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Spot Starters For the Week

By Eno Sarris // 

Those of you in head-to-head leagues are in the midst of your playoffs, and it’s all hands on deck time. You might not have streamed all year, but you’re streaming now. Scanning the schedules on your lunch break might not immediately provide the best results though. So we’ll do something a little different today. We’ll do that work for you, and give you a mixed league and deep-league starter or two for every day between now and Sunday. One-stop (streamer) shopping!

Thursday

For our mixed leaguer, Alexi Ogando might be out there and is tempting. But he’s really been flagging, and his strikeout rate falls to 5.54 against lefties, and his repertoire suggests that he might have trouble against lefties going forward. Cleveland boasts Grady SizemoreTravis Hafner,Jason KipnisKosuke Fukudome, and Lonnie Chisenhall as good lefties that might tee off in Texas. He makes for a decent option in what might be his final start, but instead you could go toJhoulys Chacin if he’s available in your league. Chacin hasn’t been so great in the second half (4.60 ERA, 1.53 WHIP), but he’s still getting ground balls (56.1%) and enough strikeouts to matter (7.29 K/9). Oh, and he’s facing the Giants on Thursday.

Deep league streamers are sort of screwed on short-schedule days. If Homer Bailey is available, he’s an interesting pickup for his matchup against the Cubs. With his above-average swinging strike rate (9.2%) he could be striking out more batters than he is (6.71 K/9). His control is at a career-best level and Bailey is coming off a good stretch through August and September so far. If he’s gone, then consider Dana Eveland. There’s not much nice to say about Eveland other than he’s a lefty pitching at home in Los Angeles, which suppresses home runs from righties by 8%. Oh, and he’s facing the Buccos, which are having a hard time scoring runs.

Friday

Javier Vazquez faces Washington, but if you were reading last week, he’s probably already on your roster. Tim Stauffer has been scuffling over the second half, but he still has a 2.76 ERA and 1.17 WHIP at home… and that’s where he’ll face the Diamondbacks on Friday. To finish off a trio of mixed-league spot starters, Doug Fister faces Oakland at home in Detroit. One of these three guys will be available in your standard league, and they’re listed here in order of safety, so that should help you find a streamer. Well, Fister might be more solid than Stauffer, but his five-ish K/9 is not very exciting (even if his control is excellent).

Deep leaguers have a decent selection to choose from. Alex White is a rookie with a six-plus ERA pitching in Colorado, so he may not seem very exciting, but there are some hints of future success in his peripherals. He had decent ground-ball rates in the minors (57.2% in Double-A) and had close to a 55% rate in Cleveland. He hasn’t quite shown that in Colorado yet, but those grounders are coming. He also gets whiffs at an average rate and had great control in the minor leagues. He has promise… and he’s facing the Giants. Kevin Slowey against the Indians at home is also a decent idea. He hasn’t been getting the whiffs so far this year, but at least you know he won’t walk many.

Saturday

Speaking of great control, you wouldn’t think a knuckleballer would be known for his ability to keep that thing in the zone, but R.A. Dickey has now walked about two batters per nine for two straight years. He may not seem safe, but he also gets more than half of his contact on the ground and is facing the Braves, which often struggle to score runs. He’s safer than non-knuckler Rick Porcello, even if Porcello draws the Athletics. The best spot starter of the day may not be available, but if he is, jump on Colby Lewis. He’s facing Seattle, but most importantly, it’s in Seattle. He’s a fly-ball guy that has trouble with home runs sometimes, and that won’t be an issue Saturday.

In deep leagues, it might make sense to look to the game in Los Angeles again. James McDonald is facing Ted Lilly, who likes pitching at home, so he may not get the win. But the park will help keep the homers down, and he’s been showing better control in the second half. Drew Pomeranz is an exciting young lefty facing the Giants in Colorado, so that’s even a little more enticing than Alex White really. Everett Teaford of the Royals faces Zach Stewart of the White Sox, and good luck picking the right spot-start there. Teaford had a good debut, but it was against the Mariners in Seattle. Stewart has had two good starts that followed two terrible starts. His ground-ball rate and good control probably makes him the pick.

Sunday

Maybe John Danks is available in your league? He hasn’t been good in September, but he likes facing the Royals in his career. Aaron Harang is at home against the Diamondbacks in multiple senses of the phrase. Otherwise, Sunday is a little light on safe candidates. Brandon Beachyshould be owned, and so should Justin Masterson. But if someone dropped Masterson after his bad start earlier this week, his matchup against Minnesota is a good one. Make sure he’s owned before moving on to the deep league paragraph for your starter.

