MLB Barometer - The Price Is Wong
It's been a month or two since I've touched on anything outside the numbers, so I'd love to stand back up on my fluffy cloud and tell you about 2014's version of the RotoWire annual company trip. Every year, the team heads out from Madison HQ - and beyond - to Las Vegas for All-Star festivities. We rented cabanas by the Aria pool, ate phenomenal food (you've got to check out The Blind Pig), played in a RotoWire poker tourney, drafted fantasy football squads and, last but not least, watched the Home Run Derby and the All-Star game.
But what was most amazing is how warmly I was received by each and every person on the trip and the way they interacted with one another. As a remote part-time contributor based in L.A. I've only had the chance to work with and hang out with Jeff Erickson and Christopher Liss at NFBC drafts, so this was a great way to meet the entire crew, especially the guys behind the scenes who you don't always hear about on the radio. From ownership and the writing staff to editors and the tech folk, this was truly the nicest group of people I'd ever met. CEO Peter Schoenke, COO Tim Schuler, CTO Herb Ilk and VP of Biz Dev, Ken Crites were extremely welcoming and always made sure my fiancée and I were having a good time. Ken's wife Sharon and Peter's wife Victoria were incredibly hospitable as well and made sure all of our planned activities did not skip a beat.
I got to talk shop with Michael Gay (we're both project managers), hug it out with senior basketball editor Kyle McKeown (nicest guy ever) and chill poolside with Kyle's brother / ad-man extraordinaire, Shannon McKeown, Director of Marketing Aaron Quinn, and customer support masters Kevin O'Brien and Clay Link. I picked the brain of radio co-host and writer Jason Thornbury on the Seahawks, debated Russian vs. Canadian athletes with hockey guru Paul Bruno, threw back a few brews with Assistant Editor Adam Wolf, the venerable Andre Snellings and Texas sports specialist, Jason Brown. In the company draft, I fought for late-round NFL sleepers with basketball writer Alex Rikleen and lost a small Andrew McCutchen vs. Derek Jeter wager with weekend radio host and FAAB-master, Andrew Martinez ("it's like a printing press of money!").
I learned from the sharpest programming guys in fantasy sports (Tim McCaigue, Erik Jastrowski, Nate Lutterman and Griffin Lowmaster) who are working on an amazing new app, among other revolutionary fantasy-related technology, and met beat writers Jake Letarski and Daniel Kennedy. Led by the wise and scrupulous Christopher Liss, you've got the masterminds behind the fresh-off-the-presses 2014 Fantasy Football Guide - revered RotoWire veteran writer Mike Doria, college football expert Mario Puig, lawyer by day / fantasy football draft-crusher by night, Mark Stopa, and fan-favorite / all around great guy, Kevin Payne.
I finally got to meet one of fantasy sports' most tireless and talented, Derek VanRiper, an absolute class-act and a name you'll be hearing about in our industry for decades to come. And I can't forget about wunderkind, Nick Schlain, who likely memorized the Bill James handbook at the age of four. Many of our other fabulous writers and staff couldn't make the trip this time around, but hopefully they'll pencil in next year's trip into their calendars.
The idea that Northwestern University buddies Peter Schoenke, Jeff Erickson and Herb Ilk came up with 17 years ago revolutionized our industry, and what they've helped build today is truly special and intangible. There are innumerable sites with great fantasy content, but to be able to produce great content among such camaraderie and good down-to-earth people definitely makes RotoWire one of a kind. If you've ever met Jeff Erickson, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It feels good to be a part of the first Roto Family.
Kolten Wong, 2B STL - The former Rainbow Warrior of Hawaii has officially locked up the 2B job as well as the two-spot in the lineup and is all systems go for the last 10 weeks. Wong flexed a little muscle upon returning from the DL, swatting five homers in seven games before All-Star weekend, but that's just an added bonus. Wong has hit double-digit bombs only once in the minors (10 in 107 games in Triple-A last year) and should mostly provide stolen bases and runs. The Cardinals will desperately need his base-path work as they sit second to last among major league teams in runs scored while leadoff Matt Carpenter has regressed sharply. Wong is hitting .361 this month as he looks to raise a weak .253 BA into respectability. Wong has 6 HR and 12 SB this year and should get to 10/20 with ease. He has a lot of value going forward - both this season and in dynasty leagues.
