A Very Special Episode


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 Rankings 2014: Downloadable Version, Plus Middle and Corner Infield

As we sort through the rubble of our mock draft, tinker with the rankings for starting pitcher, and wonder if Ervin Stantana will ever sign, I thought it would be useful to put our hitting rankings together in a couple easy-to-use formats, combine lists for MI and CI, and give you the spreadsheet version of all our rakings:  Download RotoAuthority Rankings 2014.

If you haven't read the lists with analysis, check each of them out at the links below:

 OutfieldCatcherFirst BaseThird BaseSecond Base, Shortstop, and Closer

Here is what our Second Base and Shortstop lists would look like if you were drafting to fill out the MI position:

Rank Tier Name POS
1 1 Robinson Cano 2B
2 1 Hanley Ramirez SS
3 1 Troy Tulowitzki SS
4 2 Jason Kipnis 2B
5 2 Dustin Pedroia 2B
6 3 Jean Segura SS
7 3 Ian Desmond SS
8 3 Jose Reyes SS
9 4 Aaron Hill 2B
10 4 Matt Carpenter 2B
11 4 Everth Cabrera SS
12 4 Elvis Andrus SS
13 4 Ian Kinsler 2B
14 4 Ben Zobrist 2B/SS
15 5 Jose Altuve 2B
16 5 Chase Utley 2B
17 5 Jedd Gyorko 2B
18 5 Brandon Phillips 2B
19 5 Martin Prado 2B
20 5 Daniel Murphy 2B
21 6 Starlin Castro SS
22 6 Brad Miller SS
23 6 Andrelton Simmons SS
24 6 Jonathan Villar SS
25 6 Xander Bogaerts SS
26 6 J.J. Hardy SS
27 6 Jed Lowrie 2B/SS
28 6 Jurickson Profar 2B/SS
29 6 Alexei Ramirez SS
30 6 Brian Dozier 2B/SS
31 6 Howie Kendrick 2B
32 7 Omar Infante 2B
33 7 Neil Walker 2B
34 7 Alexander Guerrero 2B
35 7 Anthony Rendon 2B
36 7 Asdrubal Cabrera SS
37 7 Jimmy Rollins SS
38 7 Jhonny Peralta SS
39 7 Erick Aybar 2B
40 7 Kelly Johnson 2B
41 7 Kolten Wong 2B
42 7 Emilio Bonifacio 2B
43 7 Derek Jeter SS
44 7 Nick Franklin 2B/SS
45 7 Alcides Escobar SS
46 7 Zack Cozart SS
47 7 Jordy Mercer SS
48 7 Stephen Drew SS
49 7 Yunel Escobar SS
50 7 Dan Uggla 2B
51 7 Rickie Weeks 2B
52 7 Mike Aviles SS

In a similar vein, here are you First and Third Base options mixed, for the CI position:

Rank Tier Name POS
1 1 Miguel Cabrera 3B
2 2 Paul Goldschmidt 1B
3 2 Chris Davis 1B
4 2 Adrian Beltre 3B
5 2 Edwin Encarnacion 1B (3B)
6 2 Joey Votto 1B
7 3 Evan Longoria 3B
8 3 David Wright 3B
9 4 Prince Fielder 1B
10 4 Freddie Freeman 1B
11 5 Mark Trumbo 1B
12 5 Albert Pujols 1B
13 5 Eric Hosmer 1B
14 5 Adrian Gonzalez 1B
15 5 David Ortiz DH (1B)
16 6 Ryan Zimmerman 3B
17 6 Matt Carpenter 3B
18 6 Buster Posey 1B
19 6 Pedro Alvarez 3B
20 6 Josh Donaldson 3B
21 6 Jose Abreu 1B
22 6 Allen Craig 1B
23 7 Brandon Belt 1B
24 7 Joe Mauer 1B
25 7 Anthony Rizzo 1B
26 7 Carlos Santana 1B
27 7 Mike Napoli 1B
28 7 Matt Adams 1B
29 7 Billy Butler 1B
30 7 Michael Cuddyer 1B
31 8 Pablo Sandoval 3B
32 8 Manny Machado 3B
33 8 Brandon Moss 1B
34 8 Brett Lawrie 3B
35 8 Kyle Seager 3B
36 8 Aramis Ramirez 3B
37 8 Nick Swisher 1B
38 8 Adam Lind 1B
39 8 Adam LaRoche 1B
40 8 Chris Carter 1B
41 8 Jedd Gyorko (3B)
42 8 Kendrys Morales 1B
43 8 Jonathan Lucroy 1B
44 9 Chris Johnson 3B
45 9 Martin Prado 3B
46 9 Chase Headley 3B
47 9 Justin Morneau 1B
48 9 Adam Dunn 1B
49 9 Xander Bogaerts 3B
50 9 Yan Gomes 1B
51 9 Corey Hart 1B
52 9 Michael Morse (1B)
53 9 Todd Frazier 3B
54 9 Jurickson Profar 3B
55 9 Victor Martinez (1B)
56 10 Will Middlebrooks 3B
57 10 Matt Dominguez 3B
58 10 Mike Moustakas 3B
59 10 Nolan Arenado 3B
60 10 Yonder Alonso 1B
61 10 James Loney 1B
62 10 Daniel Murphy 1B
63 10 Daniel Nava 1B
64 10 Mark Teixeira 1B
65 10 Ryan Howard 1B
66 10 Ike Davis 1B
67 10 Anthony Rendon 3B
68 10 David Freese 3B
69 10 Mark Reynolds 1B/3B
70 10 Mitch Moreland 1B
71 10 Justin Smoak 1B
72 10 Paul Konerko 1B
73 10 Matt Davidson 3B
74 10 Garrett Jones 1B

