September 2013

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Stock Watch: What Have You Done for Me Lately?

A roto-style fantasy season is won over the course of six long months, and most of those are mostly wrapped up. First-place owners drafted well, watched the waiver wire, traded shrewdly, and got more good luck than bad; now they're ready to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Head-to-head owners, however, and anyone else in a playoff format still have everything left to be decided in the next two weeks. Winning it all, or out of the money, who can say what will happen? This is equally true, by the way (or nearly so), of roto leagues in which everyone's place is not yet determined. In fantasy, all is vanity.

Or close enough to it, anyway. More accurate, though, would be to say that all is hot streaks and good timing. Last year, Chris Davis's September carried me to a championship...this year some other player will carry some other teams to their championships. Well, hopefully it will be some other player, anyway, because I don't own Davis this season.

As we wind down Stock Watch, we'll continue to look at players worth picking up for that final push...as well as those worth trimming from your team as their play and schedules demand it.

Pick Up

Right out of the gate, let's look at some pitchers who could help in this coming week. If your adds and drops are limited at all, then you know how important two-start weeks are. Ditto if you're under your innings limit and want to make up ground in Wins and Strikeouts.

Yusmeiro Petit gets two spins in New York City, one against the Mets and the other against the Yankees. The Mets game is unsurprisingly favorable, but the Yankees don't hit like they used to.

Scott Kazmir is always a high-risk guy, but against Kansas City and Houston, he could deliver high rewards. Teammate Corey Kluber gets to face the same teams. Got to love that Cleveland schedule.

Tanner Roark has to face Atlanta...but he also gets Miami. The nice thing about him is how widely available he is. Wily Peralta has the same story, with the Cubs and Cardinals; unfortunately for Peralta, his team is rather less likely to bring home the win than Roark's Nationals.

Freddy Garcia isn't a two-start guy, but he's filling in very well for the Braves. Will the magic last long? Probably not. But it doesn't have to.

If you need a catcher and forgot about Miguel Montero, maybe it's time to remember him. He's been hitting well (especially in average) since returning from the DL. Maybe he can't redeem his disaster season, but it's worth it to own him while he tries.

Matt Dominguez and Denard Span have been crushing the ball in the last month, and Baltimore's Danny Valencia has been killing the ball in part-time play, with a .489 average and three homers in 45 AB. Andy Dirks has been very good as well, and he gets to take advantage of Detroit's soft schedule.

In a shorter time frame of just the last two weeks, Alex Presley has been hitting the ball well for his new team. The other Minnesota beneficiary of the Justin Morneau trade, Chris Colabello has three homers in the last couple weeks. Juan Uribe (remember him) has four. Houston shortstop Jonathan Villar is strictly a ride-the-hot hand type of guy, but he's been the waiver wire star of the last two weeks, with an average over .330 and six stolen bases.

Grant Green, Freddy Galvis, and Angel Pagan are three more potential hot hands.

Colby Rasmus is back from the DL. With his Friday home run, he's suggested that he'll just keep on hitting. Will his good luck continue into 2014? Who knows? Who cares?

Josh Fields appears to be closing in Houston. Might as well pick him up. I guess.

Stay Away

Some of the most intriguing pitchers on most waiver wires should actually be avoided based on their next matchups: Esmil Rogers (faces Boston), Erasmo Ramirez (Angels), James Paxton (Tigers). Those interested in Henderson Alvarez should remember that facing the Nationals (his next opponent) is not the same as shutting out the Mets. Daisuke Matsuzaka came back from the (mostly) dead to collect a win, and his next start is against the Phillies...so good news? I guess, except he gets to face Cole Hamels. Plus, there's the inherent risk in rolling with Dice-K....

While there are hot pitchers I'll stay away from right now, there are almost no hitters I won't try. The reason is this: waiver wire pitchers have about the same values to their risk and reward right now—a bad game will set you back a lot, while a great one can push you over the top. There's a lot at stake on the pitcher's mound. In the batter's box, the story is different: hitters can only help and hurt you incrementally. By the time a hitter can suck value for your team with too many consecutive oh-fer's, you've probably already dropped him. And if he keeps hitting (or stealing), you keep him in the lineup. (Obviously, weekly leaguers need to be more careful than this, so they should take upcoming matchups into particular consideration.)

Drop

Owners might be excited that Dexter Fowler is back from injury, but he still isn't starting, and who knows how long it might take to get him back up to speed. On top of that, the out-of-contention Rockies will have no incentive to rush him or risk re-injury. You can let him go.

Phil Hughes has been banished to the bullpen, so that's it for him. For completely different reasons, Jose Fernandez can be let go too.

At this point, there isn't a lot of downside left to giving up on disappointing players like B.J. Upton, Alcides Escobar, David Freese, Paul Konerko, Starlin Castro. Unfortunately, that list sounds a lot like my fantasy bench right now.

Adam Dunn is on the low side of his playing pendulum, and I don't know if there's enough time left for it to matter if he turns things around again. Really, though, any marginal player in a slump can probably be let go in favor of another player on a hot streak. The differences in real player talent will have less to the results of the next two weeks than many other factors (some of which are nonrandom, but nevertheless chalked up to “luck”). The cycle of success and failure is one of those factors.

Even good injured players like Allen Craig might be appropriate to toss overboard—I mean, is one week (if that) of Craig really better than two of Alex Presley or Colby Rasmus? (Okay, maybe it is, but it's worth thinking about.) Joe Mauer might be rejoining the Twins soon, but if your fill-in has done well enough, I might just drop Mauer, as concussion recoveries are hard to predict, and, well, two more weeks just isn't that much time. Jacoby Ellsbury has a foot injury, but the strategy of letting him go so he isn't wasting space on your roster while he gets the feel of playing again remains the same.

