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Sunday 22nd Oct 2017

Do you want to learn Mastersball's tricks of the trade to win at the NFBC?  The Masters of the NFBC is the place.

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.

Rotowire Championship

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?

xFIP Boosters

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.

8thIan 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.

Honorable mentions: Ryan Braun, Corey Dickerson, Michael Brantley.


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.

puig_bad2) 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

9th Jonathan Papelbon

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.

It’s been awhile since fantasy pitching staffs have experienced this much rotisserie carnage in such a short time frame: Lance McCullers, Mike Bolsinger, Vincent Velasquez, A.J. Burnett, Chris Young and others have lost their rotation spots for one reason or another. Let’s look at some arms that might patch these holes in your NFBC team’s rotation.

Keyvius Sampson features an average fastball sitting 90-92 mph, topping out occasionally at 93 with decent command. A changeup from 85-86, and wild breaking ball coming in at 75-78 mph were on display Sunday at Great American Ball Park. A glaring sun might have played into the rookie’s five strikeouts in the first couple of innings. Early on, his four-seamer was flat, and appeared very hittable. Towards the third inning, it started to flash a little run just before hitting his battery mate’s mitt. I would stay away unless your staff is pretty thin. In a hitter’s ballpark and lacking command of off-speed pitches, this Redleg is too wet behind the ears to make him a worthy investment.

Daniel Norris comes to the Motor City from the Blue Jays with some disappointing numbers to this point. He flashed his potential in the spring before struggling once the games started to count. His 41 walks in just 90 innings at Triple-A Buffalo are a concern, and yet when you see his stuff, it is difficult not to get excited about what he could do if he were to recapture the command he had at the end of 2014. In his first game in a Tigers uniform, his fastball topped out at 93, but seemed to explode out of his hand and finish with late life. There is risk here and I might treat him more as a stash and hold than an immediate start depending on your depth, but he’s a lottery ticket with some upside in the American League Central.

Chris Bassitt is a 6’5” right-hander with a great 12-6 curveball and a very good fastball, which at times has late life that should induce a lot of weak contact, breaking away from lefties or jamming right-handed hitters. Obviously, wins may be a problem with Oakland’s anemic offense, but not for lack of quality starts. After establishing his four-seamer early on, he mixes speed, location, and action. Opposing hitters will see offerings ranging anywhere from 69 mph (curve) to 94 mph, so disrupting hitters’ timing should not be a problem. The Coliseum will produce a few more popups than average with its spacious foul territory. He’s probably taken in larger leagues, but the former White Sox hurler should still be available in a few 12-team formats.

Aaron Brooks posted a 43.88 ERA and 5.63 WHIP last year with the Kansas City Royals. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that he’s a little bit better than that. The sophomore’s changeup comes in 10-11 mph slower than this straight fastball, which also comes in towards the plate in a nice downward plane. Nice if you’re an Athletics fan that is. His breaking stuff doesn’t have much movement, so command of his changeup is crucial. The former Royal doesn’t give away many free passes, and the large ballpark in Oakland is certainly a plus. He has an interesting 75 mph curve that he used only rarely. If he worked it in just a little bit more, but not enough that hitters could sit on the pitch (it is hittable if you know it’s coming), it would add more depth to his repertoire and keep hitters off balance.

The hype train that has preceded Luis Severino has been loud, so you don’t need me to tell you he’s good. FAAB is essentially a crapshoot in the NFBC. It’s unpredictable with no discernible patterns. About the only thing you can be sure of is that the hotshot Yankee rookie will be Sunday’s highest priced FAAB commodity. Bring your wallet if it’s not already empty. Keep in mind, however, that he is a right-hander, so he’ll have to face some tough lefties in Yankee Stadium who will welcome him to the show just like David Ortiz did last night. Of course, that’s nitpicking a bit.

We’re halfway through the NFBC Season. If you drafted enough hitting on draft day, your rotation was probably left wanting. Most of us still have some holes to plug. Valuable assets aren’t cheap, but if you overspend, you limit the number of darts you can throw over the course of the season. It’s no secret who the big spenders will be targeting this weekend: the lefty that hails from Citi Field. Will he be worth it?

