April 2014

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Stock Watch: April's Finest

We always think we know something after a month. We think it's enough time. It feels like enough time to know, if we just regress things back from their extremes who's improved and who's toast. Take Charlie Blackmon, for instance: weknow he's not the best player in baseball--but don't we also know that he's at least good? Surely, he's got to be good to put up a month like this. Got to be. Right?

Of course, seasoned baseball fans and statheads alike will tell you that we don't really know that much after April passes. Some hot starts go the way of Chris Shelton--and some follow Chris Davis. It's impossible to know.

Oh well, because anyone who's played more than a season worth of fantasy knows you can't stand pat just because you can't be sure. I'm not saying you should go out and make a bunch of rash trades...but it's no longer too early to make a move.

Today, we'll take a look at some of the players around baseball off to the hottest starts to determine whether they're a value play going forward. Keep in mind, it's not a straightforward will-he-stay-hot-or-come-back-to-earth deal--it's about the likely difference between each player's future performance, and how your leaguemates are likely to evaluate it themselves. Sometimes it makes sense to deal away someone off to a great start--and sometimes that's just who you need to trade for.

A final note on trading before the meat of this article: a lot of trade offers get bandied around in hopes of making that great steal of a trade at the beginning of the season that rockets you up the standings and sinks one of your unsuspecting competitors. The thing is, such trade offers rarely bring real fruit.

I'm fine with making a trade that's so beneficial that it hurts my trading partner, but those are tough to pull off and usually the result of luck (like the time I traded away Emilio Bonifacio less than a week before he hit the DL for two or three months), or the result of another owner making a stupid offer (like the time I got offered Andrew McCutchen for Chris Carter...and it turned out to be the owner's kid messing around). So let stupidity come to you and make reasonable offers if you want to make a deal, and if that means improving someone else's team at the same time as yours cool: you still improve relative to ten more teams.

Trade Targets

Albert Pujols was a first round pick not too long ago. How shocking is it that he's hitting like one now? My thinking is his health was the big question going into the season, and he looks pretty healthy to me. If his owner is feeling surprised by his production, he might be a good player to target. He won't be cheap, but he might be cheaper than he should be.

Melky Cabrera is another "prove yourself" guy, as a lot of today's trade targets are. Well, he's looking pretty well proved that he's more than a PED creation, and that he's healthy. Like Pujols, he is a good player to target if his owner is a skeptic.

Dee Gordon went from waiver wire pickup to trade target? Yup. The speed is real and so is the playing time. The fact that he wasn't drafted will only keep his price down for so long. It'll go up as his owners start to depend on his steals.

Justin Morneau may not really be back to his elite old ways, but he's making a ton of contact and slugging over .600 in Colorado. So maybe the old Morneau is back. If not, the new Morneau seems very much at home in the mountains.

Josh Donaldson failed to be drafted as an elite third baseman because he only had one year's track record to demonstrate his skills. Seven homers into 2014 and I'm buying. He won't be cheap, but he won't cost as much as David Wright or Evan Longoria. (And you don't have to make the deal if he does....)

Brian Dozier has gotten talked about a lot and for good reason: he looks like a serious power/speed threat at second. Chances are he was drafted as a MI, so his owner probably has other options at the position too, lowering his potential cost.

Jon Lester really looks too good to be true, especially with his jump in strikeout rate. But all the pieces are there for his improvement to be real, and trading for him represents serious upside if you're only giving a little more than draft day cost to get him. For what it's worth, most of his success has come against pretty good offensive teams: the Orioles, Yankees, and Blue Jays.

Scott Kazmir has also been crazy-good and not too easy to believe in, but when you think about the talent he had years ago maybe it isn't all that surprising at all. Like Lester, he's got all the right pieces to suggest he's for real.

Masahiro Tanaka looked like the most overrated pitcher in baseball before the draft. Now, he looks pretty underrated. The worry is that the league will figure him out, and it could certainly happen that way, but his owner's likely thinking along similar lines and wanting to sell high. If that's the case (big if, to be fair), take advantage of the upside.

Dan Haren has needed to prove himself for a long while now...and the start he's having to the season is working for me. What I find most convincing is actually that his ERA is better than his FIP, since he'd had the opposite problem last year, which suggested either bad luck or skill slippage in avoiding hard contact.

Sell High

Justin Upton is killing the ball and maybe he's finally taken his game from very good to great. But he's done this before (last year, in fact), and I'm not ready to trust Upton's strong start. It's not that I'm predicting doom and gloom, just that I think he'll command more in trade than he'll produce, going forward.

Adrian Gonzalez has found his missing power? Eight homers and a slugging percentage over .600? Yeah, I'm not so sure. It could be for real, but it doesn't really seem likely to me. His hot start and still-high name value ought to mean he'll bring back a lot in trade.

Ben Zobrist is riding a good BABIP to nifty fantasy value so far, but he's only hit three homers and stolen two bases. If you can manage losing his versatility, I'd consider dealing him for an upgrade at whatever position you're playing him in.

Jose Abreu is basically the ultimate sell high candidate, with 10 homers to date. But you better sell really high, because the one thing he's truly proved is that he's got Major League power. Hold out for a serious offer, but take it if you get it.

Alexei Ramirez was supposed to have traded his homers for steals, but he's got four of each and he's batting .358. Raise your hand if you called that one. It would be very surprising to see him continue hitting like last year's Jean Segura, so trade him to someone desperate...like anyone who drafted the real Segura.

Mike Napoli has power, but his average is very, very BABIP-dependent. Right now, it's taking a .390 BABIP to keep his average at .300. His plodding profile does not suggest a long-term skill for ridiculously high BABIP marks, so deal him on.

