Starters


Stock Watch: Super Pitching Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medium Leagues (20-30% Owned)

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

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

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

Deep Leagues (10-20% Owned) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super-Deep Bonus (Less than 10% Owned) 

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

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



Stock Watch: Fantasy Trading Deadline Part 3—Pitchers

There are only a couple days to go before most of us blast by the August Fantasy Trading Deadline, largely cementing the key players on our teams. It’s the last chance to make a big change, so get your offers in quickly and send a decent offer first. Naturally, our third installment of this series is the last, as it won’t be terribly helpful next week. You can find part one here, about some risk/reward management for trades, and part two here, dedicated to hitters to target and broken down by category. 

So click on those links and read those pieces if you’ve got time. But if you need to make a big splash in the pitching categories, you don’t have much time. So get your league pages up and ready to offer trades as you read. Or, better yet, if you’re lucky enough to play in a league where people still call each other to talk trades, start looking for phone numbers you never use anymore and get ready to wheel and deal like Billy Beane.

Today we’re going to look at the four starting pitcher categories, since RotoAuthority has an entire column dedicated to closers that pretty much tells you what you need to know every week. All I’ll add about saves is this: if you need ‘em, now is the time to suck it up and pay the market price. Saves tends to be a volatile category, and if the likes of Jake Petricka and Jenrry Mejia can actually move you up a few places in the standings, don’t be afraid to roll the dice and trade someone good to get them. (See part one of this series.)

What we aren’t going to do this week is the obvious: if you truly need pitching it’s easy enough to target a four-category monster like Clayton Kershaw or David Price, or even a three-category lock like Chris Sale or Felix Hernandez. So yes, if you need help in all four starter categories, by all means, trade for a stud pitcher if you somehow can. (Look for someone who’s too close to their innings cap!) But that advice is as easy to give as it is difficult to make happen in a real league. So this column will focus more on those less-than-perfect pitchers who might only be a true asset in the category you’re trading to get.

Strikeouts

This is probably the easiest category to go out and trade for. You need some quantity, but you only have so many roster slots and so many more innings before you reach your cap. Fortunately, you probably have more innings left than most people if you are behind in strikeouts. Unfortunately, this is such a high-total category that it can be tough to claw your way up it. We’ll try.

Looking by K/9, the top four pitchers are true superstars. Assuming you don’t have the hitters to offer in trade for Yu Darvish and Stephen Strasburg, have you thought of Jake Odorizzi? The Rays’ hurler has a 10.20 K/9, a hair better than Max Scherzer’s mark. Corey Kluber (9.80) won’t come cheap anymore, but he’ll still probably cost less than most of the names around his spot on the list. Padre pitchers are like fantasy gold: Ian Kennedy (9.53) and Tyson Ross (8.96) will help with more than just the strikeouts. Garrett Richards (8,85) could still be a relative bargain. Some more pitchers who’ve shown flaws but still managed to whiff 8.00 batters per nine or more include: Zack Wheeler, Jesse Chavez, Wade Miley, Tim Lincecum, Lance Lynn, Roenis Elias, Drew Hutchison, Chris Archer, Jason Hammel, and C.J. Wilson

If you’re more of a “What have you done for me lately?” sort of person, these guys have been getting the whiffs in the last thirty days: Alex Wood (37 strikeouts), Julio Teheran (36, and with a bad ERA on the month, so his owner might want to deal him), Drew Smyly (34), Alex Cobb (34), Francisco Liriano (33), Brandon McCarthy (33—but buyer beware, I’ve advised him before and it hasn’t gone well), Ervin Santana (32), R.A. Dickey (31), Bud Norris (29), Gio Gonzalez (29), Mike Leake (29), Chris Tillman (28), Jake Arrieta (28). Even Bartolo Colon has been in on the strikeout action in the last month, with 28 in 32.2 IP. Waiver Wire Options abound in strikeouts if you can afford to take hits in ERA and/or WHIP. Fortunately, many such options also help out in wins, balancing things a bit. 

ERA

Looking at some of those names on the strikeout lists, I’m reminded that sometimes the best thing you can do for your ERA is a little addition by subtraction. If you can afford the strikeouts or wins, consider trading or dropping your least good pitchers and replacing them with high-quality relievers—or not at all. This is especially important when you might be running into your innings cap faster than most of your leaguemates.

But most of us probably want to do some addition by addition, so here are some of the better choices to target: Phil Hughes (2.64 FIP, 3.88 ERA), Jordan Zimmermann (2.68 FIP, 3.06 ERA), Hyun-jin Ryu (2.79 FIP, 3.21 ERA), Jose Quintana (2.92 FIP, 3.04 ERA), Kennedy (3.10 FIP, 3.51 ERA), Lynn (3.15 FIP, 2.97 ERA), Archer (3.18 FIP, 3.33 ERA), Hisashi Iwakuma (3.18 FIP, 2.86 ERA), and Dallas Keuchel (3.28 FIP, 3.07 ERA). This list was compiled by looking at  the best FIP's in baseball, but now here are some buyer-beware candidates whose ERA’s are beating their FIP’s: Henderson Alvarez (3.38 FIP, 2.34 ERA), Tanner Roark (3.37 FIP, 2.86 ERA), Sonny Gray (3.35 FIP, 2.86 ERA), Jeff Samardzija (3.37 FIP, 2.91 ERA), and Tim Hudson (3.44 FIP, 2.81 ERA).           

