Stock Watch: Opening Week Lottery Tickets

Ever unsure whether to pick someone up off the waiver wire or just stand pat? Spend your time wondering if your slumping third OF will rebound…or if you should trade him while you still can? Trying to figure out whether to sell high on a surprise player…or buy high on him in another league?

That’s why we have Stock Watch, and it’s back for another year of player value analysis. Each week, we’ll take a look at players who should be available on waiver wires around the fantasy world, plus we’ll look into which players you should try to target in trades and which ones you should try getting onto someone else’s roster as soon as possible.

This week being just barely underway, we’ll take a look at some widely available players with the potential to make an impact and we won’t worry about suggesting trades; for the next couple weeks, my suggestion is: don’t. Enjoy the team you drafted, and if someone else comes to you with a deal that works, that’s great. If not, give your players time to, you know, actually play. So we’ll add that feature in coming weeks.

Closers Have it Worst

Opening Week is rough on closers. Especially Brewers closers. (How the tables have turned, Jim Henderson!) I’ll let Luckey Helms tackle these guys in his column and over at @CloserNews, but I’ll quickly say this: add Jose Valverde, Matt Lindstrom, and Francisco Rodriguez while you still can! Actually, you probably can’t, because you already did on the advice of @CloserNews. If you didn’t, someone in your league did.

Swimming in the Shallow End (40%-50% owned in Y!)

If your league is pretty shallow (like a standard Yahoo! public or pro league, or a 10-team format), some of these guys might be available. If not…well, they probably aren’t. Ownership rates are for Yahoo! leagues unless otherwise specified.

Justin Morneau (49%) and Chris Carter (49%) both offer flawed power for your Util slot or your bench. I love these guys in daily leagues: Morneau ought to put up good numbers during his home games and Carter can be plugged in any time and have a better chance of throwing you a bench homer than anyone else. Adam Lind (42%) and Colby Rasmus (42%) could also provide some bench power. It’s worth remembering that players with power are very hard to find on the wire later in the season, as these guys tend to get scooped up as injury and failed-gamble replacements.

Grady Sizemore (49%) is killing it already (in one game…). Could he be this year’s comeback star? Why not—the one thing we know for sure is that his ceiling was once sky-high. No reason not to buy, since you can always pick up a replacement 4th OF later on.

Miguel Montero (46%) has already put one out of the park (though he’s had a few more at bats than most players, since he got to play in the Australia games). I’m guessing he’s only available in one-catcher leagues, but if you were betting on Wilson Ramos, Montero might make a good replacement.

Dillon Gee (47%) gave an encouraging (but not awesome) start already, and he’s a decent guy to add. John Lackey 45%) deserves a shot in more leagues than this, having pitched well last season and playing for a Red Sox club likely to bring him some wins.

Medium-Depth Leagues (20%-40% owned in Y!)

If you’re looking for speed or MI help, there are two guys you should target: Dee Gordon (38%) and Emilio Bonifacio (31%). Neither looked all that likely to get a lot of playing time for most of the spring…but both may be starting on a regular basis, and both can fly.

Eric Young (27%) can help in speed but not play MI, while Kolten Wong (32%) can play MI but doesn’t offer as much speed. (But maybe he can hit.)

If you’re looking for a flexible backup, Dustin Ackley (23%) has a good game under his belt (maybe that sample size is too low) and plays in the infield and outfield. His teammate Corey Hart (365) and Adam LaRoche (24%) offer upside for owners in need of some 1B power.

There are a lot of interesting guys with some potential here. None of them have pitched yet, but keep an eye on Drew Smyly (35%), Rick Porcello (38%), Dan Straily (38%), Tim Hudson (35%), and Jose Quintana (35%).

Tanner Scheppers (25%) got beaten badly, but I’ll give him a mulligan on an Opening Day that also featured Cliff Lee getting rocked. This experiment may be short-lived, but it isn’t over.

Wade Miley (22%) whiffed eight Giants, so he’s showing something good.

Deep League Opportunities (under 20% owned)

Justin Smoak (12%) had a great Opening Day, and deep league owners have to pounce on things like that. Miami’s Marcell Ozuna (7%) made a nice splash in his first game of the season. It’s young (or young-ish) players like these that often make the best early waiver wire picks in deep leagues.

Cody Asche (6%) was part of the Texas-Philly offense explosion in which I had both starting pitchers…anyway, I’d take his Opening Day with a grain of salt--and yet consider picking him up. We’re making wild stabs in the dark here. If they work out, the results could be great. If not, it’s not like you’re dropping established players to snag these lottery tickets.

James Loney (15%) and Yonder Alonso (11%) may be oh-for-the-season, but still project to put up palatable averages. If your team need someone to “do no harm” they might be good targets.

Staff injuries mean that James Paxton (16%) and Martin Perez (15%) should have nice long leashes—which is exactly what fantasy managers want out of young pitchers. Keep them in mind. Tyler Skaggs (10%) threw hard in Spring Training, which is probably good. The Angels may have to depend on him too. The Twins will be depending on Phil Hughes (11%), so snatch him up at the first signs of success.

Brandon Morrow (7%) appears not to be hurt yet, so remember his old strikeout days when you go to the waiver wire. Jenrry Mejia (5%) looked good at the end of last year and is worth thinking about in these deep leagues.

If you remember nothing else about the season’s first weeks, remember this: now is the time for high-impact pickups. Yes, the sample sizes are small, but that doesn’t mean you can’t win big on an early lottery ticket.




RotoAuthority Unscripted: Walking the April Line

If you’re like me, you just quit a full-time job. Possibly one that you did while at your full-time, job. You’re all done with your fantasy drafts. You have all your teams and you won’t be drafting, or auctioning anymore, no matter how many times you see the draft room in your sleep. You won’t be ranking players in your head, on paper, or on your computer. Sure, you can check out RotoAuthority’s rankings…but why would you? Your teams are drafted. No more mock drafts, no more mock auctions, no more thrills of nabbing Kyle Seager for $2 even though you already have two third basemen. No more wondering how to evaluate injuries to Clayton Kershaw or Yu Darvish. No more getting a great deal on Cliff Lee…just enjoying his first disaster start of the year.

There is no more preparation, and no matter how much Draft Day feels like Game Day…it’s no more than half the battle. (Unless your league’s talent level is really low, I guess.)

What should you do with yourself now that you aren’t mock drafting, prepping rankings, scouring injury reports, and the like?

Well, you can start with getting a healthy hobby. I suggest watching baseball and setting your various fantasy lineups. Because, by healthy, I mean healthy for your fantasy teams. But you should also rest.

Rest from the urge to fix every roster hole now and with a trade. Sure, keep an eye on who drops whom, look over the waiver wire to see if anyone stands out, but don’t go blowing up your team. Hoping for Tanner Scheppers to be this year’s Chris Sale—or at least, C.J. Wilson? One bad start doesn’t torpedo his chances. Hoping for Billy Hamilton to steal you a title (sorry—no choice)? He isn’t getting send down after one oh-for-four with no steals. Breathe easy.

Every league seems to have someone send out a million trade offers before the season or in the first week. If you’ve really got a glaring need (like, you didn’t draft a shortstop), it’s smart to put some feelers out there, but don’t be the owner that offers trades just to offer trades, just to be doing something. Remember, you’re the fantasy owner, not the fantasy player. Yes, it’s an adjustment to being out of control, but that’s what we are for the moment. An offseason’s worth of preparation is more trustworthy than a game or two worth of at bats.

There’s a second thing to do, though, and that one, you’ll enjoy more than an admonition to take it easy. You need to become best friends with the waiver wire. What does that not mean? It doesn’t mean picking up and dropping players left and right, or streaming like crazy, or shuffling out half your drafted team. Instead, it means knowing the available players in your league(s) and what they’re doing. This is where opportunity comes from, and this is the large part of what will win and lose your league(s) from here on out.

The first week is a quandary for me (and every other fantasy player). On the one hand, you’re dealing with small samples and rule-exceptions. You’re dealing with players who’ve only played against two opponents, starters who’ve only faced one or two lineups, closers who’ve only had one chance to blow it. There is absolutely nothing concrete to be learned in the season’s first week. (Statistically speaking, that is. If Jose Reyes hits the DL, or Jim Henderson gets pulled from the closer’s role, that’s a different story.)

And yet, you still have to make your move on this information. It may not happen every year, but it’s a common enough story that plenty of fantasy leagues have been won with help from a plot like this: unheralded player or seemingly-low-upside-prospect wins a starting job in Spring Training. Nobody notices. Said player has a monster first week and jumps from 1% owned to 30% owned. Said player continues to produce all year long and becomes an early-round draft pick for years to come. Think I’m kidding? Last year it was Jean Segura. Before that, it’s been Ben Zobrist and Dan Uggla—the good Uggla, not the version we have now.

