RotoAuthority Unscripted: All You Need is Now

So you made it into the playoffs. Nice. I suppose. Too bad your work ain’t done yet. Playing three straight weeks of sudden-death may add excitement to the season’s last month, but it also adds a significant element of luck…which means you should sit tight, cross your fingers, eat a chicken dinner every night (Wade Boggs style, for you kids who don’t know) and make sure not to touch the white lines when your run off the field, because there’s nothing you can do, right? 

You know that’s not right. (Except the chicken dinners part—go ahead.) With luck comes the opportunity to make your own, assuming you’ve got any roster flexibility at all. If you don’t, well…maybe stay away from those white lines after all. But most of us have some players we can drop, space to pick someone up for a week—or a single game—just to take advantage of the matchups. Which means taking advantage of the real-life matchups and the matchup your opponent offers.

Now, let’s back up a moment, because our roto-style readers are starting to feel their eyes glaze over with all this playoff talk. Wake up! This stuff applies to you (us) too. Not quite as heavily, to be sure, but our time is running out too and that means that playing matchups (and categories) for super-short-term gain is what we need to be doing. So pay attention and use the elements of this article that you can. The other stuff, well by this time you should know what to ignore in my writing by now. 

First step in the playoffs: get to know your opponent. This is sudden death; you aren’t trying to do anything so abstract as pick up an average of 3.5 RBI per week to make up a point and a half in the category by season’s end. You just need to beat this one opponent, this one time. (Uh…that’s not you, roto-leaguers.)

Here’s a for-instance for you: I’m in a playoff matchup against a team that’s lost the SB category only once all year. The only question is how a team with Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton lost the category that one time. Anyway, what did I do? I dropped Rajai Davis and picked up Adam Dunn. If I need steals next week, well, hopefully Davis is still there. But my team hasn’t made it to next week yet, and there’s no guarantee it will. Yet.

So check out your opponent and see what their strengths and weaknesses are before making your moves. Then, it’s time to get down to business.

Another thing you should do in the playoffs (but maybe not in roto formats): quit speculating on guys who might produce in the future. Joc Pederson? Gone. George Springer? Dropped. Your next start is in Colorado? Out. (Just kidding. Colorado is on the road all week—so bench or drop their hitters!) If you ain’t helping this week, you’re hitting the waiver wire. All you need is now.

Who’s worth your attention this week, then? Let’s take a look at the pitching matchups around the league, with an eye on guys who might actually be available.

Starters

Collin McHugh starts today at Seattle, Jacob deGrom pitches at home against the Rockies, and Yusmeiro Petit takes on the Diamondbacks in San Francisco. I love those guys for right-away pickups.

Roberto Hernandez and Dan Haren get to take on the Padres in Los Angeles. It might not be Petco, but it’s still a nice combination for the pitchers.

Jake Odorizzi is just generally underowned, but don’t get scared off when you see “@NYY” as his matchup—that just isn’t what it used to be.

Tanner Roark gets to take on the Mets in New York, which is a truly sweet matchup. Actually, CitiField is so pitcher-friendly that I’d consider picking up his opponent, Bartolo Colon, as well as Jon Niese, who pitches later in the week. (But it’s always better to get the guy pitching against the Mets first.)

Jason Hammel will be taking on the Mariners in Seattle, and later Sonny Gray and James Paxton will face off in a hopefully-epic pitchers’ duel in that same pitching-friendly park. I guess Grey isn’t available, though.

Hector Santiago will face the Astros in Los Angeles, which should be a nice opportunity for strikeouts.

Relievers

If your matchup says that saves are an attainable win for you this week (and not a totally assured win), make sure there are no closers left on the wire for your opponent to pick up. Jenrry Mejia (52% owned in Yahoo! leagues) may be available, as could Neftali Feliz (49%), Chad Qualls (37%), Eduard Mujica (24%), and Jake Petricka (22%). If these guys are on your waiver wire and you lose the saves category, you won’t be able to blame the machines….

Hitters

It’s here that your particular matchup will be most influential, because the hitters you actually need might be very different to the hitters that are actually good. But here are some guys who could be primed for decent weeks. (As much as can be guessed, anyway.)

Mookie Betts (45% owned) has games against Baltimore and Kansas City, is playing hot, and is eligible at SS and OF. Is that really worse than the guy you’re running out there? Maybe it isn’t.

