I build most of my lineups organically. That is to say, I’m not on team math. I just watch a lot of baseball and try to catch those observable elements that are lost in the noise of commonly used stats, yet might be predictive. That’s how I qualified for Fanduel’s World Fantasy Baseball Championship Live Final in Nashville last year on a single entry into a very large qualifier. Matt Shoemaker was a dumpster fire last year early on because there was no action or movement on his splitter. Suddenly, he "found it" and became dominant, particularly at home where his fly ball tendencies didn’t cost him as much. That was my ticket to Nashville. His salary next time out didn’t reflect the fact that he was a completely different pitcher with this pitch in his arsenal now fixed. That allowed me to load up on plenty of expensive bats in great matchups.
Some things I’ve picked up:
-Target opposing pitchers that are slow to the plate for stolen bases. Yes, you can pick on the Braves catchers Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki, but even more important than catcher pop times (the time it takes from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the time the 2B/SS receives the catcher’s throw) is the time it takes the pitcher to deliver the ball to home plate. More bases are stolen off of the pitcher than the catcher.
-Hot Streaks matter. I look at the last week to ten days. Ideally, if you watch a lot of games, you can spot those guys coming out of a slump that are really starting to barrel up the ball but have been robbed at the warning track or blasts that just went foul, or line drives right at defenders. The pack goes off of box scores and won’t be on them yet.
-Batter vs. Pitcher matters, but often not in a way that is very useful. What I mean by that is some hitters definitely fare better against particular pitchers because they see the ball well coming out of their hand. The problem is BvP stats are usually packaged with a lot of noise leading us astray much of the time. Pitchers might have streaks with increased/decreased velocity, command that comes and goes, or pitches added or removed from their repertoire. You usually have to dig deeper than the stat sheet to get to the truth of the matter.
-Home and Road splits matter for the pitcher regardless of ballpark. Some pitchers are more sensitive than others, or should I say some pitchers adjust quicker/better than others, but there is some variation in the mounds from ballpark to ballpark. It affects the dynamic of pushing off and landing during delivery, which affects release point and command.
Turning our attention to Thursday’s "all-day" slate…
It’s Max Scherzer, and then everyone else. The National League Cy Young award winner at home against the Diamondbacks, who strike out a good bit. It’s going to be difficult not to eat chalk in cash, and in GPP there’s no clear, easy pivot. However, when the talent is thin at the top of the pitching slate, that’s when it makes sense in large tourneys to fade the chalk. If the chalk blows up, that gives you an edge plus a lot of extra salary to throw at hitters.
Danny Salazar leads the league in strikeout rate. Unfortunately, he racks up the pitch counts early. This year, he’s been having trouble locating his changeup early. Hitters then sit on his fastball and pound the young Indian in the early innings. At some point, he "finds" it and it’s smooth sailing from the second or third inning on. Someday soon he’s going to find it out of the gate and will post a 60+ point total on Fanduel. The problem this week is he’s on the road facing a division opponent that sees him a lot. Still, he’s the closest thing to a pivot if you want to get away from Scherzer without sacrificing upside. Ivan Nova at Great American Ball Park is also worth a look. The Pirate is safer but lacks Salazar’s K potential.
Zach Eflin has a good fastball but not much else. On top of that, when he gets behind in the count, he uses his fastball almost exclusively. That’s not a good recipe for success, and a lot of people will stack the Cubs against him. I wouldn’t say that’s a bad play, but here’s the thing. Nobody in their right mind will be using Eflin. For some odd reason, he’s been very effective living off of his fastball. The Cubs haven’t seen him before, so the first time through the order he’ll have that advantage. If you are looking for an insane punt play in a GPP opening up salary elsewhere, this is your guy. There aren’t that many quality pitching plays and if the few at the top of the ledger don’t pan out, with a little luck, Eflin could come away with 35 points and the highest upside possible from your hitters. Just don’t complain if he gets lit up because that wouldn’t be all that surprising.
My favorite bats for Thursday:
1B – Freddie Freeman, Ryan Zimmerman, Yonder Alonso
2B – Daniel Murphy, Jose Altuve, Neil Walker
3B – Jake Lamb, Yangervis Solarte, Yuli Gurriel
SS – Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor, Asdrubal Cabrera
OF – Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Billy Hamilton, Michael Brantley
Stacks to consider: Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates
The 2017 NFBC draft season is in the books. We hit the Big Apple for the first time, and returned to the Windy City the following weekend. The Main Event in New York bucked the trend of obsessing over elite starting pitching, as the elite and potentially elite arms went later than I expected. It allowed Andy Saxton, drafting from 1.6, to start off with: Nolan Arenado, Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto and Chris Archer, giving him probably the strongest team foundation in the league. It remains to be seen if Archer can repeat the level we saw him display after the All-Star break, when he improved his K/BB ratio from 2.7 to 5.4, and lowered his ERA from 4.66 to 3.25. A full season of the latter would make Team Saxton the early favorite.