Martin Perez is rocking a sub-2.00 ERA without high strikeout numbers. Yeah, I don't buy it.

Have Jeff Samardzija and Julio Teheran traded strikeouts for low ERA's? Neither one is generating whiffs, so I definitely worry that they won't be able to continue their early success--or that they'll have to surrender a few more runs to get the K's back. Either way, I'd rather make a deal while their ERA's still look shiny. Especially with Samardzija.

Kyle Lohse has magically become a strikeout machine? Probably not. I don't expect him to crater, but I'd imagine that K/9 creeps back below 6.0 before the year is over. He's a good sort of guy to include in a larger trade.

Jesse Chavez is enjoying the appearance of a phenom, with his entry from the unknown and his hot start. Unfortunately, the unknown looks a lot like a journeyman reliever and his competition has included the Mariners, Twins, Angels, and Astros. He's one to trade while you can.

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RotoAuthority Unscripted: The Replacements

Yesterday made Bryce Harper the latest casualty to thumb injury but he's far from the only impact player with a little red cross next to his name--we've seen more than a few early-round players go down with injuries this year. While Adrian Beltre has already come back, and Ryan Braun gave us a scare without hitting the DL, plenty of other players will be sitting on the shelf for quite some time. Today, we'll take a look at their replacements to see which injury situations offer viable fantasy opportunities. If we've learned anything this year, it's that we're gonna need them....

Injured: Bryce Harper (out about two months)

Replacement: Nate McLouth

McLouth went into the season touted as baseball's best fourth outfielder, and now he's got an unsurprising chance to prove that. Of course, he's rocking a batting average that would be bad if you doubled it (.118--ouch), but it's in only 34 AB, so who cares? McLouth brings significant speed, and ought to help out a bit by scoring runs. Don't get too excited about his average, which will get better (I mean, it has to--pitchers hit better than that) but has never been an asset. (He's batted over .260 just once in his decade-long career.) He won't replace Harper's power but he probably just became one of the better options on most waiver wires anyway.

Injured: Ryan Zimmerman (out 3-5 more weeks)

Replacement: Danny Espinosa

Espinosa is proving the Nationals right for not trading him in the offseason. While continued good play may force the Nats to make some tough decisions when Zimmerman comes back, those aren't worth worrying about right now. As it stands, Espinosa is well worth rostering...at second base. So that isn't very helpful if you're a floundering Zimmerman owner needing someone at third.

Injured: Josh Hamilton (out 3-4 more weeks)

Replacement: J.B. Shuck, Collin Cowgill, Raul Ibanez

Losing two of your top three outfielders is rough for any team, but the Angels have options that might still offer some short-term utility. Not, you know, a lot. But some, at least. Ibanez can hit homers (and do nothing else). He's more likely to kill your average than help with longballs. Shuck started out with some promise, but his average is sitting around Ibanez territory in 65 at bats. His playing time has been pretty regular, though--not that the Angels have much choice at this point. Cowgill has had the least exposure--he's gotten more than three at bats in a game just three times this year. Expect his playing time to increase if Shuck's batting average doesn't.

Looking backwards, Cowgill's got a few years of sub-mediocrity under his belt, while Shuck managed a .290ish batting average in over 400 AB last year; he's the only one I'd pick up out of this crew.

Injured: Mark Trumbo (out 6-8 weeks)

Replacement: Cody Ross

Once, long ago, Ross was a somewhat useful fantasy outfielder. With Trumbo out for an extended period and the friendly confines of Arizona's high-altitude park, he may be again. Ross has a much more interesting hitting history than the free agent outfielders available in most leagues and is worth keeping an eye on, or even picking up if you were rostering Trumbo in the outfield. Best case scenario is that Ross delivers a little pop with an acceptable batting average over the next couple months--worst case is that he still doesn't hurt your average more than Trumbo already was....

Unfortunately, the Diamondbacks and I don't have much for you when it comes to replacing Trumbo's power or his 1B eligibility.

Injured: Chris Davis (unknown timetable--two weeks minimum)

Replacement: Stephen Lombardozzi? Ryan Flaherty? Jemile Weeks?

The good news is that Davis should be back soon. The other good news is that Manny Machado should also be back soon. The bad news is that the O's really don't have anyone fantasy-appealing who might take over in the short term, as they appear to be stuck with light hitting middle infielders as their first base replacements. If you've got Davis, you'll need to get your 1B replacement elsewhere. At least one of these guys could be your replacement for Zimmerman, right?

Injured: Michael Cuddyer (unknown timetable--two weeks minimum)

Replacement: Charlie Blackmon, Drew Stubbs, Corey Dickerson

Blackmon is already getting lots of the CF playing time in Colorado, but expect this move to see him playing more like full time than in a platoon. That might mean more opportunities for runs and RBI, but might not be great for his average. Stubbs could benefit from more regular playing time, and is worth watching to see if he goes on a hot streak. (Hey, stranger things have happened, and he's shown some power and speed in his career.) If Stubbs struggles, Dickerson may get a shot. If either player emerges as a regular or semi-regular, their home park should give them a chance to be valuable in deeper leagues. Gotta love Coors Field....

I definitely wrote this article up expecting a little more from the injury replacements for stars around the league, but, well, hopefully you had your own internal backups, especially for the non-outfielders. That said, there are a couple options with potential. I'd stay away from all the Orioles' and Angels' backups, but Cody Ross, Nate McLouth, and Drew Stubbs have all been pretty good before. Asking them to put together a good month or two doesn't seem impossible. Dickerson and, really, anyone playing for Colorado is pretty interesting too. The best of the bunch is probably Espinosa--not that he can replace the playing time any of these stars are losing.

