A smorgasbord of fantasy baseball advice

Need a Streamer has been slow lately, to say the least. I’ve missed discussing a lot of player news and opportunities to provide good streaming picks. So I’m going to try something new, and maybe it’ll stick. It should be fairly explanatory. I hope it holds readers over until the end of this week, which is probably the busiest week for me in a long time.

Player to add that isn’t Gregory PolancoA.J. Pollock, ARI OF
He’s on the DL, so you’ve got time to pull the trigger. His batting average isn’t for real, but the 6 homers and 8 steals are nice, and he will more than likely join the small number of players who achieve double-digits in each category in a given year. I would expect a batting average closer to .265, but if you can punt average for counting stats in a deeper league, I would go for it.

Hitter to drop: Jay Bruce, CIN OF
Honorable mention goes to Brandon Phillips, Bruce’s teammate, but it is more fitting that the suggested replacement player can actually replace someone. Bruce is striking out about 5 percentage points more often than last year and almost 8 percentage points more than his career rate. Meanwhile, he is hitting more ground balls than fly balls, whereas about two-thirds of all of Bruce’s batted balls over his career have been put in the air. The sample size is quite large now, and I think there may be something wrong with the slugger. His ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB) is a little bit deflated, but even if it returns to his career average, I still wouldn’t expect him to hit much more than 20 home runs, and that’s a serious problem for a guy who’s value lies solely in his power. Bruce is shaping up to be the next Curtis Granderson, and I have legitimate concerns about his current and future value.

Pitcher to add: Marcus Stroman, TOR
Stroman could quickly rise to the top as Toronto’s ace come 2015 if he lives up to his minor league numbers. So far, he has. I liked Stroman a lot as a prospect, as he averaged 10.6 strikeouts and only 2.4 walks per nine innings. He began the year in the bullpen and suffered a couple of brutal appearances in a row, so his two recent (and excellent) starts have improved his numbers to a still-shaky 5.40 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. But I think he’s a starter by trade, and his 13 strikeouts and two walks over 12 innings as a starter support such a claim. Your window to claim Stroman may stay open for a while, especially if other owners simply look at his misleading ERA and WHIP or, on ESPN, his average points, which stands at an underwhelming 3.3 per appearance. However, if he keeps flashing this kind of quality, you’ll start to run out of time.

Wednesday streamer, other than Stroman: Rubby De La Rosa, BOS
I’ll be honest, I’m not thrilled about him, but everyone has caught on to Tyson Ross (although he’s still only 73-percent owned), so tomorrow’s options are slim. De La Rosa comes with K’s but also BB’s; however, he carries a 13-to-2 K/BB ratio into this start on the road, so perhaps he can continue to keep the command issues under control.

Prospect(s) to watch: Joc Pederson, LAD OF, and Mookie Betts, BOS 2B
Pederson and Betts will likely not be up any time soon, as they’re blocked by some pretty large figures at their respective positions. But given the hype surrounding a couple of 2014′s call-ups in George Springer and, most recently, Gregory Polanco, it’s good to know who the next impact players will be. Pederson is batting .327/.437/.615 with 16 home runs and 14 steals. Are you serious? I think he’s a bit too far to reach a 40/40 season, but 30/30 is probably at this point. It’s unfortunate the Dodgers are letting him rot in the minors beneath a pile of unmovable cash in their impacted outfield. Betts recently moved up to Triple-A Pawtucket; prior to this move, he stole 22 bases in 285 plate appearances while batting .346 with almost twice as many walks as strikeouts. He’s going to be really good, with astounding plate discipline, decent speed and a little bit of pop, too. If you hear Pederson’s and Bett’s names, or the names of their predecessors (Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Dustin Pedroia…), in next month’s trade talks, get ready to prospectively add, add, add.

Revisiting my bold preseason predictions

This just in, folks: Corey Kluber leads all MLB pitchers in wins above replacement (WAR). The great thing about running your own website is you have full discretion to toot your own horn when you please. As much as I find it tacky to do so, I made bold predictions for a reason: to see if my projections are actually worth a damn. I just wish I had time to make more; I should have started early in the offseason as I ran out of time the longer the academic year has worn on. (I’m a graduate student, so publishing to this website is not always the most optimal use of my time. According to societal expectations, at least — I think it’s a great use of my time!)

Anyway, let’s revisit my bold predictions to discuss a) their accuracy thus far, and b) why they have (or have not) been accurate. Here they are, in chronological order:

Tyson Ross will be a top-45 starting pitcher

Ross is ranked 31st of all starters, according to ESPN’s Player Rater. Instead of rehashing details, you can read the linked article to see why I glowed about Ross this offseason and have chosen him as a streamer several times already this year (before he gained more recognition and, consequently, more ownership). That he qualifies as a reliever in ESPN leagues is a huge plus as well. I readily admit it’s not insane for a random names to rank highly in the player rater; just check out the names around Ross’, including Alfredo Simon, Josh Beckett, Aaron Harang and Collin McHugh. Unlike the names I mentioned, though, I think Ross has the natural ability to stay there, given his strikeout propensity that limit the damage done by walks (which, by the way, is a problem nowhere near as bad as Shelby Miller‘s – I guess six wins will mask his atrociously bad WHIP that will blow up in his face sooner rather than later.) Ross is still available in 21 percent of ESPN leagues, so if he’s out there, you should grab him. Just don’t expect him to keep winning as often in front of that terrible San Diego offense.

