RotoAuthority Unscripted


RotoAuthority Unscripted: Walking the April Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yeah—be glad baseball’s back.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Your Aberrant Experts (Starter Rankings)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Your Aberrant Experts (Hitter Rankings)

All right, so we at RotoAuthority might not be the most aberrant of experts. I suppose that's a good thing, as a statistical rule: as exciting as it is to strike our own paths through the world of fantasy baseball, it's probably for the best if we aren't too different from the community of fantasy experts.

But sometimes we are. Today, we'll examine some of the boldest calls throughout our RotoAuthority Hitter Rankings, as compared to ADP and the Expert Consensus, both via FantasyPros.com.

For players near the top of the rankings, I'll mention smaller differences of as few as two slots--because such things can mean multiple rounds in a draft, especially if they cross tiers. The farther down the rankings, the bigger a difference has to be to matter, since several rounds cover similarly valuable players anyway.

You can check out the full RotoAuthority 2014 Rankings here:

OutfieldCatcherFirst BaseThird BaseSecond BaseShortstopCloserMiddle and Corner Infield, and Starters

Catchers 

Brian McCann

RA Ranking: 3 ADP Rank: 7 Expert Consensus: 6

For us, McCann belongs in the tier below Buster Posey, as roughly the equal of Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana. ADP and the Experts tend to swap him with Yadier Molina, but I'm inclined to think that the move to Yankee Stadium will push McCann's power into the elite level. Verdict: Trust RA.

Yan Gomes

RA Ranking: 10 ADP Rank: 13 Expert Consensus: 13

Gomes trades places with Evan Gattis for us when compared to ADP and the Experts. I think Gattis is less likely to live up to his apparent potential, but it's not a big deal this late. Verdict: Who cares?

Dioner Navarro

RA Ranking: 14 ADP: 25 Expert Consensus: 19

Look, Navarro had a great half-season, giving him more upside than most...but that big of a difference gives me a little pause. In a one-catcher league, I'd go with someone more proven, like Miguel Montero or A.J. Pierzynski. In a two-catcher, though, I'd roll the dice, but know that I can wait until late. Verdict: Depends on format.

First Base

Prince Fielder

RA Ranking: 5 ADP Rank: 3 Expert Consensus: 3

I'm not sure why anyone rates Fielder over Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Votto. Fielder is not trending in a good direction, and the move to Texas looks pretty overrated when it comes to homer power. If you've got a compelling argument for Prince, I'd be interested to read it. Verdict: Trust RA.

Mark Trumbo

RA Ranking: 7 ADP Rank: 10 Expert Consensus: 12

Trumbo's not so good in real baseball...but his power should play in the move to Arizona. Why do I like that park change and not Fielder's? Fielder is making a small upgrade, from good to great. Trumbo is going from awful to great. The batting average may boost too, but this ranking was a bit indicative of a possible RA bias in favor of high-HR, low-BA players. But maybe that bias is a good thing, as homers are very scarce in today's scoring environment. Verdict: Depends on how you value homers.

Jose Abreu

RA Ranking: 11 ADP Rank: 18 Expert Consensus: 16

Different player, similar story. Abreu is unproven and therefore risky. But his upside is in the form of very rare homers. Like Trumbo, how much risk you take on will depend on how you value homers. This is the same reason we're higher on Mike Napoli and Chris Carter. Verdict: See Above.

Brandon Belt

RA Ranking: 13 ADP Rank: 25 Expert Consensus: 20

Because of how our rankings are formatted, the difference between our opinion and others' may be a little overstated once you get deep into first base, but we still like Belt more than most. His breakout looks real, and to me, he's as good a bet as Anthony Rizzo, a better one than Matt Adams (because it happened in more playing time), and doesn't carry the BA downside of other players in their draft range. Verdict: Trust RA.

Second Base

Aaron Hill

RA Ranking: 4 ADP Rank: 10 Expert Consensus: 9

Hill can hit. He has missed time recently, but not for the same things or in a consistent pattern. He's probably not much more of an injury risk than most players...but that's already built in to a ranking this low. Seriously, over a full season, he produces more with the bat than any second-sacker besides Robinson Cano. Not so much with the steals, but still. Verdict: Trust RA.

Chase Utley

RA Ranking: 9 ADP Rank: 14 Expert Consensus: 11

All right...Utley is always injured. In retrospect, I'd probably want to take Utley for my MI slot, after I've got someone healthier for second. His production is still good, but you have to count on him to be out awhile. Verdict: Down a couple slots on further reflection. But not that much.

Third Base

Chris Johnson

RA Ranking: 14 ADP Rank: 24 Expert Consensus: 23

This one is a big difference. I imagine that most people are discounting Johnson for his sky-high BABIP. And that's fair. But he seems to always put up an abnormal BABIP, and betting that he has a skill in that department makes as much sense as drafting anyone else in his tier. Looking at the other available players, it's not like you've got that much to lose anyway. Verdict: Trust RA.

Matt Dominguez

RA Ranking: 20 ADP Rank: 26 Expert Consensus: 27

Dominguez is a pretty classic case of "at least he has some upside." He's got homer power and the upside is that he might get lucky and not kill your average. But that sounds better than what you'll get from the seven guys between his RA ranking and his Expert Consensus. Verdict: Trust RA.

Shortstop

Brad Miller

RA Ranking: 10 ADP Rank: 20 Expert Consensus: 19

For us, Miller is near the head of a huge tier from 9th-18th, so some variance isn't shocking. Still, Miller deserves his slot, by showing nice pop in a little under half a season and carrying the upside of a developing player. It doesn't hurt that his team is willing to shunt Nick Franklin aside out of trust for Miller. I'll understand if you prefer J.J. Hardy or Jurickson Profar--there are a lot of guys with upside in this range. But Miller's emphatically one of them. Verdict: Trust RA...and your gut...and your category needs.

Jonathan Villar

RA Ranking: 12 ADP Rank: 18 Expert Consensus: 20

Villar is a very interesting potential source of steals. If you don't fully trust Alexei Ramirez's conversion to base stealing, and you missed out on Everth Cabrera and Elvis Andrus, Villar might be right for you. He could steal upwards of 30 bases; with no one else to play, Houston will be patient if the young player struggles. Verdict: Go for it, if you need steals.

Asdrubal Cabrera

RA Ranking: 19 ADP Rank: 12 Expert Consensus: 12

I guess I'm impugning my expert colleagues when I say that ranking Cabrera 12th seems lazy. Sorry. It does. He's pretty consistent: about 15 homers and a bad batting average to go with mediocre counting stats and no speed is what you get from Cabrera. With Hardy, I can get that, plus 5-10 more homers. I can get that with Starlin Castro...and the chance of a huge bounceback. I can get that with Jed Lowrie, but without the bad average. And so on. There are lots of good mid-level shortstops, and lots of upside plays. But Cabrera isn't one of them. Verdict: Trust RA.

