May 2014

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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 30-June 5

In many ways, this column mirrors Homer Simpson's questions to the president of Kwik-E-Mart.  "Is this guy REALLY a good player?...Really?....Him?"  While the Kwik-E-Mart president specialized in wisdom and convenience store management, advanced metrics are my area of expertise, and I have all the answers* to your fantasy needs.

* = editor's note: for legal reasons, we should point out that Mark doesn't actually have all the answers.  He's just full of himself.

* GyuckyJedd Gyorko was the rarest of specimens: a legitimate Padres hitting prospect.  He tore up the minors and then had a strong rookie season in 2013, posting a .745 OPS and hitting 23 home runs while gaining fantasy eligibility at both second and third base.  Naturally, Gyorko was a highly-sought after player in many a fantasy draft last spring, which makes his brutal start to the year all the more disappointing.

Through 206 PA, Gyorko has posted sub-replacement level offensive numbers, slashing .173/.218/.288 with five homers, 24 RBI, two steals and 13 runs scored.  He's striking out (25.7% K-rate) almost five times as much as he's walking (5.3% BB-rate) and you can't blame Petco Park -- Gyorko has a hideous .410 OPS in away games.

It's possible Gyorko could be feeling some of the pressure that comes with signing a big contract extension, or it could be that we may have jumped in the gun in anointing Gyorko as a top young second baseman.  His strikeout-to-walk rate was similarly skewed in 2013, and his power potential may have been overrated by a weird power surge that came in August and September of last season.  Gyorko hit 15 of his 23 homers in those two months, though his overall slash line (.245/.297/.510 in 219 PA) over that period is hardly that of a well-rounded hitter.

Gyorko is only 25 years old and only a season removed from being considered one of baseball's top 100 prospects, so if you have him in a long-term keeper league, don't start freaking out quite yet.  In a regular league, however?  Dump him.  It's a tough call to offload a mid-round draft pick type of player after just two months, especially at a thin middle infield spot, yet Gyorko has been so terrible that you're only hurting your team by continuing to give him starts.  He should've been riding the bench for the last three weeks, and by this point he may not even be worth the roster spot going forward.

* Klu Season.  An abnormally high BABIP is usually a scarlet letter that signifies a pitcher having a tough season, yet as of Thursday evening, the five highest BABIPs belonged to a veritable dream rotation.  Jordan Zimmermann (.369) is not quite at his usual form and Stephen Strasburg (.357) is probably drawing grumbles from a few owners with unrealistic expectations since he *only* has a 3.42 ERA (and a 10.67 K/9, and is generally awesome.)  The Braves' Alex Wood is next with his .353 BABIP, though that misfortune is somewhat balanced out by his 81.1% strand rate. 

The next two on the list are Corey Kluber (.350) and Madison Bumgarner (.346), and obviously you don't need me to tell you that Bumgarner is a top-tier fantasy ace.  What may surprise you through two months of 2014, however, is that Kluber has been even more of a plum than Bumgarner --- in fact, he's been better than almost everyone in terms of fWAR, as Kluber's 2.6 fWAR is topped only by Felix Hernandez's 2.8 fWAR amongst qualified starters.

The Indians righty seems to be having the breakout campaign that some pundits expected of him going into this year, and fantasy owners who spent a late-round draft pick on Kluber are proud as peacocks.  Heck, maybe you didn't even have to draft Kluber at all, given that Mock Draft Central's average draft position report doesn't even list Kluber within the top 76 (!) pitchers taken.  Kluber's modest bandwagon probably thinned out even more after his first start (five runs over 3 1/3 IP against Oakland) but since then, Kluber has been white-hot.

That high BABIP is the only thing that isn't cutting the mustard for Kluber, as with a bit more batted-ball luck, his 3.10 ERA would be even lower, as indicated by his 2.22 FIP, 2.70 xFIP and 2.78 SIERA.  A 45.8% grounder rate?  Six percent home run rate?  74.4% strand rate?  10.28 K/9 against only a 2.11 walk rate?  These kinds of statistics make almost any pitcher green with envy.

You can probably expect a wee bit of regression as the season goes on but Kluber put up good peripherals in 2012-13 as well, so this Cy Young-candidate year isn't totally out of nowhere.  If Kluber is in your rotation now, hang onto him.  If he isn't, see if you can convince your rival owner that Kluber is an overachiever and will come back to earth.  Your fellow manager might not believe this argument, but hey, someboddy is bound to be victimized by your logic.

* Elias KotEHHas.  As in, "ehh, this guy is nothing special."  (This is in no way a reference to Mr. Koteas' acting abilty, as he's a fine Canadian actor!)  On a whim, I decided to look for the "most average" starter in the majors according to the BABIP and strand rate metrics.  With .300 being the average BABIP and the average strand rate clocking at roughly 70%, the two pitchers who come closest to this theoretical sweet spot of neutral luck at the Padres' Tyson Ross and the Mariners' Roenis Elias.  We already covered Ross last week, and I'll bet you already guessed from this section's goofy title that we're focusing on the rookie Seattle southpaw.

While Ross has value in starts at his home ballpark, Elias has actually pitched worse at the hitting graveyard that is Safeco Field than he has on the road, posting a 3.58 ERA in six away starts and a 4.61 ERA in five home starts.  He therefore doesn't even have value as a two-start streamer, and judging by the rest of his good-but-not-great numbers, it's possible Elias might be the most average pitcher in the league.  The lefty has a 4.02 ERA, 7.89 K/9 and 2.19 K/BB ratio, and he's a bit too casual with the baserunners as evidenced by his 1.34 WHIP.  His peripherals (4.03 FIP, 3.75 xFIP, 3.87 SIERA) aren't bad at all, however, and he has a nice 47.% grounder rate.

To steal a phrase from ESPN's Keith Law, Elias is essentially "just a guy" for the back of your fantasy rotation.  He won't kill you, but he isn't likely to deliver you an out-of-nowhere gem of a start.  Since this is also his rookie season, Elias could start to wear down as the year goes on...or maybe even gain confidence and improve as he gets used to the majors.  Based on this x-factor and his middling track record so far, I'd stay away from Elias if you're looking for a fifth starter, though be warned that many is the fantasy owner who picked up the 'promising' starter with the big pedigree only to see that starter get rocked.  A steady-but-unspectacular guy like Elias may have more fantasy benefit down the stretch if he's still pitching on this same level in August.



Closer Updates: Angels, Astros, Athletics, Indians, Mets, Orioles, Pirates, White Sox

After a fairly in-depth look at each squad last week, we’ll take a quick peek at a few position battles and closers with limited job security in this edition. We’ll also scope out some co-closer / closer-by-committee situations to see which reliever has the most potential for saves in the short term.

Baltimore Orioles – Former closer Tommy Hunter hit the disabled list last week with a strained left groin. Before hitting the DL, Hunter lost the ninth inning to Zach Britton. In addition to having a strong start to 2014 (3 saves, 0.94 ERA, 0.91 WHIP), Britton pitched well through back-to-back-to-back appearances earlier in the week (3.0 IP, 44 pitches, 2 saves, 1 ER). He did blow his first save on the last day of that stretch, but he’s already more consistent than his predecessor.

Chicago White Sox – Since Matt Lindstrom went down, no reliever has grabbed the ninth inning and wrestled it from the others. Despite a blown save on Wednesday, Ronald Belisario (3 saves, 4.97 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.1 K/9) may still have the slight edge. After him, Scott Downs (1 save, 6.16 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 8.1 K/9) or Daniel Webb (2.39 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6.8 K/9) will probably get the next chance to close – in that order.

