RotoAuthority Unscripted


RotoAuthority Unscripted: A Second Base Cage Match

This is an article about old versus new. This is an article about years of production versus what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? This is an article about season-long performance and predictability versus unexpected hot streaks. And I don’t know how it’s going to end. 

Yes, you guessed it. This article is about Chase Utley and Luis Valbuena.

I suppose a bit of context is in order. In the RotoAuthority Silver League, I entered the month of September (or at least I exited August) with a pretty sizeable lead of 14 points in the standings. I kind of figured on coasting into championship, since the lead hadn’t changed much in at least a month or two.

Boy, was I wrong.

Hat tip to the owner of Tanaka Flocka Flame for shrinking that lead to 3.5 points, despite being without their name-inspiring star. So, I’m not exactly coasting like I expected to. Desperate might not be quite the right word…but maybe it is.

My hitting needs some more work, as I can conceivably pick up points in Runs, HR, and RBI—and I need to not lose them in AVG and SB. Which brings me to my dilemma.

Assuming for the moment that I don’t have the flexibility to drop anyone else, am I better off taking the surging Valbuena over the slumping Utley?

Let’s take a look.

Round 1: Recent Performance

In the last 30 days of 5x5 stats (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG)
Valbuena: 18/6/10/1/.292
Utley: 6/0/11/2/.189

Obviously, it’s an easy win for Valbuena—that’s why we’re having this conversation, and that’s why his ownership is up from 4% (in Yahoo! leagues) on August 27 to today’s 23% number. He leads my waiver wire with those 18 runs scored and six home runs—though Oswaldo Arcia beats him on the latter account in plenty of free agent lists, I suppose.

Notably, it’s not a knockout, as Utley bests Valbuena in RBI and steals. Plus, while the batting averages would be nice to switch retroactively, is there any indication they’ll continue? And it’s not like runs scored are the most predictive stat in the world.

Winner: Valbuena. On to the next round.

Round 2: 2014 Season

On the season, 5x5 plus some more: (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG/SLG/OBP)
Valbuena: 499 PA 61/16/48/1/.245/.329/.440
Utley: 617 PA 69/11/76/7/.273/.342/.414 

Utley runs up huge advantages in RBI, steals, and average—making it harder for me to believe Valbuena really will out-average Utley over the rest of the season, but Valbuena does noticeably better in power. Some of that difference—especially in RBI—can be chalked up to a big difference in plate appearances, so that makes Valbuena’s runs total even more impressive compared to Utley’s. Looking a little further under the hood, we can see that Valbuena’s got a strikeout percentage of 20.8%, compared to Utley’s 13%; Valbuena’s BABIP is sitting at .286, while Utley’s is .297. So, over any relevant stretch of time, it seems likely that Utley will outperform Valbuena in batting average, but I’m comfortable enough predicting that Valbuena will hit for more power. Call this one for Utley, but by perhaps less than it seems.

Winner: Utley

Round 3: Career Track Record

Uhh…yeah. You don’t need the stats to back this up, but I’ll give you them just so you can be reassured that I’m not lazy. Well, not that lazy, anyway.

Again in the (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG/SLG/OBP) format.
Valbuena: 205/45/170/6/.228/.309/.374
Utley: 921/228/884/136//286/.370/.489 

I told you. Considering his shorter career, Valbuena’s career numbers are perhaps more relevant than Utley’s, but that doesn’t make this fight any less daunting for the upstart. It also gives us even more to worry about in the batting average department.

Winner: Utley But enough about the past. What about the future?

Round 4: Schedule and Teammates

Anyone who’s played fantasy baseball for more than a week or two has figured out that player performance has a bit of variation from week to week and month to month. With about two weeks left to go (is that it?) we have to take the context of the games each player will be playing into account.

Also, anyone who’s played fantasy long enough to start a second season knows that runs and RBI have about as much to do with the player generating them as they do his teammates helping him along—or getting in the way. 

On the season, the Cubs’ current roster of players has only generated about 3.0 more WAR than the Phillies…but they’ve done it with nearly 1000 fewer PA, because so many Cubs players have come up from the minors recently. Despite the gap in PA, the Cubs have actually hit 24 more homers than the Phils, and the squad has a .311 wOBA compared to the Phillies’ .297 mark. If you’re starting to think of this in degrees of badness, I’ll agree…but the degrees are relevant: the Phillies are a lot worse.

How about their place in those lineups? Valbuena has been bouncing around the top of the order in the last week, recently behind Jorge Soler and the recently-returned Anthony Rizzo, and in front of Welington Castillo. Chris Valaika, Javier Baez, and Chris Coghlan have also been batting in front of or behind Valbuena. Uh…keep in mind this is about degrees of bad, though things look a lot better with Rizzo back. 

Utley’s team has been a lot more stable, so it’s more fruitful to look at his season-average lineup slot: typically third behind Jimmy Rollins and Ben Revere and in front of Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd. So it’s no surprise that Utley has more RBI by a wide margin. The lineup-context makes things look more salvageable for Utley in this, now very extended round.

But how about the schedule?

Well, I profiled the Cubs’ and Phillies’ schedules in the same article. Let’s see how they look: about Philadelphia, I said, “You don’t want any part of their lineup.” For Chicago, however, I suggested that “Cubs hitters could be sneaky-good, with a slate of bad pitching staffs to face in the last month.” But that was on the month. Half the month is gone. So, who are the Cubs and Phillies really facing?

Cubs: Home (9): Reds (2), Dodgers (4), Cardinals (3); Away (3): Brewers (3)

Phillies: Home (3): Braves (3), Away (9): Padres (3), A’s (3), Marlins (3)

Wrigley Field (park factor of 0.894) has been the one of the worst parks to hit in this year, and while the Phils’ Citizens Bank Park is also pitching-friendly (park factor 0.917) it’s still friendlier to hitters than the Friendly Confines has been. The Cubs’ three games in Milwaukee are also in a pitchers’ park…while the Phillies get games in the hitting Death Valley that is San Diego, but get some good news: Oakland and Miami have, somewhat surprisingly, played as hitters’ parks this year. Park-wise, I’ll give this to Utley.

Unfortunately for both players, though, their schedules feature games against four of the top five pitching staffs in the NL (two series each, of course). The Cubs and Valbuena get a reprieve in the form of Reds and Brewers games, while the Phillies have to take on the Padres at home and the A’s.

Recapping a long Round 4: The Cubs’ lineup is a little better, and their schedule is a little easier. The Phillies’ home park is less unfavorable, and Utley hits near players that are at least sort of producing within his bad lineup.

Winner: Tie! I know, I know, we all hate ties, but this one does seem to be pretty close, with the most relevant information being that neither player is in a good situation.

Final Winner: Chase Utley

Yes, champion fends off the challenger in this cage match. Valbuena has put up a great month so far, but should we be surprised? There was a reason I said Cubs hitters could be “sneaky-good” this month...but Valbuena actually hasn't. In fact, he put up his impressive 30 day numbers almost entirely in the last couple weeks of August. Go figure. Maybe his "hot streak" has already cooled off.