The story has gone other ways too: über-prospect gets surprisingly early callup and probably isn’t ready. Dominates all season. (Think Jose Fernandez.)

Player with some promise but a game full of flaws (and strikeouts) clubs several homers in the first week. Doesn’t stop. I’m not actually sure if this is how Chris Davis burst onto the scene two years ago, but it seems to fit.

Some guy you never heard of gets tabbed to fill in for a closer who needs to “regain his stuff”…and then goes on to lead the league in saves. (This is a natural part of the life cycle of the closer.)

All of these things happen. They don’t all happen each year, of course, and the false promises always do. Sometimes that closer does regain his stuff, sometimes the strikeouts overcome the homers, sometimes the prospect goes back to the minors, and sometimes that great first week (or month) becomes the highlight of Chris Shelton’s career.

The upside is worth it, though. The first couple weeks should be your most aggressive on the waiver wire, because they can have the biggest impact. Getting the Seguras, Fernandezes, and Davises of this year (if there are any) will make or break most fantasy leagues. Dropping your backup shortstop or seventh starter will probably not.

No, I don’t know who will break out this week or next, and I certainly don’t know which breakouts will be for real. Like everyone else, I’ll be gambling with my first few free agent moves. The key here is to go for the longest-term upside. You’ll still be able to find almost-competent replacement players later on, but April is your best shot to make a bold addition to your team. Go for it.

But not at the expense of players you trusted enough to target. Drop the fliers, the fillers, and the had-to’s—but don’t ditch your sleepers or your cornerstones, either for the waiver wire or the trade market.

So, it’s a paradoxical bit of advice to start the season: trust the planning you already did by sitting back and relaxing—but keep your eyes open for potential breakout players and jump on anyone who might qualify.

That’s the line we walk in April. Good luck staying on it.

And yeah—be glad baseball’s back.




RotoAuthority League Update: Draft Recap

The RotoAuthority League is a highly competitive 12-team fantasy baseball league run by Tim Dierkes. The settings consist of standard 5 X 5 Rotisserie scoring and 23-man lineups along with 4 bench spots. In an effort to keep owners interested as well as to infuse new blood into the league, the teams that finish below 8th place are kicked out of the league each year. The author of this column just hopes he isn't one of them.

The RotoAuthority League draft took place a week ago. As always, it was a grueling three hours that really put our decision-making skills to the test. Full draft results can be found at the link at the bottom, but here's a quick look at how each team turned out in order of draft slot.

1. Men With Wood

Previous Finishes: 2008 – 8th, 2009 – 4th, 2010 – 2nd, 2011 – 1st, 2012 – 5th, 2013 - 8th

It's a luxury to own Mike Trout in any league, and it's always interesting to see how an owner chooses to build around the closest thing to a perfect fantasy player. Intended or not, Men With Wood placed a premium on quality outfielders early when he selected Carlos Gomez and Giancarlo Stanton once the draft snaked back to him. Offense was clearly a priority for this owner, as he didn't take a pitcher until Jordan Zimmermann in the seventh round. The bullpen is deep with three closers in Addison Reed, Steve Cishek, and Fernando Rodney as well as three quality setup men in Rex Brothers, Danny Farquhar, and Sergio Santos. As usual, I expect Men With Wood to be a contender this year.

2. Yu at the Animal Zoo

Previous Finishes: 2013 - 1st

Like I said last week, it's a tad scary that last year's champion gets to build his team around Miguel Cabrera once again. This owner chose to follow up Miggy with the currently red-hot Jose Bautista and then a pair of aces in Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander. The reigning champ continued to stockpile power with picks of Wilin Rosario, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters. In addition to that dynamic duo at the top of the staff, this manager has a pair of arms with sky-high ceiling in Gerrit Cole and Yordano Ventura. The one weakness on this roster may be relief pitching, but this owner is incredibly active on the waiver wire.

3. Brewsterville Bruins

Previous Finishes: 2011 – 5th, 2012 – 2nd, 2013 - 4th

I projected this squad to draft Paul Goldschmidt with the third pick overall, but instead the Brewsterville Bruins selected a relatively safer option for my money in Andrew McCutchen. After grabbing the dominant Yu Darvish on the way back, this manager continued to load up on across-the-board contributors like Dustin Pedroia and Alex Rios. If you subscribe to the theory of drafting last year's bums because regression is a powerful force, then this roster is for you. The Bruins envision bounceback campaigns from Albert Pujols, Jason Heyward, and Starlin Castro. As always, the Bruins have a very reliable roster that should be right in the thick of things come September.

4. Spirit of St. Louis

Previous Finishes: N/A

Spirit of St. Louis built a strong offensive foundation by drafting just one pitcher over the first nine rounds. This owner places at least some value in scarcity, as he owned a player at every infield position by the end of the seventh round. Homer picks or not, this manager somehow ended up with five Cardinals by Round 20. Overall, I expect this squad to do well in the offensive categories, so the fate of Spirit of St. Louis will ultimately come down to its pitching staff.

5. Smell the Glove

Previous Finishes: 2008 – 1st, 2009 – 6th, 2010 – 5th, 2011 – 12th, 2012 – 11th, 2013 - 2nd

After all these years of playing with Tim Dierkes, I was virtually certain that he'd take Carlos Gonzalez with the fifth pick overall, so I for one was certainly surprised when he chose to go with Ryan Braun instead. Dierkes is clearly on the side of "steroids, schmeroids" when projecting Braun for this season. As usual, Tim then built his roster inside-out by filling up most of his infield with Evan Longoria, Buster Posey, Eric Hosmer, and Elvis Andrus. Dierkes is on record that he's a believer in Masahiro Tanaka, and he put his money where his mouth is by taking the new Yankees starter in the sixth round. Smell the Glove then continued to add power with middle-round picks of Jonathan Lucroy, Domonic Brown, and Aaron Hill. Finally, I like what Tim did late with high-upside plays like Khris Davis, Avisail Garcia, and Javier Baez. Ultimately, this roster will be fine offensively, so the true test will be the performance of Tanaka coupled with the health of Cole Hamels.

6. The Jewru

Previous Finishes: N/A

Perhaps no owner spoke louder with his picks than this one last Monday night. Right from the start, the Jewru swung for the fences with Bryce Harper at sixth overall. This owner then calmed down for a bit with relatively safe picks of David Wright, Jay Bruce, and Cliff Lee. However, the Jewru then took the player who embodies high risk / high reward more so than any player in this game with the selection of Billy Hamilton in Round Five. And yet, this manager was far from finished with highly volatile picks. From Xander Bogaerts to Anthony Rendon and Taijuan Walker, this roster is loaded with upside. Let's face it, though: Billy Hamilton is going to win or lose leagues this year. If the Reds speedster proves he can hit well enough to stay in the Bigs all year, this owner may get first round value out of that fifth round pick. Then again, Hamilton could easily bust and wind up in the Minors by May. One thing is certain: the Jewru could care less about finishing in the bottom four and getting booted from this league; he's in it to win it.

7. The Bombers

Previous Finishes: N/A

If you look at the first five picks for the Bombers, one is clearly not like the others. Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Felix Hernandez, and Matt Holliday put up numbers year in and year out. At pick 42, however, the Bombers couldn't pass up the chance to draft the ultimate wild card in Yasiel Puig. Some fantasy pundits view Puig as an elite top-15 player while others consider him to be a risky top-50 option. For the most part, this is a safe roster that I'm confident will avoid the bottom four. If Puig proves that last year was no fluke, though, this squad will have just what it needs to finish in the money.

8. Guitar Masahiro

Previous Finishes: 2012 – 8th, 2013 - 6th

Well, the owner who went by the name of Say it Ain't So Cano last year opted against drafting Robinson Cano in Round One, choosing Clayton Kershaw instead. Guitar Masahiro then selected Troy Tulowitzki for the third year in a row. This manager took an interesting approach to drafting pitchers. After grabbing Kershaw, Guitar Masahiro didn't select another starting pitcher until Matt Moore in Round 12. Instead, this owner drafted four closers in Koji Uehara, Glen Perkins, Jim Johnson, and Huston Street. That should come in handy, as there's always an owner in need of saves. Just a speculation: we might have a Boston sports fan here, as this owner drafted a grand total of eight Red Sox.