Brad Miller will be a top-5-to-7 shortstop

As terribly as this prediction has turned out — Miller is batting .151/.230/.247 with 3 HR and 3 SB — I do not regret making it. Miller has struck out in 28 percent of his plate appearances, which is way, way worse than he ever was in Triple-A or even last year, when he struck out 17 percent of the time. It pains me deeply that The Triple Machine hasn’t hit a triple. Have I given up on him this year? Honestly, yes. His batting average on balls in play is grossly unlucky right now, but even regression to the mean won’t fix what his strikeout tendency has broken. But I still like him as a sleeper for next year, or even as a late bloomer this year. If he can demonstrate an improvement in his plate discipline as the year wears on, I will give him another chance. It upsets me, though, that he had such a hot spring. It fuels the fire of analysts who criticize spring training stats as unreliable. I agree, to an extent, but Miller’s spring stats were an extension of his 2013 season — albeit an extension inflated by some good luck. It’s worth emphasizing here that strikeouts really aren’t luck-based, so to say the his spring training was lucky is an ignorant dismissal.

Corey Kluber is this year’s Hisashi Iwakuma (aka big breakout candidate)

There’s one thing I, at least, can privately appreciate about my bold predictions: I abided by all of them in every single I’m in, unless someone happened to grab a pitcher before me. Ultimately, in four leagues, I grabbed Ross and Miller in four of them, and Kluber in three — and in the fourth one, I promptly traded Jayson Werth and Tyson Ross (who I drafted in the last round) for Norichika Aoki and Corey Kluber (this is a points league, so Aoki carries some value for his lack of K’s and contact approach). Did I win the trade? Who knows — I traded one guy I liked for another I liked more. Point is, I actually rolled with my bold predictions. Might as well eat my words, right? (Is that how that saying goes?)

I got Kluber in the equivalent of the last round in every draft and for $1 in my primary keeper auction league. Yes, I’m bragging. But, more importantly, this isn’t a revelation to me. I knew Kluber would be good based on last year’s peripherals, as did a host of other people on FanGraphs (namely, Carson Cistulli and the Corey Kluber Society). But a lot of people didn’t see it coming, which is crazy to me, and it makes me question what it really takes to become a paid professional “fantasy expert.” Tristan H. Cockcroft ranked Kluber 58th of starting pitchers this preseason, which is better than I expected, but look at some of the names above him: Matt Garza? Justin Masterson? Zack Wheeler? For a guy who invests so much in seeing an improvement in skills, Wheeler has been, for his entire career, buying up billboards to plaster them with slogans such as I HAVE CONTROL ISSUES. Kluber is essentially the antithesis of Wheeler. And, yet, who has the smaller track record? Ridiculous… (In Eric Karabell’s defense, he said pitching is so deep this year that owners may not be able to draft Kluber, which was a roundabout way of indicating he liked him, at least somewhat, heading into draft day.)

Anyway, I’m clearly on a rant, and I need to get this train back on the rails. Kluber is somehow not 100-percent owned at this point — he’s 99.9-percent owned, but hey, at least I’m not lying — yet he’s striking out everyone and their mothers. I don’t know if he continues to strike out 10 per nine innings (10.28 K/9), but the percentage of swinging strikes he has produced has jumped 1.4 percent, placing in the top 1o in the category, behind Max Scherzer and ahead of Madison Bumgarner. This is all a long-winded way of saying he could, and perhaps should, be a 200-K guy this year. In that sense, maybe he’s not a buy-low guy, but his lack of name recognition and his .350 BABIP makes him a prime candidate to be exactly that. A handful of rankings have him in the 35-to-40 range; even then, I can give you a case to trade perhaps a dozen names ahead of him for Kluber, including Gio Gonzalez, Matt Cain and, yes, maybe even Justin Verlander (who, at this point, is still owned in most leagues simply because of name recognition and past performance; and while I understand the importance of past performance, do not let yourself be blinded by nostalgia).

Dan Haren will strike out fewer than 7 batters per nine innings

This one is random, but hey, it’s legit: Haren has only a 6.89 K/9 right now. You can read the linked post to find out way. I may rip him a little too hard — his control still makes him a fairly solid starter — but he’s more of a Kyle Lohse these days than, well, a Corey Kluber. Lohse is serviceable, but he’s not elite, and Haren should be able to net you an extra win or two along the way in front of a lethal Dodgers offense.

OK, that’s it. I’m 3-for-4 in my bold predictions so far this year, which is a pretty good day at the plate, so I’ll take it.

Also, the academic year is winding down, and once it winds down completely, Need a Streamer will ramp up with more content. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Player Rater Watch: Second Base, last 30 days

I think someone flipped the ESPN Player Rater upside-down for second basemen. It’s, how to say it… bizarre. Two, maybe three of the top 10 now were drafted as such on draft day. The rest are scattered all over. Maybe this is how it looked last year, but honestly, I don’t remember. However, I know enough about statistics and this beautiful sport to know that a lot of crazy stuff can happen in small sample sizes, and when it happens at the beginning of the season, the strangeness magnifies.

I don’t have high hopes for the current top 10, though. I think six of them have a chance to stay there, but as we know all too well, anything can happen.

Dee Gordon, LAD | #1 2B
I wrote a lengthy post about Gordon, but if you are lazy, here is the quickest of recaps: I project .261/.300/.326, 58 R, 1 HR, 31 RBI and 57 SB for his remaining 118 (or so) games — that is, if his caliber of play enables him to stay in the lineup all year with Alexander Guerrero and his $28 million contract breathing down Gordon’s neck from Triple-A.