Joe Saunders takes on the Padres in San Diego, which helps makes him a passable play. Brad Lincoln is not very sexy himself, but he’s taking on the rapidly imploding Chad Billinsgley in Los Angeles, so that’s sort of interesting, too. Matt Harrison is way too average across the board to be a great pitcher most days — but he’s in Seattle on Sunday. He’s probably the best start in this paragraph, actually. If these guys are all owned, try Dillon Gee. He likes pitching at home and takes on the on-again and off-again Braves offense. If he’s owned… pray. Maybe Dontrelle Willis won’t walk the lineup against the Brewers?

It’s difficult to stream. Hopefully this guide will help you make it to the next round in your playoffs!

More Than Average: Kinsler Is A Keeper

By Tommy Rancel //

Ian Kinsler is having one of the best seasons in baseball that no one is talking about. The Texas Rangers second baseman has smashed 65 extra-base hits – including 28 home runs – with 24 steals and has played fantastic defense at the keystone position. The main reason nobody is talking about Kinsler as a top-5 MVP candidate is a .253 batting average which is a no-no in the mind of award voters.

As you know by now, batting average is a misleading statistic. Although Kinsler’s average is more than 20 points below his career average, his .352 on-base percentage is almost a match of his career .355 mark. Despite the dip in average, Kinsler has maintained a healthy OBP because of a 12% walk rate. He is also striking out at the lowest rate of his career.

Commonly, BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is used as a crutch for luck. Is your batting average down? Maybe you’ve been unlucky with BABIP. Hitting out of your mind?  The luck dragons have showered you with good fortune. It is important to look at other things related to BABIP before declaring it just blind luck.

In Kinsler’s case, he has improved his plate discipline while maintaining a similar batted-ball profile. His line drive rate, groundball rate, and flyball rate are all within two percent of his career levels. Yet, his .243 BABIP is 40 points lower than his career .283 average. Considering the lack of movement in batted-ball data and the better discipline, it looks like Kinsler has a case of the bad mojo this season more than any fundamental flaw in his game.

The good news is BABIP tends to regress toward career levels, meaning Kinsler’s 2012 season should be even better than his 2011 season. If you have Kinser in a keeper league, and have been disappointed by the average, relax. He has above-average power for his position. He’s turned into one of the more disciplined hitters in the league. He swipes 25-30 steals a season. Oh, and he is a prime candidate for positive batting average regression next season. If you can pry Kinsler away from his current owner or participate in non-keeper leagues, put Kinsler near the top of your 2012 wish list, ignoring preseason projections or perceptions based on a .250 average.

For more on potential 2012 bargains, check out Bloomberg Sports.

More Rays Magic?

By R.J. Anderson //

With the rookie performances of Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking every player promoted by the Rays will come out of the gates charging. Having a mindset like that makes outfielder Brandon Guyer and catcher Jose Lobaton, both September callups, interesting prospects to add for the end of the postseason. Are they worth your consideration?

Let’s start with Guyer. The 25-year-old product of the University of Virginia came over in the Matt Garza deal after having a breakout 2010 season in Double-A. In Guyer’s first exposure to Triple-A this season, he kept hitting—tacking a .312/.384/.521 line with 14 home runs to his résumé—and added a neat notch to his major league career when he homered in his first big league at-bat. The results in his 17 big league at-bats since have been less satisfying, as he has just two hits (both singles), but there is reason to believe better days are ahead.

Before displaying more power in recent seasons, Guyer used to receive a tweener label—i.e. his bat played better in center, but his glove did not—and he still has more speed than you expect, however he played linebacker for the Cavaliers football program and it shows. He brings that same tenacity from the gridiron to the ballpark too, as he throws his body around with reckless abandon. What makes Guyer’s power and speed even more tantalizing is how he hits for average too—with a career minor league batting average of .297—the only thing that stands between him and being a nice everyday outfielder is his plate discipline, which can still use a little more refining.

The Rays seem committed to giving Guyer as many starts in the outfield as possible, so he could make for a nice sneaky starter against left-handed pitchers.  The same can be said for Lobaton, as Joe Maddon recently announced Kelly Shoppach’s playing time will diminish to accommodate the Rays efforts in evaluating Lobaton.

