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.
Winning in the NFBC involves not just selecting the right players to draft. You must also avoid the minefields, the fool’s gold, and the overpriced items. The goal of this exercise is simple. From each of the first ten rounds, select one player to avoid, because they will be a bust or perhaps merely overvalued.
1st Round - Kris Bryant – He’s currently going 9th overall (sometimes as high as 4th) and I don’t see him as the 9th most valuable fantasy player. I will concede that Bryant locks down a top tier third baseman and gets you double-digit steals. The stolen bases help to spread the speed risk if you consier that type of roster construction important. In terms of raw stats though, he falls short unless you have considerable growth built into your projections.
2nd - Buster Posey – Catchers get injured more than other position players. This leads to DL time, or even worse, they play through the injury and their numbers suffer. You also have to pay a premium for position scarcity, particularly with Buster, who belongs in the 3rd round, not the 2nd.
3rd - Todd Frazier – The former Redleg swooned towards the end of the season, hitting .220 with only ten home runs after the All-Star break. He was a late bloomer, so did the scouting reports and the league finally catch up with him? How long will it take him to adjust to American League pitching? His stolen base success rate has dipped to 62 percent. Does that mean he’ll run less? I’ll let others find out.
4th - Troy Tulowitzki – Every year, this former Coors Field slugger was a shadow of his Rockie self on the road. The Rogers Centre isn’t a pitchers park but it doesn’t have Colorado’s elevation. If that’s not enough, he’s managed to stay on the field for 140+ games just once over the past six seasons.
5th - Matt Carpenter – 28 home runs, with a previous career high of 11, at age 30? I have to see that again before I come anywhere near the 5th round (NFBC ADP: 68).
6th - Albert Pujols – The former MVP did his best Adam Dunn-lite imitation in the second half, culminating in a September below the Mendoza Line. The Angels brass blamed a foot injury for his performance and subsequent surgery that followed. It’s not clear whether on not the 36-year-old will be ready for Opening Day, and even if he is, are you willing to spend this much (NFBC ADP: 87) to secure his services?
7th - Jacoby Ellsbury – You never know what you’re getting with Ellsbury. This year, you finally get a discount, but for a player that relies on speed for much of his value at age 32, that discount isn’t enough.
8th – Ian Desmond – A declining contact rate two consecutive years and an isolated power at a four-year low do not inspire confidence. His .233 batting average was a career low and his strikeouts hit a career high of 187. What’s not to like?
9th - Andrew Miller – There are now three closers in New York, and Miller is the only southpaw. His ADP of 133 will certainly decline with Aroldis Chapman moving to the Big Apple, but it won’t decline enough.
10th - Jose Reyes – Coors Field is a nice place to call home, but it’s probably a mere temporary sojourn for "La Melaza." More importantly weighing in on the speedster’s value is the domestic abuse allegation. The league’s response to the issue lies in the wake of the NFL’s firestorm with Ray Rice. Tremendous pressure was placed on Roger Goodell to hand down a severe punishment and one has to assume similar pressure is already being placed on MLB. Until this is settled and the dust clears, I would stay away from this shortstop.
These guidelines have served me very well. There are always exceptions to the rule, but too many of them preclude an exceptional draft.
1) Ignore Spring Training statistics. Remember these 2015 spring darlings?
Mike Zunino (.352/7/0)
Mark Canha (.297/6/0)
Mike Napoli (.400/6/0)
Joc Pederson (.338/6/3)
Their ADP rose along with these spring stats. There are other examples I could post. It is just noise. Pitchers pitch differently in the spring, working on various things, tweaking their delivery, their grip, or just getting their work in and throwing x number of fastballs.
Mike Trout stole five bases and was going to increase his SB totals in 2015. What happened? They dropped from 16 to 11. The HR and SB totals in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are primarily noise, not signal.
2) Fade the hype. You WILL miss out from time to time if you go against the flow. I resolved not to draft Kris Bryant in a single league last year. The price was just too rich for my blood. In two different NFBC Main Event Drafts, the Cubs rookie was taken with the 39th pick. Going with Todd Zola’s numbers, Bryant was the 33rd most valuable fantasy player in 2015. I missed out on a little bit of value there, but given the low floor for this type of pick, I’m fine with that. I also missed out on first rounder Yasiel Puig, who was also extremely overpriced due to the hype train. Fade the hype. The busts you avoid will more than make up for the slim margins you gain here and there at high risk.
3) Fade catchers. Don’t draft a catcher in the first six rounds, and ideally you wait until at least Round 11 to take one unless a good value slips. My most successful teams have punted the tools of ignorance on draft day and looked to upgrade them on the wire during the season.
4) Don’t worry about position scarcity early in the draft. Select the best player available and don’t think about filling your roster until the double-digit rounds.
5) Walk away from the draft table with at least two elite aces. That doesn’t mean you have to draft Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw. If you know this year’s Jake Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel, that’s fine. But if you’re wrong and you have no WHIP anchors on draft day, most likely you will completely sabotage your ratios before you are able to upgrade your staff.
6) Limit downside in the first ten rounds. A lot of people think that to win a national contest, you have to take chances. There’s some truth to that, but the point is overplayed. When I won the NFBC in 2014, the foundation was comprised of boring, reliable, proven players with high floors. Limiting the number of busts in the early rounds is just as important as drafting players with high ceilings that might break out. These were the first ten picks of my 2014 National Championship team:
1st Miguel Cabrera
2nd Max Scherzer
3rd Adam Wainwright
4th Hunter Pence
5th Ian Kinsler
6th Jayson Werth
7th Josh Donaldson
8th Alfonso Soriano
10th Victor Martinez
The list is made up of little more than boring, reliable, proven veterans. The first "upside" play I made was in the 10th round. Victor Martinez was discounted due to an injury related power outage in 2013, but even if he merely repeated his performance at this "disappointing" production level, he was still underpriced. He was priced under his floor and had a sky-high ceiling to boot. There is a market bias against veterans in their 30’s. This is an error you can exploit. Once the foundation is laid, then make your move on risky players with upside.
7) Trust your gut over the opinion of experts and talking heads. Few things are worse than having the market, or experts, talk you out of a decision or a target, then realizing at the end of the season you were right in the first place.
8) Never elevate your tools above your own intellect or what your eyes tell you. Sabermetric tools are important. In fact, they are essential. BABIP, FIP, xFIP, contact rate, etc. all have to be part of the process. They can bring to light things you can’t see and make you aware of things you hadn’t or wouldn’t have thought about. They can also be a trap if you canonize them and discard your own scouting assessment when there’s a conflict.
9) Don’t be a slave to ADP. This means don’t be afraid to reach for a player if he is essential to your roster construction scheme. You don’t have to get every player at a good "value", and if you try you’ll miss out on some important pieces along the way.
10) Favor upside over backups in the closing rounds. Those that drafted Carlos Correa last year are probably fine that they may have missed out on a few days of stats because they didn’t have a backup on the bench mid-week. Sometimes the waiver wire produces more than the scraps in the 30th round.