Go Bold or Go Home


Go Bold Or Go Home: Justin Masterson, Top-15 Pitcher

Among all qualified starters in baseball last season, only five pitchers threw 193 or more innings, struck out at least one batter per inning and had a SIERA of 3.32 or better.  Four were Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer; the fifth was Justin Masterson.  So by that metric, Masterson is actually a top-FIVE pitcher in the big leagues, so I not only proved my "top fifteen" point, I went above and beyond!  That was easy!  See you next week, folks!

.....okay, fine, it'll take more than some statistical cherry-picking to get the job done.  Fair enough.  There seems to be some inherent resistence to acknowledging Masterson as a top-tier fantasy pitcher, given his modest 218.80 average draft position (hat tip to Mock Draft Central) that ranks him as the only 56th-highest pitcher taken in this year's drafts.  Even if you don't agree with me that Masterson is on the verge of a major breakout, I think it's safe to say that there aren't 55 guys better than the Indians ace.

In fact, forget being 'on the verge,' it's possible Masterson took his big step forward last year.  Masterson has always been known as an elite groundball pitcher --- he led the league with a 58% ground ball rate in 2013 and he has the sixth-highest GBR of any pitcher in baseball over the last four seasons.  What changed Masterson's game last year, however, was his ability to miss bats.  Masterson had a career 7.1 K/9 over his first five seasons but he bumped that up to a career-best 9.1 K/9 in 2013.  In the Roto Authority starting pitcher rankings, Alex Steers McCrum even lumped Masterson into his group of "strikeout pitchers with too many walks." a designation that would've seemed unlikely a year ago.

There's a terrible pun coming in a few paragraphs, just so you know.  Be ready.

It seems like Masterson was able to goose his strikeout numbers by cutting back on the use of his sinker.  Masterson used his sinker a whopping 58.3% of the time in 2012, well above his career 44.5% mark, and it's perhaps no surprise that Masterson changed things up given how he struggled that season.  In 2013, however, the righty cut his sinker rate down to 49.4% and increased the use of his slider to 26.9%, by far the most Masterson has thrown the pitch in any of his four full Major League seasons.  If Masterson keeps the sinker in check, there's no reason he couldn't have another season of averaging at least one strikeout per inning. 

So that's the strikeouts accounted for, and Masterson should still get his fair share of wins given that the Tribe projects to be a pretty good team this season.  My only concern is that his ERA and WHIP could be slightly above what you'd want from the ace of a fantasy rotation.  Ideally you'd like a pitcher with a sub-3.00 ERA and a sub-1.20 WHIP, but with Masterson it could be more likely that he'll post something in the neighborhood of a 3.30 ERA and a WHIP in the 1.20-1.30 range.  This comes with the territory of having an ace groundball pitcher and an infield defense that includes UZR/150 nightmares Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis, not to mention the possibly-comic stylings of Carlos Santana as a regular third baseman.  Still, while grounders are still Masterson's bread and butter, his increased strikeout prowess will help him overcome his infield's miscues.

Seriously, it's one of the more obvious, no-creativity puns you could imagine when discussing Justin Masterson, so of course Mark can't help but make it.  Brace yourself.

Between the flaws of a poor infield defense and a too-high walk rate (his 3.54 BB/9 ranked a mediocre 73rd amongst all qualified starters), Masterson definitely has a few warts, but I have a couple more reasons why I think he'll end the year as a top-drawer fantasy starter.  Injury concerns aren't really a factor given how Masterson is averaging 199 innings over the last four years, plus there's the ever-popular "contract year" narrative.  The Tribe had been talking to Masterson about an extension but talks have fallen through, so it's very likely that the right-hander will test free agency next winter.  Not that Masterson isn't a motivated guy anyway, but he'll have all the more incentive to perform well, as he'll have a $100MM+ contract waiting for him if he duplicates last season's numbers in 2014.

As noted, Masterson is way off the radar of many fantasy owners, so even if you missed him in your draft, there's still a chance to acquire him in a trade before Opening Day.  If you have a promising but unproven arm like Zach Wheeler or Tony Cingriani (to name a couple of pitchers ahead of Masterson on the ADP list), I'd certainly see about unloading either for Masterson.  Your rival manager may think he's getting a steal in picking a hot young arm while you can sit back and take comfort in a more reliable option.

Are you ready?  Here it comes.

All things considered, owning Masterson could end up being a masterpiece of fantasy roster move.

...wow, could that have been shoehorned in any more?  Brutal.



Go Bold or Go Home: Big Papi, Big Value

So, I was going over my personal rankings with my wife the other night (pause while it sinks in, just how lucky I am) when she noticed something (another pause to consider how lucky I am) that seemed off.

David Ortiz.

See, the guy is a beast and we—like almost everyone else—had him buried in our lists, off in his own little land of DH-ness, where his (spoiler alert) ADP of 60ish seemed pretty reasonable. But we were prepping for a Yahoo! league, and in such leagues Big Papi the DH is eligible at 1B, so we had to slot his name and statistics somewhere in between Paul Goldschmidt and Gaby Sanchez. Where he landed challenged everything we knew about fantasy baseball. (My wife’s good at that—she’s a bit of a roto iconoclast.)

