September 2013

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RotoAuthority Retrospective: How Bold Did You Go?

Before the season started, RA ran a column called Go Bold or Go Home, in which our team threw out our boldest 2013 projections. As with any set of bold predictions, made against the wider swath of fantasy common sense, we met with mixed success. Let's see how we did.

79 Reasons to Snag Trout 1st Overall

Well, I really gave only three reasons, crystallized thusly:

1) Mike Trout is the best OF in baseball, so if you want an OF, take him.

2) It is possible that he could improve in meaningful ways, thanks to his youth.

3) Miguel Cabrera, coming off a career season, is likely to regress to the point where he isn't obviously the best hitter in baseball.

So...I pretty much struck out on three pitches. Each reason ended up getting invalidated: Chris Davis leapfrogged, like, a hundred guys to become the best OF in baseball, Trout regressed a tad (mostly in steals), and Miggy...well, at 30 years old and coming off a Triple Crown, has actually improved. Actually, (and his owners already know this), 2013 is Cabrera's best offensive season, by a huge margin. Didn't see that coming.

There is some good news, however slight: aside from the insurgent Davis, Trout was certainly the best OF, and a lot better than the only other guy considered for a top-3 pick: Ryan Braun.

If this article brought you Trout instead of Miggy (as it did me in a league in which I'm still wrestling for a third-place finish)...sorry about that. But if it brought you Trout instead of Braun...well, you're welcome.

Stephen Strasburg is the New Pedro Martinez

Too bad I didn't write this article about Yu Darvish or Max Scherzer. And too bad Clayton Kershaw picked just now to really distance himself from the elite pitching crowd. This one, in which I advised Stephen Strasburg as a first-rounder really didn't work out, but it was better than it spent much of the season looking. 

What went wrong?

Strikeout rate. If everything else that went wrong did (the Nationals regressing, Stephen Strasburg getting so few decisions, his ERA floating above the 3.00 mark), I'd still defend this call if Strasburg's strikeout rate hadn't plunged from 11.13 to 9.56. That difference, by the way, is worth another 30 strikeouts and could easily mean several points in the category in a roto-style league...or none.

So Strasburg's strikeout rate went from setting him apart among the elite to normal-for-elite-pitchers. Meanwhile, the only two pitchers who could best him in K/9 improved the rest of their game to elite status and set themselves apart: it's no wonder that Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish garnered all of RA's Cy Young votes.

Very thin silver lining: at least he was better than Justin Verlander....

Don't Draft Josh Hamilton

Total winner, from Mark Polishuk. You know what Josh Hamilton's done this year; you know when he was drafted in your league. And you know when you could have gotten other hitters with .240-ish averages and 20-ish homers: the waiver wire. Following this advice didn't win you your league, but ignoring it probably made that very, very difficult.

Not much else to say; I guess success speaks for itself.

Draft Marco Estrada--Or Else

This one failed for two reasons that were pretty predictable in retrospect: homers and injury. Marco Estrada gave up a ton of homers in the early part of the season, then hit the DL for a long time. Uh...hope he didn't cost you too high of a draft pick, though many of the pitchers getting drafted ahead of him might have been even worse busts.

For many drafters, he was worth negative value, dropped, and snapped up by someone else when he came off the DL. Pretty much the worst-case scenario. If, however, you stuck with him through his DL stint, his second half has been as good as the beginning was bad: good luck, good HR/9 rate, great production. He hurt plenty of teams in the early going, but he's powered just as many through the playoffs since coming back from the injury. Still, this one was a big miss from the predict-o-tron.

Go Old in the Outfield

Finally, predictions from this author that worked out pretty well! I suggested players like Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and Alfonso Soriano over younger players with more projectiblity and less track record. (Of course, I also advised Ichiro Suzuki and Cody Ross, but hey, I'll take a half-winner when I can get it.) The principle here remains a good one, I think: older players don't get many owners excited and don't carry any more inherent risk than the young. 

Draft Adam Dunn over Paul Konerko

Another bold call from Mark, another spot-on suggestion. Unfortunately, that has more to do with just how bad Paul Konerko was this season, but that's a situation you seriously didn't want to get stuck in. Adam Dunn, meanwhile, killed your average like he always does, but still brought back 33 homers and 84 RBIs with a couple games left to play, making him a pretty useful CI or OF--still not exactly someone to count on at first, but that's not what this prediction said to do anyway.

Max Scherzer is a Top-10 Starter

Um...yup. The only way Steve Adams could have improved this prediction was to change the title to Max Scherzer is a Top-2 Starter, or Max Scherzer will win the Cy Young, or Max Scherzer: Better than Justin Verlander. But I'm really just belaboring the point of how awesome Scherzer was this season. I hope you followed this advice, because I'm guessing that Scherzer's production and draft position has put him on a lot of first-place fantasy teams this year.

Aaron Hill is the 2B for You

Well, yeah. Hill smacked the ball pretty hard for a short time, then went on the DL. Not exactly superstar production for a guy that ended up on most of my fantasy teams. And my wife's. While owners aren't thrilled with the production they've gotten from Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, and Ben Zobrist, at least those guys have been in the lineup all year, more or less. 

Since returning from his injury, Hill has been pretty good, but certainly not good enough to make up for all the time spend on the DL.

