August 2014

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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Aug. 29-Sept. 4

There's only a month left of regular season baseball and, for those in head-to-head fantasy leagues, your playoffs could be starting as soon as Monday.  With such little time left, it's probably not quite as relevant to note season-long advanced metrics so we're going to focus more directly on what players have done in August.  It's the "what have you done for me lately" edition of TPIITP as I'll give you a few tips on which players might be worth adding or dropping in your fantasy crunch time.

* Dru (Capitol) Hill.  Almost a month since he was traded from the Indians in a deadline deal, Asdrubal Cabrera seems like about as natural a fit in Washington D.C. as Frank Underwood.  Cabrera had a middling .246/.305/.386 line with nine homers and 40 RBI in 416 PA in the Cleve but since donning Nationals red, he's hitting .259/.351/.457 and already has three months and 11 RBI in only 94 PA.  It's a very small sample size, to be sure, yet the trade seems to have brought back memories of the 2011 All-Star version of Cabrera.

Looking at the stats, there's some reason to believe that this isn't just a hot streak.  In the month of August, Cabrera has a higher walk rate (12.8%) than a strikeout rate (11.7%), which is definitely eye-popping considering his career 0.45 BB/K rate.  It could be due to the fact that the Nats have used Cabrera as a No. 8 hitter about half the time, though he hasn't yet to receive any intentional walks.  Perhaps more importantly from a batting perspective, Cabrera has enjoyed his strong offensive month despite a .265 BABIP in August.  If that BABIP normalizes in September, Cabrera's fantasy owners could have themselves a big boost at either middle infield spot during the playoffs.

Despite how thin 2B and SS both are, Cabrera is still asdruable....er, available in 31% of Yahoo leagues.  He's definitely a nice addition if you're scrambling to replace an injured Troy Tulowitzki or Daniel Murphy.  I like Cabrera's chances of keeping it up through September and, incidentally, probably making himself some extra cash this offseason when he hits free agency.

* The Ack Attack Is Back.  Well, okay, "back" is a relative term since I'm not sure Dustin Ackley's .766 OPS over his 90-game rookie season in 2011 represents some kind of major high-water mark.  Still, the fact that Ackley is producing at all after 2.5 seasons of putrid offense is worth noting, and we might even be able to bust out the ol' Post-Hype Sleeper tag for this one.

After stumbling to a .602 OPS over the three first months of 2014, Ackley must've rubbed Niles Crane's hair for good luck or something since he's been on a tear ever since.  Ackley has five homers, 28 RBI, 25 runs, five steals and a .313/.349/.486 slash line over his last 192 PA --- and, obvious caveat alert, a .349 BABIP over that same stretch.  Despite the BABIP and a decrease in infield fly balls, however, Ackley's batted-ball metrics are largely the same between his cold and hot stretches this season.

While the BABIP is a red flag for me, I'd still be willing to have Ackley on my roster in September for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, he qualifies as both a second baseman and as an outfielder in most leagues, so that kind of versatility is nice for bench purposes. 

Secondly, we'll look past the advanced metrics to the more basic home/road splits and note that Ackley has a .773 away OPS as opposed to a .626 home OPS.  A hitter who struggles at Safeco Field, what a shocker!  Ackley's career home/road splits (.642 OPS in Seattle, .707 OPS elsewhere) aren't quite as sharply divided as his 2014 splits, so if Ackley really has turned a corner in his ability to leave his Safeco frustration behind him, the Mariners' remaining schedule bodes well --- 18 of 31 games are away dates.

* Smyl Like You Mean It.  It may well come to pass that the trio of Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin and Willie Adames will prove to be an insufficient return for David Price, but for now, the Rays can't be too broken up about their big deadline trade.  Smyly has filled ably filled Price's shoes by delivering an ace-level performance in August, posting a 1.50 ERA and a 3-1 record in five starts.  Smyly was already having a good year in Detroit and was a good back-of-the-rotation fantasy candidate, yet he's taken it to another level since becoming a Ray.

Going by the peripherals, however, Smyly is basically still on the same level as what he was doing as a Tiger, he's just been getting a bit more luck in Tampa.  Smyly's August numbers are boosted by a .178 BABIP and 85.6% strand rate, as his xFIP sits at 3.50 for the month. 

Now, as you might notice, I recommended keeping Ackley despite a hot streak that was boosted by some pretty favorable advanced metrics, and yet I'm now going to recommend seeing if you can trade Smyly due to favorable advanced metrics.  The difference is that Ackley still has very limited trade value due to, well, hitting like garbage for so long.  Smyly, however, was already a fourth or fifth starter in many fantasy rotation and had some trade value even before his superb August, so now a rival owner might be swayed to think that he'd be getting a young ace rather than recipient of some nice batted-ball luck.

This could be a moot point if your trade deadline passed weeks ago, though I've found that these deadlines vary wildly from league to league.  One of my leagues had a July 31st deadline to mimic the majors (too early, in my opinion), another league's deadline was August 15th, and I have one deadline coming up on August 31st.  If you still have a bit of pre-deadline time to work with, I'd suggest trying to package Smyly and a spare position player to see if you could nab a more proven top-tier upgrade either on the mound or in the field, depending on your needs.  If and when Smyly regresses in September, you can bet your rival fantasy manager won't have a smyle on his face.     



