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Mostly MLB Notes: Talking N.L. LABR and Billy Hamilton

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Billy Hamilton has been a polarizing fantasy player (USAT)

Let’s first get the obvious out of the way, and that’s I’m aware no one wants to hear about my own fantasy team. But after just competing in N.L. LABR – the industry’s longest running fantasy league and one of the two most prominent (Tout Wars being the other) – I do think there’s some merit discussing what happened. But I’ll try to make this as general as possible.

[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

It’s important to understand the format, as LABR is a 12-team, N.L.-only format with rosters of: C,C,1B,2B,3B,SS,MI,CI,OF,OF,OF,OF,OF,UTIL and nine P slots. This is about as deep as it gets. Anyone who’s never played in an “only” league like this is sure to examine rosters and be shocked by some of the holes (every fourth outfielder and relevant middle reliever is gone by the end of the reserve rounds). The prices in this type of format have nothing to do with the prices in mixed leagues – they might as well be different sports altogether. Here are the full results.

Here’s Josh Reddick making not one but two sick home run robbing catches in the same spring training game.

The obvious player to start with is Billy Hamilton, whom I spent a whopping $28 on. My strategy entering was to target Hamilton, “spread the wealth” with the rest of my offense and punt saves (more on this later). I hoped to get Hamilton for around $22 (the opening bid was $18, and I immediately jumped to $22). If not for Shawn Childs, that plan might have worked, but the guys from NFBC bid me up, and I reluctantly said $28. I’ve gotten killed on Twitter for this, and I can’t say I’m surprised. There’s no question it looks crazy when Yasiel Puig, who has a much higher ADP, went for $27 just a few minutes earlier. There’s undoubtedly more downside with Hamilton compared to players who went for similar prices, as his bat may fail so badly he could conceivably be in the minors by June.

But he’s developed into a strong defensive outfielder, and there really isn’t much competition on Cincinnati’s roster. No team has cared less about implementing low OBP guys at the top of the order over the past few seasons than the Reds, although admittedly Dusty Baker is now gone (but new manager Bryan Price is all about the team running more). Steals have been down league-wide over the past few years, and the SB category appears especially scarce in the National League entering 2014. Hamilton swiped 103 bags as a 21-year-old and then set the professional baseball record by stealing 155 bases the following campaign (in 132 games) – a mark that topped every single team in MLB last season. He stole 13 bags in 13 games during his debut in the bigs, with only three of them in which he started. I get why most put his SB over/under total around 74.5, but he can reach that number even if he becomes a fourth outfielder (at least we know then he’d reach base once a game as a pinch runner, likely in a SB situation). I’m fine with taking heat for spending so much on an unknown with most projection systems predicting an OBP in the .278-.319 range (with no power), but call me crazy (I’ve been called worse), but I expect Hamilton to steal at least 100 bases in 2014, barring injury. And there’s a real possibility he exceeds that.

Here’s crazy footage of a camera falling from a sky diving airplane and landing in a pig pen.

Here’s a bank teller laughing at someone trying to rob her.

Here’s a paranoid name dropping prank.

Here’s Super Mario Bros being beaten with the fewest amount of points possible, which is quite impressive.

I happily spent $18 on Gerrit Cole, whom I expected to go in the $22-26 range (although to be fair, most of the second tier starters prices after Clayton Kershaw seemed low as well). Cole was finally able to unleash his full arsenal after the All-Star break last season, when he posted a 2.85 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with a 75:19 K:BB ratio over 75.2 innings. His average fastball velocity (96.1 mph) would have ranked first (Matt Harvey did at 95.8) had he qualified. Cole combined that with a 1.88 GB/FB ratio, which would have also ranked top-10 in MLB. Not only should he continue to improve in 2014, but he also has the benefit of playing for a Pittsburgh team that’s strong defensively while pitching in a home park that greatly suppresses home runs (over the past three years, it has decreased big flies for left-handed batters by 13 percent and right-handed hitters by 28 percent). Despite the aforementioned benefits of the Pirates’ defense and PNC Park, Cole had a .330 BABIP and 1.31 WHIP at home last season compared to .269 and 0.95 on the road. This came during a small sample, but it also reveals a lot of upside from the former No. 1 overall pick. I have Cole as a top-12 fantasy starter, but he’s going to cost a lot less than that in most leagues.

