Thursday, September 25, 2008

Undervalued AL Starting Pitchers

In previous articles we've examined players who should improve their performance in 2009. Today, we examine American League starting pitchers who may not necessarily improve their performance, but should remain undervalued in 2009 fantasy drafts and auctions. Astute fantasy baseball managers will keep these guys in their back pocket come draft time.

1. John Danks

After getting kicked around a bit in his 2007 rookie season, Danks has rebounded nicely in 2008 and has put up some solid numbers. With the season nearing a close, Danks has a 3.20 ERA, 11 wins, and 150 K's in 183 innings pitched. He's a former number 1 draft pick, and possesses a terrific change up, a wicked curveball and a low 90's fastball. Expect Danks to build on his 2008 performance in 2009.

2. Gavin Floyd

Also a former first round draft pick, Floyd struggled in Philadelphia before landing with the Whitesox as the centerpiece of the Freddy Garcia trade. He struggled in 2007, but his immense talent was on display for all to see in 2008. He's racked up 16 wins to go with a 3.84 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Expect more of the same in 2009, but he will be less valued than veterans with the same stats.

3. Scott Baker

After discussing two first round picks, we move onto Baker, who was a second round pick. Baker has four big league pitches, including a nasty sinking fastball and a knuckle-curve. He is known for his superb control, but his 132 K's in 165 innings pitched show an ability to strike out batters as well. Baker has chalked up a 3.59 ERA, 10 wins, and a 1.20 WHIP this season. Expect more wins and a similar WHIP in '09.

4. Shaun Marcum

This third-round draft choice followed up a solid, under the radar, 2007 season with an even better 2008 campaign. He has tossed 126 innings and has let up ony 126 hits, while walking 50 batters. We always love pitchers who have a superb IP:H ratio. Marcum also has shown an ability to strike out batters; whiffing almost one hitter per inning pitched. A 3.39 ERA and 10 wins round out the rest of Marcum's stats. As his stamina improves, Marcum should pitch deeper into games in 2009, which means more wins and strikeouts. We wouldn't be shocked, however, if his ERA regresses slightly.

5. Gil Meche

Another former first round pick, Meche is already a veteran of eight major leagues seasons. For most of his career, he was on the DNP list - DO NOT DRAFT, but his last three seasons have been surprisingly good. In fact, his numbers have steadily improved in each of the past four seasons. This year, he has a 4.05 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP, 13 wins, and 176 K's in 204 innings pitched. While we do not recommend drafting Meche early, he is a solid middle rotation guy in AL only leagues, and back of the rotation guy in mixed leagues. He's not an exciting option, but he's finally showing consistency and the ability go put up good fantasy numbers.

Monday, September 22, 2008

How to Win a Standard 5x5 H2H League

How do you win a standard* daily 5x5 h2h league?
It’s as easy as pick six lotto (or pick five if you have the tie-breaker).

Fantasy finals (especially in non-keeper leagues) are all about the last two weeks of the season. It’s entirely “what have you done for me lately.” Carlos Quentin: not so much, kick him off the roster. Ryan Howard: you’re happy you weathered the storm. Jayson Werth, you’re happy he’s done his best non-SF Aaron Rowand impersonation.

This means players like Werth, Shin-Soo Choo, Christian Guzman (yes even that Guzman), Kelly Shopach and maybe even Elijah Dukes need to find a way into your position player rotation.

You need to be streaming your roster spots to ensure you have a full hitting roster every day. Don’t worry about jettisoning an average player for fear your opponent will grab him. Any reasonable waiver period will make the gain negligible given what you made up by not having an empty roster spot. This does not mean I’m advocating dropping top 50 players…but outside of that, yeah sure.

This should signal that players now have different values given different circumstances. A valuable player in one league could very well be the love child of Jose Mesa/Armando Benitez in another.

If your competition is full of mashers and you haven’t beaten them all year in HRs, don’t worry about home runs. You need to find the categories you can win and go after those.

After two days, it is pretty clear what will and will not be competitive. You’re out in HRs and RBIs? Make sure you win Runs and SBs. This means it makes sense to drop the Carlos Penas of the world for a Willie (be it Harris or Tavaris) or Erick Patterson or Lastings Milledge or Coco Crisp.

Carlos Pena, in this instance, has no value to you or your opponent. If your opponent grabs the discarded Pena, he’ll only increase his lead in categories he’ll win anyway.

