MLB BAROMETER: Cruz'n Along
Friends. How Many Of Us Have Them? Around the time of Whodini's popular rap hit, Daniel Okrent was tweaking and perfecting the game of rotisserie league baseball we all know and love. Every brilliant innovator has a support crew - a posse, if you will - to run ideas by, to bring some of those crazy ideas back down to earth, or perhaps to let them fly. We all have our own fantasy baseball support system that we rely upon - whether to update each other on last minute injuries, discuss trades, tweak lineups or to empathize with when you lose Wilin Rosario, Bryce Harper and A.J. Griffin in the same week.
My crew of five fantasy baseball diehards and I shoot hundreds of emails back and forth over the course of the week and have been doing so for over a decade - and everyone has a different way of contributing that's individually unique. We've got the math wiz guy who runs crazy formulas on Excel and prefers the draft season over the regular season; the high roller who plays large DFS tourneys and is scared to watch his pitchers; the humble guy who never toots his own horn, then quietly dominates high stakes games like the NFBC; the "opposites" guy who succeeds in his leagues by going against the grain; the FAAB guy who has so many NFBC satellite leagues, his entire weekend is dedicated to sorting free agents; and the reality check guy, who humbly brings me down to earth when I have a "gut" lineup decision that's not supported by stats/numbers (note: the gut in fantasy baseball is important, but it need not be an irrational gut).
Twitter has vastly expanded our universe to be able to communicate with team beat writers, fantasy sports radio hosts, writers and top DFS players in a way that Okrent could never have imagined. Fantasy baseball would not be fun all by ourselves - it's the camaraderie, the competition and the constant banter with our friends that makes fantasy sports such an important part of our lives. Best of all, most of our wives and girlfriends can sleep peacefully knowing that the midnight text message coming through on our phones is just a friendly inquiry asking "Martin Perez vs OAK or Drew Smyly @ SEA?"
Josh Donaldson, 3B OAK - Donaldson had an incredible week (4 HR, 6 R, 10 RBI, .393) which doubled his RBI total from the previous three weeks. Donaldson is hoping to prove his doubters wrong and justify his #71 NFBC ADP as the sixth third baseman off draft boards. He is top 10 in the AL in most hitting categories and in a prime position to continue to rake, hitting third behind productive bats Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie. The .286 ISO will regress (.199 last year), but the potential to match or exceed the 24 home runs last season is real. Donaldson still strikes out less than once every five at bats (K% - 18% this year, 16% last year), but the .301 BA will be tough to repeat.
Nelson Cruz, OF BAL - Either there's a new supplement on the black market or perhaps Nellie really is just a damn good hitter. I'll bet on the latter. Despite only playing over 130 games once in his career, Cruz has averaged 27 HR and 81 RBI over 125 games per season for the past four years. He's been spending some time in the two-hole for his new Orioles squad and is poised to reach 35 HR for the first time and possibly have his best season yet. Over the past week, Cruz is hitting .321 with 4 HR, 12 RBI and 8 R. He's prone to hit the disabled list at some point, as he always does, but at the moment he looks locked in and is providing fantastic value for those of us who drafted Cruz as our third outfielder.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B LAD - Did you know that Gonzalez has 100 RBI or more in six of the past seven seasons? In 2009, he missed the century mark by just one but also slugged 40 HR and led the majors in walks (119). A career .294 hitter, Gonzalez always feels underrated and undervalued in fantasy drafts. Part of the concern over the past couple of seasons has been the decline in power (22 and 18 HR last two years), but Adrian already has eight on the season, including three last week while hitting .348. Gonzalez has a good chance to lead the NL in RBI this year with stud hitters like Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez consistently on base for him. There are very few players in baseball you can almost guarantee a BA of .290 plus - Adrian Gonzalez is near the top of that short list.
Johnny Cueto, SP CIN - Cueto has been flat out dominant and we'd be hard pressed to find a starting pitcher who has been better in the month of April. Cueto has two double-digit strikeout games in his last three starts, giving up no more than three hits in any of the games - two of those starts were complete games. What's even more impressive is how good Cueto is in his home park (2.16 ERA, .218 xBA in 192 IP since 2011) considering Great American has always been considered a hitters park. It's also nice to see nine strikeouts per nine through six starts - Cueto has only surpassed 8.0 K/9 once in his career (2008 - his rookie year). With Homer Bailey currently struggling and Mat Latos still hurting, Cueto has stepped up nicely as the ace of the Reds rotation.
