May 2014

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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 16-22

Bad news, your beloved author is the latest victim of the Tommy John surgery epidemic that is sweeping the baseball world.  I blew out my elbow while giving my space bar particularly firm taps for both of the spaces in Rick van den Hurk's last name.  If you write it as "Vandenhurk" or even "Vanden Hurk," Rick himself will drop whatever he's doing and berate you over the phone.  (How does he even know?!)  You can read all about it in the ghostwritten autobiography Hurk!: One Right-Hander's Journey From The Netherlands To The Major Leagues To The KBO And Everywhere In Between Including Some Minor League Stops Like Jupiter, Florida.  Yeah, I know, don't get me started on the title, Rick insisted.  He just really dug his time in Jupiter.  Anyway, since the Tommy John surgery will put me on the shelf, Rick hired J.K. Rowling to finish ghostwriting his book.  Expect a new chapter where one of Rick's starts for the Marlins is interrupted by a giant spider.

...and, SCENE.  Let's turn from that frivolous nonsense to some cold hard baseball data as we examine the advanced metrics to see whose performances are for real.

* Sonny Gray Real Estate.  The young A's righty isn't just a boon to writers (like me) who love punny headers, but also he's been a big get for fantasy owners.  Gray has more or less picked up right where he left off following his heroics for Oakland late in 2013 and in the playoffs, carrying a 2.17 ERA over eight starts into Friday night's outing against the Rangers. 

This is a classic sell-high scenario for Gray owners, in my opinion.  If you're counting on him to be an ace on your staff, you have to be hoping for an uptick in strikeouts (from his current 7.17 K/9), his good batted-ball luck (.271 BABIP) to continue and for Gray to keep leaving 82.2% of his baserunners stranded.  Frankly, it could be a tall order.  In fairness, most fantasy owners likely drafted Gray with the intent of using him as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter rather than as an ace, so it's all been Grayvy...er, gravy thus far, but trading Gray for a more proven veteran arm could be a canny move.  Gray's trade value will likely never be higher than it is right now, so if you can package him as part of a deal for a starter from the Felix-or-Yu class, that's a deal I'd be inclined to make.

* Lince, U Been Gone.  It wasn't too long ago that Tim Lincecum, not Sonny Gray, was the Bay Area's hottest rotation star in the making, yet Lincecum's star has dimmed following a couple of rough seasons in 2012-13.  Lincecum signed a two-year extension with the Giants last fall and, since his 2012-13 advanced metrics indicated he pitched better than his 4.76 ERA suggested, there was some thought that Lincecum was indeed prime for a comeback year.

Instead, we've seen further evidence that the prime Lincecum may have Lincecame and went.  Lincecum's ERA is 4.78, his fastball velocity is continuing to drop (89.7 mph, a career low) and with that loss of speed comes a loss of effectiveness.  According to Fangraphs' Pitch Values metrics, Lincecum's fastball is averaging -6.9 runs below average (sixth-worst in baseball) while the standardized version of the metric (wFB/C) ranks Lincecum's heater fourth-worst among qualified starters.

Despite all of this grim evidence...man, he SHOULD be better according to his peripherals.  Lincecum has a 3.22 xFIP, 3.44 SIERA, he's averaging better than a strikeout per inning, his 3.12 BB/9 is his lowest since 2009 and he has a hideous .363 BABIP.  You'd think a guy who pitches at AT&T Park wouldn't have a 17.5% homer/fly ball rate, yet Linecum is a living affront to that belief.  This would be by far Lincecum's highest homer rate in a season, coming close to doubling his 9.2% career mark.

Surely you can't expect a column devoted to peripherals to ignore these advanced metrics, and so I'm still hanging onto hope that the Freak can regain something closer to his old form.  My case is helped by a gem Lincecum threw in his last start, when he held Pittsburgh to two hits over 7 2/3 IP while recording eleven K's and four walks.  Maybe it's a sign that Lincecum just had some early-season struggles and now his luck will start to turn around.  If you've got Lincecum at the back of your fantasy rotation, don't go looking to drop him just yet.

* Chris Mess.  Those who pegged Chris Johnson as a major regression candidate can take a bow.  Johnson owner of a career .361 BABIP,  rode extraordinary batted-ball luck to strong seasons in three of the last four years and looked like a half-decent source for batting average and double-digit homers at your third base spot if his good fortune continued. 

Well, the BABIP spotlight is again shining brightly on Johnson, yet it's not helping him whatsoever.  Despite a .362 BABIP, Johnson is only hitting .279/.306/.357 with one homer, nine RBI and eight runs scored through 147 PA.  Since Johnson rarely takes a free pass, makes a lot of unproductive outs (a career 4.8% walk rate and 23.7% strikeout rate) and doesn't have all that much power, you wonder if he'd even still be considered a Major League starter were it not for his being propped up by his BABIP over his career.  I'd look for other third base options unless Johnson turns things around soon, since when a BABIP that generous that can't give you an empty average, there's little fantasy value to be found.



Closer Updates: Astros, Athletics, Bucs, Cards, Halos, Jays, Mets, O’s, Tribe

Believe it or not, we’ve had another eventful week in the wonderful world of closers. As always, we’ve had a rash of injuries and poor performances, as well as some interesting demotions and depth chart changes. Without further ado, let’s take a closer look…

Baltimore Orioles – Given the recent struggles of Tommy Hunter, it may be a matter of days before Darren O’Day gets the call. After two consecutive blown saves earlier in the week, manager Buck Showalter wouldn’t commit to keeping Hunter in the role. While Brian Matusz is a strong candidate (3.75 ERA, 1.92 WHIP, 6.0 K/9), Darren O’Day (0.60 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 6.6 K/9) should get the first chance to close.

Cleveland Indians – After being removed from the closer role, John Axford has slowly been working his way back to the ninth and turned in a perfect inning of relief on Tuesday night. If he returns as closer, he’ll have to demonstrate that he can pitch consistently before skipper Terry Francona trusts him again. That being said, it seems that Bryan Shaw (1.45 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 8.2 K/9) has the slight edge over Cody Allen (1.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 13.5 K/9) when it comes to the Tribe’s save opportunities.

