Friday, March 29, 2013

Building A Fantasy Baseball Plan

This is an excerpt of an article I wrote for the April 1st issue of Big Leagues Magazine. You should subcribe there is a ton of great fantasy info in every issue.

Your keepers should always fit your overall plans. If they do not fit your plan, you may want to come up with a new plan (or at least get trading for players that do fit). You should always rank your potential keepers in the order in which they can help your winning strategy. If you plan to focus on high average power hitters to complement your cheap (but great) starting pitching, an at value Prince Fielder is probably a better keeper than your slightly underpriced Garrett Jones. You want your keepers to work with your strengths not against them. Your great starting pitching is less effective if you also keep your one dollar Carlos Zambrano because he used to be your favorite Cubs starter.

Now, just because your primary strategy is built on high average power hitters and great starting pitchers, that does not mean that you should toss back your $10 Jean Segura. Segura may not hit for power or much of a batting average but his indicators suggest his average will not be a negative and his steals potential may make it much easier for you to concentrate on the power hitters during the draft. The same cannot be said about your $15 Everth Cabrera who may steal a ton of bases but has the potential to pull down your team batting average. It may be possible to account for this drag but a better idea is to trade for a player or players that better fit your strategy. Cabrera for $15 Andrelton Simmons may cost you five bucks but also save you the hassle of trying to balance a bad BA player before the draft even starts. 

You also need to study the rosters of your competitors. You should have your best guess at the keepers on the other teams before deciding on yours. This is important because keepers can take a huge chunk out of the potential player pool on several levels. You could find that certain positions are going to be extremely scarce on Draft Day. If ten of the 15 potential closers in your 12-team league are held by the owners of just six teams buying a closer at the draft could get expensive. That might make your $18 Rafael Betancourt a better keeper than you originally supposed. The players you should be the players that will help you win. Values and profits are very important but the way they fit into your draft strategy is just as important.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

2013 All Fantasy Baseball Sleepers Team

The annual All-Sleeper Team has arrived. This report has taken many forms but as always it is jam packed with names for your consideration. There are at least three names listed at every position. If you like this article please share it (with strangers if not your league mates).

Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners
Here are some stats for Montero that you may have missed - he hit 310/343/498 last year when playing behind the plate; on the road he batted .295/.330/.438 with nine homeruns in 258 at-bats; and his HR/FB was a healthy 13.4 percent on the road. Did you know that in 2012 Safeco Field tended to reduce right-handed power by 30 percent? Runs were reduced by 22 percent. The Seattle Mariners are attempting to move their park factors closer to neutral in 2013 by bringing in the outfield walls. Safeco will still be a tough park for hitters but it should be a little less intimidating this season. Montero still has superstar potential.

UPSIDE: .280/.330/.480 with 25 homeruns

Erik Kratz, Philadelphia Phillies
Erik Kratz has been around for a while. He has a great reputation as a defensive catcher. Supposedly, pitchers love to throw to him. His bat looks better than the average catcher and his power looks like it could be around league average if not a bit better. Last season in the minors he hit .266/.326/.540 with eight homers in 141 plate appearances. He was called up to the Phillies and received 157 PA in which he batted .248/.306/.504 with nine homeruns. He was scheduled to spend 2013 in the majors as a back-up but thanks to Carlos Ruiz getting himself suspended, Kratz figures to get an extra month of starter at-bats. He should be more than worth his purchase price.

UPSIDE: 350abs, .250/.310/.460 with 15 homers and a few stolen bases.

Others to Consider: Jason Castro, Houston Astros; John Jaso, Oakland Athletics; Rob Brantley, Miami Marlins

First Basemen
Ike Davis, New York Mets
Davis began the 2012 season recovering from the Valley Fever which can severely weaken people for long periods. Davis chose not to complain about it but after the season finally admitted that he was not right the first few months of the season. His second half was a better indication of what Davis can do. He batted .255/.346/.542 with 20 homers in his last 251 at-bats. Davis has seen more than his fair share of injury and illness in his short career. It is possible that some of your league mates will perceive him as injury prone or even as a mediocre hitter. Do not believe it. Davis has very good power and has the patience and discipline to hit for a solid batting average (a skill becoming more rare). 

UPSIDE: .275/.365/.500 with 35-plus homeruns

Others to Consider: Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants; Logan Morrison, Miami Marlins;

Second Basemen
2B Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
 In the minor leagues Matt Carpenter has produced numbers that would mediocre at best coming from your first baseman or outfielder. But at second base (particularly in NL-only leagues) he would be a very solid fantasy option. He hits for a solid to good batting average with a strong on-base percentage driven by above average walk rates and improving contact skills. He has average or maybe slightly better power and should safely hit in the 10-15  homer range every season with more a clear possibility as he gains experience. He does not have great speed but will steal the occasional base given the opportunity. Best of all, manager Mike Matheny seems to like him and has projected him as a potential leadoff hitter. He only qualifies at the corners for now in most leagues but should be eligible at second within the first week or so of the regular season.

UPSIDE: .290/.370/.470 with 15-18 homeruns and a few stolen bases and a ton of runs scored

Others to Consider: Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners; Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox

Third Basemen
3B Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics
Donaldson’s numbers as a major leaguer look mediocre overall. It would be pretty easy for a fantasy owner to overlook a player with a .232/.280/.386 slash in 328 plate appearances. However, he hit a very solid .290/.356/.489 with eight homers, 26 RBI and three steals in 47 games after returning from a stint at Triple-A. Donaldson is just 27-years old and general manager Billy Beane has declared that Donaldson will be the starter at third base in 2013. While 47 games is just a small sample of Donaldson’s season – his line at AAA Sacramento was .335/.402/.598 with 13 homers and five steals in 234 plate appearances. Donaldson has BABIP issues. Last season in the majors it was just .278 (far below average) and an indication that his poor start to the season was at least to some degree bad luck. 

UPSIDE: .280/.350/.450 with 15-20 homers and 5-10 stolen bases.

