February 2014

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Draft Round Battles: Gonzalez Vs. Pujols

It's easy to form an attachment to one of your fantasy team's former stars, and since Albert Pujols has undoubtedly swung countless leagues over his 13-year career, this built-up affection might explain why Pujols is getting a lot of draft cred.  Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position reports are showing that Pujols is still going in the third round (35.17 ADP) of most mock drafts, a generous showing for a 34-year-old who played only 99 games in 2013 and is coming off the worst season of his career.

I use the term "worst" accurately, though somewhat lightly.  Pujols hit .258/.330/.437 with 17 homers, 64 RBI and 49 runs scored over 443 PA.  That was still good enough for an 111 wRC+ and, if projected over a full season, those counting numbers start looking a lot more Pujolsian.  While there are certainly reasons to be concerned about how Pujols will perform in 2014, maybe you can add me to the "he's still Albert!" club since I'll defend that late-third round ADP placement, even to the point of preferring Pujols ahead of another certain Los Angeles first baseman in Adrian Gonzalez.

Gonzalez's own ADP is 67.67, and while there are a lot of first basemen hovering in that sixth round position, I'm a little stunned that A-Gon is behind Chris Carter (62.58), Jose Dariel Abreu (64.64) and Brandon Moss (67.58).  Seriously?  Mock drafters prefer Captain Strikeout, a rookie prospect with holes in his swing and a platooner ahead of one of the most durable and productive hitters of the last decade?  I certainly think Gonzalez merits a higher draft placement than that....though not ahead of Pujols.

Let's start the draft battle by acknowledging the elephant in the room, durability.  Since 2007, Gonzalez has averaged 160 games per season.  Pujols had a strong record of durability himself before last season, when he was hobbled by (and eventually shut down early because of) plantar fasciitis in his left foot.  Pujols had been bothered by the injury for a decade with little effect on his play, though the pain intensified in 2013 and he partially tore his plantar fascia in July.  That small tear, however, may have spared Pujols from surgery and now he says he's ready to go for Opening Day.

Since plantar fasciitis can be the kind of injury that never goes away, you have to wonder if Pujols' health will really hold up for the majority of a season.  Even if the foot is totally fine, you still have to consider Pujols' age (34) and a couple of knee injuries in recent years.  If you're drafting solely on having a first baseman for as many games as possible, Gonzalez is the safer pick.

If both men are healthy, however?  Well, if both players end up with roughly the same number of plate appearances, I'll go with Pujols.  While there's no doubt that Pujols' performance has been in decline over the last two seasons, I can't help but feel that his struggles have been somewhat exaggerated by all the hype over Pujols' ten-year, $240MM contract and the fact that his decline began basically as soon as he put on an Angels uniform.  Check these numbers out from 2012-13...

Pujols: 1113 PA, 134 runs, 47 homers, 169 RBI, .275/.338/.485, 130 OPS+

Gonzalez: 1325 PA, 144 runs, 40 homers, 208 RBI, .296/.343/.462, 121 OPS+

Despite the additional 212 PA, Gonzalez still falls behind Prince Albert in homers and OPS+, and you have to figure that with equal playing time, Pujols would've caught up in runs.  Despite all the bad press and the contractual albatross label hanging around his neck, Pujols has still been the best first baseman in L.A. over the last two seasons.

Gonzalez, of course, has been dealing with some physical issues himself in recent years.  He underwent shoulder surgery prior to the 2011 season and, as Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan has illustrated, Gonzalez has since become primarily a pull hitter and his power has greatly diminished.  A-Gon's .166 ISO in 2012-13 was well below his .207 career average, and it's possible Gonzalez's overall hitting numbers would've been lower were it not for a .325 BABIP over the same period (Pujols has a .273 BABIP over the last two seasons, by the way).

Also, Pujols' critics have noted that he's posted the three lowest walk rates of his career over the last three seasons, and since 2010, Pujols has recorded three of the three highest strikeout rates of his career.  To recap, that's an 8.7% walk rate and a 10.7% strikeout rate from 2011-13 for Pujols --- that still tops Gonzalez's 8% walk rate and 16% strikeout rate over the same span.  While those three-year percentages represent a bigger drop from previous career norms for Pujols than they do for Gonzalez, let's also remember that Pujols was putting up ridiculous, all-time great numbers from 2001-10.  Naturally he has further to fall since he's coming from a greater height, and yet even the 2011-13 beta version of Pujols is still getting on base more and striking out less than Gonzalez.

To steal a line from Mark Twain, rumors of Pujols' fantasy demise have been greatly exaggerated.  With a little more batted-ball luck (and less plantar fasciitis pain) over the last two years, Pujols might've made the Angels feel less terrified a bit better about that long-term investment.  If Pujols really has put his foot issues behind him, it's hard to argue that Gonzalez is the better option.  While there is certainly no shame in being considered "a poor man's Albert Pujols," it doesn't look like Gonzalez will escape that label even at this late date in Pujols' career.



RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Outfield

Welcome to the first of RotoAuthority's position-by-position fantasy rankings. With input from Tim Dierkes and the whole team of RA experts, we'll rank and tier each position. Today, we kick it off with the Outfield. Why Outfield? Because why not? Because everyone starts with Catchers and that gets old. Because Outfield is a big position to digest and you might as well start early. Take your pick. Or better yet, check out the rankings and tell us in the comments where you agree, disagree, or were surprised.

Largely, each tier consists of guys you could make a case for drafting in any order or spending more or less the same dollar amount on. That's not to say that ranks within the tiers don't matter, just that the difference between Carlos Gomez (Tier 2, Rank 11) and Jacoby Ellsbury (Tier 2, Rank 6) is bigger than the difference between Gomez and Shin-Soo Choo (Tier 3, Rank 12). Order matters, but tier matters more.

Tier 1: First Rounders

1

Mike Trout

2

Andrew McCutchen

3

Carlos Gonzalez

4

Adam Jones

5

Ryan Braun

These guys make legit first round or very-early second round picks. One exception to the tier rule: don't take anyone else over Trout. Otherwise, the choice is yours.

Tier 2: Second-Third Rounds

6

Jacoby Ellsbury

7

Bryce Harper

8

Giancarlo Stanton

9

Jay Bruce

10

Mark Trumbo

11

Carlos Gomez

Strategy interrupts the purity of our endeavor: take Ellsbury for steals, Stanton, Bruce, or Trumbo for raw power, Harper or Gomez for that sweet power/speed combination. If you're very lucky, you can get one of these guys in the third.

 Tier 3: Third-Fourth Rounds

12

Shin-Soo Choo

13

Alex Rios

14

Justin Upton

15

Jose Bautista

16

Matt Holliday

17

Carlos Beltran

18

Yasiel Puig

19

Hunter Pence

Again with the strategy. Do you want steady players like Holliday and Rios or risks of age, injury, youth, and whatnot? Risky or not, this is the last tier from which you can get a true OF cornerstone--my personal recommendation is to make sure to get at least one of these top 19 players, especially in 5-OF leagues. Better yet, be one of the teams with two.

