Friday, 23 December 2011

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Saturday, 17 December 2011

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers for Every Position in 2012

Fantasy baseball owners are no different than anyone else. Whether you are looking to buy a car, invest in a stock, pick up a CD of your favorite band or draft a player for your fantasy roster, everyone is searching for a deal. In fantasy sports, deals come in the form of players who are under-valued by your fellow fantasy owners at the draft table. These players are called fantasy baseball sleepers and can help you get the edge and possibly win your league. Most of these players have a good reason to be under-valued: they may be coming off an injury-riddled season; perhaps they have experienced a recent downturn in statistical production; maybe they have switched teams and have an undefined role with a new club. Whatever the reason, your competition at the fantasy draft may let these players slip down in their respective rankings. It’s your job to grab these fantasy sleepers at a place in the draft where they can produce better numbers than the players they will be drafted alongside.


Here is a list of fantasy baseball sleepers, one at every position, who may be expected to provide a value to your roster and who may exceed the expectations of your fellow fantasy opponents.


Catcher – Nick Hundley (SD)
Sure, he plays in a terrible hitter’s park and has struggled mightily with injuries the past 4 seasons. However, if the definition of a fantasy baseball sleeper is a player who will slip down the list to a position where he can be drafted for value, then Hundley fits the bill. Nobody knows this guy and if he stays healthy he could challenge the 20 HR plateau.


First Base – Adam Lind (TOR)
After putting up a monster season in 2009, Lind was suddenly on everyone’s radar. However, back-to-back years of mediocre overall numbers have caused many fantasy baseball owners to shy away from the Blue Jays’ DH/1B. If the Jays land a big free agent bat in the off season, Lind may have some of the pressure taken off of him and he may respond. He had an amazing first half in 2011. He could easily do it again over a full season.


Second Base – Aaron Hill (ARI)
Talk about a fall from grace. After setting franchise records for HR at second base, Hill went from hero to goat to finding himself traded to the National League West within a 2 season span. His BABIP in 2010 was .196 and .268 in 2011. You have to believe that number simply has to increase. Coupled with his invigorated approach at the plate in Arizona, Hill may just pay dividends in 2012.


Third Base – Mark Reynolds (BAL)
Everyone’s favorite whipping boy switched positions in 2011 and saw an improvement in his offensive statistics as a result. Perhaps the pressure of playing the hot corner affected his play at the plate. His slash line as a third baseman: .210/.315/.451. After the move to first base: .250/.345/.566. The Orioles expect to play him at 1B in 2012 but fear not, he will still qualify at 3B in fantasy leagues.


Short Stop – Dee Gordon (LAD)
A frightening lack of patience at the plate is the only thing holding Gordon back from stealing 80 bases. He walked a mere 7 times in 233 plate appearances in 2011. If he can find a way to add walks to his .305 batting average, he may steal his way into fantasy conversations next season. In the meantime, consider him sleeper material.


Outfield – Shin-Shoo Choo (CLE)
Injuries and a DUI led to a horrific season for Choo. A bona fide top 50 fantasy pick heading into 2011, he may have fallen off the radar for many not willing to overlook last year’s fiasco. A return to the 20/20, .300 average seasons of 2009-2010 is very likely. He shouldn’t fall too far in most drafts but he may be a deal. 


Designated Hitter – Adam Dunn (CHW)
The most consistent offensive player in major league baseball fell flat on his face in a historic way last season. Players of this consistency and talent level don’t come along very often. What did we learn in 2011? That Dun is a human being, not a robot. That’s all. Expect him to regroup and return to form with 35+ HR and 100 RBI. 


Starting Pitcher – Adam Wainwright (STL)
Pitchers can not only return from Tommy John surgery, they can thrive afterward. See Tim Hudson, Billy Wagner and Josh Johnson for recent proof of this. Heading into 2011, Wainwright was a top 5 pitcher. Entering 2012, he won’t be on many top 30 lists. Let him slip and grab him just after the middle tier hurlers start to go (think Doug Fister and Max Scherzer for comparisons).


Relief Pitcher – Sergio Santos (TOR)
No one expected Santos to land the closers role in Chicago. However, in 2011 he did exactly that. With less competition in Toronto’s bullpen and playing for a team that may very well contend in 2012, Santos could be a draft day steal.


There are no sure things in baseball. This is especially true in fantasy baseball. However, if you take a chance or two on a few sleepers in your draft, you may just get the edge on your opponents. After all, having the edge is what it takes to win in fantasy baseball. Good luck in 2012!

