Sure, it’s important to avoid making early-round blunders on draft day, but, as you all probably know by now, the key to winning a fantasy baseball league, or at least setting yourself up for a championship season, more often than not lies in the middle to late rounds. That’s where the profit potential is greatest. So, as we close out the first month of the 2014 season, I figured it would be only fitting to assemble my “All-Value Team” for April. Here’s what I’ve come up with, and as always, feel free to post your own picks in the comments section below.
C Dioner Navarro
Navarro likely went undrafted in most 12-team mixed leagues, but so far, the 30-year-old backstop is making a strong statement that last season’s breakout campaign was no fluke. Heading into Wednesday’s action, he’s tied with Jonathan LuCroy for third place in the Majors in hits (27) and already with 14 RBI, Navarro is on pace to shatter his career-high of 54 RBI, set in 2008 while with the Rays.
Honorable Mention: Devin Mesoraco
1B Jose Abreu
Really, what else is there left to say about this guy? Drafted outside of the top-10 at his position in the vast majority of leagues, Abreu is certainly living up to the hype, and then some. The Cuban import leads all first basemen in homers (10) and RBI (32) and is tied for first in runs (20) with Paul Goldschmidt and Albert Pujols.
Honorable Mention: Justin Morneau
2B Dee Gordon
Players who can almost single-handedly win you a category are few and far between. Players who can almost single-handedly win you a category who were either very late-round selections or waiver wire pickups are even rarer. Gordon’s 13 steals are tops in the Majors, and while expecting him to maintain anything close to his current .385 OBP is completely unrealistic, as long as he remains a lineup regular, a National League stolen base title is a distinct possibility. And no, I haven’t forgotten about Billy Hamilton.
Honorable Mention: Chase Utley
SS Alexei Ramirez
Despite the career-high 30 steals last year, Alexei managed just six home runs, which was a big reason why I shied away from him in drafts this spring. In fact, his home run total had declined in each of the past three seasons. The fantasy community didn’t give him a whole lot of respect either ranking him towards the back end of the top-10 at the position. Already with four homers this year to go along with four steals, he’s on pace for his first ever 20/20 season. I still have my doubts though.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Rollins
3B Anthony Rendon
A former top prospect, Rendon is off to a hot start in his first full major league season, hitting .294 with three homers, 17 RBI and one steal through 27 games. That said, outside of strong batting averages, his minor league numbers don’t exactly jump off the page. Since he’s not a base stealer and has never hit for power on a consistent basis, I need to see more from Rendon before I can trust him as a viable fantasy option in standard mixed leagues.
Honorable Mention: Nolan Arenado
OF Charlie Blackmon
After failing to fully capitalize on his previous big league opportunities, Blackmon has come out of nowhere to deserve serious April Fantasy MVP consideration, with the other legitimate candidate being Abreu. The 27-year-old outfielder is hitting for average (.379) and power (5 HR) while stealing bases at a high rate (7 SB). What more could you ask for? At the same time, Blackmon is an ideal sell-high guy considering his uninspiring track record that portrays him more as a big league bench player.
OF Nelson Cruz
Let’s face it, Cruz is without question the April winner of best off-season signing from a pure value perspective. Many fantasy owners were scared off by the PED drama, questioning the role that performance enhancers have played in Cruz’s success to date. Question no more! Cruz currently trails only Giancarlo Stanton among all outfielders in RBI and ranks in the top-5 in homers. Pretty good for a player who was outside the top-40 on many pre-season outfielder rankings lists.
OF Michael Morse
Morse is always hurt, which is a big reason why he fell to the very late rounds in most mixed leagues this year. But he’s already launched six homers, and there’s still 25-plus home run potential in his bat if he can stay healthy, which is no given, since he’s always hurt.
Honorable Mentions: Melky Cabrera, Michael Brantley
SP Aaron Harang
You know you’re having a pretty good season when your WHIP (0.88) is higher than your ERA (0.85). That’s exactly what’s going on with Harang through his first five starts. Oh, and he’s also striking out more than a batter per inning. Considering that Harang is 35 years of age and is coming off a season in which he went 5-12 with a 5.40 ERA, I think it’s safe to say that the magic is bound to run out sooner rather than later. If you can get anything of significance for him via trade right now, do it!
