to pat myself on the back a la Barry Horowitz here for a moment.  Last October, I threw up a warning sign about Parker's 2013 prospects given that he had a big jump in innings from 2011 to 2012, including pitching into October when the A's made the playoffs.  Thus far, I have been proven right Right RIGHT, as Parker has a 10.80 ERA through three starts and hasn't pitched more than 3 1/3 innings in either of his last two outings. 

Parker's FIP/xFIP/SIERA numbers are "only" 7.14/7.30/6.49 but the big concern is his K/BB rate.  Parker owned an 8.5 K/9 and 2.61 K/BB in his minor league career but those strikeouts didn't really carry over to his first full Major League season in 2012 as he only posted a 6.9 K/9.  If he's having trouble finding the strike zone and is losing his control to boot, then there isn't much to like here, especially since Parker also pitched badly during Spring Training.  I'm guessing Parker is at most a fourth starter on your fantasy staff (if he's any higher, you have my apologies) so you're not losing much by outright dropping him and trying another long-term starter on the waiver wire or just streaming pitchers for a while.

Don't Stop Believing: Jason Heyward.  Now, I'll be honest, I dealt Heyward in one of my leagues this past week, though that was part of a trade package that involved me getting David Price.  So I still more or less got fair value for Heyward --- I certainly didn't give up on him, which you might be tempted to do given his utterly atrocious start.  Heyward was hitting just .103/.286/.205 heading into Tuesday's game against the Royals, and while Heyward went yard in that game, he was hitless in his other three plate appearances. 

Now, there's plenty of good news and bad news about Heyward.  The good news is that his strikeout rate is 14.6% (which is actually well down from his 21.3% career average), his walk rate is a bit higher than usual and his line drive rate is only slighter below his career norms.  He's hitting a lot of balls in the air and they're simply not getting out of the park or dropping, given that his BABIP is a rock-bottom .097.  So don't worry too much about Heyward everything is more or less in line with his career averages and he's bound to even things out with the BABIP gods sooner or later.  The bad news?  Well, this is only bad news if you're not a Braves fan, but man, Atlanta is still this good despite Heyward, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla all hitting like garbage?  Yikes.



This Week In Streaming Strategy: Week 3

We're still dealing with pretty small sample sizes when it comes to making judgments and picking up on trends this season, but the picture becomes clearer each week. Here's a handful of scarcely owned players who can provide big value based on favorable matchups, for those of you with the roster flexibility to make some moves...

Patrick Corbin (Yahoo 6% | ESPN 1%) and Mark Buehrle (Yahoo 14% | ESPN 7%) -- Corbin's off to a solid start this season with a 1.50 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over two games. Buehrle's been a wreck but recovered from a bad first inning to post a quality start in his last outing. Obviously, that's a small sample, but each will be facing the Yankees in their next start, who rank 26th in baseball with a .570 OPS against lefties. Travis Hafner has been a big part of the Yankees' offense thus far, but he'll be on the bench in favor of the hitless Ben Francisco. Ichiro Suzuki and Brett Gardner have plenty of struggles against left-handed pitching as well, so stream away.

Ross Detwiler (Y: 38% | ESPN: 32%), Bronson Arroyo -- Both hurlers will get the Marlins in the coming days. It's pretty self explanatory at this point, but the Marlins are bad. And they haven't been bad because of their pitching so much as the 23 runs they've scored in 13 games. And Giancarlo Stanton is banged up and hasn't been playing. Do you need more to go on than that? Probably not. Stream stream stream.

Chris Tillman (Y: 17% | ESPN: 1%), Miguel Gonzalez (Y: 12% | ESPN: 1%) -- Along the same token, the Rays have been abysmal this season as well. They've posted just a .568 OPS against right-handed pitching (and really stepped it up with a .570 mark against southpaws). Tampa Bay has Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria. And if you can navigate around those three, you're pretty much in the clear. Sam Fuld, Shelley Duncan, James Loney and Jose Molina have been about as intimidating at the plate as Billy Crystal. Maybe they'll call up Wil Myers to help out, but this offense is woefully bad right now.