Others to Consider: Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays; Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians; 


SS Cliff Pennington, Arizona Diamondbacks
Cliff Pennington is not popular among fantasy owners. He does not hit for much power and his batting average at times has been pathetic. So why is he listed here? He has skills and tools that indicate he has not reached his full potential just yet. Pennington has tremendous speed and solid base stealing skills. He has solid patience at the plate and makes decent contact. Now he is moving from Oakland's tough pitcher centric park into the Diamondback's Chase Field which favors hitters. He has been working with Diamondbacks hitting coach Don Baylor on shortening his swing. If his BABIP bounces back from his career low .259 in 2012 towards his career levels he could have a very nice season at a weak fantasy position.

UPSIDE: .275/.350/.425 with 10-12 homers and 25-plus stolen bases and a truckload of runs if he leads off.

Others to Consider: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles; Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers

OF/1B Chris Carter, Houston Astros
Chris Carter is seen as a player with tremendous power who is not a talented enough hitter to be a star in the Major Leagues. In actuality, 2012 was Carter’s first extended opportunity to play in the major leagues. He does in fact have massive power but he also has more patience at the plate than his K-rate would seem to indicate. His strikeout rates were not so bad in the minors and he even showed some ability to hit for average. He is moving from one of the better pitchers’ parks in baseball to one that actually boosts right-handed power stats. In 2013 you could see a decent batting average with gargantuan power (nice to have with overall power numbers dropping).

UPSIDE: .270/.370/.550 with 30-plus homers and a few stolen bases

OF Jose Tabata OF Pittsburgh Pirates
How good does Travis Snider have to be to keep Tabata on the bench all season. Admittedly Tabata has fallen off the last few years. But he was once lauded for his power potential and showed a knack for base stealing. He kicked off Spring Training looking determined to win back at least a share of the job starting in the outfield corners. At this point it looks like Snider will start but Tabata has made the team. His price should be ultra low and Snider has not been much better than Tabata as a major leaguer. He makes an excellent flyer in deep NL-only leagues or in deep mixed leagues with bench spots. 

UPSIDE: .275/.340/.400 with ten homers and 20-plus stolen bases

OF Jordany Valdespin, New York Mets
His Spring Training performance has probably jacked up his price on those of us with post-Easter drafts this year. The Mets have no established outfielders on their roster coming into the 2013 season. This has provided Valdespin and others with a fantastic opportunity for Major League playing time. He is not a patient hitter but makes excellent contact. He has the power to hit 15-20 homers and the speed to steal 20-plus bases in a full season. 

UPSIDE: .280/.340/.440 with 15-plus homers and 20-plus stolen bases

OF J.D. Martinez, Houston Astros
He is a tough pick since he will begin the season in the minor leagues. With a career batting line of just .252/.313/.375 it would be easy to dismiss Martinez as just another mediocre Astros outfielder. You would be missing out on a player with huge breakout potential. In the 603 at-bats that led to the line above Martinez hit 17 homeruns and collected 90 RBI. It becomes even more encouraging when you know his career minor league batting line was .334/.397/.532 in over 1200 minor league at-bats. He certainly has no obstacles to consistent playing time. Special thanks should go to my friend Dave McKay of who likes him even more than me. 

UPSIDE: .300/.360/.450 15-20 homeruns and the odd stolen base

OF Andy Dirks, Detroit Tigers
It would be easy to dismiss Dirks as a BABIP fluke and pass on him during fantasy drafts. That might be a mistake. Dirks has a track record of high BABIP and high batting averages in the minors. Dirks is a strong contact hitter with some patience at the plate. He swings at too many pitches out of the zone but makes much better than average contact. He is not a power hitter but with an uptick to his plate discipline he could hit for average power. His Achilles issue kept his decent speed under wraps but Dirks has the skills to steal bases. There is some talk of Dirks platooning with Avisail Garcia. That seems unlikely but even if true; Dirks would be on the strong side of it.

UPSIDE: .300/.350/.450 with 15-20 homeruns and 10-15 steals

Others to Consider: Colin Cowgill, New York Mets; Gerardo Parra, Arizona Diamondbacks; Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals; Peter Bourjos, Los Angeles Angels; Nolan Reimold, Baltimore Orioles

Middle Infielders
MI Eric Young, Jr., Colorado Rockies
Eric Young has been neglected by the Rockies for a long time. He has awesome stolen base potential. He makes excellent contact and has shown patience at the plate. He should hit for average if given consistent at-bats and new manager Walt Weiss seems determined to make better use of Young. He only qualifies at outfield in most leagues at this point but could see time all over the field. He came up as a second baseman. 

UPSIDE: .290/.350/.425 with 40-plus steals and a few homers

Others to Consider: Luis Cruz, Los Angeles Dodgers; Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees

Corner Infielders
3B Matt Dominguez, Houston Astros
His strength as a Marlins prospect was his excellent glove. Scouts believed in the potential in his bat but there was very little statistical evidence that he could hit. Last year he began to work on his swing with coaches and changing his hand position to create less movement and a shorter swing path. The results have been promising. At his present ADP he will cost nothing so the risk is minimal. The payoff could be pretty good especially relative to his cost.

UPSIDE: .290/.330/.450 with 15-plus homers

Others to Consider: Justin Smoak, Seattle Mariners; Brett Wallace, Houston Astros

Designated Hitters
DH Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jays
After his stint in the minor leagues Lind was an above average player in every remaining month of the season. Health is obviously the largest obstacle between Lind and a full season of statistics worthy of a major league first baseman. In an off- season where the Blue Jays have filled every hole on the roster and added a ton of depth, they have done nothing to indicate they have lost faith in their first baseman (well, besides move him to designated hitter). See my article for an expanded look at Adam Lind.