CC Sabathia has been flat-out awful lately, so drop him....wait a minute. Yes, I will take a chance on Sabathia against the Giants. After that, I'll consider letting him loose. For other struggling pitchers, we should follow the same model: who are they scheduled to start against? Lance Lynn, for instance, gets to pitch at Colorado. Drop him. The better the pitcher, the more benefit of the doubt you should leave. I wouldn't drop Felix Hernandez, but I wouldn't pitch him against Detroit, either.


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Closer Updates: Astros, Cubbies, Mets, Pirates & Tigers

Once again, the closer newswire has been fairly calm this week. Although this is unfortunate for fantasy managers hoping to scavenge a save in the midst of the playoffs, it does allow us to take a look at some bullpens that might otherwise go ignored.

Astros

At this point, it wouldn’t be a Closer Updates article without some attempt to figure out what’s been going on in Houston since Jose Veras was sent to Detroit. The only traditional save opportunity this week went to Josh Fields, who gave up a solo shot but still converted his fourth save of the season. It seems that Fields is the best option to own in this unpredictable bullpen, as Chia-Jen Lo struggled this week with a blown save on Monday. Fields is not setting the world on fire for the Astros, but he is converting the few saves that come his way.

Cubs

After starting the season with the Carlos Marmol experiment, Chicago quickly turned to journeyman closer Kevin Gregg at the end of April and were handsomely rewarded. Gregg is six saves away from his career high (37) and is posting a career-best 3.00 ERA. That being said, Gregg is definitely not the future closer in Wrigleyville and Pedro Strop could step into the ninth for the occasional save opportunity before the season ends. If he succeeds, Strop could be the guy going into next season.

Mets

As soon as it looks like LaTroy Hawkins has a firm grip on the ninth in Queens, guess who comes storming back from oblivion? Bobby Parnell? Nope. The immortal Billy Wagner? Sadly, no. The one and only Frank Francisco has returned to the Mets bullpen with fervor and gusto. In his first appearance back, Francisco earned the win in 0.2 innings (with one walk and no earned runs or strike outs). However, he’s been a little rocky since that first victory and manager Terry Collins doesn’t quite seem ready to pitch him in back-to-back days, let alone give him the ninth. However, the Mets have been patient with his recovery and may be willing to give him some save opportunities before the season ends.

Pirates

The time for Jason Grilli’s return to the closer role is nearly upon us. While Mark Melancon may be in the Pirates’ plans for next year, they are not paying Grilli to be a set up guy in 2013. Since returning to the bigs, Jason Grilli has been a little rusty but his recent promotion to higher-leverage situations indicates that he’ll being put in a position to regain his old gig sooner rather than later. Stayed tune and don’t be surprised if he’s officially the closer (again) by the time Closer Updates comes out next week.

Tigers

After beginning the year as one of the more precarious closer situations, Detroit has sorted out their bullpen situation quite nicely. With an early carousel of Phil Coke, Drew Smyly, and Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit emerged as the best and most dependable of the bunch. With a 2.05 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, Benoit has posted 18 saves and firmly held onto the closer role in Motown. Former Astros closer Jose Veras was acquired via trade and has been a holds machine since coming to the Tigers, while continuing to build on his solid season stats (2.88 ERA, 1.01 WHIP). With the emergence of Benoit and the acquisition of Veras, Detroit has gone from shaky shoals to smooth sailing in the bullpen seas.

Add-Vice

Due to the relatively quiet closer scene lately, much of our Add-Vice is speculative and this week is no different. If you’re in the middle of a playoff chase for your league title, Kelvin Herrera may be a sneaky pickup. Although he’s not a closer, he is a setup guy with a tremendous strikeout rate (11.4 K/9) who grabs a win from time to time (two in August). If you’ve got an open pitcher spot, he can add to your K's and maybe grab you that one win you’ll need to get over the top this week.

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: Value Changers

I know the most about fantasy baseball in March. You know the feeling--mock drafting, poring over last year's stats, re-sorting leaderboards for every possible category--we are rarely more expert than in the last moments before the draft. (During the draft, clearly, most of us are less than experts.)

Then the season gets going, and our perception narrows. We zero in on our own fantasy teams, occasionally sparing ourselves the time to cheer on our favorite real club. Sure, before making trades we'll go over opposing players with a fine-toothed comb, and we learn to scour the waiver wire like Hector Santiago and Donnie Murphy are the most interesting people in the world...but, day in and day out, few of us pay truly careful attention to most of the hundreds of players owned in our fantasy leagues.

The effect of this phenomenon? Well, for me, it means that each January, when I shake off the morning dust of the offseason dive back into fantasy baseball like a kid on Christmas there always seem to be a couple players whose stat lines make me go, 'What? Who even is that?' Hot streaks that I dismissed in April turned out to be great seasons; players too consistent to even check on either raised their game to the next level or fell off a cliff. 

Today, we're going to get a head start on some of those surprising players, and take a look at some guys whose value has changed significantly since the start of 2013.

Josh Donaldson is the guy who inspired this article, and far and away the sleeper whose name I would go back in time and whisper to myself the night before all my drafts. Alas, he's already the subject of an article on Fangraphs.com (the featured one, no less). He's been good enough that you've probably heard about him as successful, and have filed him away to research and maybe draft next year. Donaldson owners are hoping you wait till next year to think about just how good he's been, because I guarantee anyone who owns this guy is targeting him for 2014.

