Fantasy Baseball

Can Davis' fantasy streak continue? Dave Regan
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Do We Reset Expectations for Todd Frazier?

After batting .273/.331/.498 a year ago, the Reds appeared to have found their third baseman of the future, particularly given that a Scott Rolen reunion did not happen. Frazier's 2.6 WAR ranked him 12th among third basemen with a minimum of 450 PA last year, but I still didn't view him as a top-10 third baseman this year. Part of it had to do with his age, 27. The other part was that his 22.2-percent K rate ranked fourth worst mark among the same pool of third basemen, and his 7.7-percent BB rate wasn't spectacular, either. This year Frazier is off to a hot start, batting .414/.485/.793 through his first seven games. An unsustainable .474 BABIP is a big part of that, but that doesn't explain his healthy .379 ISO. Frazier showed 15-20 homer power in the minors, and those types don't normally spike into the 35-40 range, but being on a big-league roster and improving his conditioning has allowed Frazier to put himself in a position to hit 25 perhaps. If he can maintain this year's 9.1-percent BB rate, Frazier could finish in the .275-.280 range with the bat, and that would probably result in a healthy return on your fantasy investment.

Which Closers are, or are Soon to be, on the Hot Seat?

John Axford and Carlos Marmol have already lost their jobs, and we know more are to come. Who might those be? Here are a few who are either already on the hot seat or could potential be in the near term:

Greg Holland, KC - Holland has already blown one save and been pulled from another save situation, but no official change has been made. Aaron Crow earned the save Monday, but, per manager Ned Yost, only because Holland and Kelvin Herrera had pitched on consecutive days. Based on that, we have to assume Holland gets one more chance, but you'd be wise to pick up Herrera in all leagues, and even Crow in deeper formats. Holland still has his mid-90s fastball and is coming off two very good seasons as a setup man, so there may still be hope for his future as a closer.

Mitchell Boggs, STL - If you saw the end of the game against the Reds, you know why Boggs is on this list. Boggs had a solid 2.21 ERA as a setup man last year, but that came with a so-so (for a closer) 7.1 K/9, and he's shown slightly less in the velocity department so far this year. Trevor Rosenthal is probably next in line, as he'd bring a fastball that averages a whopping 97.4 mph.

Joaquin Benoit, DET - Benoit appears to be the closer in Detroit, though he has yet to record a save. Benoit has been one of baseball's better setup men the last three years, though allowing 14 homers in 71 innings in 2012 was far from ideal. Benoit, though, has excellent control and a good fastball (92-95), so he could very well take this job and run with it. If not, the Tigers would probably turn to Octavio Dotel unless Bruce Rondon fares really well in Triple-A.

Casey Janssen, TOR - Janssen appears healthy after dealing with shoulder issues this spring, but given the health concerns and the relative lack of experience in the role, he could find himself back in a setup position at some point this year. Sergio Santos appears healthy after shoulder surgery, and Santos already has one save, so there's already a little nervousness (or there should be) among Janssen's fantasy owners. Santos is throwing just as hard now (95-plus mph) as he did before the surgery, so go ahead and grab him as a speculative pickup if you can afford the space.

Sleepers to Target in OBP leagues

It seems more and more leagues (including the famous Tout Wars) are moving away from AVG over to OBP as one of the five hitting categories. Who knows, perhaps someday a typical 5x5 league will look like this:

Hitting: OBP, SLG, net steals, wRC+, BB/K

Pitching: K/9, BB/9, HR/9, net saves, xFIP

To dig up some undervalued OBP players, I did a simple query of all stats for all hitters from 2010-2013 and took the net result of their OBP less their batting average. Batting average can vary from year to year due to fluctuations in BABIP, but a hitter who consistently posts a high spread between his average and OBP is a hitter who is either feared, and walked a lot, or he's very disciplined. Perhaps both in some cases. It was less than shocking to see the likes of Delmon Young and Yuniesky Betancourt near the bottom of this list, but here are 20 players who may not hit for a high average, but do draw enough walks to increase their values in OBP leagues:

Carlos Pena 1,811 .205 .335 .130
Adam Dunn 1,818 .212 .329 .117
Carlos Santana 1,489 .253 .367 .114
Mark Reynolds 1,781 .215 .326 .111
Josh Willingham 1,660 .257 .362 .105
John Jaso 1,057 .258 .361 .103
Rickie Weeks 1,979 .256 .349 .093
Matt Joyce 1,267 .255 .346 .091
Logan Morrison 1,146 .250 .339 .089
Chris Young 1,704 .244 .333 .089
Kelly Johnson 1,884 .244 .330 .086
Justin Smoak 1,449 .222 .306 .084
Gaby Sanchez 1,650 .256 .332 .076
Danny Espinosa 1,452 .238 .314 .076
Pedro Alvarez 1,260 .233 .307 .074
John Buck 1,392 .238 .311 .073
Will Venable 1,343 .250 .322 .072
Dustin Ackley 1,069 .239 .310 .071
Jimmy Rollins 1,756 .256 .325 .069

