Surprises abound on leaderboards 

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29

With a month of games to go in the regular season, the races for individual statistical honors are still up for grabs and in most cases they feature some surprising names. That's part of the fun of it for me. Anyone could have predicted Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to lead everyone in home runs or Los Angeles Dodgers ace lefty Clayton Kershaw to set the pace in wins and ERA, but how about Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nelson Cruz, Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Wily Peralta and … have you seen the NL batting race? It's fun! Let's share a few thoughts on the races.

AL batting champ: In March, I actually predicted Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano to win this title, and he's close, a tad behind Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, Detroit Tigers first baseman Victor Martinez and Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre. Two of those fellows are 35 years old and Cano is 31. Don't forget the old guys in drafts! And all four of these players are probably in my top 25 next season as well.

Add Yadier Molina now 

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
Yadier MolinaFrank Victores/USA TODAY SportsYadier Molina generated a .751 OPS in 325 plate appearances this season prior to a thumb injury.
The St. Louis Cardinals had to be hoping that when superb catcher Yadier Molina was lost for a few months with a thumb injury, they could merely remain within striking distance of the NL Central lead. Mission accomplished there. The Cardinals are NL wild-card leaders, and the Milwaukee Brewers certainly didn't pull away in the division. Plenty of fantasy owners, however, moved on from the 50th overall pick and No. 2 catcher in ESPN average live drafts. Well, now it's time to become invested in Molina again!

Some will be cautious -- worried that a thumb injury suppresses power -- and while that certainly can be true, I view a blanket statement like this as total guesswork. We can't judge all thumb injuries the same. Perhaps Molina, now rested from his long break and not as fatigued in comparison to most backstops who have been grinding it out five or six days a week in that span, is ready to become the hitter he was in previous seasons.

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Non-closer RPs to consider adding 

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
Dellin BetancesNoah K. Murray/USA TODAY SportsDellin Betances has 113 strikeouts in 76 innings this season; he may be the Yankees' closer in 2015.
Saves aren't everything. Sure, the most popular relief pitchers in fantasy leagues are the ones who pitch the ninth inning with small leads for that very statistic, but as we approach September, it's time for many fantasy owners to take another look at their league rules and their team needs.

Does your league have a pitcher starts limit? One of mine does, and I'm a tad over the pace of 200 for the season, meaning it was time to search for some top-notch pitchers that neither start nor finish games. They're out there. Plus, instead of going down the stretch with a starting pitcher who ruins ERA and WHIP, safe innings are often preferred, even without the win potential.

Here are 10 of the best non-save relievers, and all are available in plenty of leagues.

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Can you still trust in Chris Davis? 

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26

Chris Davis Rob Carr/Getty ImagesChris Davis hit his 22nd homer Monday but is still hitting just .190 for the season.
Baltimore Orioles first baseman/third baseman Chris Davis entered Monday as the No. 23 player on his own team over the past 30 days on the ESPN Player Rater, well behind the injured Manny Machado, but also after relievers T.J. McFarland, Brad Brach and Tommy Hunter, and the not-so-great Delmon Young. That certainly tells a story, and it's why the first-round pick from a few months ago is also among the top-10 most dropped corner infielders. From 53 home runs and a strong .286 batting average to ... this.

Davis homered Monday, and just like the similar Pittsburgh Pirates corner infielder Pedro Alvarez, who also hit a baseball over a fence Monday, I can't tell you if it's the beginning of something great and you should be a bit more patient before sending him to free agency or if it's simply a one-day reprieve. Personally, I'd wait on both of them. Some would say a team that chose Davis in the first round probably isn't in contention any longer, but I know that's not true. A fantasy team, regardless of sport, can mess up a first-round pick and make up for it. It's tougher when that fellow is hitting .190 for the season, and .162 since the All-Star break, but still, Davis does have 22 home runs. He's contributed something.

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Options for Sean Doolittle owners 

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
Sean DoolittleMichael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty ImagesSean Doolittle has 80 strikeouts, 20 saves, a 2.28 ERA and 0.70 WHIP in 55 1/3 innings this season.
A near-top 10 closer for the season on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater hit the disabled list Sunday with an intercostal strain in his side, opening up an opportunity for saves in the Oakland Athletics bullpen. Yes, lefty Sean Doolittle has done quite a bit in his breakout season, saving 20 games with a 2.28 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and ridiculous strikeout-to-walk rate (80-5!), but it wouldn't be a stretch to say we don't see him again the rest of the regular season. These oblique injuries generally take at least three or four weeks to heal and by then, who knows what's happening with the A's or likely replacement Luke Gregerson.

Gregerson, the former San Diego Padres setup man acquired prior to the season for Seth Smith, is a veteran right-hander with saves in five of his six big league seasons, and he's enjoying his own pretty special season statistically. Since I never believe a setup man is incapable of closing simply because he hasn't proved it before -- had Doolittle proved it? -- I see many saves coming Gregerson's direction. The A’s could also keep their setup alignment the same and opt for another pitcher, like lefty Eric O'Flaherty, to step in for saves, but I still expect Gregerson to get a look at times. Oakland has been coy about its new ninth-inning option thus far, and thanks to lefty Scott Kazmir getting pounded Sunday night by the Los Angeles Angels there was no save chance. But, I doubt Ryan Cook, O'Flaherty or anyone else find their way into regular saves. Gregerson is more than capable, so add him right away in all formats.

As for whether fantasy owners should simply release Doolittle

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Wil MyersKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsWil Myers has struggled in his second season, including a .177/.239/.274 slash line versus lefties.

It's difficult to tell if Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Wil Myers would be owned in roughly half of ESPN's standard leagues, and be one of the most-added players over the past week, had he not won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2013. It might sound unfair, but Myers is hitting .221 and he missed nearly three months with a wrist fracture that was not dealt with surgically. I like Myers and think his future -- starting next spring -- is bright, but this sure seems like a case of name value affecting a player's ownership, and awards tend to feed that beast more than most factors.

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Garrett RichardsMark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsGarrett Richards entered Wednesday as the No. 6 starting pitcher on ESPN's Player Rater.
A wonderful Wednesday night of baseball -- both at the big league level and for the teens and tweens in Williamsport, Pennsylvania -- was a bit overshadowed by the knee injury suffered by Los Angeles Angels right-hander Garrett Richards at Fenway Park. Richards was covering a potential play at first base when his knee buckled and he cried out in pain. A few minutes later a cart took him off the field; later, manager Mike Scioscia called it a "significant injury." Undrafted in fantasy and one of the best values of the season, Richards entered Wednesday ranked sixth among starting pitchers and 19th among all options on the ESPN Player Rater (as of Thursday morning it's Nos. 8 and 30, respectively), but unfortunately, it's reasonable to expect he won't be pitching again for some time.

The Angels are lacking in quality organizational rotation depth, so this is potentially a major blow to the pitching staff, in addition to making many a fantasy owner quite sad. The Angels might have to turn to the likes of lefty Randy Wolf -- yes, that Randy Wolf, now 37 -- right-hander Chris Volstad and lefty Wade LeBlanc. Lefty Tyler Skaggs is already done for the season after Tommy John surgery. Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago are already in the rotation. Who knows, a trade could be made, but basically, fantasy owners shouldn't look at the Angels for Richards replacements. But there is so much depth out there, with myriad hurlers thriving and available in more than half of ESPN's standard leagues.

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Oswaldo Arcia is worth a look 

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
Oswaldo ArciaHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesOswaldo Arcia's home run on Tuesday was his fifth in the past seven games.
We spent the first two days of this week in this space discussing struggling lefty power hitters in Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton and Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez. Let's talk about someone playing well for a change. Minnesota Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia finished off a five-run first inning Tuesday with a three-run blast off Cleveland Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer, giving Arcia home runs in three consecutive games, and five out of seven. That certainly qualifies as playing well, and Arcia remains available in more than 96 percent of ESPN standard leagues!

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Fantasy value of Pirates lineup 

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19

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.

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What to do if you own Josh Hamilton 

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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
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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Remaining value of Darvish, Bailey 

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
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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Willingham can replace injured bats 

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
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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How to value the Rockies for 2015 

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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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