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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.

In the inaugural NFBC season in 2004 it seemed so easy.  Target a couple of aging veteran sluggers moving to Colorado, such as Jeremy Burnitz and Vinny Castilla, in the late rounds and hammer pitching early.  Unfortunately the implementation and evolution of the mysterious humidor the last decade has all but eliminated this Coors Field magic elixir from draft day strategy.  It’s still a hitter’s park, but merely e pluribus Unum.

Twenty games into the Rockies home schedule it seemed to me there had been a lot of scoring in Denver so I tabulated some numbers (thru Thursday’s games):

When the visiting team starts a right-handed pitcher, Colorado scores 7.7 runs per game.  However, when a southpaw takes the mound that figure drops to 5 runs per game.  Combined the 6.5 clip is the highest rate since 2001, supposedly the last of the pre-humidor years.   The information in the public domain surrounding the humidor has so much myth and legend mixed in with fact it’s hard to discern anything with certainty other than the numbers filling the box score.  Tim Lincecum created a stir in September of 2010 when he threw a ball back because he thought it was juiced.  I’ve seen the clip in which he tossed the baseball back to the umpire, requested a different one, and then muttered ‘****ing juiced balls….’. Certainly a pitcher can tell if there’s something up with a ball as he can feel if it has been dried out, rubbed down, etc.  Timmy isn’t the only one to make this complaint over the years.   I’ve heard stories that they run out of humidor balls on occasion.  I’ve heard tales that some balls are more ‘water-logged’ than others.  All that I can surmise with certitude is that scoring is up the first quarter and if I wait for the sample size to become ‘significant’ it will be too late to use that knowledge for the 2012 fantasy season.

Season Games Runs Runs per Game Home Runs
2012 20 130 6.5 27
2011 81 439 5.37 94
2010 81 479 5.91 108
2009 81 464 5.72 98
2008 81 411 5.07 92
2007 82 478 5.82 75
2006 81 456 5.62 75
2005 81 451 5.56 86
2004 81 496 6.12 111
2003 81 517 6.38 113
2002 81 498 6.14 97
2001 81 554 6.83 124
2000 81 633 7.81 112

Chris Nelson was placed on the 15 day disabled list on Wednesday.  Jordan Pacheco has been the prime beneficiary and has started six straight games at third base.  He is also capable of filling in at first base, second base, or donning the tools of ignorance in a pinch.  In 65 home AB’s over the 2011-12 seasons he’s posted solid rate stats (.290/7/3/13).  With NFBC’s midweek moves, Pacheco is a useful bench bat/spot play with upside.  Tyler Colvin has been getting more AB’s in The Rockies outfield and at first base to give Todd Helton a breather.  The former 1st rounder has been productive at home (.333/6/2/9) in just 36 AB’s.  On the flip side, both Todd Helton (.186/.314/.372:road) and Dexter Fowler (.189/.268/.270:road) have struggled to hit whenever they leave Blake Street.  I’d bench them during away games.

Looking ahead, the Rockies will host the Houston Astros next week.  Jason Castro and Justin Maxwell are worth a look to see if playing four games at 5,280 feet will elevate their game.


This week it will be interesting to see how the AB’s are distributed in Miami with Emilio Bonifacio hitting the DL and Gaby Sanchez optioned to AAA.  Chris Coghlan was called up and got the start in left field on Sunday as Ozzie Guillen moved Logan Morrison to first base.  Bryan Petersen will probably continue to get the starts in center field, but I’m interested to see if Austin Kearns gets a chance.  I’m not a believer in Coghlan.  Kearns is streaky.  If you’re looking for lightning in a bottle Austin might be your huckleberry.

The venues my band has played over the years run the gamut from the po-dunk hole in the wall bars with 15 disinterested inebriated patrons, to large festivals containing a raucous 5,000+ fully engaged in every song.  There is a palpable difference in intensity and the notion that it can’t impact ones performance is peculiar.   There’s an unspoken myth floating in some sabermetric circles that there’s little difference between pitching in the 8th inning and closing out games in the 9th.  Rubbish.   If I’m a David Robertson owner I’m not panicking right now, but I am concerned.   After 12 consecutive scoreless appearances to start the season, most of them dominant, the new Yankee closer struggled mightily in his first two games in the Big Apple trying to preserve the lead in the 9th.   In his first outing against the Devil Rays he gave up a hit and walked two to load the bases before getting out of the jam.  Truth be told, he probably would have walked 10 if not for the ocean sized strike zone in place that inning.  The next evening his luck ran out as the strike zone shrunk back down to normal size and Robertson served up four hits, a walk, a home run, and a Yankee loss.  It is obviously way too early to give up on Robertson or Soriano (1.69 WHIP), but I am glad that I own Cory Wade in my AL Only league.

In February Big Lead Sports reported that San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker had no problems finding a replacement for Eva Longoria.  Roto owners still trying to replace Evan Longoria have a much bigger challenge.  Recent injuries to Kevin Youkilis and Pablo Sandoval have decreased an already limited third base supply.  If you missed out on the Will Middlebrooks sweepstakes, is there anything coming down the pipeline?

Scott Rolen is exhibit 1,373 of why spring training stats don’t mean jack.  The Reds third-baseman claimed this spring that he was pain free for the first time in four to five  years and that he finally had full range of motion in his shoulder after playing without it the last few seasons.  The box score from exhibition games seemed to corroborate that his stroke was back (.356/.442/.578).  I saw several of Cincinnati’s spring training games.  Every time the former Cardinal made contact he smoked the ball.  Even his outs were line drives right at defenders.  Like so many pre-season success stories, Scotty’s March mashing seems like a distant memory from an alternate universe (.174/.238/.304: in 29 real games).   The Reds claim that Rolen’s shoulder is barking again and have placed him on the disabled list.  Todd Frazier stands to benefit the most from the move. The 2007 supplemental first round pick had already seen a start in left field where Chris Heisey (.200/.253/.286) and Ryan Ludwick (.184/.271/.342) have been disappointments.  Rolen’s injury opens the door, but Dusty Baker’s fickleness could force him back to the pine if Todd goes hitless two straight games.  Frazier remains a batting average risk, but has 15-15 potential if he earns regular playing time.

