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Mostly MLB Notes: Debating 1st round decisions, hyping Cliff Lee and defending my LABR team

Dalton Del Don
Roto Arcade

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Aroldis Chapman making move to rotation (USAT)

There are a handful of outfielders worthy of being taken in the first round even after Mike Trout and Ryan Braun are off the board, all of whom should be valued similarly. I’m personally taking Matt Kemp first in this tier, as he’s one season removed from a .324-39-115-126-40 campaign and finished April with 12 homers and a .417/.490/.893 line over 23 games last year. But injuries derailed the rest of his season and coming off serious shoulder surgery that repaired a detached labrum and rotator cuff damage, he’s certainly not without risk. Andrew McCutchen is likely off the board next in most leagues, and it’s tough to argue after he posted a .327/.400/.553 line as a 26-year-old last season. But his SB rate (66.1%) hasn’t been very good over the past two campaigns, including going 6-for-14 after the ASB last year, and playing for the Pirates hurts his counting stats. Over the past three years, Carlos Gonzalez has hit .313 while averaging 27.3 homers, 97.3 runs scored, 98.0 RBI and 22.0 steals. He’s done so while averaging just 135.7 games played. In other words, if every hitter in baseball were guaranteed 650 at-bats in 2013, CarGo would be a top-three pick, but unfortunately, there’s no denying his durability issues. Still, Gonzalez has major upside, even if the production comes in huge home/road splits.

[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

While Trout, Braun, Kemp, McCutchen and Gonzalez are all five-cat players, Giancarlo Stanton isn’t going to steal more than a handful of bases, and it’s safe to worry about his counting stats while playing with such inferior teammates (not to mention he’s likely going to be walked an awful lot). Injuries (mainly his knee) limited him last year to just 123 games (and he played at less than 100 percent in many others), but Stanton still finished with 37 homers – the second most in the National League, and he was just 22 years old. While the new Marlins Park was neutral in runs scored, it greatly suppressed home runs, ranking 26th according to Park Factors. It’s obviously a small sample, but most predicted as much based on the stadium’s dimensions, so it’s something he’ll likely have to continue to deal with. However, Stanton led the National League in “No Doubt” home runs, including the longest of the MLB season, so his power is prodigious enough that it matters less. He hit 21 home runs over 202 at-bats on the road last season and 18 homers over 164 at-bats after the All-Star break after returning from knee surgery, posting a .299/.356/.701 line in the process. The upside here shouldn’t be understated (he somehow had 56 home runs over his first 875 ABs in the majors despite hitting more groundballs than fly balls, a ratio in which he reversed last year (0.87)). Players with a possibly volatile batting average who don’t contribute a ton in steals are typically overrated in fantasy circles, but Stanton is a special talent who should be considered the favorite to lead baseball in home runs this year. I still rank him a bit below the aforementioned outfielders, but I wouldn’t argue much over the order.

This marketing ploy turning innocent people into wanted criminals is pretty brilliant.

In case you missed it, this teenager on Jeopardy was the best.

While plenty of outfielders should be viewed similarly in the first round, Albert Pujols and Joey Votto provide another good debate about which first baseman should be first off the board. During April and September/October, Pujols hit .246 with one homer, 18 RBI and zero SBs over 211 at-bats. In between, he hit .306 with 29 home runs, 87 RBI and eight SBs over 396 at-bats. It’s tough to blame injuries on Pujols’ horrible finish to the year since he was so bad in April, but he had a .305/.354/.581 line after the All-Star break and should be fully recovered from offseason knee surgery by Opening Day. His OPS has dropped each of the past three years, with both of his career-lows coming in the past two campaigns, and his walk rates have taken a similar dive over the past four years (16.4%, 14.7%, 9.4% and 7.8%, respectively). Pujols set career-lows in homers, runs scored, walks, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage last season. But we are talking about an inner-circle Hall of Famer here, and he’s still just 33 years old with a season of adjusting to a new league under his belt. He’s hitting in the middle of what looks like a loaded lineup, will get to beat up on Astros pitching and while clearly past his peak, Pujols is as durable as they come, and who knows what injuries he was playing through last year. I’m fully expecting a return to elite fantasy status.

As for Votto, there’s a strong argument he’s the best hitter in baseball right now. Over the past four years, he’s led the National League with a .321 batting average and all of major league baseball by a wide margin with a .429 OBP (and also with a .424 wOBA). Votto walked 94 times last season in just 111 games. He plays in a favorable home park and lineup, but the worry for fantasy owners is power. Votto didn’t hit a single homer after June 24 last year (including the postseason) – a span of 147 ABs. A knee injury clearly compromised him over this span, but there’s been some concern with Votto’s HR potential for a while thanks to his low fly ball rate. In fact, Votto’s 33.6 FB% over the past three seasons ranks 165th among qualified hitters. However, this number is actually quite misleading, as he counters that by simply never hitting pop-ups (his 0.5 IFFB% over that same span is easily the lowest in baseball). As Jeff Sullivan pointed out, since 2009, there have been two (effectively three) more perfect games than Votto pop-ups. He may not ever become a 40+ homer guy, but he hit 37 in 2010 and has batted an NL leading .321 over the past four seasons. So who you got, Pujols or Votto?

