Fantasy Baseball: Five Questions Answered

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1. With Clayton Kershaw DL’d, Strasburg struggling and Chris Sale ailing, how do you rank the game’s elite pitchers moving forward? Which are you most worried about?
Ricky (@RSandersRX) – My top five is as follows: Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Adam Wainwright and Stephen Strasburg. Obviously Felix Hernandez deserves serious consideration but I am holding strong with my projections for Strasburg (he still sports a league leading 14.0 K/9). Going from “general soreness” to placed on the DL the next day with “elbow soreness” always is a cause for concern. His mechanics end in his body moving forward with his elbow tilted at an awkward angle backwards that eventually follows the body along. With Kershaw set to begin a rehab assignment, Sale is definitely the bigger worry in terms of the elite SPs.
Seth (@SethDaSportsMan) - While Sale’s diagnosis seems to be benign, I think he is the one to be worried about.  Doctors said his UCL was in “excellent” shape, but “elbow soreness” is never a good thing to hear.  His herky-jerky delivery has always scared scouts and the wear and tear it is causing on his elbow is finally rearing its ugly head.   If I’m a Sale owner, I wait for him to make a couple starts when he returns from the DL and then sell.

Joe (@jcswigga) - Adam Wainwright, Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee round out my top-4 at the present time.  In leagues utilizing quality starts as opposed to wins, I have no issue flip-flopping Hernandez and Lee.  All four pitchers have posted greater than one strikeout per inning pitched which translates to 200+K seasons, assuming health affords that many innings.  The pitcher that I am most worried about is Madison Bumgarner who was ranked pre-season #10 by ESPN.  Bumgarner doesn’t possess the electric stuff that the aforementioned list does so he relies more on command.  However, through 20.2 IP, Bumgarner has a mid-3 ERA and an astounding 1.79 WHIP.  His strikeout ratios remain intact so this isn’t someone I’d be selling but rather monitoring.

Joseph (@JosephTheroux) - I rank the elite arms pretty much the same way I did before opening day: Kershaw then Darvish then a big blob consisting of Scherzer, Wainwright, Lee, King Felix, Strasburg, Verlander, Bumgarner, Fernandez, and Sale.  It would take something drastic, like a major injury or loss of a job, to change my opinion.  I do, however, raise my eyebrow just a bit any time something seems a bit off with Chris Sale.  His frame and mechanics have always scared the hell out of me.  Granted you can’t argue with the results, but if he keeps throwing with the inverted W and keeps going 120ish pitches a start I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t have a date with Dr. Andrews before Obama leaves office.

Jay (@broncokeeper) - I wouldn’t even have those guys in my top 5 going forward. Obviously, Kershaw is a stud and I can’t wait for him to get back (I spent $42 on him in my NL-Only Roto League…), but I have a hard time valuing guys who aren’t throwing (or throwing well…). My top 5 right now are: Jose Fernandez, Masahiro Tanaka, Felix Hernandez, Johnny Cueto, Adam Wainwright. All of those guys have WHIP’s below 1.00 and Wainwright is just barely outside the 9+ K/9 stat.

Regan (@ReganFP) - None of the Dbacks pitchers, except Archie Bradley, but he won’t be up because they don’t want to pay him a year early. 1B- All the rest of the Dbacks pitchers…

2. Are there any players you would “sell low” on because they have started slow and you do not believe they will turn it around?

Ricky (@RSandersRX) – Selling low is a concept I have learned to embrace over the past four seasons. Sometimes players like B.J. Upton just do not end up turning it around so getting whatever you can may be the best overall solution. As a general rule I do not recommend it but certain cases are exceptions. This year, two considerations would be R.A. Dickey and Jose Altuve. I just don’t think Dickey’s knuckle ball is fooling anyone anymore as evident by his 5.90 ERA and his bottom three overall xFIP (expected fielder independent pitching). Altuve definitely isn’t hopeless but what does he really do? At best, he hits .290 with three to seven homers and 40 RBI. If someone thinks they are buying low on him, sell him and get a top 80-100 overall player.

Seth (@SethDaSportsMan) - Matt Garza – Garza gets a lot of hype, but I’m not sure why.  Yes, he’s been dependable (10 wins in four of last six years), but his overall fantasy production is so-so.  His career-high in wins is 15, but his second-most is just 11.  His career ERA of 3.85 is also decent, but his strikeout numbers are ho-hum.  Most of his perceived fantasy value comes from his 2011 season with the Cubs, in which he had a career-best 3.32 ERA and 197 K.  Unfortunately, that year was an anomaly for Garza.  His 7.7% HR/FB was at least 2.2 percent lower than any year since 2010 and his 2.95 FIP was far below his career averages of 3.98.  His swinging strike % (11.2) and contact rate (76.5) were both career-bests, and far exceeded his next highest marks.  Basically, Garza had everything going for him that season – he wasn’t inducing much contact, but when he did, the defense behind him was outstanding and balls were staying in the park.  Milwaukee is playing very well, so I think Garza could easily reach that 10-win mark again and post a high 3.00- to low-4.00 ERA, but the strikeouts won’t be there.  Those numbers represent more of a streamer or a matchup play in deeper leagues.  On name recognition alone you should be able to get a decent 4th OF or MI in a trade.