So, download the spreadsheet, enjoy drafting middle and corner infielders with ease, and of course, join us one last time on Saturday for the Starting Pitcher rankings.



The Market Report: Ideal First-Round Picks

The Market Report is a weekly analysis of player valuations in the fantasy marketplace in an effort to find undervalued commodities.

Given that pitchers and catchers report next month, it's officially fantasy baseball season. In the weeks leading up to Opening Day, this column will analyze ADP data in order to cull out players whose market value is widely divergent from expected fantasy value. As a result, readers will not only be able to assemble a list of undervalued players as draft season draws near, but they will also gain insight as to how competitors value specific commodities, such as positional scarcity and categorical needs.

For this initial column let's take a look at the most important choice that any fantasy owner makes in a straight draft league. In reality, the most pivotal decision of a fantasy manager is also the first one. That is to say, no pick influences the fate of a fantasy team more so than the player chosen in Round One. While there's little profit to be gained in the first round due to the tremendous investment placed in the player, there's also potential for disaster at the same time. In other words, the downside is far greater than the upside when drafting a player in Round One.

With that in mind, it's always been my philosophy to play it safe in the first round. I've been playing this game for over a decade, and I've always prioritized floor over ceiling with this crucial decision. In particular, I've made an effort to select players with both stable skill sets and track records of good health. Naturally, the next question then becomes which players meet this criteria as we enter the 2014 season? Whom should we target in the first round of our drafts in March?

Well, in order to answer this question we first need to know whom our competition views as the cream of the crop for the upcoming season. Given that there's insufficient data on Mock Draft Central at this early stage in the offseason, I've turned to an alternative source where some of the top fantasy mangers in the world put their money on the line, the NFBC Draft Champions Leagues.

Based on ADP data a typical first round in a 12-team league shakes out as follows:

1. Mike Trout

2. Miguel Cabrera

3. Paul Goldschmidt

4. Andrew McCutchen

5. Clayton Kershaw

6. Chris Davis

7. Ryan Braun

8. Jacoby Ellsbury

9. Hanley Ramirez

10. Adam Jones

11. Carlos Gonzalez 

12. Robinson Cano

Before identifying my favorite targets for Round One, I'd like to discuss the players currently going in the first round whom I don't view as worthy of such a signficant investment. In total, there are three such players: Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Hanley Ramirez.

Let's start with Braun. We're clearly working with incomplete information here, as we simply don't know the extent to which PEDs have aided his production. I personally think the effect of PEDs is largedly overstated. In fact, I was hoping the Hebrew Hammer would fall to the late-second round in drafts this spring, but it doesn't appear that's going to be the case. Accordingly, I'm not willing to pay for Braun at his current pricetag.

With Ellsbury and Ramirez, the reasons are more concrete. For one, both players have spent plenty of time on the DL. Jacoby has missed significant portions of two of the previous four seasons while Hanley has failed to play 100 games two of the past three years. Moreover, even when this duo has been on the field, each has been far from consistent. In 2011 Ellsbury enjoyed a power breakout with 32 HR over 660 at-bats. In hindsight, however, that season stands out as an anomaly, as he's hit just 33 HR in 2252 other career at-bats. Similarly, Hanley hit a combined .252 over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and it looked like his days of hitting .300 were behind him. Then last year, he was remarkably the top player in fantasy baseball on a per-game basis, batting .345 with 20 HR in only 304 at-bats. While both players are incredibly talented then, I just don't know what I'm getting with either one. When it comes to the first round, that's simply not good enough for me.