Kung Fu Panda remains out with a fractured hamate bone in his left hand.  Conor Gillaspie’s three hits and zero walks in 20 plate appearances earned an option back down to AAA Fresno.  Charlie Culberson (.284/27/5/24/1) was called up to replace him on the 25-man roster.  He will man the keystone for the Giants, but qualifies at third base in the NFBC.  The 2007 first round pick stole 25 bases in High-A ball two years ago, so he could provided double digit steals and homers if you are desperate and everything clicks for him right out of the gates.

There was a conspicuous lack of interest in Brandon Inge in Sunday night’s FAAB bidding.  I grabbed him with a token $15 bid in one league and he remains unowned in a few others.  Fascinating.  Third base is a scarce position…or so I thought; yet the Motown castoff is deemed unworthy of even a bench spot or occasional spot play in favorable matchups.   Since 2006 Inge has averaged 67 Runs, 79 RBI’s and 19.6 HR’s every 550 AB’s.  Granted that comes gift wrapped with a career .234 BA, but for waiver wire fodder among corner infielders he possesses decent upside.   He has two 27 HR seasons on his resume, and don’t forget his pre All Star break numbers in 2009 (.268-51-21-58-2).  That’s good production over 86 games. Obviously you can’t bank on that, but for a buck or two that’s a solid ROI dart.

I’ve flown cross-country to Sin City many times since my initial trek out west for the NFBC at the Stardust Hotel and Casino back in the spring of 2006.  I’ve visited numerous hotels up and down the strip.  I never stayed at the Mirage, but I’ve seen countless of them each and every fantasy season.  We are one month into the NFBC.  It’s easy to panic and overreact to something based on a small sample size.  Take me for example, dropping both David Robertson and Edward Mujica recently to plug perceived holes elsewhere.  I gave away two probable closers all to fix roto problems that might in the end turn out to be merely illusions.  Let’s take a look at some xFIP and ERA discrepancies to see if we can identify some of these.


Pitcher ERA xFIP K BB
Wei-Yin Chen 2.76 4.58 23 12
Ryan Dempster 0.95 2.89 29 9
Barry Zito 1.76 5.22 15 13
Ted Lilly 1.38 4.71 15 9
Derek Lowe 2.39 4.51 10 12
Jeremy Hellickson 2.75 4.86 23 15
Johny Cueto 1.31 4.00 26 7
Kyle Lohse 2.11 4.06 24 7
Brandon Beachy 1.62 3.91 27 10
Jake Peavy 1.99 3.73 39 6
Joe Saunders 1.24 3.71 24 9
Ross Detwiler 1.59 3.69 21 9
Wandy Rodriguez 1.64 3.55 27 10


These hurlers are not pitching as well as their ERA might indicate.  There’s no way Barry Zito , Ted Lilly or Derek Lowe can keep this up with such poor K/BB ratios.  Not to mention that Barry’s .186 BABIP is unsustainable.  The one exception might be Jeremy Hellickson (though I’m not crazy about his K/BB ratio).  With Tampa Bay’s great fielders and continual defensive shifts, we should not be surprised when some of their starters outperform their xFIP.  Last year Jeremy Hellickson posted a similar line (2.95 ERA/4.72 xFIP).


Pitcher ERA xFIP K BB
Yovani Gallardo 5.79 4.02 31 14
Rick Porcello 4.91 3.71 20 6
Matt Harrison 5.40 3.68 19 7
Aaron Harang 5.24 3.88 32 16
Tim Lincecum 5.68 3.42 33 17
Felix Doubront 5.19 3.37 30 12
Josh Johnson 6.61 3.38 26 12
Adam Wainright 5.61 2.66 34 7
Josh Tomlin 5.27 3.69 19 5
Ivan Nova 5.58 3.82 28 9
Chris Volstad 6.55 3.38 21 10
Zack Greinke 4.11 2.75 35 10

Zack Greinke is an interesting case.  Zack has a career BABIP of .310 but this year that number has risen to .368.  Gravity will pull that number back down to earth, but will he ever live up to his xFIP? Last year the former Cy Young award winner posted a 3.83 ERA but had a 2.56 xFIP.  That discrepancy of 1.27 roughly matches this year’s gap.  He also had a 3.13 ERA at home and a 4.70 line on the road.  Those road struggles have continued this year with a 7.20 ERA whilst traveling but a dazzling 1.80 ERA in Milwaukee.  This home/road split has manifested most years during his career.   It’s just a guess, but I have to wonder if his road struggles might be at least partially attributed to differences in the pitching mounds.  I’m a believer that subtle variations in height, slope, and firmness can have a significant impact.  I discussed this briefly a couple of years ago with former Major League pitcher Nate Robertson.  According to former Tiger there’s definitely a difference, and there were certain ballparks he liked to pitch in more than others because of the mound.  The slightest difference could alter the action of the plant foot, affecting the release point and ultimately the ability to command pitches effectively.

Josh Johnson .439 BABIP tells me something is not right.  I don’t think ‘bad luck ‘ can explain it.  His line drive rate of 29.8% is double last year’s 14.8% and his career 20.1%.  In my opinion his shoulder is not fully healthy after an off-season of rehab without surgery.  His average fastball velocity of 92.7 mph is down a tick from last year and down a couple ticks from the 95 mph he threw in 2009-2010.   Tommy John recoveree Adam Wainwright also makes the list.  Interestingly his fastball velocity is also down 1.4 mph from last year.  However, Wainwright’s vastly superior K/BB ratio portends of better things on the immediate horizon for the Cardinal ace.  His line drive rate is right in line with career norms at 17.9%.  His home run per fly ball rate of 28% should regress to career norms (8.2%) in short order.



How many of you drafted Barry Zito knowing that he would have a sub 2.00 ERA right now?  Ok, of those who said yes, how many also drafted both Jason Hammel and Bronson Arroyo?  If you said yes again you are either psychic or crazy.  Maybe both.  What is behind these unexpected performances from veterans who had struggled mightily the previous year?  I want look at some of the veteran hurlers coming off poor seasons and dig beneath the surface peripheral stats that merely tell us that they’re doing a good job and try to find out why they are pitching so well.

