In Need Of Relief

I recently participated in a draft for my 10-team NL-only rotisserie league and I employed a strategy that I have not previously attempted. Before getting into the nuts and bolts of the strategy let me first lay out the scoring settings:

 

Hitters: C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, OF, OF, Utl, Utl

Pitchers: SP, SP, RP, RP, P, P, P, P

Bench Depth: Five

Categories: Standard 5×5

Max Innings: 1425

Max Add/Drops: 25

 

Here is the strategy: corner the market on saves by landing the two best closers in the NL and use 20 of my allotted 25 add/drops to stream starting pitchers. The motivations for this strategy are simple. First, the pool of pitchers who can earn saves is much smaller than the pool of players who can earn wins. Second, it is harder to predict which pitchers will earn 15+ wins than it is to predict which pitchers will earn 30+ saves. Third, accruing the most saves in the league is worth the same number of roto-points (10) as accruing the most wins in the league.

 

At this point, it should be relatively obvious who my two most important draft targets are: Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. On top of those two, I wanted to take one of the top strikeout pitchers in the league so that I can compete in the strikeout category. The final piece of the puzzle, on the pitcher side at least, is to target highly efficient relievers late in the draft to bolster my ERA, WHIP, and K totals and use all of my bench positions to carry extra pitchers. The strategy on the hitting side of the equation is not as complex. All I wanted with my hitters was a starting lineup full of players who are slated to start 150-162 games this season.

 

Primary Example: David Hernandez + Sean Marshall > Mat Latos

 

Latos 5×5: 14/0/185/3.48/1.16

Hernandez + Marshall 5×5: 7/13/172/2.51/1.10

 

Granted, in order to get the numbers from the Hernandez/Marshall platoon you must use up two roster spots. I would have a problem with this if the result of adding these two relievers together wasn’t so amazing. Although there is some difference of opinion on Mat Latos, it is relatively safe to call him a top-15 pitcher in the National League. As such, if you want him on your team then you are going to spend a decent draft pick on him. On the other hand, if you want Hernandez and Marshall on your team it is only going to cost you a couple late round picks. My hunch is that most managers will ignore pitchers like Hernandez and Marshall because they are set-up pitchers and do not accrue many saves. This is exactly the kind of incorrect attitude that I want to capitalize on. Adding two relievers together in place of one semi-decent starter can get you equal or better statistics in ERA, WHIP, and K. Don’t reach for a Tim Hudson when you can get better numbers in 4 out of 5 categories from adding two late-round relievers together.

 

The second part of the strategy is to land one top-end starter. This is done for two reasons: 1) to maximize the effectiveness of a deliberately thin starting rotation, and 2) to remove a large chunk of the total number of strikeouts from every other roster. It is essential that you land one of the 200-K pitchers from the pool, and, if possible, the top K-getter in the league. In my league I was lucky enough to nab the 10th pick, giving me a chance to grab a top-10 hitter and a top-3 pitcher. I went with Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw. Harper has 30-30 potential this season and Kershaw is the best fantasy pitcher in the National League. With my 3rd and 4th round selections I grabbed Chapman and Kimbrel. At this point, it would be nearly impossible for another team to best me in saves and I had over 450 strikeouts on my roster. After locking down the cornerstone pieces of my strategy, I focused on filling out the rest of my roster with hitters who start and are decent across the 5×5 board. Once the top pitchers were gobbled up and I felt comfortable with my hitter core, I moved on to the lesser starting pitchers like Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez. I also targeted pitchers who are currently injured that I can stash on my DL, like Francisco Liriano and Chad Billingsley, while I tinker with my relief core. For a low-K pitcher like Richard, I can use his wins and augment his lack of strikeouts with my relief core. For a pitcher like Volquez, I can use him for his home starts and steal some wins and strikeouts from half of his starts (the AL version of Volquez is Tommy Milone).

 

The next part of the strategy is to use my allotted number of moves to artificially increase my number of wins by adding 20 starts to my season total using free agent streaming. This aspect of the strategy is a touch more flexible than the other two. If a decent starter emerges from the free agent wire then he should be picked up.  That said, you can really only use the wavier wire to find a starter once or twice because the strategy calls for filling each available RP and P slot with a reliever every day and you want to use as many of your allotted moves for stealing wins off the wire. Streaming pitchers in an NL-only or AL-only league is largely a crapshoot, but, then again, so are pitcher wins. All I am really trying to do with those 20 add/drops is add 10 wins to my season total. Anything else I get is gravy.   

 

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS:

 

Problem 1: If your team suffers through a lot of injuries, then you won’t be able to use 20 moves on streaming alone. This is a big problem if the injury is to your one front-line starter. However, because there isn’t a penalty for pitching a low number of innings the loss of a starter can be mitigated by a deep reliever core. If the injury is to one of the big-ticket save pitchers, well, then you are really in a pickle. To be honest, if you suffer a lot of big injuries in an AL-only or NL-only league you are probably toast regardless of your strategy.

 

Problem 2: Drafting closers so early can make it difficult to fill out your hitters with respectable bats. The two pitchers I wanted most, Chapman and Kimbrel, are significantly better than any closer in the league, AL or NL, but the strategy works even if you only get one of those pitchers and settle on someone like J.J. Putz for your number two RP slot. If you don’t feel comfortable taking two closers with your 3rd and 4th round selections, then you can go closer, hitter, closer, hitter, and improve the overall quality of your hitting. However, as good as Putz is, he is nowhere close to Kimbrel and Chapman in terms of total strikeouts. Remember, your pitching staff is thin, so if you decide to split up your closer picks and get stuck with a lesser closer, then you must get someone like David Hernandez to boost your overall strikeout numbers.

 

SUMMARY:

 

The strategy is a simple: do not worry about hitting your total number of innings, but focus on locking down the saves, ERA, and WHIP categories by using a skeleton starting staff and a nasty relief core. Do not pay for middle-of-the-road starting pitchers. Instead, pair two relievers together and get dramatically better numbers in ERA, WHIP, and (hopefully) K’s. If you use the right relievers, then you should be able to compete in the strikeout category, especially if you own one of the top SP in the league.

 

In a league that does not cap roster moves I would carry two starting pitchers and focus my pitching entirely on relievers and streaming. Also, I think that this strategy can be effectively employed in almost any league and any format by. The value of high quality reliever innings can be the difference in roto, H2H, AL-only, and NL-only formats. That said, when playing in an AL-only or NL-only league, the pool of quality players is cut in half and the value of awesome reliever innings is increased dramatically. Do not be afraid to lean heavily on relievers for your statistics. If you are playing in a mixed league, then you will probably have to lock down three or four closer in order to make the strategy work, but you will be able to stream better pitchers overall. Regardless, the production from pitchers like Tim Collins, Jake McGee, and Luke Gregerson should not be lost in free agency. One manager’s trash is another manager’s championship.

 

   

 

The Curious Case Of Aroldis Chapman

A lot of talk this spring has revolved around Aroldis Chapman and his 2013 role with the Reds. You’ve probably read the two cents from 49 other sports writers, but let’s make it an even dollar, shall we?

On the real (and by that I mean real life and shit), I don’t see why the Reds would choose this offseason to turn Chapman into a starter. It seems as if everyone in the baseball blogosphere has forgotten how many starters the Reds needed to get through the regular season last year. The answer is SIX. Save for a lone spot start by the illustrious Todd Redmond, the Reds were able to get through 161 games with only FIVE DIFFERENT STARTERS. Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, and Leake all started 30+ games in 2012. On top of all those ridiculous facts, the Reds had the 4th best ERA in all of baseball last season. So why are they trying to fuck with the program? Dusty Baker wants Chapman to close. Chapman wants Chapman to close. Damn, just let him close and capitalize on having an extremely reliable rotation by capping it off with a dominant bullpen. Cause here is the thing: if you take Chapman out of the closer role you are giving the 9th inning to Jonathan Broxton, and nobody in Cincinnati will be happy with that in the long term, and they’ll be downright pissed about it in the playoffs. The Reds got 98 quality starts last year, so they don’t need too many arms in the bullpen. Chapman, Arrendondo, Marshall, and LeCure will be able to lock down the majority of leads that the offense and rotation hand to them. Add all these reasons to the potential risks involved with turning a reliever into a starter (hey, how’s that Neftali Feliz guy doing?) and keeping Chapman in the bullpen seems like an easy decision. The Reds are a 95-win team with Chapman as closer. Now is not the time to attempt a dramatic role shift.

