June 2013

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Stock Watch: Ritual Self-Assessment

The season is no longer young. We don't get to pretend anymore that it's the early season, or that so-and-so will snap out of his slump, or that what's-his-name will come back to earth. No, the season's midpoint is a time for sober reflection, a time when fantasy baseball writes must come clean about the predictions they've made over the course of the season, admitting the hits and the misses alike.

Well, maybe we don't have to, but we sure do. So, while I indulge myself in a bit of back-patting while I take enormous credit for some luck-dependant results, I'll balance it out by mentioning my worst misses as well. I was going to go position-by-position, but it turns out that most of my infield predictions have turned out little better or worse than OK, so we'll look at it week by week. Note that my columns came at the end of the mentioned week.

Week 1

Best Call: Pick up Jean Segura. In fact, this is by far my best advise of the column, as Segura's owners have enjoyed 11 homers, 23 steals, and a .334 AVG on the season. More recently, I advised that you trade him away if you're content in the stolen base category, as his homers are probably a bit of a mirage, but keep him if you depend on his speed. I'll stand by that: in fact, I've already dealt him in league that doesn't reward steals much and kept him in a standard format. 

Good Calls: Gerardo Parra got to fill in for injured members of the Arizona outfield, but he ran with the opportunity after a good first week, and he's been the team's best OF since, battin .311 with seven homers. He's not a superstar, but he made a good fill-in. Bartolo Colon has given owners a 1.10 WHIP and a 2.93 ERA, thanks to great control. I wish I hadn't dropped him soon after picking him up.

Bad Call: Franklin Gutierrez has been injured basically all season after that good first week. So that didn't work out too good. He's back now, but no less fragile.

Week 2

Good Call: Daniel Nava was the bright spot in an otherwise unimpressive week for this prognosticator; his .280 AVG with 10 homers is better than most off the waiver wire. 

Bad Calls: I suggested Chris Capuano and Roy Halladay after this week. Capuano immediately got hit hard and hurt. And he's been the better of the two, since at least he's come back since then. The clever suggestions didn't end there, as I promoted Chris Young (the outfielder) and Josh Reddick as buy-low guys. They've hit .192 and .217, respectively. I managed to go 0-3 on the A's outfield, as I recommended selling high on Coco Crisp. Though he sustained an injury, Crisp has been a fantasy force this season, with power and speed coming before and after the injury. Rough week in Stock Watch.

Week 3

Good Calls: This was my most controversial column to date, generating some fun discussions in the comments. Unsurprisingly, the overall results were mixed, but trading for Adam Dunn was one of the better ideas. Though his batting average has been putrid, you could have avoided the worst of his out-making while gaining most of his 20 homers by trading for him at this point. Julio Teheran was scuffling at this point of the season, and lost to a lot of waiver wires. If you picked him up, you got a pitcher who turned in a 2.60 ERA in May and a 2.39 mark so far in June, with a 51:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Unfortunately for owners, he still might head to the bullpen in favor of Brandon Beachy, but if you got him for nothing (or thereabouts), you still banked two great months.

Bad Calls: My worst calls of the week were related, as I suggested selling Matt Harvey and Shelby Miller. If you got a huge return, maybe you aren't kicking yourself for dealing these guys, but they haven't shown any signs of declining and both have cemented places among fantay's aces. If you have them now, treat them like you would any other ace.

Week 4

Good Calls: This week treated me pretty well, as my highest-impact advice was all pretty good. Too bad it isn't always this way. I suggested trading away both Bryce Harper and Justin Upton while they were both setting the world on fire. If you traded Harper at this point, all you missed out on was a .193 average in 57 May at-bats, and a bunch of time on the DL. Upton hasn't been a lot better than that since the end of April, with just three homers and an average of about .210. Either of these guys should have fetched a huge return, but you might have won the trade (so far) even if they didn't. Upton might actually be a good buy-low candidate now.

On the pitching side, I suggested dealing Matt Moore. While he continued to pitch well for most of May, June has seen him regress to the point where his ERA and FIP pretty much match. If you got a good return for him, it was well worth dealing him before the decline came. 

Bad Call: I did suggest acquiring Dan Haren this week, for some reason. Hopefully you didn't do that, because after a pretty decent May, he's pitched wretchedly and gone on the DL. Too bad for the Cubs that he still would have been worth trading Carlos Marmol to get in the offseason....

Week 5

Good Calls: This week wasn't one of my best--in fact, I did pretty awful. But, at least I suggested that you pick up Domonic Brown, who was available in about 75% of ESPN an Yahoo! leagues at the time. This call would have been even better a week or two earlier, but who's going to argue with 17 May/June homers? Not me. Also on the bright side of the week, I suggested grabbing Francisco Liriano for his return, referencing his high upside. Actually, he might be my best pitching suggestion yet, with a 2.30 ERA, a 2.50 FIP,  and a 10.04 K/9 in 54.2 IP.

Bad Calls: I was sure that we'd start to see B.J. Upton begin regressing upwards to the mean, but even his "hot" .247 June batting average hasn't been enough to get his season number even close to the Mendoza Line. At least he's finally starting to trend upwards, so if you've still got him, I wouldn't drop him in most formats. Unfortunately, I also suggested acquiring Will Middlebrooks, who has played bad, been on the DL, and gotten sent down to the minors since this recommendation. Is it possible to do worse than that? Yes--see below.

Worst Call: When I suggested cutting bait and selling low on Jay Bruce, he had just finished April with one homer, a .252 average, and a bloated BABIP. Something seemed wrong (and probably was). But he fixed it, to the tune of seven May longballs and 10 more so far in June. He was untouchable when I tried to get him last week in one league. In that league (a points format) he's been the ninth-highest scoring hitter, including April. Hopefully you didn't find a taker for Bruce.

Week 6

Good Call: I suggested selling low on Jonathon Niese, which would have worked out well if I'd followed my own advice. He's been useless since then, so pretty much any trade you made was a winner.

Bad Call: I advised staying away from the surging Jeff Locke, as his success appeared to be smoke and mirrors. It still does, but here he is still pitching well over a month later.

Week 7

Good Call: I'm pleased to have gotten Kyle Blanks in one league shortly after making this recommendation. He was supposed to be little more than a fill-in player, but he's been better than the guys that got injured in front of him. His eight home runs and .284 average have played very well.

Bad Calls: I suggested low buys on Josh Beckett and Marco Estrada, and both of those guys have spend most of the time since then either getting shelled or being shelved. Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli both started great, slumped, and then got only a little better. Neither was a good investment at this point in the season, but both have lots more potential than most catchers. If you traded for them, the deal might still work out.

