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Monday 16th Oct 2017

The subject of pitching, pitching staffs, and how rugged 2017 was on the arms of our team is pretty much rhetorical at this juncture.

If you have been listening to The Tout Wars Hour (on the FNTSY network every Thursday night at 9 PM ET), you have heard Justin Mason, Todd and I talk a lot the past few weeks about how to deal with hurlers next year without hurling.

I confess that I am a guy who always went for the "good pitching beats good hitting" maxim, and for many years in Fantasy Baseball, that seemed to work. But not anymore, as witnessed by Mike Podhorzer's dominant victory in AL Tout this year, for example.

As my teams tumbled from the top and hot starts over the first couple of weeks, I thought of the guy who smashes his head against the wall repeatedly but never understands the way to mitigate the problem is to try another approach. And, though I hide behind age (I get Medicare now) and have the hashtag #iambecomingabesimpson, I like to think I am capable of learning. At least when it comes to baseball.

A little over a week ago, Justin initiated a cluster of mock drafts and I decided this off-season to work at assembling second-tier pitching staffs this year to the best of my ability, assuming the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber are out of reach. In fact, there is a good chance that if I had a top-5 pick, I would be hard-pressed to select any of this quartet of aces in an era of hitting. Not to mention, I am trying to figure out how to win without being arm heavy.

So, I have concocted a list of starting pitchers I think I can get from the fifth round on in a straight draft. Note that in an ideal world, I would like to hold off on grabbing a hurler until the seventh round if I could, but I suspect aside from getting lucky, that will be as much a ticket to doom as selecting too many pitchers.

My plan is to really keep track of my mocks and, if you will, build an ADP of these guys by which I will try to draft for real come March 2018. So, I will be writing about this and tracking it periodically during the off-season, sometimes here, and sometimes on the Hotpage. 

As of now, here are the guys I am looking at with a little rationale along with where the player was selected in the Couch Managers Mock Justin initiated. Note that this league is a 5x5 with 15 teams, so the sixth round begins with Pick #76. Also note there might be additions and subtractions to this list as the stove heats, then cools.

Robbie Ray #70: An ace in the making as part of arguably the best starting troika--with Zacks Greinke and Godley--Ray will get whiffs if nothing else, and that is the starting point. However, as a late fifth rounder, his skill set is hardly a secret. And, his team can hit.

Alex Wood #90: Surprisingly high for a pitcher with just one very good season under his belt coupled with an injury history. On the other hand, it was a monster good year and Wood was certainly not overused (152.3 innings). But, pitching as a lefty behind Kershaw has to be a comfy slot in the rotation of a good team. 

Kyle Hendricks #95: Kind of the perfect #2 guy, not strikeout heavy, but definitely has control, keeps the ball down, and also is on a very good team.

Aaron Nola #101: Certainly a potential ace on the Phils, who are improving and kind of fun. But, 184 whiffs over 168 innings.

Sonny Gray #110: He's back and will be a quiet one of many in the Bronx. 

Jimmy Nelson #116: Another great season from a former #1 who whiffed 199 over 175.3 innings. 

Zack Godley #121: 165 whiffs over 155.3 innings on the same team as Robbie Ray.

Danny Salazar #125: It is getting to be crapshoot time, but we can all agree the talent is there.

Jose Berrios #136: Pretty good rookie season on a team that wound up being a lot better than we thought. The questions are was the team a fluke, and thus Berrios one? I'm guessing Jose is for real.

David Price #140: Looks good in the playoffs, and is surely not bullpen material, making Price a solid gamble for a pitcher who was among the likes of Sale and Scherzer just two years ago. 

Danny Duffy #146: Like a few guys on this list, Duffy has trouble staying healthy. Ideally, in drafting a lot of these guys, the injury factor is mitigated a little.

Jon Gray #151: Another injury worry, but more serious and developing talent.

Mike Clevinger FA: 172 picks gone, and Clevinger is still out there, but for how long?

So, walking away with six of these guys to go with a pair of closers and a seventh mystery starter is what I am looking at.

Follow me along the adventure. And, feel free to comment.

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

Fantasy Football has kind of crept up on me this year.

In the past, I played in three or four fantasy leagues each football season, and last year I added a cool Dynasty League sponsored by my mates at Sirius/XM, which is a fairly intense ultra keeper contest with 40 players and a redraft of five each season to allow for the selection of the top draft picks of the NFL.

Last year, I also started playing DFS with several groups weekly making for about seven places I had to go in order to update all of my rosters.

With doing this stuff full-time now, however, and participating in a bunch of mocks, somehow things kind of got out of control it seems.

As of right now, I have:

-Ottoneu Experts League

-Sirius/XM League

-Experts Schmecksperts League

-Kathy League Gifford

-North American Internet Fantasy Football League

-Fantasy Duds League

-Utter Genius League

-BARF League

-Knights of the Passover Table League

-Tout Wars DFS

-FSWA DFS

-FNTSY-DKMS DFS (click this one and play for free to get a shot at Super Bowl Tix!)