Tier 4: Not Quite Stars

20

Wil Myers

21

Jason Heyward

22

Alex Gordon

23

Starling Marte

24

Yoenis Cespedes

25

Jayson Werth

26

Coco Crisp

27

Josh Hamilton

Myers and Heyward might become stars. What will Coco do for his next magic trick after transforming from a 5/40 player to a 20/20 guy? The only "sure thing" in this section is Gordon, but risk and upside aren't bad from your (hopefully) number three OF.

Tier 5: Taking the Good with the Bad

28

Curtis Granderson

29

Michael Cuddyer

30

Austin Jackson

31

Matt Kemp

32

Shane Victorino

33

Nelson Cruz

34

Desmond Jennings

35

Leonys Martin

36

Colby Rasmus

Everyone left has some seriously good reasons not to draft them.  But you have to.

We're seeing a bit more category differentiation here: Jackson for Runs, Martin for Steals, Cruz for Homers...hope he doesn't really end up in Seattle. Victorino is a nice source of balance, and check out just how good Rasmus was until he got hurt. What to do with Kemp? This is a kind of wait and see placeholder, because his value is so dependent on his health status. What he does in the Spring could rocket him up the list...or plummet him down.

Tier 6: Better than They Look, at Least

37

Alfonso Soriano

38

Torii Hunter

39

Domonic Brown

40

Norichika Aoki

41

Alejandro DeAza

42

Christian Yelich

43

Nick Swisher

Any of these guys makes a pretty solid number-four OF. I'm not super-thrilled by any of them as my third guy, though. Brown has the most upside, but plenty or reason to tread carefully. Probably a couple of these guys will be nice values...and one or two big disappointments. If I could tell you which, I'd never lose in fantasy. Also, if your OF is done at this point, props to you. Hopefully your infield can handle it, though....

Tier 7: Well You Can't Just Leave the Slot Empty

44

George Springer

45

B.J. Upton

46

Billy Hamilton

47

Josh Reddick

48

Ryan Ludwick

49

Michael Bourn

50

Martin Prado

51

Brett Gardner

52

Khris Davis

53

Carl Crawford

54

Nick Markakis

55

Kole Calhoun

56

Rajai Davis

57

Will Venable

58

Angel Pagan

59

Dexter Fowler

60

Carlos Quentin

Our last tier is a big one--pretty much the whole complement of fifth OF's. The title is a bit unfair--there are potentially interesting pieces here, whether single-category stars, prospects, or high-risk guys.

Yes, Billy Hamilton is this low because who knows how well he'll hit or if he'll even start. Or stick in the Majors. Our Least Favorite Upton still deserves a flyer, as do AL West prospects Springer and Calhoun. Draft Springer even if he doesn't win the job outright with Houston--his "competition" won't keep him out of the Bigs for long.

If you want some steady, safe production here, think about Prado, Markakis, Venable, Pagan, or Fowler. (Though Prado will already be gone to someone's infield.)

If you want to take on a health risk, Quentin or Crawford could return a ton of value or spend the rest of their lives on and off the DL.

Maybe Bourn's power will come back (I'm not betting on it, but fifth OF isn't exactly high stakes). Gardner is more likely to steal (but with a lower overall ceiling), and Rajai Davis seems to get 40 steals a season with or without a starting job. That has value, especially if you take a decent platoon partner for him.

For power upside, Reddick, Ludwick, and Khris Davis are your guys. Khris was huge down the stretch, and Reddick and Ludwick were impact players just a year ago, so there could be something there. Or not. This is your fifth OF slot after all....

If I Only Had a Job: These guys would be on the official list if only they were projected to start at the beginning of the season. Watch them carefully in Spring Training, and watch their competition too. They stand a good chance of breaking into a starting role at some point in 2014, so consider using a draft and stash for one of these guys even if they don't take over a job before Opening Day

Oscar Taveras (upside, Tier 6), Emilio Bonifacio (speed, Tier 7), Nate McLouth (speed, Tier 7)

Bench Strategy

When considering your bench outfielders (who often end up playing DH/Util for you), consider guys who can help you in power or steals, young players (or old ones) that you can't count on but might just play like starters, real-life platoon players that you too can platoon, and those boring sorts of guys whose chief virtue is that they typically play better than average waiver bait.

Power: Josh Willingham, Nate Schierholtz, Michael Morse, Dayan Viciedo, Kyle Blanks, Justin Ruggiano

Speed: Adam Eaton, Ben Revere, Eric Young, Jr., Denard Span, Ichiro Suzuki, Aaron Hicks, Jarrod Dyson, Drew Stubbs, Juan Pierre

Upside: Marcell Ozuna, Marlon Byrd, Oswaldo Arcia, Nick Castellanos, Melky Cabrera, Chris Young, Robbie Grossman, Charlie Blackmon, Lorenzo Cain, Jackie Bradley, Avisail Garcia, Gregory Polanco, Jose Tabata, Junior Lake, Darin Ruf, Logan Morrison, Corey Hart, Michael Saunders

Platoon Usefulness: Daniel Nava, Raul Ibanez, Matt Joyce, Jonny Gomes, Chris Denorfia, Jeff Baker, David DeJesus, David Murphy

 Check us out again next week, as we continue our rankings by diving into the infield.

Reliably OK: Michael Brantley, Andre Ethier, Gerardo Parra, Peter Bourjos, Dustin Ackley, Cody Ross

 



The Market Report: Outfielders

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

Pitchers and catchers have officially reported, and the rest of the position players should return this week. Don't worry; Opening Day will be here soon enough. Let's take a look at outfielders this week. Once again, ADP values are provided in parentheses.

Tier One

1. Mike Trout (1)

2. Andrew McCutchen (5)

3. Carlos Gonzalez (7)

Tier Two

4. Adam Jones (10)

5. Bryce Harper (13)

6. Ryan Braun (15)

Tier Three

7. Giancarlo Stanton (22)

8. Jacoby Ellsbury (23)

9. Yasiel Puig (24)

10. Jay Bruce (27)

11. Carlos Gomez (29)

Tier Four

12. Justin Upton (34)

13. Matt Holliday (35)

14. Matt Kemp (35)

15. Jose Bautista (37)

16. Allen Craig (42)

17. Alex Rios (43)

18. Shin-Soo Choo (46)

Tier Five

19. Wil Myers (52)

20. Hunter Pence (56)

21. Yoenis Cespedes (60)

22. Starling Marte (62)

23. Mark Trumbo (62)

24. Jayson Werth (69)

25. Alex Gordon (71)

Undervalued

Shin-Soo Choo (ADP 46)

Prior to a draft I make an effort to identify targets for each round by comparing ADP values to my own player valuations. I've written previously that if I don't get a top-two pick this year, I'll be targeting a reliable hitter like Robinson Cano or Adam Jones in the middle of the first round. Then I hope to come back with a power-hitting corner infielder such as Adrian Beltre or Edwin Encarnacion in Round 2. In the third round I have my eyes set on grabbing an ace like Justin Verlander or Stephen Strasburg to anchor my staff. Then, to me Shin-Soo Choo is the ideal fourth-round pick.

