MLB Barometer: Making Tough Lineup Decisions

MLB Barometer: Making Tough Lineup Decisions

This article is part of our MLB Barometer series.

We have officially hit Week 10 of the baseball season and have a fairly solid idea of where our weaknesses lie in standard 5x5 leagues. You probably know by now that counting categories such as strikeouts, home runs and stolen bases are the easiest ones to target and attempt to catch up in. Ratio (ERA, WHIP) and batting average is a trickier chase. We still want to put our most well balanced lineups out there every period, but we must put emphasis on our deficient categories.

The tough lineup decisions come when your team is filled to the brim with depth. In one of my NFBC 12-teamers this week, I had a tough decision for my final two pitching spots. I'm currently tied for first in league saves thanks to Kenley Jansen, Zach Britton and Alex Colome. Having been unlucky in the win category and with the surplus of saves, my decision to sit a closer was not a difficult one. In this case, it would be Colome since my other two are among the three best closers in baseball and should never be taken out. For those two available spots, my options were:

Archie Bradley vs. TB
Scott Kazmir at SF
Marcus Stroman vs. BAL
Adam Wainwright at CIN

These are always the toughest decisions to make, because we can't always simply look at the opponent and make our decision based on that. For example, if it weren't for Wainwright's rough April, he'd be my first choice,

We have officially hit Week 10 of the baseball season and have a fairly solid idea of where our weaknesses lie in standard 5x5 leagues. You probably know by now that counting categories such as strikeouts, home runs and stolen bases are the easiest ones to target and attempt to catch up in. Ratio (ERA, WHIP) and batting average is a trickier chase. We still want to put our most well balanced lineups out there every period, but we must put emphasis on our deficient categories.

The tough lineup decisions come when your team is filled to the brim with depth. In one of my NFBC 12-teamers this week, I had a tough decision for my final two pitching spots. I'm currently tied for first in league saves thanks to Kenley Jansen, Zach Britton and Alex Colome. Having been unlucky in the win category and with the surplus of saves, my decision to sit a closer was not a difficult one. In this case, it would be Colome since my other two are among the three best closers in baseball and should never be taken out. For those two available spots, my options were:

Archie Bradley vs. TB
Scott Kazmir at SF
Marcus Stroman vs. BAL
Adam Wainwright at CIN

These are always the toughest decisions to make, because we can't always simply look at the opponent and make our decision based on that. For example, if it weren't for Wainwright's rough April, he'd be my first choice, without question. He's much improved over his last few starts, but the last time he faced the Reds, Wainwright served up seven earned runs on 10 hits. Wainwright gave up three homers to the Nationals two starts ago and faces a group that has been knocking the ball out of Great American lately: Jay Bruce, Adam Duvall and Eugenio Suarez. Though a matchup with Brandon Finnegan on the other end would likely make Wainwright a small favorite, locking Wainwright here was far from a slam dunk.

Kazmir was an easy decision to sit. He was removed from his last outing with cramping in his left quad. Additionally, he'd be facing a Giants team that leads the league in hits against southpaws. Trying to be mindful of my WHIP, plus the calf issue, made Kazmir an easy sit this week.

Archie Bradley was my easy play. It had very little to do with the fact that I just "bought" him and wanted to show off my shiny new toy to the others guys in my starting lineup. It's more because of the dominance he displayed against the Cubs last week and the fact that the Rays mash lefties but struggle against righties.

Marcus Stroman over Wainwright was my final decision and my gut closed the deal. Coming off a set of tough matchups and rough outings, I feel that the pendulum will swing in the other direction now. Though it's another dangerous matchup, Stroman did manage a win against the Orioles in his second start of the season. Though it shouldn't really factor into my decision since it's not the same lineup, his final regular season start of last season was a masterful eight inning gem against the Orioles where he struck out eight. Opposing pitcher Tyler Wilson doesn't inspire confidence, especially against cool Blue Jay bats who should warm up and feast once they arrive home from the Detroit series. Stroman feels more likely to get me a win and bounce back into a nice outing than Wainwright does.