-Baileys DFS League

That's 13 and that means a lot of roster checks, let alone FAAB moves. 

First, there's a game on Thursday, then moves till Sunday kickoff, and essentially games till Monday night. Then it is assess who got hurt, what that means, who is playing where and when next week. Then, are there players in the free agent pool by which I can improve any spots?

Now let's remember that in a couple of weeks all of this gets compounded by the Bye factor, and if we think of 16 guys per roster on the non-DFS teams, that's 144 roster spots and the closer I get to my hashtag, #iambecomingabesimpson, the tougher it gets.

Come Tuesday morning, however, I am not ready to dig through all my teams just yet. In fact, even Wednesday seems a bit early, but the issue is forced upon me with the Thursday night game. So, that is a lot of rosters. But, not content with my own personal neuroses being halted there, I don't really like to make a lot of moves in my leagues, particularly over the first few weeks of the season.

Fortunately, this year I have been spared most of any kind of cataclysmic injury, save my Sirius team on which both David Johnson and Cameron Meredith live. And, I tried hard to draft with respect to building solid teams across the board that barring an injury, had enough starting players to address the off-weeks.

Of course a lot of that is wishful thinking, and so far every team but one has started just fine and things ahead look pretty good. In fact, the one team struggling is the Auto Draft squad I hoped to fix the best I could (I covered this September 9). However, aside from the humblebrag, I had to write all these leagues down so that I can remember to make the moves in each one (how you guys who play in 20 leagues and a wad of DFS ones manage to keep track?).

Using that list, I went through all the rosters on Thursday afternoon, before kick-off, and thought everything was right with the world. 

And it was. Except that in the Knights of Passover League, I missed activating Jordy Nelson. That is the same league where last week I kept Stefon Diggs and Pierre Garcon on the bench. 

I don't know how I could have missed starting Jordy, who also sat on the bench last week in anticipation of that thigh injury that the wide receiver played through for that is the only team where I have Jordy shares. This week, I was hot to remember activating Diggs and Garcon but just glossed over Nelson, who gets an extra week to rest his thigh on my team.

All of this is making me think maybe I have too many teams playing here, and things have gotten out of control?

(Neither did I). 

Tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET and follow me @lawrmichaels.

Early in the week, my Tout Wars Hour mate, Justin Mason, of Friends With Fantasy Benefits, went on a kind of crazed mission, initiating a chunk (well, four) of industry mocks under the pretext that it was draft day, 2018.

I am a huge believer in mocks--I really feel they are the best draft preparation for both knowing the player pool, and understanding true player value--but I only had room for one of Justin's extravaganzas.

A pretty good gaggle if miscreants are participating in the slow mock, such as Howard Bender, Sammy Reid, Brent Hershey, Clay Link and The Welsh.

I have been giving my 2018 leagues a lot of thought, especially in deference to the teams I assembled this season, and their collective and relative failure. For, both my Tout and LABR teams shot out of the blocks hot, holding tight around first place until a week into May. Then it became clear that while I had plenty of pitching, I was going to be short on power.

This is a nominal problem for my teams the last handful of years, and the problem is partially rooted in the success I have had in the past, and what worked. For, while I have never really factored out an auction split of dollars allocated to pitching and then to hitting, I have generally built off pitching and tried to then get as much balance out of my hitters as permits. 

Theoretically, operating out of a pitching surplus as such would give me chips to trade as the season progressed, and there have indeed been times when this worked really well. Alas, the plot does not work so well, however, when Eduardo Escobar is having a 15-homer season, like just about every other middling middle infielder on the planet.

Mind you, I am not knocking Escobar, for he has been a fantastic $1 player in all of my leagues. But the cast around him, in the days where home runs rule, pitching is derelict and strikeouts are plentiful simply will not lead to success.

So, I am really trying to deconstruct how I approach my drafts, how I can stack power and still have enough bucks or slots left to fill out my pitching staff successfully. And that should be doable since building pitching staffs is a strength.

Anyway, with months ahead to prepare, and apparently mocks abounding, this is indeed the time to practice, no?

With four rounds gone thus far, I am indeed pushing towards hitting, so here are my first picks in the 15-team standard 5x5 draft (I picked in the fifth slot). If you would like to peruse all the rosters, the link to Couch Managers is here.

Nolan Arenado (3B): As a 26-year-old, the Rockies third sacker put up his third monster season in a row with a career high in average (.306), doubles (42) and OPS (.949). The guy is a production machine and exactly the kind of steady and durable hitter I need to anchor a team. That means in a mixed auction I would spend the $40-plus to get him. 