Houston Astros – Although the closer picture in Houston is still unclear, it seems that the closer-by-committee approach may be disappearing due to the injury bug. With Anthony Bass hitting the DL, the favorite is now Chad Qualls. Although Josh Fields has been recalled from Triple-A, Qualls should receive any save opportunities until everyone else becomes healthy (Jesse Crain and Matt Albers are also on the DL with Bass).

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – On Tuesday, it appeared that Ernesto Frieri had regained his role in the ninth inning. However, the Angels followed up on Wednesday night by giving Joe Smith the save opportunity (which he converted easily). Therefore, manager Mike Scioscia has stayed true to his word by using both relievers to close out ballgames. Although Frieri should take the job outright from Smith at some point, it may take a little while and both relievers will have value until this situation sorts itself out.

New York Mets – After Wednesday’s game, the Mets released former closer Kyle Farnsworth (3.18 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 5.3 K/9) and left their closer job up for grabs. With a number of contenders, including Jeurys Familia (3.44 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 7.4 K/9), moonwalking Jenrry Mejia (4.89 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 9.3 K/9), and Daisuke Matsuzaka (2.60 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 11.4 K/9), it’s not yet clear how they’ll proceed in Queens.

Oakland Athletics – After a brief attempt to return Jim Johnson to his closer role, the A’s have again decided to take a closer-by-committee approach in the ninth inning. Therefore, the normal candidates return to the fold, including Johnson, Sean Doolittle, and Luke Gregerson. Because Doolittle has struggled occasionally when closing in the past, Gregerson might have the slight edge in this race.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Although Mark Melancon has pitched well (only one run allowed since April 24, with five of six save opportunities converted) in the absence of Jason Grilli, it seems that Grilli may be ready to return to the majors (and the ninth inning) very soon. After a 24-pitch simulated game on Wednesday, Grilli declared that he’s ready to return. Melancon may still hold value even when he returns given Grilli’s proclivity for injury.

St. Louis CardinalsTrevor Rosenthal has had a strong season (10 saves, 5.19 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 10.9 K/9) and has only blown one save all season. That being said, former Cards closer Jason Motte has been rehabbing nicely and may return to the bullpen in short order after missing the entire 2013 season. Once Motte returns, the Cardinals will likely find a way to utilize the former closer extraordinaire and it should be a matter of time before he challenges Rosenthal for the job. With Rosenthal's knack for pitching himself in and out of trouble, Motte may perform well enough to take his old gig back.

Toronto Blue Jays – The Jays have to be excited that Casey Janssen has been activated from disabled list after a long first six weeks of the season. With the bullpen struggles in Toronto (their 4.77 ERA is good for the majors’ fourth-highest), Janssen should provide some much needed stability. If you’ve been waiting patiently for Janssen to return, you already know that he’s pitched well in his two appearances thus far (1 save, 2.0 IP, 33 pitches, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K).

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: ISOlate your BABIP?

In this week's Stock Watch, we'll examine some hitters with high isolated power numbers you should be interested in, as well as some hitters getting too much of their value from BABIP numbers they probably can't sustain. Also, check out some top-prospect pitchers coming up from the minors....

 Trade For

If you're in the market for an ace, target Stephen Strasburg and his 12.17 K/9. That 3.42 ERA might keep his price down a little in some leagues, but his 2.51 FIP should reassure you that he's awesome. Corey Kluber is an even better target, but you better get your offers in before his 3.48 ERA starts crawling down to match his 2.41 FIP.

Michael Morse (.256 ISO) is killing the ball like the old days...of not that long ago when he was also healthy. Get him before his owners realize they can trust him.

Todd Frazier (.242 ISO) wasn't expected to do too much before the season, and his numbers haven't been flashy...but they have been good, especially at an injury-depleted third base position.

Jonathan Villar (.218 ISO--hey, ISO is this week's theme stat) already has more homers (five) than I expected him to launch all season. Though he started slow and doesn't look like a batting average guy, I'm intrigued by the thought of a high-speed-plus-a-little-power shortstop. If he keeps up the pace and puts up a 15 HR/30 SB season, that would be a high-value player.

Kyle Seager (.214 ISO) started so slow I had to drop him from one team, but his power is climbing back up. His full-season numbers still don't look awesome, which is always a trading bonus.

Trade Away

Jeff Samardzija  is supposed to be a strikeout machine, but 7.23 K/9 looks more like...um...well, like not that. His 1.45 ERA sure is nice, but a 2.92 FIP and 3.51xFIP suggest regression is coming. The lack of strikeouts, the apparently impending regression and the fact that he's got a super-snazzy ERA all make him a good guy to peddle away.

Garrett Richards isn't much of a household name, but he's been pretty productive so far, with a 2.80 ERA and a 2.75 FIP. Why trade him away? Because a look at his 4.0 BB/9 and 0.2 HR/9 tells me that his peripheral numbers are the ones in line for a regression. Beware.

Marlon Byrd is rocking an obscene.424 BABIP. (Okay, I don't know how that's "obscene," except that that'll describe the words fantasy owners have for him when the BABIP comes down.)

Shin-Soo Choo has a .415 BABIP that's leading to a very nice average...but where will the average go when the BABIP does? I'm not saying he's a candidate to crater (like some of these other guys), but his trade value probably won't go much higher than it is now.

Emilio Bonifacio (.394 BABIP) Brett Gardner (.386 BABIP) should be dealt to anyone who needs steals, because it looks like a matter of time before they turn back into one-category players.

Matt Adams was interesting before the season for his power, but he's got only two homers and his . 375 BABIP is all that's sustaining him as a fantasy player right now.

Pick Up*

*Percentages are Yahoo! league ownership rates.

Shallow Leagues

Alcides Escobar (44%) has earned his forgiveness for 2013. Pick him up.

Derek Norris (34%) is a catcher and he's raking. In the revolving-door life of two-catcher leagues, that's all that matters.

Jon Niese (41%) was once good. Then he was bad because he was injured. Now he's pitching great. Hmm...

