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Saturday 24th Feb 2018

The baseball season is long. The baseball season is so long that by September, I can no longer remember most of the preseason consensus fantasy rankings. You might say that rankings from six months ago no longer matter at all, and you might be right. But, every September, I do spend a bit of time reviewing preseason rankings, mainly NFBC ADP data. Why? Maybe I just need to remind myself how much can change in one season.

On that note, let's travel around the diamond and look at some NFBC ADP numbers that are strange indeed. 

Jonathan Lucroy C Ranking: 3

Mike Zunino C Ranking: 18

It was only a year ago that Lucroy posted a .292-24-81 line over 142 games in a season split between the Brewers and the Rangers. But, in a 2017 campaign split between the Rangers and the Rockies, the veteran backstop has produced a mediocre .251 batting average with five homers and 35 RBI through 105 games. This is surprising to say the least, as Lucroy has been one of the more consistent offensive performers at the catcher position for awhile now, so I'd be willing to take a chance on him next year at a discounted price. An impending free agent, Lucroy could be amenable to signing a one-year deal in hopes of rebuilding his market value, so he could have extra motivation to bounce back. Meanwhile, Zunino, a former top prospect, is enjoying his finest season to date, though his high strikeout rate limits his ability to hit for a decent average.

Miguel Cabrera 1B Ranking: 3

Ryan Zimmerman 1B Ranking: 39

Well, it all finally came crashing down for Cabrera this year, as the former MVP is on pace to finish the season with career-lows across the board, and he has now become a health risk. Don't get caught up in name value. He's someone to avoid in drafts next spring. Zimmerman could be on the verge of setting new single-season highs in home runs and RBI, which means that fantasy owners will probably need to spend a top-60 pick to secure his services for 2018. No thanks. 

Jonathan Villar 2B Ranking: 4

Jonathan Schoop 2B Ranking: 20

I never quite understood why Villar was being valued so highly based on one great season. I get that steals are scarce these days, but even top-40 seemed like a stretch. The funny thing is that I actually own Villar in two leagues. One of those leagues is a keeper league where I was able to keep him for a 15th round pick while the other is Mixed Auction Tout Wars, where I traded for him at a steep discount. Let's just say that he won't be residing on any of my rosters next season. As for Schoop, the Orioles second sacker entered this season with plenty of critics who questioned whether he could ever improve his plate discipline. How does a .350 OBP sound? And then there's the 31 homers and 102 RBI through 139 games. Still just 25 years of age, Schoop has officially arrived as a fantasy force.

Tim Anderson SS Ranking: 16

Elvis Andrus SS Ranking: 17

This comparison carries special meaning for me, as I began my Tout Wars season with Anderson as my starting shortstop only to lose patience with him by early-June and trade for Andrus to serve as his replacement. The swap did come at the expense of Nomar Mazara, but good thing I made that move, as Anderson never quite got his act together while Andrus has already clinched his first 20/20 season.

Todd Frazier 3B Ranking: 9

Jake Lamb 3B Ranking: 20

Frazier, who is coming off a 40-HR campaign, will need to go on a monumental power tear (seven homers in a little over three weeks) to reach the 30-HR plateau this season, and his batting average has declined steadily over the past few years. Maybe he can rebound in 2018, but I'll be looking elsewhere to address power. Lamb has followed up an impressive breakout season in 2016 with an even more impressive 2017 campaign, though his .215 average since the All-Star break is somewhat troubling. Consider him a quality mid-round selection next year, but I'd be hesitant to pay list price for him, which means that I probably won't be a Lamb owner in 2018.

Gregory Polanco OF Ranking: 16

Brett Gardner OF Ranking: 78

So many outfielders to choose from but this seemed like a good comp, as Polanco and Gardner possess similar skill sets. I was very high on Polanco this year, so his 2017 struggles are truly baffling. I'd give him another chance as next year will only be his age-26 season. Over in the Bronx, Gardner has reemerged as a legitimate power/speed threat, and he's always been a reliable source of runs, thanks in large part to his ability to get on base at a high rate. He was largely overlooked in drafts this year, which probably won't be the case next year. Gardner is already 34, so I'm not sure how many more stellar seasons he has left in the tank, but it will be interesting to see how the fantasy market values him compared to Polanco entering 2018. I might go the Polanco route, especially if the Polanco route turns out to be the cheaper route.