J.D. Martinez (OF): I have always shied from Martinez, a little because I wasn't sure he was the real deal, and partially because of the injury factor. Martinez has played a full complement of games only once --158 in 2015--since becoming a starter, but he is so steady and productive. In fact, Martinez seems to me to be the new Magglio Ordonez.

Starling Marte (OF): I will treat this season as a loss leader and figure Marte picks it back up for a full season with his suspension behind him, both picking up his offense and giving me a core for some steals.

Robinson Cano (2B): Cano has had a bit of a dropoff this year, but I too expect him back with a last laugh, leaving us with a fantastic HOF career. Even with the down season, Cano managed a .284-23-93 line. The question for me is whether it's time to seriously look at someone like D.J. LeMahieu as a better option and spend more money on a first sacker, like Joey Votto. But that is why the mocks are helpful, for over the course of a dozen or so of these exercises, the path will be clearer.

Tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET and follow me @lawrmichaels.

Note: This is a revision of the original post, which was written while Cleveland was still ahead Friday evening, before they lost the game and their streak.

Remember the words, spoken by Crash Davis to Annie Savoy in Bull Durham, reminding her that she has to "respect the streak"? Savoy, angered that Crash has advised Nuke, Annie's paramour to sleep solo. That is because Nuke has had a lot of good starts while remaining celibate, and Crash has to remind Annie that the lack of contact has nothing to do with romance. Rather, Nuke has a streak going and changing behaviors right now could jinx that. 

It is true. Streaks are hard to do. Think about the Patriots a few years ago who only had to blow past the New York Giants. Or even more recently, the Panthers won 15, but could not close out #16 a la the 1972 Dolphins.

Thus, it is with awe that I began this piece, Clevelnd was on top and on the road to their 23rd consecutive win, and that is something that should cause us to sit back, take a breath, and acknowledge what a remarkable feat that is.

For, think about how we do revere streaks.

To start, in baseball, there is Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak and Cal Ripken's 2,632 consecutive games played streak. Orel Hershiser threw 59 consecutive scoreless innings that actually extended to 67 when the Dodger starter tossed eight shutout innings during the post-season.

Obviously, the Dolphins streak goes in there, but then there is Drew Brees, who threw a TD pass in 54 consecutive games while LaDainian Tomlinson scored a TD in 18 straight contests, a feat that probably won his fantasy owners a lot of games.

How about Martina Navratilova winning 74 consecutive tennis matches, or De La Salle High School--which happens to be in the SF East Bay--whose football team won 151 straight contests? Track star/educator Edwin Moses won 122 races in a row and the UCLA men's basketball team, under coach John Wooden, won 88 games before Notre Dame beat them, and Byron Nelson actually won 11 PGA tourneys in a row.

But, to really drive this home, think about yourself. Think about winning say 15 hands of Blackjack in a row? Too intense for you? How about 15 matchups in War with a deck of cards? 15 straight games of Cribbage or in the iPhone world, how about 15 straight games of "Words With Friends"?

If we just localize to our fantasy teams, and say you play in an H2H league. Has a team ever won 15 straight in your league? I thought not, and yet we are talking the Indians besting that total by another 33%.

This is, again, within the weird world of baseball where an odd bounce or a bad call or a funky pitch literally does shift the balance of a game one way or another, for the actual course of events following the release of the ball by the hurler has an infinite number of potential outcomes depending upon who is up, on base, what the score is, and a bunch of other variables.

Of course, that is one reason we watch games: We like to be amazed and sports surely does that, at least for me.

I attended the Oakland Athletics game in 2002, as documented in "Moneyball", where Scott Hatteberg banged an extra-inning homer not unlike Jay Bruce driving in Jose Ramirez the other night to seal win #22 for the Tribe.

That game was so intense and tight that I am not sure how those of us in the stands managed to maintain, let alone how the players on the field could focus, but then that is what we like to watch, the best play under the most difficult circumstances.

Well, the Indians now hold the American League consecutive game win streak, falling just four shy of the MLB record of 26 held by the 1916 New York Giants.

Once again, to contextualize, the Giants streak is more than 100 years old. So, had the Indians won last night, just five wins were required for a new record. Sounds easy, but winning five, let alone 22, let alone 27 takes a lot more confluences of skill and luck and right place right time than I can imagine.

Well done Cleveland: I am rooting for a 2017 Series title to go with the streak.

Tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET and follow me @lawrmichaels.

It never occurred to me when I retired from my ATT gig that I would have another full-time job. In fact, in a way I don't. But, in a way I do, and this is it: writing full time, mostly about Fantasy Sports.

However, somehow I am, writing columns for someone almost daily, working my radio show (The Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET), playing DFS baseball, football, and now golf along with my season-long leagues. This makes for a lot of time devoted to sports and games.

Mind you, I am far from complaining. I started in this business in 1993 and never could do it full time due to health and related issues until January 2015 when I retired from the corporate world, although even then it did not occur to me I would pick up columns and associations and work and poof, suddenly it is a daily thing. What that made me realize is that I really have wanted to do this full time for awhile.