Lonnie Chisenhall (40%) scared me off with games in Detroit in the second half of this week…but then I remembered how much trouble the Tigers’ pitching staff has run into, and the fact that their park is very hitting-friendly. Keep him away from David Price and Max Scherzer, but it’s a good week to have him. Plus, he’s hitting better this month than he was earlier in the second half.

Chase Headley (40%) also does okay, with games against Tampa Bay and in Baltimore. With the Orioles’ weak staff and the Rays being more or less ready to let the season to run out, these matchups are better than they look at first glance.

Russell Martin (40%) plays against the Phillies and Cubs all week, which makes him a pretty nice option for an emergency catcher—or even a replacement for your starter if he’s got tough opponents this week.

Jed Lowrie (38%) gets to play in Chicago (AL) until Thursday…but let him go after that, as he’ll be in Seattle.

Kolten Wong (35%) and Oscar Taveras (21%) get to face the Reds and Rockies. That. Is. Nice.

Adam Dunn (35%) returns to his former and homer-friendly park in Chicago. A great option if you expect to be in a fight for home runs. Like Lowrie, he gets to play in Seattle after that, so be ready to use the drop button.

Dioner Navarro (33%) doesn’t have great matchups, with the Cubs and Rays—but both should be easier opponents than they have been at other parts of the year. And he’s red-hot right now. And he gets to play all week at his launching-pad home park.

Luis Valbuena (28%) and all other Cubs have great matchups: all their games are on the road against Toronto and Pittsburgh—two of the better parks for hitters and two of the worst pitching staffs in the game. Arismendy Alcantara (12%) will kill your average, but he brings power and a little speed.

Juan Lagares (25%) doesn’t have awesome matchups (playing at home this week), but you don’t care how he hits. Just how he steals, which has been a lot this month. And the Mets need some kind of excitement for the home crowds. Lorenzo Cain (17%) can give you some steals too.

Steve Pearce (19%) will be against the Red Sox and Yankees, all on the road.

Good luck this week—you’re gonna need it. And when you head over to the waiver wire, remember: all you need is now. 




RotoAuthority League Update: 3 Weeks to Go

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

The Race for First Place

1. E-Z Sliders 97.5

2. Men With Wood 94

Well, it's safe to say we have a legitimate race for the title at this point. Once again, Men With Wood made incremental gains in the standings to trim away at the lead held by E-Z Sliders. Given that there are only three weeks remaining, one can quite easily analyze each category in the standings and determine both the ceiling and the floor for each team in the league.

Let's start with the current leader, E-Z Sliders. This squad could still gain a point each in R and HR on offense as well as a point each in SV, ERA, and WHIP in pitching. Oddly enough, the wins category could ultimately decide this title, as E-Z Sliders could actually net two additional points in the Wins column. Accordingly, the high-water mark for this club is roughly 104 points. On the other hand, it's possible this squad loses a point each in R and HR and potentially two points in WHIP. It follows then that this team has a floor around 93 points. At the very least then, we can safely say E-Z Sliders has locked up second place at worst.

What about the best and worst case scenarios for Men With Wood? This club has dominant leads in R, HR, and SB; as such, this squad can really only gain a point in AVG offensively. Due to the way the pitching categories shake out, however, this owner still has a chance to win the league. Specifically, Men With Wood could gain a point in SV, K, and ERA as well as two points in WHIP. The ceiling for this club then is about 100 points. On the flip side, Men With Wood could lose a point each in RBI, ERA, and WHIP. Ultimately, though, if this owner doesn't take home the title this season, it can truly be chalked up to bad luck - at least to a certain extent. After all, not only does Men With Wood have just three points in the category at the moment, but this squad could acually fall to the bottom of the Wins column and lose two points, assuming the Bombers and the Gramma Nutt Crushers reach the innings cap. Therefore, the floor for this club is roughly 89 points. That should still ensure second place, but E-Z Sliders remains the favorite at this stage in the game.

The Race for Third Place

3. Smell the Glove 80.5

4. Guitar Masahiro 77.5

5. A Century of Misery 74

Both Guitar Masahiro and my squad made slight gains in the standings this week, but Commissioner Dierkes still would finish in the money if the season ended today. The power categories are particularly key for Smell the Glove, as the Commish could gain a couple points each in HR and RBI. I actually don't see a ton of room for upward movement in the standings from Guitar Masahiro. It's worth pointing out, however, that the ERA and WHIP categories are very closely stratified. If the pitching staff for Guitar Masahiro is lights-out down the stretch, this owner just might be able to finish in the money. Along those same lines, I'd really need luck on my side with my pitching results going forward, but there's still a slim chance my club could rise to third.

