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
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.
Kevin “KJ” Dukesherer, is a very successful veteran high stakes player in baseball and football. He is also the creator of several specialty contests run by the NFBC in January and February and debuted a new challenge last week.
The $250 TEAM Satellite Draft saw the 15 participants draft two MLB pitching staffs and two MLB hitting lineups in four rounds. Here are the league particulars:
• Each owner will build his 30-man roster from one NL pitching staff, one AL pitching staff, one NL lineup and one AL lineup. The TEAM draft will take place on the message board and Draft Order will be as follows:
○ Round 1: 1-15
○ Round 2: 15-1
○ Round 3: 15-1
○ Round 4: 15-1
• If a player is officially traded or released prior to any Friday @ midnight PT, he must be dropped during the first available FAAB period. He then would be eligible for his new team in the subsequent FAAB period. If a player is traded after the Friday deadline in any given week, he must be dropped by the second upcoming weekend. Likewise, once a player is officially removed from your MLB franchise he must be removed from your starting lineup for the upcoming scoring period.
So the first order of business was to figure out where I wanted to draft – KDS (as in Kentucky Derby Style) preference is listing the spots in the order you would take them if picked next. Standard for a normal draft would generally be 1-15 or straight butter as the players call it. BUT with the unique draft flow of 1-15 then 15-1, 15-1, and 15-1 (known as banzai for some of you FF players) do you want the first pick in the draft and the last pick for the other three rounds or do you want the last pick in the first round and the first go in the other rounds?
I thought the clear pick at 1.01 would be the Washington Nationals pitching staff – imagine starting Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez every week for five, six, or seven starts. I thought that would be closely followed by the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching staff so that draft could have Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and friends.
But if I didn’t get one of those, I thought the 1.15 slot and then the first pick in each round would be the way to go. If I couldn’t draft there, I thought it would be best to be smack dab in the middle to have the eighth pick each round. So my KDS started 1, 2, 15, 14, 8, etc., and I got my fifth choice and drafted from the eight hole.
in fact the draft unfolded exactly as I had thought with WAS and LAD pitching and then got a slight surprise when the Padres pitching staff went third before the draft went on a slight hitting run – the Blue Jays, White Sox, Rockies, and Red Sox hitters going in front of me. Now what?
Guessing that I would find a lineup I liked in the second round (I was after some sleepers – see if you can guess right now) I selected King Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners pitching staff. In addition to Felix, I would get Hisashi Iwakuma, Fernando Rodney and several young upside arms that I think will have an added W potential this year with the added offense in Seattle.
Here is the whole first round and the top half of the second round
1.01 - Washington Nationals pitching
1.02 - Los Angeles Dodgers pitching
1.03 - San Diego Padres pitching
1.04 - Toronto Blue Jays hitting
1.05 - Chicago White Sox hitting
1.06 - Colorado Rockies hitting
1.07 - Boston Red Sox hitting
1.08 - Seattle Mariners pitching
1.09 - Pittsburgh Pirates hitting
1.10 - Washington Nationals hitting
1.11 - Chicago Cubs hitting
1.12 - Detroit Tigers hitting
1.13 - Milwaukee Brewers hitting
1.14 - St. Louis Cardinals hitting
1.15 - Los Angeles Angels hitting
2.01 – Chicago Cubs pitching
2.02 – Los Angeles Dodgers batting
2.03 – Cleveland Indians pitching
2.04 – Chicago White Sox pitching
2.05 - Texas Rangers hitting
2.06 – Tampa Bay Rays pitching
2.07 – Seattle Mariners hitting
Okay, who would you take here? Or who did you guess I would take here?
As I said on the message board where we held this portion of the draft, “I hope I am drafting the Major League Home Run and Stolen Base kings for 2015 as I select the Miami Marlins hitting. The rest of the Marlins great young outfield – Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna tipped the scales for me over the riskier Houston Astros but having Jose Altuve, George Springer and Evan Gattis was tempting. Could I get them in the third round?
The answer was no as they went at 2.14.
But that may have been a blessing as I needed to get an NL pitching staff in the third round so there was no chance I would be stuck with the Arizona Diamondbacks or Colorado Rockies pitching, which was going to happen to someone in the final round.
At 3.08, the two best NL staffs were the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Miami Marlins and ultimately I decided that the mid-season addition of Jose Fernandez made the Marlins the right pick. Guess I will watch a lot of Marlins on the DirecTV MLB package this summer.
