MLB Barometer - Flash Gordon
Last week, many of the brightest minds in our industry got together for the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) summer conference in San Francisco. Among the activities was a roundtable discussion about the pros and cons of daily fantasy (DFS) versus season long - our very own Chris Liss represented the season-long side, along with NFBC and NFFC founder, Greg Ambrosius. Though SiriusXM satellite waves are much abuzz in comparing and contrasting the two, I look at the two formats in the same way I do closers and starting pitchers in fantasy.
Starting pitchers and closers serve different purposes with two completely different approaches. DFS is Aroldis Chapman bearing down with the overpowering fastball for three quick outs, giving you the satisfaction of the immediate win. Season-long is Adam Wainwright slowly and methodically grinding it out over seven innings with no certainty of reward (especially if Trevor Rosenthal blows it). In fact, it's funny that we have to even label fantasy baseball as "season-long". I always have and will continue to call it fantasy baseball.
The truth is, I love DFS and play as often as my schedule allows me. Funny enough, if my DFS lineup isn't producing, I find myself in a foul mood quickly. After all, we're all perfectionists and want to be competitive in everything that we do. Yet, when Sergio Romo gets pummeled for five earned runs on my NFBC team, I'm able to keep cool because I know I'm in a marathon - I've tripped, but I'm getting right back up.
Just know that you don't have to take a side in this debate because we're talking about two completely different animals. Play what you can within your time constraints - just know that succeeding at DFS involves a serious commitment - those that have had great success have earned it by grinding it out and studying on a daily basis.
DFS is a welcomed addition to our industry. The large marketing budgets of FanDuel and DraftKings have helped bring new players into our fun and rewarding hobby. Just like fashion trends and the real estate market, some things come around full circle, so don't be surprised if many of those new DFS players enter our draft leagues in the coming years to play "season-long" fantasy baseball.
Aramis Ramirez, 3B MLW - After missing 22 games in May, the unofficial Summer of ARam is well underway. So far in June, Ramirez is hitting .369 with four homers, 15 runs batted in and 13 runs. He has reached base safely in 13 consecutive games and was 8-13 with two home runs in Coors Field this weekend. In a season where third basemen performances have been spotty and unpredictable, ARam has taken the bull by the horns and should continue to hit as long as he stays off the disabled list. He's 35 years old, but one of the most consistent hitters of the past decade. A career .286 hitter, most of Ramirez's fantasy value comes from his contribution to the BA category as well as driving in runs. Hitting in a prime spot of one of baseball's most dangerous lineups should provide tons of opportunity for ARam to exceed ADP value (146.7) this year. 12 homers and 50 RBI from this point on shouldn't be asking too much.
Alex Gordon, OF KC - Gordon was instrumental in a 10 game winning streak that helped the Royals position themselves near the Detroit Tigers in the race for the AL Central. Gordon is among the AL OPS leaders in June (1.067), slugging five homers with 11 RBI and scoring 15 runs this month. In comparison to last season, Gordon is walking more (10.1% walk rate, 7.4% last year), striking out less (16% now, 20.1% in 2013) and on pace to match or exceed last year's RBI and run totals. It's hard to believe that the former #2 overall pick is now a 30-year-old veteran and is older than teammate Billy Butler, who is 28. Gordon is a career .270 hitter, but struggled early in his career and has hit .290 or higher in three of the past four seasons. Gordon is at .291 heading into week 13 and though slumps can be anticipated, Gordon should end the season somewhere in the .280 - .300 range.
Jay Bruce, OF CIN - Bruce has been a disappointment when you consider his high NFBC ADP (31.6), hitting .225 with only seven home runs. But to be fair, he missed 14 games last month and is only now starting to warm up. Bruce has three consecutive seasons of 30 or more homers and is in the midst of his age 27 prime power year. He's hitting a paltry .225, which is no shock, but appears to have his mojo back in week 12 (.304, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 5 R, 1 SB). Bruce is also providing value with his legs - he's one stolen base away from his career high (9) as we near the midpoint of the season. Many recall Bruce's insane two-month stretch when he hit 17 HR, 45 RBI, .292 last May and June. One of baseball's streakiest hitters, expect a similar stretch from Bruce soon. It looks like he will fall short of the 30 HR mark for the first time since 2010, but still has plenty of value going forward.
Jake Arrieta, SP CHC - The former Orioles prospect has been one of the hottest starting pitchers in baseball this month. Arrieta has won three of four June starts, allowing only two earned runs total, five walks and 29 strikeouts in 24.1 innings. Arrieta has only pitched 16 of his 50 innings on the year in Wrigley Field, but boasts a 0.34 ERA there with no homers allowed. He's relied on a sinker that's tough to hit (.170 OBA) and it appears that his improved command is sustainable, despite a small velocity drop on his fastball (from 95 mph to 94). An absolute gem for waiver wire scavengers, Arrieta has been feasting on struggling offenses like the Padres and Marlins, so the true test will be this week, in his matchup against the resurgent Reds.
Sean Doolittle, RP OAK - Doolittle has done little to deserve any shred of criticism for his performance this year. As the A's closer, Doolittle has allowed only one walk in 36 innings and boasts excellent ratios (2.00 ERA, 0.58 WHIP) along with 10 saves. A rare breed as a left-handed closer, Doolittle relies on a wicked fastball to dominate batters in ninth inning - a fastball that averages 94 mph. Doolittle's dominant 12.5 K/9 rate is a major improvement on 2013's 7.8 when he pitched in middle relief. There is very little reason to doubt Doolittle's ability to hang on to the role and continue to rack up the saves. The only concern is the number of save opportunities that will arise since the Athletics fire-powered lineup has been known to gather massive leads on opponents, but that is unpredictable going forward. For a team with a serious opportunity to make the playoffs and contend in them, not having to worry about their closer situation will continue to instill confidence in a team that only need to bridge the late inning gap from their strong starting staff to their dominant ninth inning ace.
