February 2014

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How to Win 2014: ERA

In the old days, ERA was a pretty easy category to win. All it took was a team ERA in the mid-3.00's and you were set. Get an ace or two, some good relievers, and focus on strikeout pitchers decent enough to get you some wins, and you'd probably compete in ERA. Maybe even win. As a proxy for other all competitive leagues, the ERA leader in the MLBTR league rocked a 3.01 ERA. My 3.99 number was good for...last place. This ain't the '90's, that's for sure.

So, let us assume that the ERA's in your league are also likely to run from one end of the 3.00's to the other, and not get much worse (except in public free leagues when someone is bound to quit checking their team in mid-May) or better than that. The bar is high for success in ERA, which is probably why we're seeing higher ADP's for top starters, including a more-or-less-consensus that Clayton Kershaw belongs in the first round.

The category is, of course, notoriously luck-heavy, with park, defense, left-on-base rates, timing of hits and outs, and plain ol' random chance all playing parts. But there's a lot of skill going on too. As with any rate category, you can't force a win, not even by spending way too much of your budget trying to, but you can certainly put yourself in a good (or bad) position.

Let's take a look at last year's ERA leaders, with their FIP, and their ERA-FIP. We'll go back to using the top 12 players, for the potential anchor for each team in a standard league.

2013 ERA Leaders (min. 100 IP)*

 

Name

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

ERA-FIP

1

Clay Buchholz

1.74

2.78

3.41

3.2

-1.04

2

Clayton Kershaw

1.83

2.39

2.88

6.5

-0.56

3

Jose Fernandez

2.19

2.73

3.08

4.2

-0.54

4

Anibal Sanchez

2.57

2.39

2.91

6.2

0.18

5

Zack Greinke

2.63

3.23

3.45

2.9

-0.6

6

Bartolo Colon

2.65

3.23

3.95

3.9

-0.58

7

Hisashi Iwakuma

2.66

3.44

3.28

4.2

-0.78

8

Alex Cobb

2.76

3.36

3.02

2.4

-0.6

9

Madison Bumgarner

2.77

3.05

3.32

3.7

-0.28

10

Yu Darvish

2.83

3.28

2.84

5

-0.45

11

Cliff Lee

2.87

2.82

2.78

5.1

0.05

12

Max Scherzer

2.9

2.74

3.16

6.4

0.16

*Excluding Matt Harvey, who won't be pitching this season.

A lot of the usual suspects here, though Buchholz and Cobb have yet to be full-season aces, while Colon's strikeout rate is so low he's difficult to play in mixed leagues.

One might have been tempted to peg Scherzer as a regression candidate, but he and Lee are the only ones on this list to post FIP's better than their ERA. Of course, Scherzer's xFIP tells a different story...I'll sum it up as, "he'll be good," and leave the particulars to others.

Read on, and beware: there will be many charts!

Continue reading "How to Win 2014: ERA" »



Closer Draft Strategies

Now that we’ve dug into division-by-division bullpen previews, as well as provided updates on the current closer position battles, there are only a few things left to cover before drafting season is well under way. Next week we will explore closer rankings, but now it is time to discuss different drafting strategies for closers. A few weeks ago, we used a Point-Counterpoint column to address an age old question – Should one pay for saves? Unless you’ve decided to punt saves altogether and avoid closers like the plague, your strategy will fall under one of the below approaches. Whichever you choose, RotoAuthority and @CloserNews will be here all season to help you win saves and your league.

Approach #1 – Early and Often

If you are a disciple of the Pay for Saves school, then you’ll certainly be targeting closers early. In particular, you’ll have your eyes set on acquiring one (or more) of Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen. While any one of these closers can anchor a fantasy bullpen on their own, having two of them means that you won’t have to worry about closer again until the end of the draft. Obviously you’ll want to round out your fantasy bullpen with another reliever or two before all is said and done, but a couple of these top tier closers and you should be sitting pretty in the closer department. If somebody else swings early and starts the closer run before expected, be patient and have a backup plan. If you are willing to pay for saves, there’s a chance someone else will too and there’s still plenty of talent out there.

Approach #2 – Medium-Level Talent

Should you miss out on the three amigos above (Kimbrel, Chapman, Jansen), the next best bet is to target several medium-level closers. The difficult part about the closer position is predicting how many save opportunities a pitcher will have or whether a newly appointed closer will pan out. The top tier closers are ranked as such because of their ridiculous strikeout rates and high number of projected save opportunities. That being said, several pitchers will post 40+ save seasons in 2014 without ridiculous strikeout rates and still provide great value to fantasy managers. Despite the uncertainty inherent in the position, look toward closers that have been consistent throughout the years and have strong job security rather than young guns newly taking over the ninth. For example, Joe Nathan, Greg Holland, Ernesto Frieri, Glen Perkins, Jim Johnson, Jonathan Papelbon, and Casey Janssen will all go a few rounds later than the top tier guys and can provide enough value to lead you to a championship. Just keep in mind that one of them will not be enough and you’ll need a few to be truly competitive in saves.

Approach #3 – Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Each season a few closers come out of nowhere and hold onto the ninth tighter than four-seam fastball. Some of them are prospects, some journeymen, and others simply win the job after a closer-by-committee situation. Therefore, the smartest move might be to grab a solid closer early and wait around to acquire the rest later. Although this strategy is riskier than the other two, it can be the most rewarding when executed properly. With late round value at closer, a manager has extra opportunities to draft offensive talent early. If you’re going to take this approach, there are two different types of closers to target.