Anyone from the Mariners -- Regardless of whether it's Kendrys Morales, Franklin Gutierrez, or even Michael Morse when he returns to the lineup... find an alternative for a few games. Seattle is set to run through a buzzsaw that features Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish over its next four games. Exercise your bench players or look to someone like...

Seth Smith (Y: 4% | ESPN: 4.4%) -- Smith's platoon woes are well known to both fantasy players and his manager Bob Melvin. Smith has drawn just one start against a left-handed pitcher this season compared to eight against right-handers thanks to the 260-point difference in his OPS between lefties and righties for his career. He's set to face a run of right-handed pitchers in Bud Norris, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Roberto Hernandez and Alfredo Aceves in his next five games. Smith has made five straight starts against righties, and he's hitting .448/.529/.759 to open the season.

Jhonny Peralta (Y: 33% | ESPN: 45%) -- It's been awhile since Peralta was much of a power threat, but these days every hitter is a power threat against the Angels, who have allowed 21 bombs on the year. Peralta gets to square off against Tommy Hanson, C.J. Wilson and homer-happy Joe Blanton this coming weekend. He's hitting .319/.347/.426 with a homer so far. Even if he doesn't go deep, he'll have plenty of RBI opps given the depth of the Tigers' lineup.


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RotoAuthority League Update: First Trade

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.

This past week we had our first trade of the season take place in the RotoAuthority League. 

The Brewsterville Bruins agreed to trade Carlos Beltran and R.A. Dickey to UP for Adam Jones.

In my initial analysis of the league rosters, I identified pitching as not only the weakness of the Bruins but also the strength of UP. And yet, the Bruins were the ones shipping last year's NL Cy Young Award winner out of town. The Bruins seem to be content with a staff led by Cliff Lee and Adam Wainwright, and frankly I don't blame them. Meanwhile, UP now boasts a ridiculously talented trio of Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, and Dickey to go along with struggling former aces Roy Halladay and Dan Haren.

Dickey pitched poorly in each of his first two outings as a member of the Bruins; however, he bounced back on Saturday night in his first start for UP, yielding just one run against the Royals over six-plus innings. Did the Bruins panic over just a couple of poor outings from Dickey? 

While it remains to be seen whether Dickey will be a fantasy ace again in the AL East, the interesting aspect of this deal for me is the exchange of outfielders. In the fantasy industry we still have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to forecasting playing time. It's a daunting task to predict injuries, so the best predictor of future injury is likely still previous injury history.

While Beltran put together a stellar fantasy campaign in 2012, he had averaged just 96 games played the previous three seasons. Jones, on the other hand, has been very durable, averaging 154 games over that same time span. Now health is a skill, so it stands to reason that Jones would be regarded more highly in the fantasy community. Given that Beltran was able to play 151 games last season, though, we can't just assume he'll suffer an injury this year.

Oddly enough, on a per-game basis there isn't as much difference between this pair as one might expect. Since Opening Day 2010 Adam Jones has 77 HR and 36 SB in 474 games played. Beltran, meanwhile, has accumulated 62 HR and 20 SB over 369 games. If we break things down by 162-game averages, however, Jones finishes at 26 HR and 12 SB while Beltran ends up with 27 HR and 9 SB. Upon closer examination then, this duo really is quite similar. Now it's worth mentioning that in the BA category Jones does have a relatively sizeable lead of .287 to .270 since 2010. The fact remains, though, that these stud outfielders are basically interchangeable commodities in power and speed.

Strictly from a projections standpoint then, Adam Jones is probably worth more than the combination of R.A. Dickey and Carlos Beltran. After all, most projection systems will only pencil in Beltran for roughly 450 at-bats, so Jones naturally has a significant edge in the counting categories. This is a reminder of the greatest shortcoming to projection systems; they oversimplify one factor that tremendously influences player values: playing time.

We don't really draft players in the game; we draft roster slots. Carlos Beltran plus 100 to 150 at-bats of a replacement-level outfielder is still quite a valuable roster slot. Due to the fact that the RotoAuthority League allows for both lineup changes and transactions on a daily basis, the consequence of an injury is also less disastrous. If Beltran gets hurt, UP still can still plug in a capable outfielder from the available player pool of a mixed league. 