Closer Updates – Athletics, BoSox, Devil Rays, Mets, Padres, Tigers, White Sox

Believe it or not, the end of the baseball season is fast approaching. If you’re in a rotisserie league, you’ve got a few more weeks than the H2H leagues, but either way – now is the time to make championship moves. In case you are struggling in the saves category, this week will cover a few closer candidates who might just be available in your league.

Boston Red SoxKoji Uehara has had a strong season (26 saves, 2.25 ERA, 0.90 WHIP), but struggled in the past week. After giving up his fourth blown save of the season, manager John Farrell discussed shutting Koji down, but dismissed the idea. Given that the Red Sox are far from the playoffs, it might not be the worst idea. If that happens, Edward Mujica (1 save, 0.73 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in the past 30 days) should be your first pickup and Junichi Tazawa (2.95 ERA, 1.31 WHIP) is another candidate to consider.

Chicago White Sox – One popular team in this year’s column has been the White Sox, who have gone through a number of closers this season. Another potential closer might be on the horizon given the recent struggles of Jake Petricka (12.60 ERA and 2.60 WHIP in the last two weeks). On Tuesday night, Petricka blew his second straight save and might soon lose the job. If you’re desperate for a closer, Zach Putnam (3 saves, 1.91 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) or Matt Lindstrom (6 saves, 4.88 ERA, 1.58 WHIP) are the two likeliest candidates to close if Petricka’s struggles continue.

Detroit Tigers – Yet again, we visit Mo-town to delve into their bullpen situation. Joakim Soria is still rehabbing an oblique injury, but could be back in the big leagues as early as next week. Former A's and Orioles closer Jim Johnson (2 saves, 7.31 ERA, 2.08 WHIP) pitched well on Sunday, but still remains far from the ninth inning. Joe Nathan, despite his worst efforts, remains the closer for now (4 saves, 5.40 ERA, 1.80 WHIP in the past two weeks).

New York MetsJenrry Mejia (19 saves, 3.94 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) became injured yet again in the past week with a stiff back. While Mejia should be healthier soon (though that is no guarantee), it’s becoming apparent that Jeurys Familia could become the future closer in Queens. He’s got a solid stat line (4 svaes, 1.93 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) and the potential to be a force in 2015.

Oakland Athletics – With the recent injury to Sean Doolittle, Oakland will be going with a closer-by-committee approach. That committee includes Eric O’Flaherty (1.26 ERA, 0.91 WHIP), Dan Otero (1 save, 2.25 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), and Ryan Cook (1 save, 2.95 ERA, 1.08 WHIP). What about Luke Gregerson? Manager Bob Melvin said that he’d remain in a setup role. I’d say that the pecking order is currently Cook, O’Flaherty, and Otero.

San Diego Padres – Young reliever Kevin Quackenbush has pitched well this season (1 save, 2.83 ERA, 1.02 WHIP) and could become a solid asset for the Pads. If Joaquin Benoit (9 saves, 1.58 ERA, 0.82 WHIP) gets some rest, or manager Bud Black is anxious to get Quackenbush into some high-leverage situations, he might be a solid prospective pickup over the next couple of weeks.

Tampa Bay Rays – Although a few relievers have nabbed saves for the Rays (Brad Boxberger, Kirby Yates), Jake McGee is still the closer to own in Tampa (14 saves, 1.33 ERA, 0.89 WHIP). Despite the fact that some claim they’re in a “closer-by-committee” situation, it seems that there’s one guy who is getting most of the opportunities and it’s McGee.

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: September Values

Today on Stock Watch, we’re going to do something a little different. No, really. Just a little different this time, instead of wildly different, like usual. In the last few weeks, I’ve been talking about September schedules. We just finished the NL Central and both West Divisions yesterday. Last week, we hit up the NL East, the AL Central, and the first half of the NL Central. Before that, we got the AL East and a particularly long intro. For each team, I mentioned whether or not you should speculate on their pitchers, hitters or both, or if you should stay away altogether. What I didn’t do was mention any particular players that might actually be on your waiver wire and able to enjoy those favorable schedules and perform for your fantasy team. 

So that’s what we’ll do today.

Hitters

Red Sox
Brock Holt (40% owned) has slumped lately, but some hitters’ parks and easy opponents could see him bounce back in September.

Will Middlebrooks (17%) isn’t someone easy to recommend, but if anything can resuscitate his season, it might be a diet of Orioles, Blue Jays, and Pirates pitching. Be careful, though, because this schedule is more good than great.

Mookie Betts (9%) could flash some power and speed, plus he plays shortstop and outfield, which tends to be a useful bench combination.

Daniel Nava (4%) could take advantage of Boston’s friendly schedule.

Rays
James Loney (24%) should be able to continue producing good average with the helpful schedule he’s got. 

Matt Joyce (9%) is an option for deeper leagues, as the Rays get some bad pitching opponents.