When drafting, focus on pitchers that are either (A) the lead dog who will eventually take over a closer-by-committee situation or (B) an elite setup man who should have the closer gig in due time. Examples of (A) pitchers include Nate Jones, Jesse Crain, and Neftali Feliz. On the other hand, (B) pitchers include Rex Brothers, Danny Farquhar, and Tyler Clippard. The beautiful thing about the (B) pitchers is that they’ll contribute to your ERA and WHIP even if they don’t grab the ninth right away and give you saves. Finally, do not forget to follow @CloserNews each night as we’ll be giving you tips on who might step in and steal a save.

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 bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Draft Round Battles: Reyes Vs. Segura

This is another one of those battles where, if you're in a legacy league, it's no contest.  Take Jean Segura as a keeper for the next several years without thinking about it, no worries.  Just looking at 2014, however, it's much more of a question between Segura and the player to whom is he often compared, Jose Reyes

Segura didn't quite make "the Leap" to superstardom last season but he at least made "the leap" (ah, lowercase!) to being a productive Major League regular in his first year as an everyday player.  Segura hit .294/.329/.423 with 12 homers, 49 RBI, 44 steals and 74 runs in 2013 --- solid numbers, sure, but if you were Segura's fantasy owner last season, you felt the pain from June 1 onward.  Segura hit .354/.393/.550 with eight homers and 31 runs scored over 224 PA in April-May.  Afterwards, he was borderline unplayable, hitting just 261/.292/.354 with four dingers and 43 runs over the last four months.  Even his speed took a hit; Segura was 15-for-16 in stolen base attempts in the first two months and then only 29-for-40 after June 1.

So basically, if you value Segura as a top 50 pick,* you're doing so on the basis of two hot months.  As my Roto Authority colleague Andrew Gephardt recently noted, Segura's power numbers may also have been slightly deceiving, so another 12-homer season could be asking for much given that Segura never even hit as many as 11 dingers over a full minor league campaign.  (Though it's not like he was a poor hitter on the farm, judging from Segura's .313/.367/.439 slash line over 1755 minor league PA.)

* = as Mock Draft Central just barely does in their latest average draft position reports, with Segura clocking in at a 50.03 ADP.  Reyes is right behind at 51.46.

Consider that Reyes' numbers last season (10 homers, 37 RBI, 58 runs, .296/.353/.427) were comparable to Segura's and Reyes did his damage in 204 fewer PA.  So with that in mind, it seems pretty clear that Reyes wins this draft battle.  Boy, that one took much shorter than usual, eh?  I guess I'll fill the rest of the space by listing my Oscar predictions.  It's anyone's guess as to whether 12 Years A Slave or Gravity will take the Best Picture prize, as both films...

...what's that?  Oh yeah, I forgot the big elephant in the room when discussing Jose Reyes.  The reason he only made those 419 PA is because of a badly-sprained ankle that cost him almost two and a half months of the season.  Reyes missed just 15 games total between 2005-08 but his durability has since taken a major hit.  Over the last five seasons, Reyes has appeared in 36, 133, 126, 160 and 93 games, respectively.  It's hard to like his chances of staying healthy as he enters his age-31 season and spends his home games on the Rogers Centre's artificial surface.

On the bright side for Reyes, playing in the Rogers Centre does help his power profile, as his home run rate jumped to 9%, his highest total since 2006.  While he only stole 15 bases last year, that's actually not a bad total over 93 games for a guy who played most of his season in the wake of a severe ankle injury, so I'd pencil Reyes in for his usual 30+ steals in 2014.

If you could guarantee me that Reyes would be healthy for all of 2014, I'd have no trouble taking him ahead of Segura.  Heck, even if you think Reyes will miss 20-30 games, there's still a case for taking him over Segura given the veteran's comparable offensive stats despite the fewer PA last season.  With the lack of depth at shortstop, however, having Reyes on your team means that you'll also likely have to factor in the replacement-level production of whatever dude you pick up off the waiver wire to fill in at short when Reyes makes his usual stints or one extended stint on the DL.  If you're able to get another solid shortstop for your bench as a semi-handcuff then that's great, though that's one fewer roster spot you'll have to work with for the rest of your draft. 

I'm focusing the draft battle argument so much around Reyes' health that it's worth noting that Segura is certainly capable of improvement himself.  Don't forget about Segura's minor league numbers or his solid pedigree as a prospect --- while he likely isn't as good as he was in April/May of 2013, he also clearly isn't as bad as he was in the last four months of the year either.  If he continues to develop as a Major Leaguer, it's not hard to see Segura posting numbers that Reyes will need a full season to reach.

It's a very tough call between 12 Years A Slave and Gravity the two players but, as I did in another veteran vs. youngster middle infield draft round battle, I'll go with the younger option as the better prospect for 2014.



Mock With Us; Get A Shot At The Real Thing

RotoAuthority is looking for some good mock drafters!  We're seeking seven people to join our mock draft, which takes place Friday, March 7th at 8pm central time.  You'll be mocking along with me, Alex Steers McCrum, Mark Polishuk, Andrew Gephardt, and Luckey Helms.  The results of the mock will be analyzed here on the site, so we're looking for dedicated people who will show up and make legitimate picks throughout.  If there are more than seven people who want in, I'll pick randomly.