After getting really excited to pick up Valbuena (he just about had me after Round 1), I have to say I don’t really recommend it. I’m sticking with the more consistent—albeit slumping—Utley.

Feel free to second-guess me when the rest of my lead slips out of my fingers….



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 Unscripted: Waiver Wire Wayback

It has been a terrible week for injuries, I know. My teams are riddled with little red DL markers too: the likes of Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and Josh Beckett have all hit the shelf, among others—Beckett perhaps for good. But I’m not here to talk about their replacements--though I suppose pitching for the Dodgers can’t be a bad situation for newly-acquired Roberto Hernandez (fka Fausto Carmona, not to be confusted with the onetime Devil Rays closer from a long time ago). Anyway, I’m not, partly because you’ll be getting a pitching edition of Stock Watch tomorrow and partly because I did an injury replacement piece here last week.

But Beckett’s injury got me thinking. He was someone I advocated for pretty early on in the season, and I felt (and still feel) pretty good about that call. But I started wondering: how else did I do?

So today we’ll take a look at some of my most useful suggestions from early April…and yeah, we’ll chuckle over my other ideas too.

Most of my suggestions came from editions of Stock Watch, though there’s a particularly embarrassing entry in this column describing why you shouldn’t give up on Alejandro De Aza or Alfonso Soriano. Yeah, I hope you missed that one. If you didn’t, you’ll have to search for it, ‘cause I’m too embarrassed to link to it. Self-evidently, that one counts as a big swing-and-a-miss.

Homer Picks

We’ll start with the good, including plugging this article’s inspiration, Josh Beckett, for the first time on April 26. I went from skeptic to owner and the team I got him on is my best this year. Coincidence? Maybe. Drafting Jose Altuve doesn’t hurt….

I was a little behind on fellow Dodger Dee Gordon: he was already owned in 38% of Yahoo! leagues when I advised picking him up in the first week of April. Again, I had been a skeptic.

I feel good about advising Justin Morneau early on too, though only shallow leaguers got to enjoy the suggestion. I’d say Colorado has been good for the slugger: he’s hitting .321 with 13 home runs.

Shallow leaguers also got my advice to take Miguel Montero, which I think remains good advice.

It was a quick mention, but I can still take credit for suggesting the resurgent Phil Hughes, and you know I’ve been plugging Jose Quintana all year. I also advised a few other pitchers who hadn’t even started yet: Tim Hudson, Drew Smyly, and Rick Porcello. Hudson, in particular, would have made you happy if you’d taken him.

He’s not a superstar, but if you grabbed Marcell Ozuna off the waiver wire in the season’s first week, I bet you’re glad you did. 

It wasn’t until the second week of the season (too late for me) that I jumped on the Melky Cabrera bandwagon. But since he was still available in 68% of leagues, better late than never I guess.

The second week is also when I came around to this year’s true waiver wire superstar: Charlie Blalckmon. Like Cabrera, he was taken in 42% of leagues already, so I can’t take credit for discovering him so much as passing news of him on.

I was a little bolder with Mike Morse, who was owned in less than a quarter of leagues when I plugged him on April 9. His recent performance hasn’t been awesome, but he’s delivered plenty of value to his owners.

Jon Niese is kind of the pitching equivalent to Morse: despite the fact that things haven’t been great recently, you’ve still benefited from having him on your team for the good times.

Jake Odorizzi has had his ups and downs, but if you’ve been playing him since early April are you happy? I’m guessing you are. 

I didn’t want to write good things about Alcides Escobar after getting burned so bad in 2013, but if you picked him up when he was only 28% owned, you got a better shortstop than most of us have.

Whiff Picks

I was a big fan of Grady Sizemore’s comeback, and a hot (ish) first week convinced me there was something there worth picking up. Maybe his current stint with the Phillies will work out, but in the meantime this one is a black eye for me.

The worst part about advising Sizemore? I did it two weeks in a row. I did the same with Dustin Ackley, who’s MI eligibility will no longer be fooling me into thinking he’s a bargain.

Suggestions of Justin Smoak and Yonder Alonso would have been good to miss in the season’s first week.

I really though Dan Straily would get straightened out—and I really didn’t think the A’s would send him to the minors and then trade for three pitchers in July.

For some reason, I also thought Brandon Morrow would be relevant again. Why?

Seeing some decent control, I got pretty excited over Tyler Skaggs. It didn’t last and now the former top prospect is heading for Tommy John surgery. Classic swing-and-a-miss!

I also thought I was starting a worthwhile bandwagon for Ryan Ludwick (3% owned at the time), but he hasn’t gotten the playing time and hasn’t performed well enough to deserve it.

I think Martin Perez got injured right after I suggested picking him up. Nice.

Seriously suggesting Ike Davis and Mike Olt seems pretty silly now, but the true whiff here is that I gave Lucas Duda only passing mention after Davis went to Pittsburgh.

Also shameful: around the end of April I thought I saw the light at the end of the tunnel for for Mike Moustakas. Turns out it was nothin’ but a burglar’s torch (What? No one else listened to the rest of the songs on the “Centerfield” album?).

I seemed to think early on that Corey Hart was a good idea. Rest assured, I no longer think that.

Well, I’m pleased enough and a bit surprised that my suggestions have done as well as they have—at least that my April ideas have. Hopefully a few of these guys made it on to your team, because that injury problem I mentioned in the intro? The best time to solve it was in April when you built your team’s depth.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Replacing the Irreplaceable--Goldschmidt and McCutchen

Maybe someday, years from now, this will be remembered as the day Javier Baez made his debut. Maybe someday, while he’s giving his Hall of Fame induction speech after having led the Chicago Cubs to several World Championships, you’ll think back on this day with a tear of gratitude in your eye—grateful that you read this and remembered to scurry over to your fantasy baseball website and pick him up, that you got in on the ground floor of Baez’s career because you read this column.

Or maybe not. But if you haven’t checked it yet, go check your site just in case. Baez might still be there.

Okay, that’s done and you're back. Which is good, because this column isn’t about Baez; that was just a public service announcement.

In the last couple days, we’ve had several star players either hit the DL or get the bad news that they won’t be coming back from the DL this season. Or both. How do you replace Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Cliff Lee, or Matt Cain? Well…you don’t. But technically you have to try. And frankly, it might be tough to replace what you hoped to get from those “star” pitchers, even if it won’t be any trouble replacing what you actually got from them. And I know you didn’t draft Gonzo without his backup in mind, so I’m not going to worry too much about him or the hurlers. The big hits are Goldy and McCutch.

We’ll take a look at similar—albeit lesser—players that could be available via trade or the waiver wire to help you recoup some of your production. 

If you don’t have these guys you can skip today’s column…except that anyone who can stand in for Goldschmidt and McCutchen can probably play just fine on your team anyway. So don't touch that dial....