I'm not exactly sure why Choo isn't viewed as a #1 outfielder in a 12-team league at this point. Rangers Ballpark doesn't boost HR quite like Great American Ball Park; however, the Ballpark in Arlington is still rather friendly to hitters. This OBP machine will be moving from an above-average offense to a potentially elite one. Other than Mike Trout, who's a better bet to lead the MLB in runs scored than the new Rangers leadoff hitter? In three of his past four full seasons, Choo has gone 20/20. Moreover, aside from an injury-shortened 2011 campaign, he's hit over .280 every year in the Bigs. In an era in which finding a reliable top-flight hitter has become a daunting task, here's a player who represents one of the safest options on the board in the early rounds. 

Carlos Beltran (ADP 83)

I'm already on record with this one. I think Beltran is criminally undervalued this year, and I'll just leave you to read 700 words as to why I think that is the case.

Norichika Aoki (ADP 195)

Aoki is one of those players who derives sneaky value from the categories that fantasy owners fail to fully appreicate. Hitting atop the Brewers lineup the past couple years, Aoki put together very similar seasons with significant contributions in runs, SB, and AVG. The move from Miller Park to Kauffman Stadium would be awful for a power hitter but shouldn't affect his value that much. It's also worth pointing out that he was rather unlucky in the batted ball department, posting a .295 BABIP compared to a .330 xBABIP. All told, this is a player who's a relatively safe bet to approach 10 HR and 20 SB while hitting around .290 with 80 runs scored. I like power as much as the next guy, but that line adds up to a top-30 outfielder for a player currently going dirt cheap in drafts.

Overvalued

Matt Kemp (ADP 35)

Oh, where should I begin with this one? Let's count the reasons why you shouldn't draft Kemp in the third round. First, he's probably going to start the season on the DL. Do you really want to select a player who may not be ready for Opening Day when there are so many other viable alternatives at such an early stage in a draft? Second, this is a player who landed on the DL three times last year. Even if he's ready for Opening Day, do you have much faith in his body holding up this season? Third, the speed is clearly in decline, as he has just 18 SB in more than a season's worth of games over the past two years. How many would you project for a player who's suffered so many injuries? Fourth, the power might not be all that great anymore either. Can we really count on 25 HR for someone who only hit six in roughly half a season in 2013? Last but not least, somehow Matt Kemp is currently going in the third round despite the fact that he might not play everyday. Are we sure that Manager Don Mattingly will continue to pencil in his name if he gets off to a slow start with such a crowded outfield?

Overall then, I'm a firm believer in drafting a highly skilled player with some injury risk if he's available at a significant discount. In Mixed Leagues there are plenty of options available on the waiver wire, and the combination of an elite player for most of the season and a replacement-level player for part of it can return a profit. The only problem is that Matt Kemp is no longer elite even when he's healthy. Save yourself the headache and let someone else draft this plummeting stock.



Point/Counterpoint: Ryan Braun, First-Rounder?

Ryan Braun is a divisive guy: some see him as an elite talent ready to retake the league by storm after a lost year…others see a player returning from injury, disappointing play, and…oh yeah, a huge PED suspension.

So, which side are you on? Taking Braun with your first pick…or leaving the risk till later or someone else’s team. Our team tackles both sides of the debate.

Alex: I’ll take Braun in the first, no question. There are two reasons: Braun…and everybody else.

Braun’s last season was just about as rough as it gets, I’ll admit. To be honest, though, I don’t see the problems he faced carrying over into this season. First of all, it seems pretty likely that he was playing hurt when things were so rough last year with his thumb injury. I’m no medical expert, but it doesn’t take one to suspect that that was probably the reason behind his disappointing performance. Unless I hear the thumb is healthy, I’m feeling pretty confident about his hitting.

But what about the PED’s? How good can he be without the juice? I guess it all depends on how much credit you’re willing to give steroids and other performance enhancing chemicals. Me, not much. It seems to me that they can add to the talent that’s already there—PED’s might have given Braun the edge, but they didn’t make him a superstar. And yeah, I’ll bet my first round pick on that.

With all the drama of the last year, it’s easy to overlook just how good Ryan Braun really has been. But let’s not—here’s his batting line from 2010-2012:

.318 AVG/.384 OBP/.563 SLG, 99 HR, 318 R, 326 RBI, 77 SB

Given the mulligan for 2013, and you’re talking about a first pick type of player, not just a first rounder.

One caveat is that his base stealing really fell off last year, and that probably isn’t due to the thumb injury. I’m willing to think of him as a four category monster in between the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto, rather than a Mike Trout comparable or a souped-up Andrew McCutchen.

That’s still a first-rounder for me.

Beyond Braun’s personal greatness, there’s the fact that other potential first-rounders come with pretty serious questions. After the (mostly) consensus top four (Cabrera, Trout, McCutchen, and Paul Goldschmidt), plus Robinson Cano, I’m not sold on anyone else as a lock for the first round pick. What’s more, there is a big group of players towards the end of the first round that strongly resemble the players taken in the second round—Adrian Beltre just isn’t that different to Evan Longoria. Sure Carlos Gonzalez is better than Carlos Gomez—but much less healthy. Joey Votto and Edwin Encarnacion are both great. Clayton Kershaw is an awesome pitcher—but so are Yu Darvish and Adam Wainwright.

Braun is one of the few players who stand significantly taller than the rest. That makes him well worth a first round selection.

Mark: I don't have an issue with Braun as a quality fantasy player, since if I'm picking at the top of the second round and he's still there, I'll happily snatch him up.  If I'm picking between 8th-12th in the first round of a 12-team draft, however, I definitely have some doubts, and you should always be as doubt-free as possible with your first round choice.

Call it the Smilex theory of fantasy baseball, based on the Joker's secret weapon in the 1989 Batman movie.  The ingredients of Smilex were mixed into several household products but the drug only became lethal when certain products were used together.  "Hairspray alone won't do it, but hairspray mixed with lipstick and perfume will be toxic and untraceable," as Bruce Wayne put it.  Likewise, no one of my nagging doubts about Braun would be enough (on their own) to stop me from taking him in the first round, but all of them in combination make me look elsewhere.

Braun is entering his age-30 season, the PED spectre is unavoidable, his stolen bases dried up and even though he still had an .869 OPS last season, his big power drop (a .200 ISO and only nine homers) combined with a drop in his line drive rate and a large rise in his ground ball rate all stand out as red flags.  Braun's thumb problem could excuse some of his issues at the plate, but all of these factors in combination won't, unlike Smilex, put a big grin on your face.

I also may have a lot more faith than Alex does in the crop of first-round candidates.  Trout, Cabrera, McCutchen, Goldschmidt and Cano are no-brainers to go ahead of Braun.  Kershaw is a cut above baseball's other aces so he's the one pitcher I'd comfortably take in the first round.  I'd slot Votto and Encarnacion ahead of Braun, plus I've got confidence that Chris Davis can put up another big year.  In a vacuum, Braun is a better player than Adam Jones, but Jones carries far fewer question marks.  Gonzalez's injury history worries me and Beltre turns 35 in April, but CarGo is a better five-tool threat than Braun and Beltre is showing no signs of slowing down, plus he's at a shallower position.  That's 12 players right there, and I'm not even getting into other candidates like Evan Longoria or Hanley Ramirez, who are reasonable first-round picks given their positions.