It was a small turnout in Chicago this year, but there’s something special about this group. You can sense a strong sense of camaraderie among the regulars, along with a fierce competitiveness, and a depth of baseball knowledge that rivals scouts I’ve talked with. These aren’t merely stat nerds. These guys know baseball. This made it impossible to execute my plan. I had to pivot more times than a politician at a fake news conference. The most interesting plan was Rotowire’s Derek Van Riper from 1.15:
1.15 – Madison Bumgarner
2.1 – Noah Syndergaard
3.15 – Kenley Jansen
4.1 – Aroldis Chapman
Instantly envious, I wondered why I didn’t KDS 1.15 and do the same thing? ERA, WHIP, K’s, Saves are all a slam-dunk, locked up. No chasing saves on FAAB. Just sit back and construct your offense and grab an occasional pitcher that slips. Of course he’s got power and speed issues that will have to be fixed on the wire, but nobody leaves the draft table with enough stats to win the national. You will have holes; you just get to choose where they will be.
Switching gears to the NFBC Rotowire Championship and potential waiver pieces for this weekend:
Jeremy Hellickson – The market was heavily influenced by spring training stats, more so than I’ve ever seen before, despite the fact that there’s little correlation between spring training stats and regular season stats over large sample sizes. A poor spring is the only explanation I can come up with for Hellickson being available in some leagues.
Ariel Miranda – Excelled at Safeco over a small sample size last year (3.16 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) and will be rounding out the Seattle Mariners rotation while Drew Smyly is on the shelf.
Brett Anderson – Theo Epstein raved about the former Dodger this spring. The southpaw is more of a streaming/matchup option in 12-team leagues, and will take the mound for the defending World Champions.
Wily Peralta – Made some adjustments during a demotion in 2016 and returned a different hurler, posting a 2.92 ERA and a 7.4 K/9. The arsenal includes a fastball that averages 94.8 mph but at times straightens out, making it easier for hitters to square him up. Still, he's worth a stash on the cheap to see if the improvements stick.
Tyler Anderson – Yes, the Brew Crew did a number on his ERA, but I’m looking at the 8 K’s, 1 BB in 5 IP. Don’t give up on him yet.
Shelby Miller – Longtime readers know that I called last year’s implosion. When is moving to Chase Field EVER a good thing for a pitcher? And yet, he’s shown increased velocity this spring along with more life and movement on his pitches. I’m willing to pay a buck to park him on my bench and see what happens. He might be a valuable piece to plug in for road matchups.
Ryan Schimpf – Homered off Kershaw this week. If you need 30-homer power from a middle infielder, the Padres third baseman is your huckleberry. He currently qualifies at 2B but should add 3B eligibility in a couple of weeks.
Pablo Sandoval – Yes, the new, improved, leaner Kung-Fu Panda went undrafted in some leagues. He should be a useful hitter for fantasy purposes this year.
Yangervis Solarte – 20+ homers and .280 AVG at the hot corner.
We are just three weeks away from NFBC opening day weekend. The clock is ticking so let’s get to it. We’ve talked about the importance of having two elite ERA and WHIP anchors for your pitching staff. Half of that battle is picking two that will stay healthy. I’m risk averse when it comes to early pitching selections and this caution has paid dividends. Here are some high-risk pitchers I am likely avoiding in the early rounds. NFBC ADPs are in parenthesis.
Clayton Kershaw (4) – In stand-alone leagues, I want no part of the best starting pitcher on the planet. The Koufaxian Dodger has spent time on the DL in two out of the last three years due to back injuries, a total of 18 starts. I hear people just flippantly dismiss this, and certainly ADP mocks those expecting a discount. In the NFBC Main Event, if you have multiple entries and don’t mind spinning the roulette wheel right out of the gate, sure, place your chips on number 22. Just realize the wheel lands in the red roughly half the time.
Max Scherzer (11) – The Nationals ace has what’s been described as an unusual injury. Scherzer can’t grip a fastball without feeling pain, so he’s using a three-fingered grip to throw fastballs in order to get his work in. Does this sound like someone that should be throwing to you? Does this sound like someone you should invest in at 100% cost? If so, I hope you are in my league. I wouldn’t touch Scherzer with a 10-foot pole. Even if the stress fracture doesn’t end up being a problem, a throwing compensation injury could still surface. In the third or fourth round? Sure, but Mad Max is going 10th or 11th overall. No thanks.
Noah Syndergaard (19) – Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom…they all wear Mets uniforms and have had serious arm issues. The Metropolitans are not an organization I have much faith in. Thor’s velocity was down when I saw him pitch in spring training last year, beyond the "Oh, he’s just building arm strength" window. I stayed away from Noah and the entire Mets starting rotation in all leagues except a couple in which I had partners that wanted shares. The fantasy production at the end of the season was just fine, but during the summer, Syndergaard admitted to having a bone spur that required anti-inflammatory medication. Of course we’re assured that it’s minor and nothing to worry about. It’s always minor…until it isn’t.