Pitcher 2010 Slider Pct. 2011 Slider Pct. 2012 Slider Pct. 2011 ERA 2012 ERA
Jake Peavy 15.9 16 20.4 4.92 1.67
Jason Hammel 19.1 17.2 24.6 4.76 1.73
Barry Zito 14.5 8.5 37.4 5.87 1.67
Bronson Arroyo 13.6 15.6 22.3 5.07 2.7
Ervin Santana 36.9 38.3 30.9 5.58 7.23
Mat Latos 22.9 24.4 14 3.47 5.97

Obviously there are numerous factors at play here, not just how often a pitcher throws a slider.  Being formulaic would be silly.  You can’t just throw the slider more often, leave it at that, and assume improved results.  It has to be a quality pitch and sequenced properly.  Just ask Philip Humber, who caught the Mariners off guard by doubling his slider usage.  It’s an extreme example, but one that illustrates the possible effects of changing pitch arsenal and pitch frequency.  However, the Red Sox apparently got the memo and sent Humber to the showers after pounding him for 9 earned runs in his next outing.  We do know that a slider puts more stress on the elbow.  Could an increase in throwing the slider indicate a return to health?  Notice how Barry Zito stopped throwing his slider as much last year.  This year the former USC Trojan is working it in 37% of the time.   He’s also throwing his fastball 20% less this year.  Perhaps this is in part because he’s experienced a decrease in fastball velocity four straight years.  It will be interesting to see how hitters adjust to the new and improved version of the southpaw and whether or not a high level of success is sustainable once the updated scouting reports make their rounds.

I’m sure that Jason Hammel is thrilled to escape the confines of Coors Field, but that’s not the only factor in play here as he’s throwing his slider 9% more often than last year.  Bronson Arroyo is letting it slide more frequently as well.  The Reds' rocker has also ramped up his cutter percentage to 21.4%, up 14% from last year. Jake Peavy hasn’t thrown his slider this much since 2007.  He’s also throwing it with more velocity (2 mph more on average).  As a Peavy owner I’d like to think of this as another indication that he’s healthier than he has been in years.

Conversely, both Ervin Santana and Mat Latos are throwing their slider much less this year.   That’s a red flag.  A pitcher could simply ditch the pitch due to lack of command or ineffectiveness.  He could also be compensating for discomfort or injury in the elbow or shoulder.  I avoided the former Padre in all leagues this year due to concerns about his shoulder.  I don’t think Latos can be the same pitcher unless he goes back to using his slider more.  He’s tried to compensate by throwing his changeup more often, but the results have not been pretty.  He needs to use his slider frequently to be effective and that elevates the health risk.   My eye will be on Santana during his next start to see if I can discern why he’s using this part of his arsenal less often.  If he’s unable to command his slider, that would explain a lot.   He rarely uses his changeup so hitters can then just sit on his fastball and tee off.  In just 5 starts Ervin has already served up 10 round trippers.

I ran into Justin Verlander on a cold Saturday in Detroit at Comerica Park in January of 2006.  He was coming off a strong season in the minors in which between High A Lakeland and Double-A Erie he posted a dominant line of 1.29/0.90 with 136 K’s and just 26 BB’s in 118 IP.   I knew that scouts raved about his fastball, but I didn’t know how fast it was.  So I asked him.  With a slight scowl on his face and even more disdain in his voice he replied, ‘I don’t know…it gets up there.’ Ha.  It was a simple question.  Was it really that offensive?  Somehow I felt that he would have been less offended if I’d asked him the size of his jockstrap.

I was preparing for the 2006 NFBC draft, looking for endgame fliers to fill out my staff.   From other sources I would glean that the former Monarch could dial it up to 101 mph and could compliment it with a plus curve.  Fortunately, Justin’s cup of coffee in September of 2005 was bitter (7.15/1.76) and kept him off of fantasy radars, enabling me to nab him with the 29th pick of the 2006 Main Event.

Matt Moore’s cup of coffee last year was sweet.  In fact it came with 5 lumps of sugar and lots of cream (2.89 ERA/1.28 WHIP/15 K’s/9 IP).  He topped it off with a dominant win against the Texas Rangers in the playoffs.  Through three games this season Matt Moore has a 5.12 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 11 K’s, and 12 BB’s in 19 IP.  One could argue that the effectual ‘fantasy’ difference between Verlander and Moore as rookies is hype, a cup of coffee, and twenty-plus rounds (Matt Moore: 85 ADP).  Repeat after me:  There is no such thing as a pitching prospect on draft day.  Even if there were such a thing, you should never draft them in the first twenty rounds of a 15 team NFBC mixed league draft.  OK, with that out of the way, let’s look at some pitching prospects to track in the coming weeks.

With three stops between High-A and Double-A last year, Joe Wieland filled the stat sheet with a 150/21 K/BB ratio in 155 innings while posting a 1.97 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP.  In his first career major-league start at Chavez Ravine, the Rangers’ fourth round pick was hit hard, giving up 6 earned runs in 5 innings.  In Petco he posted a much more roto-friendly line, striking out 7 with only 1 walk in 6 IP.  He held the Phillies to just one earned run.  He’s someone to watch as he could get more results like this at home as his 2-seamer gets more sinking action closer to sea level.

Wily Peralta had a solid year at Double-A Huntsville last year (3.46/1.29/117 K’s/120 IP) before turning it up a notch for 5 starts in Nashville (2.03/1.03/40 K’s/ 31 IP).  I like his 2-seamer that breaks away from lefties and quickly gets in to jam right-handed hitters.  His off speed stuff is decent.  My concern is whether or not he’ll continue to locate his secondary pitches once he faces National League competition.  He was called up Saturday to replace Kameron Loe (bereavement leave) on the Brewers 25-man roster, so his stay may be a short one, but the Dominican should get a chance later in the year to break into the rotation.

