As we approach the season's halfway point, the anomalies have more or less weeded themselves out, pushing the most highly regarded players coming into the season back to the top of the rankings.
The No. 1 first baseman, Joey Votto, was drafted in 100 percent of leagues. Same goes for the No. 1 second baseman (Ian Kinsler), the No. 1 third baseman (Jose Bautista) and the No. 1 outfielder (Carlos Gonzalez). The No. 1 shortstop, Elvis Andrus, wasn't far off at 99 percent. Even No. 1 catcher Yadier Molina, the biggest surprise of that group, was drafted in 91 percent of leagues.
Then, there's R.A. Dickey, who only 51 percent of Fantasy owners saw fit to have on their rosters coming into the season. As of his second consecutive complete game one-hitter Monday night, he's the No. 1 starting pitcher in Fantasy -- and not just by a little. More points separate him from Justin Verlander in standard Head-to-Head leagues (67) than separate Verlander from Wade Miley (50), Ryan Vogelsong (58.5) and Jason Hammel (59).
So naturally, someone must have seen it coming. A player doesn't go from being an afterthought in Fantasy to the best of the best at his position without giving a few warning signs first. The Fantasy owners with access to the secret password or black light that would have unlocked and exposed such truths had a distinct advantage over the rest of us.
If only they hadn't kept it to themselves.
Any tips on how to find the next R.A. Dickey before everyone else does? The guy who's first in my league picked him up three weeks ago, as if he needed the help. I'm doing my best counter with CC Sabathia, Stephen Strasburg, Dan Haren, Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore, but how do you counter 40-plus innings without an earned run? Unreal! -- Thomas Hansen (via Facebook)
|Player||# of trades|
|1.||Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants||854|
|2.||Cliff Lee, SP, Phillies||652|
|3.||Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox||582|
|4.||Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks||538|
|5.||Dan Haren, SP, Angels||459|
|6.||Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners||448|
|7.||Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals||432|
|8.||Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox||429|
|9.||Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees||402|
|10.||CC Sabathia, SP, Yankees||368|
SW: So are you being sincere here, Thomas, or simply venting about a missed opportunity? Either way, of the many Dickey questions in the inbox this week, yours is the most pertinent to Fantasy owners. After all, Dickey is gone now, at least as far as the waiver wire goes, so instead of reflecting on how good he is, aren't we better off examining how to avoid missing out on him next time?
Unfortunately, the most telling word you used is also the most deflating -- "unreal," as if you were describing a dream you had last night. That's Dickey's season in a nutshell: unexpected, unprecedented and, above all, unpredictable. If you checked the rankings for the first time today after spending the last 2 1/2 months traveling through time, you'd be retracing your steps to determine when exactly you stepped on the butterfly.
Of course, if you spent the last 2 1/2 months traveling through time, you'd obviously have access to a time machine, which means you could just go back and pick up Dickey ... and while you're at it, maybe poke a few holes in the plot of The Terminator as well, smarty pants.
You get the point. Breakthroughs like this one aren't the kind you can predict. Because of his age (37), his specialty (the knuckleball), what he does with that specialty (throws it harder and more accurately than anyone before or since), and the results he's gotten with it (you know, No. 1 and all), you can safely assume we'll never see another Dickey again. Hate to be a buzz kill, but it's true.
Still, you can safeguard against the possibility simply by doing what you didn't do with Dickey: adding the players who deserve to be owned.
That's not code for anything: If a guy deserves to be owned and isn't, pick him up.
Too obvious? Oh, I agree. It's so trite that it borders on inane. But it doesn't change the fact that Dickey was owned in only 51 percent of leagues to begin the season.
So now I'm the smarty pants, right? If what Dickey did last year made only 51 percent of Fantasy owners want to draft him, then isn't that exactly how much he deserved to be owned at the time? Ah, but performance wasn't what kept his ownership percentage down. Perception was.