Polanco cheaper than Gardner? Yup, a lot can change in one season.

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB  

This past Thursday at midnight ET marked the end of the Tout Wars trading season. For me, the trade deadline was more significant this year than in prior seasons, as I've been one of the more active owners on the trade front, completing a total of seven swaps. Some turned out well, others not so much. But, on the whole, my willingness to shake things up from time to time has had a positive effect on my squad. Anyway, now that trading is a thing of the past, the only way to make changes to our rosters over the final month of the season is via the free agent pool. And once September rolls around, the free agent pool is unappealing to say the least.

The free agent reserve wasn't always this unappealing. In fact, a competitive fantasy team could be assembled just from the best FAAB purchases in the Tout Wars Mixed Auction league. Let's take a look. Note that the date of the acquisition is in parenthesis. If a player was bought multiple times during the season, the most recent date is listed.

C Mike Zunino (6/5)

C Alex Avila (8/14)

1B Justin Smoak (5/1)

2B  Marwin Gonzalez (4/17)

SS  Paul DeJong (7/14)

3B  Scooter Gennett (6/12)

CI  Logan Morrison (5/8)

MI  Ian Happ (5/15)

OF  Tommy Pham (6/5)

OF  Whit Merrifield (5/1)

OF  Bradley Zimmer (5/22)

OF  Delino DeShields (5/1)

OF  Randal Grichuk (6/26)

UT  Yonder Alonso (4/10)

SP  Jimmy Nelson (5/8)

SP  Zack Godley (5/15)

SP  Jason Vargas (4/10)

SP  Chase Anderson (6/5)

SP  Luis Castillo (6/26)

SP  Brad Peacock (5/22)

RP  Addison Reed (5/8)

RP  Brad Hand (5/8)

RP  Felipe Rivero (5/22)

Not bad, right? While emptying your FAAB budget in April probably isn't a great idea, this goes to show how important it is to be active early in the season, before the pickings get slim. A closer inspection of this FAAB All-Star team reveals that 21 of the 23 members were purchased before the end of June. Staff ace Jimmy Nelson along with the leader of the offense, Justin Smoak, were both purchased before mid-May, as was Logan Morrison, the club's second-best hitter.

So, what's the moral of this story? Don't underestimate the waiver wire, even in a deep mixed league or a non-mixed format. A couple of wise FAAB purchases could make up for a couple of unwise draft day purchases.

As for the remaining four bidding periods, however, I'm not expecting much. In other words, don't count on any sort of September roster expansion for the 2017 Mixed Auction Tout Wars FAAB All-Star team. 

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB

OK, I probably spend a bit too much time thinking about my drafts, even for months after Draft Day. But, I do believe that pausing at various points during the season to reflect on what you got right and what you got wrong can be a helpful exercise. That process can be both gratifying, frustrating or most likely, a combination of both. You will have regrets, but there will also be instances where you got a little lucky. In auctions, this would mean settling for a second or third or even fourth option after the bidding for your top choice exceeded your comfort zone only to see the guy you ended up with outperform the guy you wanted the most. 

As we head into the final quarter of the season, I dug up my 2017 Mixed Auction Tout Wars draft prep sheet to find specific examples. Hopefully, this exercise would turn out to be a confidence booster. Hopefully, this exercise would help me forget about drafting Cole Hamels as my SP2 (first choice) over Zack Greinke (fourth choice). Note that the dollar values in parenthesis are the purchase prices of my top choices.

Drafted Chris Archer for $26 as my SP1 instead of Jon Lester ($25)

The ace of my staff on last season's championship squad, Lester seemed like an ultra-safe pick to head my 2017 rotation. I've always liked Archer, and he certainly held the edge over Lester in the strikeout department, but Lester was the more proven commodity. Well, the Cubs southpaw is in the midst of his worst season since 2012, and now he's on the DL. Meanwhile, Archer, despite a 3.84 ERA that is not befitting of an ace, is giving me just about what I expected. But someone really does need to tell Kevin Cash to stop routinely leaving Archer in games a batter too long when he's clearly out of gas. His ERA would be about a half-run lower if Cash managed him properly. 

