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MLB Barometer: Read the Other Players

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at

If you're sitting here reading this column right now, you better have already sent flowers, written a card, helped with chores around the house or have just come back from a nice, little brunch. If it wasn't for the mothers of the world there would be no baseball. If it wasn't for the mothers of the world, there would be no fantasy baseball. If it wasn't for the mothers of the world, there would be no you. So take the time, show some love and give that woman who pained through however many hours of labor to give you life, the respect she deserves.

Now let's talk some fantasy baseball.

We've spent the past few weeks talking a lot about the players themselves. We've spoken of the hot starts, the cold ones, different trends to look for in the numbers, playing time, injuries, etc. But what we haven't discussed yet, and what is probably as important, if not more, is your league mates. With the amount of coverage the game of baseball gets - between all the TV networks, the radio stations and the countless websites we read - there is probably no bit of news out there that hasn't been reported and broadcast over a million times. Last week on Twitter alone I saw 72 reports in under 20 minutes of J.A. Happ's condition the day after getting hit with a line drive. Somebody farts in the clubhouse and you've got 50 tweets alone describing the smell. So there are no real secrets and it's a very rare moment when you have news that your fellow league mates don't. So if knowledge of players and their situations isn't your edge, what is? Knowing your opponents, that's what.

It's like playing a game of Texas Hold ‘Em. Often times the cards don't even matter as you're playing the man (or woman), not the hand. If you know your opponent well enough, you can beat him and never see a single decent card the entire time. If you don't, you can get pushed around the table all day long and get forced out of hands even though you might have the best one. Well, knowing your opponents in fantasy baseball is just as important as the players themselves.

You can start by figuring out which people in your league are starting to lose interest. They're the ones who have blown through the majority of their FAAB budget and have changed up their team more times than a runway model changes clothes. They are likely near the bottom of your standings and the frustration has begun to settle in as their early-season efforts have seemingly failed them. They should be your number one trade target. Play up to them. Express "genuine" sympathy for their injuries and offer them some specific help. Act like you're working with them to help you both and steal some quality buy-low candidates while you can. If you don't do it now, then you'll probably miss out as he will eventually stop paying attention to the league, stop responding to emails and won't have any interest in getting a deal done down the road because it's simply a waste of his time.

Or how about that owner who can't help but collect all the up-and-coming minor league players? He's the guy who beat everyone to Tony Cingrani and Marcel Ozuna but also mistakenly started Burch Smith. He's obviously fishing for the next big thing, so why not try and dish off some of your hopefuls and get some proven talent that can help you now? Been stashing Dylan Bundy all this time? Deal him! His elbow may or may not hold up and wasting a bench spot for a second-half hopeful is, well, a waste. This guy will probably pay you a handsome reward for Bundy or some other hopeful and that puts quality talent in your hand today.

Every league is filled with different personalities. Your job now is to put together a who's who and figure out how to play each one. If he's a know-it-all, butter him up when you talk trade. If he's frustrated, bitter and dejected, be the sympathetic ear. The season is a six-month long battle and you need to figure out the best way to fight your fight. Take a page out of Sun Tzu's Art of War and keep your friends close but your enemies closer. It worked for the Corleones and it can work for you.

Now here are some players to consider.

On the Rise

Adam Eaton, OF ARI - He's about a week or so away and that guy in your league who drools over minor league talent is getting ready to pull the trigger. Beat him to the punch. The word out of Arizona lately has been that A.J. Pollock, who is struggling at the plate lately, will be sent down to make room for Eaton who will assume primary duties in center field. He may not play every day once he's back as the team will slowly work him in, but eventually they want him in there every day and batting leadoff. Even if you don't need speed or another outfielder, someone in your league does, so picking yourself up some trade bait could be a huge move.

Charlie Blackmon, OF COL - With Michael Cuddyer hitting the disabled list this weekend, the Rockies have the chance to bring up Blackmon who is batting .336 with three home runs, 21 RBI and five stolen bases through 31 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs. He's had two cups of coffee with the Rockies over the last two seasons and showed nice improvement from year to year. He'll slot into right field immediately as the Rockies are desperate to invigorate their team with new life. Going 50 straight batters without a hit over a two-game span will drive any manager to either drink or overhaul some of his team. Right now Blackmon is Walt Weiss' Oban 14 year.

