Archive for July 4th, 2011

Monday: 07.4.2011

Hail Mary Team, Part 4

Now we take to the mound with the Hail Mary Team.  As I mentioned in the introduction piece, fixing rate stats (ERA & WHIP most commonly) is harder than piling up counting stats.  The more the innings pile up, the harder it is to make a significant move in ERA or WHIP without Justin Verlander-in-June-type numbers from a pitcher or three (0.92 ERA, 0.71 WHIP in 49 IP).  OK maybe you don’t need guys to throw that well, but you need some heavy innings of quality work to move the needle.

Of course that also depends on how stratified your league’s ERA & WHIP standings are to begin with and given how plentiful pitching has been this year, they might be pretty tight top to the bottom.  All that said, the guys on this list have the kind of skills to lower their ERA and WHIP totals by a decent margin over the second half, but the results haven’t been up to expectations so they can likely be had at a discount.  This group will contain a lot of strikeout upside and hopefully their continued display of strong skills will start to net the results they deserve leading in turn to wins along with several innings of quality ERA and WHIP.

Catchers, First Basemen & Second Basemen

Shortstops & Third Basemen

Outfield

STARTING PITCHER:

Zach Greinke (MIL) – The ultimate Hail Mary Teamer, Greinke should be your first target for pitching to see if that ugly 5.66 ERA can bring in a heavy discount.  For a lot of owners it won’t (as they realize he has been better than a 5.66), but even if he comes with a small discount he is worth it.  His skills have been amazing (11.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and 6.4 K/BB), but he has been brutalized by absurd LOB% (55%) and HR/FB (15%) rates that just can’t continue or at least I certainly wouldn’t bet on them continuing.  His .341 BABIP is a career high, too.  That could be equal parts his 24% line drive rate (highest since 2006) and a poor infield defense.  Adding it all together, there just seems to be no way that he can continue to post the base skills he is and yet carry an ERA that high.  Perhaps you can turn your best hitter or pitcher into Greinke plus something else to start your Hail Mary Team.

Matt Garza (CHC) – I was worried about Garza heading into Wrigley especially with an escalating flyball rate the last few years.  Without a skills change, I thought he would get knocked around for plenty of home runs, especially on afternoons when the wind was blowing out.  Alas, he made a major skills change.  His flyball rate has gone from 45% down to 28%(!) with his groundball rate rising in concert from 36% to 50%.

However his work with men on base has ailed him this year thus what should have been the makings of a career year (2.87 xFIP, 2.98 FIP) has resulted in modest improvements from a 3.91 ERA last year to 3.77 this year.  There is room for more and Garza is one to target.  His current ERA won’t earn you a clearance price via trade, but a 3.77 doesn’t quite get his current manager what it used to either so don’t buckle into your trade partner’s demands without some push & pull.

Chris Carpenter (STL) – Too bad I didn’t think of this strategy a few weeks ago because Carpenter would have been a perfect selection back in mid-June.  However he has started to turn a corner with back-to-back one run outings in seven and nine innings, respectively, lowering his ERA from 4.47 to an even 4.00.  Of course that is still a decent bit below average as he has just a 90 ERA+ for the season.

His hit rate has leapt from 8.2 to 9.8 H/9 this year.  He allowed 8+ hits nine times all of last year and has already matched that total in 2011.  He has doubled his outings of 10+ hits allowed from two to four.  While part of it may be the downgrade from Brendan Ryan to Ryan Theriot at shortstop, a bigger part is a massive surge in line drive rate to 24%, a three year high.  His groundball rate has dipped 5% as a result, too.  His skills suggest an ERA of about three and a quarter so there’s still room to go even in the midst of his current mini-hot streak.

Ricky Nolasco (FLO) – Is there a more maddening pitcher in fantasy baseball?  After slightly outperforming his skills in 2008 (3.52 ERA/3.69 xFIP), he has massively underperformed against his skills the last two and a half years.  ERAs of 5.06, 4.51 and this year’s 4.08 have left us scratching our heads standing next to xFIP totals of 3.23, 3.37 and 3.50.  Like Carpenter, Nolasco has seen a dramatic rise in his line drive percentage up to a career high of 25% after sitting 19-22% for his career.

