June 2014

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RotoAuthority League Update: Strange (but True) Statements at the Halfway Point

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’s not one of them.

We haven't quite reached the All-Star break, but we've arrived at the halfway point based on the number of games played thus far. With that in mind, I'd like to have some fun with the ESPN Player Rater and present ten declarative statements that are indeed true at the moment.

1. Two of the top five catchers could have been yours for a buck in March.

Back in March, I opined that the elite catchers were staying on the board a tad too long for my taste. Well, that sure looks like a silly statement thus far. Quite the contrary, only Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy have really lived up to the billing to date. In fact, Devin Mesoraco and Derek Norris have each been more than twice as valuable as any of the following: Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, Wilin Rosario, and Carlos Santana. It's paid to wait on catcher this year.

2. Eric Hosmer and Joey Votto are outside the top 30 at 1B.

And that's really saying something! A quick scan of some of the names ahead of this duo is quite staggering. We're talking about waiver wire fodder like Casey McGehee, Garrett Jones, and Mark Reynolds. To be fair, Votto does have a trip to the DL to use as somewhat of an excuse. The same can't be said for Hosmer, though. If you invested in either one of these "big bats," you're surely kicking yourself with every home run hit by sluggers Jose Abreu and Brandon Moss, both of whom were far cheaper on Draft Day.

3. Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Jason Kipnis are all outside the top 5 at 2B.

Are we witnessing a changing of the guard at 2B? It's still too early to say for sure, but this trio was supposed to be clearly ahead of the pack in March. Now it looks like the new elite is composed of Dee Gordon, Jose Altuve, and Brian Dozier, as that trio has been far and away the best at the position. At this point, only Cano really stands a chance of catching the current top three.

4. Todd Frazier is giving Miguel Cabrera a run for his money as the top 3B.

No, I'm not pointing this out to say that Miggy has been a disappointment. I think he's safely held onto his title as the best hitter on the planet. Having said that, Frazier has been an absolute boon for fantasy owners thus far. I'm very curious to see how he performs in the second half. After all, with Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion set to lose their 3B eligibility, one can make the case that Josh Donaldson will enter next season as the top player at the position. If that's the case, then Frazier probably has to rank inside the top five.

5. Dee Gordon is neck and neck with Troy Tulowitzki as the top SS.

If you own Tulo, you know he's been so good this year that he's singlehandedly carried fantasy rosters. What you may not know, though, is Gordon has been virtually as valuable to date. Sure, that value has come in a far different way, but it's worth noting that no player has been more impactful in any category than Gordon has in his contribution to the SB column. Yes, power is down in today's game, but it's not like speed is all that plentiful either. If the Dodgers speedster can keep this up, he's a legitimate top 25 player entering next season, as crazy as that may sound.

6. Charlie Blackmon is (still) in the top 10 at OF while Corey Dickerson is in the top 25.

After his incredible April, I haven't heard Blackmon's name come up much lately. Sure, his production has dipped since that incredible first month, but it's not like he's hurt fantasy owners in May and June. The outfield is filled with some of the top fantasy players overall; the leaderboard reads as a "Who's Who" of fantasy baseball. And yet, there's Blackmon, still among the top ten at the position. Meanwhile, despite having to compete with Blackmon and others for playing time, Dickerson has been one of the top fantasy performers to date on a per-game basis. Sure, the average is going to dip eventually with more at-bats, but this is a highly productive player as long as he can crack the lineup. With both Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer on the DL, Dickerson looks like a sneaky player to look to acquire for the second half.

7. Justin Verlander has been worse than an any empty roster spot to date.

We all know Verlander has struggled this season. If you don't own him, though, you probably don't realize just how disastrous he's been to fantasy owners, especially in today's run environment. As pitching continues to dominate, the thresholds required to compete in the pitching categories have become more and more pristine. In effect, subpar results are even more damaging in today's game. As a result, it's rather astonishing, but Verlander has been worse than replacement-level thus far. Keep in mind I recently traded Doug Fister and Martin Prado for Verlander and Pedro Alvarez in the RotoAuthority League. Did I just make a big mistake?

8. Even without a save, Dellin Betances has been a top-10 reliever.

By any metric you wish to use, Betances has been the best reliever in baseball this season among pitchers who currently aren't closing for their clubs. Dominant setup men have long been undervalued in the Roto game; however, it's been awhile since we've witnessed a non-closer be this valuable to fantasy owners. Now it's worth pointing out that Yankees closer David Robertson has also quietly been lights-out thus far. In fact, this duo remarkably ranks ahead of all other relievers in strikeout percentage. While he may not usurp the closer role from Robertson this season then, this is still a highly valuable fantasy commodity. Heck, I'd take Betances over about a dozen closers going forward.

9. A hitter with a 0.260 AVG is helping a fantasy roster.

Maybe it's just me, but I still think of an AVG around .260 as poor. In today's game, however, that's simply not the case. In reality, this is actually above the new baseline in the category. If your league hasn't caught up on this trend, you might want to look to acquire so-called "AVG killers" who project to hit around .250. There's a lot to be said for de-emphasizing the AVG category as HR and SB have become so difficult to find in today's game.

10. A pitcher with a 3.80 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP is waiver wire fodder.

I love James Shields. The guy just doesn't ever seem to get the attention he deserves. With a 3.79 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, however, Shields is the very definition of replacement level in today's game. Once again, maybe this is just me failing to come to terms with just how different the run environment is in baseball today, but it's crazy that a 4.00 ERA is damaging to a fantasy roster. Five years ago, you could win the league with a 3.60 ERA, and now that may only get you a few points in the category. It's about time I accept this new reality.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 27-July 3

You know what industry subtly benefits the most from the fantasy baseball boom?  Restaurants.  I can't say the word "roto baseball" without suddenly desiring some delicious rotisserie chicken.  I'm eating a juicy leg as I write this column, in fact.  Some of the grease dripped into my keyboard and now some letters don't work, so I had to strike one planned section for this week's TPIITP.  It felt silly to keep referring to the player as "Joey _otto."

Onto our latest look inside the advanced metrics at some notable fantasy options...   

* The Duda Bides.  All Lucas Duda needed was a chance....well, okay, all he needed was a chance and a couple of months of adjustment time to that chance, but still, you know what I'm getting at.  With both Duda and Ike Davis on the roster, the Mets threw their lot in with somewhat less-established of the two left-handed hitting sluggers and made Duda their regular guy at first base, trading Davis to Pittsburgh in April.  It took a while for Duda to get going (a .664 OPS in his first 110 PA after April 18) but over the last month, this dude has been on fire.  Duda was hitting .280/.406/.598 with five homers and 18 RBI over a 101-PA stretch from May 27 to June 25, and he added another homer in the Mets' 5-3 loss to the Pirates last night.