So which players are worthy of the first round as we enter the 2014 season? Below you'll find my top six as of this first week of January. I've presented these studs in mini-tiers based on how I'd value them right now. Let's get to the rankings...

Otherworldly Studs on the Path to Cooperstown

1. Mike Trout

2. Miguel Cabrera

What can I say about this dynamic duo? Trout is the best player I've seen since Bonds, while Cabrera may have passed up Pujols as the best right-handed hitter of this generation. From a fantasy perspective, my only takeaway is that I'd much prefer a top-two pick this spring. Not only do I feel like rostering one of these two gives an owner a leg up on the competition, but I also see little difference between players currently going at the beginning of the second round and those being drafted toward the end of the second round. If you play in a league that uses KDS preference to assign draft order, I highly recommend prioritizing first and second ahead of any other draft slots.

So why is Trout ahead of Miggy? Well, Cabrera's left groin injury clearly affected him down the stretch last season, as he slugged just .333 over 72 at-bats in September. He underwent surgery in late-October and should be fine for Spring Training, so it's not something to fret over too much. Even so, when making the first overall pick, a fantasy manager can't be too picky. After finishing as the top fantasy player overall in 2012, Trout fell all the way back to second this past season. In fact, on closer examination he actually improved his walk rate while cutting back on his strikeout rate at the same time. It's scary, but Trout is only getting better.

Safest Options in a Game of Uncertainty

3. Andrew McCutchen

4. Clayton Kershaw

5. Adam Jones

6. Robinson Cano

Before discussing the specific players within this tier, I'd like to point out my rationale behind playing it safe in Round One. I don't think the average fantasy player realizes just how much turnover there is in the first round from one year to the next. Research conducted by BaseballHQ has found that two-thirds of players finishing in the top 15 weren't in the top 15 the previous season. What's more, there isn't much wisdom in the masses, as there's only been a 36% success rate of a player drafted in Round One actually returning first round value over the past ten years. In other words, the fantasy community as a whole isn't all that great at prognosticating the top players overall. Hence, fantasy baseball has become largely a game of uncertainty.

With that in mind, fantasy owners shouldn't just blindly draft in accordance with ADP. I'm perfectly fine sacrificing some upside and selecting a durable, consistent performer with a high floor in Round One. For me, this group of four players all possess the qualities that I look for in a Round One pick. Each comes with a track record of consistent production; in fact, all have returned top-15 value on average over the past two years. In addition, at the very least you can count on this group to show up to work, as their injury histories are completely blank over the past three seasons. Accordingly, if I can't have Trout or Cabrera, these are the four players I'll be targeting in the first round of drafts.

For a few reasons it's at this point in the first round where things start to get interesting. The market agrees with me that Trout and Cabrera are the clear-cut top two entering drafts this spring. After that pair, though, my rankings no longer match up with the consensus. While I see a marked dropoff after the top two, Cutch looks the best option if drafting third. He's the only player besides Trout and Cabrera to finish in the top six in each of the past two seasons. He's gone 20 / 20 for three straight years, and he's only missed a handful of games in his career. Although he's not widely viewed as an elite batsman, McCutchen actually finished fifth in the game in well-hit average (WHAV) according to ESPN. Finally, Cutch possesses a rare ability to contribute in all five fantasy categories. When a player possesses skills that lead to production across the board, it's just highly unlikely that he'll be a complete bust.

While McCutchen looks like one of the safest hitters, Clayton Kershaw may be the safest option overall on draft boards. As an aside, it's always been my philosophy to wait on pitching. As DIPS theory has become mainstream, though, I've begun to reconsider that mindset. In the past I never would have taken a pitcher in Round One, but I'm not sure a fantasy owner can compete in the pitching categories anymore without paying for pitching to a certain extent. Offense continues to dwindle from one year to the next while pitchers have posted more and more pristine results. Sure, it's all relative, as the 30th best starting pitcher is still the 30th best starting pitcher; he just posts better numbers today. Even so, the fact remains there's little room for error in building a pitching staff today. In the span of a decade, rostering a pitcher who posts a 4.00 ERA has gone from inconsequential to downright disastrous for a staff. With all of that in mind, I've come around in my  philosophy on pitching this offseason, and that's most certainly reflected in my ranking of Clayton Kershaw at fourth overall.

