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Charging the Mound: Most Valuable Keeper Commodities

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 1:59am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Charging

You're immersed in the football magazine right now, so instead of going long form, I'm going to start with a few bullet points, and you can help choose your own adventure this week. We'll mix in a little football to boot.

- I'm not sure if you got a chance to see this, but David Laurila has a great interview with our buddy Brendan Ryan up on Fangraphs. Obviously he's been a fantasy disaster, but this article focuses on his defense. That in and of itself isn't remarkable - there are plenty of articles out there extolling his defense. This one asks all the right questions, though - *why* is his defense so good? How does he improve his range? Who is responsible for making him a really good defender? Give it a read if you haven't already.

What I'd like to see are discussions on other issues that are more fantasy-relevant. It's easy enough to point out that a pitcher is losing velocity, or that a hitter is having trouble against a particular type of pitch. This is probably getting too reliant on scouts, but I want to know why.

In this genre, what questions would you like to see answered?

- The Dodgers just won again, going to 7-2 since Matt Kemp went on the DL. All sorts of metaphors have been used to describe their current lineup, but I'm really at a loss to see how they're doing so well. It's not just the starting pitching, either, though Clayton Kershaw, Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly have all been great. But after scoring just six runs in their first three games with Kemp on the DL, they've score six or more runs in each of their last six games. On Tuesday night, they had two runners on in the ninth against J.J. Putz, and their biggest threat in the lineup, Andre Ethier, struck out to give them two outs. So *of course,* Ivan DeJesus Jr. comes through with a big two-run double after that.

How are they doing it? Is this at all sustainable? Even if this team is just a mirage, is the rest of the division just that awful that they won't make a run at them? Maybe the Giants have enough in them? I don't think it's going to be the Rockies, especially now that their owner has come out and said that changes aren't necessary either with manager Jim Tracy or with the front office. I think Tracy is the most valuable manager in the division - for the other teams. They've made so many missteps along the way the last two years, I'm astounded the owner came to that conclusion.

- We talked about this on-air, but who would you rather have for the rest of the season, Mike Trout or Brett Lawrie? We had a question in our Ask An Expert service Friday asking which I'd prefer. My initial reaction was to go with Lawrie, in part because my perception is that he has more power, and because of his positional advantage. But now I'm not so sure - for starters, Trout has more homers already this season. His job is also secure the rest of the way - even if the Angels didn't lose two outfielders to injury over the weekend, he's playing so well and doing things that nobody else on the team can do, I can't envision a scenario where he sits or gets sent down. So the preseason notions are all gone, and really, they should be gone six weeks into the season.

- Who would you rather have next year, Trout or Bryce Harper? How about three years from now? How about for the rest of their respective careers? How much would it take for you to trade away Trout if you had him like me in the RotoWire Staff League as a $3A (18-team mixed league, $260 budget) player? Is there anyone else you'd rather have right now at that contract?

- Give me the over/under on the number of wins for the following good surprise teams and bad surprise teams:

Good Surprises:


Which if any of these teams make the playoffs? Do any of them get to 90 wins?

Bad Surprises:

Red Sox

You can argue that the Phillies, who are only two games under .500, aren't that big of a surprise given their injuries and age demographic, but most projections still had them with a winning record at worst. Which of these teams finish with a winning record? In the case of the Tigers, is a winning record sufficient to win the division?

Basically, who do you believe is for real, both good or bad?

- You just finished the wide receivers section for the football magazine. Do you find that when you focus on one particular aspect of a sport for the site or for the magazine, it influences your draft strategy? You went with three wide receivers for your first three picks in our first Mock Draft for the magazine, in a 14-team non-PPR league. Do you think that because you know the receivers so well at this point, it affected your strategy? If so, does this sort of specialization carry over to draft season?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 4:04am
Subject: Re: Charging

I did see the article on Brendan Ryan. I kept thinking, that's how he was during softball (when he played on our team) - like a maniac trying to get to every ball that was hit between second and third and halfway into the outfield. Apparently, he's moving before the pitch even gets to the batter, gambling with the odds in his favor on where the ball's going to go.