Jake Arrieta (33) – Velocity was down 0.9 mph. FIP was up 1.17. K/9 rate was down slightly. BB/9 nearly doubled, HR/9 rate nearly doubled, and K/BB ratio cut in half. Over his last 16 starts: 4.44 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 83 K’s in 99 IP. The trends are all headed in the wrong direction. The 2015 Cy Young Award winner is sure to be an asset, but I want more out of my #1 starter.
There aren’t many reliable aces that I would trust, but the few in that circle include:
Chris Sale (21) – Fenway Park is at least a mild concern, but the former White Sox’s arm is not.
Corey Kluber (23) – 32 starts, 225+ K’s, and a sub 1.10 WHIP every year.
Madison Bumgarner (15) – A rich man’s Corey Kluber.
Jon Lester (36) – The departure of David Ross is a concern, but Lester still has a high floor.
Justin Verlander (42) – Sub 1.10 WHIP the last two years and struck out 254 last season.
Some other arms that are not for the risk averse:
James Paxton (181) – Just 46 starts over the last three seasons, all for a career WHIP of 1.28. Yippee. Ok, so the southpaw’s velocity shot up 2.6 mph, the peripherals now look great. If you draft him, you almost have to draft him assuming he’s your 10th SP, as if you’ll get nothing.
Jon Gray (183) – The Rockies still play half of their games at Coors Field, don’t they? Ok, just checking. Yes, I did recommend fellow Rockie Tyler Anderson last year and I like him to post similar numbers this year. Anderson can be had for the mere cost of a reserve round pick.
Blake Snell (235) – Those that rostered the wild youngster already know this. Those that didn’t, don’t watch or listen to his games, or you’re going to hear this over, and over, and over again: "…and the count goes to 2-0."
Cam Bedrosian (224) – A blood clot in 2016 and now lower body stiffness? Are you sure he’s healthy enough that we can anoint him the new closer before the battle even begins?
Kevin Gausman (148) – This will be Gausman’s fifth season with the Orioles. How many years will it be before the market gives up on his mysterious ceiling finally appearing? Isn’t the 10th round a high premium for something we’ve yet to see?
Anthony DeSclafani (227) – Was on my sleeper list last year but with elbow soreness he’s somebody else’s problem.
Edwin Diaz (83) – Absolutely love him. Touted him last year. Electric stuff, but a sixth-round pick for someone with only 18 career saves? No thanks. You can have him.
Zack Greinke (98) – No interest in any Greinke shares as long as he’s pitching in Arizona. WHIP on the road: 1.16. WHIP at home: 1.39.
David Robertson (125) – Off-season knee surgery packaged with a 1.36 WHIP, nearly tripled his walk rate. White Sox want to trade him to an unknown team/role. What’s not to like?
For the most part, ignore position scarcity early on and just grab the best player available. Fading catchers can be viewed as an extension of this principle, but I make special mention of them because the premium is so high with the tools of ignorance. I use scarcity as a tie-breaker, but nothing more. I've found that the edge you get at Catcher, Second Base or Shortstop due to perceived scarcity can be given right back via the inferior outfielder you draft instead in the latter rounds.
I do want to leave the early rounds with two elite aces. It’s not an absolute necessity, and if your forte is identifying this year’s Kyle Hendricks, or 2015’s Jake Arrieta, by all means feel free to grab just one early. Otherwise, the high percentage play is to get two, and this year that means somewhere in the first four rounds. Hendricks is somewhat of a quasi-ace because he’s the total package minus the strikeouts. To compete for the overall championship, I think you’re going to need somewhere between 1,420 to 1,440 K’s. If you’re carrying two closers averaging 70 punchouts apiece, you’ll need 1,300 from seven remaining pitching slots. That’s roughly 185 strikeouts per arm. Of course one can make a small dent in that by streaming two-start pitchers, but that’s a dangerous game that usually damages ERA and WHIP. Only 19 starters hit the 185-K benchmark in 2016. Tragically, one is no longer with us. Two others, Robbie Ray and Michael Pineda, will also drop a grenade on your ratios. Jon Gray makes half of his starts at high altitude where breaking balls don’t break. Drew Pomeranz is a considerable health risk. Of the 14 that remain, ADP has all but four drafted regularly in the first three rounds. High strikeout arms in latter rounds aren’t unicorns, but they’re only slightly more common, so a "punt and recover" approach to whiffs is not advised. In a perfect world, my two staff cornerstones will put me as close to 500 strikeouts as possible. Apart from that, I want boring, stale, unexciting, insipid, dull, reliable, stable veterans in the first 10 rounds, keeping my eye open for a closer value if one slips.