With Duda's season total now standing at 12 homers, 39 RBI, 29 runs and a .252/.346/.482 slash line, the queston is if the USC product is worth serious consideration for your fantasy roster.  While Duda isn't the best option for leagues with weekly rosters andor no benches (he rarely faces left-handed pitching, as Josh Satin starts for the Mets against southpaws), his power and positional value make him a veritable must-add.  Duda qualifies as both a first baseman and an outfielder in most leagues, and he's proven himself worthy of a starting spot at either of those positions whenever the Mets face a righty starter.  Like Jeff Lebowski's rug, Duda could really tie your whole roster together, man.

Metrics-wise, there's nothing to suggest that Duda will fall off, since he's basically the same player he's always been, just now with more playing time to deliver those stronger counting stats.  He is improving on his career averages in terms of pure power (.221 ISO) and fewer strikeouts (21.5% K-rate) but otherwise, Duda's peripherals from this season are pretty much in line with his normal rates.  There's no BABIP luck to be found here either, as Duda is actually a bit below par with just a .287 BABIP.

Duda is owned in just 9% of Yahoo leagues, so you have loads of opportunity to add some nice underrated power to your lineup.  You'll also get the chance to crack some Big Lebowski jokes in your league forum, and frankly, I'm disappointed in myself for only working one reference into this section.  What, you're tired of hearing quotes from a 16-year-old cult classic?  That's just, like, your opinion, man.

* Rey Of Sunshine.  Admittedly, my "don't panic about Jose Reyes" tip doesn't quite seem as ground-breaking the day after Reyes' four-hit game against the White Sox, but still, I was right all along!  Since I obviously would've written this exact same section with or without that 4-for-5 day, even though it took that superb game to get Reyes' wRC+ (104) over the league average mark.

After missing the first few weeks of the season with a hamstring injury, Reyes is hitting .267/.326/.417 with six homers, 22 RBI, 44 runs scored and 16 stolen bases through 291 PA.  Between his runs, steals and double-digit power, Reyes still provides a lot of value for the shortstop position despite the slash line that projects his lowest batting average in a decade and the third-lowest full-season OBP of his career.

As you can tell from his steal totals, Reyes is still a canny baserunner and he's still almost as quick now (at 31 years old and coming off a bad hamstring) as he was in his prime.  Reyes' problem is that he isn't putting that speed to use in getting hits, as for the first time in his career, he's hitting more fly balls (41.2%) than grounders (38.1%).  Even worse, a major chunk of those balls in the air aren't going very far -- Reyes' 18.3% infield fly rate is well above his 12.1% career average.  These numbers are troubling halfway through the season, yet if we see a bit of course-correction the rest of the way, Reyes' .284 BABIP is sure to rise and his real-world average will get a boost as well.

As noted, there's no reason for Reyes owners to worry given that their man is still contributing quite a bit compared to most shortstops.  If you were spooked by the low batting average, there's reason to believe it'll turn around, so don't go making any hasty trades.  Reyes has three more games against the White Sox through the weekend, after all.

* Believe In The Weave?  Maybe when hitters face Jered Weaver, they suffer from overconfidence.  Only 53.5% of Weaver's first pitches have been strikes this season, so batters are firstly emboldened by the 1-0 count.  Secondly, obviously every Major League player reads Roto Authority on a daily basis, so every batter is well aware of how Weaver has been outperforming his peripherals for years now.  "That's it, this is the at-bat where it all falls apart for ol' Jered," the batter thinks.  "Just like Mark's advanced metrics column said.  Man, that guy is a great writer."  And then the batter swings too soon at Weaver's 85.7 mph fastball and meekly pops it up in the infield, and he walks back to the dugout cursing my name.

It's been just another year of outwitting the pundits for Weaver, as he took a 3.47 ERA (bolstered by a 77.7% strand rate and .245 BABIP) into Thursday night's start against the Twins and promptly shut Minnesota down to the tune of one ER over seven innings.  Weaver only has 86 strikeouts over his 110 2/3 IP this season (against 33 walks) so he's once again sticking to his formula of inducing a lot of fly balls that die in the thick Pacific Ocean marine layer over Angel Stadium and getting good results.  Weaver's 4.32 xFIP and 4.17 SIERA that he carried into Thursday's outing don't belong in a fantasy rotation, yet his actual ERA and eight wins in 17 starts aren't bad at all.

Aside from a 10% homer rate that's noticably above his 7.9% career average, Weaver is basically having his usual year, so there's no reason to jump off his bandwagon yet.  I stayed away from Weaver in all of my drafts last spring due to the fear that this would be the year his fortunes turned, yet the Angels righty is doing a heck of a lot better than some of the guys I picked ahead of him.  If you have Weaver in your rotation, you should probably think about benching him for starts outside of Anaheim (a 4.29 road ERA, as compared to a 2.75 home ERA) but you're not hurting yourself with Weaver on your staff.  It might be worth your while over the next few days to try and capitalize on Weaver's terrific outing against the Twins by shopping him around or packaging him in a deal for a starter with more strikeouts, because you never know, the next start might be the one where it all goes south...

/Weaver throws another quality outing

/Mark is flabbergasted again



Closer Updates: A’s, Angels, Cubs, Pirates, Rays, Tigers, White Sox

Unfortunately for saves chasers (and myself), it’s been another fairly quiet week on the closer front. However, we will not be deterred from keeping you in the loop and, as always, we’ve scoured the big leagues to bring you some valuable closer updates.

Chicago CubsHector Rondon was highly effective in the closer role earlier this season, but has struggled a bit over the last two weeks (1 save, 16.88 ERA, 2.63 WHIP). Even though many already believed that Neil Ramirez (3 saves, 1.35 ERA, 0.85 WHIP) was the firmly Cubbies’ closer, Rondon’s recent performance further cemented the pecking order.

Chicago White SoxRonald Belisario has excelled at inconsistency this season and it may soon cost him his job (in his last 13 appearances, Belisario has allowed 11 earned runs). With Matt Lindstrom and Nate Jones still out due to injury, the main candidates to replace him are Zach Putnam, Daniel Webb, and Javy Guerra. Putnam has been an effective setup man for Robin Ventura (2.22 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) and Webb has struggled a bit over the last two weeks (10.38 ERA, 2.31 WHIP). Guerra, on the other hand, has experience closing for the Dodgers (29 career saves) and should be considered a dark horse candidate.

Detroit Tigers – Anyone who has been hoping to scoop some saves off the waiver wire has kept their eye on the Detroit situation. Former six-time All Star Joe Nathan has been pedestrian this season (15 saves, 6.18 ERA, 1.59 WHIP). That being said, he has shown improvement over the past two weeks (2 saves, 1.93 ERA, 1.71 WHIP). Should he lose his job in the future, Joba Chamberlain (2 saves, 2.84 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) will be the next in line for save opportunities.

