Happy Opening Day!!
Baseball fans and fantasy players like us live for this day. Spring is the start of all good things, and in baseball it is no different. Every team is 0-0 and still in contention for a 2016 post season run. Every kid making his first MLB roster is in contention for Rookie of the Year. Every hitter is a potential MVP or batting titlist, and of course every starting pitcher is in the running for the Cy Young. Unfortunately, EVERY pitcher with a fastball and a pulse is potentially the next closer as well.
One of the biggest challenges in both Fantasy Baseball and the real game is putting the right players in the right spots to give your team the best chance of winning that match up. If it were easy, we wouldn’t need to play the games. Of those challenges, choosing starting pitchers to fill in and knowing who to roster among the 300 or so available relievers are often the two most difficult. Some owners are better than others at it. Some are better at drafting than picking up players off the wire. Some are better at trading than picking up players off the wire and, of course, the reverse is true.
My season-long series of Sunday morning articles, “Pick Your Spots,” will focus on the wire, starting today. The draft is done. Maybe you made a trade or two. Now what? You likely can’t roster enough SP to meet your minimum innings or compete in the counting stats, so you’ll have to fill in one or two SP per week from the 60 or so that will be un-owned in your league on any given day. But you’ll also need to house some extra relievers, even in a 5 X 5; odds the 2 or 3 closers you drafted make it through the season as the closer are, well, low. You know that by now. For a few years now I’ve referred to those extra relievers as CLEW’s (Closers en Waiting). And for brevity I’ll always use that acronym when trolling the wire for reinforcements.
I’m not claiming to be an expert at this, just someone who has put a lot of thought into these two strategies. Even if you don’t agree with a player I write about, use the same criterion to analyze the pitchers you like on your own wire. I will not be discussing Daily Fantasy Sports, nor leagues that allow serial streaming starters specifically, but the information should still be helpful in any format.
I’ll pick some less than 50% owned starters to look for, and maybe someone you should sit this week. I went veteran heavy this week for two reasons:
1) The 1st week of the season, like the last, is far too volatile to predict anything, let alone quality pitching starts.
2) Veterans are usually better in the first half of the season than the 2nd, even if they got lit up in Spring Training working on their next deceptive pitch.
As the season, and thus the body of evidence grows, so will this part of the article. After that I’ll outline the closer changes that have already occurred before the first pitch has even been thrown.
Spot Start Recommendations for Week 1 (% ownership in parenthesis):
1. Jonathon Niese, Pit (43% ESPN, 49% FAntrax) – Vs. STL Weds 4-6 @ 7PM Est:
Niese is coming off a disappointing season in which his ERA, FIP & WHIP were high even though he had a career best GB/FB(1.30%) rate, and his career average walk rate. He is only 29, and I think a change of scenery will do him good. He gets the Cards in the 2nd game of the season, and they will be without Johnny Peralta (Hurt) & Jason Heyward (Left as FA). STL will get their act together, so if you are going to get them, now is the time. Want some more good news? Niese’s career ERA & WHIP vs STL are 3.10 & 1.28 in 200 AB against. He also has a career ERA in Pittsburgh of 3.47 and with that stellar GB/FB rate may have found a home. He is a better 1st half pitcher than 2nd half, and April has been one of his best months with a lifetime 3.21 ERA. What is the bad news? Niese was lit up in Spring Training to the tune of, nevermind, he was just hammered. Spring doesn’t count though, right? Pick him up for Tuesday and you may not put him back down for a while.
2. Jake Peavy, SF (29% ESPN & Fantrax) – Vs. LAD Thurs 4-7 @[4:30]PM:
Peavy owns the Dodgers, and owns them even more in AT&T Park. Personally, I find it hard to believe he is only owned in 29% of leagues. I bet that will change. He is not the strikeout pitcher he was a decade ago, but hopefully we all stopped looking for that to come back, as his walk rate is much better as well. He is also an extreme fly ball pitcher, but in a big park and with a lifetime 1.0 HR/9 rate, not many balls will find the river. His career numbers at AT&T are 3.15 ERA & 1.185 WHIP. But Peavy is 14-3 vs the Dodgers, with a 2.38 ERA & .953 WHIP lifetime, and in 700 MLB plate appearances the Dodgers have hit .199 with an OBP of .253 against Jake. Like I said with Niese, pick him up and you may keep him around a while. The one caveat with Peavy is that he has a 2.43 ERA in the first 5 innings, but 3.58 from the 6th on. That won’t matter in April.