Now I just needed one more component – my AL hitters. There were four teams left – the Kansas City Royals, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Oakland Athletics and the Minnesota Twins. Actually, while the Royals were the best of those by a wide margin in 2014 and rated to be again this year, the other three teams “fit” my team better, but all I could do was wait and see if I even had a choice at 4.08. And as the Twins and A’s were chosen early in the fourth round, I didn’t, but I was very happy to have the Rays as they not only added Evan Longoria at third base so I could move Martin Prado to MI, they added three good outfielders in Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, and the promising young Steven Souza, and they gave me not one but two catchers in John Jaso and Rene Rivera, so I wouldn’t have to play Jarrod Saltalmacchia every week to drain my batting average. They should also give me a better choice of shortstops to play with Asdrubal Cabrera and/or Nick Franklin. I will start picking my 30 players from these groups on Monday.
You can see all the teams on the NFBC message boards or I can post them on ours (look in the Team Management Forum). And you can easily play this game with friends, and if you can’t get 15, you can go with ten teams with each owner getting three pitching staffs and three hitting teams.
I suspect this league will now be an every year feature at the NFBC and maybe there will even be two leagues of the Team Satellite next year.
“I want you to pull this one down the left field line,” coach said. He packed roughly 90 mph heat and I knew a fastball was coming. Crack! I smoked a frozen rope right over the third baseman’s head and watched as it landed right on the chalk. Odyssey.
“Ok, this time poke it down the right line.” Smack! This liner landed a few inches inside the line and just as good for extra bases. Coach had also shown me how to hit with power, altering my swing to get considerably more torque, thus enabling me to drive the ball into the gaps and down the lines.
Fast-forward about two decades, in the thick of my rookie introduction to fantasy baseball, I diligently researched this new field and quickly found myself drowning in a sea of bombastic saberheads and overbearing McCracken acolytes. Most of them seemed to be saying that what happened that day was pure luck and they had the stats to prove it. I also recall in that day that OBP was king and defense was next to meaningless.
Like any science, things get better over time. The SABR community realized they were undervaluing defense. BABIP’s link to batted ball data is better understood. Sabermetric tools are invaluable and approaching draft day without them is akin to boxing with one hand tied behind your back. On the other hand, they are merely tools, not oracles that speak for themselves. Sometimes, stats stripped of proper context can lead us to the wrong conclusions. That doesn’t mean I have all the answers, just a healthy skepticism eyeing a market that might be overreacting…or is it?
Jose Altuve never posted a BABIP higher than .321 in a single season previous to 2014, which saw him hit .360. That means the BABIP dragon will come in March, swallowing up those fools that draft El Pequeno Gigante in 2015, right? After all, a BABIP of .360 is by definition unsustainable, no?
This is not an exhaustive list. I just picked out some of the more recognizable names. If a .360 BABIP is unsustainable, Rod Carew, Yasiel Puig, Starling Marte, Ty Cobb and others didn’t get the memo. The point isn’t that Jose Altuve is the second coming of Ty Cobb, but rather to eradicate the notion that a .360 BABIP by definition is unsustainable. Not to mention that Chris Johnson is no Ty Cobb either, but he sports a career .357 BABIP. But after 1,000 at-bats, BABIP stabilizes, right?Rogers Hornsby’s annual BABIP the first five years of his career: .275, .350, .339, .304, .335. Rogers Hornsby’s annual BABIP the next five years: .394, .409, .392, .386, .422. Rod Carew’s BABIP the first two seasons: .341, .320. Rod Carew’s BABIP the next two years: .381, .415.
Contrary to popular belief, baseball players are not immutable, nor are their batting stances, approach, swing, etc. Coaches don’t just fill out lineup cards and sit on the bench talking about movies and restaurants while checking their Facebook pages on their smart phones. Baseball is a game of adjustments. Coaches facilitate this process. Players implement those adjustments to varying degrees of success or failure. Did Altuve make any adjustments? The Astros second baseman’s strikeout percentage dropped five points from 12.6% to 7.5%. Only Victor Martinez struck out less. That drastic increase in contact, was that luck too? His line drive rate was stable, so the average gains didn’t come there, and his ground ball rate dipped slightly. Mixed signals here but on balance, while I understand the concern, I think it’s overblown. A .341 BA and 56 SB’s leaves room for considerable regression while still making his owners happy they trusted in him.
