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Tuesday 19th Sep 2017

Baseball is a strange game. As much as fantasy owners try to predict player performance, the reality is that strange things happen every year. As much as I like to glance at post-draft, end of season standings projections, the reality is that they mean nothing. So, as we approach the All-Star break, let's take some time to celebrate the strangeness of this game by looking at some stats that do not make any sense. Then again, maybe we shouldn't be surprised.

Melvin Upton Jr. leads his younger brother, Justin, in all five standard rotisserie hitting categories. What year is it again?

Andrew McCutchen ranks 6th on his own team in OPS (.727), trailing Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte but also a trio of fantasy studs in David Freese, John Jaso and Jordy Mercer.

Adrian Gonzalez has fewer home runs through three-plus months (6) than he tallied in April alone last season (8). I hate to say it, because Adrian has been a favorite of mine over the years, but he's clearly past his prime.

Ben Revere, a career .289 hitter, sports a .225 batting average through his first 52 games as a member of the Nationals.

Didi Gregorius has slugged more homers (10) than his slightly more accomplished slugger teammate, Alex Rodriguez (8).

Among NL hurlers, only five pitchers have allowed more hits than Matt Harvey. The only good news for Harvey owners is that he won't be allowing any more hits this season.

2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel has a higher hits allowed rate (9.8 H/9) than Jeff Locke (9.7 H/9).

Through 19 starts this year, Chris Archer has allowed just one fewer home run than he served up all of last season.

Steven Wright's ERA (2.68) is nearly two full runs lower than that of his teammate, David Price. Price is getting paid 30 million bucks this season while Wright is taking home a little over 1/60 of that amount.

In the exact same number of innings (112 1/3), J.A. Happ has whiffed more batters (89) than Masahiro Tanaka (88).

After recording just one career save prior to this season, Jeanmar Gomez ranks 6th in the Majors in saves (24).

While we're on the subject of saves, Trevor Rosenthal, who notched a combined 93 saves from 2014-2015 and was on average the #6 closer off the board in NFBC drafts this spring, isn't saving any games these days after losing his ninth inning gig. He might regain the job at some point this season, but who says investing in the "elite" closers is a risk-free draft day strategy?

Mike Trout, who swiped just 11 bags last season, has more stolen bases (15) than Gregory Polanco (9), who collected 27 steals in 2015.

Adam Duvall has hit more homers (22) and driven in more runs (60) than Chris Davis (21 HR, 56 RBI).

Wilson Ramos, the owner of a career .268 AVG, ranks 2nd in the NL in batting average (.332). And of course, after owning Ramos in Tout Wars in both 2014 and 2015, I finally decided to pass on him this year.

But I mentioned this at the end of last week's column as well. Maybe I need to move on.

Prioritizing hitting over pitching on draft day is the way to go, and I don't think my stance on this will change anytime soon. The early-round hitters are generally more consistent from year to year than the early-round pitchers, and it's often easier to find breakout pitchers on the waiver wire throughout the season than it is to add a highly productive bat. And even among the mid-round and late-round draft picks, it's harder to predict the pleasant surprises on the offensive side. But that doesn't mean it's impossible. Just ask the owners of these players, and while you're at it, congratulate them on a job well done. For each of the five standard rotisserie hitting categories, I've chosen one player who unexpectedly ranks among the league leaders.

Adam Duvall: 22 HR (4th in MLB) - How many fantasy owners even knew who this guy was heading into the season? Duvall is certainly making the most of his first extended stay in the big leagues, and though expecting him to finish the year with 40-plus homers sounds a little crazy (he's destined for a power drought at some point), he doesn't need to do much to surpass 30 home runs. Note that in 125 games at Triple-A last season, Duvall recorded a .264-30-87 line. Pretty good. I wouldn't be in a hurry to trade him at a steep discount in anticipation of the bottom falling out.

Wil Myers: 57 RBI (8th in MLB) - Maybe we really shouldn't be surprised. After all, Myers is a former Rookie of the Year, and he's finally healthy this season. But with 12 homers and 35 RBI since the beginning of June, he's now on pace to close out 2016 with 38 home runs and 115 RBI. Considering his tremendous first half along with his name recognition, I would at least think about dealing him as the return could be substantial.