Cleveland Indians – With John Axford out as the Tribe’s closer, the closer-by-committee includes Bryan Shaw (2 saves, 1.50 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 7.9 K/9) and Cody Allen (1 save, 3.05 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 11.8). Allen has the better strikeout rate, but Shaw has pitched better this season. Expect the Indians to play it by ear until one emerges with the gig.

Houston Astros – Although Houston has not had many save opportunities this season, Chad Qualls (3 saves, 2.93 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 6.0 K/9) continues to separate himself from the competition due to bullpen injuries. The recently acquired Kyle Farnsworth (3 saves, 3.66 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 5.5 K/9) may give Qualls a run for his money if there’s a stumble or two.

Los Angeles Angels of AnaheimJoe Smith has pitched quite well (5 saves, 2.14 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 8.6 K/9) as a co-closer with Ernesto Frieri, but Frieri may take the job back for himself. With a strong two weeks (3 saves, 7.0 IP, 1.29 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), Frieri has settled into a groove and will likely be trusted to return to the ninth full time soon.

New York Mets – It seems that the Mets continue to cut closers as they parted ways with Jose Valverde (2 saves, 5.66 ERA, 1.65 WHIP) this week. Although his time in Queens has been largely uneventful, his departure solidifies Jenrry Mejia (4 saves, 4.05 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) as the closer in the short term. Jeurys Familia (3.13 ERAA, 1.30 WHIP) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (1 save, 2.33 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) are still looming, but Mejia is certainly first in line.

Oakland Athletics – After being named closer just over a week ago, Sean Doolittle has been effective in his limited appearances for the A’s in that time (1 save, 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP). Despite the small sample size, Doolittle has enough potential to keep Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson at bay.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Manager Clint Hurdle has been easing Jason Grilli back into the closer role since his return from the DL. Because the Bucs are blessed to have a very effective Mark Melancon as Grilli’s replacement, the transition may be slow and steady. If that’s the case, Melancon will remain valuable for at least another week.

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



Stock Watch: What Have You Done for Me Lately?

This week in Stock Watch, we’re going to take a look at some trade and waiver strategies that take the last month’s play into extra account, to see if any useful trends can be spotted. There's a lot to see, so let's dive right in.

Trade For

Jay Bruce has been injured and terrible this year, and more of both in the month of May. Why trade for him? For one thing, his owners are probably getting impatient. I remember last year, when he was also terrible (and not even hurt) at this point in the season…and still put up great overall numbers. I’d be willing to bet that he turns it around and gives us another high-power, low-average year. 

Wilin Rosario is someone to trade for if you still believe in him as a hitter at all. I do—two years of good power gets more than a couple bad months benefit of the doubt for me. Like Bruce, he’s been really, really bad, so get a good price and cross your fingers.

Jason Heyward isn’t doing bad this month—in fact, he seems to have finally picked things up. Maybe it’s the beginning of the Big Breakout that we all knew was coming eventually…for the last several years. Or maybe it’s not, but this game is about taking chances, and the Heyward upside is worth it.

Jean Segura is another guy with lousy full-season stats that are dragged down by a horrible April. He hasn’t been bad in May, but that might not stop his owners from being disgruntled—especially in roto formats, where the owner might not be looking too closely at week-by-week stats.

Adam Jones has the same story: his season stats look like they’re dragging down his roto teams, but he’s pretty much back to form for the last 30 days. Take advantage if you can, because I don’t see anything to worry about here. 

Mike Minor hasn’t quite gotten it back together since coming off the DL. It’s been a few starts and he’s been…well, he’s been OK. Maybe his owner is thinking that’s Minor’s level for the year. I ain’t. He’ll be back to form, hopefully on your team.

Jeff Samardzija is someone I told you to trade away last week…hopefully you didn’t, ‘cause I’ve changed my mind. This article put things in better perspective, but I wasn’t convinced until I saw for myself that his May K/9 is back near 9.0. Not only that, but there’s a great chance the woebegone Cubbies deal him to a team with a Major League offense sometime this summer. Don’t be afraid to admit it when you’re wrong: I’d make a deal for Samardzija. 

Trade Away

Mark Teixeira is clubbing the ball like crazy this month. What? I’d thought his career was pretty much gone, but I guess not. Actually, I’m still not that confident in him making it through the year with his power. Sell while he’s healthy and the number eight still shows up in his last 30 days’ homer production. 

Matt Adams isn’t putting up the power he showed last year—in fact, he’s giving little more than a BABIP-inflated batting average. I’m willing to end the experiment before his BABIP drops and Oscar Taveras takes his place in the lineup.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in Yasiel Puig. (Now anyway.) But he’s hitting at as close to the top of his game as you can expect and his trade value probably won’t ever be higher. Make a huge splash and deal him. Your opponent will get great production, but you ought to get even more. 

George Springer is blowing up the fantasy-site advice articles with his red-hot May…so trade him. Yeah, he’s good, but rookie phenoms can almost always return more value in trade than they give in the lineup.

Jordan Zimmermann is not pitching well, and I’m not sure he has the strikeout rate to recover himself. I’d make a deal while people still have their preseason rankings in their heads.

Jered Weaver has been lights-out this month; point that out when you deal him, especially if your staff needs to be giving you more K/9 in an innings-limited league.

Yordano Ventura has something called “valgus stress overload.” (No, I didn’t make that name up—but I wish I was that creative.) I don’t know exactly what that means, but it sounds…bad, and apparently it affects in-game management of velocity. I’d deal him and hope that someone else wants to take a chance on his upside.

Josh Beckett just threw a no-hitter! I love a no-hitter as much as anyone (more actually, since I learned baseball from my Nolan Ryan-fan father), but that’s the best press Beckett’s getting all year. Plus, he threw a ton of pitches after relatively low innings counts for most of this season. By now, we all know the drill when it comes to high pitch counts and no-hitters.... 

Pick Up
Shallow Leagues (30-50% Ownership)
 

Phil Hughes (46%) is lighting things up this month. Who knew? 

Dexter Fowler (43%) is quietly playing pretty well, doing—as he does—a little of everything.

Ubaldo Jimenez (40%) has actually been pretty good in May, though his overall numbers don’t show it. He’ll never be great for your WHIP, but he’ll add some strikeouts.

Taijuan Walker (40%) is about to start his rehab. Go ahead and pick him up, because his ownership rate is about to spike. 

A.J. Pollock (39%) continues to hit very well. I don’t know if it’s a fluky hot streak or if he’ll be a good outfielder all season, but does it really matter? He’s good now, so if you need an OF, go for it. 

Chris Johnson (39%) has put up a good average for the last month, and that’s the only reason why you’d want him tackling third base for you. Well, that and the fact that all other 3B on the waiver wire are probably really, really bad (except those listed below--they're great).

Jon Niese (38%) is great. Pick him up. Last warning: his ownership ought to be in more like the 75% range.

Jose Quintana (37%) is pretty good too. Also last warning: his ownership ought to make it to the 50-60% range. 

Lonnie Chisenhall (32%) is finally hitting. Maybe it just took the specter of Carlos Santana taking his place at third, I don’t know. But yeah, he’s killing the ball. Pick him up on the off chance there was a reason Cleveland kept giving him chances out there.

Medium Leagues (20-30% Ownership)

David Murphy (30%) is almost graduated from this ownership level, which is too bad, because these are the kind of teams that need his brand of good-enough.

James Loney (26%) has got to be worth more than this—I mean, most of the shallowest leagues let you play multiple Util players, which means more first basemen, and getting help for your batting average is always useful. Anyone who already has Adam Dunn should get Loney too.

Ryan Vogelsong (26%) might be tricking us all, but he’s pitched like the (good) old version of himself lately. 

Dustin Ackley (23%) has been coming to play, and his 2B/OF eligibility is really helpful. 