It's not surprising to see Pena top this list, as he's about the only guy who can threaten .200 and still be rostered in a lot of leagues because of his power potential. Same with Adam Dunn, who we hope and pray gets to .240 in AVG leagues. He's quite a bit more valuable in OBP formats. ... I'm loving Mark Reynolds in the middle of my lineup in my Scoresheet league right now, as his power and on-base ability are both quite valuable in Sim formats. ... Pedro Alvarez and Justin Smoak are a pair of young corner infielders struggling to make contact, but showing a decent batting eye. Alvarez you know is going to hit for some power, but Smoak you just don't know what you're going to get. ... Chris Young is worth a spot in most formats for his speed and power, but he's always been a low AVG guy with some on-base ability. ... John Buck is off to a great start this year, batting .375 with three home runs and an NL-leading 12 RBI. He's a solid catcher option in OBP leagues, at least until Travis d'Arnaud takes his job later in the year. Buck had another great game Tuesday, including HR No. 4. ... I have Danny Espinosa in a Strat-o-Matic league, and though he doesn't hit for average, his glove, power and adequate OBP skills make him a definite asset. ... Logan Morrison once hit .332/.402/.494 as a 20-year old in High-A, but since a solid rookie year in 2010, he's been a massive disappointment. Morrison is now out until sometime in May with a knee injury, and it's tough to expect much this year. I'd certainly stash him in deep OBP leagues, but the ceiling he once appeared to have is now likely unattainable.

Velocity Risers and Fallers

Velocity isn't everything, but it's a big thing when you are a pitcher. Sure, there are going to be the Greg Maddux and R.A. Dickey types who for various reasons succeed in spite of a well below average fastball. At the same time, simple physics tells us that all else being equal (and it often isn't, but that's a different discussion), throwing the ball faster gives the hitter less time to react, thus lowering the probability that he will reach base. Let's take a look at a few pitchers who are showing increased fastball velocity this year compared to last year, as well as those who aren't throwing as hard.

Here pitchers who have GAINED at least .2 mph on their fastball:

James Shields 92.3 93.3 1.0
Ian Kennedy 89.7 90.4 0.7
Tim Hudson 89.0 89.7 0.7
Trevor Cahill 89.4 90.1 0.7
A.J. Burnett 92.3 92.9 0.6
Yu Darvish 92.8 93.4 0.6
Madison Bumgarner 91.1 91.6 0.5
Derek Holland 93.0 93.4 0.4
Joe Saunders 88.9 89.2 0.3
Adam Wainwright 90.1 90.3 0.2
Josh Johnson 92.8 93.0 0.2

Shields is the big gainer here, but he's already allowed 18 hits in just 12 innings. More encouraging, however, is his 14:1 K:BB, so with the increased velocity, the Royals should count on plenty of good outings from their ace. ... Holland's velocity dipped a little last year as he allowed a whopping 32 home runs in 27 starts, so it's good to see that's not a trend that is continuing so far in 2013. ... Kennedy is throwing harder and keeping the ball on the ground early, so expect a level of performance somewhere near the middle of his 2011 and 2012 seasons. ... Darvish has 20 strikeouts in his first two starts, and with the Astros now in the division, 250 punch outs and a top-three Cy Young finish are both possible.

Here are pitchers who have lost at least 1.5 mph off their fastball:

Justin Verlander 94.3 91.1 (3.2)
Tommy Hanson 89.7 87.1 (2.6)
Felix Hernandez 92.1 89.7 (2.4)
CC Sabathia 92.3 90.0 (2.3)
Jered Weaver 87.8 85.5 (2.3)
James McDonald 91.8 89.6 (2.2)
Gio Gonzalez 93.1 91.1 (2.0)
C.J. Wilson 91.7 89.8 (1.9)
Zack Greinke 92.4 90.6 (1.8)
Mat Latos 92.6 90.8 (1.8)
Ervin Santana 91.7 90.1 (1.6)
Jeremy Hellickson 91.4 89.8 (1.6)
Tommy Milone 87.7 86.1 (1.6)
Edwin Jackson 93.5 91.9 (1.6)
Clay Buchholz 92.2 90.7 (1.5)
Yovani Gallardo 91.8 90.3 (1.5)