Replacing Paul Goldschmidt (broken hand: out at least 8 weeks)

“Realistically, he’s done for the year.” –Manager Kirk Gibson

19 HR/75 R/69 RBI/9 SB/ .300 AVG/.396 OBP/.542 SLG 

Good luck finding another slugging first baseman with some speed…though you could try swinging a trade for Todd Frazier (16 SB), but then he’s been arguably better than Goldy and plays third base, so good luck with that. Jose Bautista is another high-end possibility to replace Goldschmidt’s production (five surprising steals even).

Chris Carter is one of only four first basemen (Goldy included) with more than one steal in the last month, and he’s knocked eight homers in that span. As a plus, he’s only owned in about half of fantasy leagues, so he might be on your waiver wire.

Lucas Duda (68% owned in Yahoo! leagues) is still available in the shallowest leagues and may be easier to pry away from his owner than others. We’ve thrown the speed away at this point, though. Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira make decent trade targets as well; they’ve delivered some nice power, but don’t expect much out of the average category.

For waiver wire searchers, Juan Francisco (15% owned) and Mark Reynolds (17% owned) might be available, though you’re going to really be hurting in average if you go that route.

A final, unorthodox choice could be Daniel Murphy, who produces not in power but in speed (11 steals) and average (.296). Of course, he's currently manning someone’s second base slot, so that might make him more expensive than most single-digit-homer first basemen.

Full disclosure: CBS.Sports’s Scott White put out a whole column on this topic, but I promise I didn’t read it until I wrote the above. He’s got some ideas I didn’t think of, so go check it out. Subscription required…I think? 

Replacing Andrew McCutchen (oblique: perhaps 3-4 weeks)

17 HR/64 R/67 RBI/17 SB/.311 AVG/.411 OBP/.536 SLG

The bad news is that power/speed outfielders who hit for average don’t grow on trees. That’s why we picked this one in the early half of the first round. The good news is that there might be more such players in the outfield than at first. 

A pretty good comp is Hunter Pence, who’s going 15/10 in homers and steals and batting .289. Breakout All-Star Michael Brantley has maybe been even better than McCutch, with 16 homers, 12 steals and a .322 average, as has Charlie Blackmon—14 homers, 20 steals, and a .296 average. Okay, maybe not better. Quieter breakout player Brett Gardner has 15 homers, 18 steals and a .284 average, so similar-ish players aren’t quite as hard to find as I’d expected. Carlos Gomez 15 homers, 22 steals, and a .291 batting average is another star-level guy you could look to. Another  Hmm…Pence is looking easier and easier to trade for….

I tried to look for a true power/speed threat without the corresponding good batting average to keep the trade price down—kind of what B.J. Upton used to be—and the closest I could come was Desmond Jennings (9 homers, 13 steals, .240 average). Actually, Curtis Granderson (13 homers, eight steals, .220 average) was closer…no, he’s been pretty much the same, but with his number dragged down by a worse April. This position isn’t what it used to be…year ago. 

How about some cheaper options? McCutchen’s teammate Josh Harrison has five homers and five steals this month and has flashed good skills in both categories. If you want a buy-low candidate, Jay Bruce has 10 each of steals and homers…but the average isn’t there on good years. Shin-Soo Choo is another buy-low guy who profiled as a McCutchen-lite last year…and has thus far been a bench outfielder…lite.

Drew Stubbs is having a resurgent year that just won’t seem to quit (five homers, four steals, a .363 average this month) and is available in most leagues (just 17% owned). If Gonzalez misses time, Stubbs’s play should be even safer. Rookie Arismendy Alcantara (14%) has shown some power/speed ability and is still on plenty of waiver wires. Those in very deep leagues might want to consider Grady Sizemore (6%), who’s smacking the ball well for his new Phillies squad.

To all of us that just lost McCutchen or Goldschmidt there isn’t much to say…other than at least you probably couldn’t have lost both first-rounders, right?



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Trade Deadline Rundown

The next couple days are always some of my favorite in baseball. Maybe it’s just my short attention span, but I love it when players are changing teams and rumors are flying around like crazy. No wonder I became an MLBTradeRumors.com addict...during the Trade Deadline and the Winter Meetings I refresh RA’s parent site several times an hour if I’m sitting in front of a computer. 

And you should too.

No, not just because I’ve been tasked with driving up MLBTR’s traffic (I’m pretty sure they don’t need my help with that this time of year), but because you can be out there making deadline trades of your own. When a player is about to change value, that can be the best time to get him on your team…or off of it. And if you’re the one making the better guess than your opposing managers, you’ll find yourself getting tidy little value deals along the way.

Just think what would have happened if you’d offered peanuts for Jake Peavy last week. Well, you’d have endured a mediocre first start, but still, it’s easy to see how Peavy goes from sitting on deep league benches to being an interesting pitcher, just by changing uniform. Presumably, his cost will be a little higher now that he’s officially a Giant. (Or he might still be on your waiver wire, if your league isn’t that deep.)

So regardless of whether or not Peavy was a big enough fish for your fantasy league to fry, your team might be ready to benefit from some other subject of trade deadline rumors. 

David Price

Price is by far the biggest name getting floated in trade rumors this deadline, but is he even on the move? With the Rays winning ballgames, it’s looking more and more like he’s staying in Tampa Bay. That’s fine with me, though, because he’s in a good park with a better-than-their-record-so-far team. So not getting traded is good news for Price owners (or future owners), but so are his top trade destinations: the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Mariners. I see this as pretty much a no-lose situation.

Of course, his current owner might think so too and he may not come at a discount, but the uncertainty surrounding his situation might knock his price down a little. (For once, pun unintended.) Trade for Price.

Ben Zobrist

Zobrist is likely to follow Price out of town or stay with him (see the link above). As a Swiss-Army player, he comes in pretty handy, but he hasn’t been awesome with the bat. I haven’t seen many specific rumors about Zobrist, but the Giants have come up

I see this as a good time to trade away Zobrist. Though other owners might be getting interested in the idea of Zobrist going to a friendlier park, there remains a good chance he stays with the Rays. With the Giants the only known suitor, I’m not sure Zobrist will really gain value on the 31st

Jon Lester

I'll admit, in the first draft of this article, I overlooked Lester--I just didn't really believe the Red Sox would put their ace on the market. But the rumors are picking up and it's time to face the reality: Boston believes in logic. With a mediocre supporting cast and a tough ballpark, most other teams would be good news for Lester. Watch the rumors, but since the Mariners are in play, the could be a great trade for candidate. The only real downside is that he stays where he is.

John Lackey

Like Lester, the Sox are getting calls on Lackey (see the link above). Same situation, different player: almost any trade would probably be a ballpark upgrade, so go ahead and trade for Lackey too.