Michael Brantley is another darling of the regression fear mongers. On this one, I’m going more with my eyes and my gut. Living in Ohio, I got to see the Indians left fielder more than the average Joe. My pitchers went up against him all too often and he’s the opposing hitter that scared me the most. Seemed as though he was always scorching the ball. His walk rate went up, strikeouts went down, ISO% spiked, and SB% increased to 96%. I’m not sure that will motivate Terry Francona to give him the red light. Brantley increased his LD% and cut down his infield fly rate. Doctor Smooth looked like a different hitter in 2015. I don’t know if he will repeat his 2014 stats, but I can tell you he didn’t get lucky last year.
Robinson Cano is also known as somebody else’s problem. Safeco Field is where power goes to die even though supposedly lefty power isn’t suppressed as much. I will let someone else chase Cano’s power ghosts of years past.
Josh Donaldson is one cat not on anyone’s regression list. Excitement about the move to Rogers Centre has pushed Donaldson up into the early second round, occasionally peaking into the first. The Bringer of Rain often brought long cold streaks and a power outage after the All-Star break. Perhaps calling six home runs from August on a power outage is a little harsh, but I’m concerned. His long droughts remind me of Dan Uggla’s long cold spells. It seemed Donaldson was only punishing mistake pitches towards the end, when reports of a knee ailment surfaced. Knee injuries scare me because I know them all too well. Downside? A .245 BA, 15 HR’s and DL time. I’ll let someone else flip that coin.
Kris Bryant – Bryant climbed the ADP ladder all the way up to 105, but he’s been going in the 6th round in recent drafts. Surely, the black hole of third base scarcity is partially to blame. While I understand that, I also know the history of other shiny new, unproven toys at the hot corner. Anyone remember Brandon Wood, Dallas McPherson or Brett Lawrie? What did Hank Blalock do his first year? How many years did it take for Aramis Ramirez to put things together? Bryant has displayed more patience than free-swinging Cuban teammate Javier Baez, but Ramirez was the Heinz Ketchup poster child his last full season in Nashville, with 73 walks against 56 strikeouts. Despite Ramirez’s elite selectivity with the Sounds, in 163 games and 561 at-bats over his first three MLB seasons, his plate discipline evaporated, generating 34 walks. He produced a paltry 44 runs, 12 homers and a nifty .238 batting average.
Javier Baez – Elite bat speed and legitimate 30-20 potential. The sky is the limit…for his strikeout totals. 95 punch outs in 52 games projects to 296 whiffs over a full season. Unless he changes his approach, he might have to rent storage space to keep all of his golden sombreros. The long-term prospects remain bright, but he has a low floor for someone with a 106 ADP.
Jorge Soler – With an ADP of 118, “hip-hip” Jorge’s price is only slightly easier on the fantasy wallet. Though he only received a cup of coffee in the Windy City last year, he displayed effortless power, as if casually poking one out to center was as easy as eating a sandwich. He’s had good pitch recognition when I’ve seen him and I think he will be able to adjust quicker than the Cubs violent swinging second baseman.
Anthony Rizzo – I usually like to see two full years of production at a certain level before paying a premium for it. That being said, Rizzo figured out how to hit lefties last year. Package that with patience and discipline at the plate and owners are probably safe investing an early pick on the young slugger. Probably.
Jon Lester - Can the lefty from Boston coming off a career year return another $25 in 2015? An elevated 80.5% strand rate and an average fastball that lost a tick on the radar gun speak caution. A 2.82 FIP and 3.10 xFIP against a 2.46 ERA confirm his good fortune, but also that he was still pretty darn good. A move to the NL replacing the DH with a pitcher and turning over opposing lineups just a hair less should ease the concern of potential investors.
Hector Rondon – This blurb is not for the sabermetrically minded. Rondon gained 2 mph on his average fastball. His K/BB ratio is elite. He induced more ground balls, and more infield popups. So why would anyone avoid this star on the rise? I watched him try to preserve a few wins for me in 2014. I didn’t see most of his games, just a few, but every…single…time it was unnerving: a diving catch against the wall, a line smash right at the third baseman with runners at the corners, an infielder picking a scorching grounder and making a miraculous throw to first to quell a rally. He got lucky every time I watched. His line drive rate is 23.2%, which is right there with David Robertson and Craig Kimbrel. Perhaps Schroedinger’s Cat is playing tricks on me. Does a tree falling in a forest make a sound when nobody watches? What does Hector Rondon do when I don’t watch? How did I become so powerful?
