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Wednesday 29th Mar 2017

Do you want to learn Mastersball's tricks of the trade to win at the NFBC?  The Masters of the NFBC is the place.

Last week we looked at the most accomplished player in the fantasy industry.  If we narrow the focus to strictly fantasy baseball accomplishments our attention shifts to an Idaho pig farmer.  It would take too long to list all his accomplishments, but over $350,000 in career earnings and two NFBC Main Event Overall Championships should tell you all that you need to know.  If I wasn’t able to draft a team myself and I had to select one person to draft a team for me, Lindy Hinkelman would get the call.  Lindy’s team is currently ranked 40th overall and 2nd in his Las Vegas Main Event league.  Let’s examine the master’s draft and see what we can uncover:

1.14 Hanley Ramirez
2.2 Justin Upton
3.14 Zack Greinke
4.2 B.J. Upton
5.14 Madison Bumgarner
6.2 Billy Butler
7.14 Andre Ethier
8.2 Gio Gonzalez
9.14 Brandon League
10.2 Edwin Encarnacion

Lindy took three starting pitchers in his first ten picks.  Déjà vu.  Last week we saw that Chad Schroeder did the exact same thing.  The difference however is that Lindy secured his aces earlier.  He rostered two elite pitchers in his first five picks.  I love this approach and I always try to secure AT LEAST two elite starters within my first six picks.  On occasion I’ll even push the envelope and make it three.   A few times I’ve kicked things off by taking three Cy Young candidates out of the shoot in rounds one through three and I’ve had success using that strategy.  It is essential to lay an ERA, WHIP, and strikeout foundation.  The importance of this cannot be overstated.  Many fantasy players are much too flippant about their pitching staffs and assume that they can just draft an R.A. Dickey in the 20th round, as if those types of pitchers grow on trees in the later rounds.  If you don’t have at least two ERA/WHIP anchors stabilizing your staff, finding enough quality pitchers with high strikeout rates in the later rounds and on the waiver wire before destroying your ratios is an extremely difficult task.

It’s also worth mentioning that the two cornerstones to his staff were pitchers who had FIPs that outperformed their ERAs in 2011: Zack Greinke (3.83 ERA/2.98 FIP), Madison Bumgarner (3.21 ERA/2.67).  I love what he did here.  He took two pitchers with 2nd round upside.  Laying the ERA/WHIP foundation and locking up 400 K’s.  At the same time he didn’t sacrifice offense, at least not in theory.  Sure, Hanley Ramirez and Justin Upton have had disappointing seasons.  That doesn’t change the fact that these were excellent picks.  You’re not going to hit on every player you select.  That’s impossible.  All you can do is play the percentages, lay a good foundation and build in enough realistic upside picks as part of your roster construction.  That’s exactly what Lindy did.  It was reasonable to expect 20-30 from Hanley and 30-20 Justin Upton.  Throw in BJ Upton in round four and you have a 70 HR, 90 SB start with your first three bats, juxtaposed with two Cy Young caliber hurlers.  Gio Gonzalez’s 220 K’s rounds out a formidable top end with 620 K’s.

Andre Ethier is another good pick that just hasn’t paid the dividends one would have hoped for.  Lindy has an excellent eye for talent and a keen sense for identifying those players that have a decent chance of going much higher in 2013 drafts.  Hanley Ramirez is historically an early first rounder.  Billy Butler is in his age 26 season with five years of experience under his belt, poised to take the next step.  Andre Ethier is a proven 30+ Homer veteran who was slowed by injuries in 2011 and needed only a dose of good health to generate a profit. Gio Gonzalez switched from the AL to the NL to deliver an improved ERA, WHIP and a boost in K’s, and Edwin Encarnacion, the sabermetric darling finally broke out after what seemed like 15 years in the majors.

11.14 Sean Marshall
12.2 Justin Morneau
13.14 Mike Minor
14.2 Torii Hunter
15.14 J.P. Arencibia
16.2 Zack Cozart
17.14 Nick Hundley
18.2 Jonathon Niese
19.14 Chase Utley
20.2 James Loney

Noteworthy here is that he didn’t take a catcher until the 15th round.  We’ve discussed the wisdom of waiting on catchers before in the NFBC zone.  Position scarcity is not a driving force in his drafting decisions.  Zack Cozart at 16.2 represents just his second middle infielder.  He took three outfielders in his first ten picks.  In the later rounds Lindy found a jewel in Josh Reddick (21.14) and an underrated Chipper Jones in the 26th round.

If Vegas books post a line on NFBC Las Vegas League One, I’m putting my money on the man from Idaho.

No, this is not another Mike Trout article.

Chad Schroeder has been and remains the best fantasy player in the world.  Virtually every year, whether it’s in baseball or football -- the NFFC, FFPC, or NFBC -- his teams rise toward the top of the leaderboards.  He’s won more championships than I can count.  In 2012 his NFBC teams are at it again.  For a number of weeks Chad has been leading the NFBC XII ($50,000 prize) and the NFBC Main Event ($100,000).  If he wins both a $75,000 bonus will kick in, bringing the grand total to $225.000.   I’ve studied and dissected his drafts (as I do anyone who performs well) to try to identify a common thread. To this date I cannot find one, other than he wins and wins a lot.  This week we’ll examine his first place Main Event team anyway to see what we can uncover.