Jarrod Parker will take the mound for the Athletics Wednesday.   His 13 free passes in 11 innings this spring do not instill confidence in the short term.  I need to see strike one on the first pitch and a lot of 1-2 counts from Oakland’s number one pitching prospect before I forecast good things in the box score.

Drew Hutchison made his MLB début Saturday and the Royals gave him a rude welcome.  It’s just one start, but I think Hutchison may need more seasoning in the minors.    His 2-seamer has good movement when he has it working well, but the amount of movement he get’s out of it is inconsistent.  It’s very hittable when it flattens out and it’s not good enough that he can afford to make mistakes with it over the plate or good hitters will tee off once they’ve seen him a couple of times.  His 4-seamer can be an effective pitch that he can dial up to 94 and he should be able to get some K’s getting hitters trying to chase it up in the zone.  His slider should be an effective pitch against righties but lefties will feast on it.  On the bright side, I love pitchers who limit the walks and Drew is typically very stingy with handing out the free passes.  Hutchison struggled with his command when he got in trouble during the 5th inning Saturday night against the Royals, but that should change with more experience as long as he trusts his stuff.

The San Francisco Giants selected Kurt Ainsworth in the first round back in 1999.  In 2002 he posted solid ratios (3.41/1.24) and struck out 119 in just 116 innings in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.  It was enough to put the former LSU Tiger on my fantasy radar and make him an end game sleeper pick in deep leagues.   However the ERA and WHIP scars from his short stint as a Baltimore Orioles’ starter back in 2004 (9.69/1.69) still remain.  I survived the carnage and lived to tell about it, but my fantasy team did not. Being placed on life-support in April and pronounced dead in mid May, my roto squad faced an insurmountable uphill climb on it’s way to the fantasy graveyard.

Since that ill-fated year I’ve come to call this phenomena ‘The Ainsworth Effect.’  No, it wasn’t just Kurt that sank my squad, but he and others like him sealed my fate.   If you’ve played 5x5 leagues long enough you’ve experienced this.   Ask Edinson Volquez and Edwin Jackson owners last year.  Or ask Bronson Arroyo owners who got sucked in in years past by a shutout or two straight quality starts.  Showing just enough to fool you into thinking that the water is fine.  So you plug him back into your starting lineup to watch him give up 10 earned runs in 1 Inning and then get pulled from the game.  Unless you have Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, AND Cliff Lee all on your squad there’s just no way to recover from too many of these ERA/WHIP bombs.   It didn’t take long for me to realize that this notion that you can wait on drafting pitchers was a myth.

When Luke Hochevar took the mound for the Royals home opener Friday afternoon, a nauseating feeling of déjà vu came over me as I watched the first inning unfold.  Michael Brantley started off with a single.  Followed by Asdrubal Cabrera who doubled to right field.  Then, even though Eric Hosmer was playing so far off of first that he was almost positioned as a second basemen, and Yuniesky Betancourt was just a few feet to the left, Shin-Soo Choo found a way to hit between them.  I had to push rewind to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me as I watched Yuni display the range of a Sumu-wrestler; inexplicably unable to coral the grounder.  Two runs came in to score.  Luke retired the next two batters before the real fun began.   Shelley Duncan, fooled on an 0-1 fastball up and out of the zone, tried to check his swing and poked an ‘excuse-me’ floater just over the head of Hosmer, driving in Choo to make it 3-0.  Next, legendary slugger Casey Kotchman fell behind 0-2 before tapping a soft liner into right.  Then young keystoner Jason Kipnis drove a deep drive to center that fell near the warning track.  It was a very catchable, but center fielder Jarrod Dyson looked either stoned or hungover trying to track it down as it fell in for a triple -- 5-0 Tribe.  Offensive stalwart Jack Hannahan joined in the soiree with a single to center, driving home Kipnis.  The Indians had batted around and they weren’t done yet.  Brantley approached the dish for the second time in the inning.  This time he crushed a drive deep off the top of the right field fence, just missing a HR by inches.  By now Hochevar looked so frustrated that he seemed to be throwing batting practice.  This Indians team that couldn’t hit their way out of a wet paper sack the first week of the season suddenly looked like Harvey’s Wallbangers.    2/3 IP and 7 ER -- wonderful.   If Luke gets the hook at this point it would take 18 Innings of scoreless baseball just to get a roto squad back to par.  He essentially just vaporized two complete game shutouts.

The moral of the story is, the longer you wait on pitching the more ERA bombs you’ll have bombarding your squad.  It doesn’t take too many of these before the damage is irreparable.  At that point it won’t matter how many Cy Youngs you pick up off of the waiver wire unless you’ve got the aces at the top end of your rotation to sustain such debacles.   I know that there are many ways to skin a cat, but it’s rare that I’ve had success in the NFBC format without at least two elite WHIP anchors on my squad.   Armed thusly, I’m able to survive whatever Brian Matusz, Charlie Morton, and Rocky Biddle throw my way.  As we watch the cream rise to the top of the NFBC overall standings in the coming months, it will be interesting to see which types of roster construction strategies had the most success.

Has there ever been a more volatile opening weekend for closers?  Mariano Rivera, Jose Valverde, Heath Bell, Chris Perez, Carlos Marmol, and Alfredo Aceves all failed to close the deal at least once.  Plenty of setup men took their lumps as well.   These situations may create buying opportunities in the coming weeks, but only if you are prepared to spend like a madman.

The first week of FAAB saw some very aggressive spending, with newly anointed closer Hector Santiago leading the way, followed by quasi-closer Fernando Rodney.  In the live Las Vegas Main Event leagues the bidding looked like this:  Santiago: 565, 565, 515, 410, 407, 342, 337, 309, 258.  Rodney: 250, 250, 227, 214, 202, 198, 180, 179, 152.  As expected, the heavy bidding fueled some playful jibes on the Message Boards.  If you are the proud owner of the green White Sox closer, most likely you are seen as a little crazy by some of your league mates, and that you are. Crazy, like a fox.