Cole Hamels

The Phillies kept saying they won’t trade Hamels. Given their history, I believed them. Now we hear that he is available, but with a huge asking price. With the Dodgers interested, I'm intrigued, and I think that the mere possibility of Hamels getting to play for a good team will intrigue the other owners in your league too...but the Phillies' history makes me think they won't find a buyer. Hamels is plenty good enough to trade for, but if you really want value, trade him away to someone willing to pay like he already plays for the Dodgers, or Mariners, or whomever. But keep an eye on him--he'd have a ton of value as a Dodger....

Cliff Lee

Having just returned unimpressively from the disabled list, most commentators are expecting Lee, who has a significant no-trade clause, to be traded sometime in August. Lee is already a great buy-low candidate, so the chance that he suddenly gets better run support, better defense, or a friendlier ballpark is icing on the cake. It is well worth noting, though, that Lee is a very risky option at this point, making him a great fit if your team needs a huge shot in the arm—but not so much if you’re just looking to shore up a good spot in the standings.

A.J. Burnett

Burnett has been a pretty marginal fantasy starter this season (hopefully you ignored my advice at draft time—I wish I had), but the Trade Deadline offers the hope that he’ll get dealt to a good situation. Too bad San Diego isn’t interested. Check out the Hamels link for the latest Burnett rumor I could find—which doesn’t get very specific. Watch the veteran righty's rumors closely. If there’s talk of him going to Los Angeles (either one) or Seattle, he becomes very interesting—a good home park can do wonders for a pitcher. But with the Giants and A’s probably not in the market for Burnett, most of the possible suitors won’t do much to help Burnett’s ERA and WHIP. I’d trade him away while the rumors are flying. If he does move into a favorable situation, you probably won’t have lost out on that much.

Ian Kennedy

Kennedy was just sidelined with an injury, so we’ll have to see how that shakes out. While the Padres would need to be overwhelmed to deal the bounce-back pitcher (who they control through next season) his injury probably makes that less likely. That’s actually good new for Kennedy owners, since there’s really no better place for him than San Diego. I’d probably hold Kennedy, but I don’t think I’d trade for him until we know more about his injury (which appears to be minor). 

Bartolo Colon

Colon isn’t the most exciting name in fantasy, but I would try to sneak him into a trade offer while the real-baseball coverage makes him sound better than he is. New York is a nice ballpark to pitch in, and I don’t suspect he’ll end up in a better place—even if he gets more run support. If Colon is dealt it will likely be after the market for better pitchers shakes itself out.

Matt Kemp

Kemp’s name has come up in talks with the Mariners, which is never good news for a hitter. Unless he’s coming from Dodger Stadium. Parks aside, trading the Dodgers’ supporting cast for the Mariners’ isn’t so good. These talks seem like kind of longshots, given Kemp’s contract, but it could happen.  I’d consider trading Kemp away if you get someone who thinks he might end up as a Yankee or an Oriole or something.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Cabrera’s name has come up in connection with the Blue Jays, which would be a nice situation for the current Indians’ shortstop. I would wait for that one to gain a little more traction, but he could expect a bump in production in Canada. Tentatively, I’d trade for him. Also, I’d get ready to pull the waiver wire trigger on Francisco Lindor.

Troy Tulowitzki

Tulowtizki is showing up in trade rumors, abetted by an appearance at a Yankees game. Given his injury and his face-of-the-franchise status in Colorado (and his very friendly contract), I suspect there’s more smoke than fire to these rumors. Certainly any trade outside of Colorado is bad fantasy news for Tulo owners, so I’d consider offering a trade for the injured shortstop…but I’d wait a little longer on the medicals before offering it.

There are plenty more players who could be on the trading block in the next few days—especially relievers on losing teams. You know where to keep up with the action for trades (MLBTR obviously), and don’t forget @CloserNews on Twitter for everything relating to the many relievers who’ll probably be changing uniforms in the upcoming days.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: I Bet You Didn't Know Day

Last night I was up way too late writing this article and it occurred to me that I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. In fact, I couldn’t really think of anything truly notable to say. And that’s when it hit me: it was time for another “I Bet You Didn’t Know Day,” wherein I peruse the various leaderboards, statistics, and assorted metrics and look for things that surprise me. Then I hope that they surprise you too. But even if the nuggets of baseball strangeness that I uncover don’t merit more than a raised eyebrow and a muttered, “I’m gonna check that out myself,” they should amount to something that actually matters for the health of your fantasy baseball team.

Except for this one: Billy Hamilton grounded into a double play. It doesn’t really matter—but it is pretty impressive. Well played, whichever team pulled that one. Well played.

Some More (Mostly) Relevant Thoughts on Speed

Hamilton also leads baseball with 15 caught stealing—six more than second-place Dee Gordon—but his 38 steals still leave him with a success percentage over 70%, so I guess he isn’t in line for a red light anytime soon. 

With 41 swipes, Jose Altuve is the only other player with more steals than Hamilton (bringing that number to two more players than anyone predicted). But Altuve’s only been caught three times. (That’s a 91% success rate, if you’re counting at home.)

Elvis Andrus has 20 steals already, which is pretty nice—but they come with nine times caught. With so many years of high CS totals, I guess you shouldn’t worry much about Andrus getting the red light. Unless Texas ever changes managers….

Charlie Blackmon is the surprise All-Star of the year so far, but if he’s not on your team, you might not have known he’s swiped 18 bags so far. Another surprise base stealer (not to mention, surprise All-Star) is Todd Frazier, who’s got 15.

As always, remember to lower the minimum plate appearances requirement whenever you sort by stolen bases: Eric Young, Rajai Davis, Jarrod Dyson, and James Jones are all in the top 20 in the category but won’t appear on any searchable list that demands the player be qualified for the batting title.

Brian Dozier has just a single steal in the last 28 days, and just four between June and July. That’s after posting six in each of the first two months. So maybe don’t trade for him expecting speed.

Some Thoughts on Pitching

WAR is far from a perfect proxy for fantasy value. It’s too predictive, and too good an indicator of real talent. But, just for fun, can you name the top ten starting pitchers in fWAR? If you can’t, prepare to raise a skeptical eyebrow, as the list is graced by Corey Kluber (3rd), Garrett Richards (7th), Jose Quintana (9th and making my incessant suggestions to pick him up sound pretty smart), and Phil Hughes (6th). Yes, that Phil Hughes. Go ahead and tab over to your league's waiver wire just to check and see if any of these guys are still unowned in your league. Believe me I’ll wait. 

If it wasn’t late already, I’d be checking too.

Alfredo Simon is tied for the league lead in wins with 12. If you watched the All-Star game, that probably doesn’t surprise you. If you watched the All-Star game, then maybe you will be surprised that the guy’s got a 5.05 K/9. Whether he comes back to earth or not (and he will), you don’t want that on most fantasy teams.

