Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fantasy Funkhouser: Oscar Taveras is Here. A Nation is Relieved.

Oscar Taveras is coming to town. (cbssports.com)
Fantasy Funkhouser will review all things Fantasy Baseball. After all, life is a small sample size.

After months of speculation, debate, and mathematical breakdowns of what exactly the Super 2 deadline is Oscar Taveras is on his way to St. Louis. The Cards have been floundering a bit all year up until a recent hot streak saw them pull close to the division leading Brewers only to go on another 3 game slide. Clearly some offensive consistency is needed and Taveras is a spark plug that can ignite the top of the Cards' lineup.

Taveras' credentials are pretty extensive and impressive. He's been near to top of every prospect rank since he was 19 years old. He was expected to get the call last year at 20 before ankle injuries cost him important at bats. But now, Taveras has been ripping Triple A pitching to the point where some scouts felt he was bored with the lack of challenges in Triple A to the tune of a .325 AVG with 7 HR and 40 RBI in 49 games. Some snooze-fest, huh?

As for what Taveras can bring to the table fantasy wise, it's mainly tied to two things ... his playing time and his spot in the batting order. While Taveras is regarded as a more talented offensive player than previous call-up extraordinaire George Springer, Taveras' skill set isn't easily translatable as Springer's power and speed combo. Taveras can hit, but it's unclear for how much power. He needs to be put in a position where if he is lacing doubles all over the place, someone needs to be on base. Should his power develop then he can reach his potential of Vladimir Guerrero without the speed. That's something that doesn't come along often.

Playing time wise, the Cardinals wouldn't have made the call to bring up Taveras unless he was going to get a shot to play everyday. Not coincidentally, this move corresponds with current 1B Matt Adams going on the 15-day DL with a hamstring strain. This allows Allen Craig to slide back to 1B, put Taveras in RF, and platoon CF duties between Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, and fellow Triple A prospect Randal Grichunk. Ideally for the Cards and fantasy owners, Taveras shows he can hang and Adams can be a bench/platoon player moving forward. 

Taveras will have more than enough time to settle in. Again, similarly with Springer, who struggled mightily his first month in the bigs needed time, Taveras will cetainly have his at bats. I do not expect him to have as big a learning curve as Springer did, but at the same time, without the power/speed combo to really generate fantasy value, it's hard to see him having as big an impact as Springer.

Now, if they plop him 2nd in their order, then that would be giving him a chance to bat .300 and drive in a lot of RBI. Taveras is an actionable add in all formats. I've been sitting on him for a month in my keeper league so I'm invested in him. I view him as a better prospect this year and going forward than Gregory Polanco, who should be up in 10 days or so anyway, so don't be hesitant to spend some FAAB or worry about whether you should wait for Polanco.

Taveras will be in the lineup today against San Francisco and he may not be leaving it for a long time. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Fantasy Funkhouser: Learning When to Hold 'Em, When to Fold 'Em, and Why Gambling is Still Important in Fantasy Baseball

Phil Ivey uses his gut almost as much as his stats.
Fantasy Funkhouser will review all things Fantasy Baseball. After all, life is a small sample size.

Phil Ivey is one of the most well known and respected card players out there. His skills and ability to transition from poker to baccarat to craps to black jack is a spectacle to behold. While poker will always be his calling card and sure when you can lose millions gambling on sports only to go win it all back tossing some dice, there isn't as much inherent risk when Phil Ivey gambles as opposed to when you or I gamble. 

Even with his high powered gambling brain and ability to routinely mop the floor with a poker table of gamblers, Ivey still is a gambler. As Mike McDermott insists in Rounders to his wet blanket girlfriend Jo, "It's not luck," as it pertains to his card playing (if you thought a loosely based gambling intro to a fantasy baseball column written by someone in their early 30's wasn't getting a Rounders reference, then you are the sucker at the table). As the movie plays out and as we see time and time again, yes, a part of it is luck. You might have all the numbers, all the facts, all the odds, all the skills - but when push comes to shove and those chips are on the line ... you're brain tells you to just go for it. To hell with what the odds say.

Ivey won't pass up an opportunity to upend the integrity of gambling by running and gunning to win $10M (albeit done through very skillful means). 

Fantasy sports and baseball in particular have become more and more of an analytics game. Don't tell me what the guys girlfriend looks like, tell me what his O-Swing % is. There are such a litany of stats to look at and pick a part and sample sizes to digest that it's easy to get swallowed up in that. 

