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Fantasy Fever: April 25
Statistics are ingrained in the fiber of baseball. Their magnitude in the game is unparalleled, as their being is central to the narrative of the sport. Few could rattle off Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career NBA point total or Brett Favre’s accrual of passing yards, but Hank Aaron’s 755 homers, Teddy Ballgame’s .406 batting average in 1941, Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits…these are figures the common fan knows by heart. It’s why steroid usage is treated as a monstrosity on the diamond, yet relatively pardoned on the gridiron or hardwood, evidenced by the contrasting outlooks on the recent tribulations of Alex Rodriguez and Ray Lewis. In the eyes of purists, compromising the sanctity of these numbers depreciates baseball’s core, and in turn, it’s portrayal.
However, while stats remain an imperative factor in the equation, perhaps it’s time we fine-tune the formula. For decades, certain benchmarks, thresholds and plateaus have been employed to judge performance. A batting average under .200 gestured struggles with the lumber, a basher was one capable of 25 homers, a lights-out ace held 20 wins in his holster. Though these denominators once held true, their correlation to success and failure has weakened.
Part of this change in perspective derives from a better understanding of the game. Granted, some connotations, both good and bad, retain their accuracy, as scoring 100 runs is still a commendable feat and a battle with the Mendoza line endures as a red flag, but some measurements have lost their meaning thanks to the evolving study of baseball. Formerly viewed as a gauge of pitching worth, the concept of wins has lost most of its luster, as the metric is based too much on providence and coincidence rather than a hurler’s output. Batting average, though relevant, has fallen behind on-base percentage in assessing execution at the plate. The save has been exposed as owning the same importance as an episode of The Voice.
Yet on the whole, conventional yardsticks are losing merit due to a transforming environment in America’s pastime. Offensive explosions are no longer the norm, as a power shift has bestowed a premium on pitching. This sentiment is illustrated in the variance in team averages from the past five years:
MLB League Average Breakdown
The impulsive response to this data is to blame the fallout on the steroid era, and certainly that answer holds a semblance of credence. However, this is a tad presumptuous and not entirely accurate, as we’ve learned those on the mound were just as guilty, if not more so, in engaging in performance-enhancing substances as hitters. More importantly, this is not the only catalyst for the lack of fireworks. Defense has gained a greater emphasis in the last decade, in terms of alignment, shifts and positioning toward a batter’s tendencies. Scouting and sabermetrics have pointed out hitting flaws that previously went unnoticed. The specialization and increased involvement of the bullpen has reduced the blow to starting pitchers in their later innings. Advancements in arm care, with its dividends shown in rising velocity, and a league-wide trend of wider strike zones have also aided this revolution.
The new atmosphere conveys revision in our targets for appraisal. For example, despite 25 ribbies in his first 20 games, there’s hesitancy on Mike Napoli’s season-long endorsement, with worries of a mediocre batting average hurting a team’s harvest in said category. Though Napoli should improve on his .227 average last season, his current .268 mark is a more probable outcome than regenerating to his production of .320 in 2011. Still, while this average could have been a detriment in the past, in our current state of the game, Napoli’s hitting is seen as passable. Moreover, as power is becoming a scarce endowment, players who dig the long ball like Napoli and Josh Reddick are seeing an uptick in fantasy stature.
In the same regard, we must modify our canons for pitchers. Those with high strikeout figures, like Brandon Morrow or Ian Kennedy, must cease to lean on such laurels to negate an inflated ERA. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, starters with a low K rate, like Kyle Lohse or Andy Pettitte, have to be dealin’ to counteract a low propensity of punch-outs.
Keep these conditions in mind when mining for free agents or weighing trade options, as others in your league may be under the guidance of old standards. Knowing the new layout of the game will give you the upper hand in writing a good ending to the story of your fantasy season.