The Race to Avoid the Bottom Four

6. Pulling Brzenk 63

7. Brewsterville Bruins 59

8. The Jewru 56.5

9. The Bombers 50

10. Spirit of St. Louis 49

11. Cobra Kai 42

12. Gramma Nutt Crushers 37

Other than the Brewsterville Bruins and the Jewru swapping spots, this is precisely the same order of the standings as we saw last week. It's worth noting that the Bombers are in slightly better shape that what this seems to suggest. After all, this club has accrued the fewest innings pitched in the league. On the other hand, the Jewru has the second-most innings in the league. Accordingly, those squads could easily switch places at that ever-pivotal eighth place spot in the standings. Unfortunately, time's running out for the Spirit of St. Louis, Cobra Kai, and Gramma Nutt Crushers.

Standings as of Saturday, September 6th.




The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 5-11

As we continue to reduce our sample sizes due to the ever-decreasing amount of time left in the fantasy baseball season, let's look at whose advanced metrics still stand out as unusual...

* Going Gonzo.  One of my favorite statistical quirks when looking at a small sample size is the pitcher with a perfect 100% strand rate.  This doesn't mean they're not allowing any runs (i.e. a solo homer or something) but it means they're enjoying a whole lotta luck when pitching from the stretch, and sure enough, such inflated strand rates clearly lead to inflated peripherals across the board.

Over the last 30 days, five pitchers have a strand rate of 90% or better: Jarred Cosart (92.9%), Felix Hernandez (93.8%), Matt Shoemaker (95%) and both Miguel Gonzalez and Jason Hammel have the perfect 100%.  I already discussed Shoemaker a few weeks ago, and King Felix's fantasy credentials speak for themselves, but are any of the other three worth a late-season pickup?

Cosart has pitched brilliantly since coming over to the Marlins, yet his 0.65 ERA over the last 30 days is belied by a 2.66 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, only a 4.55 K/9 and zero homers.  Even accounting for the fact that Cosart has been very good at avoiding the long ball over his short big league career, the lack of home runs stands out as a stat that is almost sure to rise before the season's end.  As for Hammel, while he's turned things around since his very rough start to his Oakland career, his last 30 days reveals a 2.40 ERA but scary peripherals like a 5.49 FIP and 4.44 xFIP.  Both of these change-of-scenery pitchers don't need to be on your roster.

That brings us to Gonzalez, whose hot streak has lasted well beyond just the last month.  Over his last 63 innings, Gonzalez has an even 2.00 ERA, which has brought his overall season ERA down to 3.38.  The knock on Gonzalez from a fantasy perspective is that he's been playing with fire peripheral-wise all season long --- 4.93 FIP, 4.48 xFIP, 4.36 SIERA, a 6.42 K/9 and a big strand rate (84.2%) and generous BABIP (.273).  With so little coming in the strikeout department, Gonzalez's fantasy owners are always left holding their breath to see if his advanced metric can hold out for another start.

That's over the full season, however, and it seems like Gonzalez has really turned a corner since July.  I kind of like him as a an under-the-radar rotation option for September, in part also because he'll have a good shot at earning wins given the Orioles' terrific lineup.  I'll go out on a limb and predict he'll allow at least ONE baserunner to score during September, but otherwise, give Gonzo a go.

* Captain Puig.  When you're in a tight pennant race or in your league playoffs, one of the toughest decisions you face is whether or not to bench a star player who's in the midst of a big slump.  On the other hand, you don't want some stiff dragging down your lineup...but then again, this star's performance earlier in the year was a big reason you're battling for your league title in the first place.

Case in point, Yasiel Puig.  He was putting up MVP numbers until about a month ago, and over his last 111 PA he has a measly .192/.279/.222 slash line with 11 runs, four RBI, one steal and zero homers.  Yeah, it's like Puig was doing nothing but facing Jarred Cosart for the last month.  Puig's .253 BABIP over that stretch has certainly played a role, though his near-total power outage is also of major concern.  He was similarly powerless during a June slump, and while his .188 ISO for the season is only a bit less than the .215 ISO he posted during his phenomenal breakout in 2013, I'm pretty sure Puig owners expected more than just 13 homers this year.  (Consider that he had 19 in only 432 PA in 2013.)

