MLB Barometer: DFS is your Draft Team's Kryptonite
I don't know about you, but I'm completely hooked on Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) baseball. Every evening, I look at the following day's Vegas run lines, check the weather, run through Batter vs. Pitcher history and enter my $10 entry - like I'm the Nostradamus of baseball thinking every one of my selections are going yard and that tomorrow is the day I beat 5,000 other daily fantasy fanatics and win a few grand. But the following day I completely second-guess my entire lineup, Troy Tulowitzki gets scratched, the game I stacked players in is rained out with no time to sub them out and to top it off, the guy who won the big prize played Alejandro De Aza on Opening Day because his cousin's sister used to date him. I probably should just take a day off, but there I am again, looking up B vs. P splits and I just have to play today because Paul Goldschmidt hits a homer off Tim Lincecum like every time. Sound familiar?
Don't get me wrong - DFS is a welcomed addition to our fantasy lives, but paying too close attention to daily box scores can pollute our long term strategies and cause regrettable, premature drops on our draft or auction team teams. Certainly, we're not dropping a first round guy like Prince Fielder because of a rough couple of weeks, but roster bubble players who we've researched and grew impatient of could get the ax because "what has he done for me lately". Even the savviest of fantasy baseball veterans is guilty of over-managing - perhaps it's because you're in an aggressive league and need to keep your league mates honest by bidding on Edward Mujica or because Andre Ethier is available and is facing seven straight righties.
Last year, I picked up Josh Donaldson on my NFBC Main Event team week one and dropped him the following week. We all know his eventual contributions to fantasy teams last season. Sometimes you're against the fence and need to drop a player you like to fill in for potential zeroes at another position due to injury. Every at bat counts. But if you've spent an offseason identifying late round gems you feel strongly about as fantasy contributors this year, like say Erasmo Ramirez or James Paxton, trust your research and don't go chasing last week's stats. Playing daily fantasy leagues can exacerbate our impulsiveness, so it's important to step away sometimes, look at the big picture and revisit why we drafted certain players in the first place.
Once again, I'll be omitting players from the falling list simply because they've hit the DL.
New White Sox (Jose Abreu, 1B CHW, Adam Eaton, OF CHW) - Abreu and Eaton have provided an early season boost to a White Sox looking to improve on a 99 loss season. Abreu was the 11th 1B off the board in RotoWire NFBC OLC drafts with an average draft position of 83 - a spot that looks like it may end up being a bargain. Abreu has four home runs through his team's first 12 games, with all four coming on two multi-hr efforts. Eaton has been a sparkplug at the leadoff spot, hitting a robust .354/.448/.969 and leading the majors with 14 runs scored through Saturday's action. After a season dealing with injuries, Eaton should be a fantasy factor all season with his new team. Meanwhile, Abreu looks like a guy who can make a run at the AL Home Run title despite some of our concerns of adjusting to major league pitching and the cold Chicago weather of April and May.
Michael Morse, OF SF - A Morse is a Morse, of course, of course - hot Aprils followed by big slump or a DL stint - or at least that's what we've come to expect from the 32 year old outfielder. Morse had a nice season (31 HR, 95 RBI, .303) in 2011 as a member of the Nationals and is a .283 career hitter over an injury plagued 9 seasons in the league. Morse is off to a nice start (2 HR, 10 RBI, 8 R, .351) hoping to stay healthy and hit fifth all year, driving in the likes of Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey. Morse strikes out about a fifth of the time over his career and has nice opposite field power. He's capable of launching the ball out of AT&T Park more times than any of his teammates despite his home stadium consistently ranking near the bottom for MLB Park Factors in home runs (0.768 in '13, 0.522 in '12).
Aramis Ramirez, 3B MLW - Ramirez is the antithesis of Morse, known for starting slowly and heating up in the summer months (the hot months in Wrigley were affectionately dubbed "Summer of ARam" by us CDM folk). From 2010-2012, Ramirez hit a combined 11 HR in April / May followed by 36 HR in June / July. Last year and this year are the opposite as Ramirez has started off hot (10 RBI, .395) and the 35 year old third basemen has a nice group of hitters to drive in this year. It may be only a matter of time before some type of injury sidelines him, but the one thing that can't be taken away is the fact that Ramirez can be relied upon for batting average when in the lineup (career .286 hitter).
Andrew Cashner, SP SD - Cashner certainly benefits from calling PETCO Park his home, but the career best start we witnessed against the mighty Tigers Friday night (CG, 11 Ks, 1 H, 2 BB) puts him in the conversation with the upper echelon starting pitchers in baseball. Cashner's solid first season as a starter last year (3.09 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in 175 IP) came with a reduced K/9 (6.6 in 2013, compared to 10.10 as a reliever in 46 IP in 2012) as he gave up strikeouts for control. His K/9 is 9.43 through three starts and his 100 mph fastball has been topping out at 98.4 mph thus far. A popular SP2 / SP3 at NFBC draft tables this spring, Cashner will need run support from his subpar offense so that his wins can complement his expected above average ratios and strike outs.
Yordano Ventura, SP KC - Much can be said about early season risers like Gerrit Cole, Alex Cobb and Jeff Samardzija, but the guy most talked about and likely most rooted for is Royals' fireballer Yordano Ventura. Chicks may dig the long ball, but us fantasy nerds love us some velocity - and no pitcher in baseball throws harder than Ventura (last year by a full mph, this year by two). Ventura's first start of the year was a gem - six strikeouts, two hits, no walks in six innings - though we should certainly expect struggles and tough starts along the way. In 15 Triple-A starts last year, Ventura put up a mediocre 3.74 ERA and struggled with his control (3.86 BB/9). As he learns to develop his changeup and curveball and harness location with his fastball, we'll likely witnesses his ups and downs and limited games going beyond six innings pitched. Nonetheless, Ventura will be fun to follow as one of major league baseball's best rising young stars and lines up for a nice two-step (@ HOU, v MIN) this week.