While streaming position players can help you on those Mondays and Thursdays, the real streaming power comes with starting pitching. Pitching categories are the easiest to manipulate on a week by week basis (because no one knows what they’ll get from virtually any hurler – viva Ted Lilly).

It’s important to know your opponent’s roster. High K pitchers on good win teams could make winning Wins and K’s difficult. So focus on vulturing saves (Hanrahan, the Orioles carousel, etc.), but make sure every pitcher you plug in maximizes ERA and WHIP.

Quite simply, it’s not about performing the best in every category and having the best all around team. It’s about performing the best in six categories.

There is a special caveat to the streaming – make sure you can get up early and make sure your league doesn’t have innings or moves caps.

If you can’t get up at 7:00 am, you might miss out on the best streamable pitchers. This means you’ll have to start streaming two days ahead or give up altogether.

If there is an IP limit, plan out how many innings you have left and what you can reasonably expect from your staff and move forward accordingly. Don’t leave starts or IPs out there, you’ll regret it.

If you’re up against a moves limit, you’ll have to maximize every move.

People may hate streamers not associated with a tickertape parade, but the strategy paves the way to fantasy gold. Look at the wire (in 10-12 team leagues), you’ll find:
Kevin Millwood (vs. OAK [1.35 ERA 0.90 WHIP])
Jamie Moyer (vs. FLA [3.12 ERA, 0.92 WHIP])
John Lannan (vs. SD [3.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP])
Ryan Rowland-Smith (vs. LAA [4.05 ERA, 0.90 WHIP]).

I think you get the point.

Happy streaming and winning. Have a scenario, start/sit, or fantasy ethics question, e-mail me at

*standard = R, HR, RBI, SB, AVE, W, S, K, ERA, WHIP

Sunday, September 21, 2008

AL Hitters for '09

We've covered NL hitters who could surprise people in 2009; now it's the American League's turn. Guys like Josh Hamilton, Carlos Quentin, and Alex Rodriguez are obvious choices. But who are the good players, who do not pose much of a risk, that should exceed expectations in 2009? Below are a few of the guys we have our eyes on.

1. Dustin Pedroia

Prior to this season Pedroia was a middle-of-the-pack second basemen who provided teams with a good batting average, but not much else. His minor league stats seemed to confirm that analysis. But all that changed this year, as Pedroia showed that he is a five category fantasy player. With the season coming to an end, Pedroia has already hit for .324-17-80-19. While his value will go up in 2009, we think he has a chance to exceed expectations, largely because of his league leading 52 doubles. The doubles lead us to believe that Pedroia could hit for more power in 2009 as he continues to mature. We expect a similar season to '08, but with more homers.

2. Nick Markakis

No stranger to fanballers, Markakis performed below most expectations in '08. He performed well - .300-20-86-10 is good, but many were disappointed with only 20 homers. Looking deeper into the stats, however, shows that Markakis hit 47 doubles. We expect Markakis to show greater power in 2009, with a season of .305-28-105-12 likely.

3. Evan Longoria

Longoria started the year in the minors, but began pummeling the ball after an early season call-up. To date Longoria has hit .278-25-82-7 in only 417 at-bats. Project that out to a full season, and you're talking about some serious offensive stats. Longoria is young, surrounded by other good, young hitters, and should only get better as he moves into his prime.

4. Kelly Shoppach

Shoppach has hit .268-21-55 in 396 at-bats. He routinely hit 20+ homers in less than 400 at-bats in the minors. If he gets 600 at-bats next season, 30 homers should be reachable. Beware, however, the possibility of a decline in batting average.

5. Denard Span

A virtual unknown before the season, Span has come on strong for the Twins. Most had expected Carlos Gomez to hold down the leadoff job for the year, but Span's .382 OBP% and 17 steals in only 322 at-bats convinced Ron Gardenhire to give him a shot in the role. Span has not disappointed, and has compiled a .298 BA, six homers and 42 rbi's to go with his impressive OBP%. If Span gets 600 at-bats in 2009, he could contend for the stolen base crown and should have a good batting average to boot.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Buying Low for 2009 - Pitcher's Edition

A few days ago we posted some National League hitters who should exceed expectations in 2009 and be worth a lot more than they can be obtained for on draft day. Today, we examine NL pitchers that can be bought at a discount price and should exceed expectations in 2009.