Overall then, I'm risk-averse by nature, so I favor this trade for the Bruins in acquiring the reliable multi-category production of Jones. At the same time, this deal is a classic example of gambling on playing time, one of the more overlooked elements to this game we play.



Stock Watch: Injury Replacement Gold Mine

The stats are still meaningless at this point, but if your rosters look anything like mine do, you know you've got changes that have to be made. Between slumps, injuries, and brawls, it seems like fantasy cornerstones are dropping like flies. The only good news to be found is that for every player who goes down another must invariably rise in his place--giving us the opportunity to shake our own rosters up.

Too bad fantasy managers can't kick-start a player's performance by threatening the minor leagues....

Trade

Roy Halladay, SP, PHI
For me, it's still too early to give up on a slumping vet that you used a high draft pick on. Is Roy Halladay tanking my team in the MLBTR league? Oh yeah. (He's in good company there, though.) Am I going to ship him off for peanuts? Nope. I'm not incredibly optimistic, and neither are some scouts, but I just can't cut that investment yet. In fact, I recommend buying low on him. A frustrated owner might be willing to give you a good deal, especially if his or her team happened to starting Jose Reyes, Ryan Ludwick, Zack Greinke, or anyone else afflicted by injuries. Just, you know...don't pay a lot.

Todd Frazier, 3B/1B, CIN
You know what's great to do? Trade for a breakout player on a down week. He rocked the fantasy world in week one, clubbing three homers, but he hasn't done much of anything in Week 2. Maybe his owner was high on him to start with, in which case you'll have to pry Frazier out of his manager's cold, dead fingers, but maybe he was a late-round flyer. In the latter case, you might be able to get someone thinking they're selling high right as Frazier's value takes a downturn. Let 'em think that, because Frazier is still a great candidate for a strong year.

Josh Reddick, OF, OAK
I'll freely admit that Reddick might well be a half-year-wonder type of player. After all, his production tailed off significantly in the second half of 2012, and he's off to a pretty anemic start this year (despite three steals). Despite all that, he's worth taking a buy-low chance: he's 26 years old, was enough of a prospect to be traded for a "proven closer," and he's already got a 30-homer season under his belt. I think he was underrated going into the season, and two bad weeks isn't enough to convince me he can't be an impact outfielder.

Jose Bautista, OF, TOR
Bautista isn't off to a good start, but one side effect of Reyes's injury might be that Bautista plays some third base. That would be a neat little boon to his fantasy value, and he could be a smart target if you're weak at 3B or CI. Of course, a quality player having a bad start is always an interesting target regardless.... 

Pick Up

Chris  Capuano, SP, LAD
I wrote an entire bit about why Ted Lilly should be picked up, as it seemed he would be getting Zack Greinke's rotation slot. Nope. It's going to the much more sensible (and healthy) option. Capuano has been a pretty good pitcher since his unlikely return to baseball, and he's got immediate fantasy value. Pick him up. I did on multiple teams before writing this.

Aaron Harang, SP, SEA
There isn't a lot to say here, except that Harang isn't a terrible pitcher, and Seattle is still a great place to pitch until proven otherwise. He's a two-start type of guy, mostly meant for deeper leagues, but he could help out in ERA and WHIP if used properly. 

Chris Young, OF, OAK
With Cespedes on the DL and Coco Crisp feeling a minor injury, Young figures to get some real playing time. His average is under the Mendoza Line (surprise), but he's smacked a couple home runs. If he manages to get hot, he could be a useful contributor--especially if you drafted one of this year's many injured or suspended outfielders. 

Daniel Nava, OF, BOS
With David Ortiz still shelved, Jackie Bradley, Jr.'s hype wearing off, and Jonny Gomes's part-time nature, Nava has been getting more and more playing time in the Boston outfield. Only owned in 7% of Yahoo! leagues and 15% of ESPN leagues, Nava has a batting average north of .400 and three homers on the year. He's long been considered a person of some potential, so he seems more than worth a flier. 

