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Charging the Mound: Derek & Jeff Talk Baseball

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-----
Sent: Friday, May 23, 2014 9:10am
To: Derek VanRiper
Subject: Charging the Formats


We're starting this later in the week this time, so I'm going to keep it a lot shorter, and give you a few bullet points to hit.

- What's your favorite format of fantasy baseball to play? What's your least favorite? And what's the most difficult for you to succeed in? Is there a game that you haven't played yet that you still want to try?

My favorite format still is are the AL-and-NL-only auction leagues, and it doesn't matter whether they are keeper or redraft. My two original home leagues, Amici and Midnight Madness, are AL and NL-only, one a 4x4 redraft, the other a 5x5 (with OPS supplanting Runs as a category (it's not perfect category-wise)) NL keeper league. I've grown to love the NFBC drafts too, especially the 15-team Main Event because it's a live draft. But my results there haven't been great - I think it's a combination of format and superb competition. It's a bit humbling actually that I haven't yet cashed in the Main. I don't care for head-to-head points leagues so much - to me, it's trying way too hard to be like fantasy football. I get that there's people being drawn into playing baseball after playing fantasy football first, but the sport itself is so much different than football that I don't want to emulate that experience.

- How many times have you missed out on a great first game or two, or a great first start from a player coming off the DL? That happened to me last night with Chris Sale, because I didn't clear roster space in Yahoo Friends & Family the night before to take him off the DL. It's my fault for not planning that in advance, but it's also a silly roster rule - why shouldn't you be able to activate a guy from the DL, in a daily moves league, on the day that he gets activated? Isn't the real life team activating him on that day? Aargh.

- By now we have a pretty good feel for which teams you need to avoid, which teams you can stream against, and which teams you have to pick your spots with. I didn't start Alex Cobb in one league yesterday merely because he was up against the A's, but maybe that was an overreaction? Or am I using results-based analysis?

- Who's your favorite breakout player from this season - that guy that you nailed so far in your preseason projections, gave good advice on, or nabbed in a handful of leagues? I know it's early to declare victory, but I'm putting you on the spot again. While you're at it, who have you been wrong about?

- Have you forced a nickname on Thorn during the Wednesday XM/Sirius show yet?

-----Original Message-----
From: Derek VanRiper
Sent: Friday, May 23, 2014 4:01pm
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging the Formats

Let's go in reverse here, I had to back out of the zoo parking lot this week on the way to RotoWire BP because, school buses.

I haven't forced a nickname on Thorn yet. I guess I was nicknamed out after the Tuesday debacle. Nicknames, like meats, poultry and veggies, should be organic and cage free where applicable.

What has gone right? Since we're tearing down the walls with the format this week, how about a team's worth...

C - Derek Norris - Great pedigree, steady OBP skills and intriguing pop. Do the A's have the best catching tandem in the league in right now?
1B - Brandon Moss - I swear this list won't be all A's. Consistently was available 2-3 rounds later than he should have been, I had no problem taking advantage of the opportunity to lock in cheap power.
2B - Neil Walker - I'm not flush with shares of him, but the ROI in the leagues where I do have him has been outstanding. The masses overlooked the value in his volume, status as a former top prospect has always left me to wonder if there is another level on the power front. HM: Emilio Bonfacio, but nothing gold can stay.
3B - Did anyone actually nail it with Nolan Arenado, or was he just an intriguing consolation prize if you didn't get a top-10 third basemen? I didn't really connect on anybody at the position yet, but I don't think I'm alone on that front. Eric Chavez at $3 in NL LABR has been a small victory (.291/.361/.527 on the rare occasions he plays), I suppose.
SS - Jhonny Peralta - The Cards rarely miss. I've never been crazy about Peralta, but this year I've got him in several leagues and he's second only to Tulo in homers among shortstops (nine).
OF - Jose Bautista - One of the few early picks that has been great on my NFBC squad. I have Bautista all over this year, and it's due in large part to Jeff Stotts' analysis of his hip injury in February. Is he a first-rounder in NFBC if we're drafting again today?
OF - Charlie Blackmon - Probably going to be on a lot of championship teams this season. I pegged him for .300, 15/15 *if* he kept his job, but that was enough to speculate given the minimal cost.
OF - A.J. Pollock - It's been a bumpy road to get there, but he's sitting at .303 with five homers, six steals and 29 R + RBI. I thought he'd run more, but the pop has been a nice surprise.
SP - Tyson Ross - The 3.6 BB/9 is a concern, but he's at 8.5 K/9 with a 2.64 ERA and his numbers aren't a complete stretch from a 2H of 2013 where he was just as good as Max Scherzer.
SP - Nate Eovaldi - There has been some backslide recently, and @Sporer deserves credit for making me take a closer look. He'll help my LABR team stay in the middle of the pack even without Jose Fernandez, Kris Medlen and Patrick Corbin, and more importantly, he's a valuable part of my Staff Keeper 2.0 team that has a chance at bringing home a title.
RP - David Robertson - I liked him just as much as Rosenthal going into the year (many folks had Rosenthal as a top-five closer), so far, that has been a victory for me.

