June 2013

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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 6-12

At the risk of ruining all my credibility as a fantasy guru, I actually fell to LAST PLACE in one of my leagues this week.  Ugh.  It's pretty ironic that I fell into last just one day after the most recent episode of Game Of Thrones given that my team's name was "King In The North."  Apparently it's just been a bad week overall for Kings of the North.

While I try to think of another GoT-related fantasy team name (Brian Bannister Always Pays His Debts?  A Song Of Rice And Fiers?), here are this week's underrated and overrated advanced metric players...

* Wood Cutting.  Everything's coming up Milhouse for Travis Wood this season.  Not only does he have a 2.75 ERA, he also has two homers, including a grand slam against the White Sox on May 30.  You might say that Wood's really good and that the Cubs have found themselves a quality young arm, and while that might be true in future seasons, he's not quite there yet.  This Wood has a few termites.  His peripheral ERA measurements aren't good (3.62 FIP, 4.48 xFIP, 4.49 SIERA), he has one of the league's lowest BABIPs at .218 and he's only averging 6.25 K/9 against 3.00 BB/9.

Wood's strong start has boosted his fantasy stock to the point that he's owned in 71% of Yahoo fantasy leagues.  If you've got the southpaw on your team, start shopping him over the place and sell high while your can.  See if you can trick one of your fellow owners into thinking that Travis Wood is actually Kerry Wood and that we've time-traveled back to 1998.  Play a Ma$e album while you're negotiating, that'll do the trick. 

* Still El Hombre.  The good news is, Albert Pujols owners, your guy might be rope-a-doping us into another second half surge.  Sure, his 12.5% strikeout rate is on pace to be his highest since his rookie season and sure, he's swinging and missing at most pitches outside the strike zone than ever before and...wait, this is supposed to be the pro-Pujols item, right?  Overall, there's no escaping the fact that Pujols' contact rates are down from his career averages...but let's remember, those career averages are all pretty awesome.  He might not be vintage Albert anymore, but he should still be hitting better than .244/.313/421 with just nine measly home runs.  I lay the blame at his .245 BABIP and the Pacific air in Anaheim that's keeping his fly balls in the park.  This won't help ease the pain of those who picked Pujols in the second or third round this year, but if you just alter your perspective and think of Pujols as a second-tier first baseman from now on, his numbers will seem a lot better.  I'm predicting he'll still end up with around 30 dingers and a solid (if not Pujolsian) OPS.

* Mark Of Consistency.  It seemed inevitable that Nick Markakis would eventually end up as one of my weekly "he'll keep doing well" guys since Markakis is one of the more pleasantly stay-the-course players in the game.  He's never broken through into superstardom like the Orioles thought he would, but really, can you argue with a guy that keeps churning out .800 OPS seasons like clockwork?  "Markakis" is, in fact, the Greek word for "metronome."  (Editor's note: pure lies)  Markakis is hitting .305/.355/.445 with seven homers, 33 RBI and 34 runs though 259 PA and yeah, this is all basically in line with what he's done his entire career.  Even the advanced stats scream "nothing to see here" -- he owns a .307 BABIP and while his 7.7% K% is below his career average, Markakis' strikeout rates have been dropping every year since 2008. 

Markakis is almost underrated from a fantasy perspective since he's not a guy who does any one thing spectacularly well, yet his ability to do everything pretty well makes him a great asset; if Markakis is your second or third OF, you're in terrific shape.  If you have a tantalizing but unproven prospect or streaky player in your fantasy outfield, offer them to Markakis' owner in your league to see if he doesn't appreciate what he has.

* 4 8 15 16 23 42.  The LOST numbers aren't only a good intro to discussing Ian Desmond, but also to point out that Desmond has been pretty "lost" at the plate this year.  Ha ha, wordplay!  Like many in the Nationals lineup, Desmond has been an underachiever this year, following up his breakout 2012 campaign with a nasty .265/.298/.460 line.  This is where I point out that Desmond's HR/FB rate did jump up to 18.2% out of nowhere last season and that his current 11.1% rate exactly matches his career average, so perhaps we all got a little carried away in thinking that 2012 represented Desmond's new reality.

His walk (4.9%) and strikeout (23.5%) rates are a bit lower and higher, respectively, than usual....but only a bit lower.  Desmond is still something of an unpolished hitter and he has no easy out to remove himself from long slumps like this.  With a .318 BABIP, you can't even chalk his hitting up to bad luck.  It may just be that Desmond isn't quite yet the star we thought he was, and if you drafted him in your sixth-seventh round to lock up your shortstop position, you should probably start poking around for backup options.  Frankly, I blame the whole thing on the Teddy Roosevelt mascot.  It's pretty suspicious that basically everything has gone wrong for the Nats ever since Teddy won a race, eh? 