Consider this: even with his last month, Puig's BABIP is still .356 for the season.  It could be that his slump isn't necessarily a slump but simply a big course correction.  Also, it's possible Puig could simply be tiring from the rigors of his first full Major League season.  As you can tell from those weak recent numbers, Puig isn't contributing much 5x5-wise when he's slumping (besides scoring runs...he's walking at the same rate as his season average).  I'd certainly consider sitting him against left-handers, as the right-handed hitting Puig has actually been a reverse splits guy this season, as shown by his .717 OPS against southpaws and a .906 OPS against righties. 

Though Puig has less than two full seasons under his belt, he's been awesome enough when in top form that you really have to get Puig back in the lineup at the first hint that his cold spell is over.  If he homers or even has two straight games with multiple hits, I'd start him again and keep him starting for the rest of the season.  Until then, however, you should bite the bullet and explore your OF bench candidates.  On the bright side, if your backup catches fire and leads you to victory, you can both win your league AND brag about being a genius manager for having the guts to bench Puig.  You can just omit that you read about the strategy in ths column....or wait, that won't work.  This column is read far and wide in fantasy leagues the world over.

* Added Val-ue.  Earlier this season, I dropped Carlos Beltran in order to pick up Luis Valbuena.  Talk about a move I never thought I'd make in fantasy baseball.  Yet as so often happens in this crazy game, a journeyman can suddenly emerge as a one-year wonder. 

Now, Valbuena is only 28, so it's not like his 2014 couldn't be a hint at a late breakout.  Still, with a career .654 OPS through his first 1500 career PA, Valbuena's .248/.328/. 448 slash line this season was quite the surprise.  He's hit new career highs in homers (16), RBI (48), runs (55) and holdonaminute, 16 homers?!   That's not a typo.  If anything, Valbuena has been becoming more of a power-centric player as the season has gone on; six of his homers have come over his last 110 PA, and he had a .460 SLG to go along with a .240 BA and .303 OBP in that stretch.

Ironically, even though the Cubs apparently won't be calling Kris Bryant up this September, they'll still have a power-hitting third baseman in the lineup.  Bryant's extended stint in the minors is what makes me bullish on Valbuena as a fantasy option for the rest of the year, as he apparently won't be losing his job anytime soon.  Valbuena is owned in only 23% of Yahoo fantasy leagues and is eligible at both second and third base, making him an intriguing piece for your playoff infield if someone else is underachieving.  If you need to create roster space, well, you might want to finally give up on Carlos Beltran.




Closer Updates: A’s, Astros, BoSox, Brew Crew, Giants, Jays, Nats, Padres, Redlegs, Tigers

Another week toward the major league playoffs means an inch closer in the direction of your personal fantasy championship. If you’re still in the hunt, a scavenged save might be just the push you need. As always, we’ll explore a few different bullpen situations that have developed over the last week and discuss some potential pickups for your squad.

Boston Red SoxKoji Uehara hasn’t been used much over the past two weeks (0 saves, 3.1 IP, 18.90 ERA, 3.30 WHIP) and it seems that he may be getting some rest down the stretch. In his absence, Edward Mujica (3 saves, 4.21 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) is most likely to scavenge any saves in the BoSox bullpen moving forward.

Cincinnati Reds – Earlier this week, Aroldis Chapman’s top setup guy was sent to Milwaukee. Now, Jumbo Diaz (that’s right) should be the Reds’ eighth inning guy (3.24 ERA, 1.00 WHIP). If Chapman gets any rest down the stretch, ol' Jumbo is a good candidate for the occasional save.

Detroit Tigers – This just in… Joe Nathan (29 saves, 5.04 ERA, 1.54 WHIP) is still the closer in Detroit. Joakim Soria (17 saves, 3.58 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) looks ready to return to the major leagues soon and he’ll become a factor in the bullpen immediately. As always, a great pitching performance from Soria (or anyone really) could supplant Nathan as the closer.

Houston Astros – Last week, Tony Sipp (2 saves, 3.21 ERA, 0.86 WHIP) scavenged a save from Chad Qualls (16 saves, 3.47 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) – who has been dealing with some minor injuries over the past month. However, Qualls’ job is safe for now and it now appears that Sipp might be the Astros’ second option.

Milwaukee Brewers – Earlier this week, the Brewers traded two players to be named later to Cincinnati for Jonathan Broxton (7 saves, 1.86 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) – who will be a setup guy for Francisco Rodriguez (39 saves, 3.00 ERA, 0.97 WHIP). With Broxton under contract through next season, and K-Rod a free-agent-to-be, he could be the Brew Crew’s closer in 2015. However, he will not get the ninth anytime soon.