Early on, the Metropolitans had Steven Matz working on his fastball command. Brandon Phillips saw five straight four-seam fastballs all coming in at 95-96 mph. The last two placed roughly in the same location. The Reds leadoff hitter welcomed the rookie to the show by lining a home run just over the marker in left center field. No surprise given the consistent velocity and location. It was all too easy, but that was the only gift the Reds bats would receive Sunday evening. Effectively wild is an accurate description, though probably misleading if you didn’t see the game. No question the Reds hitters felt uneasy as Matz frequently overthrew, disrupting his release point and consequently missing his target by up to two feet or more. The Red Leg hitters didn’t know if the next fastball would land in their ear or explode on the inside or outside corner of the plate. Normally, this would be a concern, but it became evident that all that the youngster had to do was take about 1 mph off the next fastball to command it over the plate.

Matz features a straight, lively fastball that sits 95-96, an effective curve with inconsistent command that clocks anywhere from 75-80 mph, and an occasional change-up ranging from 84-87. He has the ingredients to effectively disrupt the hitter’s timing. Can he consistently put these ingredients together? His command could be a problem. Time will tell. Todd Frazier’s solo blast came off a pitch Matz failed to command, missing away when Johnny Monell had set up inside, but it isn’t as though Matz gave Frazier a cookie. The youngster was rather emotional, visibly upset after walks and homers, more so than average. It appeared that may have played into his fourth inning walk right after Frazier’s moonshot, though that’s mere conjecture on my part.

The 2009 second-round pick is very quick off the mound, which might not seem like a big factor, but he fields his position well and should be able to limit infield hits near the mound, or take a couple away, as it were. His command improved slightly as the game wore on. By locating his off-speed pitches better, he should be able to induce enough ground balls. However, if such command evades him, hitters will sit on his fastball. At this level, that could make home runs a problem, although this may be mitigated by the wildness of his four-seamer. In summary, I’m giving a buy recommendation with the normal caveats that accompany first-year starters.

Other waiver dregs to consider:

If you have dead roster space, J.J. Hoover and Drew Pomeranz are worth a buck in case Aroldis Chapman or Tyler Clippard get traded. Starters to consider include Cody Anderson, Matt Andriese, Williams Perez and Wade Miley.


In his first major league at-bat, Joey Gallo hit a hard two-hopper right at Adam LaRoche. The White Sox first baseman misplayed the grounder as it rolled passed him and into right field. Maybe there was some home cooking in Arlington Tuesday night, or perhaps I just don’t understand what’s going on in the minds of some official scorers. It was scored a base hit, albeit a questionable one. What isn’t questionable is the fact that Bryce Harper’s Little League teammate will cost a not so small FAAB fortune this weekend if you want to acquire his fantasy services. What if you don’t want to wait until a waiver prospect’s price is through the roof to go after him? Or what if you’ve burned through your budget and need some bargain pickups to plug some holes?

Eddie Rosario was scooped up in numerous leagues the last two weeks, but he remains available in others. I saw him in the Arizona Fall League last year. Love his swing and the way the ball sounds coming off his bat. He has a 15 HR, 15 SB ceiling and comes with some batting average risk.

Hanser Alberto has four career games as a major leaguer. He’s also riding a four-game hitting streak. He’s got no real power to speak of and he won’t steal more than a dozen bases. However, if you’re like me and stuck with scrubs posting 2-for-27 performances every other week, you might find this Ranger middle infielder useful as long as he continues to get at-bats.

Nick Ahmed isn’t exactly a recommendation, but it has to be mentioned that he’s slashing .317/.339/.550 over the last three weeks, stats similar to his Triple-A line last year. He’s capable of swiping 20 bags if he gets on base enough. In a very small sample size, he’s crushed lefties and struggled against right-handed pitching. If he can make some adjustments, he could turn into a serviceable player.

Javier Baez may still be on the wire, and his bat may just be the fastest on the planet. Of course, that does little good if you can’t make contact. Javier has cut down on the strikeouts a little bit, the Cubs have seven games with a DH in June, Baez is scheduled to move to third base this week and Kris Bryant has now made four starts in the outfield. Just connect the dots.

 Tyler Cravy is a soft-tosser that uses command along with mixing pitch types and location to get by. His first outing was rather effective, but after watching him pitch he might be more of a Shaun Marcum tease than a fantasy asset. His four-seam fastball sat right at 89-90 mph throughout the night and appeared straight, with almost no movement. He has a looping curve that ranges from 82-85 mph and sits at 84. He also sports an 83 mph pitch with a slight, straight downward sink, which I’m guessing is a two-seamer. He barely used that pitch. A 5-8 mph differential between your fastball and your off-speed stuff doesn’t bode particularly well for long-term success. To his credit, the rookie located his curveball low and away against right-handed hitters and worked his fastball inside. That can compensate for off-speed stuff that’s not much slower than your fastball. He struggled a little with his release point early on, but later settled in, gaining confidence as the evening wore on and even adding a little life on his four-seamer, topping out at 91 mph. For whatever reason, Cardinal hitters weren’t seeing him well. Weak contact and a couple of broken bats were all St. Louis could muster most of the evening. Also working against both offenses was a strike zone the size of an ocean. I don’t know if home plate umpire Joe West had a dinner date or if he just needs to make another visit to his optometrist, but it’s no surprise that those in attendance saw only one run cross home plate. Cravy was optioned back to Colorado Springs after the game. His current Triple-A status and the lack of wins in Milwaukee mean that you might be able to land him for a buck.