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* Nick Hundley photo by SD Dirk on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
* Mark Reynolds photo by Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "Mark Reynolds") [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
* Adam Dunn photo by Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "Adam Dunn") [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Open and Closed Case: Top Ten Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitchers for the 2012 Season

In fantasy baseball, relief pitchers are a unique breed. They represent the only roster position which is solely responsible for an entire statistical category (Saves). If you do not have an effective closer or two, you run the risk of losing an entire category. For head-to-head leagues in particular this can be a serious issue. There are those fantasy baseball owners who believe it is important to get a quality closer early and help solidify the Saves category. There are also those who believe that saves can be picked up ‘on the cheap’ from the waiver wire throughout the season. Whichever approach you prefer to take, it is worthwhile taking a look at the top ten fantasy baseball closing pitchers for 2012:


1)     Craig Kimbrel (ATL)
It may seem over-eager to rank a 23-year-old closer with only one full major league season under his belt as the best closer in fantasy baseball. However, when that season includes 46 saves, .178 BA against, 1.04 WHIP, 2.10 ERA and an amazing 14.84 K/9, it’s mostly a no-brainer. It’s not impossible that Kimbrel ends up with twice as many strikeouts as the second closer on this list.

2)     John Axford (MIL)
Don’t let the arbitration acceptance of Francisco Rodriguez with the Brewers scare you. Axford is the man in the 9th inning in Milwaukee. He followed up a good 2010 season with an even better effort in 2011 including tying Kimbrel for the NL lead in Saves. The loss of Braun for 50 games may mean more close scoring games and more opportunities for Axford. All is well.

3)     Drew Storen (WAS)
Washington’s starters may just hand Storen more opportunities in 2012 than he had last season. His stuff isn’t overwhelming but he does put up almost a strikeout per inning and another 40-save season looks attainable.

4)     Jonathan Papelbon (PHI)
Moving from the Red Sox to the Phillies will not have much of an impact on Papelbon’s overall statistics. His ability to replicate his delivery is second only to Rivera in major league baseball. The 2.94 ERA he put up in 2011 is a little unsettling (but almost a run better than 2010) however his 0.93 WHIP was outstanding and his K/9 has not fallen below 10 since 2006.

5)     Heath Bell (FLA)
A lot has been made of the drop in strikeout rate (down 3.71 from 2010) but his peripherals were all in line with past performance. He is a bit of a fly ball pitcher (.81 G/F) so we’ll have to see how the new ball park in Miami plays but he’ll have some sparkling infield defense behind him for anything hit on the ground. There is a push in Miami to succeed in 2012 and Bell may prove to be a good fantasy pick.

6)     Mariano Rivera (NYY)
The most difficult trait to find in evaluating closing pitchers is consistency. Rivera is the one and only member of this list that oozes consistency out of every pore of his body. He is a human being (not a robot) and as such will see his skills erode at some point. However, he is showing no signs of slowing down having put up a sub 1.00 WHIP once again in 2011 (not to mention 44 saves).

7)     Brian Wilson (SF)
Injuries knocked Wilson from the top of most lists in 2011. He saw his K rate decline and his walk rate increase. For now, we’ll chalk it up to injury. Watch him coming into spring training. If he’s healthy, get him.

8)     Joel Hanrahan (PIT)
The Pirates closer saw his K/9 drop precipitously (down 4.92 from 2010). However, his command improved and he managed to save 40 games for a Pittsburgh team that mustered only 72 victories all season. Granted, this was due to a high number of close games but Hanrahan proved he could get the job done in the 9th inning. If his strikeout rate improves even a slight bit, his stock goes up.

9)     J.J. Putz (ARI)
While he didn’t quite achieve the greatness he showed from 2006-2007, Putz came pretty darn close last season. With a WHIP under 1.00 and holding batters to an average of less than .200, Putz proved he could close games once again (to the tune of 45, no less). Injuries always lurk in the shadows with Putz so tread carefully. However, he may be worth the risk.

10) Sergio Santos (TOR)
Santos surprised many last year by taking hold of the 9th inning role with the White Sox. He put up an impressive 13.07 K/9 while holding opposing batters to a .181 average. He has been anointed the closer on a team that is looking to contend in 2012. Should be an interesting fantasy pick.

When considering fantasy baseball relief  pitchers for 2012, these pitchers should be given some consideration. Even though it is the most inconsistent position in fantasy baseball, having the right closer on your roster can go a long way to ensuring victory.