Obviously, this does not mean that these Cub hitters are undraftable, but one should try to minimize the number of low-floor players in the early rounds. If you take a chance on Bryant, I’d recommend a backup plan, one that doesn’t include Juan Uribe.
Jorge Soler has tremendous bat speed, decent pitch recognition and power to burn. He won’t be flying under the radar with three homers in his first 11 at-bats. It will take top dollar to fetch him. Hopefully you’re in a league with some dead money that’s left the party to focus on football drafts. I would pay whatever it takes to get him if you’re in a 12-team league and need power in one of your outfield slots and can afford the batting average risk.
The old Scott Baker, minus a couple of ticks on the radar gun, reemerged recently at the Ballpark in Arlington. His fastball sitting 88 mph to 89 mph, topping out at 91 mph, doesn’t leave any room for errors. Baker didn’t make many in his recent outing against the Royals. The journeyman effectively moved his location in-out-up-down and changed speeds to disrupt hitters’ timing. He followed up with a quality start in Houston a few days later. Baker may not remain in the rotation with Derek Holland slated to start Tuesday, but he might be worth a $1 stash and hold in 15-team leagues. 12-team leaguers can pass. Holland’s Jekyll and Hyde history will rightly scare off some owners. Nevertheless, he is a lightning-in-a-bottle candidate if you’re like me and the 7-9 spots in your rotation subject you to relentless ERA and WHIP pain.
Miguel Gonzalez is another finesse option that has to locate well to be effective. If his command falters, he can get hit hard. For that reason, he may be available in a number of leagues. As an Oriole, he’ll get plenty of run support and has strung together three straight quality starts. If you are chasing wins, you could do worse.
I picked up Yusmeiro Petit last week on the off chance that he would replace struggling Tim Lincecum in the rotation. Despite his record breaking consecutive batters retired streak, he remains a risky start. He has four quality pitches that he commands well, including a great changeup. For whatever reason, whenever I watch Petit pitch, hitters see enough of his pitches well enough to put warning track power on display, producing long fly outs that would be trouble outside of AT&T Park. I would bench him at Coors Field, but look at the remaining schedule if he sticks in the rotation:
Week 25 – Arizona, Los Angeles Dodgers
Week 26 - @ San Diego
Week 27 – San Diego
Drew Pomeranz might be worth a stash if you have space. He made an effective spot start and was optioned back down to the Minors. If Jason Hammel continues to struggle, Pomeranz could replace him. The lefty was inconsistent but dominant at times earlier in the season. He should get at least decent run support to grab a couple of wins if he is given a starting role in September.
Sometimes you just want to stop the bleeding. Avoiding the ERA and WHIP bombs encountered playing waiver roulette with the 8th and 9th slots in your rotation may be the single most challenging aspect of high stakes rotisserie baseball. Enter Darren O'Day. He won’t do much, and that’s all part of the charm. With a 0.92 ERA and 0.89 WHIP, at least he’s safe. He can also take off some of the sting when a David Price drops eight earned runs on you in just two innings. Pitching for a great offense also means that vulturing a win is at least possible. Stick to weeks Baltimore is facing a suspect bullpen to increase your odds slightly.
If you are still in the hunt in the NFBC, you know what a grind it is trolling the trash heap for pitchers that won’t completely destroy your ERA and WHIP. It’s no easy task. Beggars can’t be choosers. This week, we examine some of the refuse.
Kyle Hendricks has acquitted himself quite well in just four starts with the Cubbies, posting a 2.05 ERA and 1.06 WHIP with a 17/7 K/BB ratio in 26 innings. While those stats are good, they actually should be much better considering in his first outing against the Reds at Great American Ballpark, he had to contend with a thimble-sized strike zone in the first inning of the first major league outing of his career. I always chuckle when I hear someone downplay the impact an umpire can have on a game. When you have to groove it right down the pipe to get a call, it turns mediocre hitters into All-Stars. With the first two on via the free pass, the next three got hits as the effect of Hendricks getting squeezed. Hendricks would get some calls later on, but the damage had already been done. When you consider that the crew manufactured three of the rookie’s four “earned runs”, his short game log is even more impressive. The Ivy League youngster doesn’t light up radar guns with an average 88 mph fastball and needs pinpoint control to be effective. Hendricks walked two per nine in the Minors and brought that excellent command with him to Wrigley Field. Hendricks changes speeds effectively and commands a good changeup to disrupt hitters’ timing.
