MLB Barometer: The Toast of Roto Town

MLB Barometer: The Toast of Roto Town

This article is part of our MLB Barometer series.

A few quick observations as we have several important risers and fallers to discuss this week.

Through three weeks, the Cubs have the best run differential (+68) in baseball, and the Reds have the worst (-42). The Cubs have played the Reds seven times, scoring 60 runs. They've scored 59 runs in their other 12 games. The teams don't play each other again until late June.

I'm excited for Taijuan Walker owners and wish I had more shares. Walker was electric against the Astros on Monday, striking out 11. He was hitting 96-97 mph with his fastball with terrific movement and location. The slider is wicked, used only on occasion, and he's made great strides with his improving curveball. The 25:3 K:BB ratio is what's most impressive. He's a superstar in the making, but we all knew it was coming eventually.

It's still so early, but paying up for closers looks like it was worth it. The top two closers per ADP (Wade Davis 63, Kenley Jansen 66) have 16 saves between them already and have yet to allow a run. Craig Kimbrel (69 ADP) has had a few hiccups, but leads all closers with 18 strikeouts.

Two of this week's risers (Colby Rasmus, Odubel Herrera) lead their respective leagues in walk rate (20-plus percent), which is a skill neither has truly displayed prior to this April. Both hitters' rates will undoubtedly plummet, but the early patience is worth noting given each

A few quick observations as we have several important risers and fallers to discuss this week.

Through three weeks, the Cubs have the best run differential (+68) in baseball, and the Reds have the worst (-42). The Cubs have played the Reds seven times, scoring 60 runs. They've scored 59 runs in their other 12 games. The teams don't play each other again until late June.

I'm excited for Taijuan Walker owners and wish I had more shares. Walker was electric against the Astros on Monday, striking out 11. He was hitting 96-97 mph with his fastball with terrific movement and location. The slider is wicked, used only on occasion, and he's made great strides with his improving curveball. The 25:3 K:BB ratio is what's most impressive. He's a superstar in the making, but we all knew it was coming eventually.

It's still so early, but paying up for closers looks like it was worth it. The top two closers per ADP (Wade Davis 63, Kenley Jansen 66) have 16 saves between them already and have yet to allow a run. Craig Kimbrel (69 ADP) has had a few hiccups, but leads all closers with 18 strikeouts.

Two of this week's risers (Colby Rasmus, Odubel Herrera) lead their respective leagues in walk rate (20-plus percent), which is a skill neither has truly displayed prior to this April. Both hitters' rates will undoubtedly plummet, but the early patience is worth noting given each player's spring adjustments. Those late-round value outfielders are sitting there for us each and every year -- it's all about putting in the research every spring to unearth them.

The White Sox typically start slowly in the cold, but they're 14-6 despite their players providing little fantasy value, particularly Jose Abreu who's slashing .176/.267/.592 through 20 games. They pumped out seven runs in the Rogers Centre on Monday night and square off against R.A. Dickey on Tuesday night. It's a small sample, and not everyone is a BvP believer, but Abreu and Todd Frazier are 8-for-19 with five HR and eight RBI in their career against Dickey. Something to keep in mind if you're throwing some DFS lineups together.

RISERS

Welington Castillo (C, ARI)

"Beef" had a tremendous three-game stretch starting last Wednesday with four homers and seven RBI, making him a true DFS delight for those who rostered him. He picked himself up out of a rough stretch and ended up hitting .381 last week, bringing his average to .263 through three weeks of action. RotoWire's Jeff Erickson was a big supporter of Castillo this draft season and snuck him on as his C2 in a few leagues, grand larceny in Round 23. Castillo is no spring chicken at 29 and has spent most of his formative hitting years shuttled between the Cubs and their minor league affiliates, but he has always displayed decent power for a catcher (.421 SLG in over 1500 PA) and has done a decent job at taking free passes (7.8 percent walk-rate). Last year, it all came together for Beef as he cracked 19 home runs, fourth among catchers, tied with Buster Posey. Of those 19, 17 came as a member of the Diamondbacks, from June 4 on. Castillo might not end the year with a batting average worth writing home about, but he looks like a steal for 2016 based on his draft slot. He plays in one of the best hitting parks in baseball and has spent some time lately in the five-hole behind Paul Goldschmidt.