Sell

Coco Crisp, OF, OAK
I don't mean sell him right this minute, since he's got a minor injury that's got red DTD warning flags next to his name. Never offer someone with such markers next to their name, as no one will give you a decent deal. Still, Crisp is off to a torrid start this season, with some seriously uncharacteristic power. If you can make the case that Crisp is the new power/speed guy, a la Carlos Gomez, go for it. If you hang on to him, don't expect a week of power hitting to indicate anything about the rest of his season.

You might be wondering what I have to say about Evan Gattis and his eye-popping start to the year. The answer is, nothing. If your catcher just got injured--or you're running a marginal replacement for Brian McCann--pick Gattis up (if you still can). Otherwise, you're perfectly safe ignoring him, as no amount of April greatness will be able to outweigh McCann's years of high-level production in the eyes of Atlanta decision makers. Plus, Gattis wouldn't be the first catcher to hit like an All-Star for a couple weeks before fading back into obscurity. 

In these early weeks it remains important to balance changing players and strategies as performance and injuries dictate with sticking to your plan. A couple weeks aren't enough to upset months of research and planning. Unless you drafted Reyes and Greinke....


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Closer Updates: Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, Royals, Tigers

It's been a week of upheaval in the ninth inning, which means mostly bad things for fantasy owners that spent money on saves. Of course, those issues could (or already did) bring a windfall to those canny managers quicker with the waiver wire trigger than real-life managers were to call out new names in the ninth.

Brewers
As you already know, John Axford is out as closer and still pitching abominably. Jim Henderson (59% owned in Yahoo!/71% in ESPN) will be seen in the ninth for the moment. As with nearly all closer transitions, the new guy will have a short leash as the team sorts things out, though the Brew Crew has few viable options. The team (including Henderson) expects Axford to be reinstalled at some point. Seeing as they did this last year too, I think there's a good chance of that happening. There's even a good chance that he pitches well when it does, though the odds of both seem to go down every time he sets foot on the mound. Henderson is a clear own, but Axford should probably be held onto, except in very shallow leagues.

Cubs
Another NL central team made a "temporary" change in the closer role this week. Carlos Marmol is out--again, just like last year--but the Cubs hope to reinstate him. The only reason I can think of for that is so that they can trade him for a B-level prospect at the deadline. The problem with that plan (and for Marmol owners) is that this year's replacement is a lot better than the guys who tried to take over last year. Kyuji Fujikawa (ownership: 66% Yahoo!/83% ESPN) may be sporting an 8.10 ERA, but he's already notched two saves and was expected to be a future closer when Chicago signed him. There is a very good chance he keeps the closer job and Marmol gets shipped out of town for minimal return. In the few leagues where he is available, Fujikawa should be picked up immediately. If you have roster space, keep Marmol around for now, but don't hold your breath that he gets the job back.

Cardinals
Jason Motte's injury is appearing very serious, and the team is expecting to make a May 1 decision on Tommy John surgery. Even if he doesn't go under the knife, there's no way to be sure what his timetable might be. If you don't have DL slots or room on your bench, I'd seriously consider cutting him loose. The only thing that gives me pause is the fact that he'll almost certainly close whenever it is that he does return.

In other news, Mitchell Boggs (51% Yahoo!/60% ESPN) is Motte's replacement for now, but he's been more than a little shaky (to the tune of an ERA north of 11.00). Luckily for his owners, Trevor Rosenthal (17% Yahoo!/8% ESPN) earned a blown save for work in the eighth inning earlier this week. Not so luckily for Boggs owners, Rosenthal is still pitching very well and has the mark of a future closer. I would advise picking him up as a precaution. Of course, there are plenty of leagues in which Boggs is still going unowned; don't let yours be one, as he could still right the ship.

Royals
Greg Holland has been in a bit of trouble early in the season, with a 12.00 ERA and a 3.67 WHIP through his first three innings. He's managed to get a pair of saves, but that's exactly how many his top competition, Kelvin Herrera (53% Yahoo!/38% ESPN), has. Too bad for Holland's owners that Herrera's WHIP is nearly three full points better, at 0.69 and he has yet to allow a run. Clearly, Herrera should be owned as a handcuff, though Holland has the stuff to be a high-quality closer and hasn't been quite the disaster train that Axford and Marmol have been.

