March 2014

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Go Bold or Go Home: Big Papi, Big Value

So, I was going over my personal rankings with my wife the other night (pause while it sinks in, just how lucky I am) when she noticed something (another pause to consider how lucky I am) that seemed off.

David Ortiz.

See, the guy is a beast and we—like almost everyone else—had him buried in our lists, off in his own little land of DH-ness, where his (spoiler alert) ADP of 60ish seemed pretty reasonable. But we were prepping for a Yahoo! league, and in such leagues Big Papi the DH is eligible at 1B, so we had to slot his name and statistics somewhere in between Paul Goldschmidt and Gaby Sanchez. Where he landed challenged everything we knew about fantasy baseball. (My wife’s good at that—she’s a bit of a roto iconoclast.)

Let’s look at some blind stats to overcome any potential bias:

2013 Numbers

Name

R

HR

RBI

AVG

OBP

SLG

Player A

82

25

106

.279

.362

.457

Player B

89

23

109

.319

.396

.501

Player C

84

30

103

.309

.395

.564

Player D

49

17

64

.258

.330

.437

Player E

86

17

79

.302

.353

.448

2014 Projections (Oliver)

Name

R

HR

RBI

AVG

OBP

SLG

Player A

72

21

79

.270

.354

.448

Player B

80

22

86

.305

.383

.496

Player C

84

29

97

.294

.388

.538

Player D

71

22

82

.265

.332

.448

Player E

77

16

74

.299

.354

.455

Okay, so we’ve got five very good, borderline-elite first basemen here, all well worth some draft day attention, though Player D has it a bit rough. What are their ADP’s? I’d assign them a mental guess before reading on. Go for it.

Okay, here are the numbers:

Player A: 14.2
Player B: 29.6
Player C: 60.6
Player D: 44.6
Player E: 56

Player A really stands out by ADP, but not by as much statistically. The player with the most homers has the lowest ADP. Which leads us to the unsurprising reveal:

Player A: Prince Fielder
Player B: Freddie Freeman
Player C: David Ortiz
Player D: Albert Pujols
Player E: Eric Hosmer

Something tells me that the fantasy community has our collective priorities a little mixed up. I mean, I get that DH-only eligibility can make it tough to fill out your roster late in the draft. It can create headaches when injuries hit. And I get that Ortiz will probably sit for half the interleague games. Okay, that’s probably worth a round or so of lowered draft value in leagues Ortiz can’t play first. Cool. In Yahoo! leagues, though, it should barely register, as he managed over 600 PA in four of the last five years.

I also get that Ortiz is old. So old that he had a 9-homer season when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa broke Roger Maris’s record. So old that we all gave up on him as too old once before…five years ago. So there’s the worry that his age will catch up to him all at once and he’ll look like Ryan Howard or Jason Giambi. It’s a real enough worry, I get it.

But really—the best hitter of the bunch is the last one drafted? (And drafted after Allen Craig, Adrian Gonzalez, and Mark Trumbo too.) It’s like we’re collectively assuming that Ortiz will turn pumpkin, not just preparing for the possibility. Big Papi deserves a lot more love than this. And he’ll return it if he can do anything close to his Oliver projection (which pegs him for similar playing time to last year).

I’m on record against liking Prince in the first round, but I’ll grab him in the second, and I’ll understand if the DH playing time limitations or the age difference bumps him up your list and over Ortiz. It does for me, even.

As for Freeman, he’s got his age working for him, so that’s nice…but Ortiz really offers a lot more power than Freeman has ever shown. Those two actually seem like the closest players in this evaluation.

Pujols is at least as risky as Ortiz, what with having so much value to make up after last year. It’s certainly not a given that Hosmer develops into a high-power guy, either. In short, we aren’t talking about comparing Ortiz to a bunch of surefire impact players.

I’d draft Ortiz as early as the third, right around the time that Freeman goes. I almost did yesterday, in fact…but I thought he would last just one round longer and someone else jumped on him. In fact, I’d leave Freeman on the board to take Big Papi, but I think it’s a matter of preference and projection system between the two—it’s that close a call.

What isn’t a close call is the difference between Ortiz and the crowd after him and Freeman: the Pujols/Hosmer/Gonzalez/Craig/Trumbo section. By the numbers, Ortiz hits like a first round pick, and gets pushed down by the fact that he’s a DH and he’s 38. Is that really enough to make a first rounder a sixth rounder? I’m pretty sure it ain’t.

I targeted Ortiz yesterday and missed because I thought I could squeeze just a little more value out of drafting him. I ended up with Mark Trumbo at first. I like Trumbo well enough, but there are about a thousand points of batting average between the two guys. I’m not making the same mistake again. I’m targeting Ortiz, even if it takes a third round pick. I'll catch some mockery in the draft room, but I'm not gonna be listening as I slot Big Papi in at first base and his production carries my team as far as it's carried the Red Sox.



How to Win 2014: Home Runs

Home runs are why we play fantasy baseball. You see whenever baseball has been on the brink of death, homers have been there to resurrect it. After the Black Sox scandal in 1919, there was Babe Ruth. After a decade of Yankee pennants, there was Bill Mazeroski in 1960. Amid two decades of pitcher-dominance, Reggie Jackson became Mr. October in 1977. After the strike, Cal Ripken, Jr. homered in his 2131st consecutive game in 1995 (played...not homered in...but that would have been awesome), and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased and shattered the home run record in 1998.*

*Hey, not every story has a happy epilogue.

Homers keep things interesting; they change the game in an instant; their very threat keeps pitchers on their toes and out of the upper half of the strike zone; they keep four-run leads within reach. And they completely dominate fantasy baseball.

See, homers are three categories in one, score this one and you get two more for free. Homers are the most important category in standard fantasy leagues, and in plenty of non-standards as well. Homers are why Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo are studs (and they are, we'll soon see) and Chris Carter is relevant at all in our fake game, instead of the lead-footed strikeout artists they are on a real baseball field.

And home runs are a breath of fresh air. After weeks of heavily luck-dependent categories (there's a reason some states consider this gambling), homers are a highly repeatable, predictable skill. The biggest luck factor, home park, is easy to see and account for. Homers are not too hard to evaluate.

But they are very, very hard to win.* Because, you see, this ain't the '90's anymore, and it sure ain't the 2001 of Barry Bonds and Luis Gonzalez. Only two players hit over 40 homers last year, and only two (the same guys) slugged over .600 and qualified for the batting title. Consider that the league slugging was over .600 in 1996** and you'll see my point: homers are a lot scarcer now than they used to be.

*Okay, in a 12-team league, you've got a one-in-12 shot just like every other category. Technically.

**No, no it wasn't. Not even close.

We aren't quite back to the days when you could get called "Home Run Baker" just by hitting  three or four inside the park homers in a season, but we're pretty much back in the '80's, back to the days before Prince Fielder's dad (Cecil) smacked 50 homers and inaugurated the Golden Age of Power Hitting...

Get to the point!

...screamed the readers. Fair enough.

Point of the introduction:

1) Homers are an extremely scarce commodity, somewhat like steals were in the '90's and '00's.

2) But they are more important than steals ever were, because they directly impact two more categories.

There, hopefully that’s more direct. Those on a time crunch or with extremely short attention spans are invited to distill the rest of my analysis into the following concise statement:

Invest in homers. Pay extra in auction dollars and draft rounds for the very best home run hitters.

Also, if you're on a time crunch or have an extremely short attention span, I'd love for you to join one of my money leagues....

2013 Home Run Leaders

 

Name

PA

HR

R

RBI

SLG

                                     

1

Chris Davis

673

53

103

138

0.634

                                     

2

Miguel Cabrera

652

44

103

137

0.636

                                     

3

Paul Goldschmidt

710

36

103

125

0.551

                                     

4

Edwin Encarnacion

621

36

90

104

0.534

                                     

5

Pedro Alvarez

614

36

70

100

0.473

                                     

6

Alfonso Soriano

626

34

84

101

0.489

                                     

7

Mark Trumbo

678

34

85

100

0.453

                                     

8

Adam Dunn

607

34

60

86

0.442

                                     

9

Adam Jones

689

33

100

108

0.493

                                     

10

Evan Longoria

693

32

91

88

0.498

                                     

11

David Ortiz

600

30

84

103

0.564

                                     

12

Brandon Moss

505

30

73

87

0.522

                                     

13

Adrian Beltre

690

30

88

92

0.509

                                     

14

Jay Bruce

697

30

89

109

0.478

                                     

You definitely want a couple of these guys on your team next year. The best will help in batting average too, but they'll be gone in the first round or two...except for David Ortiz, who gets the DH discount (but he's 1B eligible in Yahoo! leagues). At the other end of the spectrum, we've got some guys who won't just hurt your average, they'll kill it. I'm looking at you, Adam Dunn.