Brian Dozier, MIN | #2 2B
Man, did I ever underestimate this guy. It’s difficult when I player who never really hit for much power in the minors launches 18 long balls and swipes 14 bags to boot. It’s hard to give him credit for what he did, and I regressed his ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB) given his lack of track record. It does make a bit of sense, though, if you remove the historical component: the dude is 27 years old, essentially entering his prime years. It doesn’t really matter, though; the fringe 20 HR, 20 SB candidate is now on pace for a 40-40 season. That won’t happen, but do I think there’s a legitimate chance he hits 25? Absolutely. And who can even say about the stolen bases. You have to think it’ll slow down, but will it? At one time, I essentially called Dozier a poor man’s Ian Desmond (I also called him Brian “Bull” Dozier, which I since regret) because of his 20-20 potential but at the expense of batting average. At this point, he’s going to be a 25-25 guy, and that plus a .240 batting average perhaps makes him more valuable than Desmond and his potential 21-19-.280. And yet, after all this talk, maybe we haven’t even touched upon the most impressive statistic: his walk rate of 15.7 percent (1oth among all qualified batters), which hedges against his poor batting average. Maybe it regresses, but it doesn’t matter — Dozier is for real.

Daniel Murphy, NYM | #3 2B
I’d rather just write An Ode to Murphy, as he has long been a man-crush of mine. I owned him in 2012, when he was still a fledgling 10-10 candidate with a solid batting average. In 2013, I owned him for a little while but dropped him before he stole all the bags in all the stadiums. Now, he’s doing it all again: hitting for a high average, stealing bases and lobbing a few over the fence. He may be at his all-time best, striking out less than he did in 2012 and 2013 and walking at a career-high rate. He has also been able to sustain the fly ball rate that fueled his homer binge last year, so a 15-20 season is not out of the question at this point. Oh, the leagues we could have conquered together, Daniel…

Emilio Bonifacio, CHC | #7 2B
Bonifacio had one good year, back in 2011. This year is looking a lot like that year. The first thing that pops out about that year, though: a .372 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), a good deal above his career .336 rate. This year? A .398 BABIP. He’s batting .313 now, but that’s not as exorbitant as I would expect it to be. It has a long way to fall, and it’s only a matter of time until Bonifacio is no longer relevant in a 10-team league — that is, unless he maintains his high BABIP, which he has done before, but only on one occasion. I would sell high while the window is still open.

Anthony Rendon, WAS | #10 2B
At this point, he is what he is. I think you can expect this kind of production from here on out, which doesn’t make him an excellent second baseman, but you could certainly do worse.

Robinson Cano, SEA | #11 2B
I projected Bob Cano for 30 home runs, and I defended his plate production in a prior post. I can’t backtrack, and I won’t appear credible for recanting my statements. But I had run a projection on Cano back in March that factored in Safeco Field’s park factors, and let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty: 17 home runs. I kind of wish I stuck with it; it seemed ridiculous, especially for a home run hitter in the prime of his career. Even if he hit fewer at home, he could make up for the deficiency on the road. In his defense, his HR/FB rate is incredibly low, and that will regress; in that sense, he’s a buy-low candidate. But he’s hitting the fewest fly balls of his career, and as a Cano owner, I would feel fortunate to notch, say, 23 bombs. With that said, that means he’s still got 22 more home runs to hit, so if you succeed in buying low on him, it should pay dividends.

Dustin Pedroia, BOS | #12 2B
OK, I’m gonna say it: I’m afraid Pedroia may not reach 10 steals or 10 home runs. He simply does not hit as many fly balls as he used to, and given his HR/FB rate is right where it was last year, maybe this is the new norm, and last year wasn’t an anomaly. I would prospectively buy low on Pedroia, but I’d do it for cheap. Mark my words: Pedroia may no longer be a viable top-10 second baseman after this year.

Matt Carpenter, STL | #17 2B
Strikeouts are way up, and the BABIP is down. He has hit for high BABIPs the past two years, so it’s conceivable that his batting average rises a few ticks, but it’s the aforementioned strikeouts that are most concerning. He’s still on pace to record something like 100 runs, which is pretty awesome, so you can’t really drop him. But the RBI aren’t really there, and with not much power, speed or batting average ability, he’s starting to become a liability.

Jason Kipnis, CLE | #25 2B
Patience, young Padawan. Kipnis will come around. Don’t be surprised when he’s not near the top of the year-end Player Rater, though. That’s what injuries will do to a great player.

Need some streamers? T. Ross, Hutchison, Colon, Wood

I’ve been slacking on my streamer picks, so let’s cut straight to the chase.

Today, 5/15:
Tyson Ross, SD @ CIN
Mr. Ross is the real deal, my friends. He’s 10th of all pitchers in batters’ contact on pitches in the zone, sandwiched between the unfamiliar names of Jose Fernandez and Zack Greinke (and the players who precede him include Michael Wacha, Yordano Ventura, Julio Teheran and Max Scherzer). He doesn’t make batters chase pitches at an overwhelming rate, but they make contact on such pitches only half the time, which ranks Ross fourth only to Ervin Santana, Garrett Richards and Masahiro Tanaka. At 7.99 K/9, his K-rate should actually improve. You can really only bash him for his walk rate, but it’s no worse than Gio Gonzalez or Justin Verlander. I don’t care if it’s a road game; Ross should be owned in all leagues at this point.

Friday, 5/16:
Drew Hutchison, TOR @ TEX
I’ll be honest with you: I’m not totally sold on this matchup. Hutchison hasn’t been very impressive, but there are simply not many matchups worth exploiting on Friday. I like Hutchison for his strikeouts, and before his last start (during which he walked four), he had only walked five guys across 32-1/3 innings. His control escaped him, but if it comes back, he should be able to control a miserable Texas offense that ranks 26th of 30 teams in extra-base hits.

Saturday, 5/17:
Bartolo Colon, NYM @ WAS
Again, not crazy about this one, either. But Colon has been incredibly unlucky. The dude is walking fewer than a batter per nine innings (0.9 BB/9), so all the baserunners (and, consequently, earned runs) he has allowed are a largely a function of an elevated batting average on balls in play (BABIP). It’s hard to trust a guy who’s mired in a slump, but the luck should eventually turn in his favor. Who’s to say it won’t be this weekend? I’d take a chance. The Nationals don’t score a ton of runs, either. It’s not the best play, but it’s safer than most.