Ian Desmond: 60 R (Tied for 5th in MLB) - Based on the Desmond signing alone (one-year, $8 million), the Rangers are looking like the winners of this past offseason. I did expect a bounce back season from Desmond, but this? Not quite. In addition to the .323 batting average (career .268 AVG), the 60 runs are especially noteworthy being that he has yet to score more than 77 runs in a season. While a significant batting average regression is likely (.394 BABIP), how about 25 homers, 85 RBI and 90 runs sound from a shortstop-eligible player with a NFBC ADP of 107? And those projections are conservative.

Jonathan Villar: 26 SB (1st in MLB) - OK, the stolen base production isn't really surprising, as we all knew that Villar had speed. The surprising part is that he is still Milwaukee's everyday shortstop. The 25-year-old was supposed to be merely a placeholder until the Brewers called up top prospect Orlando Arcia sometime in June. Well, June is over and Villar is batting .301 with 40 runs and a .383 OBP to go along with the 26 swipes. Arcia is posting fine numbers in Triple-A, but at this point, there's little incentive for the club to make a change. Perhaps a trade is in Villar's near future.

Wilson Ramos: .340 AVG (4th in MLB) - You're kidding, right? The year that I finally decide to move on from drafting Ramos in multiple leagues is the year that he decides to stay healthy and register a batting average more than 70 points above his career mark. His .350 BABIP strongly suggests that a correction is in store. But Ramos is rewarding his owners with more than just a high batting average, as he leads all catchers in RBI (44) and is tied for 2nd in home runs (12). If you're fortunate enough to be a Ramos owner, stick with him.

I wish I did.

Spending big on starting pitching is risky, which is why I still refuse to do it, even in this new era of the pitcher. After all, pitchers tend to carry a higher degree of injury risk than hitters, and the year-to-year performance level of pitchers tends to be less predictable, even for the top-tier hurlers. In an auction, I usually draft one $20 arm, but the majority of my rotation consists of single-digit dollar players. Hopefully, my $20 guy earns his price, but overall, when drafting starting pitching, I like to limit the potential for disappointment.

Although the field of underachievers these days isn't quite as large as in years past, it always includes a handful of marquee names, and this year is no different. Thankfully, I do not own any of the following 20-plus dollar starting pitchers in Mixed Auction Tout Wars, though with three and a half months remaining in the season, there's still plenty of time for them to turn things around.

Matt Harvey ($29) - Maybe all of those innings last season have caught up with him. Or maybe Harvey's 2016 struggles have nothing to do with workload. The bottom line is that the Mets' Opening Day starter has managed to record just six quality starts in 14 tries and sports career-worst numbers in ERA, WHIP, hit rate and strikeout rate. Being that three of his six quality starts have come in his last four outings, there's reason to think that better days are ahead. But finishing the season as anything close to a $29 pitcher will be a tall order.

Corey Kluber ($26) - The 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, Kluber posted a solid but not elite stat line last year. Despite this, he was still drafted as a fantasy ace this season, with many owners believing that a return to his 2014 form was within reach. Well, the Indians righty has pitched to a mediocre 4.23 ERA through 14 starts. But his 1.07 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 rate, 4.7 K/BB ratio and 2.94 FIP all suggest that Kluber is actually a wise trade target if he can be acquired at even a minimal discount.

Gerrit Cole ($22) - Perhaps it is unfair to include Cole on this list, as he's currently on the DL with a triceps injury. However, a glance at his 2016 stat line reveals that aside from the 2.77 ERA, the Pirates righty was falling well short of expectations, with a career-high WHIP and hit rate and career-low strikeout rate. The 25-year-old surely has a bright future, and he's already one of the top pitchers in the game. But with no clear return timetable, there's reason for his fantasy owners to be concerned. If I could trade him for 70 cents on the dollar, I might do it.   