Outfield

Carlos Beltran

RA Ranking: 17 ADP Rank: 30 Expert Consensus: 25

I guess Beltran's old, but he hasn't really been injury prone in awhile. He doesn't seem like a greater risk to hit a sudden decline than the next player I'll mention is to hit a sophomore slump. He's going to a very hitter-friendly ballpark. Why not take Beltran early? Verdict: Trust RA.

Yasiel Puig

RA Ranking: 18 ADP Rank: 9 Expert Consensus: 10

People see Puig and they see the young player that took the league by storm. They don't always see the guy who could have a serious strikeout problem as the league gets used to him, or the guy who may need to make adjustments as he regresses with a larger sample of at bats. It's not that I think Puig will be bad next year...just that he could be, or at least he might not grow straight up. I'd like a safer player with my first outfielder. But, yeah...that upside. Verdict: Exercise caution, and if the rest of your league does too, pounce on Puig.

Austin Jackson

RA Ranking: 30 ADP Rank: 42 Expert Consensus: 36

Jackson seems to be always over- or underrated. This year, he's under. As a high-BABIP skill guy, expect him to be useful in average more often than not. As the table-setter for a great lineup, expect him to score a million runs. Like always. He's sneaky useful. Teammate Torii Hunter has a similar story, but to a lesser extent. And an older one. Verdict: Trust RA.

Matt Kemp

RA Ranking: 31 ADP Rank: 17 Expert Consensus: 21

Kemp has done little to show that he's healthy enough to be 75% of what he once was...and yet that's where he's getting drafted. If anything, 31st might be too high. Verdict: Trust RA.

Colby Rasmus

RA Ranking: 36 ADP Rank: 66 Expert Consensus: 63

I guess everybody else took Tony LaRussa's side.... Really, though, Rasmus's career stats suggest that his surprise surge last year wasn't truly out of line with what he's proved capable of--if anything his injury-shortened ineffective years were the outliers. He's a high-variance player, but one capable of making an impact. That said, the difference here is so big that it's worth respecting. Verdict: Temper expectations a little, but still take the risk.

George Springer

RA Ranking: 44 ADP Rank: 57 Expert Consensus: 66

I guess experts aren't buying the rookie hype. Whether you want Springer depends on how deep your league is: can you afford to stash a high-impact rookie that may spend a couple months in the minors. If you can, stick with our ranking. If you're in a shallow league, or just a small-bench league, I'll understand if you only draft players you can actually use. Verdict: Depends on format.

Carlos Quentin

RA Ranking: 60 ADP Rank: 97 Expert Consensus: 81

Quentin is the last ranked guy on our list, but I like him. Sure, he's hugely injury prone, but we're talking your 5th OF here. Mr. Replaceable. Importantly, he's not injured right now, which means now is the best time to enjoy his excellent hitting. When (not if) he hits the DL, cut him loose and be glad you bagged the production while you could. There's really not much downside here. Verdict: What have you got to lose?



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Mocktion Madness

i've been playing fantasy baseball for...well, for a long time. I've played in a couple leagues for more than ten years each, and I've played in dozens of leagues since then. I've been reading fantasy baseball magazines since the early '90's. I've played keeper and redraft, 5x5 and points, roto and head to head, and even tried fantasy hockey. But I've never played in an auction league.

This year, that changes.

So, on Friday, I did my first ever mock auction. It…um…didn’t go that well. But I did my best to liveblog it anyway, which probably didn’t help how my auction went, come to think of it.

Below is the transcript from my experience, highs, lows, triumphs and incredible stupidities all. It has been edited to remove references to excuse-making like clicking the wrong buttons and losing Internet connection. I will try not to make significant generalizations from the experience of a single auction and let you form your own conclusions.

Final note: I really do know what I’m doing in a snake draft....

For some reason I let myself go first, got confused and nominated Miguel Cabrera. He went up to $56, so I let him go.

Kershaw made it past $40 without my help, so I figured that a job well done—one of missions was to establish his price as a cap for starters.

Goldschmidt and McCutchen both sold for around $50 too—so much for my guess that there would be a big gap between Cabrera, Trout, and everyone else.

R.A. Dickey just became the first non-star nominated. He’s at $5. I’m in a bidding war! $7! $9! I’m letting him go at $10. Enjoy…other person.

CarGo just rolled up past $40. I can’t do it for someone so injury prone.

Ooh. Braun is up. $36. Now $39. Time to put my money where my mouth is: Ryan Braun for…lots of money, $42 in fact. I guess I will take a $40+ risk.

My first real nomination: Chris Davis. I’m hoping for a value here. Let’s see…a couple others are in a bidding war: he rolled up to $44 and…well, I still need  a 1B. Mild expletive.

This is the most awesome (fantasy baseball) thing I’ve ever done. Where have I been all these years in snake drafts?

Giancarlo’s up. I’m gonna make a serious push for him. Love the power. Got him for $31 and my outfield ought to be stacked.

I went $37 on Tulo. Ugh. Whoever I was bidding against was so fast with the returns that I thought I could ratchet the price up. I mean, I like Tulo, but I’d hoped to be more budget-conscious than this.

Presumably, I’ve learned a valuable lesson.

Joey Votto just went for $38. I think that’s a great value with the inflation for high-end players. Considering that I nominated Prince Fielder and someone went straight to the same price and won without further bidding…yeah. That’s why you don’t throw out a mega-bid right away.

A little buyer’s remorse on Tim Lincecum at $4. My WHIP already regrets it. Does that make him my ace?

Strasburg and Darvish are going for a ton.

Nominating Hanley—I want to suck some money out of the field. Done at $39. Tulo doesn’t look so badly priced.

Edwin Encarnacion. Now it’s interesting. There’s a fight for him, though. Up to $34. I’ve got $146 left…ooh, outbid. I think I’ll let him sail away.

Straight to $34 for Wainwright. Bold.

First closer: Rex Brothers. I think someone wants him. Or not. I got a $3 closer. Cool.

Jurickson Profar is up. I’m interested to see how he ends up getting valued. Low, so far: $4.

I’m discovering that you can’t run off to the bathroom in the middle of an auction.

Even if you know you don’t want Justin Upton.

Scherzer goes straight to $30. Starters are costing a lot, so I think I’m gonna stay away from the best of the aces and try more middling options.

I want Everth Cabrera, so I threw out Elvis Andrus. He’s going for $15, which seems like a decent price, but also a useful cap on my SS spending. We’ll see how the ol’ redirect goes.

Sweet. Snagged Evan Longoria for $27—less than Beltre or Wright went for by a few dollars. Joey Bats just went for $26, but I’ve got way too much risk on this team for that. No wonder I feel like I’m getting good deals: all my players might be hurt by May.