With a Yahoo! O-Rank of 346, this guy was ignored in a lot of drafts (actually, he's somehow still only 86% owned in that format) and yet here's the stat line he's given us: .297/.371/.494, with 21 homers. He's come basically out of nowhere, without a great minor league track record. At 27, he certainly wasn't a prospect, and tradition demands that I warn you he's at his athletic peak.

What do you do with him next year? My jury's still out, but only because the track record isn't there, as this season looks very legit. He's been a top-five third baseman this year, and I have to think it'll be worth taking him among the top ten next year, at a position that has had more than its share of disappointments.

Speaking of disappointments, Ian Kinsler has certainly been one. He saw a big decline between his superstar 2011 and his just-okay 2012, and this season has continued the downward trend. Before looking at his numbers, I figured him for a decent but declining good second base option. Nope. Instead, Kinsler's slash line reads .271/.336/.404, with fewer than 11 homers and 13 steals. He's someone I'll be avoiding on next year's draft day, as he's fallen a long way down the depth chart at his position.

Like everyone else in the entire world, I figured Alfonso Soriano had cemented himself as a player: a bad average guy, whose speed was gone, and hit between 20 and 30 homers, and got every ounce of his value from those homers. Right now, he's got only a .254 average, but his 32 homers have drawn out 98 RBI's. He's even added 17 steals. With the Yankee lineup around him, Soriano looks a lot more like a number two or three outfielder next year than the number four or five he was coming into this season. He's even retaken his place as the "best player in baseball named Soriano," which is a title he hadn't had in long time.

Hunter Pence is in a similar boat. His trends were so ugly that I refused to draft him...then he was too good to trade for. In 2012, Pence gave owners a .253/.319/.425 line with 24 home runs and five steals. This year: .289/.340/.474 with 20 longballs and 21 steals. I can't say why he's picked up the running game, but I like it. The slash line has improved a lot, too, and suddenly his overall pattern looks different: instead of measured decline, maybe last year was simply an aberration.

Ben Zobrist was a RotoAuthority favorite before the season (he's on most of my teams), but Mr. Swiss Army Knife hasn't been as sharp as in the past. While his average and speed have held steady, his power has tanked, from 20 homers to 11, and a .471 slugging to just .413. Sure, it's nice for him to play basically every position, but you'd like a lot more than that for a fourth-rounder. Don't expect him to carry that price tag next year, but don't expect him to be a good bargain either: late bloomers have the tendency to fade out early, and Zobrist may be on that road at 32. (Counterpoint, though: he had a similar power slump in 2010 and responded with back-to-back 20-homer seasons. Go figure.)

Sticking with second basemen, Daniel Murphy has been a very quiet, very useful guy. With double-digit homers, nearly 20 steals, and a slash line of  .284/.318/.407, he's basically been Zobrist this year, but might have gone undrafted. That probably won't happen again next year, as he'll be a MI target for plenty of bargain hunters.

Speaking of Mets, what about Marlon Byrd? This guy had the best stats on my waiver wires forever, until someone couldn't stand it anymore and picked him up. Good call, it turns out. Rocking a 366 Yahoo! O-Rank, I'm thinking Byrd didn't fly high in many drafts. (Sorry, couldn't help it.) That didn't stop him from smacking 22 homers with a slash line of .288/.334/.516. Sure, he's got a .352 BABIP, but that's still pretty great for a guy who wasn't even expected to start before the year. Normally, I'd call a season like this an anomaly (maybe I still will), since Byrd is 36 and has plenty mediocre track record behind him. Interestingly, however, he has done this before, back in 2009. I would totally take a flyer on him next year if he's assured a starting OF job, which is a lot more than I would have said a couple months ago.

Alexei Ramirez is an interesting case, because he's totally changed as a player. At one point, he was a great mid-round power source at shortstop, nearing 20 homers, without killing you in average. Maybe he'd even sprinkle in a few steals. He began his transformation by purging himself of any semblance of power in a very disappointing 2012. Then this year, he finished it off by tacking on 50% more steals (with half as many homers) and upped his batting average. If you can expect 30 steals from a shortstop, you stop worrying about home runs--otherwise I wouldn't have been stuck with Alcides Escobar in so many leagues. Ramirez's transformation is pretty much the opposite of what you expect from a 32-year-old, so I won't be breaking the bank to draft him, but he's a lot more interesting now than a year ago.

Fortunately, these are the only ballplayers who've changed in value since last year, so you won't even need to keep preparing for 2014...oh, wait. Nope. There's plenty more and maybe we'll examine some of them next time. Or maybe not. This column is, after all, unscripted. 



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 12-18

There is precious little time left in the fantasy season so let's get right into looking at a few well-known names who you should be sticking with down the stretch, plus one who you should be thinking about turning into a spot starter...

* Vottomatic For The People  Well folks, your pal Mark suffered a tough beat in one of his head-to-head leagues.  I finished a gross 12th in the standings, thus putting me well outside of the eight-team postseason bracket.  Since it's a 16-team league with 14 everyday starting lineup positions, my strategy has been to always count on a few key superstars to carry a team that (sadly) usually ends up needing a lot of waiver wire reinforcements over the course of a season.  Over these critical last few weeks, my cornerstone stars let me down, including none other than my first-round pick, Joey Votto.