UPSIDE: .280/.350/.500 with 30 homers

Others to Consider: Jeff Keppinger, Chicago White Sox; Raul Ibanez, Seattle Mariners

Starting Pitchers
SP Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
Not every pitcher develops as quickly as Stephen Strasburg. Justin Verlander took a few years to put it together. The same is true with Cole Hamels and David Price. Scherzer showed many signs of reaching his incredible potential during the 2012 season. His K9 took a big jump supported by a similar jump in his swinging strike rate. His solid control and strikeouts limit the damage down by his less than ideal HR9. 

UPSIDE: 20 wins, 3.50 ERA and 250 strikeouts

SP Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals
The fraying in his shoulder will keep a lot of owners away from Jaime Garcia. It will also bring his price way down, possibly into the lower single digits. That provides you with an opportunity to purchase a very talented pitcher on the cheap. Garcia has a great swinging strike rate with a solid K9 that should improve. He has good control and a nice groundball rate. He plays for a very good Cardinals team with a nice defense.  For what should be a very small investment you could win big. Garcia is already throwing and will face hitters today (Saturday, Feb. 16th). 

UPSIDE: 15 wins and an ERA< 3.50

SP Phil Hughes, New York Yankees
The mini-Rocket has not reached the once lofty heights the Yankees were hoping he would. He has been solid and flashed some of the greatest but has not been able to sustain it for any great length of time. In 2012 his swinging strike rate jumped back up and his K9 jumped with it. With some regression to his HR/FB, Hughes could have a big season in 2013 leading into his first shot at free agency. 

UPSIDE: 15 wins and an ERA < 4.00

SP Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies
Kyle Kendrick has been nothing if not inconsistent in his time spent as a major league pitcher but has usually posted acceptable ERAs and WHIPs. But his strikeout rates have left much to be desired. He won't be confused with Stephen Strasburg anytime soon but thanks to a change in his pitch usage he seems to have hit on the key to greater dominance. He has reduced his use of the cutter in favor of his 2-seam fastball (a sinker) and his change-up. The result was a K9 over 6.0 for the season and approaching 7.0 K9 in the second half. If the improved strikeout rate sticks with his control (2.60 career BB9) and strong groundball rate (45.8 career GB percentage) he could be a huge breakout pitcher this season.   

UPSIDE: 12-plus wins and an ERA < 4.00

SP Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers
Many forget that Porcello is still just 24-years old. He spent very little time in the minors and has been forced to develop his skills on the major league stage. Given the way he has been thrown to the metaphorical wolves, Porcello has done quite well. The perception of Porcello is no doubt as an average or perhaps slightly above average starting pitcher. What is not as obvious to most observers is how much the Tigers awful defensive infield hurts Porcello. Porcello is a groundball pitcher (52.3 career GB percentage) and defense matters to him a great deal. His velocity has been on the rise and he now pitches in the low to mid 90’s. His strikeouts have been lower than fantasy owners would like to see but his K9 has seen small increases the last two seasons and his swinging strike rate has also risen to nearly average. If his slider had been more effective in 2012 it may have gotten all the way there. He has been emphasizing his curveball as an alternative to the slider this spring with great results. This is a pitcher who could explode on the scene if traded to a team with an effective infield defense (the Orioles would be a great spot for him).

UPSIDE: 15 wins and an ERA < 3.75

Others to Consider: Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians; Brian Matusz, Baltimore Orioles; Jacob Turner, Miami Marlins; Erasmo Ramirez, Seattle Mariners; David Phelps, New York Yankees

MR Christian Garcia RHP Washington Nationals
He will be a bit late to start the 2013 season but in keeper leagues that should not be a major problem. His late arrival will also reduce his already low cost. Garcia was a top prospect of the New York Yankees but a series of elbow problems prevented him from pitching much and eventually robbed him of his stellar stuff. After two Tommy John Surgeries and a third procedure to remove bone chips, the Nationals picked him up and placed him in the bullpen. His high nineties stuff was back and his hammer curve was back and his change-up is solid. Saves are probably not in his near future but stranger things have happened.

UPSIDE: 65 IP, 2.90 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 10K9, 3.00BB9,  

MR Sean Doolittle LHP Oakland Athletics
The one pitcher that you should be looking for in the Athletics bullpen is Sean Doolittle. He was drafted with the 41st overall pick as a first baseman but knee injuries almost ended his career. The A’s converted him to pitching and rushed him through the system in 2012. From Class A to the Major Leagues - 17 games, 26 innings, 1.04 earned run average, 50 strikeouts, 8 walks. He has a very deceptive delivery and a blazing mid-90s fastball. He could stabilize the A’s closer position for several years.

UPSIDE: 20 saves with a ridiculous K9

MR Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals
Herrera has it all. He has the strikeout rate, excellent control and a great ground ball rate.Herrera is good enough to be worth drafting in deeper leagues even without the possibility of saves.If the Royals regain faith in Herrera's health they could potentially place him back in a starting role where he would have frontline pitcher stuff.

UPSIDE: Superb ratios with 15-plus saves and 80-plus strikeouts

Others to Consider: Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays; J.J. Hoover, Cincinnati Reds; Junichi Tazawa, Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013 Closer Update: Atlanta Braves

Johnny Venters has a sprain in his elbow and is likely to start the season on the disabled list. As if this was not bad enough news for Braves fans, Jordan Walden, who would seem the most likely candidate to replace Venters as next-in-line to Craig Kimbrel, has been dealing with abulging disc in his back and is also questionable to start the season on the 25-man roster. This makes Eric O'Flaherty the primary set-up man for a while. Kimbrel is still a safe bet as the closer but the Braves bullpen beyond him is in a period of instability.