The dip in strikeouts from 8.4 to 6.5 is a bit alarming, too, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio remains very strong at 3.1 so he should still be better than a 4.08 ERA.  I am still willing to bet on a guy who had three straight years of 4.4 K/BB spanning 555 innings coming into this year, especially if I’m going all-in on a season that hasn’t panned out as initially planned.  The Hail Mary Team is obviously about embracing risk, it is really the only way for the strategy to succeed.  Well the risk panning out is the only for it to succeed, but the first step is not being afraid of risk.

Edwin Jackson (CWS) – I have put him in my spot starter picks several times this year.  His talent is starting to shine through more often than in years past, but the results haven’t yet caught up as his ERA (4.24) is nearly a run higher than his xFIP (3.28).  He is yet another guy suffering from an outlier line drive rate as his is also at a career high of 25% after just once topping 19% since he became a full-time starter back in 2007 (21%, 2008).  So if that evens out this year, his hit rate will come down from 10.1 and with it the WHIP will drop and his results will start to resemble his true skill level.  I find that a lot of fantasy managers don’t really like Jackson so if you present them with an opportunity to remove him from their team, they may happily oblige at less than full value.

Mat Latos (SD) – We saw the kind of heights that Latos can reach last year and there aren’t any glaring issues in his profile that suggest he can’t get back there again this year.  The flyball rate has ticked up from 40% to 46% while the groundball rate is down from 45% to 40%, but that hurts a lot less in his home ballpark and a few others within his division where it is reasonable to assume he will find himself pitching throughout the second half.  He isn’t pitching like the sub-3.00 ERA guy from 2010, but you don’t need him to in order for him to be worth your while in a trade.  Test the waters on him in your league and if the Latos manager in your league is in a tight ERA battle, maybe you have someone with a shiny ERA he would be more interested in.

Chad Billingsley (LAD) – Billingsley appears to be coming out of his funk a bit having lowered his ERA from 4.65 on June 15th to 4.15 after Sunday night’s start.  Of course that is still below average with an 87 ERA+ and a buying opportunity is there even if the price hasn’t dropped significantly.  His skills remain rock solid with very little movement in his strikeout and walk rates since 2007. If he can just avoid those full-on implosion starts (6+ ER), he should be able to chisel his ERA down to 3.50ish by season’s end if not better.

Max Scherzer (DET) – Even if he isn’t on your team this year, you probably have an idea of how maddening his season has been.  And now 18 starts in, I can’t imagine a fantasy manager sticking to his guns and making someone pay full price for a 4.90 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.  Now he might just say “I have come this far and I’m going to stick it out,” and if so you just move on.  But more likely you can find something even on your down-trodden team that will entice his manager to make a move at something well under preseason costs.

For your end, you are getting a guy who is still posting very strong skills (8.1 K/9, 2.5 K/BB), but one who has been bitten hard by gopheritis (1.4 HR/9, 12% HR/FB).  Not only have his home run and home run per flyball rates hit career highs, but he is also allowing a career high 44% flyballs making it that much worse.  The Tigers fired their pitching coach on Sunday and perhaps newly promoted bullpen coach Jeff Jones can figure out what Rick Knapp couldn’t and get Scherzer back on his 2010 second half track.

Brandon Morrow (TOR) – In what was supposed to be another step forward if not a full on breakout season, Morrow has actually regressed in 2011 despite maintaining his 11.0 K/9 and lowering his walk rate from 4.1 to 3.6 BB/9.  Alas his efforts with men on base have continued to plague him as his LOB% has dropped from 69% in 2010 to 65% this year.  The talent is in there and we saw last August what it can deliver as he went 30 innings with a 2.97 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 14.7 K/9 en route to a 3-0 record in five starts.  Roll the dice on that potential without question, especially in a redraft league where you are taking a shot.

