“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.
OK, so the title may be a little harsh, but as such it just might garner a few more clicks. Winning fantasy baseball, or any fantasy sport for that matter, is all about spotting market errors or inefficiencies and exploiting them. Where did the market err this weekend? In many ways which only time will reveal. After all, none of us has a crystal ball. We’ll focus here on some potential errors that might be useful to the player, namely, potential assets that were left unrostered that present a certain amount of upside.
I HATE taking a catcher early. Todd Zola has campaigned the last couple of years that the effects of position scarcity are greatly exaggerated. The scarcity trap is most lethal when you don the tools of ignorance too early in your draft. I love taking a flier late on whatever scraps the markets have left on the table.
Robinson Chirinos - Geovany Soto was placed on the 60-day disabled list and could miss up to three months. Robinson Chirinos and J.P. Arencibia will do their best to fill in. We know what the latter gives you, tons of power but precious little contact. Chirinos slashed .438/.486/.656 this spring and outplayed the former Blue Jay backstop. He displayed good pitch recognition skills last year at Round Rock, drawing 38 walks against 55 strikeouts in 311 plate appearances. The word from Ranger brass is that the veteran will receive the larger part of the platoon, but this is a fluid situation in which the rookie could earn more at-bats if he continues to swing a hot stick. Keep in mind that even though catcher is his primary position, he won’t qualify there initially in the NFBC since he played one more game at first base in limited action last year. In the FBPC, he qualifies at catcher-only right out of the chute.
J.P. Arencibia – Is it cheating if we play both sides of the same coin? And even if it is, who cares? It’s all about numbers, probabilities, and sifting through the chaff until you find some wheat. Arencibia is a career .212 hitter who is probably going to pull an “Adam Dunn” on your batting average, but he’s also hit 62 homers over the last three years. That can be useful, particularly if you’ve got a buffer on your BA to work with. Note that his availability might be restricted to 12-team leagues.
Josmil Pinto – A decent spring earned Pinto a spot on the opening day roster. Early on during the hot stove league, it appeared the Twins wanted to give their bright young star a chance as the first stringer, but they vacillated a little and ended up signing Kurt Suzuki just in case Pinto isn’t ready. Managers are fickle and it doesn’t take much to change their mind. Displaying great discipline with a 64/71 K/BB ratio, Pinto reached base at a .411 clip and went yard 14 times in 107 games. Keep the rookie on your radar and he might be worth a $1 FAAB stash if you’re hurting at catcher and want some upside.
Brayan Pena – At 31 years of age, Pena is more of a career journeyman and backup, so he’s most likely to be a temporary fix until Devin Mesoraco returns from the disabled list. Splitting time with Alex Avila in the Motor City, the one time Tiger posted a .297 batting average, a career high. Any hitter playing half of their games in Great American Ballpark gets a slight boost due to the venue, and thus Brayan is worth a look for those in need of an emergency fill-in to stop the bleeding, and who knows what could happen if Mesoraco is forced to miss more time.
Yasmani Grandal – The young Padre has a lot more to prove than others on this list due to his connection with the Biogenesis scandal and the impact of PED’s or lack thereof in the aftermath. On the bright side, he’s always shown incredible patience and excellent pitch recognition. Those skills should remain no matter what. If Chase Headley if truly healthy and becomes the engine driving the offense as he was in 2012, and if a still young Yonder Alonso finally breaks out, the Padres’ offense might be a little better than everyone thinks. Grandal is in the right position to join in on the fun.
In the end, the joke could be on me. Each player on this short list could crap the bed. But hey, what do you expect in the 31st round?
I hate to be Debbie Downer, but the following players are currently overpriced in NFBC leagues. That’s not to say that they can’t earn their current Average Draft Position, but I wouldn’t count on it. These aren’t your cookie cutter regression picks. I’m going out on a limb here and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a breakout emerge from this list. The problem is that either hype or the “shiny new toy” syndrome has inflated their price, making them unattractive to me on draft day.
Bryce Harper – I love the Nationals starting left fielder. I really do, but let’s be realistic. He has two years under his belt and his high watermark in a single season is 22 home runs. Granted, injuries limited his at-bats, but that’s the knock against him. Staying healthy is a skill and Harper hasn’t excelled at staying on the field. He plays with a reckless abandon reminiscent of Grady Sizemore. That concerns me. I expect a higher floor out of a first round pick. Could he break out just as Trout did and earn $40+? Anything is possible, but it takes something closer to probable to justify his current price.
