Each week of the baseball season a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
1. Tim Lincecum has been a fantasy and real disaster this season. Do you foresee a round in the coming weeks, and if not, how will you approach his prospects in the future?
Carroll: With Lincecum, we have an interesting case. He's had periods of adjustment before, but never one this extended. I talked to players with two teams and asked if this was something like his early-career tipping. They both denied that video had helped them figure out Lincecum, but that he just was "hittable." Without an injury, that means the likely culprit is a mechanical flaw or a real loss of talent. Bill Petti wrote an interesting piece about velocity loss and buried in there is the news that most don't get it back. I'm buying on Lincecum, because I think he's a pitcher, not just a thrower. I'm not going to give fair value right now, but really vulture buying. There's still something here.
Eric Mack: Lincecum is as baffling one way as R.A. Dickey is the other. Their statlines to date just don't make any sense. The Giants contend Lincecum is not hurt, so we should assume Lincecum will find his way out of this unbelievable quagmire. It will start with his command. While he is striking out batters at a decent clip, he is struggling with walks, high pitch counts and general control in and out of the strike zone. Once Lincecum begins to walk fewer batters, there should be some rewards with him. The only way to proceed is with patience, although you're justified reserving him -- if you have that option -- until he comes around.
David Sabino: Sometimes great pitchers have poor seasons, and that's happening right now to Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Ian Kennedy, etc. However, with the second-worst ERA among qualifiers, Lincecum is easily the worst of the bunch. The other troubling stats for Lincecum is his inflated WHIP (1.57) caused both by an increase in hits per innings allowed (9.4 as compared to his career average of 7.5) and walks (4.8 compared to 3.4,) which tells us that he's having trouble with command. There are indications that his stuff is still there (9.7 K/9 is in line with his historical averages) but something mechanical is awry, which means a turnaround is possible at any moment. I'd take a chance on him this year if he were available on the cheap (there's a lot of season left). In any case, if no physical ailments are uncovered, he's a solid bounce-back candidate for next season.
2. Troy Tulowitzki appears to be in jeopardy of missing most of the season with a possible sports hernia. Who might fantasy owners start researching as stopgaps at SS?
Will Carroll: We're overstating the case for surgery here, but I'll have a lot more on this in UTK on Wednesday. Regardless, people are going to need fill-ins. I think Andrelton Simmons is probably the first look. He's hitting enough to hold the position and is a plus defender. The Braves can be a bit patient and don't really have much in the way of options. Brian Roberts is a reach if you believe that he's still got something left and that you have a MI slot open, rather than a pure SS slot. Elian Herrera is another option at MI. For pure SS, Everth Cabrera is going to get some steals.
Mack: Assuming Trevor Plouffe, who leads all shortstops with 14 homers, has long been snatched up off waivers, you'll need to look deeper into the waivers pool. Consider rookie Zack Cozart. He is scorching hot and might even be the better long-term option over Plouffe. Cozart is a poor man's Troy Tulowitzki with his power potential at the position. If you need to go real deep, consider a revitalized Cliff Pennington, who has some market correction to do, or a Sean Rodriguez, who has pop and might eventually live up to his potential now that he is 27-years old. If you're desperate in NL-only formats, the Mets' Ruben Tejada handles the bat well enough to not hurt you in average, even if he doesn't provide anything in terms of power or steals. Tejada is starting a rehab assignment and might be available for fantasy lineups by next week.
Sabino: Middle infielders have been hard to come by this season, but a few have emerged recently who can easily fill in as a stopgap. Obviously, if Plouffe is available, as he still is in about 20 percent of leagues (down from 60 percent last week) he's ideal. The minor adjustments he made at the plate have gone a long way into making him one of the game's hottest players. But since he's not likely available, or if his shortstop eligibility from 2011 doesn't carry over, take a look at the Braves' Simmons, who has seized the starting job and is batting .333. Also, Everth Cabrera is readily available and is a great source of stolen bases for the Padres. Another name to monitor is Erick Aybar, whose ownership has been dropping just when his bat is coming around following an extremely slow start. He's hitting only .239 for the year, but in June he's on a .288 clip which should also translate into a boost in stolen bases, down dramatically in '12 (5) from his previous years' pace of 26 per season.