Kevin Kiermaier (4%) could be a nice little producer for the Rays down the stretch.

Marlins
I’ll finally plug Casey McGehee (48%), who I don’t think I’ve suggested at any point. Well, the schedule the Fish hitters get for the next month ought to give this fluky player a nice boost. 

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (22%) could be a good power source at catcher in the last month, as he prepares to tee off against some bottom-dwelling pitching.

Garrett Jones (13%) could show some nice pop in the last month.

Adeiny Hechavarria (5%) hits for a little average and steals a little. And has a friendly schedule. Go for it.

Tigers
Nick Castellanos (32%) hasn’t been super-impressive, but the Tigers’ schedule could allow him to finish strong. 

Twins
Kennys Vargas (34%) is hitting the ball a little and could continue, with a ton of games in hitters’ havens. Don’t get too excited about power—as his Minnesota home does suppress that aspect of the game. 

Kurt Suzuki (33%) could also benefit, especially since he’s already a batting average guy.

Trevor Plouffe (20%) should be able to help you out, with nearly all his games coming in helpful parks. Plus, did you know: the Twins hitting is overall near the middle of the pack—not way in the bottom like I’d expected before doing this research.

Oswaldo Arcia (15%) could use some help with his average. He might get it.

Eduardo Escobar (5%) plays three positions and isn’t hitting badly.

Cubs
Jorge Soler (28%) was worth your attention anyway, but the Cubs get to enjoy some weak pitching in the final month, making all their young players all the more interesting. 

Chris Coghlan (13%) is reminding people that he was once Rookie of the Year (it was a pretty weak year). But he’s hitting the ball and gets to face some truly lousy pitching, so take a chance on him.

Arismendy Alcantara (8%) is pretty thinly owned for a guy who’s shown power and speed. With so many Pirates/Brewers/Reds/Blue Jays games, I even like his odds of improving on that average.

Luis Valbuena (4%) will get a chance to show off the little bit of pop in his bat.

Cardinals
Kolten Wong (34%) has had an up-and-down season but September looks like it could be an up. 

Oscar Taveras (24%) has yet to live up to his potential, but he too can take advantage of teams with pitching problems.

Jon Jay (20%) may not be the most exciting addition to a fantasy roster, but with 23 games against bottom-third pitching staffs, he doesn’t have to be.

A.J. Pierzynski (19%) may not be a replacement for Yadier Molina, but he should enjoy facing the likes of the Pirates, Reds, and Brewers pitching staffs.

Rockies
Drew Stubbs (26%) has benefitted from Colorado’s injuries and should keep on playing. September features a ton of games at Coors Field, so be prepared to take advantage of Stubbs.

DJ LeMahieu (8%) has position flexibility, speed, and, oh, 14 September games in Coors Field.

So does Josh Rutledge (8%), though he’s pretty tough to justify rostering.

Pitching

Braves
Remember when we were all excited about Aaron Harang (42%) at the beginning of the season? Well, get excited again, because the Braves pitchers get to beat up on some weak lineups, especially in the second half of September.

Marlins
Nathan Eovaldi (18%) ,Tom Koehler (17%), and Jarrod Cosart (9%) get to pitch on the only team that has managed to have a favorable schedule on both sides of the ball. It could be a good month in Miami. Keep an eye out for Andrew Heaney (5%) in case he comes back up.

Mets
Jacob deGrom and Bartolo Colon (both 43%) have been bright spots for a terrible Mets pitching staff, but they should enjoy the chance to pitch against some of baseball’s weaker lineups in one of baseball’s friendliest home parks. If Colon stays a Met, that is. Dillon Gee and Jon Niese (both 21%) could also benefit from the Mets’ schedule.

Brewers
Jimmy Nelson (12%) should benefit from a schedule that’s at least mildly helpful, with a bunch of soft Cubs and Reds games.

Astros
Collin McHugh (40%) would be underowned anyway, but he’ll be pitching against bad offenses and in good pitchers’ parks for most of September, making him all the more valuable. Scott Feldman (8%) hasn’t been nearly as good, but should still enjoy the schedule.

Angels
Hector Santiago (17%) is always a potential powder keg, but he could be very valuable as a strikeout guy with a great offense pitching against bad offenses in hitting-friendly parks.

A’s
Jason Hammel (47%)has been just a little overshadowed lately, but he’ll enjoy his games against weak opponents and in pitchers’ parks.

Dodgers
Roberto Hernandez (10%) should enjoy pitching in Dodger Stadium. In fact, the Dodgers have only three games in all of September outside of pitchers’ parks.

Padres
Odrisamer Despaigne (7%) and Eric Stults (3%) get 14 games at home, plus seven more in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s a pitcher’s dream.



September Schedules Part 3: NL Central, AL West, NL West

This is our last installment of the September Schedules miniseries; we’ll evaluate half the teams of the NL Central, and both leagues’ West Divisions. Last week we hit up the NL East, the AL Central, and the first half of the NL Central. Before that, I introduced the series and discussed the AL East. Check out both the previous parts if you missed ‘em. It’s worth mentioning again that I’m using Fangraphs WAR to grade team pitching and wOBA for hitting, and ESPN’s 2014 Park Factors, but you’ll have to follow the links if you want more recap. 