Acquire off waivers in 2009, Lobaton is a switch-hitting catcher who has a strong defensive reputation. He came up through the Padres minor league system and even reached the majors in 2009 before being designated for assignment. Lobaton has never been much of a hitting prospect, with a career .259/.348/.410 slash line, however he hit .307/.417/.505 across 244 plate appearances in Triple-A and on rehab assignment in High-A that, when combined with his age (26), make you wonder if maybe something clicked.

The safe bet is to go against that idea, but still, the increased power production is a development worth keeping an eye on, and if you have no other choices, then Lobaton could provide a little value if he gets on a tear.

For more on late season additions, check out BloombergSports.com

Brandon McCarthy Getting Better In Oakland

By Tommy Rancel //

Once a highly touted pitching prospect, Brandon McCarthy has battled with injuries throughout his major league career. A reoccurring shoulder injury forced him to miss the major leagues entirely in 2010; however, he has resurfaced better than ever in 2011. Now pitching for the Oakland Athletics, McCarthy is 8-7 with a 3.41 ERA. He has thrown a career-best 142.2 innings despite missing time earlier this season once again because of his right shoulder.

While a 3.41 ERA is pretty good in its own right, McCarthy has actually pitched better. According to FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) – a metric that measures things a pitcher can control without the influence of defense: strikeouts, walks, home runs – McCarthy has been a top-10 pitcher in the American League. In fact, his 2.77 FIP is actually better than that of Justin Verlander’s. That is not to say McCarthy is the better player, but shows he has been better than his win-loss record or ERA would indicate.

McCarthy’s 6.50 K/9 is slightly below the league average of 7.08; however, his 1.39 BB/9 and 0.50 are well above them. He has faced 577 batters this season and unintentionally walked just 21 of them or 3.6%. The league average for walks is somewhere near 8%. Looking at “luck” stats like BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and HR/FB (home run-to-flyball)rate, McCarthy’s  .304 BABIP is actually higher that the .291 league average.  It is also the highest rate on his team with a minimum of 90 innings pitched.

Although it does not appear McCarthy has been lucky on balls in play, his 5.6% HR/FB rate is extremely low. It is the fourth lowest mark in the AL; however, it cannot simply be dismissed at all luck. His home ballpark – The Coliseum- is among the most pitcher-friendly in the league. According to ESPN Park factors, the stadium is 28th in home runs this season.

McCarthy has also helped keep the ball in the park with a shift in batted ball data. A former flyball pitcher, his groundball rate is over 47% this season. A change in pitch selection is likely behind the change in profile.  His home run rate will likely regress over a longer period of time; meanwhile, remember the park factors and the groundballs before simply dismissing it as good fortune.

The lanky right-hander is coming off his best start of the season. This weekend, McCarthy spun a complete-game shutout of the Seattle Mariners. In the process, he struck out 10 batters without issuing a walk. Over his last two starts, he has 20 strikeouts and 2 walks in 17 innings pitched. Because of the time missed earlier in the season, fatigue not seem to be a concern with McCarthy. With the opportunity for a handful of quality starts down the stretch, he may be someone you consider adding to your playoff roster. Owned in less than 15% of leagues, he is readily available if you need him.

For more on late season additions, check out BloombergSports.com

The Return of Strasburg

By R.J. Anderson //

Nationals manager Davey Johnson confirmed on Tuesday what many felt was a given over the last few weeks as he announced Stephen Strasburg will return to the Nationals rotation next week. Such a timetable gives Strasburg three starts before the season ends, but with the fantasy playoffs coming up, are those three starts worth gambling on?

As always, the answer depends on your team strength. If you have multiple frontline pitchers in place, then finding a roster spot for Strasburg might be more about preventing a competitor from grabbing the phenom than adding him with the intent to play him. Still, with a return start looming against the hapless Dodgers, you have to at least consider the option.

Rehab assignments are difficult to get a read on, and the statistics from them tend to be meaningless. Nonetheless, Strasburg’s rehab numbers are impressive: 14 1/3 innings pitched, 25 strikeouts, three walks, one home run, and 13 hits.  Reports from Strasburg’s first time back on the mound suggested his stuff was back and that he was throwing into the upper-90s with his fastball, so it isn’t ridiculous to think he could be able to contribute at the major league level right now.

There is some risk here, as any pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery is hard to predict, and it’s unlikely he would have replicate his impressive totals from last season (68 innings pitched, a 2.91 earned run average, and a 5.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio) over a full season, so imagine the volatility in asking him to do it over three starts. Even so, Strasburg is perhaps the only game changer left on the market, as he is owned in less than 60 percent of ESPN leagues, and if you want him for your own team, then grab him now.