Let’s look at some blind stats to overcome any potential bias:

2013 Numbers

Name

R

HR

RBI

AVG

OBP

SLG

Player A

82

25

106

.279

.362

.457

Player B

89

23

109

.319

.396

.501

Player C

84

30

103

.309

.395

.564

Player D

49

17

64

.258

.330

.437

Player E

86

17

79

.302

.353

.448

2014 Projections (Oliver)

Name

R

HR

RBI

AVG

OBP

SLG

Player A

72

21

79

.270

.354

.448

Player B

80

22

86

.305

.383

.496

Player C

84

29

97

.294

.388

.538

Player D

71

22

82

.265

.332

.448

Player E

77

16

74

.299

.354

.455

Okay, so we’ve got five very good, borderline-elite first basemen here, all well worth some draft day attention, though Player D has it a bit rough. What are their ADP’s? I’d assign them a mental guess before reading on. Go for it.

Okay, here are the numbers:

Player A: 14.2
Player B: 29.6
Player C: 60.6
Player D: 44.6
Player E: 56

Player A really stands out by ADP, but not by as much statistically. The player with the most homers has the lowest ADP. Which leads us to the unsurprising reveal:

Player A: Prince Fielder
Player B: Freddie Freeman
Player C: David Ortiz
Player D: Albert Pujols
Player E: Eric Hosmer

Something tells me that the fantasy community has our collective priorities a little mixed up. I mean, I get that DH-only eligibility can make it tough to fill out your roster late in the draft. It can create headaches when injuries hit. And I get that Ortiz will probably sit for half the interleague games. Okay, that’s probably worth a round or so of lowered draft value in leagues Ortiz can’t play first. Cool. In Yahoo! leagues, though, it should barely register, as he managed over 600 PA in four of the last five years.

I also get that Ortiz is old. So old that he had a 9-homer season when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa broke Roger Maris’s record. So old that we all gave up on him as too old once before…five years ago. So there’s the worry that his age will catch up to him all at once and he’ll look like Ryan Howard or Jason Giambi. It’s a real enough worry, I get it.

But really—the best hitter of the bunch is the last one drafted? (And drafted after Allen Craig, Adrian Gonzalez, and Mark Trumbo too.) It’s like we’re collectively assuming that Ortiz will turn pumpkin, not just preparing for the possibility. Big Papi deserves a lot more love than this. And he’ll return it if he can do anything close to his Oliver projection (which pegs him for similar playing time to last year).

I’m on record against liking Prince in the first round, but I’ll grab him in the second, and I’ll understand if the DH playing time limitations or the age difference bumps him up your list and over Ortiz. It does for me, even.

As for Freeman, he’s got his age working for him, so that’s nice…but Ortiz really offers a lot more power than Freeman has ever shown. Those two actually seem like the closest players in this evaluation.

Pujols is at least as risky as Ortiz, what with having so much value to make up after last year. It’s certainly not a given that Hosmer develops into a high-power guy, either. In short, we aren’t talking about comparing Ortiz to a bunch of surefire impact players.

I’d draft Ortiz as early as the third, right around the time that Freeman goes. I almost did yesterday, in fact…but I thought he would last just one round longer and someone else jumped on him. In fact, I’d leave Freeman on the board to take Big Papi, but I think it’s a matter of preference and projection system between the two—it’s that close a call.

What isn’t a close call is the difference between Ortiz and the crowd after him and Freeman: the Pujols/Hosmer/Gonzalez/Craig/Trumbo section. By the numbers, Ortiz hits like a first round pick, and gets pushed down by the fact that he’s a DH and he’s 38. Is that really enough to make a first rounder a sixth rounder? I’m pretty sure it ain’t.

I targeted Ortiz yesterday and missed because I thought I could squeeze just a little more value out of drafting him. I ended up with Mark Trumbo at first. I like Trumbo well enough, but there are about a thousand points of batting average between the two guys. I’m not making the same mistake again. I’m targeting Ortiz, even if it takes a third round pick. I'll catch some mockery in the draft room, but I'm not gonna be listening as I slot Big Papi in at first base and his production carries my team as far as it's carried the Red Sox.



Go Bold or Go Home: Joe Mauer, First-Round Value

Sometimes we focus so much on the flaws of a player that we lose sight of his accomplishments. I'll admit I was surprised to find that Joe Mauer has been roughly as valuable as Robinson Cano and David Wright over the course of their careers according to bWAR. If there were ever a player with a grade-80 hit tool in the past decade, Mauer would be the one. After all, his .323 career AVG ranks first among active players with at least 3,000 plater appearances. Moreover, he ranks behind only Joey Votto and Albert Pujols among active players in OBP. 

The most remarkable part of all is that Mauer has done this while primarily playing catcher. From a real baseball perspective, that's simply astouding. From a fantasy viewpoint, that's insanely valuable given the replacement level at catcher, especially in standard two-catcher leagues. That, of course, will change this season, as Mauer makes the transition to first base. Even so, in most fantasy leagues he'll still retain catcher eligibility for one final year.

Why does that matter? Well, Mauer has developed a perception as a relatively injury-prone player. In reality, however, he's played at least 130 games six of the past nine years, a perfectly reasonable expectation for a catcher given the daily demands. With the move to first base, though, Mauer would seem to face less stress on his body. In addition, he can continue to DH if necessary. Accordingly, the plan is for Mauer to be in the lineup on an everyday basis. Granted, a move to first base certainly doesn't ensure that Mauer will make it through the season fully healthy.

But make no mistake: the fantasy ramifactions of this are potentially huge. If we can safely pencil in Mauer for 650 plate appearances, he's clearly ahead of Buster Posey as the top catcher for me. What's more, given that level of playing time, he'd rank as a top-12 hitter overall just purely based on crunching the numbers. With 650 plate appearances, Mauer would be a good bet to post a Roto line as follows: 80 / 15 / 80 / 0 / .320.