Cliff Lee is my staff anchor for $27. So much for a bunch of cheap good-not-great types for my pitching staff.

Adam Eaton is at $2. There are so many other OF options at this point, though, that I’m not ready to take a flyer. If he’s your guy, though, I like the idea of throwing him out early.

Madison Bumgarner for $26 and I am running out of money. It’s a stars-and-scrubs roster for me all the way at this point.

Dustin Pedroia is going for $25…compared to over $30 for Jason Kipnis. Patience is a virtue.

Middle section of the auction. I’m watching a lot of pitches go by. It seems like you can have anyone you want for $25 since most of us don’t have so much money left.

I wanted Altuve, but not for $17. Speed is going to be a problem for me, I think. The good news: speedsters always end up on the waiver wire. There’s always someone.

Pujols is up…wow, jumped straight to $23. I’d thought there could be a bargain there. New 1B target: Brandon Moss. Matt Adams is intriguing too. Adrian Gonzalez will probably be too pricey—ditto Anthony Rizzo and Eric Hosmer.

Anibal Sanchez is up. He’s a great deal [compared to others in this draft] at $21.

 Matt Cain for $17. How this happened, I don’t know…but I’ll take it. That might be the best deal of the auction, but it kept me from getting Everth Cabrera. He only went for $11 but that’s like half of my cash at this point.

I’m happy enough to dollar it for a catcher in a Yahoo! standard style, but I’d really like to have a bit more spending room for 1B and 2B. I’m loving that $3 spent on Brothers earlier, though, because that might be all the budget I’ve got for a closer!

Two dollars for Ricky Nolasco is two too many in a shallow league.

I have…the whole Giants rotation. Hopefully they have a better year this year.

There are a lot of valuable players left and not a lot of money in our team coffers. The three holdouts with $150 or more might be very, very pleased they sat out the early choices.

The one nice thing about being this poor at this stage of the draft is that I’ve at least filled more roster slots than almost everyone else. So I’m not poor for no reason.

Look at the beard on Andrew Cashner. That alone is reason to draft him.

New strategy: nominate only second basemen in hopes of spending half my money on Aaron Hill. I don’t think it’s gonna work.

Actually, there are a lot of good 2B options in a world without MI slot. Shallow leagues…why even worry about position scarcity? It’s like it’s not even a thing.

Carlos Santana for $16: great. Ian Kinsler for $18: horrible. There are now three teams with less money than me. Yeah.

Patience is worth it on closers too: Koji Uehara and Greg Holland went for about 75% the cost of Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. I bet they all return similar value in most formats.

Somebody is about to waste a dollar on Kevin Gregg. Awesome.

In real life, I will totally nominate David Ortiz late in an auction. This, I promise to myself.

There goes Martin Prado. Only one other team without anyone at 2B. I may be able to afford Hill. If not, I’ll probably pay no more than a dollar for Lowrie, Kendrick, Utley, or Murphy. I am beginning to grow aware that I’m obsessing over second base and Aaron Hill when there may be many good options available. Interesting.

Will anyone on my team steal even one base? Perhaps not.

Matt Moore [to someone else]  for $14. Enjoy those walks.

Tanaka goes for $11. Not bad. One notices that his projected value is $8 and his average auction cost is $16. One does not make further comment.

Just nominated my man Hill and watched him sail away for $10. I’ll spend the money at first base or on speed. My $26 is making me a power player for $2 bids all of a sudden.

Ouch…picked the wrong time to look away and let Michael Cuddyer go for $8.He was my sneaky pick for 1B. I spent the same on Wilin Rosario. I love the catcher and the price, but all I really wanted was to drain a little more cash out of the top bidder left in the room. My first player in like an hour. Big mistake—that same guy got McCann for $7.

Desperate to get someone…anyone…for a dollar, I just nominated Emilio Bonifacio. The guy’s been DFA’d and still got a bid.

Yes!!!!! I finally got a dollar player. Welcome to the fold, Scott Kazmir.

I only have one $2 bid left, and I’m not using it on Bobby Parnell. Or even Sonny Gray.

I will use it on Matt Adams. Hopefully he shows the power he did last year…

Last team with money is out—this just became a draft.

Rajai Davis just gave my team some wheels.

I feel decent about my dollar guys: Kazmir, Rajai, Brian Dozier, Neil Walker, Denard Span, and Mark Melancon, plus closers Jim Henderson and Fernando Rodney. Well, hopefully Rodney signs into a closer job.

Feverishly, I check to see if I can sign up for the next auction. No…not for six more hours. Probably for the best…

I learned some lessons, but I’ll let you infer them. Below is the team that I managed to draft, just for your edification. Feel free to mock me in the comments....



RotoAuthority Unscripted: What's He Do?

I play in a fantasy league that's been running so long, we typically called in over the phone (the what?) to participate in live, in-person drafts (in-person whatnow?). We've got one owner that always yells out the title of this article when a player's name is called that he's never heard of. It's half derision, half a request for information. Ken Huckaby in the third round: "What's he do?" Tim Lincecum (rookie edition) in the 20th round: "What's he do?" So the question has some mixed results.

The best way to get our draft room yelling this at you is to draft a non-prospect rookie or a backup catcher or something like that, but that isn't exactly going to help your fantasy team. Not to say you shouldn't be prepared to surprise your draft room--non-stars from small markets, guys who came up from the minors, or who spent some time hitting off the bench, or pitching out of the bullpen can all raise this question among your leaguemates. Chances are, they've heard of the player you're drafting and know generally "what he does," but maybe not that much more. These guys aren't exactly sleepers, just guys without a PR machine--and they can deliver solid value.

It should be noted here that players like this are margin moves. Sleepers are who they are (and get the hype they do when we wake up to their presence) because they come with impact upside. The players we're looking at today (and those like them) are not people we should pretend will carry you to fantasy glory in one fell swoop. They're value plays and mostly for the later rounds and lower dollars.

Corey Kluber

Kluber was actually the inspiration for this article when I was thinking of him as this year's Marco Estrada--that is, a small market pitcher with good strikeout numbers that I was excited to draft. I'm gonna try not to get quite so excited this year, but Kluber definitely has some reasons to draft him.

In 147.1 IP, Kluber notched an 8.31 K/9 and a 4.12 K/BB. Though he didn't help your team in ERA (3.85), his FIP (3.30) or xFIP (3.10) would have. His strikeout potential, good control, and likely good offensive support make him a very nice fourth or fifth starter option, with the upside to be even better. With strikeouts in his minor league history, he's more of a sleeper (in the sense of upside) than anyone else in this article.