Tigers
Joaquin Benoit (38% Yahoo!/33% ESPN/owned in all my leagues with daily changes) should be seeing his ownership rates skyrocket. After two weeks of pitching out of the ninth, it's been confirmed that he'll be the primary guy for save chances. While he's not exactly been named "closer," there seems like a good chance that he'll get 80% or more of the Tigers' chances. The situation reminds me of Kyle Farnsworth's 2011 with the Rays, in which he was never really called a closer by the team, but he racked up saves nonetheless. Benoit should be owned in all leagues, as he's an above average reliever and should be relatively safe in the role. Just don't freak out if Octavio Dotel or Phil Coke steals some of the opportunities.

 

 



Prospect Prospectin'

I want to start this week’s “Prospect Prospectin’” by talking about Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, formerly known as Prince. I might want to hide my true identity as well if I was the owner of a career 4.64 ERA and 5.33 K/9.  Sure, he’s a sinkerball pitcher with an outstanding defense behind him, but the Rays have approximately 1,353 prospects who are better pitchers than Hernandez, namely:

Chris Archer
Archer will be up, and he’ll be up soon. Jeff Niemann just went under the knife, and he was the only player besides Hernandez blocking Archer’s path. Let’s weigh Archer’s pros and cons:

Pros:
- Strikeouts
- Tends to strike opposing batters out
- Lots o’ K’s

Cons:
- Control
- Tends to walk too many batters
- Lots o’ BB’s

That’s Archer in a nutshell. If he can get his walks down, he’s got ace potential. In his first Triple-A start this year he only walked one batter in 5 innings, which is promising. A few more starts like that and we’re going to see Archer blowing big-league hitters away with his nasty stuff like he did during his cup of coffee last year (11.05 K/9 in 29.1 IP). And fantasy owners can start Archer with confidence knowing that the Rays handle their pitchers better than any team in baseball (last year they led the majors with a 3.34 ERA), meaning they won’t call him up until he’s ready. Stash him now, then reap the rewards when Faustberto Carmondez inevitably blows up.

Buy-Curious

Julio Teheran

Okay, so his first start was bad. Like gave-up-five-runs-to-the-lowly-Cubs-and-only-struck-out-two-batters-bad. But he’s still the same pitcher that was one of the most highly touted prospects going into 2012, and looked like freakin’ Bob Gibson in spring training this year, posting a 1.04 ERA in six starts and showing a glimpse of what his potential could be. Okay, so spring training stats are meaningless, and he could absolutely be a bust again this year, but isn’t he worth taking a chance on? If someone in your league dropped him after his rough first outing, he’s definitely worth picking up and stashing away, and I’d even put out a few low-ball trade offers out there for him. The reward could be huge, plus who would you rather hold onto that’s on your roster? Dillon Gee? Phil Humber? I didn’t think so. Fantasy baseball is all about taking risks, and Teheran is a risk worth taking at this point, especially if you can get him for dirt cheap or off waivers.

Drop It Like It’s Cold

Leonys Martin

Before the season started, Ron Washington said of Martin that he was going to “turn him loose” on the basepaths this year. This would be great for fantasy purposes...if Martin could reach the basepaths at all. In a platoon with Craig Gentry in center, Martin has struggled mightily, to the tune of 1 hit and 1 walk in 13 ABs. Small sample size, sure, but unless you’re in a deep league with daily roster changes, you can drop Martin for a hot hitter and pick him up down the road if he finally starts to get it going.

Aaron Hicks

The guy isn't ready for major league pitching. Period.

Third Base Studs You Should Stash Now, Brag Later 

Nolan Arenado

Arenado was the talk of the town last year, but was never called up since the Rockies were out of the playoff race by, well, May. Now all he has in his way is Chris Nelson, who is only batting .261 and has virtually no upside. Meanwhile, Arenado is picking up where he left off in spring training, hitting .438 with 2 bombs in 18 plate appearances. Arenado is not long for the minors.