On the surface, that still may not look like much; however, it's important to keep in mind the sheer volume of contribution that he'd offer in the AVG category. After all, not all batting averages are created equally. When one compares the categorical contribution of a player hitting .320 over 400 plate appearances as opposed to hitting .320 over 650 plate appearances, the difference is significant. In fact, one can make the case that the only player who would project to be more impactful in any category than Mauer would in AVG is Billy Hamilton in SB, and we all know the risks in drafting him.

The stars have aligned for one last year of fantasy greatness for Joe Mauer. In most cases, a player must significantly outperform his previous level of skills to turn a profit for a fantasy owner. On the contrary, Mauer simply has to continue to hit like he always has in the past. With everyday playing time, any dollar value generator that takes into account replacement level at catcher would rank Mauer as a third-round pick at worst in a two-catcher league. And yet, Mauer continues to last on draft boards until at the end of the sixth round.

I fully recommend you mimic my colleague Mark Polishuk, who wisely drafted Mauer in the fifth round of Friday night's RotoAuthority Mock Draft. More on that mock draft tomorrow...



Go Bold or Go Home: My Guys

As you go through the fantasy preseason ranking and re-raking players, mock drafting, mock auctioning, reading analysis from this site or that one, scouring 7-11 for magazines, refreshing RotoAuthority over and over to see if the next article is up yet....

Well, at some point in this process, you start discovering that you value some players rather differently than the consensus. Sometimes a lot differently. Maybe you're right and you're wrong, but it's good to examine why. I'm gonna take a look at a few guys that seem to keep popping up on my draft boards, look into why I like them...and even why I might want to reexamine my choices.

I decided to make a whole team of the guys I seem to be finding value in, reaching for, and generally ending up with pretty often. Actually, it's not a whole team: one player per position, some starters and no relievers, where I'm not showing much a pattern.

The point is that when it comes down to it, you've got to trust your gut--because your fantasy intuition is the product of experience and research (and possibly nachos). That means throwing an extra dollar at the guy you want, going two rounds early instead of one and taking the jeers of your fellow drafters in stride. If you have spent the fantasy preseason getting prepared, there's a good chance it'll work out. If not...then you may want to play things by the book.

Here's the "team," including their MockDraftCentral ADP and round, Yahoo! ADP and round (where available) and Yahoo! average price (not projected value, but what mockers have been paying).

    MDC MDC Rd Y! Y! Rd Y! $
C Yan Gomes 270 23 233 19 1
1B Brandon Moss 62 5 179 15 3.3
2B Aaron Hill 132 11 127 11 7.4
SS Everth Cabrera 200 17 115 10 9.4
3B Aramis Ramirez 146 12 156 13 4.5
OF Matt Holliday 53 4 60 5 20.1
OF Leonys Martin 94 8 160 13 3.9
OF Colby Rasmus 202 17 after 212   under 2
SP Anibal Sanchez 116 10 61 5 20.2
SP Matt Cain 130 11 81 7 15.3
SP Francisco Liriano 188 16 146 12 4.5
SP Scott Kazmir 284 24 past 174 after 14 1
SP Josh Johnson 316 26 past 174 after 14 1

I'll breeze over Gomes and Cabrera, since I've written on the hero and the thief before, except to say that I've been very happy drafting Cabrera aggressively (as soon as I see Elvis Andrus go, usually) and waiting on catchers for Gomes (in single-catcher formats anyway).

I don't know what happened on MockDraftCentral.com to give Moss that ADP...no, I do not like him better than that. Instead, I'm talking in comparison to the Yahoo! numbers. Power is scarce, and he's got it, even if he does sit against lefties. He's an especially good option in leagues with multiple Util slots and therefore lowered position scarcity needs. He's sort of a cheat, I have to admit, because there's no way I'm relying on him as my starter at first...but that isn't a position I've targeted for value plays.

Hill has the potential to slug like an elite option at second. The reason for caution is health (and the fact that he's got some ugly years in his past. That said, I see red flags all over the second base market, and Hill's aren't much worse than most. I'd take him a couple rounds ahead of his 11th round draft average, and I'd bit well past the $7 he's costing in auctions.

Aramis Ramirez gets no love these days. He's old and a decline is coming. Or so we've been hearing. It looked like that was going to be the story of last year...and then he hit like he always does after returning from the DL. Yeah, maybe this is the year the wheels finally fall off the old wagon (what kind of mixed metaphor is that?). But maybe it's not, and he can be had for peanuts long after other owners have gambled on the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Brett Lawrie. When I don't manage an elite option, I sit back and wait for Ramirez, because the 3B middle class is shrinking faster than...I'll skip the socio-political comparison and just say it's shrinking fast.

Holliday in the 5th round isn't a huge value (and I'd say $20 is a pretty efficient price--I haven't actually gotten him in an auction yet), but when I've taken early risks I like his steadiness to balance me out. In those cases I'm not afraid to grab him in the third or fourth.

Martin is getting drafted when he's got by far the most speed left. I view him as the lite version of Starling Marte. Okay, very light, but those 36 steals were very nice last year and the Rangers like to run. And if he hits even a little, he could slide up near the top of the order instead of the bottom. There's plenty to like.

I haven't given Rasmus his own article, but I've mentioned him before. During the summer I thought his good year was fluky, but I looked at his overall career, and it looks perfectly plausible...and repeatable.