Tyson Ross

Ross pitched 125 innings for San Diego, with an 8.57 K/9 and a 2.70 K/BB. Unlike Kluber, he outperformed his FIP (3.20) and xFIP (3.43) by a little (3.17 ERA), though not by as much as you might expect from someone in Petco Park. Still, I always like San Diego pitchers, and while Ross doesn't have Kluber's control or offense, he could be a good source of whiffs without hurting your WHIP. It's worth noting that his minor league track record for strikeouts isn't as long as Kluber's. It's also worth noting that he threw harder last year than in any of his past Major League seasons.

Jose Quintana

Quintana was someone I toyed with picking up in a few leagues last year. He'd pitch a good game, and I'd be skeptical. Then he'd pitch another good game and I'd wish I'd picked him up. And then I'd be skeptical again. I think I eventually grabbed him, but maybe someone else beat me to the punch. Either way, the final numbers were really good. Oh, and it turns out that I'm not the first person to ask what Quintana does.

He gave owners 200 IP of 7.38 K/9, 2.93 K/BB, 3.51 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. That WHIP is pretty average for a fantasy starter, but that isn't a bad thing when a pitcher is helping in counting stats. Quintana looks to have a lower ceiling than Kluber or Ross, but in deeper leagues, he's well worth a late roster slot. On the underwhelming White Sox, he shouldn't cost much.

 Colby Rasmus

All right, your leaguemates have all heard of Rasmus, for sure. But that's what makes him draftable. Ever since a very promising 2010, Rasmus has been pretty horrible. It's been mostly BABIP. In fact, his success or failure comes down almost totally to BABIP, which seems to be always extremely good or extremely bad. Check out these numbers:

2010: .354 BABIP, .276 AVG, 4.0 WAR
2011: .267 BABIP, .225 AVG, 0.5 WAR
2012: .259 BABIP, .223 AVG, 1.1 WAR
2013: .356 BABIP, .276 AVG, 4.8 WAR

So...his value, fantasy and real life, is pretty well correlated with his BABIP. What happened the one time he put up a normal BABIP? Well, it was 2009, and he BABIP'd .282, with a .259 AVG and 2.6 WAR. Decent.

Rasmus is not as good as his 2010 or 2013 seasons suggest. But he's not nearly as bad as his 2011 and 2012 seasons suggest. Playing in Toronto, though, and getting injured before the season's end may well hide his recent excellence from a lot of your leaguemates, leaving the bad taste of his low-BABIP years and feuds with Tony LaRussa in their mouths. At some point, Rasmus's BABIP will swing back towards the middle--it probably isn't going to live on the extremes of his skill lever forever. When it does, he won't be a star, but he will be a good outfielder with power.

Brad Miller

Miller might not be the next big thing at shortstop, but he's better than a lot of fantasy staples at the position. Over 600 PA, his eight homers and five steals in 76 games could translate to a 20/10 (Oliver projects 17/13, Steamer 13/11) if you're decently optimistic. And since he never slugged under .471 at any stop in the minors, it doesn't seem unreasonable to bet a little higher than the projection systems. Hitting in Safeco Field won't do him any favors, but Seattle's lineup ought to be a bit friendlier to Runs and RBI with Robinson Cano in the fold. Think of Miller if you're tempted by Asdrubal Cabrera or Jimmy Rollins.

Nate Schierholtz

Schierholtz put up a surprising (and quiet) 21 homers for the Cubbies last year. Maybe Chicago isn't a small market, but bad teams will do the trick of keeping their players out of the headlines well enough. Schierholz is a classic "What's he do?" type of guy, since he's been around forever and never really been fantasy relevant--2013 was his first season with more than 400 PA. RotoGraphs has an interesting article about the whole Cubs outfield, and I'm inclined to think that Schierholz will be the best value of the bunch when a lot of fantasy owners see his homer total and think "fluke." But it's less of a fluke than an issue of a hitters' park and playing time (seriously, check out the article). For the pocket change he'll cost, 20-homer power is great value.

 



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Tanaka, Garza and Other Stories

 What is RA Unscripted? Well, imagine it like this. You’re a reporter and you stick a TV camera in my face. “Fantasy Baseball: go!” you say. And I start talking. 

Well, it’s kinda like that. Except that I type instead of talking and I can look up statistics instead of trying to pass off wild guesses as facts. 

Last week, we examined some players who might be gaining or losing value in their new homes—or who might not be. Then I realized I was going overlong and you (proverbially) switched off the TV camera. Then we had some big news, preceded by even bigger news.

Masaharo Tanaka: Bust

Luckey Helms made the Bold Prediction that Tanaka is the next great fantasy import, and I’m not saying he’s wrong by predicting Tanaka to bust. Really!

But we have new information, and it shapes up to make Tanaka a great bust candidate. The key to providing fantasy value is expectations. They were high before, and I do think Tanaka will provide a very good fantasy season—but they are crazy-high now, and it will be very hard to get him for a good price. 

Signing with the Yankees, the expectations have risen. Now, I don’t think the pressure will get to him—the expectations that have changed the game are those of your league-mates. And it only takes two or three. Tanaka will be all over ESPN and every fantasy website and magazine…and I just think he’s going to cost too much to be worth it.

Yankee Stadium won’t do Tanaka any favors, and Major Leaguers hit with distinctly more power than do their Japanese counterparts. I would not be shocked if he had some homer troubles. It won’t help that he gets to face tough offenses and tough away parks in the AL East. What’s more, his career K/9 in Japan is just 8.5. Good-but-not-elite territory, and likely to move down a bit more as he faces a tougher level of competition for the first time.

Will he be good? Yeah, I totally think so. A number two or three fantasy starter. But I’m guessing he ends up being someone’s ace or co-ace, and I don’t think that’s a role he’s going to live up to this season. Draft him next year, when the disappointment wears off.

Matt Garza: Boom

Milwaukee is a good situation for Garza’s fantasy value. The park is actually somewhat similar to Yankee Stadium in that it adds homers, but it plays pretty neutrally overall. More importantly, the other external factors are very good: small market means your fellow drafters won’t be inundated with his Spring Training highlights (see Tanaka, above), decent lineup for generating wins, middle-of-the-road competition in the division, playing in the NL, and facing pitchers! There is nothing better than pitching to pitchers. Maybe that’s why Garza seems to generate more strikeouts in the NL.... 

The biggest question mark with Garza is health, as he’s gotten a label of un-durability thanks to back-to-back incomplete seasons. But that was all from the same injury, and before that he gave his teams four consecutive 30-start seasons. Maybe he’s fragile and maybe he’s not—we can decide that when his career is over—but there’s good reason to think his health question is overblown. Right now, his good situation and low expectations make him a great number three fantasy starter.

Grant Balfour: Boom

There is something the Orioles don’t like about Balfour. Maybe it’s the harbinger of doom that is his name. Seriously, this guy should really have control problems, Carlos Marmol-style. He doesn’t, though, and was one of fantasy baseball’s better relievers last year, with 38 saves and a 10.34 K/9. He did that in a pitchers’ park, with a good pitching staff, and a decent lineup to put him in save situations. Now Balfour is going to the Rays, who also have a pitchers’ park, a good pitching staff, and a decent lineup to put him in save situations. Don’t be the Orioles here.