Deep Leagues (Under 20% Ownership)

Kolten Wong (18%) has hit since returning to the Big Leagues. And hit pretty good too.

Jaime Garcia (16%) is a great add for teams in need of wins. It’s nice that he’s pitched well in his two post-DL starts.

Omar Infante (15%) is back off the DL. Hitting .270-ish is a pretty good thing for someone who can play MI and is available in 85% of leagues.

Matt Dominguez (14%) and Brandon Crawford (14%) are both offering a nice bit of power for deep leaguers interested in infielders. 

Roenis Elias (13%) has his control troubles but also has roughly a 9.0 K/9 for the month of May and a friendly home park. 

Junior Lake (11%) is really hitting well. Deep leagues can’t worry about whether or not a player is likely to keep it up—go with the hot hand while he’s hot. 

Conor Gillaspie (10%) is batting over .400 for the month. No, he doesn’t do anything else, but that’s one category more than most other waiver wire 3B available in 90% of leagues. 

Brandon McCarthy (9%) has pitched really good for a while now (excluding his most recent start, I know), and deserves to be much more widely owned than this.

Jake Odorizzi (9%) and Gavin Floyd (9%) have been strikeout machines for the last month. Odorizzi is more likely to keep it up, but also more likely burn in a fiery walk implosion.

Tommy Milone (7%) is not getting strikeouts, but Oakland is a very favorable pitching situation, with a great team and a friendly park.

Rafael Montero (7%) has shown some upside and some troubles in his first couple starts, but he’s done enough to be intriguing, that’s for sure.

Josh Tomlin (5%) was actually pretty good a couple years ago and he’s pitching nicely so far in May. More upside than one might guess. 

Nick Tepesch (5%) has had some success for Texas. They’ll have to depend on him, with about a hundred pitchers on the DL already. He ought to have a long leash and good run support.

Yunel Escobar (4%) is pretty mediocre, so if you need a short-term shortstop, he’s your guy.

David DeJesus (2%) is way, way better than almost anyone available in 98% of leagues. He doesn’t play 100% of the time, but he plays pretty well when he does. That’s probably useful in more than 2% of leagues.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Humility, Speed, and Everth Cabrera

I’ve plugged a lot of bust players this year. I know that. Who was a bigger fan before the season of the mediocre Aaron Hill, the injured Carlos Beltran, or…you know what, if you want to see which players I’ve busted on, you should go back and check out my preseason articles. (Yes…that’s a clever ploy to get people digging into the RotoAuthority archives…that’ll definitely work….)

But anyway, here’s a little about one of my (so far) worst bets of the year: Everth Cabrera. I've got him on several teams, and considered him a top-five shortstop before the season began. In an exercise of humility, I’m prepared to admit that things aren’t going well before my pre-season favorite speedster and myself at the moment. If you own him, I’d imagine your relationship with the Padres’ shortstop is probably going through a rough patch too. Should you stick it out? Or is it time to let E-Cab steal a spot on the waiver wire? (Or get caught trying?)

Going into the season, I profiled Cabrera as a guy with fewer question marks than most of his shortstop peers. Kudos to you if you ignored my warnings and drafted Troy Tulowitzki, but other than that, the top shortstops haven’t been awesome—though most have certainly outhit Cabrera. 

Some other questionable things I said were that Cabrera “can hit” (italics original), that the Padres could “drive in a run” with the help of Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, and Carlos Quentin, and (indirectly) that I didn’t think being (presumably) off PED’s would matter much. 

Well…first of all, nothing has gone right for the Padres’ offense so far (except Seth Smith, who appears to be stealing everyone else’s hits), but Cabrera has managed a not-horrible-I-guess 21 runs scored so far, so that actually wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Unfortunately, a guy with just six RBI really needs to be a positive contributor in runs if he’s going to hang in a fantasy lineup. And I just don’t think Cabrera’s going to get many chances to improve those RBI. (Though he does have two longballs already. Can you imagine that—giving up a homer to Everth Cabrera? Now, that would be embarrassing. That’s how pitchers felt in little league when they gave up a hit to me.)

Cabrera’s steals are down too; he’s slacking with just 10 on the season, while burners like Eric Young, Jose Altuve, and Billy Hamilton are rocking 17 or 18. And out-of-nowhere-longshot Dee Gordon is embarrassing everyone in the world with 30 already. Come on! Part of Cabrera’s low steal total is thanks to his success rate: he’s been caught four times already, which leaves him with an acceptable 71% rate. But that isn’t what we paid for, considering that he was only caught four times in all of 2012! Get it together, man.

Lousy teammates and a few more outs on the basepaths aren’t the root of Everth’s problems. If they were, this article would be a lot more optimistic. No, the worst problems are the ones at the core of his .240 batting average and his cringe-worthy .273 on-base. The good news is that if Cabrera fixes these issues, the runs and the steals ought to bounce right back accordingly, because their problem is just that he isn’t getting to first base often enough to steal second or cross home. 

So what is killing Cabrera’s ability to hit for average and get on base? He was supposed (in my head, at least) to be a better-hitting Elvis Andrus, but he’s looking more like Alcides Escobar. (Actually, Escobar has been kinda good this year. That’s nice for him, but I’ve still got a grudge from last year. 

Well, Cabrera’s BABIP is sitting at .301, giving him almost squarely neutral “luck.” A speedy guy like Cabrera should be able to squeeze a higher BABIP out of his plate appearances, seeing as he’s got the wheels to beat out infield hits; sure enough he BABIP’d (everything is a verb these days) over .330 in both of the two seasons. That’s actually a positive indicator: there’s a pretty decent chance that his BABIP regresses closer to his previously-established mean and drags his average and on-base up a little with it. An increased BABIP might be all it takes to put his average into the .260 territory, which isn’t exactly glowing praise, but it would lift him into the “doesn’t-hurt-you” level for the category. 

Unfortunately, we can’t blame everything on BABIP and hope that his numbers rise across the board if his luck turns. Hopefully you stayed with me this far, because I’ve saved the most troubling issue for last: walks and strikeouts. Cabrera’s walk rate has diminished by more than half since last year, dropping from 9.4% to just 4.2%. So, no wonder his OBP is so ugly—he just isn’t taking those free passes that were so important to his game in 2013 and 2012. Cabrera’s also given up most of the gains he made in his strikeout rate, which sits at 22%, after dropping from 24.5% in ’12 to 15.9% in ’13. 

So Cabrera’s walks are down by a lot and his strikeouts are up by a lot. That’s bad. But let’s remember that we’re still dealing with a pretty small sample of just under two months. His monthly splits are actually a little weird: he struck out more in March/April, but his batting average is about .100 points worse in May. He had eight doubles in March/April, but just one in May. He had only four steals (three caught) in March/April, but has six (one caught) in May. He only walked four times in 116 March/April at bats, but has five walks through 88 May at bats. What’s the purpose of going over his month-by-month stats? Mostly to show just how odd small-sample play can be. 

I’m not ready to give up on Cabrera. If he can get a little better luck to combine with recovering his batting eye, he still has a chance to return to something approaching his previous skill levels. One thing I’m not worried about is his skills dying without PED’s—unless he’s been injecting stuff into his eyeballs, I think it’s safe to say he didn’t get his batting eye from external sources.*

*But if you know of evidence to suggest that PED’s improve batting eye directly (as in, not by bulking up a hitter’s power and making pitchers afraid to throw anywhere near the strike zone) I’d be very interested to hear about it in the comments. And I'd be more worried about Cabrera.

Cabrera’s problems are deep enough that I wouldn’t advocate going out and trading for him the way I would if BABIP were the only real issue, but if he’s on your waiver wire, that level of risk is still a good investment. I definitely wouldn’t try trading low on him in most circumstances. I suspect that more than Cabrera’s season is at a crossroads—whether or not he’s able to get his walks and strikeouts under his control is likely to determine what kind of career he has and how long it is. 



