Archive for ‘Trading’

Monday: 07.30.2012

10 Injured Pitchers on the Way Back

It seems like somebody or somebodies of consequence succumb to injury daily during the dog days and wind up on the disabled list. Subsequently that puts a strain on waiver wire availability as we see fewer and fewer attractive options.  Some leagues will always have someone worthwhile, but others are riddled with retreads and those who are actually getting hurt because roster space becomes too precious to hang onto the disabled.  As Roy Oswalt has proven once again tonight (8 ER on 11 H in 5.3 IP), pitching at anything less than 100% is difficult, even for a former star.

With that in mind, understand that these arms may deliver nothing of value once they return (if they return) to the hill.  However, as we end the final third of the season, taking chances on upside can be the difference between winning a title and not, securing a money spot or waiting for a check in October that isn’t coming.  Here are 10 pitchers in various states of disrepair and of various talent levels who could be had for free in a good number of leagues (or at a discount via trade) and end up delivering some high quality innings for you.  Keep in mind that some of these guys are still quite some time away, so plan accordingly to that end.

Brandon McCarthy

Out Since: June 19th w/shoulder injury

Status: Literally just started his rehab start as I’m typing this

Availability: On 44% of rosters in Yahoo!; 46% in ESPN

He was hoping to avoid a rehab start altogether, but it wasn’t to be so he’s starting for Sacramento tonight (Monday evening) and if all goes well then he should take his turn with Oakland later this week.  If you think the injuries for McCarthy have been frustrating for you as a fantasy manager of him, try actually being him.  I imagine it is especially trying to get in a groove only seemingly every time off the DL only to keep going back on a few weeks later.

When on the field, he has been straight-killin’ it this year with a 2.54 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 78 innings.  He was white-hot before hitting the DL the most recent time with a 1.35 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 20 innings across three starts.  Strikeouts aren’t really his thing (usually ranging 6-6.5, which is average to slightly below depending on year), but thankfully neither are walks (2.2 BB/9 this year after an amazing 1.3 last year).  Love that park, plus the sweet-swingin’ A’s might line him up for a few more Ws, too.

Brandon Morrow

Out Since: June 11th w/oblique injury

Status: On rehab assignment touching 95 MPH

Availability: On 78% of rosters in Yahoo!; 55% in ESPN

Two things have plagued Morrow as a starter: walks and injuries.  He has been improving yearly with the former including a huge step forward in 2012 (2.8 BB/9; 8% BB rate) and appeared to be ready for a full-fledged breakout season before the oblique sidelined him back in June.  After fanning just 12 in his first four starts (27 innings in all), he fanned a much more Morrow-esque 55 in 51 innings spanning eight starts.  Check your wire if you have roster space as he is out there in some league, but most likely you’ll have to see about netting him at a discount* via trade.

*admittedly that discount is probably shrinking now that he is on rehab

Jaime Garcia

Out Since: June 5th w/shoulder injury

Status: Started his rehab on Monday w/2.3 scoreless

Availability: On 38% of rosters in Yahoo!; 29% in ESPN

Before finally hitting the DL in early June, Garcia labored through a pair of ugly starts, the latter of which he probably never should have made as he had already been skipped in the rotation after the shaky outing against the Phillies on May 26th.  In fairness, it’s pretty easy for me to say that now and the Cardinals were working with a helluva lot more information than I have now or did at the time.

I don’t think Mike Matheny would’ve let his guy go out there if he thought it would eventually put Garcia down for two months.  If you discount the Houston implosion right before the DL, Garcia was essentially having his 2011 season again.   Now is the perfect time to scoop Garcia up on the sly, especially if you have a free DL spot dying to be utilized.

Shaun Marcum

Out Since: June 14th w/elbow injury

Status: Looking to start a rehab this weekend; could be dealt during waivers deadline in Aug.

Availability: On 68% of rosters in Yahoo!; 64% in ESPN

Don’t ask me how/why he is on so many more teams than these other three.  I guess it could be his strong strikeout totals (8.4 K/9, 23% rate) that standout above the other three (especially since Morrow got a late start on his) while his ERA, WHIP and walk rate are in the neighborhood or better than them as well.  But still, I’m surprised so many have held on as there wasn’t much good news throughout July.

Things are looking up now and Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports speculates that he could be a waive trade candidate.  That would surprise me.  There might be around $2.5 mil owed to him depending when he hit waivers, but that’s it as he is set to be a free agent this winter so surely some wildcard contender would claim him to block a trade to their opposition if he came available.  For our purposes, his venue doesn’t much matter, as long as he is back on the field there is bound to be some worthwhile production.

Ted Lilly

Out Since: May 23rd w/shoulder injury

Status: Started his rehab Sunday and will probably need a couple outings (results)

Availability: On 42% of rosters in Yahoo!; 37% in ESPN

Lilly had developed one of the most stable skillsets in the games the last several years, but unfortunately those skills have tumbled significantly in 2012.  Of course, it’s also been a tiny eight game sample and his numbers are heavily influenced by outings of six and five walks in Houston and in Arizona so it’d be a bit premature to bury him.  Meanwhile, he has enjoyed success (3.14 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) in spite of the 5.7 K/9 and 1.6 K/BB in 49 innings. I would still take a shot on a healthy Lilly in 12 team leagues or higher.  I think he is still a spot starter at best in 10-teamers so no need to rush out and get him before he gets back to the Dodgers.

Brett Anderson

Out Since: June 5th, 2011 w/Tommy John Surgery

Status: Has made 2 rehab starts has a few more slated in AAA before heading to Oak.

Availability: On 4% of rosters in Yahoo!; 0% in ESPN

One of the brighter young pitchers in the game, Anderson fell victim to the Slider Monster who ate his elbow up after he threw the pitch a career-high 40% of the time in his 83 innings last year.  He is working his way back from Tommy John and could be this year’s Tim Hudson, who put together seven strong starts down the stretch in 2009 in his return from TJS.  Jordan Zimmermann was OK in his seven starts in 2010, but better in a real-life aspect than a fantasy one.  Stephen Strasburg was unreal in five outings a year ago, but he’s on a different level than those other guys.

The issue for Anderson is where he fits into the rotation, especially with McCarthy on the way back.  Of course neither McCarthy nor Bartolo Colon are models of health so I’m sure the situation will work itself out by the time Anderson is officially back.

This next group of guys are a good further away, so I’m just putting them on your radar to either make a note about or stash in deep leagues if they’re available and you desperately need pitching.

Jeff Niemann

Out Since: May 14th w/broken leg

Status: Threw a bullpen, simulated gm on tap followed by rehab; looking at late-Aug. return

Availability: On 3% of rosters in Yahoo!; 0% in ESPN

Coming back from a non-arm injury gives Niemann a leg up on the others listed, but he is still looking at a late-August return so there won’t be much time for him to contribute once he is back.  He was in the midst of following up his strong second half from 2011, too, before the freak accident with the broken leg derailed his 2012.

Tim Stauffer

Out Since: May 14th w/elbow injury

Status: Threw a bullpen last week, rehab forthcoming & return slated for late-Aug.

Availability: On 8% of rosters in Yahoo!; 19% in ESPN

Stauffer appeared to be getting his career, one plagued with injuries, back on track after a breakout season at age 29 in 2011 that saw him throw 186 strong innings with a 3.73 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.  Injuries limited him to just 14 innings from 2006-2008, including a completely missed season in 2008, so even working his way back into effective relief was a win for Stauffer.  Hopefully he gets back in time to make 6 or 7 starts to close out the season especially since 15 of their 26 September games are in Petco Park.

Jhoulys Chacin

Out Since: May 1st w/pectoral muscle injury

Status: Made it through his first rehab pain-free; slate back mid-Aug.

Availability: On 16% of rosters in Yahoo!; 5% in ESPN

Even when he makes it back, how much can he be trusted in that park the way it’s playing this year?  With the margin for error virtually non-existent in Coors Field these days, his elevated walk rate is especially treacherous (4.3 BB/8 career; 5.5 this year).  When he’s on, he can be a big strikeout guy, but at 24 he is still very much a work in progress.  This is more for keeper leaguers who are playing with an eye on 2013 as I wouldn’t trust my contending ratios to Chacin in Denver coming off of injury.

Rubby de la Rosa

Out Since: July 31st, 2011 w/Tommy John Surgery

Status: Slated for rehab in return from Tommy John

Availability: On 0% of rosters in Yahoo!; 0% in ESPN

It remains to be seen whether or not he will pitch in the majors at all in 2012 and then if he does, his role is undecided.  He could just get his feet wet as a reliever, though his long-term outlook remains in the rotation so this would be another one for keeper leaguers with an available spot for a highly talented youngster.  I am a huge fan of this 23-year old going forward, but he might not pay major dividends until 2014.

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Wednesday: 07.18.2012

The All Legitimate Team

Content has been light this week as I prepare for a job interview.  Might sound weird as a standard interview is usually a 20-30 minute Q&A.  This one is a 3-hour extravaganza, my third round with this company in which I’ll be presenting a demo so that’s why this is the first piece of the week.   I’ll have plenty the remainder of the month including a planned top x SP list after the trade deadline.  I’m not sure if I’m going to go 50, 100 or >100.  I’m waiting until the trade deadline is completed because I don’t want to do some detailed list I’m proud of only to have it change drastically if 7-10 pitchers change locales.

I gave you the Hail Mary Team last week and now I’ve got a team of players who had great first halves whom I believe in and would have no problem targeting via trade which would essentially be “buying high” or simply holding onto them the remainder of this year as opposed to getting out from under a potential regression.  I am not going to go in-depth with the reasoning as I did on the Hail Mary team in large part because their numbers speak volumes for the player.