This year, we're trying something different.  Each year, typically about 30-40 people apply to get into our RotoAuthority League, which has a $100 buy-in and is highly competitive (more details here, from last year).  We generally have three openings each year, as we kick out the bottom four and take in the winner of the Silver League.  This year, we're going to randomly select the new members of the RotoAuthority League out of the seven people who successfully mock drafted with us on March 7th.  The RotoAuthority League drafts on March 17th at 8pm central time, and you'll have to cough up your $100 buy-in before then through Leaguesafe.  

The bottom line: in the comments section of this post, we're looking for people who are available for the mock draft on March 7th and the real draft on March 17th, both at 8pm central time.  Be sure to include your email address in your comment.  Leave your comment by end of day Wednesday. 


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RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: First Base

There is depth at first, especially in power, but that doesn't mean you can afford to wait for the position: you'll be needing that depth. First base is where you turn for your cornerstone player, for your CI slot, and for Utility and bench depth. That is to say: a good fantasy team has more than one first baseman. Kind of like the Mariners, but you really don't have to care about defense.

Last Saturday, we ranked the catchers, and a week ago we did the outfield. Check out those rankings alongside first base, because there's a lot of overlap between first basemen and those two positions. So when catchers or outfielders show up in these rankings, remember that this is where they rank if you're drafting them for first base.

Rounds are given with tiers more to help you separate the values of players than tell you which round to target the player. In any given draft, values will show up at different times, and the whole league may be up or down on a position. Whether or not you should stick to your rankings or go with the flow depends on the situation, your strategy, and the effects your particular league settings have on position scarcity and the value of pitchers.

Tier 1: First Rounders

1. Paul Goldschmidt

2. Chris Davis

3. Edwin Encarnacion

4. Joey Votto

 Goldschmidt isn't really in this tier, he's in Zero-Tier by himself as the third overall pick. Davis offers more power than anyone else in the draft, and you can argue his upside as worth a top-five selection...or focus on his regression risk and argue for him in the second. Votto is nearly for batting average what Davis is for homers, and he's an extremely safe early pick. Encarnacion takes a sort of middle ground by offering overall production and a risk level between that of Davis and Votto. In Yahoo! leagues, he's 3B eligible, which is very awesome.

 Tier 2: Just Below Elite (2nd-3rd Rounds)

 5. Prince Fielder

6. Freddie Freeman

Park factors won't save Fielder from regression, but they might wash it out a little. He's distinctly less valuable than the four guys ahead of him, but still a solid lineup anchor. Freeman may not post such a high average next year, but he's young enough to expect some skill improvement and carries significantly fewer red flags than the next set of guys.

 Tier 3: The Safety's Off (4th-5th Rounds)

 7. Mark Trumbo

8. Albert Pujols

9. Eric Hosmer

10. Adrian Gonzalez

10.5 David Ortiz

Trumbo could be a three-category monster in Arizona with all that power. Watch Pujols carefully in Spring Training, especially anything to do with playing the field, running, or his feet. Warning signs should bury him on your lists, but successful play could bump him into Tier 2. Picking Hosmer here is betting that he'll compound his improvements from last year. Gonzalez is like the lite version of Votto: good average, low risk, so the opposite of his tier-mates. If David Ortiz is 1B-eligible in your format (read: Yahoo! leagues), he's worth taking with this tier.

 Tier 4: Risk and Reward (6th-7th Rounds)

 10.6 Buster Posey

11. Jose Abreu

12. Allen Craig

If your league hates catchers, here's where you should take Posey to play first. What will Abreu do? I have no idea--but the power potential makes it very intriguing to find out. He's even more interesting to me if you've already taken one first baseman. Craig is a bit overrated (maybe playing for the Cards will do that these days), has a lengthy injury history and rocked a massive BABIP last year. He'll produce, but don't reach for him. 

Tier 5: All About Upside (8th-9th Rounds)

13. Brandon Belt

13.5 Joe Mauer

14. Anthony Rizzo

14.5 Carlos Santana

15. Mike Napoli

16. Matt Adams

16.5 Billy Butler

16.6 Michael Cuddyer

Belt took significant steps forward last season, and could put together the last piece of the puzzle: homers. Even if he doesn't, he should offer fine production in a surprisingly good Giants lineup. Rizzo disappointed last year. If you think his struggles were mostly due to his low BABIP, bump him up a tier. If you think maybe that low BABIP was due to a skill he hasn't developed yet, drop him down a tier. If you aren't sure, this is a decent place to take a chance on his upside. Napoli isn't the healthiest guy in the world and needs a stratospheric BABIP to post an okay average...but he should provide plenty of homers and RBI.

By rounds, this is a pretty aggressive Adams ranking, so wait on him if you think you can get away with it. He was a partial-season monster, though, and St. Louis seems intent on giving him the job (but watch their spring carefully just in case). Mauer and Santana's skills probably translate to this tier in first base--definitely take them after Posey is gone.

If Butler has 1B eligibility, he belongs in this tier, as does Cuddyer. Both are a big step ahead of Tier 6.

Tier 6: Hey, Nobody's Perfect (10th-15th Rounds)

17. Brandon Moss

18. Nick Swisher

19. Adam Lind

20. Adam LaRoche

21. Chris Carter

22. Kendrys Morales

22.5 Jonathan Lucroy

Moss and Lind are platooners, but their power rocks in daily leagues. Frankly, it's even good enough to cover for their off days in deep weekly leagues. Swisher and LaRoche used to be unexciting, dependable options until they disappointed last year. They both hit in quality lineups, however, and a little bit of bounceback could provide fine fantasy value. Carter can hit a ton of homers, but his batting average black hole will suck away a lot of their value. He can be particularly useful on teams that punt the category, use OBP, or can afford to balance him out with high-average players. Morales's value will depend a lot on where and if he gets a job. I can honestly see him opening the season unemployed, so I won't be taking him until he signs somewhere.