Los Angeles Angels of AnaheimKevin Jepsen (2.86 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) recently got the call to cover the ninth, but lost the save after giving up a home run. With Ernesto Frieri failing to regain his former consistency (5 saves, 9.00 ERA, 1.89 WHIP in the last month), manager Mike Scioscia will be giving the closer role to Joe Smith (6 saves, 3.06 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in 2014). Although Frieri will get some high-leverage innings moving forward, Smith is the guy to own right now.

Oakland Athletics – After all the trouble in the Bay Area earlier this season, Sean Doolittle has settled nicely into the closer job. In the past month, Doolittle’s numbers have been impressive (6 saves, 0.00 ERA, 0.15 WHIP). If he’s able to keep Jim Johnson (5.51 ERA, 1.93 WHIP) and Luke Gregerson (2.04 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) in his rearview mirror, Doolittle might be poised for a great second half of the season.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Last week, Jason Grilli was removed from the closer role (with a 7.71 ERA and 2.36 WHIP in the last two weeks) and Mark Melancon took his place. Melancon has been quite effective this year (13 saves, 2.48 ERA, 0.85 WHIP) and should flourish in the role. If he does struggle, look for Tony Watson (0.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) to get an opportunity.

Tampa Bay Rays – Manager Joe Maddon is still taking the closer-by-committee approach in Tampa. In the past week, Jake McGee earned the hold over 1.2 innings (0 H, 0 ER, 1 B, 2 K). Joel Peralta earned a save against the Astros (1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2K) and Juan Carlos Oviedo allowed a run over the same time frame (2.2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 B, 1 K). With Grant Balfour on the outside looking in, Peralta seems to be the favorite at this moment, followed closely be McGee and then Oviedo.

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: In Case You Forgot—Plus Very, Very Deep Leagues

Editor’s Note: This author is traveling this week and is making an effort to produce content that might still be relevant after several days have passed. Hopefully it’s working.

Welcome to a Very Special Episode of Stock Watch, in which we depart somewhat from our usual format. Insofar as we actually follow it anyway. We’re focusing on two kinds of players today: the first are hitters who slumped so badly early in the season that you might have forgotten they can still play. We could have included pitchers, but we didn’t. The second is an oft-neglected group of players, those already owned in only the deepest of leagues. Instead of our usual waiver wire splits, we’ll jump right to players owned in fewer than 10% of leagues. In fact, we’ll limit that section to hitters too. Don’t worry, you know I can’t keep myself from talking about pitchers for very long, so I’m sure we’ll get back to them next time around.

Lest you shallow-leaguers out there get bored, remember that guys from both of these categories may have already broken out by the time you read this….

You forgot about us, didn’t you? 

Or at least you tried to. 

Let’s face it, unless he plays on your fantasy team, you don’t pay much attention when a player slumps in July or August and hits .180 for the month without any homers or steals. You might pause when you see his recent production if offered a trade, but you’ll look at his season numbers and conclude (usually rightly) that it was nothing but the sort of slump everyone goes through.

But when that horrific slump happens in April, it’s a lot easier to write those guys completely off. Especially if you didn’t think they were going to be any good this year anyway. Even in June, a terrible April can eclipse the next two months of perfectly normal production. 

Take the case of Curtis Granderson. I didn’t believe in him going into the year, so when he had a very, very bad April, (the lowest qualifying batting average in MLB at .136, with just one homer) I felt like my position had been proved. That was sloppy thinking, though, because a) I certainly didn’t predict Grandy to suddenly become the worst player in baseball, and b) small sample!

Sure enough, Granderson is still only rocking a .226 average. But if he was dropped and you snagged him off the wire, you were able to live through his .253 average in May (with five homers), and now you’re enjoying his .340 mark in June (and the three homers, not to mention the three steals or the fact that he has more walks than strikeouts this month). So, Grandy’s given us two fantasy-productive months and one awful one. But that bad month is dominating his stat line. Makes him a pretty nice trade candidate, if you ask me. Actually, he’s the one that inspired this article, so let’s take a look at a few more April busts who might be turning things around—or who already have.

Did you know Carlos Santana grounded into seven double plays in March/April? Okay, that’s not very fantasy relevant, since those don’t count double against his average, but still, it kind of typifies the kind of April he had. He batted under the Mendoza line (way under) in both of the season’s first two months, but in twelve June games, he’s smacking the ball with some serious authority. Between his history of success and the fact that he’s still walking nearly as much as he’s striking out, I like Santana’s chances of returning to your fantasy good graces. 

I recently tried to swing a trade for Jason Heyward, but I guess his owner didn’t need this article to realize his value. (But, hey, Hyun-jin Ryu seems fair, right?) Heyward hit just .206 with two homers and 26 strikeouts in April, but he’s hit .284 since then, with six homers and 30 strikeouts. (In 76 more at bats, remember.) His season-long OBP is already up to .340, but offer your trades before his slugging catches up (it’s at just .388 for the season, but .478 so far in June).

Asdrubal Cabrera was, like Granderson, another victory for my preconceived notions of his lousy-ness. He batted just .220 in March/April, depressing his season total to .255. Since then, however, his average has been .275 in May, and .281 in June. His power has ticked up just a bit, too. If you’re looking for alternatives at short (like, say, to a certain other Cabrera), Asdrubal is probably better than he looks.

Allen Craig lives by his batting average, so when he buried himself with a .220 mark for April, I (yet again) felt vindicated. He’s raised his average up to .260 by now, with steady hitting since the first month. He still doesn’t do much else, but it’s not like you were asking him to anyway. Interestingly, though his March/April BABIP was just .239, and his May BABIP rocketed up to .360, he’s now evened almost exactly out, to a neutral .301. Not that he’s ever had a neutral BABIP over a full season…so there's a decent chance that average is moving on up.

Pablo Sandoval is actually having a pretty decent year. I wouldn’t have guessed it, since his April batting average of .177 is dragging his season number down to .265, but yeah. Since the end of April (still very cold in San Francisco, I note, suggesting a simplistic, yet tangible explanation without offering concrete evidence for its role as a cause), Sandoval has batted about .317. If you need a third baseman, I’d make an offer relatively soon.

Very Deep Waiver Wire Pickups

Conor Gillaspie (8% owned) still has no power. And he’s still hitting for average. If you’re hurting at 3B or CI, give him serious thought.

Tommy La Stella (8%) is off to a pretty good start as Dan Uggla’s replacement. He’s probably more of an emergency fill-in than anything else, but in leagues as deep as yours must be, any hot streak is worth checking into. 

Lucas Duda and Oswaldo Arcia (both 7%) are showing some modest power in the last month, with five and four homers respectively.

Rougned Odor (6%), aside from having an awesome name (I pronounce it “Roughened” in my head, but that probably isn’t right), is hitting the ball well for Texas. He could stick on a team decimated by injuries and ultimately help out fantasy squads.

