Fantasy value of Pirates lineup 

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
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Pedro AlvarezMichael Zagaris/Getty ImagesCan a move to first base help Pedro Alvarez's slumping offense?
The Pittsburgh Pirates enter Tuesday having lost six games in a row, but don't worry, center fielder Andrew McCutchen is scheduled to return to save the day! The defending NL MVP has apparently recovered from his rib injury and Tuesday is the first day he's eligible for activation. McCutchen is having another MVP season really, is easily the team's signature player, and the Pirates obviously need him. Fantasy owners obviously need him. But what about the other Pirates hitters, what are they bringing to the table?

Flanking McCutchen are speedy defenders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, each owned in 100 percent of ESPN standard leagues, but each a tad flawed. Marte homered twice in Monday's 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves, but that brings his season total to just eight. He is not much of a power hitter, and while he's raised his grisly walk rate a tad since 2013, he's not running as much, either. Marte is worth owning but I actually moved him in a keeper format, because it's tough to see much statistical upside from last year. He isn't quite a top-30 outfielder this year.

Josh HamiltonRichard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty Images
Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia certainly raised eyebrows this past weekend when he said outfielder Josh Hamilton, now in his second season with the club, is not the same player he was previously with the Texas Rangers. Perhaps it's a motivational ploy to get his cleanup hitter going, but it seems an odd one. However, is Scioscia correct? Hamilton requested a day off Sunday. What should fantasy owners expect from the former MVP and fantasy stalwart?

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Mike Fiers and the sneaky K club 

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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Mike FiersBenny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsMike Fiers ran right through the Cubs, and could put up more K's in upcoming starts.
By dinnertime Thursday a pair of right-handed starting pitchers already had delivered 14-strikeout performances, which seemed awfully rare to me, and then I found out it had happened four times in 40 years. So yeah, it's rare. One of the fellows who went on the whiff-fest is Detroit Tigers ace Max Scherzer, the defending AL Cy Young Award winner and noted strikeout maven. He's owned in all leagues. The other is

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Yu Darvish and Homer BaileyGetty ImagesYu Darvish and Homer Bailey both hit the disabled list on Wednesday.
Entering Wednesday, five of the top 20 starting pitchers by ESPN average draft position this season -- a quarter of them! -- had that annoying asterisk next to their name denoting their place on the disabled list, and as we found out earlier this week, Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander could join them soon. On Wednesday afternoon, the news broke about two more unlucky members of the asterisk club, as Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish and Cincinnati Reds right-hander Homer Bailey hit the DL with elbow woes. Yep, it just never seems to end.

For now, just as with the other pitchers who have fallen before them, we analyze each pitcher separately, because there are always degrees of sprains and strains and inflammation and pain tolerance and, it's important to note, how teams view the situations. For example, the Rangers are one of the worst teams in baseball. Pushing Darvish back to the mound unless he's really, truly 100 percent just makes no sense. It's premature to call his elbow inflammation a season-ender, but why would the sad-sack Rangers risk anything? The Reds remain on the periphery of a division and wild-card race, so Bailey, degree of injury notwithstanding, appears more likely to contribute this month. Obviously, this all affects fantasy owners.

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Chris CarterTroy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsChris Carter's batting average will always be a liability, but his power will boost his value.
Perhaps Houston Astros outfielder Chris Carter will never win a batting title -- hey, crazy things do happen in this sport -- but let's give this low-average hitter plenty of credit for the fine season he's having. Carter smacked two more home runs Tuesday in a 10-4 win over the Minnesota Twins, giving him an impressive 28 on the season, fourth-most in the sport. That's a pace for 38, and with the run he's been on of late, it's reasonable to hope he'll breeze past that mark. Sure, Carter's hitting only .230, but a week ago he was at .219, and since the All-Star break he's hitting .307 with a 1.067 OPS. Put simply, Carter has been one of the most valuable hitters in fantasy for the past month, and now he's near 100 percent owned in ESPN standard formats. He deserves it.

So why is this happening, and is the drastic change in batting average sustainable? Well, Carter has reduced his legendary strikeout rate a bit this season, but it's still pretty high. It's also tough to extrapolate anything that's happened in the past 30 days and determine it's a new direction for a hitter who had proven to be a swing-and-miss slugger, and really he still is. Carter is 27, and he's not likely to change. A bloated BABIP since mid-July has helped his batting average, but the reason he's become so popular in fantasy is for the sheer power; Adam Dunn is used to this, even when not hitting his weight. Carter is playing regularly and hitting prodigious home runs. We should neither expect the power nor the batting average to continue at quite this rate, but enjoy it while it lasts.