How many more times should I recommend picking up Josh Beckett (30%)? Good ERA, check. Good WHIP, check. Good chance for wins on a good team, check. Striking out a batter per inning, check.  

Medium Leagues

Adam Lind (29%) is back from injury and an above-average power source.

Gregory Polanco (28%) is killing the ball in the minors. Maybe only 28% of leagues have room to stash a minor leaguer that's probably coming up just after the super-two cutoff...but I think it's more than that.

James Loney (27%) is what he is: a safe batting average first baseman. Given the number of Mark Reynoldses in the world, a guy like Loney has more value than this just because he's different.

Dustin Ackley (21%) has been hitting pretty well for the last couple weeks. As a lifelong Mariners fan, no, I don't believe he'll keep it up. As a semi-objective observer, I'm willing to take a chance on a guy who's eligible in the infield and outfield and riding a hot streak.

Deep Leagues

I talked about Drew Pomeranz (18%) yesterday. Pick him up.

Mike Zunino (15%) is on a hot streak, catches, and was a pretty good prospect. Mariner or not, that's probably worth more than 15% ownership.

A.J. Pollock (15%) is someone I've been ignoring for a while, but he's hitting the ball and seems to do a little of everything.

Kevin Gausman (12%) is scheduled to come up for Baltimore, while Rafael Montero (12%) is joining the Mets' rotation. Both are worthy prospects and ought to be added in a lot of formats.

Carlos Quentin (7%) is coming off the DL. The reason one rarely drafts Quentin is because he's always hurt, not because he can't hit. I can't say how long The Big Q (okay, I made that nickname up) will be in the lineup, but he's worth adding while he's here. 



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Who or What is Drew Pomeranz?

If you didn't know much about Drew Pomeranz before yesterday (or whenever), when the A's declared that he'd be slotting permanently into their rotation in place of Dan Straily, I'll forgive you. In fact, you don't have any of the Pomeranz-related baggage that some of us do. I'll save you some trouble and tell you he's totally worth a flyer. Or is it flier? He's worth a waiver claim, that's what he is. Worth a waiver claim.

Don't worry about the history if you don't have to.

But those of us old enough to remember when Ubaldo Jimenez rocked in Colorado and then got traded to Cleveland remember that Pomeranz was what the Rockies got back for their ace. I'm pretty sure both teams felt cheated, with results like that, because here's what Drew Pomeranz was in four years in Colorado: wild, but not effectively. Not to mention homer-prone.

They only gave him one extended shot in the Majors, 96.2 IP in 2012, in which he walked 4.3 batters per nine innings, striking out 7.73. He got some grounders (43.9 GB%), but allowed too many homers (1.3 HR/9), and put up a 7.93/4.81/4.49 ERA/FIP/xFIP. The Rockies somehow got 1.0 WAR out of that, but his fantasy owners were still expecting a good prospect and...well, we didn't hang onto him long enough to enjoy the fruits of that walk rate on our WHIP's.

His shorter stint in 2013 was even worse: his posted 7.89 K/9...and a K/BB in 21.2 IP. The prospecty nametag probably meant that he was on quite a few rosters for his first start or two last year, but I'm pretty sure he didn't last much longer than that.

Traded to the A's for the amazingly fragile Brett Anderson (Fangraphs called him a "lottery ticket"), it didn't appear that he would have much chance to contribute in the rotation. Maybe he would make the Majors and pitch out of the pen, we supposed. And that was the end of the story of Drew Pomeranz and his association with fantasy baseball.

And now there is (cue the Star Wars theme song) a new hope...

The Athletics are, perhaps, more clever than given credit for: they've not only saved money, but they've now inserted the much-maligned Pomeranz into their rotation after a modestly-impressive 18.2 innings to start the season. I say modestly-impressive because, while Pomeranz bears a shiny 1.45 ERA, he also carries a less lustrous 3.73 FIP and a 3.93 xFIP. It should thus be admitted that Pomeranz has not shown himself to be a True Ace hiding out in the Athletics' bullpen and revealing himself only to the unsuspecting Mariners' lineup once during a doubleheader. Or, in terms that actually make some sense: he's been good, but maybe not quite as good as it looks.

But let's not focus on the negative: this year's Pomeranz has looked pretty seriously good. His 7.71 K/9 isn't great (especially for a reliever), but his 2.89 BB/9 is a huge improvement from anything that he's given since 18.1 innings back in 2011. The 0.96 HR/9 is also a pleasant improvement on his work in Colorado, though that was certainly expected.

Digging into his game log, that start against Seattle really was excellent: five innings, five whiffs, no walks or runs, though, to be fair, it's not like the Mariners are hitting the ball against anyone (.293 wOBA--worst in the AL). He's allowed only three runs on the year, all on separate occasions, and hasn't walked two batters in an inning since his first appearance of the season.

I'm not a scout (obviously), but we can still look into his pitch mix and velocity to see if anything has changed since his Colorado ineffectiveness. His pitch mix doesn't really worry me. Though he's been, so far, a significantly different pitcher than he was in 2013, that's got to be a good thing, as he was pretty horrible then. It's probably good news that his pitch mix resembles his longer rotation stint in 2012, with the exception that he isn't throwing his changeup nearly so much. That's encouraging, not because his results were good that season, but because his success isn't necessarily due to the fact that he's been in the bullpen and can throw more fastballs. He will likely be forced to use his changeup more now that he's in the rotation, but it looks like those pitches will mostly be at the expense of curveballs. But I guess we'll have to see.

His fastball velocity is up by about a mile per hour, which isn't any shock at all since he's been pitching out of the pen. So, no news there.

Basically, looking under the hood doesn't yet tell us that Pomeranz is a different pitcher than he's previously been. But that isn't a disaster just because his previous results were. The simple environment change from Colorado to Oakland is enough to make someone fantasy relevant. Presumably, he was once a prospect for some reason. As we see more results come in, we ought to learn more about what has and hasn't changed about Pomeranz as a pitcher.

