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THT's Fantasy Archives
Friday, May 24, 2013
It is with great pride (and serious skepticism with respect to the judgment of my editorial overlords) that I announce I will be assuming the role of Roster Doctor here at THT Fantasy. It's a position that carries considerable gravitas, and I've wanted to be called "Doctor" since the moment I started crafting this article.
In the interest of full disclosure, though, I slept through the requisite exams to qualify as a licensed Roster Doctor. As such, I'd consider myself more of a Roster Consultant. I hope this subtle tweak in title indemnifies me in case I'm responsible for running your team into the ground.
In all seriousness, though, it's a real privilege to be here, and I'm very much looking forward to an enjoyable and prosperous season of fantasy baseball. Now drop your pants.
CH James writes:
5x5 OPS league with five keepers. Getting crushed in the standings... eighth place. Cut losses with Eric Hosmer early and pitching has underperformed early. R, SB, W, K, WHIP are major sore points. Help appreciated!
Judging by the wealth of elite players on your team, I surmise that this is a 10-team league, and that offense has been your unambiguous priority since day one. With a core of Troy Tulowitzki, Rayn Braun, Matt Kemp and Adrian Beltre, your offense is extremely potent, and I’d be incredulous if this team didn’t lead the league in OPS by October. That said, it looks like you’ve gravitated towards the sluggers and not the table-setters. That isn’t necessarily an untenable approach, but it seems to have caught up with you a little in the earlyish part of 2013: Success in the runs and stolen bases categories has eluded you. I still see plenty of value in your pitching staff, despite the fact that it's “underperforming early,” but you can make a couple of minor adjustments.
First, jettisoning Ike Davis is a priority. Despite the allure of his 30-home run campaign in 2012—which is looking increasingly like an aberration fueled by an unsustainable 21.1 HR/FB percentage—he’s proven a liability in every offensive category this year. I realize that power carries double the value in your league (home runs and the slugging component of OPS), but any surplus value Davis could conceivably generate with his pop is effectively negated by his inability to get on base. When you’re not getting on base (and he really isn’t, with a microscopic .236 OBP), you’re not scoring runs and you’re not stealing bases— not that the latter is something he’d do anyway;he hasn’t swiped a bag since 2010.
At this point, Davis (14/4/9/0/.481 OPS) has virtually no trade value, and continues to bring you down in the categories you’re already struggling in. Dump him, and consider grabbing someone in the vein of a Marco Scutaro or Daniel Murphy to fill your infield void. They won’t put up sexy numbers, but they can provide some assistance in the areas you’re hurting. Both of these players hit toward the top of the lineup, demonstrate solid on-base ability, and will get plenty of opportunities to score runs, while maybe even stealing a base or two.
Another move I’d consider is trading Michael Cuddyer, as his market value is approaching (or has approached) its apex. The 34-year-old is enjoying a solid season in Colorado, posting a 18/7/23/3/.963 OPS line for a resurgent Rockies club. However, despite his hot start, he’s not really helping you a ton in the areas you’ve identified as weaknesses. With Curtis Granderson's eventual return from his latest injury, you have a bit of a surplus in the outfield, and should consider moving Cuddyer for someone who can help you with stolen bases or in your pitching categories.
It might be tough to part with a guy who’s flirting with a 1.000 OPS (and who plays half his games in Coors Field), but it looks as though some regression is inevitable for him. His .352 BABIP represents a 46-point upgrade over his career mark, while his .261 isolated power is the highest such figure of his career. A 31-game sample isn’t exactly nothing, but it’s not nearly enough to convince me that Cuddyer is about to enjoy the best offensive season of his life. Once he cools off at home (five homers, 1.157 OPS in 64 plate appearances), Cuddyer will better approximate the production we’ve come to expect, so I would aggressively scour the trade market before that happens. Like Davis, Cuddyer will certainly not be part of this dynasty going forward, so capitalize on his trade value while you can.