WHIP

The good news is that you usually get a good WHIP with your ERA. The bad news is that it can be hard to get one without paying the price for two when you only need to (or only can) make up ground in one category or the other. Still, here are some guys to look for when trying to help out your WHIP: Iwakuma (0.97), Roark (1.09), Chris Young (1.12), Matt Garza (1.13), Hudson (1.14), Rick Porcello (1.14), Alfredo Simon (1.16), Kyle Lohse (1.16), Colon (1.16), Jared Weaver (1.19), Jason Hammel (1.19), and Nathan Eovaldi (1.20). 

You can also target pretty much anyone with a low walk rate and hope for the best when it comes to hits over the rest of the season: Hughes (2.4 BB%), Hudson (3.9%), McCarthy (4.2%), Alvarez (4.8%), James Shields (4.9%), Dan Haren (4.9%), Hiroki Kuroda (5%), Jason Vargas (5.2%), John Lackey (5.4%), and Leake (5.5%).  

Wins

Wins are a tough one, because what you really need here is quantity, and you’re only going to manage that if you’ve got room left in your innings cap. For this one, I’d suggest looking for top teams and targeting any pitchers you can find on them. The Dodgers’ Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez comes to mind, as do his teammates Haren and (better yet) Ryu. Porcello, Doug Fister, Gonzalez, Lohse, Wily Peralta, Yovani Gallardo, Wilson, Scott Kazmir, Hammel, Liriano, Justin Masterson, Lackey, Lynn, Chris Tillman, and Marcus Stroman, are all targets too. Why? Because they play on good-to-great teams that win by scoring some runs and should be fighting (or cruising) through the rest of the season.

Waiver Wire Options: pretty much anyone unowned who pitchers for a team in the pennant race. This is also a category in which some targeted free agent moves can come in handy, either as options to keep or streamers to cycle through. Check out my upcoming series on September schedules, and tune in to Stock Watch next week, when all our coverage will be devoted to the waiver wire. ‘Cause, obviously…..



Stock Watch: Fantasy Trading Deadline Part 1—Risk and Reward

 There’s a trading deadline coming up and it’s not July 31.(Okay, that one’s coming up too.)  But what I’m talking about is your fantasy league’s trading deadline. The last day for trades in my various Yahoo! leagues is August 17; in a custom CBS league we have all the way until the start of the playoffs in early September. But whatever it is, you really don’t want to be the team that notices a need, goes to make a trade offer…and only then discovers that it’s late August and trading is over. What? Like I’m the only one who’s ever done that...? 

We fantasy baseball players don’t have the luxury of the August waiver-trading period to make the deals we couldn’t get done before the deadline, so I’m going to spend the next three weeks going a little off-format on Stock Watch to discuss trade scenarios.

This week, we’ll focus on what types of risk you should take on depending on your format, your team’s place in the standings, and your goals for the season. In the next two weeks we’ll get a little more specific with trade targets that will help you in each category. 

Not a Zero-Sum Game Anymore

In the beginning of the season, you pretty much just want to get the most value you can out of a trade—quite possibly at the other team’s expense. Those days are over. I’m not the first fantasy pundit to suggest that you don’t need to get more value than your trading partner does to win a trade—you just need to make a trade that helps you in the right ways. So maybe trading Jose Abreu for Rajai Davis and a closer is what you need to do—that’s fine, make it happen if it makes you better. 

(The exception to this is when trading with teams right next to you in the standings—but those offers don’t tend to come up all that often anyway.)

Even if you should (and probably can) get better stuff for your star players than the hypothetical trade above, it’s important to remember that it is (at this point) perfectly okay to trade greater players for lesser ones if the needs you have are filled. You can let your leaguemates scoff if you like, but making one opponent improve relative to your own team for the chance to improve yourself relative to the other ten is usually a pretty good idea. Just don’t make that trade with the team you’re fighting for first place…or eleventh.

Playing with Risk: Evaluating Your Format, Standings, and Goals

In the future, I’ll be breaking players down by category, but today I’m going to talk about risk—should you be trading it away, or trying to pile as much as you can onto your team? By risk, I don’t mean just downside but the magnitude of the upside/downside split. Are you in the position where you need to put everything on the line? Or do you just need to make sure you don’t slip any further in the standings and out of a playoff slot…or out of the league, RotoAuthority League-style? 

I’ve got teams in just about every category: I’m first in one, tenth in another, and slugging it out in three more. So I’ll be taking different approaches in my various leagues. Sitting in first, I’m going to be ditching my highest downside players, even if they do have good upside. Ideally, I’ll be able to ship them to someone low in the standings for steady-Eddie types.

For my tenth-place team, I’d love to be the one shipping out those steady-Eddies who weren’t enough to keep me form the bottom half of the standings for some guys with high upside; any downside they offer can only drop me two slots in the league! My middle teams will need a more nuanced approach and may need a bit of risk in some categories and a bit of safety in others. But we’ll check that out in the coming weeks.

Before sending out your last three weeks of trade offers, you’ve got to know what you’re playing for. In my tenth-place team, I’ve finally admitted to myself that I’m not going to make an epic comeback and win it all. But I can probably save myself some embarrassment by moving a few places up the standings to end it in a respectable position. So I’m going for that.