What we've seen so far this year though, is that it pays to be bold. Some of the top ranked players across all positions were risks at draft time. They had their reasons for not being drafted earlier, but to those bold people out there, they are paying huge dividends. 

Albert Pujols
Doubted. Denied. Disrespected. The greatest hitter of a generation has his feet under him and is rounding back into the kind of post peak decline fitting a player of Pujols' stature. His drop in form last year was more reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote

Dee Gordon
Hahaha, Dee Gordon? Can't steal first base. He's not a major leaguer. Oh, experts had their fun with Flash Gordon. Billy Hamilton? He has a shot, but Gordon - no way! An improved walk and contact rate has plopped him on first base more than ever, and he's running wild. Not too easy to make fun of Dee now.

Johnny Cueto
I mean come on with this. 99.5% strand rate helps his league leading ERA. But 3 CG's for a guy with an injury history that forced him to alter his mechanics. It's not all witchcraft and dreadlocks. I don't know if this season will end with a Cy Young, but it is well on its way. 

Francisco Rodriguez
The reemergence of K-Rod might be the most nonsensical thing of the baseball season thus far. The guy was toast two years ago, and his peripherals this year don't really show him keeping this up, but he's getting it done. Someone bid $5 on him in my keeper league at the start of the season, and I thought that was insane. Not so much now. He had his first hiccup against the Pirates, but I'm pretty sure we would have all bet the over if May 14th was the date we were given for first K-Rod meltdown. 

Jose Abreu
Masahiro Tanaka
These two are lumped together because they are on a path to the greatest Rookie of the Year battle ever. Sure, they aren't really rookies and they certainly aren't playing like rooks either. I thought early on people were really ragging on Jose Abreu's skill set. Experts said there were some concerns with his swing. That he could get overmatched by top level pitchers. Well, things seem to be going well so far. 

Tanaka is basically Stephen Strasburg with a killer splitter instead of the high heat. He's been baffling hitters with his array of pitches. His start is historic, and the guy everyone pegged as no Yu Darvish is dealing like an elite pitcher. He could wear down later in the year, but the skills are there and they are real. 



Yasiel Puig
Let's be honest with Puig. We all kind of wanted him to fail. It's hard to wrap your head around a guy that plays all out like this can cover up issues like swinging at bad pitches, making bad decisions on the field, oh and potentially getting hunted down by Mexican criminals just on pure will and talent. Well, Puig has been able to make noted improvements in his approach in the batter's box. After a slow start it's full speed ahead for the Wild Horse. He's creeping his way to the Mike Trout level of talk. Oh wait, ESPN already did that. Hasta luego, bat. 





Thursday, May 8, 2014

Fantasy Funkhouser: So You Don't Own any Colorado Rockies Position Players?

Troy Tulowitzki is leading an offensive barrage in Mile High. (washingtonpost.com)
Fantasy Funkhouser will review all things Fantasy Baseball. After all, life is a small sample size.

It's May. Having a lot of regrets thus far in fantasy baseball isn't uncommon. In fact, after years of meditation I've been able to overcome my extreme anger and impatience that plagued me through my early years in fantasy. Case in point: I haven't dropped Billy Butler on the few leagues where I drafted him. 

Sure, there's still a lot more season to go, and it is worth it to try to not overreact to slumping players with proven track records, but what is undeniable is that we can look back on the past month and know we missed out on some big opportunities. One that jumps out at me is not owning as many of the Colorado Rockies' position players as possible. The lure of the Colorado offense is no surprise, but the quantity and quality at which they have performed thus far is incredible. 
The team ranks 1st in virtually any offensive stat that matters: Runs, Batting Average, OBP, Slugging. Let's take a look at how these guys could have made your April a lot better.

Charlie Blackmon, RF (Y! Rank: 2) .359/.396/.602
I can't sit here and say I'm shocked by Blackmon as a whole, but I did assume he'd start quieting down by now after his red hot start. Blackmon actually started getting into a groove late last year. In limited action he closed out August and September with an OPS over .850. It's possible he's really found himself and can be a solid on base guy that can score runs and steal some bags. His 7 HR so far this year is what's really separating him. He's managed to hold off more highly touted player Corey Dickerson, who is only batting .348 in 46 at bats. Have to do better than that, Corey.