If that ranking is surprising, then the next one might really shock you. When you hear the name Adam Jones, you might not think of a first round-caliber talent. Believe it or not, though, the only players with better average finishes on the ESPN Player Rater over the past two seasons are precisely the same four players I've ranked ahead of Jones. While the low walk rate is a tad worrisome, Jones possesses a rare ability to consistently make contact despite not being all that selective. Paradoxically, a lack of patience can actually benefit a player from a fantasy perspective to a certain extent, as fewer walks result in additional at-bats, thereby boosting the value the player contributes to the AVG category. Like McCutchen, Jones is also able to help fantasy owners across the board. Overall then, I'm more than content drafting this fantasy star in the middle of Round One, as he represents one of the safest options in today's Rotisserie game.

Finally, Robinson Cano may lack the upside of other players currently going in Round One in his new home in Seattle. Nevertheless, here's a player with one of the highest floors in the game. Cano's past five seasons are the very definition of consistency. While most fantasy pundits believe that his value takes a hit in leaving New York, I'm not so sure the change in venues will be too detrimental. Sure, from a power standpoint one would assume this move in ballparks wouldn't do Cano any favors. That being said, the star second baseman would have only lost one home run had he played in Safeco Field last season. Even if we assume he loses a handful of home runs, this is still one of the most durable players in the game with a highly stable skill set to boot. While I would have ranked Cano fourth overall in pinstripes, I think the fantasy community is making a mistake by letting him fall to his current ADP of 12. 

Next week we'll look at how to approach drafting at the back end of the first round, if by chance you can't get one of these six fantasy studs.



Stock Watch: Strength of Schedule (Part 2)

Welcome to a very special crossover edition of Stock Watch Just days ago on RotoAuthority Unscripted, we examined the September schedules of the first fifteen MLB teams, on the premise that within such a small section of the season, the strength (or weakness) of any team’s opponents can have a huge impact on all its players.

We left off with the Milwaukee Brewers, so any team before them in the alphabet (by location, not nickname) can be found in Thursday’s post.

 Note that I'm taking 2013 park factors from ESPN and team pitching (sorted by xFIP) and hitting (sorted by wOBA) stats from Fangraphs.com. Each team’s name is a link to their schedule, so you can see for yourself if my suggestions are good.

 Minnesota Twins

Total: 28 games (17 home) Athletics 7(3), Indians 4(4), Blue Jays 3(3), Tigers 3(3), Rays 3(3),White Sox 3, Astros 3, Rangers 1, Angels 1

Home park factor: 1.075

Pitching: Fourteen games against top-third lineups, with only 6 against bottom-third hitting.

Hitting: Only 6 games against top-tier pitching (Rays and Tigers), but 10 against bottom-third pitching staffs (Blue Jays, Astros, Angels, Athletics)

Analysis: If you have any Twins pitchers (besides Glen Perkins), now is the perfect time to let them go. The hitters, however, have a mildly favorable schedule, and play a lot of games in their run-increasing (though homer killing) home park.

New York Mets

Total: 27 games (15 home) Nationals 5(4), Brewers 4, Marlins 4, Braves 3, Indians 3, Giants 3(3), Reds 3, Phillies 3

Home park factor: 0.878

Pitching: Six games against top-tier offenses (Braves and Indians), which all come in the first week of the month; after that 10 games against bottom-third offenses.

Hitting: Eleven games against top-third pitching; only the 3 Phillies games are against bottom-tier pitching staffs.

Analysis: Wait a week before picking up or starting Mets pitchers, but after that, they should encounter a mostly favorable schedule. Their hitters aren’t so lucky—cut ties with any fringy hitter you can spare.

New York Yankees

Total: 27 games (14 home) Red Sox 7(4), Orioles 5(1), White Sox 3(3), Blue Jays 3, Giants 3(3), Rays 3(3), Astros 3

Home park factor: 1.034

Pitching: The Yankees draw 12 games against the second and third best hitting teams in baseball (Red Sox and Orioles), plus 6 more against top-third lineups; they do have 9 games against lower-third teams.

Hitting: Three Rays games are the only top-third pitchers the Yanks will face, and they have 11 against bottom third pitchers.

Analysis: Pitching has been New York’s brightest spot, but this is a bad month to be a non-ace Yankee—if you can find similarly talented pitchers on other teams on the waiver wire, trade in your Yankee arms. The hitters, however, enjoy a very favorable month.

Oakland Athletics

Total: 27 games (15 home) Twins 7(4), Rangers 6(3), Angels 6(3), Astros 4(4), Mariners 3, Rays 1(1)

Home park factor: 0.881—with the 3 Seattle games and one in Tampa Bay, the A’s have 19 games in very pitcher-friendly parks.