Aside from Dunn and his Black Hole of Batting Average, it's a bit surprising to see how many of these leaders can be had at relatively low price. Alvarez will certainly hurt your average, but his prodigious power is at a position without a lot of production at all. Soriano is a very consistent home run hitter, but his age, average, and reputation seem to be keeping him low on draft boards. Moss won't play against lefties...and yet made this list with 100 fewer plate appearances than most of the others, and 200 fewer than first-rounder Goldschmidt. I think you can afford to platoon him.

Shortened Season Home Run Hitters

Raw homer totals are far from the whole story, though. There were plenty of players who contributed in the category, but had their season shortened for one reason or another. I put them into a spreadsheet with cutoffs of at least 17 homers and no more than 540 PA. It’s too big to post, but you can Download Partial Season Home Run Leaders. (Note that catchers are not included—most are expected to get fewer than 540 PA.)

Some of these players ran into injuries: Albert Pujols, Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Bautista are obvious enough, but don’t forget that Troy Tulowitzki, Bryce Harper, Carlos Gonzalez, David Wright, Jayson Werth, Colby Rasmus, Chase Utley, and others all gave us their production before, after, and around injuries.

Other players platooned: Nate Schierholz, Raul Ibanez, Adam Lind, Mitch Moreland, Will Venable, and Mark Reynolds all played less than full time for their teams. They may well do so again, but can provide cheap value in homers for this season’s fantasy owners.

Of course, some are young players who came to the Majors or into a starting role later in the season—or struggled and were sent down: Yasiel Puig, Will Middlebrooks, Matt Adams, and Jedd Gyorko fit that role.

Home Runs by Position

To get an idea of how good a player is relative to his competition at the same position, let’s check out last year’s average homer totals for the top 12 home run contributors at each position.

Catchers

Leader: Matt Wieters, 22

Top-12 Average: 18.66667

Top 12 Range: 15-22

Notable: A lot of guys hover just under 20—though a couple are still undraftable.

First Base

Leader: Chris Davis, 53

Top-12 Average: 30.83333

Top 12 Range: 23-53

Notable: Seven players with 29 homers or more; 17 players with 17-25.

Second Base

Leader: Robinson Cano, 27

Top-12 Average: 17.5

Top 12 Range: 12-27

Notable: Only three players with more than 20 homers—and one was Dan Uggla.

Third Base

Leader: Miguel Cabrera, 44

Top-12 Average: 25.91667

Top 12 Range: 18-44

Notable: A very top-heavy and power-heavy position, with multiple home run hitters who hurt in average.

Shortstop

Leader: Troy Tulowitzki and J.J. Hardy, 25

Top-12 Average: 16.16667

Top 12 Range: 10-25

Notable: The leaders are below average for the 3B top 12! This makes Hardy look like a great value.

Outfield (Top 36)

Leader: Alfonso Soriano, 34

Top-12 Average: 23.63889

Top 12 Range: 17-34

Notable: A lot of potential homer leaders in the OF missed significant time last year—expect OF to be a better homer source in 2014.

Rate Power Stats

There were only 16 players who qualified for the batting title and slugged over .500. Power is rare. High SLG is normal for home run hitters—so those who don’t have a high number are probably losing it by not providing extra-base power (and so losing out on RBI), or by putting up low batting averages.

Last year, 31 players (who qualified) managed an ISO of .200 or better. And just one (guess who) managed to top .300. I wouldn’t say there is time or need to dive deeply in to ISO here, but it’s a great cross-check when you see intriguing home run production, especially in players with less than a full season. Also, it excludes batting average, so it’s subject to less luck than SLG.

Worth noting: Josh Donaldson just missed both arbitrary round-number cutoffs—he slugged .499 and had an ISO of .199. Go figure.

More to Know

By the time I finish this conclusion, I’ll be up around 1500 words (which doesn’t always stop me, I know), but there’s a lot more worth examining in your pursuit of home runs. Park effects (spoiler: Colorado, Arizona, and Texas are good for homers), flyball rates, HR/FB rates, average flyball distance, “Just Over the Wall” and “No Doubt” homer data, and plenty of other stats feed meaningfully into home runs. It’s a testament to their importance in real and fantasy baseball, I suppose, that they deserve something more like a five-part series than a single episode.

Don’t forget the original, simplified version though: invest in home runs. There aren’t as many as there used to be.

Join us again next week as we tackle a bonus category: OPS. Just in time for me to have already drafted a league that counts it....



Closer Updates: Astros, Dbacks, Dodgers, Os, Rangers, Reds, Rockies, White Sox

With the Opening Series in Sydney, Australia a few days away, the fantasy season is nearly upon us. Because there are a few closer position battles still undecided, we’ll give you updates on them and the teams prepared to start the season Down Under. If you were hoping to find Closer Rankings, they were posted a few weeks ago and can be found here.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Addison Reed was brought to the desert via trade this offseason and the Dbacks are happy to have him man the ninth. Reed will look to provide some stability to the bullpen this season and, with a fresh start in Australia, he might just pluck a save this weekend.

Baltimore Orioles

Once Jim Johnson headed out west, most thought that the Os would hit the free agent wire looking to replace him. Although Grant Balfour was nearly brought in to close, it seems that the job has fallen to Tommy Hunter. While Hunter may not have the tightest grip on the closer reins, he should have the gig come Opening Day.

Colorado Rockies

Despite all of the Rex Brothers hoopla, the Rockies are still paying LaTroy Hawkins the big bucks. Even with Manager Walt Weiss stating that Brothers will get the occasional save, he won’t be worth much if Hawkins is still getting (and converting) a large majority of the save opportunities.

Chicago White Sox

A few weeks ago, the White Sox closer picture was an absolute mess. However, it seems that Nate Jones has begun to emerge as the favorite. This frontrunner has pitched in five games this Spring Training without giving up a run and has recovered nicely from a gluteal sprain suffered early in camp.

Cincinnati Reds

Panic spread through Reds Nation on Wednesday night when Aroldis Chapman was struck in the face by a come-backer. After being carted off the field, Chapman was taken to a local hospital where fractures in his face were discovered. While any type of fantasy impact is unclear at this time, this injury could be significant if Chapman is forced to miss time.

Houston Astros

Although far from decided, it seems that the Opening Day job will come down to Josh Fields (who performed admirably in the role last season after Jose Veras’ departure) and Chad Qualls (with 51 career saves). That being said, wait around for Jesse Crain, who should pitch well enough (when fully healthy) to wrestle the ninth from Fields or Qualls.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen is a hot commodity this season as he tries to prove that last year’s numbers (1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 13.0 K/9, 28 saves) were not a fluke. With the chance to learn from a trio of former closers with 377 career saves (Brandon League, Chris Perez, Brian Wilson), Jansen just might begin his march to the top of the closer rankings this weekend at the Sydney Cricket Grounds.

Texas Rangers

The best kept secret in the Rangers’ clubhouse is who Manager Ron Washington will name as closer. Unfortunately, we have not been privy to that information and will continue to speculate like everyone else. Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria are still battling it out this Spring Training. Feliz has begun to regain his velocity and Soria has been effective in each outing, so stay tuned before committing to either…

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: Miller Vs. Teheran

This week's draft battle features two 23-year-old right-handers who stand out as aces of the future, even while being somewhat underrated just because they happen to play for teams who churn out quality pitchers even more often than I churn out quality columns on a near-annual basis.  If Shelby Miller or Julio Teheran had come up in the systems of a somewhat pitching-bereft team, they'd probably get a *little* more hype just for being unique -- as members of the Cardinals and Braves, however, even some great arms tend to get a bit lost in the crowd.