Headlines of the Week: In Japan, A Deaf Composer Appears To Be None Of The Above...Rutgers Makes Professor Teach Class He Is Clueless About, Suspends Him For Telling Students...Scientists Say Their Giant Laser Has Produced Nuclear Fusion...Woman Set Ablaze By Partner Hugs Him To Death...10-Year-Old Steals Parents' Car; Tries To Convince Cops He’s A Dwarf When Caught...Cannibal Restaurant With ‘Roasted Human Heads On The Menu’ Shut Down By Police...Man Wakes Up In Body Bag At Funeral Home.

For those who missed it or are just a fan of my random links, here’s my latest Mostly NBA Notes Column.

I entered planning on punting saves, as in a 12-team N.L. only league with 15 slated closers, it usually doesn’t make sense to draft one of them (you can spend $15 on one and often still just finish with 2 or 3 points in the category if you don’t hit on any other speculative add, at least in previous years). So my thinking was either draft two or none, and considering how scarce innings pitched and at bats are in this format, I opted for the latter. Unfortunately, four others agreed with me and didn’t buy a closer. Moreover, those who did got them at prices far cheaper than expected. In fact, even if you combine Rex Brothers and LaTroy Hawkins for the Rockies, the average cost of the current projected closers went for just $13. That’s pretty crazy. My approach midstream was too stubborn, as I threw out Hawkins for $1, and nearly won him! (Eric Karabell went $2 at the last second, and he did so reluctantly even though he already had Brothers). In hindsight, I should have said $3 there even though I had no expectations of getting Hawkins when I nominated him. Apparently 5-10 saves might get 4-5 points in the category in this league. My inability to adjust on the fly here was pretty regrettable.

Animal Antics: 100,000 Dead Bats Fall From The Sky...Doctor Pulls 2cm Long Cockroach From Ear...Here’s one of the freakiest pictures ever, featuring frozen fish...Man In Dog Shirt Poses With Dog In Man Shirt...Pet Parrot Squealed On Drunken Driving Suspect...Born Tigress Killed During Mating Attempt At San Diego ZooDog Shoots Florida Man In The Leg With a 9mm Handgun...Python Kills Security Guard In Bali...Here’s a horse on the loose in Chicago...Dolphins ‘Deliberately Get High’ On Puffer Fish Nerve Toxins By Carefully Chewing And Passing Them Around...Here’s a Shark Photobombing Two Boys at a California Beach...Bird Moves Into Walmart, Enjoys Free Food For Weeks...Flatulent Cows Start Fire At German Dairy Farm...Here’s a Kangaroo seemingly roided out of his mind.

I tried to mostly remain agnostic with this auction, but one target I had in mind was Seth Smith, whom I bought for $5. It’s just a one-year sample (which is especially small for park factors), but PETCO Park increased HRs by LHB by 30 percent last season after they moved the fences in. To put that in perspective, only Coors Field has had a bigger effect (33%) over the past three years. Cameron Maybin was due for an MRI at the time of this, and the news broke the next day he will miss 2-3 months (it's since been changed to 4-6 weeks). Carlos Quentin isn’t exactly the most durable player either. That said, playing Quentin in LF, Will Venable in CF and Smith in RF isn’t exactly ideal defensively, so there’s no guarantee Smith will be a full-time player, but even conceding middle relievers aren’t super valuable, the Padres gave up a very good one in Luke Gregerson for Smith during the offseason, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the outfielder approached 450+ ABs in 2014.

Police Blotter: Man With Flower Pot On Head Wields Chainsaw During Robbery...Victim Traumatized After Finding Pic of Suspect on Cell...Man Charged In Amish Buggy Drive-By Shooting...Heroin Found On Driver Claiming To Be Visiting Elderly Man At Children’s Hospital...South Carolina Woman Jailed After Failing To Return Movie Rented Nine Years Ago...Man Claimed To Be Jack Bauer from ‘24’ In Home Break-In...Man Blows 0.00 On Breathalyzer, Gets Arrested For DWI...Talking Parrot ‘Helps’ Police Crack Murder Case...Man Stole Sound System, Then Came Back For Remote.