Jayson Werth, OF WAS - Werth is up to his old tricks, hitting .383 this month after a pathetic .212 in June. Werth is powering the Nats in July, leading the majors in RBI (20) and tied with teammate Anthony Rendon with 14 runs scored. He's less than halfway to last year's home run total (12 now, 25 in 2013) but has seen a big drop in ISO - currently .165 after .214 last year. With the return of phenom Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos fully healthy (fingers crossed) and the mini-revival of Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals look like they'll be making a lot of noise down the stretch and into the playoffs. Werth ranks among the top 10 in the NL in runs and RBI and the 35-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF NYY - Now THIS is what Yankees fans have been waiting for. Over the weekend, Ellsbury hit .500 (6-12) with 3 SB, 3 RBI, 2 R and a home run and should be one of baseball's top hitters over the final ten weeks of the season. His run production and stolen bases have remained steady over the first three months of the season, but his average has seesawed monthly (April - July: .312 - .231 - .324 - .246) and Ellsbury needs to find his stroke against righties (.261 vs RHP, .320 vs LHP). Ellsbury should be able to make a run at .300 (currently .284) and 50 SB (currently 25) and end up worth the price of his second round tag in most draft leagues.
Brandon McCarthy, SP NYY - It's no secret that BMac has been one of baseball's unluckiest starting pitchers as evidenced by the big discrepancy in ERA (4.63) and xFIP (2.87). The Yankees bought in and have been reaping the rewards - two wins, 12 K in 12.2 IP with only two earned runs and one walk through two games. The Yankees are only three games back of Baltimore in the AL East and will need McCarthy to keep grinding as they've officially lost CC Sabathia for the season and have to rely on unproven arms like Chase Whitley and Shane Greene. The Yanks are likely not done dealing as they'll need another solid starter for the rotation. As McCarthy looks to top 180 IP for the first time in his nine year career, it's nice to see one of the MLB's most colorful spokespeople succeed. His 7.7 K/9 also happens to be a career-high and the fact that bats of the AL East aren't what they used to be should certainly help McCarthy improve on a 1.37 WHIP that is not typical BMac.
Sonny Gray, SP OAK - Gray instantly became one of my favorite pitchers last year after a dominant nine strikeout win against the Tigers in the playoffs following a solid 12-game stretch to begin his career. Heading into 2014, Gray's ADP of 136 seemed reasonable so many of us made sure to snag him as our SP3 in every draft possible. Rocking an 11-3 record with a 2.72 ERA and 7.7 strikeouts-per-nine, Gray has not disappointed. Gray has won all four of his July starts and has not allowed more than one earned run in any of them. Gray has a solid arsenal of five pitches but most impressive is his 81-mph cutter that opposing batters can't hit (.200 OBA). He's done a great job limiting home runs (0.5 HR/9) but still walks about three batters per nine innings as there are improvements to be made with his control. Gray still trails teammate Scott Kazmir in ERA (2.38) but it would not be shocking to see those two flip-flop come season's end. Gray appears to be headed to SP1/2 status come 2015 fantasy drafts especially if he plays a part in 2014 playoff heroics, which is a very likely possibility.
Hitters: Anthony Rizzo, 1B CHC, Brock Holt, IF BOS, Chris Carter, DH HOU, Torii Hunter, OF DET
Pitchers: Trevor Bauer, SP CLE, Tanner Roark, SP WAS, Rubby De La Rosa, SP BOS, Cody Allen, RP CLE
Not Falling For It: Chris Coghlan, OF CHC, Shane Greene, SP NYY
Wilin Rosario, C COL - Rosario has been quite the disappointment relative to his draft position as the third catcher off draft boards this year behind Buster Posey and Joe Mauer. We didn't exactly expect a repeat of his .292 BA (enhanced by a .344 BABIP), but 20 HR / 80 RBI felt just about automatic for the 25-year-old. It's tough to pinpoint exactly what's wrong with him - in fact, nothing much really is besides irregular playing time. Backup Catcher Michael McKenry has been starting against RHP much too often (including five games this month) since Rosario's handedness splits have been much too pronounced (.220 vs RHP, .299 vs LHP). Rosario's slash line (.242/.277/.414) leaves much to be desired but it's interesting to note that his strikeout-rate has improved (from 23% last two years to 20% this year) while the walks have gone up (from 3% to 5%). Rosario is in too good of a position (age, ballpark, power) to fall off the map so quickly. Perhaps a nice all-home week in Coors this week will do the trick.