Atlanta Braves
Closer – Craig Kimbrel
  Disabled – Johnny Venters
  Disabled – Jordan Walden
 Temporary Next– Eric O’Flaherty
The Braves are holding the best closer in the league and one of the best bullpen staffs. Craig Kimbrel is as dominating as they come with a 16.66 K9 in 2012. His continually improving control just makes him look better and better, his BB9 has improved every season to 2.01 in 2012. Johnny Venters was hit a little harder than usual in 2012 but on the surface his indicating stats are mostly unchanged. Although Venters continued to throw in the mid-90s he did see his velocity reduced by around 1MPH. Walden was the closer for the Los Angeles Angels in 2011 and with a solid performance this spring could move ahead of Venters in the closer rankings. Walden throws in the high 90s (though he too saw his velocity reduced a bit in 2012) and strikes out more than a btter per inning but has the type of control that can make managers nervous in the ninth.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

2013 Closer Update: St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals
  Disabled – Jason Motte
  Acting Closer – Mitchell Boggs
Next - Trevor Rosenthal
Super-Sleeper – Fernando Salas

 Closer Jason Motte is likely to open the season on the 15-Day Disabled List due to what is being called a mild elbow strain. An MRI revealed no damage to the ligament but a slight tear to the tendon. General Manager John Mozeliak declared that Mitchell Boggs would be the interim closer with Trevor Rosenthal likely to move into the set-up role.

Motte, who became the Cardinals closer late in 2011, tied for the National League lead with 42 saves last season.

The righty last pitched Thursday. He threw an inning against the Mets. His final pitch of a scoreless inning was 97 mph.

He felt stiffness in his right elbow on the bus ride returning from Port St. Lucie, Fla. Motte described how the elbow felt sore as he reached for his cell phone and that led him to the trainers' room when he got back to the Jupiter complex.

"It tightened up a little bit in my forearm," Motte said. "I felt fine out there (on the mound). It says it's a little muscle strain, it's a little tight. I did all my arm stuff afterward (and) felt fine. I don't know if it was the adrenaline or whatever but I didn't feel anything when I was throwing."

The team has attacked the inflammation in the elbow with the usual treatments, Motte said: ice, stimulation, and some anti-inflammatory medicine.

It had increased by Friday morning, when the team then took him for an MRI of the joint. That was when the tear was discovered. The initial treatment is to tame the inflammation in the joint so that a clearer sense of the damage can be measured.
Jason Motte has been drafted as a top 4-5 closer in many early leagues. He gives his owners more innings than the typical closer thanks to his frequent use in the eighth inning. He throws in the high 90s with excellent control and an improving swinging strike rate and K9 rate. He is as locked into the role as any closer can be these days. His manager seems to have a great deal of faith in him and he has delivered nearly every time. 
Mitchell Boggs is a hard throwing right-hander with a mid-90s fastball. He has an average Swinging Strike Rate and a middling K9 for a potential closer. He has ok control and induces a high rate of groundballs (career 52.4 percent). His career high for saves is four gained during the 2011 season..

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hanley Ramirez and Other Fantasy Baseball Injuries

Hanley Ramirez: Torn Ligament in Right Thumb

Hanley Ramirez tore a ligament in his right thumb during the final game of the World Baseball Classic. The Dodgers expect him to miss at least eight weeks. A mid-May return is probably the best we can expect for Ramirez who had been playing very well this spring. This obviously has a huge impact on his Draft Day cost and 2013 value. He loses nearly a third of his potential playing time. If you had him as a 40-45 dollar player he looks more like a 27-30 player.

The biggest playing time beneficiary should be last year's shortstop Dee Gordon. Gordon has had a impressive spring to date with an On-Base Percentage around .400 just as manager Don Mattingly requested. In a full season Gordon was already capable of a 50-steal season. If he maintains this level of patience (which isn't far off his minor league levels) over a full season he could easily swipe 70 bases. Few expect Luis Cruz to be successful as the starting Third Baseman so there is a natural roster development (Hanley Ramirez moving back to third base) if Gordon is playing well. In addition, Mark Ellis has been injury prone in the past and Gordon could quickly transition there as well. At Gordon's current ADP he must be considered an excellent sleeper source for steals from the shortstop position.

Tommy Hanson: Triceps Tightness in Right Arm

Tommy Hanson was pulled from Wednesday's start against the Cleveland Indians after complaining of triceps stiffness while warming up for the fourth inning. Hanson (as the Angels should be well aware) has a history of battling through injuries to pitch even to his long-term detriment. So, when catcher Chris Ianetta spotted Hanson shaking his arm he confronted him about it. Hanson insisted he was fine and prepared to pitch. He even said after the game that there was no chance he would miss his next start. Hanson had been pitching fairly well until his removal with four strikeouts to just one walk through three innings. His velocity was in his normal range. The Angels confirmed they pulled him just to be safe.

If something does develop right-handers Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams would be the leading candidates (neither can be recommended as more than a late/reserve rounds flyer) to replace Hanson in the rotation. Hanson has been a late round draft pick in most leagues and little more than that even in Al-Only. Hanson was very effective in the first half of the 2012 season before descending into wretchedness in the second half. No injury was reported. It is very possible that Hanson merely tired down the stretch after missing half of the 2011 season.

Pablo Sandoval: Right Elbow Ulnar Neuritis

As fantasy owners we crucify guys like Evan Longoria for being injury prone. Somehow Pablo Sandoval who is at least as bad if not much worse has escaped the label. Sandoval has had a bone spur in the same elbow the last few years (since 2009) but supposedly it has not been a problem only causing him to miss a few days during the 2009 season. The current injury has been diagnosed as Ulnar Neuritis which is of the Ulnar Nerve. Sandoval has been suspended indefinitely from all baseball activities. There is no schedule for his return but the Giants believe he will be ready to start the regular season.

The Giants do not really have a back-up plan if the Panda goes down to injury. They traded away their most advanced third base prospect - Conor Gillaspie. Marco Scutaro is locked in at second base. That leaves Joaquin Arias as the most likely replacement. Sandoval owners will want to draft the best possible reserve at third base as Sandoval could be in and out of the lineup all year.