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* John Axford photo by Royalbroil (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
* Brian Wilson photo by Thephatphilmz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 
* Sergio Santos photo by Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "Sergio Santos") [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Brain vs. Braun: Fantasy Baseball Impact of Ryan Braun’s PED Allegations

As you are most likely aware, Milwaukee Brewer’s outfielder and reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun has tested positive for having a banned Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) in his system. As a result, he now faces a 50-game suspension from major league baseball. Many observers have been quick to condemn the slugger but it is probably best to reserve judgment on Braun until all of the facts are known. Regardless, what is important in fantasy baseball circles are the implications this will have on Ryan Braun’s fantasy value in 2012.


According to many, Braun was at the top of most lists which rank the top fantasy outfielders for 2012. That is surely to change with the allegations that have come to light.  Not only does this affect Braun’s fantasy value, it has an effect on where other outfielders are ranked as well as an indirect effect on the value of his Milwaukee teammates.


With Prince Fielder likely leaving town via free agency, Braun was already faced with hitting in the middle of a Brewers batting order without one of the best power threats in the game protecting him in the line up. This would be a major concern to a less talented offensive player but is still bound to have some degree of effect on Braun’s statistics. Being asked to carry a larger portion of the offensive load puts him in a greater leadership role with the team. These accusations of cheating make it more difficult for Braun to be viewed in a leadership capacity by his teammates, his management or fantasy owners.


Regardless of a player’s ability to put up monster offensive numbers (and Braun is very capable of this), missing 50 games will greatly reduce his fantasy value. In 150 games last season, Braun amassed 109 runs, 33 home runs and 111 RBI. A season truncated by 50 games looks more like 72 runs, 22 home runs and 73 RBI. These numbers are not bad if your name is Freddie Freeman but certainly knock Braun significantly down the list of offensive players. For those fantasy players in head-to-head leagues, missing Braun for the first 2 months could be devastating. Draft accordingly.


If Braun faces a suspension, the effect will be also felt by his teammates. Expect newly signed third basemen Aramis Ramirez to hit in the middle of the line up and get the lion’s share of RBI opportunities. If he stays healthy, Ramirez could be a nice fantasy corner infielder. Also, don’t expect to see Corey Hart hitting out of the lead-off spot as he did at times last season. His bat will be needed in the heart of the order and will affect his numbers accordingly.


Until his appeal is heard and judgment passed, it would be safe to treat Braun as though he will miss the first 50 games of the 2012 season. In fantasy draft terms, that should put him firmly in the company of outfielders such as Alex Rios or Adam Jones


Perhaps the most important fantasy baseball impact in this whole situation is the status of Matt Kemp who instantly becomes the top fantasy baseball outfielder for 2012.

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* Ryan Braun photo by Steve Paluch on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "ryan-braun") [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
* Prince Fielder photo by Cropped by Killervogel5  shgmom56 (Original version) Killervogel5 (Crop) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 
* Aramis Ramirez photo by Terren Peterson (originally posted to Flickr as Aramis) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 12 December 2011

How to Play Fantasy Baseball

The more I play fantasy baseball, the more I love the game of baseball itself. There is no better way to closely follow box scores, standings, player trends, hot streaks, cold slumps and the inevitable friendly competition which arises from trying to best your opponents then by participating in fantasy baseball. However, more and more I am approached by people interested in this mysterious game and all of its quirks and quarks. Since I love the game of baseball, I love to talk about the sport in all of its forms – both on the field and off. For the uninitiated, here are the basics of fantasy baseball:


Fantasy Formats:
There are several different forms of fantasy baseball. You can play rotisserie (or, “roto” as it is often called), head-to-head, points leagues or many other formats. However, the one consistent element in all formats is that a group of owners each draft a “team” made up of real-life baseball players. As those players accumulate statistics on the field (in real games) their fantasy owners accumulate these same stats in an effort to gain more overall stats then their fantasy opponents. For example, if the home run total of your entire fantasy team is better than the home run total of your opponent, you win (that category at least!). Regardless of the format, your ultimate goal is to accumulate better overall stats than your opponents.

Fantasy Draft:
Every fantasy baseball league is a little different but most hold an annual “draft” where the owners choose the real-life players that will make up their fantasy rosters. Some leagues are called “dynasty” or “keeper” leagues because owners may keep some (or all) of their players from season-to-season.

Statistics Categories:
Much the same way that fantasy leagues have differing formats, there are also many different statistical categories that leagues will employ. A common stats scoring system is based upon 5 hitting categories (often Runs Scored, Home Runs, Batting Average, Runs Batted In & Stolen Bases) and 5 pitching categories (Wins, Saves, Strikeouts, Earned Run Average & WHIP), often referred to as “5x5” scoring. Regardless of the stats used in any particular league, the idea is the same: try to accumulate better stats than your opponents collect. In addition to your standard league scoring system, fantasy baseball side bets are incredibly popular as well.