RotoAuthority League Update: The Early Leader

The RotoAuthority League is a highly competitive 12-team fantasy baseball league run by Tim Dierkes. The settings consist of standard 5 X 5 Rotisserie scoring and 23-man lineups along with 4 bench spots. In an effort to keep owners interested as well as to infuse new blood into the league, the teams that finish below 8th place are kicked out of the league each year. The author of this column just hopes he isn't one of them.

It's still very early, but it's worth pointing out that E-Z Sliders entered yesterday with a 12-point lead atop the RotoAuthority League standings. It's always interesting to see what leads to success in a fantasy league, so let's take a look at how this squad been able to get off to a good start this season.

First of all, it says something about the psychology of fantasy owners that the E-Z Sliders currently are in first place despite the fact that this owner has made the fewest pickups in the league with a mere eight thus far. That's rather unusual for this highly active league; for instance, Commissioner Dierkes is already over 60 transactions. I guess it's a tad easier to sit on your roster when you're comfortably atop the standings.

You might assume that while this owner has made just eight moves, they have probably paid dividends. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, this squad has gotten virtually all of its production thus far from the draft. Given that's the case, let's focus on the  draft results for this team:

1. Adrian Beltre (11)

2. Jacoby Ellsbury (14)

3. Justin Upton (35)

4. Max Scherzer (38)

5. David Price (59)

6. Kenley Jansen (62)

7. Yoenis Cespedes (83)

8. Jose Altuve (86)

9. Anibal Sanchez (107)

10. Brandon Belt (110)

11. Alfonso Soriano (131)

12. Mike Napoli (134)

13. Alexei Ramirez (155)

14. Jim Henderson (158)

15. Miguel Montero (179)

16. Torii Hunter (182)

17. Alex Wood (203)

18. A.J. Pierzynski (206)

19. Nick Castellanos (227)

20. C.J. Wilson (230)

21. Kolten Wong (251)

22. Dan Haren (254)

23. Angel Pagan (275)

24. Corey Hart (278)

25. Kevin Gausman (299)

26. Neil Walker (302)

27. Junichi Tazawa (323)

As you might expect, many of these names have far exceeded their Draft Day cost. A quick look at the ESPN Player Rater reveals a whopping total of six members of E-Z Sliders inside the top 50. Jacoby Ellsbury may not have a HR, but he's still been very productive with eight SB thus far. Justin Upton has been a monster; Scherzer is proving that last year's Cy Young campaign was not a fluke. Brandon Belt is taking his game to another level with a spike in power. Alexei Ramirez has been the most valuable SS to date, and Alex Wood has been lights out.

It's also worth noting, however, that things have been far from perfect for this owner. Adrian Beltre missed a couple weeks on the DL. David Price has been subjected to a good deal of misfortune from the batted ball department. Kenley Jansen has incredible skills thus far, but an absurd .467 BABIP has limited his fantasy value. Yoenis Cespedes has been underwhelming, and Anibal Sanchez just got placed on the DL. Finally, this owner was the victim of the Brew Crew's surprising decision to make K-Rod the closer on Opening Day, so Round 14 pick Jim Henderson has been practically worthless. I only point this out as a reminder that you don't need a perfect draft to win a league.

OK, so yeah, it's still really early. Having said that, I'd much rather be in this owner's position than hovering near the bottom, as I am now. What do you think? Does this squad have the staying power to compete for a title this year?

Stock Watch: Saturday Waiver Wire Special

No, it’s not Wednesday, but it’s “Stock Watch” day anyway. I humbly thank our technical difficulties for the chance to get a few more days of data before putting this article out for everyone. By the way, there was so much good fruit on the waiver wire that I couldn’t bear to trim the list to make room for some pretty questionable trade advice…so enjoy a week of waiver suggestions and I promise that I’ll make the trade for/away advice up to you next time.

If I remember.

As always, ownership percentages are from Yahoo! and you can expect all the numbers to be higher (and harder to find) on CBS.

Shallow Leagues

I hate playing in shallow leagues. Why? Because it just feels so wrong that players like these are unowned! I want to pick everyone up. So help me out, by lifting these guys off your waiver wires at least, and giving me a little sanity back.

Miguel Montero (49%) is hitting again. Come on: a long track record of success and a good start to the season should be enough to forget about 2013. At least at catcher.

Eric Young (47%) and Rajai Davis (45%) should be owned in every daily 5x5 league for their steals value alone. Speedsters make the best bench subs (‘cause they steal much more often than low-quality power guys hit home runs), and Davis is actually hitting the ball, which could lead to more playing time.

Speaking of “low-quality power guys,” Adam Dunn (37%) is clobbering the ball. It’s worth noting that he’s only a lucky BABIP away from being a real stud. Even without the luck, he’s worth owning in more leagues than this.

Marcell Ozuna (33%) is off to a pretty hot start. The great thing about young guys is that sometimes they are that good. Or, at least, still good enough to start after they cool off a bit.

Corey Hart (31%) isn’t playing pretty well, which seems to suggest he’s healthy—which was the only reason he wasn’t widely owned in the first place. Time to pick him up.

Wily Peralta (41%) isn’t generating the strikeouts we’d hope him to, but he is pitching well. Very well.

Dan Straily (38%) does not seem to be pitching well, but check out his strikeouts and walks—he’ll be fine.

Jenrry Mejia (35%) is still this unowned? Seriously, pick this guy up. Not-that-bold-prediction: he’s a top-50 starter this year, easy.