Dallas Keuchel ($21) - Coming off a Cy Young season in 2015, Keuchel has yet to find his groove this year, and at this point, it's beginning to look like he may never find it. The Astros southpaw is 3-9 with a 5.54 ERA and 1.44 WHIP through 14 starts, and he has notched back-to-back quality starts just once. Hey, at least the strikeout rate (8.3 K/9) is strong. Keuchel owners can go ahead and see what they can get for him on the trade market, though I doubt the return will be overly exciting. Sitting tight and hoping for a turnaround could prove to be the better move.

Chris Archer ($20) - Speaking of sitting tight and hoping for a turnaround, this is the route I chose to take with Archer in the one league where I own him, a keeper league in which his cost was merely a ninth round pick. Unfortunately, this patient approach really isn't working out. The Rays righty is walking too many batters, allowing too many hits and serving up too many homers. His lofty strikeout rate (10.8 K/9) is the primary reason why he remains an every-week starter in most mixed leagues. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I still believe that Archer will bounce back.

But even if he doesn't bounce back, at least I didn't spend big on him.

In last week's column, I discussed some of the underachieving starting pitchers who were purchased for a hefty sum, 20 bucks or more, at the Mixed Auction Tout Wars draft table. Let's switch over to the hitting side this week, and while I maintain my stance that investing heavily in hitters rather than pitchers is the safer route, this doesn't mean that all of the expensive hitters are sure things. On that note, here are my picks for the five most disappointing 20-plus dollar hitters relative to draft cost. Fortunately, none of these guys reside on my Tout Wars roster, though I was involved in the bidding for a few of them. Sometimes, you just need a little bit of luck.

Giancarlo Stanton ($39) - There's nothing wrong with 14 homers through 63 games. But when those 14 homers are tied to a .213 batting average (.313 OBP), a mere 34 RBI and a $39 price tag, there's something wrong. Plus, Stanton is whiffing at a career-high rate and only two of his 14 home runs have come in the month of June. The good news is that he has managed to stay healthy, and the streaky slugger is the type of hitter who can carry your offense when he's hot. I'm not too concerned. The Marlins outfielder actually makes for a fine trade target if he can be acquired at a discount.

Andrew McCutchen ($38) - Aside from a declining stolen base total, McCutchen has been one of the game's most consistent across-the-board fantasy producers for quite some time now, and he carries added value in OBP leagues like Tout (career .383 OBP). Coming off four straight seasons of at least 21 homers, 83 RBI. 89 runs scored and a .400 OBP, McCutchen seemed like a fair buy at $38, and I was in on the bidding until the end. As it turns out, the Pirates centerfielder sports an uninspiring .317 OBP through 70 games along with a career-high strikeout rate and career-low walk rate. The optimist can point out that he's still on pace to finish the season with 22 homers and 85 runs scored. But after showing some positive signs in May, his bat has again gone cold this month (.259 OBP, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 5 R). There's still time for the 29-year-old to get his season back on track, but I wouldn't blame McCutchen owners, especially those in non-OBP leagues, if they choose to swap him for a respectable return.

Carlos Gomez ($26) - Gomez did spend the second half of May on the DL, so his numbers are slightly deflated by the missed time. Still, there's really nothing positive to say about his 2016 season, though eight steals in 53 games is decent. Maybe his .292 AVG (.361 OBP), three homers and three swipes in June is a sign that Gomez has finally figured things out. Or maybe not. I wouldn't go out of my way to trade for him at this point. On the other hand, I wouldn't go out of my way to deal him for pennies on the dollar.

Prince Fielder ($24) - After being sidelined for most of the 2014 season, Fielder bounced back nicely last year, delivering a .305-23-98 stat line. This season has been a different story. Not only is Fielder on pace for only 13 home runs, but his OBP through 70 games sits at .272, this compared to his career .382 mark. Track record aside, considering that he has yet to piece together any sort of hot streak, I'd look elsewhere for buy-low opportunities.