This Week In Streaming Strategy: Week 9

This week's edition features a nice blend of hitters and pitchers for your streaming pleasure, and also includes one of my favorite GIFs of all time. Brace yourself, and dive in...

Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin -- None of these A's hurlers are owned in more than 52 percent of Yahoo! leagues, and all will be facing a White Sox offense that is hitting .236/.288/.367 as a team. Those figures rank 27th, 28th and 29th, respectively. If you're hurting for pitching in fantasy leagues, you could do a lot worse than just streaming against Chicago and Miami.

Chris Carter -- Houston's first baseman has three homers in his past five games, and he's coming up on a particularly meek run of opposing pitchers. Carter will face Freddy Garcia, Miguel Gonzalez, Ervin Santana, Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza before the week is over. Santana's ERA may look nice, but he's averaging 1.5 HR/9, and Carter can rack up homers in bunches when he's swinging well. I've got him in three leagues right now, so I'll live or die by this recommendation myself.

Scott Diamond -- Diamond will line up against the Nationals on Saturday -- the lone team in baseball with a sub-.600 OPS versus left-handed pitching. Washington is getting Jayson Werth back, so that will presumably give them another weapon against southpaws, but I doubt if he's going to magically make them a formidable opponent for Diamond. His ground-ball rate is down a bit, but Diamond still has some of the best control in baseball, and as an added bonus they're playing in Washington, so he doesn't have to mess with a DH.

Chris Johnson -- The man with the most generic name in baseball is anything but generic against left-handed pitching. Johnson is raking against southpaws: .415/.448/.642, and as luck would have it, he'll face at least three lefty pitchers in the coming days. The Braves square off against Wandy Rodriguez, Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly in the coming days. Johnson, who's owned in about 30 percent of both ESPN and Yahoo leagues is a great short-term add.

Delmon Young -- I don't like advocating anything involving Delmon (unless it's watching this epic left field .GIF), but he's homered twice in the past week and is headed into a four-game series against the Brewers where he will face Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada and Kyle Lohse (who just gave up four HRs in a start against the Twins). It feels dirty, I know, but there are worse adds for short-term power/RBI assistance. Erik Kratz is another good Phillie to keep on the radar for this weekend series. He's 7 for his last 21 with a pair of homers and should start three of the four games with Carlos Ruiz on the DL.

Jordan Lyles -- Recommending Houston pitchers doesn't initial seem like a good way to endear myself to the audience, but Lyles has a 1.90 ERA over his past four starts -- one of which came against the Royals, whom he faces this weekend. Kansas City has struggled more than just about any team in baseball, batting .226/.273/.285 over the past week. Lyles held them to a run on six hits and a walk with three strikeouts in his last outing against them. Plus, Lyles isn't your standard journeyman like much of Houston's other pitchers. He's a former No. 38 overall pick who ranked 42nd on Baseball America's Top 100 list prior to the 2011 season. He's still only 22 but already has 273 big league innings.

David Murphy -- Murph still isn't owned in many leagues but he's hitting .292 with five homers over the past month. He also has the added bonus of facing the Blue Jays in Toronto this weekend. The Jays have the second-worst OPS allowed at home this season and the third-worst home ERA. They'll run out Mark Buehrle, Esmil Rogers and Josh Johnson this weekend. Murphy's a solid add, and really, his ownership totals should be higher than the current 28 percent of ESPN leagues and 18 percent of Yahoo leagues. And of course, with Buehrle on the mound, that means that Jeff Baker gets to face a lefty! Baker's still hitting .389/.500/.889 with five homers against lefties. Look out, Mark.

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RotoAuthority League Update: The Commish's League to Lose?

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.

As we sit here in the first week of June, Tim Dierkes currently sits atop the RotoAuthority League standings with a nice round total of 100 points. Let's see how the Commissioner and founder of the league has been able to lead his squad into first place. 