Mark Trumbo: Boom

Trumbo is the new Adam Dunn. Not the current Adam Dunn, but the old one. And not as good in real baseball, because he doesn’t walk. But he is that Adam Dunn that hits homers and sucks away at your batting average—and you know you can count on the good and the bad, and you can plan for it.

Trumbo has hit 29 homers or more in each of his three full Major League seasons. Not bad. Now he’s leaving the tough hitting environment of the AL West and going to the hitters’ haven somewhat better situation that is the NL West. The difference is most pronounced at home: while Angel Stadium suppressed homers by five percent last year, Arizona increased them by three percent. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’ll be worth a few longballs—and so might avoiding Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, and the rest of the AL West pitching crew. Sure, he won’t get to face the Astros, but he’ll get some away games in Coors Field.

The best news for Trumbo’s fantasy value, though, is his consistency. You can plan around his bad batting average and either strategically sacrifice points in the category, or pair him with underpowered high-average hitters. More good news is that the Diamondbacks got some pretty bad press for trading for him—giving other fantasy drafters more of an impression about his real-life value and less about his fantasy value.

Jhonny Peralta: Bust

Peralta is pretty much the opposite of Trumbo: the good defense and OBP he brought to the table in two of the last three years are a lot better in real baseball than in fantasy. Plus a “Known Smart Team” with a strong national brand threw a bunch of money at him as a free agent. It takes a lot to shake off the stigma of a PED suspension, but I bet that will. He’s been hailed as a good pickup this offseason, and that’s fine for the Cardinals.

It’s not so fine for your fantasy team. Peralta’s value came largely from his quality .303 batting average…which was fueled by a .374 BABIP. St. Louis appears to have been somewhat more suppressive to offense than Detroit last year, so don’t expect a big help from his new park. While playing in the NL might help a little, he wasn’t facing the world’s best pitching in the AL Central. (It helps when you play for the Tigers.) Even in the thin shortstop market, Peralta’s best category is the least predictable. Consider him no more than a low-end starter at best.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Totally Official Awards

Real baseball waits until after the World Series has ended to announce their awards, mostly so that people will pay some attention to the sport during November (otherwise, pretty much the worst month of the year). The downside of this is waiting, waiting, waiting, until finally we don't really care all that much. 

Here at RotoAuthority, we aren't going to make you wait, which is why we're unveiling our awards right now. Unfortunately for the players involved, they will receive no monetary compensation for their victories.

Tim Dierkes and the whole RA staff voted in several categories, and this is what we came up with. I tabulated the votes on a 3-2-1 basis, mostly because that was simpler than the other formulae out there, and it didn't seem to throw our results out of whack. With six writers, 18 points is the highest possible, meaning (somewhat obviously) that the player in question garnered all six first-place votes.

AL MVP

1st: Miguel Cabrera (17 points) 2nd: Mike Trout (10) 3rd: Chris Davis (9)

Also Receiving Votes: Adrian Beltre (1)

This was almost as clear-cut as it gets, with Miggy having only one dissenter for first place. It's hard to argue with him, but Mark Polishuk tabbed Trout with his first place vote--a very understandable choice, as Trout's speed made him the only balanced player relevant to the discussion. Cabrera and Davis appeared on all six ballots, while I made the only unorthodox vote, that for Beltre. I liked Beltre's all-around production compared to a weak year at third base even more than Trout's speed. I'll understand if there aren't many who agree....

NL MVP

1st: Paul Goldschmidt (14) 2nd:Clayton Kershaw (8) 3rd: Andrew McCutchen (8)

Also Receiving Votes: Matt Carpenter (2), Yadier Molina (1), Michael Cuddyer (1)

There wasn't nearly so much consensus here, but the one thing we did agree on was that Goldy was the NL's top hitter. Average, elite power, and some steals out of a thinner-than-usual first base crop put him first or second on every ballot. Two of us, however, considered Kershaw more valuable overall--which is why he wins the tiebreaker over McCutchen. 

Matt Carpenter's huge production out of second base drew him a couple votes, as did Molina's excellence behind the plate, and Cuddyer's quiet .330+ average in the thin Colorado air.

AL Cy Young

1st: Max Scherzer (17) 2nd: Yu Darvish (13) 3rd: Chris Sale (3)

Also Receiving Votes: Anibal Sanchez (2), Greg Holland (1)

Scherzer and Darvish appeared in first or second place on every single ballot, and it's no surprise: both have given elite stats, off-the-chart strikeouts, and solid wins. Most of us agreed that Scherzer was just a little better, but there's not much reason to argue with Luckey Helms' first-place vote to Darvish. Both pitchers have rocketed up to the top tier of 2014 starters. 

After that...well, we agreed that there was a big value gulf. Tim Dierkes gave his vote to Holland, the top AL reliever, while two of us went with Sanchez and three to Sale. 

NL Cy Young

1st: Clayton Kershaw (18) 2nd: Adam Wainwright (7.5) 3rd: Jose Fernandez (4.5)

Also Receiving Votes: Craig Kimbrel (3), Madison Bumgarner (2), Cliff Lee (1)

Kershaw swept this one, and there is really no way to argue with his dominance. Wainwright was a clear second, for most of us, while the rookie Fernandez lagged a bit behind. The half votes come from Luckey, who split his third-place vote between them, while giving his second-place vote to Kimbrel. Bumgarner got a second-place vote from Mark, while Lee got Tim's third-place choice.

AL Surprise Player

1st: Josh Donaldson (14) 2nd: Chris Davis (6) 3rd: Coco Crisp (4)

Also Receiving Votes: Alfonso Soriano (3), Hisashi Iwakuma/Koji Uehara/Brandon Moss (2 each), Anibal Sanchez (1)

All our first-place votes went to the out-of-nowhere Donaldson or the shockingly-great Davis. Actually, all of Davis's points were from first-place votes, so we were either very surprised by his performance or claim to be unfazed. For Crisp, he wasn't just surprisingly good, but it was the way he's produced that's the big shock, trading steals for homers.

NL Surprise Player

1st: Matt Carpenter (16) 2nd: Jose Fernandez (5) 3rd: Carlos Gomez/Jean Segura (3 each)

Also Receiving Votes: Domonic Brown (2), Mark Melancon/Marlon Byrd/Daniel Murphy/Michael Cuddyer/Evan Gattis/Yasiel Puig (1 each)

While Carpenter nearly swept his way to victory, there wasn't much more agreement, probably because of the sheer volume of surprising players in the NL. Perhaps Gomez and Segura each earned a first-place vote...and no others. Interestingly, no two RA authors listed the same third-place player.

