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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Now is the time for reflection

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

Beep, beep, beep, beep, beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee ...

"We're losing him!"

"It's not working! We need the defibrillator!"

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Gweeeeeeeeee ...

"Clear!"

... CHOK!

"It's no use! He has to want to come back!"

"Once they leave for Fantasy Football, they never come back!"

"Who would come back for this, guys!? Who would come back!?"

"NO! I'm not losing another!"

Gweeeeeeeeee ...

"Clear!"

... CHOK!

"Forget it, man! It's over! It's over."

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee ...

Sadly, this sort of tragedy happens all too often. Fantasy Football comes a-knocking about mid-August and those already condemned to a losing record are too weak to resist its call.

But the tragedy isn't so much that they leave. It's that they don't come back. They don't pay a second thought to Fantasy Baseball until March, and by then, their memories of 2012 have pretty much turned to vapor.

If those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, then all you accomplish by turning tail now is more of the same misery next year. So instead of giving in to the allure of something promising and new, take some time -- healthy, meaningful time -- to wallow in your sorrows. Reflect on what went wrong and what you can do to prevent it next time. It's the only way you get better.

Did you place too much emphasis on position scarcity, or not enough? Did you overvalue a particular attribute that turned out to be not such a big deal? Did you have the right distribution of hitters to pitchers? Were you too aggressive on the waiver wire early, dropping some of your best players before they had a chance to find their footing, or were you too passive, waiting too long on players who were nothing more than rolls of the dice in the first place? Did you go too young? What about too old? Did you have too many options at a particular position, forcing you to rely on in-season predictions that too often fall victim to small sample sizes? Could you have made better use of that excess on the trade market? Did you simply have bad luck with a few too many picks and would only be overcompensating by changing something now, or did you leave yourself too vulnerable to luck by being too reliant on upside or too dismissive of injury risk?

Only you can say for sure. Only you can know what your intentions were and what resulted from them. And sometimes, the answers aren't as obvious as they appear at first glance. If you suffered from bad pitching all year, take the time to understand why. Check out your pitchers' numbers side by side to see if they have a common flaw that you conveniently ignored. Go back to your league's draft results to see where you drafted them and if the alternatives for those same rounds would have been better. Think back to the pitchers you valued most on Draft Day and ask yourself if these are them or just the ones who happened to be at the top of the rankings at the time you drafted them. Think about it. Just stop and think, and when you're satisfied with your findings, you can turn your attention to Fantasy Football.

And you should, because it's awesome. Just make sure you're not using it as an escape for what went wrong here. Contrary to popular belief, now is the time you improve your Fantasy game, not next spring.

I'm in a 12-team Head-to-Head dynasty league and have worked my butt off to build a monster team that I think should win every single season. Omitting the prospects, here's breakdown of my roster. At catcher, I have Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Doumit. At first base, I have Paul Konerko and Eric Hosmer. At second base, I have Dustin Pedroia and Danny Espinosa. At shortstop, I have Elvis Andrus. At third base, I have Ryan Zimmerman and David Freese. In the outfield, I have Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz, Desmond Jennings and Carl Crawford. And at pitcher, I have Justin Verlander, C.J. Wilson, James Shields, Ian Kennedy, Adam Wainwright, Doug Fister, Matt Moore, Lance Lynn, Ryan Dempster, Francisco Liriano, Ricky Nolasco and Brandon Morrow. Now, I'll admit I've had trouble picking the right starters each week, but how is my record 9-10? Am I doing something wrong here? -- Rob DeCapua (via e-mail)

SW: I understand you're not quite out of the playoff picture, but the self-assessment is still important for next year.

To a certain extent, your sub-.500 record is a product of bad luck. Though you certainly have some big names here that should, in theory, give you one of the strongest teams in the league, so many of those names have spent so much time on the DL or endured such lengthy slumps that they've had you handicapped pretty much all season.

Your only consistent performers from start to finish have been Andrus, Braun and Verlander -- great players, all of them, with Braun and Verlander in the discussion for best hitter and best pitcher, respectively. But they can't do it all on their own, and for stretches this season, they've had to.

The regression for Hosmer, Jennings and Moore has been disappointing. The general inconsistency for Cruz, Wilson, Kennedy, Wainwright, Lynn and Dempster has been frustrating. The DL stints for Pedroia, Bautista, Crawford, Fister and Morrow have been discouraging. But those haven't even been your most debilitating misfortunes.

Every player goes through slumps during the season. It's something you should anticipate in Fantasy. But Konerko, Zimmerman and Shields haven't just underperformed during their slumps, they've been unusable. Granted, Zimmerman and Shields have since turned it around, but now they're just picking up the slack for Bautista and Konerko.

And let's not overlook the side effect of their struggles. For a good three months this year, Zimmerman and Shields were having a negative impact on your lineup. Surely you noticed at some point, which means surely you benched them at some point. But that only compounded the problem. Because you committed to sitting them when they were down, you inevitably missed a percentage of what they delivered when they came back around. You couldn't predict when it would happen, after all. You had to wait and see. So if you got most of the bad and missed some of the good, you have to figure the net result is bad.

Which leads me to my next observation. Here, in your own words, is the biggest thing you're doing wrong, Rob: "I'll admit I've had trouble picking the right starters each week."

You're tinkering, and if you tinker with high-end options, which you seem to have at least one of at each position, more often than not, you lose.

I can understand you benching Zimmerman and Shields. It was so ugly for them for so long that you really had no other choice. The side effect was unfortunate, but you can chalk it up to bad luck. Any other questionable lineup maneuvers are probably more a case of over-managing, though.

