MLB barometer: FAAB budget management

July 26, 2017

If you’re still reading this column, that means your teams are still in the hunt, you’re trying to hold on to your lead, or you’re simply happy to read about baseball. With football training camp and NFL drafts on the horizon, now is the best time for us to double-down our attention on finishing the fantasy baseball strong while others shift their attention elsewhere.

With many of our FAAB budgets getting tighter, I urge you to be more meticulous and discerning when throwing money on bids in a given week. Keep in mind that if we have less than $100 left (10% of our $1,000 budget) we’re going to want to save at least $40 or $50 for the final month when teams get closer to clinching, rosters expand and SP two-steps are necessary.

FAAB is a whole different animal in August than when it was in April and May where we could haphazardly toss big bids on every player we like. As you’ve noticed, there is always someone with upside worth bidding on -- each and every week.

My NFBC Main Event team that’s in first place in its league is barely hanging on in the top 10 overall. A few of my starting pitchers regressed sharply (Berrios, J.Montgomery), I lost my third closer (Bush), have been running lineups without my SP2 (Keuchel) and recently lost Carlos Correa for the next two months — not to mention Sunday’s scares with Stephen Strasburg and Matt Carpenter. A 30-point lead and dreams of a $125k prize have been dwindling over the last three weeks as I’ve only made gains in the category I specifically targeted (batting average) while falling in each of the nine other categories this month. It’s come to the point where I feel like I’ve been spoiled with easy lineup decisions thus far, only now having to slum it and truly dig in for a Correa replacement among the likes of subpar options like Wilmer Difo and Jordy Mercer (yikes).

With only $100 of my budget left, I had to spend a lot of time deciding exactly how much and on whom I should be spending on this week. Tyler Clippard (RP3 replacement) was available, as was Nick Williams and Randal Grichuk (who I originally drafted, dropped, then added again) but I knew, based on my other needs, that I wasn’t going to get them for under $20. Injuries hit hard, and simultaneously, I caught myself scrambling while trying to keep in mind that there are still 10 more weeks of bidding to go. So, part of my research involved how much I truly liked guys like Mercer and Difo over punchless dudes like Alcides Escobar, Jose Iglesias and Reynaldo Torres and platoon bats such as Daniel Descalso, J.T. Riddle and Ketel Marte. I truly dug in deep to see upcoming handedness splits, perused other rosters in my league to see if any of them were bidding on a shortstop, and spent way more time on this bid than I should have -- but I had to be sure to get it right. At the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that neither Mercer nor Difo were worth more than $5 to me. Moreover, I put simple $1 bids on the remaining options in the order that I liked them for this week as the immediate future was the only thing that mattered.

I usually glance at FAAB earlier in the week but have been so busy this last month that I haven’t truly had the chance to dig in on Sunday. Seeing a tweet from Dusty Wagner (great NFBC player and currently second overall in the Main Event) about working on his bids on Saturday morning motivated me, reminding myself that the earlier I get started on my research for FAAB, the less chance I’d make an irrational move because the 7pm PT Sunday deadline was looming.

If you’re in the hunt for a title, know that this is no time to rest on your laurels. The guys and gals at or near the top of your league are there for a reason, and that reason isn’t luck. These are grinders that we need to battle against, outwit and out-research if we want that top spot when the season ends.

RISERS

Jonathan Schoop, 2B, BAL

Schoop is in the midst of a career season and has been the Orioles’ most consistent hitter this year. He leads the team with 70 RBI, and though four other teammates have 50 RBI, not one of them is within 15 of Schoop. The Nationals’ Daniel Murphy is the only second baseman to have driven more runs in this season. Schoop is hitting .332 since the beginning of June and rightfully earned the coveted three-hole spot in the lineup just a few weeks ago. Schoop led all major league hitters with 16 RBI last week.

Though most of his power has come against right-handed pitchers this season (15 of 21 HR), Schoop has a higher wOBA against southpaws (.396 to .368) and has been drawing more walks against them (8.5% walk rate vs LHP, 3.8% vs RHP). He also hits in his home park just as well as he does away from it and has improved upon last year’s paltry 26.6% hard-hit rate (33.6% this season). It’s all very impressive for a guy who is just 25 years old who is about to set career highs across the board. As the 18th second baseman off the board with an ADP of 170, very few anticipated a breakout of such proportions, especially for a guy with a low HH% who rarely took walks in the bottom third of his team’s lineup.

Schoop has simply matured as a hitter this season, becoming more patient at the plate and swinging at stuff outside the strike zone less often (35% O-Swing% this year, 43.5% the prior two seasons). On an offense filled with aging veterans like Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo, as well as an under-performing Manny Machado, Schoop’s rise to near stardom couldn’t have come at a better time. We are looking at a possible .300-30-110 line come the end of the year.