This year Schroeder started drafting Joey Votto from 1.8 and followed that up with Andrew McCutchen at 2.8.  He started off with two players that have returned early 1st round value.  I highly recommend this strategy.  J  Let’s take a look at his first 10 picks:

 

1.8 Joey Votto
2.8 Andrew McCutchen
3.8 Brett Lawrie
4.8 CC Sabathia
5.8 Paul Konerko
6.8 Adam Jones
7.8 Yu Darvish
8.8 Gio Gonzalez
9.8 Emilio Bonifacio
10.8 Brandon League

As you can see, a key to any championship is drafting players that don’t suck.  Draft players that perform well.  Ok, setting aside the jests, he took 3 starting pitchers with his first 10 picks.  Gio Gonzalez struck out 197 batters in 32 starts last year in the AL, so it stood to reason he’d pick up a few more K’s in the senior circuit facing a pitcher instead of a designated hitter.  He is on pace for 220 strikeouts this year.  The whirling Darvish is on pace for 224 K’s.  The command problems and WHIP liability are no surprise, but neither is his dominance. CC Sabathia survived a brief stint on the disabled list and is still on pace for 200 K’s.  The Yankees left-hander has had five straight years of 197 or more punchouts.  Getting 600-650 K’s from starters 1-3 obviously lays an excellent pitching foundation.  He addressed the corner infield positions locking up sure power and worried not about position scarcity.  No catchers or middle infielders appear in the early mix, as he waited until the 8th round to secure Emilio Bonifacio.  In his first three picks he laid an offensive foundation by locking up 70 HR’s and 60 SB’s.  In his first six picks those totals rise to 130+/75.  He only took one starter, which is interesting as I and others have advocated nailing down two aces in the first six draft picks.  Let’s look at the next ten picks:

11.8 Rafael Betancourt
12.8 Angel Pagan
13.8 Chris Perez
14.8 J.P. Arencibia
15.8 Logan Morrison
16.8 Ian Desmond
17.8 Brandon McCarthy
18.8 Allen Craig
19.8 Gordon Beckham
20.8 Mike Carp

Waiting on closers paid off.  Chris Perez claimed that he pitched through an injury last year that decreased his effectiveness, but fantasy owners focused more on his drop in K’s and ERA/WHIP spike.  An oblique injury in spring training further lowered his ADP.   All setting the stage for another great value pick for this fantasy professional.  Three closers in rounds 9-13 round out the second third of his fantasy rotation.  In round 14 we see the first catcher selection, and in round 16 he drafted just his second middle infielder.  So much for position scarcity, Ian Desmond has broken out in a big way.

21.8 Henderson Alvarez
22.8 R.A. Dickey
23.8 Brett Cecil
24.8 Bartolo Colon
25.8 Josh Thole
26.8 Tyler Clippard
27.8 Marlon Byrd
28.8 Robert Andino
29.8 Nick Masset
30.8 Bronson Arroyo

R.A. Dickey has to be the pick of the year.  Strategy wise at this point, he’s already laid the foundation for his staff and is selecting pitchers with upside. Dickey in effect is that 2nd elite ace that I advocate getting in the first six rounds.  Obviously if you can draft Cy Young in round 22, by all means, do that instead.  Another outstanding draft for Chad that has put him in the driver’s seat, headed yet again for another huge pay day.

In the preseason we looked at a lot of the overhyped rookies and cautioned that burning a high draft pick to secure their services is a low percentage play.  Yes, you will hit the occasional Yahtzee, but more often you’ll end up scratching your head as you watch young bucks struggle as the league adjusts to them. Let’s take a look at some of the youngsters and what they’ve produced for fantasy owners through the first 16 weeks.

Yu Darvish is not Daisuke Matsuzaka, so don’t even go there.”  That was the mantra I heard from more than half of the touts backing the latest Japanese sensation this spring.  Maybe not, but there sure are a lot of similarities.  Let’s look at how these two each performed through their first 18 games in the states: Daisuke (3.84/10/123/1.23), Yu (3.88/11/132/1.37).  Matsuzaka issued 38 free passes, Darvish has handed out 61, good enough for the 5th highest total in baseball.  With Darvish you get a couple of extra K’s, a lot more walks, and a higher WHIP.  The hype machine drove the rookie’s price tag into the 5th round on Draft day in Las Vegas, a heavy cost for someone who had yet to throw a single pitch in the Major Leagues.  He was taken ahead of pitchers such as Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Brandon Beachy.

Matt Moore was another heavily hyped rookie taken in the 5th round, ahead of proven veteran Matt Cain.  The Devil Ray had just 9 innings on the Ranger rookie, but the results so far aren’t any better (4.39/6/99/1.46).  Investing so much is in unproven youngsters is high risk-low reward proposition.

Desmond Jennings (.238/39/6/28/17) was drafted in the 4th, Brett Lawrie (.278/52/8/37/7) in the 3rd, and Eric Hosmer (.226/39/9/40/9) in the 2nd round.  Jennings and Lawrie might live up to their draft position, but that is their upside.  Par is the best-case scenario.  In short, if you load up with too many puppies TOO EARLY on draft day, you’re loading up on downside.  The return on investments Jesus Montero (.257/29/9/36/0) in the 8th, Dustin Ackley in the 9th (.226/52/6/27/9) has also been less than expected.