Speaking of K/9, you won’t be surprised to hear that the three leaders in the stat are Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, and Stephen Strasburg. (If you are, you’re in the wrong game, and probably the wrong website. No, wait…let’s not be exclusive. Stick around, check it out. You’ve got time for a new hobby, right? I promise it won't become life-consuming.) Anyway, you might be surprised to hear that the next name on the list belongs to Jake Odorizzi, who owns a 10.34 K/9. Admittedly, his BB/9 of 3.48 gives him some trouble, but he’s providing a surprising amount of value for a guy who feels like a fringy player. 

It seems to me that pitchers are showing more control than they used to: only four qualified starters are walking over four batters per inning. (Though most of the Cubs are close.) So be strict on you pitchers in the WHIP category. (You can add your own joke.)

Dellin Betances has 88 strikeouts. That’s 23 more than the next best reliever, Sean Doolittle. It’s good for 62nd among starters, which is pretty impressive considering that he’s pitched about half as many innings as the guy ahead of him (Wily Peralta). 

The scary thing is that, while Betances has a very nice 13.58 K/9, it is just blown out of the water by Aroldis Chapman. He’s whiffing 18.30 batters per nine innings. Which, yes, is just over two per inning. Uh…wow.

Do you know who the leader is in Holds? (No.) Do you care? (Probably not, but you should, because these guys turn into closers sometimes.) Anyway, it’s Brad Ziegler, with 26. He’s been a closer before, so he’s someone to remember for this season, and in the future. Tony Watson, Will Smith (not the actor—I think), and Tyler Clippard are the only others over 20.

The top two pitchers in blown saves are Luke Gregerson and Bryan Morris* (six and five, respectively). Both have ERA’s under 2.10. No wonder they abbreviate blown saves “BS.”

*Actually Morris is tied with a bunch of people. But they didn't exactly fit the comment.

Back to Hitting, Briefly

Michael Brantley’s fifth-place .326 average is fueled by a pretty-normal .325 BABIP. Don’t confuse it with teammate Lonnie Chisenhall, who is getting the same average out of a .367 BABIP.

Victor Martinez now has a below-average BABIP of .296. He’s hitting .322, good for 8th in baseball. The next highest-ranked player with a sub-.300 BABIP is Erick Aybar (45th), who’s batting .283. Which is still kind of impressive.

Hey, I told you it would be brief. Tune in next time for more surprises…unless we do something different.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Getting Ahead of the Next Trade

Let’s be honest, you hadn’t gotten to work following my advice and trading for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. I sure hadn’t, and yeah, I’m kinda kicking myself. Because their value just went way up. With improved defense around them, a great park, and a good bullpen, I’d say both pitchers have gotten a chance to hang on to the good luck that helped them start the season. And that’s despite the trip to the AL and the fun they’ll have pitching to real hitters instead of their fellow pitchers. But it doesn’t include the (hopefully) better run support they’ll get from their new team. But hey, don’t take my word for it….

So yeah, it’s probably too late to get value on Samardzija and Hammel. I mean, you can give it a try, but you’ll probably have to pay a fair price. Who wants to do that?

So, we’re going to do something a little different and try to get you (and me) out ahead of the next trade of this All-Star trading month. To do that, we’ll turn our attention to big-sibling site MLB Trade Rumors’ recent polls: Which Starter Will Be Dealt First and Which Position Player Will Be Dealt First.

David Price has been scheduled to get shipped out of Tampa Bay for years now, and this may finally be it. The time seemed right…and then the Rays started to do some winning, which may complicate things. While the Dodgers and Mariners have been mentioned, we’ve also heard that Tampa Bay would be willing to trade him within the division. Considering what Oakland had to give for Samardzija and Hammel, you have to think the Rays will be looking for a huge return, including ready-now or nearly ready prospects. My gut (note: not a very reliable source) tells me that the Rays hang onto their star. With possibilities on the West Coast in the mix, I’d try to play up fears that he goes to, say, Toronto, and trade for Price.

Jon Lester is next on the list, and rumor has it that extension talks aren’t going all that well. My first thought was that this was a bit of a red herring as far as trades go; the Red Sox are surely thinking of themselves as 2015 contenders, even if they’re willing to pull the plug on this year…but remember that time they traded their entire team to the Dodgers? They certainly could deal Lester, and pretty much any contender would put him in a better situation, at least as far as the park goes. Go ahead and trade for Lester.

Cliff Lee is the third marquee pitcher on the list, but he’s hurt and the Phillies have the tendency to be delusional about their near-term playoff chances. The more I think about it, the more I think Lee stays put and the Phils try to build around him and Cole Hamels. So don’t give up the farm for Lee thinking he’ll soon be pitching in LA or Seattle. Consider him even—not much change in his value.

Alex Rios may be on the trading block and out of Texas. This can’t be good news for a guy who’s already lost a lot of power, as I don’t see the Rockies swinging a deal for him. If I had Rios, I would trade him away. The good news is that there’s a good chance the Rangers just hold on to him until next year, but the downside of almost any trade could be serious for Rios owners.

Josh Willingham (is he really the next most interesting guy on this list? Ouch.) has flashed a little power for the Twins. Fortunately, he’s on the trading block, and almost any other place will be better for his homer power than Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Mariners have come up the most often in connection to him. I’d still trade for Willingham and hold out hope for the proverbial mystery team. Even in Seattle, his value shouldn’t really go down.

Daniel Murphy actually beats Willingham as an interesting trade piece, especially for those of us looking for speed, batting average, and runs scored. I don’t think they’ve come up in Murphy rumors, but the Blue Jays could probably use a second baseman. Almost anywhere would probably help Murphy cross the plate more often, and getting out of CitiField is always nice. As an added bonus, Murphy is one guy the Mariners probably won’t be stealing into their run-killing park. Trade for Murphy.

Ian Kennedy was such a good bounce-back target before the season because he would be pitching in San Diego. Now he might be getting traded out of Petco Park. (Insert animals running loose joke, I suppose.) That isn’t ideal, except for in the wins category. I would deal him away before he ends up pitching for the Brewers or the Orioles or something. 

Bartolo Colon’s ability to never walk anyone will play in any home park…but I’m still leery of seeing what happens to this very hittable pitcher in a higher-scoring environment than the one he’s currently in. Sure, the prospect of more wins is enticing, but I’d still deal him away just like Kennedy. If your league is even deep enough to own him….

Ben Zobrist is on your team because he plays every position. Probably not because he can hit…because he isn’t doing much of that. While someone as versatile as Zobrist is as hard to trade away in real baseball as fantasy, he could find himself on the move. My first reaction to that (at least, after disbelief that the platoon-and-matchup loving Rays could ever trade him away) was that that would be good news: a friendlier park and a better offense might help him out. And then I had a horrifying thought: Zobrist could get traded into a utility role on a contender. Even dropping his playing time to the large half of a platoon is serious trouble for Zobrist’s fantasy value. I would trade him away just in case.