3. Trade talk is heating up. Whom do you think has the potential for the biggest return after a deal?
Carroll: All trades will appear a bit inflated when they happen. Right now there are so few sellers that the price is up more than it should be on pure talent. Teams will still sell because more and more teams realize they're paying for failure. There are very few deals like Mark Teixeira or even Michael Pineda where the return all works -- and even on Teixeira, the big return was supposed to be Saltalamacchia, who's hardly a star and bloomed late. Pitching is going to be the biggest need for a lot of teams, so someone like a Wandy Rodriguez, Jeremy Guthrie or Brett Myers could get a nice return. If Cole Hamels or Carlos Gonzalez hits the market, things get ridiculous quickly.
Mack: A change of scenery is clearly needed for Kevin Youkilis. He still has the potential to produce like a Top-10 first baseman and a Top-5 five third baseman. Assuming a potential ace like Matt Garza doesn't end up with a big-time contender to cash in on his wins potential, we should default with Youkilis as the answer to this question for now.
Sabino: The funny thing about trade deadline deals is it's rarely the player who everyone expects who has the biggest impact on a new team. I can see someone like Alfonso Soriano, who has been through the rigors of a pennant race before, relishing a chance to get back to the postseason after spending much of the year mired in last place. On the mound, another Cub, Matt Garza, could find his way to another team. Depending on his landing spot the consistently sub-4.00 ERA starter could easily win five or six games down the stretch.
4. How do you use middle relievers to get the maximum effect and who are a few names fantasy owners should know about this season.
I look for Ks -- guys who come in and stone cold dominate -- and then I look for opportunities to steal some saves or vulture some wins. So I target high-K guys on good teams with a shallow bullpen and fragile closers. Yes, that means pretty much everyone on the Yankees, Rangers and Dodgers is fair game right now. Brandon League is a guy out there due to previous wildness. David Robertson is an interesting pick. Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers for the Rangers intrigue me, especially Ross due to his flexibility. I can't believe that Mike Adams and Jonny Venters are available in a majority of leagues, but so few middle guys get picked at all that maybe it's a market opportunity.
Mack: With Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Addison Reed finally in closer's roles, we don't quite have the same level of anticipation among those in middle relief now. The Royals have some good young ones in Tim Collins and Aaron Crow. Both have elite potential as relievers and perhaps as closers-in-waiting. Other strikeout-artist, low-WHIP options include Jose Arredondo, Darren O'Day, Charlie Furbush and returning Yankee David Roberston. The thing about middle relievers is they are dime a dozen otherwise. There are just so many relievers in baseball, so shuffle them in and out of your lineup as they streak. For instance, has-beens and never-will-bes like the Red Sox's Scott Atchison and the Nats' Craig Stammen can do the trick in the ERA and WHIP categories.
Sabino: When it comes to fantasy pitching, it's as important to avoid poor performances as it is to have great ones, so that's why I love situational relievers. Although most of the leagues I've been involved with don't award anything for holds, I've always been a big proponent of using middle relievers, not only for their closer-in-waiting potential but also as a source of vulture wins and a way to keep ERA and WHIP numbers down. This year is no exception, and I've hooked my wagon to Robbie Ross, 22, a minor league starter, who has won six games for the Rangers with a stellar 1.25 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. Also helpful has been tiny Tim Collins, who has struck out 49 batters with a .171 opponents batting average in 34 1/3 innings for the Royals. Finally, Washington's Craig Stammen (3 wins, 1.53 ERA, has allowed more than two hits in just one of 26 appearances).