The later rounds are the time for making leaps of faith, but when it comes to your first-rounder, you want a guy who's going to be anchor your roster for an entire season.  I wouldn't at all be surprised if Braun bounces back for another elite season, but there are enough hints that he won't--so I'll let someone else take that risk with their first pick.



How to Win 2014: Wins

Wins aren’t exactly the trendiest category since the sabermetric revolution. Apparently, they don't tell us much about a player's "true talent," and they aren't very "predictive" of future performance. Things have come a long ways since Buzzie Bavasi let Nolan Ryan go for being "a .500 pitcher."

But we still include wins in this, our enlightened, statistical game. And we have to. Wins are what keep us in touch with real baseball, what keep us interested in the outcome of the real games. Play in a couple fantasy leagues, and you'll be watching the scores in half the day's games every day. Wins are exhilarating.

 And a bit frustrating. My favorite example of this is 2004, the year I had poor Kelvim Escobar when he was pitching for the Angels. Now, you may not remember, but Escobar was really good for a couple years there, and so were the Angels. They had one of the top-scoring offenses, and Escobar was a distinctly above-average fantasy pitcher. And he ended up with a record of 11-12. He was much better than teammate Bartolo Colon and pitched the same number of innings. Colon's record: 18-12. With an ERA over 5.00. Life just ain't fair.

 Fortunately, as in Runs Scored, there are controllable luck components to getting Wins, and there are legitimate skill components too. You can chase both.

 Living with Luck Dragons: Run Support

 The Escobar/Colon example I gave was so frustrating because those guys pitched for the same team, with the same hitters supposedly trying to score some runs. Thankfully, this is an extreme example: as best as we can predict, pitchers on the same team ought to get pretty much the same run support. (Except when the team changes its defensive lineup to help the pitcher with speed and defense outfielders, or a personal catcher who can't hit.)

 Get a good pitcher on a good offensive team and you've put yourself in a decent position for some Wins. A great pitcher with a great offense is obviously even better, but don't think the results are linear: Wins should be treated as having a wide possible spread because there are so many uncontrollable factors going into every game.

 Here are the top AL teams by projected Runs Scored/Game going into next season:

Angels 4.55
Rangers 4.52
Red Sox 4.51
Blue Jays 4.49
Tigers 4.44

If you're noticing that these teams look really similar to the list I posted last week...well, they are. The same thing that scores runs for hitters scores it for pitchers. Players with good teammates tend to benefit from what we term luck.

For the same reasons as last time, I'll include the top few NL offenses too: 

Rockies 4.51
Diamondbacks 4.23
Giants 4.20 
Cardinals 4.19
Braves 4.14

Standards are lower in NL (thanks a lot, letting pitchers bat), but that doen't mean that these teams aren't going to beat their competition. It's probably worth noting that the Rockies get their high number from their park more than their hitters--the D-Backs too, to a lesser extent.

Here are some teams that don't look like they'll score many runs:

In the AL, the Twins and White Sox stand below the crowd with just 4.06 and 4.04 RS/9, respectively. The Rays, Yankees, Mariners, and Astros form the next tier up, with between 4.20 and 4.24 RS/G.

In the NL, the Marlins are alone for horrible-ness, with just 3.65 predicted RS/G. Ouch. The Cubs, Phillies, Mets, and Padres are all projected between 3.84 and 3.89 RS/G. 

Real Skills: IP/G

The deeper into games you pitch, the more you'll win. It's pretty simple, actually, but pitching deep into the game is a skill worth having. Here are the starters with the highest innings per start from 2011-2013:

Name            

Cliff Lee

Wins

37

GS

93

IP

666.1

IP/GS

7.16

James Shields

44

100

705.2

7.05

Hisashi Iwakuma

23

49

345

7.04

Clayton Kershaw

51

99

697

7.04

Justin Verlander

54

101

707.2

7.00

CC Sabathia

48

93

648.1

6.97

Felix Hernandez

39

97

670

6.91

Cole Hamels

39

95

651.1

6.85

David Price

42

92

622

6.76

R.A. Dickey

42

99

667

6.74

Adam Wainwright

33

66

440.1

6.67

Jered Weaver

49

87

578.2

6.65

Doug Fister

35

89

586.2

6.59

Matt Cain

36

95

625.1

6.58

Yu Darvish

29

61

401

6.57 

This isn't perfect, as you can see from the Wins column above, but these deep-pitching guys give their teams a chance to hit the ball and score runs.

If your league happens to count up losses...well, pitching deep means more decisions. In 5x5, you don't care about the difference between a loss and a no-decision, but if your format does give a penalty for a loss, straight-up IP/GS may get you in some trouble. Usually, though, a Win is more benefit than a Loss is a problem.

Luck and Skill: Together Again

Here are some pitchers who rack up innings and pitch for teams that score runs. It's the closest thing to a magic formula that I can think of for wins--aside from, you know, just being a good pitcher.

Darvish, Cain, Weaver, Wainwright, Dickey and Verlander are the standouts from the list above.

Dropping beyond the very best of innings eaters, here are some more pitchers that also fit pretty well into the formula:

Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Madison Bumgarner, C.J. Wilson, Jon Lester, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, John Lackey, Tim Lincecum, and Mike Minor

All these guys averaged at least 6.0 IP/GS for the last three years, and play in one of the top five offenses in their league.

Are their wins a sure thing? Certainly not. But their skills combine well with those of their teammates to win ballgames for their teams and themselves.

Just in Case We Missed Something...

Like Runs Scored, Wins are an output stat. We've measured two of the biggest inputs for getting Wins, but there are more. We can't measure them all here, and most are only a tiny fraction of the Win anyway. So, for the sake of thoroughness, let's see the top winners from the last three years:

Name

Wins

Justin Verlander

54

Max Scherzer

52

Clayton Kershaw

51

Jered Weaver

49

CC Sabathia

48

Gio Gonzalez

48

Zack Greinke

46

C.J. Wilson

46

Yovani Gallardo

45

James Shields

44

Ian Kennedy

43

David Price

42

Madison Bumgarner

42

R.A. Dickey

42

Kyle Lohse

41

Hiroki Kuroda

40

Tim Hudson

40

There are a lot of repeat names here, which is probably a good sign: innings, teammates, and good luck seem to be the real keys of the Wins category. 

 Don't Forget the Bullpen

Nothing is worse than losing a lead because the relief blew it. Closers get all the fantasy press, but you can lose the Win any time after your starter gets the hook.

These are the bullpens that led baseball by WAR last year and didn’t face significant losses to their relief corps: Royals, Red Sox, Twins, A’s, Blue Jays, and Braves.

By ERA, they were: Braves, Royals, Pirates, Brewers, A’s, and Reds.

In addition, the Dodgers and Rays have added some impressive pieces. While the Rangers lost Joe Nathan (so I removed them from the above lists), they could have a seriously dominant ‘pen if Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria are both back from their injuries.