Anthony Rendon

There was talk of Rendon being promoted last year, but the injury-prone Texan finished yet another year on the DL. With the also oft-injured Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa already playing through a shoulder injury, it seems like only a matter of time before the now healthy Rendon makes his way to the show. Pick him up now before someone else has the foresight to.

No Longer a Prospect But I’m Mentioning Him Anyway

Garrett Richards

With Jered Weaver out for at least a month, the Angels’ top pitching prospect Garrett Richards will take his spot in rotation. If you’re a Weaver owner looking for a replacement, or in dire need of wins or K’s, Richards could be a worthy add with his strikeout upside (but be forewarned, he has struggled with control). Even if he doesn’t pitch lights out, he’s in line for some wins with that lineup backing him up, and it’s worth mentioning that Richards had the best spring* of any Angels pitcher, posting a 1.45 in 6 games.

*I know spring training stats are meaningless and I keep referring to them. Deal with it.

 


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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Jeremy Hellickson

Welcome to the inaugural edition of "The Proof Is In The Peripherals," where we take a weekly look at the advanced metrics to determine which players are playing over their heads or...uh, under their feet (there really needs to be a saying for that) and how it affects their fantasy value.

Since we're only a week-plus into the 2013 season, virtually any stat I cite can be explained away under the aegis of small sample size.  So, before we get into the proper routine of this column, this week we'll focus on a player who has become a poster boy for advanced metric confusion, Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson.

Fantasy pundits have treated Hellickson like a pinless hand grenade throughout most of his first two full seasons in the majors.  To the critics, any poor outing is the harbinger of Hellickson "finally" coming back to earth and pitch in a manner befitting his advanced metrics.  And brother, those metrics aren't too pretty....

2011: 4.44 FIP, 4.72 xFIP, 4.78 SIERA, 35% ground ball rate, 1.63 K/BB, 5.6 K/9

2012: 4.60 FIP, 4.44 xFIP, 4.44 SIERA, 41.8% ground ball rate, 2.10 K/BB rate, 6.3 K/9

These look more like the numbers of a back-of-the-rotation innings eater than they do a #2 starter on an AL East contender and yet here's Hellickson, firmly holding down a key spot in the Tampa Bay rotation.  Beyond the peripherals, of course, Hellickson looks like one of the best young pitchers in the game on paper --- he was the AL's Rookie of the Year in 2011, he has thrown 366 IP over the last two seasons and his real-world ERA is a mere 3.02.

This huge disconnect can be somewhat explained by two stats.  Since the start of the 2010 season, Hellickson leads all Major League pitchers in BABIP (.244) and left-on-base percentage (81.8%).*  You could argue that Hellickson benefits by playing for a Rays team that traditionally has strong defense (every Tampa pitcher with more than five IP in 2012 posted a sub-.300 BABIP), you could argue that he is Major League Baseball's answer to Longshot, or perhaps you could argue that Hellickson's ability to escape danger is a talent in itself.  Maybe Hellickson is this generation's Catfish Hunter, a pitcher who overcame blah peripherals and ended up in the Hall of Fame.

* = Hellickson is actually tied with Chris Sale in LOB%; since Hellickson has thrown 112 2/3 more innings, I consider him the leader.

I'm not by any means saying that Hellickson is destined for Cooperstown.  I'm just throwing Hunter's game out there as an example of a pitcher who just seemed to have a knack for producing despite all evidence to the contrary.  It's for this reason why I'm more optimistic than most about Hellickson's fantasy prospects.  If you're a Hellickson owner, you probably got him very late; he had an average draft position of 226 according to Mock Draft Central, making him a late 18th-early 19th round pick in most drafts.  At that spot, you're taking your fourth or fifth starter and not expecting a world-beating performance.  If you get a guy who eats up innings and posts a 3.02 ERA, you're golden. 

