MLB Barometer - Twin Power
Intuition plays a very, very strong part in my fantasy decision-making. That's why I chose the Twitter handle @RotoGut - not because I'm some prodigal seer of the future, but because I believe that people with many years of experience in our hobby start to develop strong feelings that trump small sample sizes. We've all seen the Chris Shelton's of the baseball world come and go. We've been fooled before and we know when not to buy in. Our intuition goes against popular belief far too often - the outcomes don't always go our way, but we feel better about the lineup decisions we've made that just feel right and is truly our own.
Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink really got me thinking about our adaptive unconscious and how sometimes a spontaneous decision based on very little information is often better than the well thought out ones. How many times have you agonized over a lineup decision? Or should I say, how many times this week?
Let's say you're stacked at CI and have to decide between Todd Frazier for a weekend series at home against the Pirates and Pablo Sandoval in Coors to face the Rockies. At first glance, the decision looks difficult, but a lean in one direction has already flashed in your head before you look into the numbers. Frazier has been hot and is a must-play at home, but almost any decent hitter in Coors is always a must-play as well. You realize that your first choice was Frazier, but now you delve deeper into the numbers and notice Sandoval hits over .300 in 40 career at-bats against two of the starters, Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin. You spend the next 20 minutes hemming, hawing and second-guessing yourself and in the end you go against your original gut thought and play Sandoval. Gladwell talks about "analysis paralysis" where sometimes having too much information can interfere with an accuracy of a judgment. Something fantasy baseball players know all too well.
Sandoval may or may not have been the right call that weekend, but I truly believe that going against your strong initial feeling will hurt you more than it will help you. Sure, if several strong factors in your research talked you out of playing Frazier, then perhaps your gut was wrong and a strong factor like Sandoval's cold April moved to the top of your subconscious thoughts. Fantasy baseball is and always will be a blend of researching statistics/situations and our intuition. The research can help validate our intuition or instruct otherwise, but in situations where everything appears equal on paper, always go with your gut.
Salvador Perez, C KC - Bumps and bruises (thumb, knee) have contributed to Perez's slow start but his three-run bomb against the Yankees on Saturday is a sign of good things to come for the 250 pound catcher. Perez is hitting .385 with seven runs batted in over the past week and should continue to make contact consistently to raise his batting average (.271) above and beyond his career .296 number. Perez has struggled with RISP (.175) - an issue that should correct itself in the coming months especially as Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer begin to heat up ahead of him in the lineup. His .282 BABIP is derived from a bit of bad luck, but Perez remains patient at the plate (11% strikeout rate) and should set a new career high in home runs (13 in 2013, 6 so far this year). Only 24 years old, Perez is one of league's rising stars - a big second half is already underway and Perez should be one of the first catchers off draft boards in 2015.
Hot Corner Studs (Todd Frazier, 3B CIN, Adrian Beltre, 3B TEX) - As some predicted in the preseason, third base has proven to be scarce and a position of much contention for fantasy owners. It's basically Josh Donaldson, then everyone else. Nolan Arenado surged for a few weeks before injury while David Wright, Pablo Sandoval, Brett Lawrie and Evan Longoria have been inconsistent and at times, ineffective. Fantasy owners who drafted Beltre in the teens (NFBC ADP of 17) have finally been receiving the top level production they've expected (.409, 3 HR, 8 RBI last week) while Frazier owners (221 ADP) have been pleasantly surprised from the rising star's start (tied for third in the NL with 13 HR). There was a misconception that Frazier's production fell off significantly in the second half last year, but Frazier hit just about the same number of home runs after the All Star break as before, in almost 100 less at bats (1st half: 10 HR, 306 AB, 2nd half: 9 HR, 225 AB) while the BA dipped slightly from (.239 to .227). He's striking out just over 20% of the time, similar to the past two seasons, but has seen a significant improvement in isolated power (.242 this year, .179 in 2013) and looks like a threat every time he's up at the plate. As for Beltre, he has raised his BA above .300, where it should remain the rest of the year, and all other base stats are in line with last season's numbers. Beltre should finish the season as a top five 3B once again while Frazier can do the same, though a batting average dip should be expected - but he should more than make up for with a run towards his first 30 home run season.
