May 2013

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Closer Updates: Indians, Brewers, Rockies, Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Rays

It was a more eventful week in the ninth inning than last week, as two teams lost their closers to the DL (and another nearly joined them). There was good news, however, and more of it, as several more closers around the league stregthened their footing as stopper. Or, at least they watched their competitors falter....

Indians

Chris Perez hit the DL with "mild tendonitis" and will be replaced by Vinnie Pestano for the time being. Fantasy pundits have been recommending for the last couple years that Cleveland make this move, though Perez might actually have been outpitching his understudy this season. While Pestano claims to have found the mechanical flaw that has kept his velocity down (and his ERA over 5.00), Perez doesn't have a timetable yet. There's nothing to indicate that it will be a long DL stay...but nothing to assure us it will be short, either. Pestano is a good option, even as a short-termer, so he's well worth picking up.

Brewers

Just when Milwaukee fans thought they finally had their ninth innings locked down with Jim Henderson's sub-1.00 ERA he goes on the DL. Ouch. Literally, as he's got a pulled hamstring. So far, word is that it isn't serious and that the DL stint is mostly so that the team can't give into the temptation to rush him back. I don't blame them: their fill-in options don't inspire much confidence, unless you believe John Axford's got the magic back from 2011 or Francisco Rodriguez does from 2006. The Brewers say they'll do the committee thing in Henderson's absence, but I'm betting that K-Rod gets the majority of the opportunities.

Rockies

We had a bit of a frenzy to add Rex Brothers last week, when it looked like Rafael Betancourt was going on the DL, but that ended up not being much of a thing. Of course, Betancourt immediately went and blew a save, but that doesn't change anything in the Colorado bullpen hierarchy, so don't get worried.

Update: Betancourt just hit the DL and Brothers will be taking care of the closer's duties. So pick him up if you still can.

Mets

Bobby Parnell didn't have much to worry about in the Mets' closing job, but now he has even less, as Frank Francisco is now on the 60-day DL. If you had stashed him in the hope that he'd come back and steal the job, it's time to let that dream die.

Cubs

Kevin Gregg should never be considered "one of the most secure closers," but he really is at this point. Not only has he been lights-out (weird), but Kyuji Fujikawa will be having Tommy John surgery, so there goes basically his whole Cubs contract. When manager Dale Sveum was asked what he thought about Carlos Marmol closing again, he responded, "I hope not." So he's not likely to threaten Gregg's job.

Dodgers

Brandon League looked just about ready to cede his job to, well, anyone else, not that long ago, but he's in better shape now. He's locked down five consecutive scoreless outings and is up to 11 saves. His overall numbers aren't awesome, but there definitely seems to be a desire to keep him in the ninth instead of Kenley Jansen--who hasn't earned a save in two weeks. So long as League is just good enough not to demote, expect him to keep his job. That probably goes for manager Don Mattingly too, which is good news if you own League. Any new manager could make an easy splash by changing closers. So hang on to League if you've got him, but Jansen is still too good and too close to the job not to be owned in all fantasy formats.

Rays

Fernando-mania 2.0 seemed ready to fizzle out for good with Fernando Rodney being so inneffective of late. He's now gone four straight scoreless outings (and three straight walkless) so things are looking up. His overall numbers are still ugly (5.40 ERA, 19 BB in 21.7 IP) but they weren't bad enough for him to lose the job before and they won't be now while he's on a hot streak. Sure, he may lose the job if he gets into trouble, but the Rays have a lot invested in keeping him installed in the ninth, as their other options are not inspiring. He'll be given the chance to right the ship, which is great news if you own him, as you've probably got a lot invested in him too. If he does falter, Joel Peralta is the most likely replacement.

Add-Vice

Vinnie Pestano is a must-add right now. While Chris Perez is probably not going to be out very long, you can never be sure. Plus, Pestano is a good enough pitcher that the Indians may decide that he's a better guy to have in the ninth anyway. Francisco Rodriguez is a good pickup too, as he's most likely to benefit from Jim Henderson's absence. Beyond those two, Joel Peralta is still a decent speculative guy if you don't believe in Rodney, and the strikeouts Rex Brothers generates make him potentially useful even if Rafael Betancourt stays healthy all season.



Prospect Prospectin': Don't Make Me Hit a Pitch

I’m going to talk about two young pitchers in this week’s PP’in: Tyler Skaggs and Michael Wacha. Both are highly touted prospects and worth taking a chance on in basically every league -- especially keeper leagues -- so go for it. But both are big risks because of their age. It’s a fact: pitchers take more time to adapt to the bigs than hitters. Let’s check out the rookie seasons of the pitchers with the best three ERAs of any live ball era pitchers who have pitched more than 1,000 innings:

Clayton Kershaw (yes, he has the best career ERA of anyone who has pitched 1000+ innings):

107.2 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 8.36 K/9

Sandy Koufax (I combined his first two seasons):

100.1 IP, 4.13 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 5.38 K/9

Bob Gibson:

75.2 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 5.71 K/9

They all had control issues across the board. So the question is: why do we fantasy baseballers expect so much of young pitchers, when literally the greatest pitchers of all-time struggled when they first came up?  We shouldn’t. Matt Harvey and Chris Sale are the exceptions to the rule. Even Matt Moore, who was ranked side-by-side with Trout and Harper before 2012, struggled mightily with his control last year and failed to live up to our Harmon-Killebrew-pop-up-high expectations.  So I want to talk about Wacha and Skaggs, and I’m as excited about them as the next baseball-obsessed fan, but I urge you to temper your expectations. And if you’re choosing between rostering one of these guys and, say, a young stud hitter like Profar, Myers, or even Zunino or Yelich -- I’d always go with the hitter, especially in re-draft leagues.