Now, while Votto didn't produce enough to keep me in the race, this isn't to say that you should be benching him.  Far from it.  Over his last 133 PA entering Tuesday's action, Votto has posted a .216/.391/.412 slash line with five homers, 12 RBI and 13 runs scored.  So yeah, it's not exactly a *bad* month aside from the batting average, which can be explained by Votto's .246 BABIP over the last 30 days.  If anything, Votto is just a victim of his own high standards.  As I noted last week about Felix Hernandez, benching a superstar since they're "cold" is going to backfire on you more often than not.  A star's slump may seem dire if you're relying on them to carry your entire fantasy lineup, but odds are they're still more productive than most.  For example, if you benched Votto in disgust after he went 0-for-10 over two games against the Cardinals on Sept. 4-5, you missed him rack up six hits in his next four games.

* A.J. All Day  These are heady times for the Pirates and their fans, and basically the only downside for the Buccos right now is that ace A.J. Burnett has been a bit shaky lately.  If you're a Burnett owner who has reaped the benefits of the righty's impressive year, don't be worried that your man's initials are going from "A Jewel" to "All Junk."  Burnett has a 5.02 ERA over his last five starts and yet his peripherals are roughly the same as they've been all year long.  In fact, the advanced metrics (2.45 FIP, 3.01 xFIP) suggest the bounces simply haven't been going Burnett's way as of late.  Don't be worried about the 36-year-old Burnett running out of gas late in the season, as this is a guy who has averaged 202 IP over the last five years.  Burnett is still a must-start fantasy option down the stretch and it also gives you a bit of a vicarious thrill in rooting along with the feel-good Pirates, doesn't it?....uh, unless you're a Cardinals or Reds fan.

* C.J. No Way  I swear, I didn't plan this as an "all-initial" gimmick, it just happened!  C.J. Wilson is 3-0 with a 3.13 ERA over his last five starts but don't be fooled, the CeeJ has been dodging more bullets than Neo.  He's allowed almost as many walks (14) as strikeouts (18) over those last 31 2/3 innings, and he owns a 4.97 FIP and 4.94 xFIP over that stretch.  Wilson has been bailed out by an 84.9% strand rate, which is pretty unlikely to continue for much longer.  Wilson is the kind of pitcher who's ideally a fourth or fifth fantasy starter in the best of times, so if I was a Wilson owner, I'd be ignoring the recent results and being very careful with his starts the rest of the way.  If he's facing the Astros, sure.  If he's facing the Rangers, hold the phone. 

* Santana The Man-na  The ballots are in, and Carlos Santana is the BABIP-Buster of the Week.  This isn't a "bench-or-play?" situation since only a grade-A clown would bench a top-tier fantasy catcher like Santana down the stretch drive, but I just wanted to give a tip of the cap to the Cleveland backstop for putting up a huge fantasy month despite a .224 BABIP over his last 109 PA.  That number isn't doing Santana's average any favors, but overall, he's hitting .244/.394/.488 with six homers, 15 RBI and 15 runs over that stretch. 

Santana is thus far taking full advantage of the fact that the Tribe's September schedule is mighty weak, so there's a good chance that he'll keep this up and win himself a number of fantasy playoff MVP trophies.  In fact, I have Santana myself in one of my leagues, and it's no coincidence that I'm in a battle for first place that may go right down to the final day of the season.  He's such a big part of my team that even writing about his hot streak is probably a huge jinx....uh oh, wait....



RotoAuthority League Update: 3 Weeks 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 103

Another week of play, another week of this pair of teams going back and forth atop the standings. We also continue to see similar waiver wire strategies from each owner. Tim Dierkes made just a lone acquisition, grabbing the improving Ivan Nova for the struggling Lance Lynn. Meanwhile, the manager for Yu at the Animal Zoo has exhibited a consistent pattern of picking up a spot starter and a hitter on a daily basis. In fact, Yu at the Animal Zoo now has made over 100 transactions more than Smell the Glove has made. It seems like these two teams alternate as the league leader literally everyday, so clearly, one point could make the difference. Upon closer examination, the league champion actually could be decided by whose closers are able to get more saves over the final three weeks. Yu at the Animal Zoo has a slight edge in that regard with five closers compared to three for Smell the Glove.

The Race for Third Place

3. Gramma Nutt Crushers 76

4. Say It Ain't So Cano 69

I considered placing the Gramma Nutt Crushers all alone in this tier, as this team had separated itself from the rest of the pack by 15 points earlier in the week. With the Brewsterville Bruins losing a dozen points in the standings, there's a new squad trying to catch the Crushers, Say It Ain't So Cano. Like Yu at the Animal Zoo, Say It Ain't So Cano has been very active on the waiver wire each day during the stretch run. In particular, this owner has prioritized catching up on the innings pace by grabbing countless spot starters. This stands to reason, as Say It Ain't So Cano is last in the league in WHIP but could accumulate several points in the closely stratified categories of wins and ERA.

The Race to Avoid the Bottom Four

5. A Century of Misery 63.5

6. Brewsterville Bruins 61.5

7. E-Z Sliders 61

8. Philly Cheez 59

9. Men With Wood 58

10. UP 50.5


11. Reedy 49.5

12. Forty 2 Twenty 4 24

It's a shame this league doesn't have incrementally decreasing payouts across the entire league standings, a policy some leagues employ to maintain interest among owners until the very end. After all, we see changes in who occupies this region of the standings seemingly everyday. Given that I spent the majority of this season hovering in 11th or 12th place, I'd consider it a victory of sorts if I'm able to finish in 5th. Like everyone else in this tier, though, I really just hope to avoid the bottom four. Just a week ago, it looked like the Brewsterville Bruins could finish in the money; however, after a disastrous week in the standings they suddenly have to worry about getting booted from the league. A week after dropping Justin Verlander, UP again made a couple interesting moves, releasing Domonic Brown and Patrick Corbin. While Brown is currently hurt, Corbin is healthy and still producing. Perhaps the manager for UP had the schedule in mind when making the move, as the southpaw must face the Dodgers twice in a row and then go to Coors Field.