Nathan Eovaldi (30%) is someone I duly ignored in the preseason, but he’s generating some whiffs and having success for a Marlins squad that might be less horrible than anticipated. Or they might be, but that doesn’t change the fact that Eovaldi has been pretty decent so far.

Medium Leagues

Alcides Escobar (28%) has been much, much better than last year. Actually, that phrase shouldn’t buy him anything, since he was so epically bad in 2013, but he’s been more than playable this season, which is likely better than several teams in your league can say about their shortstop production.

Mike Moustakas (27%) has not been good, but there is a glimmer of hope: of his 11 hits on the season, 10 have come in the last two weeks. Good for a batting average over .200! Hey, hope is hope with Moustakas and waiver wire third basemen.

Gregory Polanco (20%) is raking in triple-A and the Pirates are struggling. Sounds like only a matter of time to me. If you have room to speculate on anyone, you have room to speculate on Polanco.

Zach McAllister (24%) has been pretty good for Cleveland. Not, you know, great, but good enough to be better than plenty of guys more widely owned than him.

Edinson Volquez (20%) is getting some press for his magic turnaround, but should you care if he isn’t striking people out? It’s hard to get excited over someone with a K/9 under 6.00…but hard not to get excited about a WHIP under 1.00. I guess there are worse things for a fantasy team than the chance that Volquez has become the new Kyle Lohse…like the old Volquez, for instance.

Deep Leagues

Matt Joyce (18%) is raking in his platoon role. One imagines that more than 18% of leagues are deep enough to enjoy his contributions.

Tyler Flowers (17%) is hitting. He plays catcher. This is not rocket science.

Chris Owings (14%) is also hitting. He plays shortstop. He’s even stolen a couple bases. Again, not rocket science.

Ike Davis (12%) is not doing anything special, but a fresh start with Pittsburgh is more than enough to take a chance on his potential. Lucas Duda (8%) also benefits from the trade but is still required to hit at CitiField.         

Alberto Callaspo (11%) has the pleasant distinction of being eligible at 2B and 3B—and therefore also CI and MI. This is the sort of player to stash on your bench in case of injury in weekly leagues or those with limited acquisitions…and the sort to keep around to maximize your total at bats in daily leagues. As long as he’s no worse than mediocre, everybody wins.

Mike Olt (4%) is like Mike Moustakas lite. Okay, that’s mean, but both of them started out horrific and have spent the last two weeks being merely bad. That's improvement! Both play third base and both have shown promise in the past that may not have been unfounded.

Danny Espinosa (4%) might get squeezed out of the Nationals’ lineup when Ryan Zimmerman returns. But that’s a long, long ways away. Right now he’s a hitting second baseman, which is a rare and valuable commodity. If he keeps hitting like this, he’ll force Washington to keep him in the lineup anyway.

Josh Beckett (13%) has been more than not bad so far: he’s been actually good. If you’ve owned Beckett in the last couple years (or known someone who has), you may be skeptical, but he hasn’t allowed a run since his first (admittedly bad) start of the year. One thing he hasn’t done, though, is last more than five innings in a game. Maybe the Dodgers are protecting him from a third trip through the lineup, or arm fatigue, or whatever…but that can actually be to your advantage in leagues with innings caps.

Jonathon Niese (10%) is also pitching well. Before his injury-marred 2013, he was considered a top-40ish starter. I think he’s on his way back to that level. He should be much more widely owned.

Brandon Morrow (9%) is striking people out again. The other results haven’t been awesome, but it’s time to start keeping an eye on him at least. Because his strikeout ability is serious and the rest of the pieces could still conceivably fall into place. Or come close enough for his whiffs to be worth his WHIP.

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: April 25-May 1

This week we're taking a look at the early leaders in some of the major advanced metric categories and, I'll say this right up front, all of these guys will regress.  There's no question about it.  (I'm pretty sure that Zack Greinke will allow at least one baserunner to score this season, thus breaking up his current 100% strand rate.)  That said, there's a pretty solid crop of players currently leading the way in most of these categories.  Let's check out the numbers, with Thursday's games not included...

* This Is Your Cue To Trade For Johnny.  As noted, Greinke is the strand rate leader, but you don't need me to tell you that he's awesome.  Similarly, the pitching BABIP leader is Jason Hammel, whose .130 BABIP belies a low strikeout total and a 4.47 FIP, so I think we can all count on Hammel as a fifth starter or streaming candidate and not much else. 

The man who's second in both strand rate (98.4%) and BABIP (.161) is a different story, however.  Johnny Cueto looks to be back in fine form, and even with his inflated advanced metrics, he's still posting a 3.21 FIP, 2.80 xFIP and 2.89 SIERA through his first five starts.  Most importantly, he's lasted into at least the seventh inning in all of those starts, and there hasn't been any indication that the oblique and shoulder injuries that derailed his 2013 season are still an issue.  Injuries might be just about the only thing that slows Cueto down --- he was still really good when he did pitch (3.23 xFIP in 11 starts) last year, which made his frequent DL trips all the most frustrating for his fantasy owners.  If you've got him on your roster this year and are tempted to sell high, do so only if you're getting a crazy bounty in return, since there's no reason Cueto can't pitch like a staff ace for the remainder of the year.