Andrew Heaney has struck out 51 and walked 13 in 56 innings for the Salt Lake Bees. If he is available in your league and you don’t like spending the $200-$300+ it takes to land the latest hot pitching target, you might be able to add the former Marlins prospect for a buck.

Daily Notes for Thursday

The home/road splits for Erasmo Ramirez are about as extreme as it gets. That makes Mariner hitters an interesting stack. Lefty Gio Gonzalez, another pitcher that struggles on the road, travels to the Friendly Confines, where he’s unlikely to get a friendly greeting from any of the young Cubs sluggers. The North Side stack is in play.

If you’ve never drafted in the Windy City, you are missing out. There’s nothing quite like a live draft and the camaraderie. I remember talking strategy to Chicago veteran David Van Der Stuyf after the Main Event on Saturday, contrasting heavy hitting vs. heavy pitching approaches. It truly is a pick your poison proposition. Sure, there’s plenty of pitching to be found on the wire...eventually. The challenge is finding and acquiring those pitchers before your ratios are destroyed. It doesn’t take long. Let’s look at some pitchers that have sabotaged those ratios in the early going and try to figure out if they can turn it around. We'll also check in on some other prospects to track in the coming days as we try to separate the wheat from the chaff.

It’s easy to look at Bud Norris track record and dismiss last year as an outlier. ERA today is not what it was two or even three years ago. The strike zone is expanding; consequently ERA’s and WHIP’s are falling. Even if pitchers were static entities that never changed (they aren’t), we still shouldn’t expect them to regress to a baseline formed around a different set of rules. In this case, a different strike zone and a brave new world of defensive shifts. Time will tell but Norris can be another boring, serviceable piece once he gets the kinks worked out. I love boring and productive assets. Note that he was especially useful at home last year (2.44 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). The velocity is fine and with better command, better days lie ahead.

NFBC owners have grown tired of the lumps they’ve received from Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza. Lohse has posted a WHIP of 1.17 or lower four consecutive seasons. Which should you give more weight to? Four years of steady production or one bad month to start the season? Garza is the other Brewer cast upon the wire. Don’t be that guy, and grab him if someone else makes that mistake.

Jered Weaver’s velocity has crept slightly back up to 84, but it's still down about two ticks from 2014. That should terrify his fantasy owners. Last time I checked, my fastball sat at 75 mph. Jeff’s younger brother is simply unplayable right now until/if that velocity comes back. If you are burning a roster spot here, you’re betting that it does. You can only finesse so much.

Who might be able to fill in until these guys turn it around? In the coming days, there are a few prospects I’ll be watching to see if I should make a bid:

Michael Lorenzen was not so impressive in his first start. In the first couple of innings, he didn’t mix speeds well. When you fail to do that, it’s easy for opposing hitters to time things up, and that’s exactly what an ice-cold Milwaukee Brewers lineup did. Everything was crushed, both hits and outs, and he served up three homers in just five innings pitched. He started working in his changeup later on and had some success (five strikeouts), but most every contact seemed to be scorched. He yielded just three earned runs but it should have been much worse. I didn’t see his second start that yielded only one run. He travels to the south side to face the White Sox on Sunday.

The Houston Astros may be the latest "smartest team in baseball" and are doing their best to transform Roberto Hernandez back into the old Fausto Carmona. He may be useful as a #9 starter that steals a few wins while you wait for other pitchers with more upside. Token bids only here.

Injuries in the Dodgers stable have opened the door of opportunity for a number of younger arms. Joe Wieland got roughed up right out of the gates in his first career start. Mike Bolsinger is probably next in line if Wieland continues to struggle. Carlos Frias tops out just under 100 mph but remains a risk due to lack of off-speed offerings. It doesn’t seem that he varies speeds frequently enough to disrupt a hitter's timing. The differential between his fast and "slow" pitches is minimal. Perhaps good location and deception will be enough. Good win potential here.