That's not the only way that Miller and Teheran are similar.  If you look at their career numbers from 2012-13,* it makes you want to chew some Doublemint gum.  Miller gets a few more strikeouts, Teheran walks a few less batters and Teheran's ERA is a third of a run higher, a difference that I'd argue is negligible looking at their closer peripherals.

* Teheran debuted a year earlier than Miller and didn't pitch well in his 19 2/3 IP (three starts and two relief appearances in 2011).  Even though we're dealing with sample sizes anyway, I feel okay with not counting Teheran's veritable cup of coffee in the bigs as a 20-year-old.

So their career numbers are basically identical, they both have good defenses behind them and good lineups supporting them, and their average draft positions (142.52 for Teheran, 148.97 for Miller) are virtually identical according to Mock Draft Central's latest mock draft reports.  So how are you supposed to choose between the two?

This matchup is somewhat similar to the Chris Sale vs. Max Scherzer draft battle from a couple of weeks ago, when I called it for Scherzer with the logic that he'd likely have a big edge on wins since the Tigers should be much better than the White Sox in 2014.  Wins are a nebulous stat anyway, and they don't apply in our present battle since (as mentioned) Atlanta and St. Louis are projected to be awesome again this year.   Still, Scherzer also had an edge over Sale in strikeouts, and since Miller records more K's than Teheran, is that enough to put the Shelbyville Shark over the top?

Not in this case.  I'm swayed towards Teheran by a more glaring metric, namely home/away splits.  Teheran missed fewer bats on the road (6.1 K/9) than he has at Turner Field (9.5 K/9) over his career, but besides the K's, he basically the same pitcher no matter where he's throwing.  Miller's home/away strikeout totals are consistent, but everything else is off --- Miller has a 4.48 ERA and 2.33 K/BB in 86 1/3 career road innings, as opposed to a sterling 1.61 ERA and 4.04 K/BB in 100 2/3 IP at Busch Stadium.  Opposing batters have a .775 OPS against Miller in their ballparks and only a .542 OPS against him in St. Louis, while Teheran is more stable, holding batters to .688 OPS in Atlanta and a .724 OPS on the road.

Is this a small thing to nitpick about an otherwise excellent young hurler?  It sure is, gang!  Yet this is all it takes to make me prefer Teheran over Miller, by a tiny margin.  I'm happy starting Teheran anywhere, whereas if Miller was on my fantasy roster, I'd certainly think twice about starting him in a tough opposing ballpark.

A note about innings, since there's increased focus on Miller's arm strength after the Cardinals essentially sat him out for the entire postseason.  I'm not worried --- Miller's combined innings counts in the majors and minors aren't increasing by leaps and bounds and I fully expect he'd be able to throw at least another 173 IP in 2014 and probably a full postseason if (when?) the Cardinals make another deep playoff run.  The Braves, by the way, have been similarly cautious about Teheran's innings and given how Teheran was torched in his lone playoff start last year, we could well be sitting here asking "why'd Atlanta shut down Teheran?" had they made a longer run.

So yeah, even the innings-increase is just about the same with these guys.  Talk about identical; I'm seeing four Krustys here!



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Your Aberrant Experts (Hitter Rankings)

All right, so we at RotoAuthority might not be the most aberrant of experts. I suppose that's a good thing, as a statistical rule: as exciting as it is to strike our own paths through the world of fantasy baseball, it's probably for the best if we aren't too different from the community of fantasy experts.

But sometimes we are. Today, we'll examine some of the boldest calls throughout our RotoAuthority Hitter Rankings, as compared to ADP and the Expert Consensus, both via FantasyPros.com.

For players near the top of the rankings, I'll mention smaller differences of as few as two slots--because such things can mean multiple rounds in a draft, especially if they cross tiers. The farther down the rankings, the bigger a difference has to be to matter, since several rounds cover similarly valuable players anyway.

You can check out the full RotoAuthority 2014 Rankings here:

OutfieldCatcherFirst BaseThird BaseSecond BaseShortstopCloserMiddle and Corner Infield, and Starters

Catchers 

Brian McCann

RA Ranking: 3 ADP Rank: 7 Expert Consensus: 6

For us, McCann belongs in the tier below Buster Posey, as roughly the equal of Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana. ADP and the Experts tend to swap him with Yadier Molina, but I'm inclined to think that the move to Yankee Stadium will push McCann's power into the elite level. Verdict: Trust RA.

Yan Gomes

RA Ranking: 10 ADP Rank: 13 Expert Consensus: 13

Gomes trades places with Evan Gattis for us when compared to ADP and the Experts. I think Gattis is less likely to live up to his apparent potential, but it's not a big deal this late. Verdict: Who cares?

Dioner Navarro

RA Ranking: 14 ADP: 25 Expert Consensus: 19

Look, Navarro had a great half-season, giving him more upside than most...but that big of a difference gives me a little pause. In a one-catcher league, I'd go with someone more proven, like Miguel Montero or A.J. Pierzynski. In a two-catcher, though, I'd roll the dice, but know that I can wait until late. Verdict: Depends on format.

First Base

Prince Fielder

RA Ranking: 5 ADP Rank: 3 Expert Consensus: 3

I'm not sure why anyone rates Fielder over Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Votto. Fielder is not trending in a good direction, and the move to Texas looks pretty overrated when it comes to homer power. If you've got a compelling argument for Prince, I'd be interested to read it. Verdict: Trust RA.

Mark Trumbo

RA Ranking: 7 ADP Rank: 10 Expert Consensus: 12

Trumbo's not so good in real baseball...but his power should play in the move to Arizona. Why do I like that park change and not Fielder's? Fielder is making a small upgrade, from good to great. Trumbo is going from awful to great. The batting average may boost too, but this ranking was a bit indicative of a possible RA bias in favor of high-HR, low-BA players. But maybe that bias is a good thing, as homers are very scarce in today's scoring environment. Verdict: Depends on how you value homers.

Jose Abreu

RA Ranking: 11 ADP Rank: 18 Expert Consensus: 16

Different player, similar story. Abreu is unproven and therefore risky. But his upside is in the form of very rare homers. Like Trumbo, how much risk you take on will depend on how you value homers. This is the same reason we're higher on Mike Napoli and Chris Carter. Verdict: See Above.

Brandon Belt

RA Ranking: 13 ADP Rank: 25 Expert Consensus: 20

Because of how our rankings are formatted, the difference between our opinion and others' may be a little overstated once you get deep into first base, but we still like Belt more than most. His breakout looks real, and to me, he's as good a bet as Anthony Rizzo, a better one than Matt Adams (because it happened in more playing time), and doesn't carry the BA downside of other players in their draft range. Verdict: Trust RA.

Second Base

Aaron Hill

RA Ranking: 4 ADP Rank: 10 Expert Consensus: 9

Hill can hit. He has missed time recently, but not for the same things or in a consistent pattern. He's probably not much more of an injury risk than most players...but that's already built in to a ranking this low. Seriously, over a full season, he produces more with the bat than any second-sacker besides Robinson Cano. Not so much with the steals, but still. Verdict: Trust RA.

Chase Utley

RA Ranking: 9 ADP Rank: 14 Expert Consensus: 11

All right...Utley is always injured. In retrospect, I'd probably want to take Utley for my MI slot, after I've got someone healthier for second. His production is still good, but you have to count on him to be out awhile. Verdict: Down a couple slots on further reflection. But not that much.

Third Base

Chris Johnson

RA Ranking: 14 ADP Rank: 24 Expert Consensus: 23

This one is a big difference. I imagine that most people are discounting Johnson for his sky-high BABIP. And that's fair. But he seems to always put up an abnormal BABIP, and betting that he has a skill in that department makes as much sense as drafting anyone else in his tier. Looking at the other available players, it's not like you've got that much to lose anyway. Verdict: Trust RA.

Matt Dominguez

RA Ranking: 20 ADP Rank: 26 Expert Consensus: 27

Dominguez is a pretty classic case of "at least he has some upside." He's got homer power and the upside is that he might get lucky and not kill your average. But that sounds better than what you'll get from the seven guys between his RA ranking and his Expert Consensus. Verdict: Trust RA.

