Mound Musings: Revisiting My 2017 'Home' League

Mound Musings: Revisiting My 2017 'Home' League

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Back on Opening Day (or actually just a couple of days after) I broke down the pitching staff I went to war with this year in my "home" league – a fantasy league I have been competing in for 27 seasons. I thought it might be interesting to revisit my staff to look at the additions, subtractions and evolution of roles as the season progresses. Staff management is critical, and this year, as much as any I can remember, it has been incredibly challenging with so many injuries to key pitchers. Somewhat surprisingly, at least to me, I have been competitive and currently lead the league despite the roster juggling (something every owner has dealt with). The objective of this series is not just to document my moves, but rather to illustrate one type of pitching roster management.

A little background:

Here are the general parameters of the league for reference. With 15 teams, it's a mixed league keeper with deep rosters (33 players per team with no minor league or disabled list slots). Standard scoring categories, five hitting and five pitching, with a lineup consisting of 12 hitters and nine pitchers (with a minimum of five qualified starting pitchers and two qualified relief pitchers). One thing that makes roster management more challenging – picking up a free agent requires a "move" usually from a player being sent down or put on the disabled list. You can then release that player and pick up someone on the waiver wire (order

Back on Opening Day (or actually just a couple of days after) I broke down the pitching staff I went to war with this year in my "home" league – a fantasy league I have been competing in for 27 seasons. I thought it might be interesting to revisit my staff to look at the additions, subtractions and evolution of roles as the season progresses. Staff management is critical, and this year, as much as any I can remember, it has been incredibly challenging with so many injuries to key pitchers. Somewhat surprisingly, at least to me, I have been competitive and currently lead the league despite the roster juggling (something every owner has dealt with). The objective of this series is not just to document my moves, but rather to illustrate one type of pitching roster management.

A little background:

Here are the general parameters of the league for reference. With 15 teams, it's a mixed league keeper with deep rosters (33 players per team with no minor league or disabled list slots). Standard scoring categories, five hitting and five pitching, with a lineup consisting of 12 hitters and nine pitchers (with a minimum of five qualified starting pitchers and two qualified relief pitchers). One thing that makes roster management more challenging – picking up a free agent requires a "move" usually from a player being sent down or put on the disabled list. You can then release that player and pick up someone on the waiver wire (order is determined by reverse order of the current standings). Since you probably won't want to cut a key player who goes on the DL for a short time, you really need versatility and some productivity on your bench.

So, let's look at my pitching staff, and the changes, as we head into August:


  • Was SP1a, now SPDL – Noah Syndergaard He went on the disabled list in April for what was expected be two-three months. Understandably, the Mets have been very cautious with his rehab, and he has just recently started a throwing program. I hope to see him back in late mid-August, but I'm not counting on that. The Mets aren't going anywhere this year, and there's no reason to take chances with their franchise ace. I do think they would like to see him pitch again this year – it's psychologically beneficial if nothing else – but his workload will be limited. It's basically a lost season for fantasy purposes.

  • Was SP1b, now SP1 – Yu Darvish When writing the Musings for this week, I purposely saved this block for last. Darvish is continually mentioned as a starter who could be dealt before the deadline. I decided I could move forward when he actually took the mound in Texas Wednesday night. It wasn't much fun watching him serve up homeruns to two of the first three hitters he faced, but it isn't all that unusual, as he can be vulnerable early while figuring out which of his plethora of pitches is working on a given night. Darvish actually has been a bit disappointing because of spotty command, but he has an incredibly high ceiling. That's why the scouts are out in numbers watching him. I think the chances of him being dealt are less than 50/50, but if he does move, where he lands could aid significantly his production if he goes to the right team.

  • Was SP3, now SP2 – Marcus Stroman Stroman actually doesn't profile as a true fantasy No. 2 – his strikeout rate is a bit low and being one of the most extreme groundball pitchers in the game, he allows a few extra hits on balls sneaking through the infield. That said, those ground balls giveth and they taketh away. He generates an exceptionally high number of double plays, which has helped him post the third lowest ERA (2.98) in the American League. I had intended for him to occupy the three or four spot in my rotation, but the long-term injury to Syndergaard, and the poor performance of Gausman, necessarily pushed him higher on the food chain.

  • Was SP4, now SP7 – Kevin Gausman To me, nothing is more frustrating than watching a high ceiling pitcher struggling start after start. As you might expect, I get asked about Gausman a lot. What do you say? It's difficult to keep endorsing a guy who continually wrecks fantasy WHIPs and ERAs, but it's even harder to suggest cutting him when you know it's only a matter of time before he starts pitching like a top-of-the-rotation stud. By the numbers, this has been a disaster season for him, but I have seen consistent progress, especially the last month or so. Injuries have forced me to use him more than I would have liked for much of the season, but I'm becoming more comfortable running him out there, and I'm still hopeful we can realize a couple of productive months.