Tier 7: First Base Isn't as Deep as You Thought (15th-20th Rounds)

23. Justin Morneau

24. Adam Dunn

25. Yan Gomes

26. Corey Hart

26.5 Michael Morse

27. Todd Frazier

27.5 Victor Martinez

27.6 Chris Johnson

28. Yonder Alonso

29. James Loney

29.5 Daniel Murphy

29.6 Daniel Nava

Morneau has upside since he'll play in Coors Field. Dunn ought to still have some of that old power--but man, is the average bad. Gomes is an interesting sleeper...for a catcher, so you can see how rough things have gotten. Hart is one to watch in Spring Training. It was only two years ago that he was putting 30 homers out of the park. Morse could be interesting as well. If either is truly healthy, they might be worth bumping up a tier. Frazier could conceivably bounce back from a low-BABIP year. Martinez, Johnson Alonso, Loney, and Nava shouldn't hurt you in average, which is more than you can say for the players below this level.

Tier 8: No (After Round 20)

30. Mark Teixeira

31. Ryan Howard

32. Ike Davis

33. Mark Reynolds

34. Mitch Moreland

35. Justin Smoak

36. Paul Konerko

37. Garrett Jones

Teixeira and Howard may have a little power left--or they may not. Will Davis be able to hold up a decent batting average? Or even a bad one? If Reynolds has the power to be a usable bench option. Moreland could help with runs and RBI in that Texas lineup. Smoak may have one last chance to fulfill some promise. Konerko probably won't get too much playing time, with Abreu and Dunn looking much better. Oh, Garrett Jones. Oh, the Marlins.

If you're filling in your DH or Util slot, or if you're playing a Yahoo! league, the ranks of Tiers 7 and 8 swell with catchers, outfielders and DH's with a few games played at first. Don't forget about them, as many produce more than the real first basemen on the list.

The moral of first base: don't wait! Yes it's deep, but you need lots of them on your team. I love building my offense with a first-rounder and then locking up my CI or Util slot a few rounds later with two heavy hitters, but there are intriguing options all the way down to Tier 6. At a minimum, try to get two players above Tier 7--I really don't suggest trying to rely on anyone below that. As for Tier 8 guys, try your best to stay away. Far away.


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The Market Report: Starting Pitchers

The Market Report is a weekly analysis of player valuations in the fantasy marketplace in an effort to find undervalued commodities.

Just about every player has reported to camp at this point. Spring Training games will begin later this week. We really are getting close to Opening Day, I promise. Let's take a look at starting pitchers this week. As usual, ADP values are provided in parentheses.

Tier One

1. Clayton Kershaw (7)

2. Yu Darvish (17)

Tier Two

3. Max Scherzer (26)

4. Adam Wainwright (26)

5. Justin Verlander (35)

6. Stephen Strasburg (36)

Tier Three

7. Jose Fernandez (45)

8. Cliff Lee (48)

9. Madison Bumgarner (49)

10. Felix Hernandez (51)

Tier Four

11. Chris Sale (58)

12. Zack Greinke (63)

13. David Price (66)

14. Cole Hamels (71)

15. Jordan Zimmermann (75)

Tier Five

16.  Masahiro Tanaka (80)

17. Anibal Sanchez (83)

18. Matt Cain (87)

19. James Shields (91)

20. Hisashi Iwakuma (92)

21. Gerrit Cole (92)

Tier Six

22. Shelby Miller (99)

23. Kris Medlen (100)

24. Mike Minor (101)

25. Gio Gonzalez (104)

26. Matt Moore (105)

Tier Seven

27. Alex Cobb (111)

28. Homer Bailey (115)

29. Jon Lester (116)

30. Julio Teheran (116)

31. Michael Wacha (117)

32. Mat Latos (119)

Undervalued

Kris Medlen (ADP 100)

For a few years Medlen was left on the outside looking in at the Braves starting rotation, and fantasy owners had to wait patiently for the best sixth starter in baseball to earn his chance. Well, Medlen finally got that opportunity down the stretch in 2012, and he was simply brilliant, with a sparkling 1.57 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. Entering last season then, this looked like an overvalued commodity to me, as it appeared he was bound to take a significant step back. However, Medlen put together a solid campaign last year, posting a 3.11 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. At this point, I think it's safe to say that the right-hander ranks as a capable #2 starter in standard mixed leagues. While he may lack the upside of a hurler like Francisco Liriano due to a mediocre strikeout rate, Medlen has a high floor and makes for an excellent pick if paired with a dominant anchor like Yu Darvish or Max Scherzer.

Danny Salazar (ADP 145)

Yes, I know the hype is building on Salazar, and in a month his ADP may be inside the top 100. I'm normally one to zig when the fantasy community zags, and it's no secret that this young Indians fireballer ranks at the top of sleeper lists all over the place. At his current pricetag, though, I still think there's plenty of room for profit. With an average fastball velocity above 96 mph last year, Salazar was electric. He had a remarkable 30.8 K% while posting a 3.12 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP over 52 innings. Now there are some caveats here: Salazar has yet to prove he can handle the workload of a full season, and he's already had Tommy John surgery. Even so, skills like his shouldn't be available after Round 10. Barring injury, this is a fantasy ace in the making.