I guess I won't be concerned that Verlander averaged just 90.9 mph in his first start, but this is the lowest radar gun average of his career. Verlander's last three first starts of the season (2010-2012) yielded averages of 97.7, 93.9 and 93.2. He always seems to get stronger as the year progresses, but perhaps keep an eye on this. Verlander did bump it up to 91.4 mph in his second start this year, but that's still far from what we expect from him. ... King Felix keeps getting results all the while his velocity keeps tumbling from year to year. This year's 7.1 K/9 would be a career-low should it hold, but I guess we won't worry until he starts getting shelled. ... I'm still a bit wary of CC Sabathia, but he did fare well against the Tigers, making him still a top-15 starter. ... Hanson can probably be an effective No. 4 starter with this velocity, but he'll need to get last year's 3.7 BB/9 more in line with his 3.1 career mark.

Can these Hot Starters Avoid Flaming Out?

We already covered a couple players who have started hot (Frazier, Buck), but here are a few more with my take on each:

Gerardo Parra (OF-ARI) - Parra is so good defensively, that I'd really like to see him play every day, even against lefties. Parra is just 0-for-8 against southpaws this year, but from 2010-2012, he's hit them at a .712 OPS clip, a mark that is just 27 points below that against right-handers. He homered once every 40 at-bats versus left-handers versus once every 79.5 at-bats against right-handers. This is not a hitter who deserves to be platooned. Parra is off to a nice start this year, batting .364/.417/.636. Parra would be the fourth outfielder if not for the injury to Adam Eaton, who will be back in early-to-mid May barring any setbacks. If Parra is still hitting this well when Eaton returns, manager Kirk Gibson will have a bit of a dilemma. Trading Jason Kubel is an option, but he's being counted on to help fill the power void from Justin Upton's departure. It might be good to sell high on Parra later this month if he's still hot.

Carlos Santana (C-CLE) - Dodgers fans who remember the deal involving Santana and Casey Blake can't help but cringe every time Santana gets hot. He's hot now to the tune of .500/.567/.885. Santana is hitting just .253 as a pro, but he's always showed good power and excellent plate discipline, so a push into the .270 range this year seems possible given his hot start. Santana hit .281/.389/.498 over the second half last year, so perhaps he's figured a few things out.

Chris Davis (1B-BAL) - Well, the 33 homers last year confirmed that he could hit for power in the big leagues, but the .270 average was a bit of a surprise given his 169 strikeouts. Davis is off to a blistering start, batting .417/.500/1.042 with four homers and a major-league leading 17 RBI. He's really seeing the ball now, as Davis has fanned in just 13.3 percent of his PA to date versus a 30.7-percent career mark. If Davis can keep the strikeouts in the 25-percent range for the year, .270 with 35 home runs and 120 RBI may be possible. That would provide plenty of profit to those fantasy owners who either targeted Davis or had him fall into their laps.

Jose Reyes (SS-MIA) - Reyes was my No. 1 shortstop entering the season, so his .444 average, homer and three stolen bases are not a huge surprise. In that lineup on turf, I can see Reyes stealing 50 bases and competing for a batting title. This start is legitimate.

Yu Darvish (SP-TEX) - Maybe I'm overreacting based on one of two starts being against the lowly Astros, but is it really a question that Darvish is a top-10 starter? By the time I'm writing this column in September, he may easily be a top-5 guy. Darvish's 4.2 BB/9 last year was the only black mark on his solid rookie season, and that seems likely to drop quite a bit this year now that he's had a year to adjust to the States.

Brett Anderson (SP-OAK) - Anderson appears fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, as he sports a 1.38 ERA and 16:6 K:BB in 13 innings. The six walks are a bit much, but probably nothing to be overly concerned about at this point. He's averaging 91.6 mph with his fastball, a mark that compares favorably to his pre-injury numbers. There's no reason why Anderson can't be a top-30 starter, and with the Astros in the division, that may be conservative.

Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner.

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Tagged: Orioles, Angels, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Royals, Brewers, Yankees, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays, Braves, Cubs, Reds, Astros, Nationals, Mets, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Padres, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Rays, CC Sabathia, Tim Hudson, Adam Dunn, Joaquin Benoit, Carlos Pena, John Buck, Jose Reyes, Chris Young, Delmon Young, Adam Wainwright, Ervin Santana, Justin Verlander, Josh Johnson, Casey Janssen, James Shields, Carlos Marmol, Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton, Ian Kennedy, Mitchell Boggs, Chris Davis, Will Venable, Derek Holland, Brett Anderson, John Axford, Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison, Pedro Alvarez, Justin Smoak, Sergio Santos, John Jaso, Tommy Hanson, Gerardo Parra, Mat Latos, Greg Holland, Danny Espinosa

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