On the flip side, here's the All-Jigsaw Team for me through two months:

C - Carlos Santana - I saw nothing in his 2013 line that forecasted even moderate regression. Are you buying right now?
1B - Allen Craig - I faded him and compared him to Billy Butler and Victor Martinez (who I liked, but didn't see this type of power coming from at all). Craig has been much worse than I expected, but I don't have him anywhere and he's a Cardinal, so I'm not exactly sad about it.
2B - Aaron Hill - He looked like a great buy-low during draft season, but .257/.309/.411 playing half of your games at Chase Field is a big disappointment.
3B - Pablo Sandoval - I bought into Fit Panda, but he's made me a Sad Panda. A .641 OPS, really?
SS - Alexei Ramirez - Where did this come from? Power and speed at the same time?
OF - Jacoby Ellsbury - He's got an eight-point edge on Billy Hamilton's AVG, they have the same number of homers, and Hamilton has five more steals. Discuss.
OF - Melky Cabrera - For someone who wanted him everywhere as a top-75 player, you would be surprised by the lack of profit I'm getting from Melky. .320/.363/.520, 8 HR, 23 RBI, 33 R, 4 SB - elite production. Will it last?
OF - Curtis Granderson - His power wasn't carried by Yankee Stadium to the degree many folks suggested. I bought in hoping for .240, 30 HR, 90 SB and 8-10 SB. I'm nonplussed.
SP - Jordan Zimmermann - Tried going "cheap ace" in mixed Tout, traded Aaron Hill for him in LABR a few weeks ago. Nothing seems to be wrong at a closer look, but the 3.70 ERA and 1.42 WHIP are brutal.
SP - Gio Gonzalez - I've never liked him, but there was too much value in my spot for NFBC through four rounds to get a starting pitcher. Matt Cain and Gio, who I never have anywhere because I don't trust his command, are tanking that team in a big way. Now he's hurt. HM: Francisco Liriano
RP - Trevor Rosenthal - Was shut out on him because of the inflated price, but is there a rebound coming? Or, do you see Jason Motte finishing 2014 as the Cards' closer?

Who has been killing it for you? And on the flip side, who has been killing you to this point?

Here's a 4:16 video that describes the A's offense. I think you are right to avoid them:

I'll throw pretty much any starting pitcher against the Mariners. No lefty is off limits, most righties are fine too, especially if the game is being played at Safeco.

The Royals are an offensive doormat, the Twins can score runs but are very whiff prone, and I'm willing to pick on the White Sox (especially while Jose Abreu is down) in road matchups. How about the Rays' offense? Usually, I fear them because of the effectiveness of their platoons in the subsequent balance in their lineup. I don't have Evan Longoria or Wil Myers anywhere, but they've been struggling and the Tampa Bay lineup as a whole looks vulnerable right now. Injuries have killed the Rangers this season, but @TEX isn't the auto-sit we're used to.

On the NL side, @CIN doesn't scare me either. No Votto right now, and even after he's back, it's an average offense at best. The Braves are whifftastic, but moving on from Dan Uggla and eventually B.J. Upton could help turn things around quickly. The Mets, Padres and Cubs are still easy to stream against, nothing has changed there. When are the Cards going to wake up at the plate? Also, I think it's time to give the Marlins an upgrade in terms of the quality of their lineup. Their OPS (.751) is second only to the Rockies in the NL.

Your Sale activation situation sounds like a major glitch in the rules. I haven't had DL returners get locked up like that on me. I've become frustrated by a few different commish services for not having the upcoming projected starters clearly mapped out. I use our tools on the site 90% of the time, but the other 10% I'd like to be able to look at my lineup and see very quickly where each of my starters are going the upcoming week. If you were building the perfect combination of commish services, which parts are you using, and what non-existent feature are you jonesing for?

I despise shallow mixed formats. 10-12 mixers (and I'm down to playing in only one) are just a joke because the replacement level is way too high. It's not fun.

Right now, I'm enjoying the 15-teamers the most, with NL LABR coming in a very close second. Even though injuries have killed me in that league, I like the challenge of building a quality roster using a huge share of the pool. I'm curious to know why the NFBC Auction Championship doesn't get more play as the preferred format to determine the best players? That was the most surprising thing to me about the Diamond event we did the broadcast for in March. I wonder if they could fill in Auction with that many teams under those parameters. The NFBC Main is a gauntlet, and I'm still a rookie at those tables in many ways compared to the field. As much as I like the opportunity to play in 10 different formats, I think I want to focus more on one or two in future years and really try to max out my ability as a player on that stage. Maybe the eventual answer for me is going to be one long-term keeper league, and three or four 15-team mixed leagues. Main and Tout have been the most challenging leagues for me to play in over past three years, but I think that is to be expected.