Milwaukee Brewers
Home: 14 (0.951, 19th, pitching favorable) | Road: 12
Opponents: Cardinals (7), Cubs (6), Reds (6), Marlins (4), Pirates (3)

With a pretty even pitching/hitting split in away park factors, and a pitching-friendly home park, grade this one grades out as relatively good for Milwaukee pitchers, though none of the park effects are particularly extreme. It’s the opposing batters that Brewer pitchers will really like though: only the three games against the Pirates are against quality offenses, and they get 12 games against two of the worst lineups in baseball: the Cubs and Reds. It could be a nice month for Milwaukee hurlers.

Things aren’t quite as helpful for the Brew Crew’s lineup. While the Pirates and Reds present nice targets for the Brewer bats, they have more games against the average-or-better Marlins, Cardinals, and Cubs. While the Cubs were depleted by a trade, the Cards were bolstered. Including the park effects, this is a bad but not terrible schedule for Brewer hitters. 

Final Grade: Things could end up very nice for Milwaukee pitchers, with friendly lineups and parks. Pick up their fringier guys. It could be rough for hitters, but not truly horrible.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Home: 9 (1.025, 12th, mildly hitting favorable) | Road: 17
Opponents: Cubs (6), Phillies (4), Braves (4), Brewers (3), Cardinals (3), Reds (3), Red Sox (3)

The Pirates get three games in St. Louis’s hitter-friendly stadium, but all their other road games are in pitcher-friendly parks. Actually, with Pittsburgh’s park close to neutral and the St. Louis games coming in the first three games of the month, most of September looks to be a little bit pitcher friendly. Their opponents will help too: only the Brewers and Cardinals out outside of the bottom 10 lineups in baseball. Maybe this will be enough to get Pittsburgh hurlers out of last in baseball in WAR….

Things aren’t quite as favorable for Pirate hitters, but they should enjoy playing against the Phillies, Brewers, and Reds, and the Cubs and Red Sox ought to be worse than their rank by WAR thanks to trading their best pitchers in July. The Braves, Cardinals, and park factors keep it from being a great schedule, but it’s still pretty good.

Final Grade: If you dare to pick up Pirates pitchers, at least they’ll get to face some of baseball’s weakest hitting teams in some of the friendlier parks. Hitters will be hampered by park effects, but ought to perform pretty well given the quality of their opposition.

St. Louis Cardinals
Home: 12 (1.098, 4th, very hitting favorable)| Road: 14
Opponents: Brewers (7), Reds (7), Cubs (3), Pirates (3), Rockies (3), Diamondbacks (3)

Continue reading "September Schedules Part 3: NL Central, AL West, NL West" »



RotoAuthority League Update: The Stretch Run Has Begun

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.

With the trade deadline behind us in the RotoAuthority League, the only transactions going forward will be waiver wire acquisitions. As such, sadly there will be no more trades for me to analyze down the stretch. For the rest of the season then, you can expect a similar format here from me.

Each week I'll first provide an update of the league standings. Given how the league has played out, I'll break things down into the race for first place, the battle for third place, and the fight to avoid the bottom four (and a boot from the league). Let's see how things stand at the moment.

The Race for First Place

1. E-Z Sliders 99

2. Men With Wood 89

Unless Commissioner Dierkes makes a run some time soon, the RotoAuthority League looks like a two-horse race for the title. I don't know whether to call it remarkable or boring, but these two clubs have been at the top of the standings for nearly two months now. As further evidence that success can result from a variety of strategies, it's worth noting that these managers have gotten the job done in far different ways. On the one hand, E-Z Sliders have made the second-fewest transactions in the league with just 43. On the other hand, Men With Wood works the waiver wire to death, far ahead of the league with 189 moves. Along those same lines, the manager of Men With Wood has made six trades whereas the owner for E-Z Sliders has completed just two deals. Having said that, both teams not only have dominant offenses but also excellent staffs. The deciding factor at this point is that Men With Wood has been subjected to truly awful luck, currently sitting last in the league in wins.

The Race for Third Place

3. Smell the Glove 81

4. Guitar Masahiro 77

5. A Century of Misery 66

6. Pulling Brzenk 65.5

Commissioner Dierkes is still the favorite to finish in third place, but Guitar Masahiro has certainly gained some ground over the past couple weeks. My squad, A Century of Misery, seems to hover in the middle of the standings day in and day out, as my hopes to finish in the money continue to dwindle. Lastly, Pulling Brzenk has really fallen on hard times due to countless injuries, but this sharp owner should be able to avoid the boot from the league.