Another exercise I like to do before I look at ADP and fantasy magazines, before I listen to the experts and the touts, is to rank all the players by position, before my mind becomes "polluted" with the opinions of others and the gravity of ADP. These lists serve as anchors. If you have an outlier that drastically conflicts with the market, usually there’s a reason for it. It’s incredibly difficult to not become influenced by ADP or get swallowed up by groupthink. As far as ADP goes, keep in mind that as time goes by, it becomes increasingly inaccurate. Particular players will have skewed ADP from drafts before certain news or trends influenced the current market. So keep that in mind when mapping out your strategy. If you are participating in any Draft Champions leagues in preparation for the Main Event (which I highly recommend), here’s a list of some skewed ADP's to be aware of in the first 20 rounds. I’ve listed their current ADP, and where they’ve gone in recent NFBC drafts. For example: John Doe – (Current ADP), (Recent Draft), current trend.
Ian Desmond - (59), (43), up.
Mark Trumbo – (66), (62), up.
Kelvin Herrera – (116), (84), up.
Rajai Davis – (213), (188), up.
Chris Carter – (229), (244), down.
Jarrod Dyson – (293), (186), up.
Some folks are excited about not just the Coors Field effect but also the possibility of Ian Desmond gaining 1B eligibility. Mark Trumbo had been slipping considerably but his stock is back up since he’s wearing an Oriole uniform once again. Once the Royals traded Wade Davis to the Cubs, Kelvin Herrera’s value skyrocketed as the new presumptive closer. The market was worried about Rajai Davis’ role as a free agent, but the journeyman is now an Athletic. He’s poised to hit leadoff, but Oakland loves to platoon, play matchups and ride the hot hand, so be careful. Chris Carter’s extended free agency served to dampen investor enthusiasm and now talk of playing in Japan may cause the bottom to fall out of his ADP. Finally, the Jarrod Dyson trade to Seattle has the market rather optimistic about a potential increase in at-bats and obviously stolen base opportunities.
Folks, it’s time to shake off the rust, roll up your sleeves, and get to work for the 2017 baseball season. I’ve shared 10 principles I live by in the NFBC Main Event:
1. Ignore Spring Training Stats
2. Fade the Hype
3. Fade Catchers
4. Ignore position scarcity in the early rounds
5. Two elite aces anchor your staff
6. Limit downside in the first 10 rounds
7. Trust your gut over experts
8. Don’t elevate your tools above your intellect or your eyes
9. Don’t be a slave to ADP
10. Favor upside over backups in the closing rounds
Today we’re going to start with principle 2, fade the hype. No matter how many rookies or sophomores disappoint the previous season, every spring the Sirens return to lure fantasy patrons, only to have their shiny new toys dashed upon the rocks as the season unfolds. Yasiel Puig has claimed victims two consecutive years. Carlos Correa commonly went in the early first round last year based on one half year of production. Maikel Franco came nowhere close to living up to his draft position. Miguel Sano, Ken Giles, Chris Archer…the list of no longer shiny old island of misfit-bust toys is long. Yes, Mookie Betts worked out well, but there is also a lot of carnage in the fantasy hype realm. Who is everyone chasing this year?
Here are some hyped players that don’t have a long enough track record for me to warrant the market’s price:
Trea Turner (ADP-13, as high as 8)
Carlos Correa (ADP-17, as high as 12)
Corey Seager (18, 15)
Gary Sanchez (45, 36)
David Dahl (91, 77)
Alex Bregman (96, 77)
Willson Contreras (98, 84)
Somebody on this list will earn their draft day cost. The majority will not. You can stray from the reservation every once in a while and get away with it, but the best formula for success in the Main Event is to avoid land mines in the early rounds. I will do my best to have zero shares of any of these players. Once in a while, roster construction and position runs might force me to make an exception, or I might try something unconventional in a Draft Champions format, but for the most part I will avoid having these names on my rosters.
So, who is the exception to the rule? Possibly Jose Ramirez. He only hit 11 homers in 2016. I don’t know if he will harness it this year, but there’s latent power in that bat. I called Joe Mauer’s power breakout back in 2009, and we could see something similar from the Indians sophomore. You can’t draft him assuming a similar breakout, but one of these years it’s going to happen, and I think once he taps into the power, he’ll keep it.
Next on the list is fading catchers. This one is pretty straightforward. The opportunity costs are just too great when you try to land a stud such as Buster Posey. The edge you gain at catcher you give back at whatever position you faded in order to take a catcher early. Not to mention catchers are injury prone, either spending time on the disabled list or playing hurt, so there is more variance in their statistics. Gary Sanchez presents an interesting problem. A lot of people will write off his 20-homer burst at the end of 2016 as an unrepeatable fluke. I at least partially disagree. It wasn’t a fluke. Batted ball data tells us that Sanchez produced so well because he squared up the ball well and it flew. That’s the result of skill, not luck. The problem is that baseball is a game of adjustments. Eventually, pitchers will find a hole to exploit. The question then becomes how long will it take for the hitter, in this case the Yankees’ star in the making, to adjust? My general rule of thumb is to not take a catcher in the first 10 rounds. Most teams aren’t going to have studs donning the tools of ignorance. So, slumming it at catcher during the reserve rounds doesn’t set you back that much, and it also sets you up for significant profit if you can work some magic on the wire, like many who picked up Willson Contreras or the prodigious Yankee rookie last year.