2013 Closer Update: Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds
Closer – Aroldis Chapman
Sleeper – Sean Marshall
Super-Sleeper – Jose Arredondo

With manager Dusty Baker expressing his support for Aroldis Chapman as a closer and Chapman announcing that he grew to enjoy the closer role and would like to return to it, it was easy to see this coming. Chapman should immediately rise to the top of your closer rankings. He should be second only to Craig Kimbrel.Owners can expect an elite strikeout rate and excellent ratios. Click here to read more about the Cincinnati Reds decision.

It would appear that Jonathan Broxton has recovered from years of abuse at the hands of Joe Torre. His strikeout rate and fastball velocity will probably never be what they were again but Broxton has learned to be effective with what he has which is a still a nice low to mid 90s fastball. As long as his control is there he should be an effective set-up man and emergency closer. Only the return of Aroldis Chapman to the bullpen is forcing Broxton from the closer role.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Triple Crown National League Auction Results

This is the time of year for expert leagues, and the Triple Crown NL Auction is in the books.  I was happy to represent Advanced Fantasy Baseball in this NL-only 5x5 rotisserie auction redraft league.

In order to make a good showing, I knew I had to deal with two difficult sets of circumstances:  1) the other owners are industry experts, and I expected them to be disciplined and make very few mistakes; and 2) this was going to be my first NL-only auction. 

To even the playing field, I decided upon two strategies I have used successfully in other leagues.  The first was to select a core group of players I wanted on my team, even if I had to pay a little extra for them.  My belief was that the other owners would be fairly conservative, and not go beyond a players value range, even by a couple of dollars.  The second was to search for inefficiencies in the market...players I believe will be worth more than generally expected.  I hoped that savings from the second strategy would offset the extra money spent buying my core players.  Having a firm idea who I wanted before the auction made up somewhat for my lesser knowledge of the player pool.

Here's how I wound up:


10    Bryce Harper, Wsh OF      $28
47    Norichika Aoki, Mil OF      $16
54    Angel Pagan, SF OF      $16
56    M. Bumgarner, SF SP      $20
59    Juan Pierre, Mia OF      $12
63    Yadier Molina, StL C      $20
70    Yovani Gallardo, Mil SP      $19
71    Yonder Alonso, SD 1B      $14
83    Neil Walker, Pit 2B      $17
87    Aaron Hill, Ari 2B          $21
89    Mat Latos, Cin SP          $18
97    Josh Rutledge, Col SS      $16
153    L. Morrison, Mia OF      $12
159    Kyuji Fujikawa, ChC RP      $11
161    Sean Marshall, Cin RP      $2
172    Jordan Pacheco, Col 3B      $6
198    Travis d'Arnaud, NYM C      $5
236    Chris Heisey, Cin OF      $2
239    Bronson Arroyo, Cin SP      $1
251    Placido Polanco, Mia 3B      $1
263    Fernando Salas, StL RP      $1
274    J.J. Hoover, Cin RP      $1
284    Eric O'Flaherty, Atl RP      $1
292    Edward Mujica, StL RP      $1
299    A. Bastardo, Phi RP      $1
306    John Baker, SD C          $1
310    Tim Stauffer, SD SP      $1

The number to the left shows where the player was nominated (for example, Bryce Harper was the 10th nomination).  To the right are my winning bids.

Bryce Harper is one of the core players I intended to buy all along.  I expect growth this year, and I was happy to pay $28.  It wasn't until the 47th player that I purchased again.  In the meantime, way too many guys had gone for more than my conservative budget would allow (no more than $30 for a hitter, no more than $20 for a pitcher).  Eventually, Aoki joined the fold.  I didn't have him targeted in advance, but I classified him as a bargain at $16. 

Other players on my "must buy" list:  Angel Pagan, Yonder Alonso, Yadier Molina, Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos, Neil Walker, and Kyuji Fukiwawa.  Of these, I was able to get some at discounts, such as Pagan at $16, Alonso at $14 and Neil Walker at $17.  I later added Bumgarner to my staff, with Bronson Arroyo a nice pickup at only $1. 

I knew I wouldn't be able to make it through the year on four starting pitchers, but the ones I got are high K/9 guys, and I filled in with high K relievers.  Of those relievers, Fujikawa should wind up closing soon, and a couple of others could be in good shape for vulture wins and/or a few saves.  Keep in mind that a large portion of the pitching value in a given year is not on a roster after the auction, so choosing the right free agents will be essential.

The middle infield came about a little oddly.  I had grabbed Neil Walker with some confident, aggressive bidding, and thought he was a good buy.  I was happy, because 2B is thin, and I thought I had one of the best.  Then someone nominated Aaron Hill, my choice for best of the 2B heap. I was sure he would go for $28 or $30.  So, for the heck of it, I waited until the bidding went $1, $2, $3, and then I jumped the bid to $21.  Crickets. I don't know whether everyone else thought $21 was to much for Hill, or if they were shocked just long enough to take no action.  I was happy to have an excellent 2B and an MI.  Things got even better with the shortstop position, when I picked up Josh Rutledge for only $16. So, with Hill, Walker and Rutledge, I would stack my middle infield up against just about anyone.

My spree of buying 11 players between #47 and #97 drained my budget and put me behind the eight ball a bit.  I was forced to battle for Logan Morrison, the last decent CI out there, and Jordan Pacheco for my 3B.  He cost me $5 precious dollars at a time when I had very little money left.  The word now is that Arenado may start at third in Colorado, but I believe Pacheco will get enough ABs at third, first and even catcher to justify his price.  He could even qualify as a Catcher, which could make him decent trade bait.

After Harper, Aoki  and Pagan, I set out to finish my outfield.  The outfield is pretty thin in the NL this year, with a lot of glove men manning the posts.  We start with only 90 or so who qualify, then we take 60 of them for the outfield position, another handful as DHs, and a few in other positions.  That probably strips at least 70 to 75, leaving only a little more than a dozen left.  And with our four-man bench, those few stragglers were certain to get roped.

So, I went first with Juan Pierre.  Seldom have I seen a guy for whom the posted values vary so greatly.  Some value him at $26 in an "only" league, while others say $4 to $5.  Here's what I know...he can still fly, he will get a chance to run, and his average should help your team.  For $12, he's a gamble worth taking in my book.