Hellickson's reputation as a peripheral stat-fueled disaster waiting to happen has actually made him a nice bargain, fantasy-wise, as his draft value has dropped to the point where anything he does produce is gravy.  And don't forget, this is still the same pitcher who had six dominant minor league seasons (2.71 ERA, 4.63 K/BB, 9.8 K/9 in 580 1/3 IP), was ranked as the sixth-best prospect in the sport by Baseball America heading into the 2011 season and just celebrated his 26th birthday two days ago.  Put it this way -- if Hellickson had underwent Tommy John surgery halfway through the 2011 season and was healthy going into this season, you'd have him as a prime sleeper candidate.  It's crazy to think that this situation would've done more for Hellickson's fantasy stock than his actual two seasons of quality pitching, but there you have it.

Now, it's worth noting that Hellickson has thus far struggled in his two 2013 starts, posting a 6.35 ERA in 11 1/3 innings.  Could it be that the bloom is finally off the rose?  Or, more accurately, we could say it's just been two starts (one of which was at Rangers Ballpark) so nobody should be jumping to conclusions just yet.  One lucky season can be a fluke but two "lucky" seasons makes one wonder if there's something more going on with a player.  Hellickson has been a walking affront to statistical analysis over two full seasons and by this point, I'm more than willing to roll the dice on him as a back-end starter in a fantasy rotation.



This Week In Streaming Strategy: Week 2

Here's a look at some of the remaining matchups this week --  both on the pitching side of things and the hitting side -- that could be advantageous for those of you who have some roster flexibility...

Mike Leake @ Pittsburgh (Friday) -- No disrespect to Pirates fans, but it's hard to recommend any widely available pitcher that's facing them at this point. Leake's not a guy to own in standard formats, but I'd stream Jamie Moyer against a team that's hitting .126/.210/.189 with two homers through the first seven games. The Pirates have talent in that lineup, and they're going to hit eventually, but seize the opportunity while it's here.

Jhoulys Chacin @ San Diego (Saturday) -- Chacin has allowed just two runs through his first 13.1 innings this season, and he's facing a Padres team that has combined to hit .204/.259/.286 thus far. Chacin's career ERA away from Coors Field (2.99) is markedly better than his home split (4.18), and the Padres still have just one homer on the season.

Jorge de la Rosa @ San Diego (Sunday) -- I feel just as crazy suggesting two Rockies pitchers as you do reading it, trust me. De la Rosa has already tamed one weak NL offense this week though (see: last night's start), and his career 7.9 K/9 is appealing even if the Padres have whiffed fewer than any team in baseball so far.

Travis Wood vs. San Francisco (Sunday) -- The Giants rank in the bottom five in total runs scored in MLB. Right now, if you can get through Angel Pagan, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, there's no one else in the lineup that's hitting. Pagan and Panda are both switch hitters whose career numbers reflect that they're significantly stronger against right-handed pitching. The left-handed Wood makes for a nice spot start.

Carlos Villanueva vs. San Francisco (Thursday) -- Villanueva will draw a start against that same Giants lineup a few days prior to Wood. His fly-ball tendencies will be mitigated somewhat by the cold weather in Chicago, and also remember that only Pence and Sandoval have gone deep for the Giants this year. Pence has more power against left-handed pitching, and Villanueva has struck out 128 batters in his past 132 MLB innings.

Tommy Hanson vs. Houston (Friday) -- Hanson's fastball was down once again in his first start of the season, and the two wild pitches he threw didn't inspire tons of confidence. However, the Astros have struck out more than any team in baseball (82 already!) and have just two homers to their credit. People will be streaming against them all year, so nab Hanson a couple of days in advance of Friday's start.

Blake Beavan vs. Houston (Wednesday) -- Beavan is probably the least appealing name on this list, and with good reason. Even though he's facing the Astros, he's better suited as a deep league pickup for Wednesday's start. He doesn't miss many bats, but remember that Houston turns every pitcher into a strikeout pitcher. A quality start along the lines of 6 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 5 K doesn't seem out of reach.

Trevor Plouffe -- Plouffe apparently didn't make too many believers during his Bonds-esque seven-week home run bender last season, but one thing that's apparent is that Plouffe can absolutely mash left-handed pitching (.268/.338/.522). The Mets are going to throw Jon Niese and Aaron Laffey at him on consecutive days (following a start against Wade Davis), so if you find yourself looking for a temporary third baseman (hello, Aramis Ramirez owners), Plouffe can provide some cheap pop.