Nick Williams, OF, PHI

Williams has been quite the spark plug for the Phillies’ offense, earning at-bats in the three-hole over the last few days. Last week, he hit .360 with two homers, five runs scored and nine RBI. The 23-year-old was acquired by the Phillies two years ago in the trade that shipped Cole Hamels to the Rangers. Williams spent the 2016 season and the first half of the year at Triple-A where he hit .280 with 15 homers and five stolen bases. He made his debut on the final day of June and has since hit safely in 15 of 19 games, taking an eight-game hitting streak into this week. His quick adjustment to major league pitching may force the Phillies to trade Howie Kendrick before the trade deadline. Williams should continue to play every day even once Aaron Altherr is off the disabled list and will hit in the middle of the lineup (third or fifth) as long as he maintains his effectiveness at the plate. Williams was a popular addition to 15-team NFBC leagues Sunday and was added in plenty of 12-teamers. Williams is a very aggressive free-swinger with top-end bat speed and has a cannon for an arm in the outfield. The scorching start will likely be short-lived as it is for most rookies once opposing pitchers adjust. From this point on, eight or 10 homers with a .275 average will do, and he may throw a few stolen bases in as icing on the FAAB cake.

Chris Taylor, 2B/OF, LAD

We keep waiting for the old slip-and-slide back to regression land, but the Dodgers’ bats are infectious and Chris Taylor is still playing tremendous ball. Quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the majors, the 26-year-old with one career home run prior to the 2017 season has shown no signs of slowing down. Taylor is hitting .429 in July and .541 with a 1.000 SLG last week. He also hit two dingers last week, with one of them coming as a pinch-hitter. His current 5x5 roto category line (12 HR – 51 R – 43 RBI – 12 SB - .310) has come as quite the surprise considering the fact that Taylor did so well in spring training, yet did not make the squad. He made is Dodger debut on April 19 going 2-for-3 with two runs scored and never looked back. Taylor has become a clubhouse favorite who has fit right in along with some walk-off wins and spectacular defensive plays in the field. Taylor is extremely versatile as he covered for Justin Turner at 3B when he was out, and can also handle SS and CF, but has had most of his at-bats come as the starting second baseman or left fielder.

Lately, Taylor has been having success setting the table as the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter, hitting half of (6 of 12) his home runs from that spot. Four of his seven homers came over the first two months, and in July, Taylor blasted another three. The lone downside is a high 27% strikeout rate, but on the flip side, he is crushing lefties with a .370 BA and .242 ISO. He racked up nine stolen bases last month but has since slowed his roll on the base paths.

Nevertheless, those who were able to scoop him up off FAAB earlier in the year are keeping it simple when it comes to Taylor by leaving him In their lineups every week. It’s just that he’s been so good and so consistent all season long that you’d imagine some type of slump hitting him sooner than later. It would only be natural for any human baseball player. That said, I’d expect a bit of a lull at the plate for him towards the end of July through the first couple of weeks of August and for him to then take off down swinging productively down the stretch as the Dodgers clinch their division and get ready to take it all down in the playoffs.

Mike Fiers, SP, HOU

Fiers was featured in this column six weeks ago and never did I think that he’d be featured here again, let alone be one of baseball’s most consistent starting pitchers. His stats and metrics don’t jump off the page in any way -- a 3.59 ERA, an average 8.4% walk rate and 22.3% strikeout rate which hits a touch less than a strikeout per inning. What Fiers was proficient at for a long stretch of starts was avoiding serving up longballs. After allowing 18 homers over his first nine starts, Fiers served up just three homers total over his last 10 games. All three came over a two-game stretch against the Twins and Blue Jays, meaning that Fiers had not allowed a homer in those seven other starts. He struck out 11 Twins in that start and followed it up with his most recent performance, nine strikeouts and just one walk over seven innings. Fiers’ fastball averaged slightly under 90 mph over the course of those sloppy early-season starts, but has since increased his velocity on it by a couple ticks (91-92 mph). He has pitched into the sixth or seventh inning in six of his last eight starts and has gone from possible two-start streamer to a guy we just plug into our lineups every week. Fiers lines up for a NL park start this week against the woeful Phillies and then should get a double-dance with the Rays and Blue Jays at home the following week. He should continue to be solid and will more than likely enjoy the implied run support from his insanely-productive offense.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

C.J. Cron, 1B, LAA

Cron was a guy I believed in this preseason and who I will still be looking at drafting next year, but his season has been lost. The good thing is it didn’t cost us more than a late-round pick. Cron has never seemed to be in the good graces of Mike Scioscia for some reason, and has also dealt with toe and wrist ailments, stints at Triple-A and inconsistent at-bats. On a positive note, Cron is healthy and has started four straight games -- homering earlier last week and hitting safely in each game. I’d look to add Cron if you have room and remind yourself that he’s hit 16 homers in each of his first two seasons in under 450 plate appearances.