Twin Power (Oswaldo Arcia, Josh Willingham, OF MIN) - Arcia and Willingham returned to the Twins lineup on May 26 providing just the punch the Twins needed - they combined for 8 HR, 25 RBI over a 13-game stretch, despite Arcia missing a couple of games with a minor ankle tweak. Hitting fourth and fifth in the lineup, the new Twin Powers will happily welcome the newly-signed Kendrys Morales to the lineup on an offense that looks more threatening than it has in years. Willingham struggled and was hurt last year, ending up with a .208 BA in 471 PA, but is only two years removed from a monster 35 HR, 110 RBI season. Arcia showed signs of promise in his rookie year last year, hitting 14 HR in 378 PA despite striking out over 30% of the time. The Twins will rely on Morales and Joe Mauer to get on base and for the power bats of Oswaldo and JWill to drive them in. Plouffe will rightfully drop down in the batting order and it will be interesting to see if scorching rookie Danny Santana can hold his leadoff spot (not likely). Any way you slice it, the Twins offense will be one to follow. Now, about that pitching…
Mike Minor, SP ATL - We all have unhealthy, subjective obsessions in fantasy baseball and Minor has been near the top of my list for years. Outside of a small case of gopheritis (1.30+ HR/9 in 2011, 2012), there's really not much fault to find with Minor (2013: 3.24 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 3.4 WAR, 23 QS in 32 starts). Minor has really had only one hiccup in seven starts so far in 2014, serving up 11 hits and six earned runs in his second start of the year against the Cardinals. Most recently, Minor twirled a five-hitter, giving up only one earned run and striking out ten in a loss to the Mariners (where's the run support?). That HR/9 is back up over one per inning (0.97 last year, 1.26 so far this year) but his GB% is up over 40% for the first time in his career. Tuesday's matchup against the Rockies in Coors is never an easy task, but a fair outing should serve as a step in a continuing positive direction into a higher echelon of borderline SP1 status. But if he does get crushed by Troy Tulowitzki and company, I'll forgive and forget as I'm a major sucker for Minor.
Chad Qualls, RP HOU - On the other end of my obsessions spectrum is Chad Michael Qualls - a player I've despised even more than awful obsession people have with "selfies". Qualls is a career middle reliever who has occasionally stepped in to close games out (career high 24 saves with Arizona, 2009) with a career 3.74 ERA that feels like its 5.85. For some reason, Qualls looks like a new pitcher this year, converting seven saves, five of which have come since being named the closer on May 16. Qualls has blown only opportunity on the year (April 19 @ Oakland) when still part of a committee and has a career high 9.6 K/9 in just under 21 innings. The Astros may actually put Qualls in a position to close a fair amount games this year as their lineup no longer looks as putrid as in recent years - they've won 10 of their last 14 games including seven straight in late May. Qualls is surprisingly still available on waivers in 4% of NFBC Online Championship leagues as of yesterday - probably league owners who live by the idiom that ends "…fool me twice, shame on me". Qualls is worth owning in all fantasy leagues and may just settle in nicely as the closer for the Astros for the full season.
Hitters: Matt Carpenter, 3B STL, Chris Owings, SS ARI, Xander Bogaerts, 3B BOS, Adam Jones, OF BAL
Pitchers: Tanner Roark, SP WAS, Kyle Gibson, SP MIN, Marcus Stroman, SP TOR, Cody Allen, RP CLE
Not Falling For It: Danny Santana, OF MIN, Bartolo Colon, SP NYM
Justin Morneau, 1B COL - After a hot month of April with his new squad (1.004 OPS, 6 HR, 22 RBI), Morneau has struggled mightily since. His batting average has dropped over 70 points in the past six weeks and he's only gone deep once in 17 games. Morneau should awaken from his slumber soon, and will need to kick it into high gear if he wants to make his fourth appearance in an All Star game, his first as a National Leaguer. On the bright side, Morneau is on pace to for a career best strikeout rate (11.6% now, last year 17.3%, career 15.5%). He should continue to provide value in the front four roto categories, hitting in the middle of a strong lineup with the Rockies' best months theoretically ahead of them.