Unfortunately for our exuberance, much of the reason Pomeranz is in the rotation is because Dan Straily couldn't cut it: getting lit up for a 2.11 HR/9 and a 5.62 FIP won't keep you in many rotations, but it certainly won't keep you in the Oakland's second-only-to-the-Tigers-in-the-AL rotation. I mean, their rotation has a 0.85 HR/9 rate, including Straily's mark. So it's no wonder he's out. This despite the fact that I recently predicted (link not provided to save the author's shame) that Straily's strikeout and walk numbers suggested that he would get the chance to straighten things out, and actually do so.

So Oakland is too good for Straily, and too good for bad homer rates. This is (obviously) great news for Pomeranz, because it means he's going into the rotation. It is (somewhat less obviously, but perhaps not too much) also bad news for Pomeranz, because it means the bar for success is set extremely high, and the A's have shown that they aren't willing to put up with mediocre results, even from talented young pitchers. Like the man he's replacing, Pomeranz himself is replaceable.

Pomeranz is well worth a pickup. He should generate a few strikeouts and win some ballgames for the first-place A's, assuming he's good enough to stick in the rotation. The park ought to help keep his ERA and WHIP better than what his peripherals would suggest--and right now even the peripherals aren't bad. The upside here is pretty serious, because he'll have to be a useful pitcher just to keep starting every fifth day. Let's face it: the A's rotation is probably better than your fantasy rotation. It's sure better than mine are....

The downside is the possiblity that he'll be right back where he was a couple days ago: in the bullpen or the minors as the sixth or seventh best starter in a great rotation. If Straily is great in AAA, I wouldn't be shocked if he came back up. But hey, that's the downside that every waiver wire pitcher has. 



RotoAuthority League Update: Blockbuster Week

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.

Just about all of the trades covered last week were one-for-one deals. This past week, however, we witnessed several trades featuring multiple players on each side of the transaction. In general, I prefer to make moves that are smaller in size, as it's simply easier to analyze the categorical effects on my roster. Moreover, the greater the scope of a deal, the increased chance of highway robbery. Then again, I guess that's not a bad thing, assuming you're the one committing grand larceny. Let's take a look at the big deals from this past week.

05/05 - Men With Wood agrees to trade Ryan Zimmerman and Corey Dickerson to the Bombers for Everth Cabrera and Eric Young

The Bombers currently lead the league in the SB category, so they could afford to ship Cabrera and Young out of town. Before checking the full standings, I assumed Men With Wood must have had a need for speed; however, the former champion actually lies in third place in that category right now. Accordingly, this may have been a value-based move for Men With Wood, at least to a certain extent. Although Dickerson had a big day at the plate on Saturday, he still doesn't crack the lineup everyday. In effect, this trade will ultimately come down to the return date for Zimmerman. Overall then, the Bombers are gambling on Zimmerman's health while dealing from a surplus of speed.

05/07 - Pulling Brzenk agrees to trade Justin Verlander, Ervin Santana, and Joe Smith to Brewsterville Bruins for Alex Cobb and LaTroy Hawkins

As I mentioned, the more players included in a deal, the greater the possibility that the trade swings more and more in one direction. Well, for my money this was a great move by the Brewsterville Bruins. I have a ton of respect for Pulling Brzenk; after all, he won the league last year and is currently in second place. Clearly this owner is doing something right. Moreover, I'm very bullish on Cobb; in fact, I've made an effort to acquire him in all my leagues while he's on the DL. I also understand that you have to overpay to acquire a closer via trade in the RotoAuthority League; that's just how the market has been set.

Concessions aside, however, I still think the Bruins did very well here. I know Verlander's early skills are worrisome, but he's still viewed as a no-doubt ace on the fantasy marketplace. Santana, though, may be the true prize of this haul. The move to the NL has done wonders for the verteran right-hander, as his skills thus far have been electric. If we break this deal down, I think it's safe to say that Santana is at worst equivalent in value to Cobb, especially given that the Rays right-hander will still be out a couple more weeks.

That leaves a swap of Hawkins for Verlander and Smith. I'm sorry, but that just doesn't pass the smell test to me. If Hawkins were an elite closer, I think you could justify the move for Pulling Brzenk; however, the Rockies closer is actually harmful in the strikeout category, as he's currently fanning just 10% of batters. Smith picked up a save on Saturday and still may be the closer for the Angels. Even if we assume Frieri usurps the role eventually, Smith still has to rank as one of the most valuable middle relievers going forward. After desconstructing this deal then, the Bruins practically acquired Verlander for free.

05/09 - Smell the Glove agree to trade Jonathan Lucroy and David Robertson to Pulling Brzenk for Matt Wieters, Daniel Murphy, and Nathan Eovaldi

Another trade, another closer acquisition for Pulling Brzenk. Given that Wieters was placed on the DL yesterday, you might have a slight preference for the Lucroy over the Orioles backstop. Overall, though, I think Lucroy and Wieters are virtually interchangeable commodities when healthy. As I mentioned last week, I'm a fan of Robertson and feel he has what it takes to be a borderline-elite closer. Still, I think Commissioner Dierkes did well here in acquiring Murphy and Eovaldi. At this point Murphy has established himself as a solid middle infield option who contributes a little bit across the board. Eovaldi, though, looks like the hidden gem here. He's always thrown hard, but now the results are catching up to the stuff. The early skills are truly elite: he currently ranks seventh in the game in SIERA. In a pitcher-friendly park, Eovaldi should be able to put together a solid season. Ultimately then, I prefer this deal in a vacuum for the Commish assuming Wieters isn't out too long, but Pulling Brzenk did well given league context.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 9-15

This week's trio of players includes one guy who is already good and could be even better, one guy who's due for some regression and one player who I'm a little unsure about.  Let's see what the peripherals have to say about our three selections...