The Race to Avoid the Bottom Four

7. Brewsterville Bruins 57

8. The Bombers 56

9. The Jewru 55

10. Spirit of St. Louis 53

11. Cobra Kai 45

12. Gramma Nutt Crushers 36.5

 

It's now or never for these clubs at the bottom of the standings. The Brewsterville Bruins are making a valiant effort to survive yet another season. At this point, it appears the Bruins are competing with the Bombers, the Jewru, and Spirit of St. Louis in a four-way race for two spots. Given the stagnant nature of the standings at the top of this league, this might just be the most exciting race over the next month. It's still premature to say goodbye to Cobra Kai and the Gramma Nutt Crushers, but they sure need to make up some ground and soon.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: August 22-28

TPIITP is back after a week's vacation, as I was on a trip to lovely Chicago.  As you might expect, this trip involved a lot of baseball, and since this column is all about digging into the advanced metrics to find hidden gems, can I point out just how crazy underrated U.S. Cellular Field is as a ballpark?  You never hear anything particularly good about the Cell yet I had a very enjoyable time watching two games there last weekend.  Basically, U.S. Cellular's biggest crime seems to be that it shares a city with Wrigley Field, so it can't help but suffer by comparison.  Clearly, the Cell needs plants on the outfield walls in order to compete...I'd suggest a series of venus flytraps, if for no other reason than to see if a plant is really a better fielder than Dayan Viciedo.

Now that I'm back, let's dive into this week's look at the peripheral numbers...

* Till We Meet Again.  There's a lot to like about Chris Tillman, de facto ace of the "how are they doing this?!" Baltimore Orioles.  He's been one of the game's hottest pitchers in August (posting a 1.57 ERA over his last four starts) and while he hasn't quite made the step to ace like some thought he would during the offseason, he's been a thoroughly solid rotation arm.

If you're guessing this is the point of the paragraph where I do one of my patented "....so you should trade him" turns, you're right.  And I'm very predictable.  Tillman's 4.15 FIP, 4.32 xFIP, 4.39 SIERA and 6.23 K/9 are all more suited to a borderline rotation guy, not someone you necessarily want making key starts for you down the stretch in your fantasy league.  The only 5x5 category I'm confident Tillman can deliver in is wins, as the O's are beating everyone in their path right now.

Tillman is the perfect type of above-average starter that you'd ideally like to pair with another slightly above-average starter to package in a trade for an upper-tier ace, if you've got another manager in your league who's having rotation depth issues.  Find the guy in your league who, for instance, just lost Garrett Richards for the season and if he has another top-level arm, offer up Tillman and another pitcher to obtain some quality over quantity.

* Duff Light.  Speaking of pitchers on AL contenders who are outperforming their peripherals...geez, that's a long "speaking of"....here's Danny Duffy of the Royals.  Going into the season, the Royals desperately needed one of their young pitchers to step up and bolster James Shields, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie, and the Duffman thrusted in the general direction of the problem by posting a 2.53 ERA through 128 IP (20 starts out of 26 appearances).

While the southpaw has been a reliable arm for K.C., there are some warning signs.  Not only does Duffy not strike many batters out (6.89 K/9), he's also issuing a lot of free passes (3.16 BB/9) and getting bailed out by a .231 BABIP.  His 5.7% home run rate has also helped limit the damage, yet Duffy is allowing a lot of fly balls --- his 47.5% fly ball rate this season is a career high.  Playing in Kauffman Stadium helps keep those flies in the park, yet overall, the advanced metrics aren't impressed by Duffy's performance.  He has one of the largest gaps between an ERA and an xFIP (4.48) or SIERA (4.32) of any pitcher in the league, not to mention a 3.79 FIP.

Beyond the peripherals, there's also the fact that Duffy might be a candidate to run out of gas.  He underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2012 and didn't return to the majors until August of the following year.  Duffy has already thrown a career-high 128 innings this season and, with the Royals in a pennant race, it's unlikely they're going to shut him down unless he's actually suffering from arm trouble.  Since Duffy hasn't gone longer than seven innings all year, it could be that Kansas City has intentionally been limiting his starts in order to keep him fresh, though I'd still be wary that Duffy could start to struggle with the more mileage he puts on his left arm.  Basically, if you have Duffy and Tillman in your rotation, package them up and see if you can trade for an ace!

* OshJosh B'GoshJosh Harrison has been a terrific Swiss Army knife of a player for both the Pirates and for fantasy owners in 2014.  The utilityman qualifies at 2B, 3B, SS and the outfield in most leagues, making him a one-man bench for owners looking to sit a regular starter in a tough matchup.  Not that Harrison hasn't been worthy of starting assignments himself --- his .359 wOBA ranks him 30th in all of baseball and he's hit a cool .304/.341/.484 with 10 homers, 38 RBI, 58 runs and 17 steals over 404 PA.  This was even enough for Harrison to earn a spot on the NL All-Star team.

Harrison has basically been an everyday player for Pittsburgh already as Clint Hurdle has sought to keep his bat in the lineup, but Harrison looks to be the Bucs' answer at third base for the rest of the season given Pedro Alvarez's defensive struggles.  The question is, should you also be sticking with Harrison down the stretch as you head toward your fantasy playoffs?