For more on Strasburg and potential September additions, check out bloombergsports.com

Fister Winning In Detroit

By Tommy Rancel //

Doug Fister serves as a shining example of why a pitcher’s win-loss record can be misleading. At the time of his trade from the Seattle Mariners to the Detroit Tigers, the right-hander had a 3-12 record. Based on record alone, it would seem the Tigers were making a horrible decision.

That said, his 3.33 ERA and solid defensive independent metrics suggested he was a much better pitcher than his record would indication. Although Fister was not allowing many runs to score, his offense was scoring even less. In games he started, the Mariners averaged less than three runs a game.

Since the trade, Fister has made five starts for the Tigers. He has already doubled his win total on the season (6) despite a slight uptick in ERA (3.45). Why? Because the Tigers are averaging 4.5 runs in his starts.

Wins aside, Fister has been a quality pitcher by any metric. His season ERA stands at 3.35 with an FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.24 and an xFIP (expected FIP) of 3.89. Standard FIP measure things a pitcher can control without outside influence: strikeouts, walks, and home run. Meanwhile, xFIP measures the same things except it normalizes home runs to the league average, further stripping luck from the equation.

What Fister will not give you is much of a boost in strikeouts (5.46 K/9 on the season). On the other hand, he is very stingy with walks. His current 1.75 BB/9 is third best in the American League. Thanks to his low walk rate, his 1.19 WHIP is good for a top-15 spot in the AL. As a member of the Tigers, he has 17 strikeouts and just two walks in 28.2 innings.

Because of his win-loss record, Fister is available in over 85% of leagues according to his Bloomberg Sports card. This is a ridiculously low number considering his is in the top-15 in: innings pitched, walks allowed, WHIP, and ERA. He is also 13th in opponents average (.256) among AL starters with at least 170 innings pitched.

As teams expand rosters come September 1st, you should do the same with your team and Doug Fister. In addition to his own numbers, consider the fact that the Tigers play a favorable schedule down the stretch. Of their final 28 games, 15 come against teams that are a combined 85 games under .500. When you factor in all of the above, Fister may be the difference between becoming a champion or being the runner-up in your league.

For more on Fister and potential September additions, check out bloombergsports.com

Replacing Brian Wilson

By R.J. Anderson //

Giants closer Brian Wilson was placed on the disabled list recently, causing a frenzy amongst his fantasy league owners. With only a few weeks remaining in the season, this is not the best time to lose your finest reliever. As it stands, there are really only two strategic options.

1) Find a new closer

Easier said than done, however two names to consider: Mark Melancon and Jason Isringhausen. Rob covered Isringhausen in more depth on Monday and he is available in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues, probably because of the shaky situation unfolding with the Mets desire to get more of Bobby Parnell.

Melancon is available in roughly 35 percent of ESPN’s league because he closes for the Astros. One of the requirements for registering a save is the pitcher’s team having a lead in the final inning, and the Astros—who are more than 40 games under the .500 mark—rarely have that luxury. Melancon still gets a fair amount of appearances and strikeouts, plus he could help with the occasional save. His inclusion here actually leads in nicely to the other strategy on the table …

2) Punt saves, add the best reliever available

Some leagues value holds, but many don’t. That means a variety of strong setup men are left in the free agent pool because they offer little value given the limited amount of roster spaces. Take Mike Adams, who is universally regarded as the best eighth inning pitcher in the minors. He has a career 2.03 earned run average and a 1.39 ERA this season, yet is on less than 20 percent of the ESPN league rosters because he does not get saves (only three career). If Adams, the best of the best, is available in that many leagues, then there is a really good opportunity to find someone in your league who can help you in other categories, if not saves.

Those options might not be ideal, but you have to make the best of what the season throws your way.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com.

The Aaron Hill/Kelly Johnson Swap

By Tommy Rancel//

The Arizona Diamondbacks decided to shake up the interior of their team on Tuesday when they acquired a pair of middle infielders – Aaron Hill and John McDonald – from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for their own starting second baseman Kelly Johnson. In McDonald, the Diamondbacks pick up a very good defender along the middle infield and depth at shortstop behind in Stephen Drew’s absence. He provides little in terms of offense and is not considered a real play in any league format.

Hill and Johnson, on the other hand, have spent the last few seasons as key performers at the keystone position.