What that has meant is a lot of mock drafts (I did 16 football ones this year) and time spent researching and writing and playing. As a result of the flurry of fantasy activity, I have similarly been invited to join a lot of leagues which I am trying to do without killing myself. But what that meant is last Monday I had two drafts both at 7 PM Pacific Time, and then Thursday one scheduled right during Tout Wars Hour and there was nothing I could do. 

So, I decided to simply let the system draft for me and deal with the fallout, seeing what I could do with the scraps on my roster. Now, I know I could have made pre-picks, but I just hate doing that, at least for the first part of a draft because I am never sure what direction I really want to take with a team until at least the first picks are made.

For example, I might want to go Wide Receiver heavy and take Antonio Brown if drafting in the fourth slot, a reasonable expectation that Brown is there. But, what if the person picking second has the same idea, and so does the third, and suddenly LeVeon Bell is available to me. At least to me, Bell is strong enough to change my roster construct plans, grabbing him and then the best receivers I can draft for my next picks, unless there is someone left in the pool that causes me to rethink my plans again.

It is not that I don't go into a draft with an idea of what I want to do, but I believe one should always have primary, secondary, and tertiary players/paths in mind for every pick made. For, that makes it rare to be caught off-guard with respect to the team and players still available who could help.

As it turned out, there was a problem in the Draft Room on Thursday, so the whole league wound up with an autodraft team, so the rest of the league found themselves in the position I had already committed to: Autodraft all around. That makes for a pretty fun league, I think.

The free agent pool was opened this morning for us, and stays open till Sunday kickoff, and a flurry of players for trade--Ty Montgomery, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Dez Bryant and Jordan Howard were all names bantered about on the trade wire.

I do have to admit, I was nervous to look at my squad for the first time this morning, when the draft was completed, but the reality is the resulting team is really not bad, giving me Alex Smith, Matt Ryan, Antonio Brown and Allen Robinson along with Bryant and the Seahawks defense.

I made some tweaks this morning--adding Wendell Smallwood and Tarik Cohen, a couple of quieter faves--and we shall see what the season brings.

It might be sobering to find out that autodraft can do a better job than I can. 

I guess I shall find out.

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

Last June, I met Niv Shah at the summer Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) conclave in New York, drafting against him in the Industry B League of experts, exchanging cards and pleasantries in between the old savage sniping of picks one expects from such an event.

A month after the conference, Niv contacted me and asked if I would be interested in joining a new Dynasty Auction football league that did not involve defense but did allow for the drafting of college players to use as an eventual farm system.

Niv and long-time mate Pete Schoenke of RotoWire assembled the league, hosted by--and brilliantly named Ottoneu--Niv's company which provides custom baseball and football formats for the "serious" competitor. Ottoneu is essentially the commissioner end of Fangraphs, so that should also tell you the level of love, interest, and detail any proposed league set-up receives.

For this league, we had a $400 salary cap for 20 players with no defense, as noted, and a pair of flex spots (not super) in a 12-team league that also allows for the drafting of college players.

This is indeed a strange draft to me. Of course, my instincts are to analogize with baseball, trying to correlate $260 into a team of which 23 guys will play (hopefully) as opposed to a football team of 20 guys for $400 of which 11 will play. And, the two are not really analogous although I am sure my math mate Todd could figure out a way to quantify the two.

Even so, in baseball I know that if Roberto Osuna goes for $18 as the first closer auctioned in an AL-only format, followed by Craig Kimbrel for $21, that the baseline for closers has been set for the most part, with the lesser guys going for a few bucks less.

But, in this league, things seem all whacked out in this regard, making it hard to get a real feel of player value. For example, let's look at the Top 5 costliesteach of Quarterbacks and Running Backs and Wide Receivers (thus far, the draft is still in online auction mode as we complete it).

Quarterbacks

  1. Aaron Rodgers $50
  2. Drew Brees $44
  3. Tom Brady $33
  4. Jameis Winston $23
  5. Russell Wilson $22

Running Backs

  1. David Johnson $118
  2. Le'Veon Bell $112
  3. Melvin Gordon $67
  4. Leonard Fournette $66
  5. Todd Gurley $65

Wide Receivers

  1. Antonio Brown $90
  2. A.J. Green $79
  3. Julio Jones $78
  4. Dez Bryant $72
  5. Odell Beckham, Jr. $71
  6. Mike Evans $71
  7. Brandin Cooks $71

When looking, the prices did largely fall, so the most talented/highest-point-potential player did indeed draw the most bucks, for surely Rodgers, Johnson and Brown are the cream of their respective spots. But, is the $18 drop to Bryant reflective of the end result of their respective seasons, assuming both players play an equal number of games? Note that Amari Cooper drew $61, Jordy Nelson $64, but Alshon Jeffery just $31.