AL Comeback of the Year

1st: Victor Martinez/Jacoby Ellsbury (8) 2nd: Eric Hosmer (7)

Also Receiving Votes: Ervin Santana (5),  Mariano Rivera (3), Alfonso Soriano (2), Justin Masterson/Shane Victorino/John Lackey (1 each)

This one couldn't have been closer. Well, Hosmer could have gotten one more vote, I guess. Martinez and Ellsbury's tie couldn't be broken, as each received two first-place votes and a single second-place nod. Hosmer was actually mentioned on more ballots than either winner. Rivera was the only other player to get first-place consideration. 

NL Comeback of the Year

1st: Francisco Liriano (15) 2nd: Jayson Werth (10) 3rd: Marlon Byrd (5)

Also Receiving Votes: Adam Wainwright (4), Jorge De La Rosa (2), Carl Crawford (1)

Unlike their AL cousins, the NL comebackers were extremely clear. Liriano and Werth appeared on every ballot, with Liriano getting four of the first-place votes. Werth got one (from Tim), and Wainwright got mine, though Byrd still squeaked by him in the votes. In both leagues, it's clearly been a great year for comeback players--don't expect this every year.

AL Biggest Bargain

1st: Chris Davis (15) 2nd: Josh Donaldson (12) 3rd: Koji Uehara (3)

Also Receiving Votes: Ervin Santana/Hisashi Iwakuma (2 each), Greg Holland/Alfonso Soriano (1 each)

I was the only one to disagree with Davis as the first choice...maybe he just got drafted higher in my leagues, I don't know. With or without my vote, he was the clear consensus, with Donaldson the clear number-two. Davis was early-to-mid selection that brought back first-round production, while Donaldson brought back early-to-mid production for the cost of a waiver wire choice. Either way, you really can't lose. There was really no other agreement, though Uehara managed to eke out a lead.

NL Biggest Bargain

1st: Jean Segura (14) 2nd: Matt Carpenter (8) 3rd: Jose Fernandez (8)

Also Receiving Votes: Hyun-Jin Ryu (2), Carlos Gomez/Patrick Corbin/Domonic Brown/Brandon Belt (1 each)

Segura was mentioned on five ballots (Steve Adams was the only dissenter), and Carpenter won the tiebreaker with Fernandez thanks to his two first-place selections. We were pretty agreed that those guys were the bargains, though Luckey found Ryu to be enough of a steal to get his second-place vote.

AL Biggest Bust

1st: Albert Pujols (17) 2nd: Josh Hamilton (10) 3rd: Jose Reyes/CC Sabathia/Justin Verlander (2 each)

Also Receiving Votes: Jesus Montero (1), and the combined efforts of Ben Zobrist, Ian Kinsler, and Dustin Pedroia

This category isn't so good to win...no wonder the Angels have had such a rough season. Pujols nearly swept the voting and Hamilton appeared on five of the six ballots. I was the biggest deviant actually, calling Reyes the number-two disappointment, and sharing my frustration with any high pick spent on disappointing seasons from Zobrist, Kinsler, and Pedroia. Verlander and Sabathia caught some frustration. Montero was the least valuable player on this list, with bad production, injury, demotion, and suspension forming an impressive combination of terrible-ness.

NL Biggest Bust

1st: B.J. Upton (14) 2nd: Matt Kemp (13) 3rd: Ryan Braun (6)

Also Receiving Votes: Starlin Castro (3)

Now, here's some agreement! Upton barely edged out Kemp, while both players appeared on all six ballots. It was the classic fight between a first-rounder who spends most of the year injured, and an OF anchor who spends the entire year as the worst player in baseball. Okay, so it's not exactly a classic, but both players were epically bad. The question of who was worse between Braun and Castro is really a similar one: a first-rounder who gets injured and suspended (but you can replace), or a third-rounder who sucks value away all year. I though Castro was worse, because at least Braun added value while he played...but I'll understand if the people who actually drafted him disagree....



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Billy Hamilton Ain't Waiting Till Next Year (But We Can)

Just yesterday, I was telling my wife excitedly that Billy Hamilton had already stolen five bases, despite a career batting line that read 0/3. (She was duly impressed.) It turns out, I spoke too soon, considering that he just swiped four bags in his first ever start. "What is going on?" was my wife's incredulous response.

What indeed? Maybe Hamilton won't ever hit enough to be the next Rickey Henderson, and he might not last long enough to eclipse Mr. "Greatest of All Time's" career record, but you have to start thinking that Hamilton might be making a run at the 126-year-old single-season record of 138 steals, next year. Seeing as his nine steals in eight games would put him on track for 182 in a full season, they guy would have value even in a bench role--he could fight for the league lead as a pinch runner.

You may or may not need steals right now (but if you do, grab Hamilton--he's clearly got the ability to make an impact in a short amount of time), but you know he's on the radar for next year. But who else should be?

In the next couple sections, we'll take a perfunctory (and scattered) look at some things that have stood out this season.

Fallen Stars

I love fallen heroes, unpopular players, and first-rounders who didn't produce last year. Ryan Braun is all three of those things, and you have to bet you've got leaguemates who'll be wary of him off the juice and away from baseball for over half an injury-plagued season. I think he'll be a great value next year.

Matt Kemp, Albert Pujols have no business in the first round anymore, but that doesn't mean they can't put up a first-round season still. Both injury-plagued LA sluggers are likely to come value-priced. Not for the meek, that's for sure.

Some lower-level stars fell even farther: consider the horror that has been Starlin Castro's season--or worse, yet, B.J. Upton's. But do you really believe these guys are a step away from the end of their careers? The Cubs and Braves have every incentive to give these players a chance at redemption. Neither has been good enough to count on, but their upside makes them worthy lottery tickets for your bench.

On the other side of the ball, pitchers like Justin Verlander, Matt Cain, and Cole Hamels are all more than likely to regain most of their previous form--but they could still come at a pleasant discount. Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia seem a lot riskier, but their draft positions ought to be low enough that you won't be truly expecting anything.

Not every fall from grace is an opportunity; at this point I'm probably going to let others take risks on players like Jimmy Rollins and Paul Konerko

New to the Stage--or Back on It

Josh Donaldson and Matt Capenter weren't on a lot of fantasy radars last season, but their big splashes will make them starters for sure next year. Daniel Murphy and Will Venable have been much more quiet, but very valuable. Yasiel Puig and Jose Fernandez certainly won't be forgotten by any owners, but Brandon Moss and Marlon Byrd might. Hunter Pence and Alfonso Soriano looked ready to exit the fantasy stage, but bounced back with a vengeance. What will they look like next year?

Pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Anibal Sanchez haven't gotten much press since their hot starts, but both look pretty legit. Mike Minor has turned a quiet corner, while Clay Buchholz and Francisco Liriano have come back from the fantasy dead.

I Bet You Didn't Know...