Oakland Athletics – With Sean Doolittle still out, the committee in Oakland includes Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Cook, and Dan Otero. Over the past week, Otero has pitched the best (3.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2.10 WHIP) and might be the first option next time out.

San Diego Padres – After falling to an injury to last week, Joaquin Benoit (9 saves, 1.58 ERA, 0.82 WHIP) will likely be out for at least another week. In his absence, Kevin Quackenbush (2 saves, 2.58 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) will be getting the save opportunities and is a great opportunity for late saves.

San Francisco Giants – Late last week, manager Bruce Bochy stated that several different candidates would get save opportunities throughout the rest of the season. This committee includes Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo. Of the group, Romo (2.08 ERA, 1.15 WHIP over the last two weeks) is the most likely candidate to fight for his old job back.

Toronto Blue JaysCasey Janssen (20 saves, 3.82 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) is still the closer up north, but Aaron Sanchez looks like he might get a save opportunity or two in the final weeks of the season. He’s had a strong season (1.59 ERA, 0.57 WHIP), but Janssen has the support of manager John Gibbons.

Washington Nationals – Believe it or not, Rafael Soriano (2 saves, 6.00 ERA, 2.67 WHIP) has stumbled a bit in the past week. If he doesn’t get it together, manager Matt Williams might experiment with Drew Storen down (1.41 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) the stretch. However, it’s probable that Soriano will pitch through any issues.

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




Stock Watch: You Have But One Choice

Stock Watch: You Have But One Choice

Whether you need to shore up your lineup after getting hit with an injury, you need more pitching to rack up innings, or your stagnant team needs a desperate high-reward play, there’s only one place for you to turn: the waiver wire. So good luck with that.

That's why Stock Watch is here to help you out.

Shallow Leagues (30-50% Owned)

Can I join a league in which Jacob deGrom (49%) is still available? Seriously, a young pitcher with gas, who gets to pitch in Citi Field?! Get this guy on your roster before I have to use another interrobang.

Angel Pagan (47%) is healthy again and helps a little in steals and average—a relatively tough combo to find this late in the season. (Unless you're picking up part-time Kansas City outfielders, but that's another story.)

Casey McGehee (46%) has (somehow) contributed in batting average all year long. With a friendly schedule going forward, I guess he can probably keep it up for September.

Danny Salazar (46%) just likes this part of the year. He’s tearing it up again, like he did last year, and his season stats are masking it from those searching the waiver wire for new talent. Unless they set their player list to "last 30 days." So get him before they do.

Speaking of which, Kyle Hendricks (44%) has been awesome. With his low strikeout rate and a tough schedule coming up, I’m not particularly impressed…but the results have been too good to ignore.

Collin McHugh (43%) has too good of an ERA to be unowned in so many leagues. Somebody’s missing out. Many a quality season has gone useless while we all wait for regression that doesn’t come—or at least takes a long time.

Russell Martin (43%) is having an awesome year, and pretty quietly. I don’t know why he’s suddenly so good (and I didn’t look it up), but I do know he’s playing in a high-caliber offense and that the bar is pretty low at catcher.

Brandon McCarthy (42%) is another guy who shouldn’t be doing so well. Mostly because he waited until after I gave up on him. But, yeah, he’s been great since joining the Yankees. I wish my writing improved so much after moving to New York….

Jake Odorizzi (41%) is far from consistent—but he’s also the guy on the waiver wire most likely to deliver a string of truly dominant starts and carry you through the playoffs. That’s an upside play I’ll gladly make.

Lonnie Chisenhall (39%) isn’t the batting average dynamo that he looked like earlier in the season (BABIP happens), but that doesn’t mean he can’t help a fantasy team anymore.

Jed Lowrie (38%) is back off the DL, in case you want to take a chance on his little-bit-up-really-really-far-down season. That 2B/SS eligibility does come in handy, though, and sometimes all the more so in shallow leagues.

Carlos Carrasco (38%) has been crazy-good since returning to the Indians’ rotation in mid-August. I’m always intrigued when an ex-prospect shows some unexpectedly-good performance.

Kennys Vargas (37%) is pretty good. Certainly better so far than the similarly-first-named guy he replaced in the Twins’ lineup.

Kolten Wong (33%) can still provide some speed in the middle infield, and the Cards have a great schedule for hitters this month.  