* (Don't) Swing The Bat, Carlos.  Perhaps we were all just a little too ready to believe that Carlos Beltran would a) be a hitting machine forever, and b) he'd clean up hitting at Yankee Stadium.  Furthermore, Beltran's strong 2013 season included a troubling career-low 6.3% walk rate that was papered over by a .314 BABIP and a big spike in line drive rate.  This season, Beltran is matching that walk rate but the hits aren't getting through the cracks (.250 BABIP) and he has only managed a 14.4% line drive rate, leading to a .241/.291/.448 slash line and five homers in 127 PA.  Beltran's contact rates are, if anything, up from last season and over the years he's become more of a bad-ball hitter, as he's been both swinging at and hitting pitches outside the strike zone.  Still, a little more patience would be nice to see that OBP over .300, at the very least. 

I'm not capital-w Worried about Beltran quite yet because of that below-average BABIP, but if you can swing a nice trade for him right now, I wouldn't advise against it.  Beltran *did* just turn 37 a couple of weeks ago and since it's rare enough for players to be still be reliable bats at that age, you can't be too surprised by a sudden dropoff in production.  To set the peripherals aside and use an old-school argument, it could also be that Beltran is having a bit of an adjustment period in returning to AL pitchers after spending almost a decade in the National League.  Whatever the reason, keep an eye on Beltran over the next couple of weeks to see if he's just in a slump or if this could be cause to jettison him off your fantasy roster.

* Down The Pipes With Koehler.  There is a lot of upside to having a Marlins starting pitcher on your fantasy roster, especially if it's Jose Fernandez or Nathan Eovaldi.  Heck, even Henderson Alvarez has been a quiet gem despite the fact that he doesn't strike anyone out.  While Alvarez might be a K-rate anomaly, however, I feel safe in predicting that another low-strikeout Miami hurler is due for a regression quite soon.

Tom Koehler (who really should be nicknamed 'The Plumber') was a rather unheralded 18th-round draft pick in 2008 who has risen like a backed-up sink to become a (not a plumbing) fixture in Miami's rotation over the last two seasons.  He currently owns a stunning 1.99 ERA through seven starts and is currently riding a streak of 15 2/3 scoreless innings.

Unfortunately for Koehler, his 5.76% strikeout rate is lower than the water pressure in my old shower.  As you might expect for a guy with only 134 strikeouts through 201 1/3 career innings, Koehler is a groundball pitcher (50% grounder rate this season) but his bigger weapon in 2014 has been luck.  An 86.8% strand rate and .195 BABIP have kept his ERA lower than the water pres...oh, I've used that one?  Am I finally out of lame plumbing jokes?  Anyway, Koehler's unimpressive peripherals are the reason for his 4.01 FIP, 4.35 xFIP and 4.46 SIERA.

The right-hander's recent hot streak undoubtedly earned him a few adds to fantasy rotations, yet don't get carried by a couple of good starts.  If Koehler is hit hard by the Dodgers on Monday, that's probably the only sign you need that his luck has run out.  Even before Monday, if you find another good option on the waiver wire, you can go ahead and (okay, one more) flush Koehler from your rotation. 

* Run, Don't Walk(er).  Geez, I'm really laboring with the "don't" puns for this week's headers.  You know who isn't laboring?  Neil Walker owners, that's who!  (nailed THAT segue)  For four years now, Walker has been an under-the-radar kind of player who will still be around near the end of your draft (a 275.5 average draft position according to Mock Draft Central) yet will provide above-average production at the usually-thin 2B spot.  Walker gave the Pirates a .274/.340/.426 line from 2010-13 and this year it's basically been more of the same, as Walker has a  .254/.345/.431 with six homers, 18 RBI and 18 runs.  His 121 wRC+ ranks him sixth amongst Major League second basemen.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the 2014 Walker experience is that we might not have yet seen his best.  Walker has cut back on his strikeouts, with only a 10.7% K-rate as compared to the 17.4% mark he posted from 2010-13.  Furthermore, Walker only has a .250 BABIP --- this could be a bit of normalization after he'd posted a .313 BABIP over the previous four seasons, but then again, it's also possible that his batted-ball luck will get closer to his career norms.  The BABIP might be the only way in which the Pirates' overall offensive deep freeze has really gotten to Walker, but he's otherwise a thoroughly solid fantasy player.  He's the kind of underrated guy you can get from a less-enlightened rival manager who might be more attracted by a bigger name or a top prospect off to a hot start.



Closer Updates: A’s, Angels, Astros, Cubbies, Jays, Mets, Reds, Red Sox

With another busy week in the books, it's time to take one more quick trip around the big leagues and check on some closer developments. As usual, we've got a healthy dose of speculation, injury updates, and insight into job security.

Boston Red Sox – After returning from the DL, Koji Uehara has struggled to return to his dominant form. In fact, Uehara has allowed at least one (or more) baserunners in seven of his last nine outings. After an impressive 2013 (21 saves, 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 12.2 K/9), his numbers this season can seem underwhelming (7 saves, 1.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 12.5 K/9). However, Red Sox manager John Farrell is confident that he’ll return to his old performance level and his job is not in jeopardy at this moment.

Chicago CubsHector Rondon seems to have wrestled away the closer’s role from Pedro Strop. With two saves in the last week, Rondon is the reliever to own in Wrigleyville for now. Although he has not been “officially” named the closer, he should handle the ninth until his performance demands otherwise. With an impressive stat line this season (3 saves, 1.69 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 10.1 K/9), Rondon could provide great value for those searching the waiver wire for saves.

Cincinnati Reds – For those patiently waiting for their draft day investment in Aroldis Chapman to pay off, the wait might last a little while longer. After a strong start to his rehab assignments (including a 101 mph fastball in Dayton), Chapman has struggled in his past two appearances. On Tuesday, Chapman allowed five runs in only two-thirds of an inning and followed the next night by allowing another three runs in one-third of an inning. Given these recent showings, the Reds may wait a little while longer before activating him.

Houston Astros – As of this week, the leading candidates for saves in the Astros’ bullpen are Chad Qualls and Anthony Bass. Josh Fields, who has two saves on the season, was recently removed from “high-leverage” situations by manager Bo Porter and Matt Albers was put on the disabled list (shoulder). Despite the fact that save opportunities are scarce in Houston, those fantasy managers who are desperate for saves should look at Qualls (1 save, 5.00 ERA, 2.11 WHIP, 13.0 K/9) and Bass (2 saves, 4.32 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 2.2 K/9).

