Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Five Undervalued Arms for 2015

It's all about value. The key to gaining an advantage over your fellow league mates is your ability to find quality talent in the latter stages of your fantasy draft. The owners that can do this consistently are able to overcome injuries on their roster easier and will have a distinct advantage over their peers as the long season rolls forward. Those who can't will find themselves behind, chasing hot streaks on the waiver wire. With the pitching pool as deep as it is in 2015, there are an abundance of late round arms that have a great chance of outperforming their draft status.

Here are FIVE UNDERVALUED ARMS that are currently showing an ADP of #150 or greater according to you should be targeting.

1) Zack Wheeler NYM ADP #150 
Harvey got all the publicity (even though he never threw a pitch last year) and deGrom garnered all the buzz in 2014 with his Rookie of the Year campaign. However, Zack Wheeler quietly made strides in becoming a front line starter. In the second half, he lowered his ERA from 3.90 to 3.04, dropped his WHIP from 1.35 to 1.29, and raised his strikeout rate from 8.7 to 9.6 K/9. Those are all strong signs of development in the right direction. He wore down a bit in September as his new innings threshold was reached (185 IP), which is typical. His road ERA (3.09) was far better than his home 4.30 mark. If he can learn to relax in from of the home crowd there is a good chance he will be the best value of the three young Mets hurlers. The team may still hold back his wins, but he has a chance to be a sneaky good selection for all fantasy rotations in 2015.
2) Jose Quintana CWS ADP #175
If Quintana pitched for a big market team then his buzz would be much greater. Alas, pitching for the South Siders has kept his profile relatively low. That’s a good thing for fantasy owners from a value stand point. He’s just 26 years-old and already has thrown back to back 200 inning seasons with a 3-1 K/BB ratio, a 1.24 WHIP, and a K/9 of 8. He handles left handed and right handed batters with ease. His ERA was 3.68 or better home and away and 3.44 or better in both halves. Outside of a poor August, Quintana was a stud all season long. There is another level in him and even if he doesn't reach it this season he's still a terrific keeper asset. Quintana is a great selection in all formats, and an improved offense in Chicago could help him finally reach the win totals he deserves.
3) Mike Fiers MIL ADP # 184
Fiers came out of nowhere in 2012 and just as quickly vanished in 2013. Instead of moping, Fiers got to work in 2014 at AAA and dominated (2.55 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 1.5 BB/9). He deserved a second chance and he made the most of it with the Brewers and flourished with the big club (10 starts, 2.09 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 9.9 K/9). There is no way the Brew Crew can keep Fiers out of their rotation. He was lights out at home and on the road and, with that above average strikeout rate, he has sleeper written all over him. At 30, this is his prime and you should not be concerned with his poor 2013 season. Frankly, he did enough last year to shake those doubts and he should be on your radar in all formats. He has a very strong chance to well outperform his ADP.
4) Derek Holland TEX ADP #250
Did I miss something? I know Holland missed most of last season with a fluke non-arm related injury. However, his 2013 numbers were worthy of a #2 fantasy starter. So how does he now fall to #250 overall? Shortsightedness, that's how. He managed to salvage five starts in 2014 and pitched well, winning two of those starts with a sub 1.50 ERA. Texas is a team in transition, but two years ago Holland had clearly turned a corner showing he could be a workhorse (213 IP) with front end potential (8.0 K/9/1.28 WHIP). He will come at a significant discount in this year’s draft as most owners shy away from guys who missed the majority of a season. His arm is by all accounts healthy so it's just plain ridiculous to underrate Holland in 2015. He's also just entering his prime years (he turns 28 next season). Lefties like Holland usually peak around this time later in their careers and Holland is right there ripe for the taking.
5) Jesse Hahn OAK ADP #372
In his 12 starts with the Padres, Hahn went 7-3 with a 2.96 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 8.4 K/9 in 2014. He was really behind the 8-ball from a stamina standpoint last year and was never going to hold up as the season went on. He threw just 69 innings in 2013. If you look at his first 7 starts with his 10.4 K/9 and 1.06 WHIP, he was dominant. Now, you can attribute second half fades for young pitchers to the league catching up to them. However, with Hahn I believe it was more a stamina issue than the league really figuring him out. The 25 year-old has front line ability and, despite the A’s offense holding his win total back, Hahn has a bright future. Expect an innings limit in 2015 of around 160-180 if they really push him. In keeper leagues, he’s a definite target.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The LABR Draft Recap, Billy Hamilton and "The End of Days"

I know I am in the minority. I know the old standard in fantasy baseball is the Roto Format. However, baseball has evolved more than any American sport over the years and there is no reason why the fantasy game can't continue to do the same. Why should we "settle" because it's "accepted as the standard"? The standard of fantasy sports should always be set by the sport itself. In a perfect world the fantasy version of our favorite sports should mirror the REAL life versions as closely as possible. It's why I prefer football leagues that favor quarterbacks in scoring (or 2 QB leagues) and it's why I find points league baseball that weights pitching more heavily to be infinitely more challenging and rewarding as it's more closely linked to the game of baseball in it's current form today.

That being said, the accepted format proceeded last night in the form of the expert LABR Draft. As I preach in the Fantasy Baseball Black Book 2015, being successful in a draft is about understanding the market, having a plan and continuously finding value with every selection you make. Many of the participants in this draft are considered the best minds in fantasy and with good reason. There is much we can all learn from this outcome.