One of my partners, Dale Morgan, picked up Chase Whitley in two of our auction leagues. His dominating line at the Rogers Centre certainly got my attention. While I remain unconvinced that he can keep this up, I will watch his next start with great interest to see if he’ll pull a Shane Greene. He’s still available in some NFBC leagues.

The first weekend of NFBC drafts is in the books, and there were no shortage of surprises. The high stakes fantasy baseball market is a crazy, volatile place to swim, filled with sharks. I almost named this piece "Bold Predictions", but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Somewhere between prediction and possibility, there are some things that wouldn’t surprise me that have me zagging against the market.

1) Kris Bryant doesn’t make it to Wrigley Field until June. I’ve heard endless talk about Bryant and why he’ll be called up in mid-April at the latest. I’ve yet to hear a single compelling reason to think this is anything more than conjecture. When you guess, sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong. Guessing in the 20th round is one thing, in the fifth round in the NFBC Main is another. When my name was called in the fifth, the shiniest toy of the 2015 draft season was gone. If I wanted Bryant, I needed to place that bet with a fourth round ticket. I’ve heard a lot of interviews with Theo Epstein over the years. He’s a businessman that makes business decisions. He also has a conservative philosophy about developing and promoting players. Part of that process is a belief the players his organization is developing should see a certain number of AB’s at the minor league level. Could he make an exception with Bryant? Sure he could, but the rookie is being drafted as though an April call-up is guaranteed, and we haven’t even gotten to the lack of track record against major league pitching in games that count. Apologists point to Mike Trout, but even he hit .220 his first season (40 games). The Cubs believe Bryant has fielding deficiencies at third base and have experimented with moving him to the outfield. Think that will all be resolved in two weeks? Are you fully convinced that the Cubs front office won’t parlay all this into a "Super-Two" victory? Is paying for the best-case scenario a good model for beating the market?

2) Jorge Soler earns more roto dollars in 2015 than Kris Bryant. His toolkit is not too shabby, plus he’s got the AB edge over his heavily hyped teammate.

3) Yasiel Puig repeats and produces third round value again in 2015. Career highs of 19 and 11 in HR’s and SB’s respectively and a .300ish BA don’t place the flamboyant star in the middle of the first round, but that’s exactly where the market is pushing his price tag. A very skilled owner in the high-rolling NFBC Platinum league paid that much to get him.

4) Paul Goldschmidt puts up disappointing power numbers. He had a broken hand last year and the market is completely ignoring this. There’s a difference between being on the active roster and having full strength, and you’re getting absolutely no discount.

5) Michael Brantley produces first round value in 2015 provided he stays off the DL. I understand the love for Puig in one sense because he looks great in a uniform, is exciting to watch, and has bat speed to burn. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him break out. The perplexing thing about the market is when somebody HAS broken out, and the market says a repeat is not only unlikely, but almost impossible. Just remember that the same market also said Carlos Gomez and Jose Bautista couldn’t repeat. Brantley slipped to the fourth round.

6) Victor Martinez has more than one stint on the disabled list this year. V-Mart came up limping after moving slightly to the left trying to avoid an opposing fielder. This tells me there is instability in his knee. I have Victor’s exact same injury so I know what he’s going through here. I fear this will likely sap his power and cost him AB’s. The upside is still there, but he’s a lower percentage play at this point.

7) Masahiro Tanaka makes 30 starts this year. I’ve got no support for this one, other than my lucky astrology mood watch.

8) Joc Pederson struggles in his first full season.  I’m not going to sell this one too hard. I actually like Pederson, but I liked him a lot more in December when I could get him in the 17th round. He’s now moved up to 10.1, and rising still. I’d rather take a proven commodity than a guy who struggled with his 2014 cup of coffee.

9) Bryce Harper is a bust yet again. Look, it’s not as though Harper doesn’t have potential, but potential alone will drive you to the poor house in the high stakes arena. Sure, one of these years it might happen, but how much profit can you possibly earn with the second round cost that is required to procure his services? Todd Zola, the best player valuation expert on the planet, crunched the numbers and his numbers say "The Kid" earned a mere $14 in 2013 and only $1 in 2014. Are those numbers what you want from a second round pick? Granted, those stats are descriptive and not prescriptive, but they are a good starting point and shouldn’t be flippantly dismissed. Harper employs a somewhat reckless style of defense that I love as a fan, but I fear as a fantasy investor. His games played totals the last three seasons: 139, 118, 100. What’s the over/under for 2015? When he’s on the field, are you confident that he’s not playing hurt? With just two stolen bases in four attempts, is it reasonable to expect the speed to come back?