Wacha Back

Michael Wacha

The Cardinals have the best farm system in baseball, and the mark Dave Duncan left on their young pitchers is indelible (before he left, he told Shelby Miller, “if anyone tries to change your two-seamer, call me”).  Wacha is the latest young Cardinal arm to be called up to fill the void left by Carpenter/Garcia/Westbrook/Gast. Wacha was fantastic during spring training and has been killing it on Triple-A to the tune of 4 - 0 with a 2.05 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. But the major red flag against Wacha (other than the fact he’s only a year out of college, obviously) is that he only has been striking guys out a clip of 5.81 K/9 rate. That’s not good. He has a plus-fastball and solid changeup, but his curveball needs some work (although he’s not afraid to throw it). He’s still worth taking a flyer on, but I’d only trot him out there against sub-.500 teams for a month or so to see how he fares... Remember, he only has 60 professional innings under his belt -- and he’s no Bob Gibson.

Skagg Reflex

Tyler Skaggs

Skaggs made his 2013 debut on Monday against the tough Rangers lineup, and absolutely dominated: 6 IP, 9 K’s, O ER, 6 baserunners.  Before the season began, many experts thought that Patrick Corbin would lose out on the rotation spot battle to Skaggs, the more highly-touted of the two. But Corbin has perhaps been the biggest surprise in baseball this year and isn’t going anywhere. Skaggs was called up to start a doubleheader, but showed that he’s ready to take the big step to the bigs after struggling during his cup of coffee last year. It’s only a matter of time before Skaggs will be up in the rotation on a more permanent basis, so he’s worth a stash if you have the room, especially in NL-only leagues.


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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 30-June 5

We've almost hit the two-month mark of the 2013 season, and it's usually at this point when fantasy owners finally give up on guys who have been dead weight since Opening Day.  Sure, some of these drops will come back to haunt you (i.e. if you sold low on Albert Pujols last May) but in a lot of cases, you're saving yourself several more weeks of fantasy malaise as you wonder why your second-round pick suddenly can't hit the ball out of the infield.  As always, we here at TPIITP look at the players who you can safely give up on and those who you should grit your teeth and keep for just a while longer.

McLovin: Every week I feature a player whose good performance can be believed since their peripherals are pretty normal, and last week I chose to highlight David DeJesus over Nate McLouth.  There was no particular reason behind my choice and I just figured I'd save McLouth for this week's column...and of course, then spent the week hoping that McLouth kept hitting.  There are few superstitions more powerful than the sportwriter's "oh, I'll save my story on him for later" curse, but thankfully, McLouth delivered yet another strong week and looks like an even better fantasy option than he did seven days ago. 

McLouth took a .289/.372/.434 line, 34 runs scored, 15 steals and four homers into Tuesday's action and looks all the world like the player he was during his fantasy heyday of 2007-09.  This doesn't mean there aren't a few outlier numbers --- his 11% strikeout rate is well below his 17% career average, his contract rates are all career highs, and he has a 1.45 grounder/flyball ratio when his career rate in that category actually swings in the other direction at 0.94.  This all said, the answer to those stats simply could be that the lightbulb has come on for McLouth in Baltimore, as he has a .790 OPS in 417 PA since joining the Orioles last season.  The stolen base has made a triumphant comeback to McLouth's arsenal and with 15 swipes already (in 16 attempts), he's on pace to smash his career high of 23 steals.  McLouth's OPS could drop 50 points and his speed would still make him a viable option for a fantasy outfield spot.  All that's left is if he avoids the dreaded "Mark Praised Him In A Column" curse that I seem to have bestowed upon Jason Heyward.

De Aza's Diz Asta: Hey, remember when I was talking about players you can give up on now that we're two months into the season?  Alejandro De Aza, come on down!  After posting a .291/.361/.435 line over 756 PA in 2011-12 and stealing 38 bases in the process, De Aza looked like a good bet to score runs and swipe some bags atop the White Sox lineup in 2013.  Instead, the Sox have been collectively terrible at the plate, with De Aza's paltry .243/.286/.411 line fitting right into this modern-day creation of the Hitless Wonders (minus the World Series title, I'm guessing).  De Aza does have seven homers this season after hitting just 13 dingers in his previous 973 career PA, but this minor power boost doesn't offset that otherwise ugly batting line.  It's not even a question of bad luck for De Aza, as his .302 BABIP indicates.  Five steals and a bit of extra pop don't make up for his shortcomings so if you've held onto De Aza for this long, it's time to give up the ghost.

Cain Is Still Able: Matt Cain has been disappointing a lot of owners who expected him to anchor their starting rotations but aside from a couple of troubling peripherals, he's still throwing the ball pretty well.  Cain's 5.00 ERA is much higher than his 3.94 SIERA or 4.08 xFIP, his K/BB ratio is in line with his career numbers, his fastball velocity is only down a bit (91.1 mph to 90.8 mph) from last season and really, if you just subtract two garish April starts against the Cardinals and Brewers from his record, Cain's real-life ERA would be pretty strong as well.

