I am filling in on the Barometer this week for Vlad Sedler this week as he continues to travel the globe in his new wedded bliss.
As we enter the dog days of the season, almost all of us are starting to let our minds wander to football drafts as we focus on our competing baseball teams and slowly forget the leagues that just don't have what it takes this year. Before it gets too late and those leagues are a distant memory, I think it is valuable to look at those losing teams and instead of blaming bad players or unlucky injuries to look at what mistakes we made as drafters. It can be tough to accept that we make mistakes (I know I have never been good at that), but when a team is unsuccessful, it is not merely bad luck that defines its result.
I have a couple of good NFBC teams, but the team I always focus on the most is my squad in the 15-team Main Event, which I consider the best competition in the industry. Almost all the owners are studied and ready on draft day as very few people put up the stakes for the NFBC Main Event without coming fully prepared. Competing in this event is tough, but something I pride myself on as I have had some success in the past. This year, after a decent April, I have been an embarrassment, and it can really be tracked to my first five picks.
There is always the cliché that you can't win the draft in the first few rounds, but that you can lose it. I believe that in football for sure, but I am not sure I really did for baseball before 2014. Baseball is so deep and in-season management is so important that you can usually build around and/or fix mistakes with hard work and good scouting. However, my Top 5 this year was SO bad that made it nearly impossible to compete.
My top 5 consisted of three enormous busts and two mediocre performers, not exactly a Breakfast of Champions. I started with Bryce Harper eighth overall. Looking back on it objectively, I am still not sure how I ended up thinking that was a good idea. He clearly has all the talent in the world, but how do you spend that high a pick on a guy who had not come close to earning that at any point? And the guy isn't even likable on top of that!
I followed the Harper nightmare with his teammate Stephen Strasburg. The 10-12 ace pitchers were going early in most drafts and I decided to jump the run with the non-Kershaw ace that I liked the most and not worry about the pitchers drying up by my pick at 38. Strasburg hasn't been bad, but if you had told me that he would be healthy all year, I sure would never have anticipated any ERA near 3.7 and a WHIP over 1.2 He is leading the league in strikeouts so it has not been all bad, but certainly not a value at the spot.
The spot where my league went sideways was the third round. I decided to try and be tricky and go two aces since there were a few that got back to me and selected Justin Verlander over Jose Bautista. That pick could not have worked out worse and really was just not smart. Verlander showed signs of not being elite during most of the 2013 season and I let his late run (admittedly the games in the playoffs against my A's probably clouded my judgment even more) impair my judgment on what he was going to be in 2014. Of course, there was no way to predict this complete implosion, but there was no reason for me to risk taking a second pitcher that high unless it was an insane value that had slipped in the draft. In a weird way, the real problem with Verlander is that he has made all of his starts (Note: He left Monday's start early with shoulder soreness), so he has been in there for me every week just crushing my ratios over and over. I suppose I should be less stubborn about sitting my "studs", but at some point, I figured if my "healthy" third round pick doesn't turn it around, I am likely cooked anyways. So not only was Verlander not a positive pick in any way, but he has destroyed my team as a severe negative throughout the whole season. He would have worked out better if he had not made a pitch all season.
The real problem with going Verlander third is I put myself in an offensive hole that I would have trouble getting out of and on top of that, I didn't get the big pitching edge I wanted with two anchors up top. I took Adrian Gonzalez in the fourth round (he has been ok, but not great) and then because I so was worried about power, I tried to get a power edge at a weaker position and took Wilin Rosario, another disaster. I don't hate the Rosario pick looking back as I thought 25 homers from the catcher spot were very possible, but he is not close to that and has hurt my average on top of it. Getting zero plus players out of your first five is a tough way to live in any competitive league no matter how well you can manage a team from there on out. I am already looking forward to the 2015 Main Event as I feel like I cheated myself out a season this year that was done (I didn't know it then) about 35 minutes into the draft. Every pick you make early affects the rest of your draft and I just set mine up poorly from the jump. I will put together a fuller recap of the NFBC season for my NFBC column later this month, but I thought it had some value to take a top 5 snapshot to see how a poor early picks can really derail a season. Live and learn I suppose, but it sure is a lot more fun to live and win.
Good luck to everyone down the stretch competing in leagues and Go A's!