Head-to-head formats can make things more complicated: do you make some high-risk moves, knowing that they could pay off with the biggest September? Or do you shore up your chances of just getting into the playoffs and cross your fingers? I’m guessing that’s going to depend on your league’s payout formula….

Upside Plays: Pitchers

The first guy who jumps to mind is Cliff Lee.  It could go terribly wrong…or he could be a carry-your-team staff ace. Other unproven pitchers who’ve been aces so far seem to fit this mold as well: Garrett Richards, Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber,  and Tyson Ross. They seem real enough to trade for, but have short or spotty enough track records that you can’t feel totally secure in them.

Overachievers and underachievers alike add upside to your team: Johnny Cueto , Julio Teheran (especially with his recent struggles), Ian Kennedy, and Josh Beckett seem like they should have high error bars on their rest-of-season performance. Same for guys that have been relatively disappointing or inconsistent, or changed roles during the season or spent time on the DL, like Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Alex Wood, Alex Cobb, R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, and Tim Lincecum

Finally, out-of-nowhere (or out of somewhere previously terrible) guys add upside. Think of Jesse Chavez, Alfredo Simon, Phil Hughes, Jake Odorizzi, Collin McHugh, Dallas Keuchel, Marcus Stroman, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Young. Tim Hudson kind of counts too, though where he came from wasn’t bad…just not all that useful in fantasy. 

Safe Choices: Pitchers

If you need to hang on to your gains and play it safe, you can do more than just trading away the pitchers above. Think about trading for serious aces (you know who you are, guys) or for steady-good types like these: Jered Weaver, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, James Shields, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Madison Bumgarner. You’ll note that there aren’t nearly as many safe choices on the pitching side—well, that’s part of pitching. One of the safest things you can do, actually, is trade pitching for hitting.

Upside Plays: Hitters

This year has featured some impressive breakout stars and the rest of the season will be spend sorting out which ones are for real and which ones have holes in their swings. Guys like Jose Abreu, Michael Brantley George Springer, Jose Altuve, Nelson Cruz, Todd Frazier, Victor Martinez, Dee Gordon, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Brian Dozier, and Corey Dickerson come to mind as high-impact guys who still have downside, whether it’s from nonexistent track records like Abreu, horrible track records like Gordon, or being an old guy playing better than ever like Martinez. 

As with pitchers, you can always bet on underperformers to bounce back when you’re going out and actively adding upside to your squad. Consider some of these guys who could return to glory in the final months of the season: Chris Davis, Bryce Harper, Joey Votto, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Jason Kipnis, Dustin Pedroia, Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo, Joe Mauer, Matt Kemp, Mark Trumbo, Josh Hamilton, Alexei RamirezMarlon Byrd, Carlos Santana, and Carlos Beltran

There are plenty of hitters offering upside that they haven’t shown this year…or who’ve shown more than they probably really do have to give, so use the above list as a jumping-off point on your trade list and not as a restriction.

Safe Choices: Hitters

Trading for bona fide stars is almost always a safe choice, and it’s even safer at this point of the season. But top-tier superstars aren’t the only guys who offer steady production. Think about these guys: Hunter Pence, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Jayson Werth, David Ortiz, Kyle Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick, Torii Hunter, Alex Gordon, Aramis Ramirez, and Rajai Davis.

I suppose we could argue about who’s “safe” and show isn’t—maybe you think Ramirez will get hurt again, or that Moss is sufficiently established as not to be a risk—and that’s fine. The important thing is making the trade that fits you, that fits your team.



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 League Update: Fantasy All-Stars, Pitchers Edition

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

In keeping with last week's theme, let's take a look at the fantasy All-Star pitchers in the RotoAuthority League. Once again, it's all about profit as opposed to overall production.

Johnny Cueto

Owner: A Century of Misery

Investment: Round 16 pick

Current 5 X 5 Value: $34

The most profitable pitcher on the season is also the top pitcher overall thus far. Clearly my best draft pick, Cueto is the main reason I'm in the top half of the standings at this point. When he's been healthy, the Reds right-hander has always been effective; the problem has been staying on the mound. The injury risk is likely the reason he slipped all the way to Round 16 on Draft Day, the equivalent of a $6 investment. Well, this year he's been plain filthy and earned a whopping $34 assuming a 70 / 30 hitting / pitching split, good for a $28 profit.

Scott Kazmir

Owner: A Century of Misery (acquired from The Bombers in exchange for Matt Lindstrom)

Investment: Round 19 Pick

Current 5 X 5 Value: $23

As you'll notice shortly, this is the only other top pitching value that was actually drafted. (More on that in a minute.) The Bombers grabbed Kazmir in Round 19 of the RotoAuthority League Draft, a mere investment of $3. The Athletics left-hander was effective last season in a limited sample size, but he's showing that was no fluke at all. I've made quite a few trades this season, some of which I regret. However, I was able to exploit the premium placed on closers in this league and ship Matt Lindstrom to the Bombers in exchange for Kazmir. Needless to say, that's been one of the biggest heists in the league thus far.

Tim Hudson

Owner: Spirit of St. Louis

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $22

Dallas Keuchel

Owner: Cobra Kai

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $21

Jason Hammel

Owner: Guitar Masahiro

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $16

Kyle Lohse

Owner: Cobra Kai

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $16

Mark Buehrle

Owner: Guitar Masahiro

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $15

Francisco Rodriguez

Owner: The Jewru (acquired from Men With Wood in exchange for Sonny Gray)

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $15

Garrett Richards

Owner: Smell the Glove

Investment: Free Agent Pickup

Current 5 X 5 Value: $14

As I mentioned, Cueto and Kazmir are the only top pitching values that were actually taken on Draft Day. For brevity's sake, let's group the rest of the top pitching values together. The names don't matter; it's the larger point as to what this indicates about how fantasy owners should approach pitching going forward. Let's take a minute to recap how the fantasy landscape has changed the past decade. When DIPS theory was not yet mainstream, sabermetric nerds like myself could more easily find undervalued starting pitchers. Flash forward to today, though, and it's just not as easy. When one couples this reality that the average fantasy baseball manager is more informed with the fact that pitching continues to be more dominant, we just can't wait on pitching anymore.

Still, more so than in the case of hitters, pitchers have so much that is out of their control. Due to the volatility of pitching performance then, it still makes sense to gamble on pitchers to fill out your staff in the endgame. Along those same lines, spend that FAAB money early and often on starting pitchers dispaying good skills in April, even in small sample sizes. In summary, gone are the days when a fantasy owner could hold out on starting pitching; however, there will always be tremendous pitching values that go undrafted in leagues due to the volatility of the position.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Time for a Kershaw Trade

I got a trade offer in the RotoAuthority Silver League and it got me thinking. Hopefully, writing here about said thinking won't ruin my chances of making a trade, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. The analysis must come first!

See, I was offered Clayton Kershaw, and whenever you're offered Clayton Kershaw you have to think about it.

My first thought was to be disappointed that this wasn't in the MLBTR staff league, 'cause I'm sitting in dead last in most of the pitching categories in that one. My second through however many thoughts were about how cool it would be to have Kershaw on my team.

Then I started to feel sad about the guys I'd give away: Giancarlo Stanton--I believed in you and you've returned 43 RBI for me, almost twice what the next best player on my team has. Scott Kazmir--I believed in you too and you've given me five delightful wins, a truly beautiful 2.39 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. And Greg Holland--I...okay, we all thought Holland would be good, and sure enough he's the only non-terrible reliever on my team.

The initial offer also included a couple guys that I'm probably supposed to be hoping will bounce back or regress to their peripheral stats in Allen Craig and Zach McAllister. (This article isn't about them, though, so I won't tell you I'm not optimistic about Craig and more or less apathetic about McAllister.) Okay, so I'm not clicking "Accept" on the initial offer, but overall, yeah, I'm intrigued with the thought of dealing my best hitter for baseball's best pitcher.

But should I be?

When was the last time you saw Clayton Kershaw sporting a 4.43 ERA? I'm not a Dodger fan, so I don't mind...but it's pretty weird to see, I'll tell you that.

Now, most of that comes from his most recent start, an epic tagging for over 100 runs (actually seven) in less than two innings. Or something bad like that. Manager Don Mattingly reassures us that there's nothing physically wrong with the Dodger ace, and he's probably in a position to know that and tell the truth about it. Right?

When you see any pitcher give up a disaster start like that come so quickly after escaping the DL, you can think one of two things about it:

a) He's fine. Just had to shake off the rust and it didn't happen to go well this time. He'll be okay.

b) Ouch. He's gonna be right back on the DL soon; either that or he'll be pitching bad and through pain for a few weeks.

The manager's taking choice a), and since I sent back a trade offer of Stanton for Kershaw straight-up, I guess I'll give away the ending by admitting that I am too.

But only kind of, obviously. If I were 100% sure that Kershaw was perfectly healthy, I'd have sent back the offer with a somewhat useful throw-in, because Kershaw is definitely a first-round, better-than-everybody-else-in-the-world pitcher, while Stanton's teammates will surely help him regress to the realm of the mortally awesome in terms of Runs and RBI. (Yeah, I don't think he's going to end the year with double David Ortiz's RBI, I just don't.)

So is now the time to trade Clayton Kershaw, or the time to trade for him? (Feel free to expand the thought to a more generally helpful analogy about all such elite pitchers who perform horrifically right after returning from the DL.)

Obviously, it has to be something of a case-by-case situation, but we can look at this case and see if anything applies generally.

One thing it's always good to do is check on a pitcher's velocity, as Fangraphs has done here, in which Kershaw is noted to have lost about two miles per hour on his fastball (in his few starts before the May 2 article), and examined to see what kind of decline might be expected if that reduced velocity is more or less permanent. Good news: that analysis suggests that Kershaw has been equally great in games pitched at what looks like his current velocity as he has when throwing harder. Bad news: a similar velocity drop coincided with Ubaldo Jimenez's precipitous decline, so we can't just assume all pitchers will be fine if they lose a couple miles on their fastball.

It's also worth looking into how a disaster start happens: according to the LA Times, it looks like Kershaw didn't have any control over his curveball during the second inning, in which he served up three triples. So that's bad, but it doesn't send up so many red flags that I'm running scared to rescind my trade offer for Kershaw. Unfortunately, I'm not enough of a scout or a pitching coach to know what to do with such data. Any elucidating ideas are more than welcome in the comments....

Right now, I think it's a good time to target receiving Kershaw in a trade, and I'm inclined to think that's usually the case in a situation like this one. Let him get a really good game in, and his price will go very close to full market value in a hurry. There aren't many times when baseball's best pitcher is likely to come at a discount, and this is one of them.