RotoAuthority League Update: Trades Galore... Again

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.

Once again, the RotoAuthority League doesn't fail to disappoint. It was yet another incredibly active week on the trade front in this league. Let's take a look at all of the deals that went down this past week.

05/20 - A Century of Misery agrees to trade Zack Greinke to Pulling Brzenk for Victor Martinez

As you'll see, I made a concerted effort over the past week to trade a surplus of excellent starting pitchers for quality bats. My roster has been quite unbalanced so far this season with a lights-out staff and a miserable offense. Accordingly, I made up my mind to address my offensive needs sooner rather than later. In a vacuum, I certainly don't love this deal, as I'm actually quite bullish on Greinke in Dodger Stadium. Even so, few hitters outside of Troy Tulowitzki have displayed better skills than V-Mart so far this season. Entering this week the Tigers DH has 12 HR and 13 K; that's just plain silly in today's game. As long as he can stay healthy, V-Mart should be highly productive all season long. With the league's top offense, Pulling Brzenk had some impetus to deal for Greinke, as an improved staff in the second half could be precisely what this owner needs to repeat as champion.

05/22 - The Jewru agrees to trade Nelson Cruz to A Century of Misery for Madison Bumgarner

For all intents and purposes, this deal is a carbon copy of the previous one. Once again, I dealt a highly skilled arm for a veteran hitter off to a great start this season. Once more, I don't love this trade on paper. Mad Bum is a bona fide fantasy ace at this point, and I thought I could get more in return for him. As it turned out, however, few owners wanted to move power, and Cruz was the best bat I could acquire in exchange for Bumgarner. Similar to V-Mart, Cruz should be a Roto monster, barring injury.

05/23 - The Jewru agrees to trade Julio Teheran to Brewsterville Bruins for Matt Carpenter

Looking to acquire a quality arm, the Bruins moved one of last season's top breakout performers in Carpenter in exchange for the talented Teheran. It's tough to make sense of the young Braves right-handed at this point. His skills have been good but not spectacular, yet only Jeff Samardzija and Adam Wainwright had a better ERA entering play Monday. Meanwhile, Carpenter has been fine from a real baseball perspective but is off to a slow start in fantasy. Ultimately, though, each owner dealt a player that he had placed on the block and acquired another player that addressed a need. As such, this was a rare win-win for both parties involved.

05/23 - Men With Wood agrees to trade Giancarlo Stanton to A Century of Misery for Stephen Strasburg and Carl Crawford

My third and final pitching-for-power move of the week was arguably the most exciting of all. It's tough to part with Strasburg; his skills have been elite thus far. By including Crawford, I also probably overpaid a tad. Then again, trades aren't won or lost in a vacuum; they're won or lost in the standings. Stanton is precisely the type of hitter that my offense needed. Full disclosure: he's also kind of a Man Crush. Overall, I'm not sure I won this deal on paper, but I'm confident my team should gain points in the standings as a result of it. The same can also be said for Men With Wood, whose fate likely lies in the performance of his staff going forward.

05/23 - Men With Wood agrees to trade Sean Doolittle and Mark Melancon to Brewsterville Bruins for Homer Bailey and Lorenzo Cain

With Jason Grilli set to return from the DL, Men With Wood opted to move Melancon as well as a highly skilled arm who recently was named closer in Doolittle. For my money, Cain is somewhat of a throw-in. If we assume Melancon is simply a setup man going forward, this deal ultimately boils down to Doolittle for Bailey. Make no mistake: Doolittle is an elite closer if he has the job. The sabermetricians have been waiting for a good month now for Bailey's results to begin to catch up to his peripherals, but that hasn't happened yet. Unless the Red right-hander returns to last season's form, I think the Bruins did quite well here to grab Doolittle, especially given the premium placed on saves in this league. Then again, Men With Wood is first in the league in saves by a wide margin, so this owner really isn't losing anything.

05/23 - The Bombers agree to trade Adam Dunn to Men With Wood for Emilio Bonifacio

A clear categorical move, the Bombers sought to acquire some speed while Men With Wood boosted the power on its roster. If you were to make lists of players who can address specific categorical needs yet don't cost all that much, Dunn and Bonifacio would certainly be good targets for power and speed, respectively.

05/24 - The Jewru agrees to trade Matt Carpenter and Trevor Rosenthal to Spirit of St. Louis for Wil Myers, Ryan Howard, and John Axford

Just a day after acquiring Carpenter, the Jewru flipped him along with the third baseman's teammate in Rosenthal to add some pop to roster from Myers and Howard. I guess Axford has a chance to reclaim the closer role in Cleveland, but I don't really see that taking place. Accordingly, this is by and large a two-for-two deal. After a strong Rookie campaign, Myers is in the midst of a sophomore slump; still, he's just too talented to keep hitting as he has thus far. Howard, meanwhile, has established himself as a decent source of power at the expense of AVG at this stage of his career. To me, that doesn't seem like a sufficient haul for an elite closer in Rosenthal as well as a solid middle infield option in Carpenter. Then again, Myers could just as easily catch fire as he did last season and carry the Jewru  out of the bottom four.

05/25 - Brewsterville Bruins agree to trade Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon to E-Z Sliders for Alfonso Soriano and Wade Davis

Yet another deal with saves on the move, the Brewsterville Bruins shipped Melancon out of town a couple days after acquiring him as part of a deal that also included the man who usurped his closer role in Grilli. In essence, E-Z Sliders landed one closer, as it remains to be seen whether Grilli will be able to hold onto the job all year long. In return, the Bruins got a cheap power bat in Soriano as well as one of the game's top setup men in Davis. The return does seem a tad light, given how this league values saves. Ultimately, though, it's all about the standings. A long-time league member, the Bruins find themselves with their league mortality on the line, as the squad is in last place at the moment. Trading a closer is virtually always a good proposition if you're in that position.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 23-29

This week we're taking a slight break from the usual format here at TPIITP.  We're foregoing both the usual ramblings about obscure ex-Marlins pitchers and the usual highlighting of guys who are over- or under-performing according to their advanced statistics.  Instead, this time we're going to highlight some players who are on the wrong side of some key metrics and, rather than staying away from said players, I'm actually recommending you pick them up since these red flags aren't too dire in these specific cases.  So, I guess that makes them orange flags?  Who knows.

* No K's Is Okay.  Few things catch a fantasy manager's eye like strikeouts.  Managers will drop a good starter who doesn't record many K's yet hold onto a mediocre starter who does miss a lot of bats in the vain hope that said starter will eventually have the lightbulb click.  In fairness, this isn't a bad strategy -- most pitchers with low K-rates tend to fare poorly over the long run.  There are a lot of guys having outright bad seasons on the list of the 30 qualified starters with the lowest K/9 totals in baseball, and most of the low-strikeout guys having good seasons are being helped by great BABIP luck (hi Tim Hudson), a huge strand rate (I see you, Mark Buehrle) or both (hello, Alfredo Simon, Tom Koehler and Dillon Gee). 

I'd like to focus on one pitcher, however, who's having a very under-the-radar solid season despite not missing many bats.  That man is Pirates groundball specialist Charlie Morton, who carries a 3.45 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 4.10 xFIP and 4.03 SIERA into his start tonight against Washington.  Those numbers, combined with Morton's measly 5.81 K/.9, aren't much to write home about....yet surely Morton deserves to be owned in more than six percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues.

Without strikeouts, Morton gets by on a staggering amount of grounders.  The righty has a 60.2% grounder rate over the last two seasons, the highest of any pitcher in baseball with at least 100 innings pitched in that span.  Combine that with a modest 7.5% home run rate this season, very few walks and some decent batted-ball luck (.281 BABIP, though on the flip side, Morton only has a 64.6% strand rate), and you just might have a Buehrle or Hudson for this generation. 