There are twenty-six weeks in the baseball season.   Twenty-five and one-half of which occur after the first FAAB period.  As each week passes the efficacy of each FAAB dollar decreases by roughly 4%.   A $1,000 FAAB budget maintained and untapped all season in late September is the equivalent of about $40 spent during the first FAAB period.  Another way to look at it is if you spent $0 on Sunday, saved all of your money, the effective spending power (in terms of how it can impact you in the roto standings) is now $960.  In other words, if you are sane, you will join in the ‘insanity’ of early FAAB spending.  I’ve tried the conservative approach.  That approach yields a large FAAB money bag at midseason coupled with persistent lineup holes that remain unplugged and a deficit in the standings that can’t be made up no matter how good the July waiver acquisitions are.

I drafted Addison Reed, so I had my eye set on purchasing the services of Hector Santiago.  The twenty-three year old has all the makings of a shaky closer option.  His save in the Ballpark in Arlington on Saturday was not only his first in the majors, but also his first above High-A ball.   The deck is slightly stacked against him as a lefty with plenty of adequate right-handed alternatives in the White Sox pen.  None of that changes the fact that he’s a biped that’s been named the closer.  You have to blow your cash to acquire those guys no matter how crappy they are.  And, unless you plan on punting saves, if you don’t have 2 closers on your team right now, get out your wallet and spend or you will be punting a category in short order.   The only alternative is to get a cheap closer in waiting who’s fallen out of favor (Joel Peralta) or under the radar (J.P. Howell).  Of course the obvious downside is that you have to hope that the competition implodes and that the manager has faith in your chosen one (ask Tyler Clippard owners how they feel about being shunned for Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez).

I figured that Hector was worth about $155, so that’s what I bid initially, but ruminating on it, I realized that it would take a ‘crazy’ bid twice that amount to nab the south side lefty.  I raised it to $324.  I didn’t get crazy enough.  In Las Vegas League 4, a $407 claimed the prize.  And, now I regret not climbing into the $400’s.  Even if Santiago loses the job before the end of April, going all-in to roster him was the right move.  If he fails, so what?  You still have plenty of money to pick up cheap set-up men, which is the only alternative those eschewing expensive FAAB closers have anyway.

The consolation prize was Fernando Rodney.  A $214 dent was the cost.  Rodney is as volatile as they come.  He racked up 37 Saves closing for the Tigers back in 2009, but that came with an ugly 1.47 WHIP.  Still, he has that experience that managers love, and Joe Madden’s usage patterns early on suggest that the mohawk-sporting skipper favors Rodney over other options in the Rays pen.  On Friday, Joel Peralta was brought in during the 8th inning with the Rays trailing the Yankees 6-5.  He retired Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano before laboring through the rest of the inning.  Peralta walked Alex Rodriguez and then Mark Teixeira showed off his light tower power by crushing a Peralta fastball that sailed just about one foot to the right of the right field foul pole.  Teixeira eventually worked a walk before Joel made Nick Swisher look bad; with tardy swings the OSU buckeye was unable to catch up to Peralta’s heat. 

In the 9th Fernando Rodney had an easy 1-2-3 inning.  Saturday the Rays held a commanding 8-2 lead heading into the 9th.  Youngster Josh Lueke couldn’t command the ball well and gave way to Joel, who would try to put Friday’s lackluster showing behind him.   After striking out Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher crushed a mistake pitch and this day Joel would not get away with it.  Jake McGee would come on to walk a batter before Rodney came in for a one out save.  When Jeremy Hellickson came one out away from closing the deal on Sunday, once again it was Fernando that got the nod and notched his second save of the young season.

So, get out your FAAB checkbooks now.  Spend early and often.  Spend heavy now and save your cheap fliers for later, unless you are in my Las Vegas Main Event League 4.

The fantasy gods did me no favors when they doled out league assignments for the NFBC Main Event.   Placement is random, but you’d never know that from the lineup card which was filled with sharks.  The list included high stakes veterans Will Tyrer, Jim Christie, KJ Duke, and of course the Babe Ruth of fantasy baseball Shawn Childs.  KJ came within a gnat’s eyelash of winning the Main Event last year and I’ve lost count of how many top 10 finishes Shawn has accumulated, so I was fully prepared to have numerous picks sniped.

I had the 15th pick, which was my first choice, having submitted 15-1 in descending order for my KDS preferences.   You really can’t go wrong anywhere in the first round and being at the end gave me a better second round pick.  I also love being at the turn because it simplifies the draft considerably.  Tough choices between two players vanish.  If you want to corner a market or competition there are zero concerns of someone stealing that second pick.  For example you could grab Eric Thames and Travis Snider back to back with no worries.

My hope was that Hanley Ramirez would fall to me so I could lock up 2 elite middle infielders right out of the gate, with third base flexibility as a bonus.  Alternative plans included Curtis Granderson, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen (yes I think he’s that good).   However, the Yankee centerfielder’s elbow soreness gave me pause, and Shawn Childs quickly ended my dream of landing the Marlin slugger.  Bob Patricella (Team 14) put me in a difficult spot by going with Evan Longoria.  That being said, I couldn’t complain as Robinson Cano fell into my lap at 1.15.  That left Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler as the two best players on the board.  I almost threw the book out the window here and went back to back at the keystone.  The deal breaker was that I was targeting Dan Uggla at the next turn.  So I picked a player who wasn’t remotely in my draft plans: Clayton Kershaw.

At the next turn my hope was that Zack Greinke would fall to me, only to have that wily Childs snatch another target.  Of course Brett Lawrie didn’t make it to me either, making the picks at the second turn no brainers:  Dan Uggla and Jered Weaver.   I’ve noticed the continued emphasis in the mind of drafters on spring training stats, which for some reason trumps an entire year’s worth of performance in real games.  Case in point Jeff Weaver’s younger brother who has been working on a cut fastball and experimenting with different grips.  It hasn’t been working but the Angel ace is not going to continue the experiment into the regular season.  Nevertheless Jered has been slipping further than he should, so I was happy to get him here.  I also knew that very soon a run of the elite starters would ensue and right on cue it did.  The first seven picks of round four were top tier pitchers.