Tips and Tricks:
There are as many tips, tricks and pieces of advice as there are fantasy baseball formats (in fact some websites are devoted to this!). However, there are some universal tidbits that are good to follow. Baseball players are notoriously inconsistent (more so than perhaps any other sports), but this holds especially true for pitchers. Therefore, it is a good idea to select hitters prior to pitchers in your draft to lessen the impact of inconsistent pitching statistics. A good rule of thumb is to select hitters with at least 4 of your top 5 draft picks. Pitchers may always be picked up off the waiver wire throughout the baseball season, whereas good hitters are much more scarce once the season has begun.

Fantasy Baseball Rule #1:
More important than your league’s format, draft structure , scoring categories or any tips you may give (or receive) is fantasy baseball rule #1: Have FUN.

If you are not a baseball fan, or just getting involved in enjoying the sport, fantasy baseball can help you dive right into the game in getting to know stats and the players. As a baseball fan, getting involved in fantasy baseball just might make you an even bigger baseball fan in the long run. I highly recommend fantasy baseball to everyone and remember, more important than anything else, have fun!

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* Baseball diamond image by K. Aainsqatsi at en.wikipedia (Original text : en:User:K. Aainsqatsi) Edited by King of Hearts [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Fresh Prince: Why Prince Fielder is not a Good Long Term (Fantasy) Baseball Solution

Whether you run a major league franchise or a fantasy baseball team, Prince Fielder represents a risk to your team’s long term success. There has been much ado in the sports media recently about Prince Fielder perhaps joining a new team (or re-signing with his old club) as a free agent for the 2012 season. Armed with a professional athlete’s ego and uber-agent Scott Boras in tow, Fielder has made it clear he is looking for a long-term contract. Upon first glance, this looks like a no-brainer. He is a 27-year old slugger coming off a season which saw him hit 38 HR (good for 2nd in the National League) and 120 RBI (also 2nd in the N.L.). Based upon his age and his stats alone, Fielder looks like the kind of player that a major league team (or fantasy baseball owner) would fight tooth-and-nail to place on their roster. However, that might not be the wisest of moves.
Fielder has been remarkably consistent over his career. He has played in 157, 158, 159, 162, 161 and 162 games since 2006. Consistency like that is pretty rare this side of Cal Ripken, Jr. However, past consistency is only one aspect to consider when evaluating a player’s potential. Heading into the 2011 season, fantasy baseball owners were electrified with the prospect of owning a certain player coming off a run of steady home run totals from 2005 through 2010. This particular slugger’s home run totals through that time frame read as follows: 40, 40, 40, 40, 38, 38. You would be hard pressed to beat consistency such as this. This player was sure to deliver another clockwork season of offensive production, right? Not if you drafted Adam Dunn, who both boasted those aforementioned HR totals as well as one of the worst offensive seasons in history in 2011.
Fielder has also been remarkably durable for a big man. He has only missed a total of 13 games since the start of the 2006 season. However, this doesn’t mean he is a viable option for the next decade, and no mistake about it, Fielder will be looking for a contract that runs approximately 10 years. Big bodies tend to break down faster than their slimmer counterparts. One needs to look no further than the career declines experienced by players such as Mo Vaughn, Kent Hrbek or his father, Cecil Fielder for proof of this. The question is not whether he has been durable in the past. He has. The question is how durable he will continue to be as his large frame endures the constant wear and tear of lumbering through 6 full major league seasons.
Another issue that affects his on-field major league team but not the majority of fantasy leagues is the issue of his defense. His last name may be “Fielder” but this is not reflective in his defensive play. His UZR has been a negative statistic in 5 of his 6 full seasons with 2 seasons (2006 and 2008) almost reaching double digits (-9.4 and -9.2, respectively). Although most fantasy leagues do not consider defensive metrics in their scoring systems, it is something to consider when evaluating the overall strengths and weaknesses of a baseball player.
Although his short-term prospects for success look promising, if you have an eye for the future (especially in dynasty fantasy baseball leagues), this Prince may end up performing more like a Court Jester before his contract expires.
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* Prince Fielder photo by Killervogel5  shgmom56 (Original version) Killervogel5 (Crop) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 
* Prince Fielder photo by therealbs2002 (Taken by me at Turner Field in Atlanta) [CC0 (creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons