Articles by Charlie Zegers

A listing of all the articles written by Charlie Zegers for the RotoWire Blog.

Rookies and Sleepers and Draft Values

My brief appearance on the Rotowire NBA preview show on XM was made even briefer by my crappy mobile service. As I hate for you all to be deprived of my wisdom, here’s what I would have said given the time.

Fantasy Sleepers

One of the players I’m high on this season is New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson. His “stretch big” game is an ideal complement to both Anthony Davis and Omer Asik; he averaged more than three made threes per game last season while shooting over 40% from long range and 44% from the field overall. I expect him to log significant minutes even if he doesn’t start. There have even been reports that Monty Williams will use all three of his bigs together, with Anderson shifting to the three spot.

Continue reading →

Second Place is the First Loser

My friend and colleague at the Daily Racing Form, Peter Thomas Fornatale, wrote an interesting post on his blog this week. He’s talking about strategies for handicapping contests, but the advice applies to fantasy games of all stripes.

It’s OK to finish with zero. One of the biggest mistakes players make in their first contests is to worry about “not embarrassing themselves.” It’s a natural instinct to not want to be at the bottom of the leaderboard, and there’s a sense of safety about ending up somewhere in the middle of the pack. But this instinct will hurt you in the long run.

(Full post here – Fornatale: It’s OK to score zero points)

In a nutshell… playing for third in a league that only pays two spots makes no sense at all. All the spots that don’t pay are tied for last.

You’ll see the same reasoning pretty regularly in Chris Liss’ weekly survivor pool column. And I’d actually argue that the same is true in real sports, which is why I have no problem at all with what the Sixers have been up to for the last few seasons.

(The fact that my performance in my home MLB league has been Sixers-esque for the last couple of seasons does not play into my reasoning at all.)

NBA Preseason Notes

No Love for Minnesota
The Timberwolves will start the season without Kevin Love, who broke two bones in his right (shooting) hand this week. Love will see a specialist on Thursday, but early estimates are that he’ll miss 6-8 weeks, putting the target for his season debut in early December.

Ricky Rubio – still recovering from ACL surgery – is on a similar schedule.

Derrick Williams and Chase Budinger will get additional playing time in Love’s absence, but don’t forget Andrei Kirilenko, who is returning to the NBA after a season in Russia. Kirilenko put up his best fantasy numbers for the Jazz when playing extended minutes at the power forward, before the arrivals of Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap and others pushed him to the three. With Love out, Kirilenko could end up playing extended minutes in his place.

Celtics sign Barbosa
The Celtics signed veteran guard Leandro Barbosa to a one-year deal. This move has "12th man" written all over it… Barbosa did practically nothing for the Pacers last season, and it’s hard to imagine him getting much playing time behind Rajon Rondo, Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and – when healthy – Avery Bradley. That said, the C’s don’t really have a backup point guard on their roster right now. Barbosa is more of a two, but it’s possible he could land some minutes backing Rondo; maybe even enough to be worth a look at some point this season.

Position Battles in Sacramento
Keith Smart has said that Isaiah Thomas will be his starting point guard, but he’s been using Aaron Brooks in that spot of late with Thomas coming off the bench. Jason Thompson has started all three of the Kings’ preseason games and seems to be well ahead of rookie Thomas Robinson in the power forward competition. And Marcus Thornton seems to be settling in to the sixth man role very nicely, which could mean Tyreke Evans will get more run at his natural two-guard spot this year.

Around the League

  • George Karl continues to rave about Kosta Koufos‘ play. At this point, the ex-Ohio State Buckeye seems to be Denver’s starting center over JaVale McGee and Timofey Mozgov. Yes. Really.
  • Ronnie Brewer (knee) practiced for the first time and could make his preseason debut shortly. Mike Woodson seems intent on bringing JR Smith off the bench, so Brewer could be the Knicks’ opening-day starter at the two.
  • Ty Lawson missed last night’s preseason game with an elbow injury, but it isn’t thought to be serious. He should be back in a matter of days.
  • Milwaukee rookie John Henson suffered a left knee injury and will be limited to non-contact activity for the next two weeks. That’s going to hurt his already-slim chances of winning minutes away from Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh.
  • With Kyle Lowry making his Toronto debut, Jose Calderon was limited to 23 minutes last night, but still racked up eight assists. Don’t sleep on Calderon in that category; he may actually be more productive as a bench player.
  • A.J. Price was the latest contestant in the "who will replace John Wall" sweepstakes; the Wizards have already tried Shelvin Mack and Jannero Pargo in that spot. Whoever wins the job will have to hold down the fort until early December, when Wall is expected to return from a knee injury.

Trade Deadline Recap and Fantasy Implications

The biggest deal of at the trade deadline was the one that didn’t happen, as Dwight Howard opted to pass up his early termination option and remain with the Magic for another season. Orlando reportedly had other deals lined up to improve Howard’s supporting cast, but none happened before the deadline. Expect them to be busy this summer.

As for the deals that did happen, and the fantasy implications thereof…

Obviously, the must-get player today is Ramon Sessions, who will be taking over as the Lakers’ starting point guard any day now. Sessions’ role became even more important when the Lakers dealt Derek Fisher to the Rockets; Fish might get a buy-out from the Rockets, but he won’t be able to return to the Lakers this season.

The other must-add is Golden State’s Klay Thompson, who will take over as the Warriors’ starting two now that Monta Ellis is a Milwaukee Buck. Andris Biedrins will return to the starting lineup too… but even with 20-30 minutes a night I have little faith in his ability to produce fantasy-worthy numbers.

I imagine that Richard Jefferson will get 25 minutes or so off the bench for Golden State – he shouldn’t cut into Dorrell Wright’s playing time. Stephen Jackson could be surprisingly effective with the Spurs – Gregg Popovic reportedly loves the guy.

I’m interested to see if pairing Monta Ellis with Brandon Jennings works any better than pairing him with Stephen Curry… it might, because Milwaukee is a much better defensive team than the Warriors. (Of course, that’s sort of like saying, "I’m much taller than my four-year-old daughter.) Ekpe Udoh should continue to get regular minutes and be a good-to-great play for blocks and boards for the rest of the season.

I’m cautiously optimistic about JaVale McGee as a member of the Denver Nuggets. McGee is one of the league’s… uh, how do I say this nicely?… most unique personalities. But he’s also tremendously talented; don’t forget – he very nearly made Team USA for the 2010 FIBA World Championships. And after seeing what George Karl has done for Al Harrington‘s career, I’m inclined to think the Denver coach is a miracle worker. The trade also means that Kenneth Faried is a worthwhile long-term investment; it looks like the rookie will be Denver’s regular starting four for the duration.

Nene’s value probably won’t change a whole lot in Washington.

The deal sending Leandro Barbosa to Indiana makes the Pacers a lot deeper in the backcourt… but could hurt the fantasy numbers of several players, Darren Collison in particular. Meanwhile, Jerryd Bayless should have a larger role in Toronto’s offense for the rest of the year.

The Nets’ acquisition of Gerald Wallace is a bit of a head-scratcher. Billy King doesn’t really think Wallace’s presence is going to help him re-sign Deron Williams, does he? From the Portland side, Nic Batum gets a boost from extra playing time at his natural small forward position.

Marcus Camby won’t hurt Samuel Dalembert‘s production; at this stage of his career, Camby is strictly a (very good) backup.

The Knicks didn’t make any deals at the deadline, but they did make a pretty substantial change, replacing coach Mike D’Antoni with assistant Mike Woodson. That change could hurt the fantasy values of several players, including Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields, as Woodson moves to feature Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemore more heavily and shift to more of a halfcourt offense.

There have been suggestions that Baron Davis will take over the starting job for Lin before long, but that may be over-stating the case.

Second-Tier Stars Could Be on the Move at the Deadline

Will Dwight Howard be traded before the March 15 deadline? I remain unconvinced. Otis Smith will hang on to Howard unless/until it becomes clear that the all-star center has completely ruled out re-signing with the Magic… and let’s bear in mind, he’d have to give up something on the order of $100 million over the life of his next contract to do that.

The idea of playing with Deron Williams in a shiny new arena in downtown Brooklyn is nice. But is it THAT nice?

But even if Howard is taken off the market, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have a quiet trade deadline. Who else could be on the move by March 15th, and how can fantasy owners take advantage?