3. Bartolo Colon, NYM, (16% ESPN & Fantrax) VS Phi Sat 4-9 7PM, or Matt Latos, CHW (19% ESPN & Fantrax) @ Oak Wed 4-6, [3:30] PM:
I wanted to pitch Colon Saturday vs the Phils, but the Mets may opt to use only 3 SP next week because of 3 off days. If that happens, choice two is Latos in his White Sox debut in Oakland. Colon led the Mets in Wins, Games Started and Innings Pitched in 2015. No, he is not one of the Big 4 there in NY, but he has tons of experience at 43, and April has always been a sweet month for him. In 2015, Bart was 14-13 with a 4.16 ERA and a 1.278 WHIP. He gives up virtually no walks and had his lowest walk percentage of his career in 2015. Want a QS the first week of the season? Grab a guy who does not kill himself with walks, especially vs the woeful Phillies.
4. Chris Young, KC (14% ESPN, 13 % Fantrax) VS. Min Sat 4-9 7PM:
Old reliable and a former Padres team mate of Peavy, when both were in their heyday. He is 36 now and no longer has elite K heat, but he is a great GB pitcher who does not give up a lot of walks. He is also playing Vs Min (2.59 ERA 1.078 WHIP) and at Kaufman Stadium where his career numbers are 3.28 ERA & 1.107 WHIP. Last season for the World Series winning Royals he was 11-6 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.230 WHIP. He is not owned by 85% of you but will give you a Quality Start whenever the match up is right, and more often than not it is.
5. A.J. Griffin, Tex (1% owned in ESPN & Fantrax) – @LAA Fri 4-8, [10:05] PM:
Drafted in a pitiful 1% of leagues, people must have forgotten who AJ. Griffin was a few years ago. In 2012 & 2013 Griffin was 21-11 with a 3.50 ERA & 1.128 WHIP and K rates close to 8.0/9. Even though he has a lousy GB/FB rate, which might hurt him in Texas, he is playing in the Angels park Friday, where he pitches to a Babip of .250. He got hammered in Spring Training this year, but i don’t care. He was working on…something. Pitch him with confidence against the Angels, whose hitters not named Trout tend to get off to slow starts.
Start of the Week: Noah Syndergaard vs the KC Royals @ KC Wed 4-6 7 PM.
I realize Thor is 100% owned, as well as on most of my teams this season, but call your Cable Provider, tell them to quit quibbling and make sure you can see this game. Pay extra if you have to. The opening Day drama of World Series Rings, etc will be over by then, and now it will be Alcides Escobar vs. Thor for the first time since Game 3.
Don’t Start Me: In Roto Leagues, I advocate not starting anyone the first week of the season. By week 2 you will likely lead the league in ERA and WHIP. In Head to Head you don’t have that luxury. But here are two guys who better be on the wire or on your bench this week. As the season goes on, this section will get more serious.
Matt Garza, Mil vs SF Weds 4-6 8PM: April has always been his worst month, and his ERA vs SF is hard to fit on a calculator. He was also pulled early from a game the other day. But the main reason he is in this article is the hilarious article I read on “First Out at Third” a blog dedicated to the Brewers, on April 1, 2016. In a convincing April Fools joke, this article had Garza and Jimmy Nelson going to the Rangers for Prince Fielder. I’ll put a link to it at the end of this article. Funny as hell.
CC Sabathia, NYY, All of April: As if I needed to tell you not to start CC, I know, I know he is not even on your team. I still, doggedly believe he’ll have some quality spot start value in 2016, but not in April. The big lefty has never had a good April. When he was in his prime, I’d bench him until May in Roto Leagues. Otherwise, forget about your ratios, they are toast. Maybe I just felt like talking about him in this article.
In my left hand is a Closer Depth Chart from April 24, 2016, and in my right hand one from March 30, 2016. Of the 30 MLB teams, in that one month, three have a new closer, four muddled pens were clarified, and two seemingly stable situations thrown into flux. That is nearly a 30% change from who you were thinking/drafting one month ago vs. last night. I predict it will change another 30% by Memorial Day. Read my pre-season analysis of MLB relievers from last season here, and here.
Drew Storen was the closer in Washington, then he wasn’t. Now he is the new Jays closer, or is he? In what was a surprise to me, the Jays named incumbent closer Roberto Osuna the opening day closer. That word incumbent is very emphatic in baseball, especially when it comes to the “what have you done for me lately” closer position. I broke my own rule. The incumbent always is the opening day closer, even if it is only a matter of time before the more talented pitcher emerges with the role. I still think that will happen by Memorial Day. I predicted that just last week here.