That said, now is a good time to deal Kershaw away, too.

What?

Yeah. There is some real risk involved in having a pitcher who gets brutally tagged right after coming off the DL, and trading that risk away isn't a terrible idea. Especially when your opponent/trade partner thinks they're getting a good deal. See, the thing about making a trade at this time, is that everyone knows Kershaw has to come at a discount, but that also allows the human mind to persuade itself that it is getting a good deal. It's like going to a store and seeing that everything is on sale: before you even start trying to remember what that stuff cost yesterday, your brain is already processing the idea that you're getting a bargain.

Just because you (probably) can't sell Kershaw for his highest-possible free market value doesn't mean you can't get what you want for him. And getting what you want in a trade makes it a win. We've reached the point of the season where your team situation and your place in the standings of each category is nonrandom. If you're getting killed in the power categories but still doing well in pitching, why not trade Kershaw for Stanton? No, they didn't get drafted in the same round, but who cares about that now? If you've got needs to fill, have Kershaw on your roster, and somehow aren't depending on him to carry your pitching staff, his trade value is still plenty high enough to help your team out in multiple categories.

Right now, it will be easier to get a good deal done than at other times, just because Kershaw will already be on other owners' trade radar. They may be hoping to lowball you, but once they're as intrigued by the chance to get Kershaw as I am, they might just bite on a fair offer. Right after a start like this is a great time to trade for Kershaw, yes...but it's also the right time to trade him away.


Full Story |  Comments (0) | Categories: Injuries | Starters | Trading

RotoAuthority Unscripted: Who or What is Drew Pomeranz?

If you didn't know much about Drew Pomeranz before yesterday (or whenever), when the A's declared that he'd be slotting permanently into their rotation in place of Dan Straily, I'll forgive you. In fact, you don't have any of the Pomeranz-related baggage that some of us do. I'll save you some trouble and tell you he's totally worth a flyer. Or is it flier? He's worth a waiver claim, that's what he is. Worth a waiver claim.

Don't worry about the history if you don't have to.

But those of us old enough to remember when Ubaldo Jimenez rocked in Colorado and then got traded to Cleveland remember that Pomeranz was what the Rockies got back for their ace. I'm pretty sure both teams felt cheated, with results like that, because here's what Drew Pomeranz was in four years in Colorado: wild, but not effectively. Not to mention homer-prone.

They only gave him one extended shot in the Majors, 96.2 IP in 2012, in which he walked 4.3 batters per nine innings, striking out 7.73. He got some grounders (43.9 GB%), but allowed too many homers (1.3 HR/9), and put up a 7.93/4.81/4.49 ERA/FIP/xFIP. The Rockies somehow got 1.0 WAR out of that, but his fantasy owners were still expecting a good prospect and...well, we didn't hang onto him long enough to enjoy the fruits of that walk rate on our WHIP's.

His shorter stint in 2013 was even worse: his posted 7.89 K/9...and a K/BB in 21.2 IP. The prospecty nametag probably meant that he was on quite a few rosters for his first start or two last year, but I'm pretty sure he didn't last much longer than that.

Traded to the A's for the amazingly fragile Brett Anderson (Fangraphs called him a "lottery ticket"), it didn't appear that he would have much chance to contribute in the rotation. Maybe he would make the Majors and pitch out of the pen, we supposed. And that was the end of the story of Drew Pomeranz and his association with fantasy baseball.

And now there is (cue the Star Wars theme song) a new hope...

The Athletics are, perhaps, more clever than given credit for: they've not only saved money, but they've now inserted the much-maligned Pomeranz into their rotation after a modestly-impressive 18.2 innings to start the season. I say modestly-impressive because, while Pomeranz bears a shiny 1.45 ERA, he also carries a less lustrous 3.73 FIP and a 3.93 xFIP. It should thus be admitted that Pomeranz has not shown himself to be a True Ace hiding out in the Athletics' bullpen and revealing himself only to the unsuspecting Mariners' lineup once during a doubleheader. Or, in terms that actually make some sense: he's been good, but maybe not quite as good as it looks.

But let's not focus on the negative: this year's Pomeranz has looked pretty seriously good. His 7.71 K/9 isn't great (especially for a reliever), but his 2.89 BB/9 is a huge improvement from anything that he's given since 18.1 innings back in 2011. The 0.96 HR/9 is also a pleasant improvement on his work in Colorado, though that was certainly expected.

Digging into his game log, that start against Seattle really was excellent: five innings, five whiffs, no walks or runs, though, to be fair, it's not like the Mariners are hitting the ball against anyone (.293 wOBA--worst in the AL). He's allowed only three runs on the year, all on separate occasions, and hasn't walked two batters in an inning since his first appearance of the season.

I'm not a scout (obviously), but we can still look into his pitch mix and velocity to see if anything has changed since his Colorado ineffectiveness. His pitch mix doesn't really worry me. Though he's been, so far, a significantly different pitcher than he was in 2013, that's got to be a good thing, as he was pretty horrible then. It's probably good news that his pitch mix resembles his longer rotation stint in 2012, with the exception that he isn't throwing his changeup nearly so much. That's encouraging, not because his results were good that season, but because his success isn't necessarily due to the fact that he's been in the bullpen and can throw more fastballs. He will likely be forced to use his changeup more now that he's in the rotation, but it looks like those pitches will mostly be at the expense of curveballs. But I guess we'll have to see.

