RotoWire Partners

MLB Barometer: Would You Rather?

Vlad Sedler

Vlad Sedler covers baseball and football for RotoWire. He is a veteran NFBC player and CDM Hall of Famer, winning the Football Super Challenge in 2013. A native Angeleno, Vlad loves the Dodgers and Kings and is quite possibly the world's only Packers/Raiders fan. You can follow him @RotoGut.

Would you rather have x-ray vision or bionic hearing?

Would you rather never laugh again or never use your smartphone again?

Would you rather change the past or be able to see the future?

Apparently, I missed out on this game as a teenager. My free time was spent making rankings lists of my favorite hockey players and writing out MLB hitting leaders by tabulating the results from box scores in The Daily News. Or perhaps, I just wasn’t interested in things I considered imaginary and absurd.

Unfortunately for us seasoned fantasy players, every week – or in the case of some leagues – every day, is a just one big game of ‘would you rather’. Would you rather start Carlos Rodon at Texas or Mike Foltynewicz at Arizona? Would you rather spend more this week on Justin Bour or Ben Paulsen? These are the days of our lives. And if we had a dollar for every minute spent on our lineup decisions over the years, many of us wouldn’t need to work.

But most importantly, the question I pose today – would you rather play or bench your third round pick if they are struggling or were displaying signs of having / hiding injury?

It’s a debate I’ve had far too often with many of my roto pals. One school of thought is you run your top players out there (almost) no matter what. Over the course of the season, your best players are supposed to produce within the vicinity of their draft slot or auction price. And if you sit them in a week where they club five homers from your bench or throw a 18 strikeout CGSO, the feelings of angst and disgust are stronger than if you just left them in for another week of near zeroes or a Shane Greene Shellacking.

Can you really bench Miguel Cabrera for Mitch Moreland if Miggy is coming off of a week of hitting .150? You probably know what happens if you do. How much thought do you give to sitting Clayton Kershaw for a start in Coors Field this week if he had yet another semi-rough outing against the Braves last week? Cabrera and Kershaw are certified first rounders, but what about the decisions folks had to make on third rounders like Ryan Braun and Corey Kluber just a few weeks ago? The percentage chance of sitting a player could probably be illustrated in a pyramid with the first round being the pinnacle.

I completely understand why someone would just let the chips fall where they may when it comes to their studs. As we all know, sitting struggling studs strikes us with somberness and strife.

On the flipside, others have no problem benching their studs. When assessing those possibilities, it is best to approach it systematically and create our own checklist so that we can confidently stand behind our decisions. Here are my simple three checkboxes.


  • Is the player suffering or recovering from any type of injury that would negatively impact their production?
  • Is there sufficient evidence to believe that the player’s skills have declined and they are not the player you paid for?
  • Do you have a comparable or better option?

The decision is easier for teams with deeper rosters. For example, I decided to sit Stephen Strasburg last week bychecking off two of three boxes to help justify benching him for two starts from Tsuyoshi Wada. No doubt, those who threw Strasburg almost immediately cursed him and vowed never to draft him again. And in almost every case, Strasburg owners had an alternative that was worth considering. Under the same checklist, we can perhaps justify benching Carlos Gonzalez while also feeling that there is zero justification for benching Adam Jones.

The key is to come up with your own systematic approach or checklist.  Most importantly, be open minded about sitting struggling studs. We can’t change the past, nor see the future, but we can certainly make drawn-out, difficult decisions easier on us.

 

RISERS

Lucas Duda (1B, NYM) – Duda did not get the respect he deserved in drafts this year (NFBC ADP: 146) after crushing 30 home runs in 514 at-bats. One of the concerns was his struggle vs LHP (.180 in 2014), but so far, four of nine homers this year have come against lefties – along with this wonderful slash - .377 BA, .455 OBP and 1.122 OPS. Six of those homers have come in his last nine games and he ranks top 10 in OBP and SLG in the NL. Hi success against lefties will be hard to sustain, but that doesn’t mean Duda won’t hit another 30 out and out-earn his ADP. Duda’s ISO is higher than last year (.246 to .228), he has maintained last year’s strikeout-rate (22 percent) and displays better patience at the plate, walking once every ten plate appearances. The Mets are no longer David Wright’s team, they are Duda’s. They still need to lock in a solid number two hitter after Curtis Granderson (.345 OBP) to increase Duda’s RBI opportunities. Hopefully, Juan Lagares can heat up and lock into the role, but Lagaresseems to be allergic to getting on base. Ruben Tejada has hit second the last few games, but is a offensively deficient and isn’t the solution at the two-spot either. Nevertheless, Duda is locked in, and could set career highs across the board. The next milestones are 35 HR and 100 RBI – both attainable numbers this year.