On the fake (and by that I mean your fantasy baseball team), I don’t like the injury risk that comes with turning Chapman into a starter. Plus, he is so nonsensically productive as a closer that I’m not sure I need to see what he looks like as a starter. In 2012, Chapman was able to kick his debilitating addiction to walks (BB/9 of 2.89) and post a ludicrous 15.52 K/9. Chapman’s 122K last season was within striking distance of the totals posted by pitchers like Jordan Zimmermann (153), Derek Holland (145), Jered Weaver (142), and Jarrod Parker (140). Ole’ Chappy is too damn dirty as a closer for me to get greedy and call for a starting rotation test-run. Keeper league managers who are currently in a tizzy over Chapman wanting to close this season need to calm the fuck down and recognize the value he brings to your team. Yearly league managers who recognize what the uncertainty is doing to Chapman’s ADP need to snatch him up…quickly.

Closers – 2013 Rankings

In truth, the closer position has just two tiers: the top guys and everyone else. After that, getting your team enough saves is more a matter of keeping your ear to the ground and making sure you know who the hot hand is in every bullpen. Every year, several relievers come out of relative obscurity and turn into solid closers. For 2012, guys like Fernando Rodney, Jason Motte, Tom Wilhelmsen, Ernesto Frieri, Glen Perkins, Steve Cishek, and Jim Johnson all serve as perfect examples of relievers who went from nowhere to relevant faster than a Craig Kimbrel 9th inning. The lesson: draft your closers, but don’t get too attached.  The stat lines listed below are in a saves/k/ERA/WHIP format.

Tier 1 – The Crème de la Crème

1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta (42/116/1.01/0.67)

Kimbrel’s FIP last season was 0.78. Zero-point-seven-eight. His K/9 was 16.66. I do not think it is a coincidence that his K/9 contains the number of the beast. If the devil decided to take corporeal form, he would choose to be Craig Kimbrel. Oh yeah, he’s only 25-years old.

2. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati (38/122/1.51/0.81)

I am ranking Chapman as a closer because he should be a closer. Even Chapman thinks he should be the closer. Aroldis had a K/9 of 15.32 and his FIP was 1.55. Man, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, given the strong possibility of the Reds putting Chapman in the rotation, you should take this ranking with a (large and bitter) grain of salt.

3. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia (38/92/2.44/1.06)

Papelbon’s first season with the Phillies was excellent. Also, his 12.6 HR/FB% was a career-high, so Papelbon could be due for an even better season in 2013.

4. Jason Motte, St. Louis (42/86/2.75/0.92)

Motte was nasty in his first full season as a closer. Motte’s formula for turning hitters into applesauce is simple: throw real hard. By relying on his cutter more in 2012 (he threw it 26.0% of the time), Motte was able to get his K/9 up to a blistering 10.75. I have full confidence in Motte for 2013.

5. Rafael Soriano, Washington (42/69/2.26/1.17)

Soriano should get plenty of save opportunities pitching for the Nationals this season. On top of that, moving back to the NL should give him a small boost in strikeouts. Soriano has a shot at 50 saves this year.

6. Joe Nathan, Texas (37/78/2.80/1.06)

Nathan is an old and reliable source of saves. Pitching in Texas makes him susceptible to the long-ball, but it’s not a huge concern. Nathan is good for 35-40 saves with a K/9 over 10.

 7. Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay (48/76/0.60/0.78)

Rodney is another example of a relief pitcher that went bananas last season. Reason (and his 2.31 FIP) tells me that he isn’t going to repeat his miniscule ERA from last year, but he should still be quite good in 2013. Given his likely regression, make sure you draft him behind strikeout specialists like Motte and Papelbon.

Tier 2 – La Crème Régulier

 8. J.J. Putz, Arizona (32/65/2.82/1.03)

Putz continues to putz along. He is a shining example of high strikeouts (10.77 K/9) and good control (1.82 BB/9). He should have no problem eclipsing 30 saves again this season.

 9. Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle (29/87/2.50/1.11)

Tom Wilhelmsen took five years off from baseball so that he could bartend and (most likely) smoke weed. Upon returning, Wilhelmsen needed about one year in the minor leagues to regain his form. Then, in 2012, he became one of the better closers in fantasy baseball. True story.

10. Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles of Anaheim (23/98/2.32/0.98)

Given the recent news that Ryan Madson is going to start the season on the DL, I am very bullish on Frieri this year. Ernesto’s K/9 was a ridiculous 13.36 last season. It is going to be very hard for Madson to wrestle the closer role away from Frieri once the season gets rolling.

11. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees (5/8/2.16/0.96)

Some people will balk at this ranking, but Rivera just doesn’t provide enough strikeouts anymore to be considered an elite fantasy closer. That said, the ERA and WHIP will be fantastic.

 12. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles (25/99/2.35/0.85)

The Jansen with one “s” makes this list because I have ZERO faith in Brandon League. I sincerely hope that Jansen’s heart doesn’t give him any problems this year. If his heart holds up, then Kenley is going to supplant League and have a K/9 that approaches 14.00. The only thing keeping him this low on my list is the unpredictable nature of his health.

13.  Greg Holland, Kansas City (16/91/2.96/1.37)

Holland needs to work on his 4.57 BB/9, but other than that he is a excellent option. He has posted a 2.97 ERA and an 11.62 K/9 in 128 career games. Draft with confidence.

14. Sergio Romo, San Francisco (14/63/1.79/0.85)

Romo seemed to solidify himself as the Giants closer in the 2012 playoffs. That said, managers tend to have short memories and a few bad outings could see Romo relegated to the 8th inning or usher in the return of a closer-by-committee system. However, a full year of closing will lead to fantastic results.

 15. Glen Perkins, Minnesota (16/78/2.56/1.04)

Perkins, a converted starter who never really struck batters out, has found a home as the Twins 9th inning man. As a reliever, Perkins can throw harder and focus on his fastball and slider. I expect him to have around 30 saves this season with a K/9 of 9.50.

 16. John Axford, Milwaukee (35/93/4.67/1.44)

After two nasty seasons in 2010 and 2011, Axford suffered from implosion problems last year. His HR/FB% was 19.2%. He never lost the strikeouts last year, but he did have problems with his control. I think he is going to right the ship and turn in a season closer to 2010 than 2012.

17. Rafael Betancourt, Colorado (31/57/2.81/1.13)

Betancourt abandoned his slider last season in favor of a curveball. The result: a drop in K/9 from 10.54 to 8.90. On top of that, Betancourt’s velocity is in a three-year decline. That said, he should be able to repeat his acceptable 2012 production.

18. Huston Street, San Diego (23/47/1.85/0.72)

It has always been about health with Huston Street. Insert “Huston, we have a problem” joke. Life is hard on the Street.

19. Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh (2/90/2.91/1.14)

Mr. Grilled Cheese was a pleasant surprise for Pittsburgh fans (e.g. me) last season. Given his role as setup man in 2012, it is unlikely that he was owned on many fantasy squads. However, he has inherited the closer role for 2013 and should be a solid source of strikeouts and saves. The real question is whether or not he can stay productive all the way through September.

20. Casey Janssen, Toronto (22/67/2.54/0.86)

Janssen is another deadly combination of strikeouts and control. As long as he remains the closer (which is a caveat for pretty much every pitcher on this list), Janssen will get plenty of save opportunities pitching for the much improved Blue Jays. However, keep your eye on Sergio Santos.

21. Joel Hanrahan, Boston (36/67/2.72/1.27)

Hanrahan really knows how to make a 9th inning more interesting than it needs to be. In other words, he walks way too many batters. If he is going to be effective in Boston, then he must cut down on his 5.43 BB/9 from 2012. I’m avoiding Hanrahan this season.

22. Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox (29/54/4.75/1.36)

Reed posted absurd strikeout numbers in his minor league career. On top of that, his control in the minors was much better than the 2.85 BB/9 he posted last season, so I expect him to walk fewer batter this year. Still just 24-years old, he is poised for a breakout as the White Sox closer this year.