* They Call Him Mellow YelichChristian Yelich doesn't have any homers, owns only five RBIs (thanks, Marlins lineup) and his league-high .458 BABIP is bound to plummet.  All that said, I am all-in on Yelich in his first season as a Major League regular.  He won't get much chance to drive in runs hitting leadoff in Miami's mostly punchless batting order and he didn't even provide much power in his otherwise dominant minor league career, yet Yelich is a strong candidate for a .300 average, lots of runs scored (thanks, Giancarlo Stanton) and 20-25 steals.  Yelich stole 32 bags in Class A ball in 2011, and while he hasn't approached that total since, it could be more a case of him not getting the green light rather than an awkward decline in stealing ability.  With 82 big league games under his belt, Yelich is an impressive 14-for-14 in stolen base chances.

Just a couple of days into one of my fantasy leagues, I put my whole season on the line when I acquired Yelich, Mike Trout and Tommy Hunter in a blockbuster swap that cost me Bryce Harper, David Ortiz and Glen Perkins.  Yes, you should probably always take Trout when offered* and Harper's early struggles are making this look like a huge win, but Yelich's inclusion was the cherry on top.  I'm not necesarily scared off by a giant BABIP when you consider that Yelich's walk and strikeout rates are essentially the same as his minor league averages in both categories.  This kid can flat-out hit, and Yelich owners should be happy to enjoy the ride.

* = it's weird, I wrote this same sentence earlier this week on my fantasy seafood website, Boato Authority.

* Attention, V-Mart Shoppers.  We have a tie in handing out the Jodie Foster Award For Best Contact Hitter over the season's first four weeks, as both Kurt Suzuki and Victor Martinez took a 93.8% contact rate into Thursday's play.  Now, let's dispense with Suzuki right now -- he posted a 70 OPS+ in 2012-13, his walk rate is over twice his career average and a lot that overall contact rate success is based on Suzuki swinging and making contact on 86.2% of pitches thrown outside the strike zone.  Only four players in all of baseball topped 86.2% in that department in 2013, so while catcher is a thin position, Suzuki is not a viable fantasy option in anything but the deepest of leagues.

Fun fact: one of the four players who beat that 86.2% O-contact rate in 2013 was Victor Martinez, who ranks third overall in his category from 2010-14.  Martinez's bad-ball success in recent years has naturally led to some terrific offensive numbers and he's keeping that up this season with a .308/.361/.492 slash line and three homers.  His RBI and run totals are low, though that could be due to a Detroit lineup that has surprisingly struggled to score runs thus far. 

Martinez has always been a very good contact hitter but he's taken that to extremes this year with a 2.8% strikeout rate that is the lowest of any qualified hitter in baseball.  This is another stat that is sure to markedly increase (V-Mart has a 10.7% career K-rate) but it seems a pretty safe bet that Martinez will be hanging around the top of the contact rate leaderboard by season's end.  I admittedly gave up on him after his tough start to 2013, only to eat crow after Martinez hit like mad from June onward. 

I noted the shallow fantasy catcher pool earlier so be aware --- the Tigers have given Martinez two starts at catcher thus far, after starting him behind the plate just three times in all of 2013.  Most leagues require at least a half-dozen appearances at a position to gain eligibility but there's a good chance that V-Mart will once again be playable at catcher at some point this season, which obviously greatly boosts his fantasy value.  It's hard to work with those lower power totals from a first base or utility spot, but I'll take a catcher with an .852 OPS all the livelong day.

Closer Updates: As, Angels, Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Jays, Mets, Reds, Yankees

This week we’ll be bringing you another round of updates from the closer world. With a slew of injury updates and depth chart shufflings, the ninth inning continues to bring us some of the most unforeseen changes in the fantasy landscape.

Chicago Cubs – Since Jose Veras got the boot as the Cubs closer, Pedro Strop has struggled to dominate the ninth in his place. Strop has been adequate this season (1 save, 3.52 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 11.7 K/9), but certainly has little job security. If he struggles, Hector Rondon (1 save, 0.84 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.3 K/9) and Justin Grimm (0.84 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 11.0 K/9) have each pitched well enough to deserve a shot.  

Cincinnati RedsAroldis Chapman threw live batting practice behind a screen this week. The next step in his recovery will be batting practice without a screen before a few rehab appearances. Jonathan Broxton has done an admirable job replacing Chapman (2 saves, 0.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 12.0 K/9), but he will return to a setup role once Aroldis returns in mid-May.

Houston Astros – The closer-by-committee experiment has continued in Houston. In the last week, only Josh Fields earned a save opportunity. Meanwhile, Anthony Bass earned two holds and Matt Albers got one. Chad Qualls has struggled over the same time frame and Jesse Crain is still far from returning to the big leagues.

Los Angeles Angels of AnaheimErnesto Frieri has had a rough season thus far (2 saves, 5.40 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 11.9 K/9). Although Halos manager Mike Scioscia has recently stated that Frieri is still the closer, it may be a matter of time before Joe Smith (4.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 10.0 K/9) takes over the ninth.

Milwaukee BrewersFrancisco Rodriguez has had an unbelievable week with six saves in the last eight days. That type of consistency and an impressive stat line (9 saves, 0.00 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 13.1 K/9) make it unlikely that Jim Henderson (4.15 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 13.5 K/9) will be taking back the ninth any time soon.

New York Mets – It’s official – Jose Valverde is out as closer for the Metropolitans after a dismal start (5.23 ERA, 1.55 ERA, 10.5 K/9). After pulling Valverde, manager Terry Collins turned to experienced closer Kyle Farnsworth (55 career saves). Farnsworth has pitched well this season (2 saves, 0.96 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 5.8 K/9) and might have the savvy to keep this job all season.

New York YankeesDavid Robertson returned to the Yankees Tuesday after a stint on the 15-day disabled list for an injured groin. Robertson will immediately return to the closer role and relieve Shawn Kelley of his substitute closer duties (4 saves, 1.86 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 9.3 K/9).

