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Setting the Trends: Track record is in Griffin's favor

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Here's a bold prediction: A.J. Griffin, now owned in 26 percent of leagues, will see that number jump to 70 percent by the end of the season.

Crazy, right? But ... Griffin has four major league starts under his belt right now, and carries a 2.63 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with four quality starts, into Wednesday night's start against the Yankees. This might actually be the start that on which his seasons rests. Tame the Yankees, and we'll see a jump in his ownership thanks to two factors: 1. He beat the Yankees!, which seems to give a pitcher a little bit of a bump in value and perception (even though he already tamed the Rangers and Red Sox this season, with the Rangers win coming in Texas). 2. Griffin is lined up to be a two-start pitcher next week and that brings out the Start Vultures in droves. If only he had RP eligibility!

We've already gotten into Griffin's minor league success in this column -- over three seasons, he had a decent 3.10 ERA and very low 1.01 WHIP, while striking out about a batter per inning. And his value in the majors has really been held back by his lack of wins, which may explain why he's been this good, but not appearing among the top pitchers when you sort for free agents. Over four games, Griffin has just one win, which came, ironically, in his worst start to date -- giving up three runs in six innings against the Twins last Friday. And before you scoff at him giving up three runs to Minnesota, know that the Twins rank third in MLB in runs scored for the month of July.

This prediction could be wrong. In fact, you could be reading this now as the Yankees light Griffin up for six runs in four innings. But, based on everything he's done to this point in his career -- producing a solid ERA, stellar WHIP, showing great command, and striking out about a batter per inning -- chances are that Griffin could join the ranks of Carl Pavano, Jason Hammel, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Felipe Paulino, Jeff Niemann, Kevin Millwood, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, Luke Hochevar, Rick Porcello and Dylan Axelrod...and have a quality start against the Yankees this season. And that would complete the Texas/Boston/Yankees supposed Gauntlet of Doom for pitchers, leaving us all no choice but to label Griffin a solid pick-up in all formats.

On to the Roster Trends!

Most Added Players (as of 7/18)
Player % increase
1. Ben Sheets, SP, ATL 36
2. Francisco Rodriguez, RP, MIL 22
3. Alcides Escobar, SS, KC 16
4. Zach McAllister, SP, CLE 14
5. Carlos Villanueva, SP, TOR 14
6. Adam Lind, 1B, TOR 11
7. Michael Brantley, OF, CLE 11
8. Michael Fiers, SP, MIL 10
9. Erick Aybar, SS, LAA 10
10. Casey Janssen, RP, TOR 10

Most Added Highlights

Ben Sheets, SP, ATL
Jump in Ownership: 36 percent (from 15 percent to 51)
Reason for the jump: Sheets returned to baseball with a flourish, shutting out the Mets over six innings last Sunday.
Why you should join the crowd: Over 241 previous games, Sheets had compiled a career 3.79 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. He's a four-time All-Star who has struck out as many as 264 batters in a season. He told Fantasy Baseball 360 on Friday that his fastball "probably won't be 98" again, but he's added some new elements to his pitching arsenal. You can watch the interview with Sheets here. In short, Sheets has been an excellent pitcher in the past, whose main drawback has been poor health. He has the talent to be a top pitcher in the major leagues if he can avoid injury.
Devil's Advocate: Before Sunday's performance, Sheets hadn't pitched in a game since July 2010. And in that 2010 season -- in 119 1/3 innings pitched with the A's -- Sheets put up a 4.53 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. Also, his strikeout rate fluctuated over his previous three seasons. His admission that he won't throw 98 adds to the idea that he may see a dip in strikeouts going forward.

Less than 50, more than 50
Players owned in less than 50% of leagues who should be owned in more than 50%
Player % owned
1. J.D. Martinez, OF, HOU 49
2. Mark Reynolds, 3B, BAL 47
3. Carlos Marmol, RP, CHC 47
4. Norichika Aoki, OF, MIL 39
5. Lorenzo Cain, OF, KC 33

Alcides Escobar, SS, KC
Jump in Ownership: 16 percent (from 61 percent to 77)
Reason for the jump: Over the last month, Escobar is hitting .371, with three home runs and 14 runs scored.
Why you should join the crowd: Plenty of you already have. For weeks, Yunel Escobar was the Escobar more widely-owned. As his ownership slowly slipped, Alcides' gained steam. He hit two home runs against the White Sox this past Saturday, and has six multi-hit games over his last nine. He's shown batting average promise before -- most notably towards the end of his minor league career and at the beginning of his MLB days. And let's not forget the best part about Escobar: the speedy shortstop has the ability to steal 30 bases in a season.
Devil's Advocate: As nice as it is to see Escobar's average come up, his speed has taken a hit during this hot streak. Since June 13, he has stolen one base; he had 12 before that point. A lot of Alcides' value lies in his stolen bsaes; otherwise, he becomes, essentially, Yunel Escobar (who, coincidentally, has two steals since June 13), but with less power.