So what's the issue?  Oh, just the fact that Cain has finally marked by the home run demon.  Cain has allowed a league-leading 13 homers this season, leading to a 1.7 HR/9 rate that is more than twice his career average.  While it could be argued that Cain was due for some regression after years of getting somewhat lucky with his HR/FB totals (pitching at AT&T Park really helped in this regard), I would guess that Cain's gopher-ballitis is just temporary.  As his home runs rates normalize, so will his real-life ERA.  It would be pointless to deal Cain now since you wouldn't get nearly fair value for him, so buck up and keep him on your roster while he sorts himself out.  He hasn't given up any homers in either of his last two starts, for example.  And hey, compared to Ryan Vogelsong or Tim Lincecum, Cain's problems seem pretty minute. 

Gerardon't Get Too Comfortable: There are a lot of moving parts to the Diamondbacks' outfield situation but it's pretty clear that however Kirk Gibson chooses to juggle Jason Kubel, A.J. Pollock, Cody Ross and (when he gets off the DL) Adam Eaton, the one constant in the Arizona outfield will be Gerardo Parra.  Not only is he one of the league's best defensive center fielders, Parra has also broke out at the plate this year, hitting .307/.372/.460 with 32 runs scored.  Most importantly for Gibson, Parra also has a 94.8% Grit Index and a 3.02 Uniform Dirt/Hustle ratio, which are clearly more important than any mainstream sabermetric evaluation.

Anyway, Parra has long been a sneaky decent fantasy play against right-handed pitching, as he has a career .771 OPS against righties as compared to a .647 OPS against southpaws.  Those splits are even more pronounced this season, as Parra is hitting .262/.377/.292 against lefties and .328/.369/.540 against righties.  It's good that he's getting on base against everyone but his lack of power against left-handers, his career splits and his .354 BABIP tell me that Parra is due for a bit of a regression.  This would be a good time to sell high on Parra since while the D'Backs are comfortable playing him every day, he hasn't quite proven himself as a lineup fixture in fantasy leagues.



This Week In Streaming Strategy: Week 8

Here's this week's look at some favorable matchup from scarcely owned players that can serve as a band-aid for injured starters or just simply offer you a change of pace for thrill-seekers who like to mix things up...

Roberto Hernandez, Shaun Marcum -- Hey look, more guys who are facing the Marlins! I'm not claiming that it's exactly a stroke of genius on my part to recommend streaming against a team that is hitting .222/.283/.317 as a whole, but it's as good a streaming strategy as there is. Fausto Car Hernandez throws on Wednesday with Marcum getting the nod on Saturday. Remember that Marcum hopped in his Delorean and dominated the Braves like it was 2008 in his previous outing.

Chris Tillman, Julio Teheran -- How the Nationals are the second-worst offensive unit in baseball is beyond me, but they are, and they're looking worse right now with Bryce Harper's immediate future in question. Really, both Tillman and Teheran should be owned in most mixed formats in my opinion, but they're both out there in more than 60 percent of Yahoo formats. The Nats have a .660 team OPS, but it'san even more dreadful .630 over the past week. Harper might be out. Danny Espinosa is playing through a broken wrist. Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos have two good hamstrings between them. Hey, maybe their offensive ineptitude isn't beyond me after all!

Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo, Chris Carter, Chris Iannetta -- Really, any respectable hitter from this weekend's Angels/Astros series is a decent play. The Astros' pitching woes are well documented (though at least Bud Norris is throwing this weekend), and the Halos are going to trot out a deteriorating C.J. Wilson as well as Joe Blanton.

Jeff Baker -- I'm contemplating starting a weekly (possibly daily) game show titled, "Is Jeff Baker Facing a Lefty?" On days when the contestant correctly answers "Yes!" they will be rewarded with boatloads of home runs and the second-highest wOBA in all of baseball against southpaws. Sorry to break it to you Wade Miley, but Baker's going to do his best to wreck your Thursday. If you're looking for a one-day pickup Thursday, Baker is your guy. He's hitting .382/.488/.882 with five homers in 41 plate appearances against lefties.

Tyler Chatwood -- Chatwood's been terrific this season, though only about five percent of fantasy owners seem to care. Granted, it's a small sample, but he's sporting a 1.90 ERA and 2.85 FIP through 23 2/3 innings. He's yet to allow a homer thanks to a 58.3 percent ground-ball rate, and he's facing the Astros on Wednesday. Houston may have ditched Rick Ankiel, but their 62 strikeouts rank eighth in MLB over the past week. Houston can actually mash left-handed pitching, but they rank 27th in OPS vs. righties. Chatwood should be able to muster at least a quality start.

Raul Ibanez, Michael Saunders -- Is there anything more exciting for a pair of lefties than squaring off against a struggling Kevin Correia and a Mike Pelfrey that (spoiler alert!) stunk from day one? Lefties are hitting .343/.385/.578 against Pelfrey. Ibanez is slugging .575 against righties. Plus, Pelf and Correia are only slightly more likely to pick up a strikeout this weekend than Brad Radke.

Michael Kickham -- This one's going out on a limb quite a bit, as a rookie making his MLB debut against the Cardinals is hardly an appealing matchup. But if you're desperate for a stream in a head-to-head league on Sunday or just feel like being reckless for the hell of it, Kickham's not the worst option. He's posted a 4.33 ERA in 54 Triple-A innings, but his FIP in the minors suggests a 3.39 mark would be more accurate. He's also averaged a strikeout per inning for Fresno and is facing a St. Louis lineup that has been quietly terrible against left-handed pitching (.641 OPS).