A lot of my teams have ended up having either Sanchez or Cain, and I feel good about both. With Sanchez, his 2013 improvement seems too good not to be true (don't take my word for it--look at his stats under the hood), while Cain seems likely to get his HR rate back under control and be his same old self.

Liriano is a risky bet, but with ace-level upside and he tends to look too good to pass up in the mid-to-late rounds. Kazmir is similar, but usually costs just a dollar. His underlying stats from last year suggest he's well worth spending a little extra on. And Johnson...well, that's a wild stab in the dark, but if he's going to turn things around, it'll be in San Diego.

A Little Self-Assessment

Obviously, an entire fantasy team composed of the players above would be pretty horrible. Even if I assume I have awesome relief. But that's not what I'm trying to put together--just a list of guys that seem like bargains to me. 

But why are they bargains?

1) Upside--what-if's are big in fantasy baseball and it's important to keep hope and prediction separate. That means I need to balance the guys I look for potential in with steady performers like Holliday.

2) Injury risk--apparently, I'm prepared to take a lot of it on, with the likes of Liriano, Hill, Rasmus, Johnson, and Ramirez all spending time on the DL last year.

So, some parting advice for myself (and you too): go after "your guys," and with gusto. Pay two extra dollars if you need to. Jump two rounds ahead of everyone else if you think you're still getting value. Be bold. But evaluate the players you target for potential concerns you haven't been thinking about, and--most importantly--balance your guys with safe picks and picks aligned with the consensus.



Go Bold or Go Home: Everth Cabrera Cheats and Steals, but Doesn't Lie

You don't like shortstops. They're inconsistent. They're fragile. They put defense first. Let's face it: you wish for the days of Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada, the days of pre-geriatric Derek Jeter and not-yet-disgraced Alex Rodriguez. Heck, you miss Cal Ripken, Robin Yount, and Ernie Banks. You miss Honus Wagner.

You even wish for those days not long ago when Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes were sure things. Well, those days are dead and gone, but I've got a shortstop you can trust: Everth Cabrera.

Trust him? But he got suspended for PED's! Yeah, yeah, but he served his time and he'll be back on the basepaths and (probably) the top of the Padres' order in 2014.

Look, I'm not saying you should let him babysit your kids or pick up your prescriptions from the drugstore.* But you can trust him to do his thing, and his thing is stealing, at which he is very, very good. Last year he swiped 37 bags in 95 games; he was caught 12 times, but that still leaves him with a 76% success rate. No way the Pads slow him down for that. In 2012 it was even better: 44 steals in 115 games, with just four CS. That's a 92% success rate, for those of you keeping score at home. Very, very good.

*Neither am I saying you shouldn't. I do not know Mr. Cabrera and cannot accurately evaluate his character.

Billy Hamilton gets all the press (except from me, I guess) for speed, and rightly so, but there are serious questions about whether or not he'll really start. Why? Because there are serious questions about whether or not he can hit. Most of these questions seem to come from inside the Reds organization, so they're worth taking paying attention to. Cabrera, however, already has the trust of his team, and predictability is a valuable thing in our unpredictable game.

The nice thing about Cabrera is that he can hit. I mean, he isn't Joey Votto or anything, but he brings more bat to the table than most of your speed-first players and most of your shortstops. The steals are elite, and the bat doesn't hurt. That adds up to a very useful player. Not a star--he'll never produce in HR or RBI, but Cabrera looks like he could be a plus in AVG and Runs, to go with his elite status in SB.

The San Diego offense isn't top-notch, but you don't have to be amazing to drive in a run when Cabrera is already on second base. Between Yonder Alonso's singles, the power of Jedd Gyorko and Carlos Quentin, and the wild hope that Chase Headley can be awesome again, Everth ought to be crossing home plate pretty often for the Pad People. Oliver projects him for 81 Runs in 521 AB, but I'll take the over on that number. Steamer sees 600 AB, but just three more Runs, but that sounds low for a leadoff man.

How well will he lead off? Well, Cabrera posted nearly-identical BABIP numbers in 2012 and 2013 (.336 and .337) but his batting average increased by .037 points. Why? Probably because he reduced his K% from 24.5% to 15.9%. His BB% nearly held steady (just a 0.2% drop from 2012) and his OBP was a very respectable .355 last year. These are the markers of a player adjusting to the big leagues and learning to hit at the highest level. I think his hit tool is here to stay, and he'll be an asset in AVG, and the times he's on base will keep his Runs total up too.

So, Everth is good--but why him? Becasue it seems like every other shortstop has even more serious questions than he does and position scacricy demands high draft picks and auction dollars be spent on these questionable characters. I'm not saying I'd draft Cabrera in the first round, just that I'd rather draft him a round earlier than wherever his ADP stabilizes at (about 170 right now, for what that's worth) than spend an early pick on the "elites." Let's take a look at who's above him and their questions:

Hanley Ramirez -- his amazing half-season comeback is erasing the disasters that were 2011 and 2012. I don't think he's going to be a disaster next year, but the risk is too high for a first round or early second round pick.

Troy Tulowitzki -- Made. Of. Glass. If he weren't, he'd be a top five draft pick, but he's a big risk wherever you take him.

Ian Desmond -- Actually, I like Desmond a lot. But that isn't very bold, and it's well worth noting that he lost nearly 60 points off his slugging percentage from 2012 to 2013.

Jose Reyes -- His speed went way down, he isn't very heathy, and he isn't very young. 

Jean Segura -- This guy has one amazing half-season under his belt. I'm a believer, but I'm wary of drafting him next year.