Yasiel Puig – Pitchers seemed to catch up to Yasiel in early to mid-August, starting to jam him inside. How will he adjust? I will let someone else pay the price of an early second round pick to find out. Over his last 158 at-bats, he produced a line of .234/17/8/11/4. Compare that to Will Venable’s last 158 at-bats (.291/22/7/14/9). I’m just sayin’, the market has stars in its eyes from witnessing Puig’s eye-popping bat speed and scorching pre-All-Star break slash of .391/.422/.616. I have my eyes on the tenuous floor the young Cuban sensation stands on.
Giancarlo Stanton – Some analysts I have a ton of respect for like the 2014 fantasy prospects of the slugger formerly known as Mike. While I share the enthusiasm for his talent, my focus is primarily on his penchant for injuries (failed to reach 450 at-bats each of the last two seasons) and how the incredible wholesale liquidation of the Miami Marlins’ lineup during the off-season a year ago noticeably decreased the right fielder’s counting numbers in 2013. If he can stay on the field, he could club 40 homers, and yet he remains a batting average and health risk. The only problem with that is these risks don’t come with a discount.
Albert Pujols – Those who followed this column back in 2012 knew to stay away from the former Cardinal on draft day. That spring, Phat Albert was anything but, having shed an incredible amount of weight and muscle. He appeared to be a shell of his previous slugging self. Unless I see something different this spring out in Arizona, Winnie the Pujols will remain on my do not draft list.
Billy Hamilton – The Reds rookie doesn’t EXACTLY fit on this list. I say that because the rules of engagement are a little different in a Main Event where you are competing against literally hundreds of other teams. There you have to shoot the moon with at least a half dozen or more of your picks. If he could just get on base, 100 swipes is a realistic target, and therein lies the rub. It’s too early to label him as Dee Gordon volume II, and yet an unimpressive .256 batting average at Triple-A Louisville is an inauspicious sign. The speedster is currently being drafted in the fifth round. A hot spring will likely push that up into the third. I would stay away in stand-alone leagues, but if you’re the type that likes to let it all ride on snake eyes in the Main Event, Hamilton’s potential payoff is very sweet.
In the CBSsports.com Analysts League AL-only auction draft conducted in the spring, I went in with the specific strategy of quasi-punting batting average and saves. I spotted a number of players that were being heavily discounted due to their BA drain. Of course, average is rather volatile from year to year so I targeted a few players who were either coming off one of their worst years in that category or at least had demonstrated a higher clip at some point. That way, I might garner a few BA points if some of these guys bounced back. In pitching, I wanted to drive home ERA, WHIP, Wins and K’s, then get whatever saves I could with the money I had left. I figured I could get by with just one closer because such a “weakness” would actually strengthen my position in wins and strikeouts.
I left the auction table with this lineup:
C - Carlos Santana – 20
C - John Jaso – 11
1B – Mark Reynolds – 10
2B – Ian Kinsler – 27
3B – Josh Donaldson – 1
SS – Alexei Ramirez – 15
MI – Kelly Johnson – 8
CI – Wilson Betemit – 6
OF – Drew Stubbs – 14
OF – Lorenzo Cain – 20
OF – Jeff Francoeur – 8
OF – Colby Rasmus – 13
OF – Justin Maxwell – 9
U – Vernon Wells – 1
P – David Price – 30
P – Hiroki Kuroda – 12
P – Doug Fister - 14
P – Anibal Sanchez – 12
P – Dan Straily – 6
P – Jeff Niemann – 4
P – Chris Archer – 2
P – Miguel Gonzalez – 5
P – Glen Perkins – 12
All I needed was my bats to stay healthy and the mission would be accomplished. Health evaded me. By the most conservative of estimates, injuries to Kinsler, Jaso, Betemit, Cain, Rasmus and Maxwell cost me a minimum of 1100 AB’s. For good measure, Francoeur and Wells both lost their jobs. I didn’t need them to be good mind you; they just had to stay in the lineup. The pitchers maxed out ERA and WHIP along the way in leading the league in pitching points. The formula worked, but in the end, a lack of AB’s was the downfall. The strategy would have been harder to execute in mixed leagues, but in AL/NL-only formats, it’s more feasible. My funds were split $163 Hitters/$97 Pitchers.
The champion, Dean Peterson of Stats LLC, employed a completely different, albeit more traditional strategy. He spent $214 on hitting and only $46 on pitching. Interestingly, he spent 60.8% of his pitching budget on just two closers and the rest on six starters and one speculative saves prospect. Despite this frugality, he still managed 1209 K’s (second) and 74 Wins (fourth).