Week 8

Good Call: Pedro Alvarez seemed to be just beginning one of his famous hot stretches when I suggested going after him. The results since then have included a .313 average and nine homers in June. If you were patient (or stubborn) and hung onto him through that dismal April and early May, you were well rewarded. Now is actually a good time to trade him, because he trades those hot weeks with cold ones.

Bad Calls: I was excited to pick up Kevin Gausman and Jake Odorizzi. Hopefully they were already owned when you read the article (as they were in my leagues when I wrote it).

Week 9

Good Calls: The "Week of the Prospects" proved a pretty good one for me. The Dodgers telegraphed that Yasiel Puig was coming up, and he's been an amazing surprise so far. I shouldn't accept full credit for the suggestion, but I will anyway. Second basemen Anthony Rendon and Nick Franklin have been well worth owning too, making this a pretty good week for my retrospective ego.

Bad Call: I made the ill-fated suggestion that Jackie Bradley, Jr. might come up and play for a couple weeks with the chance for me. He didn't, costing me a week's free agent pickup in a couple leagues. There's a reason he was available in leagues Puig wans't.

My suggestions after Week 9 have yet to play themselves out, but hopefully they turn out like Segura and Alvarez... not like Bruce and Middlebrooks.


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Closer Update: Red Sox, Mariners, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Indians

It's been a rough road for a lot of teams in the ninth inning this season, to the point where several are sorting out their closer position like it's Spring Training. Other teams appear poised for good news, with three closers coming back from injury, starting yesterday. All of this is, of course, a mixture of trouble and great news for fantasy owners, depending on who's on your team and what your waiver priority happens to be.

Red Sox

Andrew Bailey is still out, but the Sox will not be turning to Junichi Tazawa this time. Instead, Koji Uehara has become their fourth closer of the season. The move is sort of supposed to be temporary, and it probably does depend a lot on how Bailey is able to do. If he reverts to his April form, he could very well be pitching in the ninth again. If he doesn't, Uehara might well be one of the best closers going forward.

Mariners

This situation has been a hideous mess. Stay away. Tom Wilhelmsen hasn't been usable lately, while Carter Capps has been even worse, allowing 10 runs in his last four appearances. Oliver Perez has pitched well, but has only gotten one save since Wilhelmsen was removed from the role. Charlie Furbush looked like he had some promise, but he's scuffled in his last couple chances. With Perez and Furbush being lefties, it's possible Seattle doesn't want to save them for closing anyway. So, who's closing for the Mariners? Maybe Yoervis Medina, who got a save last week, and has pitched more or less decently on the year. He's a pickup if you're desperate, but supposedly Wilhelmsen is being eased back into the job. We'll see. Hopefully, we'll see other teams in our fantasy league dealing with the situation.

Tigers

For now, Joaquin Benoit looks to be the one to own in Detroit. He's a good pitcher, and he's having a good season, so the Tigers' reluctance to let him close is a little odd. Don't be similarly reluctant, because he'll be valuable unless and until the Tigers swing a trade, promote Bruce Rondon, or successfully pass Jose Valverde through waivers, sort him out in AAA, and bring him back up. Yeah, a trade is probably all that should worry Benoit owners. 

Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon has spent the last week frustrating Phillies fans and frightening fantasy owners, but you really shouldn't be worried. Why am I unworried about a guy who's blown four of his last six save chances? Because he's Jonathan Papelbon, of course. Recent struggles aside, the guy has a 2.05 ERA, an 0.88 WHIP, a 27:5 strikeout to walk ratio and the twin comforts of a huge contract and the longest track record of relief success this side of Mariano Rivera. Now is a great time to make an offer for him if you need saves. On the off chance that he is removed from the role, injured, or traded, the Phils could look to lefty Antonio Bastardo for saves.

Indians

Chris Perez returned Thursday and should be taking over closer duties right away. Vinnie Pestano owners ought to wait a bit before dropping the fill-in closer, just in case Perez hits a snag.

Rockies

Rafael Betancourt is supposed to return from the DL today. The plan is for Betancourt to jump right into the closer's role, but owners of Rex Brothers will want to hang on to the hard-throwing setup man for a few appearances, to make sure Betancourt really is healthy and ready to close.

Diamondbacks

Heath Bell claims that he's figured things out and fixed his homer issues, but it may be too little, too late for Bell and his owners. J.J Putz is ready to return from the DL today. Reportedly, he'll be closing right away, which isn't a surprise, given how poorly Bell has pitched of late. Bell got Thursday night's save, and the latest from manager Kirk Gibson is that he "isn't sure" how he'll be using Putz when he returns. For now, hang onto Bell in case Putz continues his pre-injury struggles or is reinjured.

Add-Vice

If Putz, Betancourt, or Chris Perez are unowned, pick any of them up right away. The next choice is between Joaquin Benoit and Koji Uehara. Both are good pitchers on good teams, the only question is which one will hold the job longer. Very tough to say, as Boston and Detroit have both been unpredictable with their bullpen choices. The very desperate could pick up Tom Wilhelmsen or Yoervis Medina. Antonio Bastardo is a top-notch reliever who will help your rate stats if you want insurance for Papelbon.

As always, follow @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute information on closers around the Major Leagues.



Prospect Prospectin': Dylan is Illin'

Dylan Bundy is having Tommy John surgery. Why don’t they just give it to middle schoolers at this point and get it over with? That’s a bummer for Orioles fans and for the rest of us who were dying to get a glimpse of baseball’s number one pitching prospect. Alas, we’ll have to endure watching boring old Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Shelby Miller and wait until next year to check out D-Buns. Sigh. Anyway, here is a list of prospects you should or should not have on your radar:

Out By A Kyle

Kyle Gibson

The kid is making his debut on Saturday. Some baseball ‘perts aren’t high on him. I like him, and not just because he already had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and got that out of the way... I like him because he’s 6”6’ and pounds the bottom of the strike zone. 

Leonys Is On You

Leonys Martin

He’s hitting bombs. He’s the bomb. He’s stealing bags. He’s my bag. 

Jedd’s Dead, Baby - Jedd’s Dead

Jedd Gyorko

Gyorko had a setback. I’d trade for him now because he still has upside and his value is at rock bottom. The guy has serious power that he hasn’t displayed yet.

Erlin’s Magic

Robbie Erlin

Erlin has been fantastic in his two spot starts versus tough teams this year, Toronto and Philly. Scoop him up in NL-Only leagues because he’s the Padres’ 5th starter right now, and no team has ever scored more than 3 runs at Petco. That’s a fact.