23. Chris Perez, Cleveland (39/59/3.59/1.13)

Perez suffered an injury this spring and had to pull himself out of the WBC. If he can come back healthy from that injury then he will be a solid closer option this season. If he can’t, go and grab Vinnie Pestano off waivers and plug him into your lineup.

24. Jim Johnson, Baltimore (51/41/2.49/1.02)

No, I didn’t forget about Jim Johnson. The saves leader from 2012 is my 24th ranked closer. Why? Well, Jim Johnson had more saves than strikeouts last season. His 62.3 GB% will definitely produce saves for Baltimore, but I want a high number of strikeouts to go along with my saves.

25. Steve Cishek, Miami (15/68/2.69/1.30)

Cishek is a solid pitcher with good strikeout numbers who walks a few too many batters. As long as he remains the closer, Cishek will be an adequate option this season.

26. Grant Balfour, Oakland (24/72/2.53/0.92)

If Oakland gives Balfour the closer role in 2013, then pick him up. However, don’t be surprised if you see Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle stealing some of his opportunities. Make sure you keep an eye on how Balfour recovers from his February knee surgery.

Tier 3 –Le Lait A Mal Tourné

27. Bobby Parnell, New York Mets (7/61/2.49/1.24)

Parnell has not proved himself as a closer, but he has been a decent reliever for the past two years. It’s a “wait and see” kind of situation. Jeez, the Mets bullpen is a mess.

28. Jonathan Broxton, Cincinnati (27/45/2.48/1.26)

One of the reasons I think Chapman will end up back in the closer role this season is because Jonathan Broxton is pretty mediocre. I do not like that his strikeouts and velocity both tumbled considerably.

29. Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs (20/72/3.42/1.54)

Walks, walks, walks, walks. Marmol’s BB/9 was 7.32 last season. If you have ever owned Marmol in a H2H league I can almost guarantee that you have lost a week because of one of his fantastic implosions.

30. Ryan Madson, Los Angeles of Anaheim (No 2012 Stats)

Coming back from surgery. Starting the season on the DL. Not as good as Frieri. Enough said.

31. Brandon League, Los Angeles (15/54/3.13/1.36)

After Brandon League signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers he turned on episode 4.2 from “The Wire” and smiled as he listened to Senator Clay Davis say, “I’ll take any m——- f——- money if he just giving it away!” Brandon League stinks and Jansen is going to take his job.

32. Jose Veras, Houston (1/79/3.63/1.51)

If Houston wins a game this year it will probably be by one run. They are going to need Jose Veras. Unfortunately, Jose Veras isn’t very good.

33. Al Alburquerque, Detroit (0/18/0.68/1.05)

I think that Al-Al is going to win the closer role for Detroit this spring. That said, he still has a lot to prove in terms

Starting Pitchers (Part 2) – 2013 Rankings

After the elite crop of pitchers has been plucked from the draft it is time to start targeting pitchers who have the potential to breakout. Selecting the pitcher who can go from afterthought to ace is one of the most important parts of a building a championship squad. With that in mind, the breakout candidates in my bottom 25 are Samardzija, Fister, Harvey, and Parker. On the flip side, I am avoiding Josh Johnson and Dan Haren like the plague.

Tier 6 – Pitching To Pitchers Is Fun

26.  Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs (180/1.22/3.81)

Samardzija posted a 9.27 K/9 over 174.2 innings in 2012. His 3.55 FIP and 3.38 xFIP indicate that F7 was a little unlucky last season, so I expect his ERA to be between 3.2-3.5 in 2013. Samardzija’s monthly splits reveal that the majority of his earned runs were given up in the month of July when he posted a 10.41 ERA over 23.1 innings. If F7 can avoid another stretch like that in 2013 he is going to strikeout over 200 hitters and produce solid marks in both ERA and WHIP. Something tells me that more people are going to be able to spell Samardzija’s last name correctly after 2013.

27. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati (170/1.17/2.78)

Cueto has kept his ERA under 3.00 in his last two seasons and should have no problem doing it again in 2013. The only thing keeping Cueto from being a fantasy ace is a lack of strikeouts. However, Cueto did post the lowest BB/9 of his career and got his K/9 over 7.00 for the first time since his rookie season. I don’t think he will get much better in either category this year, but if he can maintain all of his numbers in 2013 he has a shot at winning 20 games.

28. Ian Kennedy, Arizona (187/1.30/4.02)

Ian Kennedy is a nice addition to any fantasy staff. He isn’t an ace, but you can count on Kennedy for 200+ innings and 185+ strikeouts. His exceptional 2011 numbers were the result of a lucky drop in HR/FB%, so don’t expect another sub-3.00 ERA. Kennedy’s 2013 ERA and WHIP should be around 3.70 and 1.25, respectively, and numbers like that are more than acceptable.

29. Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox (194/1.10/3.37)

2012 was Peavy’s first 200-inning season since 2007. As is the case with most aging starters, health is the name of the game. If Peavy can stay on the mound for 30+ starts this year then another season like 2012 should be no problem. His ERA will probably be a couple ticks higher, but will remain well under 4.00.

30. Jon Lester, Boston (166/1.38/4.82)

Where have you gone Jon Lester? Once a bona-fide fantasy ace, Lester has trended in the wrong direction for three seasons in K/9, HR-allowed, WHIP, ERA, and FIP. Will we see the 225-strikeout version of Lester ever again? I don’t think so, but his numbers will be much better than last season and the potential for more is still bubbling somewhere under the surface.

Tier 7 – The One With Tim Lincecum In It

 31. Doug Fister, Detroit (137/1.19/3.45)

Fister’s 7.63 K/9 in 2012 is something that all fantasy managers should remember on draft day. On top of that, his HR/FB% went from 5.1 in 2011 to 11.6 in 2012, so I expect him to give up far fewer home runs this year. Fister has been dynamite since joining Detroit, and if he can replicate his 2012 ratios over 200 innings he is going to be a great 2nd or 3rd starter for any fantasy staff.

32. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco (190/1.47/5.18)

Don’t you just hate it when former Cy Young winners go kamikaze and create ridiculously hard decisions for you on draft day? Yeah, thanks a lot, Tim. Lincecum was terrible last year, plain and simple. Reports from spring training tell us that his fastball velocity is back around 92mph, so there is at least one reason to be optimistic this year. That said, it’s just too risky to put much faith into Timmy this season. Draft day advice: BE CAREFUL.

33.  A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh (180/1.24/3.51)

Burnett resurrected his career in Pittsburgh last season and I think he can repeat his performance in 2013. Burnett posted his lowest BB/9 (2.76) since 2006 while keeping his K/9 at a solid 8.01. The NL is going to be good (again) for A.J. Burnett in 2013.

34. Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs (96/1.18/3.91)

A stress facture in Garza’s elbow ended his 2012 season, and he is already dealing with a shoulder issue this spring. That said, Garza has been pretty great since moving to Chicago. If he can stay on the mound for 190+ innings this season he is going to strikeout close to a batter per inning with an ERA around 3.50.

35. Josh Johnson, Toronto (165/1.28/3.81)

Johnson will have to stay healthy and throw harder this year if he is going to survive life in Canada. Hey, at least he doesn’t have to pay for health insurance. JJ has been trending the wrong way for in K/9 and BB/9 for three seasons. Frankly, I am just not that optimistic he can put it all together in 2013. This video sums up how I feel about Josh Johnson.

Tier 8 – A Metropolitan Miracle?

 36. Matt Harvey, New York Mets (70/1.15/2.73)

Harvey is going to be a K-machine. He needs to work on his walk rate and his endurance, but the 24-year old Harvey is exactly what your fantasy team (and the Mets) need this season. His ADP is 209, so look for Harvey in the later rounds of your draft and you can reap the rewards all season.

37. Jason Hammel, Baltimore (113/1.24/3.43)

Hammel came back from his knee surgery last season and pitched extremely well in the playoffs. His FIP is right in line with his ERA and I have full confidence that he can maintain his K% in 2013. If he knee holds up, Hammel is going to be the best pitcher in Baltimore (until Dylan Bundy gets called up).