Shortstop

Brad Miller

RA Ranking: 10 ADP Rank: 20 Expert Consensus: 19

For us, Miller is near the head of a huge tier from 9th-18th, so some variance isn't shocking. Still, Miller deserves his slot, by showing nice pop in a little under half a season and carrying the upside of a developing player. It doesn't hurt that his team is willing to shunt Nick Franklin aside out of trust for Miller. I'll understand if you prefer J.J. Hardy or Jurickson Profar--there are a lot of guys with upside in this range. But Miller's emphatically one of them. Verdict: Trust RA...and your gut...and your category needs.

Jonathan Villar

RA Ranking: 12 ADP Rank: 18 Expert Consensus: 20

Villar is a very interesting potential source of steals. If you don't fully trust Alexei Ramirez's conversion to base stealing, and you missed out on Everth Cabrera and Elvis Andrus, Villar might be right for you. He could steal upwards of 30 bases; with no one else to play, Houston will be patient if the young player struggles. Verdict: Go for it, if you need steals.

Asdrubal Cabrera

RA Ranking: 19 ADP Rank: 12 Expert Consensus: 12

I guess I'm impugning my expert colleagues when I say that ranking Cabrera 12th seems lazy. Sorry. It does. He's pretty consistent: about 15 homers and a bad batting average to go with mediocre counting stats and no speed is what you get from Cabrera. With Hardy, I can get that, plus 5-10 more homers. I can get that with Starlin Castro...and the chance of a huge bounceback. I can get that with Jed Lowrie, but without the bad average. And so on. There are lots of good mid-level shortstops, and lots of upside plays. But Cabrera isn't one of them. Verdict: Trust RA.

Outfield

Carlos Beltran

RA Ranking: 17 ADP Rank: 30 Expert Consensus: 25

I guess Beltran's old, but he hasn't really been injury prone in awhile. He doesn't seem like a greater risk to hit a sudden decline than the next player I'll mention is to hit a sophomore slump. He's going to a very hitter-friendly ballpark. Why not take Beltran early? Verdict: Trust RA.

Yasiel Puig

RA Ranking: 18 ADP Rank: 9 Expert Consensus: 10

People see Puig and they see the young player that took the league by storm. They don't always see the guy who could have a serious strikeout problem as the league gets used to him, or the guy who may need to make adjustments as he regresses with a larger sample of at bats. It's not that I think Puig will be bad next year...just that he could be, or at least he might not grow straight up. I'd like a safer player with my first outfielder. But, yeah...that upside. Verdict: Exercise caution, and if the rest of your league does too, pounce on Puig.

Austin Jackson

RA Ranking: 30 ADP Rank: 42 Expert Consensus: 36

Jackson seems to be always over- or underrated. This year, he's under. As a high-BABIP skill guy, expect him to be useful in average more often than not. As the table-setter for a great lineup, expect him to score a million runs. Like always. He's sneaky useful. Teammate Torii Hunter has a similar story, but to a lesser extent. And an older one. Verdict: Trust RA.

Matt Kemp

RA Ranking: 31 ADP Rank: 17 Expert Consensus: 21

Kemp has done little to show that he's healthy enough to be 75% of what he once was...and yet that's where he's getting drafted. If anything, 31st might be too high. Verdict: Trust RA.

Colby Rasmus

RA Ranking: 36 ADP Rank: 66 Expert Consensus: 63

I guess everybody else took Tony LaRussa's side.... Really, though, Rasmus's career stats suggest that his surprise surge last year wasn't truly out of line with what he's proved capable of--if anything his injury-shortened ineffective years were the outliers. He's a high-variance player, but one capable of making an impact. That said, the difference here is so big that it's worth respecting. Verdict: Temper expectations a little, but still take the risk.

George Springer

RA Ranking: 44 ADP Rank: 57 Expert Consensus: 66

I guess experts aren't buying the rookie hype. Whether you want Springer depends on how deep your league is: can you afford to stash a high-impact rookie that may spend a couple months in the minors. If you can, stick with our ranking. If you're in a shallow league, or just a small-bench league, I'll understand if you only draft players you can actually use. Verdict: Depends on format.

Carlos Quentin

RA Ranking: 60 ADP Rank: 97 Expert Consensus: 81

Quentin is the last ranked guy on our list, but I like him. Sure, he's hugely injury prone, but we're talking your 5th OF here. Mr. Replaceable. Importantly, he's not injured right now, which means now is the best time to enjoy his excellent hitting. When (not if) he hits the DL, cut him loose and be glad you bagged the production while you could. There's really not much downside here. Verdict: What have you got to lose?



The Market Report: Bottom-Filling a Roster in a Snake Draft League

A week from today the RotoAuthority League draft will take place, so this column will come to an end as I'll begin to analyze that highly competitive league each week instead. It's a 12-team league, and I drew the... well, 12th pick. In most years I'd be upset to learn that I'll be forced to draft from the turn; however, if I can't have a top-two pick this year, I'd actually prefer a later pick because I see little difference in the cluster of players being drafted around then.

We fret so much over the first few picks of a draft and perhaps with good reason. A bust in Round One is rather challenging to overcome. Then again, we really should be mindful of which players we're likely to draft in the later rounds even before we plan for the early rounds of a draft. By planning  how we'll probably bottom-fill our roster, we can know which positions and / or categories we need to address in the first dozen or so rounds of a draft. After all, there are always a few players we value significantly more than does the fantasy community as a whole, so we can practically pencil in those commodities before the draft.

Case in point, let's see how I'm likely to fill out the later rounds of the RotoAuthority League. We draft the standard 23-man roster slots as well as four Reserve slots. It's worth noting that rosters also allow for two DL slots. I'm a firm believer that you're not fully maximizing the utility of your roster if you don't have those DL slots exhausted at any given time. Accordingly, I'm likely to leave this draft with a pair of players set to begin the season on the DL so I can make a couple of free acquisitions after the draft. Maybe that means grabbing a reliever who could inherit the closer role upon his return, such as Jesse Crain or Kyuji Fujikawa; maybe that means stashing a pitcher like Derek Holland or Dylan Bundy due back later this season.

Given that bench slots are limited, I prefer to utilize them on pitchers rather than hitters. Even so, the endgame is a time to grab high-variance commodities that could break out. As such, I like the idea of grabbing a highly talented Minor League bat who could be up sooner rather than later, such as Oscar Taveras or Javier Baez. Next, there are always a couple pitchers any fantasy owner likes more than the masses. Ian Kennedy, Ivan Nova, Rick Porcello, Tyson Ross - these are just a few arms going outside the top 250 whom I'd be content drafting to fill out my staff.

Finally, you need to know the specific tendencies of your league if you're going to plan out how to bottom-fill your roster. In the RotoAuthority league, closers go fast and furious, and they're typically gone around Round 15, if not earlier. Sometimes I get in on the closer run; sometimes I don't. Whether I do or not, though, I make an effort to grab some highly skilled setup men who are next-in-line. Accordingly, I'm likely to grab a couple of lights-out setup men like Joaquin Benoit, Mark Melancon, Cody Allen, or Sergio Santos in the end game to (hopefully) pair with a couple of closers.

By doing this exercise then, I now know that I'll fill out the back end of my roster something along the lines of the following:

Round - Potential Draft Pick

21 - Joaquin Benoit / Mark Melancon

22 - Cody Allen / Sergio Santos

23 - Ian Kennedy / Ivan Nova

24 - Rick Porcello / Tyson Ross

25 - Oscar Taveras / Javier Baez / Kris Bryant

26 - Jesse Crain / Kyuji Fujikawa

27 - Derek Holland / Dylan Bundy

This exercise can even be extended into the middle rounds based on how you feel about the player pool relative to the fantasy community. For example, I know for me personally I'm relatively bearish on the trio of elite shortstops in Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Jose Reyes. In addition, Robinson Cano is unlikely to make it to me at pick 12 while Jason Kipnis and Dustin Pedroia are unlikely to make it back to me at picks 36 and 37. Fortunately, there are several mid-level middle infielders I find undervalued this spring, so I can tentatively pencil someone like J.J. Hardy or Alexei Ramirez in Round 12 and then Howie Kendrick or Jurickson Profar in Round 14.