Like A Puig In Hit

Yasiel Puig

Now is the time to buy high, even in re-draft leagues. I’m talking Cespedes. I’m talking Choo.  I’m talking Braun. Yes, Braun. He’s hurt and even when he comes back he might be suspended. Puig is the truth. He won’t keep hitting for the average that he is now, obviously (and in OBP leagues his value plummets), but he has power and speed and isn’t he just the most exciting thing to happen to baseball since they legalized steroids?!

Rats, Zoiled Again

Zoilo Almonte

A switch-hitting prospect with a good batting eye?! I’m sold. Plus, he’s totally on fire right now. So there’s that. Pick him up and hope for another couple HRs over the right field wall in Yankee stadium that’s approximately 7 feet from home plate.

Born Again Yelich

Christian Yelich

This is the 547th time this year I’ve urged you to pick up Yelich. So why not say it again? Pick up Yelich.

Two Time Oscar-Loser

Oscar Taveras

Oscar the Grouch is on the DL for the second time with a right ankle injury. Last time he was out for a month. This time, who knows? But I do know this - Oscar won’t be up before September. Drop him in redraft leagues.

Dem’s Good Eaton

Adam Eaton

Played in a simulated game. Might be up before the All-Star Break. Nom nom nom...


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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 27-July 3

As we approach the halfway mark of the 2013 season, it's fair to note that some of the "luck" that factors into advanced metrics may simply be here to stay (or will never arrive) for certain players.  If so-and-so has a high BABIP that "should" correct itself, well, some guys just go an entire year without ever coming back down to earth; Dexter Fowler's 2012 season waves hello.  So essentially, my analysis can be taken with a grain of salt since while I'm trying my best to use logic and statistics to predict fantasy value, some players just put up numbers that defy all reason.

"Mark, are you just trying to excuse your terrible Jeff Locke prediction last month?"

Shut up, Voice of Reason!  Onto this week's featured players!

* Off To Ne Verland Verland  If I had Kate Upton publicly teasing me, I'd be a little off my game as well, but Justin Verlander has not been himself this season.  Verlanded allowed four runs from seven hits and three walks over just five innings (!) against the Red Sox in his last start, recording just four strikeouts (!!) and raising his ERA to 3.90 (!!!) for the season.  What the what?  This isn't what you want to see from a guy who has been a slam dunk top-of-the-rotation ace for the last couple of seasons.  If you're a Verlander owner, should you be worried or even thinking about selling low?

The answer, simply, is no.  Well, I guess maybe a little worried since Kate Upton's eCard taunts carry a bitter sting, but the advanced metrics suggest that Verlander has just been unlucky in love on batted balls, as his .347 BABIP is the third-highest of any qualified pitcher in the majors.  Verlander is on pace to for his highest walk total since 2008, but he's also posting a higher K/9 (10.2) than ever before, so while he isn't quite Vintage Verlander, it's hard to complain about a guy with a 2.86 FIP, 3.29 xFIP and 3.35 SIERA.  I myself own Verlander in one of my leagues and while I'm not thrilled with the results this far, I highly doubt I'll be regretting my decision to take him with the 15th overall pick.  And really, in this particular league I'm in second-last place, so I've had far bigger disasters going on than Verlander's below-average performance.  *sob*  Can someone send me a condolence eCard?  Not you, Upton!

* Not The Bester  If you're going to be worried about an ace in possible decline, forget Verlander and look at Jon Lester.  The general feeling in the offseason was that Lester's disappointing 2012 campaign could be written off as an aberration given that a) Bobby Valentine had been extracted from the Red Sox manager's ofice and b) John Farrell was back in the fold to help get Lester and Clay Buchholz back on track.  Buchholz has been back on his game (when healthy) this year but Lester got off to a good start and then has just cratered over the last month, to the point that his current numbers bear an ugly resemblance to his 2012 stats.

It's worth noting that Lester's 4.82 ERA last season was a bit overblown (4.11 FIP/3.82 xFIP/3.94 SIERA, 67.6% strand rate, .312 BABIP), though when seen in combination with this year's 4.57 ERA through 16 starts, you have to wonder if the left-hander has just plateaued.  Lester has a 4.30 FIP/4.00 xFIP/4.02 SIERA this season, so there's a bit of bad luck involved here too, but is a best-case 4.00 ERA something you want to see from a guy who, in his prime, was a solid fantasy ace?  Lester's line drive and HR/FB rates have spiked over the last two seasons, another bad sign. 

If you're a Lester owner looking for some good news, you could point to the fact that Lester has a 2.86 ERA at Fenway Park this season and has only made five home starts (as opposed to ten on the road), so he could get back on track once this quirk of the schedule balances out.  I'm not sure you can hang your hat on home/away splits, however, given that Lester was far worse at Fenway in 2012 than he was on the road, plus his career home/away splits are nearly identical.  It's high time to start shopping Lester around your league to see if someone else thinks they're buying low, and if there aren't any takers, maybe check out the waiver wire for a better option.  

* Bautarnacion  The list of baseball's lowest BABIPs (among qualified hitters) bears a strong resemblance to a list of baseball's flat-out worst hitters of the 2013 season.  No surprise here --- some guys are just unlucky and some guys just aren't putting many balls in play since they're striking out like mad (hey there, Adam Dunn's .197 BABIP).  On this list of mediocrity, however, you'll find a couple of Blue Jays sluggers who actually are putting up very strong numbers in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.  The duo entered Tuesday's play with the kind of power stats you would've expected from them in the preseason, yet Encarnacion carries only a .250 BABIP while Bautista's BABIP is only .255.

For fantasy purposes, it's hard to say you'd be buying low with either player since both men are hitting like their usual selves to the layman.  But now might indeed be the time to swing a trade for either Joey Bats or the former lead singer of I Mother Earth since their best might be yet to come in the second half.  Heck, in Bautista's case, I'd say that's solidly the case given that his red-hot .994 OPS in May was sandwiched by a .200/.302/.533 line in April and a .595 OPS thus far in June.  I acquired Encarnacion in one of my leagues this past week, picking him up for the price of Anthony Rizzo and Howie Kendrick.  Pretty solid deal on my end, in my opinion, especially since I have Aaron Hill returning from the DL to replace Kendrick at second base.  Speaking of which....

* Howie Doing This?  Let's talk for a minute about Kendrick, who is less a ballplayer than he is a living affront to the idea of a league average .300 BABIP.  The Angels second baseman has a .343 BABIP for his career, so the fact that his BABIP currently sits at .371 isn't necessarily cause for alarm.  Kendrick apparently just has a knack for hitting them where they ain't, and it's translating into what could be the best season of his eight-year career.  Kendrick is hitting .323/.366/.471 with 32 runs scored, eight homers, 36 RBI and even six steals as the cherry on top, seemingly finally establishing himself as a legit top-tier fantasy second sacker.