HITTERS

Catcher – Yadier Molina – I covered him in depth at the end of June and he hasn’t slowed down since with three more bombs in the subsequent 10 games.  Plus this isn’t an out-of-nowhere season, he’s been building up to this for years save a 2010 blip.

First Base – Allen Craig – Yes, I am going to list the entire Cardinals team.  The return of Lance Berkman has some freaked that Craig will lose gobs of playing time, but I just can’t see how the Cards could bench their best hitter statistically (specifically by OPS+) for any more than a day here and there.

By the way Berkman is right on Craig’s heels for that OPS+ title on the team at 152 (Craig is 154) so he is hardly the one headed to the pine, either.  Honestly, they should just take the defensive hit and put Craig at 2B.  His bat is so far ahead of Daniel Descalso’s that it would be worth it.  Maybe see if Craig has another off-day mixed in soon and then pounce in hopes of catching someone a bit fearful.

Second Base – Jason Kipnis – Through 124 games of his career, he is pacing toward a .275-101-24-91-33 line.  That’s incredible regardless of position, but definitely gets an added bit of greatness at second base.  He is one of those cases where his ranks in things like OPS, wOBA and wRC+ don’t tell the story of his fantasy value.  Robinson Cano is first in those and first in 2B fantasy value, but Kipnis if around fifth or sixth in those stats yet second in fantasy value because obviously his R, RBI and SB contributions aren’t encapsulated in those metrics.

Shortstop – Asdrubal Cabrera – Kip’s double play mate is putting a season comparable to his 2011 breakout in terms of pure production (OPS, wOBA, wRC+), but his fantasy value is down thanks in large part to evaporation of his speed component.  After matching his career-high with 17 a year ago, he’s down to just two this year and a horrible rate at 2-for-5.  Having swiped 17 in 2009, maybe he only steals in odd-numbered years.  Beyond that, he is a safe bet for power production at short.

Third Base – Todd Frazier – I composed this list prior to Joey Votto’s injury, but now Frazier’s inclusion is even more of a no-brainer since his path to playing time is no longer reliant upon Dusty Baker realizing how cooked Scott Rolen is, at least temporarily with Votto done for 4-6 weeks (and we all now how lame injury estimates have been this season).  Frazier has one of the better home run rates among batters with 210+ plate appearances (he has 212).  His rate is on par with the likes of Adrian Beltre and Yoenis Cespedes and he’s tracking ahead of Carlos Gonzalez.

Outfielder – Austin Jackson – An improved approach, advancing power and inclusion on a strong offense leading to plenty of runs scored (8th highest total in baseball despite playing 69 games… of course, Trout is 2nd in 69 games so there’s that) make Jackson a reliable, yet unspectacular option.  I watch him day in and day out and I’m a complete believer.  I was an early adopter here as I legitimately saw differences in his approach back in April.  I know that’s sort of a backpat, but I’m proud that my amateur scouting eye appears to be progressing, plus if you listen to the podcast, you know I’m not above a backpat or 12, lol.  I try to do it tastefully!  He’s unspectacular in that he doesn’t do any singular thing extremely well (‘cept defense, which doesn’t count in 99.8% of leagues).  He’s quite Chooish in that respect.  More on that in a bit.

Outfielder – Shin-Soo Choo – It’s been a bit!  Choo is back.  After a disastrous 2011 that included an embarrassing off-the-field event with a DUI and an injury-marred poor performance on field, he is back to being the steady .300-20-20 guy.  He actually isn’t pacing to hit any of those marks, but I’m using that as more of a descriptor since it paints a cleaner picture than .296-18-18.  Batting leadoff, he has traded some RBIs for runs, just as you would expect with that kind of move.

Outfielder – Josh Willingham – When you put up 29-98 on Oakland in 136 games, a move to Minnesota isn’t scaring anybody in terms of production.  His power plays anywhere and the perception of Target Field eating up all power is a bit misguided fueled by the struggles of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer there.  It dominates lefties, but its 95 home run park factor for right-handers isn’t awful.  Below average sure, but not suffocating like Oakland’s 82 factor.  A trade out to a contender would seemingly only help matters.

Outfielder – Jason Kubel – A little nicked with a hamstring, but set to avoid the DL and return Wednesday night.  I didn’t love the signing this winter if only because they had a perfectly capable outfielder in Gerardo Parra who was less of a bat than Kubel, but a much better fielder.  Kubel’s bat has always intrigued me and return of his 2009-level batting average has made him a very strong outfield contributor who does everything but run.  As a lefty, his move from Target Field to Chase Field (114 LH HR factor) has been a huge boon.

Outfielder – Tyler Colvin – Let me qualify this a bit.  With this “team” of players, I have been endorsing their current level of production or at least a reasonable facsimile (90-95%) of it.  I feel the same way about Colvin’s power which is what earns him a spot on this list, but his .294 batting average is definitely susceptible to plummeting.

He is an incredibly free-swinger which can work quite well especially in somewhere like Coors Field, but he can go ice cold, too, as he did in pretty much all of 2011.  He hasn’t been a complete product of Coors (.833 OPS on the road) which definitely helps, but having half of his games in Coors keeps his floor at a palatable level.

PITCHERS

Several of the pitchers to make this “team” were covered in my 24 to Target piece a while back, so I’ll reference you to that piece for the likes of Johnny Cueto, James McDonald and Cole Hamels who are all part of this team (what, Hamels? WEIRD!!!!).  Here are the other six candidates:

R.A. Dickey – Duh.  I’m not breaking ground here, is anyone not bought in on Dickey?  Despite giving up five in three of his last four outings, I’m not particularly worried and maybe it presents a better opportunity to buy if the guy who has him is skittish.  He still had a 7.0 K/9 and 2.3 K/BB in those games.

Gio Gonzalez – I didn’t include him in the 24 to Target list because I didn’t want to just litter it with studs because you’re going to pay a pretty penny with stud arms like that in the trade market.  That I said, I do believe in his step forward this year and I think there is even more to his game as he continues to refine his control.

Chris Capuano – A sleeper-type for me coming into the season, he has exceeded expectations and I see no reason he can’t remain incredibly effective for the duration of the season.  Home run suppression is the key between Capuano having a solid ERA and a great one.  He’s at a career-best 0.9 HR/9 resulting in a career-best 2.75 ERA.  Though his ERA is nearly two full runs lower than last year’s effort, I don’t think he is a complete fluke you should be fearful of in trade talks.

Ryan Dempster – I don’t think he’ll maintain his scoreless innings streak the rest of the season or even pitch at a 1.86 clip for his ERA, but he has a great base of skills that have been remarkably consistent and even seen a nice uptick this year so he should be a bankable starter with a low-3.00s ERA or better the rest of the way.  Obviously a deal to a contender should improve his chances to scoop more wins, too.

Vance Worley – WHIP is the “runs scored” of pitching.  I think it gets overlooked by many.  If it’s incredible, like sub-1.00 great, then it is noticed and same on the opposite end of the spectrum if it’s at 1.40ish or higher, but anything in between is kinda igored.  Not by everyone, but it certainly doesn’t stand out like wins, ERA and strikeouts.  Worley’s WHIP is his downside right now at 1.38 while everything else has been pretty solid (wins are light, but that’s because Philly has been broken for most of the year) and worth buying in on.

You can’t just chalk his WHIP up to a .315 BABIP and call it bad luck.  A lot of that is the fact that hitters can square his sub-90s heater up and get a good rip (evidenced by his 26% line drive rate) so if those aren’t at-‘em balls that the defense can turn into outs, his WHIP will be susceptible.  I think he can chisel it down a little bit to around 1.30, so if WHIP is a sore spot, then this isn’t someone for you.  But I think he’s a legitimate, bankable mid-level starter as his regression from 2011’s breakout is about what I figured we’d see.

Mark Buehrle – As a strikeout-lover, I rarely invest in Buehrle types especially inning or start cap leagues, but you cannot deny how incredibly consistent he has been throughout his career.  Now in the generally easier league with a pitcher’s park for half of his games, he has been able to post his best ERA since 2005 thanks also to some improvements in his skills.  He isn’t flashy and you don’t want to invest if strikeouts are your need obviously, but otherwise he is your guy.

Thursday: 07.12.2012

The Second Half Hail Mary Team

Your team sucks.  Way to go, idiot.  You are wallowing near or at the bottom of the standings with seemingly no hope.  It’s a redraft league so you don’t even have the option of trading for the 2013 which can be a fun exercise once you realize a season is lost.  So what do you do with the second half?  Hint: ignore your team and start looking for sleepers who will definitely fail in fantasy football is not the answer.  No, the answer is you throw conservatism out the window and chuck some Hail Marys to see if you can make a run.  Cross-sport reference!!!!

As dire as the situation may look now, there is time.  It’s not exactly the halfway point, four teams have played 87 games and all but two have (Washington & Kansas City at 83 & 84, respectively) played 85 or more, but a lot of baseball is still going to be played.  There will be plenty of Cinderella stories in October about a team that was buried at the All-Star Break only to surge through the standings in the dog days of summer en route to an improbable victory.  Let’s make that your story.

Presenting the Hail Mary Team for 2012.  This group of strugglers contain a ton of upside if they can reach previously established heights in the coming months.  Honestly, if you are one of the teams looking up at most of the league in your standings, you probably have a couple of these guys on your team.  They came into the season with elevated expectations and have failed to meet them for a bevy of reasons.  Their price tags have lowered (and if they haven’t, just pass, because there’s no sense paying full price) and with nothing to lose, they could be your ticket to a much better slot in your standings.