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Josh WillinghamBrace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty ImagesTraded to the Royals, the thrill of a pennant chase may invigorate Josh Willingham at the dish.
Josh Willingham bashed 35 home runs for the 2012 Minnesota Twins, while also drawing 76 walks, and while it might not seem clear, those skills remain. Sure, Willingham hasn't been able to hit for average or stay healthy since, but the intriguing Monday trade that landed him with the first-place Kansas City Royals -- hey, they're ahead of the Detroit Tigers now! -- certainly ups his fantasy value and should remind owners that this is a potentially valuable asset.

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Carlos Gonzalez Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesDue largely to injuries, Carlos Gonzalez will see his run of 20/20 seasons come to an end in 2014.
Fantasy owners are probably getting tired of the top Colorado Rockies players, especially slumping star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who -- while you were all participating in fantasy football mock drafts this weekend -- was again placed on the disabled list. It's certainly not the first time, and now it's a recurring knee injury rendering him unusable and able to watch the games in relaxation with ailing shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The Rockies continue to claim neither of their star hitters has been shut down for the season, but look at the standings, folks. The Rockies sure aren't contending. There's a decent chance we won't be seeing these fellows again until next spring, but if the team admits that, then it affects ticket sales. People don't get as excited to see Josh Rutledge and Drew Stubbs.

Gonzalez, the No. 7 selection in ESPN live drafts prior to and early in the season, will see his four-year run of 20-homer, 20-steal seasons end. Give the guy credit, because that's a pretty impressive feat. Nine players achieved 20/20 in 2013, and at this point, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez and Pittsburgh Pirates star Andrew McCutchen are the only ones on their way to a repeat. And McCutchen is hurt, too, so he might not get there, either. Gonzalez has had a miserable season, especially in context of value, but he's 28 and plays half his games at Coors Field. He won't be a first-rounder next year, but how far do you let him fall?

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Cliff LeeBrad Mills/USA TODAY SportsCliff Lee left Thursday's start against the Nationals after 31 pitches, and is likely done for 2014.
Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee didn't figure to be among the traded on Thursday before the non-waiver deadline, as he had pitched only twice since missing significant time with a left flexor pronator strain, and hadn't pitched so well. What was expected is that we would all hear his name bandied about in August rumors to eager contenders, should such a team feel compelled to claim him off waivers and devise a suitable trade offer. And then he'd go elsewhere.

Well, that's not going to occur anymore after Lee, the No. 5 pitcher off the board (via average draft position) in ESPN live drafts and a third-rounder overall, left his outing in Washington on Thursday night with the same pronator injury, and then after the game hit the disabled list and told reporters he's likely done for 2014. Awesome. Lee finishes with four wins, 72 strikeouts, a 3.65 ERA and 1.38 WHIP and the unexciting David Buchanan probably takes his rotation spot. Eh.

What can fantasy owners learn from this?

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Rajai DavisAP Photo/Duane BurlesonAfter the David Price deal, Tigers outfielder Rajai Davis enjoys a nice bump in fantasy value.
The Tampa Bay Rays are apparently not going to try to make the postseason in 2014, as Thursday's trade deadline saw them move lefty David Price. Price was part of a three-team deal that landed him with the Detroit Tigers, and that really shouldn't alter his fantasy value much. Price is an established hurler with a Cy Young award to his credit, and he enters Thursday as the No. 24 option on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater, sixth among starting pitchers. He can pitch anywhere, and his value remains sky-high.

What's interesting is who else moved in the trade.

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Oscar Taveras Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsOscar Taveras now has a clear path to a starting job. Time to invest? Not so fast.
The trade of John Lackey for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly is, on the surface, really good news for St. Louis Cardinals rookie outfielder Oscar Taveras, because it opens up right field for him on a full-time basis. But what if Taveras just isn't ready to be any good at this level yet? I mean, he's 22 years old, and while it's way too early to judge him on a long-term basis after 100 or so big league at-bats, what are fantasy owners really expecting here? Taveras has been compared to former fantasy star Vladimir Guerrero because of his high-leverage swing and propensity to swing at anything and everything, a noted bad-ball hitter. And he has generally succeeded in the minors.

But Guerrero never struggled like Taveras has this season.

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Jon Lester and Yoenis Cespedes USA TODAY Sports, AP ImagesJon Lester and Yoenis Cespedes both retain their fantasy value in new digs.
Thursday's trade deadline got started with the proverbial bang when the Oakland Athletics acquired lefty Jon Lester from the Boston Red Sox, but parted with slugger Yoenis Cespedes. What? Say that again? It's true, and quite shocking. From a fantasy perspective, Lester owners had been bracing themselves for change, but it's not as if his value was going to be altered too much, regardless of destination. The only risk for Lester owners was in AL-only formats if he ended up in the NL. He did not. Oakland is surely a nice place to pitch, but Lester, already the No. 13 starting pitcher on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater, probably can't get much better than this. He's already terrific.