Edinson Volquez (CIN) – Another live arm (9.3 K/9) with an ERA that seems to belie his true skill (5.65 ERA, 3.97 xFIP).  A lot of his problems have been tied to home runs.  His insane 18% HR/FB has done a number on his ERA and even if that just evens out to his career mark of 12% (as opposed to league average around 9-10%), his ERA will feel it in a big way.  His ownership rates are way down so he is guy you might be able to get without a trade.  Hell, he may be a big reason you are in this place to begin with in which case just hold on.  The talent is there.  Let’s see if it comes to fore in the second half.

Brett Anderson (OAK) – Originally we were worried he would need Tommy John Surgery, but that appears to be out of the question now.  His return this year is still a question, but we’re throwing a Hail Mary here, so if a contender in your league has him, he might opt to get out from under that risk and get someone into his rotation who is actually pitching every fifth day.

Monday: 07.4.2011

Hail Mary Team, Part 3

Yikes, let’s get the rest of this Hail Mary Team out so you can go trade for the guys.  The first parts have unleashed a Midas touch on some of these guys and may have taken them out of contention for a discount.  Mark Reynolds and Hanley Ramirez both had multi-home run games after being mentioned (not implying causation… merely a coincidence) and Reynolds actually hit three over the weekend.

One of the outfielders I had slated for the team has also gone off as Nelson Cruz blasted home runs on Friday and Sunday.  His Friday performance also included six RBIs.  Perhaps his team manager will focus less on that mini-hot streak and more on the .245 batting average and sub-.300 on-base percentage and not charge you the full price for his services.

Catchers, First Basemen & Second Basemen

Shortstops & Third Basemen

Let’s see what else the outfield offers the Hail Mary Team.

OUTFIELD:

Cruz (TEX) – He is on pace for 38 home runs now so he isn’t exactly tanking his manager’s team, nor was he before his recent little outburst, but the 95 RBI pace and aforementioned weak batting average & on-base percentage totals might allow you to squeeze him out in a trade for less than full value.  As I have mentioned in earlier parts of this series, with guys like this it isn’t necessarily that I think you can get them dirt cheap rather you can trade your prime asset for him AND someone else which results in a net gain for your team.  So please don’t see Cruz or Martin Prado included on these lists and think that I value them the same as Adam Dunn and Dan Uggla. 

Carl Crawford (BOS) – He was just getting going when he hit the disabled list.  I cannot imagine how frustrating that must be for him after signing the massive contract and joining the Red Sox this offseason.  He went on the DL on June 17th, the previous month he was hitting .298 with five home runs and 21 RBIs.  The speed was still noticeably absent (just 2 SBs in that hot stretch), but the four category production made it easier to forget the lack of speed.

There is almost always at least some type of discount when trading for guys on the DL so strike as soon as possible with Crawford.  When he was hitting like trash in April and May, no one was selling low on him because he was still playing daily and everyone believed he would come out of it (and he was starting to), but when a guy is no longer putting up daily numbers (even if they are below expectations) prices tend to drop.

Jayson Werth (WAS) – Many people believed that Washington would regret the seven year deal to Werth at some point, no one thought that point would be year 1.  The fact that they have been poking around .500 despite their $100-million-dollar-man carrying a .709 OPS is quite impressive.  In the last three years when he emerged as a big time player that allowed him to get such a contract, he was always good throughout the year essentially putting up balanced halves.  In other words, he doesn’t wear down so hopefully the Nats start to see some dividends returned on that hefty contract with a big second half out of Werth.

He is on pace for his third 20 HR-20 SB season in his last four (27 HR, but only 13 SB last year) so he hasn’t been a complete shlub despite what the batting average might tell you.  A complete reversal in groundball-flyball distribution and a 10% rise of infield flyballs have been the culprits in his .223 average & .265 BABIP.  Add in that he has hit .155 with just 6 RBIs in the last month and there is no way a fantasy manager can realistically ask for anything near full price halfway through the season.  At least not with a straight face.