Players to Watch
J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays backstop has always wielded a mean hammer, racking up 41 homers in a modest 231 games the past two years, yet has wrestled mightily with patience, with 241 strikeouts versus 54 walks in the aforementioned span. What’s changed this year? Frankly, not much: in 21 contests in 2013, Arencibia has an eye-popping 32 whiffs against two – yes, two free passes. Nevertheless, his league-leading eight blasts in the early going, coupled with the miseries of top-tier catchers like Matt Wieters, Victor Martinez and Miguel Montero, make Arencibia a must-have at an offensively-deprived position. Available in nearly half of FOXSports.com leagues, Arencibia’s abysmally-low walk rate hurts his value in OBP formats, but for divisions that account strictly for average, the 27-year-old catcher is worth the roster spot.
Jean Segura, Brewers
The gem in the Zack Greinke trade last season, Segura’s been swinging a sweet stick out of the gate, logging 26 hits in 73 at bats. His ownership rate (53.5 percent) has failed to parallel with this streak, even though Segura’s career .313 minor-league average states this display is not an aberration. While his work with the wood is impressive, it’s Segura’s drive on the base paths that boosts his stock, leading the majors with six swipes. Add in his heightened position in the two-hole in the Brewers lineup, and Segura has a shot to finish as a top-five contributor at short this season.
Alex Cobb, Rays
This statement might seem brazen, but Cobb has been better than his 1.82 ERA expresses, as his last three opponents (the Red Sox, Yankees and Athletics) all rank in the top five in runs scored in the American League. The Tampa righty has accomplished such feats by surrendering just four walks in his last 22 1/3 innings versus 16 strikeouts in that frame. As long as he can cut down on his 23.2 line-drive percentage, Cobb, available in 40 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, has the ceiling of a SP3.
Carlos Villanueva, Cubs
John Halpin and I discussed Villanueva’s prospects last Friday on the Fantasy 15 podcast, with my esteemed colleague slightly more enthused on the cannon’s forecast than my estimation. Part of this reservation stems from John’s sunny disposition contrasted with my Eeyore-like demeanor, part of it lies in watching Villanueva post a 4.16 ERA in over 125 innings with the Brewers last season, with a 4.50 ERA in 16 games as a starter. However, after his fourth consecutive strong outing this year (8 1/3 innings, three hits, two walks, six strikeouts and two runs – one which was allowed by Carlos Marmol – against the Reds on April 23), it’s time to readjust my evaluation. His .164 BABIP, perfect left-on-base percentage and 4.06 FIP state he’s been the beneficiary of fortune thus far, and he won’t get much help from a beleaguered Cubs offense. Even so, you can’t disregard his lowered walk rate and higher ground-ball percentage, and available in over 60 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, NL-only formats could use an arm like Villanueva.
Didi Gregorius, Diamondbacks
In last week’s column, Gregorius was a victim in my jabs at Arizona GM Kevin Towers, making light of the shortstop’s lack of hitting prowess. Perhaps I should amend that to “perceived lack of hitting prowess” as Gregorius is 10-for-27, including two jacks and two doubles, in his first six games with the D-backs. Before the call-up, the 23-year-old prospect was hitting .387 in Triple-A Reno in seven games. Concededly, the Pacific Coast League is an offensive-based division, but as Gregorius was known for his glove rather than his bat in the Cincinnati farm system, his performance is quite remarkable. Gregorius definitely warrants a look in NL-only or deep leagues.
Players to Avoid
Brett Anderson, A’s
After taking care of business against the lowly Mariners and Astros in his first two outings, Anderson has been rocked in his past three appearances, yielding 17 runs in just 10 2/3 innings. In his defense, going against the Tigers and Red Sox did not help his cause, and he does brandish a 9.13 K/9. Alas, until he gets a handle of his control (nearly five walks per nine innings), Anderson is best suited for your bench.
Mike Moustakas, Royals
Full disclosure: I love me some Moustakas. It could be because of his power (20 homers in his first full season in the majors last year), his nickname (Moooooooooooooose) or for the simple fact that Kansas City is a lovely town with fantastic people (in spite of my old roommate Vince residing in the City of Fountains). Regardless of this affection, it’s time to start worrying about Moustakas, who is stuck on the interstate (.148 average) in 16 games this year. Combined with his troubles in the second half of 2012 (.211/.325/.586 in 70 contests following the All-Star break), Moustakas doesn’t justify a roster spot at the moment.