10) The Reds remove Billy Hamilton from the leadoff position. He could also start to lose AB’s if he doesn’t learn how to get on base. His .292 OBP isn’t going to get it done. He hasn’t displayed the ability to hit major league quality hitting yet. Should that concern owners investing a third round pick on the speedster?  

On Sunday morning, I set the alarm early and braved 6 inches of snow, wind, ice and sleet and traveled nearly three hours (normally two in normal conditions) to Great American Ball Park for the First Pitch Forum. Todd Zola, the EF Hutton of player valuation, was presenting, along with other speakers. It was well worth the trip. Todd’s tour will include five more stops on the east and west coast. Click here for more details:

Contrary to popular mantra, Victor Martinez’s level of production in 2014 was not all that surprising. It certainly wasn’t without precedent. He’d scored 87 runs previously; his 103 RBI total was merely good enough to tie for 3rd best in his career. His .335 batting average was a personal best, but only by a gnat’s eyelash. The only unprecedented number was the small spike in home runs. If you look at his rate stats, the Tigers cleanup hitter had shown 25-homer power in three of his previous six seasons. Sure, anybody’s numbers go down when they’re on the DL or playing through injury, and the latter is what so many catchers do. Starting in 2013, for the first time in his entire career, V-Mart was no longer a catcher, but a DH, and the potential for injury changed significantly. Given full health and hitting cleanup after a future Hall of Famer with a roughly .400 career OBP, Martinez did what he does. He was poised to be a good value again this year heading into 2015 drafts. That is until he tore his medial meniscus in his left knee. If I’m a Victor Martinez owner, I’m worried. I have that exact same injury and I know how limiting it can be. It took months of tedious, monotonous, dedicated rehab to become relatively symptom free, and I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable putting much torque on that knee again. I’ve lowered my projected floor for him from 25 HR down to 12-15, while maintaining a .300+ BA and career norms in runs and RBI. I’ll probably hold off from drafting him in stand alone leagues, and in the NFBC Main Event, I probably won’t think about him until the 5th round at the earliest, and if I take the risk I have to handcuff him with plenty of depth at CI.

Which player would you rather invest in?

Player A: .264/.312/.445/.757 – 16th Round

Player B: .260/.301/.450/.751 – 5th Round

If you said player-A, congratulations. You just selected Marlon Byrd over Yoenis Cespedes. Yeah, better lineup in Motown, and a lot younger…still, that’s quite a gap in price.

Rajai Davis seems to be a favorite punching bag of many analysts. I don’t think he’s as bad with the stick as some make him out to be, but I have more concerns about his playing time than usual this year. Detroit let Torii Hunter and his -18.3 UZR walk, and in season they shipped off Austin Jackson’s declining bat and zone rating (7.7 UZR) off to Seattle. They acquired Yoenis Cespedes’ overrated bat, 8.4 UZR (11.4 UZR/150), and the best outfield arm in all of baseball and plugged them all in left field. Davis’ -8.0 UZR pales in comparison to newly acquired Anthony Gose’s 9.2 UZR(20.8 UZR/150). In the incumbent’s favor is the fact that the former Blue Jay can’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag, but Gose walks more often than Davis, so there’s not much difference between their OBP’s. It’s shaping up as a volatile situation with the youngster having the clear advantage in the field. All of these changes are not particularly good for Rajai, but they will benefit Detroit’s pitching staff.

I’m starting to wonder if Alfredo Simon is one of those players that is so overrated that he’s underrated. I think we’ve all heard about his 3.44 ERA and 4.40 FIP. The move to the AL doesn’t help either. Let’s keep things in perspective though. The Reds All-Star posted a 1.05 WHIP and 10 wins in the first half and boasts a 94 mph average fastball speed. You don’t want to pay for that. You don’t have to pay for that. He’s going in the 26th round, the functional equivalent of a $1 waiver pickup. Most picks in the 24-30 range end up as drops anyway. There’s zero risk here.

While everyone is focused on Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer in the 1st and early 2nd rounds, David Price quietly sits there in the early 3rd coming off a 271-strikeout season that was even better than his 3.26 ERA would seem to indicate (2.80 FIP). The lefty from Tampa will get more run support in the Motor City, allowing him to improve on his 15-win total from a year ago.

I think everyone realizes that Joe Nathan can’t pitch anymore. Well, everyone but Joe Nathan. It’s hard to envision that train wreck continuing in the ninth for very long. Nathan will have to find a fountain of youth somewhere or Joakim Soria (20th Round ADP) may end up replacing him in short order.

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