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Monday 27th Mar 2017

Just as Major League Baseball teams have been taking stock of their position in the standings and assessing their championship potential leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline and beyond, so should you with your fantasy teams.

I am doing that in my two non-mixed leagues where I am in contention – National League Tout Wars and NL LABR. However, while at first blush, the situations may appear similar, in reality, they are very different.

One thing is the same – the leader in both leagues is Derek Carty of ESPN. Despite owning the injured Clayton Kershaw in both settings, Carty has maintained his scoring edge.

In Tout, I am in fourth place, but 20 points out of first. My club leads in just one of the 10 categories, a slim edge in on-base percentage. At the other end of the spectrum, due to a flawed draft strategy and some bad luck rather than a decision to punt the category, I will finish either last or second-to-last in saves. Essentially, that means I have just eight categories in which to make up 20 points, while passing three other teams. The feat is not impossible, but the hill is steep.

In LABR, my position is more admirable. My squad, drafted three weeks earlier in March than Tout and while I was battling the flu, led the league for the first two months before sliding into second. Still, it remains my best shot for overtaking first. Team Mastersball is just nine points away from a share of the lead.

Equally important is the fact that my roster has a nice lead in both home runs and RBI. That provides an opportunity to deal from my strength to improve my weaknesses. A simple analysis of the standings shows 10 points of low-hanging fruit, ready to be plucked.

With just a bit of help, my squad can easily pick up one point in runs and two in steals. The pitching side is where the leverage resides, with two points each in ERA, WHIP and saves plus one point in strikeouts close at hand.

So, how could I pull that off?

I began by sizing up my competitors with the ideal partner being a team willing to trade steals, a closer and an ace starter. Realistically, I was going to have to make multiple deals.

I am very much against the broadcast e-mail approach of trading. Yes, it saves time. However, not only is it lazy, but it tips off the competition to your plans. I am not just being paranoid here. Like I said above, Carty may be looking for a top starter as well, having lost the best there is in Kershaw.

Fortunately, one of my peers doesn’t mind sending general trade solicitations. In my e-mail one morning was a note from Doug Dennis of BaseballHQ, offering to deal NL steals leader Jonathan Villar and Seung-hwan Oh and wanting power. Though Dennis was in third place, his squad was a full 10 points behind me. Last in saves with no realistic chance of picking up points in the category, Dennis had little use for St. Louis’ tentative new closer. He also had a 20-steal lead over his next-closest rival, which is why Villar was available.

As a result, our teams appeared to match up very well as prospective trade partners.

With a balanced roster position-wise, I decided to offer Dennis a shortstop-for-shortstop swap, putting up Oh’s teammate Aledmys Diaz. The rookie All-Star had 13 home runs and 60 RBI at that point. Dennis countered, wanting Pirates outfielder Matt Joyce along with Diaz for Villar and Oh.

I had two worries. First, would the Cardinals acquire a new closer via trade and/or could the unproven Oh fail? The second concern was an oddity caused by LABR rules. Joyce had special value only to my roster. As one of my six reserves taken on draft day, Joyce carried the privilege of being able to be moved back and forth between the active roster and the reserves at will. Other players cannot be demoted – they must be released.

After not being able to substitute another player to suit Dennis, I decided to walk away from the deal, telling him to see what else he could find.

In parallel, I set out to locate an ace. The fifth-place team, 25 points behind me, is pitching-heavy, but needs power. Derek Van Riper of Rotowire had four good starters, with Jose Fernandez my preference and Adam Wainwright the fallback.

My initial probe was met with encouragement, but with DVR in the process of moving his residence, I was going to have to do the heavy lifting in our trade talks. He seemed most interested in Cardinals infielder/outfielder Brandon Moss, but I was having trouble coming up with a package to pry Fernandez loose. Another player he wanted was Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera, but I was reluctant to deal away steals.

When I saw I could get a Wainwright for Herrera trade done with Van Riper, I went back to Dennis and pulled the trigger on the four-player deal outlined above. With the addition of Villar, I felt I could give up Herrera.

In the pair of deals, I picked up the ace and closer from a contending team plus the league’s best basestealer, giving up a power-hitting shortstop and two outfielders – a good steals source and a reserve. I received Wainwright + Oh + Villar for Diaz + Herrera + Joyce.