Colby Rasmus (OF, HOU)

Rasmus has been the toast of Roto Town, tied for the American League lead with seven home runs in the first three weeks of the season. You've probably read plenty about him to this point, like that he's an opera-loving country boy emerging as an outspoken team leader. As is typically the case with players I'm not fond of prior to a season, I do my best to watch and learn as much about a player's improvement to come to my own conclusions. It's lazy of us to assume "he's playing out of his mind -- this won't last." Rasmus certainly won't keep up this pace (.414 ISO, .707 SLG), but he is capable of putting up a mighty fine season hitting in a prime spot in the Astros' lineup. Most noticeable from his early season at-bats is that Rasmus is doing a better job at selecting pitches to swings at within the strike zone. His pitch count per at-bat has increased significantly (despite the small sample). His hard-contact rate is hovering around 50 percent, nearly 10 points above his 2015 rate. His 21-percent walk rate is unsustainable as well, but the balance (17:16 K:BB) is a nice lift-off point. Rasmus likely will go through a handful of dry spells this season, but he's capable of building on last year's career power year and could knock the ball out of the park another 23 times for his first 30-homer campaign.

Odubel Herrera (OF, PHI)

Herrera was plucked from the Rangers in the 2014 Rule 5 draft and jumped into the starting lineup for the Phillies. He has yet to look back. Herrera put together a fine rookie year, scoring 64 runs and hitting .297 with a .344 OBP in 537 PA. He flashed a bit of speed as well in stealing 16 bases, though he was caught eight times. His spring helium came on strong over the final two weeks of draft season. Herrera seemed to be consistently snagged a couple rounds prior to his 240 ADP in my NFBC drafts as smart folks were well aware of this potential value in the three categories (runs, batting average, stolen bases). Off to a phenomenal start in 2016, Herrera already has almost as many walks in 19 games (17 BB) than he had in all 2015 (28 BB in 147 games). He has spent time at all three of the top hitting positions this year and most recently experimented as the Phils' leadoff hitter. Herrera should flirt with an average above .290 again and could top 20 swipes, as well.

Josh Tomlin (SP, CLE)

You may remember a similar reclamation project of the Indians several years back by the name of Cliff Lee. Sure, after considering each pitcher's control, command and age, the similarities end there. Tomlin continues to produce quality starts despite claims that he's been doing so via smoke and mirrors. In 10 starts last year, Tomlin maintained a 3.05 ERA with a 7.81 K/9. Most impressive was the walk rate -- he walked barely more than a batter per nine innings. With Carlos Carrasco on the shelf, Cody Anderson struggling and Trevor Bauer just now entering the rotation, the onus for guys like Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Tomlin to produce spikes considerably. In his first two starts, Tomlin has allowed just two earned runs and walked a single batter in just less than 12 innings. The venerable Lindy Hinkelman beat me to Tomlin in our Live NFBC OC (12-teamer) this weekend, but I was able to steal Tomlin for single-digits in two other spots. Tomlin lines up against the Twins on the road this week, then will get two tough starts at home against the Tigers and Royals.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Chris Carter (1B, MLW)

Doesn't Carter just feel like he belongs on the Brew Crew? He has nestled in nicely in a prime RBI spot behind Ryan Braun and might heftily out-earn his 305 ADP this season even if (read: when) his batting average tumbles. Carter is still striking out at his typical clip, though the 27 percent is slightly below his usual 30-plus. He ranks among the top 10 in HR (five) and RBI (15) and is tied for the major-league lead in doubles with nine. Carter certainly has the ability to destroy your batting average, but that's the beauty of our late-round picks. We can pick our spots, and using Carter at home, preferably in periods with few left-handed pitchers opposing him, is exactly the way to use him.

Steve Pearce (OF, TB)

Pearce has received some attention over the last few days as he's found his way into the Rays' starting lineup in five consecutive games. He is 1B and OF eligible in most formats and could earn additional eligibility at 2B or 3B, though that may take some time with Logan Forsythe and Evan Longoria locked in. Pearce probably wasn't worth more than a couple dollars in mixed leagues last weekend, but is a bat to keep an eye on for teams looking for power. The 33-year old hit 39 homers the last two seasons, but in just 194 games. Tropicana Field isn't the ideal launching pad, but you could certainly mix-and-match Pearce in the right road parks and against southpaws.