His fastball velocity is up by about a mile per hour, which isn't any shock at all since he's been pitching out of the pen. So, no news there.

Basically, looking under the hood doesn't yet tell us that Pomeranz is a different pitcher than he's previously been. But that isn't a disaster just because his previous results were. The simple environment change from Colorado to Oakland is enough to make someone fantasy relevant. Presumably, he was once a prospect for some reason. As we see more results come in, we ought to learn more about what has and hasn't changed about Pomeranz as a pitcher.

Unfortunately for our exuberance, much of the reason Pomeranz is in the rotation is because Dan Straily couldn't cut it: getting lit up for a 2.11 HR/9 and a 5.62 FIP won't keep you in many rotations, but it certainly won't keep you in the Oakland's second-only-to-the-Tigers-in-the-AL rotation. I mean, their rotation has a 0.85 HR/9 rate, including Straily's mark. So it's no wonder he's out. This despite the fact that I recently predicted (link not provided to save the author's shame) that Straily's strikeout and walk numbers suggested that he would get the chance to straighten things out, and actually do so.

So Oakland is too good for Straily, and too good for bad homer rates. This is (obviously) great news for Pomeranz, because it means he's going into the rotation. It is (somewhat less obviously, but perhaps not too much) also bad news for Pomeranz, because it means the bar for success is set extremely high, and the A's have shown that they aren't willing to put up with mediocre results, even from talented young pitchers. Like the man he's replacing, Pomeranz himself is replaceable.

Pomeranz is well worth a pickup. He should generate a few strikeouts and win some ballgames for the first-place A's, assuming he's good enough to stick in the rotation. The park ought to help keep his ERA and WHIP better than what his peripherals would suggest--and right now even the peripherals aren't bad. The upside here is pretty serious, because he'll have to be a useful pitcher just to keep starting every fifth day. Let's face it: the A's rotation is probably better than your fantasy rotation. It's sure better than mine are....

The downside is the possiblity that he'll be right back where he was a couple days ago: in the bullpen or the minors as the sixth or seventh best starter in a great rotation. If Straily is great in AAA, I wouldn't be shocked if he came back up. But hey, that's the downside that every waiver wire pitcher has. 



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Back in Black

Hisashi Iwakuma came back to the Mjors on Saturday, and Mike Minor on Friday, while Cole Hamels came back just last week, and Doug Fister is scheduled to make his return tomorrow. All four were supposed to be key cogs in fantasy rotations this year--but what should we do with them now that they're here?

After having his Sunday start scratched because of the flu, Hamels is scheduled to pitch today. Hopefully that happens, since I've got him on a couple teams. With a sample size of two, he's done the most of this quartet for us to analyze. The results have not been awesome: one pretty good start against the Dodgers, and a five-walk drubbing from the Mets. He's not exactly back to ace-level yet, it appears. Whether it's rust, luck, or the remnants of injury, time will tell. Or it might not. 

Iwakuma won his game, but it came against the Astros and involved giving up four runs--though he did pitch into the seventh inning and issued only one walk. So there were some promising signs and some less-than-perfect ones.

Minor took a loss, but allowed just two runs on seven hits. Even better, he didn't surrender a single walk while striking out four. Okay, four strikeouts in six innings isn't special, but no walks is always nice.

Fister, obviously, hasn't done anything, since he hasn't returned yet.

Honestly, it's hard to know what to expect going forward from all four of these guys. Injuries flare back up, it takes time to adjust to Major League hitters again, there are a few more off days, managers are more careful with innings...the list of potential problems with injury-return pitchers goes on.

That's why they're my favorite trade targets.

Now, before we go any farther, let me just say that there are only two types of owner when it comes to injury-stashed players, and any given owner may be both at the same time with regards to different players. The first type of owner will never deal you the injured player. This owner invested too much and has waited with too much anticipation for the player's return to make a deal now. Maybe they're a die-hard Hamels fan, or maybe you drafted early and they used a top draft pick. This owner is set on keeping their injured guy and playing him--chances are, a lot of their season is riding on it. This owner probably won't make a trade that would be fair-value if the player had never even been hurt. Just move on.

The other type of owner is a lot readier to deal, and this is the owner you need to concentrate on. This owner didn't really want to target Iwakuma...he was just such a good deal in the 20th round. They didn't expect to end up with Fister for a dollar at the end of the auction, but they did. This owner was probably a bit skeptical about the whole injury-stash situation and certainly remembers getting burned by injury-returners before. (I mean, who doesn't?) This owner may well jump at the chance to minimize risk by getting a decent return for the injured player before he can prove that he's still hurt, go on the DL again, and continue wasting roster space. This is the owner you want to trade with.

I hate stashing injured pitchers (or anyone else) in the draft, so I tend to end up more like the second type of owner when I've actually stashed somebody. You never know quite when to pull the trigger in a draft or how much to pay in an auction, because you just don't know what percentage of the season you'll be getting from the player, in terms of time or of play quality. Picking guys you know are hurt is a risk with a well-known downside and a difficult-to-calculate upside. But now that they're back, most of the downside is gone. Yes, those bad things I mentioned several paragraphs ago might happen, but they might not, and they should slow down significantly with each week that goes by.

You can try to sneak trade offers in early, before we can even see results (like for Fister--you've got one more day!), or you can try waiting until something bad (but not terrible) happens to make owners worry. Definitely don't pay full-health value before getting Major League results, though.

