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Finally!  We are playing baseball for real!  Drafts are over.  I did 8 in total: two AL only auctions (LABR and Tout Wars), one NL only auction (LABR), one 15 team mixed auction (Gotham Diamond District with industry stalwarts such as Joe Sheehan, Nando Difino and Adam Ronis), two 15 team mixed drafts (Beat Colton & the Wolfman on Fantrax and NFBC), one 13 team mixed draft (FSTA which starts draft season), and my home league which is kind of cool (a league in its 30th year that started when there were only east and west divisions whose player pool still consists only of teams playing on teams from the old AL and NL eastern divisions). 

Let the games begin!  We are through one week and no one is panicking, no one is visiting overreaction theater, no one is over-confident.  Psyche!  Folks all across this land are doing some or all of those things.  We here at Fantasy Alarm will try to inform, entertain, help you play SMART and put an end to all of that unhealthy behavior which is bad for the fate of your fantasy teams! 

Before we jump in, let me digress just a tad more to extend my thanks to the great folks at Fantasy Alarm (Rick Wolf, Al Williams, the incomparable Cabbage Patch kid himself Howard Bender and more) for giving me the honor and privilege of writing for you each week trying to help you achieve fantasy nirvana in October (oh, yeah, the Baron of the Bottom of the Page returns as well – more on that later too). So, without further delay, the first Week that Was for 2017:

Vince VelasquezThe puzzle that is Vince Velasquez continued in his first start of 2017.  The good: Vince struck out 10 batters in just four innings.  For those counting at home, that is a tidy 22.5K per 9.  Yep, you read that right.  The bad:  those 10 K came with 8 baserunners in 4 innings.  What is a fantasy owner to do?  Answer, stick with Vince.  The talent is unquestionable.  The Ks will come in bunches (152 in 131 IP in 2016) and the ratios will improve.  You will have to have a strong stomach some days and should probably have a safe ratio complement for Vince (see Ivan Nova below) but in the end, he will be worth owning.  (Note – my money is where my mouth is as Rick Wolf and I own Vince in two high stakes leagues).

Michael Pineda:  Speaking of ultra-talented, Alka Seltzer-inducing puzzling hurlers (or is that hurling puzzlers?), none is more puzzling than Michael Pineda.  In his first start, he provided some good (6 K with no BB) and some bad (4 ER and 8H in just 2 and 2/3 innings).  I know some will say I am a Yankee homer (true but not relevant) and some will chant “Pinata” as he has been dubbed by our buddy Paul Sporer, but the bottom line is that this guy has a world of talent and has all the motivation in the world to go the extra mile in this contract year.  Worst case scenario is he mows down another 200+ with bad ratios.  However, if he uses that motivation to harness the talent it took to have the best first pitch strike percentage and second best swinging strike percentage in baseball in the second half, lookout!  I did not get as many shares of Pineda as I wanted because so many others believe in him but I am holding on the ones I have.  You should too!  

Ivan Nova:   I fully believe in Nova and so far, so good.  In his first start of the year, Nova twirled 6 innings, giving up no ER, no BB and striking out 4.  Make no mistake – ballparks and pitching coaches matter.  Once Nova escaped the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium and landed in Pittsburgh with the great pitching coach Ray Searage, Nova shined brightly:  3.06 ERA with an incredible 52/3 K/BB ratio.  I am such a firm believer in Nova that I kept him in my aforementioned home league as I was allowed to do since I drafted him when he was a Yankee and eligible to be drafted.  If I were you, I would go to similar great lengths to land the Bucs hurler. 

Brandon Finnegan:   Brandon Finnegan was outstanding in his first start.  The Reds lefty tossed 7 shutout innings while giving up just one hit (yes, just one hit) and no runs.  Oh and he added 9 K for good measure.  Frankly, I am not surprised.  Finnegan became a different and much more successful pitcher last year when he reduced the number of fastballs he was hurling and increased the use of his plus slider and change.  Yes, Cincy will not be a good team.  And, yes, the park is susceptible to dingers.  However, cream rises to the top and this lefty will be floating at the top of the high end coffee this year.