The shocking part is that the team with the best record in baseball moved on from starting left fielder Cespedes, a two-time Home Run Derby champion who had spent the majority of his at-bats this season hitting in the Nos. 3 and 5 lineup spots.

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Justin MastersonJason Miller/Getty ImagesJustin Masterson was tops in MLB in ground-ball rate in 2013 and is second thus far in 2014.
The St. Louis Cardinals acquired right-hander Justin Masterson from the Cleveland Indians for minor league outfielder James Ramsey Wednesday, a day before Thursday's trading deadline. Although I've never been a big Masterson fan, he really could improve in the National League. Masterson now gets to face opposing pitchers a few times per outing instead of designated hitters like David Ortiz and Victor Martinez. The composite NL ERA is 3.67, as opposed to 3.91 in the AL. In addition, Masterson is one of the most extreme ground-ball pitchers in the game and is striking out plenty of hitters. Plus, if you compare ERA to fielding independent pitching (FIP) -- which I do on occasion because it often tells a more accurate story of performance, of things pitchers can control -- you'd see that Masterson's nightmare season certainly appears to be due in large part to bad luck

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Joc PedersonGregg Forwerck/Getty ImagesJoc Pederson could be in the majors soon, either with the Dodgers or some other team.
Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline is Thursday afternoon -- I mean, nobody's been talking about this for the past month, right? -- and while we can't possibly know for sure which players will actually be sent to new teams, I have a few hunches the fantasy world will certainly be affected. I read and follow the same ESPN experts you do and right now it's nothing but rumors, but here are several young players I would add today in advance of a deadline that could send their value soaring and creating a modest free-for-all in your league. Always plan ahead!

Ken Giles, RP, Philadelphia Phillies: I sure hope Jonathan Papelbon gets moved somewhere, because the last thing a last-place team needs is a really expensive, miserable closer. Giles certainly seems ready to close, and I think he'd get the nod over lefty Jake Diekman, who still gets thumped at times by right-handed hitters. Giles looks dominant. Other relief pitchers who could go from setting up today to closing tomorrow -- not necessarily young, by the way -- include Dale Thayer of the San Diego Padres, Rex Brothers of the Colorado Rockies and Bryan Morris of the Miami Marlins. As for other Phillies ready to step up into a key role should Marlon Byrd, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Bake McBride or pretty much anyone else get moved, it's tough to find anyone. The organization's outfield is totally bereft of depth, thus the Grady Sizemore signing. Perhaps corner infielder Maikel Franco gets a promotion if Ryan Howard is moved. Dare to dream.


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Add Billy Burns right now 

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
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Billy BurnsAP Photo/Gregory BullThe rumors about Billy Burns' speed are true: He has 51 steals in 56 attempts in the minors in 2014.
The best team in baseball promoted one of the best base stealers in the minor leagues Monday, and I, for one, couldn't be more pleased! I remember watching the ridiculously speedy Billy Burns back in March while at spring training in Arizona, and instantly labeled him one of the sleeper stolen base options for this season. The truth on Burns is that he's probably not ready for regular duty in the big leagues, but I haven't forgotten what a smiling Oakland Athletics spokesman said with pride in the press box that sunny March afternoon when I marveled at Burns' aggressiveness: "Yeah, he runs every time he gets on base."

I was hooked!

And now you too can join in the fun, because Burns is on the Athletics.

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Josh Harrison, Stephen StrasburgAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJosh Harrison has six home runs and 13 steals this season, along with extensive positional eligibility.
A few weeks ago, Pittsburgh Pirates utility player Josh Harrison was one of the rare hitters chosen as an All-Star that fantasy owners could still find in free agency in many leagues. Harrison remains available in roughly half of ESPN's standard leagues -- which might make some question why he was in Minneapolis for the Midsummer Classic in the first place -- but on the positive side, his selection also should have steered fantasy owners into seeing if he could help their teams. After all, Harrison is a useful and versatile player. On Sunday, he contributed four hits -- including a home run -- and stole a pair of bases for the awesome combo meal in a 7-5 win at Coors Field; he's now hitting .294 this season.

This isn't meant to convince anyone that Harrison is a must-own, but it should be noted he's pretty much a regular player these days, with outfielder Starling Marte on the disabled list for a concussion and third baseman Pedro Alvarez not able to hit left-handed pitchers and finally seeing the bench because of it.

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