Ben Zobrist is a Top-30 Fantasy Pick

Yeah, this one was a pretty big blow, as our staff average definitely liked him more than most. (Unsurprisingly, he went pretty high in the MLBTR internal league.) I've written about his decline more than once this year, and, for me, even his amazing 2B/SS/OF flexibility isn't worth his lowered power output. There's a really big difference between going 11/11 and 20/20. He was certainly worth owning, but you had to spend such a high pick to get him...well, they can't all be winners, I guess.  



Closer Updates: End of Season Edition (As, Astros, Bucs, Cubbies, Tribe, White Sox)

As the regular season comes to an end, it’s time to close up our weekly Closer Updates column. Unlike previous weeks, there’s been some movement in closer circles this week and we’ll be happy to bring it to you. With further ado, let’s close out the season’s closer updates…

Astros

As always, Houston’s closer role is a constant question. However, it appears that Josh Fields has finally taken control of the position. Despite the fact that the Astros have not had a traditional save opportunity in the last week, Josh Fields is the guy to own in Houston. Despite a lackluster performance in the role, he’ll remain the guy over Chia-Jen Lo and Kevin Chapman for the season’s last few games.

Athletics

Fortunately for the A's, Grant Balfour has bounced back into form this last week. Although the Athletics have not had a traditional save opportunity, Balfour performed well in his Monday night performance with three strikeouts in one inning. Sorry, Ryan Cook owners. Clearly, the Athletics are still backing their guy and if he returns to mid-season form, they will be tough in the playoffs.

Cardinals

As the Cards chase home field advantage in the playoffs, Edward Mujica’s recent struggles have become too much to bear and they've installed Trevor Rosenthal in the closer role. While it's been said this move is temporary, St. Louis will likely stick with the hot hand.

Cubs

Last week, we announced that Pedro Strop would be receiving some save opportunities in place of Kevin Gregg. So far, those words have remained true. Last Saturday, Strop earned the save in a dazzling three-strikeout ninth inning. However, he was returned to the eighth inning setup role on Wednesday and Gregg earned the save. Consider it to be 50/50 shot this weekend as to who gets the call.

Indians

Although Cleveland has repeatedly stated that Chris Perez is still the closer, the writing is on the wall that somebody else might have the gig shortly. With the Indians in the midst of a playoff race, the closer position is not one they can afford to have in flux. Although Cody Allen has been tremendous this season, Joe Smith is likely the first to get the call.

Pirates

The battle for the Pirates closer job has yet another development. This week, it appears that Jason Grilli has regained the ninth and will continue to do so in the future (per Pittsburgh’s skipper). After struggling on consecutive nights, Mark Melancon yielded the role and Grilli has clearly earned enough confidence to be the Buccos’ closer through the playoffs.

White Sox

Addison Reed. Despite a superb season thus far, Reed has struggled mightily of late and had two blown saves in the last week. Because the White Sox are not jockeying for playoff position, don’t expect them to turn to Nate Jones with only a few games remaining.

Add-ition

Although journeyman LaTroy Hawkins is the Mets' closer from here on out, manager Terry Collins gave a save opportunity to Vic Black last week due to Hawkins’ heavy workload. Although it’s speculative, Collins may give Black another shot with the Mets so far out of postseason contention.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or drop, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Totally Official Awards

Real baseball waits until after the World Series has ended to announce their awards, mostly so that people will pay some attention to the sport during November (otherwise, pretty much the worst month of the year). The downside of this is waiting, waiting, waiting, until finally we don't really care all that much. 

Here at RotoAuthority, we aren't going to make you wait, which is why we're unveiling our awards right now. Unfortunately for the players involved, they will receive no monetary compensation for their victories.

Tim Dierkes and the whole RA staff voted in several categories, and this is what we came up with. I tabulated the votes on a 3-2-1 basis, mostly because that was simpler than the other formulae out there, and it didn't seem to throw our results out of whack. With six writers, 18 points is the highest possible, meaning (somewhat obviously) that the player in question garnered all six first-place votes.

AL MVP

1st: Miguel Cabrera (17 points) 2nd: Mike Trout (10) 3rd: Chris Davis (9)

Also Receiving Votes: Adrian Beltre (1)

This was almost as clear-cut as it gets, with Miggy having only one dissenter for first place. It's hard to argue with him, but Mark Polishuk tabbed Trout with his first place vote--a very understandable choice, as Trout's speed made him the only balanced player relevant to the discussion. Cabrera and Davis appeared on all six ballots, while I made the only unorthodox vote, that for Beltre. I liked Beltre's all-around production compared to a weak year at third base even more than Trout's speed. I'll understand if there aren't many who agree....

NL MVP

1st: Paul Goldschmidt (14) 2nd:Clayton Kershaw (8) 3rd: Andrew McCutchen (8)

Also Receiving Votes: Matt Carpenter (2), Yadier Molina (1), Michael Cuddyer (1)

There wasn't nearly so much consensus here, but the one thing we did agree on was that Goldy was the NL's top hitter. Average, elite power, and some steals out of a thinner-than-usual first base crop put him first or second on every ballot. Two of us, however, considered Kershaw more valuable overall--which is why he wins the tiebreaker over McCutchen. 

Matt Carpenter's huge production out of second base drew him a couple votes, as did Molina's excellence behind the plate, and Cuddyer's quiet .330+ average in the thin Colorado air.

AL Cy Young

1st: Max Scherzer (17) 2nd: Yu Darvish (13) 3rd: Chris Sale (3)

Also Receiving Votes: Anibal Sanchez (2), Greg Holland (1)

Scherzer and Darvish appeared in first or second place on every single ballot, and it's no surprise: both have given elite stats, off-the-chart strikeouts, and solid wins. Most of us agreed that Scherzer was just a little better, but there's not much reason to argue with Luckey Helms' first-place vote to Darvish. Both pitchers have rocketed up to the top tier of 2014 starters. 