The rest of the draft was spent struggling through dollar days, trying to find a pearl here and there.  It was frustrating to be down to a dollar a player, a harsh reminder to save some money for the end game, even if it means letting someone go that you would like to have.

The next night, our first free agent period, I purchased Yorvit Torrealba to replace John Baker as my emergency catcher, and said goodby to Fernando Salas in return for Alex Castellanos.  I look at that LAD outfield, and figure Castellanos should get some ABs on sick days.

So, what does the team look like?  The post-draft projection app at ESPN picked my squad to finish a strong third, only four points out of first.  Of course, my projections for many of my players are more optimistic than CBS...which is why I got those particular players.

Here's my roster again, by position:

Advanced FB Crumpler

C Yadier Molina 20
C Travis d'Arnaud 5

1B Yonder Alonso 14
2B Neil Walker 17
3B Jordan Pacheco 6
SS Josh Rutledge 16

MI Aaron Hill 21
CI Logan Morrison 12

OF Bryce Harper 28
OF Norichika Aoki 16
OF Angel Pagan 16
OF Juan Pierre 12
OF Chris Heisey 2

UTL Placido Polanco 1

P Madison Bumgarner 20
P Yovani Gallardo 19
P Mat Latos 18
P Kyuji Fujikawa 11
P Sean Marshall 2
P Bronson Arroyo 1
P  Antonio Bastardo 1
P J.J. Hoover 1
P Eric O'Flaherty 1

BE Edward Mujica 1
BE John Baker 1  (now Yorvit Torrealba)
BE Tim Stauffer 1
BE Fernando Salas 1  ( now Alex Constellanos)

Here's what I figure these guys can generate if my projections hold true:

Runs:     825
HR:    180
RBI:    750
SB:    180   
Avg:     .279

Ws:    75
Sv:    24
Ks:    1050
ERA:    3.35
Whip: 1.18

We should do very well in Runs, SBs and Average, and pretty well in HR and SBs.  I do see a need for some more pop, though, and that will be a priority in trading.  I'll also scour the free agents each week looking for a serviceable pitcher.  I would settle for a guy I could only start at home, when the match-up is right.  A guy may go 4.90 ERA on the road, but have a cozy little 3.45 in his home part.

Well, that's about it, at least for now.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to make yourself heard. And again, thanks to Jon and Advanced Fantasy Baseball for giving me the chance to play in this challenging and exciting league.

Check in for more updates on the Triple Crown NL League, and be sure to check AFB regularly for tips and information which will help you in your league.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The 2013 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Tiers

No fancy intro this time nor is there a featured player. But the player comments are longer than usual.

Tier One Shortstops

Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays - Many of you will be surprised to see Reyes ranked first. Reyes hits for average and is an excellent leadoff hitter.He also has better power than is apparent by his homerun totals. He has averaged just under ten homers the last three seasons but has a career high of 19 homers hit back in old Shea Stadium. He now moves into the newly stacked Toronto Blue Jays lineup and they play in Toronto's Skydome which is easily the most favorable hitters park Reyes has ever enjoyed. A possible 20 homer season with his usual stolen base totals makes Reyes number one.

Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies - He has averaged 103 games played over the last three seasons. Yet he remains the top choice at shortstop for most fantasy owners and analysts. This is partially based on his superior talent but also an indication of just how this this position has become. If he is healthy for close to a full season he is the best at the position. I am not willing to bet he plays an entire season but he has had at least 470 at-bats in three of the last four seasons.

Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs - At just 22-years old Castro has three years of experience as a Major League shortstop. On the surface it does not appear that he has improved much from his rookie season. His power has improved seeing his ISO improve from .108 in 2010 to .147 last season. He is not patient but makes excellent contact despite swinging at too many pitches out of the strike zone. He has excellent speed and has begun to be more aggressive on the bases but Castro is not a very skilled base stealer. He has received a lot of attention from the Cubs coaching staff with the goal of improving his baseball skills. His placement in the top tier has as much to do with his incredible ceiling as a player as with his above average production as a shortstop. There is a breakout coming.

Tier Two Shortstops

Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers - Ramirez is a player that has proved capable of batting .300 or better, hitting 30-plus homeruns, and stealing 50 bases. Hanley Ramirez has been an excellent contact hitter in the past but in the last three seasons has begun to swing at more pitches out of the strike zone. Maybe because of his success with that approach in 2010 he has continued with that approach. He it could also be that he became bored playing for the Marlins, a team that never truly seems to be committed to putting and keeping a true contending team on the field. In any case he seems rejuvenated this spring playing in Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic. The Dodgers have certainly made an effort to make Hanley happy and his team has a ton of talent. We could see him bounce back to a higher level of performance. He is capable of being the best player on this list.

Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays - The Rays refuse to leave him at one position. He began the offseason as the starting shortstop but was moved back to second when they acquired Yunel Escobar. Then he was placed back in the outfield when the Rays acquired Kelly Johnson. He hits for average and is usually good for close to 20 homers and 20 steals.

Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies - He is getting older but he still performs at a high level especially relative to his position. He is unlikely to bat for average but he should hit 10-15 homeruns and steal 30-plus bases. Rollins has been incredibly consistent. He may not be a top tier choice but he is easily one of the safer ones.

Derek Jeter, New York Yankees - Jeter will hit for a high batting average with a high on-base percentage and 10-15 homeruns with a similar number of stolen bases. The Yankees are beginning the season with more injuries than usual so his Runs and RBI rates could start slow, at least until Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are back in the lineup.

Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals - If you have been cruising various fantasy baseball sites looking for information on Ian Desmond's breakout season you have probably seen similar reports. They celebrate his great season and predict that there will be some regression to both his power and batting average. While that is a solid approach there are some signs that his develop was more real than fluke. He has shown impressive power in small samples in the minors but he has been such an undisciplined hitter that he usually missed the opportunity to achieve better homerun numbers. Last season he started to take a more all-fields approach to hitting. He was no more patient and still swung at everything but learned how to better handle pitches on the outer edges of the strikezone. He sits in the middle of the second tier because he needs a lengthier track record to rank higher. But if he does indeed repeat, and I believe he has solid chance of doing just that, he will belong in the top tier of shortstops.

Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians - Some owners were disappointed that Cabrera did not match the 25 homers he slammed during the 2011 season. His 2011 power was fueled by an uptick to his flyball rate and a surge in his HR/FB rate. In 2012 his flyball rate regressed closer to his typical levels and he had a HR/FB rate closer to the league average. Cabrera is a solid offensive catcher and should be good for at least a .270 batting average, 15-20 homeruns and 10-15 steals. He does have the potential for greater numbers. Perhaps the new coaching staff can help him reach it.

Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers - Owners will not get much power out of Elvis (I like calling him Elvis) but he is a near lock for 30 stolen bases. He does have some power potential but he will never achieve it as long as he hits 60 percent of his batted balls on the ground. Most of his flyballs are mistakes but he does hit the ball hard. He is still very young and not yet in his prime. His very high potential is still available should he commit to being the best player he can be. Things like the tattoo incident this spring are an indication of his continuing immaturity.

Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels - Aybar is an aggressive swinger who makes excellent contact albeit with  little power. He usually manages to hit for a solid to very good batting average with the odd homer here and there. He is usually good for 20-plus stolen bases. This year he could see a boost to his Run and RBI totals based simply on the depth of talent in the Angels lineup.

Tier Three Shortstops

Josh Rutledge, Colorado Rockies - Everyone loves a Colorado shortstop who can hit. His debut with the Rockies went very well in 2012 until a hamstring issue slowed him down from August onward. His minor league track record (short as it is) seems to support his 2012 performance. He makes excellent contact but tends to swing at anything he can reach. He has 20-plus homerun power and the more speed than was evident by his 2012 stolen base total. He seems to have the speed and skill to steal 15-20 bases or more with an aggressive manager. He is not likely to be a draft day bargain but looks like a good bet to equal or better his current market price.

Alcides Escobar, Kansas City Royals - The only thing that changed between 2011 and 2012 was his batted ball rates. He hit fewer flyballs and hit more ground balls and line drives. The LD rate of 23 percent drove the increased BABIP which drove the increased batting average which drove the better on-base percentage which led to the increase in stolen base opportunities. If he he can maintain the same batted ball rates he should repeat. Better to bet that he regresses a bit towards his career averages. The stolen bases make him worth the risk.

Marco Scutaro, San Francisco Giants - Scutaro has the patience to draw walks and usually has a solid on-base percentage. Since becoming a regular starter his ability to hit for average has improved and has been above .275 the last four seasons. He does not have much power or speed but will hit 8-10 homers and steal 5-10 bases in a good season. At most positions the lack of power and speed would hurt your fantasy team. But the over a full season the average shortstop hits just ten homers and steals around 15 bases. Scutaro will approach those numbers while pumping up your team batting average. As I keep repeating, hitting for average is a fading skill in Major League you can make up the few homers and stolen bases if you are unable to acquire one of the top two tier shortstops. 
Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox - He seems to be fading. His power numbers have gone down the last two seasons. His stolen bases rebounded a bit last season but that may have been the result of manager Robin Ventura's commitment to an aggressive running game. This is not to say that he will not steal 20 bases again but rather to emphasize that his base skills are fading.

J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles - Hardy is a solid defensive shortstop. He has a solid contact rate and excellent power but is an impatient and undisciplined hitter. He is unlikely to hit for a great average but 20 homers are usually in the cards with a middling batting average.

 Zach Cozart, Cincinnati Reds -  He enjoyed a solid full season debut batting .246/.288/.399 with 15 homeruns and four stolen bases. His .282 BABIP seems rather low but we do not have much track record to go on. His combination of power and speed leads me to believe he can do much better. There is definitely some stolen base upside as well. He is no speed demon but he did steal 30 bases his first season at Triple-A. If you find yourself digging for a shortstop or middle infielder this far down the list at least Cozart still has some upside potential.

Tier Four Shortstops

Hiroyuki Nakajima - There are not many scouting reports (that I can actually read) on Hiro as he likes to be called. I expect him to hit for a solid average a steal a few bases. He should get on base at a decent rate and score a bunch of runs in the Athletics lineup.

Cliff Pennington, Arizona Diamondbacks - Simply moving from Oakland Coliseum to Chase Field should improve Pennington's fantasy stock. Oakland Coliseum tends to reduce offense in almost every category. It shrinks left-handed power by around 18 percent! Chase Field, the home park of the Diamondbacks, has the nearly opposite effect on hitters. Boosting offense in almost every category. With better BABIP luck and the change in ballparks, Pennington should hit for a much better batting average. He is not a great hitter but neither is he as bad as he looked in 2012. He has patience at the plate and will take a walk and has average plate discipline. He has a little pop that might allow him to hit around 10 homers in his new home park. He has the speed to steal 30-plus bases if he gets on base enough to make the attempts and the Diamondbacks love to run. It also does not hurt that he and hitting coach Don Baylor are working on shortening his swing this spring. Pennington is a decent late round choice.

Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers - He has become the favorite sleeper of many owners thus ensuring he will not be much of a bargain for those of us with late drafts this year. He has fantastic speed and will steal bases with every opportunity. He does have some power potential that seems unlikely to be reached any time soon. He currently slaps most balls down into the ground, he had a 65.6 percent groundball rate in 2012 and just a 19.2 percent flyball rate. Draft him for the stolen bases at this point and do not pay for anything else.

Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics - Injuries took a large toll on Lowrie's career. He might have been established as a star at the position if he could have stayed healthy. He has better power than most at the position and he had a great opportunity to establish himself with the Astros but he failed to stay healthy once again in 2012. The Astros traded him for a handful of players this spring including Chris Carter and Brad Peacock. Lowrie will be a full-time utility player playing often but without a position of his own.

Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves - The Braves young shortstop has great speed and a great glove. Some question his bat but he seems to have some patience at the plate and makes excellent contact. He hit the ball fairly hard judging by his 17 percent line drive rate. His short minor league track record suggests he will hit for a solid batting average. He has been a dynamo during the World Baseball Classic. I think ten homers and 20-plus stolen bases with a solid batting average is a decent bet.

Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers -In re-draft leagues you can ignore him but in keeper leagues you have a few things to consider. First, the 25-year old was very good in each and every season in the minors. No, he does not have much power. However, Gordon has always made excellent contact and has shown solid patience at the plate. He has crazy, mad, ludicrous speed. In a full season given a decent OBP he would easily steal 50-plus bases. This spring manager Don Mattingly has insisted that Gordon work on his on-base percentage and defense. As of this writing he has a .400 on-base percentage. I have a hunch he'll make the team. He has nothing to prove in the minors and he is more talented than the players manning two of the three spots he could theoretically handle. Even off the bench he could steal 25-plus bases.

Stephen Drew, Boston Red Sox - Like his brother J.D. Drew, Stephen Drew cannot stay healthy. He should be able to hit .20 or better with 15-20 homeruns but that would be in an uninterrupted season. He's already struggling with injuries this spring in case you were wondering.

Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers - The Tigers always seem to be searching for Peralta's replacement. Fantasy owners might agree due to his wildly inconsistent performance with the bat. But the Tigers are probably more concerned about how his lousy defense impacts their pitching staff. He should hit 15-20 homeruns but his batting average could be anything from .230 to .300 making him a difficult player to forecast.

Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers - He is the best prospect in the game by most accounts and the Texas Rangers do not have a spot for him. He has a good glove, solid power and the speed to steal 20-plus bases. He isn't even 20-years old so another year spent mostly in the minors is not the end of the world for his development.

Tier Five Shortstops

Ruben Tejada, New York Mets - I have seen him get lots of love from fantasy owners but I really do not get it. He hits the ball hard as evidenced by his career LD rate of 27 percent. That alone drives his decent batting averages that last two seasons. He has a swing at everything approach but does not strikeout much. He does not hit homeruns or steal bases in any significant numbers. He ranks here based on BA potential alone.

Yunel Escobar, Tampa Bay Rays - His personality quirks and despicable attitude have resulted in him being a member of four teams in the last two years. He has some talent and could make some valuable improvements if he could  just shut up and listen to the coaches and players that try to help him.

Luis Cruz, Los Angeles Dodgers - Thanks to a very productive 296 at-bats Cruz is a near lock to start the season as the Dodgers starting third baseman. Even the Dodgers seem to realize that Cruz is not a long term starter. They tried to convince Scott Rolen to come out of retirement and take the job but they could not work it out with him. I think he is probably a fair hitter at this point in his career. Older players are still capable of developing new skills and improving their production at the plate. But the Dodgers are still likely to replace him the first chance they get.

Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres - I hate to mention it but Cabrera was one of the players revealed in the Biogenesis mess. So there is some risk of suspension. Cabrera has little power and slaps everything on the ground which is not a horrible strategy for a player with his speed and lack of homerun power. He has improved his strikeout rate a bit but still strikes out nearly 25 percent of the time. If you draft him it is in hopes that you will receive 40-plus stolen bases on the cheap.

Alex Gonzalez, Milwaukee Brewers - He has good power for a shortstop and has a solid opportunity to receive at-bats with the Brewers. The Brewers have a rookie shortstop and an injured first baseman. Gonzalez is expected to fill in at first until Corey Hart returns. He does not walk much and swings at everything. He does make lots of contact but has little clue what to do with a pitch he can not knock out of the park.

Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins - He has few exceptional tools. By few I mean none. Scouts like his approach and he is one of those guys that makes the most of his limited tools. He has pretty decent speed. He looks like someone that can hit for a decent average thanks to decent patience and contact skills. You could do worse as a one dollar MI in an AL-only.

Tier Six Shortstops

Mike Aviles, Cleveland Indians - He has decent power and the speed to steal 15-plus bases and despite some lousy BABIP luck the last two seasons should hit for a solid batting average. He doesn't have much patience at the plate but makes solid contact. He has been a beast during the World Baseball Classic and you may someone to overpay based on that. He is coming off the bench for the Indians but the Indians have an inexperienced third baseman and second baseman so he could find a decent number of at-bats. The new Cleveland manager is Terry Francona who is definitely a fan of Aviles.

Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees - Despite all the Yankees' injuries and departures this season Nunez still does not have a starting role. He does not have a great glove but has a decent bat. He won't really hit for a high batting average but it should be a solid one. He can take a walk though it obviously is not his favorite thing to do. His best fantasy asset is speed. In a full season of at-bats he could steal 30-plus bases. He needs an opening at shortstop or third base to get a real opportunity to play.

Jamey Carroll, Minnesota Twins - A skilled hitter without any power, Carroll was usually good for a high batting average and around ten stolen bases. This year it appears he will lose his starting role and come off the Twins bench.

Tyler Pastornicky, Atlanta Braves - He is less tool laden than Andrelton Simmons and his glove is inferior and that was enough to push him to the bench. He is probably a more skilled hitter but unless there is an injury he is not likely to get the chance to prove it.

Tier Seven Shortstops

Clint Barmes, Pittsburgh Pirates - Boy this guy sucks. He is still living off his years with the Rockies. He has a good glove but nothing to offer a fantasy team.

Brendan Ryan, Seattle Mariners - Another all glove guy. He has a bunch of young talented shortstops eying him from the Mariners minor league system.

Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants - Proof that you can get to the major leagues with just a good glove, cuz this guy cannot hit.

Rafael Furcal, St. Louis Cardinals - He is out for the season after deciding to have TJS surgery this spring.