Marco Estrada, SP MIL - Given the way he's pitched recently, it's understandable why you would skip over this section right now. But if the theme here is reading people, then there's plenty to be found in Estrada's most recent comments. Having given up 13 earned runs over his last two starts (8.1 innings in total), the Brewers pushed his next start back and gave him a few days to clear his head. When asked how he felt, Estrada told, "I feel a million times better. I know those things are going to happen, but I didn't like how the mental aspect of it was lost. Normally, I feel like I have pretty good control over that. I didn't have it that day, but I've worked on it. Mentally, right now, I'm pretty strong." There's no doubting that Estrada has the talent o be a fantastic pitcher in the majors right now and his track record says so. It sounds like his head is back in the right place which, for me, warrants another chance.

Staying the Course

Allen Craig, 1B/OF STL - I preached all through the offseason that Craig was being taken too early in drafts this year, and while it's been somewhat gratifying to be right over the first month of the season, I want to make sure that even if you didn't heed my advice, that you're sticking with him, especially right now. Craig is 14-for-34 (.419) with two home runs and nine RBI here in the month of May and has his overall average above .300 for the first time this season. The power is starting to come back and he should be just fine the rest of the way, provided he stays healthy.

Jarrod Parker, SP OAK - Speaking starting pitchers with a second chance, it looks like Parker is making the most of his. Though he's still not at the level we'd like to see him at, he's posted two quality starts in his last three outings and it appears as if he will stay in the rotation even when Brett Anderson comes back. There was talk that he could be sent down to work on his mechanics, but that shuttle seat to Sacramento seems to be reserved for a struggling Dan Straily now. Parker may only be worth playing the match-ups right now, but he's certainly talented enough to catch fire and be left in there regularly soon enough.

Robbie Grossman, OF HOU - Though he's only posted a slash line of .194/.308/.254 and has but two stolen bases through his first 79 plate appearances, Grossman will continue to see starts in center field, according to Astros manager Bo Porter. Defensively, he's fantastic out there and that's more than enough right now for Porter who obviously believes that his 23-year old switch hitter's bat will eventually come around. He is sporting a dismal .271 BABIP right now which is well below his mark in the minors, so there's certainly a glimmer of hop here.

Fading Fast

Chris Getz, 2B/Jeff Francoeur, OF KC - We can lump these two together because they're both in the same sinking ship right now. Getz has been on the bench for four of the last five games in favor of Elliot Johnson and Francoeur has been riding the pine for two of the last three in favor of Jarrod Dyson. While manager Ned Yost said that neither is currently involved in a platoon situation, he also stated that he will make his lineup decisions based on who is swinging the hotter bat at the moment. He included that he would also play some match-ups, but he is all about performance-based moves at the moment and while Johnson and Dyson are hot, they'll play. When they cool, both Getz and Francoeur will need to perform immediately to stay regulars in the lineup and considering what we know of them, the chances of either seeing consistent starts moving forward seem pretty slim.

Evan Gattis, C ATL - "And now, the end is here. And so I face the final curtain." Words never rang so true as they do right now in the world of Evan Gattis as not only is Brian McCann back and raking, but Jason Heyward is on the mend in Triple-A and due back very shortly. I'd like to think that they would ease Heyward into the lineup and stretch out Gattis' time, but he just doesn't look comfortable out there in the outfield. It's difficult to imagine Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez sacrificing defense to keep Gattis in the lineup and he's certainly not going to bench one of his high priced superstars. Maybe Gattis will squeeze in for a game or two each week and DH in AL ballparks, but that's just not cutting it for fantasy purposes, is it?

Jonathan Niese, SP NYM - What in the world is going on here? After last season's breakthrough, there were high hopes for Niese this year and he is failing miserably. His strikeout rate is atrocious, he's walking too many guys, and he's relying a lot more on a change-up that looks an awful lot like a slow-pitched softball. The result is a 5.93 ERA with a 5.33 FIP (5.23xFIP) that gives very little hope for improvement. He's seen a bit of a decrease in velocity this season, so couple that with the rest of his struggles and, to me, that screams potential injury. Either that or he's doing something different mechanically which just isn't working. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to see him land on the DL and get a little time off to fix what's wrong. I'm not saying give up on him completely just yet, but I wouldn't be starting him anytime soon.