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Since being demoted from the closer role at the end of April, Ernesto Frieri has struggled to take back the ninth. Manager Mike Scioscia has given Frieri more than one vote of confidence, but he seems to believe Joe Smith is his guy in the short term. Frieri’s save on Monday night is further proof, as that save opportunity only fell to him because Smith fell ill while warming up. Although we don’t doubt that Frieri will get another shot at the ninth, Smith will be the Halos’ short-term solution.

New York MetsKyle Farnsworth (2 saves, 3.29 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 5.9 K/9) remains the closer in Queens after the Bobby Parnell and Jose Valverde experiments ended unfavorably. Although Farnsworth is not an elite closer or the Mets’ first choice, he does have manager Terry Collins’ support. Should he struggle, former starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka will be the next option.

Oakland AthleticsJim Johnson’s month-long nightmare might be coming to an end soon. After nailing down his second save of the season against the Mariners on Wednesday night, Johnson took a big step toward regaining the closer job. Although he’ll have to keep Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle at bay, Johnson is being paid too much to stay a setup man and should be manning the ninth for the Athletics shortly.

Toronto Blue JaysCasey Janssen has finally made some progress while recovering from injury. Although there is no clear cut time frame for his return, Janssen has begun his Double-A rehab assignment and will need a few more appearances before returning to the Blue Jays. Until then, the Jays are going with the closer-by-committee approach, with Steve Delabar (3.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 5.7 K/9), Brett Cecil (2 saves, 3.68 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 14.7 K/9), and Aaron Loup (2 saves, 4.50 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 7.3 K/9) leading the way.

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: April Fails

Last week we made some trade suggestions for some of April's best players, with the promise that we'd be back for suggestions about some of April's worst. Enjoy.* Also included free of charge are some waiver wire suggestions that the last article was so sadly missing.

*Please enjoy these suggestions responsibly. Just because Jedd Gyorko is a "Trade For" this week and Justin Upton was a "Trade Away" last week does not mean I recommend a straight-up swap....

Trade For

I'd offer a trade for Jedd Gyorko. Why? Because guys who play second and third and have a 20-homer season under their belt don't grow on trees. Also, because he's been so thoroughly awful that he can't possibly cost much. If he does, don't pull the trigger.

Prince Fielder hasn't shown any power at all, and that does worry me a little, but his history has earned him plenty of benefit of the doubt. What's more, he's also got a giant walk rate and a tiny BABIP, which tells me that he should turn things around in the contact and on-base departments. Could be a bargain if his owner is frustrated.

Billy Butler isn't returning to his 2012 power ways, but he's typically managed much better BABIP's than his current .282 mark, and I'd expect his average to climb eventually.

Mike Moustakas is on the rise, I tell you! Maybe not, but it does seem like the worst of the season might have ended with the first couple weeks.

Elvis Andrus has nine steals and a .250 BABIP. That average will come up and he'll be a speed-star again.

Brian McCann has a .225 BABIP dragging down his .229 average. You have to think both numbers will go up as the weather heats up and his sample size increases.

David Wright doesn't have any positive indicators at this point: a .330 BABIP and a 5.6% walk rate are very bad under-the-hood stats. But this is David Wright we're talking about, and players of his caliber shouldn't be tossed aside after a month of bad play--even if that month is backed up by the peripherals. Bet on him to go back to normal.

Adam Jones has actually been worse than Wright, but like him, has earned our trust with years of good play. If you can pry either from a frustrated owner, go for it.

Ian Desmond is a shortstop with power. The strikeouts are bad, the average is bad, I know. But seriously, he's a shortstop with power. How many of those are there?

Danny Salazar was one of the most-hyped players on draft day, and now where is he? Rocking a 5.93 ERA. So trade for him, because he's got a 10.98 K/9, a .395 BABIP, and a 3.55 xFIP. He ought to straighten things out.

Homer Bailey deserves a trade offer...unless you play in Mark's fantasy league. And check out his in-depth analysis if you didn't see it already.

Phil Hughes has a 1.93 BB/9 and an 8.36 K/9, to go with a .353 BABIP. No wonder his FIP of 3.41 and xFIP of 3.72 are beating his current ERA.

CC Sabathia has a 5.11 ERA...and a 2.79 xFIP. 2.79! With a strikeout rate over 9.00 and a walk rate under 2.00, no wonder. I suspect it won't be long before people are talking about CC's resurgence, so get some trade offers in while you still can.

David Price looked like a dangerous guy to own coming into the year, but his 10.17 K/9 and 0.92 BB/9 suggest that this should have been one of the best months of his career--and not one that ended with a 4.44 ERA. His FIP is 3.37 and xFIP is 2.58. A trade target for anyone who needs pitching.

John Lackey came back from the dead last year and, while his 3.83 ERA isn't horrible, his peripherals suggest he could be doing even better: 3.40 FIP and 3.19 xFIP. Feel safe making trade offers for him.

Sell Low If You Still Can

Brandon Phillips may not be sellable at this point, but it's worth a shot. Cincinnati was shopping him for a reason, and it wasn't just his personality.

Curtis Granderson really doesn't have much going for him at this point. Presumably, he'll improve on that .200 BABIP, but will it be enough? I doubt it.

Pablo Sandoval seems to think that his production is worth $100 million. Hopefully he's playing in your fantasy league, because I'd be willing to sell for somewhat less. Sandoval's really not getting much done.

Jean Segura has a walk rate of just 1.9%. You don't get to be a useful leadoff man with that kind of number. Deal him while his name still has value.

Domonic Brown wasn't someone it was easy feel sure about endorsing or writing off before the season, so most of us writers hedged our bets and took a middle position. He might well bounce back, but I wouldn't use a roster spot on waiting, because he might not.

B.J. Upton has stolen a few bases, which is cool, but hitting-wise, he looks done. It's not good when a .294 BABIP leads to just a .214 average.                                                                                

Nick Swisher has always been one of my guys: underrated and dependable, but it looks like our time together might be through. Like Upton, his .214 average isn't coming from a BABIP that smacks of terrible and soon-to-reverse luck--it's a pretty normal .278. Sorry Swish....