Doug Fister (ADP 172)

When Fister was dealt from Detroit to Washington, I assumed his market value would rise with the move to the National League. After all, moving from the AL to the NL can boost a pitcher's strikeout rate by a half a point. As we sit here in late-Februrary, though, Fister is still falling outside the top 150 in drafts. Yes, I know the strikeout rate won't be anything spectacular, but the new Nationals right-hander should be excellent in ERA and WHIP. Let's face it: Clayton Kershaw is the best bet to lead the NL in ERA again this year. Beyond Kershaw, however, here's a dark-horse candidate for the ERA crown available in Round 15.

Overvalued

Matt Moore (ADP 105)

While sabermetrics are mainstream at this point, it still sure seems like the fantasy community as a whole places some value in projecting the wins category. Otherwise, I can't really explain why Moore would be drafted ahead of other arms like Alex Cobb, Homer Bailey, and Michael Wacha. If we suddenly were to throw out the wins category as a contributor toward fantasy value, Moore would have been far outside the top 50 among pitchers last season. For two years in a row, he's markedly outperformed his peripherals with a career ERA at 3.55 yet a career SIERA at 4.11. While some sabermetricians might forecast steep regression, I think the Rays defense certainly is a factor at play there, so that trend may continue. The fact remains, however, that Moore has some very serious issues with control. Moreover, if you're going to draft a starting pitcher in the first ten rounds, you'd like to grab someone with a track record of durability; unfortunately, Moore missed a month last year with elbow soreness. Ultimately, my philosophy on drafting starting pitching is to group the arms in tiers and patiently wait for values to hopefully emerge. Given that injuries take place at a higher frequency among pitchers than hitters, it just doesn't make sense to me to select Moore at his current ADP with so many other viable alternatives. Avoid.


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Go Bold or Go Home: My Guys

As you go through the fantasy preseason ranking and re-raking players, mock drafting, mock auctioning, reading analysis from this site or that one, scouring 7-11 for magazines, refreshing RotoAuthority over and over to see if the next article is up yet....

Well, at some point in this process, you start discovering that you value some players rather differently than the consensus. Sometimes a lot differently. Maybe you're right and you're wrong, but it's good to examine why. I'm gonna take a look at a few guys that seem to keep popping up on my draft boards, look into why I like them...and even why I might want to reexamine my choices.

I decided to make a whole team of the guys I seem to be finding value in, reaching for, and generally ending up with pretty often. Actually, it's not a whole team: one player per position, some starters and no relievers, where I'm not showing much a pattern.

The point is that when it comes down to it, you've got to trust your gut--because your fantasy intuition is the product of experience and research (and possibly nachos). That means throwing an extra dollar at the guy you want, going two rounds early instead of one and taking the jeers of your fellow drafters in stride. If you have spent the fantasy preseason getting prepared, there's a good chance it'll work out. If not...then you may want to play things by the book.

Here's the "team," including their MockDraftCentral ADP and round, Yahoo! ADP and round (where available) and Yahoo! average price (not projected value, but what mockers have been paying).

    MDC MDC Rd Y! Y! Rd Y! $
C Yan Gomes 270 23 233 19 1
1B Brandon Moss 62 5 179 15 3.3
2B Aaron Hill 132 11 127 11 7.4
SS Everth Cabrera 200 17 115 10 9.4
3B Aramis Ramirez 146 12 156 13 4.5
OF Matt Holliday 53 4 60 5 20.1
OF Leonys Martin 94 8 160 13 3.9
OF Colby Rasmus 202 17 after 212   under 2
SP Anibal Sanchez 116 10 61 5 20.2
SP Matt Cain 130 11 81 7 15.3
SP Francisco Liriano 188 16 146 12 4.5
SP Scott Kazmir 284 24 past 174 after 14 1
SP Josh Johnson 316 26 past 174 after 14 1

I'll breeze over Gomes and Cabrera, since I've written on the hero and the thief before, except to say that I've been very happy drafting Cabrera aggressively (as soon as I see Elvis Andrus go, usually) and waiting on catchers for Gomes (in single-catcher formats anyway).

I don't know what happened on MockDraftCentral.com to give Moss that ADP...no, I do not like him better than that. Instead, I'm talking in comparison to the Yahoo! numbers. Power is scarce, and he's got it, even if he does sit against lefties. He's an especially good option in leagues with multiple Util slots and therefore lowered position scarcity needs. He's sort of a cheat, I have to admit, because there's no way I'm relying on him as my starter at first...but that isn't a position I've targeted for value plays.

Hill has the potential to slug like an elite option at second. The reason for caution is health (and the fact that he's got some ugly years in his past. That said, I see red flags all over the second base market, and Hill's aren't much worse than most. I'd take him a couple rounds ahead of his 11th round draft average, and I'd bit well past the $7 he's costing in auctions.

Aramis Ramirez gets no love these days. He's old and a decline is coming. Or so we've been hearing. It looked like that was going to be the story of last year...and then he hit like he always does after returning from the DL. Yeah, maybe this is the year the wheels finally fall off the old wagon (what kind of mixed metaphor is that?). But maybe it's not, and he can be had for peanuts long after other owners have gambled on the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Brett Lawrie. When I don't manage an elite option, I sit back and wait for Ramirez, because the 3B middle class is shrinking faster than...I'll skip the socio-political comparison and just say it's shrinking fast.