I’d consider pursuing someone like Michael Bourn, a player in the stolen-base/run-scoring machine prototype, as your offense is deep enough to accommodate a category specialist. Coming off a hand injury that sidelined him for nearly a month, Bourn’s value isn’t exactly robust (shoutout to a recent episode of Veep), and his owner might be getting frustrated. You certainly need the help in the stolen base department&mdash only two players on your team have more than three, and none has more than six.
As far as your pitching goes, it appears as though you’ve tried to cultivate a binary between your starters and your relievers, where the former are good and the latter are really not good. It’s a shame, too, because while some of what your starters have done is pretty impressive, your suspect relief pitching seriously undermines their efforts. Shelby Miller has emerged not only as a Rookie of the Year candidate, but as a legitimate Cy Young contender, collecting five wins with a 1.74 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 62 Ks through his first nine starts. Alex Cobb has also been a pleasant surprise with five wins of his own and sexy rate stats, to boot.
The best advice I can give you with this rotation is to stay patient. Zack Greinke has returned from the disabled list—curse you, Carlos Quentin, and your overperforming club, too—and will start to compile the dubyas if he sustains his current level of effectiveness (3.48 ERA/2.94 FIP, 3.75 K/BB). Kris Medlen has been a hard-luck loser, too. He's not putting up the ridiculous numbers he did during his dominant 12-start sample in 2012, but with a 3.02 ERA and a very, very good offense behind him, he'll start to pick up some wins soon. Wins are face-palmingly unpredictable, as you're surely aware, so don't go chasing them (or waterfalls), especially when you have a decent staff.
Unfortunately, your suspect relief pitching has hurt your rate stats. Only one of your four relievers (Balfour) has an ERA below 3.63, and two of them have WHIPs north of 1.23. So here’s my recommendation, albeit after some annoying pontification:
While I respect that you’ve monopolized the Dodgers closer situation, with both League and Jansen, it doesn’t seem worth it unless the non-closer is a real asset with respect to both your rate stats and strikeouts. At this point, Jansen serves only one of those two functions, having compiled 31 strikeouts in 22.1 innings. His 1.07 WHIP is nice, but he has surrendered four home runs already this year, resulting in a relatively inflated 3.63 ERA. Since you’re not desperate for saves, I’d suggest dropping him in favor of an elite non-closer who can rack up the strikeouts while keeping your rate stats down, someone like David Robertson, Darren O’Day or Joaquin Benoit. It’s unlikely that any of these guys receive (m)any save opportunities (like Jansen might, depending on how much longer the Dodgers remain comfortable entrusting the ninth inning to League) but they all have pretty solid track records with respect to the rate-stat/strikeout combo.
Ultimately, your struggles with WHIP and Ks are not easily reconciled. Most of the pitchers available on the waiver wire are there because they're good at one and bad at the other (see: Felix Doubront, Bartolo Colon). Pitchers who strike out a lot of guys while keeping men off the basepaths are exceedingly rare because they're exceedingly good.
If your problems in these areas persist, consider dealing from an area of strength (read: offense) to address this need. The core of your offense is strong enough to keep you going while trading away supplemental pieces. With multi-position eligibility, Ben Zobrist could augment a Cuddyer trade nicely, while players like David Ortiz and Carlos Santana should be considered moveable, too. At this point, I still believe it's premature to be shopping the core pieces I alluded to earlier, as I'm confident your staff will improve, but remember, in fantasy as in real baseball, preventing runs is as important as scoring runs. Act accordingly.
Posted by Jonah Birenbaum at 3:53am
Before we begin, let’s pay tribute to fellow fantasy dumpster-diver Jack Weiland, whose prescient endorsements of Scott Feldman and Eric Chavez have paid dividends for readers who followed his advice, while Yunel Escobar, who Jack wrote about a few weeks ago, has also been hot lately. (Matt Joyce is another one of Jack’s quality recommendations, despite missing time this week with a hamstring injury.) Meanwhile, Jeff Locke is ignoring my naysaying as he turned in another solid outing for the Pirates, while Jake Odorizzi stood his ground against the Blue Jays on Monday.