Joe (@jcswigga) - I would like to preface this section by stating that an owner should never attempt at selling low.  Even if it takes a week or two of waiting for said player to have a hot night, it’s almost always worth the wait with regards to the value that your trade commands.  Having said that, Eric Hosmer was ranked preseason as a top-50 player and I don’t think I will ever buy that.  Last year Hosmer produced the following line: .302 BA, 17 HR, 79 RBI, 86 R and 4 SB.  It would be silly to say that Hosmer didn’t have a productive season but an elite 1B; I’m not sure that will ever happen.  Fast forward to this season and here are Hosmer’s numbers to date: .275 BA, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R and 0 SB.  If an owner in your league is willing to pay you for his services as a truly elite 1B, I wouldn’t think twice about shipping him off.

Joseph (@JosephTheroux) - Billy Hamilton.  He can’t hit.  He’ll pull a Dee Gordon and finally put it together in two years , but for now he’s a one category player.  Someone in your league is still a believer.  Don’t be that guy.

Jay (@broncokeeper) - Yasiel Puig. Came in blazing hot last year and set the world, fantasy and real, on fire. I’m at the point where he’s just a flash in the pan who could be great, but I don’t think he’ll ever get it all together. Get what you can and move on. Heck, you might dupe someone who still believes he will bounce back to his June call-up form from last year.

Regan (@ReganFP) – All of the Dbacks pitchers.

3. What pitcher outside of the top 15 in ADP do you think has the greatest chance of ending the year inside the top 15 in terms of fantasy numbers?
Ricky (@RSandersRX) – Pretty surprised I am the only one choosing these two but I like both Masahiro Tanaka and Yordano Ventura to finish in the top 15. Thru 29.1 IP, Tanaka is undefeated (3-0) with 10.74 K/9 and a 17.50 K/BB. Those numbers will not continue at those ridiculous clips but I wouldn’t expect them to fall too far. As for Yordano Ventura, his combination of a 100+ mph fastball and nasty uncle charlie will make difficult all season for opposing hitters. He has struck out 19 batters in 17 IP and both his GB/LOB rates have been reasonable. All of these levels can easily continue for such an elite talent as Ventura certainly is.
Seth (@SethDaSportsMan) - James Shields – Shields has always possessed excellent stuff, but his K/9 is excellent this year and he’s going deep into games.  The BABIP (.264) is probably unsustainable but he has a pretty good defense behind him and is also playing for a free agent contract in the offseason.  I expect the Royals to be in playoff contention this year and Shields will be a key part of that.  17 wins, a 2.80 ERA and 210 K is not out of the question.

Joe (@jcswigga) - Julio Teheran would be my selection and I think he could slip into the top-15 with relative ease.  Last year Teheran posted a (14-8) record with 170 K’s, 3.20 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP in 185.2 IP.  This year, he picked up right where he left off having a (2-1) record with 21 K’s, 1.80 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 35 IP.  Teheran has the prototypical pitcher frame standing 6’2″ and weighing 200 lbs. while being only 23 years old.  The Braves will also provide him with more than enough offense to win his fair share of games; for quality start leagues, he could be even better.  Looking at last year’s numbers one would assume that if he had eclipsed the 200 IP plateau that his K total would have done the same.  This year, it looks like 180 K’s may be his cap but let us not forget that the slight decline in K’s has improved his WHIP from the 1.20’s to the 1.00’s.  WHIP is often a more telling statistic of pitcher dominance than ERA because base runners not on base have a difficult time scoring, no?

Joseph (@JosephTheroux) - Okay, we’re going deep here.  Anyone who has read my stuff or is in a league with me or has had a fantasy baseball related conversation with me can answer this one for me: Scott Kazmir.  I have an unnatural obsession with this guy.  He came on strong last year and has kept it up so far in 2014, walking no one, keeping the ball on the ground, striking dudes out.  Buy low now while you still can.  It’s taken ten years but he’s finally delivering on his promise.

Jay (@broncokeeper) - Atlanta. Take your pick. Santana/Wood/Harang have been lights out, life savers for the Braves. If I were placing bets on those individuals finishing in the top 15, that’s the order I’d rank them.

Bonus – Sonny Gray. I had him projected for 11.5 wins, an 8.0 K/9, xQS (expected Quality Start) of 16.5 with xQS% of 61%. He’s currently 3-0 with 4 QS’s in 4 games started. Plus, he’s the ace of a pretty decent A’s team.