From my perspective, Mike Gianella & Brett Sayre from BP did a marvelous job of "Drowning the Pool" of shortstops by selecting Tulowitzki and Desmond with their back to back picks 15th and 16th overall. Most impressive was the fact they didn't do so to spite their own team. In fact, they built a strong foundation early on and absolutely shined in the final rounds. It's my belief that both the BP boys and Steve Gardner of USA Today did the best job of finding value and maintaining a high RPV (Relative Position Value) throughout the draft.

The buzz of the draft was the well known and well respected projection guru Mike Podhorzer's selection of Billy Hamilton in the 2nd Round with the 20th overall pick. While this pick set many aghast last night, it's an intellectually sound and easily explainable move. With power being down overall, Podhorzer saw an opportunity to move to the other end of the 5 hitting categories and develop a strength at stolen bases. Sure, there were equally (if not better) one dimensional speedsters available much later such as Ben Revere in the 7th round. However, it was a prerogative to make an early statement of how he would build his team. As the draft unfolded, he continued to build his offense from a H, R, SB perspective quite effectively with Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Alcides Escobar etc.

My problem is not that this happened. It's our duty as fantasy owners to exploit our formats at all costs and find value that gives us a competitive edge. My issue is that this format rewards and values players like Billy Hamilton who are below average major league players. This is a fact, not an opinion. If you disagree with me consider Billy Hamilton's offensive WAR is -7.9! This is a talent to be drafted in the second round of a fantasy draft? A -7.9?! I firmly and unequivocally say no!

This is why roto formats (especially H2H roto) should die a slow death over the next decade. Speed is an element of baseball. It is not and equal element to home runs. The very definition of the game is to score RUNS. A home run does this, a stolen base allows for the greater opportunity to do this. Yet, in 5X5 roto they are more often than not held to an identical standard. Why? Well, because its always been that way. That frankly is not a good enough reason for me. In points leagues, you can weight statistics to reflect the REAL game more efficiently and it's high time the trend of this format become the majority over the next decade for the good of the fantasy game.

The accepted should not be something we accept.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Tale of Two First Basemen: Freeman vs. Duda

First base has been a perennial power source for fantasy owners and 2015 is no exception. Yet, there are still question marks as you get past the elite players like Goldschmidt, Abreu and Anthony Rizzo who recently joined the top tier in this year's Fantasy Black Book 2015. Two first basemen that seem to have been polarizing early in draft prep season have been Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves and Lucas Duda of the New York Mets.
Freeman is only 25 years old this season. I mention this first because it seems like he’s been around for a long time and I think fantasy owners somehow are disappointed with him. It’s true that Freeman has yet to hit 25 HR and driven in 100 RBI only once in his first four seasons. The biggest reason I see for the regression of 2014 (just 18 HR and 78 RBI) lies in his 90 BB/145 K rate. Both were career highs and illustrate the fact that he took too many pitches and should be more aggressive if he is going to blossom into the middle of the order bat Atlanta envisions him being. His splits were relatively consistent, but just 5 HR after the break are not going to cut it from a corner spot for fantasy owners. The good news is Freeman has plenty of time to develop and grow as a hitter. The bad news is he now finds himself all alone in the middle of the Braves' order with little support.
30 HR and 92 RBI are nothing to sneeze at, especially in this era. However, Lucas Duda has some concerns going into 2015. He hit just .180 against lefties with a .252 SLG %. Those splits scream platoon player. Unlike say Matt Adams, Duda has a history of struggles against southpaws in his track record of development. His power was legit though. It did not fade down the stretch and it was equally visible at Citi Field (not historically hitter friendly) and on the road. He won’t hit for a high average and last year’s big power stats will inflate his value a bit in this year’s draft. As a CINF or DH/UT bat, I have few reservations about him. However, as an everyday first baseman he still has some holes in his game and there are no guarantees he can repeat. Also, you can be sure newly acquired Michael Cuddyer will see some starts versus tough lefties at first base cutting into Duda’s playing time. That's something to watch in H2H leagues when setting your lineup.
So who would you rather have? I find Freeman's ADP (#27 overall at Fantasy Pros) to be absurd. At a position that is supposed to supply power, how can we value a guy this highly who has never hit 25 homers? We can "project" him to grow into that, but considering his lack of supporting cast what gives us that notion that 30 HR are realistically obtainable in 2015?
Duda on the other hand is being grossly undervalued at #166 overall. As someone who is particularly tough on him, even I can't imagine a player coming off a 30 HR/92 RBI season being this disrespected. His power comps are Albert Pujols and Todd Frazier in 2014, and although they have more track record should they be 80+ slots higher than Duda? I don't believe so.
In the end it always comes down to two things: value and format. In points leagues, I prefer Freeman who offers a better overall approach at the plate (not at his current ADP mind you, but still prefer him). In roto, the potential for 8-10 more home runs over a season is significant. In this power starved era of baseball that is a measurable advantage. Not to mention the discounted cost I can acquire them at according to early ADP.
I never believe in painting players with the same brush. In fact, I find that to be one of the leading causes of failure in fantasy sports. It's always about value and format. If you can maximize value in your draft and cater to the loopholes in each specific league format, you will always find success.
Elvis Andrus or Starlin Castro - We Talk Fantasy
Who Would You Rather Have - Pablo Sandoval or Josh Harrison
Devin Mesoraco or Yadier Molina - 
Kyle Seager or Josh Donaldson -
Dustin Pedroia or Chase Utley -
Freddie Freeman or Lucas Duda -