A dynamite spring had Brad Hand creeping up sleeper lists in March. When the games started to count in April, a less effective Hand showed up and was relegated to the bullpen. After a stint on the disabled list with a sprained ankle, the Minneapolis native has posted a very serviceable 2.70 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over six starts, never allowing more than three runs in a game since being activated. With all of the ratio bombs on waivers, that’s a relatively safe target to acquire. The Marlins have two series against the Mets and the Phillies coming up.
Matt Lindstrom wasn’t exactly lights out in April serving as the closer in Chicago’s south side. The mediocre reliever has been on the shelf since mid-May with an ankle injury that required surgery. The days of Lindstrom lighting up radar guns with triple digits are long gone. His average fastball sits in the low 90’s, but I don’t have to tell you how managers love veterans with experience. The former Marlins closer held the gig before hitting the DL. Lindstrom could be a sneaky addition if you are desperate for saves down the stretch. Just don’t expect help in the ERA and WHIP categories.
Eric Stults is viable as a spot starter at home only. His overall numbers will hurt you. For that reason, you should be able to get him for a buck. If you have the ERA and WHIP anchors, you can spot start him at PETCO to chase wins, or simply avoid the Ainsworth effect. Yes, I did say chase wins in the context of a Padre pitcher. They won’t be mistaken for Harvey’s Wallbangers, but the Padres have a wRC+ of 98 over the last 30 days, just a smidge under league average.
Neal Cotts walks too many for a reliever and it’s tough for lefties to crack the closer role since managers love to be able to bring southpaws in to face tough left-handed hitters during a rally anytime after the sixth inning. Nevertheless, Neftali Feliz blew the save Sunday against the Tribe. Feliz’s fastball velocity has been inconsistent, topping out around 96 one outing and then only 92 the next. In his last outing, it consistently sat between 88-89, only occasionally reaching 92, but straight as an arrow, with little or no movement. The former All-Star no longer has any margin for error. Cotts is a decent $1 flier to sit on if you need saves and already blew your FAAB budget.
Dale Thayer is another potential closer in waiting if the Padres look to deal Joaquin Benoit in the coming weeks. Thayer has been great out of the pen (1.96 ERA/1.07 WHIP) but he had a rough go of it during his brief stint as a closer in 2012.
When Kevin Gausman is aggressive in the zone, attacking hitters and getting ahead in the count, he makes quick work of opponents with his off speed stuff. The problem is the rookie’s command comes and goes, and even when he’s on his game, he nibbles too much, gets behind in the count and hitters sit on his fastball. These are typical growing pains many young pitchers go through, but as we head down the stretch, you need to realize what you are getting into with Gausman. He looks dominant one inning, and then the Orioles’ 6th starter gives stomach ulcers by walking the bases loaded. Giving Brad Miller a free pass every single time he faced him was the last straw and I jettisoned him from my roster.
Trevor Bauer has a wicked slider when he can control it. The issue is that he can lose command of it and all his off speed pitches for an entire game. At times, there’s just too much movement to reel in. When that happens, hitters sit on his fastball, which frequently flattens out and can be very easy to hit if he grooves one. Let me tell you, he grooves a lot of them. The ugly result can look like batting practice. Trevor has a very high ceiling and he’s probably going to be very good, but right now, it’s not his time yet.
We’re halfway through the NFBC marathon. In a 15-team league, there are going to be holes you need to fill. If you skimped on pitching at the draft table, or even if you didn’t, chances are you’re like me, still scrambling to find pitchers that won’t drop a nuclear bomb on your ERA and WHIP. Any Matt Shoemaker fans still out there? The problem with a heavy offensive strategy in March is that it forces you to sift through the dregs to round out the end of your rotation. There are numerous minefields you have to negotiate and it is difficult to navigate them with your ERA and WHIP still intact.