Pitching: Thirteen games against top-third hitting, with only 4 against bottom-third hitters.

Hitting: Only 4 games against top-third pitching (Mariners, Rays), with 17 against bottom-third pitching.

Analysis: Though not helped by the parks they’ll be playing in, the Athletics’ hitters have extremely good matchups. The pitching staff will need the help from those park factors and are not recommended.

Philadelphia Phillies

Total: 26 games (15 home) Braves 7(3), Nationals 6(3), Marlins 6(3), Padres 3, Mets 3, Cubs 1

Home park factor: 1.117

Pitching: The 7 Braves games are the only top-third matchups, while they play 13 against bottom-third teams.

Hitting: Phillies hitters face 13 games against top-quality pitching, and only 4 against bottom-third teams.

Analysis: Thanks to the park factor, Phillies pitchers come out more or less neutral with their schedule (maybe a little negative), but it’s probably not enough to recommend their hitters against tough opposition.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Total: 27 games (11 home) Cubs 7(4), Reds 6(3), Cardinals 4(1), Padres 4(4), Rangers 3, Brewers 3

Home park factor: 0.927

Pitching: Seven games against top-third lineups (Cardinals and Rangers), but 11 games against bottom-third hitters.

Hitting: Seven games against top-tier pitching staffs, but 11 against lower-tier pitchers (Padres and Cubs).

Analysis: Pittsburgh’s schedule is pretty balanced.

San Diego Padres

Total: 27 games (13 home) Giants 6(3), Dodgers 4(3), D-Backs 4(4), Pirates 4, Braves 3, Rockies 3(3), Phillies 3

Home park factor: 0.830. With the 13 games of lowest park factor in baseball, plus 7 more in strong pitchers’ parks (Giants, Dodgers, Pirates), Padre pitching should benefit at the expense of their hitters.

Pitching: Only 6 games against top-third offenses, with 9 against bottom-third clubs.

Hitting: Eleven games against top pitching staffs, with only 6 against bottom-third teams.

Analysis: Padre pitchers are in for a good month, but feel free to drop your Padre hitters.

San Francisco Giants

Total: 27 games (13 home) Dodgers 7(3), Padres 6(3), D-Backs 5(4), Rockies 3(3), Mets 3, Yankees 3

Home park factor: 0.848 The Giants play 23 games in the four strongest pitchers’ parks in baseball. That should tell you more than the matchups will.

Pitching: Only the 3 Rockies games are against top-third hitting, but 9 games are against bottom-third lineups.

Hitting: The Giants get 10 games against top-third pitching, and 9 against lower-tier pitching.

Analysis: The Giants’ schedule is dominated by their September park factor. Drop their hitters and pick up any of their pitchers you can.

Seattle Mariners

Total: 27 games (12 home) Royals 7(3), Astros 4(3), Tigers 4, Rays 3(3), Cardinals 3, Angels 3, Athletics 3(3)

Home park factor: 0.936

Pitching: Seattle pitchers have 13 games against top-flight hitting 11 against bottom-tier hitters (Astros and Royals).

Hitting: The M’s have 10 games against high-quality pitching, and 14 against lower-third pitchers.

Analysis: The best part of the Mariners’ schedule for pitchers is in the first two weeks—after that, the competition is brutal. The hitting schedule is pretty balanced.

St. Louis Cardinals

Total: 27 games (15 home) Brewers 6(3), Pirates 4(3), Reds 4, Rockies 4, Nationals 3(3), Cubs 3(3)

Home park factor: 0.904

Pitching: Cards pitchers face only 4 games (Rockies) against top-third hitting, and only 3 (Cubs) against bottom-third hitting.

Hitting: Eleven games against top-third pitching, 7 against bottom-third pitching.

Analysis: This schedule is mostly balanced—Cardinal players are recommendable.

Tampa Bay Rays

Total: 28 games (11 home) Rangers 4(4), Angels 4, Orioles 4(4), Mariners 3, Blue Jays 3, Red Sox 3(3), Twins 3, Yankees 3, Athletics 1

Home park factor: 0.921

Pitching: Rays pitchers have 18 games against top-quality hitting, with only 6 (Yankees and Twins) against bottom-third hitting.

Hitting: Six games against top-third pitching, with 15 against bottom-third pitching.

Analysis: It’s time to let go of those Rays pitchers who were so good all year long, but expect good things from Tampa Bay’s hitters.