Dickey's turning point actually came when the Mets called him up for good in 2010. From then until the end of 2011, he compiled a 3.08 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 60 appearances, including 58 starts. Sure, his win-loss record wasn't the greatest thanks to bad luck and a poor supporting cast, and his strikeouts didn't come at the same rate they do today. But he was remarkably steady and, as you might expect for a knuckleballer, consistently pitched deep into games.
And he seemed to find a second gear during his final 12 starts last year, when he posted a 2.45 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. You'd think anyone who owned him then, at a time when so many of the big names from a couple months earlier had succumbed to injury, would have drafted him this year just as a token of appreciation. Sure, he was old and relied on a pitch that you could easily dismiss as a gimmick, which is probably where the perception problems started, but all the factors that people credit for his breakthrough now -- specifically, the unprecedented speed and command of his knuckleball -- were just as apparent then. They should have had you buying into last year's numbers even if this year's numbers seemed completely beyond his reach.
If you listen to our podcasts, you know that as far back as last season, Dickey came to be known among Al Melchior, Adam Aizer and I as "the most underowned pitcher in Fantasy." Granted, none of us thought he'd take such a dramatic step forward, but if more people bought into the idea that he was good enough as he was, not nearly as many would be slapping themselves on the forehead now.
So who today is "the most underowned pitcher in Fantasy?" For me, it's Homer Bailey, who's owned in only 57 percent of leagues despite being the 11th-best starting pitcher since the start of his hot streak on May 14. Doesn't that sound like a player worth owning to you, especially since he's a former top prospect who's just entering his prime at age 26?
Sometimes, Fantasy is as easy as paying attention.
SW: Adding Moss off the waiver wire is the Fantasy equivalent of a desperation heave. Granted, heaves have their place, but it's usually when you've exhausted your other options. The availability of both Belt and Davis suggests you haven't.
The difference between them and someone like Moss is upside -- or at least potential to meet that upside. Once upon a time, Moss had upside -- he was the No. 72 prospect in 2005, according to Baseball America -- but after so many failed opportunities with the Red Sox and Pirates, what are the chances he suddenly turns the corner at age 28? What evidence is there of a possible breakout? Impressive numbers at Triple-A? Please. Ask Dan Johnson how that's working for him.
At ages 24 and 25, Belt's and Davis' opportunities have only just begun. They've encountered roadblocks, sure, but nothing unprecedented for players still finding their footing in the majors. And unlike Moss, they've at least offered glimpses of their potential during their time in the majors -- enough that you can remain optimistic they'll eventually come around.
True, Moss' numbers are better right now, but that's because he came out of the gate hot, taking advantage of a trip to Coors Field by homering five times in the span of four games. It took some ability, sure, but given the venue and sample size, it comes with an asterisk. If you whittle Belt's and Davis' seasons down to just the last 11 games, which is how long Moss has spent in the majors this year, Belt is batting .364 (12 for 33) with three home runs and a 1.202 OPS, and Davis is batting .375 (12 for 32) with two home runs and a 1.125 OPS. Shoot, Moss isn't even the hot hand.
And because Belt and Davis have so much upside, you have to jump at them now, when they're showing their first real signs of life. Maybe all Belt needed was a regular lineup spot and the confidence that goes with it. Maybe Davis wasn't so much sick as rusty after missing most of last season with an ankle injury. Maybe their hot streaks are the sparks that set them off in Fantasy, making them high-end options for the next 10 years. You wouldn't want to miss out on that for someone who has all the appearances of a Quadruple-A player.
If I had to pick one, Belt would be my choice since I'm still a little skittish about Davis' valley fever, but Moss is a distant third.
Which NL pitcher who is currently not injured or a closer will get the most saves going forward? -- @zackdanielssr (via Twitter)
SW: This topic can't come up enough. No matter how shallow the league, someone always has a need for saves, and anyone anointed to the closer role is immediately a high-end contributor in the category.