  • Was SP5, now SP3 – Jameson Taillon Taillon left his start May 3 with groin discomfort and was diagnosed with testicular cancer a few days later. He then underwent surgery but was throwing again just a couple of weeks later, and returned to the mound for the Pirates in less than six weeks. Obviously, that is massively encouraging. Since his return, he has pitched reasonably well but has displayed reduced command, and that has resulted in him not getting as deep into games. In watching him, he starts out strong but seems to wear down just a bit – maybe lower body/leg strength – as the game progresses. That said, he remains a centerpiece of my rotation, and improvement is likely.

  • Was SP6, now RELEASED –Garrett Richards I slotted Richards into the SP6 hole fully aware of the injury risk that made it impractical to slot him any higher despite his upside when healthy. He looked fantastic, for four and two thirds innings of his first start before leaving the game with a new injury. I really wanted to hold onto him and wait it out, but I grudgingly released him based on injury history, and four months later he still has no timetable for a return.

    FLEX – this could be a SP7 or RP3 but I'll focus on the starters –

  • Was SP7, now SP5 – Patrick Corbin I targeted Corbin on draft day as a (hopefully) low price/high upside starter. I have always liked his stuff and with Tommy John surgery behind him, I was looking for a nice boost to my rotation. The plan was for him to be a flex starter initially, but the avalanche of injuries to my rotation pushed him into an everyday starter. He struggled during April and May, but hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in nine straight outings. His command is still not quite where I would like to see it, leading to a high number of homeruns, especially in hitter-heaven Arizona, but he's progressing.

  • Was SP7, now SP6 – Charlie Morton A 10-year veteran, Morton spent the first eight years in MLB as an oft-injured pitcher with mediocre stuff (89-91 mph fastball), albeit with promising breaking stuff. Then, at age 32, he seemingly found a fountain of youth (actually refinements to his mechanics). Last season, his velocity spiked – briefly – before he tore a hamstring and missed the rest of the season. It's even higher this year, averaging 95 mph and even touching 98 to 99 mph when he needs it. The breaking stuff is crisp, and even though his command is still catching up, he has turned into a big strikeout guy, pitching in front of a 2017 version of murder's row. If he can just stay healthy.

  • Was SP7, now SPDL – Alex Meyer Yes, I've been stashing Meyer on my fantasy rosters for a few years, patiently waiting for him to find that elusive release point. He has some of the best stuff I've seen, but he's one of those exceptionally tall pitchers who struggles to get all the parts moving in the right direction. When he is close to hitting his spots he can be nearly untouchable, and he might be close to doing that with some consistency. He's allowed almost as many walks (42) as hits (48) this year, but his WHIP (1.34) and ERA (3.74) are becoming borderline respectable. Meyer is, unfortunately, now on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. Just when it looked like perhaps he was getting things in order, his progression apparently will be put on hold.

  • Was SP7, now SPDL – Brandon Finnegan I have liked his stuff for a long time but he seemed best suited to a backup role and spot starter while he refines his secondary stuff and sometimes spotty command. He had a brilliant first start, then got injured leading to a couple of disasters. Two and a half months later he returned – for all of three innings – before hitting the disabled list again, this time to repair his nonthrowing shoulder (that's the good news). He's on the 60-day DL, but a return at all this year is very much up in the air. A truly lost season.

  • Was SP7, now RELEASED – Amir Garrett Garrett was drafted as a project. He was deep enough on the depth chart to assure he was only used in very favorable matchups, if then. Or so I thought. Four major injuries later, he was on the mound for me way too regularly. I really like his upside, but he's clearly not ready for the show, especially when it comes to keeping the ball in the park, which has been problematic. He (and a few pickups) became casualties of needing to plug holes this year.

    ADDITIONS – pitchers added to the roster since Opening Day –

  • Was SPDL, now SP4 – Aaron Nola Adding Nola probably has been the most impactful move of the season to date. I have long been a believer in his ability, and when he went on the disabled list in late April following a rough start to the season, his owner cut him loose. I put in a claim and held my breath, hoping he would fall to me on the waiver wire. With my decimated rotation (Syndergaard, Morton, Richards, Taillon and Finnegan all out at the time), I could only hope that Nola would come back healthy and ready to display his abundant skills. I did get him, and after struggling in his first couple of starts when he returned, he has been on a roll ever since. When looking for help, make sure your guy can help.