SP Jason Hammel
Hammel showed promise in 2012 (3.43 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in 118 IP), even earning Pitch or Ditch attention, but he was absolutely brutal last season. It’s been an entirely different story this year (2.08 ERA, 0.69 WHIP through five starts), and although I still wouldn’t feel comfortable pitching him in tougher matchups, I’m more of a believer in Hammel than Harang. I think we’ve yet to see the best of him.
Honorable Mentions: Kyle Lohse, Garrett Richards
RP Francisco Rodriguez
16 shutout innings, 23 strikeouts and 13 saves, this from a guy who wasn’t even supposed to be the Brewers’ closer. Are you kidding me? But K-Rod did receive the save opportunity on opening day, and the rest is history. If you were lucky enough to snag K-Rod off the waiver wire, congratulations! Now listen, don’t count on 78 saves and a 0.00 ERA, but barring injury, Rodriguez should remain a reliable fantasy closer for the rest of the season.
Honorable Mention: LaTroy Hawkins
Haren @ Pelfrey (Gm 1)
Patterson @ K. Johnson (Gm 2)
Morton @ Norris (Gm 1) – tough matchup for Morton but still on my watch list
Cumpton @ Tillman (Gm 2) – Cumpton was impressive vs. the Reds but play it safe here
Elias @ Kuroda
Ramos @ Peavy (Gm 1)
Archer @ Doubront (Gm 2)
Buehrle @ Guthrie – can Buehrle keep rolling vs. poor-hitting Royals?
Estrada @ Bailey – hangin’ with ‘em on depleted Homer
Big Erv @ Alvarez
Colon @ Nicasio – Colon pitching well but Coors is very scary again
Scherzer @ Noesi
Archer @ Doubront
Cumpton @ Norris
McAllister @ Wilson – McAllister going on short rest, on the road vs. MLB’s #1 scoring offense… guh!
Elias @ Phelps – Phelps is one to watch
Chavez @ R. Ross
Hutchison @ Vargas
Haren @ Pelfrey
Zimmermann @ Oberholtzer
Garza @ Miller
Colon @ Kendrick
Jackson @ Cingrani
Harang @ Eovaldi – Eovaldi has great stuff but I’m still cautious
Lyles @ Collmenter – Collmenter worth a gamble in deeper leagues though
Erlin @ Hudson
***ZACH SAYS “Until Eovaldi proves to me that he can’t be trusted, I’ll continue to run him out there. Braves are a tough lineup but at least it’s at home. Agree on rest.”
Young @ Sabathia – CC getting it together lately?
Morton @ Tillman – wait for easier matchups for Morton
Bedard @ Lackey
Kazmir @ Perez
Verlander @ Quintana
McGowan @ Vargas
Greinke @ Gibson – hope you all exercised caution on Gibson as we warned
G. Gonzalez @ Cosart
Kluber @ Weaver – bigger test for Kluber after gem last time
Niese @ Hamels
Samardzija @ Simon
A. Wood @ Fernandez
Lohse @ Lynn
Chatwood @ Bolsinger – good chance for Chatwood to rebound
Stults @ Cain
For 12-team mixed leaguers, there’s not a whole lot to be excited about on the two-start pitcher front for next week. Sure, there are a few intriguing choices that are worth monitoring closely, but most of them still have something to prove.
Let’s get to it.
Alfredo Simon (vs. CHC, vs. MIL)
Who knows how much longer the magic will last for Simon, but the bottom line is that through four starts, he’s 3-1 with a 1.30 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. I have my doubts about him going forward, as he’s already 32 and his starting pitching track record is rather thin, but being that he will be facing one middle of the pack offense in the Brewers and one sub-par lineup in the Cubs, I’d lean towards pitching him in deeper formats. In a 12-team mixed league, he’s as borderline as it gets.