I don’t recall a more volatile time in the fantasy closer market than what’s transpired over the last two weeks approaching the trade deadline, and the hits keep coming. The carousel has to stop at some point and time may be running out to pick up an asset to help in this scarce rotisserie resource. Let’s look at some prime targets as we head into the weekend.
Edwin Diaz has recorded 52 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched this year while issuing just eight free passes. He’s even improved his K/BB ratio to 40/4 K/BB over his last 18 appearances. Queue the Dellin Betances comparisons, at least on paper. Diaz’s heater gets up to triple digits, and regularly sits in the high 90’s. Tuesday night, the flamethrower threw 13 straight fastballs before pulling out a slider. Truth be told, he doesn’t need a secondary pitch. This rookie is highly animated on the mound and fun to watch, and if you need to make up ground in saves, the Mariners’ newly anointed closer could put up elite numbers if he can handle the pressure of pitching in the ninth inning.
Huston Street just hit the 15-day disabled list, this time due to knee inflammation. At this point, it seems as though he’s being held together with scotch tape. In his stead, Cam Bedrosian struck out the side to chalk up his first career save. The 24-year-old leans heavily on the fastball, occasionally mixing in a quality slider 10-12 mph slower than his main offering. It’s enough to keep hitters from sitting on his fastball and also keeps runners off the base paths. The Angels of Anaheim don’t figure to have as many save opportunities as the Mariners, so Diaz is worth the higher FAAB bid.
Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith have left Miller Park for greener pastures, leaving a void that will be filled by a veteran failed starter, turned reliever. Tyler Thornburg doesn’t strike out two batters per inning, but a closer with 61 K’s in a little under 44 innings of work is a nice asset to find on the wire. The repertoire doesn’t blow you away at first glance, but by mixing locations and even changing speeds with his curve, opposing hitters have enough to think about to keep them off balance.
If you blinked, you may have missed Will Harris’ short stint as the Houston Astros closer. That means front office brass can finally anoint their favorite son as the closer. They didn’t want Luke Gregerson closing, but given Ken Giles’ poor spring showing, they had no choice. Houston’s prized off-season acquisition seemingly took forever to make it through the rough waters early in the season, but it’s actually been smooth sailing for awhile now. Dating back to May 9th, the former Phillie has compiled a 1.74 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 47 strikeouts across 31 innings.
Through the beginning of June, Reds closer Tony Cingrani had compiled a 1.48 WHIP and five blown saves. He then stopped using his slider and used only his four-seam fastball and the occasional changeup. The fruits have been a 1.33 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is a sad 10/6 over that stretch, but fans aren’t complaining since the southpaw is no longer blowing saves left and right. This makes mining for nuggets in the Reds bullpen less enticing if you’re only after saves. Still, Raisel Iglesias is worth a look to boost your ratios. Since coming off the disabled list on June 21st, the Reds sophomore boasts a 0.38 ERA and 0.72 WHIP in 23.2 IP over 12 appearances.
Following being put on the shelf for the entire 2014 season and most of 2015 while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, A.J. Griffin became less than an afterthought in most mixed leagues. This overlooked Ranger doesn’t throw hard and outside of a nasty curveball, the rest of the pitch repertoire underwhelms. But with the ultra slow curve and its speed differential from the fastball, opponents' timing is disrupted enough to keep runs from crossing the plate. The soft-tosser hasn’t given up more than three runs in a start since September 6th of 2013, and over 56 career starts, he’s only given up more than four runs thrice. That’s useful during the hot summer months when ERA and WHIP bombs are plentiful at the back end of your fantasy rotation.
If you are tired of the beating your ratios are getting by pitching marginal starters, Michael Feliz is available in most leagues. The flamethrower has vultured five wins already as he’s frequently tasked to pitch multiple innings in close games. With 2.4 K’s per appearance, think of him as a poor man’s Dellin Betances.
I might regret saying this about a pitcher calling Coors Field his home, but Tyler Anderson’s string of quality starts isn’t a fluke. His ability to keep the ball down with late downward movement has placed the rookie among the league leaders in ground ball percentage. A hitch in the former first round pick’s delivery adds deception. The young Rockie is still available in numerous leagues largely because he pitches in Denver. Obviously, any pitcher in this zip code comes with at least a modicum of risk, but I’m not afraid to roster him.
Eddie Rosario has been a huge disappointment this year. Gaffes in the outfield and a brutal 3/32 BB/K ratio have made him a free agent even in some 15-team leagues. He may not be ready for starting lineups yet, but put Rosario on your radar. He’s turned things around with a .881 OPS, seven homers and five steals over 41 games at Rochester. There’s 20-20 upside if he can make enough contact to stay in the lineup.