9. Gramma Nutt Crushers

Previous Finishes: 2010 – 1st, 2011 – 8th, 2012 – 4th, 2013 - 3rd

I really like how the Gramma Nutt Crushers started the first three rounds of this draft with picks of Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder, and Shin-Soo Choo. That's about as safe as it gets. On the pitching side, this owner chose to embrace a tad more risk with Danny Salazar and Michael Wacha behind staff ace Chris Sale. After loading up on power early, the Gramma Nutt Crushers picked up some speed later on from Desmond Jennings, Brett Gardner, and Rajai Davis. In general, this looks like a balanced roster without any real categorical holes.

10.  Cobra Kai

Previous Finishes: N/A

Last week I gave my best guess as to which player each owner would select in Round One. Well, outside of the first two picks (which probably shouldn't even count), this is the only other pick I predicted correctly. Cobra Kai took five-category stud Adam Jones and then came back with last year's best player on a per-game basis, Hanley Ramirez. This owner clearly buys into the idea that elite catchers are worthy investments, as he not only took Joe Mauer in the third round but also Brian McCann in the fifth round. This manager also made a couple interesting selections with the well-hyped Jose Abreu in Round Six followed by the enigmatic Matt Kemp in Round Seven. In addition, Cobra Kai made it known that he doesn't care about a player's age. This roster has plenty of youth in players like Jose Fernandez, Zack Wheeler, and George Springer. There are all sorts of ways this squad could go this year, but it's certainly not short on talent.

11. E-Z Sliders

Previous Finishes: 2013 - 5th

I haven't seen Adrian Beltre go in the first round of 12-team leagues all that often this year, but I view the Rangers third baseman as worthy of Round One. After grabbing the consistent Beltre, E-Z Sliders drafted a pair of outfielders with first-round talent in Jacoby Ellsbury and Justin Upton followed by a couple of aces in Max Scherzer and David Price. This pitching staff could be special, as this owner also was able to get lights-out closer Kenley Jansen and the electric Anibal Sanchez. In general, the E-Z Sliders took a value-based approach. There seemed to be quite a few "look at me" picks throughout the draft, and this owner skillfully scooped up undervalued veterans like Alexei Ramirez and Torii Hunter when they fell too far. Given that I had to follow this owner, I know there were several times in which he drafted the player I had at the top of my rankings.

12. A Century of Misery

Previous Finishes: 2009 – 5th, 2010 – 4th, 2011 – 4th, 2012 – 3rd, 2013 - 7th

And finally we get to my squad. I wanted to play it safe at the turn, but I couldn't pass up the power of Chris Davis. I actually consider Davis to be overvalued this season, yet I somehow own him in four out of nine league this year. After Davis, I came back with Edwin Encarnacion; if you've read my work at all, you know by now he's a personal favorite, especially with third base eligibility in Yahoo leagues. I’m only guessing when it comes to the strategies of other owners in this league, but I can tell you my plan was to simply trust my rankings and draft the best player available as often as possible. In the past I've loaded up on offense, but I'm not so sure that's a recipe for success anymore in today's game. I can't say I'm happy to have only one closer, but I'm usually able to grab one or two off the waiver wire over the course of the season. I also have several next-in-line setup men in Mark Melancon, Cody Allen, Carlos Martinez, and Tyler Clippard. On paper my squad is rather boring, but I feel better about this one than how I felt about my team from last year.

So who's going to take home the title this season? Which squad do you like best?

Download RotoAuthority League 2014




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.




How to Win 2014: OPS

Maybe you’ve already drafted and this column won’t be super-useful for you…but maybe you’re like me and you’ve still got an epic weekend packed with as many fantasy drafts as you and your supply of chips, beer, pizza, coffee, diet coke, chicken wings, and whatever else it is you use to power through will hold out. With the real baseball season (if your league doesn’t count the Australia games, neither do I) shockingly close, it’s the best time to draft anyway. Today’s episode of How to Win busts open the standard 5x5 categories with perhaps the most common sixth hitting category: OPS. Chances are this one comes into play somehow in just about every non-standard league, and while I might have drafted for my 6x6 format last week, I’m still here to do the research, just for you.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that OPS affects pretty much every other part of baseball and can still be informative in standard 5x5 formats—particularly for Runs and RBI.

OPS is an odd stat, insofar as it straddles modern sabermetrics and old-school baseball card stats. Made up of On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage (you knew that, I know), it directly reflects what actually happened in ballgames (though it requires some difficult math one instance of addition)…and yet it isn’t terribly luck-based. Basically, OPS is a stat for everyone, in a way that batting average and WAR are not.

Except Alcides Escobar. Sadly, OPS is not for him.

OPS Leaders 2013 (min. 300 PA)

 

Name

PA

OBP

SLG

OPS

1

Miguel Cabrera

652

0.442

0.636

1.078

2

Hanley Ramirez

336

0.402

0.638

1.04

3

Chris Davis

673

0.370

0.634

1.004

4

Mike Trout

716

0.432

0.557

0.988

5

David Ortiz

600

0.395

0.564

0.959

6

Carlos Gonzalez

436

0.367

0.591

0.958

7

Paul Goldschmidt

710

0.401

0.551

0.952

8

Troy Tulowitzki

512

0.391

0.54

0.931

9

Jayson Werth

532

0.398

0.532

0.931

10

Joey Votto

726

0.435

0.491

0.926

11

Yasiel Puig

432

0.391

0.534

0.925

12

Michael Cuddyer

540

0.389

0.530

0.919

 Wow…a stat leaderboard more or less correlated with the players who had the best seasons. Enjoy it for a moment, because we don’t get such things in fantasy baseball very often. It’s worth noting that a certain amount of luck does exist in the stat, in the form of high batting average players. Looking at you, Michael Cuddyer.

Since OPS is a component stat, and being great at both components is just a fancy way of being a great ballplayer, let’s look at each half, then dive into a position-by-position breakdown.

OBP Leaders 2013 (min. 300 PA)

 

Name

PA

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

1

Miguel Cabrera

652

0.356

0.348

0.442

0.636

2

Joey Votto

726

0.360

0.305

0.435

0.491

3

Mike Trout

716

0.376

0.323

0.432

0.557

4

Shin-Soo Choo

712

0.338

0.285

0.423

0.462

5

Andrew McCutchen

674

0.353

0.317

0.404

0.508

6

Joe Mauer

508

0.383

0.324

0.404

0.476

7

Hanley Ramirez

336

0.363

0.345

0.402

0.638

8

Paul Goldschmidt

710

0.343

0.302

0.401

0.551

9

Jayson Werth

532

0.358

0.318

0.398

0.532

10

Freddie Freeman

629

0.371

0.319

0.396

0.501

11

David Ortiz

600

0.321

0.309

0.395

0.564

12

Matt Carpenter

717

0.359

0.318

0.392

0.481

 These guys can be counted on for walks—and therefore runs. At this elite level, most are fuelled by strong averages and high BABIP’s—making Choo look all the more impressive.

SLG Leaders 2013 (min. 300 PA)

 

Name

PA

ISO

AVG

OBP

SLG

1

Hanley Ramirez

336

0.293

0.345

0.402

0.638

2

Miguel Cabrera

652

0.288

0.348

0.442

0.636

3

Chris Davis

673

0.348

0.286

0.370

0.634

4

Carlos Gonzalez

436

0.289

0.302

0.367

0.591

5

David Ortiz

600

0.255

0.309

0.395

0.564

6

Mike Trout

716

0.234

0.323

0.432

0.557

7

Paul Goldschmidt

710

0.249

0.302

0.401

0.551

8

Troy Tulowitzki

512

0.229

0.312

0.391

0.540

9

Yasiel Puig

432

0.215

0.319

0.391

0.534

10

Edwin Encarnacion

621

0.262

0.272

0.370

0.534

11

Jayson Werth

532

0.214

0.318

0.398

0.532

12

Michael Cuddyer

540

0.198

0.331

0.389

0.530

Just take a second and look at Davis’s ISO. Wow. Unlike most of the other leaders, nearly all of his slugging came from extra-base hit power—and you know that wasn’t a bunch of triples. It’s also impressive just how much the two shortstops on this list distance themselves from the rest of their position. It’s almost enough to make me want to draft them early instead of waiting for some fleet-footed steals specialist in the late rounds.

Let’s see what OPS means for each position.

Catcher
OPS Leader: Joe Mauer, 0.880
Top-12 Average: 0.815
Top-12 Range: 0.771-0.880
Worth Noting: There’s a big dropoff from Mauer to the next guy. And a really big drop from the first 12 to the next 12 for those on you in two-catcher formats: their average OPS is just 0.717.