...that Brandon Phillips and Freddie Freeman have 100 RBI's.

...that Chris Carter has 27 homers to go with his .220 average.

...that the Texas Rangers have three of the top 12 base stealers: Elvis Andrus (40), Alex Rios (37), and Leonys Martin (32).

...that Manny Machado's .286 batting average is extra valuable thanks to his place among the league leaders in hits and at bats.

...that nothing about the league leaders in runs scored really surprised me.

...that Jorge De La Rosa has been durable enough to win 16 games.

...that Justin Verlander and Kris Medlen both have 12 losses--and winning records.

...that Yu Darvish has 29 more strikeouts than the next best guy.

...that Buchholz's 1.51 ERA is spread over 95.1 IP.

...that only four starters with 100 IP or more have WHIP's under 1.00.

There's a lot left to look at before 2014 starts, but hopefully this will give you some thinking points--especially if the last week and a half of this year aren't holding your attention any longer.

 



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Value Changers

I know the most about fantasy baseball in March. You know the feeling--mock drafting, poring over last year's stats, re-sorting leaderboards for every possible category--we are rarely more expert than in the last moments before the draft. (During the draft, clearly, most of us are less than experts.)

Then the season gets going, and our perception narrows. We zero in on our own fantasy teams, occasionally sparing ourselves the time to cheer on our favorite real club. Sure, before making trades we'll go over opposing players with a fine-toothed comb, and we learn to scour the waiver wire like Hector Santiago and Donnie Murphy are the most interesting people in the world...but, day in and day out, few of us pay truly careful attention to most of the hundreds of players owned in our fantasy leagues.

The effect of this phenomenon? Well, for me, it means that each January, when I shake off the morning dust of the offseason dive back into fantasy baseball like a kid on Christmas there always seem to be a couple players whose stat lines make me go, 'What? Who even is that?' Hot streaks that I dismissed in April turned out to be great seasons; players too consistent to even check on either raised their game to the next level or fell off a cliff. 

Today, we're going to get a head start on some of those surprising players, and take a look at some guys whose value has changed significantly since the start of 2013.

Josh Donaldson is the guy who inspired this article, and far and away the sleeper whose name I would go back in time and whisper to myself the night before all my drafts. Alas, he's already the subject of an article on Fangraphs.com (the featured one, no less). He's been good enough that you've probably heard about him as successful, and have filed him away to research and maybe draft next year. Donaldson owners are hoping you wait till next year to think about just how good he's been, because I guarantee anyone who owns this guy is targeting him for 2014.

With a Yahoo! O-Rank of 346, this guy was ignored in a lot of drafts (actually, he's somehow still only 86% owned in that format) and yet here's the stat line he's given us: .297/.371/.494, with 21 homers. He's come basically out of nowhere, without a great minor league track record. At 27, he certainly wasn't a prospect, and tradition demands that I warn you he's at his athletic peak.

What do you do with him next year? My jury's still out, but only because the track record isn't there, as this season looks very legit. He's been a top-five third baseman this year, and I have to think it'll be worth taking him among the top ten next year, at a position that has had more than its share of disappointments.

Speaking of disappointments, Ian Kinsler has certainly been one. He saw a big decline between his superstar 2011 and his just-okay 2012, and this season has continued the downward trend. Before looking at his numbers, I figured him for a decent but declining good second base option. Nope. Instead, Kinsler's slash line reads .271/.336/.404, with fewer than 11 homers and 13 steals. He's someone I'll be avoiding on next year's draft day, as he's fallen a long way down the depth chart at his position.

Like everyone else in the entire world, I figured Alfonso Soriano had cemented himself as a player: a bad average guy, whose speed was gone, and hit between 20 and 30 homers, and got every ounce of his value from those homers. Right now, he's got only a .254 average, but his 32 homers have drawn out 98 RBI's. He's even added 17 steals. With the Yankee lineup around him, Soriano looks a lot more like a number two or three outfielder next year than the number four or five he was coming into this season. He's even retaken his place as the "best player in baseball named Soriano," which is a title he hadn't had in long time.

Hunter Pence is in a similar boat. His trends were so ugly that I refused to draft him...then he was too good to trade for. In 2012, Pence gave owners a .253/.319/.425 line with 24 home runs and five steals. This year: .289/.340/.474 with 20 longballs and 21 steals. I can't say why he's picked up the running game, but I like it. The slash line has improved a lot, too, and suddenly his overall pattern looks different: instead of measured decline, maybe last year was simply an aberration.

Ben Zobrist was a RotoAuthority favorite before the season (he's on most of my teams), but Mr. Swiss Army Knife hasn't been as sharp as in the past. While his average and speed have held steady, his power has tanked, from 20 homers to 11, and a .471 slugging to just .413. Sure, it's nice for him to play basically every position, but you'd like a lot more than that for a fourth-rounder. Don't expect him to carry that price tag next year, but don't expect him to be a good bargain either: late bloomers have the tendency to fade out early, and Zobrist may be on that road at 32. (Counterpoint, though: he had a similar power slump in 2010 and responded with back-to-back 20-homer seasons. Go figure.)

Sticking with second basemen, Daniel Murphy has been a very quiet, very useful guy. With double-digit homers, nearly 20 steals, and a slash line of  .284/.318/.407, he's basically been Zobrist this year, but might have gone undrafted. That probably won't happen again next year, as he'll be a MI target for plenty of bargain hunters.

Speaking of Mets, what about Marlon Byrd? This guy had the best stats on my waiver wires forever, until someone couldn't stand it anymore and picked him up. Good call, it turns out. Rocking a 366 Yahoo! O-Rank, I'm thinking Byrd didn't fly high in many drafts. (Sorry, couldn't help it.) That didn't stop him from smacking 22 homers with a slash line of .288/.334/.516. Sure, he's got a .352 BABIP, but that's still pretty great for a guy who wasn't even expected to start before the year. Normally, I'd call a season like this an anomaly (maybe I still will), since Byrd is 36 and has plenty mediocre track record behind him. Interestingly, however, he has done this before, back in 2009. I would totally take a flyer on him next year if he's assured a starting OF job, which is a lot more than I would have said a couple months ago.

Alexei Ramirez is an interesting case, because he's totally changed as a player. At one point, he was a great mid-round power source at shortstop, nearing 20 homers, without killing you in average. Maybe he'd even sprinkle in a few steals. He began his transformation by purging himself of any semblance of power in a very disappointing 2012. Then this year, he finished it off by tacking on 50% more steals (with half as many homers) and upped his batting average. If you can expect 30 steals from a shortstop, you stop worrying about home runs--otherwise I wouldn't have been stuck with Alcides Escobar in so many leagues. Ramirez's transformation is pretty much the opposite of what you expect from a 32-year-old, so I won't be breaking the bank to draft him, but he's a lot more interesting now than a year ago.