38. Anibal Sanchez, Detroit (167/1.27/3.86)

Anibal is a 7.5 K/9 pitcher who will pitch around 195 innings with an ERA between 3.50-4.00. Nothing more, nothing less.

39. Jonathan Niese, New York Mets (155/1.17/3.40)

There is a lot of buzz about Niese this season, but I think he has more value in real life than he does in fantasy. Niese’s K-rate will probably stay between 7.2 and 7.6 this year, and while that number is good it is far from elite. Niese is a good pick if you need to fill out the back end of your rotation.

40. Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees (167/1.17/3.32)

I never thought that Kuroda would survive the move from the NL West to the launching pad that is Yankee Stadium, but I was wrong. Kuroda won’t give you many strikeouts, but he is good for 200 innings and an ERA at or under 3.50.

Tier 9 – Drink Some Brew

 41. Marco Estrada, Milwaukee (143/1.14/3.64)

Estrada needs to prove that he can maintain his elite K/9 and BB/9 numbers over a full season before I place him higher on my rankings. I’d also like to see him go a little deeper into games and give up fewer home runs. However, Estrada is a great way to steal some late round strikeouts and has considerable upside this season.

42. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati (122/0.81/1.51)

Chapman is this far down my rankings for two reasons: 1) I think he is going to struggle with walks as a starter, and 2) I think he is going to be moved back to the bullpen by the end of the year. If I am wrong about both of those assertions, then Chapman might be one of the best fantasy starters around. However, even if Chapman makes a successful transition, it is going to be a few seasons before he is a 200-inning pitcher. THIS JUST IN: Even Aroldis doesn’t want to be a starter.

43. Brandon Morrow, Toronto (108/1.11/2.96)

Brandon Morrow has been messing with fantasy managers for three years. In 2010 and 2011, Morrow had amazing strikeout rates and lackluster ERA numbers. In 2012, Morrow posted a fantastic 2.96 ERA with a decent 7.80 K/9. However, Morrow missed significant time in all three seasons, logging just 124.2 innings last year. Who knows what version we will get in 2013.

44. Jarrod Parker, Oakland (140/1.26/3.47)

Parker had a great year for a rookie pitcher. He’s been a top prospect for a while and his strikeout numbers in the minor leagues indicate that he can improve upon his 6.95 K/9 from 2012. I am expecting a breakout from Parker in either 2013 or 2014.

45. Mike Fiers, Milwaukee (135/1.26/3.74)

Fiers’ late season collapse was dramatic. His ERA in the final month of the season was 7.09. The big question: did the league figure Fiers out or did he merely run out of gas? Much like his teammate Marco Estrada, Fiers can be a cheap source of strikeouts in the later rounds of your draft.

46. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay (124/1.25/3.10)

Hellickson has pitched two seasons in a row in which he has outperformed his FIP by a run and a half. His last two LOB% marks are both over 80%, well above leave average. I like the increase in K% and the decrease in BB%, but I’m not convinced he can continue to improve in those areas. He probably won’t ever match his gaudy minor league strikeout totals, but it appears as if Hellickson has figured something out. Another season with acceptable strikeouts, a low ERA, and a good WHIP are in store for 2013.

47. Dan Haren, Washington (142/1.29/4.33)

This ranking might seem low when you look at the statistics, but I really don’t like it when several teams are completely unwilling take on a once-great pitcher with back problems. Haren is moving back to the NL and is going to pitch in front of a fantastic offense, so I might be selling his 2013 potential a little short. That said, I’m going to avoid him this season.

48. Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco (158/1.23/3.37)

Ryan Vogelsong is going to do what Ryan Vogelsong has done for the past two seasons: defy the haters and pitch pretty freaking well for the San Francisco Giants. I still don’t understand where he came from, but I can’t deny his effectiveness.

49. Brett Anderson, Oakland (25/1.03/2.57)

When healthy, Brett Anderson is a good pitcher who will provide very low WHIP and ERA numbers with decent strikeout totals. Furthermore, he is only 25-years old, so there is a chance he could improve upon his K%. The injuries keep him down in the rankings.

50. Homer Bailey, Cincinnati (168/1.24/3.68)

The man with one of the best baseball names in the league finally proved his worth in 2012. Bailey eclipsed the 200-inning plateau, kept his walks very low, and improved his K% as the season progressed. Bailey was flat out dominant in his final 48 innings, posting an 8.88 K/9, a 1.66 BB/9, and a 0.74 WHIP. Can he continue to improve upon his numbers in 2013? I don’t think so, but another season like 2012 should be no sweat.

Last Ten Cut:

C.J. Wilson

Derek Holland

Trevor Bauer

Alex Cobb

Chad Billingsley

Mike Minor

Wade Miley

Tommy Milone

Edwin Jackson

Chris Capuano

Starting Pitchers (Part 1) – 2013 Rankings

When ranking starting pitchers for standard 5×5 leagues I only focus on strikeouts, WHIP, and ERA. Whether or not a pitcher has 10 wins or 15 wins largely comes down to chance. Obviously, a good pitcher on a good team will have more chances to earn victories than a pitcher on a bad team, but there are no guarantees when it comes to a pitcher’s win total. Not convinced? Just look at Cliff Lee’s 6-9 win/loss record from last season while playing for the 81-81 Phillies. Cole Hamels went 17-6 for the same team and the two had nearly identical stat lines. When it comes to ERA, I always make sure to check out a pitcher’s FIP and xFIP in conjunction with his earned run numbers. A pitcher’s ERA rarely tells the whole story, so the best strategy for determining true talent is to dive into stats like LOB%, BABIP (against), HR/FB% (allowed), BB/9, FIP and xFIP. Put these stats side-by-side with a pitcher’s “regular” statistics and you will have a better chance of accurately predicting a pitcher’s 2013 performance. For the starting pitchers I will rank 50 players in two parts.

Tier 1 – More Strikeouts Than A High School Prom

1. Clayton Kershaw (229/1.02/2.53)

The difference between Kershaw and Verlander is infinitesimal. Clayton has posted sub-3 ERA numbers for four straight seasons and it has nothing to do with luck. He strikes out hitters with ease, keeps the ball from leaving the yard, and has grown out of his walk problems. Kershaw gets the edge over Verlander because he pitches in the weaker-hitting league and is more likely to have a lower ERA.

2. Jason Verlander, Detroit (238/1.06/2.64)

Verlander is silly good. He has never had a significant injury and has perfect pitching mechanics. Verlander is going to strikeout a batter per inning for 220-240 innings (again). He is a pitcher without a flaw.

3. David Price, Tampa Bay (205/1.10/2.56)

If Bob Barker wasn’t dead I bet David Price would be his favorite athlete. I love how Price has developed his arsenal of pitches over the past few seasons. Pitch f/x data shows that Price has abandoned his slider in favor of a cutter and has gradually increased the use of his changeup. Despite altering his pitch selection, Price has maintained his status as an elite strikeout pitcher with great control, posting an 8.74 K/9 and a 2.52 BB/9 in 2012. In other words, the Price is right.

4. Felix Hernandez, Seattle (223/1.14/3.06)

King Felix is ranked below Price because I am concerned about his velocity and the recent whisperings of elbow problems that surfaced around the time of his contract signing. I do not like that Felix’s fastball velocity has dropped for three consecutive seasons, but despite the drop he posted career bests in K% and BB% in 2012. Has Felix found his velocity happy place or are all of the innings finally catching up with him? I’m not sure, but I am taking Price ahead of him.

5. Stephen Strasburg, Washington (197/1.15/3.16)

Much like his teammate Harper, fantasy managers are drafting Strasburg too high this season. Strasburg’s talent is through the roof. However, given Strasburg’s TJ surgery and the innings cap he was on last season I don’t think he can be counted on for 210+ innings yet. In other words, I want to see Strasburg prove his durability in 2013 before I draft him above established horses like Price and Felix. That said, even if Strasburg only pitches 190 innings, he is going to provide a crazy amount of strikeouts (11.13 K/9 last season).

Tier 2 – Less Walks Than A Dead Dog

6. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia (216/1.12/3.05)

Hamels has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball over the past three seasons. Still just 29, Hamels can be counted on for at least 200 innings, 200 strikeouts, and an ERA right around 3.00.

7. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia (207/1.11/3.16)

The only reason Cliff Lee is ranked below Hamels is because of his age. That said, Lee is one of the few starters in baseball who can strikeout 200 hitters and keep his BB/9 well under 2.00. Lee’s K/BB was a ridiculous 7.39 last season. A deadly combination like that will continue to produce miniscule WHIP and ERA numbers. On top of that, Lee’s velocity is stable and he has never suffered a significant arm injury. Draft with confidence.

8. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco (191/1.11/3.37)

Bumgarner’s final month of 2012 was pretty awful. MadBum’s control vanished, his velocity dropped, and he gave away hits like candy canes on Christmas. Bumgarner followed up his last month with two terrible games in the playoffs before finally pulling it altogether and pitching a gem in the World Series. I’ve seen bizarre aberrations from Bumgarner before, like when he gave up 8 runs on 8 hits in a row to the Twins in 2011, so I think that the way 2012 ended can be attributed more to growing pains than anything else. At 23-years old, Bumgarner is just scratching the surface of his potential.

 9. Matt Cain, San Francisco (193/1.04/2.79)

Cain has put up elite ERA and WHIP numbers for the past three seasons and is going to continue that trend in 2013. The real question for prospective Cain owners is whether or not the increase in strikeouts Cain enjoyed last season is sustainable. The answer: if Cain continues to throw his slider 19% of the time, then yes. That said, Cain is going to be extremely effective even if he scales back the use of his slider to pre-2012 percentages.

10. Zach Greinke, Los Angeles (200/1.20/3.48)

I really like Greinke playing for the NL side of Los Angeles. He is a good bet to have a K/9 at or above 8.5 for 200+ innings. His WHIP has always been around 1.20, but his high strikeout numbers keep him in the top-10. Greinke’s ADP over at mockdraftcentral.com is 86.9, making him the 16th pitcher selected in most drafts. Considering that Greinke is going to strikeout over 200 batters and have an ERA under 3.50, I don’t see why people are drafting question marks like R.A. Dickey and Kris Medlen ahead of him.

Tier 3 – “Number Two!” “Yes, Captain?” “Warp…Eight”

11. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis (184/1.25/3.94)

It took Wainwright some time to find his rhythm last season. Tommy John surgery will do that to a pitcher. Wainwright’s 8.34 K/9 was in line with his pre-surgery numbers and his second half ERA was just 3.28. Given the surgery, however, I don’t think he will pitch 230+ innings again. An ERA around 3.00 with close to 200 strikeouts is good enough for 11th overall.

12. R.A. Dickey, Toronto (230/1.05/2.73)

R.A. Dickey is a headache. Will his knuckleball generate the same number of swings and misses in 2013 as it did in 2012? That question is nearly impossible to answer. I don’t think that Dickey is going to fall back to his sub-6 K/9 numbers from his previous seasons, but I also can’t see him repeating his ridiculous numbers from last year. Then again, nobody knows how a knuckleball is going to break. Not even the person who throws it.

13. Gio Gonzalez, Washington (207/1.13/2.89)

In 2012, Gio enjoyed the typical boost in performance that a pitcher gets when he moves from the AL to the NL. Not having to pitch to a DH will always help a pitcher’s strikeout numbers, but some of the improvement can also be attributed to Gio’s increased fastball velocity. Gonzalez has increased the average speed of his fastball and decreased his BB% in every single season he has pitched. That is a truly remarkable feat. His 2013 numbers should be right in line with his stellar 2012 production.

14. Max Scherzer, Detroit (231/1.27/3.74)

The only skill Max Scherzer lacks is endurance. He has never been able to reach the 200-inning mark, but after the barrage of strikeouts he bequeathed to fantasy owners last season I am willing to forgive his shortcomings. Regression logic tell us that Scherzer won’t punch out 11.08 per nine innings next year, but if his luck on balls in play stabilizes then he will provide excellent ratio numbers over his usual 190 innings. Surpassing 210 strikeouts this season should be no problem for Mad Max.

Tier 4 – If It Weren’t For You Meddling Kids

15.  James Shields, Kansas City (223/1.17/3.52)

Shields has punched out 448 batters over the last two seasons. He provides durability, exceptional control and a healthy dose of strikeouts. The move to Kansas City shouldn’t change any of that. I am expecting another 200K season, with a 3.50 ERA and a sub-1.20 WHIP.

16. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees (197/1.14/3.38)

Sabathia had bone spurs removed from his elbow in the offseason and the Yankees are planning to lighten his workload this year, but am I worried about his production? No. First of all, bone spurs are no big deal. Second, when the Yankees are in the middle of a playoff race they are going to do what they always do: lean on their star players. Sabathia might not pitch 230+ innings, but 215-220 should be no problem. Despite his size, I expect Sabathia to age like a fine wine (with a crooked baseball cap).

17. Kris Medlen, Atlanta (120/0.91/1.57)

(Audible sigh) I wish I had picked up Kris Medlen last season. Instead, I had to watch other teams enjoy his historic stretch of production. His FIP doesn’t even indicate that he was exceptionally lucky last season. On top of that, Medlen’s K/9 actually increased after he became a starter, eclipsing the batter per inning mark. All of the stats indicate that what Medlen did last season was legitimate. However, given his experience is mostly as a reliever, it is unwise to think that Medlen will immediately turn into a 200-inning monster. That said, if he can approach anything close to his 2012 production over 170 innings, then Medlen is going to be an awesome pitcher in 2013.

 18. Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee (204/1.30/3.66)

Gallardo has struck out 200+ hitters for four straight seasons. The only other pitchers you can say that about are named Felix and Verlander. If Gallardo ever curtails his career 3.48 BB/9, then he would undoubtedly become a top-10 pitcher. However, until he does that he is going to saddle fantasy managers with high WHIPs and ERA numbers around 3.50.

19. Mat Latos, Cincinnati (185/1.16/3.48)

It took Mat Latos some time to adjust to his new environment in Cincinnati, but after tinkering with his pitch selection he found a tremendous amount of success in the second half of 2012 (2.84 ERA in 104.2 innings). However, while Latos may be developing into a better real-life pitcher, his fantasy numbers are going in the wrong direction. Latos’ K/9 has dropped for three straight years and his FIP has slowly ticked upwards. It doesn’t look like Latos will ever be an elite strikeout pitcher, but that won’t keep him from being one of the top-20 pitchers in baseball for this year and the foreseeable future.

Tier 5 – Nothing Gold Can Stay

 20. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia (132/1.22/4.49)

Halladay is one of the most difficult pitchers to predict this season. On the one hand, Halladay has lost some velocity on his fastball and dealt with serious shoulder problems in 2012. On the other hand, the Doc has always been a groundball specialist and possesses an arsenal of pitches that should remain effective even if he loses a little zip. Halladay’s FIP was 3.69 last season, so I don’t think his decline is as severe as some people might think. It’s hard to believe, but the Doc’s best season ever was in 2011. Can he really have fallen that far? Finally, it’s a contract year for Roy, so I think it is reasonable to expect at least 210 innings, 185K, and an ERA under 3.30.

21. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox (192/1.14/3.05)

Haven’t you heard? With the way Sale throws the ball it’s a miracle that he isn’t dead yet. Seriously, until Sale actually goes down with a significant injury I am going to continue to think highly of him. Fire Sale struck out more than a batter per inning last year with a BB/9 of 2.39. If he does that over 200+ innings this year it is going to be hard to keep him out of the top-10 for 2014. The only reason I have him this low for 2013 is because he lacks experience. Pretty soon everyone will be shopping for Sale.

22. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles of Anaheim (142/1.02/2.81)

Managers who draft Weaver as a number one starter are grasping at the straws of his 2010 season when his K/9 was 9.35. Given the shoulder problems he experienced last season and the precipitous drop in strikeouts, I am very low on Weaver this year. His ADP on mockdraftcentral.com is 55.57, making him the 8th pitcher taken in most drafts. The ERA and WHIP have been good for three seasons, but I think Weaver’s wheels are about to fall off.

23. Jordan Zimmermann, Washington (153/1.17/2.94)

Zimmermann’s second half K/9 was 8.33. In the final month of the season it was 8.83. Granted, the increase in strikeouts came with a higher ERA, but it’s good to know that Zimmermann has the potential to become more than a Mark Buerhle-type starter. If J-Zim can find a happy medium between his first-half control and his second-half strikeouts then he is going to rocket up the rankings.

24. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay (175/1.35/3.81)

Matt Moore just oozes talent. Still just 24-years old, Moore’s rookie year only gave managers a taste of his true potential. Moore struggled with his control in 2012, but his BB/9 numbers in his minor league career indicate that he can improve upon his 4.11 mark from last season. It might not happen this year, but Moore is going to be the next starter, after Scherzer and Strasburg, to have a K/9 over 11.00 for a full season. The sky is the limit.

25. Yu Darvish, Texas (221/1.28/3.90)

Yu’s stuff is from another planet. I love the 10.4 K/9 he brings to the table, but I hate the 4.19 BB/9. Darvish dramatically lowered his walks in his final 36.2 innings to 1.72 BB/9. I don’t think he is going to keep that up for a full season, but the increased control at the end of last year is encouraging. If it wasn’t for his success at the beginning and end of the season, Yu’s ERA would be closer to 5.00 than most managers are will to tolerate. You can count on Yu for strikeouts, everything else will be a work in progress.

Outfielders (Part 2) – 2013 Rankings

There are a lot of outfielders who will give you passable numbers. Players like Alfonso Soriano, Nelson Cruz, Jason Kubel, Ryan Ludwick, Shane Victorino, etc., are old, but can provide a nice boost off the bench in a pinch. However, those are not the players who interest me. For this section, I will place the outfielders in one of three categories: 1) Upside Points, 2) The Excluded Middle, and 3) Avoid At All Costs. However, I will really only focus on the interesting cases. I mean, seriously, do you need to hear that Nelson Cruz is going to hit 20-25 home runs with a questionable average? No, you don’t.

 The Upside Crew

Ben Revere, Philadelphia (.294/.333/.342)

If you need to stash some steals on your bench then Ben Revere is your man. He makes a crazy amount of contact (92.6%) and gets the most out of his speed by hitting everything on the ground. Revere has the skills to steal 60-70 bases. If he hits one home run this year it will be of the inside-the-park variety. The question: why pay anything for Michael Bourn (ADP 66) when Ben Revere (ADP 186) is going to match or best him in most categories?

Dayan Viciedo, Chicago White Sox (.255/.300/.444)

I hope Dayan Viciedo’s intro music is Harry Belafonte. Dayan quietly blasted 25 home runs in his first full season. Also, his BABIP last year was much lower than any number he posted in the minors. Just 24-years old, I think Viciedo has the potential to hit 30 home runs. If his luck numbers stabilize this year he is going to go .270/70/25/80.

Josh Reddick, Oakland (.242/.305/.463)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Reddick hit .268/.348/.532 in the first half and .215/.256/.391. His BB% dropped from 10.6 to 5.4. All of those numbers lead me to believe that Reddick is going to struggle in 2013. Reddick will hit 20-25 home runs with a very low average.

Todd Frazier, Cincinnati (.273/.331/.498)

I already wrote about Frazier in my 3rd base rankings. He’s a good bat in a great situation. Frazier is eligible at third, first and outfield, making him a fantastic guy to stash on your bench.

Starling Marte, Pittsburgh (.257/.300/.437)

Starling Marte is going to need a few more reps in the big leagues before his game catches up with his talent. However, the 13 extra-base hits and 12 steals he posted in just 47 games are very encouraging. Keep your eye on Marte this season, but the real break out will come in 2014.

Aaron Hicks, Minnesota (No 2012 Stats)

Hicks is making a case for starting the season as the Twins centerfielder. Spring training numbers don’t mean anything, but a good showing can win you a job. Hicks has an advanced approach at the plate and possesses both power and speed.

Tyler Colvin, Colorado (.290/.327/.531)

Colvin is classic example of a Colorado hitter. His home/away OPS split last year was 1.032/.687. Colvin hit 20 home runs in 2010 for the Cubs, so the power is real. I do not think he will stay on Colorado’s bench for long. Draft Colvin for the bench and get him into your lineup for his home games. Anything else he gives you is gravy.

Adam Eaton, Arizona (.259/.382/.412)

People are pretty excited about Eaton this season, but I don’t really know why. Loving a player who hustles and has a good contact rate is one thing, claiming that he will be fantasy relevant is another. Eaton’s 13.2 BB% is the highest mark he has posted since A+ ball, so I do not think we can expect that kind of plate discipline in his first full season. He will have a decent average and a good number of steals, but you can get that kind of production from a lot of players.

Wil Myers, Tampa Bay (No 2012 MLB Stats)

The existence of the Kansas City Royals makes being a Pirates fan much easier to tolerate. Why they traded Myers for Shields is beyond me. Wil-I-Am-Going-To-Smash-Dingers is going to smash dingers as soon as the Rays feel comfortable starting his service-time clock. Draft him and stash him on your bench. You can reap the rewards in the second half of the season.

Michael Saunders, Seattle (.247/.306/.432)

Michael Saunders was almost 20/20 last season? Interesting….who the heck is Michael Saunders? Well, he is a guy who couldn’t hit a ball to save his life in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, Saunders cut his K% by 7.4 and started hitting more balls on the ground. If he can continue that trend then a 20/20 season should be possible.

Leonys Martin, Texas (.174/.235/.370)

Leonys is still fighting for playing time in Texas and his big league performance last year was disappointing, to say the least. I’m not buying into the hype until he shows that he can handle major league pitching. Proceed with caution.

The Excluded Middle

Nick Markakis, Baltimore (.298/.363/.471)

As soon as Brian Roberts injures himself Markakis will hit leadoff. He did very well in the leadoff role last season. Keep that in mind.

Nelson Cruz, Texas (.260/.319/.460)

BREAKING NEWS: Cruz is going to hit 20-25 home runs with a questionable average.

Jayson Werth, Washington (.300/.387/.440)

I still have nightmares about Werth’s injury. Expecting .260/20/15

Shane Victorino, Boston (.255/.321/.383)

Victorino in Boston is good fit. There are a lot of left-handed pitchers to hit off of in the AL East. He is going to love the green monster. I’m thinking .275/15/30.

Melky Cabrera, Toronto (.346/.390/.516)

Yeah, the steroid suspension scares me away. No idea what to expect this season from Melky.

Carl Crawford, Los Angeles Dodgers (.282/.306/.479)

Crawford’s left arm is recovering from TJ surgery. His right arm is experiencing tightness this spring. Proceed with extreme caution.

Ryan Ludwick, Cincinnati (.275/.346/.531)

Ludwick + Great American Ballpark = 25 home runs.

Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs (.262/.322/.499)

2012 will be the last season Soriano hits 30+ home runs (I hope).

Chris Davis, Baltimore (.270/.326/.501)

Do you want to know the terrifying truth about Davis’ K% and HR/FB%? Or do you want to see him sock a few dingers?

Dexter Fowler, Colorado (.300/.389/.474)

You can look at Dexter Fowler and see the potential for regression. Or, you can look at Dexter Fowler and see a young player who has gotten slightly better in each of his first four seasons. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.

Michael Cuddyer, Colorado (.260/.317/.489)

A healthy Cuddyer will hit 20 home runs with a .270 average.

Brett Gardner, New York Yankees (2011 Stats: .259/.345/.369)

Got Steals? No? Get Gardner.

Jason Kubel, Arizona (.253/.327/.506)

19.0 HR/FB% will regress. Not expecting a repeat.

Garrett Jones, Pittsburgh (.274/.317/.516)

17.1 HR/FB% will regress. Not expecting a repeat. Also, Jones might should be in a platoon with Gaby Sanchez.

Ichiro, New York Yankees (.283/.307/.390)

Yankee Stadium gave Ichiro a boost. Can he hit .322/.340/.454 for a full season? No.

Cody Ross, Arizona (.267/.326/.481)

Ross is a .270/20-homer player. Do you get points for being gritty?

Justin Ruggiano, Miami (.313/.374/.535)

He certainly won’t repeat his triple slash for a full season, but Cody Ross-like production will work for your bench.

Torii Hunter, Detroit (.313/.365/.451)

.389 BABIP will regress. Expecting a big dropoff.