J.D. Martinez (5%) who, I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know was on the Tigers now, is absolutely killing the ball (1.026 OPS, five homers) in 60 at bats in the last month. It’s a niche market, but if you have room for a part-timer and want to take advantage of a “streaky” player on a hot run, go for it. At the least, it could end up giving him more playing time.

Luis Valbuena (5%) kind of inspired this section of the article, when I read about him last week and gave him a quick mention. In Yahoo!, he’s eligible at second and third, and he’s been batting .330 in the last month. Yes, he’s BABIP-fueled, but he’s also changed his approach to generate more line drives. 

Jon Jay (4%), who I almost skipped by because he’s, well, Jon Jay, is hitting .360 on the month. If I’m gonna mention Martinez, I’d better mention Jay too. I guess.

Josh Rutledge (4%) has sweet 2B/SS dual eligibility and he’s smacking the ball hard (.925 OPS) since returning to the Majors in place of Nolan Arenado. (No, he isn’t playing third, the Rockies just shifted DJ LeMahieu.) It’s totally worth speculating on the chance that he capitalizes on his early-career promise, even though it’s not incredibly likely.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: More People Who Don’t Belong (Or Maybe Do)

And by people, you know I mean baseball players. Today, we’ll check out the hitting leaderboards in homers, steals, and batting average and look more closely at the names that follow my highly scientific test of causing me to feel mild surprise. You know the drill—we did it last week too. Maybe we’ll do it again for pitchers down the road, but I’m thinking we’ll return to our regularly unscheduled content next time around.

Editor's Note: This author is traveling and wrote this post last week. He acknowledges that the listed stats are out of date, but hopes nothing changes so drastically as to invalidate the conclusions. Good luck with that....

Home Runs 

21: Nelson Cruz
20: Edwin Encarnacion
19: Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Abreu
18: Troy Tulowitzki
17: Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Victor Martinez
16: Mike Trout, Todd Frazier, Albert Pujols
15: Jose Bautista, Brian Dozier, Paul Goldschmidt, David Ortiz

We covered Mr. Cruz last time around, and he’s known for his power, so it’s not that shocking that he’s up here. Jose Abreu continues to impress, since he’s got about 50 fewer PA than most of the guys on this leaderboard…but he also was already known for prodigious power. No, the three names that really raise my eyebrow (just the one) here are Victor Martinez, Todd Frazier, and Brian Dozier

We mentioned Dozier last week in terms of runs but his homers are a different matter. To start with, his HR/FB is running at 17.4%--compared to 9.9% last year. His 15 longballs are already beginning to rival his minor league total (from 2009-12) of 19 homers. So, what we have here looks like a case of luck…but one that’s so extreme that it can’t be luck. Right? His flyballs are going about 279 feet on average (putting him 133rd in baseball, right next to Asdrubal Cabrera—and only about a foot short of Albert Pujols, for that matter). So things don’t look super-optimistic for Dozier remaining a home run leader by the end of the year.

But stranger things have happened. Dozier’s 2013 was enough to give us a taste of his power (18 homers) potential, and it does seem as though he isn’t the same guy who rose through the minors in obscurity, with nothing going for him but a little speed. I like Dozier on the year, but I do suspect his HR/FB rate will regress in a pretty significant way. 

Going into last year, I was all about Frazier. That didn’t go so well, but he’s back with a vengeance now. (It helps getting back to a normal BABIP.) Like Dozier, his HR/FB rate has gone crazy (21.3%, compared to last year’s 11.3%). Unlike his almost-close-to-a-namesake, Frazier is among the league leaders in flyball distance, averaging nearly 303 feet in the air (13th in baseball, putting him in the company of Mark Reynolds and David Ortiz, among other luminaries of the longball). So that’s a seriously good sign. At 28 he’s not too old to make a serious improvement in his game, though it would be unusual.

One disconcerting factor is this, however: 12 of his 16 homers have come at home. (So he’s a bit of a homer?) Any time you see such a big park split, you worry, but for me, that’s helped a bit by the fact that he’s hitting the ball so far on average. He’s one to watch, but I think there’s a real chance he’s still among the top 15 home run hitters at the end of the year. Just don't root for him to get traded.

 I’ll be honest, I didn’t see Martinez coming. At all. He’s 35 years old and having the best season of his career. He’s already hit more homers than he’s managed to total in a year since 2010. In fact, he only needs seven more homers to match his career high, from his 2007 peak with the Indians. If you did see this coming…you’re a liar.

The thing about it is that his HR/FB rate hasn’t increased since last year! Just kidding. Of course it has. By a lot. (2014: 18.3%, 2013: 7.2%) His flyballs are going 294.56 feet, good for 41st in baseball, and close to players like Adam Dunn and Allen Craig. So kind of a mixed bag of company. Basically, though, Martinez is a tale of two impossible propositions:

First, he could have made the adjustments that allowed him, at 35, to hit for better power than at any previous time in his career. Or… 

Second, he could have more than doubled his HR/FB completely on luck.

Okay, so it could be a combination of the two, and it almost certainly is—but if there’s any truth at all to the first proposition, Martinez has to be considered for real. He may get passed up by a few guys who are hitting the ball farther, but he looks like a serious contributor in homers this year.

Stolen Bases

36: Dee Gordon
28: Billy Hamilton
24: Jose Altuve
20: Ben Revere, Rajai Davis
18: Alcides Escobar, Jacoby Ellsbury
17: Eric Young
16: Starling Marte, Elvis Andrus
15: Brian Dozier, Jose Reyes, Leonys Martin
14: Brett Gardner

I am not feeling deeply shocked by any of these guys, as all have shown good speed in the past. The component of speed that usually keeps some of these guys off the leaderboards, though, is hitting well enough to stay in the lineup. Or in the Majors. 

I was going to analyze this in terms of BABIP and caught stealing and do my best to advise you about who's getting so lucky that he can't possibly keep getting on base this much, or who's getting caught on the bases so often he's sure to get the red light soon. But that isn't true for anyone on this list.

I wrote a couple paragraphs about it, but decided they were kinda wasteful: no one here raised real red flags, at least, no more than speed-first guys always do.

Batting Average

Pretty much nobody ever belongs when it comes to average, I know. But we’ll take a look anyway.

Above .340: Troy Tulowitzki (.356), Jonathan Lucroy (.341)

.330-.340: Victor Martinez (.332)

.320-.330: Jose Altuve (.329), Robinson Cano (.327), Yasiel Puig (.325), Michael Brantley (.323), Andrew McCutchen (.321),

.310-.320: Alex Rios (.319), Miguel Cabrera (.318), Carlos Gomez (.313), Jose Bautista (.312), Mike Trout (.311), Casey McGehee (.310)

Full disclosure, I’m traveling as you read this and wrote this post a few days ago. The players involved shifted places on the list while I was writing it…so they’ve probably changed since then. They’ll change again. So consider these musings of mine in a very general sense. 