In my recap of the league's draft two months ago, here's what I wrote about Tim's team, Smell the Glove:

"I’ve drafted with Tim for 5 years. I have a good feel for his general draft approach. He values positional scarcity and multi-categorical production, and this year was no different. After Round 5 Smell the Glove already had a player at each infield position. As usual, Tim also selected several hitters who should contribute across the board in David WrightIan Desmond, and Alex Rios. While the bulk of his offense reflects his basic drafting principles, Tim did chase upside late to fill out the bottom half of his offense more so than in years past with talented players who have yet to put everything together like Dexter FowlerPedro AlvarezChris Carter, and Domonic Brown. If there is a hole on this roster, it is the starting pitching. Jeff SamardzijaDerek Holland, and Lance Lynn all have some downside in the WHIP category with their shaky control. On the other hand, the strength of this roster lies in the fact that Tim has 4 legitimate closers. In a league in which it is a daunting task to grab a closer from the waiver wire, Smell the Glove has trading leverage. Overall then, I think Tim bounces back from his recent struggles."

Dierkes clearly entered Draft Day with a plan. After building a foundation of reliable multi-category producers, he embraced increasingly more risk as the draft continued. In addition, he wisely grabbed four closers, a true luxury in this league. I thought Smell the Glove looked strong on paper following the draft, but today it appears dramatically more so.

First of all, this squad has received expected superstar-level production from Robinson Cano, Buster Posey, and David Wright. In the early rounds the goal should be to return fair value, and each of those studs has certainly been worth the investment. As good as that trio has been, though, the best player on this roster thus far lasted until Round 8. One of the top Draft Day valuesCarlos Gomez looks like a 3rd round pick entering 2014. 

While I had questions about Smell the Glove's staff, those concerns now look foolish in retrospect. Jeff Samardzija, Lance Lynn, and Derek Holland have all returned profits on their Draft Day prices. In today's game of a depressed run environment, it's more and more challenging to build a solid offense yet still reach categorical goals in pitching. The key, of course, is selecting the right starters, and Dierkes has certainly done just that.

As I said, unlike in years past, Tim chose to embrace risk at the end of the draft. Well, he sure is reaping the rewards today. Entering Monday, Round 17 pick Dexter Fowler is one of only four players with double-digit production in HR and SB. The other three such players include consensus first-rounders Mike Trout and Carlos Gonzalez as well as the aforementioned Gomez. The long-awaited breakout seems to finally be taking place for the talented Fowler. 

Let's end with a player whom if one were to describe as on fire, it would be the understatement of the year. Since the calendar turned to May, former top prospect Dominic Brown has been hitting like he came down from a higher league. With another HR on Sunday, Brown now has 13 HR in 116 at-bats since May 1st. While he did receive some hype this spring, nobody could have seen this type of breakout coming. It's a daunting task to acquire a player who can lead the league in HR outside the first couple rounds of a fantasy draft. Well, don't look now, but Brown currently leads the NL in HR. Somehow, my fellow leaguemates and I let him slip all the way to Round 20. Here's Exhibit A in support of those who annually recommend drafting post-hype sleepers.

Stock Watch: Bad Calls, Bad Aces, and Good Prospects

Last week on Stock Watch, we might have made some recommendations that...didn't quite work out. Jake Odorizzi got bombed and sent back to the minors, while Kevin Gausman, well, at least he didn't get sent down. The Rays certainly don't have enough committed to Odorizzi for you to keep him on your redraft roster while he pitches for AAA Durham, but Gausman is still worth hanging onto. His odds of being an impact rookie have gone down, but they aren't at zero yet, which is more than you can say for most pitchers on the waiver wire.

That said, let's get to this week's recommendations.

Trade For

Much has been made of the struggles of a certain catcher named Montero--hitting around the Mendoza-line, getting sent down, having his #1 prospect status replaced with that of ex-prospect, getting sent down to the minors, maybe going on the DL--but what about the other catching Montero? Well, he's been pretty bad too, to the tune of a .206 AVG and a .291 SLG. Yeah, I had to double-check to see that those numbers belonge to the previously-dependable Miguel and not his Seattle doppelganger. What's up with Miguel? It's hard to say for sure, but a .246 BABIP sure isn't helping. In hitter-friendly Arizona, expect that number to go up. Meanwhile, it seems like a decent bet that when his luck materializes other things might start to fall into place, raising his HR/FB and his ISO back to their previous rates. All this means that Montero's owner might be ready to dump him cheap, and you might be able to get a decent catcher for a bargain price.

Speaking of Prices, how about David Price? He's been a pretty significant disappointment, and now his sitting on the DL. He still doesn't have a timetable for return (not a good sign), but he's played catch for a couple days in a row (a good sign). With an ERA of 5.24, his owner might be glad to get someone healthy and effective, but his FIP (4.05) and xFIP (3.53) suggest he's been a lot better than his results. If you've got depth, use it to go after Price.