Texas Rangers

Total: 27 games (14 home) Angels 7(4), Athletics 6(3), Rays 4, Pirates 3(3), Royals 3, Astros 3(3), Twins 1(1)

Home park factor: 0.985—yes, Ballpark at Arlington has been a slight pitchers’ park this season.

Pitching: Eleven games against top-third hitting, with 7 against bottom-third hitters.

Hitting: Seven matchups against top-level pitching staffs, with 14 bottom-third pitching.

Analysis: Mostly a balanced schedule, with some good news for the hitters.

Toronto Blue Jays

Total: 26 games (13 home) Orioles 6(3), Yankees 3(3), Red Sox 3, Rays 3(3), D-Backs 3, Twins 3, Angels 3(3), Royals 1(1), White Sox 1

Home park factor: 1.149

Pitching: Fifteen games against top-tier lineups, including 9 against the number two and three lineups (Red Sox and Orioles); 8 games against bottom-third lineups.

Hitting: Six games against top pitching, with 10 against low-level pitching.

Analysis: The pitching matchups spell big trouble for Toronto hurlers, but their hitters have a somewhat favorable month.

Washington Nationals

Total: 27 games (11 home) Marlins 7(4), Phillies 6(3), Mets 5(1), Braves 3(3), Cardinals 3, D-Backs 3

Home park factor: 0.981

Pitching: Six games against top-third lineups, 18 against bottom-tier hitters.

Hitting: The Nats have 6 games against top-level pitching staffs, and 6 against bottom-level staffs (all against the Phillies).

Analysis: Though the hitters have a very neutral schedule, the pitchers should look great facing the Marlins, Phillies, and Mets for so many games.

Final MatchupsOverview

Pitchers 

These teams have such favorable matchups that even thier mediocre pitchers are worth picking up off the waiver wire: the Nationals, Braves, Giants, Tigers, and Indians have the best schedules; next are the Padres, Reds, Dodgers, Marlins, Mets (wait a week into the month), and Mariners (drop after two weeks).

Avoid or even release pitchers from these teams: the Orioles, White Sox, Royals, and Blue Jays have the toughest schedules; the Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, Twins, Yankees, and Rays aren't far behind. Cut ties with any questionable pitcher on these squads.

Pitchers on unlisted teams can be selected or avoided the old-fashioned way: on their personal merit.

Hitters

Look for hitters on these teams when perusing the waiver wire: Yankees, A's, Rays, Braves, Reds, Indians, Tigers, and Angels.     

You can drop non-stars (and stay away from waiver bait) from these teams: Cubs, Royals, Marlins, Mets, Padres, and Giants.

Good luck navigating the playoffs. Next week, Stock Watch will be back to its regular format with specific advice for specific players.



How to Win: Last Minute Draft Strategy

On today's Very Special Episode of How to Win, I'm not going to cover a particular stat or position. Instead, I'm going to take a step back and share what I've learned from this year's drafting season and try to pass on this newfound knowledge in time for the final weekend of drafting. If this comes too late to you...I'm sorry. Just remember that it came too late for my first several drafts too.

Maybe I haven't been in the most drafts this year, but I think I've been in more than most: Thursday was my third, and I was assistant to my wife on two more. (Yeah, I'm lucky that my wife is a fantasy baseball junkie too.) Drafts and mocks have basically been my job this month. Well, they are my job, actually. I've done Roto, H2H, standard 5x5, non-standard categories, shallow 23-rounders, deep 27-rounders with 15 teams, Yahoo!, ESPN, and later today I'll cap the season with a monster 30-round, 14-team, CBS H2H points league. So I'm gonna be needing my own advice.

Know Your Format
The first thing to keep in mind is that there are literally several different formats out there: know your format! How many DL slots do you have? Is it points or categories? Five-by-five or something more arcane? Weekly matchups or roto style? One catcher or two? Weekly changes or daily? Is there an innings cap or not? The possibilities could go on and on. For at least another sentence. The point is that these things--even the smaller seeming ones--can make a huge difference in how you draft. Take that DL slots one: I drafted for Blog Wars not too long ago, but at the end of the draft I couldn't remember how many DL slots we had. The clock was running out and my Internet was slow and I couldn't find the league settings fast enough. So I found out the hard way and Colby Lewis is my waiver claim, not on my bench.

Some players are differently valuable in different formats. For instance, Curtis Granderson, Hanley Ramirez, Chase Headley, Matt Garza, and any other injured player is a lot more useful in H2H leagues that utilize DL slots. Discount them if you're playing standard roto, where their April (or more) absences are just as important as their (presumed) presence down the stretch in September. Discount them even more if your league doesn't give you a DL.