Billy Butler, 1B, KC - It surprises me more than anyone else to be writing about "Country Breakfast" in a positive manner and without any expletives attached. I admit that I gave up on Butler about six weeks ago and dropped him in one of my NFBC 12-team leagues. In his 341 at-bats before the All-Star Break, Butler hit a grand total of three home runs and was slugging a hard to believe .355. Since the break, Butler has already topped his first half home run total, hitting four bombs in only 76 at-bats and compiling a very strong .890 OPS. It was hard to fathom that Butler had become quite as bad as he was in the first half, but after his drop to 15 homers in 2013 after 29 in 2012 made me believe that maybe he has just lost his power. This recent surge has coincided with the Royals getting red-hot as a team as it sure helps to have your cleanup hitter finally produce like one. If he was dropped in your league, snatch him up as Butler finally looks like his 2012 self for the first time in a while. And if nothing else, how fun it is to yell, "Cmon Breakfast!" when he comes up for an at-bat with runners on base?
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS - Pedroia has been a favorite player of mine for a while as he is just one of those guys that is always fun to watch. Unfortunately this season has not been one that has been fun to watch for anyone who drafted Pedroia in the early rounds. Incredibly, after the first four months of a season when Pedroia has not missed any extended time to injury, he had four home runs and three steals without hitting over .300 in any of the first four months. Four and three from a second round pick with a middling batting average? Not exactly what anyone signs up for when they buy tickets to The Laser Show. However, Pedroia has finally come on in the last few weeks, hitting .364 over his past 55 at-bats with a homer and three stolen bases. As a side note, if you have not seen it yet, go check out his "double steal" against the Angels from Saturday night, it is very worth the time. Play up his weak homer and stolen base totals and see if you can get a good deal from the Pedroia owner in your league and it looks like he might finally back to his usual self.
Dustin Ackley, 2B/OF, SEA - Is Ackley finally paying off a post-hype sleeper? After years of hype for Ackley followed by less than exciting results, Ackley could finally be getting comfortable and ready to contribute to fantasy teams. After a first half of the season (.225/.282/.335) that appeared as if maybe the shine was off Ackley's star forever, he has gotten into a very nice groove in his 95 at-bats since the break. Ackley has matched his first-half home run total of four already in 95 at-bats since the break and has tossed up a .903 OPS to go with the homers. Ackley is now slotted in the lineup on a daily basis and has answered with an impressive 10 multi-hit games since July 18th. Ackley still has sneaky 2B eligibility and could still be available in some 12-team waiver wires. He would be a very nice guy to be able to play in your middle infield slot going forward.
Doug Fister, SP, WAS - After being traded from the Tigers to the Nationals in the offseason, Fister started the year on the disabled list which dropped his draft price by a good amount. In my NFBC Main Event League, Fister slipped all the way to the 15th round. Fister made his Nats debut in early May and allowed five earned runs to the A's, but since then he has only allowed more than three runs one time. He has gotten stronger as the year has gone on and since July 1st, Fister is 5-1 over six starts with an impressive 1.98 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. Fister will never be a huge strikeout guy (5.7 K/9 so far this year), but he is so solid in ratios (and is on a first place team which is solid for wins) that he provides a lot of value to any fantasy team, especially considering the current roll he is on.
Homer Bailey, SP, CIN - Homey Bailey was one of the most hyped pitchers coming into drafts this season. Bailey had a 3.02 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in the second half of 2013 and it appeared that he was destined to join the upper tier of aces in 2014. He proceeded to smack disappointed fantasy owners in the face with a 4.21 ERA in the first half. An insane .416 babip spoiled his April, which led to a 6.15 ERA that he has been trying to claw back from ever since. Bailey has finally turned the corner and has pitched like an ace since the start of July. Since July 1, he has an ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP under 1.00 over six starts. The only thing keeping his value down is the Reds offense and its lack of run support as he only has one win in those six starts even with those sparkling ratios. It may be too late as it is to try and make a play for Bailey, but it is worth a shot if an owner is still focusing on his overall numbers or his recent lack of wins.
Hitters: Yan Gomes (C, Cleveland), Chris Carter (1B/OH, Houston), Ben Zobrist (2B, Tampa Bay), Matt Kemp (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers), Denard Span (OF, Washington).
Pitchers: Cole Hamels (SP, Philadelphia), Nathan Eovaldi (SP, Miami), Shelby Miller (SP, St Louis), James Shields (SP, Kansas City), Hector Santiago (SP, Los Angeles Angels).
Not Falling For It: Danny Santana (SS, Minnesota), Colby Lewis (SP, Texas), Roberto Hernandez (SP, Los Angeles Dodgers).