1. Ricky Nolasco

Nolasco is well-known to fantasy ballers as a former top prospect who went down in flames in his first couple of seasons in the Bigs. But for many pitchers it takes a couple years to get adjusted to the majors (see Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, etc.) and Nolasco is no exception. He has put in a solid performance this year with a 3.56 ERA, 167 K's and 14 wins. His 1.12 whip is good for second best in the league, and perhaps his most impressive statistic is that he only has let up 176 hits in 192.1 innings pitched. Nolasco seems poised to follow up this breakout year with an even better campaign in '09.

2. Chad Billingsley

Okay, Billingsley is hardly an unknown. In fact, many people already consider Billingsley one of the best pitchers in the NL. So, why does he make this list? He makes it for a simple reason: He has improved every year and has such immense talent that the sky is the limit. This year he's already chalked up 15 wins, a 3.02 ERA and 189 K's. His hit-to-walk ratio is stellar, having allowed 169 hits in 188 innings. He gets into a bit of trouble with his control, which results in a medicore whip. Like Randy Johnson, Mark Langston and many others before him, as Billingsley's control improves, his numbers will become mindblowing. Especially if the Dodgers keep Manny Ramirez, Billingsley to challenge for 20 wins in 2009 with improvements in all other major pitching statistics.

3. Brett Myers

Many people thought that returning Myers to the rotation would result in a Cy Young worthy year in 2008. Alas, Myers struggled badly in the first half of the season and his velocity was down to little league levels. But Myers rebounded strongly in the second half and has been lights out for the past few months. Myers has lowered his ERA from over 6.00 to a very respectable 4.06. Add in the 10 wins and 157 K's, and Myers turned out to be a decent pitcher for those patient enough to keep him for the entire season. His end-of-the-year numbers, however, will fall well short of the top performers in the league, so he may be obtained at a considerable discount in 2009. A 3.50 ERA, 16 wins and 185 strikeouts is a reasonable early prediction for him in '09.

4. Dave Bush

This guy was a sleeper on everyone's list in 2007, and those teams unfortunate enough to draft him got nailed harder than Pam Anderson in her infamous Brett Michaels video. Bush was sent down to the minors to work on his mechanics, and returned to form after being called up midway through the '08 season. In a shortened season, Bush has a 4.24 ERA, 9 wins and 103 K's. It is his 1.15 WHIP (fifth best in the NL), however, that sets him apart. Few owners know about Bush, and fewer still are willing to gamble on him maintaining his performance in 2009. If you feel like rolling the dice, grab him. He could end up with a 4.10 ERA, 13 wins, 150 K's, and a 1.17 WHIP in '09.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Buying Low for '09

With the '08 season winding down, it is never too early to begin looking at who may do even better next season. It is easy to pay top dollar for Pujols or Braun, and expect solid across-the-board stats. But most leagues are won or lost by the in-between players; the players who are nothing special but overperform everyone's expectations. Here are some of my early batting favorites for NL-only leagues in 2009:

1. Corey Hart

He's at .276-20-83-23, so many people already know about his talent. But what people may not realize is that he has 43 doubles, which indicates he still has a lot more home run potential as he matures. 30 homers is not an unreasonable expectation next year.

2. Stephen Drew

Drew was drafted with a lot of hype, but has generally underperformed expectations. At .281-17-58-3, he's having a solid, if unspectacular year. With 37 doubles thus far, however, it is likely that Drew could eclipse 25 four-baggers next season.

3. Lastings Milledge

Plagued by injuries and a lineup meeker than Ohio State's offense against USC, Milledge still has tons of potential. So far this year he has hit .262-14-57-22 in only 478 at-bats. Expect improvements in every category next season. A season similar to Corey Hart's 2008 year is not unlikely.

4. Jayson Werth.

Werth is one of the most underrated players in the league. He helps you in both the power and speeed categories, and hits for a respectable average. Next year he should get more playing time, which should enable him to dwarf his 2008 numbers. Currently, he's at .276-22-62-17, but in only 370 at-bats.

5. Elijah Dukes

After struggling in the early part of the season, this Nationals outfielder has quietly put together a good year in limited playing time. In only 242 at-bats, Dukes is hitting .273-11-39-13, with 16 doubles. Equally impressive is his .375 on-base percentage. If Dukes wins a starting job next spring, he has the power potential to hit 25 homers with a good number of steals too.