Along those same lines, I think the elite catchers as a whole are falling too late in drafts. I'm confident I'll use my sixth round pick on Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, Carlos Santana, or Wilin Rosario. Lastly, there are always specific players who, for whatever reason, are going much later than we personally would draft them. For me, those players this season include a pair of aging veterans hitting in the heart of good lineups in Carlos Beltran and David Ortiz. There's a very good chance I'll take one of these players when the draft snakes back to me in Round Seven. With this in mind, I can continue to map out my expected draft picks as follows:

Round - Potential Draft Pick

6 - Joe Mauer / Brian McCann / Carlos Santana / Wilin Rosario

7 - Carlos Beltran / David Ortiz

12 - J.J. Hardy / Alexei Ramirez

14 - Howie Kendrick / Jurickson Profar

Now there are always some surprises in any draft, and maybe a few of your targets will be scooped up before you can grab them. (This may especially prove to be true if you happen to write about your plans on a blog that every other owner in your league will read before the draft.) Even so, this mental process can certainly help to plan out the construction of your roster. For example, you may have noticed I have plans in place for middle infielders, but I didn't mention corner infielders. Well, it just so happens that I much prefer to use early picks on the elite options at both first base and third base.

So whom will I be targeting at the turn for picks 12 and 13? Well, my competitors can already read about my top 12, but I'll discuss that and much more in the RotoAuthority League Draft Preview next week.


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RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Starting Pitchers

We've saved the best and--by far--the longest for last, so brace yourself and get ready to enjoy. As always, these rankings come as a product of the whole RotoAuthority team. In case you missed out on our previous rankings, there's still plenty of time to catch up:

OutfieldCatcherFirst BaseThird BaseSecond BaseShortstopCloserMiddle and Corner Infield

That last link will also link you to the spreadsheet version of our rankings for quick reference. And if you arent' feeling patient, here is  Download RA Starter Rankings. Or you can just scroll up and download it when you finish reading. Anyway, enough delay. On to the tiers.

Tier 1: Clayton Kershaw

1. Clayton Kershaw

Yeah, we named the whole tier after him. He does it all, and he's done it consistently, and he is the only pitcher you should consider with your first round pick.

 Tier 2: Yu Know Who (2nd-4th Rounds)

2. Yu Darvish

3. Adam Wainwright

4. Stephen Strasburg

5. Felix Hernandez

6. Cliff Lee

7. Max Scherzer

8. Justin Verlander

9. Chris Sale

10. Madison Bumgarner

11. Jose Fernandez

I can't honestly include anyone else in consideration for Darvish's spot behind Kershaw--the strikeouts are just too good, as is his offense. Wainwright is probably the better pitcher, and playing for the Cardinals makes him an easy second choice. Don't let either pitcher escape the second round.

Strasburg, Scherzer, Verlander, and Bumgarner all have an advantage over the rest of this tier by playing for good or decent offensive teams. (Don't believe me on the Giants? Check it out.) If you weight wins a little more, they'll all be on top. Verlander's track record makes him too good to pass up, despite last year's "struggles." Hernandez and Lee provide excellence you can depend on, while Sale and Fernandez may have the highest upside--but the most injury risk and the worst supporting cast.

Depending on how fast your league is to grab starters, these guys might all be gone by the second, or they might last till the fourth. After that, they become excellent value in nearly every format.

Tier 3: Almost Aces

12. David Price

13. Anibal Sanchez

14. Matt Cain

15. Zack Greinke

16. James Shields

17. Gio Gonzalez

Price and Greinke miss the top tier thanks to falling strikeout rates--which raise red flags for other performance falls. Sanchez was so dominant last year (and supported by peripherals), but he'll have to do it again to move up a tier. With his years of excellence, Cain deserves a mulligan for April 2013. Give him that, regress his HR/FB luck, and he's the same old awesome for a low price. You better bet he'll be on a lot of my teams this year. Shields is consistently very good, with a lower ceiling than other elite pitchers, but a higher floor. A great choice to pair with a riskier ace like Fernandez or Verlander. Gonzalez has a big strikeout advantage...but probably won't help you in WHIP. He's a great choice for anyone emphasizing the counting categories as strategy.

Tier 4: The Safety Net and an Injury Interlude

18. Homer Bailey

19. Doug Fister

20. Jordan Zimmermann

21. Jered Weaver

22. Mike Minor

23. Hisashi Iwakuma

24. Cole Hamels

25. Hyun-jin Ryu

26. Mat Latos

Bailey really broke out and I toyed with putting him a tier above, but I'd want more consistent health before I took him over anyone above. I expect Fister to surpass Zimmermann in strikeout rate and, therefore, fantasy value this year--but they should end up pretty similar. Weaver is a consistent overperformer of FIP, and a great source of WHIP. Good to pair with Gonzalez. Ryu already seems like a "consistently very good but never great" type...but he's only been in the MLB for a year and is younger than I am. (Which isn't saying as much as it used to....) With the exception of one really bad HR/FB rate, Latos has delivered four strong seasons in a row.

Minor and Iwakuma would be Tier 3 pitchers if not for their injuries. The lowered ranking is less about missing a couple April starts, and more about the possibility that two weeks turns to a month, to two months, to out for the season...yes, I get paranoid about players who are already injured. Speaking of which, Hamels would be a Tier 2 guy, easily, but his injury looks likely to keep him out at a month or so, with the dreaded "no timetable" phrase floating around. Ugh.

Tier 4 pitchers might last from the 4th through 7th rounds--when you should draft starters is very dependent on the market that develops in individual leagues on draft day.

Tier 5: Take a Risk

27. Gerrit Cole

28. A.J. Burnett

29. Shelby Miller

30. Masahiro Tanaka

31. Alex Cobb

32. Julio Teheran

33. Michael Wacha

34. Francisco Liriano

35. Danny Salazar

36. Jon Lester

37. Hiroki Kuroda

Most staffs should be drafting their third starter in this tier, and there are plenty of enticing options. Young guns like Cole, Miller, Wacha, Cobb, and Teheran offer tons of upside--as well as question marks. Will Cole bump his strikeouts as a sophomore? Why were the Cards so down on Miller late last year? And such.

How excited should you be about Tanaka? Well, his ceiling is probably as a Tier 2 or 3 pitcher and his floor...is still better than Kei Igawa. The only reason I'm not drafting him is that hype has super-inflated his price (check out the difference between his Yahoo! dollar value and average cost to see what I mean). Stay away in public leagues, but reaction to his hype could actually make him a value play for very competitive leagues.

Burnett is so old that...that he posted a 9.85 K/9 last year. I'll buy. Liriano is the most inconsistent player ever. True story. I'll roll the dice for the strikeouts, though. Salazar owes the Cleveland Propaganda Machine a big thank-you...wait, Cleveland doesn't have a propaganda machine? Then why is he not a sleeper? It's not fair, but you'll have to pay full price to get the phenom and his potential.

Lester and Kuroda are available for the risk-averse. Or better yet, pair them with any pitcher from this tier.

Tier 6: Now It's Real

38. Jeff Samardzija

39. Andrew Cashner

40. Tony Cingrani

41. Sonny Gray

42. Johnny Cueto

43. R.A. Dickey

44. CC Sabathia

45. Ervin Santana

46. Matt Garza

47. Patrick Corbin

48. Justin Masterson

49. Matt Moore

50. Dan Haren

51. Marco Estrada

52. C.J. Wilson

53. Lance Lynn

54. Tim Lincecum

Picking starters just stopped being easy. The difference between each slot on the rankings are small, and the margins of error in predictions are large. There are still intriguing options, but all come with downsides.

You can get anything you want in this tier. Strikeout pitchers with too many walks? Samardzija, Wilson, Masterson, and Lynn. Or Moore and Lincecum as the extreme examples. Cueto is hoping to make a full-season return from injury. One-time aces Sabathia and Haren have value to rebuild for contending squads. What will Dickey's knuckler do this year? Corbin already did his regression in last year's second half--and he was still good. Garza's health keeps him underrated, even when on the field. If Estrada's HR/FB rate normalizes, he could be very, very good...but he's never done that over a full season. Cingrani and Gray put up eye-popping numbers in limited time--how much can they sustain for the season? If Cashner adds strikeouts, he could rocket up the rankings by the end of the year. If not, he'll still be a dependably good sort of guy.