Drafted Adam Jones for $17 as my OF2 instead of Matt Kemp ($18)

There are surely a lot of Adam Jones haters out there, the main criticism being his lack of plate discipline and that one of these years, the Orioles centerfielder is going to completely fall apart and bat .240 with 12 homers. All Jones does, though, is continually deliver 25-plus home run, 80-plus RBI seasons, and he's on pace to finish 2017 with 29 homers, 81 RBI and 88 runs scored. I get that Tout is an OBP league, and Jones' value takes a hit in those formats, but can we please give the guy a little more respect? As for Kemp, after three straight injury-free seasons, the 32-year-old has become reacquainted with the DL, though he has posted solid numbers when on the field.

Drafted Mike Moustakas for $8 as my 3B instead of Maikel Franco ($14)

I heavily targeted Moustakas this spring, but more as a CI than a starting 3B. Although I was thrilled to get Moose for eight bucks, my ideal scenario was landing both Moustakas and Franco. Little did I know that on August 19, Franco would be on pace for 23 home runs but Moustakas would have twice as many homers as the Phillies third sacker, and would lead in the batting average department by more than 60 points. I'm still a believer in Franco and wouldn't mind taking a chance on him next season for a fraction of his 2017 cost. 

Drafted Gio Gonzalez for $2 as my SP4 instead of Jerad Eickhoff ($7)

Similar to the Moustakas/Franco situation, I really wanted both Gonzalez and Eickhoff but Eickhoff was younger and carried more upside, so I budgeted five bucks for the Phillies righty. But someone was willing to go higher, which in retrospect is good news being that Eickhoff is 3-7 with a 4.33 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP through 21 starts. Gonzalez has been a longtime favorite of mine and I was banking on a quality bounceback season. Did I envision an 11-5 record with a 2.49 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP through 24 starts? Not quite.

Drafted Lance Lynn for $1 as my SP5 instead of Ian Kennedy ($2)

Partly inspired by fellow Mastersballer Brian Walton's optimism regarding Lynn this season, I figured there was little downside in throwing a buck his way. Hopefully, the Cardinals righty would prove to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and would return to being a reliable mid-rotation mixed league starter. This low-risk gamble could not have worked out much better, as Lynn boasts a 10-6 record with a 3.05 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP through 25 starts. 

And the added bonus? Sort of by accident, I finally managed to move on from the inconsistent Ian Kennedy, who I continue to draft in multiple leagues year after year after year, until this year. Kennedy could finish this season with an ERA over 5.00, by the way.  

Not my problem.

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB. 

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure if the theory of the "second half" or "Septembe" player is something real or merely coincidental that fantasy baseball pundits like to talk about. One would need to sift through many years of stats of many players to arrive at an accurate conclusion. While I don't pay a huge amount of attention to this when deciding which players I should target down the stretch via trade or the waiver wire, the "September player" topic does deserve some attention.

Why? Well, the top performers during the season's final month tend to carry an inflated price tag heading into drafts the following spring for the simple reason that many owners have short memories. Taking note of September stats and filing the notes away for future reference could prove to be beneficial.

So, who were some of the September 2016 hitting leaders in the various Roto categories and can we conclude anything regarding the carryover from a hot season's end to the start of the next year?

Ian Kinsler: .386 AVG (1st among players with at least 70 at-bats) - Kinsler could surely use a September boost, as he's in the midst of a largely disappointing 2017 campaign. The veteran second sacker sports career-low numbers in batting average (.242) and OPS (.719), though he is on pace to finish with a solid 93 runs scored. As for 2018, the 35-year-old offers little upside. He's certainly not someone I'll be targeting in drafts.

Justin Upton: 12 HR (1st) - Upton has always been a streaky hitter but he took streakiness to a new level last season. Following an ice-cold start, he clubbed 22 of his 31 homers in the second half with 12 of those 22 longballs coming in September (plus one in October). This season has been a different story, as for the first time in awhile, the Tigers outfielder has provided his fantasy owners with high-end production all year. I hope I didn't just jinx him.

Kendrys Morales: 30 RBI (1st) - After averaging 26 homers and 100 RBI per season in his two years with the Royals, Morales signed a three-year, $33 million deal with Toronto over the winter. The Blue Jays must have been cautiously optimistic that Kendrys would replace most of the offensive production lost by the departure of Edwin Encarnacion. Not quite. But, despite his terrible August (.193 AVG, 1 HR, 3 RBI), Morales is still on pace to wrap up the season with 28 home runs and 77 RBI. In other words, we're looking at a fine mixed league contributor, even if he doesn't reward his owners with a repeat of September 2016.

