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Charging the Mound: Charging the Outliers

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire.com and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).


-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Sent: Thursday, April 24, 2014 7:04pm
To: Christopher Liss
Subject: Charging the Outliers


Ok Chris, it's time to take part in one of our annual exercises - let's examine the early outliers and try to put a price on them, both good and bad. Which players should we "buy high" and which should we "sell low." I know that it seems like we've beaten this to death, but that's just because we've had multiple opportunities to cover this in the last 24 hours, between Twitter, the XM show and our videos. This gives us a shot to perhaps flesh out the topic, or at least put specific values on players. So with that in mind, here's who I want to discuss:

Charlie Blackmon - You drafted him early on and then cut him before the season started, as we got fragments of information that suggested that he might not play all that much. I drafted him twice in February and no times in March. The first week of the season won him the job, and he's continued to hit since then. What price do you put on him? One listener on our show got Edwin Encarnacion for him, straight up - I guess in that league, "buy low, sell high" still applies! In a more realistic world, Scott Pianowski just traded for him in Y!F&F, giving up Austin Jackson and Jonathan Villar for Blackmon and Scooter Gennett. I just put him in our top 100 overall rankings, just behind Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz among outfielders. Where would you slot him?

Dee Gordon - Has he developed a skill in the minors that's translated at the major league level, or is this just a hot streak? I asked on Twitter last night, who would you rather have? Starlin Castro, Jimmy Rollins or Gordon?

Francisco Rodriguez - K-Rod hasn't allowed a run in 12 outings and is 9-for-9 in save chances since taking the job on Opening Day. Forget about whether he'll keep the job the rest of the season - any closer is 2-to-3 bad outings from losing it, but in present form he's not close to losing it. The better question is whether he's a top-10 closer for the rest of the season.

Jesse Chavez - When the A's said that Chavez would be their fourth starter (and not their fifth starter) in the wake of injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, I was skeptical that he'd keep the job and only projected him for 10 starts. Oops. He now has a 28:5 K:BB to go along with a 1.38 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in four starts covering 26 innings. What's the story with Chavez? If you owned him, what pitcher would you try to get if you're selling high? If you're buying high, who are you offering?

Aaron Harang - At least people were drafting Chavez in the NFBC and other leagues. Harang wasn't even getting drafted in NL only leagues, and it took until Week 4 for him to get picked up in my RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Online Championship League, and I didn't even bother to bid on him. Then he goes and strikes out 11 Marlins on Monday. What's going on here?

Do you believe in these outliers more when you're the one that owns him, especially when you've actively targeted him like you did with Gordon? Or are you just as willing to sell at a premium? What about a slumping player that you've targeted - are you less inclined to cut bait? Does that change in either case if the player in question was an agnostic acquisition?

-----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2014 8:18pm
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging the Outliers


I'd slot Blackmon behind Beltran and probably behind Cruz, but the latter is closer. If it were a 12-team NL-only league, I'd say he's worth about $20. Blackmon hit at the high minors, can run a little and the home games at Coors will pad his power. I could see him being this year's Matt Carpenter with OF eligibility, a threat to lead the league in runs scored.

I rashly responded on Twitter that Gordon is an easy call over Rollins, and that's probably true in a 12-team mixer, especially with shallow benches. But in 15-team NFBC with seven reserves, Rollins' relative stability and job security makes it close. I think Gordon will stick - he was a real prospect once, and he's hit for a decent average and gotten on base consistently in the high minors. Plus, there's zero doubt about his speed. I'd rank them Castro/Gordon/Rollins, but it's close.

K-Rod is one of the best closers of the last decade, and he was good last year too. He's not throwing hard, but he mixes it up well, and his command is good. Plus, he's not going to panic when he blows a save or gives up a home run. He's a top-10 closer in my opinion.

I don't know what Chavez's story is. Scott Jenstad tipped me off to him, saying the A's liked him after Jarrod Parker went down, but I looked at his pedigree and numbers and didn't see much. I was pretty sure Drew Pomeranz would have that slot before long. I don't have a good read on this one, other than he'll obviously come down to earth. But it's always a question of how far, and I really don't know.

I can't buy into Aaron Harang. Mark Buehrle struck out 11 guys in his first start, and now he's getting predictably rocked by the Red Sox. You can roll with either if the matchup is right, but they're marginal in my opinion.

I think it's case by case. The younger and less experienced a player is, the greater the chance the unexpected streak is an indicator of real skills growth, but even with older players, you never say never. Jose Bautista was only 29, but 54 homers for a player that far into his development is unheard of. Cliff Lee also turned into an ace at a relatively advanced age of 29. Imagine if Travis Wood suddenly became an elite control pitcher while striking out a batter per inning. Oh, wait… (Wood is only 27, by the way).

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Sent: Sunday, April 27, 2014 7:25pm
To: Christopher Liss
Subject: Re: Charging the Outliers


At one point we talked about signature significance, in the context of a Luke Hochevar start against the Yankees. I think that the Buehrle and Harang outings in April are cut out of that mode - we don't exactly dismiss them, but acknowledge that in any given start even a replacement-level starter (Harang, not Buehrle - Buehrle is better than that) can have a game or stretch of games like that. Sometimes we don't realize just how amazing of a player one must be to even reach the majors - the odds against any given minor leaguer reaching the show are pretty staggering. So if that generic major league starter is on his very best, or his opponents are at their worst, the results can still be amazing. See also, Collin McHugh.

Sometimes our outliers come in the form of a formerly injured and/or disgraced player, like Melky Cabrera. I had him in a lot of places last year and nowhere this year, which drives me crazy, because he was so readily available. He exactly fits the profile of a Last Year's Bum, and I didn't follow that. Maybe I'll own Everth Cabrera all over the place next year.

I wanted to mention Jason Hammel hear as a change-of-scenery guy, but it's a little unfair given that today he was facing a Brewers lineup that didn't have Ryan Braun or Jean Segura. Still, I think he's more than just a matchup guy, at least as an NL starter until he gets dealt by the trade deadline.

Any other outliers, good or bad, that you want to hit as you tie this up?

-----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Liss
Sent: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 1:42am
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging the Outliers


It's true the number of strikeouts for a signature start to mean something in April of 2014 has to be about 14. Eleven or 12 probably doesn't cut it anymore, given the cool weather and the higher strikeout rate league-wide. Another possible factor boosting strikeouts is all the successful defensive shifting, resulting in lower BABIPs. The lower your BABIP, the less you lose by failing to make contact at all. You might as well try to crush the ball and risk missing it if hitting it at sub-maxmium velocity is likely to result in an out anyway. On the flip side, walks are more valuable than ever, and pitchers should be avoiding them at all costs.

As for Melky Cabrera he was a tough call because he had two big years, but was busted for PEDS, then had an awful year in a great hitter's park in 2013. It wasn't your ordinary Last Year's Bum. But maybe most of the PED talk is noise.

For what it's worth, Hammel was consistently hitting 94 on the gun yesterday, and that makes him a different pitcher than before. If he can maintain that velocity, I think he'll stay relevant in the NL Central.