After that...well, we agreed that there was a big value gulf. Tim Dierkes gave his vote to Holland, the top AL reliever, while two of us went with Sanchez and three to Sale. 

NL Cy Young

1st: Clayton Kershaw (18) 2nd: Adam Wainwright (7.5) 3rd: Jose Fernandez (4.5)

Also Receiving Votes: Craig Kimbrel (3), Madison Bumgarner (2), Cliff Lee (1)

Kershaw swept this one, and there is really no way to argue with his dominance. Wainwright was a clear second, for most of us, while the rookie Fernandez lagged a bit behind. The half votes come from Luckey, who split his third-place vote between them, while giving his second-place vote to Kimbrel. Bumgarner got a second-place vote from Mark, while Lee got Tim's third-place choice.

AL Surprise Player

1st: Josh Donaldson (14) 2nd: Chris Davis (6) 3rd: Coco Crisp (4)

Also Receiving Votes: Alfonso Soriano (3), Hisashi Iwakuma/Koji Uehara/Brandon Moss (2 each), Anibal Sanchez (1)

All our first-place votes went to the out-of-nowhere Donaldson or the shockingly-great Davis. Actually, all of Davis's points were from first-place votes, so we were either very surprised by his performance or claim to be unfazed. For Crisp, he wasn't just surprisingly good, but it was the way he's produced that's the big shock, trading steals for homers.

NL Surprise Player

1st: Matt Carpenter (16) 2nd: Jose Fernandez (5) 3rd: Carlos Gomez/Jean Segura (3 each)

Also Receiving Votes: Domonic Brown (2), Mark Melancon/Marlon Byrd/Daniel Murphy/Michael Cuddyer/Evan Gattis/Yasiel Puig (1 each)

While Carpenter nearly swept his way to victory, there wasn't much more agreement, probably because of the sheer volume of surprising players in the NL. Perhaps Gomez and Segura each earned a first-place vote...and no others. Interestingly, no two RA authors listed the same third-place player.

AL Comeback of the Year

1st: Victor Martinez/Jacoby Ellsbury (8) 2nd: Eric Hosmer (7)

Also Receiving Votes: Ervin Santana (5),  Mariano Rivera (3), Alfonso Soriano (2), Justin Masterson/Shane Victorino/John Lackey (1 each)

This one couldn't have been closer. Well, Hosmer could have gotten one more vote, I guess. Martinez and Ellsbury's tie couldn't be broken, as each received two first-place votes and a single second-place nod. Hosmer was actually mentioned on more ballots than either winner. Rivera was the only other player to get first-place consideration. 

NL Comeback of the Year

1st: Francisco Liriano (15) 2nd: Jayson Werth (10) 3rd: Marlon Byrd (5)

Also Receiving Votes: Adam Wainwright (4), Jorge De La Rosa (2), Carl Crawford (1)

Unlike their AL cousins, the NL comebackers were extremely clear. Liriano and Werth appeared on every ballot, with Liriano getting four of the first-place votes. Werth got one (from Tim), and Wainwright got mine, though Byrd still squeaked by him in the votes. In both leagues, it's clearly been a great year for comeback players--don't expect this every year.

AL Biggest Bargain

1st: Chris Davis (15) 2nd: Josh Donaldson (12) 3rd: Koji Uehara (3)

Also Receiving Votes: Ervin Santana/Hisashi Iwakuma (2 each), Greg Holland/Alfonso Soriano (1 each)

I was the only one to disagree with Davis as the first choice...maybe he just got drafted higher in my leagues, I don't know. With or without my vote, he was the clear consensus, with Donaldson the clear number-two. Davis was early-to-mid selection that brought back first-round production, while Donaldson brought back early-to-mid production for the cost of a waiver wire choice. Either way, you really can't lose. There was really no other agreement, though Uehara managed to eke out a lead.

NL Biggest Bargain

1st: Jean Segura (14) 2nd: Matt Carpenter (8) 3rd: Jose Fernandez (8)

Also Receiving Votes: Hyun-Jin Ryu (2), Carlos Gomez/Patrick Corbin/Domonic Brown/Brandon Belt (1 each)

Segura was mentioned on five ballots (Steve Adams was the only dissenter), and Carpenter won the tiebreaker with Fernandez thanks to his two first-place selections. We were pretty agreed that those guys were the bargains, though Luckey found Ryu to be enough of a steal to get his second-place vote.

AL Biggest Bust

1st: Albert Pujols (17) 2nd: Josh Hamilton (10) 3rd: Jose Reyes/CC Sabathia/Justin Verlander (2 each)

Also Receiving Votes: Jesus Montero (1), and the combined efforts of Ben Zobrist, Ian Kinsler, and Dustin Pedroia

This category isn't so good to win...no wonder the Angels have had such a rough season. Pujols nearly swept the voting and Hamilton appeared on five of the six ballots. I was the biggest deviant actually, calling Reyes the number-two disappointment, and sharing my frustration with any high pick spent on disappointing seasons from Zobrist, Kinsler, and Pedroia. Verlander and Sabathia caught some frustration. Montero was the least valuable player on this list, with bad production, injury, demotion, and suspension forming an impressive combination of terrible-ness.