I felt great. It took a lot of work, but I feel like I have set my team up for a strong push over the final two months.

As a postscript, I dodged a bullet when Diaz suffered a fractured thumb when hit by a pitch last Sunday. Dennis lost his new shortstop a day before he could even be activated on his new NL LABR team. I felt badly for Doug, but considered it may be the break I need to go all the way. We shall see.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

This title will not be understood by any reader under 35, but that is ok, as this isn’t about Wrigley’s gum, or even the Cubs, for that matter. It is about two baseball games played in one day.

Sometimes, the good can come from the bad. Monday afternoon in New York brought heavy rain and thunderstorms, which ultimately postponed the St. Louis Cardinals at Mets game scheduled for that evening.

To their credit, the New Yorkers made a quick decision to bag the game – instead of letting it drag on for hours as some clubs have been known to do. It was a pleasant surprise.

That meant a better night’s sleep for everyone on Monday into Tuesday, especially welcome to a Cardinals team that had travel difficulties after a poorly-scheduled Sunday night ESPN game, not reaching their hotel until after sunrise.

The Mets’ decision to schedule a twin bill the next day was an absolute delight for many reasons. Not only had the bad weather passed, but the club made a call that was not financially-driven, essentially giving up the ticket revenue from a home date.

The Tuesday doubleheader would be a single-admission event – one ticket good for 18 innings of Major League Baseball with a late afternoon start. Those who held Monday tickets would receive a refund, so there were nothing but winners. Even better, there was just 35 minutes between the two contests.

Interestingly, it was the second twin bill for the Cardinals in just one week – coincidentally timed with each of Carlos Martinez’ last two outings. St. Louis handled its home doubleheader differently, adding a split day game with the tickets from the rained out Tuesday contest reused last Wednesday afternoon. As you might imagine, the stands were mostly empty for the newly-added 1 PM matinee contest.

To their credit, the Cardinals allowed all fans, regardless of where their assigned seats were located, to move down to the prime lower-deck seating behind home plate. Further, the club gave two future ticket vouchers to each fan with a ticket to the rained out game. Again, nothing but winners.

I basked in the Tuesday event, with the Citi Field pressbox windows wide open, offering the sights and sounds of being in the stands, backed by air conditioning, welcome in the 90-plus degree heat.

During the contest, as usual, I was monitoring Twitter, as that seems the best way to keep on top of any breaking news these days. I could not help but notice the many tweets from industry peers sharing results of their fantasy football mock drafts and debating player values.

To be honest, I did my very best to completely ignore it.

Some years ago now, our Lord Zola recruited me to join an existing football keeper league whose members are industry writers and analysts. As part of my introduction, Todd characterized me as “a baseball guy.” At the time that bothered me, as I preferred to be known as a baseball and football guy.

Now, I can admit that Todd was right. I was enjoying this unexpected doubleheader immensely, and could not care anything about all of that football talk. Perhaps when exhibition games get going, I will start paying attention.

As the day turned into evening, I left my laptop with all that football talk and my impending article deadlines within it behind and ventured out to sit in the little tiered balcony section in front of the pressbox. Since being at the Arizona Fall League last fall, it was the first time I sat in the stands in 2016 as if I was a fan.

It was great! I am so thankful that I am at a point in my life that I can watch baseball games any time I choose.

Though I admit I took my phone with me so I could monitor my e-mails, as I was working on a pair of trades at the time in National League LABR and was anxious to get them done. (Hopefully, I will have more on that next week.)

In the games, there were oddities, fitting for the rare occasion of the doubleheader. First of all, who would have thought the Cardinals could have chased Noah Syndergaard in the opener, yet be flummoxed by 43-year-old Bartolo Colon in the nightcap?

As they say, that is why they play the games.

Despite Colon’s mastery, one player had his way with both Mets starters. Infielder Jedd Gyorko homered in each of the two games. In doing so, he became the first St. Louis hitter to go deep in both ends of a doubleheader twice in one season – since Hall of Famer Stan Musial in 1949.

The other twin bill in which Gyorko starred? It was against his former San Diego teammates in St. Louis the very week before. Such wonderful symmetry!

The Mets media notes were chock full of interesting factoids about doubleheaders. The common thread was that most every record in such games was set a very long time ago. In a way, that is deceiving, since regularly-scheduled twin bills are a thing of the past. Ownership doesn’t like them for the gate revenue lost and pampered players don’t like them, either.

