Starters


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.



Go Bold Or Go Home: Justin Masterson, Top-15 Pitcher

Among all qualified starters in baseball last season, only five pitchers threw 193 or more innings, struck out at least one batter per inning and had a SIERA of 3.32 or better.  Four were Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer; the fifth was Justin Masterson.  So by that metric, Masterson is actually a top-FIVE pitcher in the big leagues, so I not only proved my "top fifteen" point, I went above and beyond!  That was easy!  See you next week, folks!

.....okay, fine, it'll take more than some statistical cherry-picking to get the job done.  Fair enough.  There seems to be some inherent resistence to acknowledging Masterson as a top-tier fantasy pitcher, given his modest 218.80 average draft position (hat tip to Mock Draft Central) that ranks him as the only 56th-highest pitcher taken in this year's drafts.  Even if you don't agree with me that Masterson is on the verge of a major breakout, I think it's safe to say that there aren't 55 guys better than the Indians ace.

In fact, forget being 'on the verge,' it's possible Masterson took his big step forward last year.  Masterson has always been known as an elite groundball pitcher --- he led the league with a 58% ground ball rate in 2013 and he has the sixth-highest GBR of any pitcher in baseball over the last four seasons.  What changed Masterson's game last year, however, was his ability to miss bats.  Masterson had a career 7.1 K/9 over his first five seasons but he bumped that up to a career-best 9.1 K/9 in 2013.  In the Roto Authority starting pitcher rankings, Alex Steers McCrum even lumped Masterson into his group of "strikeout pitchers with too many walks." a designation that would've seemed unlikely a year ago.

There's a terrible pun coming in a few paragraphs, just so you know.  Be ready.

It seems like Masterson was able to goose his strikeout numbers by cutting back on the use of his sinker.  Masterson used his sinker a whopping 58.3% of the time in 2012, well above his career 44.5% mark, and it's perhaps no surprise that Masterson changed things up given how he struggled that season.  In 2013, however, the righty cut his sinker rate down to 49.4% and increased the use of his slider to 26.9%, by far the most Masterson has thrown the pitch in any of his four full Major League seasons.  If Masterson keeps the sinker in check, there's no reason he couldn't have another season of averaging at least one strikeout per inning. 

So that's the strikeouts accounted for, and Masterson should still get his fair share of wins given that the Tribe projects to be a pretty good team this season.  My only concern is that his ERA and WHIP could be slightly above what you'd want from the ace of a fantasy rotation.  Ideally you'd like a pitcher with a sub-3.00 ERA and a sub-1.20 WHIP, but with Masterson it could be more likely that he'll post something in the neighborhood of a 3.30 ERA and a WHIP in the 1.20-1.30 range.  This comes with the territory of having an ace groundball pitcher and an infield defense that includes UZR/150 nightmares Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis, not to mention the possibly-comic stylings of Carlos Santana as a regular third baseman.  Still, while grounders are still Masterson's bread and butter, his increased strikeout prowess will help him overcome his infield's miscues.

Seriously, it's one of the more obvious, no-creativity puns you could imagine when discussing Justin Masterson, so of course Mark can't help but make it.  Brace yourself.

Between the flaws of a poor infield defense and a too-high walk rate (his 3.54 BB/9 ranked a mediocre 73rd amongst all qualified starters), Masterson definitely has a few warts, but I have a couple more reasons why I think he'll end the year as a top-drawer fantasy starter.  Injury concerns aren't really a factor given how Masterson is averaging 199 innings over the last four years, plus there's the ever-popular "contract year" narrative.  The Tribe had been talking to Masterson about an extension but talks have fallen through, so it's very likely that the right-hander will test free agency next winter.  Not that Masterson isn't a motivated guy anyway, but he'll have all the more incentive to perform well, as he'll have a $100MM+ contract waiting for him if he duplicates last season's numbers in 2014.