My answer is yes, as you might've guessed from my praise of Harrison over the previous two paragraphs.  What, you thought I was going to make a predictable turn again?  Pfft, NO.  Harrison's versatility and season-long production makes him a solid member of any fantasy lineup, though I do have a couple of caveats.  Since this is Harrison's big breakout year, it wouldn't be a total surprise if he suddenly came back to earth --- for instance, if his .338 BABIP dipped down towards the league average.  That BABIP might also explain why Harrison's contact rates are actually all career lows, though they're not too far out of whack with his career averages.

I wouldn't hit the decline button if someone offered me a more established star in exchange for Harrison, yet I also wouldn't be going out of my way to trade a player who has more than surpassed expectations this season.  The BABIP is a bit of a concern, but since Harrison is one of the quicker players in the game, that number could be a product of his ability to beat out ground balls.  Four positions, helps in all 5x5 categories...is there anything this guy can't do?  Can he help me with my taxes?



Closer Updates: Cards, Mets, Nats, Pirates, Reds, Tigers

As the fantasy baseball playoffs inch closer and closer, you’re likely looking for any advantage which might push you over the hump. Of course, scouring through all the box scores to find that perfect candidate can be a bit daunting. Fortunately, we’ll be exploring a few potential saves candidates and looking further in-depth into a few bullpen situations. With a little luck, we will help bring a title to your squad this season.

Cincinnati Reds – As the Redlegs make a playoff push (2nd in the NL Central), look for them to potentially rest Aroldis Chapman (26 saves, 2.82 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 17.4 K/9). Right now, he’s day-to-day with an “achy” shoulder. There’s no long term cause for concern, but Jonathan Broxton possesses a solid stat line (6 saves, 1.43 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) and might be a good candidate for stealing some saves if manager Bryan Price wants to rest Chapman’s arm until it comes back to full strength.

Detroit Tigers – Inexplicably, Joe Nathan is still the closer in Motown. After a horrendous season (26 saves, 5.28 ERA, 1.61 WHIP), he always perform just well enough to keep the job. Over the past month, there were glimpses of the old Nathan and it seemed he was getting his act together. Before long, he began struggling mightily, again, over the past week especially (2 saves, 6.00 ERA, 2.33 WHIP). Go pick up Joba Chamberlain (2 saves, 3.26 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) if you’re looking for some strong value late, even though it doesn’t quite seem that manager Brad Ausmus is ready to give up on Nathan just yet.

New York Mets – If you’re scrounging for saves, another speculative pickup is Jeurys Familia. With Jenrry Mejia far from a sure thing (18 saves, 4.04 ERA, 1.53 WHIP), it’s very possible that Familia sneaks into the job before season’s end. He’s been spectacular all season (3 saves, 2.02 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) and could become a solid asset for the Mets if he can prove a decent fit for the ninth inning.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Former Brewers and Indians closer John Axford (10 saves, 3.69 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in 2014) was picked up off waivers by the Buccos, becoming another one of their midseason bullpen projects (see Ernesto Frieri). Although he has not been as dominant as his 2011 campaign, Pittsburgh is hoping there may still be some tread on those tires. Even if there is, he not coming close to Mark Melancon (22 saves, 2.28 ERA, 0.94 WHIP) and Tony Watson (1.84 ERA, 1.04 WHIP).

San Francisco Giants – Earlier this week, Sergio Romo (23 saves, 4.24 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) earned a save by relieving Santiago Casilla (10 saves, 1.62 ERA, 0.90 WHIP). Does this mean that Romo has the job back? Not quite… Casilla is still the guy to own after manager Bruce Bochy reinforced that Romo only had the ninth for that particular evening.

St. Louis Cardinals – Another prospective pickup for saves is Pat Neshek, who has had an excellent season for the Cards (0.84 ERA, 0.58 WHIP). Trevor Rosenthal has struggled over the past two weeks (2 saves, 7.94 ERA, 2.47 WHIP) and St. Louis is the middle of a playoff push. If Rosenthal continues to allow runs, or needs some rest in anticipation of the postseason, Neshek could easily step in and convert the save. He’s already done it four times this season.

Washington Nationals – Although he had a stellar start to the season, Rafael Soriano has performed poorly in the past week and allowed runs in two straight appearances. It might just be a blip considering he converted a save on Wednesday night, but keep an eye on Tyler Clippard (1.64 ERA, 1.02 WHIP) and Drew Storen (1.56 ERA, 1.07 WHIP). Conventional wisdom says that Clippard would be first in line, but it’s been clear in the past that the Nats prefer to leave him in a setup role, even when the closer is struggling. My money is on Storen.

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: Super Pitching Edition

If it feels like it’s been a long time since Stock Watch was back to normal…well, that’s because it was. Well, the normal format is back. Sort of. No more trading advice, since that time has passed. There are still plenty of opportunities on the waiver wire, though, and when we hit the September roster expansion there will be plenty more. Too bad our fantasy rosters don’t expand too…. 

Also, it’s been so long since I did this that I ended up writing over a thousand words just on the pitchers. So…yeah. Super pitching edition! We’ll be back with hitters next week…. 

Shallow Leagues (30-50% Owned in Yahoo! Leagues)     

I think there’s a misconception out there that shallow leagues are easy to win, something for novices. But that's not completely true, because there’s so little room for error. You take a chance on a guy with upside and you don’t have any choice but to throw him right into your lineup. What’s that mean for you now? Well, it means I’ll try to find only good players to throw in this category.

Mike Fiers (49%) has, um, caught fire. His ownership has skyrocketed too, but you can consider this a green light to take the chance on a player who’s torched the competition before (and burned his owners before too). 

Chris Young (46%) is not real. I mean that literally. He is a FIP-ignoring, strike-throwing, ratio-lowering robot. That’s not as good an explanation as what you can probably find on Fangraphs, but at least we both understand it. Anyway, he’s done it this long, has a favorable park and his team is winning games. Go for it. (But spoiler alert: the Mariners’ September schedule doesn’t look too good.)

Marcus Stroman (45%) might have gotten dropped after his last start (less than an inning of work). This bad one was his second bad start in his last three, but the rest of his work has been stellar. I can understand being worried that the rookie is gassed, but if you need some upside, here’s your play.

Kyle Hendricks (42%)is getting outstanding results (he hasn’t allowed more than one run in a game since his debut). More good news is that he allowed more than half of his season’s walk total in his first two starts, so his control has largely been better than his final line indicates. Hendricks is not missing bats, though, and that worries me. This is an upside-play, to be sure, but I don’t think the performance is real.

James Paxton (41%) is back from injury. He was straight-up dominant at the beginning of the year and was the sort of prospect that performance isn’t shocking from. Snatch him back up.

I promised myself (and my wife) that I wouldn’t talk up Brandon McCarthy (41%) ever again. It seems like every time I do, he becomes horrible almost instantly. But he has been flat-out dominant since going to the Yankees. His AL ERA is 2.03 and he’s got season-long strikeout-to-walk ratio over 5.00. Seriously.

Danny Salazar (39%) is a high-risk/high-reward type at this point, but there must be teams out there that could benefit from taking a chance on him now that the pre-season hype has worn off. 

Collin McHugh (39%) appears to be better than he’s getting credit for. With over a strikeout per inning and a team that’s not as bad as everyone still thinks, there’s something here. His games logs don’t show any sign that the magic fairy dust is wearing off, and sometimes it never does.This is one guy I expect to draft next year.

Jesse Hahn (32%) isn’t really on this list for shallow leaguers, as he just got sent down to the minors. But rumor has it that he’s coming back for September when rosters expand. He’s been lights-out, so anyone with room on their roster still should consider stashing him. 

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

Matt Shoemaker (28%) has pitched pretty well, plays for a first-place team and (spoiler alert) the Angels have a great pitching schedule in September, with nearly every game in favorable parks. This guy could quietly have a big last month for fantasy owners. 

Vance Worley (23%) might be falling apart as I type, as he’s had two bad starts in a row. Still, the Pirates need any pitching they can get and Worley has one great attribute: impeccable control. The pitcher hasn’t allowed more than two walks in any start this year. That’s a chance worth taking in plenty of leagues. 

Nathan Eovaldi (23%) is another super-control guy: he’s allowed more than two walks in a game just twice all season—and he’s been pitching since April 1. He’s also three good starts removed from a late-July rough patch. 

Deep Leagues (10-20% Owned) 

Jeremy Hellickson (18%) has largely pitched well since his return from the DL. What else is there to say? 

Chase Anderson (15%) has been quietly delivering OK pitching for most of the year. I wasn’t excited and I wasn’t going to list him—then I remembered that in deep leagues sometimes a nice dose of just OK is exactly what you need. So, if you do, here he is.

Trevor Bauer (15%) just got lit up, and he’s hardly been consistent this year, but he’s shown flashes of his prospect status more than once. He’s certainly a more exciting option than most of the players this deep into Stock Watch.

Roberto Hernandez (15%) should enjoy pitching for the Dodgers down the stretch. A decent pitcher on a good team is about the best bet you can make if you’re in need of wins help. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug one of my few fellow Oregonians in baseball: Jimmy Nelson (14%). Also, he’s shown good control, and his overall numbers are bloated by a single bad start in July. He’s looking like a useful back-end rotation piece, and he pitches for a good-hitting team. 

Hector Santiago (12%) should, like his teammate Shoemaker (above) enjoy a pitching-friendly schedule for the Angels in September. Plus, he still misses bats and the Halos score a ton of runs. Beware of the walks, though.

Super-Deep Bonus (Less than 10% Owned) 

Roenis Elias and Tsuyoshi Wada (both 8%) have pitched very well over the last month and (obviously) aren’t on many radars.

You should never take me at face value when I talk about Chris Capuano (3%). For some reason, I’ve always rooted for him, and always expect him to be awesome. So I’ll just present the facts: he has struck out lots of batters and allowed too many runs since joining the Yankees. He is also available in your league. Don’t get too excited, but don’t mind me while I look at that cherry-picked strikeout-to-walk ratio since the beginning of August: 28:3.