Tier 7: The Last Shallow Leaguers

55. Rick Porcello

56. Scott Kazmir

57. Corey Kluber

59. Ian Kennedy

59. Tim Hudson

60. Clay Buchholz

61. John Lackey

62. Bartolo Colon

63. Chris Archer

64. Ubaldo Jimenez

65. Jake Peavy

66. A.J. Griffin

67. Dan Straily

68. Kyle Lohse

69. Yovani Gallardo

70. Chris Tillman

71. Jonathon Niese

These pitchers are probably the last ones you'll need in very shallow leagues, though some will want to reach for one or two more, I suppose.

Porcello's strikeout rate made a big jump; if he can sustain it, he'll be a great value. It's worth remembering that he's still kind of young. Is Kazmir's return from the dead real? His peripherals say so, and his ERA ought to improve in Oakland. Kluber looked very interesting in limited time last year, with a nifty K/BB ratio. Kennedy is a great bounce-back candidate with San Diego. Hudson, Colon, and Lohse are good WHIP helpers. If Buchholz and Lackey can prove that last year's return to greatness was real, the Red Sox and fantasy owners will be very, very happy. Archer walks too many people, but has talent. So did Gallardo once, but who knows what's happening to his career after last year's debacle. Peavy is already injured...as usual. Griffin, Straily, and Tillman all benefited from a bit of apparent luck in the ERA-FIP department and may need luck again to be particularly relevant. Niese appeared to overcome injury at the end of the year and could be great value as a forgotten man.

Tier 8: All About Upside

72. Josh Johnson

73. Alex Wood

74. Tyson Ross

75. Ivan Nova

76. Taijuan Walker

77. Jose Quintana

78. Wade Miley

79. Drew Smyly

80. Zack Wheeler

Johnson was basically baseball's worst pitcher last year...but San Diego and talent are a great combination to resurrect a career. Wood was very good in his brief stint as a starter last year; the Braves will be counting on him. Ross was very impressive in a mixed role last year. Nova didn't manage a full season, but did pitch well for the Yanks. Walker would be higher, but he's facing an injury. Keep an eye on the prospect. Quintana was quietly very solid, but has a low ceiling. Miley lost a lot of control in his sophomore season; he'll be value if he gets it back. Smyly is an interesting converted reliever. Wheeler didn't impress as a rookie, but has the talent to improve.

Dry Your Tiers: Deep League Flyers

At some point, tiers and rankings cease to be useful. You're either looking for help in particular categories, or following particular strategies based on your risk/reward needs. So here are some different categories of potentially useful pitchers for deep leagues.

Prospects: Yordano Ventura, Kevin Gausman, Brett Oberholtzer, Tyler Skaggs, James Paxton, Archie Bradley, Jameson Taillon, Noah Syndergaard

Low-Upside Reliables: Trevor Cahill, Wei-Yin Chen, Bruce Chen, Jason Vargas, Mark Buehrle, Henderson Alvarez, Miguel Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ricky Nolasco, Jhoulys Chacin, Charlie Morton, Roberto Hernandez, Scott Feldman, Brandon McCarthy, John Danks, Ross Detwiler, Freddy Garcia

Back From Injury: Scott Baker, Michael Pineda, Alexi Ogando, Wandy Rodriguez, Brandon Morrow, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Jaime Garcia, Brandon Beachy, Jenrry Mejia, Johan Santana, Shaun Marcum

Lucky Last Year: Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, Travis Wood

Rebound Candidates: Phil Hughes, Josh Beckett, Ryan Vogelsong

Strikeout Sources: Hector Santiago, Felix Doubront, Bud Norris, Brad Peacock, Felipe Paulino, Edinson Volquez

Injury Stash: Derek Holland, Jarrod Parker, Jeremy Hellickson, Gavin Floyd

Got Some Upside: Jake Arrieta, Wily Peralta, Martin Perez, Dillon Gee, Eric Stults, Erasmo Ramirez, Zach McAllister, Tommy Milone, Nathan Eovaldi, Erik Johnson, Randall Delgado, Trevor Bauer

 Note: At publishing time, it appears that Brandon Beachy has a strong likelihood of needing Tommy John surgery. If that isn't necessary, keep tabs on his injury, but there isn't any way of knowing now when to draft him in that case.



How to Win 2014: Saves

No category and position are more closely related than Saves and the closers who luck into earn them. You certainly can't make up for lousy saves production out of your relievers by getting a third baseman who specializes in closing out ballgames. (You know...they way you might compensate for non-stealing middle infielders....) So, we're stuck with relievers.

There are more problems with relievers: they're inconsistent from outing to outing and year to year; they're pitchers and so more likely to get injured than others; they pitch in extremely small sample sizes, so luck doesn't even come close to evening out and a single bad night can ruin a season's ERA; their accumulation of Saves is subject to team performance, and that not even of winning but of winning by a certain small margin; their presence in the closer's role is dependent entirely on managerial fiat.

Wow. That list of problems is even worse in print than it was in my head. No wonder RotoAuthority's resident closer expert, Luckey Helms, argues against paying for saves

But I digress. The risks associated with relief pitchers aren't the topic of this article. How to reap their benefits is.

Strategy 1: Buy Those Saves

When you look at RA's Closer Rankings (or anyone else's, probably), you'll see four names far above the rest: Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Greg Holland. In some outlets you might see our fifth through seventh guys rated near them as well: Koji Uehara, Joe Nathan, and Trevor Rosenthal. These seven pitchers aren't so highly rated because they're the best sources of saves, though.

No, premium closers are premium because they do so much more than save games, offering the possibilities of sub 2.00 ERA's and K/9's over 12.00. All that is great if you're looking to build a balanced fantasy team (which you probably should), but it comes at a very high price. Getting one of these closers as an anchor could be a good idea if you're already willing to spend auction dollars and high draft picks on a closer, but getting two or three of them is likely a price too dear.

But that's not so bad, because there's no guarantee that the best closers will earn the most Saves. Sure, they've got the best odds to do so, but that doesn't keep Jim Johnson from saving 50 games a season with a K/9 of literally zero.* You can get saves without elite relievers. You can win Saves without elite relievers. You just need volume.

*Actually, his career number is 5.96, also known as figuratively zero.

When I advocate paying for saves, I tend to think in terms of my eighth-twelfth round draft picks--it's a lot tougher for me to part with auction cash than it is fourth-tier corner infielders and mid-rotation starters. While it's hard for me to part with a third round pick for Kimbrel and his greatness (the ghost of Eric Gagne keeps reminding me that only Mariano Rivera can be great forever), it isn't so hard for me to give up two or even three of my middle-round draft picks to lock down some saves. When I do, I'm really not looking for closer excellence; in fact, I want just one thing: job security.

Okay, I want excellence too, if I can get it, but job security is my top priority when I employ this strategy. With only this one factor under consideration, let's do a little re-ranking of closers.

Total Security

These guys have been closing games for a long time, earned the trust of their team, or just got a big pile of cash from a new team after closing games for a long time. Their managers likely can't remove them from the role without permission from the front office. They will safely ride all temporary storms:

Kimbrel, Nathan

Wow. Just two. No wonder they're so expensive.

Very Secure

These guys will have long leashes thanks to their strong track records, or standout performance, though they may not have been in the ninth very long. Their teams may have few other solid bullpen options:

Chapman, Holland, Jansen, Glen Perkins, Sergio Romo, Steve Cishek

Varying levels of quality here, but some potential value.

Mostly Secure

These guys are either quite good, or their team has few other options, but not both. They may be talented pitchers but lack the "proven closer" merit badge. Or their team may have had a turbulent recent history in the closer's role and be more open than most for quick changes. An extended stretch of bad luck could result in a demotion:

Uehara, Rosenthal, Casey Janssen, Johnson, David Robertson, Jason Grilli, Ernesto Frieri, Grant Balfour, Jonathan Papelbon, Fernando Rodney, Bobby Parnell

There are a lot of ways to be just "mostly secure," but these guys are still good bets to keep their job all year.

Basically Secure

These guys own their job without question for now, but poor performance could change that, as they aren't established, have inconsistent histories, or their teams have multiple decent alternatives:  

Addison Reed, John Axford, Jim Henderson, Rafael Soriano, Huston Street, Jose Veras

Out of this group, falling strikeout rates and the presence of elite setup guys in their bullpens makes me think that Soriano and Street are particularly volatile. I won't be drafting either in any format.