Norichika Aoki (OF, SF) – The San Francisco Giants aren’t the sexiest collection of fantasy players nor does AT&T Park bode well for power (0.48 ranks second to last in MLB Park Factors for HR). But seven of their starting hitters are batting .285 higher, save Hunter Pence who will join the group soon. Players like Joe Panik and Matt Duffy won’t be elite producers in the traditional five roto categories, but they continue to be undervalued in 12 and 15 team leagues. The Giants’ leadoff hitter, Aoki, has been added and dropped off NFBC waivers more often than Chris Liss’ Facebook shares. Aoki is a career .290 hitter and ranks among the top 20 in the majors in BA, OPB and SB. Despite his age (33), Aoki was a target for sharp drafters who foresaw late-round value in a guy who could contribute to three categories (R, SB, BA). His 22 runs in 214 PA are well below par, but with Pence, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt heating up, so should Aoki’s run total. Aoki is a cheap source of speed and should continue to run – he has stolen 11 of his 15 attempts. Targeting later-round cheap speed targets like Aoki and Rajai Davis to supplement SB totals while loading up on power early is an annual strategy worth employing. Especially if they are players projected to hit at the top of their respective lineups and can contribute to the ever-underrated runs category.

Hector Santiago (SP, LAA) – My friends call him Vlector as they mocked my irrational admiration for Santiago. This year, I’ve been calling him Hector the Ratio Protector as Santiago has allowed one earned run or less in eight of ten starts.Santiago has always had control issues, walking nearly five batters per nine innings with the White Sox over 219 innings in 2012 and 2013. He has improved that walk-rate (3.72) over his last 189 IP with the Angels, but still has more work to do in that regard. Santiago has been living off of his incredibly effective slider, as it accounts for 53 percent of his pitches this year, up from 34 percent last year – an impressive .181 xBA in 127 PA. Santiago has improved his strikeouts-per-nine by almost a full strikeout from 2014 – up to 8.4. Two of his last three outings were impressive gems against the Blue Jays in Rogers Centre and a 7.1 IP, 3-hit shutout against the Tigers. But before we anoint Santiago as this year’s Garrett Richards, keep in mind his ERA (2.18) that doesn’t jive with a 1.18 WHIP and that his xFIP (4.48) is more than two times his soon-to-regress ERA. Santiago isn’t 2.18 ERA good, but an ERA in the 3.10 – 3.25 range over the course of the season with 8 K/9 and 17 wins is a reasonable projection. Temper expectations with Santiago as your solid SP3 and continue to run him out there until he gives you reason otherwise.

Charlie Morton (SP, PIT) – RotoWire amigo Scott Pianowski cleverly dubbed Morton ‘Ground Chuck’ for his massive ground ball tilt, also an homage to legendary Steelers’ coach Chuck Noll. I still call him ‘Doc Jr.’ – a grossly inaccurate comp by an uninformed Pirates’ scribe five years ago. Morton is certainly no Roy Halladay. But Morton is a fantastic addition to fantasy teams right now, especially those looking for improved ratios and put them in good position for wins as a result of run support from a good offense. Hopefully folks picked him up for his solid two starts last week – 7 IP per start, each resulting in a win, a 36:10 GB/FB, three earned runs and only five strikeouts. The Pirates took their time with Morton as he has fully rehabbed from a hip injury, then took his rightful spot in the rotation in place of the underachieving Vance Worley. Pitching guru Ray Searage gets the most out of his arms, especially with ground ballers like Morton. Morton is anything but a strikeouts guy – he works off of a 91 mph two-seam fastball and a cutter that averages 77 mph, a pitch that works wonders at inducing GBs. His 7.2 K/9 in 157 IP was a little closer to league average than what you make expect from Morton this year. Either way, we’re not buying Morton for the strikeouts. He lines up for @ ATL, then v MLW over the next two weeks.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Justin Bour (1B, MIA) – The perfect replacement for Matt Adams, nice pickup for deeper leagues. He’s a big boy (6-foot-4, 250) and nice power, but .383 BABIP/.361 BA has only one direction to go. Miami’s home park is not a great one for left-handed power hitters either.