As a counterpoint, those who grabbed Jason Kipnis (.271/55/11/53/20) in the 11th, Yoenis Cespedes (.306/27/13/45/7) in the 12th, or Mike Moustakas (.269/46/16/50/3) in the 15th were rewarded for their faith in youth and the price was a little more reasonable in the double digit rounds.  However, the mines still populate the youth field throughout the draft.  Brandon Belt (.237/21/4/31/6), a 14th round selection, has been virtually unplayable most of the season.  Mat Gamel didn’t show much in his 69 at-bats (.246/.293/.348) before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and Lorenzo Cain only made it through five games before a groin strain and various other maladies sidelined him until after the All Star break.

The bulk of youth booty came in the second half of the draft: Bryce Harper (.270/49/8/26/12) in the 17th, Jose Altuve (.289/51/5/27/16) in the 18th, Mike Trout (.354/69/15/47/31) in the 20th, Wilin Rosario (.254/33/15/39/3) in the 22nd, Lance Lynn (3.27/11/115/1.21) in the 23rd, Tommy Milone (3.34/9/86/1.19) in the 26th, Jarrod Parker (3.00/7/76/1.22) in the 27th, and Trevor Plouffe (.259/44/19/38/0) also in the 27th.

I have taken my lumps in this area over the years, but I have learned that the shiny new toy frequently loses its luster quickly.  A successful draft strategy properly balances certainty and upside.  Build a foundation with as many rock solid performers as you can, THEN throw your darts in the later rounds when it won’t hurt so much if you swing and miss.  There are exceptions to every rule, but this general principle has served me well.

I was watching a fantasy baseball preview television program in the spring of 2011.  As you might recall, fantasy nation was enamored with the thought of Adam Dunn playing half of his games at US Cellular Field.  His ADP had reached an all-time high.  One of the stat heads touting the ‘three true outcomes’ epitome had crunched the numbers using his abacus and was glowing with his praise, but one of the player analysts tempered the optimism with a question, ‘Are you at all concerned with Dunn’s ability to adjust to DH-ing?’  Before the former player could continue his thought, the sabermetrician interjected his riposte full of snark, ‘Not at all.  Hitters hit.’

Ah, that they do.  I totally agreed.  Hitters do hit…..except when they don’t.  Last year the White Sox designated hitter did everything but hit, hacking his way to a (.159/.292/.277) line.  The former National struggled mightily as a DH (.176/.316/.315).  The only thing is that when he played first base he struggled even more (.122/.268/.174).  The debate continues.

Retired veterans Gary Sheffield and Frank Thomas both swore up and down throughout their careers that they hit better when they were able to play in the field.  They claimed their performance suffered when relegated to sitting around in the dugout for a couple of hours only to occasionally walk up to the dish to take a few cuts.  The reader can decide on their own just how significant these and other splits are.  I diligently scour numerous split stats looking for any edge I can get.

Jesus Montero is slashing a paltry (.190/.231/.272) as a designated hitter, but as a catcher he’s hitting fairly well (.309/.338/.496).  Make of it what you will, but I noticed this split a month into the season and used it to my advantage in daily contests at Draftstreet.com as well as avoiding the backstop in midseason leagues.  Three plus months into the season, this ‘sampling error’ has yet to correct itself.  Until Montero figures out a way to adjust to his largely sedentary role, I’m going to avoid him unless he’s in line to be the starting catcher.

Moving to the mound, San Francisco Giants hurlers have put up a 2.31 ERA at AT&T Park, but when they travel that number inflates to 4.85.  Proving that trend are Madison Bumgarner (1.81 Home/4.43 Away), Ryan Vogelsong (1.43 Home/3.59 Away),  Barry Zito (3.09 Home/5.19 Away), and Tim Lincecum (3.43 Home/9.00 Away).

At PNC Park Pittsburgh’s staff has generated an MLB second best 2.39 ERA, but outside of the ‘burgh’ their ERA rises to 4.70.  Kevin Correia (3.50 Home/4.68 Away) and Jeff Karstens (0.64 Home/6.50 Away) are still available in some NFBC leagues and should put up serviceable numbers and a handful of wins at home.

Cleveland Indian pitchers at Progressive Field are sporting a 3.78 ERA, but on the road that number is a league worst 5.36.   Ubaldo Jimenez (3.66 Home/ 6.49 Away), Justin Masterson (3.54 Home/5.06 Away), and Derek Lowe (2.86/5.81) hold true to that form.  I don’t own Jimenez or Masterson, but if I did I’d bench them away from ‘the Jake.’  Lowe becomes an interesting $1 pickup if he gets a two-start week at home and you’re chasing wins.

If you’re streaming two-start pitchers off of the wire and are looking for good matchups, the Colorado Rockies away from Coors are a good play.  The San Diego Padres are last in the majors with a mere 320 runs on the season.  That comes out to 3.55 per game.  The Rockies rank sixth in runs scored with 4.83 per game, but on the road they only score 3.54 per game. Everyone knows that Safeco field is a pitchers park, so it’s not surprising that the Mariners rank last in runs scored at home (2.86 runs per game).  What you may not know is that those same Mariners rank third in runs scored on the road (4.78 runs per game).  If you think your marginal starter is in for a quality start when Ichiro and company come to town, you might be disappointed.  Other noteworthy team splits include:  Milwaukee (5.56 Home/3.69 Road), Arizona (5.09 Home/3.50 Road), New York Mets (4.08 Home/5.09 Away), and San Diego (2.98 Home/4.11 Away).