Hitters: Anthony Rendon, 2B WAS, Emilio Bonifacio, 2B CHC, Dee Gordon, 2B LAD, Dayan Viciedo, OF CHW
Pitchers: Jason Hammel, SP CHC, Garrett Richards, SP LAA, Robbie Erlin, SP SD, Grant Balfour, RP TB
Not Falling For It: Chris Colabello, 1B MIN, Scott Feldman, SP HOU
Early Round 1B (Prince Fielder, TEX, Edwin Encarnacion, TOR, Eric Hosmer, KC) - The trio is off to an incredibly cool start through almost two full weeks of action - a combined .192 BA with zero home runs and four runs batted in. Fantasy vets won't necessarily panic, but if you spent a 1st through 3rd round pick on one of them, you're certainly not content with the start. The guy to most worry about is Encarnacion as the offseason wrist surgery was most certainly going to affect his power, regardless of Encarnacion's optimism. Similar to what Mark Teixeira and Jose Bautista went through, the concern is not just the sapping of power, but the risk of re-injury. Fielder has no excuse for his horrid start in what was expected to be a huge year in Arlington. Despite missing only one game over his last five seasons, Fielder hit a career low in home runs (25) since becoming a full timer in 2006. Hosmer put up a fine season (.302 BA in 159 games last year) after a rough sophomore campaign (.232 in 152 games) and had an NFBC ADP of 49.8 with fantasy owners expecting a 20 HR / 15 SB season with a .300 BA repeat. All three hitters should bounce back eventually, but a couple more weeks of struggles may certainly cause owners to prematurely hit that panic button.
Brett Lawrie, 3B TOR - Perhaps Brett Lawrie just isn't that good of a hitter? Through almost two weeks of action, he's hitting under .100 with his lone home run coming off a Josh Zeid mistake late in the game last Wednesday (update: he hit his second Sunday). Over two and a half seasons, Lawrie has already spent 102 days on the disabled list with four different injuries and hit only 11 HR in each of his last two seasons (442 PA in '13, 536 in '12). The prospect's hype has fallen tremendously over the last couple of years - an NFBC ADP of 36 two years ago to 168 going into this season - those drafting him in the middle rounds this year were likely expecting 15/15 (HR/SB) value from the 24 year old. Saturday was an all-time low for Lawrie as he batted eighth in Toronto's lineup after mostly hitting sixth or seventh. At this point we may remain bearish on Lawrie and it's probably best not to get our hopes up - and if he gives us the 15/15 with a BA north of .270, we'll chalk it up as a win.
Billy Butler, DH KC - This one is a bit of a shock, though it's still rather early but Butler has less hits (five) than strikeouts (eight) through 44 PA. By most standards, Butler had a disappointing 2013 hitting about half as many home runs than in 2012 (15 HR in '13, 29 HR in ‘12) yet holds a sparkling .297 career BA. He's stayed steadily between a 15% - 16% strike out rate over the last couple of seasons and is entering his prime power years as he turns 28 in a few days. An undervalued, unsexy fantasy pick due in part to his DH-only eligibility, Butler should turn things around very soon and provide fantasy owners with another solid season of at least .280 / 18 / 80. If you're in a trading league, this "faller" may be on the block at a fair price.
2013 Breakout SPs (Shelby Miller, STL, Ivan Nova, NYY) - Both Miller and Nova had fantastic seasons last year. Nova improved upon rough ratios in 2012 (5.02 ERA, 1.47 WHIP) posting 3.10 / 1.28 in 23 games pitching out of the hitters paradise known as the AL East. Miller trailed only Yasiel Puig and winner Jose Fernandez for NL ROY votes and won 15 games with an 8.8 K/9 - good for 17th among starting pitchers with 150+ innings. Miller and Nova have pitched two games each thus far, all of which were rough outings, particularly for Nova who sits with an 8.68 ERA giving up nine earned runs in as many innings. Though Miller was targeted higher than Nova by at least 100 NFBC ADP spots, the general feel at draft tables in Vegas last month was that Miller's sparkling numbers would be tough to repeat given his xFIP (3.73) and a WHIP (1.21) that didn't quite match his ERA. Miller's fly ball tendencies have been exposed as he's given up four homers in those first two starts. His road two-step this week against the hot hitting Brewers and Nationals probably means we'll see a few more balls fly out of the yard at his expense before he returns for a home start next week.
Jose Veras, RP CHC - If it looks like a trap and smells like a trap, well, there's a reason Veras was the last anointed Closer available in almost every NFBC draft - nobody wanted to be the one caught holding the bag. Hopefully, those who were forced to draft Veras were able to keep him on the bench these first two weeks. He's given up earned runs in three of four appearances, blew two saves, sits with ratios of 12.27 / 2.45 and has officially lost his job. His 43 inning stint in Houston last year (44 K, 2.93 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) was impressive enough for the Cubs to sign him in the offseason, but smart fantasy owners know better. Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon will take over for now and quite possibly one of them will do so permanently. Rondon has been excellent so far and Strop has been shaky, but should eventually have the job to himself.
Hitters: Wilin Rosario, C COL, Josh Reddick, OF OAK, Allen Craig, OF STL, Chris Carter, DH HOU
Pitchers: Ubaldo Jimenez, SP BAL, Jordan Zimmermann, SP WAS, Jered Weaver, SP LAA, Tommy Hunter, RP BAL
Not Falling For It: Cliff Lee, SP PHI, Trevor Rosenthal, RP STL