Jung-Ho Kang (SS, PIT) – Adjusting well to the majors and starts at SS and middle of the lineup most days. His .358 BABIP will regress. Won’t hit .300, but 20 HR, 70 RBIand I love that sweet swing.

Randal Grichuk (OF, STL) – A better hitter than Jon Jay and an above-average defender. Grichuk was the first of back-to-back picks by the Angels in the 2009 draft -- one spot ahead of Mike Trout. He's cutting into Jay’s playing time and deserves to play over him full-time.

Preston Tucker (OF, HOU) – Great value if he can hold onto the premier third spot in that lineup. Underwhelming prospect because of subpar defense. Tucker is a rising 24-year-old with stocky 6’0’’, 217 lb frame and plus power. Should not be sitting on your waiver wire.

NOT BUYING IT

Evan Gattis (C, HOU) – I’m buying the power, as we all should. It’s legit, and always has been. Catcher-eligible 30 HR power potential doesn’t come around often. But he’s as streaky as they come - .416 last week and may just as easily hit .175 next week. You just leave him in and take what he gives you.

Erasmo Ramirez (SP, TB) – Another Jim Hickey resurgence project, or is it? One gem start against the struggling Orioles doesn’t do it for me. Added a cutter that has looked filthy, but decreased fastball velocity from last year, just by one mph. Great park, but tough division and will be erratic from start to start. I’m just not that into him.

 

FALLERS

Maikel Franco (3B, PHI) – Franco was raking at Triple-A (.355, 24 RBI) and had a nice start upon call-up, but had a rough Week 8, collecting just two hits in 23 at-bats. According to manager Ryne Sandberg, the main issue appears to be his swing. Sandberg says the swing is ‘too long and too big” and that it iscreating an upward swing. Franco needs to continue to make adjustments to the swing and owners who paid a pretty penny (and those who paid next to nothing) need not jump ship quite yet.It is easier said than done with recent risers Ben Paulsen and Justin Bour hitting well and tempting us to make an exchange. Franco has started every game since his May 15 promotion, and is an important part of the lineup, batting fifth in almost every game he has played. He isn’t a super stud prospect, but it will take a lot more than a frigid week for Cody Asche to reclaim third base. Stick with Franco. There will be ups and downs, but mixing and matching with other CI’s and pouncing when he faces susceptible starting pitchers should make you feel better when he goes through a week or two of the rookie blues.

Jake Marisnick (OF, HOU) – It has been quite the cold run for Marisnick, but I stand by my preseason projections. Marisnick fits in well with the Astros in that he is a very streaky hitter. Marisnick was flying high in April - .379 and a 1.041 OPS along with 12 R, 10 RBI and 8 SB in April. Since then, just two steals, a .185 BA and .468 OPS. Marisnick enjoyed a few games at the top of the lineup but pretty much hits ninth and has not been in the starting lineup as often during the cold streak. It’s really all about the SBs here. Owners who don’t cut bait are still holding out for 30 this year. I understand cutting bait if you’ve got your steals covered and have an option like Preston Tucker available, but I’m holding on where I have him. Marisnick is best used in leagues with daily changes, or mid-week switches like the NFBC – preferably when he faces right-handed pitchers only as Marisnick is almost as bad as teammate Luis Valbuena against them. Marisnick hits .160 against LHP.April was a nice ride and likely not repeatable, but we will see another month from Marisnick that will resemble it.