Regan (@ReganFP) – None of the Dbacks pitchers… Except Archie Bradley, oh wait…

4. What closer situation are you keeping a close eye on beyond the many that have already changed hands? Who is the one set-up man you are rostering regardless of format?
Ricky (@RSandersRX) – Houston and Los Angeles Angels are the two closest to changing in my opinion. Jesse Crain, once he returns, will immediately return to being by far the most talented pitcher in the bullpen. If he is available, scoop him up immediately because it won’t take long before he is closing. As for Ernesto Frieri, he is on his last limb after blowing the save last night. Joe Smith is the guy to own but Michael Kohn is the dark horse to eventually take the job at some point this season.

Seth (@SethDaSportsMan) - The Pirates’ closer situations are is worth monitoring.  Jason Grilli has already blown three saves in Pittsburgh and Mark Melancon is waiting on the doorstep.  Grilli had an excellent 2013, saving 33 games for the Pirates, but prior to that, he had been used primarily in middle relief.  At 37 years old, it’s looking as if he may be fatiguing and last year was nothing but an aberration.  Meanwhile, Melancon has allowed only six hits in 10 IP this season, racking up seven holds in the process.  He proved he has the ability to close by saving 16 games while Grilli was on the DL last season.  The Pirates are 9-13 and are dangerously close to falling out of the NL Central race.  They can little afford to lose any more close games.  Grilli is still the man in the ninth, but if he continues to falter, expect Melancon to be the next guy up.

Joe (@jcswigga) - My answer to this question is the same player for both, Cody Allen.  I feel strongly that the Indians will afford their closer(s) at least 35 saves this year given the fact that they often struggle to score runs.  Knowing this, John Axford currently has 7 saves with a (1-0) record, 3.12 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 9 K’s in 8.2 IP.  Axford’s job appears safe at the moment but anyone that has owned him in the past knows of his propensity to give you heartburn each time he takes the mound.  Cody Allen, on the other hand, has 5 holds with a  (2-0) record, 0.00 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 13 K’s in 8 IP.  Any closer that has a 1.38 WHIP is putting too many runners on base.  The fact that both Axford and Allen have the same WHIP would be the reason why Axford is still the current closer but throw on an Indians game next time you have the chance; Cody Allen is the superior talent and will help your roster even in the set-up role (imagine if he gets the reigns to the closer gig).

Joseph (@JosephTheroux) - Carlos Martinez is a great guy to own this year.  You have three options: 1) Rosenthal continues to walk everyone in sight and Martinez immediately becomes an upper echelon closer. 2) The Cards finally relent and he’s moved into the rotation, automatically becoming a solid #3 with upside. 3) He stays in his setup role and gets you some strikeouts, a handful of saves, and helps your ratios.  I’d buy that for a dollar!

Jay (@broncokeeper) - Watch the Colorado Rockies situation. Yes, I’m a homer. Rex Brothers will end the year with more saves than Mr. Immortal, LaTroy Hawkins.

Regan (@ReganFP) - None of the Dbacks “closers”

5. Give one tidbit on a player that you think needs to be mentioned……
Ricky (@RSandersRX) – Martin Perez now has thrown two consecutive complete game shutouts. For the season, Perez has allowed a 60.8% GB rate. Although he doesn’t possess one dominant out pitch, he remains extremely productive with solid control and a sinker that appears to be working. The 80+ LOB% cannot continue but there is no reason to sell high. Perez was long considered a top prospect for Texas and now has put it together at the major league level. I doubt he finishes the year much under a 3.75 ERA but he won’t finish much over either. This crafty lefty is here to stay in fantasy circles.
Seth (@SethDaSportsMan) – Nah, I’m good.

Joe (@jcswigga) - I will not only give you one tidbit but two.  First, Oakland Athletics’ SP, Jesse Chavez, has thrown at least six innings and allowed no more than one earned run in each of his four starts this season.  Second, Jesse Chavez is one of only two Oakland Athletics’ pitchers since 1914 to strikeout 9 or more without walking a batter in consecutive starts.  Chavez currently owns a (1-0) record with a 1.38 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 28 K’s in 26 IP.  Let me remind you that Chavez plays for the team sitting first place in the American League and will see half his starts in a ballpark heavily favoring pitchers.  He is still not owned in approximately 30% of fantasy leagues.  Not sure what the problem is here people…  Oh yeah, his next start comes Friday night against Houston.  All aboard!!!

Joseph (@JosephTheroux) - How ‘bout that Justin Morneau?  Four bombs, 17 RBI with a .346/.369/.615 line!  He’s been monstrous in Coors (1.051) but no slouch on the road either  (.873).  He’s “only” 32 and this could be the start of true return to form.

Jay (@broncokeeper) - Jesse Chavez? Huh? He’s only got 1 win (but wins are an outdated category for ranking pitcher performance), but he’s also gone 100% on his QS%. His WHIP is 0.923 and his K/9 is 9.7. What a steal on draft/auction day?!

Regan (@ReganFP) - Did I mention Archie Bradley?

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