Holliday in the 5th round isn't a huge value (and I'd say $20 is a pretty efficient price--I haven't actually gotten him in an auction yet), but when I've taken early risks I like his steadiness to balance me out. In those cases I'm not afraid to grab him in the third or fourth.

Martin is getting drafted when he's got by far the most speed left. I view him as the lite version of Starling Marte. Okay, very light, but those 36 steals were very nice last year and the Rangers like to run. And if he hits even a little, he could slide up near the top of the order instead of the bottom. There's plenty to like.

I haven't given Rasmus his own article, but I've mentioned him before. During the summer I thought his good year was fluky, but I looked at his overall career, and it looks perfectly plausible...and repeatable.

A lot of my teams have ended up having either Sanchez or Cain, and I feel good about both. With Sanchez, his 2013 improvement seems too good not to be true (don't take my word for it--look at his stats under the hood), while Cain seems likely to get his HR rate back under control and be his same old self.

Liriano is a risky bet, but with ace-level upside and he tends to look too good to pass up in the mid-to-late rounds. Kazmir is similar, but usually costs just a dollar. His underlying stats from last year suggest he's well worth spending a little extra on. And Johnson...well, that's a wild stab in the dark, but if he's going to turn things around, it'll be in San Diego.

A Little Self-Assessment

Obviously, an entire fantasy team composed of the players above would be pretty horrible. Even if I assume I have awesome relief. But that's not what I'm trying to put together--just a list of guys that seem like bargains to me. 

But why are they bargains?

1) Upside--what-if's are big in fantasy baseball and it's important to keep hope and prediction separate. That means I need to balance the guys I look for potential in with steady performers like Holliday.

2) Injury risk--apparently, I'm prepared to take a lot of it on, with the likes of Liriano, Hill, Rasmus, Johnson, and Ramirez all spending time on the DL last year.

So, some parting advice for myself (and you too): go after "your guys," and with gusto. Pay two extra dollars if you need to. Jump two rounds ahead of everyone else if you think you're still getting value. Be bold. But evaluate the players you target for potential concerns you haven't been thinking about, and--most importantly--balance your guys with safe picks and picks aligned with the consensus.



RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Catcher

RA Rankings are back with our second installment--if you missed Outfield on Tuesday, check it out now. If you're caught up, feel free to enjoy, utilize, argue with, or otherwise experience our Catcher rankings. These rankings are the product of the RotoAuthority expert team.

Within catchers, the rankings are the same whether you play with one catcher or two, but you're position scarcity matrix is completely different relative to the others. If you play in a single-catcher format, definitely wait on the position: there are plenty of rosterable catchers to go around.

But if you play in a league with two catchers...well that's when this becomes a thin position. Move catchers up significantly your overall rankings or dollar values, because the dropoff this year is an abyss.

That's enough intro. Too much! On to the rankings!

Tier 1: Impact in All Formats

1. Buster Posey

Posey stands alone. Why? Two years ago he was the MVP...his 2013 numbers look like his floor. You get safety and upside.

Tier 2: Choose Your Weapon

2. Joe Mauer

3. Brian McCann

4. Carlos Santana

You've got two choices (and three players) on the next level, once Posey's off the board. McCann and Santana offer serious power (especially with McCann in New York), while Mauer does his Mauer thing with batting average. Ask yourself what kind of production your team needs.

Tier 3: Still Awesome

5. Wilin Rosario

6. Yadier Molina

Same choice, less good options. But still excellent ones. Rosario has OBP issues and doesn't seem to have the faith of his team (Colorado was in the catcher market this winter), so those red flags keep his value below that of McCann and Santana. But he'll probably be a similar player. Molina is like Mauer...only a little less so. You aren't going wrong with either of these guys.

Tier 4: The Safety Net

7. Jonathan Lucroy

8. Salvador Perez

9. Matt Wieters

Lucroy and Perez look very similar, though if Lucroy keeps the homers up, he could launch himself into the next tier. Wieters is Rosario-lite (or what could happen if the latter's BABIP crashes) but his 22 homers still play well in fantasy. This group is the last tier for whom you can comfortably say you know what you're getting into. But that doesn't mean they aren't the last players worth targeting....

Tier 5: Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

10. Yan Gomes

11. Wilson Ramos

12. Jason Castro

13. Evan Gattis

This is my favorite tier to target, actually. In a one-catcher league, I just wait until everyone else is gone and grab one of these guys. In a two catcher, I might do the same...just grab two of them. The reason is upside. Gomes and Ramos looked pretty tremendous in limited playing time last year, and both ought to be full-timers in 2014. Castro was basically an out-of-nowhere star, and Gattis, well he was flavor-of-the-week just early enough for the shine to come off his star. All four of these guys are risks, but catcher is a great position to take a risk since playing time considerations keep even the best catchers from putting up the same numbers other top players do. You just don't lose as much if the dice don't roll your way.

This, by the way, is the last tier that I see as viable starters.

Tier 6: Well do you? Punk?

14. Dioner Navarro

15. Miguel Montero

16. A.J. Pierzynski

17. Ryan Doumit

18. Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Admittedly, Navarro probably won't do anything like replicating last year's half-season in 500 AB. But if he does...well, it's worth the risk in a two-catcher league because his floor is replacement level (like most of the rest still available) and his ceiling is...above that (unlike most of the rest). Will this Montero bounce back? Quick answer: no idea. That's enough to give him a shot.

Pierzynski is for those who don't like to take risks: he is very steadily okay, which is pretty valuable. Doumit and Salty offer a little pop, not much else.