First Base
OPS Leader: Chris Davis, 1.004
Top-12 Average: 0.881
Top-12 Range: 0.819-1.004
Worth Noting: Yeah…the average first base starter is better than the top catcher. And the top catcher is pretty good.

Second Base
OPS Leader: Robinson Cano, 0.899
Top-12 Average:  0.800
Top-12 Range: 0.745-0.899
Worth Noting: The next 10 players after Cano and second-place Carpenter OPS just 0.783.

Third Base
OPS Leader: Miguel Cabrera, 1.078
Top-12 Average: 0.842
Top-12 Range: 0.758-1.078
Worth Noting: The top performers are pretty decent, but it’s a quick slide into numbers that more resemble middle infielders than first basemen. Don’t go looking here for your CI if you can help it.

Shortstop
OPS Leader: Hanley Ramirez, 1.040
Top-12 Average: 0.804
Top-12 Range: 0.736-1.040
Worth Noting: Only three players topped the 0.800 mark in 300 PA. Only one of those players (Tulowitzki) did it in over 500 PA. Without the top two, the next 10 average 0.768. And you thought second base was rough.

Outfield
OPS Leader: Mike Trout, 0.988
Top-36 Average: 0.840
Top-36 Range: 0.776-0.988
Worth Noting: Looked at this way, OF and 3B appear pretty similar—but plenty of leagues require four or five outfielders while allowing you just one third baseman in the starting lineup. The next 24 outfielders OPS average is just 0.748…so still pretty close to the 12th-place 3B, and better than the 12th place player at second and short. Just one more reason not to even consider filling your Util slots with anyone but first basemen and outfielders.

OPS is strongest by far in the traditional power positions. If your league replaces BA with OPS, or just adds the category, you should definitely prioritize either the top two or three players at the infield positions, or go all in on 1B and OF.

OPS is also in opposition to stolen bases. If you're in a 5x5 league with OPS, prioritizing power/speed guys is all the more important, because high-steals guys who may not kill you in average (like Jose Altuve or Elvis Andrus) will tank your OPS. If you're in a 6x6, though, the extra category just downgrades the importance of steals, so feel free to bulk up on power.

Whether OPS (or either of its components) are direct categories in your league or not, keeping OPS in mind when drafting is well worth it. Since it provides a good rough guide to overall hitting contribution, it will affect playing time in real baseball. Since it measures how often a player gets on base and how hard he hits the ball, it will come out indirectly in Runs and RBI as well.

This is the last of How to Win 2014, so hopefully it’ll help you power through the last, glorious weekend of drafting. Baseball is just about upon us, and on Monday RotoAuthority will be in full regular-season mode.




Tim Dierkes' Picks For 2014 - Starting Pitchers

On Tuesday I gave you my picks for position players.  Now here's a look at the starting pitchers who kept winding up on my teams, plus a few other thoughts.

  • Masahiro Tanaka - Do you want to take a starting pitcher in one of the first five rounds?  Most people do.  I mostly find a lot of risk and not a ton of profit potential in that top tier, though I'm open to Chris Sale and Jose Fernandez in the fourth round and Justin Verlander and David Price in the fifth.  One potential tier-jumper is Tanaka.  Back in February I talked to an international scouting director who was convinced Tanaka is already one of the ten best pitchers in MLB, and the conversation stuck with me.  I think he'll whiff more than eight per nine innings with a low WHIP.  The larger questions are how many innings he'll throw and how many home runs he'll allow, but hey, that's why he's available in the sixth round or later.  I grabbed him in the tenth round in one league.
  • Marco Estrada - I can't help but wonder if Estrada is the new Ricky Nolasco, a guy with health issues whose ERA never matches his peripherals.  I don't like Estrada's lack of velocity or groundballs.  However, I think enough people got burned by him as a sleeper last year that he's falling in drafts, so he's a good gamble in the 17th or 18th round as one of your last starters.  He won't kill your WHIP, at least.
  • Danny Salazar - One of the most popular sleeper types, which has driven up his price in some leagues.  He went in the eighth round in the RotoAuthority League, which is too rich for my blood.  In the 11th or later, definitely.  Salazar's 52 Major League innings last year checked every box aside from groundballs, though he might top out around 170 innings.
  • Sonny Gray - Another guy who checked most boxes in a small big league sample, Gray actually did get groundballs.  He's worth a 10th or 11th round pick.
  • Tyson Ross - I have a little concern about his control, but I'm hoping he's tough enough to hit to make up for it.  Ross had that elusive combination of strikeouts and groundballs in his half-season of starting last year, plus he plays in San Diego and can be taken late in a draft.
  • Corey Kluber - Kluber's another peripheral-based favorite of many, though he's allowed a lot of hits throughout his career.  If you're a believer in his BABIP dropping, he's worth an endgame pick for sure.
  • Alex Cobb - He's not a sleeper, but his spring training was so dominant it makes me wonder if he can jump into the top tier of pitchers this year.  
  • Jeff Samardzija - People have backed away from Samardzija after he failed to make progress last year.  Control is the only remaining piece of the puzzle for him.  Even if it doesn't come, you get 200+ Ks.
  • Matt Garza - People hate Garza this year.  Every time I look at the top of my spreadsheet near the end of a draft, Garza's there as the best available pitcher.  I think people are overrating the health risk and his terrible spring.  I'm a little wary of him too, I get it.  But his draft position has been so low in my leagues, I had no choice but to take him.  What part of this is unreasonable: 3.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9?  I drafted him in the 25th round of the competitive RotoAuthority League.  Don't take a boring Ervin Santana type over Garza.  There is still upside here for a quality year.
  • Chris Tillman - The AL East is no fun, but his second half says breakout potential and he's going very late in drafts.   

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Closer Updates: Astros, Jays, Reds, Rangers, White Sox

As you already know, the 2014 MLB season is already under way after a quick series in the Outback and our saves leader thus far is… drumroll please… Kenley Jansen, with a whopping 1 save and a fairly rough start (6.75 ERA, 1.50 WHIP). With Opening Day on our heels, let’s take a quick look at some of the other developments on the closer scene.

Chicago White Sox

The bullpen picture for the Sox is clear as mud. Lead man Nate Jones hasn’t quite taken over the role as some had hoped and manager Robin Ventura recently acknowledged that a closer might not be named prior to Opening Day. Matt Lindstrom and Ronald Belisario are both still in the mix, but so is Javy Guerra – who was just picked up on waivers from the Dodgers.

Cincinnati Reds

With Aroldis Chapman out for at least a month, the closer job in Cincy will be a hot topic until he returns. J.J. Hoover should have the job going into the season after a strong 2013 (69 appearances, 2.86 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 3 saves). Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall are still working their way back from injury and won’t be ready for Opening Day.

Houston Astros

Rather than naming a closer before Opening Day, the Astros have opted to go with a closer-by-committee approach to start the season. Manager Bo Porter made it clear that he’ll be examining matchups before deciding who gets the nod. Right now, the group of potential candidates includes Chad Qualls and Josh Fields, as well as Kevin Chapman, Matt Albers, and Anthony Bass. If nobody takes the gig by May, Jesse Crain should emerge as the favorite once fully healthy.

Texas Rangers

It seems that manager Ron Washington has made up his mind and Joakim Soria will be the closer in Texas on Opening Day. With 160 career saves, look for Washington to stick with the two-time All Star through any early struggles. Former frontrunner Neftali Feliz was just sent to AAA and will try a move to the starting rotation while Alexi Ogando will assume the role of setup man.

Toronto Blue Jays

After a lengthy recovery from a shoulder injury, Casey Janssen made his spring debut on Monday and had a scoreless appearance. However, Janssen never topped 86 mph and this lack of velocity is a small red flag. That being said, Janssen should come back to full strength after a few more outings and his fastball will follow shortly thereafter. If not, April might be rough.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.




RotoAuthority Reader Leagues

If it's not too late, please use the comments here to post fantasy baseball league openings.


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Draft Round Battles: Alvarez Vs. Seager

Go big or go home.  This is my mantra every time I go to an all-you-can-eat pasta buffet, and it's the mantra many fantasy managers take when putting together a team.  Everyone has one or two managers in their league (or you're one yourself) who load up their rosters with players who are injury risks, coming off poor seasons, youngsters looking to break out into stardom, etc.  For managers like these, Go Bold Or Go Home isn't just a feature column, it's a way of life.

These types of managers love Pedro Alvarez.  "Look at that raw power!  He hit 36 homers last year!  With 100 RBI!  I don't care if he strikes out more often Mark did at finding a senior year prom date, Alvarez is my guy!  If he gets his average up even just a bit, look out!"  First of all, I didn't appreciate the cheap shot, fictional straw man fantasy manager.  Secondly, while said managers can cut right to the bone by bringing up painful high school memories, they may have a point.