As one Cardinals regular told me before the doubleheader, “18 innings of baseball is no joke.” Even with having very little sleep the night before, this player would have preferred to play Monday night instead of two contests on Tuesday. But thankfully, it wasn’t his choice and he ended up in the lineup for only one of the two games, anyway.

As already noted, today’s schedules include no twin bills. For fun, I went back and looked at St. Louis’ 1949 game log. The odds were heavily weighted in Musial’s direction. The great one had 13 chances to hit his pair of doubleheader home runs that season, while Gyorko, who will never be confused for Musial, has gone a much more impressive 2-for-2 in his twin bill appearances so far here in 2016.

And in further recognition of his long ball prowess, Gyorko has an impressive 14 of them in just 194 at-bats to date in his first season with St. Louis.

If I was making up the schedule, which we all know will never, ever happen, Gyorko would get 13 chances to hit home runs in each game of a doubleheader every year – just like “The Man”.

Long live the twin bill!

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

"Diversity your portfolio" is one of the most basic elements of investment advice, whether in the financial markets or even in fantasy baseball.
In our game, there are many ways to diversify. Ensuring one drafts a balanced roster that provides a chance to lead in all 10 scoring categories (assuming 5x5 scoring) is important.

Making sure that we do not acquire too many injury risks, while balancing the ones we do take with steady, dependable performers, is another wise approach.

There are also risks in drafting too many players from a given Major League team. Not every example is as obvious as Colorado Rockies pitchers, however. Still, the basic thought of getting more players on good teams is preferable to a roster full of players on bad real-world teams.

I strayed from that approach in National League LABR this spring in a big way. I left the draft with a whopping five hitters from the worst team in baseball in 2015, the 99-loss Philadelphia Phillies – catcher Cameron Rupp ($5), first baseman Ryan Howard ($9), shortstop Freddy Galvis ($1) and outfielders Odubel Herrera ($18) and Aaron Altherr ($11) - for a total of $44 of my $260.

It was not my plan, though Herrera was a target if the price was in my range as I liked his combination of power and speed. Sure enough, he leads my roster at the break with 12 steals. The upside of Altherr made him a comfortable buy, but he suffered a serious wrist injury in spring training and is just now starting a rehab stint that could last up to 30 days. Getting two good months from Altherr as a late-season boost would be something, the promise of which being why I did not cash him in for FAAB reimbursement.

A dollar in the end game for Galvis did not bother me at all – if I had been successful at rostering his heir-apparent, J.P. Crawford. Unfortunately, I did not execute the latter part in the draft. While Galvis has been holding on – or should I say that Crawford hasn’t pushed him aside yet? – his 36 RBI does not remove the stench of his .234 average.

Not willing to pay inflated prices for catching led me to have to settle for Rupp as one of my backstops. Though there was spring speculation that his time as a starter would be short-lived, Rupp has hit for average (.287) and is showing decent pop, as well (nine home runs).

Unwilling to pay inflated prices for a first baseman, either, meant I took a well-known liability in Howard, as I feared my remaining roster was short of power. By June, Howard had lost his job to rookie Tommy Joseph and in hindsight, I should not have waited that long to throw him over the side. As bad as Galvis’ average is, it is 80 points higher than the deposed first sacker’s.

Speaking of first base, I filled my other corner positions with two players I had hoped to acquire coming in. The difference is that they play for a team that won 100 games last season – the St. Louis Cardinals.

Matt Carpenter ($25) experienced a breakout 2014 and while his average and OBP were flat from year to year, his slugging improved dramatically last season. I felt there was room for more in 2016 and Carpenter did not disappoint in the first half, with an OPS just under 1.000.

His teammate, Brandon Moss ($10), came to St. Louis from Cleveland at the trade deadline in 2015, but with his back not right, he fell flat. I may be right in my feeling that with the off-season to prepare, Moss would bounce back with 25 home runs. Moss will never win a batting title, but the first baseman-outfielder entered the break with 17 long balls already.

Last week, I was bitten hard by the injury bug, as both Cardinals infielders were placed on the disabled list within a three-day span.

Carpenter may miss a month or more with an oblique while Moss’ ankle injury could allow him back sooner – or not.