As noted, Masterson is way off the radar of many fantasy owners, so even if you missed him in your draft, there's still a chance to acquire him in a trade before Opening Day.  If you have a promising but unproven arm like Zach Wheeler or Tony Cingriani (to name a couple of pitchers ahead of Masterson on the ADP list), I'd certainly see about unloading either for Masterson.  Your rival manager may think he's getting a steal in picking a hot young arm while you can sit back and take comfort in a more reliable option.

Are you ready?  Here it comes.

All things considered, owning Masterson could end up being a masterpiece of fantasy roster move.

...wow, could that have been shoehorned in any more?  Brutal.



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.

 

 



Draft Round Battles: Miller Vs. Teheran

This week's draft battle features two 23-year-old right-handers who stand out as aces of the future, even while being somewhat underrated just because they happen to play for teams who churn out quality pitchers even more often than I churn out quality columns on a near-annual basis.  If Shelby Miller or Julio Teheran had come up in the systems of a somewhat pitching-bereft team, they'd probably get a *little* more hype just for being unique -- as members of the Cardinals and Braves, however, even some great arms tend to get a bit lost in the crowd.

That's not the only way that Miller and Teheran are similar.  If you look at their career numbers from 2012-13,* it makes you want to chew some Doublemint gum.  Miller gets a few more strikeouts, Teheran walks a few less batters and Teheran's ERA is a third of a run higher, a difference that I'd argue is negligible looking at their closer peripherals.

* Teheran debuted a year earlier than Miller and didn't pitch well in his 19 2/3 IP (three starts and two relief appearances in 2011).  Even though we're dealing with sample sizes anyway, I feel okay with not counting Teheran's veritable cup of coffee in the bigs as a 20-year-old.

So their career numbers are basically identical, they both have good defenses behind them and good lineups supporting them, and their average draft positions (142.52 for Teheran, 148.97 for Miller) are virtually identical according to Mock Draft Central's latest mock draft reports.  So how are you supposed to choose between the two?

This matchup is somewhat similar to the Chris Sale vs. Max Scherzer draft battle from a couple of weeks ago, when I called it for Scherzer with the logic that he'd likely have a big edge on wins since the Tigers should be much better than the White Sox in 2014.  Wins are a nebulous stat anyway, and they don't apply in our present battle since (as mentioned) Atlanta and St. Louis are projected to be awesome again this year.   Still, Scherzer also had an edge over Sale in strikeouts, and since Miller records more K's than Teheran, is that enough to put the Shelbyville Shark over the top?

Not in this case.  I'm swayed towards Teheran by a more glaring metric, namely home/away splits.  Teheran missed fewer bats on the road (6.1 K/9) than he has at Turner Field (9.5 K/9) over his career, but besides the K's, he basically the same pitcher no matter where he's throwing.  Miller's home/away strikeout totals are consistent, but everything else is off --- Miller has a 4.48 ERA and 2.33 K/BB in 86 1/3 career road innings, as opposed to a sterling 1.61 ERA and 4.04 K/BB in 100 2/3 IP at Busch Stadium.  Opposing batters have a .775 OPS against Miller in their ballparks and only a .542 OPS against him in St. Louis, while Teheran is more stable, holding batters to .688 OPS in Atlanta and a .724 OPS on the road.

Is this a small thing to nitpick about an otherwise excellent young hurler?  It sure is, gang!  Yet this is all it takes to make me prefer Teheran over Miller, by a tiny margin.  I'm happy starting Teheran anywhere, whereas if Miller was on my fantasy roster, I'd certainly think twice about starting him in a tough opposing ballpark.

A note about innings, since there's increased focus on Miller's arm strength after the Cardinals essentially sat him out for the entire postseason.  I'm not worried --- Miller's combined innings counts in the majors and minors aren't increasing by leaps and bounds and I fully expect he'd be able to throw at least another 173 IP in 2014 and probably a full postseason if (when?) the Cardinals make another deep playoff run.  The Braves, by the way, have been similarly cautious about Teheran's innings and given how Teheran was torched in his lone playoff start last year, we could well be sitting here asking "why'd Atlanta shut down Teheran?" had they made a longer run.

So yeah, even the innings-increase is just about the same with these guys.  Talk about identical; I'm seeing four Krustys here!




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