Alvarez hit .233/.296/.473 in 614 PA last season, and it's of no small concern to the Pirates and their fans that Alvarez's walk rate dropped to a career-low (7.8%) after, ahem, "peaking" with a career-high 9.7% in 2012.  The slugger still hasn't surpassed the .326 OBP he posted over 95 games in his 2010 rookie season so forget about Alvarez inheriting Adam Dunn's title as the Three True Outcomes King; Alvarez's only two outcomes seem to be "hit a dinger" or "strike out."

That said, walks don't account for much in a 5x5 fantasy league.   Sure, a guy who gets on base less often will score fewer runs (Alvarez only crossed the plate 70 times last year) but by and large, if a guy is able to give you 36 HR/100 RBI from the third base position, you don't mind if he underachieves a little bit in the run category.  And, like Dunn, you also don't mind trading off lower batting average for that kind of extra pop.

Alvarez currently holds a 73.06 average draft position in Mock Draft Central's latest ADP report, putting him just in front of his 77.5 ADP doppelganger.  This third baseman is also a left-handed hitter who can't hit southpaws at all, plays in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and yet enjoyed a pretty solid power season in 2013.  This player also topped Alvarez in rWAR, fWAR, wRC+ and OPS+, and I can probably stop being coy with his name since it's right there in the post title --- it's Kyle Seager

The Silver Bullet Man hit .260/.338/.426 with 22 homers, 69 RBI, 79 runs and even nine steals over 695 PA last season.  If Alvarez is the new Dunn, maybe Seager can take over from Chase Headley as the player whose value is most limited by his home ballpark.  Over his three-year career, Seager has an .836 OPS in road games and only a .645 OPS at Safeco Field, so it's quite possible that Seager would be a top-five fantasy third baseman if he played anywhere but Seattle.  (Alvarez, for the record, also enjoyed a big edge in away games in 2013 but his home/away splits are almost identical for his career.)

Both players definitely aren't the kind you can just stick in your 3B slot and happily forget about for the rest of the year.  Neither Alvarez or Seager can hit left-handed pitching, and in Seager's case, he's a poor play for the home half of the schedule.  From a 5x5 perspective, however, Seager may have the edge....

  • Runs.  Seager gets on base a bit more and thus will score more.  Also, since the Mariners actually have some quality Major League hitters in the lineup this year, Seager should theoretically score more often.
  • RBI.  Alvarez had the big edge last season but Seager had 86 steaks in 2012.  The improved Seattle lineup should also lead to more opportunities for Seager to drive in runs, so I'll still give this one to Alvarez, but only slightly.
  • Steals.  Seager stole 13 bags in 2012 and nine last year, so he can at least hit the double-digits in the category.  Alvarez has four career steals in four seasons so he's nada in this category.
  • Average.  While Seager's .260 career average is nothing to write home about, it's still better than Alvarez's .235 mark.  Even when Alvarez was ripping up the minors with an .888 OPS, he only had a .278 average (and a .270 in Triple-A).  His contact rates have dipped in each of the last three seasons, so it's hard to see where the "he just needs to get his average up a bit!" argument holds much sway aside from a BABIP spike.
  • Home runs.  While 22 homers counts as a major power surge for a Mariner, there's no question Alvarez holds the edge here.

I've got to confess, I'm not much of a "go big or go home" kind of fantasy manager.  I always hesitate to have players who are utter sinks in a category (besides steals) since adds a bit more pressure to find another player who excels in that category to balance things out.  It's for this reason that I prefer Seager to Alvarez, because while I think Seager also has a better chance of breaking out in 2014,  at the end of the day he's just a less-frustrating pick. 

If you're in a league that goes beyond the 5x5 numbers, Seager becomes even a better pick.  If you track OBP or walks, Seager has the edge (though not by a wide margin, given his career .325 OBP).  Tracking doubles again favors Seager, since doubles aren't a True Outcome.  And if you're in a league that counts negative stats like strikeouts, then Alvarez becomes a burden.

As opposed to when I'm deciding on a fourth plate of spaghetti as a pasta buffet, I'm going to show restraint here and recommend Seager over Alvarez.  While power is an increasingly rare commodity, Alvarez is just too streaky for my liking.




Tim Dierkes' Picks For 2014 - Position Players

All four of my drafts and auctions are in the books, and before the season begins in earnest I'm going to put down all my favorites for 2014.  It will be fun to look back in October and see how I did.

Catchers

The RotoAuthority League has 12 teams and two catcher spots for each, and historically, the best players at the position have come off the board extremely early.  In 2013 most of the top-tier catchers went in the sixth round; this year most were getting snapped up in the fifth.  Even though I had taken Buster Posey at #29 overall, I found Jonathan Lucroy hard to pass up at #77 in the seventh round.  I think Lucroy is on par with bigger names like Carlos Santana, Wilin Rosario, Yadier Molina, Brian McCann, and Joe Mauer.  For those seeking later value at the position, my picks are Wilson Ramos and Yan Gomes.

First basemen

There is profit to be had with Edwin Encarnacion outside of the first round, as he's a first-round talent if healthy.  Eric Hosmer has five-category potential in the fourth round or later.  But the biggest profit may come from Jose Abreu, who I feel has top five potential at the position this year.  I believe in Anthony Rizzo as well.  Chicago bias, maybe.

Second basemen

Aaron Hill is on a lot of my teams.  I'd rank him seventh or eighth at the position, but he typically goes after guys like Brandon Phillips, Brett Lawrie, Martin Prado, and sometimes Jedd Gyorko.  I'm also a big fan of Brad Miller to fill my MI spot.  Dustin Ackley and Anthony Rendon are a couple of good end-of-the-draft wild cards.

Shortstops

I was pretty high on Jose Reyes as a fourth or even third-round pick, as we all know he can be a #1 shortstop in a full season.  Then his recent hamstring injury shook me out of my haze; I'd rather let someone else take the risk.  The remaining value at shortstop is in what I'd call the Elvis Andrus-lite type guys, Everth Cabrera and, to a lesser degree, Jonathan Villar.  40-60 steals, no power, and hopefully batting average and run numbers that don't hurt you too much.  Villar's average should hurt, though.  I hate drafting unbalanced players, but Ian Desmond is going too early these days.  Javier Baez projects to go deep at a 40 home run pace once he comes up, and he's worth rostering in the endgame in case the Cubs choose to go to him in late April or May rather than the more likely June.

Third base

I've mentioned Encarnacion, and I also think David Wright is a solid second-round pick despite the health gamble.  In some leagues Pedro Alvarez's low batting average drives him down further it should and profit can be made, but generally I fill this position early rather than overpay for a Matt Carpenter, Ryan Zimmerman, or Josh Donaldson.  In the end game, I like to take Todd Frazier.

Outfield

I think the backlash is a little strong on Domonic Brown, who is still a solid second or third outfielder.  Nelson Cruz still has 35 home run potential.  Kole Calhoun is a 20 home run, 15 steal candidate, and Khris Davis could hit 25 bombs.  Calhoun and Davis are pretty typical sleepers, but I think it's justified since you can get them late.  If you're willing to roster him for potentially a couple of months, George Springer should break in at a 30/30 pace.  Both Springer and Baez seem likely to hit worse than .250, however.


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RotoAuthority Unscripted: Your Aberrant Experts (Starter Rankings)

Aberrant, deviant, distorted...awesome. However you want to call it, the rankings we put up here at RotoAuthority aren't just a clone of every other expert on the planet. Sure, we agree on the top four hitters, and that Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish should be the first two pitchers off the draft board, but things start to change after that.

Last week, I wrote up where some of our biggest differences were at each hitting position, and today we'll take up starting pitchers. You can check out our whole SP rankings here. (Note: I thought about including relievers, but it just didn't seem that fruitful—the big differences at that position are when to take any relievers at all.)

And for your reference, check out all of RotoAuthority’s rankings: OutfieldCatcherFirst BaseThird BaseSecond BaseShortstopCloserMiddle and Corner Infield

Once again, ADP and the Expert Consensus come from FantasyPros.com, with data they glean from across the fantasy globe.

Matt Cain
RA Ranking: 14 ADP Rank: 18 Expert Consensus: 17

The ranking difference doesn’t quite tell the story here—the RA thinking is that Cain remains a high-level SP option, just after the truly elite. Though ADP and the Expert Consensus only slot him a few ranks lower, they suggest he belongs squarely in the middle of your number-two pitchers. Verdict: Small differences matter—trust RA.