Hamels is a great trade target right now, in fact. He just got shelled and looked terrible (five walks in less than five innings...ugh!) doing it. He's got the flu or something and has had his most recent start postponed to tonight, so he's still got that little red cross next to his name. His owners might well be worried about the quality of the pitcher they stashed for a month. I am, and I'm writing this article. That's why this whole enterprise is predicated on paying less than fully-healthy value for the player in question. If you're giving away the same thing for Hamels as you would for, say, Cliff Lee or Madison Bumgarner, you're making a mistake.

Minor is definitely the wrong guy to target in a trade. He pitched really good, yes, but who was happier about that than his owner? No one. Who was paying more careful attention than his owner? Again, no one. His trade price probably just got a lot closer to full value, but, realistically, issues related to the injury could still crop up. Trading for Minor right now would be like trading for Hamels after his first very good start: you pay a premium for a good sign without being out of the woods as far as risk goes. So if you want Minor, wait a start or three. If things go wrong--great--maybe he just got a little easier to get. If they don't, his price might change incrementally, but you'll at least be more sure about his health going forward. And if he goes straight back on the DL or implodes...well, you won't have pulled the trigger too early.

Four quality pitchers will have returned to the big leagues (probably) by tomorrow, and any of the four may be available for a good price. If you're in need of pitching and can't afford to pay for an ace, check into one of these guys.



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Johan Santana to Return Again, Again

Ten years ago, Johan Santana was the best pitcher in baseball. Actually, his numbers aren't as eye-popping now as they were then--a testament to the state of pitching and hitting in this decade--but believe it: the dude was awesome. And he might be coming back soon.

Okay, so this news isn't exactly the biggest resurrection of the week, and I'll be honest with you: if all your leagues are relatively shallow, this post won't be super-helpful for you. Still, anyone with a history of greatness like Santana's has earned being watched. Mets fans may disagree (I'll understand), but even the little bit of Johan that we got in 2012 (8.54 K/9, 2.85 K/BB, with a bad homer rate and ERA) offers something to be interested in.

There's no timetable yet and no need to be rushing off the waiver wire for him. And you don't need to release Doug Fister or Derek Holland to clear a spot on your DL just to get Santana. No, this isn't the herald of Santana's triumphant return, so much as it is a piece of information for you to stash away.

Fantasy baseball is about finding an edge against tough, informed competition. It certainly isn't about beating the bottom six teams in your league--there's a good chance you did that on draft day against average-quality competition. I know this because my research random stab in the dark suggests that over half of fantasy baseball owners do not seek out advice, news, or articles beyond what's offered on ESPN and their fantasy website provider after their draft. But I digress. Long story short: your goal is to beat your tough competition too. And that means looking for advantages where nobody else is.

What I'm not going to do is speculate (too much) on what Santana is likely to be if and when he does make it into Baltimore's rotation. I'll leave that to people who are actually scouts and can look at what he does and tell us about it. But you know I will be paying attention to those scouts and the updates that come from them. For the moment, I'm going to assume that the 2012 version of Johan (a little good, a little bad, a little really awesome) returns more or less intact, with the chance of his HR/FB rate regressing to something better than horrible. If he's less than that, the aforementioned scouting professionals, plus TV commentators, peanut gallery members, and (maybe) the Orioles' coaching staff will notice and pull the plug on the grand experiment in time reversal.

And if he's better than that, he absolutely has to be on your team. Again, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that I know or think I know that Santana will come back and be awesome. Honestly, the chances are that he won't so keep your expectations tempered, even if you were a Twins fan in the '00's but have since moved to Baltimore and switched allegiances.

But I am saying that this situation is worth paying careful attention to, because Santana offers much greater potential reward than most deep-league waiver wire options. Yes, his floor is that of uselessness—but that’s true of every player waiting in the minors, sitting on the DL, or pitching for Baltimore. Essentially, the cost of Santana will be the same as the cost of your next Mets or Cubs closer lottery ticket, one-game platoon streamer, or backup to your backup catcher. The reward, though, is a serious impact pitcher (low probability) or a high-K, questionable-ERA guy (very reasonable probability) of the sort that’s plenty useful in deep formats.

All the eyes in your league will be on Santana’s teammate Kevin Gausman, or on Noah Syndergaard when and if they get the call to the show. Everyone will know it when Taijuan Walker and the rest of the Mariners’ rotation come back from the DL, and they’ll see Holland’s return from a mile away. Those pickups (if they aren’t already stashed) will be the product of whoever’s got the most FAAB money or the highest waiver priority, or whoever’s got the fastest Internet connection after the news hits Twitter. These guys have a real chance of providing a serious impact—but odds are, they’re ending up on someone else’s team.

Santana, however, isn’t likely to get quite the same fantasy reception. In fact, I expect experts and owners to be pretty tepid, even if TV commentators get really excited. But if, say, Gausman came up and struck out nearly a batter an inning with a low 4.00’s ERA, that would be a pretty good result. Santana did that in 2012 (okay, so his FIP was in the low 4.00’s, not his ERA, but still…). Think of Santana as a prospect without the hype and keep tabs on him. If the news takes a different turn and he doesn’t look good, well, there you go. But if things continue to progress towards him pitching in the Major League rotation, the risk (nothing, assuming you have someone you can drop without missing) versus reward makes him well worth the pursuit.