Marcus Stroman (32%) is way too good to be available in so many leagues. 

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

Gregory Polanco (28%) is back from the minors. It seems reasonable that he could shake off his slump and help you and the Pirates. Good if you need some upside.

Tsuyoshi Wada (28%) has rocked so far for the Cubs, seriously impressing their management. I mentioned before that Chicago’s schedule is a worry for me, but that hasn’t kept me from owning Wada in a couple leagues.

Dioner Navarro (26%) has a pretty respectable batting line for a catcher. What? That’s praise—sort of.

Drew Stubbs (24%) is giving owners power and speed. It had been awhile, but this was his profile back when he was getting drafted as a number two or three outfielder. And his playing time competition is hurt. And he plays for Colorado! Pick him up and use him in every home and Arizona game. Bench him for the others if you want, but pick him up.

Oscar Taveras (22%) has a little hitting streak, but that’s not why I’d keep an eye on him or pick him up; the Cards have a great hitting schedule, which could be just what the top prospect needs to kick-start his Major League career.

Dillon Gee (22%) and Jon Niese (21%) will get to enjoy plenty of home games and starts against weak-hitting opponents. September should be a good month for the Mets’ pitchers.

Jonathan Villar (21%) is back up with the Astros. I don’t know if he’ll play everyday, but he could still give you some steals, in a sort of Eric Young-in-the-infield sort of way.

Yusmeiro Petit (20%) has been too good out of the bullpen to ignore in the rotation. You’ve got to take a chance on a guy doing that.

Steve Pearce (20%) is going to sit out a couple days, but keep an eye on him; if he isn’t too hurt, the Orioles’ new acquisitions shouldn’t be much threat to his playing time.

Mookie Betts (20%) is heating up and plays shortstop and outfield.

Justin Turner (20%) plays all the infield positions and is hitting over .320. That's...pretty impressive, even in less than 300 AB.

Deep Leagues (Under 20% Owned)

Colby Rasmus (19%) makes some sense if you’re in need of power—but mostly if you’re desperate. He could lose some playing time down the stretch to Toronto’s September call ups.

We might as well admit that Lorenzo Cain (18%) is a speed/average threat, since he’s got 24 steals and a .298 batting average this late in the season.

Jon Jay (18%) offers little besides average, but if that’s what you need, his favorable schedule makes him a good source of it in deep formats.

A.J. Pollock (17%) is back! He was producing across the board when he got hurt and could really help you out in the last two weeks of the season, with a bunch of games at home in Arizona.

Conor Gillaspie (17%) is still hitting for average. Still!

Hector Santiago (16%) makes this list again. Why? Because he deserves it. Not pitching bad (an admitted worry with Santiago), getting strikeouts, and playing a favorable schedule for the month. Just for the rest of the season, I’d take him over plenty of pitchers who are more talented and reliable.

Bud Norris (15%) could be helpful if you need some wins and have innings to spare, pitching as he does for the heavy-hitting Orioles.

Shane Greene (15%) just got beaten badly by the Red Sox, but he’s still striking out nearly a batter per inning.

Josh Collmenter (13%) isn’t that great—but I do like his chances to produce in the next two weeks, with some favorable matchups in parks and opponents.

Arismendy Alcantara (13%) isn’t consistent, but if you can handle the average (or you’re punting it), he provides power and speed in the infield and outfield.

Derek Holland (11%) pitched well in his first start of the season. He’s an intriguing high-risk, high-reward guy. I literally just picked him up in a league in which I’m hovering around eighth and ninth place and need to take some chances.

Tyler Flowers (8%) has been my go-to replacement catcher as I’ve dealt with injuries to Yan Gomes and Brian McCann, who were pretty much the only catchers I drafted this season. But anyway, Flowers can fill in for you too.

You don’t have to truly believe in Odrisamer Despaigne (8%) to enjoy his brand of low-strikeout, low-run starts. Pitching in San Diego, expect more of the same and own this guy.

Jimmy Nelson (7%) is another high-reward type, as the top prospect for a contending (albeit stumbling) Brewers team.

Andrew Heaney (5%) just came back up for the Fish. Upside? Totally. Plus the Marlins have a pretty favorable schedule, thanks to in-division opponents like the Phillies and Mets.