Wade Miley (vs. COL, @SD)
Miley is your typical back of the rotation fantasy starting pitcher. He won’t wow you but he won’t hurt you either. This year’s 8.5 K/9 rate is encouraging, but it could very well be the product of a small sample size. The 16 walks through 36 innings aren’t too encouraging. I’d say there’s a slightly better than 50/50 chance that he’s available in your standard 12-team mixed league, but if he’s still out there, I’d definitely pick him up for next week’s pair of matchups. The Rockies are a mediocre offense when on the road while the Padres rank dead last in the Majors in runs scored. Oh, and he’ll be facing them at Petco Park. Pitch with confidence.
Jose Quintana (vs. DET, @CLE)
I’ve always been a fan of Quintana, and with four quality starts over his first five outings, he’s performing pretty much as expected. He belongs in the same “low-risk, low-reward” class as Miley, but the difference is that while Miley’s matchups for next week are very favorable, these aren’t too great, particularly vs. DET. Like Simon, I’ll say to pitch Quintana in deeper formats but hold off on him in 12-team mixed leagues.
Tyler Skaggs (vs. CLE, vs. TEX)
Skaggs has yet to live up to the expectations that came with his top prospect status, but the 22-year-old is showing significant progress this season, registering a 3.21 ERA and 1.11 WHIP through his first four starts. That said, our excitement must be tempered by his underwhelming 5.1 K/9 rate. Skaggs was a big strikeout pitcher in the Minors though, so maybe this is just a temporary regression. Still, I’m not convinced that the consistency will be there, at least not right now. Sorry for sounding like a broken record, but Skaggs is another guy who you should consider in deeper formats but leave on the bench in 12-team mixed leagues. The vs. TEX matchup would scare me off.
Jonathon Niese (@PHI, @COL)
Yeah, the @COL matchup is scary and Citizens Bank Park isn’t a friendly pitching environment either, but Niese’s 2014 season has so far been a success (2.45 ERA, 1.13 WHIP through four starts). And it’s not like he’s had the benefit of cupcake matchups (vs. CIN, @LAA, vs. ATL, vs. STL). There’s definitely risk here, as Niese’s career numbers @PHI and @COL aren’t pretty, but this is a situation where I’ll side with recent performance over long-term history. Pitch.
Jason Vargas (vs. TOR, vs. DET)
The problem with Vargas is that you never know what you’re going to get from him on a start-to-start basis, and his lack of strikeouts caps his ceiling. Look, his first five starts have been brilliant (1.54 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), but this also means that a blowup is well overdue, and I think we’ll see at least one and maybe two of them next week. For these matchups, I’m staying far away in all mixed leagues.
Santiago @ Nuno – Need to see more consistency from Santiago before I can trust him in tougher matchups.
Buchholz @ Morrow – Could be 2-1 or 10-9. I’ll pass.
An. Sanchez @ Hughes
Guthrie @ W. Chen
Ramos @ Danks – Danks very impressive so far against quality competition.
Straily @ Keuchel – Golden opportunity for Straily to right the ship.
Lewis @ King Felix – Lewis a worthy gamble here.
Cashner @ Roark – Roark a decent play in deeper leagues though.
Liriano @ Lyons
McAllister @ Lincecum – McAllister is hot. Lincecum always a roll of the dice but this matchup isn’t too scary.
T. Wood @ Estrada
Leake @ Hale – Both worth a look in deeper leagues but I’ll take the conservative route.
Slowey @ Mejia – Ideal matchup for Mejia.
Lee @ Arroyo
Nicasio @ Maholm
Lester @ Dickey – Not liking this matchup for Dickey.
Shields @ M. Gonzalez
Price @ TBD (CWS)
Verlander @ Gibson
Milone @ McHugh – If you’re ever going to use Milone on the road, this is the time.
Harrison @ Maurer – Taking a wait and see approach with Harrison.
Richards @ Tanaka – Liking what I’m seeing from Richards.
Koehler @ Gee – Koehler due for stat correction, but I don’t think it will happen here.
Cueto @ Teheran
Kennedy @ Jordan
Hammel @ Peralta – Both performing very well.