Every single draft I’ve done this year, Dee Gordon has been available at the 5-6 turn.  Not this time.  With so many great drafters I was prepared for numerous punches to the gut.   Yet it didn’t assuage the roster pain.  Gordon didn’t even come close to making it back to me.  A tough blow since I went out on a limb eschewing speed options with my first 4 picks so that I could take the best values.  Plans B, C, D, and E were also destroyed (Jimmy Rollins, Michael Bourn, Shin-Soo Choo, and Shane Victorino).  Nice.  I ended up taking Brett Gardner to lock up 50 steals, but with the 6th pick I went with a player I had no plans of rostering on any teams this year in Buster Posey.   There just weren’t any targets in this pocket of the draft so I went with best value again.

With the 7th pick I was going to take no chances and beat everyone to the punch on Kendrys Morales.  I’ve drafted the fragile designated hitter in most of my early drafts, landing him somewhere between rounds 12-15.   I should have known.  Poof!  He was gone.  Plans B and C (Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon) were also taken right before me.  Ugh!  Instead I took Drew Stubbs and Emilio Bonifacio to lock down more speed and gain position flexibility that would turn out to be crucial in later rounds.  At the 11-12 turn that flexibility would allow me to draft Jhonny Peralta to get a few more HR’s and RBI’s from my shortstop while sliding Emilio to 3B, thus avoiding the vast wasteland of remaining third basemen.

The rest of my draft:

9-10 Delmon Young, Peter Bourjos
11-12 Jhonny Peralta, Carlos Lee
13-14 Brandon McCarthy, Javy Guerra
15-16 Carlos Pena, Erik Bedard
17-18 Alfonso Soriano, Aroldis Chapman
19-20 Addison Reed, Luke Hochevar
21-22 A.J. Pierzynski, Aubrey Huff
23-24 Philip Humber, Ryan Vogelsong
25-26 Chris Parmelee, Drew Smyly
27-28 Ryan Ludwick, Liam Hendriks
29-30 onDavid Roberts, Alex Cobb


The first weekend of NFBC Drafts is in the books. I will be heading to the Bellagio in Las Vegas in a few days for weekend number two. It’s time to put the finishing touches on our cheat sheets, pack our bags and fly to Sin City, the Windy City, or the Big Apple. If you’re headed out to Vegas stop by and say hi. If we’re in the same league, please ignore everything I’m about to say.

I thought Pedro Alvarez would come into camp on a mission, ready to prove that last year was a fluke. This spring I’ve seen no evidence of that. Pedro’s bat looks slow and now his knee is swollen. That makes Casey McGehee (ADP 410) a possible end game flier if you need a corner infield dart in rounds 28-30. If he doesn’t win the job, just throw him back during FAAB.

Scott Rolen (ADP 431) says his shoulder is healthy for the first time in years. If the spring training box scores are any indication, Rolen is telling the truth. The former Cardinal is tearing up cactus league pitching (.321/.387/.571), and the third sacker is another late consideration who might be there in the 30th round to give you depth at third base.

Casey Blake is receiving no love whatsoever from NFBC Satellite drafters (ADP 525) but if he overcomes neck issues and wins the job Blake is worth a look at the end of NL Auctions if you are desperate. Blake hit a home run recently in minor league action and went two for three against the Cubbies to break out of his hitless drought. The former quarterback is one of those aging, ugly picks with upside, but his modest power remains intact when he’s on the field. A healthy Blake manning the hot corner in Coors Field is capable of 20 bombs and perhaps an acceptable .260 batting average as he moves away from the pitchers park he’s hit in the last four years.

Some have already penciled in Kyle Seager at third base in Seattle, but Alex Liddi’s bat has carries the fantasy potential at Safeco. In 2011 at Triple-A he posted (.259/121/30/104/5). Liddi's bat is on fire (spring: .429/.450/.714) and if Eric Wedge is wise the team will break camp with the Italian slugger in tow.

Josh Donaldson is battling Eric Sogard for the starting third base job in Oakland. Athletics management wants Josh to win the job, but his poor showing at the plate in March (.231/.293/.288) coupled with Sogard’s success (.341/.400/.545) means that this competition may go down to the wire. Donaldson’s eligibility at catcher and the fact that he might receive everyday AB’s could make him a sneaky pick in the 30th round (ADP 453).

Lonnie Chisenhall was a deep sleeper of many in early off-season drafts. Unfortunately, this sleeper may keep hitting the snooze button well into the season. Jack Hannahan’s glove has made him the favorite to be the Indians opening day starter, leaving Lonnie likely ticketed for Triple-A Columbus to get regular at bats to continue his development.

Chipper Jones has received plenty of disdain from drafters in recent seasons and this year is no different. Larry’s 310 ADP will certainly fall further following his arthroscopic knee surgery. It’s as though teams avoid drafting the aging veteran as long as possible and then finally somebody gives in and rosters the Atlanta fixture just because somebody should. Make no mistake, drafting Chipper will not win your league, but you have to pick your strengths and weaknesses. If you missed out on the top and mid-tier corner infielders, Jones can be useful.

If you handcuff a Placido Polanco or similar stopgap, you can take Chipper’s 15+ HR’s over 120 games and then 35 games from John Doe. The end result is solid production (.275/65/20/80) from a 21st round investment. That’s similar to or better than what you’ll receive from David Freese (ADP 155) or Mike Moustakas (ADP 178). That may sound like crazy talk, but let’s look at the numbers.

If we project last year’s stats over 150 this is how they stack up: Moustakas (.263/43/8/50), Freese (.297/43/15/85), Jones (.275/66/21/83). If “Moose Tacos” increases his rate production by 50% he’ll still fall short of Chipper and yet he’s being drafted 9 rounds earlier. I understand the upside of the young Royal, but it’s a long climb up just to reach par with Chipper. Sure, Moose makes my lineup look sexier on draft day, but when you crunch the numbers, the red headed stepchild from Atlanta projects to be a better return on your investment.

We hear the adage every year, ‘spring training stats are meaningless.’ Yet every year we see ADP impacted by preseason stats. Should ADP be affected?

This time of year it seems every time a potentially fantasy relevant player has a hot streak or goes yard twice there is a surge in his average draft position. Conversely, we see ADP slide when a hurler gets hit hard more than once. Is this justified?