Obviously, trades can open the door for some pitchers in the second half. In the NL, Brett Myers could potentially be on the move with the Astros out of contention. Brandon Lyon would be the most likely replacement there, though his past struggles as a closer no doubt have Fantasy owners less than enthusiastic about the possibility. David Hernandez is a sleeper for saves given J.J. Putz's injury history, and Francisco Rodriguez could enter the discussion if John Axford continues to struggle.
My favorite pickup as a prospective source of saves, though, is Rex Brothers of Colorado. He has profiled as a closer since the Rockies selected him 34th overall in 2009, and though his overall numbers aren't so impressive, he has allowed just two hits in nine appearances since returning from the minors in early June, recording 14 strikeouts in eight innings during that stretch. I'd say he's ready.
Granted, the Rockies have already gone through the trouble of converting Rafael Betancourt to closing, but at age 37, he's not a long-term solution. And he'd be a useful trade chip for a team going nowhere.
Might as well ease Brothers in when the pressure is off, right?
Be sure to catch Fantasy Baseball 360 LIVE at 5 p.m. ET every weekday to dominate your Fantasy leagues. Our writers will have the latest news, analysis and roster trends each afternoon.
SW: It's not just good value; it's crazy value. And on the spectrum of things that should matter to Fantasy owners, the possibility of having too many Tigers is a relative blip.
As long as you're getting numbers, the source of them doesn't matter. The timing can matter in Head-to-Head leagues -- and I assume that's why you're asking -- but having players from different teams isn't necessarily the remedy. Yes, from time to time, teams slump, but it's not like every bat goes silent at once. One or two are usually clicking at any given time. They may not generate much run production on their own, but they haven't gone missing in Fantasy.
Let's say Fielder and Cabrera both slump at the same time, which is pretty unlikely given their ceilings, but hypothetically speaking, what would make Hunter any less likely than Jackson to slump during that same stretch? He's still the worse hitter, so the chances of him slumping are still greater, right? They say hitting is contagious, but that's just a saying, right? Nobody actually believes it, right?
Maybe you do. Shoot, maybe most people do, and I'm at the wrong end of a never-ending philosophical debate. It doesn't seem logical to me, and I'd think we'd see more no-hitters and blowouts if players up and down the lineup really did, by the forces of nature, assume the characteristics of the players around them. But if that's what you believe, I don't know with a thousand percent certainty that you're wrong.
I do know that Jackson is a better player than Hunter, though, and I'm thinking he's a far better player. If Hunter delivers you another .270 batting average and 22 homers at age 36, it's a victory. Jackson, meanwhile, seems poised for a breakthrough at age 25, having so significantly reduced the gap between his strikeouts and walks -- which is exactly the kind of development you'd expect for a high-upside player in his third big-league season -- that I can genuinely see him maintaining a .300 batting average all season. And if he hadn't missed three weeks with an abdominal injury, he'd likely be on a 25-homer, 25-steal pace as well.
Those numbers suggest to me that Jackson and his buddies in Detroit will be hot enough often enough that I can live with whatever my other hitters give me when they're not.
I'm in an NL-only league and would be interested in seeing some Anthony Rizzo predictions for the second half. With the flux at first base in the NL, I can see him top five. What say you? -- @JimmyFormula (via Twitter)
SW: I don't mean to ruin your day or burst anyone's bubble, but I think Rizzo is setting up a lot of Fantasy owners for disappointment.
Check out these numbers from Triple-A Iowa: a .409 batting average, 17 home runs and a 1.336 OPS in 164 at-bats. Pretty good, right? So that's why everybody's so excited about this Rizzo guy ...
Except those numbers aren't Rizzo's. They were Jake Fox's back in 2009.
Since then, Fox has gone on to hit .237 with a .714 OPS in parts of four major-league seasons. He's currently with the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate.