Seeing Martinez on this list isn’t too surprising. What is surprising is that he only has a .309 BABIP! Which is delivering him a .332 average? I call him a contender for the batting title right now. (Okay, that’s only so bold, given that he’s already leading the AL, but still.)

We don’t really get all that eyebrow-raising until we come to Brantley. His BABIP isn’t crazy (.329) but he has stayed pretty close to .300 in recent seasons. But maybe this is a part of taking his game to the next level. I’ll call him a “maybe.”

Rios and his .376 BABIP seem dangerous to me, however. He’s shown a lot of BABIP variance in his career, but he’s never been close to this high. It’d be nice to think this means he’s set for a great year, but you know that’s not how it works. It’s also a bit unsettling that his power (only three homers) has seriously dwindled. I feel like he’s a sell-high candidate, but maybe I’ve just had a hard time trusting him since 2010.

Gomez broke out last year, yes, but that doesn’t mean he proved himself as a high-average guy, batting .284 with a .344 BABIP in 2013. No wonder it’s taking a .379 BABIP to get him to this level. I’ll buy him as a high-BABIP, decent-average type, but most people don’t sustain BABIP’s near .380 for very long.

Bautista is enjoying a .330 BABIP right now…but he’s only once managed a figure over .300 (in 2011), and he’s been at .275 or under in every season since 2008. So no, I don’t think he’s going to sustain this and continue helping in average. 

McGehee is the ultimate “he doesn’t belong here” sort of guy. But does he? Looking further into the question tells us…good heavens no. Riding a powerless .366 BABIP, (just an .077 ISO with only a single homer), not only does he seem in line for some regular regression, you have to think he’s going to get challenged more since he can’t put it out of the park. I’m pretty sure this is just confirming what you already knew: McGehee isn’t likely to this year’s breakout fantasy contributor in a few months.



RotoAuthority League Update: Standings Analysis

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’s not one of them.

The Favorites

1. Men With Wood 89.5

2. Pulling Brzenk 86.5

3. E-Z Sliders 82

4. Guitar Masahiro 81

These four teams have separated from the pack, and it's highly likely that this year's champion is among this group. Long-time league participant Men With Wood is looking to take home the title for a second time. Even more impressive, Pulling Brzenk has a chance to repeat as champion, unprecedented thus far in the short history of the league. Both of these owners have ridden stellar offenses to the top of the standings. Meanwhile, E-Z Sliders and Guitar Masahiro are enjoying their best seasons so far. Like the two teams ahead of them, the E-Z Sliders have significantly more hitting points than pitching points. On the other hand, Guitar Masahiro is in the top five of all of the pitching categories; this owner is being held back  by lying in the basement in steals.

Lurking

5. The Bombers 71

6. A Century of Misery 70

7. Smell The Glove 64

I can't speak for the other managers in this tier, but I don't consider my team to have the upside to win the league. At the same time, given that we haven't even reached the halfway point, the Bombers and Smell The Glove could certainly still finish in the money. If I had to bet on one team from this group to make a run at the title, I'd take the Bombers, as this squad has accumulated the fewest inning pitched thus far; as such, they should shoot up in the wins and strikeouts categories. 

Just Hoping for an Invitation Next Year

8. Spirit of St. Louis 56

9. The Jewru 53.5

10. Cobra Kai 50.5

11. Brewsterville Bruins 40

12. Gramma Nutt Crushers 36

The best part - yet also the most agonizing part - about this league is that the bottom four are kicked out each season. All of these owners are feeling some pressure at this stage in the season. If you're near the bottom of the standings in your league, it's easy to gain some points by simply punting a category and strategizing to make up ground elsewhere. Could any of these owners do something along those lines to live to fight another year in the league?

Spirit of St. Louis doesn't have a ton of categorical weaknesses, but there aren't really any strengths, either. Punting then might not be the best course of action for this manager. On the contrary, the Jewru is dead last in three categories; it will be interesting to witness the tactics of this owner going forward. Along those same lines, Cobra Kai, Brewsterville Bruins, and Gramma Nutt Crushers have the three worst pitching staffs by ERA and WHIP. Accordingly, it may be wise for these owners to focus on the counting statistics while de-emphasizing the ratio categories going forward.

Standings as of Sunday, June 22nd



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 20-26

Let's dive into this week's peripheral stats to spotlight a trio of underachievers...

* Monsterpiece Theatre.  Okay, so my preseason prediction that Justin Masterson would become a top-15 fantasy starter hasn't exactly come true yet.  But hey, it's only mid-June!  Once he rattles off four consecutive no-hitters (the rare Double Vander Meer), let's see who's laughing last!....uh, okay, hmm.  Well, what about...I said Masterson would be a top-15 starter but not necessarily THIS season.  Boom!  Lawyered!

...sigh.  Fine, okay, my prediction looks to be a little off-base.  Even after a terrific start against the Angels on Thursday, Masterson is still only sporting a 4.75 ERA this season.  It's been a tough go for Masterson since while he's for the most part done what I said he had to do in order to become a top ace, he's been hurt by a few self-inflicted flaws and one glaring flaw that isn't his fault.

That glaring flaw, of course, is the Indians' defense.  The Tribe were a pretty bad defensive club in 2013 (a -4.5 UZR/150 that ranked fifth-worst in baseball) but they've gotten even more terrible this season with a garish -13.5 UZR/150.  This obviously wreaks havoc on a pitcher like Masterson given that he generates so many ground balls; all the grounders in the world won't help if the fielders can't catch and/or throw the ball properly.  Cleveland's defensive issues are a big reason for Masterson's .318 BABIP and 65.7% strand rate, and why his xFIP is a more reasonable 3.95.

Still, a 3.95 xFIP isn't exactly ace material either.  While Masterson hasn't quite kept up his 9.09 K/9 from last season, he's still averaging 7.99 K/9, which is above his career norm.  The bigger issue is that his walks have also taken a jump to 4.65 BB/9, almost a full walk beyond his career average.  Masterson's fastball velocity is down from last season (89.1 mph from 91.6 mph) and while increased use of his slider was an important part of his 2013 success, he's only throwing the pitch 21.4% of the time this season, as opposed to 26.9% in 2013.

Easy as it is to point the finger at the Cleveland fool's gold gloves, Masterson hasn't totally helped his own cause this year.  If he's still in your fantasy rotation, he's gone from a stalwart to a pick-and-choose-the-starts kind of guy.  At this point I'd pitch him when he's at home (given his 6.20 road ERA) and that's about it until he shows more consistency.  As much as I was pumping Masterson's tires before the season started, he probably didn't go high enough in your draft that you're really wasting a pick by sidelining him or perhaps even releasing him outright given his performance thus far.  He *should* be doing better, though unless he gets a bit more zip on his fastball (possible) or the Tribe suddenly remembers how to field (doubtful), Masterson might not be more than a middling fifth starter option now.