Early on most pitchers are just getting their work in. On a given day one pitcher may just be focused on establishing his fastball command, throwing nothing but the heater. This is the functional equivalent of batting practice (professional hitters who can drive a fastball knowing a fastball is coming are a dime a dozen). Other pitchers might be working on their changeup, firing 10 to 15 big fat matzah balls down the heart of the plate at 83 mph in rapid succession. Unless you’re actually watching the games unfold to see the story behind the stats, a player’s line from an exhibition game is really more subject to noise which precludes us from deriving any truly useful fantasy knowledge.

Let’s look at some of 2010’s preseason sluggers and if they were able to carry their results into the regular season when the games count.

2011 Preseason 2011 Regular Season
Jake Fox 10 .297 .325 .797 1.122 2 .246 .313 .443 .756
Mike Morse 9 .364 .421 .818 1.239 36 .303 .360 .550 .910
Kila Ka'aihue 7 .397 .462 .845 1.306 2 .195 .295 .317 .612
Alex Gordon 6 .343 .459 .729 1.187 23 .303 .376 .502 .878
Aubrey Huff 6 .369 .391 .692 1.084 12 .246 .306 .370 .676
Luke Hughes 6 .246 .265 .569 .834 7 .223 .289 .338 .627
Alex Rodriguez 6 .388 .444 .898 1.342 16 .276 .362 .461 .823
Mark Trumbo 6 .297 .316 .662 .978 29 .254 .291 .477 .768
Russell Branyan 5 .429 .492 .768 1.260 4 .238 .330 .479 .809
Chris Davis 5 .362 .387 .741 1.128 3 .250 .296 .408 .704
Alcides Escobar 5 .364 .400 .636 1.036 4 .254 .290 .343 .633
Ben Francisco 5 .362 .439 .667 1.106 6 .244 .340 .364 .704

So what does this tell us? The answer is as a general rule you’re better off focusing on the regular season stats from the previous year and ignoring the raw stats from preseason games. In the spirit of Dennis Green, these players are who we thought they were. We didn’t need spring training games to tell us that Mike Morse could rake. We knew Morse was good from his performance during 98 games in 2010 (.289/36/15/41/0). We knew Kila Ka’aihue was a AAAA player who had a long swing that would get exposed, just as it had previously during cups of coffee in September. And yet we were fooled, at least collectively, as represented by Kila’s rising ADP as spring training progressed and NFBC draft day approached. Jake Fox was another who duped people in AL Only Leagues and as a late round pick in Mixed Leagues. Aubrey Huff and Alex Rodriguez also saw a slight bump in ADP last year as their bats sizzled in March.

At the same time, what happens in spring training is not meaningless. Ideally we need to contextualize the stats to make them more useful. Watch as many games as possible. If Aaron Hill hits two bombs (he didn’t), find out if they were both against a Dan Haren who was using his full arsenal of pitches, or if they were against an inexperienced rookie from A ball, who hung a 75 mph curve ball up in the zone, and JJ Putz, who is working on a cut fastball and thus may be throwing that pitch exclusively throughout certain stretches.

Of course it is impossible to watch all of the games. That’s why we here at Mastersball have Perry Van Hook scouting players daily in the Cactus League and Brian Walton giving you highlights from action down in the Grapefruit League (if you haven’t been reading the Cactus League Notes and the Grapefruit League Notes, you’ve been missing out on some great stuff).

If I can’t watch the games and I’m left with the raw compiled stats over all of the exhibition games, when it comes to veteran hitters that are raking, all that tells me is that they’ve probably got their timing of the fastball down and they are probably healthy. That’s good to know, but I’m not going to let that influence where I’m going to draft somebody unless it’s someone coming off of an injury.

Hanley Ramirez (.409/.519/.773) is healthy and driving the ball well. His shoulder is fine. Draft him with confidence. Hanley’s ADP was 17 in February but has recently moved up a couple of notches to 15.

ARod’s swing looks great as well (.292/.370/.625). His knee and shoulder issues don’t appear to be of any concern. Yet his ADP has barely moved from 58 a month ago up to 56. Owners are still understandably gun-shy about whether or not the 36-year-old vet can stay healthy over a 162 game season.

With Mike Napoli I need to see him in the lineup everyday. That hasn’t happened to this point. His ankle is still not 100% after having the entire off-season to heal. Napoli’s ADP is holding steady at 39 and indicates owners are being much too dismissive of the risk in drafting this catcher who has to stoop for hours and put pressure on his lower legs most every day. Oh, and he’s also battling a groin problem.

Justin Morneau’s struggles this spring (.107/.167./.107) would be of no concern if he were coming off a healthy season. It often takes 35-50 AB’s to get one’s timing down. Not to mention hitters may be experimenting with their swing, but for someone who hasn’t been an asset at the plate since June of 2010, I need to see more before I invest. Even though he may only cost you a 16th round pick, there’s little to warrant confidence at this point. If you do gamble with Morneau be sure you have a plan B. Consider handcuffing Chris Parmalee (SEP: .355/.443/.592). Obviously a small sample size, but he’s a cheap insurance policy which you can usually get in the 30th round (ADP 517) that might return something in the event that Justin is shut down.

Ike Davis has Valley Fever and ironically his ADP has risen to seven spots up to 148. Perhaps some drafters are confused. This isn’t a good kind of fever. Unlike ‘disco fever’ that had everyone excited during the 70’s, Valley Fever’s severity of symptoms can range anywhere from being similar to a cold virus that saps your energy for a month, or it can be worse than mononucleosis on steroids. Conor Jackson downplayed the virus when he contracted it in 2009. Every time he thought he was getting better the symptoms would resurface. He ended up playing only 30 games (.182/.264/.253) before being shut down for the season. His career has never really gotten back on track. I’d wait until I’d see Davis playing in back to back games and showing some strength at the plate before I’d consider Davis as a gamble at CI.