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RotoAuthority League Update: Standings Movers

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're nearly done with the second month of the fantasy baseball season. Let's take a look at the current standings in the RotoAuthority League and see how they compare to the standings at the outset of the month. In this way, we can see which teams have risen or fallen the most in May. Changes in standings over the past month are provided in parentheses.

1. Yu at the Animal Zoo 96 (+9.5)

2. Smell the Glove 89.5 (-11)

3. Gramma Nutt Crushers 79.5 (+3.5)

4. Men With Wood 78.5 (-6)

5. Say It Ain't So Cano 71.5 (+17)

6. Reedy 68 (-2)

7. Brewsterville Bruins 66 (+24)

8. UP 61 (0)

9. E-Z Sliders 46 (-1.5)

10. Forty 2 Twenty 4 44.5 (-8.5)

11. A Century of Misery 40 (-19)

12. Philly Cheez 39.5 (-6)

The Brewsterville Bruins and Say It Ain't So Cano are the greatest climbers over the past month. First of all, the Bruins skyrocketed all the way from dead last in the standings to a current seventh place standing. If we take a look at the ESPN Player Rater over the past 30 days, it's easy to see just how this squad has shot up in the standings. For one,  Everth Cabrera has been nothing short of a fantasy monster this season, especially over the past month. Despite hitting just .258 in May, Cabrera has been a top-10 player this month thanks in large part to 12 stolen bases. The Bruins have also received superstar-level production from Adam Jones and Jose Bautista. Jones has clearly established himself as an elite fantasy outfielder following last season's breakout campaign. Joey Bats, meanwhile, has overcome some BABIP misfortune in April to post a ridiculous line of .383 / .490 / . 593 in May. To the surprise of most fantasy owners, Josh Donaldson has continued to hit in May,batting .341 with 5 HR. Lastly, it never hurts to have a closer who seemingly gets a save everyday without giving up a baserunner. Edward Mujica has been phenomenal since taking over the closer role for the Cardinals, and the rise of his fantasy stock has gone hand-in-hand with Brewsterville's storm up the standings. 

Say It Ain't So Cano has similarly benefited from stellar May performances to move up from eighth place a month ago to fifth place currently. When he's healthy, Carlos Gonzalez may very well be the best player in the National League from a fantasy perspective. Sorry, Ryan Braun fans. CarGo is once again displaying his rare combination of tools in hitter-friendly Colorado this season. Oddly enough, his May statistics are nearly identical to those from April, albeit with some added power. Plain and simple, CarGo is the complete package in this game we play. Next, while he may not get the attention of Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Ian Kinsler,  Jason Kipnis has narrowed the gap between that triumvirate and himself. Kipnis did get off to a slow start in April, hitting .200 with a lone home run. In May, however, only superhero Miguel Cabrera has been a better fantasy infielder than Kipnis. The stud second baseman has filled up the box score with 7 HR and 5 SB to go along with superb counting statistics of 19 runs and 21 RBI. Finally, Patrick Corbin continues to be one of the season's top pitching surprises. If it seems like all he does is win, well it's because that's what he's done in every May outing. The remarkable thing about Corbin is that his peripherals in 2013 are quite similar to those in 2012. In fact, his SIERA has actually slightly increased from 3.71 to 3.75. Here we have a player who's witnessed a complete reversal in the batted ball department. It remains to be seen just how much of this is luck or skill.

On the flip side, I'm ashamed to admit that my squad has fallen the most in May. After sitting in the middle of the pack at the beginning of the month, A Century of Misery is now looking above just one team in the standings. There are all sorts of reasons why my team has plummeted down the standings, but it all starts with B.J. Upton. Arguably this season's most disappointing player, Upton has followed up an awful April with a miserable May. I'm usually reluctant to draft hitters with poor contact rates in the first few rounds of straight drafts, but thoughts of a 30-30 season alongside his brother in Atlanta got the best of me. It's no surprise that Upton has been the most negatively impactful hitter in the BA category. I continue to try to be patient, benching Upton and hoping that he'll get going soon. At some point, though, I may be roster-crunched and have to drop a player I took in Round 3. Excuse me while I go vomit.



Stock Watch: The Long Shots and the Very Obvious

This week has a pair of exciting prospects making appearances in Major League rotations, and both could be here to stay. That's why we call them the Very Obvious. Injury returners and the possible-but-not-imminent replacements (there need to be an word that means that) for hideous underperformers make up the other top pickup options for the week. If you're looking to make a trade, this smells like a good week to invest in power, and a good week to deal away center fielders with speed and average. 

Now that I've killed all the surprises but the names, enjoy what's left of the article....

Trade For

John Lackey hasn't been good since...well, since the Angels were good and he was one. But he's been flat-out great this year, surprising everyone but his mother. Okay, she's probably surprised too, 'cause he's striking people out like it's 2005. Actually, this year's 9.08 K/9 is the best of his big league career, so no wonder his FIP 2.92 and xFIP 3.03 are palindromes. I mean, no wonder they're so good. If his owner in your league is taking a happily skeptical attitude to the new, old John Lackey, tell him or her you'll be happy to take the risk on Lackey, as the success he's had appears plenty sustainable.

Pedro Alvarez has hit four homers in the last week and is a notoriously streaky hitter. But, man, those hot streaks are good. If he isn't available on your waiver wire, I'll bet his owner would be happy to get any value at all for Alvarez and his .200-ish average, while you can enjoy his periodic power-binges and the slightly less damaging batting averages they'll bring.