The Lakers
This team needs an infusion of new blood. And fast. Pau Gasol has been a good soldier for much of this season, even after he was included in the aborted Chris Paul trade… but he seems like the odd man out. That makes him an excellent "buy low" candidate… play up the uncertainty angle in trade discussions and hope his current owner doesn’t realize that Gasol would be the featured scorer on just about any team but the Lakers (or Heat, or Thunder).

Andrew Bogut
According to a report by ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Bucks have started listening to offers for Bogut – but are insisting that any deal also include disgruntled guard/forward Stephen Jackson. Why the change? Bogut’s injuries are a big factor, as is the fact that, like Jackson, he has apparently become less than thrilled with coach Scott Skiles and his abrasive style.

Stein went on to suggest the Wizards as a potential trade partner, and a deal involving JaVale McGee. Of course, the idea of "Pierre" with Skiles might be even funnier than the idea that he and Jackson were ever going to co-exist peacefully.

Reading between the lines, I can’t help but wonder if Bucks management is also becoming disenchanted with Skiles. That’s a situation worth watching; a coaching change and more fantasy-friendly system could mean a big boost in value for players like Bogut and Brandon Jennings next season.

Josh Smith
Atlanta’s Josh Smith is reportedly unhappy and asking for a trade. He doesn’t have a ton of leverage – he’s not slated to hit free agency until summer 2013.

The Hawks are in an awkward spot right now. They can’t fairly assess the team with Al Horford sidelined for the year; many believe they’d be a top-three team in the East if they were at full strength. At the same time, their salary situation is going to get very ugly over the next few years as Joe Johnson gets older.

The Warriors seem to be involved in every trade rumor, so it’s no surprise that Golden State has been mentioned as a potential destination for both Johnson and Smith.

The Rockets
Daryl Morey’s attempts to re-shape his roster in the offseason fell through when David Stern vetoed the proposed Lakers/Hornets/Rockets iteration of the Chris Paul trade. He’s apparently still looking to make moves, and could be an aggressive shopper at the deadline.

One of the players Houston could be offering is Kyle Lowry. That makes Goran Dragic a really nice "buy low" candidate between now and the deadline. If Lowry is moved and Dragic takes over the starting job, his value will go through the roof.

Anthony and Stoudemire, and Do You Want ‘Em for the Rest of This Season?

I think Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire are going to co-exist nicely, and even thrive, for the rest of this season.

But I wouldn’t want to own either one of them in a fantasy league.

The Knicks’ comeback win over Cleveland earlier this week may have been alarming to owners of several Knicks – Stoudemire and Anthony in particular. Not because the Knicks struggled to defend Kyrie Irving and Antawn Jamison in the first half and fell behind by 17… because the comeback was driven, in large part, by Steve Novak, Baron Davis, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.

With Jeremy Lin solidifying the starting five with his steady play, Novak emerging as a very dangerous outside-shooting threat with Davis and Smith read to make a real contribution, the Knicks suddenly look like one of the deepest teams in the NBA. Consider – Toney Douglas and Bill Walker have both spent significant amounts of this season in the starting lineup; today, they’re Mike D’Antoni’s eleventh and twelfth men.

Generally speaking, Mike D’Antoni prefers to run a short, playoff-style rotation. This season – with a particularly deep team and a highly-compressed schedule, a seven-man rotation makes very little sense. And the Knicks’ second unit gives the team a very different look than the starting five – a high-energy lineup that plays very good, frenetic defense.

Look for the Knicks to go ten-deep for the rest of this season. Lin will give way to Baron Davis. Landry Fields and Anthony will give way to JR Smith, Iman Shumpert and Steve Novak, while Jared Jeffries spells Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. And what that means some of the Knicks bench players will have more value than anyone expected, especially category specialists Novak (threes) and Shumpert (steals), it is going to hurt the numbers of top-of-rotation players – STAT and ‘Melo especially.

Innings Eaters

Last week, in this space, I talked about how batting average is calculated and scored in standard fantasy baseball leagues, and how players who rack up lots of at-bats have a bigger impact on team BA. That principle may be even more important when drafting pitchers, as two of the four pitching categories tracked in standard 4×4 Rotisserie leagues – ERA and WHIP – are also calculated as team-wide percentages.