Oakland Athletics – Although Jim Johnson (and his contract) will certainly have an opportunity to regain the ninth inning, when that will occur is uncertain. Until then, Luke Gregerson will lead the committee (3 saves, 3.09 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 5.4 K/9) over Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook.

Toronto Blue JaysSergio Santos is another setup man who has been marginally effective as an interim closer (5 saves, 7.11 ERA, 2.21 WHIP, 18.5 K/9). Given Casey Janssen and his recent setback during a rehab stint, Santos might be holding onto the closer gig longer than most expected. Janssen, who was expected to have returned from the disabled list by now, has been shut down and his timetable for return is still unclear.

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.

RotoAuthority Unscripted: Johan Santana to Return Again, Again

Ten years ago, Johan Santana was the best pitcher in baseball. Actually, his numbers aren't as eye-popping now as they were then--a testament to the state of pitching and hitting in this decade--but believe it: the dude was awesome. And he might be coming back soon.

Okay, so this news isn't exactly the biggest resurrection of the week, and I'll be honest with you: if all your leagues are relatively shallow, this post won't be super-helpful for you. Still, anyone with a history of greatness like Santana's has earned being watched. Mets fans may disagree (I'll understand), but even the little bit of Johan that we got in 2012 (8.54 K/9, 2.85 K/BB, with a bad homer rate and ERA) offers something to be interested in.

There's no timetable yet and no need to be rushing off the waiver wire for him. And you don't need to release Doug Fister or Derek Holland to clear a spot on your DL just to get Santana. No, this isn't the herald of Santana's triumphant return, so much as it is a piece of information for you to stash away.

Fantasy baseball is about finding an edge against tough, informed competition. It certainly isn't about beating the bottom six teams in your league--there's a good chance you did that on draft day against average-quality competition. I know this because my research random stab in the dark suggests that over half of fantasy baseball owners do not seek out advice, news, or articles beyond what's offered on ESPN and their fantasy website provider after their draft. But I digress. Long story short: your goal is to beat your tough competition too. And that means looking for advantages where nobody else is.

What I'm not going to do is speculate (too much) on what Santana is likely to be if and when he does make it into Baltimore's rotation. I'll leave that to people who are actually scouts and can look at what he does and tell us about it. But you know I will be paying attention to those scouts and the updates that come from them. For the moment, I'm going to assume that the 2012 version of Johan (a little good, a little bad, a little really awesome) returns more or less intact, with the chance of his HR/FB rate regressing to something better than horrible. If he's less than that, the aforementioned scouting professionals, plus TV commentators, peanut gallery members, and (maybe) the Orioles' coaching staff will notice and pull the plug on the grand experiment in time reversal.

And if he's better than that, he absolutely has to be on your team. Again, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that I know or think I know that Santana will come back and be awesome. Honestly, the chances are that he won't so keep your expectations tempered, even if you were a Twins fan in the '00's but have since moved to Baltimore and switched allegiances.

But I am saying that this situation is worth paying careful attention to, because Santana offers much greater potential reward than most deep-league waiver wire options. Yes, his floor is that of uselessness—but that’s true of every player waiting in the minors, sitting on the DL, or pitching for Baltimore. Essentially, the cost of Santana will be the same as the cost of your next Mets or Cubs closer lottery ticket, one-game platoon streamer, or backup to your backup catcher. The reward, though, is a serious impact pitcher (low probability) or a high-K, questionable-ERA guy (very reasonable probability) of the sort that’s plenty useful in deep formats.

All the eyes in your league will be on Santana’s teammate Kevin Gausman, or on Noah Syndergaard when and if they get the call to the show. Everyone will know it when Taijuan Walker and the rest of the Mariners’ rotation come back from the DL, and they’ll see Holland’s return from a mile away. Those pickups (if they aren’t already stashed) will be the product of whoever’s got the most FAAB money or the highest waiver priority, or whoever’s got the fastest Internet connection after the news hits Twitter. These guys have a real chance of providing a serious impact—but odds are, they’re ending up on someone else’s team.

Santana, however, isn’t likely to get quite the same fantasy reception. In fact, I expect experts and owners to be pretty tepid, even if TV commentators get really excited. But if, say, Gausman came up and struck out nearly a batter an inning with a low 4.00’s ERA, that would be a pretty good result. Santana did that in 2012 (okay, so his FIP was in the low 4.00’s, not his ERA, but still…). Think of Santana as a prospect without the hype and keep tabs on him. If the news takes a different turn and he doesn’t look good, well, there you go. But if things continue to progress towards him pitching in the Major League rotation, the risk (nothing, assuming you have someone you can drop without missing) versus reward makes him well worth the pursuit.

Editor's Note: You may have noticed some problems with RotoAuthority in the last couple days, as our blog host has been hit with an attack beyond this author's technical understanding. Hopefully, things are resolved, but bear with us if the situation continues. We'll be updating the site as regularly as possible to fill all your fantasies...I mean, your fantasy baseball needs.

RotoAuthority League Update: Early Trades

The RotoAuthority League is a highly competitive 12-team fantasy baseball league run by Tim Dierkes. The settings consist of standard 5 X 5 Rotisserie scoring and 23-man lineups along with 4 bench spots. In an effort to keep owners interested as well as to infuse new blood into the league, the teams that finish below 8th place are kicked out of the league each year. The author of this column just hopes he isn't one of them.