NL Biggest Bust

1st: B.J. Upton (14) 2nd: Matt Kemp (13) 3rd: Ryan Braun (6)

Also Receiving Votes: Starlin Castro (3)

Now, here's some agreement! Upton barely edged out Kemp, while both players appeared on all six ballots. It was the classic fight between a first-rounder who spends most of the year injured, and an OF anchor who spends the entire year as the worst player in baseball. Okay, so it's not exactly a classic, but both players were epically bad. The question of who was worse between Braun and Castro is really a similar one: a first-rounder who gets injured and suspended (but you can replace), or a third-rounder who sucks value away all year. I though Castro was worse, because at least Braun added value while he played...but I'll understand if the people who actually drafted him disagree....



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Hellickson Redux

The last week of the season is a weird one here at TPIITP.  All year long, we've been using the advanced metrics to weed out the "hey, he's on a roll!" or "boo, this guy stinks!" gut reactions from your fantasy moves, helping you look at the big picture behind a small sample size of a few games or even few weeks' worth of numbers.

Now that there's only five games remaining in the season, however, the sample size can't help but be small.  Since August I've narrowed the "recent metrics" window to just the previous month's worth of results, but at this point, you can't get any narrower.  Nobody can predict what'll happen in these next five days.  I can't, you can't, Nate Silver can't....well, he might be able to, but still, he wouldn't return my requests to co-author the column this week.

With this in mind, I'm going to forsake the usual stat-based analysis and revisit my first column of the year, which considered the case of one Mr. Jeremy Hellickson.  I singled him out since Hellickson was one of the prime examples of a pitcher who advanced metrics revealed to be pitching over his head for not one, but two seasons.  As I noted last April, Hellickson had the highest strand rate (81.8%) and lowest BABIP (.244) of any pitcher in baseball during the 2011-12 seasons, numbers that helped him to a 3.02 ERA over 366 innings despite these unimpressive peripherals....

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

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

Chalk it up to a bit more veteran experience, a bit of turning 26 and entering his baseball prime, or maybe Hellickson just got fed up with all the fantasy naysayers, but he went out and had the best advanced metric season of his career.  Though 169 1/3 IP, Hellickson posted...

2013: 4.27 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, 4.16 SIERA, 39% ground ball rate, 2.71 K/BB rate, 6.9 K/9

The boost was largely due to an uptick in strikeouts, as Hellickson struck out a career-best 130 batters.  Now, those still aren't a superb set of peripherals, but hey, they're decent enough numbers for The Luckiest Pitcher In Baseball to work with, right?  What now, is he going to flirt with a 2.50 ERA?

Uh, make that flirt with a 5.20 ERA.  To be exact, Hellickson's ERA sits at 5.16, a stunning number for a guy who'd beaten the odds for two years and is now getting busted even with better cards.  Only two qualified starters (Edinson Volquez and Edwin Jackson) have a larger negative gap between their ERA and their FIP than Hellickson's 0.88 drop. 

It came down to a lack of help from the BABIP and strand rate gods; Hellickson had a somewhat high .305 BABIP and a somewhat low 67.9% strand rate.  That's all it took for Hellickson to go from a fantasy dark horse into an easy roster drop come June.  I'll give it to him, however -- even in failure, he makes for an interesting advanced metric test case.

The question now is, what should be make of Hellickson for your 2014 fantasy season?  I recommended drafting him last year and, by thunder, I'm sticking to my opinion and saying you should keep Hellickson in mind as a last-round, rotation-depth selection in your next draft.  His poor season will drop him off just about every other owner's rader and, as I noted, next year is his age-27 season and he does seem to be improving as a pitcher. 

With a bit more development and a bit of luck, Hellickson could finally stop starring in Advanced Metrics: The Movie and just be your garden-variety pitcher whose peripherals more or less mirror his actual statistics.  It'll make him a lot less fun to write about but after seeing what he did to my fantasy rotation's numbers this year, I've already been to Hellickson and back.



RotoAuthority League Update: Last Mile of the Marathon

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.

The Race for First Place

1. Yu at the Animal Zoo 102.5

2. Smell the Glove 96

With just a week to play, it still may be premature to announce the 2013 RotoAuthority League champion. For the first time all year, however, I feel rather confident in stating that Yu at the Animal Zoo will take home the title this season. Let's see how the standings are likely to shake out over the final seven days.

First of all, Yu at the Animal Zoo and Smell the Glove won't move up or down in any of the following categories: R, HR, RBI, SV, and K. The offensive point totals for each squad are more or less set in stone. While each owner could lose a point in SB, each may also gain a point in AVG. It's on the pitching side, though, where we're more likely to witness some movement in the standings. Smell the Glove has been subjected to bad luck all season long in the wins category, and manager Tim Dierkes could still move either direction in the wins column over the final week. Along those same lines, Dierkes could still move up or down in the closely stratified ERA and WHIP categories.

Overall then, I expect Yu at the Animal Zoo to rank atop the standings a week from now. If that proves to be the case, it would certainly make for a worthy champion. For my money, no owner acquired more value on Draft Day. Oddly enough, during the season I'd argue this owner actually lost more trades than he won in terms of value accrued thereafter. Where this manager really shined, however, was on the waiver wire. Woody Allen once said, "80% of life is showing up." Well, this owner has showed up and then some throughout the daily grind of the MLB season. All told, he's made over 230 moves, 40 more than any other team in the league. There are numerous variables that lead to success in fantasy baseball, but hard work ultimately can still make the difference.