Josh Willingham is in a similar situation, having had a decent week of hitting to go with a terrible season average of .215. His BABIP could stand to go up, but that isn't as much to blame as he might like, sitting as it does at .261. Still, he's got a great power history, and is usually dependable for a mediocre average, not a terrible one. Expect some improvement here, as he reverts to his career norms.

Edwin Encarnacion (see, I was going to suggest power hitters) is a bad-BABIP victim, however: his .228 number is keeping him a three-category player. Now, his owner isn't going to be convinced that E5 is having a bad season--not with 13 homers for evidence otherwise--but they sure might feel like they overpaid for his services. If that's the case, you might be able to pay three-category price for a four-category player. Not a bad potential move.

Trade Away

If you're a Carlos Gomez owner you have two options: 1) Admit that Gomez is one of the best players in baseball and accept that someone will draft him in the first round next year. OR 2) Try to trade him, in the belief that he's a very good player having some of the best months of his entire career and at the highest point in his value. If you pick number one, then hang on to him and hope the .403 BABIP holds out. If you're more inclined to choice number two, try to find someone in your league who's thinking is more like number one. If you can get someone to blow you away in a trade, pull that trigger. Even if not, think carefully about any deal that comes close to approximating the value he's been giving.

Lorenzo Cain has been more of a speed and average guy than an MVP candidate, but he too is buoyed by a high BABIP: his .369 mark has translated into a good-but-not ridiculous .303 average. While fast players like Cain routinely put up good BABIP's, it won't take a huge dip in Cain's number to change his BA a lot. Move him to someone in need of steals or average if you have other decent OF options.

Add (The Obvious)

If you're in a daily league, Kevin Gausman and Jake Odorizzi have already been picked up. If you're a weekly player, maybe you've still got a chance. Get these guys onto your roster. Gausman has a ton of potential and struck out five batters in as many innings in his debut. The Orioles can hit the ball and they seem to intend to stick with him, so he's in a good situation. Odorizzi is also a highly talented prospect, though the Rays have a lot more options than the O's, so his leash won't be as long. Still, if he pitches well enough to stick on your fantasy team, the Rays might have no choice but to keep him in their real rotation. Bonus: he's in line for two starts next week.

Add (The Returning-from-Injury-or-Whatever)

John Danks made his first start back from injury and should be a mainstay in the Chicago rotation if he health holds up. After having previously being a pitcher of some use in fantasy, he could very well be again. He's not an ace, but he's got more potential to be useful than your usual "safe" good-but-not-awesome pitchers.

With Jim Henderson hitting the DL, Francisco Rodriguez is back just in time to save games for the Brew Crew. With John Axford remaining afflicted with terribleness, K-Rod is back to the ninth inning. It should only be temporary, but the saves he earns will be permanent in your stat sheet. (Unless you play head-to-head, I guess.) Considering how well Henderson was pitching before he got hurt, I wouldn't get excited about Rodriguez stealing the job for the long run.

The Long Shots

Remember Miguel Tejada? The Kansas City Royals do. No, he hasn't taken Mike Moustakas's job yet, but he just might, as Moose Tacos has been one of baseball's worst hitters this year. Tejada has already shown a little power, and if Moustakas gets sent down to the minors, he could be a source of cheap power, at a position that rarely has usable players on the waiver wire.

Sure Kelly Shoppach is starting for now, but Mike Zunino is the real beneficiary of the end of the Jesus Montero catching experience in Seattle. Yeah, Zunino is still down in the minors, but his status just got cemented as catcher of the future, and he's likely to come up to the bigs some time soon after the M's don't have to worry about him getting Super Two status. Keep a close eye on him, because he's got the talent to make an impact at the plate.

And Also Luke Scott

Poor Luke Scott isn't eligible for a position yet, other than DH/Util, which makes him a hard guy to roster. It's one thing to budget a spot like that for David Ortiz during your draft, but we didn't make room for Scott there. Well, if you did make room, pick Scotty up, as he continues to rake. Also, if you play in a Yahoo public league, what do you think those Util slots are for? Grab him.


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Closer Updates: Orioles, Rays, Dodgers, Nationals, Rockies, Red Sox, Angels

As you can see from the title, there's been a little bit of closer news this week, so we'll get right down to business. Speaking of which, check out @CloserNews for up-to-the-minute info. Also, take a look at our Closer Depth Chart for a league-wide overview of the ninth inning. But anyway, on to business.

Orioles

Jim Johnson didn't have his best week ever. Three consecutive blown saves are enough to cost many closers their job, but Johnson earned his leash last year and manager Buck Showalter trusted him enough to hand him the ball in extra innings. Johnson earned the win, and there seems to be good reason to think this rough patch was just that and not a sign of impending doom.

For one thing, while his HR/9 rate and his HR/FB rate are much higher now than last year, a reliever's sample size is so small that that includes a whopping three homers allowed, two of which came during his three blown saves in a row. Moreover, while his BB/9 rate has also increased, it was already so low that it had wiggle room. Since his K/9 has increased since last year as well, he still maintains a 3.00 K/BB and is adding value with nearly two extra strikeouts per nine. All in all, he doesn't look like someone about to go Axford on us.