Jose Peraza was called up to replace Billy Hamilton while in the concussion protocol. Hamilton is back but Bryan Price has continued to find ways to work Peraza’s bat, and speed, into the Reds lineup, starting at least half the time and pinch hitting on his off days. In a dozen starts since his June 15th callup, the former Braves prospect has nine thefts without getting caught. Jose will likely add qualification at SS and OF soon as Price moves the Reds utility player around. Depending on how desperate you are for steals, the youngster might be worth a stash and possibly the occasional spot start. If an injury opens up an everyday spot, you’ve just hit a yahtzee.
Knuckleballers are unpredictable and R.A. Dickey is no exception, being somewhat at the mercy of how well his unconventional pitch offering is dancing. After the All-Star break in 2015, the 41-year-old former Cy Young recipient posted a 2.80 ERA along with an 8-1 record. The run support obviously will be there. Since the start of June, Dickey has a 2.89 line over seven starts. Coming out of the break, Toronto will travel to Oakland to face the Athletics, and host San Diego and Tampa Bay the first couple of weeks.
Junior Guerra is still floating around in a few 12-team leagues. It’s understandable to not trust a 31-year-old rookie. All I can tell you is that his slider and his nasty changeup have nice late downward movement that will continue to induce swings and misses as long as they are well located. Guerra is worth the roster space.
Logan Morrison is one of the more inconsistent players in the league. When LoMo goes cold, it’s like walking in Antarctica in shorts. Through the middle of May, the former Marlin sported a stat line most pitchers would be ashamed of (.119-3-0-0-1). It forced the one-time Mariner to look at some film and make a very simple adjustment: stop swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone. The fruits of only swinging at strikes over the last 15 games: .440-11-3-11-3 and a 1.149 OPS. How long will it last? It won’t last forever, but there’s nothing wrong with riding the wave.
Pat Dean is the prototypical finesse lefty that lacks velocity. The soft-tosser gets by with changing speeds, eye-level, pitching in-out-up-down, and location. The rookie’s velocity tops out at about 90 mph, so any mistakes get punished. If you are set in your ratios but need to chase strikeouts and wins, the southpaw is definitely a streaming option in good matchups. Keep in mind the risks if you don’t have sufficient ERA and WHIP anchors on your roster.
Coco Crisp is no longer a spring chicken, and I know that in 12-team mixed formats, outfielders grow on trees. But Crisp is just three years removed from a 20-20 season and is capable of posting those rate stats if played in the right matchups. Over the next five weeks, the Athletics centerfielder gets matchups against the Brewers, the Reds, and the Twins. If you have the roster space, Oakland’s leadoff hitter is worth plugging into your lineup.
Doug Fister is still unowned in some leagues. The high walk rate, low strikeout rate, and 5.06 FIP are concerning. Still, after a rough start, this right-hander has posted a 3.06 ERA, with a ground ball rate that is back up to nearly 50%, which erases some of the free passes. Houston will start winning games eventually, making Fister a serviceable streaming option. Besides, how many #9 starters in your fantasy rotation have given up more than three runs only once this season?
The Phillies believe in Tommy Joseph enough to make him their cleanup hitter, sending Ryan Howard to the pine. In a small 27-game sample at Triple-A, the Rookie slashed .347/.370/611, leaving the yard six times in 95 at-bats.
Cody Anderson has been a huge disappointment this year after a successful rookie campaign and displaying increased velocity during spring training. After a dominating performance at US Cellular Field, the Indians sophomore was sent back down to Triple-A Columbus, but Trevor Bauer’s smoke and mirrors act is nearing its end. Anderson is worth a stash in 15-team formats. Keep him on your radar in 12-team leagues looking to his imminent recall.
Byron Buxton is worth a roster spot in 15-team leagues because of his upside. He’ll likely be a hot commodity in the Rotowire Championship after taking Danny Santana’s spot on the Twins' active roster. I’m going to pass due to the abundance of outfielders and the rookie’s alarming 26/2 strikeout to walk ratio. Not all prospects hit the ground running.
Luis Valbuena is a streaky, left-handed power bat, capable of 30 home runs over 162 games, but you’ll only want him in your lineup against right-handed pitchers. With bi-weekly moves, if you punted your corner infield spot on draft day and are struggling for pop in your lineup, he might be worth a bench spot, serving as part of a platoon in good matchups. He gets the Rangers in Arlington and the Reds pitching staff at home over the next two weeks.
Major league teams stole 360 bases and were caught stealing 171 times in the first month of the 2016 season. By the end of April last year, there were 382 swipes and 152 unsuccessful attempts. Roughly the same number of attempts, but when adjusted for games played we notice that we’re seeing about .51 SB’s per game, down from .57 per game out of the gates in 2015. Attempts per game are down as well from .80 to .75 stolen base attempts per game, though over the course of the full season, we saw .73 steals per contest. Using more economical language, we could summarize by saying SB’s are still scarce and eliminating Dee Gordon from the equation makes them scarcer. In 15-team mixed leagues, it is difficult to find much help, and if you do, it might be at the wrong position. Let’s say you found that 25 HR hitter on the wire, but what good does that do you if you have to bench Billy Burns to fit those HR’s into your lineup?