Sunday, 5/18:
Travis Wood, CHC vs. MIL
After a hot start, albeit a brief one, Wood has since collapsed in spectacular fashion, sporting a 4.91 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. So why would I ever vouch for this guy? Check out his home-road splits:

Split W L W-L% ERA GS IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP SO9 SO/W
Home 2 1 .667 2.39 4 26.1 22 7 2 4 32 0.987 10.9 8.00
Away 1 3 .250 8.02 4 21.1 31 19 2 11 12 1.969 5.1 1.09
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/15/2014.

The splits are ridiculous. They speak for themselves, although I’ll highlight the ones that are most impressive. With that said, he’s starting at home. Enough said.

Good luck and happy streaming!

On Dee Gordon’s breakout, and what to expect rest-of-season

Let’s be honest: Did anyone see Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon‘s breakout coming? No. Not one person. It was fair to say he could hold his own, maybe fight off Cuban import Alexander Guerrero for a month or two. But Gordon, who hit .229 across 2012 and 2013, did not give really any indication that he’d be this valuable.

So I want to amend the question. Rather than did anyone see it coming, could anyone see it coming? Perhaps the answer is yes.

His first year in the majors was, by most measures, pretty successful. A 23-year-old Gordon batted .304 with 24 stolen bases in 56 games. It’s no wonder why people have hoped for Gordon to break out and have been wildly disappointed in his failure to do so. Leading up to 2014, his strikeout rate skyrocketed from 11.6 to 19.8 percent, and his low batting average on balls in play (BABIP) relative to other speedsters coupled with an absolute lack of power made for poor batting and on-base rates.

Fast-forward to 2014, and Gordon has shaved his strikeout rate by 4.5 percent, a huge margin. Meanwhile, his BABIP is way up — at .378, I can tell you without looking that it’s one of the highest in Major League Baseball. Thing is, he’s a guy with enough speed and to make it work, especially if he keeps racking up hits on bunts and balls in the infield. When I say “make it work,” though, I simply mean he will maintain an above-average BABIP, maybe in the .325-.335 range, rather than stay lofted in the .370s.

Meanwhile, the steals… Oh, man, the steals. They are legit, people. It’s hard to believe that he’s stealing in almost half of his opportunities, but he is. I thought, maybe the guy is getting lucky with the number of stolen base opportunities relative to all other baserunners. According to Baseball Reference, the average baserunner has the next base available to him about 37 percent of the time. So Gordon must have, like, a rate north of 40 or even 50 percent, right? Nay, squire — Gordon has had an open base before him only 33 percent of the time.

I want to do two things, now: predict Gordon’s end-of-season stats, and predict his rest-of-season stats. Without further ado:

Revised end-of-season 2014 projection: .276/.316/.352, 82 R, 2 HR, 42 RBI, 81 SB (156 games)

That’s right, folks. This is the Billy Hamilton you were looking for. It’s important to note that I project him for 156 games, but there’s a possibility that if he falls into a deep funk, Guerrero could usurp Gordon’s role. Worse, Guerrero could do so before a slump even hits, given the $28 million the Dodgers are now watching waste away in Triple-A.

As much as it is important to see Gordon’s end-of-year stat line, it’s the rest-of-year stats that truly matter most, especially if you’re trying to decide whether to sell high on the guy or simply hang tight.

Rest-of-season projection: .261/.300/.326, 58 R, 1 HR, 31 RBI, 57 SB (118 games)

Bottom line: he’s worth his weight in gold based solely on his steals. But a .261 batting average and .300 on-base percentage don’t bode especially well for his high runs tally as well as the frequency at which he will be able to steal bases. With almost a steal every other game, though, you’re nitpicking if you are complaining about a few percentage points of OBP affected his steals.

Although I just trivialized OBP, it is worth monitoring his decline, because it will happen — trust me. Dee Gordon is not a .322 hitter, let alone a .300 hitter. He may be able to luck his way to a nice batting average, though, with a few more bunt base-hits here and there.

Overall, though, he is still not a great hitter and doesn’t get on base as much as you’d like to make him much more than a one-category player. If you’ve already staked yourself to a massive lead in steals, I’d sell high — although when I say high, I mean really high. Fifty-seven swipes in a rotisserie league is incredibly valuable. My main roto league has 80 percent more home runs than steals — that is, a home run is worth about 55 percent of every steal. Now, that’s not to say Gordon is worth a guy who can hit 103 home runs, because 1) that’s impossible, 2) Gordon simply doesn’t contribute in many other categories other than maybe runs, and 3) he’s no guarantee to finish out the year at second base. But you could probably get a really solid, well-rounded top pick (read: top-50 player) for Gordon in a trade today — maybe better.

When it’s all said and done, I think Gordon could finish as high as top-30 on the ESPN Player Rater if he can last an entire season with Guerrero breathing down his neck. And I would hold on to him until I observe a sizable downward trend in his on-base abilities midseason.

Need a Streamer? Roll out Tyson Ross on Sunday

I’m sitting in an airport so I’ll make this brief. The San Diego Padres’ Tyson Ross is pitching at home against the absolutely miserable Arizona Diamondbacks. You really couldn’t ask for more. He’s only owned in about 15 percent of ESPN leagues.

Another streamer, who doesn’t count as a “streamer” based on my criteria I’ve laid out, is the man pitching the night before (aka tomorrow, aka Saturday, May 3): Ian Kennedy. He has been excellent this season, with a 3.16 ERA and 0.95 WHIP with 37 strikeouts in 37 innings. Maybe he’s due for some regression — he’ll start allowing a few more hits eventually — but I would bet the house it won’t come against the lowly Diamondbacks. It’s worth noting that Kennedy has only walked eight batters so far this season, making for a 1.9 BB/9 and 4.6 K/BB — both career bests. It’s these adjustments that make Kennedy look like he’s shaping up for an encore of his 2011 performance, a year during which he finished 4th in the National League Cy Young voting.