Elvis Andrus -- Yeah, he stole 42 bases last year, but it was half that in more plate appearances the year before. That isn't trustworthiness.

Starlin Castro -- Uh...yeah.

Andrelton Simmons -- He's got upside, but the average is pretty rough and he's no sure thing.

At this point, we're getting to the players currently rated below Cabrera, so I guess it isn't very bold to say I prefer him to them. 

It's paradoxical, I suppose, to boldly suggest that you mitigate some risk, but there you go. Cabrera looks like a very safe option compared to the shortstops that are valued more highly, and the steals are as elite as they come (non-Hamilton division, I suppose). The boldness isn't in the player, it's in the fact that you should do what it takes to get him on your team. In a draft, grab him before all the higher-rated shortstops are off the board to make sure you get him. In an auction, be that owner that just keeps going the extra dollar. Let everyone else get scared off the the PED's or the 2012 average, or enticed by the idea of taking their chances with Elvis Andrus. You just enjoy the results.



Go Bold or Go Home: Carlos Beltran, Top-10 OF

When you hear the name Carlos Beltran, you may not think of him as a future Hall of Famer. In reality, however, the veteran outfielder is already 90th among position players in career WAR and may very well approach the top 50 with three good years in New York. At that point, he'd be a shoe-in for Cooperstown based purely on the numbers. I'm not exactly sure why, but Beltran seems to have flown under the radar in what has been a very productive career.

In fact, from a fantasy perspective Beltran has been even more impressive over the course of his career. Believe it or not, he's finished as a top-15 player five times; for the sake of reference, only Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Carl Crawford have accomplished the feat more often among active players. It's a daunting task to find consistency in this Roto game that we play, but Beltran has been able to produce at a high level more often than not. As a matter of fact, only A-Rod, Jeter, and Pujols have accrued more fantasy dollars than Beltran among active players.

Entering his age-37 season, Beltran is certainly past his prime. That being said, I can't really think of many circumstances that would be more favorable than those in which he'll play next season. Let's start with the ballpark. In making the move from St. Louis to New York, the outfielder goes from one of the worst environments for HR to one of the best. Given that he does most of his damage hitting left-handed, Beltran should witness a boost in power with the short porch in right field.

Also, let's not discount how much a veteran player benefits from the move to the American League. The Yankees will use the DH as a way to rest players, and one would expect Manager Joe Girardi to pencil Beltran into that slot as often as anyone else on the roster. On that note, it's interesting that Beltran seems to have developed a stigma that he's injury-prone when, in all actuality, it's not exactly the case. Sure, he seems to require his fair share of days off each season, but the truth is he's played at least 140 games every year but two since 2001. Perhaps it's the fact that when he did miss significant portions of 2009 and 2010 due to right knee surgery, he just happened to be playing for the Mets. Since then, Beltran has averaged more than 600 plate appearances over the past three years. I'd project right around that many in 2014, and he certainly could exceed that total with the luxury of the DH.

Here's how the projections systems think Beltran will perform in the five Roto categories this year:

Steamer: 68 / 21 / 68 / 4 / .277

Oliver: 75 / 23 / 75 / 3 / .279

Assuming 600 plate appearances, I'd take the over on each and every category. I still think park factors are one of the most underappreciated elements of this game, and I'm quite confident Beltran can approach 30 HR while hitting around .290. I also expect the Yankees offense to significantly bounce back from a disappointing 2013 season, so I'd forecast higher totals in the counting categories. Overall then, I'd project a Roto line as follows: 80 / 30 / 90 / 5 / .290.

So what's the worth? Well, we here at RotoAuthority will be providing rankings in the near-future, but here's a sneak preview of my top ten outfielders:

1. Mike Trout

2. Andrew McCutchen

3. Adam Jones

4. Carlos Gonzalez

5. Ryan Braun

6. Jacoby Ellsbury

7. Bryce Harper

8. Carlos Gomez

9. Jay Bruce

10. Carlos Beltran

That's right. I currently have Beltran just inside my top ten among outfielders. While you might think I'm crazy to have him ahead of Justin Upton or Giancarlo Stanton or even Yasiel Puig, the good news for me is that he'll cost a fraction of what those stars are going for on the fantasy marketplace. Beltran enters this week with an ADP of just 83 at CouchManagers, currently going 30th among outfielders. Other fantasy pundits seem to agree with this valuation of Beltran.

When the rest of your league hears the name Carlos Beltran, they think of a player who's washed-up and injury-prone. The truth is this guy can still really hit a baseball. I don't care about a player's age; I only care about his statistics. While the rest of your league spends the big bucks on outfielders early on in drafts, sit back and relax. There's an elite outfielder waiting for you in Round 8.



Go Bold or Go Home: Masahiro Tanaka is the Next Great Fantasy Import

Yeah, I said it and I’ll say it again. The right-handed 25-year-old Masahiro Tanaka might just be the truth and is baseball's next great import. Now I understand, as do most MLB front offices, the risk in paying top dollar for an unproven international free agent like Tanaka is huge. For the risk-taking fantasy drafter, a big time ace in the later rounds can deliver you a championship (consider the frequently undrafted Hyun-Jin Ryu in 2013 – 14 wins, 3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.22 K/9). Other imports, such as Yu Darvish, Koji Uehara, and Hisashi Iwakuma, have recently rewarded owners and came at a great value when they first arrived. This year, Tanaka offers savvy drafters that same opportunity.