* "Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been, A Good Pitcher This Season?"  Brandon McCarthy is 1-9 with a 5.18 ERA this season, leading the league in losses, hits allowed and home run rate (22.7%).  Yet in many ways except the ways that count on the results page, the Diamondbacks righty is actually having one of his better seasons.  He's striking out more batters (7.6 K/9) and inducing more grounders (55.5% GBR) than ever before in his career, he has a sparkling 4.59 K/BB rate thanks to one of the lowest walk rates of any qualified starter.  At age 30, McCarthy has also actually added zip to his fastball with a heater that is averaging a career-best 92.9 mph.

So yeah, from a dramatic narrative standpoint, I probably shouldn't have stuck that monster homer rate so early in the first paragraph and instead introduced it here as the "so what's McCarthy's problem?" reveal.  Yet blargh, that homer rate is just so ugly that it can't help but be shouted from the rooftops.  The righty is using his fastball much more this season than in the previous three years (possibly due to that faster velocity) and he's also greatly increased the use of his curveball, throwing it almost a quarter of the time.  Given that McCarthy is also throwing his cutter only about a third as much (11.9%) as he did in his previous three seasons, it could be that he's simply being a bit too predictable with his fastball/curve-heavy pitch selection and batters have figured it out to the point that they're using McCarthy for batting practice.

Beyond the homers, McCarthy's 5.18 ERA is further inflated by his .331 BABIP and 65.5% strand rate, so when you look at his advanced metrics (2.92 xFIP and 3.04 SIERA), he almost looks like a staff ace.  Though McCarthy's home/road splits are very similar, it certainly wouldn't hurt him if he got away from Chase Field and into a more pitcher-friendly stadium.  The D'Backs are likely to be trade deadline sellers anyway and a canny contender in a big ballpark would be shrewd to pick McCarthy up in a buy-low move rather than splurge on a bigger-name starter with good numbers. 

As for your fantasy team?  Well, if he's still on your roster after all this time, then you are a truly loyal person.  By all rights McCarthy's luck is due to turn around and he's in for a string of excellent starts where the ball stays in the park, yet until this begins to happen (or if he's traded to a better situation), keep him firmly on your bench.

* Not A-OK.  I have two theories for why Nori Aoki has become a borderline unplayable fantasy outfielder this season.  Firstly, he lost the last half of his first name!  Like Samson, it was clearly the 'Chika' that was the source of Nori(chika) Aoki's abilities.  My other theory is that the Royals have only played the Indians six times this year so far, and Aoki missed one of them.  Once he gets the chance to knock a few more grounders at that brutal Cleveland defense, Aoki will boost that average up nicely.

In all seriousness, Aoki's first AL season hasn't gone well, as he's only hitting .264/.328/.326 as a Royal.  While Aoki has scored a respectable 36 runs, he has only 14 RBI  and he's still looking for his first American League home run.  With seven steals (in 11 attempts), he should finish the season giving you roughly 20 steals and a solid amount of runs, though basically nothing else, making him unworthy of a starting spot in your fantasy outfield.

To be fair, Aoki hit a solid but unspectacular .287/.355/.399 over his previous two seasons, so it's not like he's dropping from some huge standard of excellence.  If you're an outfielder with no power, you'd better deliver big numbers in at least two of the runs/AVG/SB categories, and Aoki didn't even really do that, scoring 161 runs and stealing 50 bags in 2012-13.  With his average down this season, that removes your last excuse for keeping him in the lineup.  He's hitting more grounders and fewer fly balls this year than in his previous two seasons in MLB, and given Aoki's .294 BABIP, it's not like he isn't getting a respectable number of those balls getting through for hits.

It's possible Aoki could still turn things around, as he has been hitting better lately during the Royals' recent hot streak, so the rising tide of the K.C. lineup could raise Aoki's ship (plus he could start scoring even more runs).  Still, I wouldn't take the risk unless Aoki really busts out over the next couple of weeks, so keep him on your bench unless he cuts loose.  Barring a late breakout, this is the most egregious case of a post-name shortening decline since Abe Ruth suddenly went from a .985 OPS in 1934 to a .789 OPS in 1935, all because he dropped the "B."  



Closer Updates: Astros, Braves, Bucs, Cards, Dbacks, Dodgers, Rays, Reds, Royals, Tigers, Twins

This week we’ll check in with the four closers that were considered “top-tier” at the beginning of the season: Kimbrel, Chapman, Jansen, and Holland. In addition, we have updates on movement in the closer depth chart, as well as some speculation for those hoping to steal a save (or two).

Arizona Diamondbacks – A little while back, manager Kirk Gibson gave Addison Reed a break after he suffered from a “tired” arm. Although Gibson assured the fans that Reed would remain the closer, there’s always a possibility that the stress on his arm could lead to more opportunities for Brad Ziegler.

Atlanta Braves – Many fantasy writers, this one included, thought that Craig Kimbrel and Chapman would jockey for position as the NL’s best closer. Kimbrel has been as consistent and impressive as ever with 20 saves, 1.98 ERA, and 0.95 WHIP. His 16.5 K/9 isn’t too shabby either.

Cincinnati RedsAroldis Chapman recovered nicely from a nasty injury early on and quickly returned to the top of the closer food chain (12 saves, 1.06 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 17.5 K/9). Despite missing time at the beginning of the season, Chapman has not missed a beat en route to another excellent season.

Detroit TigersJoe Nathan hasn’t earned a save since the end of May and is on shaky ground this season (6.57 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 7.7 K/9). In the past 30 days, Nathan is sporting a 13.50 ERA and 2.63 WHIP. If a change is made, Joba Chamberlain is probably the first in line (3.07 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 10.1 K/9) and already has two saves this season. The other option is Ian Krol, who is also pitching well compared to Nathan (1 save, 3.09 ERA, 1.41 WHIP).

Houston Astros – Manager Bo Porter has transformed his bullpen over the course of the season. After starting with an proven set of youngsters and a closer-by-committee approach (Josh Fields, Anthony Bass, Raul Valdez), the Astros now have a serviceable closer in Chad Qualls (8 saves, 2.28 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 8.7 K/9) and journeymen reliever Kyle Farnsworth.

Kansas City RoyalsGreg Holland has been as dominant as most expected and the cream of the crop for the American League with 20 saves (along with a 1.35 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 13.5 K/9). The Royals sure are thankful that the rest of their bullpen has been strong as well – setup superstar Wade Davis has a 1.19 ERA and 0.86 WHIP while Kelvin Herrera is rockin’ a 2.35 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.

Los Angeles DodgersKenley Jansen has not been quite as dominant as Kimbrel or Chapman, but he has been acceptable (3.72 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 15.2 K/9). With 20 saves, Jansen needs to improve before he can be seen as an elite closer who can be consistently great from one season to the next.

Minnesota Twins – On Wednesday, Glen Perkins was kept off the mound with a back injury. Perkins has been great this season (17 saves, 2.76 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) and expects to be back very soon. If he’s not, Casey Fien (2.17 ERA, 0.90 WHIP) should be the first candidate for his save opportunities.