Targeted Streaming

If you're in daily league, choosing the occasional streamer is a great way to enhance your Wins. What I don't mean is what often happens: streaming two or more pitchers a day, racking up a ton of wins, and losing out in ERA and WHIP. Not worth it. (Or maybe, I guess.)

Assuming you want to compete in ERA and WHIP, though, choosing a decent pitcher with a great matchup off the waiver wire ought to help you out a lot in the Wins category, not to mention strikeouts. When you find a fringy late-round/$1 flyer type of guy floating down the wire with a start against the Twins or White Sox, the Cubs or the Marlins--go for it. Over the course of the season, especially in a Roto style league.

Check us back out next week, as we return to hitters and RBI.



Closers Preseason Preview – NL West

As we wrap up the closer previews for 2014, we take a look at the American League West. With five clear starters (or frontrunners), there shouldn’t be too many shakeups between now and Opening Day. On the other hand, there are some very good setup men and more than one reliever capable of taking over the ninth in an instant.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer – Addison Reed

After coming to the desert from the Chicago White Sox, Addison Reed is poised to take over the ninth for Arizona. Although J.J. Putz will be trying to take his old job back, Reed should persevere and enter Opening Day as the Dbacks closer. With 69 saves over the last two seasons and a career 9.3 K/9, Reed should be consistent enough to keep Putz at bay.

Bold Prediction – Despite the fact that Reed beats Putz for the ninth inning gig, each of them pitch outstandingly and give the Diamondbacks an edge late in games. Reed has a 30+ save season and Putz ranks highly among holds leaders.

Who’s Lurking? – J.J. Putz has vowed that he will regain his job and should give Reed a run for his money in Spring Training. Although Putz was on the Disabled List twice last season and blew four saves in April, he held a 1.27 ERA in his last 27 appearances and really came back to form as the season ended. David Hernandez consistently holds a 9.0+ K/9 but is better suited for a setup role. Brad Ziegler may be the dark horse in this race, with a career 2.40 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, and 32 saves.

Colorado Rockies

Closer – LaTroy Hawkins

With Rafael Betancourt lost to free agency, the ninth inning should look a little different in Denver this season. Back with the Rockies, the 41-year-old Hawkins is the definition of journeyman reliever (11 teams thus far) and has been consistent, when healthy, over the years. Last season, Hawkins posted a respectable 2.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 7.0 K/9 last season in Queens and should have another strong year in the twilight of his career.

Bold Prediction – LaTroy Hawkins starts to run into trouble around the All-Star Game and Rex Brothers takes the job in the Mile High City. Brothers finishes the season with 25+ saves and is one of the best closers going into 2015.

Who’s Lurking? – In 2013, Brothers had a 30-inning scoreless streak and 19 saves after filling in for the injured Betancourt. With a career 2.82 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 11.2 K/9, Brothers has the stuff to dominate the ninth and just might take the job if Hawkins struggles early. Another young gun is Boone Logan, who had a solid 2013 season in 61 appearances (3.23 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 11.5 K/9) and has a closer’s profile. Adam Ottavino may not have a great spot in this race yet (2.64 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 last season), but could really bring himself into the conversation with a strong Spring Training.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer – Kenley Jansen

After Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman are gone, Kenley Jansen is your next best bet. With a scorching fastball and dominant strikeout rate, Jansen should be excited about his first full season in the closer’s seat. After starting last year as a setup guy, Jansen ended the season with 1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 13.0 K/9, and 28 saves, and has the stuff to be among the game’s best.

Bold Prediction – Kenley Jansen surpasses Kimbrel and Chapman in his first full year as closer. The Dodgers starting rotation puts Jansen in position for 40+ saves and he posts an unbelievable 14.5 K/9.

Who’s Lurking? – The Dodgers have a very interesting bullpen to back up Jansen with a trio of former All-Stars and 377 career saves. Chris Perez, the two-time All-Star, has a career 3.41 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 8.7 K/9, and four consecutive 20+ save seasons. Brian Wilson, the three-time All-Star with a very dark beard, is also in Los Angeles after 18 appearances last season (0.66 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 8.6 K/9). Brandon League, the last musketeer with one former All-Star appearance, had 14 saves at the beginning of the year but eventually lost the job to Jansen. Another interesting candidate is sophomore Chris Withrow, who posted a 2.60 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 11.2 K/9 in 26 appearances.

San Diego Padres

Closer – Huston Street

Unlike many traditional closers, Huston Street is a closer that relies on finesse rather than pure power. With a strong last season (33 of 35 save opportunities, 2.70 ERA, 1.02 WHIP), Street is poised to have another good year in San Diego. Recently acquired Joaquin Benoit may give Street some competition, but he should march through Spring Training with few issues.

Bold Prediction – Despite the fact that Benoit is on the scene, Huston Street has another strong season in San Diego (29 saves, 2.92 ERA, 1.10 ERA) by depending on his accuracy rather than his power.

Who’s Lurking? – New to the Padres is Joaquin Benoit, who saved 25 games in Detroit last season (2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.6 K/9). Benoit was brought in to replace Luke Gregerson (who was shipped to Oakland in the offseason) and should immediately bolster the bullpen. Dale Thayer completed his first full season in the Major Leagues last year and performed admirably (3.32 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.9 K/9). Another competitor is Alex Torres, who came to San Diego from the Tampa Bay Rays after a strong season (career 1.91 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.7 K/9).

San Francisco Giants

Closer – Sergio Romo

Sergio Romo will take over the ninth inning for San Francisco after 38 saves in 2013. With a career 2.29 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 10.3 K/9, Romo is a traditional fireballer who can close the door in the eighth. With some strong bullpen support but little internal competition, Romo should enter the season by saving games early and often.

Bold Prediction – Romo chases 40 saves in 2014 and comes just short with another 38-save season. Although his overall saves number remains the same, Romo lowers his ERA and WHIP, while still posting a 10.0+ K/9.

Who’s Lurking? – With the benefit of great setup man Santiago Casilla, the Padres will be able put Romo in plenty of traditional save opportunities. Casilla had a strong 2013 (2.16 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.8 K/9) and will be ready to contribute in the eighth. Jeremy Affeldt, another late inning reliever, may be simply waiting around for his opportunity for Romo and Casilla to struggle. Lastly, Heath Hembree had a very strong year in 2013 (0.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 14.1 K/9) and will have something to prove in his sophomore 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 bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Draft Round Battles: Cuddyer Vs. Werth

Every fantasy manager wants to find the next big thing but finding a young star to carry your team (while giving you a late-round or auction draft bargain) doesn't quite provide the bragging rights extravaganza that it once did.  Thanks to prospect rankings, scouting reports, readily available minor league stats and plain ol' media hype, it's easy to see the next Mike Trout or Wil Myers coming long in advance.

