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Charging the Mound: Smorgasbord Week

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Director of Media for, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).

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: Jeff Erickson
Sent: Friday, May 24, 2013 11:11am
To: Derek Van Riper
Subject: Smorgasbord Week

Derek, I don't have an overriding theme for this week, instead a smorgasbord of topics that you can pick from, ignore, or add to.

- I watched Gausmas, Kevin Gausman's debut, last night and came away pretty impressed. He was still hitting 97 mph, at least according to MASN's radar (and I understand the dangers of relying upon the radar gun provided from the television or the stadium scoreboard), late in his start. He had three pitches going, though at least for his first start, he seemed to be falling into a pattern, one that the Jays hitters picked up on the second time through the lineup. Nonetheless, for a tough venue his first start wasn't bad - five innings, four runs, five strikeouts and two walks. He gave up one gopher ball to J.P. Arencibia, but I thought he looked as if he belonged out there. My guess is that he sticks in the rotation.

For the rest of the season, assuming that he is up with the O's, where do you rank him among starting pitchers? Would you rather have fellow phenom Jose Fernandez or Gausman? Zach McAllister or Gausman? Or should I reach higher? Tommy Milone or Gausman?

- Nothing is an error anymore. The latest play to inspire my twice (thrice?) yearly complaint was on Sunday night, in the Tigers-Rangers game. Omar Infante was on second base, and Torii Hunter hit a ball to the right of shortstop Elvis Andrus. Infante goofed up and ran to third with the play in front of him. Andrus made the play and threw to third, but threw wide of the bag, allowing Infante to be safe as a result. The official scorer's ruling? Single. What? How is that even at possible? If he wanted to be charitable towards Andrus, he could have gone with the coward's way out and ruled Fielder's Choice, but even that would have been weak. Andrus fielded the ball cleanly and Infante would have been out, but for the throw. How can that be a hit?

This was a microcosm of scoring decisions in general. The distinction between earned runs and unearned runs should be discarded. Even though there are plenty of instances where an error directly leads to an unearned run and is properly ruled, there are plenty of other situations where one error opens up the floodgates and the pitcher gets rocked afterward. A run is unearned also when it's the result of the pitcher's own errors. And as alluded, not enough plays are ruled errors. There are so many flaws in the system, I say just junk it.

- I've been lucky to not have to deal with Matt Kemp's start anywhere, but what do you do with him going forward? My presumption is that it's his shoulder that's limiting his production - we saw what a similar shoulder surgery did to teammate Adrian Gonzalez's power. How low of a price would you pay to land him? And what would you accept in a deal if you already owned him? Note, those two answers aren't the same - at least, I don't think that they are.

That's a concept Liss and I pounded home Thursday on the show - the spread between the buying offer price, and the selling acceptance price. It exists in other walks of life - think about Vegas odds for a second - a favorite can be -110, yet the underdog will be +105; or if you want a non-gambling perspective, think about what you can get for your used car, and what the dealership will get when they sell you that same car. Likewise, the fantasy trade market isn't efficient; it's actually far less efficient, with fewer actors out there.

- Jesus Montero just got sent down by the Mariners. He's a bust, again, but is he done? They're not going to use him behind the plate anymore, it appears, so 2014 will likely be the last year he'll qualify at catcher. Can he resurrect his career in Seattle?

- I'm starting to stream pitchers against the Nats. In fact, I'm streaming against almost everyone but the Braves in the NL East. Sure, there's a certain threshold pitcher that I won't use, but it's not just a case of the Marlins stinking. The Phillies just lost Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, and were already struggling to score runs. The Mets have gone through a brutal stretch at home. And the Nats are worse than both, barely averaging three runs a game and posting a .290 team OBP. What happened there? This was supposed to be an elite team!

-----Original Message-----
From: Derek VanRiper
Sent: Friday, May 24, 2013 4:06pm
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Smorgasbord Week

I've tapered off my buffet habits since the college days when $6.99 at Jade Garden on Park St. could serve as two meals and provide an ample base layer for a dozen Coors Lights later that evening.

Gausman looks like a legitimate frontline starter to me, and it may not even take long. I definitely agree that Toronto is a tough place to begin a big league career, but the velocity was consistently strong, and I liked the way he was setting up hitters the first time through the order, staying away from lefties consistently and even elevating his fastball a bit more as the outing went along. For now, I would rank him just outside of the league's top-50 starters, ahead of Jose Fernandez, Zach McAllister Tom Milone and even Tim Lincecum. That's more about Lincecum's fall than Gausman's immediate level, but it's still jarring to see considering that we're talking about the 2008 and 2009 NL Cy Young Award winner, who still maintains an ability to miss bats.