A really important one for me is the difference between weekly and daily formats. In a weekly format you typically play two relievers and need to fill the rest of your spots with starters; three relievers is pretty much the max you can afford. So don't get more than that, and don't waste a pick on a non-closer. Daily is totally different. Non-closers who get strikeouts are useful, and you can pile on the closers to win big in saves without sacrificing your wins and K's. Similarly, don't bother with a platoon hitter in all but the deepest weekly formats. In daily though, even Raul Ibanez can come in handy.

Catcher Strategy

With five drafts in my pocket, I have yet to draft (or suggest to draft) a catcher early. With fewer at-bats than other players, they impact your team less in average, help less in counting stats, and generally aren't any good at all. Plus, quality catchers run pretty deep. Three years ago, wouldn't you have been thrilled to have Ryan Doumit's .270 average and 15 HR's at catcher? Yes. Now, he's the 14th catcher in my rankings and even lower in others. Whether it's a single or double catcher league, I've been following pretty much the same strategy: wait for a great deal on a catcher, or be the last one to get one. Is Buster Posey great? Yeah. Should you use a first-round pick to get him? No. Snatch him up if he falls to the third. On Thursday (in a single-catcher league), I waited until the 20th round before I took my catcher, Brian McCann. Two rounds later I took Doumit to fill in while he's injured. I could get nearly equal catching production to people who used much earlier picks for this position.

Starter Strategy

There is no one good strategy for starers, but the most important thing to do will be to stick to yours. I actually don't recommend going into the draft with a set strategy for starters; instead, I let my first couple picks determine my course. Sometimes I've gone with a single ace (usually Strasburg) and waited for a while. I've taken pairs of aces with back-to-back picks (maybe Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia), and I've grabbed three sub-aces-with-strikeouts a little later on (Max Scherzer, Yovani Gallardo, James Shields). Depending on how much risk I've already assumed, I might load up on high upside starters in the middle rounds, snag one or two seemingly dependable starters, or wait all the way until the late rounds to fill out my rotation with a mix of sleepers (Marco Estrada is a favorite) and boring vets (Ryan Dempster and Bronson Arroyo come to mind).

Reliever Strategy

Get three relievers. I just don't see that much downside. I had always been the guy that gets one reliever and then happily ignores them until the 15th round and beyond, snatching up several bottom-dwellers in after the 20th. Well, not only did that strategy torpedo me in saves in last year's Silver League (I can't believe Carlos Marmol, Grant Balfour, and Greg Holland were closers then, are closers now, and still sunk me in saves by losing their jobs) it isn't nearly as viable this year. With several teams in an unsettled limbo at closer, the saves pool is shallower than ever at a very risky position.

In some drafts I've reached for an early top gun (I just had to have Rivera on a team in his last season; there was no way my wife and I could pass on Kimbrel in the 5th round), but I've aimed for three closers in each draft. Nearly every time I've gotten at least two closers from a big tier that I consider to be solid values around the 10th-12th rounds: John Axford, Jason Grilli, Glen Perkins, Rafael Betancourt, Greg Holland and Tom Wilhelmsen. Actually, J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano, and Sergio Romo are in that group for me too, but everyone else values them a bit higher I guess.

After these guys, most closers have serious question marks or less than a full hold on the job. Let someone else take the risks. As for playing the waiver wire for saves in season: do it! But starting with a solid relief corps means you'll win bigger and have goods to trade down the line. It also means you're safer in case you have a slower free agent trigger finger than other teams in your league.

On every team, I feel like I have a solid group of closers less likely than most to lose their jobs to ineffectiveness and the rest of my team still looks pretty strong. I haven't been able to afford a fourth closer...they're just all gone by the 15th round or so, even the likes of Bobby Parnell and Casey Janssen.

Speaking of Janssen, it looks like he can start moving up draft boards with his sudden return to health and Sergio Santos beginning to struggle.

Get three closers.

Speed Strategy

So you didn't get Mike Trout or Ryan Braun with your first pick, which means that you probably aren't getting 30 steals out of a heavy hitter. (Let's face it, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos Gonzalez won't be doing that, and I bet Matt Kemp won't either.) Where do you get speed? Fortunately you've got choices, most of which belong in the outfield or at shortstop. You can use an early pick for an elite base-stealer like Jose Reyes, Jacoby Ellsbury, B.J. Upton, or Michael Bourn. You can wait until the end at both positions and take Elvis Andrus (who won't be there, but he should be), Alcides Escobar, or Everth Cabrera at short, or Brett Gardner, Coco Crisp, Ichiro Suzuki, Cameron Maybin, Drew Stubbs, or other "speed bums" in the outfield. I strongly suggest getting at least one of the latter group in any deep format.