Dellin Betances appears in three games a week on average, posts about three to five innings pitched, and racks up a ton of K’s. The Yankee rookie is on pace for 154 strikeouts and eight wins. Brad Boxberger is no Betances, but he has struck out 45 and walked 12 in 28 innings this year. The former Padre doesn’t light up the radar gun, but he averages close to 93 mph on his fastball and comes packaged with a tidy 1.02 WHIP. Rather than deciding which scrub to activate for the next shellacking, plug in a Boxberger until the end of your staff stabilizes. The NFBC lists him as owned in merely 0.7% of all leagues. He’s striking out about five batters a week. Wade Davis might still be floating out there in a few leagues and serves a similar purpose.
Odrisamer Despaigne is still unowned in most Main Event Leagues. You won’t get many K’s, and I’d relegate him to spot starts in Petco, but that’s still worth something.
If Jimmy Nelson is still sitting in your free agent pool, I would snatch him up. I’ve got two on the disabled list and another two in the Minors on my bench. I’m still holding onto the best pitching prospect in the Minors. Marco Estrada leads all pitchers with 24 home runs. Second in this dubious category is 17. Even with the quality start last time out, Estrada sports an ugly 6.94 ERA/1.49 WHIP over the last 30 days and has a date at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday.
Marco Gonzales was picked up in a few leagues since he’s a two-start this week. The lefty should find the confines of AT&T Park much friendlier than Coors Field. I haven’t seen the 2013 first-round pick pitch yet, so the jury is still out, but a 46/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in seven Double-A starts has my attention. Put him on your watch list this week.
Josh Tomlin is such a tease, but don’t be seduced. He’ll suck you in with a complete game shutout, only to go Kurt Ainsworth on you when you get enough confidence to plug him into your lineup. His average fastball still sits below 89 mph. I can’t explain the jump in his strikeout rate, but I can almost guarantee you the good times won’t last.
To call Yohan Pino a poor man’s Greg Maddux would be too generous, but you get the idea. The 30-year-old rookie has to have pinpoint control to be effective, and he’s spent the better part of a decade being just that in the Minors. The problem is that he’s a soft tosser with pitches that have little movement. He’s probably best left to AL-only leagues.
We’re one third of the way through the 2014 National Fantasy Baseball Championship. It’s time to look at the leaderboard and see if those at the top did anything interesting to get there. It’s a long season, but Stephen Fiore sits in the driver’s seat in his quest for ten stacks of high society. One would assume he emphasized bats at the draft table back in March, right? After all, the popular 15- team roto mantra is to fade pitching early because hurlers are too injury prone. It’s too difficult to tally enough Runs, RBI and Home Runs while drafting a lot of arms in the early rounds, isn’t it? Decide for yourself if conventional wisdom is wise. Ironically, the Sultans of Smack constructed their roster focusing on pitching. Their roto stats have lived up to their mashing moniker, totaling 1,934 offensive points and ranking first among all 420 teams. Three of the first six players were pitchers, along with six of the first 12:
1.11 – Prince Fielder
2.5 – Jose Bautista
3.11 – David Price
4.5 – Alex Rios
5.11 – Julio Teheran
6.5 – Gio Gonzalez
7.11 – Pedro Alvarez
8.5 – Jose Altuve
9.11 – Joakim Soria
10.5 – Billy Butler
11.11 – Bobby Parnell
12.5 – Hisashi Iwakuma
Billy Butler and Prince Fielder epitomize fantasy busts. So effectively, only four offensive assets were procured in the first 12 rounds. Some very successful high stakes players that I have tremendous respect for advocate a goal of 70 steals and 70 home runs with your first three picks. Through the first six, this group is on pace for 51 and 34 respectively. Despite the disposition toward mound aces in Las Vegas, Stephen would have been better off focusing on arms even more than his aggressive style dictated. The pitching staff is solid, but there are 56 teams ranked higher. Nothing wrong with the strategy here obviously, but it does expose early hitting dogma. A dogma that will likely gain more traction in the wake of the UCL carnage we have all witnessed. It’s too risky to take a pitcher in the first round! Oh yeah? Tell that to Prince Fielder and Bryce Harper owners.
13.11 – Adam Eaton
14.5 – Miguel Montero
15.11 – Jake Peavy
16.5 – Adam Lind
17.11 – Dee Gordon
18.5 – Jhonny Peralta
19.11 – Melky Cabrera
20.5 – Erasmo Ramirez
Gordon and Cabrera jump off the page. Combined, these late-round steals are on pace for 25 bombs, just under 100 swipes and better than a .290 batting average.