That is not what happened in Houston. Ken Giles took the role from the incumbent Luke Gregerson right from the gate, and he’s never giving it back unless he gets hurt. If you drafted Giles, you got a good deal wherever you drafted him.
The Smiths go down. Will Smith appeared to be a shoe-in for the role in Milwaukee until he tore up his knee. Jeremy Jeffress has won the role out of Spring Training and has to be owned in Roto. If I’m in a Head to Head league, I’m picking up Corey Knebel. I can see him as the closer before Smith even comes back. Carson Smith was second; second in line to Craig Kimbrel for saves in Boston, and the second best CLEW in baseball behind Dellin Betances. Not a bad gig if you can get it. Unfortunately, he went down with an injury as well, the dreaded strained flexor mass, and changed a lot of draft strategies. Koji Uehara & Junichi Tazawa‘s values went up.
I predicted Carter Capps would overtake AJ Ramos this season in Miami. That was derailed when Capps had to have Tommy John surgery.
Tampa’s incumbent, Brad Boxberger, was not seeing any of my rosters anyway. In fact, the whole Tampa pen is off my radar. Boxberger was placed on the DL today after undergoing stomach surgery. Referred to now as Tampa’s “All Star” Closer, LOL, I often need stomach surgery after watching him pitch. Yup, I said LOL. Then I looked closer and saw Alex Colome is starting in the bullpen. He has closer stuff and should be owned. Brad, it’s ok, we are LOL’ing at that pitch too.
Arody’s Vizcaino seemed a shoe-in in Atlanta, but Jason Grilli made a hasty recovery and has reclaimed the role. One could argue he, not Vizcaino, is the incumbent anyway. I’m staying away. Too much volatility here with Jim Johnson also in the mix. Another I’m staying away from is Cincinnatti. I don’t like any of the choices (JJ Hoover named closer as expected). My dark horse here is Tony Cingrani if you have room. Jake McGee won the closer role in the mountains, even if by default. Philidelphia is even worse. I was pulling for Andrew Bailey but now it is back to the predicted David Hernandez, who is just the place holder for the closer to be named later in Philly.
And we’re just getting started.
Update: Andrew Miller, NYY sustained a chip fracture taking a line drive off his wrist the other day. Luckily it was his right, non pitching hand. He claims he is going to pitch through it. Be optimistic as it is far too late to find his handcuff unless you make a trade. Gotta love the closer mentality.
Update: Sean Doolittle, OAK may not be ready for the season with triceps tightness. Ryan Madson becomes a must own, and probably should be anyway. Doolittle is brittle.
Must owns: If these guys slipped through your draft and are on the wire, pick them up.
High Upside Sleepers: All the Tools! Hunter Strickland, SF; Brad Brach & Mychal Givens, Bal; Sam Dyson & Keone Kela, Tex; Silvino Bracho, AZ; Corey Knebel, Mil; Alex Colome, TB.
I hope Strickland knows he’s here because of his big right arm, not what is on his left arm. Meet Shelly Strickland, Left Arm.
CLEWS: How stable is the guy in front of him? Kevin Jepsen, MN; Kevin Quackenbush, SD; Pedro Strop, Chi; Joe Smith, LAA; Tyler Clippard & Dan Hudson, AZ; Joaquin Benoit, Sea.
My final word on closers this week is simply: Fernando Rodney – Do what you want with that.
As promised, here is the link to Matt Garza/Prince Fielder trade
(Click the RED link below to listen)
Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join Corey D Roberts on Sunday April 3rd, 2016 from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. We are a live call in radio show so we encourage callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss some surprises in our fantasy baseball drafts, and a quick preview of Monday through Thursday’s games.
Our guests this week are Joe Iannone, Lou Landers, and Kyle Amore. Joe, Lou, and Kyle are all writers with www.majorleaguefantasysports.com. Lou and Kyle are also the hosts of our Thursday night show called Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly which airs live from 8-10pm EST every week.
“You can find our show on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section.”
(Click the RED link below to listen)
Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday March 31st, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #7 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. We will discuss player positions and help prepare you for the coming draft season. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss everything fantasy and MLB related in the N.L. Central.
Our guest this week is Calvin Martin, Jr. Calvin is the commissioner of Major League Fantasy Baseball 3 and solid contender in our leagues.
Come join a lively debate!