Put your number in my phone prank.

Residents of LA are on high alert after Christopher Dorner’s death.

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Lee hoping for better fortune (USAT)

I agree with the general consensus that there’s a clear-cut top three when it comes to starting pitchers this year in Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg, although my order may be different than most. While Felix Hernandez and David Price have arguments, I’d personally take Cliff Lee next. He went just 6-9 last year, but it doesn’t take advanced metrics to show how silly win/loss records can be (he got a no-decision in one game in which he threw 10 shutout innings), as he posted a ridiculous 207:28 K:BB ratio over 211.0 innings. That 7.39:1 K:BB ratio led all of baseball by a wide margin (next best was 4.88:1). Over the past three years, his 7.16:1 K:BB rate ranks first and his 1.05 WHIP ranks third among all starters. He pitches in the NL and could get a handful of starts against a Marlins lineup that projects to be the worst in the league. Lee is one season removed from striking out 238 batters with a 2.40 ERA and 1.03 WHIP (he also had a crazy 109:8 K:BB ratio with a 2.45 ERA after the All-Star break last season). I’d rather draft Lee in the fourth round than Verlander in the second, that’s for sure.

This guy had to purchase quite a bit of milk.

If you’re either into hoops or into my random links and missed it, here’s my basketball column from earlier this week.

After stealing 15 bases and batting .317 over the first two months of last season, Starlin Castro had 10 SBs and hit .268 over the final four months. Of course, that hardly tells the whole story, as he posted a 61:12 K:BB ratio before the All-Star break compared to a much improved 39:24 mark afterward, suggesting real growth. He also improved significantly on the defensive end, as much as we can take a one-year sample with the glove seriously. Castro is a 22-year-old shortstop with a .297/.336/.425 line over 1,783 career at-bats in the majors, so a huge, top-10 type fantasy breakout can’t be ruled out. However, his career SB rate (57-for-87) isn’t exactly encouraging. But there really is a lot to like here. I’d give Castro around a 40-45% chance of having a better season than Jose Reyes.

Here’s a ring girl who doesn’t know the fight is over. Speaking of fights, I’m looking forward to UFC 157 on Saturday night. Can Ronda Rousey go 10-for-10 in first round arm bars for her career? But even bigger news is the Floyd Mayweather move to Showtime. The inevitable Money May vs. Canelo Alvarez fight should be good stuff.

After its last three near perfectly written episodes, it’s tough not to consider “Girls” the best show on television right now.

Here’s former NFL player Ray Edwards trying to start a career in boxing. His opponent (who in fairness was a last minute replacement) makes Glass Joe look like a badass.

Lance Berkman is one of my favorite mid-to-late round picks. He’s ostensibly a boring old veteran who’s 37 years old and coming off a season in which he was limited to just 32 games and is currently dealing with a calf injury, so it’s understandable why the price tag isn’t high. Still, he’s one year removed from a .301-31-90-94 campaign over just 488 at-bats, and playing DH full time should obviously increase his chances of staying healthy. Berkman is switching leagues (his one other stint in the AL with New York back in 2010 was a disaster), and he’s become a huge liability against left-handed pitchers over the last few seasons, but he could do major damage while batting third in that lineup and more specifically, hitting in that ballpark. Over the past three years, Texas has a HR Park Index of 133 for LHB, which is the third highest in baseball (only Yankee Stadium and Coors Field have been better), according to the Bill James Handbook. Seeing Astros pitching for 19 games should also help. It’s possible Berkman will continue to battle injuries and is done, but the fact he’ll no longer be asked to play defense and is so closely removed from such a productive season make him someone to gamble on and is another reason it’s fine to wait on addressing first base.

Here’s an informative read about why Deer Crossing signs should be taken down to help save taxpayers money since animals can’t talk. And while one could only assume this is a joke, check out her previous column. Kathleen O’Brien Wilhelm must be related to this woman.

This is the best bus stop ever.

