Fantasy baseball roundtable: Second basemen, rule changes and more
Baseball season takes center stage by the end of June, and two months into the season, many fantasy owners are starting to get a feel for their lineups and their prospects for a championship season. Others are still catching their breath from a wild past month that featured Josh Beckett's no-hitter, Edwin Encarnacion's power surge and George Springer's coming-out party.
With May coming to a close, SI.com fantasy experts Michael Beller and David Gonos discuss the current hot topics in the fantasy baseball world. All stats are to date as of May 29.
The second base position has been bizarre this year. Rank the top 10 second basemen for the rest of the way.
Beller: So much for our preseason Robinson Cano vs. Jason Kipnis debate. We totally should have been arguing over the likes of Brian Dozier, Dee Gordon and Daniel Murphy, right? Anyway, I still like Cano and Kipnis at or near the top of the rankings. Cano hasn't been leaving the yard much, but he's still swinging a hot bat, and that can't help but lead to solid runs and RBI numbers. Meanwhile, Kipnis just returned from the DL and still deserves to be thought of as a top-three player at the position.
I say top three because Gordon has vaulted ahead of Kipnis thanks to his unceasing thievery. Gordon already has 30 steals and looks well on his way to at least 70. Few players can regularly win a category single-handedly, but Gordon is one of those guys. I'm trusting Ian Kinsler's track record for the rest of the season over Dozier's hot two months. The one guy here whose stock I can't get enough of is the resurgent Kolten Wong, who has gone 16-for-42 with four steals since being recalled by the Cardinals.
1. Robinson Cano
2. Dee Gordon
3. Jason Kipnis
4. Ian Kinsler
5. Brian Dozier
6. Chase Utley
7. Matt Carpenter
8. Daniel Murphy
9. Howie Kendrick
10. Kolten Wong
Gonos: The second base position has long been one of anguish for fantasy baseball owners, and this season is no different. Well, maybe it's a little different, in that the top of the position has brought even more anguish than normal. Both Robinson Cano and Jason Kipnis have been disappointments for owners, for different reasons. Cano can still hit, just not for power. It all can't be blamed on spacious Safeco Field, though. His homers are down, but so are his extra-base hits in general. Kipnis missed a month with an oblique injury, but even he didn't show much in April. Even so, his numbers weren't horrible, and they were a small sample size, so he stays atop my rankings. My love for Dee Gordon aside, many of our readers are head-to-head players, which means his pace of about 100 steals makes little difference.
1. Jason Kipnis
2. Dustin Pedroia
3. Robinson Cano
4. Brian Dozier
5. Ian Kinsler
6. Chase Utley
7. Dee Gordon
8. Jed Lowrie
9. Ben Zobrist
10. Matt Carpenter
Which setup men could end up as closers as the trade deadline approaches?
Beller: The first thing to do is to identify the likely sellers. This includes the Cubs, Astros, Phillies, Diamondbacks and Padres for sure and could eventually bring in the Indians, Royals, Rays, Mets and Pirates. The Cubs aren't trading young closer Hector Rondon, and the Phillies will be hard-pressed to move Jonathan Papelbon's contract. The Diamondbacks will likely get calls about Addison Reed, but he's affordable and under team control. That leaves Huston Street and, I guess, Chad Qualls, as current closer trade candidates.
Street is having a great season, posting a 1.35 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 0.80 WHIP and 23 strikeouts in 20 innings. He's owed about $4 million for the remainder of this season, and his team has a $7 million option on him next year, making him an easy player to absorb. He very well may be the best reliever on the market at the trade deadline, and that means the Padres could get quite a nice return on him. If I had to bet on one closer changing addresses before July 31, Street would be the guy. That makes Joaquin Benoit a top target in the save speculation game.
Gonos: I'll let Beller speak to the setup men with closing possibilities if the closer ahead of them gets traded. I'll mention some other setup guys that I'd target with a chance to close if they end up getting traded.
Wade Davis, 28, is pitching lights-out in Kansas City right now, and while the Royals would love to keep him in his current setup role to Greg Holland, they might be able to get another young bat in exchange for Davis. He was part of the James Shields deal that sent Wil Myers to Tampa Bay. The Royals have a $7 million club option on Davis after this season, which makes a trade smarter if the Royals are out of it.
It wasn't too long ago that Drew Storen, 26, was racking up 43 saves for the Nationals back in 2011. He's arbitration eligible for the next two seasons, and while the Nationals may be just three games out of the division lead now, he could be trade bait in July if they slip.
Which disappointing players did you draft this year, even though you knew better?
Beller: This one is easy for me: Jean Segura. As someone who bought in early last season, I experienced the first-half highs and second-half lows with the Milwaukee shortstop. I knew that there was no way he could repeat his 2013 first-half performance over the course of the whole season. I felt that the true Segura was somewhere in between last year's two halves and let myself believe that it was much closer to the .325/.363/.487 he put up before the All-Star break. Unfortunately for me and my fellow Segura owners, he's a bit closer to the second-half version of himself this year.
Hey, at least he's still stealing bases.
Gonos: I drafted Oscar Taveras in the reserve draft for Tout Wars, and I knew it would be a while before he got called up. Now, it's too late to drop him, and I could have definitely used that roster spot over these past two months.