On Thin Ice

These guys have next to no job security (but may be available very late in drafts for excellent potential value):

Tommy Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins

Fighting for the Job

These guys don't technically have the job, but are in the lead for it at the moment. When they get it, their prize will be to move to the "On Thin Ice" tier. Yay for them. Their top competitors are in parentheses:

Neftali Feliz (Joakim Soria, Tanner Scheppers), Nate Jones (Matt Lindstrom, Daniel Webb, plus a bunch of other guys), Chad Qualls (Josh Fields, the injured Jesse Crain)

Possession is nine tenths of the law in closer land, so anyone who does end up with a job is worth drafting in the hopes that good luck and inertia are in your favor.

Job Stealers

These guys have a better shot than most at stealing a closing gig at some point in the season. If your purpose in drafting non-closing relievers is to snag saves, these are your guys:

Mark Melancon, Pedro Strop, Joaquin Benoit, J.J. Putz, Rex Brothers, Tyler Clippard, Darren O'Day, Cody Allen

Also included are anyone who loses in the above closer battles.

Strategy 2: Don't Pay for Saves--but Don't Ignore Them

I spent a lot of time on the first strategy, so I won't fill up too much more space with this one. Frankly, it's pretty straightforward, just a lot easier said than done.

A caveat: I don't find this to be a worthwhile strategy in leagues with weekly free agent/waiver wire moves--you need to pay to compete in those formats.

The first thing to do is set aside some roster space for relievers. Maybe you use some late-round picks on the dark horses in closer battles, or some slightly-less-late-round picks on the leading candidates or even full closers with low job security. Or maybe you just take the best setup guys available, regardless of whether or not their closer has good security. Whatever.

No matter what you do with this roster space (and you'll want at least three roster slots for this, I should think), you'll be treating the players you draft as highly expendable. These are your rotating Saves slots for now, not players on your team.

You also need to start following @CloserNews on Twitter. No Twitter account? Get one if you don't want to pay for Saves. Use this advice not only to find out which closers are about to lose their jobs, but also who's likely to get rested the next day. Then, pick up the setup guy for the teams with resting closers. You'd be surprised how many Saves fall through the cracks each year. Back in the old days, when I worked for CloserNews, I seriously considered attempting to get all my Saves like this with a fantasy team to see what would happen. Still haven't had the guts to try it.

Get up early (if you're on the West Coast) and stay up late (East Coasters) to catch the latest updates.When they announce that LaTroy Hawkins is being removed from the closer's role, somebody in your league will already have their fantasy team loaded up. Be that person. 

Keep a particular eye on the strikeouts and velocity of closers and the guys replacing them--sometimes that's even more important than their overall stats. Remember, being "closer material" is less about being the best pitcher in the bullpen and more about being the coolest pitcher in the bullpen, selling jerseys, growing facial hair, pumping up the crowd, and blasting Metallica or AC/DC.

I'm totally on board with the first half of the rationale against paying for Saves: closers are volatile and unpredictable. The second half, that Saves are always available on the waiver wire, has grown dicier. It's totally true--but your whole league knows it, and they'll be looking for Saves too.

Strategy 3: Hybrids

You can always mix the two strategies; in fact, anyone paying for Saves should be just as active on the waiver wire as anyone else. Not only can you benefit from more Saves (and make trades if you have excess) you're protecting your investment by making it more difficult for anyone to get similar value for free. Your only limit is roster space.

You can also make Strategy 2 your primary plan, but keep an eye out in drafts for solid value. If enough of your league wants to get their Saves from the waiver wire, you might want to go the other way. Alternatively, it might be good to get one closer with high job security to anchor you while you speculate on further Saves.

Good luck in Saves--you'll need it. Or, better yet, follow @CloserNews! We'll be back next week to wrap up the traditional categories with Home Runs.



Closer Updates – A Quick Run Around the League

After giving a preview on each division, as well as some closer competition updates and overall rankings, it’s time for a general rundown of each team’s closer situation. In addition to providing some insight into various bullpens, you will also find some helpful injury updates. Moving through the regular season, you can find similar information on our Closer Depth Chart.

American League

Unlike the quiet NL, all of the Spring Training closer battles are happening in the American League thus far.

Baltimore Orioles – 1. Tommy Hunter, 2. Darren O’Day, 3. Ryan Webb

While Os skipper Buck Showalter still won’t firmly commit to Hunter as the guy, it certainly seems that he’s leading the pack right now.

Boston Red Sox – 1. Koji Uehara, 2. Edward Mujica, 3. Junichi Tazawa

Uehara issued a surprising walk against the Braves last week and catcher David Ross explained that the mishap could be chalked up to the closer working on another pitch for his repertoire.

Chicago White Sox – Competition – Ronald Belisario, Mitchell Boggs, Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom, Daniel Webb

It’s been rough for the White Sox because no pitcher has emerged yet as closer – Belisario arrived late to camp because of visa issues, Jones & Lindstrom are close to healthy after missing time early, Webb missed a week for family reasons, and Boggs is still trying to distance himself from last year’s 8.10 ERA.

Cleveland Indians – 1. John Axford, 2. Cody Allen, 3. Bryan Shaw, 4. Vinnie Pestano

If his time at the World Baseball Classic caused Axford to fatigue in 2013, he could be in for a bounce-back season and bring consistency to the Tribe.

Detroit Tigers – 1. Joe Nathan, 2. Bruce Rondon, 3. Joba Chamberlain

With 341 career saves, Nathan will bring reliability to a Tigers’ bullpen that has developed a reputation for its inconsistencies.

Houston Astros – Competition – Matt Albers, Jesse Crain, Josh Fields, Chad Qualls

With favorite Crain out past Opening Day with an injury, Qualls is currently leading sophomore Fields and journeyman Albers for the closer role.

Kansas City Royals – 1. Greg Holland, 2. Aaron Crow, 3. Kelvin Herrera

Holland should be in line for another monster year in KC, while Crow and Herrera will see their setup roles increase in the absence of an injured Luke Hochevar.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 1. Ernesto Frieri, 2. Dane De La Rosa, 3. Joe Smith

De La Rosa could provide real value if Frieri stumbles – Manager Mike Scioscia had the two splitting closing duties at one point last season.

Minnesota Twins – 1. Glen Perkins, 2. Jared Burton, 3. Brian Duensing

With a 90% save conversion rate, Perkins is a solid closer and should make a case for his second straight All-Star appearance this season.

New York Yankees – 1. David Robertson, 2. Matt Thornton, 3. Shawn Kelley

All eyes will be on Robertson this season and he should rise to the task, his career 11.7 K/9 and 2.76 ERA didn’t happen by mistake.

Oakland Athletics – 1. Jim Johnson, 2. Luke Gregerson, 3. Ryan Cook

Johnson’s arrival in Oakland shouldn’t change his stock too much – he’s still a dependable closer who can be projected for 35+ saves (though another 50-save season might be aggressive).

Seattle Mariners – 1. Fernando Rodney, 2. Danny Farquhar, 3. Yoervis Medina

Rodney has been signed to closer, but Farquhar might just be good enough to regain his job if there are struggles early.

Tampa Bay Rays – 1. Grant Balfour, 2. Heath Bell, 3. Joel Peralta

Balfour will be more reliable in Tampa than Rodney was last season and Peralta is a solid setup man, but buyer beware when it comes to Heath Bell.

Texas Rangers – Competition – Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers, Joakim Soria

Manager Ron Washington has not yet chosen a closer for 2014 and is unopposed to a closer-by-committee approach, but the race should come down to Feliz edging Soria before Opening Day.

Toronto Blue Jays – 1. Casey Janssen, 2. Sergio Santos, 3. Steve Delabar

Entering a contract year, Janssen is a very solid closer who should have another above-average season in the Great White North.

National League

Barring any major injuries before Opening Day, the NL has a much clearer picture in terms of closers than its AL counterpart.

Atlanta Braves – 1. Craig Kimbrel, 2. Jordan Walden, 3. Luis Avilan

Kimbrel signed a four-year extension with the Bravos that is chock full of incentive bonuses – look for another dominant year for the righty.