So there's my decision — Bradley and Stroman this week over Kazmir and Wainwright. As I'm sure you do as well, I do this for every swing roster slot that I have on every team. It's quite the tiring exercise, but it takes me down rabbit holes of stats and splits that I wholeheartedly enjoy. David Ortiz gets two games at San Francisco and it's possible he only plays one. Do I sit him for Randal Grichuk's three games at Cincinnati not knowing if he'll play all three? On the team where I desperately need stolen bases, do I continue to play an ice-cold Ender Inciarte and Kevin Pillar? You know how it goes. As soon as I bench him, they decide to start running. It almost feels personal sometimes.

Weekly, bi-weekly or even daily lineup decisions are the bread and butter of our game. They require analysis from all angles all the while keeping our team's context in mind. Leagues can be won by a single run, RBI or strikeout. Make sure your decisions aren't last-minute ones, and that you take the time to assess properly so that you can stand behind your process with confidence. No matter the results.

RISERS

Kyle Seager (3B, SEA)

Over the last few seasons, Seager has served as my prime example of "fantasy unsexy." A player I typically avoid because of his lack of upside. Someone who serves as a solid backup plan when my targets have been sniped and he's sitting there past his ADP. Not that there's anything wrong with these type of players. I'm just a bit less risk-averse than the typical fantasy player, especially in NFBC leagues with an overall prize at stake. With the way his last five weeks have gone, it could well be the case that Seager sets career highs across the board. After hitting a paltry .159 in April, he was scorching in May (.361 with a .630 slugging percentage) and is hitting a cool .500 over the first few days in June, through Sunday's action. If you watched Seager in April, you may have noticed that he was hitting the ball hard but was unlucky. His HR/FB rate is around 12 percent, on par with his past two seasons, but he's been hitting the ball to the opposite side of the field at a career-best 29 percent. Seager's .365 on-base percentage is nearly 30 points higher than his best effort from 2013, which is due in part to the best plate discipline of his career – a 13.3 percent strikeout rate and 9.4 percent walk rate. The two big knocks on Seager are his efforts against southpaws (.197/.235/.603) and the fact that he has yet to attempt a swipe after averaging nearly nine over the past four seasons. The Mariners are winning games this year and have put on the field one of the best offensive products that we've seen in years. The lack of steals is no biggie, but getting his groove back against lefties (.297 in 2015) is imperative for Seager to sustain a helpful batting average for fantasy owners and to pull out of the doldrums of the .260s to which we've grown accustomed over the years.

Wil Myers (1B, SD)

Myers was a great, off-the-radar corner infield option in the middle rounds of drafts this season. Not a player I specifically targeted, but someone worth keeping an eye given his new position and the fact that he was once a big prospect at just 25 years old. Myers was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2013 but in the following three seasons, he spent more time on the disabled list than on the field. He was a poor defender in the outfield, and there've been whispers of attitude and work ethic concerns with Tampa. Heading into this spring with a full bill of health, Myers was to be the Padres' everyday first baseman. He and Matt Kemp occasionally provide a spark as the one-two punch in an otherwise lethargic offense. Myers has already matched his career-best six stolen bases, leads the team with 33 runs scored and hit his 10th home run of the season on Sunday. In fact, three of those homers were knocked out last week as Myers hit .433 to raise his season-average up to a respectable .283. Myers is hitting the ball on the ground a bit more this season than in past ones but is also walking less. His five percent walk rate through 56 games is less than half of last year's rate through 60 games last season. Myers has proven that he belongs in fantasy lineups full-time, but pay attention to his home-road split thus far (.317 BA at home, .229 on the road) should your team be stacked with CI or UT options and you have to make weekly sit/start decisions between Myers and comparable players. Should Myers make it through a full season and keep his batting average respectable, he should earn a spot among the top 100 overall fantasy picks next season. Perhaps the top 50 if he puts up a 25 HR, 20 SB season.

Danny Duffy (SP, KC)