Jason Heyward (ATL) – Skip this one in keeper leagues, he could be hitting .051 and I don’t think a keeper league manager would bail on him.  He gets a small pass for some time missed, but a .228 batting average and just 20 RBIs & 30 runs scored in the 62 games he has played has to be leaving his managers wanting more.  His scant track record isn’t enough to blindly believe he will have a big second half, perhaps it is simply a sophomore slump for the 21 year old, but if you can get a talent like him at a significant discount, it is worth taking a shot on especially in what is an otherwise lost season for your ballclub.

Corey Hart (MIL) – Hart can catch fire and stay hot for a while as he has posted halves of 21 and 15 home runs within the last three years.  The big reason he has been kind of “blah” so far this year is that his groundball-flyball profiles have flipped much like Werth’s.  He is a career 41% flyball hitter down at 35% this year meanwhile he’s a career 40% groundball hitter who was at 38% last year, but has rocketed up to 47% this year.  If he can get that figured out, he can have a huge second half with a mid-teens home run total if not something pushing 20.

Alex Rios (CWS) – He was quite overrated coming into this year when consider that his 2010 season was essentially a blistering hot May and five mediocre months during which he topped .760 OPS just once (April) and slid from month-over-month from that .760 “perch” in June down to .645 by September after the hot May.  Essentially to buy in on Rios is to bet that one of his summer months will match or at least approach his eight home run, 1.106 OPS May from last year.  Of course the way he is going this year, he would kill for a .700-something OPS month as his high for 2011 is .685 in June.

Magglio Ordonez (DET) – He finally looks healthy again after the nasty ankle injury last July and what that means is a .300+ batting average with plenty of runs driven in.  He won’t be a huge power source, but at 37 you aren’t expecting him to at this point.  I have been really impressed watching him the last few days and I feel confident that he is ready to contribute to the middle of that strong Detroit lineup.  He should be on the waiver wire of more than a few leagues and I would consider rostering him and getting in now before he is mid-hot streak.

Monday: 07.4.2011

Trolling the Wire: Week 14 Monday-Friday

This piece is slightly delayed today as I kind of forgot that there would be day games because of the holiday and the fact that they have already started render my Monday pick irrelevant.  It is OK because it was/is Brandon McCarthy coming off of the DL and I have learned recently that a lot of people don’t have the stomach or desire to start a guy off of the DL, even the best guys.  Upper tier guys (my 1s & 2s) I am starting without question and I go with the gut on everyone else often leaning toward starting him.

As for the week 13 results, it was another big week for Trolling.  Back in week 11, a season low ERA and WHIP of 2.45 and 1.08 were set along with a new of 4.7 K/BB as 11 pitchers (pure coincidence) put together 70 very strong innings, though the quality only work netted four wins.

We nearly saw all three records bested in week 13 as 13 starters (another coincidence) combined for 90 innings with a 2.51 ERA, 0.95 WHIP (!) and 4.9 K/BB.  A new weekly high of eight wins was also reached by the group.

Unfortunately we lost Brandon Beachy, as I suspected we might, because his ownership rates shot up after a strong week in his return from the disabled list.  We still have several of the week 13 performers available in a lot of leagues, though, so expect to see them again.

MONDAY:

Brandon McCarthy (OAK v. SEA) – It’s been about a month and a half since we have seen McCarthy (May 18th), but eases back into thing with a start against Seattle at home.  I would like to see more than is 5.2 K/9, but the 1.4 BB/9 helps make up for it.

TUESDAY:

Carlos Carrasco (CLE v. NYY) – He went into New York back on June 13th and threw seven shutout innings allowing five hits, walking three and striking out seven in a huge 1-0 win.  That was the second start of a streak during which he has been amazing with a 0.98 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 5.6 K/BB in 37 innings (4-1 record).  He is still available in a decent number of leagues, but the streak has definitely upper his reputation.  I have included four options for Tuesday because both he and our next guy are starting to finally get some respect and they may not be around in your league anymore.