Tier 7: No, Not Really Feeling that Lucky....

19. Travis D'Arnaud

20. Devin Mesoraco

21. Russell Martin

22. Mike Zunino

23. Carlos Ruiz

24. Yasmani Grandal

25. Alex Avila

26. Welington Castillo

27. Derek Norris

28. Josmil Pinto

29. Chris Iannetta

30. J.P. Arencibia

If you're taking a second catcher from among these guys (or looking for a bench catcher for some reason), you can choose between low-ceiling veterans like Martin or maybe-this-time prospects like D'Arnaud or Zunino. The real key, of course, is to not have to choose from this tier at all because the upside is so low. If you are forced to draft one of these guys, I'd say wait until the very last round or the very last dollar--why pay more for replacement level?

Speaking of why pay more, check us out again next week: Tuesday will feature First Base, and we'll be back again Saturday with Third Base.



How to Win 2014: RBI

Runs Batted In are our third luck-heavy counting-stat category in a row, following on the heels of Wins and Run Scored. RBI contain the same two essential features: skill factors and luck factors, so we'll be examining the category based on both. Let the reader beware: much of what matters for scoring runs matters for driving them in--and that's not at all limited to hitting the ball over the fence and doing both at once. With that in mind (hint, be ready to check the How to Win article from a couple weeks ago), let's dive in to what it'll take to bring home the RBI crown.

Making Your Own Luck

Big-Picture Factors: Park and Lineup

Park factors and overall team offense play a huge part in how many runs any given player bats in. There's a reason one expects Robinson Cano's fantasy value to go down playing for the Mariners. You already read the more in-depth analysis (right?) that I did for Runs, and it's the same for RBI. Here's the condensed version:

The Rockies, Diamondbacks, Rangers, and Red Sox were all among the top teams in projected offensive output (by RS/Game) and play in the top hitter-friendly parks. Yes, these two factors have causal relationships on one another, but getting both at once is still well worthwhile.

The Angels, Blue Jays, Tigers, Giants, Cardinals, and Braves all look to be among the top offenses in their leagues. While the difference between AL and NL clubs looks very large at the macro-lineup level, a lot of that difference (all?) is thanks to those wonderful batting pitchers. Keep that in mind when it comes to NL players in the first-third lineup slots, but after that it shouldn't matter nearly as much.

Your Place in the World (or at Least the Batting Order)

Just as with Runs Scored, a hitter's slot in the lineup matters a lot for RBI. Fortunately, entirely different slots are useful here, so we get some original analysis.

This part of the teammate/order/luck factor is obvious enough: middle of the order hitters get more RBI chances, and therefore get more RBI. Adding to the obviousness of it all, this is where most of the best hitters bat anyway. So the key to RBI is to use early draft picks and high auction dollars on good hitters. Now, that is an efficient fantasy baseball economy.

Unfortunately, my last two sentences are about as true as they are tongue in cheek, but there is still a way to get less-obvious value and more RBI onto your roster.

The first thing you can do is to check out our list (again in the runs article) of high-OBP hitters that bat in leadoff or second, and take extra care to target the hitters behind them. However good the hitter is, he'll get a value boost from the guys batting ahead of them. It's why maybe you shouldn't be too excited about the RBI chances that Joey Votto or Chris Davis will get (check out MLBDepthCharts.com to see who might be hitting ahead of them...ugh), but you can be thrilled about what Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera will be able to do.

Here are some teams whose four through six hitters ought to enjoy their table-setters:

Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, Indians, Tigers, Angels, Rangers, and probably the A's.

Over in the NL, we've got the Braves, Padres (surprisingly enough), Rockies, Cardinals, Nationals, and probably the Dodgers and Brewers getting good OBP's out of their top two slots.

Of course, change the lineup around a lotand these lists might look different by the time the season starts. They will look different by the time it ends. So keep an eye on this stuff. It's also worth noting that having a good team offense and having good table-setters are very different things.

The second thing you can do is look for middle-of-the-road hitters in premium lineup slots. These guys won't have the name value or high cost of their superstar counterparts, but they ought to drive in more runs than similar players stuck farther back in the lineup. These hitters might even be in bad lineups, but stand a good chance to luck into whatever baserunners manage to happen.

Here are some decided non-stars who seem rosterable occupying prime four-through-six batting order real estate (most platoon players excluded):

C: Miguel MonteroEvan GattisJarrod SaltalamacchiaJonathan LucroyRussell MartinSalvador Perez

1B: Justin MorneauYonder AlonsoMatt AdamsAdam LaRocheCorey Hart, Mitch Moreland, James Loney

2B: Brandon PhillipsNeil Walker,  Jedd Gyorko

3B: Chris JohnsonJuan UribeDavid Freese

SS: Asdrubal CabreraJ.J. HardyXander Bogaerts

OF: Ryan Ludwick,  Chris Young, Marlon Byrd,   Carlos Quentin,   Michael Brantley,  Avisail Garcia, Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia,  Colby Rasmus, Melky Cabrera,  Josh Reddick

 Narrow that down to players on the teams listed above for good table-setters and you've got a target list of guys who ought to luck into more RBI's than a player of their caliber normally would:

Gattis, Johnson, Morneau, Uribe, Lucroy, Quentin, Alonso, Gyorko,* Adams, LaRoche, Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Bogaerts, Loney, Rasmus, Melky Cabrera, Freese, Reddick, Moreland

*Don't actually load up on Padres hoping for RBI. But one of them really might produce with Everth Cabrera and Will Venable setting the table.