Rather than finding the next big thing, then, a bigger challenge for fantasy owners is finding the "Still Big Thing."  This would be the old veteran who fights off Father Time for another year and delivers another big season.  Such a player is just as valuable in a single-season fantasy format as a young star, and in many cases, there is much less of a draft fight for the veteran's services.  No manager wants to be the one holding the decline phase hot potato when an older player completely falls apart.  This is why Michael Cuddyer and Jayson Werth were both likely very available in your league last spring, as there wasn't exactly hot demand for two players coming off injury-shortened 2012 campaigns and going into their age-34 seasons.

If you took Cuddyer or Werth, of course, you had the last laugh.  Cuddyer hit .331/.389/.530 (all career highs) with 20 homers, 84 RBI, 74 runs and even 10 steals in 540 PA for the Rockies, even picking up the NL batting title in the process.  Werth was even better, hitting .318/.398/.532 with 25 dingers, 82 RBI, 84 runs and 10 steals over 532 PA, and he posted the seventh-best OPS+ (154) in all of baseball.

Needless to say, both players have improved their draft profiles for 2014.  Werth has a 71.45 average draft position (tip of the cap to Mock Draft Central's ADP reports) while Cuddyer is going about a round lower with a 86.06 ADP.  You could argue that both of these ADPs will end up being too high, as the decline phase monster could still rear his ugly head and bring both guys back to earth.  You wouldn't be wrong in passing on Werth or Cuddyer under the logic that they're unlikely to repeat their 2013 success, though geez, didn't you just read what I said about undervaluing veterans?  Why does nobody listen to me?!  *pouts*

The trick with Cuddyer and Werth, then, is in trying to figure out which player's 2013 season was more of a mirage and which has the better chance of success going forward.  Let's look at some of the factors...

* Health.  Cuddyer has averaged 123 games over the last three seasons, while Werth missed a month of 2013 with a hamstring injury and missed half of 2012.  Call it a wash health-wise, as you can't really count on a full season from either guy. 

* BABIP Blessings.  Cuddyer's .382 BABIP was the third-highest in all of baseball last year, while Werth's .358 mark was 11th-highest.  Both enjoyed enough batted-ball luck that I'll call this factor a wash as well, though it's worth noting that Werth has a .331 BABIP for his career, so this isn't necessarily new for him.

* Park Factor.  All things being equal, I'd give a hitter playing in Coors Field an edge over a hitter playing at Nationals Park, so Cuddyer gets a bump here.

* Peripherals.  After posting a 24.7% strikeout rate over his first nine Major League seasons, Werth cut it back to just an 18% K-rate in 2012-13.  He also has a .357 BABIP over that same span, so putting the ball in play more often is clearly paying off for Werth.  Two 2013 metrics that really jump off the page for Werth are his line drive rate and home run rate.  Werth's 26% line drive rate was well above his 21.1% career average and even further above his 18.9% mark in 2012, while his 18% home run rate was the second-highest of his career in a season with so many plate appearances.

Cuddyer, by contrast, had only one peripheral stat that was far out of whack with his career norms: a miniscule 1.7% infield fly ball rate, the eighth-lowest of any qualified player in MLB.  (Essentially, whenever Cuddyer hit the ball in the air last year, it flew a fair distance, which is a helpful thing at Coors Field.)  While that was the only advanced metric that stood out for Cuddyer, you just have to look to his splits to notice another unusual aspect of his 2013 campaign --- his inexplicably became a righty-killer, posting a .954 OPS against right-handed pitching.  This was a huge leap over the .780 OPS that Cuddyer (a right-handed batter) had posted against righties in his 12 previous Major League seasons.

Cuddyer's boost against righty pitching is such an anomaly that I have to give the peripherals edge, and the overall draft round battle, to Werth.  While I suspect Werth's home run rate will come back down to earth, I can see Cuddyer's success against right-handers taking a much more severe drop and bringing him back to his usual .800 OPS self...which still isn't bad, of course, but not werthy of taking him ahead of Jayson.  Come on, you have to know I'd make at least one terrible worth/werth pun in here somewhere, right?



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Mocktion Madness

i've been playing fantasy baseball for...well, for a long time. I've played in a couple leagues for more than ten years each, and I've played in dozens of leagues since then. I've been reading fantasy baseball magazines since the early '90's. I've played keeper and redraft, 5x5 and points, roto and head to head, and even tried fantasy hockey. But I've never played in an auction league.

This year, that changes.

So, on Friday, I did my first ever mock auction. It…um…didn’t go that well. But I did my best to liveblog it anyway, which probably didn’t help how my auction went, come to think of it.

Below is the transcript from my experience, highs, lows, triumphs and incredible stupidities all. It has been edited to remove references to excuse-making like clicking the wrong buttons and losing Internet connection. I will try not to make significant generalizations from the experience of a single auction and let you form your own conclusions.

Final note: I really do know what I’m doing in a snake draft....

For some reason I let myself go first, got confused and nominated Miguel Cabrera. He went up to $56, so I let him go.

Kershaw made it past $40 without my help, so I figured that a job well done—one of missions was to establish his price as a cap for starters.

Goldschmidt and McCutchen both sold for around $50 too—so much for my guess that there would be a big gap between Cabrera, Trout, and everyone else.

R.A. Dickey just became the first non-star nominated. He’s at $5. I’m in a bidding war! $7! $9! I’m letting him go at $10. Enjoy…other person.

CarGo just rolled up past $40. I can’t do it for someone so injury prone.

Ooh. Braun is up. $36. Now $39. Time to put my money where my mouth is: Ryan Braun for…lots of money, $42 in fact. I guess I will take a $40+ risk.

My first real nomination: Chris Davis. I’m hoping for a value here. Let’s see…a couple others are in a bidding war: he rolled up to $44 and…well, I still need  a 1B. Mild expletive.

This is the most awesome (fantasy baseball) thing I’ve ever done. Where have I been all these years in snake drafts?

Giancarlo’s up. I’m gonna make a serious push for him. Love the power. Got him for $31 and my outfield ought to be stacked.

I went $37 on Tulo. Ugh. Whoever I was bidding against was so fast with the returns that I thought I could ratchet the price up. I mean, I like Tulo, but I’d hoped to be more budget-conscious than this.

Presumably, I’ve learned a valuable lesson.

Joey Votto just went for $38. I think that’s a great value with the inflation for high-end players. Considering that I nominated Prince Fielder and someone went straight to the same price and won without further bidding…yeah. That’s why you don’t throw out a mega-bid right away.

A little buyer’s remorse on Tim Lincecum at $4. My WHIP already regrets it. Does that make him my ace?

Strasburg and Darvish are going for a ton.

Nominating Hanley—I want to suck some money out of the field. Done at $39. Tulo doesn’t look so badly priced.

Edwin Encarnacion. Now it’s interesting. There’s a fight for him, though. Up to $34. I’ve got $146 left…ooh, outbid. I think I’ll let him sail away.

Straight to $34 for Wainwright. Bold.

First closer: Rex Brothers. I think someone wants him. Or not. I got a $3 closer. Cool.

Jurickson Profar is up. I’m interested to see how he ends up getting valued. Low, so far: $4.

I’m discovering that you can’t run off to the bathroom in the middle of an auction.

Even if you know you don’t want Justin Upton.