Watch out for sneaky players in the early and middle rounds that steal bases on top of their regular value. Remember that speed is priced into their draft cost, but that players like Shin-Soo Choo, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, and Yoenis Cespedes can help you a lot as a group, but none of them can crash the category all by himself.

Roll with the Punches, Go with the Flow, Blah, Blah, Blah

You've got to be flexible with your rankings and your draft strategy. If shortstops are flying off the board to the tune of Erick Aybar in the 7th round, then do what it takes to make sure you aren't left starting Alexei Ramirez or Zack Cozart, even if it means drafting Alcides Escobar, J.J. Hardy, or Everth Cabrera ten rounds ahead of where you planned. It won't kill your team: the fair market price for their services got more expensive; for some other position it will have necessarily become cheaper. If you can't adjust, you'll be left in the dust. Similar things can happen to catchers and relievers,and it's important to balance flexing with your league-mates, and striking your own path. Don't take Addison Reed in the third round just because seven closers just went off the board. But take him in the 10th if you need a second closer and he's the only good one left.

Don't Just Make Tiers, Use Them!

It's easy to just go down your player list, even if you've broken everything up into tiers. Don't do that. Your tiers (or ours--you can use them for free) are there for a reason. Do you need speed or power? Hopefully there's some of both in that fifth OF tier. Do you want to take a big risk with your fifth starter, or get someone steady to balance out risks you've already taken? There should be a sprinkling of both in the tier.

Forget Your Tiers and Rankings

You probably didn't get up this morning and make all your tiers and rankings fresh for today's draft. If you did...well, okay. Otherwise, you've had time to gather more information, read more analysis, gauge the relative wisdom of the crowds you've drafted with, and otherwise reevaluate every player in the game. I know I ranked Danny Espinosa near Jimmy Rollins, but I just can't bring myself to draft Espinosa where I've got him ranked: I was just too high on him in my personal tiers. If I want Carlos Gomez, I'll have to bump him way up--he's just too popular to land where I've tiered him, so if I need his power/speed combo, I have to decide whether or not to overpay. Roy Halladay is another example of this: he goes deeper and deeper into my rankings seemingly every time, as the news has yet to be positive about him. He's dropped from my initial expectation of the 5th round, to the 7th, and then the 10th, and lately the 12th. 

Trust yourself and the decisions you made about most players. Unless you have good reason not to.

Position Scarcity

Intimately related to the three sections above, your strategy for dealing with scarce positions (second base, shortstop) relative to deep ones (first base, outfield, pitcher, catcher) will be different in every league.

Take the standard Yahoo! format (of which I am not a fan, by the way): with eligibility down to basically three innings (actually 5 games started), basically everybody is eligible everywhere. (Get extra value in Kyle Seager at 2B, Mark Trumbo at 3B, and Martin Prado at SS and 2B.) On top of that, the standard format doesn't include MI or CI, but does give you two Util slots. What does that mean? You're now expected to have one 2B from an expanded pool, one SS from an expanded pool, and one 3B from an expanded pool...and you might as well take three 1B since you can play them all. In this format, 1B and OF are extra valuable and you can get pretty good production at the "premium positions" without using early picks. My wife took Joey Votto with her first pick, and there was no good reason not to grab Edwin Encarnacion with her third. Her production up the middle is just fine!

Contrast that with the style we use for the RotoAuthority and Silver Leagues, where we run five OF's, a MI, and a CI. It's like every position is scarce! Don't neglect your outfield in these formats (or, like me, you may have a team in which Coco Crisp is your number two OF), but make sure to fill at least one infield position in the first few rounds. Notice also, that the injuries to Ramirez and Headley, plus the questions about Pablo Sandoval have made 3B a noticeably shallower position than it was at the beginning of Spring Training.

Don't Drink and Draft (Unless You're in my Leagues)

I get that it's more fun. Of course it is. But fantasy baseball isn't about fun, it's about winning! Plus, you can have a good time without impairing your strategy to the point where Yahoo!'s autodraft mechanism is a safer bet than your judgement. In a related vein, I don't recommend drafting anywhere with an environment that isn't conducive to clear thinking. Sometimes this means draft in your home...sometimes it means get as far away from your home as possible.

A Few Final Words

I don't have any final words. If you haven't drafted yet, good luck!




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