You could narrow it down by park factor too (which would get rid of those incongruous Padres from the formula), but that seems to make it a bit too narrow to be useful.

Bringing the Skills to the Table

Hidden Power

Homer power is more than a little apparent. Doubles and triples, however, fly a little under the radar. Not much, but a little. And really, who do you think is driving in more runs, a guy with 35 doubles and 20 HR's, or a guy with 20 doubles and 20 HR's? Their stats may look the same on your fantasy baseball website (which can be useful when you offer trades), but the first guy will probably be knocking in way more runs. So go after those doubles hitters.

Thrity-eight players hit at least 35 doubles last year. Since you can go to Fangraphs.com or Baseball-Reference.com and see them for yourself, I'm not going to list them here. But I will mention those doubles hitters that don't hit home runs. Any that do will have been snatched up long before you could get to them.

And yes, 35 is arbitrary. But there has to be a cutoff somewhere. Just remember that when you're looking up a player's stats in the heat of the draft, look them up from a source that actually tells you how many extra-base hits he got.

Players with 35+ Doubles and Fewer than 20 HR's

40-55 Doubles: Matt Carpenter, Manny Machado, Jed Lowrie, Yadier Molina, Gerardo Parra, Dustin Pedroia, Saltalamacchia

35-39 Doubles: Brandon Belt, Alexei Ramirez, Daniel Murphy, Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Jason Kipnis, Martin Prado, Ben Zobrist, Morneau, Jimmy Rollins, Joe Mauer, Jason Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera

 High Slugging Percentage, Low Homers

 Doubles are a specific, helpful aspect of slugging percentage, but the rate stat does a good job of encapsulating the ability to drive in runners too. Again, we'll list some heavy sluggers, but omit those with over 20 homers (or who would have gotten over 20 with more playing time).

 .460-.480 SLG: Carpenter, Molina, Mauer

 .440-.460: Jhonny Peralta, Chris Johnson, Allen Craig, Jonathan Lucroy, Jason Kipnis, Shane Victorino, Omar Infante, Eric Hosmer, Jed Lowrie, Daniel Nava, Starling Marte

 Aside from the fact that this list comprises essentially the entire Cardinals lineup, we can see that there are a some potential values at catcher and middle infield--which is good, because those aren't the usual sources of homers or of RBI.

 Some Final Thoughts

The above are ways to assist yourself on the margins. Marginal upgrades to each player in your lineup, mid- and late-round draft picks that will provide more help than their peers, that sort of thing. By far, though, the bulk of your team RBI will come from your top players, and this will be true for everyone in your league. Beware, then, of spending too much or too early on pitching, as it will have consequences in the RBI category.

As with Runs Scored, your RBI total in daily roto leagues will depend a lot on your in-season management: utilizing your bench slots, and probably streaming at bats. The more chances you have to hit, the more runs will come in. Sometimes, baseball is still simple.

Join us again next week: we'll swing back to the pitcher's mound for ERA.



Closer Updates – An Updated Look at Position Battles

So far this preseason, we’ve given an in-depth preview of each division and their closer situations. Now that we’re on the cusp of Spring Training, it’s time to have an update on some of the ongoing position battles discussed earlier this preseason. The NL East and NL Central have both been fairly quiet, but there’s plenty happening elsewhere. We’ve got updates on the position battles in AL Central and NL West, as well as some new arrivals via free agency in the AL West and AL East.

Baltimore Orioles – When we first wrote about the Os bullpen, it seemed that Baltimore was one free agent away from having a new closer and the in-house competition was between Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day. Now it looks like Tommy Hunter is leading the way and will have the first opportunity to close this Spring Training.

Chicago White Sox – During out AL Central preview, we took a look at the White Sox bullpen in the post-Addison Reed era. Frontrunner Nate Jones was the first injury in Spring Training with a mild strain. While the injury isn’t a big deal, it may give Ronald Belisario, Matt Lindstrom, or newcomer Mitchell Boggs a few extra days to earn favor with the brass.

Colorado Rockies – Manager Walt Weiss recently stated that Rex Brothers could get some save opportunities early in the season, depending on matchups. This may be a not-so-subtle hint that they’re ready for Brothers to be the guy in Mile High, so beware of drafting LaTroy Hawkins too early.

Houston Astros – Skipper Bo Porter has made it clear that figuring out the closer’s role would be a top priority this Spring Training. Chad Qualls may be the early favorite given his limited experience as a closer in three seasons with the Diamondbacks. Jesse Crain is still recovering from an October surgery and will be back in April, but probably not near Opening Day.

Seattle Mariners – When we first hit the presses on the AL West, Danny Farquhar seemed to have an edge for the gig over Tom Wilhelmsen. Then, Fernando Rodney was signed by the Mariners and took over the role. He should have fairly safe job security given the money they’re paying him in Seattle.

Tampa Bay Rays – Another bullpen compeittion which was settled by a free agent signing was in Tampa with Grant Balfour. Backed up by Heath Bell, Joel Peralta, and Jake McGee, Grant Balfour will be the closer and should have another strong season following a strong 2013 (2.59 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 38 saves).

Texas Rangers – While there’s been plenty of talk about how Neftali Feliz is ready to take back the ninth inning (he’s reported to camp in the best shape of his career), Ron Washington recently said that he’ll wait a while before naming a closer. Besides Feliz, Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers are both viable candidates with potent stuff and give Texas the most comfortable bullpen battle in baseball.

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 bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.





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