Andre Ethier looked strong at the plate when I saw him and in just 19 AB’s he has six doubles, a triple, and a home run. His ADP has fallen from 109 to 117, as drafters must be concerned that he missed time due to back stiffness. His power outage last year was due to a knee injury. He had surgery in the fall and his knee is healthy now. So the back malady is a new and unrelated issue. A fantasy drafter should never ignore back problems, but I’m not much concerned about this…yet.

Chase Utley on the other hand would have to do something amazing for him to be back on my radar. He hasn’t appeared in a game yet and there’s still no timetable on his return. Coming off of an injury-plagued season and with skills in decline at age 33, Utley’s ADP has fallen from 77 to 90. That’s not enough. He’s not even a consideration for me in the first 12 rounds.

Adam LaRoche has only 8 AB’s with a double and a single. With an ADP of 338, Adam has considerable upside, but expectations should be kept low until he shows the ability to drive the ball and the ability to make hard throws in the infield without aggravating his shoulder.

Adam Dunn had an emergency appendectomy early last season and I think it may have impacted his power outage more than most people realize. He has looked decent enough at the plate (.294/.478./.706) and might only cost you a 15th round pick (ADP 212). If you miss out on the top tier first basemen and can afford the hit on BA it might be worth rolling the dice here.

Two weeks ago we examined why Ubaldo Jimenez and Hiroki Kuroda were pitchers to avoid this year. Let's look at a few other hurlers who will be moving into new digs this year and how the move will affect their fantasy value.

Trevor Cahill saw his ERA rise from 2.97 to 4.11 and his WHIP from 1.11 to 1.43. That was rough sledding for Cahill owners last year. That's good for you because it creates a buying opportunity in 2012. Cahill is being drafted in the 18th round. He moves from the Coliseum, a pitchers park with lots of foul territory, to Chase Field, which is much friendlier to hitters. On the bright side, less foul territory and facing the pitcher should lead to a few more K's. Trevor already improved his K/9 rate from 5.4 to 6.4 last year. The move to the NL might spike that rate to around 7, in which case Cahill's upside is about 165 to 170 K's. Cahill also suffered from having one of the worst defenses in the AL behind him. The Athletics UZR rating of -22.1 was 25th in the Majors in 2011. That's all behind him now, as the Diamondbacks fielded the best defense (55.8 UZR). That will likely slip a little with the defensively challenged Jason Kubel replacing defensive stalwart Gerardo Parra in left field. Still, Arizona's defense should remain very good. This should help his ERA a smidge, and with his 56% GB rate, the HR damage Chase inflicts should be minimized. The move to the NL could have Trevor sporting a 3.50 ERA along with serviceable win and K totals. He will be a cheap end of rotation pick for you in the later rounds.

Erik Bedard isn't really more injury prone than Darren Dreifort. It just seems that way. If you draft Bedard, you have to assume that he'll probably get injured at some point. When healthy and in the right environment he can be an asset. Bedard pitched effectively for the Mariners in Safeco before the trade to Boston and getting sequestered in Fenway. He should find the sailing smoother moving out of the brutal AL East. Erik posted a 3.62 ERA with an 8.7 K/9 rate. The move to the NL should see those numbers improve to about 3.20 and 9.2 respectively. That makes Bedard a 200K pitcher if he could just stay healthy for a full season. Granted, the odds of that may be about 20%, but I'll take a floor 16+ starts with those rate stats for the cost of a 21st round pick. If you're lucky you'll get more. If you're not so lucky, add 16 starts from Bedard and 18 from serviceable FAAB pickups and you've got a decent return on your investment.

The Rockies acquisition of Guillermo Moscoso looks so bad there must be something we don't know about because on paper this move makes no sense. A 55% fly ball rate, a .221 BABIP that will rise, and a 4.23 FIP in a pitchers park all take residence at Coors Field. Unless someone on the Rockies staff has a magic elixir that will add an effective 2-seamer to his arsenal, this is someone to avoid even as a 30th round pick.

Moneyball failed to bring home any awards from the academy. However with a little bit of luck, moving pitcher C.J. Wilson could bring home an award from the BBWA if everything falls into place. CJ leaves the Ballpark in Arlington for the pitching friendly confines of the Angel Stadium of Anaheim. He also leaves a very good defense (Texas UZR 25.9) for a great defense (Anaheim UZR 42.4). His Home/Road splits are very interesting, posting (3.69/1.23) at home and (2.31/1.15) on the road. With an ADP of 70 in the NFBC, the time to buy low on CJ is now.

Mark Buehrle (ADP 309) moves to Miami and a league that will be kinder to his ERA and a home park that will likely turn a couple of his Home Runs into long fly outs. Buehrle's FIP (3.98) didn't fully support his ERA (3.59), but that's a recurring theme in his career, so there may be something in his profile that resists FIP's pull. However, Buehrle will inherit what projects to be a below average defensive unit. Expect 125 K's and a 3.50-3.75 ERA.

If you're thinking about drafting Aaron Harang outside of NL only leagues this year, we need to talk. Harang's ERA was 3.64 last year. Looking at his home/road splits gives us insight on what to expect from Aaron as he moves away from Petco Park. In 2011 he sported a nifty (3.05/1.21) at home, and a not so nifty (4.70/1.64) on the road. If your strategy is punting ERA, WHIP, and Wins, then Aaron Harang will make an excellent addition to your staff.

On the opposite end of the spectrum Edinson Volquez leaves the launching pad known as Great American Ball Park for pitching Nirvana. He struggled of and on with his command during the course of the season. That's a common ailment for pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery. Edinson displayed flashes of brilliance, often cruising along with great command and dominance for 2-3 innings before suddenly losing his ability to locate his breaking balls, getting behind in the count, and then grooving fastballs in hitter's counts as opposing teams teed off. The results in the box score were so ugly the Reds sent him to Louisville for 13 starts to figure things out. In Triple-A his command improved (83/29 K/BB rate). The ace that struck out 206 batters with a 3.21 ERA back in 2008 is still inside waiting to come out. He needs to learn to trust his stuff more and Petco should facilitate that process. If you want to take a flier on Volquez it will cost you a 21st round draft pick. If he slips past that don't be afraid to take a chance on this arm.

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