If you want to read about those guys, I won’t stop you from adding another couple of page views to THT’s metrics. But since you’re here now, why don’t we examine a few more waiver candidates.
Rick Porcello | Detroit Tigers | SP | 10 percent Yahoo ownership; 15.4 percent ESPN; 40 percent CBS
YTD: 38 IP / 4.38 FIP / 6.39 K/9 / 1.89 BB/9
ZiPS updated: 163 IP / 4.14 FIP / 5.75 K/9 / 2.15 BB/9
Note: Deadlines being what they are, I’m writing this article before Porcello's Thursday night start against the Twins, so both the stats listed, and, perhaps, my thoughts on this guy could be in dire need of updating by the time you read this. If he threw a no-hitter last night, I’m a genius. If he got torched, I’m an idiot. So this disclaimer is a way of hedging my bets so I can save face in the morning, ya dig?
After resisting the, um, urge to write about Ubaldo Jimenez over the past couple of weeks—I think he still sucks, and I suspect most of you guys do, too—I figured I’d instead pull the trigger on another typically frustrating fantasy starter. Porcello, who had a wonderful spring (.75 WHIP, 21-to-0 K/BB ratio and a rejoinder about why March stats don’t matter), has really turned it on of late, going 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA, 8.64 K/9 and just five walks over his last 25 innings (four starts).
Not that you’ve forgotten, but while Comerica Park plays favorably to pitchers, a tag team of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder rarely leaves the Tigers wanting for offense and the team’s bullpen led the American League in both FIP and WAR entering Wednesday’s action. Put those factors together, and you have the baseline for a successful waiver wire addition—provided, of course, that the man in question does his part.
It’s hard to imagine Porcello is still only 24 years old, as he’s been a full-time player for the past four seasons. In that span, he’s established himself as a sub-par fantasy pitcher, a guy who kills owners with his paltry strikeout totals (lifetime 5.07 K/9) and doesn’t help in ERA, WHIP or wins. So far this year, however, Porcello has looked (sorta) like a new man, as his 6.39 K/9, 1.89 BB/9 and 54.9 percent groundball rate would all be career highs were the season to end today. (Before you sneer at the meh strikeout rate, understand that he only had three—that’s three—strikeouts in his first four appearances.)
What’s changed? He’s basically ditched his slider this year and has instead leaned much more heavily on his curveball and changeup, two pitches that have combined for nearly 36 percent of his offerings, as per FanGraphs. That might be responsible for the 7.6 percent swinging strike rate and 62.9 percent first-pitch strike percentage, both of which are career highs.
Out of curiosity, I looked to Texas Leaguers to compare his first four outings of the year (when he totally sucked) against his recent hot stretch to see if he’s done anything different. It’s a bit unfair to compare to the two sample sizes (he’s thrown significantly more pitches over his last four starts compared to his first four appearances, one of which was in relief), but, at least as far as Texas Leaguers is concerned, he’s recently reintroduced his slider a tad and thrown more changeups, a pitch that has seen a much-improved whiff rate. (To what extent TL’s PITCHfx may have confused his slider and curve, I can’t say.)
I’m sensitive to CBS Sports’ Al Melchior’s observation that two of Porcello’s good starts were against the Astros and Braves, two teams whose strikeout rates are, respectively, first and second in baseball. But that still doesn’t explain how he’s neutralized the Indians and Rangers, two first-place teams whose wOBA are among the majors’ best.
If you’re skeptical that Rick Porcello, midway through the season’s first eight weeks, has mutated into Nolan Ryan, fair enough. But we’re not so far removed from Porcello’s immaculate spring as to completely dismiss that excellent month, and a new emphasis on his pitch selection provides concrete evidence that Porcello is trying a new approach in 2013.