The other stat that stands out for fantasy purposes is Morton's 0-6 record, which you can attribute to a) pitcher wins being meaningless and b) the Pirates only giving Morton 3.11 runs per game of support, lower than all but 17 other starters in the big leagues.  The question in having Morton on your fantasy team is this: are you willing to trade off strikeouts and possibly wins in order to help your ERA and WHIP?  If you're looking for a dirt-cheap option who is almost surely still available in your league, Morton is your guy, and he could be a valuable arm to hold onto if you're in a long-term keeper or legacy league.

* No-Home Homers.  It's tougher to put a good spin on a guy with an inflated home run rate, as by the stat's very nature, a pitcher is allowing more runs than expected.  In this column alone this season, I've written about how Homer Bailey and Tim Lincecum are having better seasons than their ERAs would suggest, except they've been harmed by too many long balls. 

One pitcher who's succeeding both in real-world ERA (2.64) and in peripherals (3.64 FIP/3.24 xFIP/3.37 SIERA) despite getting dinged for a lot of dingers is Tyson Ross.  The Padres right-hander is another grounder specialist (60.8% GBR) yet also has an 8.49 K/9 and is getting only modest help on the BABIP (.277) and strand rate (74.4%) fronts.  Ross has also been on a deja vu sort of hot streak, as he's posted a line of seven innings/one ER in each of his last four starts.  The only real blip on Ross' radar is that 15% homer rate. 

Now, at this point you might be wondering how a pitcher who spends half his time at the home run-swallowing chasm known as Petco Park could have the 13th-highest HR/FB rate in the majors.  If you guessed that Ross is a big-time beneficiary of the Petco Effect, congratulations, you win a signed photo of David Schwimmer!  In six home starts this year, Ross has a 1.54 ERA and batters have a measly .526 OPS against him; in four road starts, Ross has a 4.56 ERA and opponents are cranking him to the tune of an .858 OPS.

For fantasy purposes, however, this makes Ross a predictable asset.  If you have him in your rotation, simply always start him in San Diego and then keep him benched when he's on the road.  This tactic should work well in a normal rotisserie league, though in a head-to-head format, it's more problematic -- Ross essentially becomes useless to your weekly matchup whenever the Padres are on road trips.  And, while Ross' 2013 home/road splits were also pretty stark, I should note that his poor road numbers this year were inflated by two rough starts against Milwaukee and San Francisco, two of this season's biggest-hitting teams.  It's possible Ross has turned the corner altogether this season to become a reliable fantasy rotation stalwart, though for now, you should only require his services when he's in his own ballpark.

* No Power?  No Problem.  Twenty-eight teams have more home runs this season than the Cardinals (25 HR) and Royals (20 homers), so maybe there's just something wacky going on in Missouri.  "SHOW ME some power, Cards and Royals!" said Mark, submitting his bid for the Most Obvious Joke Of 2014.  Power obviously isn't a prerequisite to to be a very valuable fantasy player, yet when one of the game's most consistent producers over the last decade suddenly has his home run totals dry up, it's suddenly a concerning time to be a Matt Holliday fantasy owner.

The usually-reliable Holliday has dipped to a .267/.366/.369 slash line with 25 RBI, 24 runs and only two home runs this season.  The RBI and run totals are okay, the OBP is good and that average could be higher, but the real issue is the lack of pop off Holliday's bat.  This is a guy who has averaged a .531 SLG and 25 homers per year during his previous 10 seasons, yet now he's barely averaging one homer a month?  This is Holliday's age-34 season, so it wouldn't be the biggest shock in the world if 2014 marked the start of his decline phase.  He's on pace for a career-high 51% ground ball rate and on pace to tie his career-low 31.7% fly ball rate. 

Power shortage aside, however, this looks like a pretty normal Matt Holliday season in terms of contact, walk and strikeout rates.  Two weeks ago, Fangraphs' Mike Podhorzer cited Holliday as a candidate for a homer surge due to an unusual discrepency between Holliday's average batted ball distance and his HR/FB rate, so nobody should be surprised if Holliday suddenly racks up four homers in a week and gets his thunder numbers back to his usual standards.  (I really want to get 'thunder numbers' into the lexicon as an alternative to 'power numbers,' but I doubt it'll happen.)

If you're a nervous Holliday owner thinking about moving your man, I'm not sure I'd advise such a trade.  If you can find a trade partner who's going to give you something tremendous, go for it, but otherwise, it's likely your opposing managers will look at Holliday's two homers and try to lowball you.  Holliday's track record has earned him at least another month before we can really start to worry, so talk to me in July.  Personally, I just hope he inexplicably develops a ton of outfield range so I can start referring to him as "Roamin' Holliday."



Closer Updates: A Quick Look At Every Bullpen Thus Far (A’s to Yankees)

As we pass the season’s quarter-mark, it’s probably time to check in on each team’s closer situation. As always, this week’s edition will be jam-packed with speculation, injury updates, and advice on who to snag if you’re out their searching for saves.

Arizona Diamondbacks – After acquiring Addison Reed from the White Sox, the Dbacks hoped that he would be the answer to their bullpen inconsistencies. While Reed is firmly entrenched as the closer, something reiterated by manager Kirk Gibson, he has struggled (12 saves, 4.57 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 10.8 K/9) and his days might be short-lived considering the performance of Brad Ziegler this season (26 appearances, 2.28 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 7.6 K/9).

Atlanta BravesCraig Kimbrel has been posting another excellent season as the Bravos’ closer (11 saves, 2.20 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 16.5 K/9) and he reached an impressive milestone earlier in the week. Kimbrel’s save against the Cards on Sunday allowed him to become the youngest pitcher to earn 150 career saves at the tender age of 25 years and 355 days. What was the reaction of manager Fredi Gonzalez? “It’ll impress me when you save 150 more,” he joked.

Baltimore Orioles – Given the struggles of Tommy Hunter (11 saves, 6.06 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 8.3 K/9), the closer situation in Baltimore has become a hot topic. With Hunter on the bench, manager Buck Showalter’s decision comes down to Darren O’Day (18 appearances, 0.52 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 6.8 K/9) and Zach Britton (18 appearances, 0.76 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 5.7 K/9). While each are strong candidates, O’Day will probably take the job eventually given his higher career strikeout rate (8.0 versus 5.9).

Boston Red SoxKoji Uehara is comfortable as the closer in Beantown and he’s had a strong first quarter of the season (9 saves, 1.08 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 13.5 K/9). Many thought that he would come down to earth after last year’s dominant run, but the 39-year-old Uehara has proven so far that he’s no flash in the pan.

Chicago Cubs – Manager Rick Renteria recently named Hector Rondon the Cubs’ closer after his strong start to the season (5 saves, 1.31 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 10.5 K/9). Rondon has been perfect in save opportunities thus far and seems determined to keep Justin Grimm, Jose Veras, and Wesley Wright at bay. Although the Cubs may not give Rondon a plethora of save opportunities, his ability to shut the door will make him valuable and certainly roster-worthy.

Chicago White Sox – With Matt Lindstrom on the disabled list, the White Sox are also going with a closer-by-committee approach to the ninth inning. With Ronald Belisario (1 save, 4.15 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), Daniel Webb (17 appearances, 2.63 ERA, 1.50 WHIP), and Jake Petricka (1 save, 1.78 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) as contenders, the wait-and-see approach might be best for those searching for saves in South Side Chicago.