Here was his draft day roster:
C – Matt Wieters – 16
C – Derek Norris – 3
1B – Chris Davis – 20
2B – Robinson Cano – 36
3B – Lonnie Chisenhall – 10
SS – Erick Aybar – 18
MI – Alexi Casilla – 1
CI – Chris Carter – 12
OF – Yoenis Cespedes – 31
OF – Leonys Martin – 14
OF – Brett Gardner – 20
OF – Michael Saunders – 11
OF – Craig Gentry – 2
U – Victor Martinez – 18
P – Grant Balfour – 13
P – Addison Reed – 15
P – Derek Holland – 7
P – Justin Masterson – 3
P – Ervin Santana – 4
P – Martin Perez – 1
P – Bruce Chen – 1
P – Josh Fields – 1
P – John Lackey – 1
It is no surprise that he dominated hitting, scoring 55 out of a possible 60. While he spent precious few $ on starters, he made those dollars count. Just about everything he touched turned to gold. When Dean Peterson talks pitching prospects, EF Hutton listens. His strategy is straightforward, but one that can be extremely difficult to execute unless you are gifted in identifying stars among the trash heap of cheap pitchers on draft day.
Kevin Dukesherer is no stranger to success in the High Stakes arena, and he has landed in the baseball money circle yet again. In the Fantasy Baseball Players Championship inaugural season, the Duke has led the field for the last month and is one week away from bringing home 50K. Let’s look at his draft.
1.2 Miguel Cabrera (1.1,1.1)
2.13 Adrian Beltre (1.14,2.5)
3.2 Ian Kinsler (3.2,2.11)
4.13 Ian Desmond (4.2,3.9)
5.2 Adam Wainwright (4.11,3.8)
6.13 Jordan Zimmermann (7.10,6.9)
7.2 R.A. Dickey (6.6,6.4)
8.13 Carlos Gomez (9.10,7.14)
9.2 Fernando Rodney (8.10,7.3)
10.13 Chris Davis (9.14,10.6)
11.2 Matt Harvey (9.2,10.8)
12.13 Huston Street (12.10,12.1)
13.2 A.J. Pierzynski (13.4,12.2)
14.13 Alcides Escobar (13.14,9.10)
15.2 Josh Reddick (13.5,15.3)
16.13 Michael Saunders (22.14,19.9)
17.2 Steve Cishek (13.11,14.1)
18.13 Jayson Werth (14.3,14.11)
19.2 Tommy Milone
20.13 Aaron Hicks
21.2 Jurickson Profar
22.13 Mitch Moreland
23.2 Erasmo Ramirez
24.13 Brett Myers
25.2 Eduardo Nunez
26.13 Cody Ross
27.2 Cory Luebke
28.13 Yasmani Grandal
29.2 Erik Kratz
30.13 Dan Straily
Through 13 rounds, this is one of the most glorious drafts I’ve seen in quite some time, perhaps one of the best ever. R.A. Dickey did struggle a little adjusting to the American League, but other than that each pick was a resounding success. The numbers to the left represent the round Kevin drafted each player. I do not have access to any ADP data, so I merely tracked each pick in both of my FBPC Main Event drafts. The numbers to the right of each player represent where those players were taken in those two Main Event drafts. It’s abundantly clear that a value drafting approach was employed here. Kevin knows how to spot a value while simultaneously avoiding the “value trap” as it were. Among the numerous values, Adrian Beltre at 2.13 jumps off the page. I don’t know what else to say other than it is utterly shocking that the elite third baseman lasted that long. Structurally, he built cornerstones in his infield first, waiting on pitching until the 5th and eschewing outfielders until the 8th round. Power planted at the corners and speed spread through the middle infield and outfield. KJ’s Zefurs lead the overall in both HR’s (300) and RBI’s (1084), drafting an impressive 77.3% (232) of his homers and 75.6% (820) of his ribbies with his first 10 drafted hitters.
Kansas City’s top pitching prospect Yordano Ventura has pitched well through two big league starts and is scheduled to take the mound once more on Saturday night in the Windy City. The fireballer boasts a fastball that hits triple digits and is someone to scout during his cup of coffee and during the preseason in 2014.
Danny Salazar is another youngster who can light up the radar gun. The night I saw him pitch, his fastball, while very fast, didn’t have a ton of movement and he wasn’t changing speeds that much. Nevertheless, with a 57/14 K/BB ratio, clearly he’s doing something right. The Indians have capped his pitch count at around 80 most starts, so he’s only averaging five innings per start and often only goes four. The rookie heads to Chicago Wednesday for his final start of the season.