CC Sabathia:  Warning – more Yankees analysis.  In fact, doubters will scoff but team Colton and the Wolfman are high on CC Sabathia this year.  So far, our faith has been rewarded as the big lefty twirled 5 innings without giving up an ER on the way to his first win of the season and then gave up just two runs in 6 IP in his second outing (yes, the ratios are not perfect but remember, the price was or still is very low).  Why am I so high on CC when many are writing him off?  First, he posted a strong set of advanced metrics in 2016 including a 10% swinging strike rate, a 50% groundball rate and a first pitch strike rate over 60.  Moreover, CC allowed a hard hit percentage of just 25 (league average is 30) and reduced his flyball rate dramatically from 56 % to 34 % -- a critical factor pitching in the AL East parks.  Finally, guess how many starting pitchers had lower exit velocities on batted balls than CC?  Give up?  Answer: one!  Yes, just one.  Do not break the bank but if someone is willing to sell low or the big guy is at the FAAB buffet, feast.

Michael Foltynewicz:  Folty was well, not good in his first start but I am willing to give him a mulligan pitching in the frigid weather.  This is a guy pitching in the NL East who throws gas (95 average fastball velo) and who reduced his walk rate while raising his groundball rate for two years in a row.  In a mixed year last year, Folty struck out more than 8 per 9 IP.  Things will only get better for this fireballer and the K’s are pretty certain.  Buy!

Greg Bird:   Ok, it is another Yankee but I am what I am (yes, Popeye reference).  Unlike the others, this snippet will not be positive.  I hope Bird becomes a big time player.  Maybe he will be one day but a good spring has somehow erased two critical facts.  One, Bird missed all of 2016 with a shoulder injury.  Two, even in his successful two month stint in 2015, he struck out almost 30% of the time.  I am sorry but he should not be hitting third.  It will only make him press and take him out of his game more.  Oh, and while his glove is better than Chris Carter’s, Bird will not remind anyone of Tex or Mattingly.  If you can get full value now because someone in your league is a Yankee loyalist or believes in the power of the short porch, dealing you should be (yes, that was Yoda backwards speak).  

And now speaking of Yoda, I now turn it over to another wise non-tall one -- the Baron of Bottom of the Page -- for the first 2017 Schultz says: “The first column of the year is always exciting. Anyone reading this column - especially if you've made it this far - is still rapt with excitement over the championship team they just amassed and impatient for the next 26 weeks to prove their genius. That this statement will prove inapt and false to 90+% won't sink in for another few months. For now though, everything is just coming up grand slams and shutouts as the grand coronation of 2017 Roto-Champ awaits. The first column of the year is also exciting as Schultz gets to emerge from hibernation to share all that he's learned while he's slumbered. (Fortunately, Colton The Overlord won't think of deleting everything I've written after this sentence even though it would admittedly be funny).

While the 2017 season has just started, it's not the first significant baseball that's been played this year. The 2017 World Baseball Classic is a wonderful palliative to those that have truly missed their American pastime over the winter months. However, there's an ugly underbelly to the WBC that rears it head slowly. While it is surely helpful for hitters to get an early start on getting their hitting eye and timing back into fighting shape, it's not a great idea for pitchers to start throwing their serious stuff earlier than they are used to. Chris Archer. Julio Teheran and Marcus Stroman haven't shown any immediate effects of throwing hard in March, Sam Dyson has gotten shelled by the Indians, Seth Lugo is trying to recover from a torn ulnar collateral ligament and Dellin Betances is far from the lights-out set-up man the Yankees were expecting. Early innings aren't going to effect everyone who threw them but keep the pre-pre-season effort in mind when making decisions down the stretch.”

Response:  Agreed. The WBC is fun in some ways but the danger to the pitchers far outweighs the benefit.  Of course, they could play it in November but they will not.  Why? Because baseball does not want to take on the NFL for viewers – a battle they would very likely lose badly.

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