Rays

Speaking of impending doom and John Axford, Fernando Rodney appears to be turning into the proverbial pumpkin. His magical season last year has rightly earned him a lot of room for error, but at some point even that will have to be considered used up. Rodney has had bad results recently: he's blown three of his last four saves and looked bad doing it. Rodney has a bad process: his 8.35 BB/9 is rough to look at, let alone experience in the ninth inning. Not only is it worse than the sparkly but unbelievable 1.81 mark he put up last year, it's worse than any of the once-and-again wildman's previous ML rates, including the one that got him demoted by the Angels in 2011. Unless he gets his control under control, Rodney is probably on the way out of the ninth inning, at least temporarily.

Setup man Joel Peralta has gotten the most mention as a possible replacement, while neither Jake McGee nor Kyle Farnsworth have been obviously better than Rodney. Don't expect the Rays to go out of the organization, but don't be shocked if they do opt for a committee.

Dodgers

 The great and tragic drama of Brandon League and Kenley Jansen continues to play itself out, as manager Don Mattingly won't commit to "annointing" a closer. I guess that's technically a demotion for League, as he had already been annointed as closer (which apparently makes you some type of king by fiat). It's mitigated good news for Jansen owners and plenty of reason to pick him up if he's still unowned. Perhaps more reason to grab Jansen is that Mattingly may well play things as close to "the book" as he can while he flails around trying to keep his job. If he is fired, expect the new manager to make the obvious choice and officially install Jansen in the ninth, if only to earn some cheap points with the masses. As this situation begins to resolve itself, you're probably safe to drop League in most (a-hem) leagues. 

Nationals

Rafael Soriano came into the year as a top closer, and his 2.14 ERA suggests he still is. Though he blew two saves in a row this week (and tossed teammate Bryce Harper under the bus after one of them), he's firmly entrenched as the Nats' closer. There's trouble under the hood, however, as Soriano's FIP is 3.41 and his xFIP an even worse 4.23--Soriano isn't really pitching all that well. Perhaps more pointedly, his K/9 is sitting at just 6.43--the worst since his rookie season in 2002. As a starter. Now, he's got plenty of time to ratchet up the K's, but it might be a good idea to sell him while his ERA still shines as well as it does. Though he's not in imminent danger of losing his job, these things can shift quickly and the Nationals have other quality options in their bullpen.

Rockies

First, the rumor was that Rafael Betancourt was going on the DL, now it's that he won't. The facts are that Betancourt is having a very nice season (albeit with too many walks) and won't be supplanted by a quick injury, DL trip or no. The other facts are that Rex Brothers is having an even better season (also with more walks than are preferable) and saved the game for Betancourt on Wednesday. While the 38-year-old Betancourt will probably be just fine, this isn't a bad time to add Brothers, just in case. It isn't every team that can replace their closer with someone pitching at least as well, but the Rockies are one of them. In the event something bad happens, Brothers would be a quality setup man. If all stays well, he's still a usable non-closer in many leagues.

Red Sox

Andrew Bailey is back from the DL and back into the closer's role. Sort of. The Red Sox won't use him on back-to-back nights for an while as they let their fragile pitcher reacclimate. That means that Junichi Tazawa (who wasn't exactly a useful pickup during Bailey's absence) may still have the chance to grab some saves--more, certainly, than most setup guys. Keep him rostered until the Sox show us that Bailey is ready for a full workload. Considering his 25:3 K:BB ratio and Bailey's tendency to get hurt, Tazawa remains one of the better setup men to keep on your team.

Angels

Bad news for Ryan Madson is good news for Ernesto Frieri. Frieri will need it, as he's issued a ton of walks (6.75 BB/9) in April and May. He strikes a lot of people out too, which is good, but his ERA (2.25) doesn't match his FIP (4.58) or his xFIP (4.71). As long as Madson keeps having setbacks, however, expect Frieri to keep getting the call in the ninth inning. At least until those walks start costing him saves....

Add-Vice

Obviously, Kenley Jansen should be owned in all leagues at this point. If you own Fernando Rodney, I'd strongly suggest picking Joel Peralta up as backup (though the Rays do unconventional things whenever given an excuse). In fact, he's the top guy out there as far as speculative closers. If Junichi Tazawa's owner dropped him when Andrew Bailey came back from the DL, pick Tazawa up as he's in a great save-vulturing position. The same is true for Rex Brothers, but less so. Everyone else seems to be staying the course for now, so there isn't any real need to gobble up Orioles, Nationals, or Angels setup guys.

 



Prospect Prospectin': AL-Only Edition

Talent Will Only Get You Profar

Jurickson Profar

The jury’s still out on Jurickson. Ron Washington told Buster Olney that Profar would be a good hitter “eventually,” and after all, the kid is only 20 years old. Baseball’s #1 prospect is currently splitting time at second base with Leury Garcia, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be scooped up everywhere. He’s the top prospect for a reason, and has a good a chance as anyone to "pull a Trout” this year. There’s also a good chance he gets sent back down in a week once Kinsler comes back. Kinsler has been playing like an all-star, Andrus just signed a whopper of a contract, Moreland is hitting the cover off the ball, and obviously Beltre isn’t going anywhere. There’s simply no place for Profar right now, but I still think you should scoop him up just in case he goes bonkers and Washington simply can’t bench him. It’s possible, right?

Odorizzi Does It

Jake Odorizzi

Odorizzi took a couple innings to get into a groove against the Blue Jays during his first start of 2013. But eventually he settled down and sat down 9 out of the last 10 batters he faced in a scoreless 3rd through 5th. But the bottom line is this: no one handles their young pitchers like the Rays. Last year they led the majors with a 3.19 team ERA, and set a record for starting 764 consecutive starters under 30 over the last 5 seasons. Yes, Faustberto Carmondez has looked pretty good this year, but it’s only a matter of time before Odorizzi or Chris Archer replace him. I’d grab both of these guys in as many leagues as you can, because down the line whoever gets the job will be startable almost every time out. Odorizzi has two starts next week, and the first one is against the Marlins. Even I could pitch against the Marlins and last a few innings, so you should start Odorizzi with confidence.