There are a couple of outliers within Kendrick's statistics that could be cause for concern.  His HR/FB rate is 16.3%, well above his 9.4% career average (though he had another outlier season like this in 2011).  What stands out even more is Kendrick's 29.7% line drive rate, which dwarfs his 20% career rate and sits almost eight percent higher than his next best career mark in a season.  This being said, however, Kendrick's .148 ISO isn't out of whack with his .137 career ISO, so it's not like his hitting the ball harder is manifesting itself in any blatantly unusual way.  I'd say that Kendrick can safely be counted on to more or less continue his hot hitting and you should definitely hang onto him...uh, unless you can get Edwin Encarnacion and you have Aaron Hill around to man second base.



RotoAuthority League Update: Fantasy All-Stars, Pitchers Edition

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.

In keeping with last week's theme, let's take a look at the fantasy All-Star pitchers in the RotoAuthority League. Once again, it's all about profit as opposed to overall production.

Hisashi Iwakuma

Owner: Philly Cheez

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $26

The most profitable pitcher on the season went undrafted in many mixed leagues this spring. While Iwakuma did receive some preseason hype, it was rather difficult to figure out just what type of pitcher we had here. After all, he began last season as a reliever and was just brutal. Case in point, prior to the All-Star Break last year, he had a 4.84 ERA and 1.39 WHIP working mostly out of the bullpen. The Mariners then moved him into the rotation, and he broke out with a 2.50 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 15 starts after the break. It certainly is rare that a pitcher is more successful in the rotation than out of the bullpen; however, those who took a chance on Iwakuma have found a true ace. In fact, no pitcher has provided more value in the WHIP category. Iwakuma has now gone a full calendar year performing at an elite level, so this appears to be legitimate. It's worth pointing out that he was a tad injury-prone in Japan; even so, this is a top-15 starting pitcher going forward.

Clay Buchholz

Owner: Say It Ain't So Cano

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $24

Another fantasy ace who went undrafted in the RotoAuthority League, Buchholz is more than simply rebounding from a disappointing 2012 campaign. In fact, only Clayton Kershaw has contributed more value in the ERA category. Just as surprising, though, is that Buchholz has provided significant production in the strikeout column. While he's posted pedestrian stikeout rates the past few seasons, Buchholz has witnessed a marked spike up to 8.64 K/9 this season. Accordingly, while he's certainly benefited from an 84.1 LOB%, Buchholz has made legitimate strides this year. So what's the fantasy forecast going forward? Given that he's currently on the DL, Buchholz is no longer a player to sell in redraft leagues. In keeper leagues this actually may be an optimal time to acquire him. Overall then, Buchholz may not be the Cy Young candidate that his surface stats suggest, but this is no longer merely a spot starter in Mixed Leagues.

Patrick Corbin

Owner: Say It Ain't So Cano

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $24

Yet another waiver wire gem, Corbin continues to enjoy a truly spectacular season in Arizona. I'm already on record here, but I think this is more of a mirage than a legitimate breakout. It's simply remarkable how drastically Corbin's fortunes have changed given that his skills have remained rather stable. In fact, the strikeout rate is actually slightly down while the walk rate is a tad higher. The real difference here lies in the luck indicators, which all favor Corbin up to this point. That isn't to say that he's a complete fluke; no, these skills are worthy of ownership in mixed leagues. Still, this is a testament to the fact there's so much that's out of a pitcher's control. I still think the post-All Star Break won't be kind to Corbin. For those in keeper leagues especially, this is exactly the type of player on which to cash in those chips. 

Shelby Miller

Owner: Brewsterville Bruins

Investment: 22nd Round pick (Acquired via Trade)

Current 5 X 5 Value: $22

The likely NL Rookie of the Year Award winner, Miller has been nothing short of fantastic this season. Entering 2012 this was by all accounts a top prospect, but he struggled at AAA last year with a 4.74 ERA. Some scouts naturally soured on Miller after these poor results. In effect, for a player with such a high ceiling, he came very cheap this preseason. While another young pitcher in New York whom we'll discuss shortly seems to be getting most of the press, Miller has been virtually as good. There's very little to criticize in this skill set. Best of all for me, though, is the strikeout rate. In today's run environment, the statistics needed to finish near the top of the standings in the pitching categories continue to be more and more pristine. With more flamethrowers today, strikeout rate has steadily risen in the post-PED world. Simply put, it's tough to own more than one or two players with relatively low strikeout rates in Mixed Leagues. Well, Miller currently boasts the 8th-best K/9 among qualified starters, and two of those ahead of him are on the DL. Long story short, this is a fantasy ace for many years to come.

Ervin Santana

Owner: E-Z Sliders

Investment: Free Agent Pickup (Acquired via Trade)

Current 5 X 5 Value: $17

In 2008 the Ervin Santana enjoyed the top breakout performance among pitchers. Indeed, he was a borderline Cy Young candidate, as he posted a 6.0 f-WAR with a 77 FIP- over 219 innings. Over the past four years, however, he's basically been an average MLB starting pitcher, which equates to waiver wire fodder in mixed leagues. Royals GM Dayton Moore acquired the Big Erv early in the offseason, and it's looking great thus far. While Santana has certainly enhanced his own performance this season, the real benefit comes from pitching for the Royals. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. After all, the Royals lead all MLB teams in UZR this season. Meanwhile, you might think of the Angels as a slick-fielding club, but they're actually just 25th in UZR. As such, few pitchers improved their surroundings as much Santana did this offseason. Overall then, this  is a classic example that context is everything in this game we play, and defense continues to be overlooked as a critical factor to a pitcher's fantasy success.

Matt Harvey

Owner: E-Z Sliders

Investment: 10th Round pick

Current 5 X 5 Value: $26

Surprise, surprise, yes Mr. Harvey made the list of top pitching values. What more is there to say about this young stud? If there are still any doubters out there, this is completely legitimate. Harvey isn't a future fantasy ace; he's already a fantasy ace. His stuff is plain filty: he leads all qualified starting pitchers in fastball velocity, and his slider is just nasty.  I don't know what to else to say other than it pains me that I don't own him in any of my half-dozen keeper leagues. Sigh...