Cincinnati Reds – After a terrible spring training injury, Aroldis Chapman returned to the Major Leagues with a vengeance (2 saves, 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 16.2 K/9). Despite the fact that Chapman has only been back for a little while, he already leads the league in 99+ MPH pitches and is back to his old self. The biggest early season value for the Reds bullpen was Jonathan Broxton, who was dominant as Chapman’s replacement (5 saves, 0.82 ERA, 0.91 WHIP).

Cleveland Indians – After being removed from the closer role, John Axford will have to prove he can be consistent before regaining the ninth inning. Until that happens, Cody Allen (3.50 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 12.5 K/9), Marc Rzepczynski (2.35 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 9.4 K/9) and Bryan Shaw (1.57 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 7.4 K/9) will continue to battle for save opportunities. Each are effective relievers, but Shaw may have the slight edge given his strong performance in the past week.

Colorado Rockies – One big surprise of the season’s beginning was veteran closer LaTroy Hawkins. After he signed a deal with the Rockies, Hawkins came out of the gate strong after many thought that his days were numbered (considering the looming presence of Rex Brothers). That being said, Hawkins has certainly cooled off (10 saves, 4.41 ERA, 1.53 WHIP) and Brothers is starting to be as impressive as many had hoped (21 appearances, 2.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.7 K/9).

Detroit Tigers – Veteran closer Joe Nathan joined the Tigers bullpen after a two-year stint with the Rangers and he’s proved as consistent as ever. Although Nathan’s struggled on occasion, his performance thus far (11 saves, 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.1 K/9) has been a marked improvement over Detroit’s closer performances in previous (post)seasons.

Houston Astros – After a bunch of shuffling and injured relievers, Chad Qualls has climbed to the top of the pile in the Astros bullpen (3 saves, 3.29 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 10.5 K/9). Although recent acquisition Kyle Farnsworth should make a push for the ninth, Qualls will be the short-term favorite. As always, buyer beware when it comes to scavenging saves from this squad.

Kansas City Royals – As most expected, Greg Holland is having another dominant season closing for KC (12 saves, 2.16 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 13.5 K/9). In fact, he should return to the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season and this may even be the year that Holland finally cements himself in that top tier of elite closers.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – After Ernesto Frieri struggled mightily at different points in the season, manager Mike Scioscia decided to go with Frieri and Joe Smith in a closer-by-committee approach. Since that transition, the pair have both pitched well and should remain co-closers in the near future. Scioscia will likely continue to play the matchups until one eventually wrestles the job from the other.

Los Angeles Dodgers – This just in, Kenley Jansen is as good as advertised but he may not be among the best just yet. The 22-year-old has started 2014 with a bang, collecting 12 saves and posting a 15.1 K/9. However, his ERA (4.12) and WHIP (1.53) leave something to be desired. Jansen certainly has all the potential in the world, but he’ll need to improve his command before ranks above closers like Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman.

Miami MarlinsSteve Cishek just keeps getting it done in southern Florida (9 saves, 2.08 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 10.4 K/9). Although he may not have the biggest name in the closer business, Cishek has been consistent this season and is providing a wonderful return on investment for any owners that snagged him at the end of their draft’s closer run.

Milwaukee Brewers – Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season has been the dominance of Francisco Rodriguez (17 saves, 1.57 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 11.0 K/9). When manager Ron Roenicke made K-Rod his closer over Jim Henderson, the fantasy world was abuzz and many figured that Henderson would eventually work his way back into the role. However, Rodriguez has been dominant, to say the least, and may end up posting some career best numbers if he continues the pace.

Minnesota TwinsGlen Perkins is another closer who has pitched well so far (21 appearances, 3.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) and continues to prove that he’s quite reliable in the ninth inning. Not only does Perkins lead the American League with 13 saves, but he’s had tremendous command and posted an impressive 12.7 K/9 (versus his career average of 7.1).

New York Mets – After shorts stints with Bobby Parnell, Jose Valverde, and Kyle Farnsworth, the Metropolitans are currently settled on Jenrry Mejia as their closer. Although Jeurys Familia and Daisuke Matsuzaka could eventually knock him from that post, Mejia has serviceable numbers (1 save, 4.65 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 9.5 K/9) and a very loose grip on the number one spot.

New York Yankees – Despite a short stint on the disabled list, David Robertson has been tremendous in his first full year as the Yankees closer. With a stat line that almost resembles Mariano Rivera (8 saves, 1.54 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 11.6 K/9), manager Joe Girardi has to be pleased that the front office didn’t search the free agent market for a new closer this past offseason.

Oakland Athletics – After quite a bit of uncertainty (and a series of rough outings from Jim Johnson), Sean Doolittle has recently been named the A’s closer. With a strong stat line (3 saves, 3.27 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 12.3 K/9), Doolittle will have to prove that he can handle the pressure before earning any sort of job security. If he struggles, it’s tough to tell if they’ll go back to Johnson or Luke Gregerson first.

Philadelphia PhilliesJonathan Papelbon is well on his way to another strong season with 12 saves, 2.08 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 7.3 K/9. Although there were some concerns at the beginning of the season regarding his velocity, Papelbon has proven to be just as effective as ever. If he stays at this pace, he’ll certainly reward fantasy owners that showed some faith in the veteran reliever.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Pirates closer Jason Grilli has been on the disabled list for some time and many expect him to be activated this Saturday. Although it’s not certain he’ll return immediately to the ninth, he should have his old job back pretty darn quickly. Mark Melancon has been strong as his replacement and may still be a valuable setup guy given his numbers this season (21 appearances, 6 saves, 2.25 ERA, 0.95 WHIP) once Grilli returns.

St. Louis Cardinals – With the activation of Jason Motte from the DL, many will wonder whether he will return to the ninth in short order. Trevor Rosenthal, who currently sits atop the closer perch, has been underwhelming this season (13 saves, 4.98 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 11.2 K/9). When Motte last pitched in 2012, he was the saves co-leader (42) and the Cards are still paying him $7 million this season. If Rosenthal doesn’t start improving quickly, there will be some writing on the wall.

San Diego PadresHuston Street is turning in another great closer performance (15 saves, 0.50 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 10.5 K/9) and seems to be on pace for his eighth 20+ save season. One of the best relievers so far this season, Street is taking full advantage of both PetCo Park’s dimensions and the Padres’ improved rotation.

San Francisco GiantsSergio Romo has been tallying up with saves so far with 15 and he’s provided a solid return for whomever drafted him before the season started (22 appearances, 3.00 ERA, 0.76 WHIP). If Romo keeps up this pace, he could make a push to be an All-Star for the second time in as many seasons.

Seattle Mariners – One surprise of the young season has been the performance of Fernando Rodney (11 saves, 3.12 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 11.9 K/9). Although his numbers have not been dominant, they’ve brought consistency to a Seattle bullpen that struggled last season. There were those that thought Danny Farquhar would take the job in due time (myself included), but Rodney has proved those naysayers wrong.

Tampa Bay Rays – Closer Grant Balfour has struggled as a Ray this season (8 saves, 6.06 ERA, 1.53 WHIP) and there would be rumbling of a coup de Joel Peralta if he weren’t struggling as well (5.40 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 8.3 K/9). Although each of these relievers can bounce back, it may be a situation to keep tabs on if they struggle because Jake McGee is having a strong season to date (20 appearances, 1.42 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 9.0 K/9).

Texas Rangers – After manager Ron Washington surprised the fantasy world by giving Joakim Soria the closer gig over Neftali Feliz, Soria went on to prove his skipper was right. With a strong start to 2014 (7 saves, 2.40 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 12.0 K/9), Soria’s performance seems reminiscent of his time in Kansas City and he should be a reliable closer for the rest of the season.