The Race for Third Place

3. Gramma Nutt Crushers 82

Yep, that's right. I've opted to place the Gramma Nutt Crushers in a tier by themselves, as they've clinched third place and a finish in the money. If you take a look back at my Draft Day recap, you'll see that no owner was more audacious than this one. While Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton have failed to live up to their top-15 price tag, other bold picks like Max Scherzer and Chris Davis have catapulted this team up the standings. There's something to be said for consistent results in the top half of the standings of any fantasy league. In a league with a top-heavy prize structure like this one, however, maybe the Gramma Nutt Crushers had the right idea with this strategy, emphasizing upside at all costs. That's something I'll have to keep in mind next spring...

The Race to Avoid the Bottom Four

4. Brewsterville Bruins 69.5

5. E-Z Sliders 66

6. A Century of Misery 63.5

7. Men With Wood 60

7. Say It Ain't So Cano 60

9. Philly Cheez 57

 

 

10. Reedy 52.5

11. UP 42.5

12. Forty 2 Twenty 4 28.5

While some may feel safer than others, at this point the majority of the league only cares about avoiding the bottom four and a boot from the league. Over the past week we witnessed a shift in the standings at that ever-important eighth-place slot. The only two original teams aside from Commissioner Tim Dierkes's Smell the Glove, Philly Cheez and Men With Wood, are battling it out with their league mortality on the line. Philly Cheez actually climbed past Men With Wood this past week, but Men With Wood was able to move out of the bottom four over the weekend. Given that each owner is slightly behind the innings pace, the fates of these squads could come down to the performances of spot starters over the season's final week. It should be interesting, as other squads like Say It Ain't So Cano will also surely be picking up starting pitchers on a daily basis with next year's invitation to the league at stake.

That's all for this week. Good luck to those of you still in contention in your leagues over the randomness that is one week's worth of games.

Standings as of Sunday, September 22nd



Stock Watch: One Last Wild Stab in the Dark

There's only one week of the season in which I'll seriously suggest picking up Bruce Chen.

Yep, this is the one. When a guy's only got two starts left, might just get both while his team claws towards a wild card slot, and he's scheduled against the Mariners and White Sox, who cares what his peripherals look like. Chen's KC teammate, the newly called up Yordano Ventura (whom I'll admit, I'd never even heard of before this morning, which either reflects his status as a prospect or mine as a prospect watcher) gets the same matchups and should draw at least as much interest.

How confident am I in a journeyman who's put up suspiciously average numbers this season and guy who's made exactly one Major League start will have a good final week. Confident enough to make them my top free agent choices in my head-to-head World Series matchup league with a couple hundred bucks on the line.

So...not confident at all.

But there's upside, and when the safety of the long season is gone, upside is really all that's left. Well, and a little common sense, I suppose: technically, Mike Pelfrey could beat both the Tigers and Indians next week--but that's a bet I'd rather not make.

So, with this rather terrifying thought experiment nearly ready to play out in real life, let's take a look at a few more players who can be added in the next week. 

But First, a Few Quick Rules about Whom to Drop

By this time, you've either given up, shed all your dead weight, or play in a league that restricts your transactions. If either the first or third of those choices are true, you've still got several obvious players to cut ties with. Me, I'm cutting Chris Capuano, aka Mr. Really Good for a Month Before You Pick Me Up and Tell Everyone Else to Do the Same, but Then Awful and Injured. But, with only a week to go, there's a lot of hidden dead weight on everyone's roster.

Those in weekly formats have it easiest: anyone injured or probably injured for even half the week (like Allen Craig, to pick another instance from my own life) and any player that you don't intend to stick into your lineup, for any reason whatsoever. Since nobody will have a chance to pick up whomever you drop, you can ditch elite players if their contributions are in categories you aren't fighting for. Don't need homers, but desperate for batting average? I won't stop you from dropping Chris Davis. Got saves wrapped up, but you're way behind in innings? Drop your closers and stream.

Even outside of weekly formats, though, there are probably plenty of guys you don't need anymore. While you shouldn't drop superstars and give them to your competition, you can take the schedule into careful consideration. Is your shortstop scheduled for all seven games? Then drop his backup. Does your first baseman have Monday and Thursday off? Make sure you add a backup. 

Pitchers are the easiest: if their talent and matchup don't combine to be better than what you can get off the waiver wire, then make a change. In one league, I've got Marco Estrada set to face Atlanta; in another I've got James Shields against Texas. I'm not thrilled about either matchup and might make a change. If your Arizona pitcher is unlucky enough to have his last start at Colorado, I'd probably let him go, but the particulars of what your team needs and what's available on your waiver wire are not known to me, so I won't get too specific with the advice.

Adds -- Pitchers

While granting that many teams have run up against their innings limits, pitchers like Sonny Gray, Ivan Nova, and Andy Pettitte far more leagues: they have upcoming games against Minnesota and San Francisco. Zack Wheeler, Jorge De La Rosa, and Ryan Dempster look (sort of) tempting, but all have unfavorable matchups.

Michael Wacha is tempting, but the Nationals are pretty hot lately--that one's your call. Tanner Roark has been hot and has two starts--but they're against St. Louis and Arizona. 

Alex Wood and Paul Maholm look pretty good against the Brewers. Kyle Kendrick could be a last-week hero, as he draws the hapless Marlins. Danny Salazar and Rick Porcello should look pretty good against the White Sox, while Corey Kluber and Scott Kazmir should look even better against the Astros. 