Player Rater Watch: First Base, 2014 season

Is there anything more warped right now than the first baseman player rater? It’s nice to see Pujols back on top, but with all the talk of his decline, who knows if it’s for real. (I’ll take a stab at it in a second.) Cuban wunderkind Jose Abreu and his alleged “slider-speed bat” are punishing the league right now. Is Adrian Gonzalez back? Justin Morneau and Adam LaRoche, too? Who are you, Chris Colabello, and what have you done with Chris Davis and Edwin Encarnacion?

Albert Pujols, LAA | #1 1B
I’m honestly puzzled by Pujols’ stats viewed through a sabermetric lens. He is striking out in only 7.9 percent of plate appearances, down from 12.4 percent last year and second-best of his career (good thing). He is walking in only 7.9 percent of plate appearances as well, good for second-worst of his career (bad thing). He’s sporting a .240 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) (good thing, in terms of his future batting average). However, he’s hitting more ground balls than fly balls for the first time in his career, and by a wide margin (bad thing). More than a quarter of his fly balls are leaving the park, too, when his career rate is around 15 percent (bad thing, but not as bad as it sounds).

So what I’m expecting from here on out is some weird combination of: he’s not going to get as lucky on fly balls, but perhaps he will start hitting more fly balls, which will counteract some of the regression he may experience in the power department. His batting average will rise with his BABIP but fall as he hits fewer home runs, two effects that also may counteract each other.

If I’m a Pujols owner, I would watch his strikeout and fly ball rates religiously. As the season wears on, I think they will be the difference between a .265/30/100 Pujols and a .290/40/120 Pujols.

Jose Abreu, CHW | #2 1B
Abreu is about as WYSIWYG as it will get, save maybe his home run total. His batting average isn’t so high that you’ll expect him to ever hit .280, let alone .300. His ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB) is identical to Pujols’ – 25.7 percent, or nine homers in 35 fly balls — but it would be wise to expect something closer to 15 percent to hedge your bets. Still, that makes him a good bet for somewhere in the 32- to 36-homer range, given that he doesn’t get worse or tire out as the season progresses. Will he still be the 2nd-best first baseman come October? It’s hard to say; Paul Goldschmidt is doing his best impersonation of Paul Goldschmidt, and it’s only a matter of time before Miguel Cabrera, Encarnacion and Davis find their respective grooves (although the latter-most name just hit the DL). For rest-of-season production, I would still take Goldschmidt, Cabrera, Encarnacion, Pujols and Votto over Abreu at this point. However, he has a legitimate chance of being a top-3 first baseman for the season.

Adrian Gonzalez, LAD | #3 1B
Here’s your first sell-high candidate. He’s striking out at a career-worst rate, and his HR/FB rate is a career best — almost double his 2013 rate, in fact. Given his recent history, he can’t feasibly maintain any of this. His strikeout rate could lead to his first batting average below .293 since since 2009, and the home runs will eventually slow to a crawl. It would be nice to see him crack 25 home runs again, but delusions of 30 home runs are exactly that: delusions. I’ll give him 24 home runs, 26 if he’s fortunate. Either way, he’s not hitting 40 and batting .300 like his pace indicates, so if you can swindle another owner, do it!

Justin Morneau, COL | #6 1B
In his defense, his strikeouts are way down, but so are his walks. Frankly, he’s not going to hit .349 (although, after Michael Cuddyer‘s showing last year, maybe Colorado has a lucky charm stored in it somewhere), but with his much more contact-oriented approach, he could hit for a higher batting average than he has in recent years. Moreover, his 12.8-percent HR/FB, his best since 2009, could actually be sustained considering he gets to call hitters’ haven Coors Field his home park. Still, I can’t imagine he will end up in the top 10 by season’s end, as when the batting average starts to tank, so will the RBI and everything else.

Brandon Belt, SF | #7 1B
I wrote about selling high on Belt. Your window of opportunity may have closed — which is not to say that he’s going to be a bad player, but his value will never be as high as it was two weeks ago. He has hit only two home runs with four RBI in the last 14 days which striking out in almost a quarter of plate appearances. Belt’s a line drive hitter, so his above-average BABIP should keep his batting average from ever becoming a liability. But career-worst strikeout, walk and fly-ball rates coupled with an unsustainable 20.6-percent HR/FB rate make Belt’s stock in continual decline. I question now if he can even hit 20 home runs given the peripheral data. He needs to tighten up his zone and hit more balls in the air to realize his true potential, or he will drop to the back-end of the top-15 first basemen or disappear from it completely.

Chris Colabello, MIN | #8 1B
His RBI pace is near impossible. So is his batting average: a non-power hitter who strikes out in more than 25 percent of plate appearances (not to mention a .410 BABIP) is a recipe for a sub-.250 batting average. The home runs, however, could be real, and he could hit 20 home runs with 80 RBI at this point. But the chances of that happening will become more slim as the batting average plummets. Still, he’s worth your extra corner-infield (MI) or utility slot until further notice. Just be aware of the regression when it starts so you can limit the damage he does to your batting average. However, if he’s your main first baseman, I would sell high, and quickly, to get a reliable (if underperforming) first baseman in return. There’s probably no better time to simultaneously sell high and buy low given how wild first base has been this year.

Adam LaRoche, WAS | #9 1B
It’s the batting average, folks. It’s coming down. Again, in his defense, it appears he has made adjustments at the plate for the better this year. But all his value stems from his high batting average relative to his career. Sell high, ride the hot hand, whatever. But I don’t think is a repeat of 2012 by any means.