Scherzer goes straight to $30. Starters are costing a lot, so I think I’m gonna stay away from the best of the aces and try more middling options.

I want Everth Cabrera, so I threw out Elvis Andrus. He’s going for $15, which seems like a decent price, but also a useful cap on my SS spending. We’ll see how the ol’ redirect goes.

Sweet. Snagged Evan Longoria for $27—less than Beltre or Wright went for by a few dollars. Joey Bats just went for $26, but I’ve got way too much risk on this team for that. No wonder I feel like I’m getting good deals: all my players might be hurt by May.

Cliff Lee is my staff anchor for $27. So much for a bunch of cheap good-not-great types for my pitching staff.

Adam Eaton is at $2. There are so many other OF options at this point, though, that I’m not ready to take a flyer. If he’s your guy, though, I like the idea of throwing him out early.

Madison Bumgarner for $26 and I am running out of money. It’s a stars-and-scrubs roster for me all the way at this point.

Dustin Pedroia is going for $25…compared to over $30 for Jason Kipnis. Patience is a virtue.

Middle section of the auction. I’m watching a lot of pitches go by. It seems like you can have anyone you want for $25 since most of us don’t have so much money left.

I wanted Altuve, but not for $17. Speed is going to be a problem for me, I think. The good news: speedsters always end up on the waiver wire. There’s always someone.

Pujols is up…wow, jumped straight to $23. I’d thought there could be a bargain there. New 1B target: Brandon Moss. Matt Adams is intriguing too. Adrian Gonzalez will probably be too pricey—ditto Anthony Rizzo and Eric Hosmer.

Anibal Sanchez is up. He’s a great deal [compared to others in this draft] at $21.

 Matt Cain for $17. How this happened, I don’t know…but I’ll take it. That might be the best deal of the auction, but it kept me from getting Everth Cabrera. He only went for $11 but that’s like half of my cash at this point.

I’m happy enough to dollar it for a catcher in a Yahoo! standard style, but I’d really like to have a bit more spending room for 1B and 2B. I’m loving that $3 spent on Brothers earlier, though, because that might be all the budget I’ve got for a closer!

Two dollars for Ricky Nolasco is two too many in a shallow league.

I have…the whole Giants rotation. Hopefully they have a better year this year.

There are a lot of valuable players left and not a lot of money in our team coffers. The three holdouts with $150 or more might be very, very pleased they sat out the early choices.

The one nice thing about being this poor at this stage of the draft is that I’ve at least filled more roster slots than almost everyone else. So I’m not poor for no reason.

Look at the beard on Andrew Cashner. That alone is reason to draft him.

New strategy: nominate only second basemen in hopes of spending half my money on Aaron Hill. I don’t think it’s gonna work.

Actually, there are a lot of good 2B options in a world without MI slot. Shallow leagues…why even worry about position scarcity? It’s like it’s not even a thing.

Carlos Santana for $16: great. Ian Kinsler for $18: horrible. There are now three teams with less money than me. Yeah.

Patience is worth it on closers too: Koji Uehara and Greg Holland went for about 75% the cost of Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. I bet they all return similar value in most formats.

Somebody is about to waste a dollar on Kevin Gregg. Awesome.

In real life, I will totally nominate David Ortiz late in an auction. This, I promise to myself.

There goes Martin Prado. Only one other team without anyone at 2B. I may be able to afford Hill. If not, I’ll probably pay no more than a dollar for Lowrie, Kendrick, Utley, or Murphy. I am beginning to grow aware that I’m obsessing over second base and Aaron Hill when there may be many good options available. Interesting.

Will anyone on my team steal even one base? Perhaps not.

Matt Moore [to someone else]  for $14. Enjoy those walks.

Tanaka goes for $11. Not bad. One notices that his projected value is $8 and his average auction cost is $16. One does not make further comment.

Just nominated my man Hill and watched him sail away for $10. I’ll spend the money at first base or on speed. My $26 is making me a power player for $2 bids all of a sudden.

Ouch…picked the wrong time to look away and let Michael Cuddyer go for $8.He was my sneaky pick for 1B. I spent the same on Wilin Rosario. I love the catcher and the price, but all I really wanted was to drain a little more cash out of the top bidder left in the room. My first player in like an hour. Big mistake—that same guy got McCann for $7.

Desperate to get someone…anyone…for a dollar, I just nominated Emilio Bonifacio. The guy’s been DFA’d and still got a bid.

Yes!!!!! I finally got a dollar player. Welcome to the fold, Scott Kazmir.

I only have one $2 bid left, and I’m not using it on Bobby Parnell. Or even Sonny Gray.

I will use it on Matt Adams. Hopefully he shows the power he did last year…

Last team with money is out—this just became a draft.

Rajai Davis just gave my team some wheels.

I feel decent about my dollar guys: Kazmir, Rajai, Brian Dozier, Neil Walker, Denard Span, and Mark Melancon, plus closers Jim Henderson and Fernando Rodney. Well, hopefully Rodney signs into a closer job.

Feverishly, I check to see if I can sign up for the next auction. No…not for six more hours. Probably for the best…

I learned some lessons, but I’ll let you infer them. Below is the team that I managed to draft, just for your edification. Feel free to mock me in the comments....



The Market Report: Shortstops

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

Another week closer to Opening Day. Let's take a look at shortstops this week. As usual, ADP values are provided in parentheses.

Tier One

1. Troy Tulowitzki (8)

2. Hanley Ramirez (9)

Tier Two

3. Jose Reyes (28)

4. Ian Desmond (31)

5. Jean Segura (33)

Tier Three

6. Elvis Andrus (57)

7. Ben Zobrist (74)

8. Everth Cabrera (77)

9. J.J. Hardy (88)

Tier Four

10. Andrelton Simmons (104)

11. Starlin Castro (107)

12. Xander Bogaerts (109)

13. Jed Lowrie (114)

Tier Five

14. Alexei Ramirez (148)

15. Jhonny Peralta (154)

16. Asdrubal Cabrera (160)

17. Jimmy Rollins (166)

18. Brad Miller (180)

Undervalued

Alexei Ramirez (ADP 148)

From a fantasy perspective, Ramirez had a strange season last year, but he was valuable nonetheless. After never getting more than 20 SB in any of the first five years of his career, he somehow managed to swipe 30 bags. Meanwhile, his power continued to decline, as his ISO fell for a third consecutive season. Despite only hitting six HR, though, Alexei finished just outside the top five at the position. Even if we assume some regression in the SB category, it's still rather difficult to explain his current ADP. Ramirez is a durable player who consistently puts the ball in play at a high rate. The days of 20 HR are behind him, and the counting statistics may not be great in a poor White Sox lineup. Even so, Ramirez is still a good bet for 20-plus SB along with an AVG along the lines of .270. Those numbers may not jump off the page, but Alexei still holds plenty of value at the weak shortstop position.