Ubaldo Jimenez is someone you probably already dropped, but if you haven't, I'd probably try squeezing him into a trade offer if the other owner needs strikeouts. It's been pretty ugly, and none of the signs point to a coming improvement.

R.A. Dickey seems like he's lost that knuckleball magic, which is really a shame, 'cause it was cool. I'd try passing him along to someone who needs to take a big risk.

Matt Cain was supposed to have remembered how to keep the ball in the park...but his HR/FB rate has only gotten worse this month. I was very bullish on him going into the season, and I'm not truly ready to give up--but I would deal him away for a decent offer, and each homer allowed makes me more pessimistic.

Hiroki Kuroda was once the model of consistent good-but-not-greatness, the guy you could always count on. His ERA will come down, but the lowered strikeout rates don't cut it anymore in most leagues.

Shallow Leagues

Dillon Gee (36%), Jose Quintana (34%), and Bartolo Colon (33%) haven't set the world on fire, but all ought to be useful going forward. Quintana offers more strikeouts, but the Mets on either side of him ought to benefit more in ERA from their home park.

Why not own Adam Dunn (41%)? We all owned Mark Trumbo when he was doing exactly the same thing before getting hurt. Except with a much worse average. Pick Dunn up and hang on to him until his average craters. If it doesn't, you'll get a ton of value. If it does, just enjoy the homers while you can.

Jonathan Villar (41%) has six steals and bad-but-not-vortex-of-suck batting average. That's all we were asking for before the season, and it ought to be valuable enough at short and MI.

Marcell Ozuna (35%) is hitting pretty well and ought to move up the ownership charts. He might be the most likely of this group to keep the production up all year.

Alcides Escobar (33%), like Villar, isn't hitting that bad, and has a respectable number of steals. There's no excuse not to pick one of them up if you need stolen bases.

Medium Leagues

Drew Smyly (29%) hasn't really gotten a chance to prove himself or fail in the starter experiment, but as we move into May, there should be fewer opportunities to skip his spot in the rotation. Let's see what he's got.

Tyler Skaggs (27%) may or may not keep this up all year, but there's no reason not to try enjoying it while you can.

Josh Beckett (25%) had another good start, from a K:BB perspective--8:1 last time out. It's time to let bygones be bygones and roster him.

Colby Rasmus (24%) has a bunch of homers to go with his sub-Mendoza average. I imagine some BABIP luck correction will push the average up into the almost-playable range--which will work well enough if he keeps hitting with this much power.

Deep Leagues

Drew Hutchison (18%) is off to a nifty start, despite being totally unheralded coming into the year.

Colby Lewis (3%) has nearly a strikeout per inning. He's got a lot more upside than a lot of pitchers more widely owned than him.

Mark Reynolds (12%) is a cheap power source, but you won't like what he does to your average. If I'm gonna recommend Dunn and Rasmus, though, I'd better do the same for Reynolds, especially in leagues that can play him at third.

Garrett Jones (11%) has been kind of an all-around producer so far. It probably won't last, but we take what we can get in deep leagues.

Welington Castillo (5%) is smacking the ball with some authority. And he's a catcher. Always a pleasant combination.


Full Story |  Comments (0) | Categories: Stock Watch | Trading

RotoAuthority Unscripted: Back in Black

Hisashi Iwakuma came back to the Mjors on Saturday, and Mike Minor on Friday, while Cole Hamels came back just last week, and Doug Fister is scheduled to make his return tomorrow. All four were supposed to be key cogs in fantasy rotations this year--but what should we do with them now that they're here?

After having his Sunday start scratched because of the flu, Hamels is scheduled to pitch today. Hopefully that happens, since I've got him on a couple teams. With a sample size of two, he's done the most of this quartet for us to analyze. The results have not been awesome: one pretty good start against the Dodgers, and a five-walk drubbing from the Mets. He's not exactly back to ace-level yet, it appears. Whether it's rust, luck, or the remnants of injury, time will tell. Or it might not. 

Iwakuma won his game, but it came against the Astros and involved giving up four runs--though he did pitch into the seventh inning and issued only one walk. So there were some promising signs and some less-than-perfect ones.

Minor took a loss, but allowed just two runs on seven hits. Even better, he didn't surrender a single walk while striking out four. Okay, four strikeouts in six innings isn't special, but no walks is always nice.

Fister, obviously, hasn't done anything, since he hasn't returned yet.

Honestly, it's hard to know what to expect going forward from all four of these guys. Injuries flare back up, it takes time to adjust to Major League hitters again, there are a few more off days, managers are more careful with innings...the list of potential problems with injury-return pitchers goes on.

That's why they're my favorite trade targets.

Now, before we go any farther, let me just say that there are only two types of owner when it comes to injury-stashed players, and any given owner may be both at the same time with regards to different players. The first type of owner will never deal you the injured player. This owner invested too much and has waited with too much anticipation for the player's return to make a deal now. Maybe they're a die-hard Hamels fan, or maybe you drafted early and they used a top draft pick. This owner is set on keeping their injured guy and playing him--chances are, a lot of their season is riding on it. This owner probably won't make a trade that would be fair-value if the player had never even been hurt. Just move on.

The other type of owner is a lot readier to deal, and this is the owner you need to concentrate on. This owner didn't really want to target Iwakuma...he was just such a good deal in the 20th round. They didn't expect to end up with Fister for a dollar at the end of the auction, but they did. This owner was probably a bit skeptical about the whole injury-stash situation and certainly remembers getting burned by injury-returners before. (I mean, who doesn't?) This owner may well jump at the chance to minimize risk by getting a decent return for the injured player before he can prove that he's still hurt, go on the DL again, and continue wasting roster space. This is the owner you want to trade with.