It was the Fourth of July under a sweltering 95 degree Pittsburgh heat when Andrew McCutchen left the on-deck circle for his first plate appearance of the day.  Chants of "M-V-P, M-V-P" resonated throughout PNC Park.  Right they are.   The Pirates have the second best record in the National League and are primed to make a playoff run.  The Pirates center fielder is also poised to make a run at fantasy MVP.  Heading into the break the five tool star is slashing (.362/58/18/60/14) with an incredible (.431/27/8/27/4) over the last 60 days.

When the season resumes on Friday Pittsburgh can look forward to a dream schedule.  38 of their remaining 77 games are against the four worst pitching staffs (ranked by earned run average) in the National League:  the Colorado Rockies (last with 5.26), Houston Astros (next to last at 4.47), Chicago Cubs (14th with 4.36), and the Milwaukee Brewers (13th with 4.24).  The Buccos also get a visit from the San Diego Padres (staff earned run average of 4.65 away from Petco Park); travel to Great American Ballpark (most Home Run friendly stadium in all of baseball), and to Miller Park (second most Home Run friendly stadium) for six games apiece.

Pittsburgh has a reputation for being a light hitting team.  Year-to-date they rank 21st scoring 4.05 runs per game (as a guage the Texas Rangers lead the majors with 5.15 per game).  The first two months of the season the Pirates were dead last scoring a punchless 2.94 runs per game.  However, since June 1st the fans down by the three rivers have witnessed an offensive eruption of epic proportions, as the Pirates rank second to none scoring a whopping 5.65 runs per game.

McCutchen’s bat has led the charge, but he’s had plenty of help.  Over the last 30 days Michael McKenry (.326/.389/.674), Pedro Alvarez (.287/.392/.621), Neil Walker (.314/.405/.505), Garrett Jones (.300/.337/.550), Drew Sutton (.317/.344/.500) and Casey McGehee (.315/.373/.554) have all made opposing pitchers feel the power of the Zoltan.  There is enough on this group’s collective resumes combined with a juicy upcoming schedule to make most of these undervalued hitters decent targets in midseason leagues.  The Pirate’s brass is not resting on their laurels and is targeting Carlos Quentin and Justin Upton among others to bolster what is already shaping up to be a solid lineup.

The Pirate pitching staff gets some good matchups as well, with 36 of their remaining games coming against teams ranking near the bottom in run production: Houston Astros (23rd), Miami Marlins (26th), Los Angeles Dogers (27th), Chicago Cubs (29th), and the San Diego Padres (30th).  Remove A.J. Burnett’s crooked outing at Busch stadium back on May 2nd (12 earned runs) and he ends up with a 2.59 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.  With 10 wins in 15 starts, the W’s should continue to pile up facing the leagues’ bottom feeders.  I’ve even picked up Jeff Karstens (3.92/1.22) in a couple of leagues for spot starts against some of their weak opponents. 

Down on the farm Starling Marte continues to hit (.290/.350/.492).  Get out a few FAAB dollars if he gets the call.  In the mean time Sutton is patrolling left (career: .271/.322/.420).  Justin Wilson (3.44/1.15) has increased his K-rate and improved his fastball command at Indianapolis and could get a look if Erik Bedard continues to struggle.  He is risky, but worth a stash and see if he gets the call as he offers value for his strikeout and win potential.

First impressions carry a lot of weight, even in the mind of the fantasy market on draft day.  Jose Bautista’s April of liquid nitrogen (.181/.320/.313) is hard to forget and it has skewed his 2012 overall numbers (.239/.359/.549).  In June the Blue Jays right fielder blasted an insane 14 moon shots, knocked in 30 runs, and slashed a juicy (.271/.408/.750).  At that pace he’d tally 84 bombs and 180 runs batted in.  Video game numbers that nobody can keep up, but they drive home the point that April was a mirage, and those who focus too much on his year-to-date batting average are going to mistake an asset for a potential liability.  The Dominican masher went yard 9 times in May while posting a .257 batting average.  Consider .260 his baseline with .300 upside.  He served up 30 post all-star break homers back in 2010, and his 23 blasts over the last 60 days illustrate that repeating such a feat would be no surprise.

In short, Bautista may be the most intriguing first round pick.  He’s going to lead the league in home runs, probably runs batted in, he’ll be near the top in run production, and swipe 4-6 bags, all the while giving you a batting average that doesn’t hurt.  With third base and outfield eligibility there may not be a more valuable pick in the first round in midseason leagues.  In terms of raw statistics, Carlos Gonzalez and Ryan Braun probably have more value, but they lack the flexibility that Bautista affords you later in the draft.  In terms of roster construction the Blue Jays most valuable player has value that is difficult to quantify, but very real.  You don’t have to leave value ‘on the table’ due to lack of room in your starting lineup.

To illustrate, on one team I own Paul Konerko, Adrian Gonzalez, and Adam Dunn.  All three are must start players.  Even if Mark Teixeira himself fell to the 20th round of that draft, I was stuck.  I either had to let a ton of value slide to someone else, or make a selection that would negate the value of an earlier pick.  I think we’re all aware that position flexibility has value, but this value isn’t always reflected in ADP.  There are no ADP’s out for midseason leagues, but I have to think that Jose Bautista will be valued similarly to what he was in the preseason (1.10 ADP), which makes him a solid early first round pick on my draft board.

Another element in the slugger’s favor is that stolen bases are more plentiful than they have been in the past.  The wire has been populated with 40+ stolen base potential pickups such as Rajai Davis, Quintin Berry, and Everth CabreraMichael Saunders, Elliot Johnson, and others were also available with 20+ potential.  Speed is available late and in the free agent pool.  Yes, power is also there, but it is harder to spot and doesn’t come in condensed form like the 50 jacks Bautista provides.