Has daily passed any season-long formats for you? I'd take it over the shallow mixer in a heartbeat.

Also, I'd pay at least $100 for a chip that auto-mutes Chris Russo from my TV. Is there anything worse than an animatronic Pinoccho screaming in your face?

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Sunday, May 25, 2014 11:34am
To: Derek VanRiper
Subject: Re: Charging the Formats

Let's reverse it here, too.

I feel as if I live in a bubble and am the Pauline Kael of the baseball world, as I don't know anyone that likes Christopher Russo's show. I'm not sure how "screaming marionette" tested well if they did any testing, but then again, he's had a long successful career, so that audience is out there. But he's become the new foil for Brian Kenny on the network, and that bothers me too, as I really like BK and the work he does. It's as if anytime anything remotely sabermetric is mentioned, immediately it's framed in terms of a debate.

Daily hasn't passed my season-long leagues, but I'll cop to paying closer attention to it while the games are going on. One thing that it's done is to underscore just how much fantasy is a zero-sum game. If a starting pitcher is twirling a gem, and he's not on your DFS lineup, it's immediately hurting you in your daily contests because you know that there's a certain percentage out there that is using him. And if I don't have him in any of your regular leagues, that's bothersome but I don't always acknowledge the impact. That effect is magnified with hitters - Chris Davis has three homers in one game, not only did I not use him in DFS, but it helps me nowhere.

I only play in one shallow mixed league, and I enjoy it, but that's mostly because it's a live-draft league with friends that I met through the kids' school. Home leagues with live drafts still are the best, especially when they include a mid-draft barbeque break.

I agree with your NL stream options, except that twice now I've been burned streaming against the Cubs (with Tyler Lyons) and Padres (with Edwin Jackson). The latter - that's my own fault, I should know better than to trust Edwin Jackson. Targeting the Reds on the road seems like an especially profitable proposition. In the AL, the Rays seem especially vulnerable against lefties - a lot of good starts so far against them. They don't have the right-handed equivalent of Matt Joyce, especially while Longo and Myers are struggling.

My one "victory lap" player is Brian Dozier - I have him in four leagues and was a purposeful target, thanks to his double-digit production in homers and stolen bases last year. Obviously he's producing beyond my expectations and I don't expect him to become a 30-30 player or anything, but wherever I waited on middle infielders, he and Andrelton Simmons were my primary targets.

Once again, I struggled with the timing and identification of my closers in the NFBC Main Event. I passed on Steve Cishek and took Jim Johnson instead, and passed on Huston Street as well. I have one closer with the job right now, Jonathan Papelbon, and that was looking pretty dicey in the first week. I haven't yet cut Jim Johnson, but this could be the week for that. Did you avoid that disaster? If you still had him anywhere, is he a cut this week?

-----Original Message-----
From: Derek VanRiper
Sent: Monday, May 26, 2014 1:48pm
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging the Formats

I dropped my two shares of Jim Johnson approximately two weeks ago. Is he completely dunbar?

I can't help but wonder if the cost of closers via trade is significantly higher than on draft day given the attrition we've seen through two months.

As Dozier goes, I keep looking at his past calendar year production on the FanGraphs leaderboards. It keeps getting better by the day, because the adjustments he made to his swing didn't really start to pay off until June last season. Perhaps he's a top-50 overall player who still isn't being treated as such?

This is going to be a huge two-week stretch of trades for me. The Tout Wars roster I built that many were high on back in March is hovering around the middle of the standings. It's been pitching, as I noted previously, but I'm losing the faith with Liriano and Matt Garza. Both are on the bench this week for me with two-start options Nick Tepesch, Jacob deGrom, Tyler Skaggs and one-start Jake Arrieta (@SF) all in the lineup ahead of them. I was also burned by Edwin Jackson on Friday night. Fortunately, I had some Dragon's Milk on hand to divert my mind from that shellacking.

With regards to trades, I think I need to get a better feel for the owners in my leagues. Some in our industry (and on our staff) are more patient with slow starters than others. Other owners are more dismissive of players having a breakout season because their performance is often far from an established base line. I can't help but wonder if there is a way to leverage those tendencies into profit. Also, I am in no way surprised that the only board game Fred Zinkie plays is Settlers of Catan. I can't even imagine the amount of wheat and timber he would move over the course of a game.

I drive past two cemeteries each day on the way to the RotoWire office. Driving in this morning, I felt chills seeing the hundreds of American flags lined up next to the tombstones. For the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend our freedom, and to the families that have lost their loved ones, I am definitely thinking of you today.