Keep in mind that pitching situations are highly fluid next week, as contending teams do whatever it takes to punch their ticket for the playoffs, while teams that have everything locked up (or locked out) take the opportunity to look at rookies, rest veterans, and set playoff lineups.

Adds -- Hitters

Here's a pair I never thought I'd be mentioning in the same sentence: Alex Rodriguez and Brian Dozier. Both are available in more than half of Yahoo! leagues and both have been hitting some homers with bad batting averages. Also, they both play hard-to-fill infield positions. Evan Gattis has hit for power too, but with even less average.

If you don't like those guys, that's okay, because Jedd Gyorko, Adam Lind, Matt Adams, Darin Ruf, and Chris Carter have been even better and are even more widely available. Sometimes life is nice like that.

Omar Infante has brought the batting average, Alcides Escobar has finally remembered how to steal bases, and Denard Span has been a flat out boss. There is no league in which he should remain unowned. Really. Angel Pagan has been really good too.

Adam Eaton, Zack Cozart, Carlos Ruiz, Raul Ibanez, and Christian Yelich have all done enough to catch a little attention lately. Trevor Plouffe, Kole Calhoun, Dustin Ackley, and Scooter Gennett each raise half an eyebrow or so. In less playing time, Josh Rutledge has looked pretty good. Matt Dominguez, Junior Lake, Dayan Viciedo, Yan Gomes, Khris Davis, and Brad Miller are all kind of interesting.

Actually, there are a lot of potentially decent pickups. With only a week to go, we don't need to bother with things like sustainable production or realistic expectations. Those in weekly leagues should consider the full schedule of games, for their current players and for any they might pick up. In daily leagues, all you really need to care about is what's happening next: if the matchup looks good, you need the category or help at the position, go for it.

Good luck, and Stock Watch will see you next year.

 


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Closer Updates: A’s, Astros, Bucs, Cubs & Rangers

This week, there’s been a shakeup in Chicago, a development in Houston, some potential trouble by the Bay, and minor updates from Texas and western Pennsylvania. Basically, we’ll be digging into some updates from all over the place and hopefully give you a little something to push you through those fantasy playoffs.

Astros

Ugh. In the last week, Houston has had only one save opportunity and it went to Josh Fields. Because Fields has the last three save opportunities for the Astros, he seems like the guy to own if you’re really looking for those saves. Despite struggling earlier in the season, he’s rebounded nicely in the past month (2.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 9.00 K/9) and Chia-Jen Lo hasn’t done much to impress over the same time (7.84 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 9.58 K/9).

Athletics

What in the world is eating Grant Balfour? A consistent closer all season, Balfour has struggled mightily of late. In his last 9.2 innings, he has one blown save, six earned runs, and allowed 17 base runners. While his job is not necessarily at stake, it’s quite possible that the A’s look to Ryan Cook if this continues. Cook has been a little rocky lately too, but he’ll be their first alternative plan for the ninth. With the Athletics looking to clinch the AL West, they’ll want to get Balfour rested and stop those ninth innings from slipping away.

Cubs

On Thursday afternoon, manager Dale Sveum declared that Pedro Strop would be receiving some save opportunities over the remainder of the season. While the exact time share, if any, is yet to be determined, it’s clear that they're trying out Strop for next season’s closer gig. Despite the highly productive Kevin Gregg, the Cubs are certainly looking to the future and Gregg isn't that guy. If you’re scrambling for saves at the end of the season, Strop may be an ideal waiver wire pickup as he’s widely available in leagues across all platforms.

Pirates

While it seemed that the Buccos were trying to bring Jason Grilli back to the ninth, that plan may be on hold for now. While Grilli has begun to regain his form, he may remain a potent reliever instead of a saves guy over the last few weeks. Rather than simply re-inserting him into the closer role, he will likely be setting up Mark Melancon and, unless Melancon struggles or is injured, it’s clear Pittsburgh is comfortable with him closing games for here on out. Melancon owners shouldn’t be concerned about his recent blown save as he’d converted nine consecutive saves prior to Wednesday.

Rangers

While Joe Nathan is certainly not at risk to lose his job, the once-depleted Rangers bullpen is becoming fully healthy for the first time in a long time. Tanner Scheppers has excelled as a setup man, with an incredibly strong season (1.99 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 6.62 K/9). However, a friendly competition may be brewing between Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz. Both are rebounding from significant injuries and have the stuff to be top closers if in the right position. Since returning in July, Soria has had 22 appearances and only allowed runs in four of them. While that is not an elite record, his six holds and 10.18 K/9 show that he’s starting to show glimpses of old times. On the other hand, Feliz has looked great, with no earned runs, a 1.29 WHIP, and 7.71 K/9 since returning at the beginning of September. If Soria and Feliz come around, the Rangers bullpen will have a surplus of weapons headed into the playoff chase.

Add-Vice

Should you be desperate for a save this weekend, B.J. Rosenberg may be a nice speculative pickup. He has dazzled in the last month (1.59 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 11.12 K/9) and simultaneously taken over the eighth inning in Philly. Jonathan Papelbon’s struggles this season are well documented, so Rosenberg may be in for a save or two in the last two weeks.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or drop, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Billy Hamilton Ain't Waiting Till Next Year (But We Can)

Just yesterday, I was telling my wife excitedly that Billy Hamilton had already stolen five bases, despite a career batting line that read 0/3. (She was duly impressed.) It turns out, I spoke too soon, considering that he just swiped four bags in his first ever start. "What is going on?" was my wife's incredulous response.