Miguel Cabrera is the other first rounder with multi-position flexibility. It’s worth noting the Detroit Tigers schedule after the all-star break:  12 games vs. Cleveland, 9 vs. Minnesota, 10 vs. Kansas City, and 6 vs. Toronto. Their schedule also includes three games at the Ballpark in Arlington and three at Fenway Park.  Now, respective team ranks in ERA: Boston 20th, Kansas City 24th, Toronto 26th, Cleveland 28th, and Minnesota 29th.  I’m loading up on Tigers if it fits my draft scheme.  Jhonny Peralta, Quintin Berry, and Delmon Young all have significant upside.

Jim Thome was neglected on the waiver wire this past weekend.  In a couple of leagues I won him uncontested.  Interesting.  Thome is long in the tooth, but his bat still has pop.   Watch his usage over the next week.  If he plays against righties he will have value as a frequent spot play.  If he gets close to everyday AB’s you just might have a steal on your hands.  I’m hoping that he has a poor week so that his price will remain ultra cheap.

We continue our positional review for the NFBC mid-season leagues to be drafted at the All-Star break. This week, the shortstops are front and center.

Starlin Castro boasts MLB’s lowest walk rate at 1.9 percent.  By that metric, the league’s most impatient player serves as an ironic cornerstone for Theo Epstein’s Chicago Cubs if there ever was one.  Delmon Young’s lack of plate discipline is enough to make me cringe and his rate is 3.1 percent.  Castro swings at 41percent of pitches outside the strike zone, fifth worst in the majors.  It’s not surprising that his 3.5 pitches per plate appearance aren’t helping to escalate opposing starters pitch counts.  His OBP of .317 doesn’t exactly lend itself to league leading run totals.  So how on earth could I have Starlin Castro ranked as the top fantasy shortstop heading into mid-season drafts?  Because of the words of wisdom from Hollywood sage Bill Murray, ‘It just doesn’t matter!’

Ok, that’s not totally true.  Those stats do matter, but Castro has a number of trump cards in his hip pocket that puts him at the top of my list.  I’ve been hearing for a long time now that Castro’s high BABIP is unsustainable and that as soon as his ‘luck’ runs out his batting average will fall along with his fantasy value.  If it truly is luck driving his incredibly stable BABIP numbers for last 27 months (2010: .346/2011: .344/2012: .351) then the Cubs shortstop should head to Las Vegas during the All Star Break and clean out the casinos.  Maybe Starlin Castro is simply a very skilled hitter?  Good hitters can maintain high BAPIPs.  Over 18 years Derek Jeter has compiled a career BABIP of .354 and 11 of those years he posted a BABIP of over .340.  The Yankee captain has done this with a career 20.2 Line Drive rate (Castro’s career rate is 20.6). Let’s look at the career BABIPS of some of the elite hitters in the game:  Joey Votto .358, Carlos Gonzalez .349, David Wright .344, Joe Mauer .343, Josh Hamilton .339.

Starlin Castro has a career BABIP of .346, and I hope in future drafts my competitors assume he just keeps getting lucky.  I’m more focused on his increasing line drive rate (19.5/20.1/23.5), his steady batting average (.300/.307/.308), rising slugging percentage (.408/.432/.451), isolated power trend (.108/.125/.142), and rising home run per fly ball rate (2.6/5.5/8.3).  He’s shaping up to be 15 HR 35 SB type of player with decent counting numbers and a batting average that’s better than you think.  The fact that he isn’t taking walks make that average more impactful since he’ll rack up more official AB’s than others that are more patient at the dish.  Plus he’s only 22 so the best is yet to come.

Hanley Ramirez deserves to be second even though he’s only hitting .258 and hasn’t sniffed .300 since 2010.  He is still on target for a 25-25 season and has batting average upside if the old Hanley ever decides to show up again.  He represents an interesting case because his career BABIP is .335, but last year his BABIP fell to .275 due to injuries and other issues.  This year Marlins third baseman has only raised that number to .286.  I am slightly concerned since he’s had two surgeries on the same shoulder.  The BABIP should bounce back to his established career norms and his batting average along with it.

Jose Reyes always represents the most possible downside from the shortstop position on draft day.  He’s an injury waiting to happen and even when he’s on the field you just don’t know what you’re going to get.  Pass.  Troy Tulowitzki is out at least eight weeks and could be shut down for the season with the Colorado Rockies out of the playoff race.  Jimmy Rollins has righted the ship after a slow start slashing (.323/.363/.604) in June.  With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard poised to return to the Phillies lineup the former MVP makes for an interesting choice in July drafts.

The prices for Rafael Furcal and Mike Aviles are likely to be sky high and I’m not sure I’d want to buy high with either of them given their injury histories.  The market for Dee Gordon may have cooled significantly.  There remains a ton of upside here.  I’m surprised that his BABIP is only .282 given his tremendous speed, 20.8 percent line drive rate and 58.9 percent ground ball rate.  There’s not enough of a track record here to know what’s going to happen, but he’ll have to raise his .274 OBP to generate the run and stolen base production his owners are expecting.