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Four For Grabbing

By R.J. Anderson //

The season might be wrapping up, but there are still a few players available in a good chunk of leagues that could help push you over the top. Let’s take a look at four players who could be used to form an entirely new infield. They are ranked by their availability in ESPN leagues in ascending order:

1. Jose Altuve

2. Yuniesky Betancourt

3. Mike Carp

4. David Freese

Altuve is the Astros diminutive second baseman. The story on him throughout the minors was that he can hit, and that remains the case after more than 100 major league plate appearances. There are some reasons for concern, as Altuve’s value is entirely batting average driven and it’s far too early to say whether he can maintain an average in the .330s. If not and his peripheral statistic remain the same, then his value dips quite a bit. Altuve is owned in just 5.3 percent of ESPN leagues.

As bad as Betancourt was in the first half (.237/.255/.342), he’s been very good since the All-Star break (.369/.385/.553). Betancourt has always shown traces of power, and while his on-base percentage is being buoyed by his average, it’s a matter of positional scarcity. Just riding the tail end of the heat wave can provide good value, particularly if you do not own Troy Tulowitzki or another top shortstop. Betancourt is available in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues.

Justin Smoak’s injuries have opened the door to Carp, who is owned in 52 percent of ESPN leagues. His seasonal line of .320/.379/.492 is strong, and he has been particularly effective over the last two weeks. Because Carp is a lefty, he will not be as affected by Safeco’s offensive constriction as his right-handed batting teammates. Carp isn’t likely to continue to hit like he is one of the league’s best first basemen, but if you can catch some lightning in the bottle from a utility slot, he could provide useful, as Rob covered earlier in the week.

Freese completes the infield and is owned in nearly 75 percent of leagues. He is hitting .319/.369/.458 on the season, and four of his seven home runs have come in the last four weeks. Freese’s power has picked up in the second half, and would be owned more widely if he hadn’t missed almost all of May and June.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com.

Derek Holland, Jeff Niemann and Spot Starting

by Eno Sarris //  

The tale of two starters owned in about half of all fantasy leagues ends with a discussion on strategy. Derek Holland and Jeff Niemann may not be very similar in terms of their physical stature or the quality of their stuff, but the two pitchers have similar statistical profiles. Putting them in a position to succeed is very important to getting the best results from these two young starters.

Neither Holland nor Niemann have great swing-and-miss stuff right now. The average swinging strike rate in the major leagues is 8.6% this year, and Holland (7.2%) and Niemann (8.1%) fall short of that number. Their strikeout rates (6.84 K/9 and 7.14 K/9 respectively) reflect this reality. In the future, Holland has more upside, perhaps, as his 94 MPH fastball is three ticks faster than Niemann’s, and his four-pitch mix has gotten better whiffs in the past. But, right now, both of these guys lack the strikeout punch of an elite pitcher.

None of the rest of their rates are elite either. Holland has average control (3.07 BB/9, 3.11 BB/9 is average), gets groundballs at a slightly above-average rate (47.3% GBs, 44% is average), and has had slightly below-average luck (.310 BABIP, 70.3% LOB, averages are .292 and 72.4% this year). For the most part, Niemann’s story is the same. He has an average ground-ball rate (44.1%), and slightly above-average luck (.277 BABIP, 76.7% LOB). Right now, he’s showing an elite walk rate (2.11 BB/9), but he’s been limited to 98 1/3 innings this year and his career rate is much closer to average (2.90 BB/9).

If their luck stats regress towards the mean like they should, both of these pitchers are mid-to-high threes ERA pitchers. Even if one is 6′ 9″ and is nicknamed the Big Nyquil because of his slow pace and sleepy stuff, and the other is 6′ 2″ and has a suprising 94 MPH fastball coming from his left hand, there are similarities here.

By all accounts, if a 3.6+ ERA is above-average in real-life baseball, it is average in your regular mixed fantasy league. So you have two pitchers that have the upside to give you average production and the downside to actually hurt your ERA. How do you best use two dudes like this?

By putting them on your bench and using them in good matchups.

Holland has been a better pitcher on the road, showing better control and better results. Avoid Arlington, where he has a 5.32 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP, and he’s suddenly a much better pitcher. Niemann doesn’t have much of a home/road split, but he does face juggernaut offenses in Boston, Toronto and New York. Avoiding those teams would be the safe way to go. You mitigate your risk, and you improve the downside portion of the ledger.

If you have the flexibility to use a starter half of the time, you’ll get half of an above-average starter out of each of these two dudes by picking your starts well. Many fantasy teams make the mistake of holding too many bench position players. These players only contribute one or two starts a week to your team. Instead, your bench should be made up of pitchers like Holland and Niemann: pitchers that can easily be put in a position to succeed.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com.

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