Bartolo Colon

Owner: UP

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $16

Jeff Locke

Owner: Philly Cheez

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $15

Justin Masterson

Owner: UP

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $14

For brevity's sake, let's group these final top three pitching values together. The names don't matter; it's the larger point as to what trio this indicates about how fantasy owners should approach pitching going forward. Let's take a minute to recap how the fantasy landscape has changed the past decade. When DIPS theory was not yet mainstream, sabermetric nerds like myself could more easily find undervalued starting pitchers. Flash forward to today, though, and it's just not as easy. When one couples this reality that the average fantasy baseball manager is more informed with the fact that pitching continues to be more dominant, we just can't wait on pitching anymore.

Still, more so than in the case of hitters, pitchers have so much that this is out of their control. Due to the volatility of pitching performance then, it still makes sense to gamble on pitchers to fill out your staff in the endgame. Along those same lines, spend that FAAB money early and often on starting pitchers dispaying good skills in April, even in small sample sizes. In summary, gone are the days when a fantasy owner could hold out on starting pitching; however, there will always be tremendous pitching values that go undrafted in leagues due to the volatility of the position.



Stock Watch: AL Central First Basemen and the Back of the Braves' Rotation

As the season goes on, we've started to sort out which hot and cold starts we believe in. Most of the unbelievable ones have already regressed to the mean (think Justin Upton or Matt Moore), while others are showing signs that their new levels of production might be real, for better or worse. That said, there are still plenty of values to trade for, and plenty of chances to sell on players likely to still regress. But you better get it done quickly, because your trade offers will probably have to get fairer and fairer as the season goes on....

Trade For

Felix Hernandez just endured a brutal game, wherein he gave up seven consecutive hits and lost a seven-run lead. To the Angels. Any Felix owner rightfully expects greatness every time the King pitches, and there's a chance his value is down just a touch after a bad outing like that. It's not so much that you'll get an amazing deal for him from most owners--just a slight discount. If you were already looking to acquire an ace, though, he might be the one to get, and this is the time to get him.

I was not a huge proponent of Andrew McCutchen before the season started, largely thanks to his declining steals numbers and low SB%. I didn't see him as a big speed threat anymore, but I liked the way his power had been increasing over time. Reality hasn't matched my predictions, or McCutchen's recent trends: he has already stolen 15 bases (three-quarters of his 2012 total) and has been caught just four times, but the power has been a big disappointment, as he's hit only seven homers through two and a half months. Not exactly what owners were looking for with their first-round pick.

McCutchen's strikeout rate is down noticeably, and his walk rate is down a little, so he's putting the ball into play more often. He's hitting slightly fewer fly balls than last year, but the biggest difference is in his HR/FB rate: after spiking at 19.4% last year, it's down to his 2009-2010 levels, at 8.6%. While his increased contact is probably causing part of his decrease in homers, it's worth noting that he only had a handful more longballs last year at this point of the season (he didn't hit any last April). Perhaps his power heats up with the weather. Either way, a powered-down McCutchen is still a strong fantasy asset; the chance that he reclaims even some of that power makes him a great trade target.

If your first baseman plays in the AL Central, chances are you've been pretty disappointed with his production. Unless he plays for the Tigers. Three of them make good trade targets: Billy Butler, Nick Swisher, and Paul Konerko. Butler introduced a lot of new power last year, but it has disappeared so far this year, with just five homers. His average is down too, but his OBP and walks are actually up. Maybe he isn't getting any pitches to hit in the moribund Kansas City lineup, but even a slight improvement in his power could vault him to among the top first basemen in baseball again. Swisher has had a rough year in many ways, but his OBP is still .100 points better than his average. Having been hampered by injuries, but keeping most of his batted ball profile intact, he seems like a good candidate to improve over the course of the year. Konerko should command the least trade value of the three, as his season has mirrored the White Sox's overall offense. He's actually produce negative WAR on the season, and the gamble is basically that the 33-year-old isn't completely done. The upside is worth a shot, but don't give large amounts for him.

Trade Away

Carlos Gonzalez has been pretty much the best player in the National League this year. Wherever you drafted him, he's been the best player on your team. He's already earned the second highest WAR total of his career and he's one homer away from matching his season total from last year, in just barely over half as many games. So trade him already. 

Why? Well, there's certainly the chance that he keeps this up and wins the NL MVP for his greatness. Or, he could do what he always does, and hit the DL for some significant portion of the season. Don't sell him in desperation; there's no reason you shouldn't hold out for a huge return, but it's hard to think of him without seeing a little clock over his head, counting down to the next injury. Unlike his similarly injury-prone teammate Troy Tulowitzki, his production is replaceable in the outfield, so you're better off mitigating your risk and dealing him for several good-to-great players. If he stays healthy all season, maybe you'll regret the deal and maybe not. But if he gets injured, you'll really regret not making a move.

Jean Segura is setting the world on fire right now, with five-category production. The steals look completely real, and if you're relying on him for your team's speed, don't send him packing. The homers, however, aren't so believable: of his 10, eight are classified as Just Enough by ESPN's HitTracker. He's certainly one of the best shortstops in baseball...but he's not this good. 

Segura's Brew Crew teammate Yovani Gallardo has had a pretty miserable year, but he's strung together three good starts in a row. In fact, he hasn't allowed an earned run in those starts. The trouble is, two of those starts were against the worst teams in baseball. Sure, one came against Cincinnati, but it's hard to get too excited over shutting down the Astros and Marlins. His next start is scheduled against the Cubs, so he's got a good shot at making it four good ones in a row. Wait till then, and deal him. Maybe he's righted the ship and ready to produce like the inconsistently dominant strikeout machine he was the last couple years, but he isn't showing real signs of that yet. 

Usually, when we say a team has a "good problem," it's not a problem at all. For the Braves and the return of Brandon Beachy, that's not really the case. They haven't indicated what they'll do with him when he's ready to return, and he may even start out in the bullpen. Or Julio Teheran or Kris Medlen may get sent to the 'pen, with a lower probability that Paul Maholm or Tim Hudson get removed. Without knowing the Braves' solution to their problem mine is this: trade away Beachy, Teheran, or Medlen if you've got 'em. You might get full value for the pitcher, when each has some unknown probability of having his value reduced to basically zero.

Pick Up

When RotoAuthority mentioned on Facebook that Roy Oswalt had been signed by the Rockies, the response was unenthused, to say the least. I can't say I blame anyone for their lack of excitement over that prospect, but Oswalt put the fantasy world on notice yesterday by striking out 11 Nationals in his Colorado debut. Does that mean he's automatically the old Oswalt? Obviously not, but you still couldn't have gotten much better of a first outing. He's well worth a speculative add.