Carlos Gonzalez, LF (Y! Rank: 21) .284/.324/.530
The guy we expect to perform at this level is. Cargo is still finding miraculous was to ding, bruise, or hobble himself to get pulled from games early and have his fantasy owners fret over his health, but it's smooth sailing so far. If anything the obscene numbers his teammates are putting up leaves us wanting even more.

Troy Tulowitzki, SS (Y! Rank: 1) .414/.511/.775
Injuries be damned. Home/road splits be damned. Getting this amount of production from Tulo outweighs all of that. It's not out of the question that he can stay healthy. If he can ... big things.




Nolan Arenado, 3B (Y! Rank: 18) .324/.346/.535
The second year gold glover is also riding a 27 game hitting streak. He's taken kindly to the Coors atmosphere but he's actually hitting better on the road (.357) than at home (.292). Predictably though the power is mainly at Coors, and that's fine. Arenado is turning into the 3B equivalent of Andrelton Simmons minus some flashy plays and packing in more offense. 

Justin Morneau, 1B (Y! Rank: 22) .331/.350/.585
Let the hair pulling begin. Justin Morneau! He has a lot of very productive seasons to his name, but a serious concussion just about ruined his career and led to lackluster results the last 4 seasons. At 32-years-old he's not past his prime, but expecting the mountains and altitude to recreate Morneau in his MVP years. Well, that's what is happening. I always had the suspicion that confidence and comfort played a big part in Morneau's struggles, and that certainly appears to be the case as he is hitting comfortably in this formidable line-up. 

Michael Cuddyer, OF (Y! Rank: 268) .317/.373/.533
Cuddyer's rank is a result of a couple of injuries he has suffered so far. He only has 60 AB's and with Blackmon playing out of his mind, there's no rush to bring back Cuddyer before he's ready. Cuddyer was one of the Rockies' best hitters last year and he is looking to continue that success this season as well. Before the season, it was suggested that Cargo would move to CF to make way for Drew Stubbs, but again with Blackmon not Stubbs performing - when Cuddyer gets back it may force the Rockies to dust off that outfield arrangement. 

Wilin Rosario, C (Y! Rank: 422) .274/.306/.494
If there is a disappointment on this roster so far fantasy wise it's Rosario. The Baby Bull is currently out with a viral infection, which may or may not have been dragging his production down a bit. He's hit 49 home runs the past two seasons and although he's off to a slow start, he's improved his K/BB rate and the power and home field advantage is real. Rosario also has the uncanny ability to hit as well at home as he does on the road, so there's a lot of time for him to pick up the slack. 




Friday, April 18, 2014

Fantasy Funkhouser: Making the Case for ... Brian Dozier

Getting on base is key for Brian Dozier's fantasy value. (rantsports.com)
Fantasy Funkhouser will review all things Fantasy Baseball. After all, life is a small sample size.

Early in the 2014 season the second base position has been a disappointment. It is of course still early, and basic math tells us that even if things don't straighten themselves out, there will still be a Top 10 Second Baseman ranks next year, some players will pull out of their tailspin and others will fall. So whether you are looking to cut bait on Jedd Gyorko or if you need to wait out whatever is going on with Dustin Pedroia or the Red Sox as a whole, Brian Dozier would like your attention.

The 27-year-old is no budding superstar. The former 8th round pick is beginning his 3rd major league season in the Twin Cities, but he started making some impressions last year. He finished the season the 13th ranked second baseman in Yahoo (#178 overall) powered by his always fantasy relevant speed and power combination. But playing in Minnesota and sporting a .244 AVG scared off a lot of people leaving his 2014 ADP somewhere in the early 200's.

So far, Dozier has already earned that value back. He leads the league in runs scored and has 5 HR and 5 SB already. That pesky average is still at .207, but where Dozier has shown a lot of improvement is his walk rate. As the lead off hitter, Dozier has upped his walk rate from 8.2% last year to 17.8% this year! That's getting him on base more, despite hitting for a low average, which allows him to steal more and cross the plate more. 

It is early on so calculated stats, e.g. BB%, can be misleading. For example, he's not finishing the year with a .276 ISO. What is different about taking more walks is that is shows a clear change in approach. It's not something that fluctuates like hitting 2 HR in one game would inflate numbers so early in the year. 