End game in demand
The most-traded closers
Player Number of trades in last seven days
1. Jose Valverde, RP, DET 316
2. Jonathan Papelbon, RP, PHI 305
3. Aroldis Chapman, RP, CIN 303
4. Rafael Soriano, RP, NYY 285
5. J.J. Putz, RP, ARI 284

Pedro Ciriaco, SS, BOS
Jump in Ownership: Nine percent (from five percent to 14)
Reason for the jump: In eight games with the Red Sox, Ciriaco is hitting .419, with three steals and a .954 OPS.
Why you should join the crowd: Ciriaco's three steals in eight games is not a fluke; he has two minor league seasons of 38 or more steals. And with Dustin Pedroia sidelined, Ciriaco looks to see a lot of playing time in the powerful Red Sox lineup, which is second in MLB in runs scored. In his eight games played so far, he has six RBI and four runs scored.
Devil's Advocate: Ciriaco's average is currently 150 points higher than where it likely would end up in a full season (his career minor league average is .272). and while he does have two 38-plus steal seasons under his belt, Ciriaco hasn't stolen more than 20 bases in a minor league season since 2009. Furthermore, Nick Punto could also find himself in the mix for playing time in the Boston infield, and Pedroia is expected to return as early as Thursday. As well as Ciriaco is hitting right now, he likely won't be able to push Mike Aviles or Will Middlebrooks out of the lineup on a basis regular enough to justify adding him to your Fantasy team beyond this week.

Kicking them while they're down
The most dropped recently-demoted players
Player % owned
1. Jake Arrieta, SP, BAL 13
2. Randall Delgado, SP, ATL 15
3. Jose Tabata, OF, PIT 19
4. Gaby Sanchez, 1B, MIA 18
5. Xavier Avery, OF, BAL 2

Francisco Rodriguez, RP, MIL
Jump in Ownership: 22 percent (from 11 percent to 33)
Reason for the jump: Rodriguez is the new closer for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Why you should join the crowd: Rodriguez led the American League in saves three separate seasons. Just 30 years old, Rodriguez currently ranks fourth among active pitchers in saves, with 293. The three men ahead of him have an average age of 39. He's a four-time All-Star who has, three times, finished in the top four of Cy Young Award voting. He has a career 2.58 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, and his K/9 ratio, over 11 seasons, is 11.0.
Devil's Advocate: If you hear anything bad about Rodriguez, it's that his velocity is down from its peak. And there is some truth to this -- according to FanGraphs, his fastball was at 94.4 in 2007, and hit 90.3 in 2011. this year, it has inched its way back up to 91.8. Along with the drop in velocity has been a rise in ERA; since leaving the Angels in 2008, he has a 3.00 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. In the previous seven seasons, his ERA sat at 2.35 and his WHIP was a tidy 1.11. On top of all that, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was a little vague about how long Rodriguez will have the job, saying Rodriguez is going to close "right now"
Yeah, but dude ... it's K-Rod!: I know, right? Screw all that other stuff! The man is a saves machine, and most leagues rely on saves for 10 percent of scoring categories. You pick up K-Rod and you ride him as long as he lets you. 293 career saves, zero seasons with fewer than 53 games played, and he has the job. Speculation is that Axford may be back, but if K-Rod turns out to be the pitcher of old, that may not be the case. There's a real chance -- far more real than Steve Cischek or Mike Dunn holding the job in Miami -- that Rodriguez could finish the year as the closer in Milwaukee.

Todd Frazier, 3B, CIN
Jump in Ownership: Five percent (from 12 percent to 17)
Reason for the jump: Frazier is expected to start at first base for Cincinnati in place of the injured Joey Votto.
Why you should join the crowd: Frazier, a former first-round pick, already has 10 home runs this year, in 191 at-bats, serving mostly as an injury fill-in for Scott Rolen at third base. With Joey Votto's knee requiring surgery, Frazier will now take over at first base, hoping to build on the power (.895 OPS so far this season) and batting average (.272) progress he has made so far this season. If you need that extra nudge to pick him up, consider this: Frazier should begin the next scoring period with both first and third base eligibility in most leagues.
Devil's Advocate: There's not much to not like about Frazier. The only caution would be that his speed (three seasons of double-digit steals in the minor leagues) has yet to show up at the major league level (he has one steal this year), and that some owners may overvalue him for his power: he likely has more of a 25 home run ceiling than a 35 home run ceiling.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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