Maybe Esmil Rogers is just excited to pitch in Rogers Centre, but he appears to have turned a real corner in his career with the Blue Jays. His improved slider should get the credit for his success, and there's a good chance that much of it is sustainable. He's got more upside than most free agent starters.

Cody Ross was a productive outfielder last year, but this year he's been a real disappointment, even since returning from injury. After a three-hour visit to the eye doctor the other day, Ross is claiming that the blurred vision that plagued his season is cleared up. He punctuated that by hitting a homer against the Marlins. If the vision was his main problem, he could be in line for a big improvement. 



Closer Updates: Committees, Injury Returns, Strugglers, and the Early Trading Block

Jason Grilli might have blown his first save, but that doesn't mean he's in hot water. Arguably the season's best closer so far, he won't be making it into any of this week's categories of concern--not even as a trade target, with the Pirates nestled into the second NL Wild Card. Grilli's owners may be lucky, but below are four categories of closers worth worrying about.

Committees

The pernicious closer-by-committee might be favored in sabermetric circles, but it never gets much love from the mainstream media. Why? Because of those of us who play fantasy baseball, I bet. We might have been part of the "sabermetric revolution" at its beginning, but there's nothing we hate more as a group than the closer-by-committee. All those saves going to waste, spread out across three or four fantasy teams....

Brewers

Last week, Jim Henderson made it back to the Majors from the DL, but he didn't slide right back into his old role. Instead, Francisco Rodriguez was allowed to chase the 300-saves milestone. Well, K-Rod is still chasing it, stuck as he is on number 299. Not that Rodriguez hasn't pitched well, but it'd be nice to get this situation down to a single closer. More than likely, Henderson reclaims the job after K-Rod finally gets that big save, but there's no way to be sure. Keep running both pitchers out there for now, as neither will hurt your ratios in the eighth or ninth innings, despite Henderson's eighth inning blown save.

Tigers

Jose Valverde didn't have to fall very far to fall out of favor in the Motor City. The good news is that none of us spent a high draft pick on him. Other than that, it looks like manager Jim Leyland will play whatever matchups suit him, at least until he gets so tired of reporters' questions that he just names Bruce Rondon closer out of frustration. The committee cast has changed a bit since the beginning of the season, with Rondon and Al Alburquerque in AAA, and Octavio Dotel on the 60-Day DL. Expect Valverde to continue getting a few saves, while Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, and Phil Coke share the job with him. Benoit is the group's early leader and a good choice for a pickup, the Tigers seem likely to have a closer high on their spring shopping list. In fact, it wouldn't be a shock to see them swing deals for more than one reliever before the deadline.

Mariners

This is easily the ugliest of the committee situations. Tom Wilhelmsen is no longer the team's closer, though they seem to hold out hope that he'll sort out his struggles. In the meantime, he's already blown a save as a committee member. Other possibilities for saves include Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, and Oliver Perez. (Yes, the Oliver Perez who was once a promising lefty strikeout pitcher who completely imploded, signed a big contract with the Mets, imploded again, and threw a temper tantrum about going to the bullpen.) None is a great option, though Capps is likely to get the most save opps going forward, thanks to his right-handedness, though he coughed up a pair of runs without recording any outs in yesterday's brutal loss to the Angels. Any pitcher who does emerge from this quagmire with a closing gig is a decent investment, because the Mariners aren't in the position to seek outside help in relief. In fact, they're probably just frustrated that Wilhelmsen couldn't stay good long enough to get traded.

Injury Returns

It's never exactly clear what will happen when a closer returns from the DL. Sometimes the replacement keeps the job, sometimes the old guy takes it right back, sometimes the old closer is eased back into his role, and sometimes a committee develops. The plan for the teams below seems to be to reinstate the old closer, but you never quite know for sure.

Indians

I bet you never thought you'd be excited for Chris Perez to come take his job back from Vinnie Pestano. The Indians have scuffled hard since Perez's injury, though Pestano finally recorded his second save of the year. Perez won't be coming back immediately, following a terrible rehab appearance and flawed mechanics. If he gets his delivery sorted out quickly, he'll be back in the ninth just as quickly. If he happened to get dropped in your league, snatch him back up.

Rockies

Rafael Betancourt is inching his way back to the Majors and is scheduled to face hitters today. If everything goes well, he could be back relatively soon. It's far too early to drop Rex Brothers, but don't expect him to keep Betancourt from getting his job back when he does return. And it's advisable to hang onto Brothers after that, though, as he's pitched to a great ERA and Betancourt isn't exactly the healthiest closer in the ninth.

Diamondbacks

Heath Bell has been surprisingly good for Arizona. Not, you know, great, but better than we expected. The homers have given him trouble, and his job could be in danger if J.J. Putz comes back. And Putz might just be back soon, as he began his rehab assignment yesterday--a lot earlier than was initially expected. While he may take a little while in the minors, he could also be back in the Diamondbacks' closer role quickly. He was dropped in many leagues, but I'd advise picking him back up if you've got the room to stash him.

Strugglers

A couple of the early season's best closers have hit some serious rough patches and owners should monitor their situations.

Red Sox

Andrew Bailey has pitched horrifically in his last few outings, to the tune of an 11.25 ERA in his last four appearances. Manager John Farrell says that Bailey has "some work to do," but "for the time being...is definitely our closer." Well, doesn't he sound excited to keep Bailey in the ninth, and admits that he would consider other options, "at least temporarily." Bailey is clearly on a short leash, so Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara might be good choices for anyone speculating on saves. Update: Bailey has used up his short leash and is out as closer for now. Pick up Tazaway or Uehara.

Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon is the sort of name you don't expect to have to write very often in a column like this, but he's blown two saves over the course of three days. They're just his first two blown saves of the year, but keep an eye on him. Fortunately for Papelbon and his owners, he should have a long leash given his contract and track record. Though the Phillies appear not to be contending this year, they say they aren't considering dealing Papelbon or their other expensive players.

Early Trading Block

Major League teams aren't likely to be making trades for almost another month, but fantasy owners need to be quicker with the trade trigger. After all, when a closer is traded into a setup job in the real world, his fantasy trade value pretty much hits zero. Any closer on a non-contending team is a good candidate to get traded away, though teams with 2014 ambitions are more likely to hang on to their relievers if they're young and inexpensive. Right now, two closers are generating the most trade buzz.

Marlins

Shockingly, the Fish aren't contending this year for anything but worst team in baseball. They might even beat the Astros for that one. Steve Cishek has been pretty good for them as their closer, but a team playing under .300 doesn't need a good closer. Expect Cishek to get dealt to a contender. Unfortunately, he's unlikely to close for any of them. If you've got him, it would be a good idea to deal him early, even for a mediocre return.