Standings as of Sunday, September 8th.



Stock Watch: If You've Got Anything to Play For, Play These Guys

With the first week of September in the books, your fantasy season has either kicked into high gear…or stalled completely. Many of us, sadly, have little left to play for, while a few of you (also sadly, since I’m not among you) have your leagues wrapped up.

Fortunately, most of us are playing for something still, even if it’s no more than pride. This article is for you who are still playing…

Pick Up (Hitters)

If you’re in need of steals, Jarrod Dyson should be your guy (for the moment). KC has a tough schedule, but Dyson’s on fire on the bases and not yet killing you at the plate. Emilio Bonifacio and Eric Young remain options for the steals-thirsty.

James Loney and Neil Walker are good choices for anyone looking to stabilize their batting average.

If your average can’t be stabilized (or is so good it can afford a hit), Chris Carter will throw some power into your lineup. Darin Ruf keeps doing his power thing too, and at least his bad batting average isn’t a total certainty like Carter’s.

Jedd Gyorko and Josh Rutledge haven’t quite lived up to their preseason hype, but both provide nice position flexibility. Gyorko has hit well lately and Rutledge…is up from the minors, at least.

Adam Eaton isn’t the big steals threat we expected, but he’s having a quietly good and balanced month for anyone needing a fourth or fifth outfielder. Meanwhile Khris Davis keeps on hitting. Ride this hot streak.

Carlos Ruiz is hitting the ball better than most widely owned catchers.

Ryan Ludwick is my favorite pickup right now. I loved him before the season (that turned out well, I know), but now that he’s back, he’s hitting, and the Reds have a killer schedule for the month.

Will Middlebrooks was a popular sleeper (at least on my fantasy teams) before the season, and he might be living up to the potential he showed last year after his most recent callup. Or maybe he’s just having a random good month. Either way, snap him up, because a random good month is what we’re all looking for

Pick Up (Pitchers)

Brad Ziegler and LaTroy Hawkins are both closing. Why are they on any waiver wires? Even in shallow leagues, every save can count. Those in head-to-head formats really have no excuse to leave these closers available—they don’t have to be elite, only just good enough.

Jonathon Niese is over half owned, I know, but he looks totally back to form and should be owned in every league deep enough to have drafted him. His teammate Zack Wheeler ought to be better owned too; both get favorable schedules for the final month, so there are no excuses.

Yusmeiro Petit was once a prospect and he never panned out. I have no long-term prediction for him, but at the moment, he’s a lot better than Barry Zito and the Giants’ opponents and parks shape up to be quite friendly for the rest of the season.

Michael Wacha, or “Yo-Yo Wacha,” as I’ve taken to calling him in my head, is back up for the Cards. If he can keep his rotation residency, he’ll have value.

Sonny Gray keeps pitching well and striking people out. Leave him unowned at your own risk.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, and Corey Kluber are flawed, yes (walks by the truckload for Jimenez and Kazmir, just returning from injury for Kluber), but all three have talent, a deceptively good offense, and a soft September schedule. Zach McAllister is less flawed than his rotation-mates, but possesses less upside too. But he’s got the same offense and the same schedule; prefer him if your position in the standings recommends risk-avoidance.

Rick Porcello has had a rough couple turns of the rotation, but I still like his upcoming matchups. Charlie Morton and Tanner Roark should similarly benefit from friendly opposing lineups.

Stay Away (Hitters)

Billy Hamilton has a season line that reads like this on my fantasy roster screen: 2 0 0 2 --. That’s right: two runs, two steals, and no at-bats at all. This guy could lead the league in steals as a pure pinch runner. While that might actually be better than the MI options on your league waiver wire, it probably isn’t. Get someone allowed to swing the bat.

Mike Moustakas spent part of the second half of this season looking like a good pickup option (indeed, his name was mentioned in this space more than once), but that time is no more. With a brutal pitching schedule upcoming for his squad, let someone else eat the Moose Tacos.

Josh Willingham didn’t get that change of scenery I was hoping for when I picked him up a couple weeks ago. Who knows if that would have helped, but staying put doesn’t seem to be doing him any good. Jason Kubel did get a change of scenery and it hasn’t helped yet.

Stay Away (Pitchers)

Jorge de la Rosa is the subject of an interesting RotoGraphs article, but I’d avoid him for one very simple reason: Coors Field. The Rox don’t have a big home/road disparity, and I just don’t want to pick up any of their pitchers unless I can get a couple road starts in a row.

Jeremy Hellickson briefly looked interesting—just long enough for me to hop off my years-running anti-Hellickson train. Well, I’m back on, thanks in large part to the Rays’ upcoming schedule. Teammate Alex Torres is avoidable for the same reason.

Phil Hughes is always tempting, but don’t do it. The Yanks play a lot of the AL East, and those guys can hit.

Speaking of bad schedules, Hector Santiago and Danny Duffy look interesting (or, at least Duffy does), but I want nothing of the amount of times their teams get to play Detroit and Cleveland.

Jake Westbrook is back from the DL and pitches for the Cardinals, and Cardinal pitchers who aren’t injured are good, so you should pick him up…right? Yeah, no. He struggled mightily before his injury, and there are plenty of available players with less obvious risk and easier upcoming opponents.