Marlon Byrd is slugging nearly .500. Credit the Phillies for believing in him, I suppose. Well, credit them when they turn him into a prospect. The upside of a Byrd trade is the chance to move into a better lineup for more counting stats. The downside is missing out on summer in a small park. I’d call this one about even—unless he gets traded to another hitters’ haven, his value will probably remain more or less the same.

Chase Headley seems to be drawing interest. I guess memories of one great season speak louder than a sub-.300 OBP. With teams like the Blue Jays and Yankees reportedly making calls, Headley could be facing one of the biggest possible park factor shifts. I’ll take a flyer on that. Keep an eye on him if he’s on the waiver wire, and think about trading for Headley. It feels really weird writing that.

Bonus: Stay away from Brandon McCarthy in New York. Sure, he’ll get better run support, but his flyballing ways were trouble in Arizona; they won’t get much better in New York and he’ll have to face tougher offenses and DH’s. Not for me.

Things change quickly in the month of July, so keep refreshing MLBTraderumors.com to see who you should be trading for and away. Good luck out there.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: More People Who Don’t Belong (Or Maybe Do)

And by people, you know I mean baseball players. Today, we’ll check out the hitting leaderboards in homers, steals, and batting average and look more closely at the names that follow my highly scientific test of causing me to feel mild surprise. You know the drill—we did it last week too. Maybe we’ll do it again for pitchers down the road, but I’m thinking we’ll return to our regularly unscheduled content next time around.

Editor's Note: This author is traveling and wrote this post last week. He acknowledges that the listed stats are out of date, but hopes nothing changes so drastically as to invalidate the conclusions. Good luck with that....

Home Runs 

21: Nelson Cruz
20: Edwin Encarnacion
19: Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Abreu
18: Troy Tulowitzki
17: Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Victor Martinez
16: Mike Trout, Todd Frazier, Albert Pujols
15: Jose Bautista, Brian Dozier, Paul Goldschmidt, David Ortiz

We covered Mr. Cruz last time around, and he’s known for his power, so it’s not that shocking that he’s up here. Jose Abreu continues to impress, since he’s got about 50 fewer PA than most of the guys on this leaderboard…but he also was already known for prodigious power. No, the three names that really raise my eyebrow (just the one) here are Victor Martinez, Todd Frazier, and Brian Dozier

We mentioned Dozier last week in terms of runs but his homers are a different matter. To start with, his HR/FB is running at 17.4%--compared to 9.9% last year. His 15 longballs are already beginning to rival his minor league total (from 2009-12) of 19 homers. So, what we have here looks like a case of luck…but one that’s so extreme that it can’t be luck. Right? His flyballs are going about 279 feet on average (putting him 133rd in baseball, right next to Asdrubal Cabrera—and only about a foot short of Albert Pujols, for that matter). So things don’t look super-optimistic for Dozier remaining a home run leader by the end of the year.

But stranger things have happened. Dozier’s 2013 was enough to give us a taste of his power (18 homers) potential, and it does seem as though he isn’t the same guy who rose through the minors in obscurity, with nothing going for him but a little speed. I like Dozier on the year, but I do suspect his HR/FB rate will regress in a pretty significant way. 

Going into last year, I was all about Frazier. That didn’t go so well, but he’s back with a vengeance now. (It helps getting back to a normal BABIP.) Like Dozier, his HR/FB rate has gone crazy (21.3%, compared to last year’s 11.3%). Unlike his almost-close-to-a-namesake, Frazier is among the league leaders in flyball distance, averaging nearly 303 feet in the air (13th in baseball, putting him in the company of Mark Reynolds and David Ortiz, among other luminaries of the longball). So that’s a seriously good sign. At 28 he’s not too old to make a serious improvement in his game, though it would be unusual.

One disconcerting factor is this, however: 12 of his 16 homers have come at home. (So he’s a bit of a homer?) Any time you see such a big park split, you worry, but for me, that’s helped a bit by the fact that he’s hitting the ball so far on average. He’s one to watch, but I think there’s a real chance he’s still among the top 15 home run hitters at the end of the year. Just don't root for him to get traded.

 I’ll be honest, I didn’t see Martinez coming. At all. He’s 35 years old and having the best season of his career. He’s already hit more homers than he’s managed to total in a year since 2010. In fact, he only needs seven more homers to match his career high, from his 2007 peak with the Indians. If you did see this coming…you’re a liar.

The thing about it is that his HR/FB rate hasn’t increased since last year! Just kidding. Of course it has. By a lot. (2014: 18.3%, 2013: 7.2%) His flyballs are going 294.56 feet, good for 41st in baseball, and close to players like Adam Dunn and Allen Craig. So kind of a mixed bag of company. Basically, though, Martinez is a tale of two impossible propositions:

First, he could have made the adjustments that allowed him, at 35, to hit for better power than at any previous time in his career. Or… 

Second, he could have more than doubled his HR/FB completely on luck.

Okay, so it could be a combination of the two, and it almost certainly is—but if there’s any truth at all to the first proposition, Martinez has to be considered for real. He may get passed up by a few guys who are hitting the ball farther, but he looks like a serious contributor in homers this year.

Stolen Bases

36: Dee Gordon
28: Billy Hamilton
24: Jose Altuve
20: Ben Revere, Rajai Davis
18: Alcides Escobar, Jacoby Ellsbury
17: Eric Young
16: Starling Marte, Elvis Andrus
15: Brian Dozier, Jose Reyes, Leonys Martin
14: Brett Gardner

I am not feeling deeply shocked by any of these guys, as all have shown good speed in the past. The component of speed that usually keeps some of these guys off the leaderboards, though, is hitting well enough to stay in the lineup. Or in the Majors. 

I was going to analyze this in terms of BABIP and caught stealing and do my best to advise you about who's getting so lucky that he can't possibly keep getting on base this much, or who's getting caught on the bases so often he's sure to get the red light soon. But that isn't true for anyone on this list.

I wrote a couple paragraphs about it, but decided they were kinda wasteful: no one here raised real red flags, at least, no more than speed-first guys always do.

Batting Average

Pretty much nobody ever belongs when it comes to average, I know. But we’ll take a look anyway.

Above .340: Troy Tulowitzki (.356), Jonathan Lucroy (.341)

.330-.340: Victor Martinez (.332)

.320-.330: Jose Altuve (.329), Robinson Cano (.327), Yasiel Puig (.325), Michael Brantley (.323), Andrew McCutchen (.321),

.310-.320: Alex Rios (.319), Miguel Cabrera (.318), Carlos Gomez (.313), Jose Bautista (.312), Mike Trout (.311), Casey McGehee (.310)

Full disclosure, I’m traveling as you read this and wrote this post a few days ago. The players involved shifted places on the list while I was writing it…so they’ve probably changed since then. They’ll change again. So consider these musings of mine in a very general sense. 

Seeing Martinez on this list isn’t too surprising. What is surprising is that he only has a .309 BABIP! Which is delivering him a .332 average? I call him a contender for the batting title right now. (Okay, that’s only so bold, given that he’s already leading the AL, but still.)