Duffy has gone from dicey, 15-team streamer to a guy worth consideration in 12-team leagues. He has had a roller coaster ride of a career. Duffy abruptly retired in the spring of 2010 while in camp with the Royals. Very Greinke-esque. He underwent Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2012, came on strong upon his return in 2013 (1.85 ERA, 8.14 K/9 in 24 IP) and put up a strong season for the Royals in 2014 – a 2.53 ERA in 31 appearances (25 starts) despite a reduced K/9 of 6.81. Last season was a dip down for Duffy, as he walked 3.5 batters-per-nine and ended the season with an ERA above four. Six years into his career, Duffy has never pitched more than 150 innings in a season. Cementing a spot in the rotation behind the AL's best defense, Duffy has strung together two quality starts in a row. The most recent, a nine-strikeout performance against the Orioles on the road. He was cruising through six innings before getting "Trumboed" and allowing another bomb to Matt Wieters. Duffy's velocity is up three ticks (96 mph) from last season and he's walking batters under five percent of the time through 43 innings. He lines up for another road start against the White Sox this week and then a home start against the always dangerous Tigers. The lefty is worth considering as an addition to your fantasy team, but be careful whom you're dropping for him because he's right on the bubble. However, between the Royals' strong defense and Duffy's increased velocity, he's a risk worth taking.

Jeremy Hellickson (SP, PHI)

Please, always be sure to read the fine print. This is a reminder that just because someone is listed as a riser here doesn't mean they're worth adding to your roster. Hellickson and Brewers' Zach Davies are two starters who've been surging lately and are likely to drop some 'bows on you in any given start. Hellickson was a decently hyped prospect upon promotion in 2010. His first two full seasons with the Rays screamed regression, as the flyballer was able to maintain an ERA slightly above 3.00 despite a 4.58 xFIP, as well as a respectable 1.20 WHIP. The bottom fell out the following season – a 5.17 ERA over 31 starts. Additionally, his strand rate fell from 80 percent to 62 percent over the past two seasons. Fast-forward past his up-and-down season with the Diamondbacks in 2015 and Hellickson has been a somewhat reliable starter for the Phillies through the first nine weeks. Most surprising is that he's been averaging over a strikeout per inning – a significant bump from previous seasons. His strikeout-rate should inevitably regress, but it's worth noting that Hellickson's swinging-strike rate is 13 percent this season. Nevertheless, Hellickson gives up too many longballs (1.44 HR/9) and is likely to have a rough stretch coming up soon to further worsen an already mediocre 3.80 ERA. Moreover, using him for his next two starts (at Washington, vs Toronto) would be playing with fire. Don't fret over dropping him in 12-team leagues and even 15s.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Logan Morrison (1B, TB)

I don't know if I can do it. I don't know if I can recommend Logan Morrison beyond a 15-team rental. Last week, Morrison was .392 with four homers and seven RBI. Would you be shocked if that was his best week of the season? A career filled with constant stints on the disabled list, LoMo's 146 games played last year was a career high and only the second time he's played in more than 100. In April, he was one of the worst hitters in baseball – a .100 average with no homers or runs batted in, in 60 at-bats. He can reach double-digit HR and SB if he stays healthy, but, more likely than not, he's going to hurt you in the batting average category if you're playing him full-time. LoMo is a career .247 hitter currently striking out at a 25 percent clip – the worst rate of his career. I'd much rather have his teammate Steve Pearce, who can also hurt BA but at least offers much more in the power department and is eligible at multiple positions.

Derek Norris (C, SD)

Like many of you, I've been waiting for Norris to heat up. I don't own any shares in season-long leagues, but I wouldn't mind some. More so, I've been timing him well recently in DFS lineups at a near-minimum salary. Norris has been struggling mightily this season, and finally pulled his season average up to the Mendoza Line after hitting .318 last week. Typically running a BABIP per season above .300, that rate comes in at an unfortunate .235 heading into Week 10 of the season. He's got six homers on the season and can slug another 10 over the last 17 weeks, which would be a career-high. Norris is far from being an exciting option at catcher, but in a position with much stagnation, he should out-earn his draft slot as the 18th catcher selected in drafts this season.

Jon Gray (SP, COL)

It's certainly gut-wrenching to carry Rockies' starting pitchers on our fantasy rosters. Surprisingly, both Gray and Tyler Chatwood have earned the right to pitch for us. Chatwood, of course, has been the road warrior, boasting a 4-0 record there with only two earned runs allowed in 33.2 innings. Gray is the hard-throwing prospect who struck out a career-high 12 Padres this weekend; his third double-digit strikeout game of the season. If not for a mid-May thrashing (9 ER in 3.1 IP) at the hands of the Cardinals, Gray's 5.33 ERA would hover more respectably, closer to his 3.43 FIP. He has allowed two earned runs or less in five of his last seven starts and boasts a 28 percent strikeout rate. Gray owners need to pick their spots, but may have to lean on him more often than having him ride pine because of the strikeout potential. Gray lines up against the Padres again this week at home, followed by a road start against the Marlins. The former third-overall pick will slowly work to improve those ratios while maintaining a strikeout-rate above 25 percent for the rest of the season. Enjoy the ride.