RotoAuthority Unscripted: Prospect Paradise

Well, September has arrived, bringing with it new beginnings that are really endings: school begins for millions of children (mostly out on the West Coast); the carefree days of summer come to an end. In popular imagination, fall begins; the oppressive heat in my apartment comes to a blessed end (or not). The real pennant race steps up throughout baseball; the mad hopes of teams like the White Sox and Rays come to an end (or should).

But what does this have to do with your fantasy team? Well, September is the beginning of Major League rosters expanding: prospects will be promoted to the big leagues, ending…well, ending their minor league careers, I guess. Well, for now. Anyway, sometimes these prospects end up spending a lot of time on the bench learning little more than how to collect paychecks and how to form lifelong chewing tobacco habits from their baseball elders.

And sometimes they pop up and a superstar is born. Whether it’s a stud outfielder who shows up and rakes for a month or a future ace who pitches like one for six starts or so during your fantasy playoffs (or stretch drive), this is the time when rookies make the biggest impact.

So who’s coming up? And will they be any good? (‘Cause I can totally predict accurately a single month of baseball involving established big leaguers, let alone guys who just showed up….) 

Actually Promoted

Joc Pederson, OF, LAD

Joc just got the call and is already owned in 7% of Yahoo! leagues…and 33% of CBS leagues. I did my part to move that needle in Yahoo! formats, picking him up on three of my four teams from that provider. (I don’t think he’ll last to me in CBS this week.) This is a speculative investment: the Dodgers have a notoriously crowded outfield, and while Pederson might be one of their top three outfielders by talent, he certainly isn’t by paycheck; Los Angeles might feel compelled to let Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier “earn” their money.

But maybe not. Either the Dodgers will lose some games and start to feel the pressure to win in order to make the playoffs, in which case other considerations might matter less. Or they might get off to a great start in September and coast into a playoff berth (they’ve got just a two game lead on the Giants as I write). In that case, maybe they’ll want to really see what they have in the person of Pederson. It could happen. It might not, but Pederson’s minor league stats make me excited to take the risk: in case you didn’t click the link above yet, he batted .303/.435/.582 in the minors (hitters’ park and league, yes…still the best in the PCL, yes—he won the league MVP) with 33 homers and 30 stolen bases. Now that is some upside. 

Maikel Franco, 3B, PHI

News is that Franco is getting the call today for Philadelphia. Franco can’t lay claim to a monster season in the minors like Pederson can (seriously, his batting line is .257/.298/.427 with 16 homers, which is not excused by park or league effects) but he’s got some things going in his favor too. First of all, his hitting has picked up recently, batting .338 since June, so that’s good.

Perhaps more importantly, the hideously-bad-at-hitting Phillies have no reason whatsoever not to let Franco start all month and see what the 22-year-old can do. Their games don’t mean a thing (at 15 games back in September, even Ruben Amaro knows they aren’t winning the division) and I actually had to go to the Philadelphia depth chart to see who Franco’s competition is at third. Apparently, it’s Cody Asche. Franco is owned in just 3% of Yahoo! leagues and 26% of CBS leagues. 

Daniel Norris, P, TOR

Norris might be a top prospect, but that probably won’t stop him from pitching out of the Blue Jays’ bullpen this month. He’s certainly someone interesting to watch for next year, and keep an eye out for any suggestion that he’ll get starts in September. For now, though, he probably doesn’t have any fantasy value in redraft leagues.

Dalton Pompey, OF, TOR

Pompey (the Toronto outfielder, not the Roman general, relation unknown) was also called up and could eat into the playing time of Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus as the Blue Jays have fallen from contention. Still, it’s a crowded outfield and Pompey isn’t the only guy Toronto has called up. So keep his name in mind, but don’t rush to the waiver wire just yet.

Some More Guys to Watch:

Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC

Apparently, Bryant isn’t getting the call so that the Cubs can delay his service clock. After hitting 43 homers in the minors, you’d think there was no place to go but up…but I guess the Cubs are content to wait till next year….

Francisco Lindor, SS, CLE

I picked up Lindor in a keeper league with NA slots as soon as Asdrubal Cabrera was traded, but it’s starting to look like he won’t be making a splash this season any more than Bryant will. With the service clock looming, the whole “nothing to play for” narrative could be keeping Lindor down as long as Cleveland gets adequate play from Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez.

Noah Syndergaard, P, NYM

Word is that Syndergaard could get a call up…if the Mets can figure things out with their roster. So at least he’s more “maybe” than “no,” though that doesn’t tell us if he’d get starts and fantasy value, or scattered innings out of the bullpen. He’s one to keep a really close eye one, though, since he could have serious value for a Mets team that gets to pitch in friendly parks this month.