September Schedules Part 2: NL East, AL Central, NL Central

Last Friday we kicked off our September Schedules preview with an introduction of purpose and methodology, then evaluated the upside-down AL East. If you missed it check it out. All I’ll recap here is that I’m using Fangraphs WAR to grade team pitching and wOBA for hitting, and ESPN’s 2014 Park Factors. If I make recommendations based on other stats, factors, or extenuating circumstances, I’ll let you know.

Today we'll hit the NL East, the AL Central, and get halfway done with the NL Central. Next week, we'll finish it all off. This is a long one, so watch for the page break.

Atlanta Braves
Home: 13 (0.947—19th—pitching favorable) | Road: 12
Opponents: Phillies (6), Nationals (6), Pirates (4), Mets (3), Marlins (3), Rangers, (3)

Most of the Braves’ road games are in parks that have favored hitters this year—Texas and Washington, and, surprisingly enough, Pittsburgh and Miami. However, all those games are in the first half of the month: after the 15th every game will be in Atlanta or Philadelphia, which have both played pitcher-friendly. So if you can grab Atlanta pitchers off the wire in the second half of September, go for it. It helps that the Braves get nine games against two of the three worst offenses in baseball (Phillies and Mets), and six more against the below-average Rangers and Marlins. I like Braves pitchers in September.

The hitters won’t enjoy the park effects, so consider dropping fringy Atlanta guys for the second half of September. Plus, they get six games against Washington, the best pitching staff in baseball by WAR so far. Braves hitters do get to beat up on the Mets and Phillies, who are bad on both sides of the ball, and the Pirates, who are the worst pitchers in the game. So, there are pluses and minuses for the hitters.

Final Grade: Good news for Braves pitchers, with great matchups loaded into the second half of the month. Pick them up! Hitters get easy opponents but tough parks—it probably evens out.

Miami Marlins
Home: 13 (1.032—11th—moderately favorable for hitters)| Road: 14
Opponents: Nationals (8), Mets (6), Phillies (6), Brewers (4), Braves (3) 

The Marlins’ road games are a mix that looks like it should help pitchers a little, doing a bit to neutralize Miami’s hitter-friendly home park factor. Only their last four games of the season at Washington are in hitter-friendly road parks…but the Nationals’ league-leading pitching staff should more than balance that out. The good news for Miami hitters is that only the Nationals and Braves offer not-terrible pitching opponents. With so many games against the Mets, Phillies, and Brewers, Marlins hitters get a

Continue reading "September Schedules Part 2: NL East, AL Central, NL Central" »



RotoAuthority League Update: Deadline Deals

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.

The trade deadline passed yesterday in the RotoAuthority League. Let's take a look at the deals that went down in the week leading up to the deadline.

08/10 - Men With Wood agrees to trade Chris Carter and J.P. Arencibia to A Century of Misery for Salvador Perez

Sitting in second place, Men With Wood is naturally looking to do anything possible to pass up current leader E-Z Sliders and take home the title. The long-time league participant has had a dominant offense all season; in fact, this squad leads the league in HR, SB, and runs while sitting in second in RBI. The one weakness offensively for this club is the AVG category. With this deal, though, Men With Wood addressed that need in more ways than one. Not only is Perez a skilled batsman and a reliable contributor in AVG relative to other catchers, but removing Carter and Arencibia from the roster should also benefit this owner in the category.

For me, this was purely a speculative deal for upside. I'm taking a chance that the recent hot streak by Carter is mostly for real. On a recent episode of the BaseballHQ podcast, Cory Schwartz of MLB.com suggested that Carter has made legitimate changes in his approach and may no longer be a killer in the AVG column. Given that I currently reside in the middle of the standings, I'm looking to swing for the fences with a (very) slim chance at third place.

08/16 - Brewsterville Bruins agree to trade Doug Fister, Denard Span, and Danny Santana to Guitar Masahiro for Clayton Kershaw, Charlie Blackmon, and Yangervis Solarte

This one certainly caught my eye. At first glance, it sure seems like the Bruins acquired Kershaw at a discount. Blackmon has really slowed down since May, and Solarte was released immediately after the deal was processed. Accordingly, this trade really boils down to a consolidation move for Kershaw. Guitar Masahiro does get a highly underrated arm in return in Fister as well as some speed from both Span and Santana. Even so, I'm surprised this is the best return Guitar Masahiro for the incomparable Kershaw. One can make the case the Dodgers ace should go second overall in drafts next spring.

08/16 - A Century of Misery agrees to trade Johnny Cueto and Chase Utley to Guitar Masahiro for David Ortiz and Hunter Pence

With six weeks to play, it's all about gaining points in the standings when it comes to assessing deals. I sure have enjoyed owning Cueto this season, but I'm willing to cash in my chips at this point. As I analyzed the standings, it became clear that there was a greater opportunity to gain points in the offensive categories compared to the pitching ones. Along those same lines, I tend to devalue AVG as the end of the season draws near with a smaller sample size of at-bats, so I was more willing to deal Utley than I would have been at the outset of the season. In return, Ortiz remains a highly skilled bat and a personal favorite of mine while Pence is having yet another quietly productive campaign while contributing a little bit all over the place.





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