Factor in a 3.42 xFIP that’s two-and-a-half runs better than his ERA, and a 61 percent strand rate that needs to jump 5 percentage points before it meets the worst seasonal mark of his career, and I’ll say it: I’m buying into Porcello’s hot streak and improved strikeout capability. As a member of the reigning AL champs, and with two starts in Week 9 (one home against the Pirates, one at the Orioles), that makes him a terrific upside guy in most fantasy leagues.
Recommendation: Worth picking up in mixed leagues across the board.
DJ LeMahieu | Colorado Rockies | 2B | 2 percent Yahoo ownership; .4 percent ESPN; 7 percent CBS
YTD: 18 PA / .412 / .444 / .529 with 0 HR and 1 SB
ZiPS updated: 375 PA / .303 / .337 / .390 with 2 HR and 8 SB
What happened to Josh Rutledge? Wasn’t he supposed to be a huge middle infield sleeper heading into 2013? Well, with only a quarter of the season over so far, there’s plenty of time for Rutledge to rehabilitate his standing with fantasy owners, but the path back to respectability will now lead through Triple-A, where he was demoted by the Rockies on Wednesday. That opens a spot for LeMahieu to get some time in at second base, thus making him a prime waiver wire candidate.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Kelly Johnson, a guy who should post above-average power numbers for a second baseman, even if I reject the buzz over his recent hot streak. Well, in a sense, LeMahieu could prove to be KJ’s fantasy alter ego, a guy who offers very little in the way of power (nine minor league homers stretched out over 1,669 plate appearances), but has managed an 84 percent contact rate in the major leagues and batted .321 down on the farm.
Since his 2013 debut on May 16, LeMahieu has played well, though he’s obviously not going to maintain the 35.7 percent line drive rate that’s led him to reach base half the time he’s put the ball in play. He’s also not the most patient hitter, as a mere 6 percent walk rate in the minors doesn’t lead to much optimism going forward.
But he puts the bat on the ball, and in case it needs to be said, Colorado is a great hitter’s park and the Rockies’ lineup currently paces the National League with a .333 wOBA. As a bonus, depending on your league’s eligibility rules, LeMahieu could offer help at third base (nine games last year), and, if your league is super liberal, shortstop and first base as well (three games between those spots last year).
With catcher being a relatively flush position this year, and third base adding the likes of Nolan Arenado and Josh Donaldson to its ranks in 2013, there’s little doubt that middle infield, as usual, is the fantasy position most in need of help. If you have a more well-rounded candidate at second base, good for you, but in a deeper mixed league, a guy like LeMahieu deserves consideration.
Recommendation: Worth a look in deeper mixed leagues.
Pedro Florimon | Minnesota Twins | SS | 2 percent Yahoo ownership; 5.1 percent ESPN; 8 percent CBS
YTD: 107 PA / .242 / .311 / .347 with 2 HR and 6 SB
ZiPS updated: 501 PA / .238 / .297 / .336 with 7 HR and 17 SB
Should I be embarrassed that I had no idea who Florimon was until recently? (Put another way, as embarrassed as when I suggested Brian Dozier could have fantasy value?) Well, not really, since Florimon’s career .271 wOBA is underwhelming even for a shortstop. Still, the 26-year-old is making strides, as both his strikeout and walk rates signal improvement over his career numbers, thanks in part, FanGraphs tells us, to an improved ability to lay off pitches outside the strike zone.
Florimon, who brings a weak .105 ISO to fantasy owners, won’t help with power, but the six steals so far are encouraging, a pace ZiPS seems to think is sustainable. With regular playing time—he’s been in the lineup nearly every day, aside from missing some time earlier this month due to a strained hamstring—and a batting average that could settle into the not-awful .250 range, Florimon offers intriguing help for owners in desperate need of speed.
Recommendation: Strictly AL-only league material.
Posted by Karl de Vries at 2:01am
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