Fortunately, these are the only ballplayers who've changed in value since last year, so you won't even need to keep preparing for 2014...oh, wait. Nope. There's plenty more and maybe we'll examine some of them next time. Or maybe not. This column is, after all, unscripted. 



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Knowing your Place in the World

I wrote the above title and my first thought was to open with a quote from Beowulf (not the terrible film), but something warned me that I might be the only person with sufficient enthusiasm for fantasy baseball and Old English epic literature, so I'll spare you the self-indulgence.

I actually got the article's idea, not from the superhuman exploits of legendary heroes, but from the very mundane, very real last-days-of-August trades. Hat tip to this Fangraphs.com article for giving me the inspiration; you can check out the real-baseball analysis of what happened at the link above.

Quick rundown on those deals, for those with their heads under the proverbial rock of not checking MLBTradeRumors incessantly at all times of year:

Pirates trade for Justin Morneau
Orioles trade for Mike Morse
Indians trade for Jason Kubel
Cardinals trade for John Axford

Technically, each of these teams had a trade partner, but the flip side of each trade ends up looking the same:

Out of contention team trades for minor prospect and mild salary relief.

Now, what does this have to do with Beowulf or knowing your place in the world? Each of the eight teams involved in these trades made the move in the context of their place in the standings and their specific needs. For many teams (like the whole NL), a flawed player like Mike Morse isn't exactly a boon--but he's just what the Orioles needed.

What does that have to do with your fantasy teams (or mine)? First of all, each of these is a small move--no blockbusters like last year's Dodgers-Red Sox deal made it through with the waiver trades--and small moves are all that are left to us. With the trade deadline past, blockbusters are out the window and any improvements we can make are incremental. Also like the real teams above, our fantasy leagues have sorted themselves out into several groups (more on that below), each with their several needs. 

Each type of team can (and should) make the type of addition that will maximize their chances going forward. And when I say chances, I mean it in the strong, high factor of luck sense of the word. Because anything can happen in the space of three September weeks. I mean, even Willie Bloomquist had a good September once. Outside of keeper leagues, the first thing that all types of team can do is this:

Ride the hot hand.

If some guy you've never heard of is killing the ball, feel free to pick him up and toss him into your lineup. Even if he only plays well for another week before returning to the oblivion from whence he came, that week will have accounted for a full third of the remaining season. And if he keeps hitting for two weeks...consider Donnie Murphy and his nine homers in the last month (who even is that?), or Jarrod Dyson and his 13 steals, or...you get the picture.

The second thing that anyone can do is:

Know the schedule.

Check out last week's episode of RotoAuthority Unscripted and last week's Stock Watch for my overview of upcoming MLB schedules. Or look 'em up yourself. (But be warned, it was way more work than I'd expected--hence the two-part series.) It's a simple thing, but it can mean big differences in the short-term value of all ballplayers.

In the Playoffs (as in the case of the Pirates and Cardinals above; roto leaguers may read: leading for a money slot)
Chasing the Playoffs (see the Indians and Orioles)
Out of It, With Something to Play For (a hearty consolation round or fear of being kicked out of your league, perchance)
Out of It, Keeper League (like most real-life teams this time of year)
Out of It, Nothing to Play For (but, hopefully you're doing it anyway)

As it happens, I've got teams in most of these categories, and you've got...well, you've got at least one, because this should cover everything. I guess I could make a category for, "I Have my League Totally Wrapped Up and I've Been Given the Prize Money in Advance," but if that's you, you're probably not looking for advice so much as a chance to gloat.

Let's start from the bottom up, to see what kinds of moves these teams should make.

Out of It (Nothing to Play For)

This one's a tough one, I'll admit, but if you're reading this, than maybe you've got league pride to defend or last place to avoid. For teams like this, the highest risk/reward moves are the best: you've got nothing to lose. If you nab Jose Nobody from the waiver wire, and he goes oh'fer the week, oh well. And if that same Jose Nobody smacks three random homers off a similarly unknown pitcher, well great. Keep a particular eye out for prospects (like Billy Hamilton) and you can at least enjoy the schadenfreude of keeping them from the league's winners.

Out of It (Keeper Style)

You really want those prospects. If there are any worth nabbing as they get called up, snag 'em and worry about which ones you keep later. Feel free to ditch any player on your roster you don't intend to keep--even productive veterans, if you see a prospect opportunity.

Out of It (Something to Play For)

This one depends a lot on what it is you're playing for and how far you are from it. If your league boots the bottom four owners, you may want to mitigate your risk to make sure you aren't kicked out...or make a wild attempt to jump from number nine to number eight.

If it's money that's on the line, in the form of a consolation prize, this is definitely the right time to make huge-risk moves. Don't worry as much about probability of success; focus on magnitude of success. Consider this: Rick Porcello and Scott Kazmir are fringe-useful pitchers, available on many waiver wires, and both have favorable upcoming schedules. Over the course of the season, Porcello's relative steadiness makes him the better choice. In this situation, though, Kazmir's upside (especially in strikeouts) makes him the pitcher to target--even though his chances of success are lower and his downside is pretty drastic. You don't care about those things; you're trying to win the lottery.

Chasing the Playoffs

Here is the place where making the right small moves has the biggest chance to make a difference. (Remember, this isn't just for head-to-head, but anyone out of the money and chasing the money. By the way, if you're team has anything less than a bye in the first round of head-to-head playoffs, this is where you belong, even if you've locked that playoff slot up.)

Teams in this station have a lot to lose and even more to gain. Look to make moves with more upside than down, but also a high probability of success--and tailor them to your needs. There's no general answer to the previous Porcello vs. Kazmir question in this category. Know which categories you have the most room and opportunity to improve in the standings, or know the your strengths relative to your potential playoff matchups. 

You don't need to make a bold move for a flashy prospect so much as you need any player likely to perform any better than any player you currently have. That's a long rule, so maybe an example will illustrate. I'm second in steals by five in one of my leagues...and I'm ahead of third by about 40 points. I didn't need to pick up Billy Hamilton (which I did), but I should have targeted any player who looks like he could generate more production than the worst player on my roster. I don't need lightning in a bottle, just a slightly better light bulb than I've got.

In the Playoffs

This category refers to anyone on top of their league looking down. Unless you've got some low-hanging fruit in a category, you don't need to worry about getting better so much as mitigating risk against getting worse. If you're deciding between Porcello and Kazmir, the steadier Porcello is probably your choice. Or maybe you're better off with a reliever who won't change your current numbers by as much.

Risky players and those with the most brutal upcoming schedules should probably find their way off your roster; at the same time, you should be looking for the same types of acquisitions as the teams in the previous category: small marginal gains with a high probability of success. 

As in all categories, teams in this position are only so similar: there are a lot of different ways to be leading your league, and the specific players you should pluck from the free agent will be highly varied indeed.

 





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