CC Sabathia came in looking fit and ready to dominate, and as a fellow fat guy, I felt it was my duty to believe in a rebound season from him. I now believe that you shouldn't trust us fat guys when it comes to physical activities. We're more the guys to count on as anchors in tug-of-war.
How will all of the pitching injuries affect fantasy in the second half and September?
Beller: I think the biggest thing we'll see is rotation spots open for prospects and that many of those prospects, especially those that throw hard, could get shut down. Most of the guys who have had to go under the knife this year have an overpowering fastball. Given that pitching prospects who actually make it to the majors are the most prized commodities in baseball, teams are going to be very careful with them after all the carnage we've seen this year. That means guys like Andrew Heaney and Archie Bradley may have a limited impact for fantasy owners if and when they get called to the majors.
Gonos: Since the end of last season, we are now looking at 20 major-league pitchers that have undergone Tommy John surgery, and we have a few more that are tenderly caring for sore elbows as we speak.
In 2012, we saw 36 pitchers have the procedure done. We're at 20 this year, and we're not even halfway to the end of the season. Granted, managers, pitching coaches and team physicians might be more cautious with their pitchers in the coming months in fear of hurting elbows, but even so, the best possible pitchers will not be facing the best possible hitters come August and September. Young arms might see action a little more than they expected, and journeymen could eat up more innings (while coughing up more walks and runs). Hitters will be at a great advantage in a couple months.
What's one rule in fantasy baseball you'd like to add or abolish?
Beller: I hate saves. Hate them in real life, hate them in the fantasy game. There's no "saving" being done when you protect a three-run lead for one inning (and yes, I realize I'm cherry picking here, but I'm making a point). I also hate the way an imbalance in the number of pitchers making two starts in one week can skew a matchup. Luckily, we can fix all of this with a few simple tweaks.
First, get rid of the saves category. But then, you say, relievers will be eliminated from the fantasy game. Not so. That's because we will make strikeouts per nine innings, and not strikeouts, the standard. That means closers, especially the best ones, will still have plenty of value in fantasy leagues, and it also helps to offset an advantage one owner gets by having more two-start pitchers in a week. That's all well and good, you might say, but now there are only four pitching categories in standard leagues. True, I retort, and that's why we will make K/BB ratio our fifth standard category for pitchers. Rate stats are preferable to counting stats, especially for pitchers, since it does not matter how many starts you get in a week. Adding a stat like K/BB ratio also gives us another one over which pitchers have complete control. That is a good thing.
Gonos: The one-week scoring period only makes sense in fantasy football, not fantasy baseball. With that said, I'm not a fan of daily leagues either (daily games, however, I love).
When you think about it, the only reasons we do one-week scoring periods in baseball are because league services automatically set it up that way and because there's not enough noise to change it. (No noise at all, really. Just me, like an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn.) Consider this, though: A Monday through Thursday scoring period, when teams play three to four games a week, and a Friday through Sunday scoring period, where all teams play three games (sometimes four with doubleheaders, of course).
This would end the two-starter situations that, frankly, kill the spirit of the game. Just because you load up on below-average guys with two starts shouldn't give you an advantage over others in a given week.
Then, I would reward three wins for every fantasy win in these scoring periods, which means, by season's end (26 weeks), we'd have a record that resembled real baseball standings. That would be a 156-game season (minus playoffs, of course).
Give the readers one hitter and one pitcher you're targeting in trades right now.
Beller: Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals. Holliday's power outage may not be a mirage. According to Baseball Heat Maps, his average fly ball distance is down to 284.1 feet after being 289.4 feet in 2013 and 305.2 feet in 2012. He's also hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls this season. Still, he's hitting .280 on a sustainable (for him) .325 BABIP, he has a .378 OBP, 28 RBI and 29 runs. Due to his lack of home runs this season, though, his owner is likely dissatisfied with his otherwise strong numbers. That means he's attainable, and potentially at a discount. Plus, a guy who has hit at least 22 home runs in every season dating back to 2006 could easily rediscover the power stroke any day.
Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers. Assuming his owner understood the going rate, I'd target Verlander. He's not the ace he once was, but he's capable of being mid-rotation guy for a fantasy team, and if I can get him at that price, I will do so 10 times out of 10. Another pitcher I like as a trade target is Jordan Zimmermann. Despite a 4.07 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, his strikeout rate is 19.4 percent, which would be a career high for a full season. His BABIP is an outrageous .369, and he's allowing fewer homers than ever as a share of his fly balls. The ugly rates could make him available. Don't let them turn you away from him. He has pitched much better than they suggest.
Gonos: Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals. This guy is a proven hitter, with the ability to knock in runs regularly. He has just 12 RBI so far this season, his strikeout rate is down, his walk rate is up, his ISO number is near his career numbers. His BABIP is low (.274), but not enough to base my argument on. This guy is just 24 years old, and his numbers have nowhere to go but up. A recent thumb injury should be just enough to scare someone into trading him to you. (All catchers have thumb injuries, by the way.)
Doug Fister, SP, Washington Nationals. A lat strain kept Fister from debuting with his new team until earlier this month, when he went out and got pounded -- by a team that we now know as the best offense in the American League (Oakland). Since then, he has faced three National League opponents and he has a 1.86 ERA with a 0.931 WHIP. Get him now, while his 5-ER opener still affects his ERA.