Carlos Quentin, San Diego (.261/.374/.504)

Twenty home runs? Yes.

Brandon Moss, Oakland (.291/.358/.596)

25.9 HR/FB% will plummet back to earth. Not expecting a repeat.

Michael Morse, Seattle (.291/.321/.470)

I don’t like Morse in Seattle. Come to think of it, I don’t really like Morse anywhere.

Avoid At All Costs

Anthony Gose, Toronto (.223/.303/.319)

My nose tells me that Gose stinks. His highest average in the minor leagues was .286. Despite BABIP numbers that were regularly above .330, Gose spent most of his minor league career hitting in the .250’s. His .223 average in 56 games for Toronto last season was supported by a .340 BABIP. I’m not even going to mention his 31.2 K% (Ok, I am going to mention it). Gose is going to be a bust.

Darin Ruf, Philadelphia (.333/.351/.727)

It is hard to ignore 38 double-A home runs. It is hard to ignore the fact that Darin Ruf was 25-years old and playing in double-A. On top of that, it is hard to ignore Ruf’s 32.4 K% in 12 major league games last fall. It’s going to be rough for Ruf.

Colby Rasmus, Toronto (.223/.289/.400)

That’s three bad seasons out of four, Colby. I wash my hands of you.

Drew Stubbs, Cleveland (.213/.277/.333)

These are Stubbs’ batting averages for the last four seasons starting with 2009: .267, .255, .243, .213. Everything is going in the wrong direction. The 15/30 potential isn’t worth the headaches.

Trevor Plouffe, Minnesota (.235/.301/.455)

I am not a scout. However, I am from Rochester, NY and have seen Trevor Plouffe in person several times. He is really not this good. In 2062, when Trevor Plouffe is old and grey, he will tell his grandkids about the greatest year he ever played in the show. He will be talking about 2012.

Jason Bay, Seattle (.165/.237/.299)

All I can say is that he should have stayed in Boston.

Outfielders (Part 1) – 2013 Rankings

My outfield rankings will be in two parts. The first will be my top 36 outfielders. Most leagues have twelve managers and three starting outfielders, so 36 seemed like an appropriate number. The second part will rank players that provide value as 4th or 5th outfielders

Tier 1 – Unfair To Own

1. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee (.319/.391/.595)

The hubbub this year is all about the magical Mike Trout. While I think the excitement is justified, I have seen about five times as many ridiculous seasons from Braun as I have from Trout. Braun won’t turn 30 until after this season and he has posted back-to-back 30-30 campaigns. As long as he avoids a PED suspension, Braun is going to put up another 30/30 year with close to 40 home runs. He merits a first overall selection. (Note: Given this tweet by @joebesceglie, the guy who had the Melky suspension almost a month before anyone else, I am very concerned about a Braun PED suspension. Thanks, SportsGrid.)

2. Mike Trout, Los Angeles of Anaheim (.326/.399/.564)

Mike Trout is the greatest thing since sliced bread. No, he’s more than that. Mike Trout is the greatest thing since the internet. The 30 home runs he hit as a 20-year old (!) was an unexpected bonus, but I watched every one of those dingers and I can tell you that the power is real. Many forecasters are predicting a decline in his homer output, but I would like to remind everyone that Trout was able to hit 30 home runs in just 139 games. Even if his power regresses slightly, Trout should hit at least 25 dongs and steal 50 bases. With a full season of games, an improved lineup, and a year of experience under his belt, the sky is the limit for Magic Mike. Feel free to draft him first overall.

Tier 2 – Dreads, Dingers, Steals And Wheels

3. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh (.327/.400/.553)

Oh how I love me some Andrew McCutchen. The dreaded Pirate was a monster last season. Cutch has managed to increase his home run total in each year of his career. Left-handed pitchers are probably better off just walking him (.392 vs. lefties last year). However, his stolen base numbers have been declining for three seasons. Cutch has vowed to steal more bases this year, but the problem doesn’t lie in the number of attempts he gets but in the number of failures he endures. As fast as Cutch is, it is flatly unacceptable to be caught 12 times in a season. If he can improve on his success rate this year, then he should have a shot at a 30/30 season.

4. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami (.290/.361/.608)

If Stanton has a healthy career, then I think he has a legitimate shot at the all-time home run record. Yep, I think he is that good. I also don’t believe any of the popular speculation that he will be unable to produce without support. Why? Well, Stanton didn’t have any real support last season and he still put up a .608 SLG%. If you want an example of a high-powered season with no support all you need to do is look at McCutcehn’s last year. I fully expect Stanton to lead the majors in dingers this year.

5. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles (.303/.367/.538)

Kemp would be higher on this list if it weren’t for all the injuries he has endured over the past two seasons. Whenever I read the word “detached” in an injury report I get very worried. The shoulder Kemp injured is the one he uses to pull the bat through the zone, so I am expecting him to lose some of his power this season. If he can get back to stealing 30 bases then a 20/30 season with a high average should be attainable. Do not draft him expecting 40/40.

6. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado (.303/.371/.510)

Despite his sluggish home run output, I still really like Gonzalez. Cargo’s home runs have slowed because his GB% has increased and his FB% has decreased for three consecutive seasons. If you play in the thin air of Colorado it is probably a good idea to hit as many balls in the air as you can. The 27-year old season is supposed to be a magical year for most baseball players, so I think Cargo’s power will rebound. I am expecting a 25/25 campaign with a high average.

Tier 3 – We Swing Hard

7. Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles of Anaheim (.285/.354/.577)

Josh Hamilton is a crazy hitter to analyze. Who led the league in swinging strike percentage last season? Josh Hamilton. His 20% SwStr percentage was 4.5% higher than the next guy, Chris Davis. The other players at the top of the list are far from elite hitters. However, when you look at his 43 bombs from last year in conjunction with his batted ball numbers all you can really conclude is that Josh Hamilton loves to swing the bat. Luckily for his owners, Hamilton hits enough balls out of the park. The bigger dimensions in Anaheim will certainly zap some of his power, but he should still hit 30+ bombs with an elite number of runs and RBI.

8. Jose Bautista, Toronto (.241/.358/.527)

Joey Bats is coming off wrist surgery this offseason and since I used to be a big Rickie Weeks fan I am very scared of wrist injuries. If Bautista can get back into the swing of things then he has a chance to reach 40 home runs again. However, because of my aforementioned fears I think it is more reasonable to predict Bautista’s home run total to be somewhere in the low 30’s. His OBP skills will play very well in the potent Toronto lineup, so draft him expecting great numbers in HR, runs, and RBI.

9. Jason Heyward, Atlanta (.269/.335/.479)

Heyward broke out last year in a big way. After a preposterous rookie season in 2010, when he had a .394 OBP as a 20-year old, Heyward suffered through a distressing sophomore campaign. However, Jay-Hey put it all together in his third year and was able to post his first 20/20 season. Hittracker classifies 14 of Heyward’s 27 dingers as “Just Enough” or “Lucky,” so it’s unlikely that we will see him hit 30 this season. That said, he should be able to go 20/20, hit around .280, and have an elite number of runs scored.

10. Matt Holliday, St. Louis (.295/.379/.497)

I am higher on Matt Holliday than most forecasters this year. I love the security he gives you as a manager. Holliday can be counted on for 25+ home runs, a .300 average, and 90+ marks in both runs and RBI. This might be the last season he can be considered for the top ten, but the confidence I have in his steady production keeps him in the third tier.

Tier 4 – That’s A Clown Tier, Bro

11. Justin Upton, Atlanta (.280/.355/.430)

Justin case everything goes wrong Upton Atlanta this year you should avoid paying top dollar for my 11th ranked outfielder (Boom!). There are several players beneath J. Upton who are more reliable. That said, not many players have the raw talent that the younger Upton possesses. J. Upton will be playing close to his hometown, next to his brother, and in a stacked lineup. In other words, he is out of excuses. I fully expect a 95/25/100/20 season with a .290 average. The only thing keeping him out of the top ten is his proclivity to underachieve.

12. Jay Bruce, Cincinnati (.252/.327/.514)

I love it when a young player increases his home run total every season. If Jay Bruce continues that trend then he is going to hit 40 home runs very soon. I’m penciling Bruce in for 35 home runs with runs scored and RBI numbers above 90. Just don’t expect him to hit above .260.