Let Go

If you’re still holding onto these guys, cut ‘em loose: David Freese, Erick Aybar and Paul Konerko are killing anyone still starting them. Rajai Davis has competition from other base-stealing specialists that are hitting less badly. Roy Halladay doesn’t seem to have it any more than he did at the beginning of the season, and Mike Leake seems to be running out of gas or out of magic.

While you’re at it, cut those guys that are out for the season, or kicked out of their closing jobs. Owners of Albert Pujols, Everth Cabrera, and Brandon League, I’m looking at you.


Full Story |  Comments (0) | Categories: Stock Watch

Closer Updates: Angels, Astros, BoSox, Marlins, & Pirates

For the most part, this week has been all quiet on the closer front. That means, in addition to regular updates, we’ll toss in a taste of next year by looking at a couple of closers who didn’t start the season with a firm grip on the ninth but have proven themselves thus far and seem to be going into 2014 with closer credentials.

Angels

The war may not be over, but the battle for the Halos closer seems to be done. Ernesto Frieri is earning back the skipper’s trust with three consecutive saves and nine consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run. Dane De La Rosa has performed admirably in his mini-audition for the gig (with an August ERA of 0.97) and he’ll be trusted with saves if Frieri is on short rest moving forward. If Frieri struggles again, he’ll be the first to step in and may even be able to steal a win or two down the stretch in relief situations.

Astros

The struggle for the Astros’ ninth inning continues. While the battle for Angels’ closer is more of a fistfight, the Houston position battle is a thumb war. Josh Fields had only one appearance in the last week, allowing one run and earning the hold. Then, he received the four-out save opportunity on Thursday night and converted with relative ease (he did not allow a walk or strike out a batter). Chia-Jen Lo, on the other hand, has seen his season ERA balloon to 5.25 after allowing four runs in one inning on Monday. This may have led the Astros to give Fields the most recent opportunity and if he can continue not to blow saves, the job might be his. That being said, tread lightly as any of these guys can be a serious liability across the fantasy board until one can prove himself in consecutive outings.

Marlins

When you think about dominant closers, you certainly do not think about Steve Cishek. And while the term dominant may be too bold, Cishek’s numbers aren’t too far off from the good stuff (29 saves, 2.52 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.75 K/9). If the Marlins were in a position to win more ballgames, Cishek could be a top closer. While his historical numbers aren’t the greatest, his contract isn’t high and he’ll likely have the Marlins gig in 2014. If they go on a spending spree this offseason, he may be a serious sleeper next year.

Pirates

Since we last visited the Steel City, Mark Melancon was proving to be a great replacement to Jason Grilli, who was rehabbing with the anticipation of an early September return. In that time period, lots have changed. Grilli’s return to the major leagues came in a blowout, putting very little pressure on the 30 save closer. He performed well, striking out two Brewers in one inning and proving his effectiveness. Look for him to get a few higher pressure outings this week before being inserted back into the closer’s role.

Red Sox

While Koji Uehara may be in dominant form now, the early debate was whether him or Junichi Tazawa would get the closer’s gig in Beantown. Koji took the job and ran with it, having a great 2013 season. With a severely depleted bullpen, Boston has leaned on Uehara and he’s delivered. Despite the return of many guys from injury, he could be their closer in 2014 or, at the very least, serious trade bait in the offseason. If you’re in a keeper league and snagged him off the waiver wire earlier in the year, keep this in mind.

Add-Vice

After triumphing in the battle for Seattle, Danny Farquhar has proven to be quite the ninth inning guy. He’s put up six saves in the last two weeks, with only one earned run in his last nine appearances. Furthermore, he’s striking out more than a batter an inning over that stretch and could be the guy in Seattle going into next season.

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: Knowing your Place in the World

I wrote the above title and my first thought was to open with a quote from Beowulf (not the terrible film), but something warned me that I might be the only person with sufficient enthusiasm for fantasy baseball and Old English epic literature, so I'll spare you the self-indulgence.

I actually got the article's idea, not from the superhuman exploits of legendary heroes, but from the very mundane, very real last-days-of-August trades. Hat tip to this Fangraphs.com article for giving me the inspiration; you can check out the real-baseball analysis of what happened at the link above.

Quick rundown on those deals, for those with their heads under the proverbial rock of not checking MLBTradeRumors incessantly at all times of year:

Pirates trade for Justin Morneau
Orioles trade for Mike Morse
Indians trade for Jason Kubel
Cardinals trade for John Axford

Technically, each of these teams had a trade partner, but the flip side of each trade ends up looking the same:

Out of contention team trades for minor prospect and mild salary relief.

Now, what does this have to do with Beowulf or knowing your place in the world? Each of the eight teams involved in these trades made the move in the context of their place in the standings and their specific needs. For many teams (like the whole NL), a flawed player like Mike Morse isn't exactly a boon--but he's just what the Orioles needed.

What does that have to do with your fantasy teams (or mine)? First of all, each of these is a small move--no blockbusters like last year's Dodgers-Red Sox deal made it through with the waiver trades--and small moves are all that are left to us. With the trade deadline past, blockbusters are out the window and any improvements we can make are incremental. Also like the real teams above, our fantasy leagues have sorted themselves out into several groups (more on that below), each with their several needs. 

Each type of team can (and should) make the type of addition that will maximize their chances going forward. And when I say chances, I mean it in the strong, high factor of luck sense of the word. Because anything can happen in the space of three September weeks. I mean, even Willie Bloomquist had a good September once. Outside of keeper leagues, the first thing that all types of team can do is this:

Ride the hot hand.