Yasiel Puig ($21) - Heading into this season, there was a great deal of hype surrounding Puig, with many fantasy pundits deeming him this year's ideal discounted player, the kind of player that wins championships. I wasn't quite buying it. In his only full season, back in 2014, the Cuban import posted a .296-16-69-92-11 line. Pretty good, but injuries and inconsistency have plagued him for most of his big league career, and is 21 bucks truly a discount? This year, he's on pace to finish with .249-13-45-52-9 totals in a season that has yet again included a DL stint. Perhaps an MVP season lies in the 25-year-old's future, but as long as the market continues to overvalue him, I'll continue to bet against it.

I had high hopes for Yasmani Grandal this year, so when I purchased him for the fair (or so I thought) price of $12 at the Tout Wars Mixed Auction, I was pleased. Despite battling various injuries throughout his young career, Grandal was coming off back-to-back 15-plus home run seasons, and his consistently high walk rates gave him added value in Tout, which uses OBP instead of AVG. I figured that a career year was in store for Grandal, who was entering his age-27 season. Well, I figured wrong. We're at the season's one-third mark and Grandal has managed just four home runs, 15 RBI, eight runs scored, and perhaps more importantly, a mediocre .296 OBP. Sure, there's still plenty of time for him to turn things around, but I'm losing patience with this guy. I might even be willing to deal him for a backstop with a lower ceiling just to get him off my roster. But whenever I begin to regret the Grandal pick, I keep reminding myself that 2016 has been a disappointing year for catchers in general, with far more fantasy disappointments (Russell Martin, Derek Norris, Yan Gomes, Stephen Vogt) than solid fantasy producers. In other words, most of my league mates are dealing with the same frustration. Which players are the exceptions? It wasn't easy to come up with five catchers who have at least earned their draft day price tag, let alone reward their owners with a profit, but let's meet the members of this distinguished group.

Jonathan Lucroy ($17) - Health was the biggest question mark surrounding Lucroy heading into this season, as he was coming off a 2015 campaign in which he was limited to 103 games due to injury. But health has not been an issue at all so far, and the Brewers catcher is delivering elite-level numbers, batting .304 with nine homers, 28 RBI, 28 runs scored and a .364 OBP through 51 games. Lucroy is earning every bit of his $17 price, which did not reflect any health risk discount.

Welington Castillo ($8) - Castillo's 17 home runs in 80 games following his trade to the Diamondbacks last season raised the possibility that a 25-homer campaign could be in store for 2016. I wasn't buying it considering his career track record, and at this point, it's looking like 20 home runs is a more realistic goal. After leaving the yard six times in April, he's recorded just one home run since. But barring a massive power outage, the 29-year-old should deliver at least eight bucks in value.

Francisco Cervelli ($6) - Power has never been a part of Cervelli's game, and he has yet to homer through 46 games this season. But with 21 RBI, 19 runs scored and a .366 OBP, the Pirates backstop is quietly establishing himself as a quality top-15 fantasy catcher. In a 15-team mixed league, this means that Cervelli is a viable #1 catcher, and a viable #1 catcher for six bucks sounds pretty good to me.

J.T. Realmuto ($5) - Realmuto has followed up a promising rookie season with a steady sophomore campaign, highlighted by a .294 batting average through 50 games. The two homers are a bit disappointing but Realmuto is one of the few catchers who actually steals bases, and he's on pace for nine swipes this season. At 25 years of age, he still has plenty of time to improve across the board. Don't be surprised if his $5 price looks like a bargain come September.

Wilson Ramos ($3) - After drafting Ramos two years in a row in Tout only to be let down, I decided that enough was enough, so when the bidding stalled at three bucks, I resisted the urge to jump in. Of course, the year I finally cut ties with the Nationals catcher is the year that he finally breaks out. Entering Saturday, Ramos is hitting .342 with seven home runs and 29 RBI. Then again, Ramos' .357 BABIP suggests that his current batting average is bound to drop considerably. And his lofty RBI total has been aided by an unsustainable .400 batting average (18-for-45) with runners in scoring position.

But as much as I try to dismiss Ramos' red-hot start to 2016, I must admit that I messed up by not sticking with him for another year.

Any takers for Yasmani Grandal?


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