Doug Fister
RA Ranking: 19 ADP Rank: 33 Expert Consensus: 33

We’re aggressive on Fister, but there's very little not to like about his new situation, moving to the NL most especially. Remember when Gio Gonzalez made the same transition? There was a big improvement in his strikeout rate. Our prediction is that Fister leapfrogs new teammate Jordan Zimmermann, and we’re willing to take him as our number two starter if need be. Of course, we may not need to, given his ADP, but games of fantasy chicken are another story altogether…. Verdict: Trust RA.

Jered Weaver
RA Ranking: 21 ADP Rank: 28 Expert Consensus: 31

Weaver went from overrated to underrated in the space of about a year. I’m inclined to think that he’s being punished for the fact that he hasn’t sustained that one season of elite strikeout production. Just because he isn’t missing bats, though, doesn’t mean that he hasn’t made a habit of overperforming his FIP and providing solid help in WHIP every year. Weaver is just the kind of pitcher that I like to use to balance out high-K, high-BB pitchers like Gio Gonzalez. Verdict: Expect to see Weaver on plenty of teams that contend in ERA, WHIP, and Wins—trust RA.

Hyun-jin Ryu
RA Ranking: 25 ADP Rank: 31 Expert Consensus: 30

Ryu is another guy who doesn’t dominate whiffs, but helps everywhere else. Playing for the Dodgers, he benefits from a good lineup and a friendly park—he’s got the factors you want for good luck. That and strong control, and the fact that he’s relatively young. I see a high floor with room for improvement in his second year stateside. Verdict: Trust RA

Gerrit Cole
RA Ranking: 27 ADP Rank: 21 Expert Consensus: 19

“Why do you hate Gerrit Cole?” asked, apparently, everyone. We don’t. It’s not that we love Cole less—just that we love others more. There’s always risk with young pitchers, and with Cole there’s also the risk that he doesn’t add the strikeouts that most are expecting—and there are a lot of enticing options between our ranking and that of the Experts. Still, he’s got seriously high reward, so the enthusiasm is understandable. Verdict: Go for it if you’re focused on upside. Otherwise, there are plenty of more proven pitchers available.

A.J. Burnett
RA Ranking: 28 ADP Rank: 48 Expert Consensus: 48

Most others seem to see in Burnett a guy who’s too old and had huge home/road splits—and now is leaving that favorable home behind. Me, I see a guy who pitched good and struck out far more batters than anyone else left on the board. There’s certainly downside here—serious downside—but the upside is the ace-level pitching he gave owners last year. The RA ranking is aggressive, but he’s an absolute steal at his ADP. Verdict: Target him between our rank and his ADP—he’s a risk worth taking.

Masahiro Tanaka
RA Ranking: 30 ADP Rank: 20 Expert Consensus: 27

The numbers above tell the story on Tanaka: experts (including RA) are cautiously interested—but every league seems to have someone who just can’t wait to take Tanaka. Verdict: The experts agree—be patient with Tanaka.

Hiroki Kuroda
RA Ranking: 37 ADP Rank: 49 Expert Consensus: 41

Another Japanese Yankee where RA and the Experts land nearly together—and far from ADP. There’s nothing terribly exciting about the dependable Kuroda, so it’s no wonder he’s lasting longer in drafts. That said, reliable pitchers are rare, and good for balancing out risks like his new teammate. Verdict: Trust RA (and the other Experts)

Matt Moore
RA Ranking: 49 ADP Rank: 32 Expert Consensus: 28

This is one strikeout source even I won’t touch. With huge walk rates and a year that started great but seemed to get worse every month, Moore seems to be made of red flags. There’s no way I’d consider taking him as early as the other Experts suggest. If that means I miss out on what he’ll do to my WHIP even if things go right, well that’s fine. Verdict: Moore is a time bomb at 28. Trust RA.

Rick Porcello
RA Ranking: 55 ADP Rank: 77 Expert Consensus: 71

Porcello is cemented into the rotation of one of baseball’s best teams, and he's ratcheted his strikeout rate up a bunch in 2013. He’s still younger than we think, since he came to the Majors at 20 years old and he could really put it all together this year. Even if he doesn’t, he ought to be a good source of Wins and ERA. Verdict: He’s got more upside than plenty of late-round pitchers, and a much, much higher floor. Trust RA.

Scott Kazmir
RA Ranking: 56 ADP Rank: 76 Expert Consensus: 72

Kazmir came back like lightning last year, with prodigious strikeouts and a FIP that suggested his 4.00+ ERA ought to come down. Now, he’s in a very favorable park, still playing for a contending team—this is a risk I like. Verdict: Trust RA.

John Lackey
RA Ranking: 61 ADP Rank: 80 Expert Consensus: 64

RA and the Experts are nearly 20 draft slots ahead of most on Lackey! Maybe most drafters didn’t notice that he really bounced back last year. I don’t know why drafters don't like him, but it's easy enough to see that he's well worth drafting. Verdict: Trust RA—and the Experts.

Chris Tillman
RA Ranking: 70 ADP Rank: 60 Expert Consensus: 58

Tillman was pretty lucky with his ERA last year, so I have some worries about what his 2014 will really look like. That said, he plays on a team with a good offense and misses bats, so there’s some useful upside here. If you think his ERA and WHIP will hold together, I can understand liking him more than we do. Verdict: You can feel OK about drafting him before me…but I’ll feel fine too.

Jonathon Niese
RA Ranking: 71 ADP Rank: 100 Expert Consensus: 84

RA and the Experts seem to have noticed what most drafters haven’t: Niese really regained form after I dropped him off all my fantasy teams returning from injury. In fact, he pitched like the top-40 starter that he was in 2012. You don’t have to be as aggressive as RA to get this guy on your team, but you definitely should. Verdict: Trust RA…but feel free to wait on him.

Alex Wood
RA Ranking: 73 ADP Rank: 62 Expert Consensus: 60

I’d like to excuse myself to say that we did this ranking before the Braves’ rotation got hit with injuries…but that’s not particularly true. Wood does seem to have more upside than our 73 ranking gives him credit for, though at this point in the draft, you’re sorting through which kind of risk/reward candidates you like. Verdict: Go ahead and move Wood up a little higher on your draft board. There are plenty of people less interesting than him.

 

 




RotoAuthority League Update: Draft Preview

The RotoAuthority League is a highly competitive 12-team fantasy baseball league run by Tim Dierkes. The settings consist of standard 5 X 5 Rotisserie scoring and 23-man lineups along with 4 bench spots. In an effort to keep owners interested as well as to infuse new blood into the league, the teams that finish below 8th place are kicked out of the league each year. The author of this column just hopes he isn't one of them.

Tonight the RotoAuthority League snake draft will take place. Due to the fact that the four teams that finish at the bottom of the standings get booted each year, this league is always competitive from start to finish. I've played against some of these owners for a few years now, so I have a decent idea of their personal preferences in players. That being said, there are always new faces to the league each year, so I'm also working with incomplete information.

Let's take a look at the owners in the order in which they'll be drafting tonight. Along with a brief introduction, I've provided my best guess as to which player each owner will select in Round One.

1. Men With Wood

Previous Finishes: 2008 – 8th, 2009 – 4th, 2010 – 2nd, 2011 – 1st, 2012 – 5th, 2013 - 8th

Projected Pick: Mike Trout

Aside from Commissioner Tim Dierkes, this owner is the only one who's been around since the beginning of the league. Given that we kick out the bottom four every year, that's no small feat. After four consecutive finishes in the top five, Men With Wood just barely avoided the boot last year. Over the years, this owner has shown a preference for the rare five-category contributors in Round One with previous picks including Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, and Andrew McCutchen. Well, this year he'll get the best power-speed option of all in Mike Trout. In fact, this isn't even a prediction on my part, as this owner made it known he'll be taking Trout immediately after the draft order was announced.

2. Yu at the Animal Zoo

Previous Finishes: 2013 - 1st

Projected Pick: Miguel Cabrera

Last year this owner drafted Miguel Cabrera in Round One and wound up winning the league. Could we see a repeat this year? Well, I'm fairly certain we'll at least this owner select Miggy in the first round again. It's tough to make a case for anyone over Cabrera at pick two. I know this owner has only been in the league for a year, but he clearly knows his stuff. I have to say - it's a tad scary that he'll get to build his team around the rock-solid Cabrera again.