Let’s now tackle A.J. Pollock, who clearly looks awful at $17 in a vacuum. All auctions are different (something drafts can’t say with the same magnitude, typically), and this came down to sequencing. Pollock was the last available full-time projected player, and I had money to spend, so I got in a bidding war with one other owner in a similar situation. The fact Gerardo Parra went for $8 about 15 minutes earlier drives me crazy. And even someone with much more upside like Carl Crawford went for the same amount early on. This is common in auctions, but it doesn’t make me feel any better being the guy who made the error in doing so (I should have spent the money earlier). Pollock isn’t the worst player, and this is a good illustration of how auction values shouldn’t all be considered equal. But the main takeaway here is, as always, I’m an idiot.

Headlines of the Week Part Two: Ronald McDonald Charged In Wendy’s Theft...Doctors Find 44-year-old Fetus inside 84-year-old Woman...Fired Miami Dolphins Trainer Wins NFL Trainer Of The Year Award...Florida Man Attempts To Cure His Arachnophobia By Tattooing Giant Spider Across His Face...Blondie Bennett, Barbie-Obsessed Woman, Uses Hypnotherapy To Make Herself ‘Brainless.’...Little Einstein! Girl, 3, is Mensa’s Youngest Member With IQ of 160...'Celebrity Wife Swap’ Makes Coolio’s Girlfriend Realize She Could Do Better...Depressed Man Tries To Feed Himself To Tigers, Gets Rejected...Man Tries To Pay Applebee’s Tab With $1 Trillion Bill.

Quick Hits: Among those who finished in the top-20 in K% like Homer Bailey last year (23.4), only Matt Harvey, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee had a lower BB% than his 6.4% mark. In other words, Bailey has developed into an elite pitcher. His average FB velocity jumped to 94.1 mph, which resulted in his SwStr% being 10.7, which was the 11th best in all of baseball…Speaking of me buying Reds pitchers for $16, Mat Latos has never won 15 games during any season of his career, but he’s recorded a 3.27 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and a 10.5 SwStr% over 2010-2013. He’s also thrown the 22nd most innings among all pitchers over that span, so the lack of wins sure seem like a fluke…I obviously like Tyson Ross. A second round pick five years ago, he didn’t post the most dominant minor league numbers but most of them came in the hitter-friendly PCL league, which is quite different from PETCO Park (despite last year’s dimension changes, which helped LHB greatly in the HR department, it still suppressed runs by 17 percent – more than any other park in major league baseball). Ross posted a 2.93 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 85 Ks over 80.0 innings after the All-Star break (and unluckily, he pitched just 42.9 percent of his innings at PETCO). Ross had an impressive 11.1 SwStr%, and while I regret spending two more dollars on him than Francisco Liriano went for, I expect a real nice season from him in 2014.

While the first Pepsi MAX “Test Drive” was almost certainly fake, Jeff Gordon made up for it by pranking the writer who outed the first one in a pretty legit way here.

Here Are The Best News Bloopers From February 2014 (NSFW: Language).

Longread of the Week: Who Killed Gonzalo Ramirez? (This really is a must read).

Quick Hits Part Deux: I figured I’d end up with either Ryan Howard or Justin Morneau, but they went for $17 and 14, respectively. Not that I’m thrilled with paying $19 for Matt Adams later. I certainly like his upside more, but if Allen Craig continues to deal with injuries he may have to move to first base (or also if Oscar Taveras forces his way into the OF). But Adams can clearly rake, so I’m betting on talent over role here. Adams hit one HR every 17.4 ABs last season, which would’ve ranked third in the N.L. had he qualified. And it’s usually safe to bet on the Cardinals’ organization getting the most out of their players. I would’ve preferred Brandon Belt after he posted a 139 wRC+ last season that ranked 19th in all of baseball, but he still has that problem of having to play in AT&T Park and also cost $23…Speaking of HR/AB, Jedd Gyorko hit the second most (21.1) among players under age 26 last year, with only Giancarlo Stanton clubbing more (17.7). Gyroko's rate also ranked 10th best among all National League hitters (regardless of age), and this is a middle infielder who’s a right-hander who hit 13 homers over 236 ABs at PETCO in 2013, which reveals quit a bit of potential moving forward...Feel free to trash my team in the comments. I'll own it however it turns out at the end of the year.

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