  • Was FA, now SP7 – Ariel Miranda Miranda was added as a possible "do no harm" fill-in during the dark days of the injury apocalypse. While in my rotation, he picked up three wins with a solid WHIP (1.07) and an acceptable ERA (4.38). Those aren't glittering peripherals, but given the pool of available arms, I'm quite satisfied. Picking up a pitcher under those circumstances can be a real challenge – certainly tougher than drafting from a pool full of relatively solid starters. You have to do your homework and avoid those volatile guys who can destroy your stats for weeks. He'll hang around as an insurance policy and/or spot starter now that the rotation is getting a bit healthier.

  • Was TRADE, now RP2 – Roberto Osuna I was lagging behind in the saves category but close enough to pick up several points if I could find a reliable closer to add to the mix. I had one and had been speculating on a few others. Koda Glover looked like a solid possibility, but a long-term trip to the disabled list put the brakes on. Sometimes you have to acquire a player(s) to fill a specific need, and just like in MLB, a rental player from a fading team might be the best option. Osuna's contract expires at the end of the season, and the price was high (mostly draft dollars next year) but he solidifies my bullpen.

  • Was FA, now RP3 – Sean Doolittle I added Doolittle a few weeks ago when it became obvious (at least to me) that Santiago Casilla wasn't the answer at the end of the A's bullpen. Casilla somehow is still there, but Doolittle has moved to Washington where there was certainly a need. With him closing, the pen has become a strength, and he's a nice compliment to Kenley Jansen and Osuna. My biggest concern is longevity – Doolittle has a long history of health issues, and I think the Nats will pursue another closer before the deadline.

  • Was SPNR, now SPNR – Shohei Otani In this league, it's important to keep the pipeline full of inexpensive, but high-quality, talent. To accomplish that, I try to reserve a couple of roster spots for the future. Also an accomplished hitter, Otani pitches for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan, and he hasn't pitched a lot this year due to injury. Still, he's just 22, and he's already been recognized as the best pitcher outside the majors with his blazing 102 mph fastball and a full menu of excellent secondary pitches. He surprised everyone in April when he announced he would come to MLB in 2018.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • The roll call of elite starting pitchers on the disabled list grew this week with the addition of Clayton Kershaw. He has a history of chronic back problems (it cost him a couple of months last year, too), but the Dodgers are hoping he won't be sidelined for more than a month or so this time.

  • A deal between Atlanta and the Twins brings Jaime Garcia to Minnesota. He will benefit a bit from the move to a more pitcher-friendly park and to the American League where he isn't as well known, but he'll now be facing a DH, and, above all else, he still needs to spot his pitches much more consistently. Pass.

  • Milwaukee's Zach Davies is 12-4 and has put up zeroes over seven innings in each of his last two starts but I just can't recommend him. Even with his recent success, his peripherals – especially in home starts where the ball flies – suggest he will have more subpar outings going forward. I'm staying away.

  • I've been watching the progress of the A's Jharel Cotton as he makes his way back from blister issues. They have bought him two tickets to the disabled list this season, but his last rehab start suggests maybe they are behind him. If he's out there in your league, he might be worth an ad for the stretch run.

  • Stephen Strasburg also left his last start early with what is being described as a nerve impingement in his throwing forearm. The Nationals reported that the problem has been "resolved," but he will hit the disabled list. The team says he will miss just 10 days, but we will get a peak (albeit brief) at Erick Fedde.

  • With the Rays' Jake Odorizzi heading back to the disabled list (third time this year), we also might eventually get to see Brent Honeywell. It won't be for Odorizzi's next scheduled start Friday, but if he misses much time, the team will be able to realign Honeywell's pitching schedule.

Endgame Odyssey:

The most active team in the trade market so far, the White Sox dealt Jose Quintana and then apparently decided to empty the bullpen. They sent closer David Robertson and set-up man Tommy Kahnle to the Yankees and then sent their next best reliever, Anthony Swarzak to Milwaukee. The cupboard is pretty bare now. They have indicated Tyler Clippard will close, but that's shaky at best. If healthy, Jake Petricka has some experience closing and might be an option. I'd like to see Michael Kopech get a try, but there has been no hint that will happen. The Padres also peddled two of their best three relievers, sending closer Brandon Maurer and lefty Ryan Buchter (along with starter Trevor Cahill) to Kansas City. Maurer probably slots in as Kelvin Herrera's primary set-up man and secondary closer, while Brad Hand – assuming he stays – likely stepping into the closing gig in San Diego. Just in case, keep an eye on both sleeper Phil Maton and the perpetually rehabbing Carter Capps. Interestingly, the closers moving so far, have moved into set-up roles. I fully expect to see more quality relievers changing uniforms over the next few days. With the starting pitching so watered-down, teams seem to be shifting gears, and building bullpens capable of carrying things after just five or six innings.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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