Shane Greene (SP, DET) – You already know Greene made history last week. He was the first pitcher in the modern era (since 1900) to allow five home runs in an appearance fewer than two innings. Prior to the shellacking by the Angels and giving up 4 ER to the A’s, Greene pitched well in a three-game stretch in mid-May – just 3 ER and 4 BB in 19.1 IP. Before that, he gave up 20 earned runs in three games. So what’s the problem, and is Greene worth holding onto even in 12-team leagues? His two-seam fastball has been getting hammered and his velocity is down from last year across all of his offerings. Though it is difficult to pinpoint the exact issue, it simply appears that Greene is not as good as our preseason hype touted him to be. Looking back to last year, Greene’s success on the Yankees was surprising given his struggles in Triple-A last year (4.61 ERA). He also had a huge spike in his strikeouts-per-nine from the minors (7.7) to the majors (9.3). Bottom line is that a trade to a winning Tigers team artificially rose our expectations. You can hold on to Greene on your bench if you think he makes the proper adjustments and becomes less volatile from one start to the next, but I’d rather take a flier on rookie Eduardo Rodriguez or grab one of the NL arms (Charlie Morton, Tsuyoshi Wada, or stream Ryan Vogelsong for his two-step) if available.

Greg Holland (RP, KC) – This season, many employed a strategy of locking in one of the big three closers (Holland, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman) early to ‘not worry about saves’ and to help ratios and strikeouts. In some cases, people targeted two of them. Interestingly, all three have had several ninth inning hiccups, as have the next two closers per NFBC ADP – Mark Melancon and Cody Allen, though Melancon appears to have turned it around in May. Holland is the most worrisome of the bunch because of the documented issues – reports of fatigue in spring training, a neck injury that sent him to disabled list, and noted velocity drop – by two miles per hour on the fastball. Even more concerning is that the next man up, Wade Davis, has been one of the most effective relievers in baseball over the past couple of seasons. If Holland was to lose the job – and it’s a definite possibility – it would sting roto folks who did not handcuff Davis to him. If you happen to be strong in your saves category and have two other closers, don’t be afraid to sit Holland this week for a two-step starter or strong single start. Like we discussed earlier, any pitcher can safely be benched when injuries or velocity drops are concerned – even your stud closer.

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS

Ian Kinsler (2B, DET) – The Tigers haven’t truly heated up yet, and Kinsler will no doubt play his part. Walks have gone up considerably (from 4 percent to 11.8 percent) which is nice, but not running much (6 SB) and just hit his first home run this week. Batting average is volatile from year to year and never a strength. With declining power, looks like a one-category guy. Just the runs.

Matt Kemp (OF, SD) – Struggling mightily in May – hitting .176 after a hot .326 in April. Worse yet, SLG is .202 this month with just one home run. It’s Kemp, so a power surge can come unexpectedly and it probably will, but so far a major disappointment for a fourth round pick.

Fernando Rodney (RP, SEA) – The leash is longer than on most teams because he ‘got the saves’ last year (48 to be exact) and he is a veteran. But Rodney has allowed earned runs in 7-of-10 appearances this month and enters June with horrendous ratios – 6.75 ERA, 1.79 WHIP – despite the 14 saves. Mariners fans have been calling for Carson Smith (1.23 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 26 K in 22 IP) and may get their wish soon.

Nathan Eovaldi (SP, NYY) – Yet another example of why I hate taking AL East pitchers. I would probably look at Wei-Yin Chen and Drew Hutchison in a different light if they played in the NL. Eovaldi gave up 11 hits to those pesky A’s in his last outing after cruising against the Royals in his previous outings. His starts are a box of chocolates. Have no qualms about dropping him for more reliable NL options.

DON’T PANIC ON

Michael Brantley (OF, CLE) – Hit .208 last week (10-for-48) with no homers and one run scored – chalk it up to no more than a rough week. On the bright side, he drove in seven and is still hitting .302. Locked in as the number three hitter in a potent, powerful lineup that has yet to awaken from its slumber. It’s about to get warm.

Julio Teheran (SP, ATL) – Has a 4-2 record despite playing for a team that is supposed to struggle to score runs and provide run support. His numbers scream that Teheran is ‘just a guy’ (4.87 / 1.54 through eight weeks), but I’m buying. Nothing different about the way he has been pitching, nor is there any velocity decrease. A "faller" with a solid skill set are the exactly the type of guys we’re targeting.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the team that drafted Randal Grichuk. The Angels drafted Grichuk in 2009 and traded him to the Cardinals in 2013.