Chris Davis, BAL | #15 1B
Buy low, buy low, buy low! He’s actually striking out and walking at career-best rates. He’s even hitting a normal number of fly balls relative to recent years. He’s just getting unlucky on said fly balls, to the tune of a 6.1-percent HR/FB (compared to 22.6 percent in 2013 and 16.9 percent in 2012). Even his batting average is right where it should be. It’s only the home runs that are out of sorts. You’re a fool to think he’ll hit 50-plus home runs again, but if you buy low now, you could be the beneficiary of a big burst of them come late-May or June.

Miguel Cabrera, DET | #26 1B
Patience, young Padawan. The Magic 8-Ball says “all signs point to yes.” He’s already starting to get hot, and he’s going to get hot in a big way. One problem: he hasn’t struck out this much since his days with the Florida Marlins, and he’s not walking as much. Boy, was he ever in a slump to begin the season, though. If that has anything to do with the abnormalities in his plate discipline, then you can expect them to be corrected over the next five months. As a Cabrera owner in one of my leagues, I’m still a bit nervous, but I’m also excited for a thrilling five months.

Matt Adams, STL | #27 1B
The opposite of Pujols: lucky batting average, unlucky home runs and RBI. He’s hitting a ton of fly balls and line drives, and he’s striking out a whopping 6-percent less than last year. Me gusta. Again, patience is a virtue.

Edwin Encarnacion, TOR | #28 1B
If Cabrera was mired in a slump, then Encarnacion is in a super slump. Like Adams, given his batted ball profile, the home runs will come in due time. The most alarming statistic is the strikeouts, coming 1-in-4 plate appearances compared to 1-in-10 last year. I drooled over Encarnacion’s plate discipline last year, and how he had, by far, the highest ISO of any player to walk more than he struck out. He was, and still is, a very special hitter because of this. But if he’s devolved into a stereotypical free-swinging power hitter, he may hit close to 30 home runs than 40, and at the expense of his batting average, too. I still hold out hope — it’s hard to believe a player of his caliber can go sour overnight. It would make sense, though, if his wrist problem from the end of last year is still bothering him. That would be especially bad news, news I’d like to hear sooner rather than later.

Need a Streamer? Recommendations for April 26 to May 1

We’re too deep into the season for me to have a good excuse as to why I haven’t posted any streamer recommendations yet. Sorry! Considering this is the marquee feature after which this website is named, I think it’s high time I give some recommendations, especially now that we’ve got a feel for what guys are made of, veterans and no-namers alike.

The idea is that I only choose pitchers owned in 30 percent or fewer of ESPN leagues. The exercise is pointless if I tell you to stream guys who are 100-percent owned because you can’t pick them up on a whim to stream them into your lineup for the starts the next day.

I keep track of the ongoing stats of streamer starts here, and the streamer for the day will be listed in the right-hand module above the links.

Sat. 4/26: Vidal Nuno, NYY (v. LAA)
Nuno’s first start was ugly, but his second was much better, striking out six in five innings and allowing only three hits (zero runs). I’m not a huge fan of Nuno, but it’s all about the matchup, as the Angels’ Hector Santiago is homer-prone and headed into a very hitter-friendly ballpark. Get past the fact that the Angels spanked the Yankees tonight and you won’t feel so bad.

Sun. 4/27: Ian Kennedy, SD (@ WAS)
A road game in Washington is not as threatening as it may have once seemed. The Nationals are sluggish right now, and Kennedy has been a bright spot on an otherwise lackluster Padres team. He has posted a 3.60 ERA and 1.07 WHIP through five starts with 28 strikeouts in 30 innings. He’s also facing Taylor Jordan, who has been incredibly hittable through his first four starts. Whether or not you think Kennedy is legit, I’m riding the hot hand on this one.

Mon. 4/28: Tyson Ross, SD (@ SF)
I made a bold prediction about Ross before the season started, so it’s no surprise I’m on board for this matchup against a team that, aside from its decent run total, can’t hit a lick, batting only .234 as a team this season. Ross has shaken off his command problems from his first two starts and has struck out 28 in 31-1/3 innings.

Tue. 4/29: Corey Kluber, CLE (@ LAA)
This isn’t about me loving Kluber as much as it is there just aren’t many options today, with a lot of guys owned in a lot of leagues. It helps, however, that in his last start he allowed no earned runs on four hits with 11 strikeouts and no walks. That’s the Kluber I know and love.

Wed. 4/30: Nathan Eovaldi, MIA (v. ATL)
The Braves aren’t a miserable offense, although they certainly can be when they go cold. Eovaldi appears to have shored up his command problems by walking only four batters over his first five starts while striking out 30 in 31-1/3 innings, waltzing to a 2.87 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Honestly, the Marlins aren’t terrible, especially with how Giancarlo Stanton is hitting and some dynamism from the young Christian Yelich. Take a chance! It’s not always about the win column; Eovaldi should be able to help in ratios and K’s, too (a win would be nice, however).

Update, 10:45 p.m.: I overlooked it when I wrote this piece, but Drew Hutchison of Toronto is pitching in Kansas City on Wednesday. He has struck out nine in each of his last two starts, and whatever problems he was having at the onset of the season have vanished, at least temporarily. If he has another monster game, I can assure you he will be a hot addition on May 1. He faces a flailing Royals team led by the eternally mediocre Bruce Chen; if the game were in Toronto instead of one the road, I would actually endorse him over Eovaldi.

Thu. 5/1: Josh Beckett, LAD (@ MIN)
He probably will be owned in more than 30 percent of leagues by next week, but whatever. He doesn’t look like vintage Beckett, but he looks good enough to roll out there on a slow day. Also, I didn’t want to have to pick Nuno again.

Man, I don’t like picking streamers this far in advance, especially if offenses start to get hot or go cold, but that’s just the way it goes. I’m going to have to suck it up and deal with the consequences. I can only hope they’re all good consequences.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy some streaming success!