What indeed? Maybe Hamilton won't ever hit enough to be the next Rickey Henderson, and he might not last long enough to eclipse Mr. "Greatest of All Time's" career record, but you have to start thinking that Hamilton might be making a run at the 126-year-old single-season record of 138 steals, next year. Seeing as his nine steals in eight games would put him on track for 182 in a full season, they guy would have value even in a bench role--he could fight for the league lead as a pinch runner.

You may or may not need steals right now (but if you do, grab Hamilton--he's clearly got the ability to make an impact in a short amount of time), but you know he's on the radar for next year. But who else should be?

In the next couple sections, we'll take a perfunctory (and scattered) look at some things that have stood out this season.

Fallen Stars

I love fallen heroes, unpopular players, and first-rounders who didn't produce last year. Ryan Braun is all three of those things, and you have to bet you've got leaguemates who'll be wary of him off the juice and away from baseball for over half an injury-plagued season. I think he'll be a great value next year.

Matt Kemp, Albert Pujols have no business in the first round anymore, but that doesn't mean they can't put up a first-round season still. Both injury-plagued LA sluggers are likely to come value-priced. Not for the meek, that's for sure.

Some lower-level stars fell even farther: consider the horror that has been Starlin Castro's season--or worse, yet, B.J. Upton's. But do you really believe these guys are a step away from the end of their careers? The Cubs and Braves have every incentive to give these players a chance at redemption. Neither has been good enough to count on, but their upside makes them worthy lottery tickets for your bench.

On the other side of the ball, pitchers like Justin Verlander, Matt Cain, and Cole Hamels are all more than likely to regain most of their previous form--but they could still come at a pleasant discount. Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia seem a lot riskier, but their draft positions ought to be low enough that you won't be truly expecting anything.

Not every fall from grace is an opportunity; at this point I'm probably going to let others take risks on players like Jimmy Rollins and Paul Konerko

New to the Stage--or Back on It

Josh Donaldson and Matt Capenter weren't on a lot of fantasy radars last season, but their big splashes will make them starters for sure next year. Daniel Murphy and Will Venable have been much more quiet, but very valuable. Yasiel Puig and Jose Fernandez certainly won't be forgotten by any owners, but Brandon Moss and Marlon Byrd might. Hunter Pence and Alfonso Soriano looked ready to exit the fantasy stage, but bounced back with a vengeance. What will they look like next year?

Pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Anibal Sanchez haven't gotten much press since their hot starts, but both look pretty legit. Mike Minor has turned a quiet corner, while Clay Buchholz and Francisco Liriano have come back from the fantasy dead.

I Bet You Didn't Know...

...that Brandon Phillips and Freddie Freeman have 100 RBI's.

...that Chris Carter has 27 homers to go with his .220 average.

...that the Texas Rangers have three of the top 12 base stealers: Elvis Andrus (40), Alex Rios (37), and Leonys Martin (32).

...that Manny Machado's .286 batting average is extra valuable thanks to his place among the league leaders in hits and at bats.

...that nothing about the league leaders in runs scored really surprised me.

...that Jorge De La Rosa has been durable enough to win 16 games.

...that Justin Verlander and Kris Medlen both have 12 losses--and winning records.

...that Yu Darvish has 29 more strikeouts than the next best guy.

...that Buchholz's 1.51 ERA is spread over 95.1 IP.

...that only four starters with 100 IP or more have WHIP's under 1.00.

There's a lot left to look at before 2014 starts, but hopefully this will give you some thinking points--especially if the last week and a half of this year aren't holding your attention any longer.

 



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 19-25

It occurs to me that in the Harry Potter universe, where Quidditch reigns supreme as the most popular sport of the wizarding world, that there must be fantasy Quidditch leagues.  And, by extension, there must be fantasy Quidditch websites that pour deep into the advanced metrics to let you know who the top Chasers and Seekers REALLY are.  And, by extended extension, there must be a wizarding me who is writing his weekly column as we speak, and wondering if there's some Muggle out there who bothers to write about that curious non-magical sport of baseball.

Whatever.  Let's leave behind the world of fantasy and get into the world of....uh, fantasy to examine the LAST FULL WEEK OF THE FANTASY SEASON!!!!  AUUUUUUUGH! 

Garza The Garzarian  Like his Ghostbusters sorta-namesake, Matt Garza goes by many names.  "Garza The Traveler" fits because he has already pitched for four clubs in his career and been rumored to be dealt to a dozen others.  "Garza The Destructor" may fit if you're a Rangers fan and you're blaming Garza as one of the key reasons why your team is having another September collapse.  Garza has a 4.94 ERA in 11 starts with Texas, not at all what the Rangers were expecting when they acquired the righty from the Cubs before the trade deadline.  Fantasy owners also weren't thrilled to see their guy go from the NL Central to the American League, let alone one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in baseball.

If you've stuck with Garza this long, do you dare let him start if you're in a key fantasy playoff situation?  I'd bite the bullet and say yes.  Garza has an even 6.00 ERA over his last six starts, but his advanced metrics (3.74 FIP, 3.28 xFIP, 3.47 SIERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.00 BB/9) are quite good, and in fact, even better than his career averages.  It's just that Garza hasn't struck any oil in Texas; he has a .350 BABIP over those last six outings, not to mention a 57.8% strand rate, the second-lowest of any qualified starting pitcher over the last 30 days.  His next two starts are against the Royals on the road and against the Angels at home, so not exactly easy matchups, but Garza by all rights should be delivering a much more stable ERA than his real-life numbers would indicate.  Give him at least one more start before writing him off as a giant marshmallow.

Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly K-E-L-L-Y, Why?  Because his peripherals aren't good, that's why.  Cardinals righty Joe Kelly has been a solid contributor in wins (eight in his last 10 starts) and ERA (2.74) since becoming a full-time starting pitcher, including throwing five shutout innings against the Rockies at Coors Field last night.  That's pretty impressive, but there's a lot to be wary about when it comes to Mr. Kelly.  Heading into the Rockies start, Kelly had a 4.46 FIP, 4.26 xFIP and 4.42 SIERA over his last five starts --- that's much more concerning than his 2.48 ERA over the same span.  Kelly doesn't strike many batters out (a 5.28 K/9 and 3.41 BB/9), and even in that Rockies victory, he recorded exactly zero punchouts and two walks over his five innings. 

Kelly has enjoyed an 88.5% strand rate over the last month, even more comically high than his 84.4% seasonal total.  You could argue that Kelly has been lucky all year, so why quit now, but his next start will come against the red-hot Nationals, so that might be reason enough to turn to another spot starter if you need some rotation help in your league's final days.

Cuckoo For Coco  The preseason fantasy expectations for Coco Crisp were simple.  He was the guy who'd be your third outfielder and base-stealing specialist, not a guy who'd be relied on to provide any real pop outside of a maybe a decent batting average and a decent amount of runs.  As it happened, Crisp has only swiped 19 bags this year after averaging 40 steals over the previous three seasons....but he's making up for it with one of his very best hitting seasons.  All at age 33, too.

Crisp took a .257/.328/.432 batting line into Tuesday's action, has already set a new career high in homers (19), and is well on pace to shatter his previous career high for runs; Crisp scored 86 times in 2005 and already has 83 runs this season.  He's really turned on the power as of late, as his nine homers over the last 30 days is the third-highest total in baseball over that stretch.  Crisp has hit .287/.327/.614 over that period and that's with a .250 BABIP, so you can't even say he's lucking out and hitting them where they ain't.  Well, okay, technically he is, since "over the fence" counts as "where they ain't."  And I'm not talking about fielders, I'm talking about Oakland fans!  #Zinger

I'm prone to write off Crisp's power surge as a bit of good fortune, but his low BABIP hints at even more production if he starts getting the bounces.  This seems hard to believe, but Crisp is still available in 20% of Yahoo fantasy leagues.  If you're in one of those leagues, act now to add one of the league's hottest bats to your roster.



RotoAuthority League Update: A Fortnight to Go

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.

The Race for First Place

1. Yu at the Animal Zoo 105

2. Smell the Glove 100.5

Once again, this duo stayed within a couple points of one another throughout most of the week; however, a superb Saturday night propelled Yu at the Animal Zoo to a lead of 4.5 points. With just a fortnight to play, it's relatively simple to see which categories matter, so let's try to figure out who's more likely to take home the title. Yu at the Animal Zoo is unlikely to gain or lose a point in any of the following categories: R, SB, K, and ERA. On the other hand, this manager could move up or down by a point in HR, AVG, and WHIP. The most pivotal offensive category at this point is clearly RBI, as just a single RBI separates a cluster of teams. Not surprisingly, Yu at the Animal Zoo has wisely been adding hitters on Mondays and Thursdays to maximize this crucial counting stat. For Tim Dierkes, the only offensive category of note is AVG, in which Smell the Glove could lose a point. It's worth noting the Wins and WHIP categories are both tightly packed, so Dierkes could move up or down by a couple points in each of those, too. Above all else, the saves category is key, as Yu at the Animal Zoo has just four more than Smell the Glove. Dierkes still has 50 fewer innings pitched, so that should play out as a two-point swing that could effectively decide the league. All told then, each owner can still move about five points in either direction, so it's still premature to project a champion.

The Race for Third Place

3. Gramma Nutt Crushers 81.5

4. A Century of Misery 66

5. Brewsterville Bruins 63.5 

6. Say It Ain't So Cano 63

It's somewhat of a snoozefest in this part of the standings. I probably could have placed the Gramma Nutt Crushers in a tier by themselves, as they've all but locked up third place and a finish in the money. Meanwhile, we have a few teams here (including mine) that can probably breathe a sigh of relief, as we're unlikely to be booted from the league. Then again, self-motivation is the only real impetus to fight for every point at this stage in the game. I know I'll make an effort to finish as high as possible, but it's tough to blame any owner who sees little difference between fourth place and seventh place. This is the equivalent of limbo when it comes to fantasy baseball standings, but it's always good practice for future seasons to assess the standings and try to squeeze out as many points as possible.

The Race to Avoid the Bottom Four

7. E-Z Sliders 61

8. Men With Wood 59

9. Philly Cheez 54

10. Reedy 50.5

11. UP 44

12. Forty 2 Twenty 4 32

It's officially crunch time for this group of teams at the bottom of the standings. With only two weeks remaining, some of these teams are resorting to any means necessary to avoid the boot. Carlos Gonzalez will be a consensus top-five pick next spring, but the E-Z Sliders made the right move and dropped the fantasy monster yesterday. Men With Wood is making a pickup just about everyday to avoid falling of the cliff that is the drop from eight to ninth place. It's interesting that Men With Wood and Philly Cheez occupy those positions in the standings, as those are the only original owners aside from Tim Dierkes. With only a few moves recently, the three teams currently lowest in the standings may be resigned to their unfortunate fates. 


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