As most casual fans know, ERA – Earned Run Average – is computed by dividing the number of “earned” runs allowed by number of innings pitched. WHIP is short for “Walks plus Hits over Innings Pitched” – the formula is right there in the name. The way those stats are computed makes innings pitched – a stat that doesn’t “count” directly in most league formats – a crucial consideration when drafting pitchers.
Here’s a list of pitchers that is projecting will pitch more than 200 innings this season and have an ERA under 3.50:

Felix Hernandez SEA 34 241 75 2.8 1.124
Roy Halladay PHI 34 238 65 2.46 1.025
Clayton Kershaw LA 34 236 71 2.71 1.051
Justin Verlander DET 34 236 79 3.01 1.119
Dan Haren ANA 34 236 89 3.39 1.102
CC Sabathia NY-A 33 235 81 3.1 1.217
Cliff Lee PHI 32 228 69 2.72 1.061
Jered Weaver ANA 33 228 79 3.12 1.149
Ricky Romero TOR 33 222 81 3.28 1.216
Cole Hamels PHI 33 221 70 2.85 1.023
Tim Lincecum SF 33 219 70 2.88 1.169
Matt Cain SF 33 219 79 3.25 1.142
David Price TB 33 218 73 3.01 1.142
C.J. Wilson ANA 33 215 74 3.1 1.214
Yovani Gallardo MIL 33 211 74 3.16 1.204
Dan Hudson AZ 32 211 77 3.28 1.161
R.A. Dickey NY-N 33 211 76 3.24 1.171
Matt Garza CHI-N 33 209 75 3.23 1.196
Adam Wainwright STL 31 205 75 3.29 1.273
Gio Gonzalez WAS 33 205 79 3.47 1.341
Josh Beckett BOS 31 203 75 3.33 1.094
Wandy Rodriguez HOU 32 203 75 3.33 1.261
Jon Lester BOS 32 202 72 3.21 1.203
Yu Darvish TEX 31 201 72 3.22 1.149

Unsurprisingly, King Felix tops the list, followed by superstars like Halladay, Kershaw and Verlander. Hernandez throws enough innings – and at low enough ratios – that he more than makes up for the wins he might miss due to Seattle’s suspect offense. But you might be surprised to see names like Arizona’s Dan Hudson – his detractors are quick to point out his sub-par strikeout rate. Yu Darvish is another mild surprise – 200 innings and a 3.22 ERA seems like a lot to ask of the rookie, especially as he gets acclimated to the United States, American League hitters and the Texas heat – but this projection would seem to indicate he’s worth the risk.
What about the category killers? Pitchers have to perform at least reasonably well to accumulate big innings numbers; pitchers who struggle tend to get yanked early or lose their spots in the rotation. But is predicting that the following players will reach my somewhat-arbitrary 200-inning mark with ERAs over 4.00.

Carl Pavano MIN 32 218 100 4.13 1.312
Brett Myers HOU 33 211 101 4.31 1.351
Randy Wolf MIL 33 208 95 4.11 1.404
Luke Hochevar KC 33 207 98 4.26 1.227
Jeremy Guthrie COL 33 207 94 4.09 1.324
Bronson Arroyo CIN 33 203 103 4.57 1.355
Ricky Nolasco MIA 32 201 95 4.25 1.299
Ryan Dempster CHI-N 33 201 93 4.16 1.383
Mike Pelfrey NY-N 32 201 100 4.48 1.403

In most formats, you’d be better off with an unproven youngster with upside than any of these “proven veterans.”

Punting Saves

The disparity in innings pitched between top starters, who will pitch upwards of 200 innings in a given season, and top closers, who usually don’t pitch more than 70, is one of the reasons the “punting saves” strategy can work in many leagues.

Even the best closers don’t throw enough innings to have much of an impact on the percentage categories – they really only matter in the “saves” column. So you have to ask – does it make sense to use a high draft pick or a great deal of your auction budget on a closer, when that pick or that money could go towards a starting pitcher that can impact three categories – or a hitter that can impact four?

And that’s in standard 4×4 category leagues, which count Wins, ERA, WHIP and Saves. In a 5×5 – which adds strikeouts to the list of pitching categories – the overall impact of a top closer is even smaller.