Jason Castro, C HOU - Castro is another lackluster backstop coming off of a career season - 18 HR in 120 games last year. Despite a prime lineup spot for the Astros - mostly third and occasionally cleanup - Castro is hitting .226 and has managed only 26 R and 36 RBI. Castro strikes out nearly a third of his at-bats, has regressed in BB% and ISO and is slugging more than a hundred points less than last year (from .485 to .375). After hitting .181 in June, Castro has actually picked up the pace a bit (.297 this month) since moving to the two-slot when Dexter Fowler hit the DL. Any way you slice it, Castro's first half has been so disappointing that it wouldn't take much for him to match or exceed those first 16 weeks over the remainder of the season.
Oscar Taveras, OF STL - Can you say "bust"? Okay, perhaps not yet, but what if Taveras gets ample playing time from here on out and fails to produce this season? It's far too early to make assumptions and it's quite possible 2014 ends up a lost season for the uber-prospect. This scenario would severely undervalue Taveras for 2015 and you might have yourself steal on draft day. One thing is for sure - Cardinals management needs to find a way to get him into the lineup every day and let him get into a groove. Allen Craig (.244/.294/.357) is having an abysmal season and has been clogging up the middle of the order. Meanwhile, Taveras is hitting .190 in 79 plate appearances with only one homer, but he's likely done all he can do in the minors and the future is now. The Cardinals are tied for the lead in the NL Central despite a truly inferior offensive season and should give him an opportunity to get into a rhythm. Just let the kid play.
Tyler Skaggs, SP LAA - The former first round draft pick and prized prospect of the Diamondbacks has had a tough run in the Angels rotation this year. Skaggs allowed 11 ER over his last two outings (11.2 IP) and now has a 4.65 ERA on the year. Despite a regression in strikeouts (6.5 K/9 this year, 9.3 in Triple-A last year), there are some positive signs going into the final ten weeks including a decent WHIP of 1.26, low HR/9 (0.66) and a 3.73 xFIP. Skaggs is currently not in danger of losing a rotation spot when C.J. Wilson returns - one of Matt Shoemaker or Hector Santiago will likely be - but a few more outings like his prior two, and the Angels may consider some more seasoning. Skaggs has struggled against LHB (.299 OBA) and with runners on base (.319). His situation may not get better with the hot-hitting Tigers and Orioles next on the grid, but Skaggs should continue to get ample run support and continue to gain confidence on the mound. 2015 may be his year and Skaggs should be available at a discount next spring.
Carlos Martinez, SP STL - The hard-throwing righty crept up draft boards this spring with the possibility of a rotation spot that didn't actually materialize until mid-June. Enamored by a fastball that tops out at 101-mph, many of us set our sights on the National League's version of Yordano Ventura, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Unfortunately, CMart has been anything but stellar, specifically over the last few weeks. Martinez has failed to pitch more than four innings in two of his last three starts and has allowed 11 ER and 7 BB in those 14 innings. It's yet another cautionary tale of the inexperienced fireballer who may need months and even years to harness his control (currently 4 BB/9). Martinez is a raw 22-year-old with savory raw skills that will no doubt be fine-tuned over time. We will always be on the lookout for that later round rookie SP that turns out to be "the guy to own", but more often than not, we're reminded that the later round gems to target are guys who have had some major league experience and have gone through ups and downs already - guys like Garrett Richards and Corey Kluber.
Hitters: Mike Zunino, C SEA, Jonathan Schoop, IF BAL, Nolan Arenado, 3B COL, Carlos Gonzalez, OF COL
Pitchers: Yordano Ventura, SP KC, Jarred Cosart, SP HOU, Wily Peralta, SP MLW, Tim Hudson, SP SF
Not Falling For It: Yoenis Cespedes, OF OAK, Jason Hammel, SP OAK