Tim Stauffer (SD @ SF) – Two of the NL’s least supported starters go toe-to-toe in a game that might be 0-0 for 15 innings before someone can finally plate a run.  Stauffer and his opponent, Matt Cain, are among the bottom 15 in run support in the NL.  Stauffer is getting a barrage runs at 5.2 compared to Cain’s 4.7.

Felipe Paulino (KC @ CWS) – Paulino was placed in rotation on June 1st shortly after joining the Royals (he had one relief appearance) and he has been great for them posting a 3.58 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 38 innings spanning six starts.  He has a healthy 7.8 K/9 rate along with some nice command that has yielded a 3.3 K/BB rate.  I don’t know why Colorado insisted on making him a reliever as he is the rare pitcher who is significantly better in the rotation as opposed to the short bullpen stints.  For his career he has a 9.15 ERA in 32 relief appearances compared to a 4.87 ERA in 40 starts.  He has a huge arm (career 95.4 MPH fastball never going below 95.1 in any of his four seasons) and I am interested to see how he does if the Royals just leave him in the rotation the rest of the way, even if he hits a roadbump here and there.

Edinson Volquez (CIN @ STL) – A strikeout per inning is always nice from a starter, but a walk every other inning isn’t quite so nice.  He is a ridiculously talented arm, but he just needs to get his command in order before he will ever get back to his 2008 season or better.  I like him in a spot start situation, especially if you need strikeouts.  If you have a spot where you can stash him in hopes that he irons things out, I might consider it.

WEDNESDAY:

Jason Vargas (SEA @ OAK) – Four of the five Seattle starters are among the bottom 14 in run support this year.  And Erik Bedard isn’t exactly flush with runs as he is still in the bottom 30.  Vargas is getting just 5.0 runs which puts him 14th.  Of course when spot starting, we aren’t chasing wins, we are chasing quality innings and Vargas can deliver those in spades as evidenced by his three shutouts.  I didn’t buy into him after last year, but he has proven me wrong by improving or matching all of his key metrics again this year including a modest jump in Ks to a more palatable 6.0 K/9.  How is he owned in 23% of ESPN leagues?

Edwin Jackson (CWS v. KC) – After a solid June (2.81 ERA, 1.34 WHIP), he was a bit wobbly in his first start of July (4 ER in 6 IP v. the Cubs), but he is a nice strikeout arm who doesn’t get the credit he deserves in my estimation.  His season numbers are weighed down by a pair of starts during which he gave up 13 ER in 10 IP to end April.  Since May he has a 3.36 ERA in 64 innings.

THURSDAY:

Bartolo Colon (NYY v. TB) – He is still heavily owned in CBS leagues (84%), but just 50% in ESPN and Yahoo! leagues so for we can take advantage.  I suspect another big start (he threw six shutout innings on Saturday) will push his rates up higher at the other two outlets and may take him out of Trolling consideration.

Cory Luebke (SD @ SF) – His numbers are essentially built on some great bullpen work as he has only had two starts, but those two starts have yielded 11 shutout innings with 13 strikeouts and just five baserunners.  Throw in the Petco bonus and he is a must-own in just about any format right now.

Doug Fister (SEA @ LAA) – He is the least supported of the Mariners discussed earlier and not only that, but he is also the least support starting pitcher in baseball by a significant margin.  His 3.2 runs/game trails Pittsburgh’s Paul Maholm by 0.4 so despite a 3.02 ERA and even better 3.1 K/BB rate, he is 3-9.  He hasn’t won since May 30th despite posting a 2.68 ERA over 47 innings in five June starts and one July start.  Wow.

FRIDAY:

James McDonald (PIT v. CHC) – He is my NL version of Edwin Jackson.  His April was even worse as he needed six shutout innings on April 27th to finish the month with a 7.66 ERA.  Since then he has a 3.21 ERA and 7.9 K/9.  However, it’s not all rainbows & unicorns for McDonald as his WHIP has been an issue due mostly to walks.  He has walked 3+ five of his last six yielding a 24 to 21 strikeout-to-walk count during that time.  That is why, for now, he remains simply a spot starter.  The Cubs aren’t exactly imposing so McDonald should be able to survive.

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