Do you feel that Gausman (or any other young pitcher getting the opportunity to contribute this early in the year as a rookie) has a skill set better suited for immediate success?

The home team provides the official scorer, no? Recall Michael Cuddyer's "single" that cost temporarily cost David Price a boatload of earned runs. Having an official scorer that isn't a complete homer seems easier to overcome than fixing an increasingly inept number of umpires. I agree with you, however, that runs should simply be runs, but I'll settle for a hybrid where if a pitcher allows a baserunner because of an error behind him with two outs, the subsequent home run should count as one earned for the hitter clobbering one of the pitcher's offerings into the bleachers. Independent of the error, the pitcher still gave up a run that the opposition pretty clearly earned.

My only share of Matt Kemp is in the Staff Keeper League. Given the in-season cap constraints, it may be more difficult to move him in that league than in others, but as a team with plans of contending for a top-three finish this year, I've considered trading him away to better allocate my resources in subsequent deals. Much like an Old Maid card, I would willingly deal him away to someone currently ahead of me in the standings. It's particularly troubling that he doesn't have the same pop his bat, and I am concerned it will take a full offseason of rest and further rehab/strength work to get back to his pre-surgery form. Consider that his average flyball distance (via (267.66 ft, 200th of 260 players) is well below the level we've seen the past three seasons, when he led the league in 2012 (313.26 ft) ranked sixth in 2011 (307.01) and was 26th in 2010 (304.15).

I'm not seeking out Kemp in trades, short of leagues where I have a slew of injuries and a lot of ground to make up. What would you take for him in trade right now? We had a caller on Wednesday's show who gave up Carlos Gomez and Tim Hudson to get Kemp -- I thought the caller made out very well in that deal even with the risk. Would you trade an elite closer (i.e. Kimbrel) straight up for Kemp? Also, if you had to project his line from today forward, how many home runs would you be looking for? Even if he's a 300 hitter driving in runs and stealing bases the rest of the way, he's valuable commodity. Perhaps the market will overcorrect for his power outage?

At least with cars, we have a baseline in the form of the Kelley Blue Book...the same can't be said for our roto commodities. This would be one potential benefit of the multiple in-season redraft format I suggested last week. Hardly perfect, although similarly flawed to the KBB (looks weird without a colon or slash wedged in there) given that no used car perfectly fits the descriptions and price tiers in the book.

How many times to you make your best possible offer in a trade the very first time you send one out? I would guess that most players hover in the single digits, if they ever do that at all. In the case of practicing lawyers and car salesmen, the answer is probably zero. I tend to make a very competitive offer right away to save time. In some instances, it's my best, in others, it's very close to it, or I'm receptive to modifying the sides slightly to make both sides happy.

Jesus Montero is still just 23 years old. Moving out from behind the plate can only help him in the effort to get back on track, and while it will hurt his fantasy value in 2015 when he's likely 1B/DH only, a lot could change by then. Remember the projections of a right-handed bat that would hit at least .300 with 30-plus homers? The comparisons to Edgar Martinez and Frank Thomas. There were always questions about his defense, and I think the idea that players can struggle offensively when focusing heavily on their defense has merit. At the end of the day, 732 plate appearances before age-24 simply aren't enough for me to give up on him. If I were a major league GM, I would strongly consider a buy-low here.

Safeco Field graded out as the worst environment in baseball for right-handed hitters over the last three seasons. We'll know more in October regarding the new dimensions and the impact those changes had. For his part, Montero has swung at a lot of pitches outside the strike zone since joining the Mariners and his career mark is 37.9% compared to a league average that typically sits around 30.0%. Even with that, he doesn't strike out at an unbearable clip (20.0% this season).

Buying low in rotisserie is more of a 2014 and beyond investment, as it's unclear to see where Montero gets playing time if the move to 1B/DH duty holds up since Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak remain in tow, although the latter is still on thin ice for me despite a surge over the last 30 days (.261/.387/.432) and a significantly improved walk rate (from 9.2 to 14.5%) this season. Do you feel that Smoak is still worth investing in?

Who is next regarding a demotion to Triple-A? Ike Davis, Rickie Weeks (again), Danny Espinosa, Dustin Ackley, and Mike Moustakas have all been brutal in May and for the season in general. Will any pitchers going to follow Vance Worley down to the International League or PCL? Does anyone from this group merit a Buy Lowest attempt?

Also, have you checked out the new Fitz and the Tantrums album yet?

Finally, if you want to drink something good on Memorial Day, I have a recommendation for you: Duchesse De Bourgogne.