Toronto Blue JaysCasey Janssen recently returned to the ninth after starting the season on the disabled list (back) and Jays’ fans could not be happier. After a disastrous run by Sergio Santos (5 saves, 9.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP), Janssen has brought stability back to a struggling bullpen with a strong start (4 saves, 0.00 ERA, 0.80 WHIP). 

Washington Nationals – Veteran closer Rafael Soriano has been another pleasant surprise this season, which a dominant 10 saves, 0.95 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 8.1 K/9. With strong seasons from Tyler Clippard (23 appearances, 1.77 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 12.4 K/9), Drew Storen (18 appearances, 1.17 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 10.0 K/9), and Craig Stammen (13 appearances, 2.52 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 7.2 K/9), the Nats have one strong bullpen thus far.

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.



Stock Watch: New Stats and Other Shiny Objects

It's always nice to get new things, so I was pretty excited to see that Fangraphs.com added a new stat yesterday: K-BB%. Who would I be not to take a look and see who looks like they need to be targeted in trade—or be sent packing—based on a stat? Okay, so it's not like it's new knowledge--it's just more convenient, but that's plenty for me. 

We’ll have to cover hitters next week, because overcoming my biases of interest in favor of new stuff and pitching at the same time is impossible. Impossible.

Trade For 

Who looks good based on K-BB%? Well, you probably aren’t going to pry Masahiro Tanaka (26.3%) or David Price (24.6%) from their owners without paying a fortune, and you definitely don’t want to trade for the stat’s leader, Jose Fernandez (27.8%) in a redraft league, but that doesn’t mean you can’t like the selection of pitchers below: 

Ian Kennedy (21.2%) is looking like his old, healthy, awesome self. No, I still wouldn’t give up Cole Hamels for him, as has been asked in the comments, but I’d definitely target Kennedy in a trade. 

Corey Kluber (21.1%) will be pitching himself out of the bargain space soon, but it wasn’t too late for me to encourage my wife to target him in trade a couple days ago. I’ll encourage you to do the same, probably for the last time. Hopefully I’ll be able to hype him up enough that he makes it into the “Trade Away” section below….

Alex Wood (19.9%) is pitching well enough that you should go after him if you can handle the wasted roster slot, especially in a keeper format. Him, I believe in…teammate Aaron Harang (18.9%), not so much. When Harang’s regression comes, Wood ought to be ready. And if Harang doesn’t regress…well, weird stuff is what makes baseball great, right?

Yordano Ventura (18.5%) isn’t getting as much hype as you’d expect, but he’s proving his supporters right with a strong K-BB%. 

“What’s he do?” candidate Jesse Chavez (18.2%) continues to be excellent and I’m starting to think he’s worth prying away from owners that are as surprised as everyone else at his performance.

Trade Away 

On the other side of the K-BB% things look a little less awesome. 

It’s time to deal Shelby Miller (5%), preferably to an owner that doesn’t understand that having a 5.34 FIP means your 2.79 ERA is probably going way, way up.

Jake Peavy (6.8%) may (or may not) have some trade value left from name recognition alone. Let him go and remember his Padre days fondly. 

R.A. Dickey (7.6%) probably isn’t giving anyone much hope, but this is more reason not to have it. 

A.J. Burnett (8.1%) was a big favorite of mine before the year began, but this number really spells trouble. Nothing like a new(ly sortable) stat to snap me out of denial. It’s backed up in the difference between his ERA (3.13) and his FIP (4.32). Keep in mind also, that Philadelphia (presumably, I haven’t been hanging out there recently) hasn’t heated up for the summer to turn the park into a homer-launching pad. 

Justin Verlander (9%) makes it onto this list thanks to a strikeout rate that has pretty much shriveled up and died. His ERA and FIP are almost perfectly matched (3.15 and 3.14), but his xFIP smells trouble (4.31)…but can advanced statistics really smell?

Pick Up

Shallow Leagues (30-50% Owned)

Adam LaRoche (49%) is about to come off the DL. He was raking before the injury, so he’s worth a chance even in those shallowest of leagues in which he’s available.

Dallas Keuchel (48%) had two articles written on him yesterday, on Yahoo! and on Fangraphs. When two great oracles agree, it’s time to quit hating on the Astros and take a chance on a guy. Of course, almost half of you already have….

Eric Young (38%) is an all-worlder in steals, and the Mets don’t seem to care much about his horrible average. He should be more widely owned, even if just as a bench piece to protect you from his average and still sneak in some steals.

Trevor Bauer (36%) is up in place of Danny Salazar. More upside than most with that ownership level, though his previous MLB experience reminds us of his downside.

Final warning for Jon Niese (34%): he’s awesome. But I talk about him too much, so now it’s up to you not to forget about him.

Adam Lind (31%) has more pop than most in this ownership level. I’m inclined to think he deserves rostering in about half of fantasy leagues. 

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

James Loney (27%) should be more owned: seriously, .300 averages don’t grow on trees, even without power.

I don’t normally talk about relievers here, but Joaquin Benoit (25%) is really awesome (2.18 ERA, 0.82 WHIP).

Bartolo Colon (23%) hasn’t been nearly as bad as his bloated ERA leads one to believe.

Gerardo Parra and Dayan Viciedo (both 22%) have been passable if you’re in need, but OF continues to be pretty tough on those in medium and deep leagues.

Who before the season would have expected that Tyler Skaggs (21%) would hurt you in strikeouts (just 33 in 51.2 IP) but help in WHIP (1.16)? No one. So go for it if you need the WHIP really bad.

Drew Hutchison (20%) has a nifty WHIP and is striking out a batter per inning.

Deep Leagues (Under 20% Owned)

Another reliever for you: Dellin Betances (16%) has 42 strikeouts in 24.1 IP, so that’s pretty awesome.

Daniel Murphy (14%) is offering steady production and playing often enough to be useful.

Matt Dominguez (12%) has a little power and an average that isn’t as bad as you’d expect. Considering how many third baseman have sustained injuries this year, he ought to be a bit more widely owend.

Rafael Montero (11%) wasn’t bad in his first start, and his prospect-ness means that he’s got more upside than most. And at this depth “wasn’t bad” is pretty much the same as great.

Jake Odorizzi (9%) has control issues and his rate stats warn against trusting him…but he’s whiffing more than a batter per inning, so those searching desperately for K’s may have a use for him as long as the Rays do.

Corey Dickerson (8%) is raking. Anyone hitting that good should be on more teams, even if it’s destined not to last. You don't have to believe in him to ride a hot streak.

Brandon McCarthy (7%) showed up pretty high on the K-BB% list and is pitching better than his ERA would indicate. Of course, it would be helpful if Arizona would win some ballgames….

Lorenzo Cain (5%) is batting .295 in the last month and might be heating up a little. Hey, an empty batting average is better than nothing, right? 

Edwin Jackson (4%) has been pretty hot lately, and has more track record of relative success than most players on the waiver wires of deep leagues.

Barely on the Radar

These aren’t guys to pick up yet…just to keep in mind. Dylan Bundy is rehabbing and could be pitching (in the minors) soon. Stephen Drew is back with the Sox and should be with the team on Wednesday. Unless you’re desperate for help at short, I’d wait to see what his playing time shakes out to be before dropping someone useful to get him. Jason Motte has been activated, so pencil him in as once-and-future-closer-in-waiting, though Trevor Rosenthal will have to stumble big time for Motte to get his old job back..



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Time for a Kershaw Trade

I got a trade offer in the RotoAuthority Silver League and it got me thinking. Hopefully, writing here about said thinking won't ruin my chances of making a trade, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. The analysis must come first!

See, I was offered Clayton Kershaw, and whenever you're offered Clayton Kershaw you have to think about it.

My first thought was to be disappointed that this wasn't in the MLBTR staff league, 'cause I'm sitting in dead last in most of the pitching categories in that one. My second through however many thoughts were about how cool it would be to have Kershaw on my team.