Dozier's K/BB ratio last year was 120/51. That's just not sustainable for a guy in his position. For a big time power hitter, sure, but you won't be batting lead off long with that. He's still striking out a lot, hence the .207 AVG, but by bringing up his K/BB to 13/16 he's off-setting his propensity to swing and miss a lot. Dozier is lowering the percentage of pitches he swings at outside of the zone, which is probably a byproduct of a lot of pitchers throwing him balls, expecting him to chase. Now that he's not, will he see more strikes? Likely, but his power will have that work more to his favor than the pitchers.

In mid-May last year he focused more on shortening his stride to catch up to fastballs in the zone. He ended up driving the ball more, which is still true so far this year. He does tend to hit the ball in the air more often than your typical middle infielder, but if he can straighten those out from pop ups to line drives, he could be in line for a special year. 

There are a lot of positives to take from Dozier's start, but also the potential for it to all fall apart just as easy. He has to stay true to his patience at the plate. Take his walks. At the very least if he can maintain his OBP, then his average will gradually work its way up to a respectable .260 or so. Combine that with 90+runs and a serious push at a 20/20 season, that's pretty fantastic. I'm not sure if he'll be able to keep things up for the entire season and beyond, but he is worth an add at the very least as a stop gap. And if he can be this year's Daniel Murphy that would be a home run free agent add. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fantasy Funkhouser: George Springer - The First Big Prospect Callup of 2014 is Here


George Springer has been called up already. (cnn.si.com)
Fantasy Funkhouser will review all things Fantasy Baseball. After all, life is a small sample size.

Probably the most impossible question to ask during fantasy baseball prep is when a top prospect will get called up. It's impossible to answer simply because the team who owns a top prospects right have no idea when that is going to happen. The popular go-to line is the Super Two deadline, which allows a team to call up a prospect without losing an arbitration year. This random date happens sometime in late May or early June. I recently wondered why teams even care about the Super Two deadline anymore with nearly all teams signing their young talents to long-term deals which knock out all the arbitration years anyway. Someone was kind enough to reply, and said something about how it still matters ... yeah, but still. So long as their progress isn't impeded, get your young players up and playing for you in his early 20's and just buy out his arbitration years. Win - win.

Well, the Astros moved forward with one of their many top prospects, George Springer.
Springer had a shot to break camp with the club, but that didn't happen. He then considered suing the Astros for not writing his name in the Opening Day lineup, but that never really gained any steam. With the Astros playing terrible as usual, they've brought up Springer to liven things up a bit. Presumably after a month or so of surviving in the majors, he'll get that big contract extension.

The long and short of it is, yes, if you have a player that is worthy of a drop, then go add Springer immediately. I've dropped the likes of Brad Miller, Brett Gardner, and and assortment of random pitchers like Ivan Nova, Jonathan Broxton, and Marco Estrada. So no one I was heavily invested in draft pick or dollar wise. This is true for any top prospect that gets called up, but don't go dropping highly ranked players for prospects, especially in redraft leagues. As much as it pains you to still hold onto Billy Butler, even he isn't worth cutting loose for many a prospect.

Springer isn't the jewel of many scouts' eyes. Many publications rank him near the bottom of the Top 20, which of course isn't terrible, but it does show some concern for a guy that otherwise hit 37 HR and swiped 45 bags in the minors last year. The big concern for Springer is his ability to make regular contact. He strikes out a lot, and he can certainly be exposed by big league pitching.

When it comes to evaluating Springer, I'm looking at the skills he has. He is going to hit for power and steal bases. If I need that or the person I'm dropping for him has similar or even lesser skills in those areas, sign me up. The big allure of prospects like this is that there is always great potential. Springer could go 20/20 at some point in his career or he could do it by August. It's that hype that tends to make people overreact. As tough as it may be, one must react without emotion to making an addition like this. Springer could fall on his face.

From a value standpoint, again, I'm buying the power and the speed. Average be damned. He should be inserted in the middle of the Houston lineup, so counting stats should be there. I would say his ceiling for this year is probably along the lines of Desmond Jennings. Again, that's a ceiling, if things go great projection. Last year Jennings was ranked 148 in the Yahoo game so again, this isn't likely Yasiel Puig.

Also, for those with a FAAB system in place, the value in Springer is that he is being called up so early. You're getting virtually a full year out of him. There are other prospects out there I would prefer to have over Springer, but if they're not called up until June or July, then that's a lot of lost value. It's an unexpected surprise this early in the year which makes it all the more exciting.