Though my corner infield is decimated with Carpenter and Moss out, I still don’t regret acquiring them, unlike Howard. While they were injured literally back-to-back, the fact they play for the same team is nothing more than coincidence.

Even with this rag-tag group of hitters, my offense is tied for tops in the league, with 51 points. While there are other contributors, the two Cardinals are a main reason why. Though not as strong, I really cannot complain about the Phillies - other than my mistake with Howard.

Bottom line, based on what I know now, I would not be any less motivated to get the players I want in future drafts no matter what team’s uniform they wear. In other words, I do not plan to let team diversification concerns get in my way, and you should not, either.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

I don’t care what anyone says about the inherent benefits of being the underdog, the ignored or chronically overlooked. I don’t care if it is July 21 or October 1; I want to be in first place.

There is one key reason why I am not there in either of my National League-only industry leagues – LABR and Tout Wars. Derek Carty of ESPN leads in both competitions, each consisting of 12 teams and 5x5 scoring.

In NL LABR, with 98 points, Carty holds a seven-point lead over my second-place roster. In Tout, Carty’s squad has amassed 94 points, again with a seven-point edge over the next-closest squad, managed by Mastersball’s own Lord Zola. I reside in a tie for third, 10 more points down in the scoring.

I am a big believer in looking at the past to learn for the future, whether it be in free agent bidding, trades, waivers and the like. Look for patterns, good moves, and mistakes alike. Consider not only my behavior, but that of my peers, some of the better players around.
Of course, that includes draft day.

To that end, let’s look at Carty’s teams and see what we can glean about his success.

Balance: In Tout, Derek leads in two hitting categories and is second in another. On the pitching side, he is in first place in two categories and is second in two others. Only in on-base percentage (three points) and saves (1.5 points) is Carty not either leading or very close to being on top. He has amassed 47 offensive points and 47 pitching points.

The LABR standings indicate almost as balanced of a performance by Carty’s squad, with 47 hitting and 51 pitching points. Though he has the most points in no offensive categories, he is second in one and third in two others with his “worst” standing still worth eight points. His pitchers are dominant, with the maximum 12 points in four categories. Again, Carty lags the pack in saves only.

Health: Though Carty has eight players on the DL in Tout, one less than my nine, only three are significant contributors – hitters Joe Panik and Dexter Fowler, plus some pitcher from the Dodgers named Kershaw. Obviously, the longer the three-time Cy Young Award winner is out, the less dominant Carty’s staff will be.

In LABR, Derek’s DL is tiny. Of the two injured players, only Kershaw’s absence is painful.

Pitching: With the LABR draft held first, in early March, the Dodgers ace cost Carty just $38. Three weeks later at Tout, the price was $3 higher.

Yet, Carty’s success is driven by more than just the best pitcher in the game. There are other common success threads across Carty’s two first-place squads, both of which include the same four hurlers among the nine total. Dodgers pitching is one commonality, as Derek owns two other L.A. starters in Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda. His fourth common pitcher across the two rosters is Junior Guerra of Milwaukee.

While the capabilities of Kershaw and Kazmir were well understood coming into the season, it is clear that Carty was willing to take risk – going all in on rookies Maeda and Guerra. All except Guerra were draft-day additions.

Hitting: Most of the commonality in offense across the two teams is in the outfield, where Nick Markakis, Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall are on both squads, along with corner infielder Mark Reynolds.

Note that two of the flychasers are members of the Cincinnati Reds, showing us that good fantasy players can be sourced from bad real life teams. Duvall, acquired at just $7 (LABR) and $3 (Tout), was a huge acquisition, leading both of Carty’s teams in home runs and RBI.

Hamilton, who coming into the season looked to many of us as a potential one-category contributor, was Carty’s most expensive hitter owned on both squads at $20 (LABR) and $22 (Tout). But Hamilton was not the highest-priced hitter on either team. In fact, in LABR, he is fourth in price, behind Charlie Blackmon, Freddie Freeman and Maikel Franco. Hamilton’s 27 steals are on target compared to expectations coming in.

The final two common hitters on Carty’s league-leading NL squads are veteran hitters overlooked by many of us here in 2016 in Reynolds and Markakis. With regular at-bats, the two have combined for 14 home runs, 87 RBI and have an on-base percentage of .340. All that for $17 in Tout and $18 in LABR.