Matt Cain has been inarguably awful this season, but despite his most recent poor performance, he's got some significant bright spots. First of all, his strikeout rate of 8.60 is the best of his career, while his 2.91 BB/9 has been worse before without hurting Cain too much. What have hurt him are the homers and the stranded runners. His HR/9 rate to 1.57 after staying below 1.00 in every other season of his Major League career. His strand rate is just 62.8%, much worse than his career norms. Something seems to be going on with the homers, but the strand rate can be chalked up to luck. When Cain makes whatever adjustment he needs to, expect everything else to fall in line. His FIP (4.52) and xFIP (3.87) are already a lot better than his 5.45 ERA.

Need some help in the middle infield? Check out J.J. Hardy: despite a low batting average (and correspondingly low BABIP), he's smacked 12 homers. If his .228 BABIP goes up much, he'd be one of the best at his position. Actually, considering the scarcity of SS power, he already is. If he's got an owner who doesn't know that, make a deal.

Trade Away

Zack Greinke sports a 4.80 ERA with just a 6.00 K/9. His FIP is more optimistic, at 3.50, but xFIP isn't so impressed at 4.23. Sure, things could be worse, but that's when we get to his 2.50 K/BB ratio: sure, it isn't bad, but it's his worst since 2006--a time in which his number was usually around 3.50. Perhaps most worrying of all, though, is that his velocity is down by at least 1 mph on all three fastballs listed by Fangraphs.com. Greinke's injury seems to be the split between him being effective and being smacked around badly. Maybe he's (still) just rusty and will find his groove and be fine. Or maybe the injury is lingering. How badly do you want to stick around and find out? Your safest strategy is probably to try swinging a deal for a decent quality player--like Price or Cain. If Greinke gets it figured out, good for him. If not, he'll be on someone else's fantasy team.

Of course, if someone takes this advice to the extreme and offers you Greinke for a backup OF, take the chance on Greinke....

Pick Up

Some weeks are all about the trades, but others are all about those free agent targets. This is one of those weeks. Rumors are swirling about an unusual number of prospects--and several are already up to the majors. There are different levels of team commitment to each prospect, so we'll examine each in his appropriate category.

In Majors, Job to Keep

Nick Franklin has displaced former-top-prospect Dustin Ackley in the Mariners' 2B job, and it will be Franklin's to keep unless he plays his way out of it. On the off-chance Seattle brings Ackley back up to the bigs, Franklin can slide over and play short, so playing time is very much his to lose. That said, he's not an impact prospect so much as a pretty good one, so don't go dropping a productive player for him.

Filling in for Now

Alex Presley wasn't hitting much at all, so Pittsburgh sent him back to AAA in April. He hit well for Indianopolis and went three for five for the big club on Saturday. How much chance he'll be given to stick has yet to be determined, but he's well worth the fantasy shot.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. had one of those unbelievable springs...and then showed us why we shouldn't have believed it in his first Major League week. He torched AAA after getting sent down, however, and now he gets a chance to fill in for Jacoby Ellsbury. The idea is that he'll got back to Pawtucket when Ellsbury returns, but if he really hits the ball, I bet the Sox find him at bats. Plus, Ellsbury isn't exactly the healthiest guy in the world.

Michael Wacha dominated the Royals in his Major League debut and should be getting regular starts for the Cardinals. If you've already missed out on Wacha, don't feel too bad: his AAA K/9 rate wasn't anything special, he'll be on an IP limit, and, well, it was the Royals. That said, pick him up! He's a high-quality prospect and the Cardinals are just about the best team to be a pitching prospect for.

Just Wait Till We Get There

Anthony Rendon is playing second base in the minors, which seems to spell impending doom for the struggling Danny Espinosa. Though he fell flat last time through, the top prospect could certainly do better in his second chance. Adding 2B eligiblity would be nice for the 3B prospect too. It can be hard to get a prospect in a deep league, so this might represent the last chance to get him for lots of us.

Yasiel Puig has generated a lot of rumors this year, but there hasn't been any room in the crowded (and struggling) Dodgers outfield. With Matt Kemp on the DL, we have our opening. It might be temporary, but if Puig does come up, and he does hit, are the disappointing Dodgers really going to send him back down? Don't bet on it. 

There are a lot of if's with Rendon and Puig, but both have the talent to provide a lot of fantasy punch if those ifs work out--they're well worth the risk.

Not a Prosepct, Just a Closer

Surprise! Huston Street is hitting the DL with a calf injury. While he may not be out long, it's still worth picking up Luke Gregerson for some saves in the meantime. Technically Dale Thayer could get some opportunities too, but Gregerson should be the top guy. 

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