Masahiro Tanaka has the pedigree of a stud and his historical performance in Japan just reinforces the notion. Keep in mind that there has to be a reason that MLB teams are falling over themselves to sign him. In high school, he led his squad to a national championship and broke Daisuke Matsuzaka’s 2004 strikeout record. Over the last two seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, Tanaka has dominated the competition and set a worldwide professional baseball record by winning 26 consecutive games. In 2013, Tanaka went 24-0 (1.27 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 7.8 K/9) and even appeared once as a closer - in order to seal his team’s first Pacific League pennant.

Considered by many MLB scouts to be a top-of-the-line starter, five teams have jumped through all of the necessary hoops to bid on Tanaka’s services (including a one-time, nonrefundable $20 million fee just to submit a bid). According to Nikkan Sports, the Yankees, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, White Sox, and Cubs have all submitted offers (each for more than $15 million dollars per year) and are hoping for the best. While Tanaka’s agent has yet to confirm any specifics about which teams are courting his superstar, the entire baseball world is certain that Tanaka will have until January 24, 2014 at 5:00 pm to decide where he’ll go. Should he choose the Yankees or Diamondbacks, Tanaka will be heavily leaned upon as the foundation of a thin rotation. On the other hand, the Dodgers offer Masahiro Tanaka an opportunity to complete an already potent staff (see Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and the aforementioned Ryu). The White Sox and Cubs each offer uniquely the same thing – the chance to be the cornerstone and ace for a rebuilding Windy City franchise. It seems that if his heart were set on Chicago, he’d have his choice of American or National League.

While Tanaka may be immediately compared to Yu Darvish, that isn’t necessarily the best point for comparison because of the two pitcher’s differing styles. Darvish is a strikeout pitcher who wants everybody to swing and miss. Despite Tanaka’s high school strikeout record, he pitches to contact and prefers to force easy ground balls – only going for a strikeout when necessary. His approach may cause some early struggles because of Major League Baseball’s higher competition level, but expect him to adjust nicely and post a strong rookie season in America. While his 24-0 record and 1.27 ERA are unrealistic (even for a perennial all-star such as Justin Verlander), look for Tanaka to have a season slightly better than Hisashi Iwakuma when he first arrived.  While his number of wins will be subject to the offensive support of whichever team signs him, Tanaka can easily post a 2.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 8.0 K/9 in 2014. If he does and settles into the role of fantasy ace, you’ll be happy for taking him a round (or two) earlier than everybody else and if you’re in a keeper league, feel free to thank me in a few years.



Go Bold Or Go Home: CC Sabathia Will Regain His Form

Players with so-called "bad bodies" are easy targets for criticism, seemingly no matter how they perform on the field.  Every offseason brings with it a new round of speculation that THIS will be the season that CC Sabathia finally breaks down, since obviously a pitcher who has flirted with the 300-pound threshold for much of his career can't POSSIBLY keep being effective at that weight. 

And, of course, when Sabathia did struggle in 2013, the critics had a field day...ignoring the fact that it was Sabathia's 13th season and he turned 33 in July, so he's around the age when a lot of pitchers start to decline anyways.  If you're wrong about something for 12 years, you can't suddenly blame victory on the 13th try.  Ironically, there's a school of thought that suggests Sabathia struggled because he weighed less, having dropping roughly 20 pounds over each of the previous two offseasons.  Between that and a minor elbow surgery in October 2012 that essentially curtailed his offseason throwing program, Sabathia was entering the 2013 season on a totally different level of preparedness.

It's for that reason I believe that Sabathia is due for a rebound this season.  Sure, it's his age-33 season and he's put a lot of miles on that left arm, but it seems like a lot of factors conspired against Sabathia last winter and it all snowballed into arguably his worst professional season.

Now, "worst."  Sabathia posted a 4.78 ERA, 7.5 K/9 and 2.69 K/BB rate over 211 innings.  His 13% home run rate was the highest of his career, and his 44.7% ground ball rate was his second-lowest of his past eight seasons.  The southpaw's advanced metrics?  A pretty respectable 4.10 FIP, 3.76 xFIP and 3.95 SIERA, and the discrepancy in ERA could be explained by his slightly-inflated .308 BABIP and a slightly-below average walk rate (67.4%).  Batters were making good contact against Sabathia (his 22.3% line drive rate was the third-highest of his career) but his grounder/fly ball ratio was just about at his career average, so I feel safe in saying that the inflated home run rate might've been somewhat of a fluke, though it also had a big spike in 2012.

Sabathia only averaged 91.1 mph on his fastball last year, losing more speed after averaging 93.8 mph in 2011 and 92.3 mph in 2012.  The loss of velocity isn't a good sign, yet Sabathia has been trending away from the use of his fastball anyway over the last three years.  2013 saw him put a renewed emphasis on his changeup, throwing the pitch 15.3% of the time, his highest usage in three years.

It's a testament to Sabathia's quality over the last decade that 2013 was seen as such a major dropoff for him, since as noted, his numbers last season weren't really all that bad if you factor in the peripheral stats.  Of course, fantasy owners expected much more than "not all that bad" and the Yankees sure needed more than that from the guy they still owe $76MM to over the next three seasons.

Let's presume, however, that 2013 is Sabathia's new standard.  If that's rock bottom for him and his ERA evens out to his xFIP or SIERA, I think most fantasy owners would be pretty satisfied with that at the back of their rotation.  So Sabathia at his worst is still a good rotation option; an improved Sabathia (with a proper offseason throwing regimen and more time to get used to his slightly-lighter frame) provides that much more value, with even a chance that he'll come all the way back and be able to headline a rotation.