This is why you need to pay attention to bi-weekly lineup moves and scrutinize matchups to maximize your production, squeezing more power and speed from a couple of lineup spots via mixing and matching.
Billy Hamilton isn’t running much this year. The Redlegs’ speed demon attempted more thefts in the first three games of last season than through his first 23 games this year, in which we’ve seen only five attempts, this despite nearly identical batting averages and on- base percentages. Bryan Price has removed the mystery behind these numbers on multiple occasions when he’s talked about pitchers' time to home plate as a key factor determining whether or not Cincinnati is aggressive on the base paths. Now, I don’t know of a database available to the public that lists time to home plate. I do know that Noah Syndergaard is notoriously slow to home. Guess what? Two of Hamilton’s five stolen bases came in the same game versus Syndergaard. The only other three swipes came against pitchers that ranked in the top 43 in stolen bases allowed in 2015. Click here for the full chart.
Jon Lester leads the pack in stolen bases allowed because he has a fear of throwing over to first base. He gets the yips, so runners can take as big of a lead as they like. Lester will not hold the runner. Why more teams don’t exploit this glaring weakness boggles the mind, but opposing the Cubbies ace remains the best source of streaming steals in your hitting lineup. As one would target hitters facing weak pitchers, developing a short list of pitchers slow to the plate can help with your mid-week lineup decisions.
Waiver Wire Nuggets
Alex Meyer has a knuckle curve he serves up around 83-85 mph that locks hitters up, and a blazing fastball with lots of movement that he dials up to 97-98 mph. The rookie has the tools to disrupt hitters' timing and rack up the K’s. The 6’9” right-hander will boost your K’s but blow up your WHIP until he gains better command. If you’re desperate for K’s, a $1 flier is warranted for his upside, but he should remain on your bench or even on the wire until the walks go down and the pitch location improves.
AJ Griffin may still be available in your Rotowire Championship Leagues. The former Athletic mixes speeds well, upsetting hitters' timing, generating solid ratios and a decent K rate. His fastball sits under 90 mph, so he needs to be on, but no reason not to ride this train while it lasts.
Adam Morgan was highlighted here during the preseason when he was finally showing increased velocity following shoulder surgery performed back in 2014. Charlie Morton’s injury has paved the way for the former top Phillies prospect to join the rotation. Every time I’ve seen the lefty pitch, all he’s done is induce weak contact. There won’t be many strikeouts here, so there will be nights when the BABIP dragons wreak their havoc, but this southpaw might be a serviceable fantasy asset in 15-team leagues.
This year the NFBC’s Main Event market has shifted from a mere focus on pitching to a near obsession. Those that kicked against the goads and opted for a contrarian hitting plan were no doubt left wanting unless they were fortunate enough to land Roberto Osuna and Luke Gregerson, and even then they may be forced to semi-punt strikeouts as the elite strikeout options typically dried up mid to late 3rd round. If you drafted at the end of the 1st round and opted to go with two hitters in rounds one and two, suddenly you were faced with the stark realization that you had dug an enormous hole in whiffs. At the end of the 9th all of the reliable closer options had left the building.
Most of what’s on the waiver wire is pretty ugly, and also dangerous for your ratios, but with a little skill and a lot of luck, you can minimize the damage and find a few gems if you turn over the right stones.
Tony Zych – Small sample sizes, but the Mariner rookie posted elite K/BB ratios in his first season with Seattle (24/3 in 18 IP) and in spring training (81/1 in 9.2 IP). Joaquin Benoit is the setup man and supposedly the next man up if Steve Cishek doesn’t perform well or stay healthy. Zych could end up in the role eventually and in the meantime act as a poor man’s Dellin Betances, helping in ERA and WHIP and avoiding the potential disasters of having scrubs in your starting pitching lineup. Similarly Adam Warren on the north side of Chicago could fill a similar role.
Adam Morgan – This spring he looked ready for prime time. Repeating his delivery of multiple pitches from the same arm slot and inducing nothing but weak contact. The former 3rd round pick features a changeup that sits around 82 mph, a fastball that sits at 92 mph, and a curve from the same angle again at 82 mph. His arm speed seemed about the same so the hitters weren’t tipped off as to what was coming. Think of a rich man’s Charlie Morton and temper your Win expectations on an offensively challenged Phillies team and you won’t be disappointed.
Sean Manaea – Injury prone and a little raw, this 6’5” southpaw has been largely overlooked this draft season. He’s a little injury prone and needs to use his secondary pitches more, but when opportunity knocks there’s a lot of upside here. Injuries to Felix Dourbront, Henderson Alvarez and Jarrod Parker, along with Jesse Hahn’s and Rich Hill’s command problem should create an opening in the Athletics rotation soon.
Alfredo Simon – I drafted this Cincinnati Red Leg in every 15 team Main Event draft. If he regains his 2014 form (3.44 ERA/1.21 WHIP) he’s a great no-risk #9 filler or streaming option while you trove the wire for better options.