13. Bryce Harper, Washington (.270/.340/.477)

Bryce Harper is a golden child. I have seen him go in the first round of some of my mock drafts. That is a little ridiculous. In order to justify a first round selection, Harper would need to go 30/30 with a .300 average. I just don’t see that happening this year. However, I do think Harper will hit 25 home runs and steal at least 15 bases. He’s probably going to be a top-ten outfielder going into next year, but people need to temper their expectations for 2013.

14. Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees (.232/.319/.492)

Granderson has abused the short porch at Yankee Stadium for the past two seasons to the tune of 84 home runs. In 2013, only two of his 43 dingers went to the opposite field. Unfortunately, Grandy fractured his forearm this spring and is going to miss about six weeks of the regular season. All things considered, that’s not so bad. The injury will probably keep him from hitting 40+ bombs for a third year in a row, but he should still be able to smack 32-36. Grandy’s average will be bad, but the power will make up for it. (Note: Granderson was on the same list as Braun for a potential PED suspension this year)

Tier 5 – As Long As They Aren’t My Best Guy

15. Adam Jones, Baltimore (.287/.334/.505)

Adam Jones had his best season ever in 2013. Jones is another example of a young player who has gradually increased his power output over the past few seasons. Everything went right for Jones last year in terms of BABIP and HR/FB%. As such, I don’t see Jones repeating his 32 home runs, but a .280/25/15 season is still very good.

16. Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland (.292/.356/.505)

I’m pretty high on Cespedes this season. He had a great showing in his first year in the big leagues and seemed to get better as the year went on. His second half triple slash was .311/.376/.533. If Yoenis hadn’t missed 31 games last season due to injury he would have gone 20/20. As long as he hasn’t changed his workout routine, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cespedes go .290/30/20 this year.

17. B.J. Upton, Atlanta (.246/.298/.454)

I wish B.J. Upton’s 2007, when he went .300/.386/.508 as a rookie, hadn’t been so good. Maybe then I would not be so disappointed with his production. B.J. almost went 30/30 in 2012 and I am still frustrated by him. His OBP skills have slowly evaporated, but his power/speed combo makes him a very good player in 5×5 formats. Hopefully he can feed off the good vibes in Atlanta and put up a monster season. Don’t bet on it, though.

18. Allen Craig, St. Louis (.307/.354/.522)

The only thing holding Allen Craig back is his frail body. Apparently, he did not drink enough milk as a child, much to the chagrin of fantasy owners. As long as his knee holds up this year he will hit 25+ home runs with a .300 average.

19. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay (.270/.377/.471)

Ben Zobrist is awesome. Check my 2nd base and shortstop rankings for the particulars, as he is better utilized at either of those positions.

20. Shoo-Shin Choo, Cincinnati (.283/.373/.441)

The big question: will Great American Ballpark offer the Korean sensation a chance to return to his 20/20 form? If Choo increases his 27.1 FB% from last season, then the answer is “yes.” Hitting atop the Reds lineup will at least give him ample opportunity to score runs and steals bases, even if he misses the 20-homer mark.

Tier 6 – The Glass Menagerie

21. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis (.269/.346/.495)

This ranking might raise some eyebrows, but I am still a Beltran fan. I also think that there might be a fountain of youth in St. Louis. I’m not expecting Beltran to hit over 30 homers again, but a modest .270/25/10 season with solid run production numbers will do just fine.

22. Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston (.271/.313/.370)

I am an Ellsbury hater. He is made of glass and his crazy 2011 season always struck me as a fluke. If he can stay healthy, which is a big “if,” then he should steal 40+ bases and score 90+ runs. However, do not expect more than 10 home runs.

23. Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay (.246/.314/.388)

Jennings has racked up a lot of injury time in his young career. He is a popular breakout pick for the 2013 season, but from what I can see his ceiling is not that high. His value lies in his exceptional talent for stealing bases, so if Jennings nabs 40+ to go along with 10 homers he will be a very useful outfielder.

24. Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox (.304/.334/.516)

After falling off the table in 2011, Rios came back with a vengeance last year. Rios is a candidate for regression, due to his inflated BABIP, but hitting in US Cellular should keep his home run total over 20. Do not let 2011 scare you away. Rios is a legit 20/20 talent.

Tier 7 – As Long As They Aren’t My Second Guy

25. Hunter Pence, San Francisco (.253/.319/.425)

After one of his best seasons in 2011, Pence’s number fell off the table in 2012. Two things worry me about the drop in Pence’s average: 1) his contact % dropped to a career low (72.6), and 2) his swinging strike % was the highest of his career (12.9). On top of that, Pence has stopped running. He will hit his usual 20+ home runs, but he has to curtail his free-swinging ways in order to boost his average.

26. Michael Bourn, Cleveland (.274/.348/.391)

At this point, Bourn is a known entity. He will give you a decent average, 40-50 steals, and 90+ runs scored. He won’t repeat his career high home run total (9) from last year, but everything else will be in line.

27. Alex Gordon, Kansas City (.294/.368/.455)

Alex Gordon is a good lesson in tempering expectations for highly touted prospects. He won’t ever turn into a 30-bomb behemoth, but you shouldn’t hold that against him. Gordon traded his power for line drives and the swap has yielded two very nice seasons. He will hit in one of the top three spots in the Kansas City’s lineup every day, so you can count on another .290 season, 15-20 home runs and close to 100 runs. If he can get his stolen base total back to around 15, then he is going to be a very good player in 2013.

28. Josh Willingham, Minnesota (.260/.366/.524)

Josh is certainly willing to hammer (well, I tried). Willingham hit a ridiculous 35 home runs last year. The 21.2 HR/FB% will probably fall back a few points, but the regression won’t keep Willingham from hitting close to 30 bombs. Expect at least .260/80/25/90.

29. Austin Jackson, Detroit (.300/.377/.479)

A-Jax has slowly quieted his detractors each season. His BB%, K%, and home run numbers have all gone in the right direction for three consecutive campaigns. It is a bit odd that his .377 OBP came with only 12 stolen bases, but I still like Jackson to go 15/20 this year with a .285 average and 100 runs scored.

Tier 8 – Crap, I Need A Third Guy

30. Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles of Anaheim (.268/.317/.491)

It was a tale of two seasons for Trumbo last year. In the first half, Trumbo hit .306 with 22 home runs. In the second half, he had a paltry .227 average and hit just 10 home runs. That said, you are drafting Mark Trumbo for his power, not his average. With 61 homers blasted in just two seasons, Trumbo is a safe bet to hit at least 30 bombs.

31. Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee (.260/.305/.463)

Everyone take a deep breath. Carlos Gomez is not going to go 20/50 this season. Cargo-lite (patent pending) has a good chance to go 15/30. That said, I am worried that his average could be very, very low. If he gets even a little bit unlucky on BABIP, then his average could dip to .230. Gomez is the epitome of a high-risk/high-reward player.

32. Andre Ethier, Los Angeles (.284/.351/.460)

After his power took a year off in 2011, Ethier was back to his reliable 20-homer self in 2012. There is not too much else to say about Ethier. He is a reliable player who is relatively boring to draft and own. However, a .280/75/20/85 season does have value.

33. Nick Swisher, Cleveland (.272/.364/.473)

Leaving the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium will hurt Swisher’s numbers, but the fall will not be dramatic. Swisher is going to hit 22-26 home runs, have a .275 average, and net 75+ in both runs and RBI.

34. Corey Hart, Milwaukee (.270/.334/.507)

Hart is coming off his second knee surgery in as many years, this time for a microfracture and a busted meniscus. Despite that, Hart is a solid option for power and average in the later rounds of your draft. I don’t think he is going to 30 home runs again, but he should have no problem hitting 25.

35. Norichika Aoki, Milwaukee (.288/.355/.408)

The 5’9” outfielder from Japan put together a very respectable season for Milwaukee. Aoki handled major league pitching with aplomb in 2012, posting a 7.8 BB% with just a 9.4 K%. He complimented his 51 extra-base hits with 30 steals and a .288 average. His 2013 encore should be no different.

36. Martin Prado, Arizona (.301/.359/.438)

I already wrote up Prado in my 3B rankings.