If you're drafting Sabathia this spring, don't trust him to actually be the ace of your staff.  Instead, pounce on him as a third or fourth starter, and you'll probably have relatively free reign to do so given how many people have been scared off by his most recent season.  There's a lot of room for upside with Sabathia and I feel he'll perform much closer to his usual standards than his 2013 numbers.  Unless, y'know, this is the year he breaks down since you just can't trust those overweight players!*

* = editor's note: Mark is literally eating a hamburger and french fries as he's writing this



RotoAuthority Retrospective: How Bold Did You Go?

Before the season started, RA ran a column called Go Bold or Go Home, in which our team threw out our boldest 2013 projections. As with any set of bold predictions, made against the wider swath of fantasy common sense, we met with mixed success. Let's see how we did.

79 Reasons to Snag Trout 1st Overall

Well, I really gave only three reasons, crystallized thusly:

1) Mike Trout is the best OF in baseball, so if you want an OF, take him.

2) It is possible that he could improve in meaningful ways, thanks to his youth.

3) Miguel Cabrera, coming off a career season, is likely to regress to the point where he isn't obviously the best hitter in baseball.

So...I pretty much struck out on three pitches. Each reason ended up getting invalidated: Chris Davis leapfrogged, like, a hundred guys to become the best OF in baseball, Trout regressed a tad (mostly in steals), and Miggy...well, at 30 years old and coming off a Triple Crown, has actually improved. Actually, (and his owners already know this), 2013 is Cabrera's best offensive season, by a huge margin. Didn't see that coming.

There is some good news, however slight: aside from the insurgent Davis, Trout was certainly the best OF, and a lot better than the only other guy considered for a top-3 pick: Ryan Braun.

If this article brought you Trout instead of Miggy (as it did me in a league in which I'm still wrestling for a third-place finish)...sorry about that. But if it brought you Trout instead of Braun...well, you're welcome.

Stephen Strasburg is the New Pedro Martinez

Too bad I didn't write this article about Yu Darvish or Max Scherzer. And too bad Clayton Kershaw picked just now to really distance himself from the elite pitching crowd. This one, in which I advised Stephen Strasburg as a first-rounder really didn't work out, but it was better than it spent much of the season looking. 

What went wrong?

Strikeout rate. If everything else that went wrong did (the Nationals regressing, Stephen Strasburg getting so few decisions, his ERA floating above the 3.00 mark), I'd still defend this call if Strasburg's strikeout rate hadn't plunged from 11.13 to 9.56. That difference, by the way, is worth another 30 strikeouts and could easily mean several points in the category in a roto-style league...or none.

So Strasburg's strikeout rate went from setting him apart among the elite to normal-for-elite-pitchers. Meanwhile, the only two pitchers who could best him in K/9 improved the rest of their game to elite status and set themselves apart: it's no wonder that Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish garnered all of RA's Cy Young votes.

Very thin silver lining: at least he was better than Justin Verlander....

Don't Draft Josh Hamilton

Total winner, from Mark Polishuk. You know what Josh Hamilton's done this year; you know when he was drafted in your league. And you know when you could have gotten other hitters with .240-ish averages and 20-ish homers: the waiver wire. Following this advice didn't win you your league, but ignoring it probably made that very, very difficult.

Not much else to say; I guess success speaks for itself.

Draft Marco Estrada--Or Else

This one failed for two reasons that were pretty predictable in retrospect: homers and injury. Marco Estrada gave up a ton of homers in the early part of the season, then hit the DL for a long time. Uh...hope he didn't cost you too high of a draft pick, though many of the pitchers getting drafted ahead of him might have been even worse busts.

For many drafters, he was worth negative value, dropped, and snapped up by someone else when he came off the DL. Pretty much the worst-case scenario. If, however, you stuck with him through his DL stint, his second half has been as good as the beginning was bad: good luck, good HR/9 rate, great production. He hurt plenty of teams in the early going, but he's powered just as many through the playoffs since coming back from the injury. Still, this one was a big miss from the predict-o-tron.

Go Old in the Outfield

Finally, predictions from this author that worked out pretty well! I suggested players like Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and Alfonso Soriano over younger players with more projectiblity and less track record. (Of course, I also advised Ichiro Suzuki and Cody Ross, but hey, I'll take a half-winner when I can get it.) The principle here remains a good one, I think: older players don't get many owners excited and don't carry any more inherent risk than the young. 

Draft Adam Dunn over Paul Konerko

Another bold call from Mark, another spot-on suggestion. Unfortunately, that has more to do with just how bad Paul Konerko was this season, but that's a situation you seriously didn't want to get stuck in. Adam Dunn, meanwhile, killed your average like he always does, but still brought back 33 homers and 84 RBIs with a couple games left to play, making him a pretty useful CI or OF--still not exactly someone to count on at first, but that's not what this prediction said to do anyway.

Max Scherzer is a Top-10 Starter

Um...yup. The only way Steve Adams could have improved this prediction was to change the title to Max Scherzer is a Top-2 Starter, or Max Scherzer will win the Cy Young, or Max Scherzer: Better than Justin Verlander. But I'm really just belaboring the point of how awesome Scherzer was this season. I hope you followed this advice, because I'm guessing that Scherzer's production and draft position has put him on a lot of first-place fantasy teams this year.

Aaron Hill is the 2B for You

Well, yeah. Hill smacked the ball pretty hard for a short time, then went on the DL. Not exactly superstar production for a guy that ended up on most of my fantasy teams. And my wife's. While owners aren't thrilled with the production they've gotten from Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, and Ben Zobrist, at least those guys have been in the lineup all year, more or less. 