Same at Running Back, where surely Johnson and Bell are the "bell weathers," but are each worth a 33% salary cap commitment on draft day? More to the point, Justin Vibber, owner of the Massillons, thought it logical to grab both Bell and Johnson along with Rodgers, and then simply bottom feed with his remaining $116 for the final 17 roster spots.

So, the question is will that work, or is a more balanced approach of Carson Palmer ($6) and Jordy Nelson ($64), along with Bryant and Jay Ajayi ($60) for a collective $202, as purchased by Schoenke, more rational? 

Truth is I don't know at this juncture as I have only done a couple of football auctions, but never a dynasty league, and never one like this. But, it is still hard to get my head around what the Massillons did, though I suspect it might work pretty well. I have employed a like strategy in 12-team mixed baseball auction leagues before with pretty good success.

It just did not occur to me to apply this to a football auction, so there is clearly some observational learning opportunities here. As for how the season turns out, that is why we draft, no?

To see the auction results, you can click here.

 Remember to go to the Tout Wars site for our Friday picks. And, tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

Are we all confused regarding Colin Kaepernick, and his strange path to non-existence?

It was only three years ago that Kaepernick dabbled with Joe Flacco on a McDonalds commercial, when the Niners Quarterback was hot as a habanero, his team recognizing a superior skill set that simply sent the ever steady Alex Smith to Chief-dom.

In trying to both understand Colin the man, and what might make him tick, as well as assessing why in god's name the Jaguars or Browns, or even a return to San Francisco--all of whom could really use a talented QB--cannot pull the trigger on signing him, I tried to do a little research.

I knew that Kaepernick was adopted, but not that his first years were spent in Wisconsin when the family moved to Central California and the town of Turlock, and it seems he had a normal family in which he was not the only athlete (brother Kyle was scouted in high school for football).

In 2007, Kaepernick went to college at Nevada, though he was a good enough baseball player to be drafted by the Cubs in 2006 (as a pitcher) in the 43rd round out of high school.

So, college and then a second round pick of the Niners in 2011 who was a back-up until 2012 when Alex Smith went down with a concussion in Week 10, giving Kaepernick a shot at strutting his stuff, which he did. Coach Jim Harbaugh, from then on, played Kaepernick for the rest of the season and Colin, who could run and throw and drive a team, pushed all the way to the Super Bowl where the team lost, but nobly enough.

In 2013, Smith was sent to Kansas City and Kaepernick owned the helm of the San Francisco offensive squad, and again drove the team to the NFC Championship game only to lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champ Seahawks.

Then came the ostensibly magic year of 2014, when Kaepernick made the McDonalds commercial, and he signed a six-year $126 million deal, but the rest of the season turned sour as San Francisco finished 8-8, missed the playoffs, and amid words around just how difficult life was around Jim Harbaugh. Things in Ninerland were at best dicey. 

During the season, Kaepernick was fined $10K for using "inappropriate" language on the field, which seems crazy as I have to think in the heat of battle just about everything imaginable is said on the gridiron. But, who knows? Later that year, Kaepernick was fined for wearing Dr. Dre "Beats" headphones during post-game interviews rather than phones made by Bose, the official headphones partner of the NFL.

Just within my narrative thus far there are a few things suggesting issues. For one, I think Harbaugh was always overrated as the San Francisco head coach, and think his sort of dogmatic military style was much better suited to impressionable college students rather than highly paid stud athletes upon whom he depended for his own success. But, in the end, I don't think he was a good match for a Kaepernick.

Perhaps that, coupled with the silly fine for swearing (I am assuming) triggered the "defiance" in wearing the Dr. Dre's, which is kind of understandable. At least it is something I can relate to as one who does not always appreciate being told what to do. 

But in 2015, he got hurt and the team was deteriorating and Kaepernick's skills appeared to fall apart in step, which brings us from the lousy 2015 to a somewhat better 2016, and the social protest during the National Anthem and poof, free agent city.

What then gets strange is that $126 million contract which seems to suggest that in addition to being happy to be shed of Harbaugh, Colin was the future. 

Personally, I not only don't care if Kaepernick sits during the National Anthem. If he is voicing his freedom of speech in doing so, I believe it to almost be a duty (and, I have never understood why we sing that song prior to sporting events of all things in the first place). But, I do believe in freedom of speech such that whether I like it or not, he gets to sit and the stupid Nazis get to march in Charlottesville. Because, as I believe Dr. King once said, "There is nothing against the law in being a racist: Only in acting upon it."

In that vein, the same "politically conscious" Kaepernick who prefers to sit at political moments could not delineate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, making me wonder exactly how Kaepernick's ethos works, if at all?

If I owned an NFL team, there is obviously a lot I am willing to "ignore" if you want to win, so what exactly is it about Kaepernick that is so bad? For he may indeed have made enemies by his political stance, but similarly, his jersey is the top seller for the NFL and I cannot believe that many people bought them in order to burn them. 