Derek Jeter, SS NYY - There's not much more Jeter needs to accomplish in his illustrious career, but would a little fantasy value for these final four months be too much to ask for? Through 230 PA, Jeter is on pace for career lows across the board, not counting last year's shortened 17 game season and the 15 he played back in 1995. That's 17 R - 1 HR - 12 RBI - 1 SB - .254 at the moment making him a non-factor in even the deepest of fantasy leagues, outperformed offensively by the likes of Adeiny Hechavarra. It would not be much of a stretch to assume that Jeter picks up the pace a bit and contributes to two categories (R, BA) given the talent in the lineup after him, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran. Nevertheless, with only one steal attempt this year and essentially no power (0.48 ISO), Jeter won't be helping fantasy teams in his swan song - dropping the legend in fantasy leagues would be strictly business and at this point in time, nothing you should regret.
Alex Cobb, SP TB - The usually reliable Cobb is coming off his worst stretch since 2012, allowing 24 hits and 16 earned runs over three games (15.1 IP). After breaking out in 2013 with a 2.76 ERA and 8.4 K/9 in 143 IP, Cobb was the 23rd starting pitcher off the board in March with an ADP of 101. He was undefeated at home (7-0) and handled righties (.219 OBA) and lefties (.233 OBA) equally well last year. Cobb was back to business this April, posting back to back seven inning shutouts before hitting the DL with a strained oblique. Cobb should rebound from his recent struggles and regain form soon enough. He bounced back from a three-run first inning against the Marlins early last week, cruising through the remaining five innings. Giving up 7 ER to the Mariners this weekend is inexcusable though. His control is fine (only 4 BB over that three game stretch) - he was just too hittable. Fantasy owners shouldn't bench the top-flight starter against the Astros this week - he's more likely to bounce back and pitch well than he is to get bombed again (famous last words!).
Marco Estrada, SP MLW - At the FSTA SiriusXM Experts' draft this January, NFBC co-founders and Wisconsin natives Greg Ambrosius and Tom Kessenich laughed out loud when Charlie Wiegert and I drafted Marco Estrada as our SP4. "We've seen him pitch," they said. Looks like they were right. Estrada has always exhibited solid control (1.18 career WHIP, 1.08 in 2013) but has serious issues with the long ball. Estrada has given up at least one home run in 11 of his 12 starts this year, including 15 in his last eight games! He has become one of the first pitchers DFS players look to stack against when building daily lineups, which is not a good thing for those of us who have him in season long leagues. Estrada will need to find a way to reduce his atrocious HR/FB rate (18%) to not continue to damage our ratios. Estrada can hopefully lower his 4.21 ERA below the 4.00 mark and work on reducing his FB%. I'd say Greg and Tom have the last laugh, but something tells me they have quite the opposite reaction when Estrada takes the mound every fifth game.
Trevor Rosenthal, SP STL - If you're looking strictly at Rosenthal's K/9 (11.4) and 16 saves, it would appear that he's well on his way to a dominant first full season as the Cardinals closer and worth his selection as the fourth closer off NFBC draft boards. Unfortunately, Rosenthal has been very unreliable, blowing three save opportunities and walking almost five batters per nine innings. The walk rate is unacceptable as are many other glaring reductions from last year - a small drop in velocity on his signature four-seam fastball (98.1 mph to 97.1), fewer first-pitch strikes (from 42% to 30%) and an abysmal K/BB ratio (from 5.40 to 1.91). Rosenthal's leash is long enough - Jason Motte is slowly working his velocity back up after TJS, while Kevin Siegrist is still on the DL and Carlos Martinez has been an overall disappointment. Rosenthal needs to string together a handful of clean ninth innings and re-establish his confidence. He surely has the talent to be a top-flight closer and there's still enough time left in the season for him to earn his high draft spot.
Hitters: Grady Sizemore, OF BOS, Andrelton Simmons, SS ATL, Jed Lowrie, MI OAK, Howie Kendrick, 2B LAA
Pitchers: Dan Haren, SP LAD, Jhoulys Chacin, SP COL, David Phelps, SP NYY, Addison Reed, RP ARI
Not Falling For It: Shin-Soo Choo, OF TEX, Tyson Ross, SP SD