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RotoAuthority Unscripted: Obligatory Writer's Block Half-Season Post

All right, I’ve sat at my computer for almost two hours now trying to think of a really good, really original post for today’s column. Nothing’s going on, and I’m finding myself going back to Facebook more often than Fangraphs as the morning drags on and my coffee runs out. This is the danger of an unthemed Unscripted column.

So here it is, my obligatory observation of the baseball season’s halfway mark, in which I shall remark upon some several things of note. Well, things of note to me. The one promise I’ll make is this: Andrew Gephardt, I won’t be stealing the ideas from your column yesterday. Click here for those too lazy to scroll down…either way check out his 10 strange but true facts and be enriched.

Also read my stuff, but no guarantee about enrichment, seeing as I (just this morning) jettisoned my favorite second baseman of the season—Aaron Hill—and had to read about how Ian Kinsler has been one of the best of the year. It’s amazing that my various teams are more of a mixed bag than a disaster. (And perhaps a reminder that my fantasy advise should be judged in aggregate. Anyway, thanks for nothing, Aaron.)

Thing Number 1: Steals Are Alive Again

The Major Leagues have stolen 1417 bases so far this season, good for a pace of 2934 (based on it being roughly halfway, and all—it isn’t exact, I know)—or significantly more than last year. It’s still less than the 3200+ that we saw in 2012 and 2011, but I wonder if the pace will actually pick up with returns to health from speedy guys like the one-dimensional Eric Young, and superstar Bryce Harper, as well as the recent enough promotions of Gregory Polanco, Mookie Betts, and the like. Okay, so totals as big as a season’s stolen bases won’t be changed terribly much by my cherry-picked examples, but your fantasy team might. Steals still abound on many waiver wires, so don’t despair if you need more points in the category…and don’t get too comfortable just because you’ve built yourself a lead.

Thing Number 2: Power Is Down, Strikeouts Are Up

The leaguewide strikeout rate is now at 20.3%, or the highest it’s been in the last five years (or maybe ever for all I know that’s relevant to your fantasy team). I have vague memories of 20% being a bad number for how much you strike out, but since my little league whiff rate was about 70% (but hey, I had a 30% walk rate), who am I to criticize? Anyway, what’s relevant is this: Mark Buehrle and Bartolo Colon are trouble for your team in the strikeouts category—you’ve gotta miss bats to get things done on the fantasy mound. Unless you still play in a 4x4 league, I guess.

Meanwhile, fewer balls are traveling out of the park than in years past. It’s beyond the scope of this study to wonder whether that’s just because we get more homers in the hotter second half of the year (but if you know, let me know in the comments), but so far we’ve got a league ISO of just .139, which isn’t exactly bringing back the Dead Ball Era, but it certainly makes you appreciate Jose Abreu (.346 ISO) all the more. It probably even makes you wish you traded for Khris Davis (.231) in April.

Even if the pace picks up in the second half due to weather, pitcher fatigue, or whatever else might do it, the general point remains true: this scarcity of power is surely driving up the cost of homers on your trade market, so even if no-average guys like Adam Dunn are floating around on your waiver wire you kind of have to take a shot. I still might not reach all the way to Chris Carter in a batting average league though….

Thing Number 3: Never, Ever, Trust Relief Pitchers

I’m looking at RotoAuthority’s 2014 Closer Rankings next to our current Closer Depth Chart and a lot of these names are different. Some have changed over and over again. The half-season advice is pretty much the same as I would give before the season: don’t pay for saves at all…or pay a lot for them. Splitting the difference is what kills you. 

Our top four closers are still rocking, and only one of the top 12 (Jim Johnson) has lost his job (so far). After that, though, 11 of the last 18 closers have already been replaced, permanently or temporarily. Two of them even got traded for each other and out of both closer jobs. Perhaps it always feels this way, but it seems like teams are readier than they have been in years past to replace their closer. Johnson and Grant Balfour were, notably, acquired with high price tags and still deposed, which might be a bad sign for the struggling Joe Nathan

I’d happily advise simply ignoring closers on draft day based on this…but so many owners are already doing that that it’s getting harder to snatch up the decent closers on the waiver wire…and giving Ronald Belisario the opportunity to wreck your ERA and WHIP for a few weeks.

Thing Number 4: 7 Players on a Quarter of the Best Fantasy Teams*

Okay, so these guys are on 25% or more of the 500 best Yahoo! Public teams. If you’re in a Yahoo! Public league, you share my skepticism that your league leader is really one of the best fantasy managers, but there it is: these guys have been surprises, to varying degrees, and their owners are pretty happy with what they’ve got. I don’t own one of them, in any league. 

Masahiro Tanaka: this guy has somehow managed to exceed the sky-high expectations our entire country put on him. I guess we should have known better, since he’d been living up to Japanese expectations for some time now, which make the Yankees’ look pretty tame. I see no reason to think Tanaka isn’t for real; he’ll be a top-10 pitcher next year.

Francisco Rodriguez: Remember the pimply-faced 20-year-old who dominated the playoffs in 2002? No? Well that’s okay, because K-Rod has brought it back this year as one of baseball’s best closers. I have to think he’ll be a draftable closer again next year, but see Thing Number 3 to learn how confident I am in any closer. Still, he was a great first-week waiver wire snag. Well played, teams with the highest waiver priority. 

Dee Gordon: What? It’s not like you thought Gordon was going to get the second base job out of Spring Training either. I’m pretty sure Gordon himself didn’t. Steals players are fickle, but he’s kept it up long enough that he’ll be a league leader in the category even if he misses the rest of the season. I guess it’s too late to offer a lowball trade for the guy.

Jose Abreu: Tim Dierkes was talking up Abreu a lot before the season and got his man in the MLBTR Staff League. So, no wonder he’s winning. Abreu is the new Dunn—as in, the Dunn who used to be a must-own.

Johnny Cueto: I mentioned him a little bit a couple of weeks ago as a guy who tends to beat his peripherals. I’ll stick by that, and say that I expect he’ll continue to perform at a high level, and perhaps regress less than most stats-savvy owners might expect. 

Jonathan Lucroy: He’s pretty much the only catcher who’s lived up to expectations. And this year seemed to be so deep in catcher quality too…just another position full of players not to trust? Probably not. As for-real as Lucroy is (at least as a high-level catcher, if probably not as baseball’s best), buying low on his disappointing compatriots is worth doing.

Sean Doolittle: Johnson's replacement took a little while to take over, but he's run with the job. He's proof that a good fantasy season is much more than what happened on draft day.






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