Another Judy to consider if you don’t like Gordon is Everth Cabrera who has 11 swipes in just 34 games.  If he can hit enough to stay in the lineup (big if) he has the speed to lead all shortstops in steals in the second half.  Jhonny Peralta will come mega cheap and remains part of a potentially lethal Detroit lineup.  He has done nothing to inspire confidence in 2012 (.258/.336/.394) but we all know he is capable.  He might be available as a flier if you ‘punt’ the position until the mid to late rounds.

Can I be Frank?  Even though most call me Greg, I’m going to be frank with you.  There are some players every year that I put on my ‘do not draft under any circumstances’ list.  Exhibit A in 2012, for me, was Albert Pujols. It didn’t matter how far he fell in the draft, he wasn’t going to fall far enough for his price to be attractive and I wanted no part of him. He just signed an enormous contract; strike one.  He moved from the AL to the NL where he will see more breaking balls (According to the testimony of dozens of players who have made the switch.  I haven’t actually crunched the data on this but I don’t doubt it’s veracity) and more importantly he had to learn the repertoires of dozens of new pitchers; strike two.  Finally, when I watched Albert in preseason games this I was concerned just how much he’d thinned out.  It’s the lightest I’d ever seen him.  Perhaps he had lost some strength?  In any event, it was yet another change that had potentially significant downside.   Strike three.  In 2011 Adam Dunn topped the list for some of the aforementioned reasons plus his new role as a DH.  Sometimes I miss out on values as a result, but overall ‘the list’ serves me well.

As I size-up the keystone, I’m currently planning to avoid Dustin Pedroia in midseason leagues.  I love his makeup, his gamer mentality, and his hustle.  The problem from a fantasy perspective is he’s so dedicated that he frequently plays through injuries and will lie and say he is healthy when he’s not, or he’ll downplay a significant injury that could linger and drag his stats down for a considerable stretch of time.  Pedroia is nursing a thumb injury and has scuffled at the plate after missing six games due to the ailment.  Word is that he’s fine and that he’s just trying to get his timing back.  We’ll see.  Aside from the thumb he just isn’t running this year.  Three stolen bases in 5 attempts isn’t enough production from someone who had a 17 overall ADP in March.  He might start running again, or he might just do what he’s done 2 of the last 5 years: end up with fewer than 10 bags.  The scrappy second baseman is on pace for just 12 bombs this year.  Statistical anomaly?  He’s averaging 15.6 homers every 600 AB’s over his seven-year major league career.  There is a decent chance that you’ll get 15-5 type production from this 2nd round pick.  All the while you have Jason Kipnis on a torrid 25-40 clip, Mike Aviles chugging along at 20-20, yeoman Jose Altuve reporting in at a 10-30 pace and coupled with a .319 batting average.  The latter breakouts will surely be much cheaper than the former MVP.

After a slow April, Robinson Cano has been his normal self (since May 1st: .319/30/11/27).  He should once again be the first second baseman off the board.  One could make a strong case that Jason Kipnis (.284/46/11/41/17) should be next, but I’m leaning slightly towards Ian Kinsler (.274/51/7/35/10) based on his track record, presence in a better lineup and the ballpark in Arlington.  Dustin Pedroia (.268/34/5/26/3) will probably be taken third and then the Indians’ rising star fourth in most drafts.  Dan Uggla (.251/46/11/41/0) rounds out the top 5.

Kelly Johnson (.258/34/9/30/7) is repeating last years counting numbers with an improved batting average and is a fine option if you miss out on the upper tiers.  Aaron Hill (.272/25/7/27/6) is another safety blanket that will be available in later rounds.  Owners have been waiting for a long time for Danny Espinosa (.230/32/6/19/9) to improve his batting average.  I have the misfortune of being stuck with the Nationals second baseman on one of my teams.  He becomes an asset if your roster is deep enough at MI to platoon him and start him only when he gets AB’s against left handed pitching (.375/.474/.667).  Against right handers he does more harm than good (.191/.271/.303).  First round selection Gordon Beckham has heated up the last thirty days (.265/17/5/16).  He’s done this before and only time will tell if this is just another hot streak or if this post-hype prospect has finally started to figure things out.

Darts at the end might include Rickie Weeks (.177/22/5/16/6) or Brian Roberts, who is hitting .318 in his first 22 AB’s since finally returning from the disabled list.

Today we look at how to approach drafting catchers in the NFBC second half leagues.

There is a philosophy I’ve developed when it comes to drafting catchers.  Wait.  Just wait.  Don’t get sucked into reaching for the elite backstops.  The opportunity cost is too great and even if they technically perform up to the draft spot you selected them in, the holes created elsewhere on your roster usually outweigh whatever ‘profit’ you’ve gained from taking a catcher early in the draft.  Kneeling for nine innings behind the dish takes a serious toll on the body.  All position players are subject to injury, but none so much as those who don the tools of ignorance.  Sometimes it leads to time on the disabled list, but quite often they just play through their physical ailments and as a result performance suffers. Looking merely at ADP’s top five catchers back on draft day in March, Carlos Santana is hitting .229, Brian McCann .240, and Matt Wieters .245.  All of their slugging percentages are down and their overall production has not met the expectation of owners that likely had to burn a top five pick in order to secure their services.