Player Rater Watch: Catchers, 2014 Season

If you’re familiar with the ESPN player rater (or any website’s player rater, for that matter), you have probably seen the last-7 and last-15 functions, aka the king and queen of small sample sizes. Looking at small sample sizes in fantasy baseball is especially interesting because virtually every player has the opportunity to be the best player in a given week — such is the nature of baseball. Better, seeing unfamiliar or long-irrelevant names making a splash is a good enough reason to figure out what this guy is all about, and whether his performance looks like sustainable or if it’s a flash in the pan.

I’ll start this feature with catchers, currently led by the red-hot Devin Mesoraco. I won’t highlight every catcher, but the ones who are doing especially good or bad will earn my attention.

Devin Mesoraco, CIN | #1 C
Has anything really changed with this 15-homer, low-average catcher? In short: no, not really. His strikeout and walk rates are about normal, although he is hitting a few more fly balls and more of those are leaving the park. Somehow, it always comes down to batting average on balls in play (BABIP) — and that’s exactly what’s happening here, as Mesoraco’s .477 batting average is being buoyed by a BABIP above .500. This is a sinking ship you will have to abandon eventually. However, no reason to drop the player as long as he’s hot.

This brings me to an interesting point about fantasy baseball, though. Owners are inclined to pick up someone amid an uncharacteristic and pronounced hot streak. I haven’t done the research, but the odds are, by the time you’ve noticed the hot streak, it’s already ending. (Ones that last so long, such as Charlie Blackmon‘s of Colorado, are the exception rather than the norm.) If you pick him up, you’re likely to experience more negative effects as the player in question regresses back to a normalized stat line. The problem is the bad performance is blinded by his inflated stats, and when he falls back down to .300, it doesn’t feel so bad.

But what happens is if Mesoraco is batting .477 through 44 at-bats, which he is, and then falls to .307 after 88 at-bats, that means he batted a lowly .159 over those next 44 at-bats. And that’s horrible, frankly.

What’s worse is Mesoraco, a career .246 batter, should expect even more regression than what I just stated. If he’s batting a normal .250 after, say, 160 at-bats, he will have batted .164 during the 116 at-bats that followed his hot streak.

Anyway. That ends a mini-rant. Sell-high on Mesoraco. Don’t be afraid to drop him at his peak. When you’ve reached the top of the mountain, there’s nowhere to go but down.

Matt Wieters, BAL | #2 C
I’ll pose another question just so I can immediately answer it: Is Wieters back? Not really, no. It depends on how you value him; if you’re willing to take a hit in batting average, he’s worth your attention. Again, he’s benefiting from a high BABIP, but mostly, he’s hitting an extreme number of fly balls right now — about 17 percent more often than his career rate.  So the home runs are going to slow down as well. Wieters suffered from a pretty bad BABIP last year, and I think Wieters circa 2011 and 2012 (.255 BA, 70 R, 23 HR, 75 RBI) is a reasonable expectation at this point. (For the record, I projected him for .256 BA, 60 R, 23 HR, 73 RBI.)

Evan Gattis, ATL | #4 C
Didn’t Gattis start last year equally hot? He was the talk of the town. His peripherals all look pretty identical to last year. His batting average will come down a bit, although the people who think he’s a .240-.250 hitter could be sorely mistaken. I took the under on his batting average when I projected .264, but he could hit as high as .285 or so if he maintains a league-average .300 BABIP. Otherwise, the strikeout, walk and fly-ball rates all trend similarly to last year, except for the ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB), which is a tad inflated. Dude’s legit, but be wary of the inevitable slump. Career OPS by month:

April: .901 (.936 in 2014)
May: 1.045
June: .567
July: .609
August: .438
September: .780

Carlos Santana, CLE | #49 C
You read correctly: the No. 49 catcher, slotting comfortably between — you guessed it – Wil Nieves and Jeff Mathis. Wow. The strikeouts are up a tick, but so are the walks. The RBI are nonexistent, but that’s also not his fault, beyond the fact that his batting average is well below the Mendoza line. But his BABIP is equally miserable, sitting at .160, and as aforementioned, the lack of RBI aren’t his fault, as they number of runners on base are out of Santana’s control. I think this is a prime example of a player on whom to buy low. His one RBI per 23 at-bats is unsustainable — the worst single-season RBI rate is one per 7.3 at-bats, in 2013. This guy has a lot of positive regression coming his way, contributing not only a wealth of batting average but also RBI.

It’s worth noting he is hitting 10-percent fewer fly balls than usual; it’s the first time in a season he is hitting more ground balls than fly balls. But, again, this is a small sample size. I would buy Santana for pennies on the dollar or, if you’re fortunate enough, add him from free agency.

Pitchers to sell high, buy low or cut bait

All right. It’s April. It’s horrifying, unless you’re doing well, and then it’s not. But, full disclosure, I’m not. Chicago White Sox staff ace Chris Sale just hit the 15-day disabled list yesterday, joining the Philadelphia Phillies’ Cole Hamels, Seattle Mariners’ James Paxton, Tampa Bay Rays’ Alex Cobb, Cincinnati Reds’ Mat Latos, New York Yankees’ David Robertson and the Detroit Tigers’ Doug Fister on my teams’ DLs. It’s killing me, really. It’s incredibly painful.

What I’m saying is I’ve spent more time than I’d care to admit frolicking in free agency, trying to figure out which early-season studs are legit or not. I’ve been pondering various buy-low situations as well. So I jumped into a pool of peripherals and PITCHf/x data to look for answers.

The list below is not remotely exhaustive. It’s mostly players I am watching or already using as replacements for my teams. Here they are, in no particular order.