CATCHER Carlos Santana

He’s been wretched this year after a great 2011 season.  And it’s not just the concussion that sidelined him near the end of May as he was horrible in that whole month leading up to the injury (.233/.314/.344).  The concussion may be exacerbating the situation, but it’s just been a rough go since a solid .262/.417/.446 line April suggesting that maybe something other than the concussion is in play.  Nevertheless, this is a power force at a scarce position who can be a big time run producer if he gets back to the guy we saw in his first 201 games spanning part of 2010 and all of 2011: .244/.362/.459 with 33 HR and 101 RBI.  Brian McCann got some consideration, but his surge before the break (.421, 4 game HR streak w/11 RBI) likely allayed the fears of many and ate into any discount you could’ve gotten previously.

FIRST BASE – Ike Davis, Eric Hosmer

Both guys have been hot of late, but such wretched starts have their overall lines still in shambles resulting in their appearance on waiver wires in shallower leagues and making them available for little more than a song in leagues where they are on a roster.  Davis has a very healthy .294/.351/.635 line with 7 HR and 28 RBI in the last month so his price might be one of the higher ones on this list comparatively speaking, but I’d be willing to pay it as long as it still represented a discount against preseason expectations.  He’s been a bit Dan Uggla-esque circa 2011 where the batting average was just awful, but the power was still present.  I’m not sure he’s going to run off a 33-game hit streak like Uggla did, but who cares?

Hosmer ripped off a 3-hit game in Yankee Stadium in late May, his first of the year, and that seemed to be something of a turning point for his season.  From that game on: .289/.352/.430 with 4 HR, 19 RBI and 7 SB in 165 plate appearances.  He is still toting a .231/.299/.371 season line, though, which is why he still qualifies for this team.  Like Davis, he will be on the higher end of the cost spectrum among this list of players, but he should still be available at a sharp discount compared to the preseason which is what makes him a worthy Hail Mary target.

SECOND BASE – The Weekeseseseses, Rickie & Jemile

The Brothers Weeks have been awful this year lending to the decimation of the second base this year which could’ve been a plentiful position had players met or at least been near expectations.  Surges from Aaron Hill, Neil Walker, Jason Kipinis and Jose Altuve are only masking failures of the brothers, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Ackley instead of adding depth.  Back to these two, though, with Rickie first.

Injuries have always been a problem as he has just one season with more than 129 games played, otherwise he has usually performed quite well as long as he is on the field.  Until this year.  Even a depressed offensive environment can’t mask his woes as he checks in just under the Mendoza Line at .199 with just 8 HR and 6 SB in 81 games.  He hit 20 HR in 118 games last year, so even doubling his current output would be short of expectations.  He’s running at the same clip as last year, but he’s not really a speed asset these days anyway, that’s his brother’s area of expertise.

Speaking of Jemile, he has been an abomination thus far.  Imagine he were even average, the A’s might be above .500.  As it is, they are right at the mark and his return could help them stay there or exceed the level going forward.  The real bummer is that his poor half has overshadowed the huge gains in walk rate (up from 5% last year to 11% this year) paired with a small improvement in strikeout (down 1% to 13%).  If Dee Gordon can lead baseball in stolen bases (30) with a .280 on-base percentage, Weeks should have more than 12 with a more palatable .312 OBP.  He is an easy target if steals is a category where you’re severely lagging.

SHORTSTOP – Alexei Ramirez

When Ramirez ended up April with a paltry .498 OPS, some may have seen that as a prime buying opportunity as he routinely takes a while to get going.  Over his career, April is easily his worth month checking in with a .561 OPS compared to .721 or better in every other month peaking with .822 in July.  He sputtered to a .581 mark this May.  He improved to .678 in June so he is progressing, but not nearly as rapidly as usual.  In a scant 7-game sample for July, he is at 1.057 so maybe he finally ready to let loose.

The power has been noticeably absent throughout with just two home runs.  He has run a bit more to help alleviate a bit of the damage checking in with 10 SB, three more than all of last year in a full season.  He has long been one of those guys who is much better as a fantasy asset than as a real life one with only one season over 99 OPS+ (104 as a rookie).  He had become a bankable 15-70-10-80 with an average around .270.  It will take a helluva rally to get there this year, but if he just performs to the levels we have seen in the past, he will be a positive asset at shortstop at a nothing cost.

THIRD BASE – Ryan Zimmerman

I was surprised the other day when I heard some fantasy analysts dismissing him as a non-entity.  The basic premise was essentially that he’s never been any good so why are folks still hung up on him?  That’s just crazy talk.  He was excellent in 2009-2010 and was tracking toward another great season last year when injuries cut it short.  He hasn’t been good this year and I think injuries are a big reason again as he had a DL stint back in late April through early May and then he took a while to get going once he was back.

I’ll grant that he isn’t the sturdiest guy around.  That seems to come with territory when dealing with defensive stalwarts like Zimmerman, but he is definitely a damn fine hitter capable of big numbers.  In fact, he has been hot of late starting with a Coors Field trip (always a nice remedy for a hitter) totaling 14 games in all during which he has hit .333/.394/.683 with 5 HR and 18 RBI.  He has a 1.003 OPS with 3 HR in the non-Coors part, so don’t worry that he is Brandon Mossing us.  His bottom line is still gruesome (.694 OPS) enough that the price won’t be too steep.

OUTFIELD – Cameron Maybin

Proponents of Maybin’s are pointing toward last year’s second half dash to the finish that saw him swipe 28 bases after the break with an improved .268 average (up from .259) and hoping he has another such run (pun fully intended) in him.  The talent is there in glimpses, but those are all too brief because even when he’s hitting the longest home run in Chase Field, he’s still only carrying a .212 average.

Ichiro Suzuki

This is probably just the decline of a 38-year old former star, but it’s hard not to look at his 39 SBs from just a year ago and dream of him stealing 20+ in the second half.

Shane Victorino

He has been a far cry from what we expect in the slugging department thanks to a precipitous drop in triples as he has just two after leading baseball two of the last three years and notching 10 in the third of those seasons.  Aside from that, he hasn’t been awful save a little batting average misfortune.  I think the perception of his struggling is stronger than the truth of it as he already has as many steals (19) as he did in all of last year and his eight homers are just off of last year’s pace.  Try to prey on the trade rumors swirling about and his benching the other day for not liking his slot in the order as well as the general Phillie malaise that has seemingly stunk up every non-Hamels entity.

Bes Jond Unnings and D.J. Jupton

Paired together for obvious reason, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton have been colossal disappointments this year, though like others in the list they have run enough to stem the tide a bit on their being fantasy sinkholes.  Both have 15 SBs, impressive more so for Jennings coming in eight fewer games, but both are still on the wrong side of .680 OPS to date.  It looks even worse if you extend back into September for Jennings as he jumped off a cliff after a blazing hot run from late July through August.

Meanwhile, no one is expecting anything batting average-wise from Upton, but what is with the power outage?  He’s been around a 20 HR hitter the last two years which combined with his speed and 80ish runs driven in and scored made the batting average plenty palatable.  He’s now on pace for 13, down 10 from last year, but he can string together some 4-5 HR months and rally to or above 20 if he’s right.  Both of these Rays have plenty of upside that make gambling on them easy, especially at a discount.

Nelson Cruz

He has been lying in wait just ready for a Cruzian streak.  It may be bubbling up near the surface, too, as he entered the break with three multi-hit games including four doubles, but no homers.  When he gets hot he can carry a fantasy team so he is an easy inclusion even though he hasn’t been as rotten as the others with a 99 OPS+.  You may have to package one of your few worthwhile assets to get him and someone else on this list.  It could pay major dividends with a monster like Cruz.

PITCHING

Tim Lincecum

Duh.  Just look at the track record, I don’t really need to tell you why he’s a Hail Mary candidate.

Dan Haren

Currently injured making it a nice time to strike.  For the purposes of this exercise it also helps that he was terrible for five starts (8.67 ERA) before finally hitting the DL with a balky back.  His brilliant track record and the glimpses of greatness this year when healthy make it clear that he is still someone worth targeting.  The rest will hopefully get him back to 100% and he will return to his previously established level of excellence.

Rickey Romero

Let’s be honest, he didn’t really earn a 2.92 ERA last year from a skills standpoint. He still got the 2.92 ERA and I’m sure it helped many a fantasy team, but expecting that this year would’ve been silly.  Similarly, he isn’t a 5.22 ERA pitcher, either.  The skills have deteriorated this year without question, but not 5.22 deterioration.  His control is all out whack with a career-worst 4.7 BB/9.  That points to a potential mechanical issue which hopefully can be identified and corrected.

Unfortunately, the bubonic plague is sweeping across the Toronto rotation so injury could be an issue, too, but he doesn’t seem to be laboring or hurting when I view his starts with my amateur scouting eye.  A 3.50 ERA from a workhorse who will put himself in position for decisions (and ideally wins given their stout offense) can go a long way toward fixing your flailing staff.

Derek Holland

We saw last year, specifically in the second half and playoffs, what he can do when he is click.  His skills are in line with last year’s save a bit of home run trouble which has no doubt led to his inflated 5.05 ERA.  He quietly came off the DL just before the break and had a quality start, strike quickly before he strings a few together and saps up any discount via trade or starts getting scooped up off the waiver wires.

Doug Fister

The infield defense has struggled as planned and Fister has been a prime casualty, but that isn’t the only factor as a 17% HR/FB rate has led to a 1.2 HR/9 rate.  That factor should regress, especially for a groundball artist (2.2 GB/FB ratio), and that will cut into his 4.75 ERA.  Completing the Hail Mary pass would be a tightening up of the defense allowing him to pitch to a level on par with his skills which would be around 3.45 or better.