If I had to take on the risk of an elite catcher early, Mike Napoli is the one that might tempt me to take that path.  After the all star break in 2011 Napoli posted numbers you just don’t see from a catcher (.383/.466/.706).  He hit 18 bombs in only 61 games.  Also consider that Ron Washington was allergic to giving the former Angel regular at-bats until the very end of last year’s campaign.  In the first two months of the 2011 season, Mike could only talk his way into 108 AB’s.  This year “The Chef” has 147 April-May AB’s.  Now a regular fixture in the Ranger lineup that features Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, and Nelson Cruz, the stage is set for an offensive explosion later this summer down south in the Texas heat at the Ballpark in Arlington.

You will no longer be able to get Yadier Molina (.337/.390/.528) in the tenth round.  I have a suspicion that few will believe Carlos Ruiz (.349/.399/.562), A.J. Pierzynski (.288/.335/.508), or Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.273/.317/.567) can sustain their success and thus they might still be relatively inexpensive plays.  The one I’ve really had my eye on for quite some time is Wilin Rosario.  I first saw him play in the Arizona Fall League back in 2009 when he smacked two homers and stood out as at least the second most intriguing slugger in the AFL field, which included the likes of Ike Davis, Buster Posey, Mike Moustakas, and Starlin Castro.  Davis also went yard, displaying light tower power, but his swing looked long.  In contrast, Rosario had a short stroke and a quick bat that made a different sound when he made contact.  He always hit it right on the screws.  The knock on him was that he might have trouble handling breaking balls once he faced better pitchers in the bigs.  It has been an adjustment but Wilin is improving.  Rosario is crushing left-handed pitchers (.297/.333/.811) but has struggled against right-handers (.215/.247/.418).  I’m going all in on the upside here.  Worst case is I’ll get the power but have to manage a poor batting average.  The price is cheap and if he improves against RHP… boom goes the dynamite!

Jesus Montero deserves a look if you can get him late enough.   Montero struggles as a designated hitter (.207/.248/.310) but he mashes when he gets to call the game behind the plate (.337/.375/.562).  This shows the upside built into his package if he can figure out away to adjust to the DH role or if Eric Wedge lets him catch more often.  Salvador Perez (39 games in 2011: .331/21/3/20) is currently in the midst of a minor league rehab assignment at Triple-A Omaha.  He’s worth a look in the later rounds.  Russell Martin’s first half has been a disaster (.208/.345/.389) but this creates a buying opportunity you won’t usually have for a catcher with pop in the Yankee lineup.  Nick Hundley (.172/.231/.280) is someone you can probably get in the final rounds.  Who wants someone batting below the Mendoza line?  Don’t forget that Hundley hit very well after the all star break last year (.367/.404/.656).  If you miss out on your earlier targets Hundley is a flier to consider.  Victor Martinez is also a stash and hold possibility as he might make a return later in the second half if his MRI exam later this month goes well.

 

I drafted two NFBC Mixed League auction teams at the Bellagio back in March.  In the first auction I drafted Jacoby Ellsbury(60-day DL shoulder), Cory Luebke(Tommy John surgery), Brett Gardner(elbow), Sergio Santos(shoulder), Doug Fister(two DL stints for a costochondral strain), Justin Morneau(wrist), Vernon Wells(thumb surgery) and Scott Rolen(shoulder).  If you have a MASH unit even half the size of mine, you may be excited to know that the NFBC is offering you a second chance by offering mid-season leagues once again this year.  The leagues will be offered in early July during MLB’s three day All Star Break.  That gives you a full month to prep and take advantage of your mulligan.  Taken from the NFBC website, here are the current dates the drafts will be offered along with available time slots:

Monday, July 9
$125 Pay Top 3 League, 7 pm ET
$500 Pay Top 3 League, 8 pm ET
Tuesday, July 10
$250 Don Mathis Pay Top 3 League (uses first half stats), 7 pm ET
$125 Pay Top 3 League, 8 pm ET
Wednesday, July 11
$250 Pay Top 3 League, 7 pm ET
$125 Pay Top 3 League, 9 pm ET

In the coming weeks we’ll examine potential targets and possible busts.  Should you discount the first half busts?  Or do they present buying opportunities? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  The most difficult thing about drafting is not player evaluation, but knowing the market; knowing when other teams will target the players you want to draft.  That challenge is never more difficult than in mid-season leagues when the industry is generally void of cheat sheets, draft guides, and reliable ADP rankings.  A good starting point is to examine ADP rankings from this spring.  What follows is taken from NFBC satellite leagues during March, so at least they aren’t skewed with January and February draft data.

1.1 Matt Kemp
1.2 Albert Pujols
1.3 Miguel Cabrera
1.4 Troy Tulowitzki
1.5 Ryan Braun
1.6 Adrian Gonzalez
1.7 Jacoby Ellsbury
1.8 Joey Votto
1.9 Robinson Cano
1.10 Jose Bautista
1.11 Carlos Gonzalez
1.12 Justin Upton
1.13 Hanley Ramirez
1.14 Prince Fielder
1.15 Evan Longoria
2.1 Curtis Granderson
2.2 Dustin Pedroia
2.3 Ian Kinsler
2.4 Clayton Kershaw
2.5 Jose Reyes

Starting at the top, how far Matt Kemp falls will be interesting.  He will probably be back from his hamstring injury, but one has to wonder just how much he will run.  He earned his #1 overall ADP by being a 40-40 threat.  In 36 games he has stolen two bases and has been caught thrice.  With two stints on the disabled list with an injury to the same hamstring, I wouldn’t assume any speed production from the elite slugger.  It’s difficult to justify a #1 overall selection from an OF with no guaranteed speed, no matter how much they mash.