Brandon Moss, SP, OAK - I love my A's and I love what Moss has brought to the team since 2012 when he joined the team as a relative unknown. Unfortunately, there is no way around the fact that Moss is struggling mightily at the moment. Moss had a great first half that saw him hit 21 HR, drive in 66 runs and hit .268, which led to his first selection to the All-Star Game. Since returning from Minnesota, Moss has been flat out brutal to the tune of a .156 batting average, a .247 slugging percentage and only six RBI in 20 games. If anything, Moss has gotten even worse recently, hitting a mere .104 over his last 48 at-bats with zero home runs. He also has 18 strikeouts in those last 48 at-bats and seems to swinging through a lot of elevated fastballs. Moss' power is legit and that aspect of his game should return, but he is fighting everything big time right now.
Aaron Hill, 2B, AZ - Hill was the 10th second baseman taken in draft this season and had an ADP of 115 in NFBC drafts. The concern with Hill coming into the year was his health as he missed half of the 2013 season, but it was assumed that if he were healthy, he would hit and provide value. Over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Hill hit .298 with 37 homers in about a season and a half worth of at-bats. Hill has remained healthy in 2014, but has just not hit at all. Through 110 games this season, Hill only has nine homers, two steals and is only hitting .249, bringing back memories of his brutal 2011 campaign for the Blue Jays before his trade to Arizona. Hill does not appear to be turning it around at all and is hitting just .200 with zero homers so far in 30 August at-bats. He still plays in a beneficial home park, but with a lot of second base options this year on the waiver wire, it might be time to sit Hill when the D-Backs take to the road.
Bryce Harper, OF, WAS - Oh, Bryce. I rarely take chances with my first round pick in money leagues, but I was sucked in by Harper's upside this year and took him 8th OA in the NFBC Main Event. Of course, he had the thumb injury that caused to miss a big chunk of the year and he probably isn't totally healthy, but it is truly stunning just how bad he has been in 2014. In 201 at-bats this year, he has four homers and one solitary stolen base, just insane numbers when you think about the hype surrounding him, his past success at a very young age and his clearly immense level of talent. Since coming back from the April injury, Harper is hitting .220 with a massive 44 strikeouts in 118 at-bats. He still is not getting dropped in any leagues, but if you own him, how do you keep playing a guy who has been flat empty for fantasy teams since day 1 no matter how many commercials he is in?
Jered Weaver, SP, LAA - Weaver was a popular fade for fantasy owners coming into 2014 due to his steadily decreasing velocity. Weaver continued to make the doubters look bad with an ERA of 3.45 at the All-Star Break, but he has really started to struggle since the team resumed play for the second half. In five starts since the break, Weaver is sporting a 4.65 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP and has struggled with his control with 12 walks in 31 innings pitched. In addition, Weaver has only managed 10 strikeouts in his last three starts spanning 17 innings. Weaver usually manages to right the ship, but with his average fastball velocity down to 86.1 MPH this season, this may be the time where his lack of pure stuff finally gets him in trouble.
Gio Gonzalez, SP, WAS - 2014 has been a very up and down year for Gio. Coming off four consecutive years with an ERA at least under 3.40, Gio seemed to be a safe bet to anchor your fantasy pitching staff. Well, it is now mid-August and his ERA sits at an ugly and round 4.00. His strikeout numbers have been very strong (9.5 K/9), but he has just been inconsistent all year long. After a nice April, he was terrible in May, allowing 13 earned runs in 14.2 innings before hitting the disabled list. He appeared to be headed very much in the right direction with three straight shutouts over 21 innings in late June and early July, but has reverted back to his inconsistent self since then. In Gio's last six starts, he has thrown only one really good game (one run over seven innings against the Reds) and his ERA sits at 5.17 over that period with an 0-5 record. The K's are still there through this bad stretch, but so are the walks with 15 in only 31.1 innings to go along with 34 hits allowed. That is just a ton of base runners. Gio is streaky and a guy you can't really bench, but he is a tough guy to rely upon as your ace right now.
Hitters: John Jaso (C, Oakland), David Wright (3B, New York Mets), Josh Hamilton (OF, Los Angeles Angels), Asdrubal Cabrera (SS, Washington), Jackie Bradley Jr (OF, Boston).
Pitchers: Tim Lincecum (SP, San Francisco), Justin Masterson (SP, St Louis), John Lackey (SP, St Louis), Trevor Bauer (SP, Cleveland).
Not Falling For It: Scott Kazmir (SP, Oakland), Sonny Gray (SP, Oakland), Adam Wainwright (SP, St Louis), Yu Darvish (SP, Texas)