We don’t really get all that eyebrow-raising until we come to Brantley. His BABIP isn’t crazy (.329) but he has stayed pretty close to .300 in recent seasons. But maybe this is a part of taking his game to the next level. I’ll call him a “maybe.”

Rios and his .376 BABIP seem dangerous to me, however. He’s shown a lot of BABIP variance in his career, but he’s never been close to this high. It’d be nice to think this means he’s set for a great year, but you know that’s not how it works. It’s also a bit unsettling that his power (only three homers) has seriously dwindled. I feel like he’s a sell-high candidate, but maybe I’ve just had a hard time trusting him since 2010.

Gomez broke out last year, yes, but that doesn’t mean he proved himself as a high-average guy, batting .284 with a .344 BABIP in 2013. No wonder it’s taking a .379 BABIP to get him to this level. I’ll buy him as a high-BABIP, decent-average type, but most people don’t sustain BABIP’s near .380 for very long.

Bautista is enjoying a .330 BABIP right now…but he’s only once managed a figure over .300 (in 2011), and he’s been at .275 or under in every season since 2008. So no, I don’t think he’s going to sustain this and continue helping in average. 

McGehee is the ultimate “he doesn’t belong here” sort of guy. But does he? Looking further into the question tells us…good heavens no. Riding a powerless .366 BABIP, (just an .077 ISO with only a single homer), not only does he seem in line for some regular regression, you have to think he’s going to get challenged more since he can’t put it out of the park. I’m pretty sure this is just confirming what you already knew: McGehee isn’t likely to this year’s breakout fantasy contributor in a few months.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: You, Sir, Don't Belong. Or Do You?

Today we’re taking a look at the leaderboards to see (as the title suggests) who doesn’t belong. Specifically, we’ll see which names raise our eyebrows as leaders in the five major hitting categories Runs and RBI (who has time for all five?) and look more closely at them. Are they small-sample flukes you need to ditch before their inevitable regression? Are they breakout candidates just pining to join your team? Something more mundane? It’s RA Unscripted, so I can honestly say I don’t have the answers yet….

Runs 

Since there are so many repeat numbers in this category, I’ll try sparing us all a lengthy table and list the Runs leaders like this: 

55: Troy Tulowitzki, Brian Dozier

52: Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt

51: Jose Bautista, Hunter Pence

49: Michael Brantley

48: Giancarlo Stanton

45: Mike Trout, Carlos Gomez, Anthony Rizzo, Ian Kinsler, Edwin Encarnacion 

As anticipated, this list is mostly usual suspects, though three names may not belong: Dozier, Brantley, and Rizzo.

Dozier would be a big-time breakout candidate if only for his 15 homers and 14 steals (actually, we would have been happy if he’d done that on the year), but his place by Tulo’s side is downright impressive. Now, I’m well aware that Runs are highly subject to the vagaries of fortune, but Tulo has the cards stacked in his favor: quality hitters around him in the lineup; getting to play half his games in Coors Field. Yeah. Dozier plays for the Twins. In a park with a power-killing, run-suppressing reputation (though it played pretty much neutral last year for overall scoring). Just for fun, Dozier’s OBP falls more than .100 points short of Tulo’s. So, does Dozier belong?

I’m going to hedge my bets and say yes and no. To the extent that he makes his own luck by hitting homers and doubles, walking and stealing bases, I like Dozier to continue helping out in Runs. However, I’m not inclined to think his teammates will be coming to his rescue quite often enough to keep him in the top ten run scorers by the end of the year. So far, the Twins are mid-pack when it comes to scoring, and I suspect they’ll be slipping a bit over the next few months, Kendrys Morales or not.

Brantley is a big part of the reason his Indians are fifth in baseball in runs scored, but as Carlos Santana seems to be heating up a bit and Nick Swisher (or what’s left of him) has come back from the DL, the Tribe could actually be on the upswing. Cleveland actually suppressed more runs than Minnesota did last year, for what it’s worth, but it looks like the Indians should be able to continue to support Brantley. 

Will Brantley be able to support himself? That’s the real question anyway. His .327 BABIP says there could be some regression coming to his OBP, but when you’re starting with a .390 number you can lose a bit and still have enough to cross the plate on a regular basis. But let’s not pretend that Brantley’s is a story about BABIP: it’s all about his HR/FB rate, which at 17.7% is more than double his previous career best. If he keeps hitting these homers, you have to believe everything else will fall into place. Well, at least the Runs should. For my money, I’d say that Brantley has improved enough that some of it’s got to be pretty real. Even if it's mostly not, all he's got to do is hit well enough to stay in the middle of the Indians’ lineup, and he ought to keep delivering on the Runs. 

Rizzo is enjoying the way it feels to have an above-average BABIP again (.310, compared to last year’s .258 mark). Not only that, but he’s increased his BB% (15.7%) for the second year in a row and more than doubled it since 2012. I think the debate on his bat is done. But will he keep producing the Runs? That’s the question for this article. 

I’m…um…bearish on the Cubbies’ offence, to say the least. They’re currently 27th in team runs scored and I suspect Rizzo’s sweet .406 OBP is going to leave him stranded on base even more often in the second half. And consider the guys hitting behind Rizzo: Starlin Castro, Luis Valbuena, and Welington Castillo. Admittedly, Castro has (very quietly) vindicated those who drafted him (unless they wanted steals), but Valbuena is enjoying a .359 BABIP—expect that deflation to cut pretty directly into Rizzo’s runs. So I like Rizzo, but expect him to slip quietly off the Runs leaderboard. 

RBI 

56: Nelson Cruz

55: Miguel Cabrera

54: Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion

53: Brandon Moss

51: Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Abreu

50: Mike Trout

47: Jose Bautista

45: Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Brantley

Who doesn’t belong here? Cruz, I’m looking at you. Also, Moss, Abreu, and yes, let’s discuss Stanton. Briefly.

Cruz has been a classic all-power, nothing-else type of guy for the last couple years, but he’s seriously stepped up his game so far with Baltimore. Real? His BABIP is above-average (.326), but it isn’t crazy, while his HR/FB is off the charts (25.6%). One thing that I find really encouraging is that he’s already racked up a healthy 14 doubles to go with his homers. Cruz has been off and on with the doubles power throughout the years, and if he’s hitting those, the RBI should keep coming (if a bit more slowly) even if the HR/FB rate gets less stratospheric.

The Orioles’ lineup—which has been missing Chris Davis for a lot of the year—is mid-pack in scoring runs. Actually, that makes it pretty bad for the AL. While Nick Markakis is delivering a decent OBP in front of Cruz, Adam Jones and Manny Machado certainly aren’t. Jones, in particular, has a good chance to improve his game and deliver more RBI to Cruz. I don’t think Cruz will end the year as a top-five OF…but he should certainly end up in or near the top 10 in RBI. 