Arizona Diamondbacks – 1. Addison Reed, 2. Brad Ziegler, 3. J.J. Putz

The Dbacks traded for Reed to be their closer, but J.J. Putz seems determined in Spring Training to regain his old job in 2014.

Chicago Cubs – 1. Jose Veras, 2. Pedro Strop, 3. Blake Parker

Veras will lead the Cubbies this year and should see more save opportunities in Wrigleyville than he did while serving as the Astros’ closer.

Colorado Rockies – 1. LaTroy Hawkins, 2. Rex Brothers, 3. Wilton Lopez

While Brothers may have the job before season’s end, Hawkins will definitely start the season as closer in Denver.

Los Angeles Dodgers – 1. Kenley Jansen, 2. Brian Wilson, 3. Chris Perez

Jansen has the opportunity to learn from some stud relievers (Wilson, Perez, and Brandon League) and emerge as a top-tier closer in 2014.

Miami Marlins – 1. Steve Cishek, 2. Mike Dunn, 3. A.J. Ramos

After replacing Heath Bell, Cishek was quite the surprise in Miami last season and will look to build on his strong finish to 2013.

Milwaukee Brewers – 1. Jim Henderson, 2. Francisco Rodriguez, 3. Brandon Kintzler

With K-Rod’s recent foot injury (yes, he stepped on a cactus), Henderson has an even longer leash entering Opening Day.

New York Mets – 1. Bobby Parnell, 2. Vic Black, 3. Jose Valverde

Parnell has pitched without pain this Spring and should be the closer in Queens again this season – unless Jose Valverde storms through the minors and takes the gig.

Philadelphia Phillies – 1. Jonathan Papelbon, 2. Antonio Bastardo, 3. Justin De Fratus

Papelbon was much better than described last season, has regained his velocity this Spring and seems to be on track for another solid season.

Pittsburgh Pirates – 1. Jason Grilli, 2. Mark Melancon, 3. Vin Mazzaro

Grilli has looked good in Spring Training and may be ready to charge out of the gates once again (10 saves last April).

San Diego Padres – 1. Huston Street, 2. Joaquin Benoit, 3. Dale Thayer

Benoit’s presence will greatly improve the Padres bullpen, but Street is still the Padre’s guy in the ninth and should be in line for another solid season.

San Francisco Giants – 1. Sergio Romo, 2. Santiago Casilla, 3. Jeremy Affeldt

Romo is another closer who is going into a contract year and he’ll be pushed by Casilla and Affeldt all season long.

St. Louis Cardinals – 1. Trevor Rosenthal, 2. Kevin Siegrist, 3. Carlos Martinez

Rosenthal has the potential to be a top notch closer and Cards’ management would certainly love to see their faith in him rewarded with a 35+ save season.

Washington Nationals – 1. Rafael Soriano, 2. Tyler Clippard, 3. Drew Storen

Soriano is still getting the big bucks in DC and his job is safe for now, but Clippard is an elite setup man who might be worth a look if you’re trying to improve your fantasy bullpen.

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: Montero Vs. Saltalamacchia

If it's all the same to you, I'll just go ahead and refer to Jarrod Saltalamacchia as "Salty" for the remainder of the column.  It will save ever so many keystrokes and give my poor fingers a break.  In fact, with Lloyd Moseby's blessing, I'd like to propose that we officially hand the "Shaker" nickname over to Salty and then refer to him solely by that nickname AT ALL TIMES in all media (a la nicknames given to Brazilian soccer players).

* = you know, as in salt shaker?  I probably didn't need to explain that joke.  This footnote is pointless.

Okay, so one thing has been settled already.  Now we'll move onto the larger matter of this week's draft round battle, which pits two catchers who had very different 2013 seasons up against each other as we try to predict who will be better in 2014.  I also really wish that Miguel Montero's last name somehow involved the word 'Pepper' so I could make no shortage of terrible puns, but c'est la vie.

Let's start with Saltalam....uh, Salty, who was a cheap power source for fantasy owners in 2011-12 but became a much more solid all-around hitter last season.  Salty only hit 14 homers (a major drop from his 25 dingers in 2012) but put up a .273/.338/.466 slash line along with 65 RBIs and 68 runs for career highs in all those categories. 

Of particular note was that OBP, as Salty had a meager .289 OBP from 2009-12 but was able to get on the basepaths with much more frequency in 2013.  The backstop had a 60.4% contract rate on pitches outside the strike zone and a 28.6% line drive rate overall, easily topping his career numbers by almost six percent in both categories.  So while the next paragraph is going to cast a doubt on Salty's performance from last season, there's no doubt that he did take at least some step forward in his development as a Major League hitter.

And now, the bad news!  It begins with Salty's .372 BABIP, so while he was certainly hitting the ball harder, that 60.4% number tells me that he was less selective at the plate but was bailed out when his hits found a lot of holes.  Despite his overall stronger numbers, 2013 didn't solve Salty's problems from the right side of the plate, as the switch-hitter continued to perform much better against right-handed pitching (.873 OPS in 334 PA) than he did against southpaws (.628 OPS in 136 PA).  This was actually a bigger OPS gap than his career splits (.795 to .599). 

While no catcher is a true "everyday" player in either actual baseball or fantasy baseball, having Salty on your fantasy roster means you need to liberally platoon him and have another solid option on hand as a backup.  If you're in a weekly league, throwing Salty out there every game will cost you any time the Marlins find themselves facing a number of left-handed pitchers in a row.      

And, oh yeah, the Marlins.  Salty is no longer plying his trade at Fenway Park, but rather Marlins Park.  In its two seasons of existence, Marlins Park has been rated as one of the game's worst stadiums for home run hitters, according to Park Factor.  Fenway, interestingly, has been middle-of-the-pack in terms of Park Factor over the last two seasons but needless to say, the last century has told us that Fenway is a pretty hitter-friendly stadium.  Since power is the cornerstone of Salty's game and homers have generally been his only standout feature as a fantasy catcher, his move to Miami could well be enough reason to knock him down a few draft boards.

In fact, Salty has a 269.72 average draft position according to Mock Draft Central's latest ratings, so in a standard 12-team league, nobody is reaching for the Salt until the last round of some drafts.  Just barely ahead of Salty is Montero (269.13 ADP), which seems a bit of a surprise given that Salty is coming off a semi-breakout year and Montero is coming off a disastrous 2013.

After hitting .283/.361/.457 with 58 homers in 1927 PA from 2009-12, Montero was firmly in the second tier of every fantasy manager's catcher rankings, behind only the Poseys and Mauers of the world.  Last year, however, the bottom fell out --- Montero slumped to a .230/.318/.344 slash line, 11 homers, 42 RBI and 44 RBI over 475 PA.

Why this dropoff happened is still a matter of conjecture.  It could've been injury (Montero spent some time on the DL with a bad back), or it was just hard for the slow-moving catcher to beat out the increased number of balls he hit on the ground, given his career-high 1.51 grounder-to-fly ball ratio.  But overall, Montero's peripheral metrics were largely the same as they were during his impressive 2012 season...

...though maybe the problem was that 2012 was an outlier anyway, given Montero's .362 BABIP and his much-improved performance against left-handed pitching.  Montero, like Salty, has also traditionally struggled against southpaws, but in 2012 Montero delivered a solid .767 OPS against lefties to go along with his .859 OPS against righties.  In 2013, however, Montero's BABIP dropped (.282) to below-average levels and his production against southpaws cratered to a .492 OPS in 118 PA. 

Essentially, given the limitations of both catchers, it's a risky proposition to have either Montero or Salty as your primary backstop.  In fact, if you're in a league with just one starting catcher slot, it wouldn't be a bad move to wait until the end of your draft and then try to get them both for a platoon, sitting whichever catcher is facing a lefty on any given day. 

If you're in a two-catcher league and you want only one guy as your C #2, so to speak, then I'd hesitantly take Montero.  He's two years older and he has more miles on his catching odometer than Salty, but since Montero was hands-down the better player over the rest of their careers before 2013, I'll still go with the more proven catcher.  With more BABIP luck and the boost of playing at Chase Field, I prefer the odds of Montero rebounding to the chances of Salty having another "everything goes right" season at Marlins Park.





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