3. Brewsterville Bruins

Previous Finishes: 2011 – 5th, 2012 – 2nd, 2013 - 4th

Projected Pick: Paul Goldschmidt

One of the most consistent performers in the league's brief history, Brewsterville Bruins have yet to finish outside the top five. During his three years in the league, this owner has drafted a power-hitting corner infielder in Round One every time. First, it was Evan Longoria with the fifth pick in 2011; next, it was Prince Fielder with the 11th pick in 2012; then, it was Fielder again with the tenth pick last year. I'll project that trend to continue and put this owner down for Goldy at third overall.

4. Spirit of St. Louis

Previous Finishes: N/A

Projected Pick: Andrew McCutchen

One of four new faces to the league this year, the Spirit of St. Louis has drawn a good pick in a year in which there's a pretty clear top four among the fantasy community. Clearly I have no information to work with here, but I'd be surprised if this owner let Cutch fall past the fourth pick. If by chance Brewsterville opts for the Pirates superstar with the third pick, then I'd have to think this owner would go with Goldschmidt.

5. Smell the Glove

Previous Finishes: 2008 – 1st, 2009 – 6th, 2010 – 5th, 2011 – 12th, 2012 – 11th, 2013 - 2nd

Projected Pick: Carlos Gonzalez

Smell the Glove is run by Tim Dierkes, creator of MLB Trade Rumors. Perhaps you've heard of it? After winning the league in its inaugural season, Tim finished in the middle of the pack for a couple years and then struggled for two years. Now that I’ve drafted with Tim for six years, I have a good feel for his general draft approach. He values multi-categorical production in the early rounds. Assuming the consensus top four is off the board, CarGo is precisely the type of player whom Tim typically selects to serve as the foundation for his teams. 

6. The Jewru

Previous Finishes: N/A

Projected Pick: Clayton Kershaw

Another one of our newbies, the Jewru won his way into the league by taking home the Silver League last year. Once again, I'm really only guessing here, as I have nothing to go off when it comes to this manager. I'll go with the data here and put this owner down for the player being selected after the consensus top four according to NFBC ADP, Clayton Kershaw. It's certainly possible that this owner is the type of fantasy owner who refuses to draft a pitcher in Round One, and I'm actually hoping that's the case. After all, I'd love to see the Dodgers ace fall all the way to my pick at the turn, but I'm probably just dreaming.

7. The Bombers

Previous Finishes: N/A

Projected Pick: Chris Davis

The Bombers won their way their ticket into the league through random selection after participating in the RotoAuthority Mock Draft. Accordingly, I'm working with a sample size of exactly one mock draft when it comes to information on this owner. Still worse, this owner had the second pick in that mock draft and naturally selected Miguel Cabrera, who clearly won't make it to pick seven tonight. As such, I'm mostly throwing darts here when it comes to projecting a Round One selection; however, this owner does appear to value power in the early rounds (even at the expense of AVG) with early picks in the mock like Yoenis Cespedes and Mark Trumbo, so I'll put the Bombers down for Chris Davis. Of course, that's really just a guess.

8. Guitar Masahiro

Previous Finishes: 2012 – 8th, 2013 - 6th

Projected Pick: Robinson Cano

While the name Guitar Masahiro may look unfamiliar to those of you who read about this league last season, this is the same owner who managed Say it Ain't So Cano last year. Naturally then, there's really only one player to project for this owner to draft in Round One, Mr. Cano himself. The manager of Guitar Masahiro enters his third season in the league still looking for his first finish in the money. It's worth noting that this manager drafted Troy Tulowitzki in the first round in 2012 and then in the second round last year. Should I pencil in Tulo for this owner in Round Two this year?

9. Gramma Nutt Crushers

Previous Finishes: 2010 – 1st, 2011 – 8th, 2012 – 4th, 2013 - 3rd

Projected Pick: Ryan Braun

Outside of 2011, the Gramma Nutt Crushers have finished in the top four every other year they've been in the league, including a title in 2010. That's an impressive resume for this league. Over the years we've seen this owner draft a Who's Who list of some of the most talented players in modern baseball history in Miguel Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, and (dare I say) Bryce Harper. I know there are some question marks revolving around Ryan Braun, but I just don't see this owner passing on the Brewers star at nine.

10.  Cobra Kai

Previous Finishes: N/A

Projected Pick: Adam Jones

Like the Bombers, Cobra Kai took part in the RotoAuthority Mock Draft and was randomly selected to join this league. Once again, we have a whopping sample size of one mock draft at our disposal. Once more, even that single mock draft isn't all that useful, as this owner had the first pick in the mock. While Mike Trout won't make it to pick ten in any league this year, this manager should be able to get another five-category outfielder in Adam Jones here. Cobra Kai did take Jason Kipnis in the second round in that same mock, so this owner appreciates the power/speed options at least to a certain extent.

11. E-Z Sliders

Previous Finishes: 2013 - 5th

Projected Pick: Bryce Harper

After winning the Silver League in 2012, E-Z Sliders finished just outside the money in fifth place last season. This owner drew the third pick in last year's draft and chose none other than Mike Trout. I'd say that pick worked out pretty well. This manager came back with Justin Upton in Round Two, so the E-Z Sliders aren't afraid to swing for the fences with a young player with a sky-high ceiling. Well, outside of Trout, perhaps no player in the game has a higher ceiling than Bryce Harper, so I could certainly see this owner going with Nationals phenom tonight. 

12. A Century of Misery

Previous Finishes: 2009 – 5th, 2010 – 4th, 2011 – 4th, 2012 – 3rd, 2013 - 7th

Projected Pick: Edwin Encarnacion

And that brings us to my pick at the turn. If you've read any of my work this offseason, you know I prefer to play it safe in the early rounds. Well, if the draft goes as I've projected, some highly talented yet relatively risky players like Hanley Ramirez and Jacoby Ellsbury will be potential options for me here. I'm on record that I'd rather opt for safer options like Edwin Encarnacion, Joey Votto, and Adrian Beltre. Given the state of third base, I can practically guarantee that I'll draft either Encarnacion or Beltre with one of my two picks at the turn. As I look at how I've finished over the years, however, I can't help but think I need to embrace some risk if I want to win this league anytime soon. Should I break free from my norms and swing for the fences tonight?

Check back here next week for an extensive draft recap.




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.




How to Win 2014: Home Runs

Home runs are why we play fantasy baseball. You see whenever baseball has been on the brink of death, homers have been there to resurrect it. After the Black Sox scandal in 1919, there was Babe Ruth. After a decade of Yankee pennants, there was Bill Mazeroski in 1960. Amid two decades of pitcher-dominance, Reggie Jackson became Mr. October in 1977. After the strike, Cal Ripken, Jr. homered in his 2131st consecutive game in 1995 (played...not homered in...but that would have been awesome), and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased and shattered the home run record in 1998.*

*Hey, not every story has a happy epilogue.

Homers keep things interesting; they change the game in an instant; their very threat keeps pitchers on their toes and out of the upper half of the strike zone; they keep four-run leads within reach. And they completely dominate fantasy baseball.

See, homers are three categories in one, score this one and you get two more for free. Homers are the most important category in standard fantasy leagues, and in plenty of non-standards as well. Homers are why Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo are studs (and they are, we'll soon see) and Chris Carter is relevant at all in our fake game, instead of the lead-footed strikeout artists they are on a real baseball field.

And home runs are a breath of fresh air. After weeks of heavily luck-dependent categories (there's a reason some states consider this gambling), homers are a highly repeatable, predictable skill. The biggest luck factor, home park, is easy to see and account for. Homers are not too hard to evaluate.

But they are very, very hard to win.* Because, you see, this ain't the '90's anymore, and it sure ain't the 2001 of Barry Bonds and Luis Gonzalez. Only two players hit over 40 homers last year, and only two (the same guys) slugged over .600 and qualified for the batting title. Consider that the league slugging was over .600 in 1996** and you'll see my point: homers are a lot scarcer now than they used to be.

*Okay, in a 12-team league, you've got a one-in-12 shot just like every other category. Technically.

**No, no it wasn't. Not even close.

We aren't quite back to the days when you could get called "Home Run Baker" just by hitting  three or four inside the park homers in a season, but we're pretty much back in the '80's, back to the days before Prince Fielder's dad (Cecil) smacked 50 homers and inaugurated the Golden Age of Power Hitting...

Get to the point!

...screamed the readers. Fair enough.

Point of the introduction:

1) Homers are an extremely scarce commodity, somewhat like steals were in the '90's and '00's.

2) But they are more important than steals ever were, because they directly impact two more categories.

There, hopefully that’s more direct. Those on a time crunch or with extremely short attention spans are invited to distill the rest of my analysis into the following concise statement:

Invest in homers. Pay extra in auction dollars and draft rounds for the very best home run hitters.