Cody Anderson – Still probably floating around in some 12-team leagues. He shouldn’t be. The former 14th round pick posted a nifty 3.05 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. Of course, that doesn’t reflect his 4.34 FIP or his low BABIP. None of that matters because he’s added a few ticks on his fastball. It’s cliché to say that someone is in the ‘best shape of his life,’ but that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes that actually happens. When a finesse hurler starts touching 97 mph, the wise will take notice. It should be noted that Carlos Carrasco attributes part of his recent success to tips he’s learned from working with Corey Kluber, who acts as a second coach and mentor to others that seek his advice. When I hear others ridicule team chemistry, I don’t try to change their mind. I just smile, affirm how right they are, and invite them to join my fantasy league.
Chris Young – the soft tosser extraordinaire just keeps racking up quality starts and decent ratios. His FIP and xFIP are always terrible. That’s what he does. Don’t let your tools fool you. The strikeouts are too low to be a weekly fixture in your lineup, but there’s 2-start streaming value here, which is important in a tournament with 1,644 teams competing for the most Wins and K’s.
Tanner Roark – with Dusty Baker in town to fix team chemistry, Washington should rack up the wins this year, with ‘Roark Flair’ gathering his fair share.
Jake Peavy – I don’t know why this veteran with a 1.12 WHIP pitching for a World Series contender is rotting on the waiver wire in some leagues.
Doug Fister – his velocity is back up to 90 mph. The next question is can this groundball specialist get his GB% back up over 50%.
Drew Pomeranz – this former first round pick flashed his potential in Oakland’s Coliseum back in 2012. His fantasy arrow is pointed up now with the potential of 16 starts at sea level with more break on his pitches and a bump in strikeouts, if he can stay healthy.
FIP, xFIP, and SIERA are all useful tools to keep in your toolbox. Ignore them at your own peril, but don’t overestimate their importance. Never assume your tools are smarter than you are. I prefer xFIP because it normalizes a pitcher’s home run rate. I think that makes the most sense when looking into the crystal ball to see what lies ahead. With that out of the way…
Possible xFIP Land Mines and Disappointments
Marco Estrada (ADP – 262) is not going to repeat his 3.13 ERA (4.93 xFIP). How does a pitcher that led the majors in home runs yielded take that resume to the Rogers Centre and shave more than a run off of his ERA? By leading the league with the lowest BABIP (.216). A 79% strand rate didn’t hurt either. To a limited extent, pitcher BABIP is a skill. Estrada has a rising fastball that induces weak contact, contributing to his career .261 BABIP. The regression won’t be as painful as some might expect, but it will hurt a little.
Shelby Miller (ADP – 163) pitched much closer to his 4.07 xFIP than his 3.02 ERA. He won’t be able to sustain his 6.4% HR rate at Chase Field, and there’s zero chance I’m investing an 11th round pick on this Diamondback.
Scott Kazmir (ADP – 190) would normally have a caution flag attached to him with a 4.14 xFIP outpacing his 3.10 ERA, but a move to the National League and the elimination of facing a designated hitter should even things out.
Jake Arrieta (ADP – 21) is an ace no matter how you slice it, but his 2.61 xFIP indicates that he was simply Cy Young worthy, not a super hero with special powers (1.77 ERA). He won’t strand 80% of hitters again, nor repeat his 7.8% HR rate, but he will still be one of the best WHIP anchors you could choose for your staff.
Zack Greinke (ADP – 35) is another Chase Field transplant who will see his 7.3% HR rate spike. Ignore last year’s 1.66 ERA and expect something along the lines of his 3.22 xFIP this year.
David Price (ADP – 35) has always pitched well in the AL East. I’m not worried about the move to Fenway either after his brilliance in the Rogers Centre a season ago. However, Price will not repeat his 2.45 ERA, and something closer to his 3.24 xFIP is what you should project for 2016. Solid, dependable, but not the value you might think he is if you focus on his surface stats.
John Lackey (ADP – 175) posted a 2.77 ERA, the lowest of his career, at age 36. An xFIP of 3.77 says it won’t happen again. Theo Epstein knows what he is doing, but are you sure you want to invest a 12th round pick on this new Cubbie?
Chris Sale’s (ADP – 24) xFIP of 2.60 might argue that Sale was just as good as Jake Arrieta in 2015. An avulsion fracture and a sprained ankle also led to a rocky April for the South Sider. His arrow is pointing up heading into 2016.
Carlos Carrasco (ADP – 48) gave up the long ball a little too often (13.2% HR/FB), which in part led to an inflated 3.63 ERA. If you have faith in his 2.66 xFIP, you’ll tab Carrasco as a worthy investment. Keep in mind that the Tribe’s offense projects to be weak again this year, so run support and lack of Wins will continue to be a problem.
Kyle Hendricks (ADP – 224) should see his 3.95 ERA fall after posting a 3.25 xFIP in his first full season on the North Side. The new video boards have reportedly affected wind patterns, but depending on whom you ask, reports on the impact differ. Hendricks saw his HR/FB% rise last year along with the rest of the staff.