Francisco Liriano

Personally, I don’t think he should be trusted, but we are talking Hail Marys here.  He has a 3.12 ERA and a strikeout per inning in his seven starts since returning to the rotation.  We know the upside he has when everything is going perfectly.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Is he the next Liriano after his fall from grace last year?  Probably so, but like Liriano he is streaking in his last seven with a 2.93 ERA and 44 Ks in 46 innings.  In fact, they both started their streaks on June 5th so they are even more similar this year.  They both have ace upside.  Doesn’t mean they’ll will reach it, but the chance is there.

Ervin Santana

He likes to throw a stinker season in every once in a while to keep everyone honest I guess, but his capability is a commodity as proven in three of the previous four years from 2008-2011.  Unsurprisingly home runs were his issue in 2009, too, so figuring that out will be the key to his potential success going forward.  He doesn’t quite have ace potential because he peaks around 6.8-7.0 K/9, but with the Angels clicking, he can run off a bunch of wins with quality ratios if he gets himself figured out.

Clay Buchholz

Another guy I don’t really buy into, but people I respect do and besides, I’m trying to fix your crappy team not mine.  Even including the thrashing he suffered right before hitting the DL, he had 3.35 ERA and 5-1 record (including 4 straight Ws) in eight starts whittling his ERA from 9.09 to 5.53 in the process.  He is currently sitting on the DL with terrible bottom line numbers making now the best time to strike if you are interested.

Wednesday: 07.4.2012

Paul’s 24 to Target

(Ed. note – This will likely be it for the week on PaulSporer.com.  I was going to split it up, but decided to give you all 5,000+ words at once.  I may have something up for Friday, otherwise look for my stuff at BP and then back here next week.)

We have flipped the calendar to July, we’re officially beyond labeling a player’s stat line as a hot or cold “start”*, the All-Star break is right around the corner and trade season is kicking into high gear in both fantasy and real baseball.  With that, I wanted to take an opportunity to highlight my favorite starting pitcher trade targets.  Why 24?  Because it’s my favorite number, that’s really the only reason.

* let’s be honest, this probably should’ve stopped around Memorial Day, but I heard it a lot throughout June.

There is a range of talent within this list so it’s not just a bunch of aces leaving you saying, “No f’n duh!” though some will be entirely unsurprising (“what, Paul likes Hamels?? Weeeiiirrrdddd”), but they represent the group of guys I’d be buying via trade or definitely hanging onto if I already had them on my team.

They aren’t necessarily ranked in order, but look at it more as a talent spectrum with the better guys clustered near the top and the riskier, less-established arms in the 20s.  The exclusion of guys doesn’t mean I don’t like them (obviously acquire Justin Verlander if you can at a reasonable price, but he’s guaranteed to cost two arms and nine legs), these are just my 24 favorites to target.

1. Cole Hamels – I didn’t waste any time with him, did I?  I still don’t think he is universally treated like the ace that he is and that means you may not have to pay ace-level prices for him via trade.  This is especially true with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee pitching at peak, which they obviously aren’t with the former on the disabled list and the latter struggling at times and not getting any support when he’s excelling.

This doesn’t mean you are going to steal him from a leaguemate for Carlos Lee and Justin Masterson, but he rarely costs a price commensurate with his value like a Verlander or Stephen Strasburg.  He is a four-category star (10 wins even on the Phillies, while Lee has 0 showing you just how random the stat can be) with bankable strikeouts, ERA and WHIP and pacing toward a career-high in wins after reaching 15 just once in his career.

2. Madison Bumgarner – Despite posting great ratios (2.96 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) in his first four starts, his peripherals were a bit wobbly (4.6 K/9, 1.6 K/BB) which was a bit unnerving especially for those expecting an ace-level season out of him.  Since then he has a 2.81 ERA and 1.03 WHIP backed by 8.5 K/9 and 5.4 K/BB rates in 86.3 innings of work.

That is despite giving up exactly four runs in five of the 12 outings.  He has been virtually unhittable in the other seven giving up an average of 1 run (four w/1 ER, one w/2 ER and a shutout).  He has three double-digit strikeout outings in that span as well.  In short, he has been the beast we were hoping to see in 2012.  The best part is that he is just 22 years old so he works for those trading for 2012 and those trading with an eye on 2013.

3. David Price – Price is rounding into form as the season wears on.  While his strikeout rate and WHIP improve month over month, his ERA is incrementally on the rise, though a 3.29 peak as we saw in June is hardly reason for concern.  I’m far more interested in the first two factors as he continues to miss more bats and allow fewer baserunners.

As the Rays move toward being whole again (namely getting Evan Longoria back) and stabilizing the defense, his and this next guy’s improved groundball rates will pay bigger dividends.  This franchise isn’t used to spotty D in recent years, but the shuffling in and out of reserves who were supposed to play sparingly throughout the year has compromised their usually razor-sharp defense.   Price could actually get better in the dog days and improve upon his 2.92 ERA, while this guy almost assuredly will…

4. James Shields – Another guy that anyone who has read my work for a while is completely unsurprised to see gracing a list like this.  I’m a huge Shields fan and while things haven’t gone exactly according to plan this year, I foresee improvements in the near future.  He, too, will benefit from a more solid defense as his groundball rate is at a career-high 54%, up from last year’s 46% which was a previous career-high.  Meanwhile he has improved his strikeout rate with only little harm to his walk rate (2.8 BB/9, up from 2.4).

He is the first guy on the list who you can probably acquire at a significant discount compared to his value since the 4.04 ERA and 1.40 WHIP are pretty ugly right now.  The danger is that this become a mini-2010 as his skills were great that year yet he ended up with a 5.18 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.  I don’t see a 5.18 ERA coming, but he needs the defense to start turning his groundballs into more outs and he himself needs to sharpen up with runners on.  I believe he will.

5. Johnny Cueto – Being the unabashed strikeout love I am, you might be surprised to see Cueto on this list, but I just love what he is doing these days.  I’ve watched his last few outings to get a better feel for the 2012 iteration and I came away impressed.  What he lacks in strikeouts (6.6 K/9), he makes up for in groundballs (49%) which is my second favorite skill of a pitcher.  He has a four-seamer and sinker that both sit around 93 MPH and he peppers the zone with both.  Meanwhile he pounds his 83-84 MPH changeup low in the zone, but also down out of the zone (22% of them are out of the nine square strikezone).

He continues to lower his walk rate, too, dropping down to 2.1 BB/9 this year making his strikeout rate more palatable.  He is going deeper into games this year as well averaging 6.7 innings per outing, a number on the rise yearly since 2009.  His next hurdle is a 200-inning season, a figure he is tracking toward this year (on pace for 223 innings in 33 starts).  Obviously if strikeouts are your main need, Cueto isn’t for you, but he delivers everywhere else.

6. Josh Johnson – The start of a player’s season, whether good or bad, can have a lasting effect that often skews the perception of that player for the rest of the season.  Take Johnson for example.  I think a lot of folks in the fantasy community would say he’s having kind of a “meh” season (if not worse) if you asked them their thoughts on him without showing them a stat sheet.  If you brought his 3.80 ERA and 1.37 WHIP into the mix, they would probably feel justified in their assessment.

However, a look into his game log shows that he struggled to work the kinks out after spending most of 2011 on the shelf, but turned a corner in early May and has been quite excellent since then.  The Padres tattooed him for six runs in 2.7 innings in Petco back on May 4th pushing his ERA up to 6.61.  To that point, he had gone more than six innings just twice and completed the seventh just once.  Since then he has a 2.47 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 66 innings across 10 starts going fewer than six innings just once and going seven or more in six of the 10.

His strikeout rate is at 7.8 K/9 in that stretch with a strong 3.0 K/BB.  The strikeouts aren’t up a ton from those first six starts (7.5 K/9), but his walks are done a ton (2.2 K/BB) as he has walked 19 in the 10 starts after 12 in those first six.  He isn’t 100% back to 2010-2011 Josh Johnson, but he isn’t far off and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran off a stretch of vintage JJ starts at some point later this season.

7. Yovani Gallardo – I know I have been beating this drum since early May, but if you lift Gallardo’s two starts against the Cardinals and look at his numbers, he has a 2.80 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.  His walk rate also drops from 4.1 BB/9 to 3.7.  I realize you can’t cherry-pick starts, but if you just avoid his St. Louis starts (he’s always struggled against them), then Gallardo is still the stud we expected him to be this year.

Even with the Cardinals starts, his bottom line numbers are palatable (3.87 ERA, 1.39 WHIP), though hardly star level.  His walk rate has regressed severely after he showed tons of improvement down to a very strong 2.6 BB/9 last year.  He can be successful walking that many, but it obviously eats into his margin for error.  He can be a star if he just gets it back to 3.5 or better.  I am still all-in on Gallardo.

8. Mat Latos – I have stood by Latos all season long and it is finally paying big dividends with back-to-back complete games (1 ER in each).  Home runs look like the primary culprit for his 4.42 ERA as he has allowed 1.6 HR/9, however it isn’t really a consistent issue so much as it is a few bouts of gopheritis really hampering him.  He has allowed 2+ home runs three times this year and those are three of his four worst outings (the other was against those blasted Cardinals).

He allowed five solo shots to the Rockies (not in Coors believe it or not), three in Cleveland and a pair to the Astros at home.  In those outings, he gave up five, seven and five earned runs.  Also of note is that his problems are incorrectly being tied to his shift into the Great American Ballpark.  He has actually fared much better at home (3.47 ERA) than on the road (5.92) despite a better strikeout rate (9.7 compared to 7.4 at home) and nearly equal K/BB rate (3.2 compared to 3.3 at home).