Then I started to feel sad about the guys I'd give away: Giancarlo Stanton--I believed in you and you've returned 43 RBI for me, almost twice what the next best player on my team has. Scott Kazmir--I believed in you too and you've given me five delightful wins, a truly beautiful 2.39 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. And Greg Holland--I...okay, we all thought Holland would be good, and sure enough he's the only non-terrible reliever on my team.

The initial offer also included a couple guys that I'm probably supposed to be hoping will bounce back or regress to their peripheral stats in Allen Craig and Zach McAllister. (This article isn't about them, though, so I won't tell you I'm not optimistic about Craig and more or less apathetic about McAllister.) Okay, so I'm not clicking "Accept" on the initial offer, but overall, yeah, I'm intrigued with the thought of dealing my best hitter for baseball's best pitcher.

But should I be?

When was the last time you saw Clayton Kershaw sporting a 4.43 ERA? I'm not a Dodger fan, so I don't mind...but it's pretty weird to see, I'll tell you that.

Now, most of that comes from his most recent start, an epic tagging for over 100 runs (actually seven) in less than two innings. Or something bad like that. Manager Don Mattingly reassures us that there's nothing physically wrong with the Dodger ace, and he's probably in a position to know that and tell the truth about it. Right?

When you see any pitcher give up a disaster start like that come so quickly after escaping the DL, you can think one of two things about it:

a) He's fine. Just had to shake off the rust and it didn't happen to go well this time. He'll be okay.

b) Ouch. He's gonna be right back on the DL soon; either that or he'll be pitching bad and through pain for a few weeks.

The manager's taking choice a), and since I sent back a trade offer of Stanton for Kershaw straight-up, I guess I'll give away the ending by admitting that I am too.

But only kind of, obviously. If I were 100% sure that Kershaw was perfectly healthy, I'd have sent back the offer with a somewhat useful throw-in, because Kershaw is definitely a first-round, better-than-everybody-else-in-the-world pitcher, while Stanton's teammates will surely help him regress to the realm of the mortally awesome in terms of Runs and RBI. (Yeah, I don't think he's going to end the year with double David Ortiz's RBI, I just don't.)

So is now the time to trade Clayton Kershaw, or the time to trade for him? (Feel free to expand the thought to a more generally helpful analogy about all such elite pitchers who perform horrifically right after returning from the DL.)

Obviously, it has to be something of a case-by-case situation, but we can look at this case and see if anything applies generally.

One thing it's always good to do is check on a pitcher's velocity, as Fangraphs has done here, in which Kershaw is noted to have lost about two miles per hour on his fastball (in his few starts before the May 2 article), and examined to see what kind of decline might be expected if that reduced velocity is more or less permanent. Good news: that analysis suggests that Kershaw has been equally great in games pitched at what looks like his current velocity as he has when throwing harder. Bad news: a similar velocity drop coincided with Ubaldo Jimenez's precipitous decline, so we can't just assume all pitchers will be fine if they lose a couple miles on their fastball.

It's also worth looking into how a disaster start happens: according to the LA Times, it looks like Kershaw didn't have any control over his curveball during the second inning, in which he served up three triples. So that's bad, but it doesn't send up so many red flags that I'm running scared to rescind my trade offer for Kershaw. Unfortunately, I'm not enough of a scout or a pitching coach to know what to do with such data. Any elucidating ideas are more than welcome in the comments....

Right now, I think it's a good time to target receiving Kershaw in a trade, and I'm inclined to think that's usually the case in a situation like this one. Let him get a really good game in, and his price will go very close to full market value in a hurry. There aren't many times when baseball's best pitcher is likely to come at a discount, and this is one of them.

That said, now is a good time to deal Kershaw away, too.

What?

Yeah. There is some real risk involved in having a pitcher who gets brutally tagged right after coming off the DL, and trading that risk away isn't a terrible idea. Especially when your opponent/trade partner thinks they're getting a good deal. See, the thing about making a trade at this time, is that everyone knows Kershaw has to come at a discount, but that also allows the human mind to persuade itself that it is getting a good deal. It's like going to a store and seeing that everything is on sale: before you even start trying to remember what that stuff cost yesterday, your brain is already processing the idea that you're getting a bargain.

Just because you (probably) can't sell Kershaw for his highest-possible free market value doesn't mean you can't get what you want for him. And getting what you want in a trade makes it a win. We've reached the point of the season where your team situation and your place in the standings of each category is nonrandom. If you're getting killed in the power categories but still doing well in pitching, why not trade Kershaw for Stanton? No, they didn't get drafted in the same round, but who cares about that now? If you've got needs to fill, have Kershaw on your roster, and somehow aren't depending on him to carry your pitching staff, his trade value is still plenty high enough to help your team out in multiple categories.

Right now, it will be easier to get a good deal done than at other times, just because Kershaw will already be on other owners' trade radar. They may be hoping to lowball you, but once they're as intrigued by the chance to get Kershaw as I am, they might just bite on a fair offer. Right after a start like this is a great time to trade for Kershaw, yes...but it's also the right time to trade him away.


Full Story |  Comments (0) | Categories: Injuries | Starters | Trading

RotoAuthority League Update: Quarter Pole Update

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 feels like Opening Day was just a week ago, but we've already reached the quarter pole of the season. Let's see what the standings currently look like in the RotoAuthority League.

E-Z Sliders 90

Men With Wood 82

Pulling Brzenk 77

Spirit of St. Louis 75

Guitar Masahiro 73

The Bombers 71.5

Smell the Glove 59

Cobra Kai 57.5

A Century of Misery 57

Gramma Nutt Crushers 51

The Jewru 48.5

Brewsterville Bruins 38.5

Led by several players who were undervalued this spring like Alexei Ramirez and Neil Walker, E-Z Sliders continue to lead the pack atop the RotoAuthority League. At this point the only glaring weakness on this roster is the bullpen. In fact, this squad ranks among the top half in every category except saves.

Right behind E-Z Sliders are the teams with the most offensive points in the league, Men With Wood and Pulling Brzenk. The offenses on both of these rosters are scary good, and I don't see either team falling much in the hitting categories. If either of these owners can turn around their pitching staffs, E-Z Sliders's lead will trim in short order.

Rounding out the top six we have a couple of new owners in Spirit of St. Louis and the Bombers. While it may be the first year in the league for each owner, there's no denying that each squad looks to have some staying power. Experience isn't everything in this game. Meanwhile, Guitar Masahiro is also right in the thick of things, seeking to cash for the first time.

After the top six there's a pretty clear schism between the haves and the have-nots at this stage in the season. While the top six have their eyes on prize, the rest of us in the bottom half simply don't want to get booted from the league.

After a strong start, Commissioner Tim Dierkes's Smell the Glove has struggled recently. Newbies Cobra Kai and the Jewru aren't enjoying the same early success as Spirit of St. Louis and the Bombers. Meanwhile, veterans like the Gramma Nutt Crushers, the Brewsterville Bruins, and my own squad may have our work cut out if we wish to receive an invitation back next year.

Upon closer examination of the standings, one interesting revelation sticks out to me. The three teams atop the power categories of HR and RBI are the very same three teams atop the standings as a whole. It seems that in today's depressed run environment, the ability to find power just might be the secret to success in fantasy baseball.

As home run rate continues to decline in this post-steroids era, it's become more and more challenging to find consistent producers in the power categories. Oddly enough, I actually had this in mind as I planned for my drafts this spring. I even thought I had begun to execute my plan when I drafted Chris Davis and Edwin Encarnacion at the turn in this league.

So where do I currently lie in HR and RBI? Well... dead last in each. I guess it's only a good strategy if you pick the right players.




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