Jake Peavy, BOS | 0-0, 3.33 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 9.25 K/9
Peavy’s prime came and went about five years ago, so, full disclosure, I don’t know as much about him off the top of my head as I should. But I do know one thing: he doesn’t strike out a batter per inning anymore. In his defense, batters’ contact rate against him is the best it has been since 2009, his last truly good year. So maybe he will strike out a few more batters than last year, but I think it’ll be closer to 2012′s 7.97 K/9, not 2009′s 9.74 K/9. The WHIP is atrocious;  the walk rate is through the roof. If there’s a guy in your league who will pay for what will end up being the illusion of ERA and strikeouts, by all means, trade him. He’s owned in 100 percent of leagues but doesn’t deserve to be.
Verdict: Sell high

John Lackey, BOS | 2-2, 5.25 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 8.63 K/9
Another Boston pitcher, another bad start to the season. I like Lackey a lot more, though, for a variety of reasons. One, last year’s renaissance was legitimate. Two, he’s not walking many batters right now, so his unspectacular ratios are more a result of an unlucky batting average on balls in play (.333 BABIP) than incompetence. Three, his swinging strike and contact rates are currently career bests. Again, we’re working with small sample sizes here, and this could easily regress. But considering his velocity is also at a career high, I don’t find it improbable that Lackey actually does better than he did last season. If an owner in your league has already dropped him, put in your waiver claim now.
Verdict: Buy low

Jesse Chavez, OAK | 1-0, 1.38 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 9.69 K/9
Talk about unexpected. Chavez, who has been relevant about zero times, is making for an intriguing play in all leagues. It’s a given he will regress, especially considering the .242 BABIP, but his improved walk rate could be here to stay, as he is pounding the zone more than he ever has in his career. The strikeouts are somewhat of a mirage, but it looks like he can be a low-WHIP, moderate-strikeout guy, and that’s still valuable.
Verdict: Sell really high, or just ride the hot hand

Nathan Eovaldi, MIA | 1-1, 3.55 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.17 K/9
I wouldn’t call Eovaldi a trendy sleeper, but he certainly was a sleeper coming into 2014. It was all about whether he could command his pitchers better — and, like magic, it appears he has, walking only 1.07 batters per nine innings as opposed to 3.39-per-nine last year. The swinging strike and contact rates are concerning, as they are the lowest of his career, so it’s hard to see his strikeout rate going anywhere but down. However, he’s throwing 65 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, highest of all qualified pitchers. So there are two ways to look at this. His control has probably legitimate improved. Unfortunately, even the masterful Cliff Lee only threw 53.3 percent of pitches in the zone last year, and I am hesitant to claim Eovaldi has better control than Lee. This could be a “breakout” year of sorts for Eovaldi, but I’m using that term liberally here. He’s only owned in 20.5 percent of leagues, so this makes him more of a ride-the-hot-hand type, like Mr. Chavez above.
Verdict: Eventually drop, ideally before he does damage to your team

Mark Buehrle, TOR | 4-0, 0.64 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 6.11 K/9
Look, I have had a long-standing man crush on Buehrle, but this is ridiculous. You know better than I that these happy dreams will soon become nightmares, not because Buehrle is awful or anything, but because regression rears its head in occasionally very brutal ways.
Verdict: Sell high

Alfredo Simon, CIN | 0.86 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 5.57 K/9
Something isn’t right here. A 0.81 WHIP and… fewer than six strikeouts per nine innings? As you become more familiar with sabermetrics, you quickly realize certain things don’t mesh. A low WHIP combined with the low strikeout rate is one of those things. I can tell you without looking that his BABIP is impossibly low — and, now looking, I see I’m right: it’s .197. Tristan H. Cockcroft of ESPN is all about Simon, and in his defense, Simon’s PITCHf/x data foreshadows some positive regression coming his way in the strikeout department. But it can only get worse from here for Simon. However, I think he has a bit of a Dan Straily look to him, and that’s certainly serviceable.
Verdict: Sell high, or just ride the hot hand

Yovani Gallardo, MIL | 1.46 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 6.93 K/9
This is a disaster waiting to happen. Like Simon, his strikeout rate is low, but for Gallardo, it is deservedly so: his swinging strike and contact rates are, by far, career worsts. Meanwhile, his ratios are buoyed by a .264 BABIP and 89.8% LOB% (left-on-base percentage), despite his 74.7% career LOB%. The Brewers will fall with him. Sell high, and sell fast.
Verdict: Sell high

Shelby Miller, STL | 3.57 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 8.34 K/9
Miller is the first pitcher on this list in whom owners actually invested a lot. Be patient. The 98.3-percent of owners who didn’t cut bait before his last start were surely rewarded. I imagine he’s leaving his pitches up in the zone, given his increased percentage of pitches thrown in the zone coupled with his home run rate. Speaking of which, he shouldn’t be walking five batters per nine innings when he’s throwing more than 50 percent of his pitches in the zone. He’ll be fine.
Verdict: Buy low

Homer Bailey, CIN | 5.75 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, 11.07 K/9
Two words: .421 BABIP. Yowza. Again, owners invested way too much in this guy. Perfect buy-low opportunity here if you know your fellow owner is impatient.
Verdict: Buy low

Drew Hutchison, TOR | 3.60 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 10.80 K/9
I’ll be honest, I was surprised to see Hutchison’s xFIP stand at 3.43. It seems like he has been much worse — but has he really? The walks are problematic but not unmanageable (see: Matt Moore), and they’ve actually shored up a bit in his last couple of starts. Moreover, he is still striking out batters at an elite rate, and the PITCHf/x data supports his success, albeit probably not with quite as much success as he’s having now. As for the WHIP? A .365 BABIP sure doesn’t help. Hutchison was once a highly-touted prospect. Your window of opportunity to gamble on this live arm may be closing if he can keep his ERA down.
Verdict: Add via free agency, sooner rather than later

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