His 3.61 road xFIP suggest brighter days ahead away from home.  Meanwhile, after an ugly 5.7 K/9 in April, he has a 9.4 K/9 in 69 innings since so he could be in for a huge second half as an across-the-board contributor.  On the heels of those complete games, his price has likely risen, but you may also have the effect of some wanting to parlay the outings into an opportunity to dump Latos at a peak.  I think there are more peaks in his future.

9. Adam Wainwright – Getting pummeled by the Pirates (7 ER on 11 H in 5 IP) might seem like the end of the world for someone of Wainwright’s caliber, but you might be surprised to learn that the Pirates scored the most runs in baseball during the month of June (146) and led the NL in home runs (39).  So it’s not as bad as it would seem at first blush.  Wainwright has been a rollercoaster ride during his return from Tommy John Surgery, which shouldn’t be too surprising.

Expected him to be vintage Wainwright right out of the gate would be stupid.  So while the peripheral skills have been pretty close to 2009-2010 Wainwright, he still has his off games.  For example, he had a stretch of four starts in June where he posted a 2.70 ERA with 27 Ks in 27 innings, but he sandwiched that run with a pair of 7 ER outings (including the most recent one against the Pirates).

He is still a work in progress in terms getting back to his elite level, but I think the flameout starts will be fewer and farther between as the season wears on.  I think the Cardinals have handled him masterfully with just two starts over 110 pitches and only seven over 100.  He didn’t even hit the century mark until his sixth start.  As much as they need him with Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia on the shelf, they know that pushing him beyond his limits will only result in him joining his fallen teammates on the disabled list.

10. Ian Kennedy – Kennedy was amazing last year, there is no denying that: 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and a 21-4 record in 222 innings.  He had an 8.0 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9.  His BABIP, LOB and HR/FB rates all beat league averages which aided his 2.88 ERA compared to his 3.50 xFIP.  His skills have actually been a tick better this year (8.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9) yet his ERA has skyrocketed to 4.20 thanks in part to a leveling out of his BABIP, LOB and HR/FB rates.  His 3.96 xFIP says the ERA probably regressed a bit too far.

These are skills to invest in and now is the optimal time with his ERA up over 4.00.  You’re unlikely to find someone selling him at a bargain basement price, but there is no way you still have to pay for 2011 Kennedy and he could be that guy from here on out.  We even saw glimpses of it in June, but he was just inconsistent as you can see from earned runs allowed in the month: 0, 6, 2, 5, 1.

He seems to have worked through the home run issue that got him throughout May as he allowed 2 HR in three of his six outings.  And as a flyball pitcher in that home ballpark, home runs will be a big key to his success for better or worse.  I’m betting on better.

11. Matt Garza – Cherry-pick alert.  Garza was brilliant through his first seven starts (2.58 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) before suffering through his worst two outings of the years during which he allowed 13 runs (12 earned) in eight innings thanks in large part to five home runs.  Since then, he has been solid with a 3.72 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 36.3 innings.  The kicker?  Those two outings were against Houston and Pittsburgh, both on the road so you can’t blame the wind in Wrigley.  Minute Maid can be prone to longballs, but PNC Park is a pitcher’s haven.

I know boiling it down to two starts seems simplistic, but he allowed five of his 12 home runs in that outing and he has been a 3.09 ERA, 1.09 WHIP pitcher outside of those outings.  He basically had a bad week.  A couple of rough outings can still skew the bottom line enough to distort how good someone has been as I mentioned with Gallardo and his St. Louis starts, and also Garza in these two starts.

12. Matt Moore – I know better than to jump on the hype train with unproven pitchers, but I still fell victim to it with Moore.  His incredible stretch at the end of last year was a limited sample, but he was so good and those flawless mechanics are hypnotizing.  As much as I bought in on him, I was at all surprised to see him stumble out of the gate because that’s just how it goes so often with inexperienced pitchers.  That said, he is immensely talented and even while struggling he was showing positive signs.  I firmly believed early on that he would get better as the season progressed.

So far that is how it has played out.  He sprinkled a few good starts in during his first nine, but still finished the run with an ERA slightly north of 5.00 at an ugly 5.07 in 49.7 innings.  He hadn’t completed seven innings to that point.  He did so for the first time in his 10th start (the incredible Memorial Day showdown between he and Chris Sale) and has done so three other times since then, too.  In those seven starts, he has a 3.18 ERA in 45.3 innings with 45 strikeouts and just 18 walks (compared to 27 in those first 49.7 innings).

Moore still has room for growth this year, specifically with the walk rate as a 3.6 BB/9 (his rate in the 45.3 IP sample) is hardly special.  You aren’t going to see Moore discounted even a little bit in keeper leagues (which doesn’t deter me from buying), but the ERA north of 4.00 after 95 innings has very likely lowered his price (which was sky-high on draft day) in re-draft leagues and I’d be ready to take advantage of that.

13. James McDonald – I am not averse to buying high on guys when I believe they are for real and as the driver of the James McDonald Bandwagon, I obviously believe in him, but his inclusion is as much about letting fantasy managers know they don’t have to sell high for fear of a second half implosion.  There were 16 pitchers with a sub-3.00 ERA last year and there are 21 in the 2012 group.  There is no reason McDonald can’t be one of the 2012 group by season’s end.

For me, command and control were the missing ingredients for McDonald to reach his potential so it’s no surprise that chief among his improvements this year include a career-best 2.7 BB/9, down from 4.1 BB/9 a year ago.  Meanwhile, his breaking stuff has been downright unhittable, especially his curveball.  In the 73 plate appearances ending on a curveball, batters have a .096/.096/.192 line with 31 strikeouts.  They haven’t fared much better against his slider: .143/.194/.222 with 29 strikeouts.

This isn’t smoke and mirrors.  He has made some real improvements as a pitcher and should remain a quality asset for the remainder of the season.

14. Jonathon Niese – Niese is posting a career-high strikeout rate thus far at 8.6 K/9 aiding career-bests in ERA (3.55) and WHIP (1.27), too.  The intriguing part is that he is some home run bad luck (19% HR/FB rate) away from an even lower ERA as we see from his 3.36 xFIP.  Always a groundball pitcher, Niese has taken it to new heights the last two years at 52% and 51% the last two years (identical 1.8 GB/FB rates).

Niese is hovering around 50% availability at ESPN and Yahoo! and I just don’t get it.  This lefty seems to be improving year over and year, plus at 25-years old, he has keeper potential, too.  He is someone to invest in regardless of league type.  By the way, I typed the Niese portion on Tuesday afternoon and then he went out and threw eight innings of 1-run ball against the Phillies.  Not the stiffest competition, but that should cut into his availability at ESPN and Yahoo!, so act quickly.

15. Dan Haren – I know, you’re surprised that Haren wasn’t listed immediately after Hamels.  I haven’t completely lost faith in my boy Haren, but I am at least a bit concerned.  I know he was dealing with some back soreness early in May when he labored through a trio of starts that he would normally cut through with ease (6.61 ERA at Min, vs. Oak and at SD).  He bounced back with a 1.29 ERA in his next three including outings against the Yankees and Rangers.

Since then he has just been bad (7.94 ERA in four starts) and while you can give him a break for going into Coors, that one was actually his best outing in terms of earned runs (4).  He allowed five earned runs to the Dodgers which I believe accounted for 68% of their June runs.  Through it all, he is still fanning more than last year (7.7 K/9) and maintaining an elite K/BB ratio (3.7) and I just can’t quit him.

His value may never be lower so now is the time to buy in if you’re a believer like me.  I also typed Haren’s piece Tuesday afternoon and he went out and had yet another garbage outing further depressing his value.  You may have to hold your nose while proposing a trade to acquire him, but I don’t think we’re at Tim Lincecum levels with him.  The All-Star break will hopefully help him get right.

16. Jordan Zimmermann – I put some lofty expectations on Zimm heading into the 2012 season and he has essentially delivered.  No one is complaining about a 2.77 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, but a meager 4-6 record and modest 6.0 K/9 have kept him from a truly special season.  The former is hardly his fault as the Nats don’t have a great offense and have often scratched out wins late in the game.  The latter seems to be more of a choice by Zimmermann.

He seems to be one of those guys who will go for the strikeouts when he needs them and take them when hitters are vulnerable, otherwise he is plenty happy to induce weak contact and conserve pitches through shorter at-bats. He has outings with 9,7, 6, 6, 6, 6 & 5 Ks all in seven or fewer innings.  He also has a pair of 1 K outings during which he induced 16 and 14 groundballs, including his start in Colorado where keeping the ball down is paramount to succeeding (to wit he threw seven 1-run innings).

He is probably going to be a guy in the 6.0-6.5 K/9 range, which I can live with if he maintains a 50% or better groundball and sub-2.0 BB/9 rates to go with it.  He essentially becomes a Cueto-type at that point.  These kinds of guys have to be seen to get a better handle on their game because those who just look at the stats will be unsatisfied and automatically assume regression is coming since their ERAs have such big splits from their xFIPs.

17. Edwin Jackson – He was in the midst of a special first half before falling victim to Coors Field (8 ER in 3 IP).  In his other 14 starts, he allowed more than three runs just twice.  He continues to develop as a pitcher and get incrementally better.  For the first time since his season in Detroit, he has a WHIP that doesn’t hurt you, in fact it is very helpful at 1.13.  He has become a rather reliable asset since 2009 and at 28, there is still a bit of upside, too.  That is exactly the kind of guy to invest in, especially since he never carries an exorbitant price tag.

18. Phil Hughes – Home runs are really the only thing keeping Hughes from a great season.  He gave up at least one in each of his first 12 starts, snapped the streak for just a game and then gave up four to the Braves during a home run derby in Yankee Stadium with temps pushing up toward 100.  He doesn’t get a reprieve just because of the park and weather, though, if for no other reason than the fact that he will have to deal with both all season long.