Archie Bradley, P, ARZ

Bradley—who I thought had been eliminated as a September call up candidate—still might make it to the Show this year after all. He will be playing in the Arizona Fall League, but I guess it’s still up in the air whether or not he pitches for the Diamondbacks. I’m inclined to think not, but I’ll still be keeping tabs on the top prospect.

Andrew Heaney, P, MIA

Heaney already came up this year, so it wouldn’t be a classic cup of coffee if he returned to the Majors for September. With the Marlins perhaps retaining a Quixotic hope in making up 5.5 games and slipping into a Wild Card berth, they might lean on Heaney to improve their staff. Or not. They’re not one of the most predictable organizations, so keep checking in on Heaney, I guess.




RotoAuthority League Update: The Final Month

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

The Race for First Place

1. E-Z Sliders 99.5

2. Men With Wood 94

This two-horse race was separated by double digits as recently as a week ago. Well, don't look now, but Men With Wood made up half that deficit over the past week, thanks in part to a nice week by recent Cubs call-up Jorge Soler. Upon closer examination, though, this club been able to stay near the top of the standings through good, old-fashioned hard work. One of the most underappreciated elements of Rotisserie fantasy baseball is simply reaching games played maximums. Most squads in contention for a title have no problem making it near 162 games at the majority of offensive positions, and it isn't too challenging for those in the hunt to reach the innings pitched maximum.

There's one position in fantasy baseball, however, for which it's a rather daunting task to even approach the games played cap: the catcher slot. Unlike any other team in the league, Men With Wood will approach the games played limit at this position. As I noted last week, this owner has made far and away the most transactions in the RotoAuthority League, and nowhere is that diligence more evident than in the total offensive games played category. Entering the weekend, Men With Wood had accrued 1874 games played among offensive players, 44 games more than any other team in the league. Given that there are 14 offensive rosters slots in this league, that's the equivalent of three extra days of baseball compared to any other team. While that may not sound like much, that can add up to an additional 150 at-bats, potentially the difference between winning and losing.

The Race for Third Place

3. Smell the Glove 80.5

4. Guitar Masahiro 74.5

5. A Century of Misery 72

Commissioner Dierkes continues to be the favorite to finish in the money among this group, but now it looks like we might actually have a race here. My squad, A Century of Misery, finally had a stellar week and was able to make up eight points, no small feat this late in the season. Having said that, most fantasy owners typically have realistic outlooks about the ceiling of their clubs at this pointin the year, and for me it's no different. I've just about locked up my invitation to the league next season by avoiding the bottom four, but I still don't see my team making it to third place. The fact that I'm dead last in both SB and saves will ultimately prove to be my Achilles' heel.

The Race to Avoid the Bottom Four

6. Pulling Brzenk 65.5

7. The Jewru 61

8. Brewsterville Bruins 57

9. The Bombers 50

10. Spirit of St. Louis 50

11. Cobra Kai 43.5

12. Gramma Nutt Crushers 36.5

 

I've relegated Pulling Brzenk to this tier of teams, although I still think that club will be around next year. The Jewru climbed out of the bottom four over the past week while the Bombers fell a half-dozen points into that cluster of teams at risk of losing their spots. There's now a seven-point gap between eighth place and ninth place, so the bottom four certainly have their work cut out at this point. The Bombers and the Gramma Nutt Crushers are well below the innings pitched pace, so they should be able to make up a few points by simply plugging in spot starters each day. It remains to be seen if that will prove to be enough, though.
 
Standings as of September 30th



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Stock Watch: September Values

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

So that’s what we’ll do today.

Hitters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




RotoAuthority League Update: The Stretch Run Has Begun

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

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

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

The Race for First Place

1. E-Z Sliders 99

2. Men With Wood 89

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

The Race for Third Place

3. Smell the Glove 81

4. Guitar Masahiro 77

5. A Century of Misery 66

6. Pulling Brzenk 65.5

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

The Race to Avoid the Bottom Four

7. Brewsterville Bruins 57

8. The Bombers 56

9. The Jewru 55

10. Spirit of St. Louis 53

11. Cobra Kai 45

12. Gramma Nutt Crushers 36.5

 

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



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: August 22-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Stock Watch: Super Pitching Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

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

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

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

Deep Leagues (10-20% Owned) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super-Deep Bonus (Less than 10% Owned) 

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

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





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