My conclusion is simply that Carty did a fine job drafting core players who delivered value beyond their draft day price. As a result, even losing the best pitcher in the game in Kershaw hasn’t eroded his chances significantly.

Link to NL Tout Wars

Link to NL LABR

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

An all-too prevalent action this time of year is for fans to cry foul over their favorite team’s players not being selected to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. The only variation is whether the target of their venom is the stupid fans or the idiotic managers, who obviously do not know what they are doing.

A variation on the theme is employed by many a baseball writer – documenting all of the all-star “snubs” based on whatever criteria is chosen, whether realistic, objective or not.

Another dose of that tired whining is not what you are going to get here, however.

Instead, I am going to defend the system that is in place. No, it is not perfect, but it has three separate ways to ensure representative teams are chosen and I think it works ok.

Perhaps the most controversial is the highest profile segment, the fan vote. In it, MLB generates hundreds of millions of clicks on its website despite “limiting” fans to casting a measly quantity of 25 ballots per day during a voting period that begins in April and runs for over two months.

There is a lot of attention generated when a single team’s fans stuff the ballot boxes and skew the vote toward their team’s players as all-star starters, such as occurred with the Royals last year and the Cubs here in 2016. Yet in reality, the fans have a say in just nine of the 34 National League All-Stars and 10 of the 34 representing the American League.

In the Senior Circuit, the internet vote selects the eight starting position players plus the 34th and final player on the roster. The latter is chosen via another internet vote called the “Final Vote” from among five also-rans.

The AL has an additional fan-voted starter due to the designated hitter, and concludes with the same “Final Vote” process as the NL.

At least two-thirds of the rosters remain to be chosen. Based on scores of uninformed Twitter “hot takes” after the teams were announced Tuesday night as well as outraged comments on the Cardinals-themed message board I manage, it is very clear that most fans do not understand the selection process.

The ones who seem to realize that the fans do not select the entire rosters think the World Series managers from the year before are the ones who fill out the remainder of the 34-man teams.

What they are missing is how roughly half the all-stars are chosen each year.

A ballot is distributed to all Major League players, coaches and managers. The top vote-getter at each of the eight positions (nine in the AL) not already voted in as a starter is added to the all-star rosters as the primary position player reserves.

In addition, the top five starting pitchers and three relievers from this “player ballot” make up the core of each all-star pitching staff.

Yet it is the all-star managers who take most of the heat for creating the annual “snubs,” by not righting every perceived wrong across all 30 teams.

The reality is that the skippers have very little flexibility.

Specifically, nine roster spots remain for the NL manager to fill and just seven for the AL skipper. However, their hands are tied to a great extent, since MLB rules dictate that it is up to them to ensure all 15 teams in their league have at least one representative.

This year, there is one injured selection so far in each circuit, giving the managers an extra pick.

Let’s start with the NL skipper, Terry Collins. This year, the leader of the Mets had 10 choices to make, as one of the player-selected pitchers, Clayton Kershaw, is injured.

Even so, six of Collins’ 10 choices were dictated by the fact that the Phillies, Brewers, Cardinals, Padres, Braves and Pirates were not represented by any of the starters or player-selected reserves.

In the AL, Ned Yost had an eighth selection as his pitcher, Wade Davis, is on the shelf.

However, three of Yost’s eight spots also had to be earmarked to ensure the A’s, Rays and Twins have one all-star player each.

In other words, when it came right down to it, one manager had a free reign to choose only four all-stars of the 34 to be on his roster, while the other had five picks under his full control.

That is it.

Collins’ “free” picks are all pitchers and very good ones, indeed – Jose Fernandez, Jon Lester, Stephen Strasburg and A.J. Ramos. Note that not one of them is a member of the New York Mets.

Yost’s five are also exclusively made up of hurlers: Dellin Betances, Brad Brach, Will Harris, Craig Kimbrel and Kelvin Herrera. While the latter hails from Yost’s Kansas City club, it is fair to remember that the man he is replacing in player choice Wade Davis is a teammate.

Of course, there will be alterations to the rosters ahead, such as when injuries occur, as well as when starters pitching the Sunday before the All-Star Game bow out. But the fact remains that there seems a decent checks and balances system in place among the fans, the players/coaches/managers, and the league champion managers.

I am pretty sure that none of the critics have a more workable idea – at least I haven’t yet seen one.

Link to full All-Star rosters

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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