He has finally had back-to-back homer-less games and unsurprisingly he has managed 16 innings of 2-run ball with 12 strikeouts and just two walks.  And both games were at home, so that is also encouraging.  He came out of his May 1st start with a 7.46 ERA, but has a 3.34 ERA since despite that stretch including outings with seven and six earned runs.  In other words, he has been great in his last 11 starts.

A heavy flyball pitcher with home run issues in that ballpark means there is probably a cap on how low his ERA can go (probably around 3.70 or so).  To reach that mark for the season he would be around 3.00-3.10 the rest of the way, but even if he is just a 3.70 guy for the remainder of 2012, he still has plenty of value with his strikeouts (8.5 K/9) and heightened win potential as a Yankee (9 W already this year).

19. Gavin Floyd – Despite the best strikeout rate of his career (8.3 K/9) and a walk rate right in line with what we have come to expect from Floyd (2.7 BB/9), he has posted his worst ERA since 2007 (4.91).  He just hasn’t been consistent this year.  Every time he appears to get going, he flames out for a start or three.  So why am I buying?  Well, apart from the quality skills profile (which also includes a consistent groundball lean; 1.1 GB/FB this year), Floyd has also shown himself to be a better pitcher later in the season.

For his career, he has a 4.87 ERA, 6.8 K/9 and 2.0 K/BB in 620 first half innings and a 4.06 ERA, 7.4 K/9 and 3.1 K/BB in 435 second half innings.  Half-season trends aren’t the most stable splits so I don’t trust them blindly, but Floyd’s skills are such that I would be buying anyway and his penchant for turning it up in the second half only adds to the desire to acquire him.

20. Doug Fister – One of the worries for the 2012 season was that the infield defense of the Tigers would heavily impact both Fister and Rick Porcello negatively as groundball pitchers.  Unfortunately, that has played out as both have bloated .339 BABIPs with Fister allowing 10.7 H/9 and Porcello at 11.2 H/9.  Still, I look at Fister’s peripherals and see someone who has to be better than his 4.61 ERA.  He has a 7.6 K/9 and 3.8 K/BB in 54.7 innings, but the hits just pile up and lead to meltdown innings.

Anecdotally, the defense has extended approximately 53 of the 55 innings he has pitched in with poor defense giving the opposition a fourth, fifth or twelfth out.  Rumors are swirling that the Tigers will look to address second base during the trade deadline and hopefully they look for a defense-first option.  Jhonny Peralta has been fine at shortstop, not great and not awful (-0.1 UZR), but the corners have been as bad as feared with both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder posting -3.6 and -3.9 UZRs.

UZRs aren’t terribly trustworthy in full year samples let alone three month samples, but as someone who has watched every Tigers game, those numbers feel pretty accurate.  All that said, the defense was garbage during his first eight starts and he had a 2.72 ERA.

His start in Texas was the worst of his career and that can’t be laid at the feet of the defense and he followed that up with an outing that just went off the rails after three excellent innings.  He was singled to death in fourth inning some of which was poor defense.  Anyway, I’m rambling at this point.  On the heels of two of the worst starts in his career, now is the time to buy.  He will be fine with these skills.

21. Jarrod Parker – A hard-throwing super prospect with great stuff and a favorable home park is easy to get behind.  Walks are an issue (4.4 BB/9), but he showed some improvement there from May to June (he only had six innings in April).  I think they will remain his biggest issue this year, but that park can cover a lot of mistakes so the key to his success will be keeping his head afloat on the road which he has done with aplomb thus far including seven shutout innings in Coors Field.

He has given up more than two runs just twice this year (though both were 6 ER outings) leading to a 1.54 ERA in seven home starts.  Both of the ugly outings are on the road, but he has still maintained a 3.74 on the road.  At the very least, he is a worthy home-only spot starter for those of you in leagues where such roster management is possible (10/12 mixers, ideally with daily transactions).  I also see him adding strikeouts as the season wears on, too.

22. Michael Fiers – Where the heck did this guy come from?  At 27, Fiers feels like a journeyman, but he was drafted at 24 so it’s not like he has labored through the minors year after year.  He raced through the minors with impressive numbers at each level, though his age kept him from being much of a prospect and likely had some discounting the performance.

He doesn’t have overly impressive stuff, either, which is another reason he wasn’t exactly a blue chip prospect for the Brewers.  You can’t argue with the major league results, though.  It has been a tiny 39-inning sample, but he is striking out 9.4 per game and walking just 1.8 leading to a 2.29 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  He has been a good bit below average with his HR/FB rate (4%), especially as a flyball pitcher so we can probably expect some regression there.

But the skills are rock solid and he should be usable across all formats even if he is more a 3.60ish ERA pitcher the rest of the way.  He has shown to have strong command and control throughout his pro career and a deception in his delivery that keeps hitters guessing.  Those elements do a lot to cover up a lack of raw stuff.

23. Brandon McCarthy – It’s not about skill with McCarthy, it’s all about health.  And right now, his health simply cannot be relied upon.  That makes him a worthy trade target though because it lowers the price.  By the way, if for some reason it doesn’t lower the price in your league, then just move on.  Love the pitcher, love the potential, hate the shoulder.  I didn’t deep dive into the numbers here because there is no real need, they’re great and they will likely continue to be great when he is pitching.  It’s just a matter of keeping him on the field consistently.

24. Joe Blanton – Maybe I’m just being sucked in by an NL-best 5.9 K/BB (OK, not maybe, I am), but I think Blanton’s best work is still ahead of him.  He doesn’t walk anyone (1.3 BB/9, also an NL-best) and he misses plenty of bats with a 7.7 K/9.  His 9.6% swinging strike rate is on a four year rise, too.  On the downside, perhaps he is finding his pitches in the zone too often as his 19 home runs and 115 hits are also “lead” the NL.  Of course, you don’t want to be leading those categories.

The control is there, he can miss bats and he limits walks, but in order to push these skills into better results, he needs to show some better command and put the ball where he wants it more often within the zone as opposed to where the hitters want it.  He is a speculative play worthy of NL-only leagues or deeper mixed leagues.  If you’re in dire need of WHIP with few options available to you, you could do worse than Blanton (1.25) especially since he brings some potential ERA upside along with him.

This will likely be it for the week on PaulSporer.com.  I was going to split it up, but decided to give you all 5,000+ words at once.  I may have something up for Friday, otherwise look for my stuff at BP and then back here next week.

Wednesday: 01.4.2012

Oakland Cashes in with Gonzalez Trade

As division foes Texas and Los Angeles grow stronger, the Oakland A’s are entirely committed to focusing on their future as they have dealt another key cog in their once strong rotation.  Gio Gonzalez is headed to the Washington Nationals for a package of prospects that includes their 3rd (Brad Peacock), 4th (A.J. Cole) and 9th (Derek Norris) best farmhands according to Baseball America.  The fourth piece was lefty Tom Milone, who BA listed as having the best control and changeup in the organization.

This group of youngsters (Milone is the elder statesman of the bunch at 25) joins the trio of prospects the A’s got for Trevor Cahill.  That group was highlighted by Jarrod Parker and included outfielder Collin Cowgill and reliever Ryan Cook.  Parker was listed 4th on the Arizona Diamondbacks top 10 prospects and projects to have some incredible upside that could make him better than Cahill if he pans out completely.  However, Cahill is the more finished product, obviously, and still under team control for several years while Parker returned from Tommy John Surgery in 2011.

Looking at the returns from Washington shows some strong upside starting as early as 2012:

Brad Peacock (RHP) – Peacock emerged a bit in 2010 pitching in High-A for the second time (48 IP there to end 2009) when he doubled his strikeout rate to 10.3 K/9 while seeing his walk rate rise just slightly from 1.9 to 2.2 BB/9 in 103 innings.  He was promoted to AA where he came off the rails a bit, specifically a 5.1 BB/9 and 1.2 HR/9 in 39 innings (meanwhile, his strikeout rate dipped to 7.0).

In similar fashion, he repeated the level to start 2011 and looked more like the Peacock from the start of 2010 with an 11.8 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 99 innings before reaching AAA.  While he saw some degradation in his numbers with the promotion, he still struck out a batter per inning, but the walk rate jumped to 4.5 per game.  The real difference in his 2011 season was a severe lack of hits against him.  He allowed just six hits per nine in 147 innings across both levels.  The big season earned him a cup of coffee with the Nats (0.75 ERA in 12 IP).

Peacock has a mid-90s fastball (sits 93) that can touch 96-97 with a wicked curveball and progressing change up that sits 82-84 and looked sharp during his quick 12-inning stint with the big league club.  There was talk of him possibly being a future reliever, but after his breakout season in the high minors last year, he looks like a full-fledged starter capable of becoming a #2 or #3 at his peak, especially in that pitching-friendly home ballpark where Oakland plays (for now).

A.J. Cole (RHP) – At 20 years old and about to enter just his second season a professional, Cole is still pretty far away from contributing to the A’s, but an impressive debut combined with a projectable frame (6’4/180) have many seeing future ace potential for him.  He did nothing to dissuade such thoughts in 2011 striking out 10.9 batters per game in his 89 innings and walking just 2.4 (for a 4.5 K/BB).

Like Peacock, his fastball sits 91-93, but flashes 96-97 and his curveball is further along than his changeup.  He has a Ubaldo Jimenez-esque delivery whereby he shoots his hand out behind his back just before he throws the pitch.  His leg kick is a little Verlanderian in that he gets it really high and loose and leads into his easy delivery.  His mechanics aren’t quite as effortless as Justin Verlander’s, but then again outside of maybe Matt Moore, nobody’s are right now.