04/11 - Smell the Glove agrees to trade Homer Bailey to the Brewsterville Bruins for Jason Heyward

Here we have a swap of a pair of players who both look like excellent Buy Low candidates to me. As Mark Simon of ESPN notes, Jason Heyward has still been making hard contact but just hasn't been getting results. His plate discipline metrics look fine to me, and I fully support the idea of looking to acquire him.

Meanwhile, few SPs make for better trade targets than Bailey right now. The ugly 8.16 ERA on the surface masks the same great skills the right-hander displayed last year. Maybe we shouldn't expect a league-average HR/FB rate for Bailey in the Great American Ballpark; however, the current 60% rate is simply laughable. I'd expect a performance more in line with his 3.17 SIERA going forward.

04/15 - A Century of Misery agrees to trade Edwin Encarnacion and Cody Allen to Pulling Brzenk for Stephen Strasburg and Martin Prado

Here we have my first trade of the season in this league. If you've been following my work this year, you know I have a Man Crush on Encarnacion. Accordingly, it's rather surprising that I received a trade offer in which I was willing to move Edwin. It's possible I'm overreacting to small sample sizes; however, given his slow start, I've begun to worry about the offseason wrist surgery affecting his power. Edwin should be fine eventually, but it still may be awhile before he's back to his old self.

Like Bailey, Strasburg looks like a prime Buy Low candidate. Despite his poor results thus far, his skills have actually improved. I really could care less about results in April, and he's striking out one in every three batters. Needless to say, I think he's on the verge of a special campaign.

I'm not sure I would have dealt Edwin straight up for Strasburg. By adding in Prado, though, last year's champion ensured that he'd get Encarnacion from me. I certainly could see Cody Allen usurping the closer role from John Axford later this season, but I wasn't going to let a middle reliever deter me from agreeing to the deal.

04/17 - Smell the Glove agrees to trade Buster Posey, Sonny Gray, and Hector Rondon to the Jewru for Greg Holland, Yan Gomes, and Edward Mujica

Commissioner Tim Dierkes has been looking to acquire a closer ever since news broke that Bobby Parnell would be out for the year. In this deal he downgrades from Posey to Gomes at catcher while adding an elite closer in Holland in exchange for a quality arm in Gray. Rondon may very well prove to be the guy to close out games on the North Side in Chicago, but the Commish recently dropped him anyway. Lastly, given that Koji Uehara is certainly an injury risk, Mujica is a sneaky piece for Dierkes to acquire.

Overall, I prefer the haul for the Jewru purely from a value perspective. Context always needs to be kept in mind, though. This league places a significant premium on the value of closers. In trading for a closer, you practically know going in that you're going to get the short end of the stick. With that in mind, I don't think Dierkes lost all that much here.

04/18 - Gramma Nutt Crushers agree to trade Junichi Tazawa to Pulling Brzenk for Shawn Kelley

It's always a tad exciting when a big trade goes down in one of your leagues. This is not one of those deals. I'm not exactly sure why either owner felt the need to make this trade. I'd understand a little more if the Gramma Nutt Crushers owned David Robertson, or if Koji Uehara were a member of Pulling Brzenk; however, neither is the case. At any rate, it's possible both of these relievers adds a handful of saves while posting good ratios.

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: April 18-24

As you might expect, most of the game's hottest hitters at this point in the season still have comically-inflated BABIPs.  (Case in point: Chase Utley's unreal .475 BABIP.)  A few of these top bats, however, have yet to be kissed by the BABIP cherubs, which could be a hint that their strong starts are a little more sustainable.  Let's dip into their advanced metrics to see what's up....

* Joey BatmanJose Bautista's emergence as a major power hitter has come with little-to-no help from BABIP.  The Toronto slugger has only a .256 BABIP since the start of the 2010 season, and even that modest figure was boosted by a .309 mark in 2011.  Bautista only has a .226 BABIP so far this year but it hasn't impacted his hitting, as he carried five homers (tied for the AL lead) and a .267.459/.644 line into Thursday's action.

Since BABIP isn't really a factor in his production, Bautista's other metrics suggest that his early-season success has been due to a) pitchers not giving him anything to hit, and b) Bautista crushing it out of the park on the rare occasions when he does see some good pitches.  His 29.4% home run rate is obviously unsustainable and will drop, and you'd suspect the same will happen to Bautista's 26.2% walk rate, which is almost double his career average and six percent higher than his previous single-season high. 

That said, Bautista is only swinging at 18.1% of pitches outside the strike zone, which is a notable drop from his 24.4% mark from 2010-13.  A little more patience at the plate makes Joey Bats all the more dangerous. If Bautista's walk rate settles even halfway between 26.2% and the 13.1% from last year, that's still a big increase in his offensive value and, fantasy-wise, it would lead to more runs scored due to greater on-base numbers.

Though this is Bautista's age-33 season, nobody really doubted that he would still be a premier hitter as long as he could stay healthy, so the jury is still out on whether Bautista can avoid the knocks that led him to miss 114 games in 2012-13.  The injury bug is still the only major red flag on Bautista since otherwise, his bat looks as strong as ever, and the extra walks are a good sign.

* Zobocop.  I've long been Roto Authority's most ardent Ben Zobrist supporter, so I was more than a little concerned when Zobrist's power fell off a cliff in 2013.  The pop has returned thus far in 2014, as Zobrist is slugging .472 and already has three dingers (after hitting just 12 all of last season).

So all is good, right?  Well, not exactly.  Zobrist's 17.6% homer rate is well above his 10.7% career average, so that's going to dip a little.  What's more troubling is that Zobrist's line drive rate is 10.9%, while his ground ball rate is 52.2% --- both numbers represent around a nine-percent dip and rise, respectively, from his 2013 rates.  His infield fly ball rate is also up to 17.6%, about a nine-percent increase over his career average.