I hate stashing injured pitchers (or anyone else) in the draft, so I tend to end up more like the second type of owner when I've actually stashed somebody. You never know quite when to pull the trigger in a draft or how much to pay in an auction, because you just don't know what percentage of the season you'll be getting from the player, in terms of time or of play quality. Picking guys you know are hurt is a risk with a well-known downside and a difficult-to-calculate upside. But now that they're back, most of the downside is gone. Yes, those bad things I mentioned several paragraphs ago might happen, but they might not, and they should slow down significantly with each week that goes by.

You can try to sneak trade offers in early, before we can even see results (like for Fister--you've got one more day!), or you can try waiting until something bad (but not terrible) happens to make owners worry. Definitely don't pay full-health value before getting Major League results, though.

Hamels is a great trade target right now, in fact. He just got shelled and looked terrible (five walks in less than five innings...ugh!) doing it. He's got the flu or something and has had his most recent start postponed to tonight, so he's still got that little red cross next to his name. His owners might well be worried about the quality of the pitcher they stashed for a month. I am, and I'm writing this article. That's why this whole enterprise is predicated on paying less than fully-healthy value for the player in question. If you're giving away the same thing for Hamels as you would for, say, Cliff Lee or Madison Bumgarner, you're making a mistake.

Minor is definitely the wrong guy to target in a trade. He pitched really good, yes, but who was happier about that than his owner? No one. Who was paying more careful attention than his owner? Again, no one. His trade price probably just got a lot closer to full value, but, realistically, issues related to the injury could still crop up. Trading for Minor right now would be like trading for Hamels after his first very good start: you pay a premium for a good sign without being out of the woods as far as risk goes. So if you want Minor, wait a start or three. If things go wrong--great--maybe he just got a little easier to get. If they don't, his price might change incrementally, but you'll at least be more sure about his health going forward. And if he goes straight back on the DL or implodes...well, you won't have pulled the trigger too early.

Four quality pitchers will have returned to the big leagues (probably) by tomorrow, and any of the four may be available for a good price. If you're in need of pitching and can't afford to pay for an ace, check into one of these guys.



RotoAuthority League Update: Trades Galore

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.

We're only in the first week of May, and many fantasy pundits often warn against making any significant trades this early. Don't tell that to any owners in the RotoAuthority league, though. Trades seem to go down on a daily basis in this highly active league. Let's take a look at the deals over the past couple weeks.

04/22 Men With Wood agrees to trade Francisco Rodriguez to the Jewru for Sonny Gray

As part of a trade to acquire Buster Posey, the Jewru had dealt Gray just five days before flipping him to Men With Wood. In a vacuum, I like this deal for Men With Wood. It's important to keep in mind, however, that closers hold significant value in this league. K-Rod has been pretty much perfect, and it's all fully supported by the peripherals. If he can continue to pitch even close to how he has so far, this will prove to be an excellent move for the Jewru given the context of the league.

04/26 - The Bombers agree to trade David Robertson and Corey Kluber to Smell the Glove for Jason Heyward and Tanner Roark

Another trade, another closer dealt. Commissioner Dierkes shipped Homer Bailey for Jason Heyward a couple of weeks before moving him to the Bombers as part of this deal. The Commish capitalized on a gem by Roark to then land D-Rob and Kluber. D-Rob has the skills to join the second tier of closers this year, and Kluber is a sabermetric darling who should improve going forward. Overall then, while Heyward is probably the best player in this deal, I still think Smell the Glove improved his squad here.

04/26 - Men With Wood agrees to trade Doug Fister to A Century of Misery for Mark Melancon

Given that I'm punting saves, I knew I'd be dealing Melancon once Jason Grilli was placed on the DL. Doug Fister has long been undervalued in the fantasy community, and I certainly liked him going into this year. Whether I got sufficient value for Melancon will really come down to the return date for Grilli. If Men With Wood only gets a month of saves, I think I made out pretty well here. On the other hand, if Melancon holds the job all season, this may prove to be a regrettable decision on my part.

04/28 - Brewsterville Bruins agree to trade Yu Darvish to the Jewru for David Wright

The Jewru put Wright on the block with aspirations of acquiring an ace. While Darvish has been a tad less than what fantasy owners had in mind thus far, he should be ecellent going forward. Wright, meanwhile, may not have the power he once possessed. That being said, the third base position has been a trainwreck thus far this season. Wright offers rare reliability at a position where it seems like just about every regular is either hurt or struggling.

04/30 - A Century of Misery agrees to trade Nick Swisher to Pulling Brzenk for Michael Brantley

With sneaky value across the board, Brantley has emerged as one of the most undervalued players in fantasy baseball for my money. I'm normally a fan of Swisher, but I don't really like what I've seen thus far. Power has become even more scarce this season, so I'm typically reluctant to make a deal in which I'm downgrading in the HR category. As I mentioned, though, I'm relatively bullish on Brantley going forward. This looks like a top-30 outfielder to me with a market value far below that.

05/02 - The Bombers agree to trade Trevor Rosenthal to the Jewru for Cliff Lee

I think this trade is a testament to the value of closers in this league. In a typical league, you're not going to be able to acquire a bona fide ace like Lee for any closer, but that's not the case in the RotoAuthority League. To be fair, Rosenthal is a beast and has joined the elite ranks of closers. Of course, I'd still prefer 200-plus pristine innings from Lee.

05/02 - A Century of Misery agrees to trade Oscar Taveras to Spirit of St. Louis for Matt Lindstrom

Here's another deal that will ultimately be decided by playing time. Given that I'm hovering near the bottom of the standings, I don't feel like I can afford to wait around for Taveras. I already have Gregory Polanco stashed on my bench. Don't get me wrong; Lindstrom isn't good. Having said that, he's the guy on the South Side. Given the value of closers in this league, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to acquire one for a player who may not be up for months. Then again, if Taveras is up by June, this will prove to be grand larceny by Spirit of St. Louis.

05/02 - A Century of Misery agrees to trade Michael Bourn to E-Z Sliders for Nick Castellanos

Like Brantley, Castellanos has emerged as a personal favorite of my so far this season. I really like ths skills that he's displayed in spite of the mediocre results. I actually view Bourn as more valuable on the surface, but my current roster can no longer afford to carry a player who's a zero in the power categories.




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