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Charging the Mound: Next Year's Rankings Today

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-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 5:15pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

Baseball season really is endless. It already seems kind of over as we're gearing up for football, but in reality there's still two full months left. Just as Matt Kemp was the story of early April, and Josh Hamilton the story through May, Mike Trout is now the dominant player through the first week of August. Is there yet another player who will be the story of late-August and September? And who might that be? Might Justin Verlander's 14K, 0 ER outing against the Yankees be the start of his two-month run? Or will it be Albert Pujols who finishes hitting .300 with 40 HR?

It still blows my mind that had someone offered you Mike Trout for Matt Kemp in a one-year league on April 15, you would have rejected it without a thought. And if you did accidentally accept it, it would surely have been vetoed by the commissioner. What a lopsided trade it would have been. Same with Hamilton on May 15. If we're drafting for 2013 right now, how do you rank the following: Ryan Braun, 3B-eligibile Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutcheon, Mike Trout, Carlos Gonzalez and Robbie Cano. Is there anyone else that could even deserve consideration in the overall top-5? Probably Verlander or Pujols if either becomes the story of the final two months.

Have you noticed how tough the AL West has become? The Mariners have lost two in a row, but are 7-3 in their last 10, and actually have a run differential of just minus-5. And if we were to re-set the standings to zero and start the season over again, there's little doubt the Angels would have the highest O/U win total in baseball.

August and September are good times to stream pitchers as teams have packed it in, dealt their veterans and are experimenting with prospects who might not be quite ready (Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters of the Cubs are two that come to mind). But don't think you can simply pick on the usual suspects as the Twins have actually scored the most runs of any team in the majors since the All-Star break. And the Nationals are third, the Giants are ninth and the A's are tied with the Yankees for 10th. The Twins in particular are an interesting story because Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau right now seem like their old selves, which is enough to anchor a decent offense. Combine that with Josh Willingham, Ben Revere who's hitting .331, Denard Span who has a .350 OBP and Ryan Doumit (.819 OPS), and this team isn't an offensive doormat anymore - and that's before Trevor Plouffe comes back. So eliminating the Twins, what teams are you most likely to stream pitchers against?

Now that Mike Trout, Anthony Rizzo and Bryce Harper are likely never going back to the minors, what current minor leaguer is the best bet to make an impact down the stretch? What about in 2013? Is there anyone that jumps out at you?

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 7:02pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: RE: Charging

You're absolutely right about the length of the season. I think that the trade deadline creates a false sense of finality, both in the composition of major league teams and in the likelihood of us winning our roto leagues. We've already seen post-deadline waiver trades and top prospects called up. More major injuries will happen, and other major players have already started to return from their respective injuries. And the crazy closer carousel keeps turning - the latest being the Brewers using a 10-year minor league veteran to get saves the last two days.

If you're protecting a lead right now, these last two months can be brutal. If you've been the frontrunner all season long, chances are you've gotten the best from a majority of your impact players and avoided the land mines that have felled some of your competitors. The mere law of averages suggest that you'll have your own version of a Matt Kemp injury, or a star pitcher going through an extended slump a la Tim Lincecum. Not just that, but your closest competitors are turning up the heat, doing their best to cut into your lead, and doing so more efficiently. They know which categories they can focus upon to gain their standings points, if you're in a roto league, or where they can improve the most, with fewer people lower in the league bidding on those same assets. Your run against me last year in F&F was a white-knuckle ride, with you seemingly hitting the lottery with every pitcher you picked up.

To that end, I'd still stream against the Mariners, their recent surge notwithstanding. The Padres, especially in Petco, are still great targets. The Dodgers and Phillies aren't as strong as perceived. But the best streaming option has to be the Astros, who have either traded away most of their top offensive threats or seen those remaining get hurt. You'll have to act early, even in daily leagues, as you won't be the only one hip to that.

I think it's fitting though that the Astros are jumping out of a lukewarm frying pan (the NL Central) and into the blast furnace (the AL West) next season. Really, this has to be a three-to-four year rebuilding job to compete with Texas and Anaheim, and Oakland's immediate future looks a lot brighter too. I'm certainly not the first to remark about it, but the Rangers and Angels started the arms race, and everyone else has to lift their franchise up to compete. It's the AL East effect.

As for your next year's top 5 question, what if Jacoby Ellsbury goes nuts over the final two months? Would that be enough to elevate him into consideration? How about Joey Votto if/when he comes back? Does Jose Bautista's batting average rule him out of consideration?

Right now, I think I'd go with the following:

1. Miguel Cabrera

2. Ryan Braun

3. Mike Trout

4. Carlos Gonzalez

5. Robinson Cano

I want to see McCutchen finish this season off first before I place him up that high. Is that an unfair standard compared to Trout? Probably, but I can shake last year's second half or his recent homer drought out of my head, at least when comparing to those five.

As for impact prospects, I keep wanting to say Wil Myers, but that possibility gets more remote with each day, as Lorenzo Cain is playing well and Jarrod Dyson has performed well since eating into Jeff Francoeur's playing time. But I want his 2013 season. Trevor Bauer's too. I also don't think it'll be Billy Hamilton - where is he going to play? He's going to pretty much be a pinch-runner and pinch-hitter, if the Reds decide to call him up - and I'm not convinced that he'll get the call. You know, I really don't have a guy that's my go-to to pick up in advance of his call-up, unless it's Myers.

How about you? Who are you stashing away? If you're drafting for 2013, is Trout your number one overall pick?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 9:44pm
Subject: Re: Charging

I also think Cabrera and Braun are 1-2, and then probably Trout because the former two have such high floors, especially with Braun's steals and Cabrera playing third base. But the scary thing is Trout could get better, and there's no reason he couldn't steal 60 or 70 bases to go along with everything else. I also think Matt Kemp, who hadn't missed a game in several years before this season, should be top-5, probably ahead of Cargo and Cano.

At first I was going to accuse you of evading the prospect question, but there really aren't that many good candidates in the high minors right now. The pitchers who seemed likely to make an impact like Danny Hultzen, James Paxson, Brad Peacock and Shelby Miller aren't faring that great at Triple-A, and most of the major-league ready hitters have been called up already. Even for next year, maybe Myers breaks out, but the top players like Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy and Jurickson Profar all seem like better bets for 2014.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, August 9, 2012 1:57am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

I like how it took Kemp roughly 30 minutes from the time you wrote this to hit a massive homer to help promote your case. Yeah, I should have thought about him with this group. He just stole a base the night before, too. That's the big key for me - how will his hamstring hold up? Will he be able to run next season?

The Orioles of course made a mockery of our prediction that a top prospect wouldn't get the call, calling up Manny Machado. I obviously didn't see this coming, but man, isn't this a panic move? Machado is a great prospect, starting the year at Double-A at age 19. But he's hardly dominating there - hitting .266/.352/.438 with 11 homers and 13 steals. Where will he play for the O's? What will he be able to do? Will you pick him up in a non-keeper league?