Pittsburgh PiratesJason Grilli has not come back from the disabled list with a vengeance, struggling in a few high pressure situations (5.79 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in the past two weeks). If his troubles continue, Mark Melancon (10 saves, 1.95 ERA, 0.77 WHIP) or Tony Watson (0.84 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) will provide the strongest competition for those save chances.

St. Louis Cardinals – After Trevor Rosenthal was heavily used last week, the Cards trusted Pat Neshek with two recent save opportunities. Although many assumed that Jason Motte would be the first option behind Rosenthal, Neshek (0.92 ERA, 0.61 WHIP, 8.9 K/9) appears to be that guy and he may steal you a few saves if you are scavenging.

Tampa Bay Rays – After Grant Balfour lost the ninth inning, there’s been a battle between Jake McGee (1 save, 1.44 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 10.3 K/9), Joel Peralta (3.82 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 10.3 K/9), and Juan Carlos Oviedo (2.31 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.5 K/9). It seems that McGee might have the upper hand, but skipper Joe Maddon may prefer the closer-by-committee approach. Keep an eye on this situation.

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: Great Players and Early Disappointments

This article is about playing the percentages. All the hitters I suggest trading for this week are stars you invested heavily for—and are dragging you’re their teams down. It’s a lot more common for stars like these to have lousy month (or three) than a lost entire season, or to regress to retirement age all at once. On the whole, expect most to bounce back. Unfortunately, I can’t give any guarantees about them individually…. 

Trade For

Buster Posey and Joe Mauer haven’t done their owners many favors at catcher this year, but unless you drafted Jonathan Lucroy, that’s probably true for your catcher too. As the top talents at their position, this pair is more likely to bounce back than the Wilin Rosarios of the world. 

David Wright and Evan Longoria haven’t seemed to put anything together either, but both have such long track records of excellence that they should fix it up and power your lineup in the second half. Longoria is the better target of the two, since he’s younger and therefore less likely to be underproducing due to suddenly-advanced-age.

Dustin Pedroia and Jason Kipnis—like Posey and Mauer—are just two of several disappointments at their position. Like their catching counterparts, Pedroia and Kipnis still have the most overall talent* at their position and, therefore, make the best buy-low candidates.

*I have no more idea than anyone else where Robinson Cano’s power went. But as long as he’s hitting over .320 it’s hard to really call him slumping. And as long as the power's out, it's hard to advise you to trade for him.

Matt Holliday and Shin-Soo Choo were once extremely stable producers, but both have seen their power fall off a cliff, and their averages are following. Choo isn’t even stealing. I always worry when I don’t know why a player is underperforming so badly (which is pretty often, to be honest; I’m not a scout and I’m not the players’ trainer), but both of these players have track records long enough to bet on in principle.

Cliff Lee is showing good progress from the DL and stands a decent chance of being traded away from the struggling Phillies (again). Any pitcher who’s already injured is a huge risk, but the potential rewards from Lee are significant. Especially on a good team…. 

Speaking of getting traded, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are on the block. You can be pretty confident that any team that trades for them will be better for the wins than the Cubs. While there’s always the worry of getting traded to the AL East, Samardzija has been linked with the Giants and Hammel with the Mariners. Also, Hammel has pitched well for about two and a half months longer than I expected, so I’ll give him some credit for that.

I was going to put Johnny Cueto on my “Trade Away” list, ‘cause, you know…he’s just too good to be real. Well yeah. But the thing is, Cueto has beaten his FIP every season of his Major League career—since 2008. (It wasn’t super-pronounced in the beginning, but still.) So he’s got a 2.76 FIP right now, and a history of putting up even better ERA’s…I want to be on the buying side of a sell-high trade, I think. He can regress a bit and still work out very, very well for whoever ends up with him.

Trade Away 

I have nothing against Jose Bautista or Josh Hamilton’s production this year. But it’s been pretty much forever (since 2011, which we all barely remember) since Bautista was healthy all year. Trading him now, when his production is off-the-charts-awesome, is purely a risk-mitigation strategy. Hamilton is just now back from (this) injury, but there could easily be more coming down the road. I’d rather deal these guys too early than be stuck with nothing—at least if I’m near the top of the standings.

Jean Segura and Everth Cabrera are managing sub-.600 OPS’s. So how do you get anything of value out of them? From owners who are desperate for steals, of course! It might not be much, but they should return something better than what you can find on the waiver wire, or at least sweeten a larger deal. Neither one is hitting well enough to keep around if you aren’t speed-starved. 

George Springer may not have a higher point in his trade value this season. Rookies always have their ups and downs, and as good as it is to get them off the waiver wire in time for the ups, it’s even better to trade them for a high price before the downs. (Note: sometimes the rookie is Mike Trout and never ends up having downs but becomes the best player in baseball. Life is tough that way.) Gregory Polanco is off to a hot first week in the Majors, and that means I’d start dangling him in trade offers right away. You can’t count on a 10-homer month for every prospect you want to trade….

Josh Beckett, like Bautista and Hamilton above, is actually a player who’s production I believe in. You know I spent half of this season urging everyone in the world to pick him up. But like his hitting brethren, Beckett has a long and varied history of injury and carries, therefore, more injury risk than most. That’s the sort of thing it’s better to mitigate while you still can.

I have no idea what’s up with Justin Verlander. And neither does he. He just got lit up again and isn’t generating strikeouts. I’m starting to think the bold play here is to cut bait and try to get something playable for him if there’s anyone left willing to take the risk. Note that this goes against the percentage-playing theory of most of this article, but combined with last year, there does seem to be a trajectory here and it isn’t towards continued excellence.

Pick Up

That’s a lot of trade talk, so we’ll make the waiver wire suggestions quick. Real quick.

Shallow Leagues (30-50%)

Collin McHugh (37%) and Jose Quintana (32%--he’s back!) are your pickup pitchers this week.

Marlon Byrd (48%), Kendrys Morales (41%), and Adam Lind (35%--yes, still) all pack some punch for you shallow-leaguers needing a hitter. 

Medium Leagues (20-30%)

Juan Francisco (25%) is looking like a real power source and Eric Young (20%) is off the DL and ready to steal.

Jaime Garcia (25%) looks like a Wins and WHIP helper, but I say that every week, don’t I? Well, that’s what happens when you have a 0.96 WHIP for the Cardinals. Jake Arrieta (21%) is the opposite, having been helpful in strikeouts and ERA thus far. He’s also been mentioned in the Cubs’ trade talks. (Same link as Hammel, above.)

Deep Leagues (Under 20%) 

Denard Span (19%) could be a steals source who actually hits occasionally. Brandon Crawford (17%) has been a lot better than most shortstops this year, especially if you play in an OBP or SLG league. (But he’s still kinda good in regular formats too.) Matt Dominguez (12%) may offer more power than your current CI player. I said bad things yesterday about Luis Valbuena (5%) and his chances of keeping his average up, but I read this article that suggests maybe he can be useful after all. Good for you, Luis Valbuena!