FALLERS

Michael Conforto (OF, NYM)

Yes, Conforto is colder than a polar bear's toenails right now, but we shouldn't be the least bit surprised. Just the typical ebbs and flows of a 23-year-old with less than 400 career plate appearances who skipped Triple-A outright and is still adjusting to the big leagues. We certainly aren't going to drop him in 12- or 15-teamers because of his recent struggles. Having him ride the pine because he's got three southpaws on a week's slate is a different story. Conforto has four homers in each of the first two months and had a nice April (.365 with a 1.118 OPS), but takes a seat against left-handed pitchers quite often. He has just seven hits (with no homers) against them in 53 career plate appearances. That power though. Conforto ranks second in baseball behind only David Ortiz with a 44 percent hard-hit rate. He's a future star of the game, and consistency at the plate will come naturally with experience and maturity. The Mets can't afford to make mistakes in a tough race for the NL West and may feel it's best to platoon him against lefties. The only way for Conforto to improve against them and boost his confidence is to face them. Just let the kid play.

Ender Inciarte (OF, ATL)

Inciarte was a Rule 5 pick who spent several years in the Diamondbacks' minor league system. A left-handed bat with a great burst, Inciarte stole 43 bags in 447 plate appearances in Double-A in 2013. His stay with the big club wasn't expected to be a long one at the end of April of 2014, but he ended up sticking and producing – 19 stolen bases and 54 runs scored in 118 games. He followed up that with 73 runs and 21 SB last season before coming over to the Braves this past offseason in an exchange involving pitcher Shelby Miller. Less than a week into his stint with the Braves, Inciarte hit the disabled list with a hamstring injury. He returned on May 7 and assumed his spot as the leadoff hitter, but has struggled at the plate (.194 BA) and has been tentative on the basepaths, stealing just three bases in five attempts. The trade rumors involving Inciarte going to a contender have been strong ever since he arrived in Atlanta, but his injury and recent play has negatively affected his stock. He managed just two hits in 26 at-bats last week and got Sunday off. I recently plucked Inciarte off FAAB list in a 12-team NFBC league and plan to do so anywhere else a fellow league owner has grown weary of him. It's still too early to call him a bust, and I believe Inciarte will start running again soon now that he is two full months removed from the hamstring injury. The main concern would be that he's traded to a team that platoons him against right-handers only. Expect a couple of stolen bases this week against the Cubs and Padres – two teams in the top eight in stolen bases allowed.

Gio Gonzalez (SP, WAS)

Strikeouts are about the only thing on which folks can rely from Gonzalez these days. He has averaged nearly one per inning over his career and has maintained a rate close to that through 11 starts this season. Gonzalez was off to an incredible start in April, holding opposing batters to a .196 average, and his ERA in four April starts was a sterling 1.42. Since then, a 5.58 ERA over his last seven starts along with a 1.47 WHIP. His groundball rate is back down around his 47 percent rate this season after an uncharacteristic spike to 54 percent last season. Gonzalez has managed a 3-4 record despite pitching for a team with a winning percentage at almost .600. His offense can't be blamed, as he's allowed 18 earned runs over his last three starts. Expect the unexpected with Gonzalez, as we always do. Outside of the strikeout-rate and usual run support, he's nothing but a run of the mill starter.

Jesse Hahn (SP, OAK)

I've got no problem admitting I was wrong about Hahn. I had high hopes for him in the offseason and figured there was little risk in drafting a ground ball-leaning guy in a pitcher-friendly ballpark with one of my last picks in 12-team NFBC leagues. Hahn planned to scrap the slider from his arsenal, blaming the pitch as the primary reason for his elbow issues last season. Hahn was shuttled between the A's and Triple-A Nashville and has disappointed from within the rotation since throwing a gem against the Astros in his first start of the season on April 30. Most recently, he was blasted by that same squad, serving up seven earned runs before getting yanked before he could complete the first inning. Moreover, Hahn has failed to strikeout more than five batters in any of his six starts. If Hahn isn't hiding an injury, he may turn around his season but should remain on the waiver wire for now.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.
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