Then there is the Albert Pujols problem.  How much will he be discounted, if at all?  He has hit 5 HR’s and batted over .300 over the last two weeks.  Maybe he just had more trouble than the average hitter adjusting to all the new pitchers in the American League.  In spring training he looked lighter that I’ve ever seen him before.  He still looks lean to me.  Perhaps he has lost some strength?

Miguel Cabrera could easily go number one with 1B and 3B eligibility, putting up the stellar numbers we’ve come to expect from him.  After a slow start Ryan Braun turned on the jets and is now flirting with a 45-35 pace.  Carlos Gonzalez is en fuego with stats that prorate to a 45-25 season to go with a .333 batting average.  We haven’t even mentioned the best hitter in all of baseball yet.  Josh Hamilton is on pace for a phenomenal 65 bombs and 175 RBI’s.  Hanley Ramirez is blazing at a 30-30 clip.  Everyone we have mentioned thus far could be taken at or near the top.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Evan Longoria are obviously not in the picture this early.  One has to wonder if Adrian Gonzalez has staying power in the first round.  I think not.  Then there are the breakouts such as Adam Jones, who is in the midst of his best season at age 26, cruising just below a 50-30 clip.  He’s out producing Ryan Braun.  I’m just sayin’….  Robinson Cano has righted the ship after a chilly April and will probably go right around where he usually does towards the end of the 1st.

With Paul Konerko hitting like Albert Pujols, and the latter looking more like Mark Belanger at the plate until just a couple of weeks ago, the fantasy world has been turned on its statistical head.  In this type of drafting climate I would submit a KDS preference of 1.15.  Without a well defined early 1st round ADP it’s not worth sacrificing an early 2nd round pick (moving down in the 2nd round) just to move up in the 1st round pick.  The one exception to this is Hanley Ramirez, who is worth taking #1 overall to lock up a (.300/100/30/100/30) type of slash line at shortstop.

I have a confession to make.  I once drafted Angel Berroa.  Yes, it’s true.  In the first year of the NFBC, back in 2004, I drafted the Royals anti-slugging shortstop as my starting middle infielder.  Coming off a Rookie of the Year effort (.287/17/21) it seemed logical at the time, albeit a little insane in retrospect.  I was counting on him for 20-plus thefts.  Berroa struggled and only ended up with 14.  Even more problematic was that fact that he was on my bench for a healthy chunk of those.  Particularly joyous was watching him swipe four bags Saturday June 19th at Citizens Bank Park, all while riding the pine of my fantasy roster.  We all know that stolen bases are the scarcest of all offensive counting stats, and 28% of my middle infielder’s speed production for the season had just evaporated in one evening.  Could this tragedy have been avoided?  In this case, yes.

I failed to consider the opposing catcher’s caught stealing percentage.  Mike Leiberthal was the Phillies starting catcher that year.  He was coming off a season in which he threw out just 18% of all base stealers, which ranked last in 2003 by an 8% margin!  He ended up throwing out just 21% in 2004.  Good for next to last.  With the competition of the NFBC one cannot afford these types of oversights.  Whether you are considering benching a regular (for example Dee Gordon in a slump or facing a tough matchup) or starting a marginal Judy hitter with some speed, the opposing catcher’s arm should always be part of the equation.

You aren’t going to bag cheap steals against the Diamondbacks this year.  Miguel Montero has gunned down an eye popping 59% of would be base stealers.  It doesn’t get much easier against the Dodgers either as A.J. Ellis is tossing out 46%.  Yadier Molina, JP Arencibia, and Matt Wieters are all at approximately 38%.  Nick Hundley and Carlos Ruiz round out the sharpshooters at about 37%.  It’s going to be tough sledding against the Cardinals, Padres, Orioles, Blue Jays, and Phillies.

Entering the season, Buster Posey had never posted a caught stealing percentage below 37%.  In 2012 he’s been successful throwing out just 24% of those on the base paths.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia has thrown out just 16%.  If you have anyone with even a modicum of speed headed to Fenway, get him in your lineup.  Rod Barajas used to be solid, but his arm has weakened as he enters the twilight of his career.  Opposing base stealers have been successful 91% of the time this year.  It’s a small sample size, but if I’m looking for an edge when deciding a flip of the coin play I’m riding that wave.  In 23 games behind the plate Joe Mauer is eliminating just 13% of opposing base thieves.  Other ‘targets’ include Devin Mesoraco 17% and Bobby Wilson 21%.

 Boston travels to Toronto this weekend.  I own Rajai Davis in more than one league and I am starting him this weekend even though he’s merely a platoon player at this point.  In June Toronto has six total on tap vs. the Red Sox and three more against the Angels.  Davis makes for a sneaky half-week play here and there if you can afford the roster spot and need a speed boost.

The second week of June, Xavier Avery is a must start as the Red Sox host the Orioles for a three game set.  Baltimore’s leadoff hitter also faces the Pirates thrice and Angels twice in June.

If Jarrod Dyson was dropped in your league, he’s worth a look next week if he’s no longer limited by his hamstring injury.  Dyson has three games against the Twins and another three against the Pirates.  Japanese rookie Norichika Aoki faces the Pirates this weekend and is worth consideration as a spot play as well.

Of course the pitcher’s ability to hold runners and their time to home plate are huge factors in this as well, but that’s a topic for another day.  Knuckleballers are great to run on because catchers have such difficulty handling their offerings.  Unfortunately Tim Wakefield retired, but at least R.A. Dickey is still around.

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