Editor's Note: You may have noticed some problems with RotoAuthority in the last couple days, as our blog host has been hit with an attack beyond this author's technical understanding. Hopefully, things are resolved, but bear with us if the situation continues. We'll be updating the site as regularly as possible to fill all your fantasies...I mean, your fantasy baseball needs.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: The Bizarro Hellickson

We kicked off last year's Proof Is In The Peripherals series by looking at Jeremy Hellickson, the man who dodged advanced metric bullets for three seasons before things went south for him in 2013.  If Hellickson had all the good luck on his side for three years, I had to wonder, who had all the bad luck?  Who was the anti-Hellickson?  Who was the guy who watched Hellickson highlights on his TV while angrily muttering to himself and eating a tuna sandwich made of bread that expired three days ago? 

In my search for the MLB pitching equivalent of Garry Jerry Larry Gergich Gengurch, I focused on three categories for the period between 2011-13: BABIP, strand rate and ERA-FIP (namely, who had the biggest negative gap between his ERA and his FIP).  Then, I lopped out a couple of high-ranking names that don't have any/much fantasy relevance for your 2014 team --- the retired Derek Lowe and reliever Brian Duensing, who doesn't appear headed back to the Twins rotation anytime soon.  That leaves us with five starters who have had nothing but buzzard's luck over the last three seasons...  

* Rick Porcello, .325 BABIP (sixth-highest of all pitchers), 68.7% strand rate (tied for 14th-lowest of all pitchers), 4.56 ERA/3.83 FIP (seventh-largest gap of all pitchers)

I've written about Porcello in the past and he has some breakout buzz around him.  Of all the guys on this list, Porcello is the one I'd feel most comfortable about putting into my rotation, as I believe the best is yet to come for the 25-year-old.  Fun fact: Porcello's 3.19 xFIP last season was the 13th-best of ANY qualified starter in baseball.  He's just a bit of advanced metric fortune away from becoming yet another quality starter in the Detroit rotation. 

* Ricky Nolasco, .314 BABIP (12th), 68.7% strand rate (tied for 14th), 4.29 ERA/3.58 FIP (8th)

I'm slightly more bullish on Nolasco than Alex Steers McCrum is, since I'm intrigued by how Nolasco's home run rates have dropped in each of the last four years and now he's pitching at Target Field.  The righty also bumped his K/9 back up to match his 7.45 career average, so I could see Nolasco being at least a guy to stream for a few starts here and there if he gets on a hot streak as he did last season after his trade to the Dodgers.

* Jordan Lyles, .307 BABIP (25th), 62.9% strand rate (1st), 5.35 ERA/4.54 FIP (5th)

This is the kind of strand rate madness that happens when you're a regular starter for the 2013 Houston Astros.  The hits just keep on coming for Lyles, as he was traded to the Rockies in the offseason and now is only a temporary starter in the Colorado rotation until Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood are healthy.  Lyles is a good groundball pitcher, so pitching to contact might not totally doom him in Coors Field, yet with little to offer in strikeouts and (probably) in wins or ERA, why bother having Lyles on your fantasy roster?

* Mike Pelfrey, .319 BABIP (7th), 68.9% strand rate (16th), 4.80 ERA/4.16 FIP (11th)

Pelfrey's bad luck went beyond just the advanced stats, as he only made three starts in 2012 and then missed the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  His 2013 numbers, therefore, have to be taken with a grain of salt given that it generally takes two years to fully recover arm strength following such a procedure.  That said, Pelfrey has only 5.2 K/9 over his entire career and was only a borderline fantasy guy in his best years with the Mets.  Skip him.

Honorable Mention: Joe Blanton, Jeff Francis.  Frankly, my search for the Anti-Hellickson really led to these two.  Blanton ranked first in BABIP (.330), 13th in strand rate (68.6%) and fourth in ERA-FIP gap (5.23 ERA/4.32 FIP), while Francis was the only pitcher to crack the top eight in every category --- .329 BABIP (6th), 67% strand rate (8th) and a 5.33 ERA/4.24 FIP (2nd).  The only reason I can't award either man the Anti-Hellickson Crown outright is because both men are currently pitching in the minor leagues.

In Francis' case, you could chalk his luck up to pitching at Coors Field, yet his away splits have actually been worse than his home splits over his career.  You can safely write him off as a fantasy option under even the more dire of circumstances, as if he does get called up to the Reds, it's not like he'll get much help from the Great American Ballpark.

Blanton is a more curious case.  He has a 3.53 xFIP from 2011-13 but a 5.23 ERA, thanks in large part to a propensity for giving up the long ball.  You (and the Angels) would've thought that moving to Anaheim from homer-happy Philadelphia would've helped things last season, but nope, Blanton instead posted the worst home run rate (19.1%) of his ten-year career.  In a bizarre twist, the thick Pacific air of Angel Stadium seemed to hurt every home run hitter except for those facing Blanton.  The gap between his real-life stats and the advanced metrics are just so out of whack that I can't *quite* entirely write him off, especially since he signed a minor league deal with the A's and could get to throw in another pitcher-friendly ballpark. 

So from the numbers, all hail Rick Porcello as the Bizarro Hellickson, while Blanton lurks as the deposed king in exile.  If Blanton gets called up for a spot start or two at the Coliseum sometime this year, there are worse streaming choices.




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