Jason Hammel (SP, CHC)

The 6-foot-6 hurler is doing his best Jake Arrieta impression both on the mound and with his well-groomed beard. Hammel has started four games and has pitched in exactly six innings in each, managing wins in his last three. He has allowed just two earned runs over those 24 innings, striking out 22, but walking nine. Hammel has a 4.43 career ERA over 10 seasons with five teams, but has maintained it nearly a full run lower since arriving in Wrigley two years ago. With consistent run support from this dangerous Cubs offense, Hammel could put in a fine season worthy of SP2 status -- at a SP4 (229 ADP) price. Look for a year-end line around 16 wins, 3.35 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 8.5 strikeouts-per-nine.

Tyler Chatwood (SP, COL)

Owning a Rockies pitcher is always a dicey proposition. We can occasionally spot start them on the road, in the right matchup, in a deep enough league. The last couple of years, it's something 10-team and 12-team leaguers haven't had to worry about. If there is one guy in this rotation who can provide some value for 15-team leagues, it's Chatwood -- arguably its best starting pitcher. Chatwood is not without risk beyond just the home park. He has gone through two Tommy John surgeries, most recently missing most of 2014 and all 2015. The 26-year old has some pedigree as a 2013 second-round pick and maintained a 3.15 ERA over 20 starts (111 IP), including a 5-2 record and a respectable 3.50 ERA in Coors Field. If you are consider adding him, do so not for his home start against the Pirates on Thursday, but for a scheduled two-step next week against the Padres and Giants on the road; 15-teamers only, of course. For now.

FALLERS

Miguel Cabrera (1B, DET)

His career has been a long and storied one that will inevitably get him into the Hall of Fame, and last season was the first and only that he has spent time on the disabled list. He ended up playing 119 games and his .338 average was the fourth highest of his career, despite the evident dip in power. This spring, Cabrera was typically selected toward the end of the first round of 12-team mixed leagues, and sometimes earlier in NFBC live drafts. When push came to shove, several roto managers opted for the "safe, reliable" first-round play even though they figured 30 homers wouldn't come as easily for him as they have in the past -- if at all.

The first three weeks of his 2016 season have been a struggle. Cabrera's slash line of .206/.296/.597 almost feels like some sort of month-long April Fool's prank. He has a 13:8 K:BB ratio and has hit just one home run in 70 PA. Worst of all, Miggy has only connected on three extra-base hits -- all doubles. It's been so bad that he and fellow struggler Justin Upton both received a day off Sunday to regroup. Although Cabrera is clearly on the downswing of his amazing career, it would be short-sighted to consider the poor three-week stretch anything more than a brief slump. The Tigers have one of the top-three offenses in the American League and will get into their groove soon. Cabrera might not hit 30 homers this year, but I certainly wouldn't bet against it. Also, don't count Miggy out from hitting .300 or higher for the eighth consecutive season and ultimately delivering his late first-round fantasy value one more time. UPDATE: Believe it or not, I wrote this Sunday night. As you know, Miggy went 4-for-4 with two long balls Monday.

Christian Vazquez (C, BOS)

I was surprised to see healthy double-digit bids on Vazquez in my NFBC leagues last week. It's as if he was drafted solely based on the team for which he plays. Vazquez took over as Boston's primary catcher April 15 when Blake Swihart was demoted to Triple-A. Vazquez spent last season recovering from Tommy John surgery after appearing in 55 games in his rookie season in 2014. Drafted in the ninth round of 2008, no one has ever expected fantasy-worthy offensive production from Vazquez, nor should they expect that now. He has the ability to steal a few bases, but has virtually no power and will hit near the bottom of the lineup when he starts. Through his first 21 at-bats of the season, Vazquez has no runs batted in and has struck out seven times, including the Golden Sombrero against the Rays last Wednesday. There have been rumors of Swihart coming back to the majors as an outfielder, but it's much more likely that he will be back splitting time behind the plate with Vazquez. The bottom line is that Vazquez is nothing more than a temporary placeholder on fantasy teams -- even as a second catcher in 15-team leagues. Offensive outbursts sometimes come from the most unexpected of places, but you probably won't see one here.