If his body fills out a bit as projected and that gives him the tick or two on his fastball, he will be in really good shape in terms of hitting that ace-level projection, especially if that boost in velocity is paired with the expected improvement of his changeup.  There are some ifs and maybes with Cole right now, as with any 20-year old, but the future is bright and he may well end up being the gem of this entire haul in five or six years.

Derek Norris (C) – For those who mislabel “Moneyball” as simply “guys who take walks”, Norris is the quintessential Moneyball player.  For those who are more enlightened, Norris is the kind of player who would’ve been wildly undervalued in the era when Moneyball first came to be because he totes a wholly unimpressive .249 career batting average in 1815 minor league plate appearances, but offsets it with an eye-popping .403 on-base percentage thanks in large part (OK, thanks exclusively) to a 19% walk rate, including two seasons over 20% (2008 & 2010).

His .235 and .210 batting averages the last two years are alarming especially in light of his plate discipline.  Some scouts believe that his contact rate will improve in the coming seasons, but it is hard not to be at least somewhat concerned at this juncture.  Of course, he isn’t just a fancy walk rate.  When he does make contact, it is often solid contact as evidenced by his 20 home runs (his second 20+ HR season in the minors) and a career-high .237 Isolated Average (slugging minus batting average).

A catcher who can get on base, hit for pop and even run a bit (13 SB per 500 AB) is a valuable commodity for sure, but playing half of his games in Oakland Coliseum means Norris will have to improve his contact rate or he could easily be looking at a sub-.200 batting average.  The Major League Equivalency of his 2011 line when placed in Oakland yields a .155/.268/.312 line.  Ouch.  No need to panic just yet, though, as he will be just 23 years old in 2012 so he still has time to develop.

Tom Milone (LHP) – The term “crafty lefty” is often reserved for a veteran southpaw who may have once had an overpowering arsenal that has diminished with age leaving him to outsmart hitters with command and guile.  At 25, Milone is already a crafty lefty despite what you might infer from his minor league numbers.  He is a prime example of why just looking at the numbers isn’t ever enough.

Though he boasts an improving strikeout rate that went from 6.3 K/9 in 2009 to 9.4 this past season, Milone doesn’t overpower hitters.  Deception and pinpoint accuracy make his high-80s fastball play better that it truly is while a strong changeup and passable curveball round out his arsenal.  He has chipped away at his walk rate since 2009, as well, starting at an already-strong 2.1 BB/9 and getting down to a remarkably impressive 0.97 mark in 148 innings at AAA this year (giving him a 9.7 K/BB).

Milone’s big season in the high minors earned him a big league cup of coffee and he was pretty much as expected in his 26 innings.  He maintained his sharp command walking just 1.4 batters per game, but the strikeout rate dipped to 5.2 K/9, unsurprisingly.

He showed a heavy flyball lean in his small sample (49%), so Oakland’s home park will suit him quite well in that regard should that prove to be a trait he retains once he becomes a full-time big leaguer.  His groundball rate had been diminishing a bit as he climbed the minor league ladder, but his 31% mark in the majors was in sharp contrast to his 41% at AAA.  Of the ballparks within his new division, only Texas will punish him severely for a flyball lean, but fantasy managers are always leery of their non-aces going into Texas so that isn’t a major adjustment in strategy.

If you are looking for a solid comp for Milone, look no further than his new team as Dallas Braden seems to fit the bill quite well.  Braden pitched just 18 innings in 2011 because of injury, but his 2010 season was a bit of a breakout as he notched 30 starts for the first time posting a 3.50 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 193 innings.  His 5.3 K/9 wasn’t terribly impressive, but 2.0 BB/9 was quite nice and helped him achieve a strong 2.6 K/BB.

Milone, like Braden, will likely be an undervalued asset come draft day and though I often prefer guys who miss bats, I also like bargains and this particular skill set is still underappreciated on the fantasy landscape.  If you have some flamethrowers atop your rotation and some high strikeout relievers, you can afford a Braden/Milone or two to round out your staff.

Monday: 07.25.2011

Keeper Building Blocks: Outfield, Part 2

Part 2 of the Outfield Keeper Building Blocks and the final piece of the series (pitchers are a different story altogether that I will address at some point in the future).

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Shortstop

Third Base, Addendum

Outfield Part 1

Curtis Granderson (NYY, 30) – Still checking in as a 6th-7th round pick in most leagues, Granderson was hardly “cheap” this spring, but he has definitely exceeded expectations performing as one of the very best players in all of baseball.  Though he has seen an uptick in his HR/FB rate every year since 2007, this year’s jump was from 15% to 21%, easily the largest in the five year span.  That is the biggest change in his profile along with major improvements against left-handers.

I think he can be a low-to-mid 30s home run hitter on a yearly basis, but I would be really surprised if he continued at his 44 home run pace of 2011 the following season and beyond.  Even as “only” a 30 HR/25 SB guy, he is easily a big time keeper especially as the runs scored and driven in should remain plentiful in the Yankee lineup.

Carlos Quentin (CWS, 28) – Imagine if he could stay healthy.  He certainly wouldn’t be a 16th round pick like he was this year, but with a career-best of 131 games played in his three years a regular Quentin is a risk.  He is on pace for a new career high at 151 this year and he is on pace for a 30-100 season at the same time.  With power in shorter supply these days, a 30 home run guy at his cost is a nice piece to tab as a keeper.

Logan Morrison (FLO, 25) – Interesting season for LoMoMarlins so far this year.  He looked like a contact hitter with a great eye in his 62-game debut last year (.283/.390/.447), but his meager two home run output left his fantasy value low this preseason.  He has traded the batting average (.253 AVG) and walks (.325 OBP) for some more power with 14 home runs in 79 games so far this year.  I was kind of hoping he’d simply add the power instead of giving up something for it.

His 14% walk rate from 2010 has dipped to 9% and it wasn’t just a small sample of patience that may have misled his fantasy managers as he posted rates of 16% and 18% in the minor leagues in 2010 and 2009, respectively.  All in all, with less than a season of games under his belt yet (141), the 23-year old’s profile is definitely one worth buying into as I think he will become someone who can hit around .275, an on-base percentage about 100 points (10%) higher and high-teens to low-20s power production, in other words a strong OF2 or elite OF3 depending on how you build your team in a given season.

Adam Jones (BAL, 25) – His 2010 season was a bit of a regression considering he put up the same numbers he had in 2009 despite playing 30 more games.  Unfortunately his 2009 breakout was cut short and he ended up playing just 119 games, but managed 19 home runs, 10 stolen bases and a .277/.335/.457 line.  In 96 games so far this year, he has just about equaled or bettered all that 2009 breakout campaign with 17 bombs, six stolen bases and a .284/.325/.478 line putting him on pace for 30-99-12.

It feels like he has been around forever since this is his fourth full season, but he is just 25 years old and the best is yet to come with Jones.  Just the latest example of how the growth patterns of young studs are unpredictable and why you shouldn’t expect the world, but also shouldn’t give up on them just because of a down season.  Don’t assume that a few similar years before age 25 is what you can expect throughout their prime, you could very miss out on the breakout you were expecting a few years earlier.

Names of Note:

Jacoby Ellsbury’s value varied wildly league-to-league so if yours was one where he was heavily undervalued, then he obviously becomes a part of this list and a major piece to go after.  Of course, if you’re trading with a contender, you’re really going to need to give him the world & then some as removing Ellsbury from his lineup is a huge dent.  Since he still went as high as the late 2nd round in plenty of leagues, he wasn’t included on the list.

Domonic Brown & Jose Tabata are a pair of guys who will come very cheap if you’re trading with a contender and giving up some big pieces to help their team.  You shouldn’t have to make them the centerpiece of the deal in most situations, but I still like them to make a 2012 impact and they should fit nicely as your last keeper in a mixed league.  Both are power-speed combos who have showed a sharp batting eyes in their limited samples for 2011.

Brett Gardner is a much better real player than all-around player.  He is a great base-stealer, but unless you play in an OBP league, that’s really all he does thus he isn’t someone I would chase in a trade.  Especially since the Yankees continue to misuse him badly.

In just about any other park, Cameron Maybin would make a list like this, but Petco Park makes it really hard to see him much more than 10-12 home runs right now.  He is still just 24 and could reasonably add some more bulk to his 6’3” frame and overcome some of the challenges that Petco presents when hitting for power.  He definitely has some keeper value, but for what we are looking at here which is trading our best non-keeper pieces for the best 2012 keeper pieces, he doesn’t fit.

Tuesday: 07.19.2011

Keeper Building Blocks: Outfield, Part 1

Outfield has a lot of great centerpiece players that would be worth giving up any un-keepable entities you have to in order to land them.  In fact, a number of them are “arm & a leg guys” meaning, of course, that they will cost you an arm and a leg.

You have to give something to get something and as long as you aren’t blowing up your team completely (e.g. trading a few expiring contracts/high-priced un-keepables AND some guys you were planning on keeping), then they are worth it.  Situations will vary depending on league format & keeper rules, but don’t overdo it just to get one guy or you may be worse off than you were before you got him.

Based on talent, age and the likelihood of studs on a cheap contract, outfield is the best position in this Keeper Building Block series to find your truly elite cornerstone.  The first 7 or 8 guys fall into that category and while all won’t be cheap in your league, several should be giving you options.  And it is likely that at least one of them is on a contender and hopefully you the missing puzzle pieces for them to seal a title and be willing to give their star.

There are several more OF building blocks than at any other position, so I broke it up into two pieces.

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Shortstop

Third Base, Addendum

Jose Bautista (TOR, 30) – See the third basemen piece for info on Bautista.  He is almost certainly on a cheap contract and it’d take just about any viable piece you to get him, but it might be worth it if you still have a few keepers around him.  His value is much, much higher at third base, but since he qualifies at outfield, I made sure to list him here.