If some guy you've never heard of is killing the ball, feel free to pick him up and toss him into your lineup. Even if he only plays well for another week before returning to the oblivion from whence he came, that week will have accounted for a full third of the remaining season. And if he keeps hitting for two weeks...consider Donnie Murphy and his nine homers in the last month (who even is that?), or Jarrod Dyson and his 13 steals, or...you get the picture.

The second thing that anyone can do is:

Know the schedule.

Check out last week's episode of RotoAuthority Unscripted and last week's Stock Watch for my overview of upcoming MLB schedules. Or look 'em up yourself. (But be warned, it was way more work than I'd expected--hence the two-part series.) It's a simple thing, but it can mean big differences in the short-term value of all ballplayers.

In the Playoffs (as in the case of the Pirates and Cardinals above; roto leaguers may read: leading for a money slot)
Chasing the Playoffs (see the Indians and Orioles)
Out of It, With Something to Play For (a hearty consolation round or fear of being kicked out of your league, perchance)
Out of It, Keeper League (like most real-life teams this time of year)
Out of It, Nothing to Play For (but, hopefully you're doing it anyway)

As it happens, I've got teams in most of these categories, and you've got...well, you've got at least one, because this should cover everything. I guess I could make a category for, "I Have my League Totally Wrapped Up and I've Been Given the Prize Money in Advance," but if that's you, you're probably not looking for advice so much as a chance to gloat.

Let's start from the bottom up, to see what kinds of moves these teams should make.

Out of It (Nothing to Play For)

This one's a tough one, I'll admit, but if you're reading this, than maybe you've got league pride to defend or last place to avoid. For teams like this, the highest risk/reward moves are the best: you've got nothing to lose. If you nab Jose Nobody from the waiver wire, and he goes oh'fer the week, oh well. And if that same Jose Nobody smacks three random homers off a similarly unknown pitcher, well great. Keep a particular eye out for prospects (like Billy Hamilton) and you can at least enjoy the schadenfreude of keeping them from the league's winners.

Out of It (Keeper Style)

You really want those prospects. If there are any worth nabbing as they get called up, snag 'em and worry about which ones you keep later. Feel free to ditch any player on your roster you don't intend to keep--even productive veterans, if you see a prospect opportunity.

Out of It (Something to Play For)

This one depends a lot on what it is you're playing for and how far you are from it. If your league boots the bottom four owners, you may want to mitigate your risk to make sure you aren't kicked out...or make a wild attempt to jump from number nine to number eight.

If it's money that's on the line, in the form of a consolation prize, this is definitely the right time to make huge-risk moves. Don't worry as much about probability of success; focus on magnitude of success. Consider this: Rick Porcello and Scott Kazmir are fringe-useful pitchers, available on many waiver wires, and both have favorable upcoming schedules. Over the course of the season, Porcello's relative steadiness makes him the better choice. In this situation, though, Kazmir's upside (especially in strikeouts) makes him the pitcher to target--even though his chances of success are lower and his downside is pretty drastic. You don't care about those things; you're trying to win the lottery.

Chasing the Playoffs

Here is the place where making the right small moves has the biggest chance to make a difference. (Remember, this isn't just for head-to-head, but anyone out of the money and chasing the money. By the way, if you're team has anything less than a bye in the first round of head-to-head playoffs, this is where you belong, even if you've locked that playoff slot up.)

Teams in this station have a lot to lose and even more to gain. Look to make moves with more upside than down, but also a high probability of success--and tailor them to your needs. There's no general answer to the previous Porcello vs. Kazmir question in this category. Know which categories you have the most room and opportunity to improve in the standings, or know the your strengths relative to your potential playoff matchups. 

You don't need to make a bold move for a flashy prospect so much as you need any player likely to perform any better than any player you currently have. That's a long rule, so maybe an example will illustrate. I'm second in steals by five in one of my leagues...and I'm ahead of third by about 40 points. I didn't need to pick up Billy Hamilton (which I did), but I should have targeted any player who looks like he could generate more production than the worst player on my roster. I don't need lightning in a bottle, just a slightly better light bulb than I've got.

In the Playoffs

This category refers to anyone on top of their league looking down. Unless you've got some low-hanging fruit in a category, you don't need to worry about getting better so much as mitigating risk against getting worse. If you're deciding between Porcello and Kazmir, the steadier Porcello is probably your choice. Or maybe you're better off with a reliever who won't change your current numbers by as much.

Risky players and those with the most brutal upcoming schedules should probably find their way off your roster; at the same time, you should be looking for the same types of acquisitions as the teams in the previous category: small marginal gains with a high probability of success. 

As in all categories, teams in this position are only so similar: there are a lot of different ways to be leading your league, and the specific players you should pluck from the free agent will be highly varied indeed.

 



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 5-11

With the fantasy baseball season nearing a close, here are some last-minute add/drop/bench/keep playing recommendations based on advanced metrics.  Your shot at a league title could very well hinge on these very tips.  We're through the looking glass here, people.

* Long Live The King.  It seems like a waste of bandwidth to even bother writing "keep starting Felix Hernandez" since, well, duh, it's Felix Hernandez.  Panicky owners who are approaching fantasy playoffs, however, might consider dropping their ace as a pre-emptive measure given that King Felix has pitched more like King Joffrey over the last month.  After all, we live in a world where even Justin Verlander is susceptible to being dropped

Hernandez is an ugly 1-5 with a 6.42 ERA over his last six starts, but whereas Verlander has had a few warning signs for a couple of months now, I can safely chalk Felix's bad form up to simply poor luck.  The big ERA is fueled by a .350 BABIP and 54.6% strand rate, as Hernandez's advanced stats (3.25 FIP, 3.19 xFIP, 3.47 SIERA) show that the Mariners stud has pitched just slightly worse than usual in his last six outings.  King Felix could snap back into form at any time, and you just KNOW that if you drop him in your league, he'll immediately fire off four consecutive no-hitters.  Don't be That Guy who outsmarts himself and costs himself a league title by dropping an A-lister after one cold spell.