Hitters: Jordy Mercer, SS PIT, Stephen Vogt, UT OAK, Josh Harrison, OF PIT, Brad Miller, IF SEA
Pitchers: Jake Odorizzi, SP TB, Kyle Gibson, SP MIN, Jarred Cosart, SP HOU, Rubby De La Rosa, SP BOS
Not Falling For It: J.D. Martinez, OF DET, Kevin Correia, SP MIN
Jason Kipnis, 2B CLE - If you kicked off your fantasy drafts this year with Prince Fielder in the first round and Kipnis in the second, you may have already switched gears to football. Kipnis missed most of May with the most pesky of injuries - a strained oblique - and it may still be lingering. Obliques affect not only your game, but day-to-day living (even sneezing can sting). Kipnis has yet to homer since returning to the lineup on May 28 and heads into this week with the same amount of home runs (3) as he had on April 21. Depending on your league's scoring system, Kipnis was the most valuable second basemen in fantasy last season, and has a lot of catching up to do to finish in the top 10 at his position - it's not out of the realm of possibility. Kipnis' second half value will come mostly from his ability to steal bases (30, 31 last two years) and contributions to R and RBI categories. Kipnis was never a big power guy in the minors and will be hard-pressed to ever hit 20. Don't be shocked if Kipnis' 17 HR and .284 average last year were career highs and we draft guys like Anthony Rendon and Brian Dozier ahead of him next year.
Alfonso Soriano, OF NYY - I'm definitely sad to see the ageless Soriano relegated to platoon status (25 million dollar platoon status!) with fellow oldie Ichiro. After a monster age-37 season (34 HR, 101 RBI, 18 SB), Soriano's stock has fallen to where he only hits the lineup against left-handed pitchers. In fact, Soriano's name was only written into the Yankees' lineup card once in week 12 and his June numbers include no home runs, no runs scored and a .222 average. Soriano vows to break out of his slump and get back on track, and it's certainly possible, but how much patience do we have? I reluctantly dropped Soriano on one of my NFBC online championship teams (12-teamer) this weekend and hope I won't regret it. Our benches are only seven deep there, my offense is stacked and I had to make a play for Andrew Heaney for some pitching depth. Dropping Soriano for a possible flash-in-the-pan like J.D. Martinez or Steve Pearce may not be worth it, but if there's some serious waiver wire gold out there, don't be afraid to make the move.
Jed Lowrie, MI OAK - Fantasy owners are starting to lose faith and drop Lowrie from 10 and 12 team rosters - moves that are easily justifiable based on his first half performance. Lowrie has somehow managed to be one of the least productive two-hole hitters in baseball (.220 - 4 HR - 26 RBI - 0 SB) and his 37 runs to date could easily have been scored by either you or I. Lowrie has no speed (six career steals) and is extremely injury prone (only one of six seasons with 400+ plate appearances). He's a career .258 hitter who hit .290 in his only healthy season. That .290 appears to look like an outlier, but even Lowrie is not this bad. A .242 BABIP tells us that luck has not been on his side. Lowrie should improve in the second half (if he plays it!), but doesn't have enough oomph to provide anything more than plus runs by virtue of his lineup spot.
Trevor Bauer, SP CLE - We keep going back to the well because we were promised glory. Yet, Bauer has yet to deliver on the hype dated back to his 2011 Triple-A season under Diamondback guidance - a 2.85 ERA and 10.7 K/9 in 82 innings. The strikeouts are there, as expected (47 K in 47 IP), but lack of control continues to plague him (3.45 BB/9, 1.46 WHIP). In his most recent outing, Bauer served up three home runs to Tigers bats and is allowing 1.53 HR/9. Bauer possesses a full arsenal that speaks to his upside that includes a filthy cutter, but Bauer is still a work in progress because his fastball, which does top out over 97 mph, can often be straight as an arrow. Bauer will continue to have his ups and downs this season and makes for a good keeper trade target. Apparently, Bauer is a guy with many superstitions and is known get into his own head. As Bauer continues to mature and build experience, he should learn to harness his control and not let a little turmoil affect him during his starts.
Sergio Romo, RP SF - Romo owners are breathing a sigh of relief after back to back saves this weekend. Romo was given a week off after consecutive blown saves against the Rockies where he gave up 7 ER in 1.1 IP in two save opportunities. Considered one of baseball's most reliable closers, Romo's recent struggles are surprising, as is his 4.75 ERA and declining strikeout rate (from 10.25 in 2012 to 7.4 now). Romo's problem this year has been the long ball - his HR/9 is above 1.0 for the first time in his career - but he's been doing a good job not walking batters or giving up too many hits that aren't home runs (1.78 BB/9, 0.99 WHIP). Santiago Casilla and Jean Machi loom in the background, but Romo already looks to be headed in the right direction and should not be falling much longer. He is among the league leaders with 22 saves and his four blown saves should be forgiven.
Hitters: Tyler Flowers, C CHW, Stephen Drew, SS BOS, Dayan Viciedo, OF CHW, B.J. Upton, OF ATL
Pitchers: C.J. Wilson, SP LAA, Aaron Harang, SP ATL, Brandon McCarthy, SP ARI, Jose Quintana, SP CHW
Not Falling For It: Chris Davis, 1B BAL, Tim Hudson, SP SF