Erick Aybar (ADP 220)

Here's another boring yet likely undervalued target at the position. In fact, upon closer examination this duo is quite similar. Like Ramirez, Aybar is apt at making contact at a high clip. In an environment in which the frequency of strikeouts continues to rise, this skill becomes even more valuable. While he lacks much pop, Aybar does come with some speed. On the surface, his measly total of just 12 SB last year may suggest that's no longer the case. Keep in mind, however, that the Angels shortstop suffered from a variety of leg injuries over the course of the season. If you're looking for a breakout campaign, speculate elsewhere. Having said that, this is a reliable option at middle infield currently available for mere pennies. 

Overvalued

Jean Segura (ADP 33)

As fantasy expert Ron Shandler has noted previously, "regression and gravity are the two strongest forces known to man." When comparing value accrued to Draft Day price, few players were more profitable than Segura last year. Hold on; let's stop right there. In general, simply knowing this about a player makes it a good bet that he regresses significantly the following season. Name any breakout player from last year: Chris Davis, Jose Fernandez, Yasiel Puig, whomever. If you forecast a disappointing season for any of them relative to their current market value, you're going to be right more often than you're wrong. Meanwhile, think of the most disappointing players from 2013 - Starlin Castro, C.C. Sabathia, B.J. Upton, whomever made you stick to your stomach each day. If you speculate on this group of players, you're going to profit more often than not.

But let's get back to Segura. As the top shortstop in all of fantasy baseball last year, he may look like a player on the verge of consistent fantasy superstardom. I see a player who has nowhere to go but down. Yes, the speed is certainly for real, but I'm not buying the power. Just one of his 12 HR was of the No Doubt variety, and I wouldn't count on double-digits again this year. Half-season statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, but it's tough to overlook how poorly Segura performed after the All-Star Break. Entering the break with a triple-slash line of .325 / .363 / .487, the young shortstop then struggled down the stretch, hitting just .241 / .268 / .315.  Maybe the hit tool really is that good here, but I'm not willing to pay such a steep price for a player currently going ahead of more proven commodities like Albert Pujols and Justin Verlander.



Point/Counterpoint: Pay for Saves?

Fantasy baseball has changed so much over the past decade. When I started playing this game, I used to be adamantly against paying for saves. While others paid big bucks for Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner, I always seemed to end up with the likes of Joe Borowski and Todd Jones. More often than not, however, I could still compete in the pitching categories by getting better results from my starting pitchers. DIPS theory was not quite mainstream at the time, so it was easier to fill out a staff with sabermetric darlings back then.

Andrew: Premium Closers Are Worth the Price

For a variety of reasons, I'm of the mindset that paying for saves is now the optimal strategy. For one, today's game is far different from the one we watched at the turn of the millennium. Last year's leaguewide .714 OPS was the lowest since 1992. To be more specific, though, the most glaring difference about today's game is the dramatic rise in strikeout rate. Seemingly every pitching prospect is able to throw in the high 90s, and power has dipped substantially with rules now in place to severely penalize for use of PEDs.

With a strikeout now taking place roughly once every five plate appearances, there have been several key fantasy ramifications. Power is scarce. A .260 AVG is actually good, not bad. More and more pristine results are required to compete in the pitching categories. Above all else, though, perhaps no category has been more impacted than strikeouts. In particular, the strikeout rates of closers have gone through the roof. A quick glance at the leaders in SIERA among relievers from last year reveals that 10 of the top 13 are current closers, all of whom had a K/9 over 10. It sounds weird to say, but in today's Roto game a closer who fails to strike out a batter per inning is actually damaging to a fantasy roster in that category.

To illustrate, let's take a look at the following scenarios:

Option A: Draft Craig Kimbrel (ADP 55) in Round 5 and then Danny Salazar (ADP 146) in Round 13

Composite Steamer Projections: 18 Wins / 28 SV / 285 K / 2.99 ERA / 1.13 WHIP in 238 innings

Option B: Draft Felix Hernandez (ADP 51) in Round 5 and then Jim Johnson (ADP 146) in Round 13

Composite Steamer Projections: 18 Wins / 28 SV / 236 K / 3.26 ERA / 1.18 WHIP in 257 innings

So yeah, I'm cherry-picking, but I think there's a point here. Wins and saves are rather whimsical while ERA and WHIP may not be all that different if other names are selected. Having said that, I'm a firm believer that a fantasy owner gains a significant edge in the strikeout category by drafting an elite closer like Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, or Kenley Jansen. Particularly in leagues with innings caps, stellar innings from a lights-out closer are incredibly valuable.  

Luckey: Don't Pay for Saves

In theory, paying for saves can be a good bet when you know it will work. However, like most fantasy baseball projections, it’s hard to know when to draft a player for maximum value – and therein lies the rub. Before you draft your first closer this year, keep in mind three important things. First, closers have among the worst job security in baseball and can lose the ninth quickly. Second, the shelf life of a reliever is short and when they start to get worse – it happens in a hurry (see Trevor Hoffman in 2010 or Heath Bell in 2012). Third, closers become available throughout the season and are, therefore, much easier to find on the waiver wire than a top starting pitcher. So be sure to use that early draft pick on some consistent power or a sabermetric darling and minimize your risk.

1. Closers Have Poor Job Security – Sure drafting a Kimbrel or Chapman is sexy, but it probably isn’t the most efficient use of an early round pick. If you were to draft one of these closer studs, it’s going to cost you. Spend that pick on an ace or big-time offensive name and even with a week’s worth of poor games, you know they’ll still have their jobs. On the other hand, a closer that gives up a few blown saves in a week can easily be pulled for another reliever. If that new reliever pitches well, the job could soon be theirs and somebody else will certainly scoop them up at an amazing value. Last season, Mark Melancon stepped in for an injured Jason Grilli and pitched outstandingly (1.39 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 16 saves). This season, skip the big closer name and go with a position that’s a little safer.

2. Closers Do Not Last Forever – Like centers in basketball or running backs in football, closers have a fairly limited shelf life when they’re at their peak. Due to the physical demands of the position, many closers have a few amazing years before disappearing into oblivion and it’s often hard to predict when the wheels will fall off. A quick look at Kimbrel’s K/9 shows that it may be on a downward trend (having dropped from 16.7 in 2012 to 13.2 last season), while Chapman’s average velocity on his fastball has gone down in three consecutive seasons. Even though these two still have mightily impressive strikeout rates, taking them in the early rounds is a leap of faith. If you’re depending on a top starting pitcher, especially someone who relies on control rather than power, the fall from grace will not be so drastic.

3. Closers Can Be Found Later – It is important to note that players at the top of their position rarely fall to their expected draft day value and one of your fellow drafters may strike early. While it’s nice to think that all readers will have a chance to draft Kimbrel, Chapman, or Jansen at their ADP, you will probably have to overpay by a round or two to guarantee that he’ll be on your roster. Why do this when you can pluck a few closers from the waiver wire throughout the season that will be, cumulatively, just as strong? Keep an eye on the early competition battles in spring training and you’ll have an inside track in April. Once the injury bug hits, or a player loses his job after back-to-back blown saves, head to the waiver wire and take your pick…

Trust me on this, I used to pay for saves. If you do elect to wait on closers draft day, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter this season and we’ll keep you up-to-date on any breaking news in the closer world.





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