But, why would a team, still indebted to a talented young (Kaepernick is 29 at writing) quarterback for three more years, struggling to rebuild, simply dump their theoretically franchise player unless there was something else under the surface? 

What, I don't know, and I certainly have no dark thoughts about what might be at the source of all of this other than maybe he is a head case as they say? Maybe Colin Kaepernick is a football counterpart to Milton Bradley: Skilled athletically beyond all belief, but just not worth the emotional baggage trade off in the long run?

Tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET and you can follow me @lawrmichaels.

Since I have been playing Fantasy ball, I have noticed how dismissive a lot of folks seem to be about banging 20 homers. Baseball is a hard game, and I have always felt 20 big league smackers indicates a pretty good season for anyone.

As it was, I was watching the Cubs on Thursday when they clobbered six homers, in a losing cause no less. I noticed that the team now has a chance for six guys with 20 or more big flies, which is a lot. It reminded me of the 1977 Dodgers who had Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Reggie Smith and Dusty Baker all with 30 homers, indicating a pretty good hitting team. 

The Cubs have Anthony Rizzo (28), Kris Bryant (23), Willson Contreras (21) and Kyle Schwarber (20), along with Javier Baez (19) and Ian Happ (17), who should also top the 20-HR mark.

In deference to that, I began to wonder if the number of home runs this year really was crazy high, so I looked it up and discovered that as of Wednesday night, 67 major leaguers had hit at least 20, and since Schwarber banged his on Thursday, that means at least 68. So, that set me wondering again, so I looked back since the turn of the Century as they say to see how this year stacks up.

And, since this season is pretty much exactly three-quarters done, that means roughly 40 games left, and if we calculate 3.5 at-bats for all the home run hitters over those games, that adds 140 at-bats for the average everyday player. Remember that I am not a math guy, but according to Fangraphs, there have been 123,265 Major League at-bats this year and 4568 homers, meaning on average a home run was hit every 27 at-bats.

So, 140 divided by 27 gives us another projected five dingers for the year, though I will acknowledge that is likely a conservative number for it factors in Alcides Escobar's power along with Giancarlo Stanton, and there are more guys closer to Alcides than Giancarlo.

Either way, I looked at the number of players who have hit 15 this year (there are 54) thus far and added five to them and compared this year's projected totals to some other dates since Y2K came to tease us, and this is what I found.

Year   #20 Home Run Guys  #30 Home Run Guys  #40 Home Run Guys
 2017  121 29  4
 2016  111 38 8
 2015    64 20 9
 2010    76 18  2
 2005    78 27
 2000   102 47   16

2000, to jog your memories, was the year Sammy Sosa led the Majors with 50, but 16 players--which is a lot--hit 40. And, Andruw Jones hit 51 in 2005, along with Jose Bautista hitting 54 in 2010, but even projecting out 2017 and adding in those five extra homers, this year will not come close to the 16 40-homer guys of 2000.

As it happens, I was on Patrick Davitt's BBHQ Podcast today, and the very subject came up, and Patrick's take on the power boost is that the real power hitters, like Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo, are unaffected by whether they hit a 425-foot homer or a 410-foot homer. But, as Patrick astutely pointed out, that 15 feet the ball adds makes it so that Yonder Alonso and surprises like Chris Taylor and Tim Beckham get four bases and the accouterments for what used to be a warning track fly out.

And, I personally think, especially looking at these numbers, Patrick is dead on correct.

So, the question is how do I plan towards next season with the proliferation of guys who have between say 15-25 homers and determine what their value is?

Well, thinking ahead, my approach is that there will be a plethora of them I will indeed not think so much about as a power source but rather supporting acts scoring runs and ideally helping the counting stats. But I think the group of players we draft in rounds 10-17 or purchase for between $8-$13 in a single league draft become targets more for steals and on-base percentage and batting average while we focus on the true power guys in the early rounds.

And that means pitching becomes a lot more ad hoc, meaning I will focus on a couple of closers and an ace and otherwise think about building my rotation out of the dregs and free agent pool.

That might not sound like much, but for me it will be way different from the past few seasons. Because you know, you can never plot too early.

Remember you can always reach me @lawrmichaels.

 

Last year, at the behest of Wreck Room proprieter Tod Alsam, my radio-mate on FNTSY, Justin Mason, initiated the first Bay Area experts Fantasy Baseball League, dubbed by me BARF for Bay Area Rotisserie Fantasy League.

The first BARF draft was held in February of 2016 and the cartel had such a good time that we repeated the process this past March. And, well, since we are all Fantasy guys who are addicted to games who all have year-round websites, supporting football as well as baseball, the group decided to venture into the BARF Fantasy Football League.

So, this afternoon, at 3 PM, pacific time, twelve of us will gather at the Wreck Room on California Street and Nob Hill in the City to draft in a 12-team PPR Super Flex league.