Curtis Granderson: 23 R (Tied for 1st) - In addition to sharing the major league lead in runs scored, Grandy also managed to swat eight home runs while collecting 21 RBI last September. From what we're seeing lately, Granderson could put together an equally impressive encore if he can extend his August surge (9 HR, 20 RBI, 16 R) into September. Moving from the Mets to the contending Dodgers only improves his fantasy outlook.

Kevin Kiermaier: 8 SB (Tied for 5th) - Very quietly, Kiermaier is batting .355 (11-for-31) with three homers, eight RBI, six runs and one steal since returning from his lengthy DL stint. Now that's what I call quality across-the board production. And the strange thing is that this quality across-the-board production can be had for free, as Kiermaier is owned in only 23% of ESPN leagues and 25% of Yahoo leagues.

Make sure he's owned in your league. If not, you know what to do.

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB

Predicting the performance level of starting pitchers is tricky, which is why I tend to devalue the position on draft day. Although I've generally been successful identifying cheap hurlers who could net me a substantial profit, if I do miss on some of them, the penalty is minimal. Every year, whether due to injury woes or poorer than expected performance, there are a handful of expensive starters who punish their fantasy owners, and this season is no exception. But since I'm in a good mood today, let's take the positive angle and look at some of the disappointing pitchers from the first half who have turned things around since the All-Star break. For owners of these guys, the punishment lasted awhile, but perhaps it is over now.

Jake Arrieta - Arrieta ended his 2016 regular season on a down note, posting a 4.60 ERA over five September starts. Still, the market viewed him as a fantasy ace heading into drafts this spring, and he fetched a substantial $24 winning bid in Mixed Auction Tout Wars. Unfortunately for his owners, the former Cy Young award winner carried over last September's mediocrity into the first half of 2017, pitching to a 4.35 ERA over 18 outings. But, the Cubs righty boasts a 2.05 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP in four starts since the Midsummer Classic. While Arrieta is unlikely to finish the season as a $20 pitcher, he might be able to avoid the "bust" label.

Justin Verlander - Despite Verlander's Cy Young caliber season last year, I wasn't buying into the idea that he had regained fantasy ace status. But, did I expect a 4.73 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP in the first half? Not quite. The good news is that the veteran righty seems to be back on track, having allowed three runs or fewer in each of his last six starts. Especially encouraging are his most recent two starts, during which the right-hander has allowed a combined two runs over 13 innings with 16 strikeouts versus a pair of potent offenses in the Astros and Orioles.

Masahiro Tanaka - I've already officially given up on Tanaka multiple times this season yet he continues to sprinkle in enough quality outings to maintain mixed league relevance. And, he's been dominant so far in the second half, registering a 2.93 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP over four starts while whiffing 36 in 27.6 innings. Tanaka will not be a member of any of my fantasy teams for the foreseeable future, at least until he undergoes the inevitable Tommy John surgery. It's nice to know, however, that 2017 won't be remembered as a complete disaster.

Gerrit Cole - While Arrieta, Verlander and Tanaka all went for at least $20 in the Tout Wars Mixed Auction, Cole's price tag was only $13. Taking into account his ace upside, I actually considered the 26-year-old righty, who was coming off a disappointing and injury-marred 2016 campaign, to be a fine purchase at a discounted price. Cole pitched well in April and May but a rough month of June (6.17 ERA, 1.49 WHIP) halted what was shaping up to be a strong bounceback season. Fortunately for Cole owners, Gerrit's struggles did not last long. In five July starts, he posted a 3-0 record, a 2.25 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP with better than a strikeout per inning.

Kevin Gausman - While Gausman doesn't fit under the category of expensive starting pitcher, he carried a considerable amount of hype as he was fresh off an impressive finish to 2016. As for 2017, it has mostly been a nightmarish season for the Orioles righty. Not too long ago, Manager Buck Showalter was talking about sending his Opening Day starter to the Minors. But right around that time, something clicked. In five starts since the All-Star break, Gausman is 3-0 with a 2.93 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and 37 strikeouts over 30.6 into my active lineup? How about this coming week, when he hits the road to face an offensively challenged A's team in a pitcher-friendly park?

Tempting, but how can I trust a pitcher who has done so much damage to my ERA and WHIP? At least I have until 7:05 PM ET tomorrow to make the decision. Check in with me at around 7:00. Chances are I'll still be undecided.

You can follow me @ZachMLB.

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