Ying-Yang Twins

Samuel Deduno

Okay, so he’s not technically a prospect, but he hasn’t seen much major league action. Even though we were all hoping to get a peek at Kyle Gibson, Deduno was the one who got the call to start Friday against the Tigers. He’s never really dominated at any level, but the Twins are hoping that his performance at the World Baseball Classic this year -- 17:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 IP, and a great performance in the Dominican victory over Puerto Rico in the championship game -- is an indication that maybe he’s turned a corner.

Kyle Gibson

No, Gibson didn’t get the call. But the top-50 prospect will be up eventually and could be a real asset to your squad. At 6'6", Gibson is an intimidating presence on the mound, and has been extremely effective pounding the bottom of the zone and inducing a ton of ground balls, and has even developed a plus changeup. Gibson will probably never be an ace, but at 24 doesn’t have a ton left to prove in the minors, and playing in that ballpark in that division, could definitely be used as a spot starter later this season.

Duck, Duck, Gose

Anthony Gose

The good news? You can probably spend negative $5 of your FAAB to acquire Gose. The bad news? He could be a cheap source of steals, and that’s about it.

Special NL-Only Bonus

Anthony Rendon

The Nats have Rendon playing 2nd base in the minors as of yesterday. This means bad things for Danny Espinosa, who has likely been battling through injury  all season and is struggling to the tune of .159/.188/.290. But Rendon has continued raking in the minors after being sent down, and this move to second base could mean an imminent promotion. In the immortal words of Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, "Pick 'em up!"


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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 23-29

Here's this week's look beyond the standard numbers to see which players are at their fantasy peak, have yet to begin their ascent, or are simply Powersaucing along at their expected rate.

Send Him To The Island  Despite the fact that there's a somewhat more important figure in world history that shares the name, I can't hear the name "Locke" without thinking of the iconic Lost character played by Terry O'Quinn.  Without spoiling any plot details (though the show ended three years ago people, get watching!), I'll just say that Lost's Locke appears to be a strong character on the exterior but he's hiding some serious demons within, and his facade slips more and more as the series progresses.  It might not be a bad metaphor for the season of Pirates southpaw Jeff Locke, who has put NL hitters on lockdown (puns!) over nine starts this season.  Lost's Locke, being a man of faith, would probably put no stock in these advanced statistics, but if you're a Jack Shepherd-esque man of science, the advanced metrics might make you think twice about adding the Bucs lefty to your fantasy roster.

Locke has a 2.73 ERA and is only allowing 6.7 H/9, but that's about where the good-looking stats end.  Locke's strikeout and walk rates are nothing special (5.47 K/9 and 3.76 BB/9) and his peripheral metrics indicate that his ERA should be much higher; his FIP/xFIP/SIERA slash line is an across-the-board mediocre 4.48/4.45/4.75.  The left-hander has an 82.5% strand rate and a .224 BABIP, so it's just a matter of time before his Loc...uh, his luck runs out.  I myself streamed Locke for two starts last week and got good results, but I quit while I was ahead and dropped him as soon as that second outing was in the books.  If you still have Locke, see if you can sell high while he's still seen as a wise boar-hunter rather than a button-pushing nut in an underground chamber.

Better In The Next Life, Brotha?  I swear, I didn't intend to go with a Lost theme for this week's column but after noting a guy named Locke, I'm now going to focus on a guy named Desmond.  Pretty freaky, brotha.  Anyway, for a team as stat-savvy as the Rays, you wonder how long they're going to keep putting up with Desmond Jennings in the leadoff spot.  Jennings profiles as your ideal leadoff man --- his minor league numbers promised a player who could get on base, steal bases and even provide double-digit homer power.  While Jennings has delivered with his limited pop and stole 31 bases in 2012, he still hasn't shown much overall progress as a hitter.  After batting just .246/.314/.388 in his first full season, Jennings has actually taken a slight step back this year, with just a .241/.301/.392 line going into Tuesday's action.  Also troubling is the fact that Jennings has only six steals in nine attempts, so the "well, he'll still give me help in the stolen base category" argument doesn't carry much weight.

Jennings is still among the league leaders in runs, as even a .300 OBP player will score pretty often if he's atop the Rays' suddenly-potent lineup.  That on-base percentage and a 22.8% strikeout rate, however, doth not a leadoff hitter make, and Joe Maddon is the kind of manager who won't hesitate to juggle his lineup if he isn't getting results from a player.  Jennings might yet become that kind of well-rounded average/power/run-scoring/speed threat that fantasy owners covet, but I don't think the breakout will happen in 2013.

Don't Mess With DeJesus  David DeJesus took five homers, 24 runs and a .294/.364/.507 line into Tuesday's action and the 33-year-old is on pace for what would easily be his best Major League season.  While I don't think DeJesus will keep up his .872 OPS, I do think he'll continue to be a productive fantasy option, though this is old news to owners in daily-lineup leagues.  DeJesus has always hit well against right-handed pitching (.821 career OPS against righties) and is a great guy to have on your fantasy roster if you're in a league that allows you to sit him whenever he's against a southpaw (career .667 OPS against left-handers).  