Twins

Glen Perkins is a little more complicated than Cishek, as there are contending teams for which he might close. Like the Tigers. The Red Sox could hypothetically be interested in his ninth-inning services too, but if he is dealt, he's most likely going to set up. He should command more than Cishek on the trade market, but he's also a good one to deal. 

Dont' forget to check out @CloserNews on Twitter for all up-to-the-minute updates on closers around baseball.



Prospect Prospectin': Take A Chance On Me

Wheeler Wil, Wheeler Wil Rock You

What a week! The two big stories were Wil Myers and Zack Wheeler, both called up on Tuesday. Wheeler pitched 6 shutout innings against the Braves but looked pretty shaky. He’s going to struggle with his command and in re-draft leagues, and just like my colleague Mr. Steers McCrum advised you to sell prospects, I’d consider flipping him for a number 2 or 3 starter if he has another good start or two. Myers has looked comfortable at the plate even though he hasn’t had much success in his first few games (and isn’t it weird how much his batting stance looks like Longoria’s?). Again, in re-draft leagues, I’d consider moving Myers as soon as he has a hot week or two. They’re going to be all-stars eventually, but in all likelihood will both struggle this year.

Take a Chance on Me

Many of the obvious call-ups are in the bigs already, so below are some guys who you can take a gamble on:

C-Mart

Carlos Martinez

The Cardinals are stretching out their young flamethrower to become a starter. His last outing he went 6 innings, allowing 2 runs with 7 baserunners and 5 K’s. He might be up before the All-Star Break.

Tiger Style

Nick Castellanos

Andy Dirks is hitting .238. How long can the Tigers put up with that? It’s only a matter of time before they call up their top prospect who has been raking in Triple-A this year. Stash him now. He can hit for average, has a little power, and is obviously in an amazing lineup.

Stock Up On Twinkies

Kyle Gibson

The Twins have some amazing prospects, namely Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, who won’t be up until next year at the earliest. Their top pitching prospect (I wrote about him a few weeks ago) will get the call soon though - grab him if you have room, especially in keeper leagues.

Yelich From the Rooftops

Christian Yelich

I feel like I’ve been writing about this guy all year, but he’s only owned in 2% of Yahoo leagues - it’s almost like people aren’t listening to me. Yelich was on the fast track to the show before he went down with an abdominal injury. He’s about to come back and it shouldn’t be long before he gets the call. I mean, Stanton should be on the DL again before long, right?

Clean Sanchez

Gary Sanchez

The Yankees need some bats in a bad way. Youkilis and Teixeira just hit the DL, joining Granderson, Jeter, and A-Roid. The Yanks aren’t known for calling up young prospects prematurely, and this is pure conjecture, but I think there’s a chance that they could call up Baseball America’s 36th ranked prospect before season’s end to add some pop in their lineup. Chris Stewart is hitting .270 but has approximately zero upside. In keeper leagues, Sanchez is a great guy to stash away long-term.

Pop a Capp in that Ass

Carter Capps

The Mariners’ bullpen is a fustercluck of epic proportions. Wilhelmsen seemed to have a firm grasp on the job, but has been terrible of late. Eric Wedge used Capps for a save, then Oliver Perez, then back to Wilhelmsen who promptly blew another one. The situation is up in the air and all three are worth stashing for the time being, along with Charlie Furbush.

Choosy Moms Choose Jaff

Jaff Decker

I mentioned him last week, and he got promptly sent back down to the minors without a single AB (what’s that called when your cup of coffee isn’t even a cup of coffee?  Just smelling coffee?). Well, with Quentin hurt and Maybin on the DL, Decker got called back up. He has sneaky power and speed and is worth taking a chance on, especially in NL-only leagues.


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This Week In Streaming Strategy

Barry Zito, Chad Gaudin -- Your weekly "well they're facing the Marlins..." starters are Zito and Gaudin, neither of which is a name that inspires much confidence. However, Zito will be facing the Fish in San Francisco, where he has a 2.06 ERA compared to a ghastly 11.28 mark on the road (I assume Giants fans drink a lot when Zito starts away from AT&T Park). Adding Gaudin feels dirty, but this is a guy who has a 3.85 ERA and 3.71 FIP over his past 117 innings against Major League hitters, and there's what? Two of those in the Marlins lineup? There are far worse spot-start options, and in deep leagues where the pickings are slim, Gaudin should be widely available.

Paul Konerko, Gordon Beckham -- This pair of White Sox righties will square off against an all-to-hittable lefty in the form of Scott Diamond on Thursday before jetting off to Kansas City to face baseball's most homer-prone pitcher (Jeremy Guthrie) and Wade Davis, who is surrendering the highest opponent line-drive rate of any pitcher in baseball this year. That's a terrific stretch of opponents for Konerko and Beckham, who are hitting .444 and .350, respectively, over the past week. It's crazy to think that Pauly Konks is a streaming option, but he's available in more than 50 percent of ESPN Leagues and 44 percent of Yahoo leagues. Snatch him up!

Nolan Arenado, Tyler Colvin -- Steer clear of this tandem for Thursday and Friday, as they'll be facing Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg. From there, however, two of their next three games come against homer-prone hurlers Dan Haren and Ryan Dempster, with Ross Detwiler and his .307/.349/.436 opponents' batting line sandwiched in between. Colvin's playing time will depend on the health of other Rockies outfielders, but Arenado (who should be more widely owned than he is anyway) should see action in all three.

Alex Colome, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer -- The Yankees have the worst OPS of any team in baseball this month (as of this writing), and the Rays will trot out three guys who can miss bats and induce ground-balls. Archer was a consensus Top 100 prospect this season, while Colome ranked 83rd on Keith Law's Top 100 and had a strong MLB debut last month. Hernandez's ERA is ugly, but he has a 50 percent ground-ball rate and 3.25 K/BB ratio. xFIP pegs him for a 3.52 ERA, if he had a league-average homer-to-flyball ratio. Archer's command problems likely make him the riskiest of the trio, but if you're on the ropes at the end of a head-to-head matchup, the upside for a big start is there.

Stephen Fife -- If you're in a really deep league or just love getting good performances out of random names (who doesn't?!), Fife will face an incredibly depleted Padres lineup Thursday. The Friars are sans Everth Cabrera, Yonder Alonso, Cameron Maybin, Jedd Gyorko and Carlos Quentin for the time being (though Quentin could return). There isn't a lot to be afraid of in that lineup, and Fife has a 3.74 ERA with a 62 percent ground-ball rate in his brief MLB stint this season. Don't get fooled by the 8.7 K/9, though. Fife's swinging strike rate is just 5.7 percent and he has a paltry 6.7 K/9 in his minor league career. There's quality start upside here though.