Since returning from his injury, Hill has been pretty good, but certainly not good enough to make up for all the time spend on the DL.

Ben Zobrist is a Top-30 Fantasy Pick

Yeah, this one was a pretty big blow, as our staff average definitely liked him more than most. (Unsurprisingly, he went pretty high in the MLBTR internal league.) I've written about his decline more than once this year, and, for me, even his amazing 2B/SS/OF flexibility isn't worth his lowered power output. There's a really big difference between going 11/11 and 20/20. He was certainly worth owning, but you had to spend such a high pick to get him...well, they can't all be winners, I guess.  



Go Bold or Go Home: Ben Zobrist Is a Top-30 Fantasy Pick

You may have read about the ongoing campaign to have a Robocop statue built in downtown Detroit, a project I fully support, by the way.  More cities totally need to build tributes to their pop culture icons; there is no good reason why we couldn't have a bronze Heisenberg erected in downtown Albuquerque by the end of the year.  Besides, a Robocop statue would be a nice companion piece to the Zobocop statue that fantasy owners built in 2012 in honor of Ben Zobrist's three-position eligibility.

Ah, Zobrist as a shortstop.  Just remembering that wonderful day last summer when the Rays experimented with moving the Rock Zobster back to short brings a smile to my face.  Zobrist began his career as a shortstop, of course, and took to the position again with little issue, making Joe Maddon a hero to fantasy owners everywhere. 

Now, I may be praising this situation because it specifically helped me out of a fix in a league last year, but I couldn't have been the only one.  I'd drafted Troy Tulowitzki as my starting shortstop and watched in horror as his season was halted at the end of May.  That left me with a big hole at SS and given that Yunel Escobar (my backup) was also struggling and the middle infield waiver wire was as barren as ever, I was in a tight spot...until Zobrist began getting starts at short.  Zobrist owners the world over joyously counted down the days until he officially gained eligibility and then, my shortstop problem was solved; I just slid Sheriff Zobo from outfield to short and boom, I was set. 

There's nothing that fantasy owners appreciate more than options.  We all love to embrace our inner Joe Maddon and mix and match our lineups whenever possible since (let's be honest) it's kind of an ego boost.  This is why, with apologies to Jose Oquendo, Zobrist became the Secret Weapon of the 2012 fantasy baseball season.  His dual eligibility as both an outfielder and a second baseman was already valuable, and adding shortstop to the mix just shot his usefulness through the roof.

It's for this reason that I would jump on Zobrist as quickly as possible in your upcoming draft.  It blows my mind that the Mask of Zobo only has a 72.23 ADP in Mock Draft Central's most recent average draft position report and is, on average, the 68th player taken.  That means in your standard 12-team league, Zobrist is still available by the sixth round, making him an incredible bargain at that stage of the game. 

If you're in a league with no bench spots on your roster, I'd argue that Zobrist could be a second-round pick given that his versatility will allow you some precious flexibility in a roster setup that specifically limits flexibility.  Even in a standard 5x5 league with bench spots, however, I'd say that Zobrist should go no lower than the third round based on sheer production alone.

While everyone was fixated on the "SS" designation next to his name last season, let's not overlook the fact that Zobrist hit .270/.377/.471 with 20 homers, 74 RBI, 88 runs and 14 steals.  That's a good season no matter where you play on the field, but it's particularly valuable at the middle infield spots.  Zobrist's .848 OPS was topped by only two second basemen (Robinson Cano and Aaron Hill) and exactly ZERO shortstops; Ian Desmond came closest at .845.  Even at the deeper outfield position, only thirteen outfielders posted higher OPS marks than Zobrist in 2012.

The warning signs on Zobrist are his age (he turns 32 in May) and the fact that he has been having greater difficulty hitting at Tropicana Field in recent years, as evidenced by his large home/road splits (.916 OPS away/.773 home in 2012, .897 away/.738 home in 2011).  That said, I'll worry about a decline when I start to actually see signs, and to me, Leelee Zobieski seems like a pretty safe bet to at least replicate his 2012 numbers in 2013. 

That alone would make him arguably the top fantasy shortstop given how many question marks surround the other top-rated SS candidates, though I suspect the continually-improving Desmond and a healthy Tulowitzki will be at the top of the heap come season's end.  Amongst the top second basemen, I'd put Zobrist behind only Cano and Hill, as I agree with Alex Steers McCrum's evaluation of Hill and I've already outlined some of the concerns facing other highly-drafted second basemen.

Taking Zobrist early means you can essentially cover two of the traditionally-shallowest positions right off the bat and then focus on middle infield help later if one of your sleepers is still around in the ninth or tenth round.  Like real-life general managers, your draft strategy can become "picking the best player available" without worrying too much about position since you've already got the Swiss Army Zobrist on your roster.  Given the volatility of those middle infield spots, Zobrist can also be shifted partway through the season if that sleeper you liked in your draft never actually wakes up during the season.

It's just simple fantasy logic that a player who can play three positions is more valuable than a player who can play only one, if everything else is equal.  Dustin Pedroia may hit as well as Zobrist in 2013 or even better but I'll still take Zobrist first since Zobo The Greek has more innate value within the actual game of fantasy baseball.  His versatility can help you as much as it helps the Rays in real life, so don't hesitate to jump on Zobrist early in your draft.  If my advice pays off, you can build a statue in my honor.





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