Michael Pineda (SP, NYY)

Twitter was abuzz with hysterics Sunday as "Michael Piñata" reared his ugly head again, getting bopped for four homers and seven earned runs by the Rays. The strikeout-rate has never been an issue, and it sure isn't again this season -- he has 18 punchouts in 17 innings. Walks really haven't been either. He maintained an incredibly low 3.1-percent rate over 161 innings last season and is at just 5.3 percent through his first four starts (5 BB in 17 IP). The problem is Pineda is far too hittable, far too often. He appears to be easily affected mentally, and you can almost see the next batter connecting before it happens. After a solid start to 2015 (6-2 with a 3.35 ERA over his first 10 starts), Pineda imploded and finished the season with a 4.37 ERA, going 6-8 in the final four months. Of course, the Yankees' below-average defense did him no favors, if you consider his 2.95 xFIP. The arsenal, control and velocity are all there, so the 27-year-old should continue to improve on his ratios this season.

Alex Wood (SP, LAD)

You really can't blame a pitcher for getting beat up a little at Coors Field. It happens to the very best, but the problem is that Wood is quickly pitching his way out of viability and ownership in 12-team leagues. Wood and his unorthodox delivery had two seasons of acceptable productivity as a member of the Atlanta Braves, but since his arrival in Los Angeles, he's disappointed. Wood worked on raising velocity on his pitches this year, but the results have not been fruitful. His second start of the year against the Diamondbacks was decent (7 IP, W, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 K), though he walked three. Through four starts (16 IP), Wood has a 7:8 K:BB ratio and has not made it past the fifth inning in any of those outings. It's come to a point where his spot in the rotation might be in jeopardy before even rookie Ross Stripling's. Eventually, the Dodgers will call up Julio Urias and some of the injured vets will return (Brett Anderson, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy), but Wood's immediate future in L.A.'s rotation looks murky. In the meantime, I'd like to see him shush the critics (myself included) and throw a gem against the Padres this Friday.

DISHONARABLE MENTIONS

Jonathan Schoop (2B, BAL)

Here I go, here I go, here I go again … guys, what's his issue? WALKS. Schoop, schoop ba-doop. Apologies for the Salt N Pepa there, but it's quite clear that Schoop will never be synonymous with stability. Not to mention, the correct pronunciation is "skoop" /skoʊp/skohp. He hits in a fine lineup and has solid pop for a middle infielder but is extremely streaky and doesn't take free passes often (26 BB in 876 career PA). He might reach the 25-homer plateau, but it won't come with many runs nor a batting average that can help your fantasy team.

Howie Kendrick (2B/OF, LAD)

Here's hoping that his fall from grace isn't as dramatic as it appears. Kendrick has been reliable for a long time as a .295 hitter that you could usually expect double-digit homers or steals from. Although he's never been one to take free passes often, Kendrick has always possessed a reputable batting eye and solid contact skills, too. Perhaps his spring training calf injury is affecting his stance or rhythm at the plate, or it's taking him longer to adjust at the plate after missing time, but he hasn't been good. Through 40 plate appearances, Kendrick has no homers or RBI with a 9:1 K:BB ratio and is hitting .159. The worst part for Kendrick's fantasy value is that manager Dave Roberts has several moving parts at his disposal, all of which flex unique skills. With Chase Utley settling in as the leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching most nights, Kendrick has had the opportunity to play some outfield, but has also spent some games on the pine. It's too early to say that he won't provide any fantasy value this year, but it just doesn't look to be the case at the moment.

Justin Upton (OF, DET)

Upton has had a difficult time adjusting to his first season in the American League. He has just one homer, three RBI and no stolen bases through the team's first 16 games. Worst of all, he is striking out at a 42-percent clip. I have no doubt that Upton will show signs of adjusting to the AL the next couple weeks and get back on track for a solid season. The No. 2 spot in this lineup should be one of the best run-producing spots in the league this season. It's a matter of when, not if.

Matt Cain (SP, SF)

Some took the word of Dave Righetti too literally this spring in that Matt Cain looked as good as he's looked in a long time. Biased much, Dave? The problem is, it's going to take some time for Cain to ramp up velocity to respectable levels. Cain has taken to the mound four times this season and enjoyed his best outing in his first appearance in a win over the Dodgers (6 H, BB, 2 ER, 3 K, 6 IP). The following week, he served up six earned runs in Coors Field, but he did manage to strike out seven in 4.2 innings. The last two were rough home tilts, so it will be tough for those who still own him to start him against the Mets this week, which makes us wonder if he is even worth owning at all. At this point, perhaps all we're really holding onto is nostalgia and the fact he plays in a great park for pitchers.

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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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