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Sent: Saturday, May 25, 2013 3:47am
To: Derek VanRiper
Subject: Re: Smorgasbord Week

Speaking of buffets, it's been awhile since I've paid for a buffet in Vegas - the ones we have during our annual company trip during the All-Star break are paid for by RotoWire. So it was a bit of a sticker shock to see that the casinos no longer view them as a commodity to bring you onto the property when my wife and I hit one last weekend. Maybe the recession changed their mentality, but they seemed to be pretty full-price at the places we looked.

I grabbed Gausman in my AL-only home league Friday morning, spending $11/100. It's a 4x4 league which dilutes his K-value, but I just lost Brett Anderson and Kelvin Herrera just got sent down, so I had a few openings. I believe that the O's are a legit team that will give him plenty of run support, and that they'll keep him up so long as he's pitching reasonably well. Worth the gamble to me - I agree with you, he's well-suited for this opportunity, better than a typical good pitching prospect.

The Kemp keeper league problem is interesting. With an in-season salary cap, you really do have your hands tied. It would be one thing if he were officially hurt and on the DL. You could then risk cutting him, knowing that in our league you can't pick up guys while they're on the DL, and once he came back, the bidding on him would be so prohibitively high that his new salary almost certainly would not be much lower. If his power drought persists into the second-half of the season, I'm guessing your more receptive target would be a punting team that has in-season salary cap room. That sort of team at least has the luxury of holding him with the hope that he tears it up after the trade deadline, and then either has a keeper for the following season or a trade chit that has increased in value.

Of course, as we've discussed on the show, we don't really know what's wrong with Kemp. Our speculation about the shoulder is just that - speculation. Maybe he's just in a slump that started initially because he changed things to protect the shoulder? If that's the case, he could break out of it tomorrow. He's going to be adjusting, just like any other player is - players aren't static, their value changes constantly. I think that your caller did pretty well, too - especially if that was in a mixed league. In an NL-only league, that extra depth matters, but even then, it's a pretty decent gamble.

Would I trade Kimbrel for him? Hmm ... probably - in 75 percent of the leagues I'm in, that's a worthwhile gamble. As we dig deeper into the season, category analysis will start to take over in the conversation, but for now, I think you can still go after overall value, and I'm not willing to knock Kemp out of my top 40 yet. An innings-cap league or another type that adds value to the closer pool might change things a little.

The strength of my offer frequently relies on the putative trade partner - I'm not ashamed to admit that some will get my best offer first, especially if I find them to be perfectly reasonable in the past. Others will require more work - especially if they have a history of not accepting the first offer. So if I know that it's going to require give-and-take, why negotiate against myself? But, and this is especially true in industry leagues - with many either there's going to be a deal right away, or there's not going to be a deal, and I'll know quickly. So those guys get my best offer on the first try.

I think that the organizational buy-low list is a good idea. Add Rick Porcello to it while we're at it.

Haven't checked out the new Fitz-and-the-Tantrums album yet - my Spotify usage has been limited lately. But I'll have to check it out soon - thanks for the rec on that, and on the beer. Will definitely pursue the latter.

I finally cut bait on on Espinosa in Yahoo F&F and benched him in the NFBC once Jurickson Profar got the call. I'm slowly divesting myself of my batting average sinks - up over the .240 barrier finally in the NFBC now! I don't see a good outcome of Espinosa at all. Who is the most likely long-term replacement for him at second base - Steve Lombardozzi, Anthony Rendon, or even Ryan Zimmerman moving to second, with Rendon playing third, given Zimmerman's throwing issues?

-----Original Message-----
From: Derek VanRiper
Sent: Saturday, May 25, 2013 3:10pm
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Smorgasbord Week

I hate to admit it, but I've taken the Chris Liss approach to dining in Vegas. Short of digging around for off-strip bargains, eating there is like eating in any big city in that you're going to pay for it. Of course, Lotus of Siam gets an automatic qualifier on my meal plan for any trip, but otherwise I spend the extra few bucks and eat at a Mesa Grill (Bobby Flay) or Julian Serrano type place. Short of seeing Randy Quaid do his thing at the Vegas Buffet in Vegas Vacation, I'm unfamiliar with this cheap buffet concept in Vegas. Totally different era, and probably a blast.

Especially with the penalties our Staff  Keeper League has for the teams at the bottom, there should be a market for Kemp as those teams shift their resources for the future. Great point about their willingness to take a chance on a player who could very well recoup his value on the fly and become worthy of simply holding onto at market price for 2014.

Danny Espinosa has been playing with a torn rotator cuff all season and now a broken bone in his wrist. Somehow, he's played 39 games while carrying a .163/.196/.291 line with a 4:40 BB:K entering Saturday.

Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo have no chance in a zombie apocalypse.

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