I'd like to see more interviews like that, but some of it was Brendan himself having put a lot of thought into what he does. I remember at his brother Paul's wedding I asked him about Double-A pitching, and he was describing to me in detail how the pitcher's get better at each level he had played at to that point, how the breaking stuff breaks, between low-A and Double-A. So he's always been like that. Dalton and I interviewed Roy Halladay last year, and he was like that, too. He knew in detail what the advanced stats were showing. So some of it is asking interesting questions, but a lot of it is having a player understand conceptually what he's doing and having given it a lot of thought.
But you'll never know what kind of answer the player can provide if you're only asking him "how it felt to get a big win," or to ask what it's like playing with a superstar teammate.

Some questions I'd like asked are whether a high BABIP for a pitcher has been due to bad location, weaker stuff or bad luck. Is it that a guy is just missing his spots, or is he throwing where he means to but doesn't have the velocity or movement. Or is everything just dropping in for a hit? We can look at the data, but it would be interesting to hear what a guy like Adam Wainwright or Tim Lincecum's impressions were. But not too many reporters want to ruffle any feathers - unless it's a Jim Gray type trying to embarrass an already disgraced player.

The Dodgers have gotten a lift from their pitching and also their catcher, A.J. Ellis, has a .939 OPS. Throw in Kemp's monster start and Andre Ethier's strong year, and that's probably enough when you get the benefit of some timely hitting and good luck. They're big favorites in the NL West due to their lead alone. The Giants could catch them if Lincecum bounces back, Brandon Belt heats up and Sandoval gets healthy, but seven games is a lot when you're doing O/U projections.

I'd take Trout over Lawrie. More speed, nearly as much power, better plate discipline, more at ease defensively which makes his life easier. I'd take Trout over Harper, next year, too - on account of the steals. I actually have a bet with DDD where he has Harper, and I have Trout, and whoever has the better career wins, though it's a wash if they both make the Hall of Fame. (I also have an O/U bet with him on how many titles LeBron James will win in his career - I have under 3.5). It sounds good considering he's won zero so far, but it was a stupid bet because I'll have to wait at least 10 years to collect (barring a Greg Oden situation), while he can collect three years from now if the Heat go on a dynastic run. I lose on the time value of money.

If you're going for it this year, I'll make you an offer that will land Trout. Maybe Albert Pujols and Matt Wieters? Or if you're worried about the in-season cap, how about Cliff Lee ($10) and Wieters ($32)? I don't think there's a player that could be owned for $3 in that league who I'd rather have.

I started doing the over/unders, but realized I wasn't going to take the time to do it seriously, so I'd rather not even put my lame guesses out there. I'll just say I think the Orioles might be for real and give them a 10 percent chance to win the AL East because Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Jason Hammel might take a leap, and starting pitchers breaking out together is often what propels unlikely success stories. I'll also say the White Sox will win the AL Central due to their pitching depth and getting more offense out of Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham (of late).

As for the receiver question, not really. I hadn't even finished the section at that point, and might end up ranking them differently. I just took what the draft gave me, and Calvin Johnson at No. 6 in a three WR league was the obvious move in Round 1. In Round 2, I took Hakeem Nicks, though I might take someone else there (Greg Jennings?) if I had it to do over again. Actually, I would have taken A.J. Green there, but as it turns out, it was the right move not to as he was available for me in Round 3. In fact, I might wind up making Green my No. 2 receiver overall when I finish the projections. Super talent, second year, only game in town, improving young quarterback. The only issue for him is durability, which is the same problem with Nicks. Jennings or Larry Fitzgerald is much safer. Victor Cruz belongs in the discussion, too. As does Wes Welker. And maybe Andre Johnson, but he just had another surgery. But back to the draft - the receivers fell to me, and then I had to draft a lot of upside RBs in the middle rounds which is a fine strategy if you make sure to take 4-5 backs with your next 6-7 picks.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 8:32pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