Aaron Nola, SP, PHI

Nola turned his season around with an incredible July and has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this month (1.61 ERA, 33:7 K:BB over four starts). His 25.4% strikeout rate hovers a tad above last season’s career best and both his FIP (3.43) and xFIP (3.56) are not far off from his 3.38 ERA, which is always a great sign. Nola’s curveball looks incredibly sharp and is one of the best in the business.

Danny Salazar, SP, CLE

There is some hope for owners who have gone through the rough times and held on. Salazar was pummeled over 10 April and May starts, was moved out of the rotation and then missed a month dealing with a shoulder injury, which might help explain his struggles. He returned to the rotation this weekend in a “put-up-or-shut-up” spot and came through, whiffing eight Blue Jays over seven innings of one-hit ball. The Indians may not be in as much of a hurry to trade for another arm to bolster the rotation, especially if Salazar follows his solid start up with another one this week. Kudos to you that held on.

FALLERS

Nomar Mazara, OF, TEX

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Truly rock bottom for Mazara who went hitless at the plate last week (0-for-21). Mazara is hitting .145 this month and has been dragging fantasy teams’ batting average category down -- at least, probably those who automatically play him and don’t put him on the bench when a slew of lefties are on the upcoming week’s schedule. Mazara’s struggles against lefties (.186/.273/.271) are reminiscent of Michael Conforto and Jake Lamb’s woes last season and is a stark reminder of the importance of paying attention to handedness splits. Mazara is rarely in the lineup against southpaws these days, and has even spent some time lower in the batting order as he tries to re-adust. On the bright side, Mazara has produced runs all season long (57 RBI) and all-in-all is not having a horrendous season considering he is just 22 years old in only his first full big league season. I’d hold Mazara in 12-teamers if you can afford to do so, always being cognizant of the schedule on tap.

Joc Pederson, OF, LAD

There were few rising up high-stakes draft boards faster than Pederson over the final two weeks of spring training, and there wasn’t any specific thing fueling it. Call it market correction, if you will, as Pederson moved into the top 200 overall by the time live NFBC drafts in Vegas and New York rolled around at the end of March, and he went as high as 133 overall (11th round in 12-teamers). After all, he was a top prospect who combined for 51 home runs over his first two big league seasons and was potentially primed for the first 30-HR showing. His current line (.236 - 9 HR - 26 RBI - 35 R - 1 SB) has been much worse than expected, as many gave up on Pederson long ago. Pederson is hitting below the Mendoza Line (.189) against southpaws, though only has 37 PA against them since he’s rarely in the lineup when one is on the mound. Watching every one of his at-bats over the last week (since I have Time Warner in L.A.), Pederson looks very uncomfortable at the plate. He swings at the first pitch (usually, popping or fouling out) way too often and you can tell that he’s pressing. At some point, Joc will have a nice stretch of production, but he’s essentially become a platoon player on deep roster of which he has become an afterthought.

Mitch Haniger, OF, SEA

Talk about fizzlers. Haniger was another guy with late-March draft helium, though at a much lower average draft position. He was one of the hottest bats in spring training, and as such, his NFBC ADP rose from the 27th round in RotoWire Online Championships up to the 20th and 21st come the final week of the season. Haniger rode that wave into a scorching first month (20 runs, 16 RBI, .342/.447/.608) before hitting the DL on April 26 with a dreaded oblique injury. Taking five weeks to recover, Haniger returned on June 11. The following day, he had four hits in six at-bats along with four runs scored in the Mariners’ 14-3 win over the Twins. Since then, Haniger has wholeheartedly hit that rookie wall. He is hitting just .223 with eight RBI since returning, with most of his action coming from the bottom third of the lineup -- an obvious huge blow to his fantasy value since he started the year hitting second between Jean Segura and Robinson Cano in the ultimate run-producing spot. I believe there will come a time this season when Haniger reclaims that spot in the lineup as it is only a matter of time before Ben Gamel (who hits second against RHP) takes a tumble back down to reality. Of course, much of this has to do with Haniger’s health and if he’s truly and fully healed from the oblique injury, which is among the most nagging and persistent ailments a hitter has to deal with. I’m optimistic on Haniger’s future as a late-season contributor to fantasy teams this season.

Vlad Sedler covers baseball and football for RotoWire. He is a veteran NFBC player and CDM Hall of Famer, winning the Football Super Challenge in 2013. A native Angeleno, Vlad loves the Dodgers and Kings and is quite possibly the world's only Packers/Raiders fan. You can follow him @RotoGut.

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