Justin Maxwell -- Yeah, yeah. I just recommended streaming against Maxwell and now I'm recommending picking him up. That's because while many of Maxwell's teammates can be easily overmatched, he's swinging well and has enough pop to kick in a homer or two over the remainder of the week. He'll face Beavan, two guys with diminished velocity in Hanson and Jered Weaver, and then a left-handed pitcher in C.J. Wilson. Beyond that, his first game of next week is against another lefty: Tommy Milone. Maxwell hit .272/.387/.505 against lefties last season. Just because no one else on his team hits doesn't mean he can't.


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RotoAuthority League Update: Early Drops

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.

We hear it all the time, but it’s worth saying again: the MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re just finishing up the first mile on this marathon, yet many fantasy owners respond to the first week as if a handful of games means something. In reality, though, we’ve learned hardly anything at this point. Indeed, the best course of action for a fantasy owner in early April is probably no action at all.

In the RotoAuthority League we don't see short-sighted moves all that often, and this year is no different. At this point just one player who was drafted in the first 20 rounds has been released. Most of the early acquisitions consist of spot starters and next-in-line setup men. With just three bench spots in this league, however, the choice as to whom to drop will become increasingly challenging as the season moves forward. Let's take a look at a few interesting drops thus far.

Dan Haren

Say It Ain't So, Cano drafted Haren with the 160th overall selection of the RotoAuthority League Draft. As such, he's by far the highest draft pick to be dropped so far. On the one hand, outside of a significant injury, there's practically no reason to drop a player a week into the season if you spent a draft pick on him in the 14th round. On the other hand, I can't really blame this owner, as Haren hasn't given any reason for optimism. After posting a 6.39 ERA this spring, the former ace continued his struggles in his first start of the season, as the Reds pounded him for six runs over just four innings pitched. What's more, Cincinnatti connected for four long balls against Haren. Velocity doesn't appear to be the problem, as he worked in the upper 80s, not dramatically different from the past couple seasons. It's possible, though, that he's still pitching at less than full health. Whatever the case may be, clearly something just isn't right for this once incredibly reliable starting pitcher. It remains to be seen whether Say It Ain't So Cano was prescient with this quick release or will later regret the decision. I lean toward the former.

Jeremy Hellickson

Hellboy slipped all the way to the 23rd round in the RotoAuthority League Draft until he was scooped up by the Gramma Nutt Crushers. Like Matt Cain and Jered Weaver, Hellickson is a poster child for the fact that there's more to pitching than peripherals. After all, he boasts a career ERA of 3.13 despite a career SIERA of 4.49.  Simply put, Hellickson just isn't your typical pitcher. In fact, he leads all qualified starting pitchers since 2011 with not only the lowest BABIP at .243 but also the highest LOB% at 81.8%. While some of this may be due to good fortune, Hellboy does seem to have a knack for inducing outs on balls put into play as well as pitching from the stretch. The stellar Rays defense certainly helps, too. Overall then, here's one pitcher I'm relatively bullish on going forward. While the schedule doesn't do him any favors with the next couple of starts at Texas and then at Boston, Hellickson should be able to put together a nice run of solid outings at home against the A's and the Yankees and then at Kansas City.

Andrew Cashner

E-Z Sliders drafted Cashner in the 24th round but then recently dropped him. It's understandable, given that Cashner is currently working out of the bullpen yet not a consideration for the closer role. That being said, Cashner has flashed signs of brilliance during his brief MLB career thus far. Here's a special talent capable of hitting triple digits on the radar gun. The batted ball data is also promising, as this young arm has consistently posted high groundball rates. While the fences may be moving in, Petco should still play as a favorable park for pitchers. Despite choosing Tyson Ross over him for the 5th starter role, Manager Bud Black still views Cashner as a starting pitcher. Accordingly, one would expect that the young fireballer will join the rotation within a month or two. Ultimately, I think this drop was warranted in the RotoAuthority League, which only allows for three bench slots; however, this is precisely the type of player worth stashing in mixed leagues with deep benches.





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