Ben Revere, Phillies
Remember, we are only 22 contests in on a 162-game season, and Revere has historically been a slow starter. Still, a .183 average in his last 16 games is hard to defend. Don’t send Revere packing to the waiver wire, as he will, eventually, contribute to your run, stole base and average categories. For the time being, though, the former Twin should serve as a substitute, not starter, on your roto squad. Speaking of Twins…
Justin Morneau, Twins
Since that ridiculous start to the 2010 campaign (.345/.437/.618, 18 homers, 56 RBI in 81 games), a plethora of ailments has led to just 220 games in the past three years, putting up a pedestrian .252/.315/.398 slash. Target Field’s expansive dimensions deserve partial blame, but his health is the main culprit to this decline. Turning 32 in May, proprietors clinging to a rejuvenation for the former MVP are awaiting magic that will never materialize. Man, does that sound depressing, but they’re called “truth bombs” for a reason.
Mitchell Boggs, Cardinals
Four hits, four runs and only one out against the Phils on April 21 officially delivered the boot to Boggs’ reign as St. Louie’s fireman, meaning…
Goodbye Boggs, hello Edward Mujica. Solid in 29 appearances for the Cardinals after coming over from Miami last summer (26 1/3 innings, 1.03 ERA, 0.87 WHIP), Mujica is making the most of his opportunity, already charting four saves since April 18. With Jason Motte likely done for the year, Mujica looks to be the man in the ninth for St. Louis. In other closer news…wait a minute…is that…oh my, that’s…that’s Jose Valverde’s music! Papa Grande returned to Detroit on Wednesday, retiring the heart of the Royals order to give the Tigers the W. Though fireballer Bruce Rondon is now with the big-league ball club, Valverde is the unquestioned finisher in Motown. Staying with the Royals, Kelvin Herrera’s rough week gives Greg Holland some breathing room, and despite Jim Henderson’s brilliance, it appears the Brewers might give John Axford another shot at closing. If such an event transpires, stay the course with Henderson, as Axford is…well, not good.
Waivers Watch: Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks
I wanted to advocate for Corbin last week, but was fearful of upcoming dates against the Yankees and Giants. (Note to all the single ladies out there: Bryan Mills I am not.) Allowing just three runs in 14 1/3 innings of work against such formidable foes more than certifies his standing this week, as the 23-year-old lefty possesses a 1.71 ERA and 0.99 WHIP on the young season. I’m slightly concerned about the surfeit of frozen ropes Corbin concedes, and with a moderate 6.84 K/9 rate, I’d like to see his 2.39 BB/9 mark drop. All the same, there are more positives than negatives in attaining Corbin, who is available in 72 percent of FOXSports.com leagues.
Rookie Review: Tony Cingrani, Reds
Filling in for the injured Johnny Cueto, Cingrani has looked sharp in two starts with Cincinnati, granting a mere three runs versus 17 strikeouts in 12 innings. True, his two adversaries have been the Quadruple-A Marlins and Cubs, but the whiff rate is no anomaly, as Cingrani recorded 26 Ks in 14 1/3 innings in Louisville before his promotion. Cingrani would need two more gems to coincide with a Mike Leake meltdown to keep his spot in the rotation when Cueto returns. Although the latter circumstance is certainly possible (more like Mike “Weak,” am I right?), Cingrani faces a tough opponent in his next scheduled start against the Nationals. However, if you’re willing to take a gamble, Cingrani’s strikeouts, mixed with an occasionally-potent Reds offense, could offer major paybacks in the short term.
Big League Chew Player of the Week: Daniel Nava and Neil Diamond, Red Sox
Nava’s eighth-inning homer last Saturday in Fenway capped an emotional week for the New England area, giving Boston a brief respite from the madness that entangled the region. Sometimes the hyperbolic noise around sports becomes too deafening, but this was truly a moment that transcended the game. Congrats to Nava, and to all those still fighting though last week’s tragic events, stay strong.
As for Neil…more than ever, I wanna party with you, cowboy.
Spit Your Tobacco at: The Weather
Seriously, May is a week away. Knock it off with the wind, rain and snow. This isn’t London.
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