Regrettably, the Jeff Baker Experience has been put on a temporary hiatus due to a sprained thumb. Baker sustained the injury while high-fiving a teammate (no, seriously) which should only go to show how truly awesome he is. When he's back from the DL, lefties beware, and fantasy owners perk up. He's still hitting .386/.491/1.000 against lefties with eight homers in 53 plate appearances. Jeff Baker, you guys.


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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 20-26

I made an interesting swap in one of my leagues this week that involved a couple of past TPIITP featured players.  I dealt Aaron Hill and Matt Carpenter to my rival manager in exchange for Albert Pujols and Didi Gregorius, so I'm certainly standing up to my belief that Pujols will eventually get back to his old form.  (And sure enough, he delivered four hits in his first game for me.)  Carpenter my man, you more than lived up to expectations and actually played even better following my "hey, believe the hype!" piece about you on May 1.  That said, if I have the chance to deal you and a guy coming off a broken hand for Albert Pujols (and a possibly useful, if falling-back-to-earth rookie shortstop), I'm making that deal every time.

But anyway, onto this week's examination beyond the usual 5x5 numbers...

* Ooooh, The Chase!  As an old-school Carmen Sandiego fan as a kid, it never stops being amusing that San Diego's best player is named Chase.  It's been a pretty rough year for Chase Headley owners, who were expecting to own a top-tier third baseman but instead have put up with two weeks on the DL, three weeks of hot hitting and a bunch of misery.  Headley had a .936 following the Padres' 1-0 win over the Marlins on May 8 but then posted a .170/.291/.252 line over his next 158 PA.  The knock on Headley going into his breakout 2012 season was that he had trouble hitting at Petco Park and that he generally wasn't as good against left-handed pitching; he corrected those problems last season, but in 2013 he has just a .573 OPS against southpaws and, weirdly, his road OPS is over 100 points lower than his home OPS.

The good news is, there's no reason to believe this will continue.  Most of Headley's peripheral stats match what he posted in 2012, aside from a .273 BABIP (he BABIP'ed .337 last season) and swing rates that are down roughly 2% across the board.  That's not a good drop, obviously, but it's nothing too severe.  It could be that Headley is still getting warm after missing a chunk of Spring Training with a fractured thumb.  Also, any kind of hand or finger injury usually takes a bit of extra time for a hitter to fully get over, so Headley could return to form any day now.  I've personally moved Headley to my bench in one of my leagues (I still have the awesome Matt Carpenter in this one, so he's my 3B) until he's hot, so if you have a decent third sacker in reserve, play them until Headley gets himself sorted out.  No reason to panic yet.

* King Jeremy The Wicked.  We've hit that time of the fantasy season when your pitching staff has been hit with a couple of injuries, maybe a starter you thought would be good has been ineffective, and you just want to shake things up a bit.  You check out your league's waiver wire and hey look, it's Jeremy Guthrie!  And what's this, he has a 3.72 ERA and throws in pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium?  Why yeah, that sounds like a good idea, let's bring Guthrie on board!

This is how it begins.  Guthrie revived his career by pitching well in the latter half of 2012 after joining the Royals, but that was arguably the only time he has ever provided legit fantasy value.  Too few strikeouts, too many homers and a career 4.24 ERA doth not a reliable fantasy starter make.  Guthrie's 3.72 ERA this year is belied by some ugly advanced metrics (5.96 FIP, 5.02 xFIP, 5.13 SIERA) and at only 4.30 K/9 and 3.03 BB/9, his real-life ERA seems due to rise at any moment.  Not that a 3.72 ERA is a world-beater mark anyway, but the only thing keeping it in check is Guthrie's .256 BABIP and an 86.1% strand rate that ranks as the second-highest in the entire league among qualified starters.  You should be looking to add Guthrie ONLY as a one-week stream if he has a couple of home starts against weaker lineups, but otherwise just leave him alone.

* Loosen Your Belt.  Since my wardrobe is pathetically small, I only own three belts.  One is my "formal" belt that I bust out for wedding, funerals, meetings with the Royal Family, etc.  Another is my everyday belt, which is super-comfortable and also very flexible, which is key given my, uh, somewhat ample waistline.  The third is my backup belt, which frankly is kind of stiff and a pain to wear, though I bust it out at least once a week just to give my primary belt a break, sort of like how you sit your starting catcher for a day game that follows a night game. 

Anyway, we're taking this trip around around my pants since I think most Brandon Belt owners are using him as their backup belt by this point in the season.  You'll start him maybe once a week if he's facing a righty starter or if your regular first baseman has an unfavorable matchup, but that's it, since Belt isn't living up to his preseason status as a potential breakout candidate.  Belt was hitting .255/.324/.417 with seven homers and 30 RBIs going into Tuesday's play, which isn't necessarily BAD overall given his home ballpark (Belt has a solid 114 OPS+) but it's not what you expect from your starting fantasy first baseman.

Belt's contract rates and power numbers -- home run rate, isolated power and fly balls in general -- are all up from his 2012 statistics but overall he isn't hitting as well as he did last season.  He's hitting almost five percent fewer line drives, his walk rate is down and he owns a pretty even .296 BABIP, so it's not just a case of bad luck.  Belt simply might be a year or two away from that breakout the Giants and fantasy owners think he's capable of, given how he has dominated minor league pitching.  If you've stuck with Belt this long as a starter, you're way overdue to start looking for an upgrade.

* King Of The NetherlandsDerek Holland's gem in Game Four of the 2011 World Series seemed to herald his arrival as a frontline starter but he wasn't quite there yet, as evidenced by his average 2012 season.  This season, however, he has a 3.30 ERA, 8.6 K/9 and 3.91 K/BB ratio through 14 starts, and the advanced metrics (2.78 FIP, 3.23 xFIP, 3.39 SIERA) and his .344 BABIP suggest that Holland could actually be doing a bit better than his already very solid numbers.

Holland's biggest issue in 2012 was allowing home runs and he has cut his HR/9 from 1.6 last season to just 0.6 this season. Fangraphs' Chris Kwik noted last month that Holland's increased use of his slider and decreased reliance on his curveball were helping him keep the ball in the park, and since this change in pitch selection seems to be paying off, I feel confident that Holland will keep up his good work for the rest of the campaign.  No pitcher who throws at Rangers Ballpark is entirely free of the homer curse, of course, but Holland is definitely on the right track.  This might be the last year that Holland is considered an underrated option in fantasy baseball.





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