* Double Dutch.  If you want to worry about an AL West starter, try Derek Holland.  The Rangers southpaw lasted just 4 2/3 innings against the A's in his last start, an outing that could mark the beginning of a rough patch.  Holland has a 2.63 ERA over his last six starts but a .227 BABIP, 87.2% strand rate, 4.52 FIP, 4.33 xFIP and 4.48 SIERA indicate that he's been getting away with some dodgy pitching.  Control has been the biggest problem over that six-start stretch -- Holland's BB/9 has ballooned to 4.54, well above his season average of 2.97.

I'm not saying you should cut Holland, but maybe just strategically sit him against certain opponents.  His next start against the Angels could be an example, as he has been rocked by the Halos throughout his career.  Holland has delivered just a step behind ace-level numbers all year long but he doesn't have the track record of someone like Hernandez when it comes to just dismissing slumps as slumps and not potentially worrying trends.

* Ruf Ryders' Anthem.  There haven't been many bright sides for Phillies fans this season, but if you love the Phils and love fantasy bargains, at least you might've gotten on the Darin Ruf bandwagon early.  The right-handed hitting Ruf has hit .254/.347/.509 with 12 homers over 199 PA for Philadelphia, with a weird reverse-splits trend of hitting righties hard (.934 OPS) and withering against lefties (.600 OPS, albeit in only 51 PA). 

Despite this nice power display, Ruf is owned in just 20 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues.  I'd recommend him as a cheap pickup for your September stretch drive despite a few worrying trends.  Ruf has been almost all power over the last month, with a whopping .302 ISO (sixth-highest in the majors over the last 30 days) and only a .219/.290/.521 line.  That said, his BABIP over that same stretch was only .231, so there's certainly room for growth.  Pick up Ruf, give him a few strategic starts in your outfield or at first base against certain pitchers, and enjoy some hot and tasty homers fresh off the waiver wire.  Ahhh, is there anything sweeter than waiver wire power?



RotoAuthority League Update: Wait, Verlander Was Dropped?

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 103

2. Smell the Glove 102

This race continues to be a joy to watch on a daily basis. While Smell the Glove began the week in first place, Yu at the Animal Zoo took over the lead on Thursday. It's interesting that these owners have taken widely divergent strategies in utilizing the waiver wire. The owner for Yu at the Animal Zoo made about 20 pickups over the past week, constantly grabbing spot starters as well as hitters with some pop. Meanwhile, Manager Tim Dierkes of Smell the Glove picked up... well, nobody. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, as there's something to be said for going with the players that got you there when making a championship run.

As someone who keeps track of every move in all my leagues, I always find the last few weeks of the RotoAuthority League to be a fascinating case study in psychology. There are two types of owners during the stretch run. On the one hand, you have the owners who still want to assemble the best roster of players possible, even if some of the players may slumping. Sure, owners may have specific categories in mind, but this group of owners could care less about how a player has performed recently. On the other hand, there are owners who seem to have one question in mind when evaluating the players on their rosters: what have you done for me lately? Any experienced fantasy baseball player knows that rash decision-making like this would be a recipe for disaster in April, as hot streaks are not necessarily predictive. While I certainly don't fall into this category, sometimes I can't really blame owners who opt for this route. It sure feels like there are non-elite players every year who catch fire in September and decide fantasy leagues in the process; however, this is probably just anecdotal.

The Race for Third Place

3. Gramma Nutt Crushers 81

4. Brewsterville Bruins 70

You'll notive that I've altered this tier to include just two teams. While some other squads that I chose to place in the final group may still have an outside shot at third place, I feel it's slightly more likely they end up in the bottom four. The Gramma Nutt Crushers hovered about five points ahead of the Brewsterville Bruins for most of the past week but then increased their lead over the weekend. Oddly enough, each of these two teams has been relatively quiet on the waiver wire. The Brewsterville Bruins made just three pickups this past week while the Gramma Nutt Crushers didn't make a single acquisition. The one move that stood out to me was that the Bruins lost patience in Starlin Castro and finally cut him. Castro has been simply miserable all season long, and the fact that he's going to finish outside the top 20 at the thin shortstop position has to make him one of the top fantasy disappointments this year. 

The Race to Avoid the Bottom Four

5. Philly Cheez 63.5

6. Say It Ain't So Cano 61

7. E-Z Sliders 60

7. A Century of Misery 60

9. Men With Wood 56.5

10. UP 50

11. Reedy 49.5

12. Forty 2 Twenty 4 23.5

The daily nail-biting continues for those of near the bottom of the standings. We're really starting to see some interesting late-season strategies among this group. Like I've been doing as Manager of A Century of Misery, the owners of Say It Ain't So Cano and Forty 2 Twenty 4 have been picking up spot starters just about every morning. More so than any other owner, though, UP has taken the most unique approach to avoiding the bottom four. If you take a look at this owner's pitching staff right now, you'll find a grand total of just three pitchers, and one of them is the injured Jason Grilli! Yes, UP is currently rolling with Stephen Strasburg, James Shields, and two dozen hitters. The transaction that certainly caught every other owner's eye was the release of Justin Verlander on Thursday. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. While we don't usually see such extreme moves like that until the final week, it actually does make sense for UP to do this, as no other team has accrued more innings pitched. 

Standings as of Sunday, September 1st.




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