Moss shouldn’t be helping with RBI…he’s a platooner, right? The thing is, he’s too good for the A’s to keep out of the lineup, even for Kyle Blanks. (Okay, maybe that's not saying too much.) Moss has 231 AB (47 against lefties, against whom he’s hit .298/.400/.532). With a normal BABIP, a healthy portion of walks, and a HR/FB rate to match what he did last year, nothing here seems abnormal. Expect Moss to keep getting playing time against lefties and to keep driving in runs against them. 

Abreu is just impressive for being on this list at all despite missing significant time on the DL. This season will have its ups and downs for him, but he’s got the power to make his own luck with RBI. It doesn’t hurt that Adam Eaton and Gordon Beckham haven’t been bad with the OBP...that may not continue...

Stanton deserves quick mention too, since he wasn’t supposed to have any lineup around him to help him deliver in Runs or RBI…and yet he’s a leader in both. His power is insane and he’s healthy, so there’s a significant element of making his own luck going on here too. While the discrepancy between his homer output and his Runs and RBI will probably increase as his teammates regress towards their normal, horrible levels of production, it might be (somewhat) fair to hold out some optimism that maybe the Marlins aren’t quite as bad as we all thought.

 



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Humility, Speed, and Everth Cabrera

I’ve plugged a lot of bust players this year. I know that. Who was a bigger fan before the season of the mediocre Aaron Hill, the injured Carlos Beltran, or…you know what, if you want to see which players I’ve busted on, you should go back and check out my preseason articles. (Yes…that’s a clever ploy to get people digging into the RotoAuthority archives…that’ll definitely work….)

But anyway, here’s a little about one of my (so far) worst bets of the year: Everth Cabrera. I've got him on several teams, and considered him a top-five shortstop before the season began. In an exercise of humility, I’m prepared to admit that things aren’t going well before my pre-season favorite speedster and myself at the moment. If you own him, I’d imagine your relationship with the Padres’ shortstop is probably going through a rough patch too. Should you stick it out? Or is it time to let E-Cab steal a spot on the waiver wire? (Or get caught trying?)

Going into the season, I profiled Cabrera as a guy with fewer question marks than most of his shortstop peers. Kudos to you if you ignored my warnings and drafted Troy Tulowitzki, but other than that, the top shortstops haven’t been awesome—though most have certainly outhit Cabrera. 

Some other questionable things I said were that Cabrera “can hit” (italics original), that the Padres could “drive in a run” with the help of Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, and Carlos Quentin, and (indirectly) that I didn’t think being (presumably) off PED’s would matter much. 

Well…first of all, nothing has gone right for the Padres’ offense so far (except Seth Smith, who appears to be stealing everyone else’s hits), but Cabrera has managed a not-horrible-I-guess 21 runs scored so far, so that actually wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Unfortunately, a guy with just six RBI really needs to be a positive contributor in runs if he’s going to hang in a fantasy lineup. And I just don’t think Cabrera’s going to get many chances to improve those RBI. (Though he does have two longballs already. Can you imagine that—giving up a homer to Everth Cabrera? Now, that would be embarrassing. That’s how pitchers felt in little league when they gave up a hit to me.)

Cabrera’s steals are down too; he’s slacking with just 10 on the season, while burners like Eric Young, Jose Altuve, and Billy Hamilton are rocking 17 or 18. And out-of-nowhere-longshot Dee Gordon is embarrassing everyone in the world with 30 already. Come on! Part of Cabrera’s low steal total is thanks to his success rate: he’s been caught four times already, which leaves him with an acceptable 71% rate. But that isn’t what we paid for, considering that he was only caught four times in all of 2012! Get it together, man.

Lousy teammates and a few more outs on the basepaths aren’t the root of Everth’s problems. If they were, this article would be a lot more optimistic. No, the worst problems are the ones at the core of his .240 batting average and his cringe-worthy .273 on-base. The good news is that if Cabrera fixes these issues, the runs and the steals ought to bounce right back accordingly, because their problem is just that he isn’t getting to first base often enough to steal second or cross home. 

So what is killing Cabrera’s ability to hit for average and get on base? He was supposed (in my head, at least) to be a better-hitting Elvis Andrus, but he’s looking more like Alcides Escobar. (Actually, Escobar has been kinda good this year. That’s nice for him, but I’ve still got a grudge from last year. 

Well, Cabrera’s BABIP is sitting at .301, giving him almost squarely neutral “luck.” A speedy guy like Cabrera should be able to squeeze a higher BABIP out of his plate appearances, seeing as he’s got the wheels to beat out infield hits; sure enough he BABIP’d (everything is a verb these days) over .330 in both of the two seasons. That’s actually a positive indicator: there’s a pretty decent chance that his BABIP regresses closer to his previously-established mean and drags his average and on-base up a little with it. An increased BABIP might be all it takes to put his average into the .260 territory, which isn’t exactly glowing praise, but it would lift him into the “doesn’t-hurt-you” level for the category. 

Unfortunately, we can’t blame everything on BABIP and hope that his numbers rise across the board if his luck turns. Hopefully you stayed with me this far, because I’ve saved the most troubling issue for last: walks and strikeouts. Cabrera’s walk rate has diminished by more than half since last year, dropping from 9.4% to just 4.2%. So, no wonder his OBP is so ugly—he just isn’t taking those free passes that were so important to his game in 2013 and 2012. Cabrera’s also given up most of the gains he made in his strikeout rate, which sits at 22%, after dropping from 24.5% in ’12 to 15.9% in ’13. 

So Cabrera’s walks are down by a lot and his strikeouts are up by a lot. That’s bad. But let’s remember that we’re still dealing with a pretty small sample of just under two months. His monthly splits are actually a little weird: he struck out more in March/April, but his batting average is about .100 points worse in May. He had eight doubles in March/April, but just one in May. He had only four steals (three caught) in March/April, but has six (one caught) in May. He only walked four times in 116 March/April at bats, but has five walks through 88 May at bats. What’s the purpose of going over his month-by-month stats? Mostly to show just how odd small-sample play can be. 

I’m not ready to give up on Cabrera. If he can get a little better luck to combine with recovering his batting eye, he still has a chance to return to something approaching his previous skill levels. One thing I’m not worried about is his skills dying without PED’s—unless he’s been injecting stuff into his eyeballs, I think it’s safe to say he didn’t get his batting eye from external sources.*

*But if you know of evidence to suggest that PED’s improve batting eye directly (as in, not by bulking up a hitter’s power and making pitchers afraid to throw anywhere near the strike zone) I’d be very interested to hear about it in the comments. And I'd be more worried about Cabrera.

Cabrera’s problems are deep enough that I wouldn’t advocate going out and trading for him the way I would if BABIP were the only real issue, but if he’s on your waiver wire, that level of risk is still a good investment. I definitely wouldn’t try trading low on him in most circumstances. I suspect that more than Cabrera’s season is at a crossroads—whether or not he’s able to get his walks and strikeouts under his control is likely to determine what kind of career he has and how long it is. 





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