Since the Cubs are sticking to a strict platoon with DeJesus, he'll be put in every opportunity to succeed and not have to worry about those confidence-sapping at-bats against lefties.  If you rode DeJesus' hot streak and are now looking to sell, what's the hurry?  One caveat against DeJesus is that he's pretty likely to be traded this summer since the Cubs are going nowhere and are apt to move veterans as part of their rebuilding process.  His production could see a dip in a less hitter-friendly park than Wrigley Field or if he needed time to adjust to his new surroundings, but unless you yourself start playing DeJesus every day, I don't expect a trade would greatly diminish his fantasy value.

Don't Toss The Hos  As a rule, I generally avoid picking up top prospects unless they're just truly special (i.e. Mike Trout) or if one of my starters goes on the DL the same day that a touted youngster happens to get called up to the bigs.  It was for this reason that I stayed away from Eric Hosmer in every single one of my fantasy leagues, and watched bemusedly as the Royals first baseman was taken ahead of several more proven first sackers.  Other managers saw a heralded prospect; I just saw a 23-year-old who had a .663 OPS and didn't give any indication that he was ready for a breakout.  My concerns have thus far been well-founded --- Hosmer is hitting .271/.342/.347 with one measly homer in 161 PA. 

So with this all being said, I'm now about to recommend that you keep Hosmer.  Whaaa?  I wouldn't start him at 1B by any means, but he's worth keeping on the bench in case he starts putting things together.  Hosmer's main issue is that lack of power, as he's hitting nearly three times as many grounders as fly balls and his 19.5% flyball rate is well below his 28.6% career average.  Granted, the "career average" is only from two prior seasons of information but still, you'd think Hosmer will eventually start getting the ball in the air.  His line drive rate is actually up (23%) from his first two seasons and his contact rates are only a couple of percentage points below his career averages, so there is evidence that Hosmer can get going as long as he cuts out the worm-burners.



This Week In Streaming Strategy: Week 7

Here's another weekly look at some players from around the league who are widely available and largely useful based on their upcoming matchups. 

Hector Santiago, Dylan Axelrod -- Your two widely available starters that have the good fortune to square off against the Marlins this coming weekend. The Marlins are still hitting just .220/.282/.317 as a team, and while that's an unfortunate reality for Miami fans, it's something to exploit in fantasy. I wouldn't fret much over my pitcher facing Dustin Ackley, and the Marlins basically equal out to a lineup full of nine Ackley clones. Sounds good to me.

Jonathan Pettibone -- At some point, the Nationals are going to start hitting. There's too much firepower in that lineup to be this offensively deficient. But for now, they're hitting .214/.281/.333 over the past week. Pettibone has been solid enough thus far that he can be trusted against a struggling lineup, even if his success has been partly smoke and mirrors. Plus, he's facing Dan Haren on Saturday, whose persistent struggles should mean Pettibone will get plenty of run support.

Wily Peralta, John Gast -- Both will face off against the Dodgers in the next four days. As a collective unit, the Dodgers are hitting .222/.274/.306 in the past week. They erupted for a whopping three runs last night -- a feat they've managed to top just four times this month. Hanley Ramirez is on the shelf, and they're going to trot out some combination of Juan Uribe, Dee Gordon and Justin Sellers as the left side of their infield, in all likelihood. Sign me up.

Chris Young -- Young's game has been just a hair of above Buterian (which Webster defines as "having qualities similar to that of Drew Butera") this year, but CBY still sports a healthy .267/.369/.483 triple slash line against left-handed pitching, and he'll face a pair of southpaws in his weekend series with the Astros. No one knows how to give up runs in bunches like the Astros. Erik Bedard and Dallas Keuchel beware.

Julio Teheran -- I assume Teheran's recent play has his ownership soaring through the roof (as it should), but he's still out there in 70 percent of Yahoo Leagues and 80 percent of ESPN Leagues. If his one-run, 8 1/3 inning performance wasn't impressive enough for you Monday, consider that he's facing the Mets and Shaun Marcum next Sunday. The Mets are batting .217/.274/.350 over the past week and .223/.281/.350 over the past two weeks. Teheran, meanwhile, has a 2.41 ERA with two walks in 33 2/3 innings over his past five starts, and the Braves should be good to put up somewhere between four and 38 runs against Marcum.

Andy Dirks -- The Twins have dropped six straight games largely due to their starting pitching, and Dirks will be seeing plenty of it with a four-game series coming up. He'll face a lefty in Scott Diamond one day, so bench him for that. The other three games, however, will be started by Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and one of Samuel Deduno, P.J. Walters or Kyle Gibson. Fantasy owners should root for Walters or Deduno if they enlist Dirks for a weekend of service. He's hitting .293/.339/.517 since May 3 and is notably better against righties than lefties.

Bonus recommendation: If you play on Yahoo where Jhonny Peralta is inexplicably available in 40 percent of leagues, it'd be wise to grab him for the series as well. He's owned in 97 percent of ESPN Leagues, which makes boatloads more sense than Yahoo's 59.1.

David DeJesus -- DeJesus keeps on raking, and he's facing a nice run of right-handed pitching as the weekend draws close, starting with the very hittable Jeanmar Gomez. DeJesus will also get Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto in the hitter-friendly Cincinnati. Whils Bailey's been terrific, Arroyo is always inches from a meltdown, and Cueto certainly didn't look like himself in his return from the DL last night.


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