Here are the results from the mixed LABR league I was in last week. I’m usually not big on talking about my specific drafts, but LABR is the longest running industry league out there (although the mixed version didn’t start until last year), and I’ll try to make it a more general discussion anyway, so here are a few thoughts: I got the fifth pick, and if I’m not in the top-three, I’d prefer the back end of round one this year. It’s a 15-team league, and my first three picks were Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Josh Hamilton. I really wanted Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper to fall to me in the second, but it didn’t happen (Harper surprisingly went in the first round). I don’t think I’ve ever owned Hamilton, and he wasn’t someone I expected to draft, but at pick No. 35, I said why not? It’s admittedly a pretty big boom-or-bust start to a draft but not atypical of my usual strategy…The draft was covered live on the Sirius/XM fantasy channel, and the hosts (Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf) absolutely killed my Aroldis Chapman pick in round six. Funny thing is, I strongly considered taking him one round earlier (went Michael Bourn instead). There’s undeniable risk of moving from relief to the starting rotation and even in a best-case scenario he’ll have an innings limit, but I’m not too concerned about whether this was a “reach” or not. Chapman just had a 15.32 K/9 ratio with a 1.51 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. His SwStr% was 17.9. I have no clue why his current ADP (130) is so high, and all it would take is one other person in the draft room who agrees for me not to get him. The early reports on his developing changeup so far this spring have been highly encouraging. The upside here is absolutely through the roof.

Here’s a man who’s in a relationship with 15 inflatable animals.

After an intensive study, scientists support farting on airplanes.

More on LABR: Dan Uggla has been a horrible batting average drain since joining Atlanta two years ago, but he’s averaged 27.5 homers, 87 runs scored and 80 RBI as well, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to return to the .250-270 range in BA this season. Jose Altuve went five rounds earlier. Rickie Weeks went three rounds earlier, and Neil Walker went two rounds earlier. In other words, I didn’t hesitate to grab Uggla at that point of the draft…Over his previous three seasons since becoming a full-time starter, Nelson Cruz was either highly productive or hurt. So naturally, he recorded a career-high 585 at-bats last year and posted a .779 OPS. Baseball is tough to figure out. Anyway, he was another pick that I let the draft room dictate. I wanted Carlos Gomez, but he went three picks earlier…Howie Kendrick has failed to live up to his once high expectations and looks unlikely to ever win a batting title many expected (myself included), but he remains serviceable and it sure would be beneficial if he hits second in the order this year with Torii Hunter gone. With all the studies that have proven lineup protection a myth, it might not necessarily improve his performance, but hitting between Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton would certainly help his counting stats.

I gave my wife/girlfriend a terrible Valentine’s Day gift.

Here’s Cousin Sal at the movies.

In honor of the upcoming Academy Awards, here are my 10 favorite movies from 2012: 1) Zero Dark Thirty 2) Django Unchained 3) Silver Linings Playbook 4) The Dictator 5) Argo 6) Magic Mike 7) The Master 8) Skyfall 9) The Dark Knight Rises 10) Prometheus

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A wasted pick? (USAT)

Final LABR thoughts: I waited on closers and catchers (the latter wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision going in, but the former was) and ended up with Jason Grilli, Grant Balfour (he hadn’t had the knee surgery at the time of the draft, but it’s not like I can complain about someone with his track record getting injured) and Jose Veras. Your guess is as good as mine if those pitchers pan out, but at least in theory the strategy worked, as I didn’t address the position until 206 picks into the draft…After I took Jurickson Profar, USA Today’s Steve Gardner expressed his displeasure (admittedly, this had a lot to do with him having both Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus), but Fangraphs’ Mike Podhorzer responded by asking “where’s he going to play?” My counter would be this – the reason Profar was available at pick No. 296 is because we don’t know where (or if) he’s going to play. If we did, a talent like that would have gone much earlier. Mike Trout’s (and no, Profar is not going to be Trout) path to playing time looked much more uncertain at this time of year last season. I also debated Billy Hamilton here as well and thought he was an absolute steal in round 23 for Baseball Prospectus. Maybe the Rangers stay completely healthy, and I end up dropping Profar. Maybe Shin Soo-Choo successfully manages to play centerfield, and Hamilton is nothing but a September call up. But this is more about game theory in general than any particular prospect, as my main point is to not overly worry about roles right now when so much will change over the next seven months.

Longread of the Week: A fascinating read about the world’s best pickpocketer.

And here’s further evidence of his skills on live television.

Quick Hits: During April, May, July and August of last year, Aroldis Chapman had a 0.17 ERA and 0.61 WHIP with a 93:12 K:BB ratio over 53.2 innings…Ben Revere had a 4.61 GB/FB ratio last year, which was by far the highest since the stat has been recorded back in 2002…After tossing back-to-back shutouts, including a no hitter (that took 134 pitches), Johan Santana's ERA stood at 2.38 on June 1. From that point forward, he sported an 8.27 ERA. In fact, over his final five starts, Santana allowed 33 earned runs over 19.0 innings before the Mets mercifully shut him down for good, although the damage had already been done to fantasy owners…I get that Kyle Lohse shouldn’t be paid based on last year’s 2.86 ERA (his FIP-ERA discrepancy was the fifth highest in baseball), but he had a 76:18 K:BB ratio over 94.2 innings after the All-Star break, and his 1.13 WHIP over the past two seasons ranks 11th in major league baseball (and ahead of Felix Hernandez). Lohse should probably be getting a bit more attention in the free agent market.

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