Volquez @ Wainwright
Salazar @ Vogelsong – Sticking with Salazar.
De La Rosa @ Ryu
Burnett @ McCarthy
Gray @ Darvish
Odorizzi @ Rienzo
Masterson @ Skaggs – Skaggs pitching well enough to earn a shot here.
Samardzija @ Simon – Simon 2 ER or less in all four of his starts this year.
Gallardo @ Wacha
Morales @ Miley
T. Ross @ Bumgarner
What time is it? Time for the 2014 debut of our Pitch or Ditch category chart!
POD Chart 4-24 (PDF version)
POD Chart 4-24 (Excel version)
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the chart, this is something we started doing a few years ago (special shout out to longtime 411 fan Big Barry for the framework of the idea) to help guide you not only in your Pitch or Ditch decisions but also in knowing whether or not dropping a certain pitcher would be a mistake.
We’ve divided all of the current starting rotation pitchers into five groups: Aces, Grads, PoD, DTM and Indifferent.
Aces: Fairly straightforward. Elite starting pitchers with the track record to prove it.
Grads: Not ace-caliber but also not worth dropping under any circumstances. Grads should always be started, regardless of the matchup.
PoD: These pitchers do not quite deserve a permanent roster spot but should be picked up and started in favorable matchups. If their next matchup is not so favorable, feel free to drop them. Some PoD guys could earn Grad status if they string together several consecutive strong outings.
DTM: An old 411 acronym for “dead to me”, DTM pitchers are guys that we might have once liked but have repeatedly let us down to the point where we’ve had enough of them. It takes a lot to become DTM, but once you become DTM, it’s very tough to escape that category!
Indifferent: Pitchers who are just not that good and should not be rostered in any 12-team mixed league.
***Note that this chart is geared towards standard 12-team mixed leagues.
We will post updated versions of the chart at least once a month.
As always, your questions and comments are welcome!
Ventura @ Jimenez
Wilson @ Kuroda
Peavy @ Buehrle – tough matchup for Peavy to bounce back, but hang with ‘em for now
Archer @ E, Johnson
Porcello @ Correia
Chavez @ Peacock – total cookie for streaking Chavez
R. Ross @ Elias – Ross has been impressive; M’s, less so
Erlin @ Strasburg
Alvarez @ Wheeler
Bailey @ Big Erv – buy low on Homer
Villanueva @ Garza
Cole @ Miller
R. Hernandez @ Collmenter
Lyles @ Beckett
Carrasco @ Hudson
B. Chen @ Kluber – good chance for scuffling Kluber to get on track
Quintana @ Scherzer – like Quintana, don’t like the matchup
Nolasco @ Bedard
Norris @ Hutchison
Sabathia @ Doubront – tough matchup but Sabathia is coming around
Kazmir @ Oberholtzer – Oberholtzer worth watching though
Cingrani @ TBD (PIT)
Lynn @ Colon – hang with ‘em on Bartolo
Bolsinger @ Jackson
Stults @ Zimmermann
Kendrick @ Haren
Perez @ Gray
Cosart @ Young
Pineda @ Lackey
Vargas @ Masterson – good matchup for Masterson to get right
Tillman @ McGowan
Rienzo @ Smyly
Pelfrey @ Odorizzi – the Twins lead MLB in walks and OBP. The Twins!
Eovaldi @ Harang – Harang’s hot start won’t last, but enjoy the ride
Miley @ Samardzija
Cain @ Chatwood – I’ll gamble on Chatwood’s groundball lean at home vs. a so-so offense
Weaver @ G. Gonzalez
Simon @ Morton – let’s ride the Simon train to the last stop
Wacha @ Niese
T. Ross @ Lohse
Hamels @ Greinke – if you drafted Hamels, you have to start him
***ZACH SAYS “Even though the matchup isn’t great, I wouldn’t be afraid to pitch Eovaldi. 3-for-4 in quality starts and 23-to-3 K/BB ratio. I like it! Don’t trust Morton at all vs. CIN. Miley not a terrible play in deeper leagues but in a 12-team mixed, I agree that it’s best to play it safe and ditch.”