Dalton and I were talking on the show today about the Dodgers, and speculated about them trading for Kevin Youkilis. The Red Sox are forcing a square peg into a round hole right now by trying to play Adrian Gonzalez in RF in order to make room for both Youkilis and Willie Middlebrooks in the lineup. I don't see that arrangement lasting - it's a horrible defensive alignment, and it puts Gonzalez at risk of getting hurt. So perhaps this is a case where the Red Sox are showcasing Youkilis for a trade? Meanwhile, the Dodgers aren't getting much from their corner infield options, and Youkilis would be a rental player. If you're the Dodgers, would you trade someone like Nathan Eovaldi for Youk? Or is that too much of a cost for a half-season?

Regardless, I fully expect the Dodgers to be active in the trade market. Even assuming there's a correction, as you said, those wins are banked, and the rest of the division is pretty awful. San Francisco or even Arizona could go on a run, but they are both flawed too. They'll have a lot of money to spend in the offseason, but there's no need to wait. The inventory is already worse than expected, with Matt Cain and Joey Votto both signing extensions. Ned Colletti has proven to be a prospect trader in the past - I think you'll see more of that this year.

The more I look at Trout at that price, the less I'm inclined to trade him in the Staff League. I turned down an expensive Halladay and Joey Votto on an expiring contract for Trout, Alexi Ogando and another prospect already. My first instinct is to turn down Pujols, too. Between you, Dalton and last year's champs, Fred Meyer and Brian Huss, I should have no shortage of good offers if I do go that route, though.

I couldn't have been more wrong about the Orioles. I'm in Scott Pianowski's over/under pool and had the O's under 69 wins, with a pretty high confidence points number. I didn't buy into that starting pitching at all, and I thought that the Red Sox and Yankees would both be better than they are. It's one of the toughest things for me to do in fantasy leagues - when it looks as if I've been wrong about a player at the start of the season, do I change course and act on it? To give you an example - I never thought that Ben Zobrist's breakout in 2009 (to be fair, the continuation of a breakout started at the end of 2008), thinking he was just on a heater as a part-time player. I missed out on opportunities to grab him, and I steered people away from him.

I liked your strategy in that draft, and more so the execution of that strategy. Roy Helu may have Tim Hightower, not to mention coach Mike Shanahan to deal with, but he's pretty clearly the best back in Washington. C.J. Spiller looked great when given the chance last year, and I don't see how the Bills can ignore that, even with Fred Jackson healthy again, and Mark Ingram is a fantastic "Last Year's Bum." The other part of the strategy that I like is that injuries often create a lot of opportunity to pick up RB's on the waiver wire, perhaps more so than at other positions. You have to time it right, but I think there's more chances there, especially in the middle of the season, than at other positions to cash in.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 10:50pm
Subject: Re: Charging

I'd trade Eovaldi for Youkilis without thinking twice. It's not like Eovaldi's blowing away the high minors, and he walks too many batters, too. Youkilis will probably get hurt again, but it's worth a gamble. They could really use one extra real bat, especially if/when A.J. Ellis cools down.

As for Trout, you want to trade him now, not in July where you're getting just two and a half months of your rental players. I'll give you a $10 Lee, a $63 Pujols and a throw-in. I don't think that offer will be beat. The more you wait, the worse bargain you'll be making because 4.5 months of those guys is like four superstars for two months. Let me know. I'll even make the throw-in someone not that horrible.

I like that team, too - unfortunately it's just a mock. Getting Matt Ryan so late was also a nice bargain in my opinion. The Falcons attempted a ton of passes last year, play in a dome, face the Saints, Panthers and Bucs twice each (all terrible defenses last year), should get more games out of the Year 2 version of Julio Jones and have only an average defense themselves. Ryan's one of the most overrated players in real life, but in fantasy he was good for 4,177 yards, 29 passing and two rushing scores.