The cast is fairly stellar for us Northern Californians, featuring the likes of Howard Bender, Ray Flowers, Sammy Reid, Justin Mason, and The Welsh among others. And, as with all leagues that have had a couple of years to get established, by now the core group are mates just like any other league where trash talking and one-upsmanship simply become part of the league dynamic.

Last Thursday, Justin and I had Sammy Reid on The Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, and we talked up the BARF draft, especially in deference to Mason's crushing the 11 of us in the baseball league by over 20 points.

Because the league is Super Flex and PPR, though, that places a fun challenge. For, if a Standard league favors drafting Running Backs, and if a PPR league favors selecting Wide Receivers, a Super Flex league throws all of that out the window.

That is because playing a Quarterback at Flex can be a real point generator. In fact, the common strategy is to draft two or three solid starting signal callers. And, again, that is where things can get dicey, for drafting a pair of QBs early suggests a potential hole at WR or RB and potentially points to a mediocre team all around.

The focus, though, on such a league is if we are to try to emulate "real" sports in our Fantasy environment, we want to try and be realistic, and certainly the Quarterback position is the core spot to driving a team. Thus, emphasizing the position does try to push towards reality.

But, if you follow the BARF draft live on Yahoo!, and there is a run on signal callers, expect a lot of fun both within the draft and then when the season begins. If all the owners target grabbing two starting QBs along with a third for bye weeks, several teams will find themselves short, for there are only 32 starting Quarterbacks in the NFL, and with 12 teams each trying to nab three, that leaves us four short.

This is where the fun begins, for during the season, if a team has a $1000 FAAB budget, spending $375 to get Josh McCown, who happens to be starting in the coming week due to injury, is not uncommon.

So, seeing how our "so called experts" adjust to this wrinkle will make the draft and ensuing season all the more fun and interesting.

As for me, I'm pretty sure I'll follow the route of grabbing the Quarterbacks now, filling in with #2 Wide Receivers and Running Backs, hoping I can take advantage and draft some lesser valued but high potential players.

Will it work? I don't know, but check in tomorrow as I run a special Extra Points and review the draft and my picks right here as Zach takes a vacation day.

Remember that you can follow the draft here on Yahoo! and that you can harangue me @lawrmichaels.

Monday was a fun day for swaps as the trade deadline brought forth 13 deals involving 40 players plus the ubiquitous "future considerations" over the final 24 hours of swap window.

And, there were indeed some swaps involving stars like Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray, and some fun veteran trades like Tony Cingrani for Scott Van Slyke: a pair of players I like involved in a bench deal who would be useful in Strat-O-Matic, and maybe to the Reds and Dodgers, and not much else.

But, a cluster of young players were involved in this last wave of swaps who have bright futures but are likely a few years away from seeing big league daylight. So, seeing the name now, and then watching how soon they hit Double-A, and then how well they perform there will tell us most of what we need to know for Major League possibilities.

Jorge Mateo (22, SS, Athletics): Oakland is restocking so well, though Gray is the one veteran I wish the Athletics had retained. But, Mateo has some huge potential having hit .240-4-11 with 28 steals over 69 games and then .300-4-26 over 30 games with another 11 swipes. With 31 walks to 115 strikeouts (.315 OBP), Mateo needs some work to realize his table-setter potential, but the tools are there.

Dustin Fowler (22, OF, Athletics): Over 421 minor league games, Fowler has hit .282-39-251 with 74 steals, making him a Mark Kotsay kind of player, with some speed and some power. Fowler is hitting .293-13-43 at Triple-A this season with an .871 OPS. He should challenge for an outfield job next year.

Willie Calhoun (19, 2B, Rangers): A plug package at 5'8" and 185 pounds, Calhoun has a quick bat and some serious pop, having banged 62 homers over 306 games with a .516 Slugging Percentage. This year he is hitting .294-24-69, largely at Round Rock prior to the swap with a great 36 walks to 50 strikeouts, good for a .355 OBP and a .930 OPS. He is not a second sacker, so the question is a lot more a question of where, but when is pretty soon.

A.J. Alexy (19, P, Rangers): The Rangers did well in exchange for Yu Darvish, with Alexy being another part of the equation. The Dodgers drafted Alexy in the 11th round last year and he made a brief Rookie Ball appearance (1-0, 4.61 over 13.6 IP). He then moved to Great Lakes this year, posting a 2-6, 3.67 line over 73.6 frames with 86 strikeouts and a 1.13 ERA. 

Oneil Cruz (18, 3B, Pirates): A pretty good gamble for the Bucs, swapping Tony Watson to the Bums, who signed the 6'6", 175-pound Dominican last year. He's hitting .236-8-48 this year at Great Lakes, with just 28 walks to 110 strikeouts and clearly needs some work on playing the zone. But, he is a big kid (Cruz is just an inch shorter than Aaron Judge but weighs 107 pounds less) with big potential power, making him worth an eyeball every now and then.