Kevin Gausman (14%) and Josh Tomlin (11%) have little in common…except that they can both (probably) help your fantasy team. 

Hey, for me, this counts as really brief!



RotoAuthority Unscripted: You, Sir, Don't Belong. Or Do You?

Today we’re taking a look at the leaderboards to see (as the title suggests) who doesn’t belong. Specifically, we’ll see which names raise our eyebrows as leaders in the five major hitting categories Runs and RBI (who has time for all five?) and look more closely at them. Are they small-sample flukes you need to ditch before their inevitable regression? Are they breakout candidates just pining to join your team? Something more mundane? It’s RA Unscripted, so I can honestly say I don’t have the answers yet….

Runs 

Since there are so many repeat numbers in this category, I’ll try sparing us all a lengthy table and list the Runs leaders like this: 

55: Troy Tulowitzki, Brian Dozier

52: Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt

51: Jose Bautista, Hunter Pence

49: Michael Brantley

48: Giancarlo Stanton

45: Mike Trout, Carlos Gomez, Anthony Rizzo, Ian Kinsler, Edwin Encarnacion 

As anticipated, this list is mostly usual suspects, though three names may not belong: Dozier, Brantley, and Rizzo.

Dozier would be a big-time breakout candidate if only for his 15 homers and 14 steals (actually, we would have been happy if he’d done that on the year), but his place by Tulo’s side is downright impressive. Now, I’m well aware that Runs are highly subject to the vagaries of fortune, but Tulo has the cards stacked in his favor: quality hitters around him in the lineup; getting to play half his games in Coors Field. Yeah. Dozier plays for the Twins. In a park with a power-killing, run-suppressing reputation (though it played pretty much neutral last year for overall scoring). Just for fun, Dozier’s OBP falls more than .100 points short of Tulo’s. So, does Dozier belong?

I’m going to hedge my bets and say yes and no. To the extent that he makes his own luck by hitting homers and doubles, walking and stealing bases, I like Dozier to continue helping out in Runs. However, I’m not inclined to think his teammates will be coming to his rescue quite often enough to keep him in the top ten run scorers by the end of the year. So far, the Twins are mid-pack when it comes to scoring, and I suspect they’ll be slipping a bit over the next few months, Kendrys Morales or not.

Brantley is a big part of the reason his Indians are fifth in baseball in runs scored, but as Carlos Santana seems to be heating up a bit and Nick Swisher (or what’s left of him) has come back from the DL, the Tribe could actually be on the upswing. Cleveland actually suppressed more runs than Minnesota did last year, for what it’s worth, but it looks like the Indians should be able to continue to support Brantley. 

Will Brantley be able to support himself? That’s the real question anyway. His .327 BABIP says there could be some regression coming to his OBP, but when you’re starting with a .390 number you can lose a bit and still have enough to cross the plate on a regular basis. But let’s not pretend that Brantley’s is a story about BABIP: it’s all about his HR/FB rate, which at 17.7% is more than double his previous career best. If he keeps hitting these homers, you have to believe everything else will fall into place. Well, at least the Runs should. For my money, I’d say that Brantley has improved enough that some of it’s got to be pretty real. Even if it's mostly not, all he's got to do is hit well enough to stay in the middle of the Indians’ lineup, and he ought to keep delivering on the Runs. 

Rizzo is enjoying the way it feels to have an above-average BABIP again (.310, compared to last year’s .258 mark). Not only that, but he’s increased his BB% (15.7%) for the second year in a row and more than doubled it since 2012. I think the debate on his bat is done. But will he keep producing the Runs? That’s the question for this article. 

I’m…um…bearish on the Cubbies’ offence, to say the least. They’re currently 27th in team runs scored and I suspect Rizzo’s sweet .406 OBP is going to leave him stranded on base even more often in the second half. And consider the guys hitting behind Rizzo: Starlin Castro, Luis Valbuena, and Welington Castillo. Admittedly, Castro has (very quietly) vindicated those who drafted him (unless they wanted steals), but Valbuena is enjoying a .359 BABIP—expect that deflation to cut pretty directly into Rizzo’s runs. So I like Rizzo, but expect him to slip quietly off the Runs leaderboard. 

RBI 

56: Nelson Cruz

55: Miguel Cabrera

54: Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion

53: Brandon Moss

51: Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Abreu

50: Mike Trout

47: Jose Bautista

45: Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Brantley

Who doesn’t belong here? Cruz, I’m looking at you. Also, Moss, Abreu, and yes, let’s discuss Stanton. Briefly.

Cruz has been a classic all-power, nothing-else type of guy for the last couple years, but he’s seriously stepped up his game so far with Baltimore. Real? His BABIP is above-average (.326), but it isn’t crazy, while his HR/FB is off the charts (25.6%). One thing that I find really encouraging is that he’s already racked up a healthy 14 doubles to go with his homers. Cruz has been off and on with the doubles power throughout the years, and if he’s hitting those, the RBI should keep coming (if a bit more slowly) even if the HR/FB rate gets less stratospheric.

The Orioles’ lineup—which has been missing Chris Davis for a lot of the year—is mid-pack in scoring runs. Actually, that makes it pretty bad for the AL. While Nick Markakis is delivering a decent OBP in front of Cruz, Adam Jones and Manny Machado certainly aren’t. Jones, in particular, has a good chance to improve his game and deliver more RBI to Cruz. I don’t think Cruz will end the year as a top-five OF…but he should certainly end up in or near the top 10 in RBI. 

Moss shouldn’t be helping with RBI…he’s a platooner, right? The thing is, he’s too good for the A’s to keep out of the lineup, even for Kyle Blanks. (Okay, maybe that's not saying too much.) Moss has 231 AB (47 against lefties, against whom he’s hit .298/.400/.532). With a normal BABIP, a healthy portion of walks, and a HR/FB rate to match what he did last year, nothing here seems abnormal. Expect Moss to keep getting playing time against lefties and to keep driving in runs against them. 

Abreu is just impressive for being on this list at all despite missing significant time on the DL. This season will have its ups and downs for him, but he’s got the power to make his own luck with RBI. It doesn’t hurt that Adam Eaton and Gordon Beckham haven’t been bad with the OBP...that may not continue...

Stanton deserves quick mention too, since he wasn’t supposed to have any lineup around him to help him deliver in Runs or RBI…and yet he’s a leader in both. His power is insane and he’s healthy, so there’s a significant element of making his own luck going on here too. While the discrepancy between his homer output and his Runs and RBI will probably increase as his teammates regress towards their normal, horrible levels of production, it might be (somewhat) fair to hold out some optimism that maybe the Marlins aren’t quite as bad as we all thought.

 




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