That's not what I foresee for Rizzo or anything -- unlike Fox, he actually has the pedigree of a top prospect -- but my point is you can't take his .364 batting average, 23 homers and 1.170 OPS in 231 at-bats for Triple-A Iowa at face value. It's a great place to hit. So is Triple-A Tucson, where Rizzo hit .331 with 26 homers and a 1.056 OPS in 356 at-bats last year. We all know how those numbers translated when the Padres gave him the call.
Again, Rizzo is a top prospect and has been since the hitting .260 with an .815 OPS in the upper levels of the Red Sox system. But he's a product of his environment in the sense that his inflated minor-league numbers in his most recent two stops have given Fantasy owners unrealistic expectations.
In the long run, I see Rizzo being what his numbers in the Red Sox organization made him out to be: a solid power hitter, but probably closer to Adam LaRoche than Prince Fielder. And obviously, the floor is much lower for his rookie season.
Even in NL-only leagues, where the top of the first base position is noticeably thin, I'd expect him to finish behind Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, LaRoche, Paul Goldschmidt and even Ike Davis. Between them and the players with eligibility at positions other than first base, such as Michael Cuddyer, Corey Hart, Lucas Duda, Allen Craig, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Lance Berkman, I'd expect Rizzo to finish outside the top 12 during the time he's up.
SW: Obviously, the details of your particular case could sway my opinion. If the choice is to keep Cabrera for one year at $40 or Trout for five years at $1, then I'd obviously take Trout. But assuming all those little variables are equal, I'd rather have Cabrera.
I should preface my explanation by saying I really, really, really like Trout. His natural hitting ability has already translated to the majors, his power is coming along, and his base-stealing has far exceeded my expectations. I like him enough that if the season ended today, before we got to see if he'd survive the ups and downs of the next 3 1/2 months, I'd presume he would have avoided the rookie wall and rank him among the top 15 outfielders going into next season.
But Cabrera would be in the running for top player overall. He's so reliable from year to year, again performing at a .300-hitting, 35-homer pace this year, and still has so much left in the tank at age 29 that I couldn't bring myself to turn him loose. I'd rather have five years from a sure thing like Cabrera than 10 years from a less-than-sure-but-certainly-probable thing like Trout.
And if you're still in the hunt for this season, that's even more reason to stick with the certainty.
Is Colby Lewis a sell-high guy? If so, what starting pitcher could I get in return? -- Eric Cantona (via Facebook)
SW: Lewis has been a pretty good pitcher for the last three years, boasting an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio with the help of arguably the best supporting cast in baseball. For that reason, holding on to him wouldn't be such a terrible thing. But his performance over his last four starts, during which he has compiled a 1.76 ERA and 0.65 WHIP, has vaulted him to 15th in the starting pitcher rankings, ahead of both Zack Greinke and C.J. Wilson. That's a little too good to be true.
Lewis' ERA and WHIP over those four starts are unrealistic, obviously, but the biggest anomaly during that stretch is the number of home runs he's allowed: one. By comparison, he allowed 13 in his previous eight starts. Considering he allowed an AL-leading 35 last year and ranks fourth among qualifying pitchers in fly-ball rate, you can guess which pace is the more sustainable one.
Of course, an increase in home runs wouldn't be the end of the world. Lewis' 3.58 ERA and 1.16 WHIP heading into the four-start stretch were both plenty respectable. Certainly, keeping his walks down can only help his cause, and I'm to the point now that I'm ready to believe he'll finish with better numbers than he did last year. But home runs, like tornadoes, come without warning and cause massive destruction in a short period of time, which can lead to wild fluctuations in ERA and unpredictable results on a game-to-game basis.
Those generally aren't the traits of a top-15 starting pitcher, so if you can convince someone that Lewis actually is what the stats say he is right now, you'll probably benefit in the long run. Using him to buy low on an Ian Kennedy or Yovani Gallardo seems like a reasonable course of action. You'd be aiming low shooting for Mat Latos or Jeremy Hellickson, though.
Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also check us out on Facebook or e-mail us at email@example.com .