So essentially, Zobrist isn't the hitting the ball as hard and most of the time, he's hitting it either on the ground or popping it up.  Since his BABIP is only .279, it's not like a lot of these grounders are getting through, either.  (His batting average is .283.)  It's kind of a weird collection of stats for Zobrist and it seems like his offensive production thus far is being mostly carried by that inflated home run rate and a 15.6% walk rate, which would be a career-best if sustained.  I'd keep as eye on Zobrist since, if his peripherals don't normalize, they could portent a more significant problem than just a loss of power.  Still too early to think about trading or releasing him from your fantasy roster, obviously, but still, have an eye.

 * Commissioner Gordon.  Finally, we'll look at a player who isn't off to a good start.  There's no truth to the rumor that Alex Gordon's 2014 season is being sponsored by Del Monte, since Gordon has done little more than produce cans of corn since Opening Day.  Gordon took an even-steven 50% fly ball rate into Thursday's action, which isn't necessarily a bad thing...but when only 4.8% of those flies are leaving the yard, there's a problem. 

Curiously, in other aspects of hitting, Gordon has never been better.  He's drastically cut back on his strikeouts, he's making contact on a whopping 96.7% of pitches within the strike zone and he's on pace for the best overall contact rate (86.2%) of his career.  A .268 BABIP could be partially to blame, though with just an 11.9% line drive rate, it's not like Gordon is hitting the ball with much authority.  You could chalk it up to the team-wide power malaise that has struck the Royals in the early going, or maybe Gordon needs another visit from George Brett to get his hitting back on track.  It's not like Brett is busy posing with pop stars or anyth....oh wait...  

Closer Updates: As, Astros, BoSox, Braves, Brewers, Cubbies, Jays, Mets, Reds, Rockies, Yankees

Welcome back to another edition of Closer Updates. This edition will be chock full of injury updates and insight into this ever-changing MLB closer landscape. In addition to a few relievers being relieved of their ninth inning gigs, we’ve also got some injury scares and other relevant notes.

Atlanta Braves – Bravos fans and Craig Kimbrel owners held their collective breath when a sore shoulder shut the reliever down for the past few days. However, Kimbrel should not hit the DL and will be back to action soon after experiencing no discomfort in a recent bullpen session.

Boston Red Sox – After discovering tightness in his shoulder during a pregame long-toss session last week, Koji Uehara was shut down and Edward Mujica has been closing games in his stead. Look for Uehara to return soon after three solid bullpen sessions and an MRI which showed no ligament damage.

Chicago Cubs – After a very poor start to the season (4 appearances, 2 blown saves, 12.27 ERA, 2.46 WHIP), Jose Veras has officially lost his closer title in Wrigleyville. Pedro Strop (1 save, 4.76 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) and Hector Rondon (1 save, 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) are the two candidates most likely to replace him.

Cincinnati RedsAroldis Chapman is steadily making progress in his return to the big leagues. After throwing a bullpen session earlier in the week, Chapman appears to be getting close to being cleared to throw batting practice. After that step and a few more bullpen sessions, we’ll have a much clearer timeline. Jonathan Broxton, who recently returned from the DL, should be covering the ninth in Chapman’s absence.

Colorado Rockies – Although many pegged Rex Brothers as the closer-in-waiting in Colorado, LaTroy Hawkins has performed well so far this season (5 appearances, 3 saves, 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP). The Rockies didn’t sign Hawkins to ride the pine and they will look for Brothers to improve his season numbers (3.18 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 4.8 K/9) before getting any save opportunities.

Houston Astros – Manager Bo Porter has done a great job sticking with the closer-by-committee approach. Thus far, three different relievers have earned a save for the Astros. Anthony Bass (5.06 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 1.7 K/9) leads the field with two, while Chad Qualls (3.86 ERA, 1.93 WHIP, 9.6 K/9) and Josh Fields (3.86 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 11.6 K/9) each have one.

Milwaukee Brewers – Although manager Ron Roenicke said that Jim Henderson would have an opportunity to pitch his way back into the closer role, Henderson has pitched poorly so far (7 appearances, 5.06 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) and may be squandering that opportunity. If he doesn’t get his act together soon, Francisco Rodriguez will continue to get more comfortable closing for the Brew Crew.

New York Mets – With Bobby Parnell out for the season, veteran closer Jose Valverde was supposed to take the ninth inning in Queens and run with it. However, Valverde has been underwhelming thus far (4.26 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) and has also allowed home runs to three of his last eight batters faced. Without much reliever depth, the Mets might look to Kyle Farnsworth (1.35 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 5.4 K/9) sooner rather than later.

New York Yankees – After hitting the DL earlier in the month with a groin injury, David Robertson is nearly ready to resume closing duties for the Yanks. Though Shawn Kelley has performed admirably in the role (7 appearances, 3 saves, 2.84 ERA, 0.79 WHIP), Robertson will take the role back when he returns to the team early next week.

Oakland Athletics – It’s official, Jim Johnson has lost his job as closer for the As. With a horrendous start (7.56 ERA, 2.16 WHIP), Johnson will try to work his way back into the good graces of Athletics manager Bob Melvin. While he takes that road to redemption, Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson will share closer duties.

Toronto Blue JaysCasey Janssen has begun his rehab in Florida after suffering from a back strain at the end of Spring Training. If all goes well, Janssen will return to the Jays this weekend and take back his closer job from Sergio Santos (4 saves, 3.38 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 18.6 K/9).

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

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