21.11 - Dustin Ackley
22.5 - Gregory Polanco
23.11 - Jesse Chavez
24.5 - Robbie Ross
25.11 – Robbie Grossman
26.5 – Tyler Clippard
27.11 – Alexi Ogando
28.5 – Derek Norris
29.11 – Brian Wilson
30.5 – Will Harris
This last segment isn’t a quiver stuffed with gems, but you never see that in the last ten rounds. You throw some darts and hope a couple stick. Derek Norris fits the mold and is exhibit A of the perfect catcher strategy. The Athletics backstop comes in at number six on the NFBC player rater. For his number two, how’s Devin Mesoraco for a sneaky waiver grab? I love waiting on catchers. There are always serviceable plays to be had late. The premium on catchers on draft day is heavy. They are packaged with excessive opportunity costs. Todd Zola has written some solid pieces on the myth of position scarcity. I have to say that I agree with him. Mr. Fiore doesn’t need hitting reinforcements, but Gregory Polanco will be bringing his swing to the Sultans very soon. I would be remiss if I failed to mention his brilliant waiver work: Juan Francisco, Chris Parmelee, Josh Willingham, Ryan Vogelsong, Francisco Rodriguez, and others.
I applaud the strong pitching strategy. There are bats available late, and on the wire if you are diligent. In my Main Event League, the team sitting in first place took only one bat in the first three rounds. That squad is in first with 69.5 hitting points.
On Wednesday evening, being a Drew Hutchison owner, I watched intently as the young Blue Jays’ rookie tried to get out of a two on two out jam in the bottom of the seventh. For a nanosecond, I felt relief, as a hard ground ball was smacked a mere three inches to the right of Brett Lawrie. My momentary relief quickly turned into grief when I realized that anvil-footed Juan Francisco, not number 13, was stationed at third base. Ok, so I’m exaggerating slightly, but not much. Fielding the ball cleanly wasn’t exactly a routine play, but it would have been far from difficult to at least stop it, keep it in the infield and prevent a run from scoring. Come on Juan, would it really hurt to get the knees of your uniform dirty once in a while? Can we start a collection to pay for Juan’s dry cleaning since he clearly doesn’t want to get his uniform soiled? Motor City flashbacks of Carlos Guillen, who wouldn’t dive for a ball to save his life, permeated my mind’s eye. I waited with baited breath to hear the after game interview and the explanation that to bend over just a little further would have been "false hustle."
In today’s official scoring world, it seems a ground ball is only deemed an error if it’s slow rolling and goes right through your legs. That means all of Hutchison’s runs were of the "earned" variety, even if it does stretch the semantic range of the word enough to make me chuckle. So what is the moral of the story? Starting a Blue Jays pitcher in daily leagues when Francisco is manning the "hot" corner is like playing with matches. I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you do, don’t watch the game unless you want stomach ulcers. Not surprisingly, Hutchison sports a 3.82 ERA along with a 3.08 FIP.
The following table lists some starters with the greatest disparity between their ERA and FIP in 2013:
|Player||2013 ERA||2013 FIP||2014 ERA|
Two-thirds improved their ERA and one-third did just the opposite. This comes as no surprise and should actually be expected. After all, no FIP or xFIP was created in a vacuum. Just ask CC, who found that it’s pretty difficult to regress your ERA toward your FIP while dropping 2.5 miles per hour on your fastball in the Bronx!
These are tools to guide our choices, not papal bulls from the sabermetric papacy. With that in mind, let’s look among the FIP/ERA differentials to see if there are some corrections on the way.
|Player||2014 ERA||2014 FIP||Fastball MPH 2013/2014|
Zach McAllister, Zack Wheeler and Drew Hutchison stand out due to their sustained or increased fastball velocity (*note that 91.4 mph represents Drew’s average fastball velocity in 2012, not 2013 since he did not appear in a major league game last year). For those showing decreased velocity thus far, I would monitor their starts to see if they regain some ticks on the radar gun as they build up arm strength. David Price is yielding home runs on 15.7% of his fly balls, the highest clip of his career, and his average fastball velocity has never been lower. Stephen Strasburg’s 13.3 clip is also his highest. Not surprisingly, his average fastball is at his career low. It should be noted that Zach McAllister’s 2.6% home run per fly ball rate is not sustainable, and that his xFIP (which normalizes home run per fly ball rates) has him at a more pedestrian 4.02.