Isaac Paredes (18, SS, Tigers): Detroit scored a pretty good coup in getting Jeimer Candelario, who is Big League ready, and Paredes, whom the Cubs signed last year. He is hitting .273-7-53, largely at South Bend, with 26 doubles and 29 walks to 54 strikeouts. Paredes has actually put together 149 minor league games, posting a .281-8-76 line with a .762 OPS.

Samad Taylor (19, 2B, Jays): The Jays are retooling in a cool way, and Taylor could be up the middle in the future. Drafted in the 10th round by the Tribe last year, Cleveland turned Taylor (and Thomas Pannone) into Joe Smith for some pen help. Taylor has spent the bulk of the year at the New York Penn League, hitting .300-4-19 over 29 games and 122 at-bats, stealing four bags. He does pose typical flaws for a young player, without a lot of pop (.460 SLG). But he still weighs in at just 160 pounds, and similarly his eye (five walks to 24 strikeouts) should improve, but interesting raw talent. 

Teoscar Hernandez (24, OF, Jays): Signed by the Astros, Hernandez was part of the Francisco Liriano deal and might be the closest to Major League ready of the lot here. He has hit .273-12-44 with 13 swipes this season at Triple-A, walking a solid 41 times to 77 strikeouts, good for a .365 OBP and an .839 OPS. Hernandez had one at-bat with Houston before the swap and will challenge for time next year.

You can follow me @lawrmichaels and listen to the Tout Wars Hour every Thursday from 9-11 PM ET (6-8 PT) on the FNTSY Sports Network.

A few weeks ago, Scott Pianowski noted on Twitter that it appeared the era of 4.00 ERAs and 1.30 WHIPs was indeed upon us, so I began to wonder first, if that was really true (as opposed to hitting being improved) and if so, how do we compartmentalize and strategize in the future.

While cogitating this, I remembered a few years back, in my Scoresheet League, an owner tried to pry Clayton Kershaw from me, offering a small cluster of proposed treasures including Rick Porcello, whom my partner claimed was a "future Cy Young" pitcher. I remember scoffing, and turning down the deal, noting that I never thought much of Porcello and thanks but no thanks.

As it turned out, the Porcello owners were prescient, though Porcello arguably was the worst hurler to win the award at least since Bartolo Colon a decade ago. And, neither really set the world on fire with what we think of as the dominance of Chris Sale or Roy Halladay, for example.

However, I looked at the numbers over the seasons and oddly, last season was the worst pitching year since 2005, when Colon won with a 21-8, 3.48 ERA to go with 157 strikeouts as compared to Porcello's 22-4, 3.15, and 189 whiffs. Contextually, five times since 2000 has the Cy winner had an ERA over 3.00, and only three times since then has the winner had under 200 strikeouts.

But, more revealing is that save the years from 2011-15, when the MLB ERA ranged from a low of 3.74 in 2014 to a high of 4.01 in 2014, the MLB ERA has not been below 4.00 since 1992, although prior to that year the league ERA was almost always below the 4.00 barometer. Perhaps it was the 1993 expansion that affected a change in the game.

Similarly, WHIP has not really exploded either. In fact, let's look at some league average pitching data from the past decade.

Year IP ERA WHIP Strikeouts
 2017  8.93  4.36  1.343  8.3
 2016  8.92  4.19  1.325  8.1
 2015  8.94  3.96  1.294  7.8 
 2014  8.97  3.74   1.275  7.7 
 2013  8.98  3.87  1.300  7.6 
 2012  8.92  4.01   1.309   7.6 
 2011  8.96  3.94  1.316  7.1 
 2010  8.91  4.08  1.347   7.1 
 2009  8.90  4.32  1.390   7.0 
 2008   8.93  4.32  1.391   6.8 
 2007  8.93  4.47  1.406   6.7 

Clearly, though we do indeed live in the age of strikeouts, ERA and WHIP have largely been constant over the past decade.

So, to keep it short and sweet this time, to me it doesn't look like pitching has so much gotten worse this season but has rather progressively eroded throughout most of the last decade.

The question then is, as Scott suggested, are we in the era of 4.00 ERAs and 1.30 WHIPs? The answer is yes, but in reality we have been there for awhile, so rather than adjusting how we draft, the better approach could be to lower our baseline goals for our teams. I always target around 3.80 as a reasonable ERA for my team and work for a WHIP as far under 1.30 as possible.

What I think we do need to do, though, is to certainly grab an ace of the Sale, Chris Archer, Stephen Strasburg or Madison Bumgarner ilk, and augment that starter with a couple of Zack Godley/Aaron Nola types to share the whiff burden. Ideally, ERA and WHIP will fall under those strikeouts and push towards competitive numbers for your squad.

As far as closers go these days, however, I think you might be on your own.

You can reach me @lawrmichaels.

 

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