Also, if you're on a time crunch or have an extremely short attention span, I'd love for you to join one of my money leagues....

2013 Home Run Leaders

 

Name

PA

HR

R

RBI

SLG

                                     

1

Chris Davis

673

53

103

138

0.634

                                     

2

Miguel Cabrera

652

44

103

137

0.636

                                     

3

Paul Goldschmidt

710

36

103

125

0.551

                                     

4

Edwin Encarnacion

621

36

90

104

0.534

                                     

5

Pedro Alvarez

614

36

70

100

0.473

                                     

6

Alfonso Soriano

626

34

84

101

0.489

                                     

7

Mark Trumbo

678

34

85

100

0.453

                                     

8

Adam Dunn

607

34

60

86

0.442

                                     

9

Adam Jones

689

33

100

108

0.493

                                     

10

Evan Longoria

693

32

91

88

0.498

                                     

11

David Ortiz

600

30

84

103

0.564

                                     

12

Brandon Moss

505

30

73

87

0.522

                                     

13

Adrian Beltre

690

30

88

92

0.509

                                     

14

Jay Bruce

697

30

89

109

0.478

                                     

You definitely want a couple of these guys on your team next year. The best will help in batting average too, but they'll be gone in the first round or two...except for David Ortiz, who gets the DH discount (but he's 1B eligible in Yahoo! leagues). At the other end of the spectrum, we've got some guys who won't just hurt your average, they'll kill it. I'm looking at you, Adam Dunn.

Aside from Dunn and his Black Hole of Batting Average, it's a bit surprising to see how many of these leaders can be had at relatively low price. Alvarez will certainly hurt your average, but his prodigious power is at a position without a lot of production at all. Soriano is a very consistent home run hitter, but his age, average, and reputation seem to be keeping him low on draft boards. Moss won't play against lefties...and yet made this list with 100 fewer plate appearances than most of the others, and 200 fewer than first-rounder Goldschmidt. I think you can afford to platoon him.

Shortened Season Home Run Hitters

Raw homer totals are far from the whole story, though. There were plenty of players who contributed in the category, but had their season shortened for one reason or another. I put them into a spreadsheet with cutoffs of at least 17 homers and no more than 540 PA. It’s too big to post, but you can Download Partial Season Home Run Leaders. (Note that catchers are not included—most are expected to get fewer than 540 PA.)

Some of these players ran into injuries: Albert Pujols, Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Bautista are obvious enough, but don’t forget that Troy Tulowitzki, Bryce Harper, Carlos Gonzalez, David Wright, Jayson Werth, Colby Rasmus, Chase Utley, and others all gave us their production before, after, and around injuries.

Other players platooned: Nate Schierholz, Raul Ibanez, Adam Lind, Mitch Moreland, Will Venable, and Mark Reynolds all played less than full time for their teams. They may well do so again, but can provide cheap value in homers for this season’s fantasy owners.

Of course, some are young players who came to the Majors or into a starting role later in the season—or struggled and were sent down: Yasiel Puig, Will Middlebrooks, Matt Adams, and Jedd Gyorko fit that role.

Home Runs by Position

To get an idea of how good a player is relative to his competition at the same position, let’s check out last year’s average homer totals for the top 12 home run contributors at each position.

Catchers

Leader: Matt Wieters, 22

Top-12 Average: 18.66667

Top 12 Range: 15-22

Notable: A lot of guys hover just under 20—though a couple are still undraftable.

First Base

Leader: Chris Davis, 53

Top-12 Average: 30.83333

Top 12 Range: 23-53

Notable: Seven players with 29 homers or more; 17 players with 17-25.

Second Base

Leader: Robinson Cano, 27

Top-12 Average: 17.5

Top 12 Range: 12-27

Notable: Only three players with more than 20 homers—and one was Dan Uggla.

Third Base

Leader: Miguel Cabrera, 44

Top-12 Average: 25.91667

Top 12 Range: 18-44

Notable: A very top-heavy and power-heavy position, with multiple home run hitters who hurt in average.

Shortstop

Leader: Troy Tulowitzki and J.J. Hardy, 25

Top-12 Average: 16.16667

Top 12 Range: 10-25

Notable: The leaders are below average for the 3B top 12! This makes Hardy look like a great value.

Outfield (Top 36)

Leader: Alfonso Soriano, 34

Top-12 Average: 23.63889

Top 12 Range: 17-34

Notable: A lot of potential homer leaders in the OF missed significant time last year—expect OF to be a better homer source in 2014.

Rate Power Stats

There were only 16 players who qualified for the batting title and slugged over .500. Power is rare. High SLG is normal for home run hitters—so those who don’t have a high number are probably losing it by not providing extra-base power (and so losing out on RBI), or by putting up low batting averages.

Last year, 31 players (who qualified) managed an ISO of .200 or better. And just one (guess who) managed to top .300. I wouldn’t say there is time or need to dive deeply in to ISO here, but it’s a great cross-check when you see intriguing home run production, especially in players with less than a full season. Also, it excludes batting average, so it’s subject to less luck than SLG.

Worth noting: Josh Donaldson just missed both arbitrary round-number cutoffs—he slugged .499 and had an ISO of .199. Go figure.

More to Know

By the time I finish this conclusion, I’ll be up around 1500 words (which doesn’t always stop me, I know), but there’s a lot more worth examining in your pursuit of home runs. Park effects (spoiler: Colorado, Arizona, and Texas are good for homers), flyball rates, HR/FB rates, average flyball distance, “Just Over the Wall” and “No Doubt” homer data, and plenty of other stats feed meaningfully into home runs. It’s a testament to their importance in real and fantasy baseball, I suppose, that they deserve something more like a five-part series than a single episode.

Don’t forget the original, simplified version though: invest in home runs. There aren’t as many as there used to be.

Join us again next week as we tackle a bonus category: OPS. Just in time for me to have already drafted a league that counts it....




Closer Updates: Astros, Dbacks, Dodgers, Os, Rangers, Reds, Rockies, White Sox

With the Opening Series in Sydney, Australia a few days away, the fantasy season is nearly upon us. Because there are a few closer position battles still undecided, we’ll give you updates on them and the teams prepared to start the season Down Under. If you were hoping to find Closer Rankings, they were posted a few weeks ago and can be found here.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Addison Reed was brought to the desert via trade this offseason and the Dbacks are happy to have him man the ninth. Reed will look to provide some stability to the bullpen this season and, with a fresh start in Australia, he might just pluck a save this weekend.

Baltimore Orioles

Once Jim Johnson headed out west, most thought that the Os would hit the free agent wire looking to replace him. Although Grant Balfour was nearly brought in to close, it seems that the job has fallen to Tommy Hunter. While Hunter may not have the tightest grip on the closer reins, he should have the gig come Opening Day.

Colorado Rockies

Despite all of the Rex Brothers hoopla, the Rockies are still paying LaTroy Hawkins the big bucks. Even with Manager Walt Weiss stating that Brothers will get the occasional save, he won’t be worth much if Hawkins is still getting (and converting) a large majority of the save opportunities.

Chicago White Sox

A few weeks ago, the White Sox closer picture was an absolute mess. However, it seems that Nate Jones has begun to emerge as the favorite. This frontrunner has pitched in five games this Spring Training without giving up a run and has recovered nicely from a gluteal sprain suffered early in camp.

Cincinnati Reds

Panic spread through Reds Nation on Wednesday night when Aroldis Chapman was struck in the face by a come-backer. After being carted off the field, Chapman was taken to a local hospital where fractures in his face were discovered. While any type of fantasy impact is unclear at this time, this injury could be significant if Chapman is forced to miss time.

Houston Astros

Although far from decided, it seems that the Opening Day job will come down to Josh Fields (who performed admirably in the role last season after Jose Veras’ departure) and Chad Qualls (with 51 career saves). That being said, wait around for Jesse Crain, who should pitch well enough (when fully healthy) to wrestle the ninth from Fields or Qualls.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Kenley Jansen is a hot commodity this season as he tries to prove that last year’s numbers (1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 13.0 K/9, 28 saves) were not a fluke. With the chance to learn from a trio of former closers with 377 career saves (Brandon League, Chris Perez, Brian Wilson), Jansen just might begin his march to the top of the closer rankings this weekend at the Sydney Cricket Grounds.

Texas Rangers

The best kept secret in the Rangers’ clubhouse is who Manager Ron Washington will name as closer. Unfortunately, we have not been privy to that information and will continue to speculate like everyone else. Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria are still battling it out this Spring Training. Feliz has begun to regain his velocity and Soria has been effective in each outing, so stay tuned before committing to either…

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.





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