Tanner Roark, SP WAS - Roark was a fine prospect for the Nationals, putting up a 3.15 ERA with a 9-2 record in Triple-A last year, though most of his 105 IP came in relief. Roark stepped up in a big way last week, pitching a complete game shutout against the Padres and held the Angels scoreless in just under seven innings. Roark also posted a stellar 7-1 record and a 1.51 ERA in 52 innings in the big leagues last year and appears entrenched in the Nationals rotation even when Doug Fister returns (Taylor Jordan will likely be the one they send back down). Relatively undrafted in NFBC and most 12-team leagues, expect to have bumps along the way, but end up with a nice season with an ERA and WHIP under 3.50, 1.25.
Hitters: Khris Davis, OF MLW, Nick Markakis, OF BAL, Erick Aybar, SS LAA, Brandon Barnes, OF COL
Pitchers: Ian Kennedy, SP SD, Tim Hudson, SP SF, Zack Wheeler, SP NYM, Joakim Soria, RP TEX
Not Falling For It: Sam Fuld, OF MIN, Collin McHugh, SP HOU
Carlos Santana, 3B CLE - What an utter disaster Los has been this month - just one hit in 19 AB last week, hitting .122 on the season with only one home run and three runs batted in. He's striking out at a higher clip (20.1%) this year than in his past two seasons (17.1%, 16.6%) and looks completely lost at the plate. Santana was the fourth catcher selected in NFBC drafts this year and perhaps the adjustment to his new position (3B) is partially responsible for the struggle. Santana has been a solid run producer over the years, but owners expect more from him at the hot corner, despite the career .248 BA. It helps that he's dually eligible (C, 3B) in most leagues, but his futility at the plate helps no one. Fear not, Santana will pick it up at some point and will have some hot streaks - but we may be looking at a batting average worse than the .239 in 2011. On the bright side, Los hit 27 HR that year.
Matt Carpenter, 2B STL - Carpenter burst out onto the fantasy scene last year, leading the majors with 126 runs scored, hitting a lovely .318 with a .392 OBP. This obviously boosted Carpenter's stock at draft tables as the fourth 2B in NFBC drafts at a steep ADP of 57. The knock on Carpenter for those who purposely avoided him is that he doesn't run and he doesn't hit for power - so, we're essentially paying for runs with no guarantee of batting average. So far this season, Carpenter has hit one homer and only stolen one base - and has not collected an RBI in 14 games. RBI's will be tough to come by leading off, but the runs should come once Allen Craig heats up and Matt Adams actually starts hitting with Runners In Scoring Position (Adams is hitting .400 with no runners on, .125 with RISP).
Curtis Granderson, OF NYM - Granderson is having a difficult time adjusting to his new New York home, hitting a measly .129 with only one home run and only 3-25 last week. Grandy is one of the baseball's biggest whiffers and this year's 28% strikeout rate matches last year's thus far. He is just two seasons removed from back to back 40+ HR seasons, and though it's unlikely he comes close to that total, I don't think Granderson is burnt toast quite yet. Granderson is a player I'd look to trade away after a home run binge because the batting average is usually too much of a drain to our squads (.229, .232 last two seasons and not likely to improve).
Hiroki Kuroda, SP NYY - Kuroda was a guy I avoided in all drafts figuring he was a headache someone else could deal with - the primary reason was a 6.53 ERA through a seven-game stretch to end the 2013 season. The end-season ratios were nice (3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) but the velocity has been steadily dropping and the skills appearing to erode. Kuroda had his worst start of the year against the Angels last week, giving up eight runs (though only six of them earned). Kuroda will be 40 next year and looks to be in the twilight of his career. Fantasy owners may look to drop him given so many of his matchups are against teams in a heavy slugging division. Kuroda may get a reprieve this week as he faces a Mariners team that's near the bottom of most offensive categories.
Francisco Liriano, SP PIT - Liriano has been a disappointment, particularly for a guy who was expected to anchor a pennant chasing Pirates team. His ERA sits at 3.97 with his lone quality start coming against an awful Cubs team in his first start of the year. On Saturday, he was removed after two innings with dizziness and flu-like symptoms - which may have ended up being a blessing to his owners not to have to continue to pitch to Cardinals hitters. It does not look like Liriano is hurting, so I'd certainly expect him to bounce back and put up a fine season - his strikeout rate (9.0) is in line with last season as is his lukewarm control (3.71 BB/9 so far, 3.52 last year).
Hitters: Starling Marte, OF PIT, Jonathan Villar, SS HOU, Corey Hart, DH SEA, Kelly Johnson, IF NYY
Pitchers: Mark Buehrle, SP TOR, Bronson Arroyo, SP ARI, Clay Buchholz, SP BOS, Ernesto Frieri, RP LAA
Not Falling For It: Wil Myers, OF TB, Grant Balfour, RP TB