Carlos Gonzalez (COL, 25) – When a season of .287 with 22 HR, 27 SB, 88 RBI & 100 R is your come down season from a career year, you are an elite player.  Plus he is getting better month-over-month so he just might improve those paces.  Either way, he still ranks 26th overall on ESPN’s Player Rater and 8th amongst outfielders.  His 2010 breakout came on the heels of an 89 game debut in Colorado that went well (.284/.353/.525, 13 HR & 16 SB), but still left him with a reasonable average draft position (ADP) of 120.  So he is either on a minor league contract or a regular one that is no doubt affordable.

Andrew McCutchen (PIT, 24) – I am pleased to have this burgeoning star locked up for two more years in my NL-Only league for just $15.  He is a dynamic, five-category (his .279 isn’t elite, but the league-high is .272 and my team average is .262 so he is definitely a positive contributor in that category) stud who appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential.  Next year will likely be his first full season in a run production lineup spot (third or fourth) and that should allow to knock in 100+ runs for the first time in his career.  That is if he doesn’t increase his pace of 98 this year and make 2012 his second stab at the century mark.  He is the face of the budding Pirates franchise and he can be the same for your fantasy team.

Mike Stanton (FLO, 21) – This kid is incredible.  He hit 22 home runs in 100 games (hitting one every 16.3 AB) and while the lofty strikeout rate (31%) made it clear that batting average would be a challenge, the power was undeniable.  He has made incremental gains on his power (HR every 15.8 AB and .267 ISO up from .248), his strikeout rate (down to 28%) and walk rate (up from 8.6% to 9.2%, OK so that is essentially the same) putting him on pace for 34 home runs and 96 RBIs… at 21 years old!

If there is one concern, it’s slight and it’s his age combined with the strikeout rate.  His inexperience and lack of contact could lead to prolonged slumps as he continues to grow.  It doesn’t dissuade me from targeting him, but keep it in mind.  In most keeper leagues, he will be on a minor league contract which is no doubt much cheaper than his actual value and with power on the decline league-wide; he should be a premier target.

Jay Bruce (CIN, 24) – He is essentially a look into Stanton’s future on some level, a pure power hitter with batting average liability.  Bruce doesn’t have the strikeout woes that Stanton does, but they profile similarly.  As a 21 and 22 year old Bruce hit 21 and 22 home runs in 413 and 345 at-bats, respectively.  His walk rate has steadied at 10% the last three seasons and while his BABIP-influenced.281 batting average (.334 BABIP) from 2010 hasn’t held (.265 w/.293 BABIP), the .265 he has posted doesn’t hurt too much in this low-offense environment of 2011.  I have him and Stanton pretty close, but I gave Stanton the edge because he likely cheaper and he is three years younger.

Jason Heyward (ATL, 21) – The ideal situation would be finding Heyward on a contender because his 2011 has been a disappointment (have I mentioned that young talents, no matter how good, don’t improve linearly?) due at least in part to injury.  There is a bit of concern around his massive groundball rates (55% and 58% in his two pro seasons) and how that affects his power potential, but the kid is 21 and even when he is underperforming it is easy to see while watching him that he is a special player.

Colby Rasmus (STL, 24) – Generally when a guy needing a “change of scenery” is thrown around, it is an excuse for his struggles when the truth is that he probably just isn’t as talented as originally believed.  However with Rasmus, I think it is one of the few cases where the change is necessary.  Rasmus has a permanent front row seat in manager Tony LaRussa’s dog house and it seems to have finally crept on the field full time and affected his play.  Instead of aiding his first place Cardinals with a season that builds on his strong 2010, Rasmus looks out of place and appears to pressing with increasingly worse numbers month-to-month:

April: .301/.392/.476

May: .253/.370/.407

June: .213/.268/.416

Generally teams don’t discuss trading mid-20s talents like Rasmus alas his name has come up in some preliminary rumors as we near the trade deadline.  I have no doubts that he can flourish out from under LaRussa’s thumb and his modest 2011 output might allow you to get a discount via trade.  Or he could be a primary reason why you’re building for 2012 already.  If it is the latter, sit tight with Rasmus.

Monday: 07.18.2011

Third Base Addendum

The one name I kept hearing about in comments or Twitter after the Third Base Building Blocks piece was Pedro Alvarez.  I didn’t forget him; rather I chose not to include him.  For these pieces, I am talking about dealing off the best parts of a losing team (which can still contain a handful of valuable pieces including some star power) to build toward 2012.  As such, I don’t recommend taking on a risk like Alvarez who has had a busted season thus far (and likely will end that way as he isn’t even performing at AAA).

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Shortstop

Third Base

By no means should he be completely written off at 24, but expectations were high (likely too high in a lot of places) after he popped 16 home runs in 95 games last year.  His 31% strikeout rate was a big black eye on his stat line and his home run rate (18% HR/FB) seemed a bit unsustainable, too, considering his groundball lean (46%).  This isn’t 20/20 hindsight either, these things were clear with a quick glance at his profile, but I think the fantasy community (myself included at least to an extent) expected some growth that would counterbalance those issues and make him a viable option at a very weak position.

As I have stressed throughout all of 2011 here the site, growth trends of youngsters are not at all linear and you can’t just expect year-over-year improvements regardless of what the numbers say, especially if the numbers are built from a small sample size like Alvarez’s 95 games.  So that’s why I chose not to include him.  In most league formats, he should be waaaaaaaaay far down on your list of targets if you are trading the best pieces of your current team to acquire parts for next year.  Third base is thin and it would be great to land a foundational piece there alas it is thin because not many of those players exist.

Dynasty teams and deeper NL only teams that have Alvarez on the cheap likely will hold him over for 2012 and I am not against that as he shouldn’t be tossed aside completely just because of an awful 36 game sample during which he hit .208/.283/.304 with two home runs and 10 RBIs in 138 plate appearances.

Thursday: 07.7.2011

Keeper Building Blocks: Third Base

If you thought things were sparse elsewhere on the infield, wait until you see what third base is offering for potential keeper building blocks.  Before the season started, I saw third base as easily the second-worst position on the diamond behind shortstop.  There has been some nice improvement in the middle tiers of shortstop to the point where you could reasonably make a case that the two have now flip-flopped.

If it weren’t for Jose Bautista qualifying at third base, the position would be in really big trouble.  It is still a troubled wasteland primarily because it started thin and has since been ravaged by injuries.  Evan Longoria, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo  Sandoval, Martin Prado, Scott Rolen, David Freese and Placido Polanco have all missed time due to injury this year.  All but Polanco have hit the disabled list, while Polanco is currently day-to-day with back pain that has been troubling him for a month and has no doubt impacted his modest output this year (.274 batting average, a category you draft him to excel in).

Catchers

First Base

Second Base, Addendum

Shortstop

I came up with six potential candidates, though one will take an arm and a leg (literally) to pry away from a leaguemate:

Jose Bautista (TOR, 30) – Yes, this of course is the arm & a leg guy.  He is probably no more than $10 in any league depending on how free agents are acquired and how their contracts work and when you couple that incredible price with the fact that he has been arguably the best player in the game (Matt Kemp’s speed might put him #1), you have a helluva price tag.  Unless it requires several of the keepers you were planning on for 2012, it might not be a bad idea to pay the hefty price to get Bautista.  It would take a unique set of circumstances to acquire him from a leaguemate, but given how cheap he should be in keeper leagues, you have to take a shot.

Pablo Sandoval (SF, 24) – The Kung Fu Panda is back after a rough season in 2010 and if it weren’t for his missed time on the disabled list, he probably would have made a serious run at the starting third base gig for the NL All-Star team.  He should still be cheap from any initial contract in your league, but if for some reason he was on the open market this March, he is probably still at a fair keeper price given the reaction to his modest output last year (.268/.323/.409 with 13 HR, 63 RBI).  The most games he can play this year is 121 and yet he is still on pace for 21 home runs, not bad considering he hit 25 in 153 back in 2009.

Adrian Beltre (TEX, 32) – He was coming off of a down season in 2009 which caused his value to be depressed even as he headed into Boston last year.  Thus he could be on a nice contract in your league.  This won’t apply to all leagues, but I had to include him just in case.  He will be a bit older, but he’s got great power at a scarce position.  That’s keeper-worthy.

Martin Prado (ATL, 27) – Nothing against Prado, but when he is our fourth potential keeper at third base, you know it is thin.  He has definite value, but it is tied to his batting average which can suffer in a year due to luck.  I just think we might have the next Placido Polanco on our hands, which isn’t bad, but hardly a great building block.  Remember, Polanco had back-to-back double digit home run seasons at 27 & 28 years old sandwiched by seasons of nine at 26 and 29.

Mike Moustakas (KC, 22) – In a dynasty league, he probably moves up a spot or two on this list, but even when building a keeper list during a lost season, I’m still gunning to win the very next season so I have him down here because there is no certainty he will be all that fantasy relevant in his second season.  We saw ups & downs in his minor league career and I suspect we will see the same as a big leaguer so at 23 next year, we might see more growing pains than fantasy-worthy production.  But like I said, dynasty leaguers who can keep him forever might want to invest in him over a Beltre or Prado.

Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE, 22) – Even though he will be the same age as Mous next year, I think he will be more fantasy relevant, but his ceiling isn’t as high.  He doesn’t profile to have game-changing power and of course there is still the fact that he cannot hit lefties worth a lick.  He is someone to look at for AL-Only and deep mixed league players.  I don’t think he is someone you want to invest in as a keeper for 10 & 12-team mixed leagues right now.

I don’t think I forgot any deserving candidates, but please feel free to let me know if you think I have made any egregious omissions.

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.