The biggest mistake any Fantasy owner can make is to get caught up in streaks. Not every player can be at his best every week. It's ludicrous to expect it. On certain occasions, you might have reason to try the hot hand off the waiver wire, but only in place of mediocrity. You have so many high-end options that it should never be a consideration for you.

Every week, provided every player is at full health, your lineup should look like this: Ruiz, Konerko, Pedroia, Andrus, Zimmerman, Bautista, Braun and Jennings, with Cruz in the utility spot. I could see you rotating Crawford and Hosmer in for Jennings and Cruz based on matchups, but that's it. Get any cuter than that, and you'll end up chasing your tail.

It's a little trickier at starting pitcher because, for the most part, you want to take advantage of the two-start weeks, but your go-to five should be Verlander, Shields (at least right now), Wilson, Wainwright and Kennedy. Fister is so hot right now that I could see you swapping him in for the struggling Kennedy, particularly in the right matchups. I could also see Morrow, Lynn and Moore getting looks during two-start weeks. But that's it. The others are so far off talent-wise that they shouldn't even sniff your lineup.

If you miss out on the good weeks from the high-end players, you miss out on what separates them from the low-end players. By playing the guessing game with them, you end up doing your team more harm than good.

Which two of Alex Cobb, Patrick Corbin and Kris Medlen should I pick up? -- justinsawa (via Twitter)

SW: Let's go with Corbin and Medlen here.

Medlen is the most obvious of the three now that the Braves have confirmed they'll go with a six-man rotation for the next couple weeks. They did it seemingly for no other reason than to buy Medlen more time in the rotation, which tells you just how good he's been since shifting from the bullpen. His strikeout potential is modest, but he's extremely efficient with his pitches and a safe bet to help in ERA and WHIP.

Of course, Cobb has been pretty economical with his pitches as well, walking just three batters in his last four starts, and I wouldn't have a problem with anyone choosing to pick him up right now. But I give Corbin the nod over him for two reasons:

1. He's a better bet for strikeouts, having maintained a high rate throughout his minor-league career.
2. He's a better bet to keep his job.

Yes, for as well as Cobb has pitched lately, he'll presumably be the odd man out when Jeff Niemann is finally ready to return from a broken leg. Forgot about him? It's easy to do considering he hasn't pitched since May 14. But he has begun a minor-league rehab assignment and might need only three more starts before rejoining the big club.

Of course, no one can say for sure Niemann won't be the one to go to the bullpen if Cobb continues to pitch well, but when comparing two alike pitchers, job security has to enter the discussion.

What do you think of Eric Stults? I'm thinking about picking him up for his next start. -- @seawrighttttt (via Twitter)

SW: What happened with the Twitter handle there? Did the "T" key get stuck? I don't know about you, but I think I would have gone the backspace route in that case just so I didn't have to worry about having one of these back-and-forths on the phone one day:

"It's, uh, seawrighttttt, with four extra Ts."

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...

"No, four extra. Five total."

...

"S-E-A-W-R-I-G-H-T-T-T-T-T."

...

"No, 'T' as in turquoise ... yeah ... yeah."

...

"Right ... right ... no, wait -- that's not right. It's 'wright,' but not 'right.' It's, uh ... it's wrong."

...

"S-E-A-W-R-I-G-H-T."

...

"... -T-T-T-T. That's right. It's also wright."

...

"Ah-ha-ha-ha. Yeah, you got it. Riiight."

...

"All right. See you on Twitter."

And just like that, what should have been a five-second conversation instead lasted three minutes.

Speaking of inefficient, that's pretty much Stults in a nutshell, judging by his minor-league track record. I understand he managed to go 7 2/3 innings in a start Monday, giving him a 2.49 ERA in seven starts this season, and I'm happy for him. But those aren't the kind of numbers you can expect a 32-year-old journeyman to sustain -- especially not one who's spent almost his entire career in the minors, where he's surrendered 10.3 hits per nine innings and compiled a 1.49 WHIP.

If those numbers sound familiar to you, it's because they're basically Carlos Silva's. If you don't remember him, then that tells you something right there. If you do, then you're probably having to resist the urge to gag right now.

If Silva's numbers against major-leaguers can provoke that sort of response, what should Stults' numbers against minor-leaguers do?

And for all the time Stults spent in the minors, it's not like those numbers have been warped by his earlier years, before he made some crucial change that allowed him to maximize his abilities. He's pretty much been that hittable forever and always.

OK, so I'm assuming the "always," but I think it's a pretty safe assumption given his history. And though I don't generally have a problem with anyone riding the hot hand, you're playing with fire when it comes to Stults. When he crashes, he'll crash hard -- and perhaps at a time when you can least afford it.

I'm coming up on a huge decision in my 12-team league. In it, each team keeps four players. I have Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, Ian Kinsler, Edwin Encarnacion, Matt Cain and Giancarlo Stanton, who if I don't keep, I'll never see again. Your thoughts? -- Chris Laettner (via e-mail)

SW: Not to be confused with Christian Laettner, I presume? Oh, heck. Let's create a little confusion. It can only help the page views.

I can make this dilemma much simpler for you by eliminating Encarnacion from consideration. And I think that's fair. I'm not saying nobody should keep him. He has performed like an elite player this season and, at age 29, could have more of these seasons ahead. But when assessing his value for next season, you can't compare him to perennial early-rounders like Hamilton, Votto, Kinsler, Stanton and Cain. Those players are as safe as safe gets, and above all, Fantasy owners aim for "safe" with their early-round picks. So while Encarnacion's numbers compare favorably with theirs and may continue to do so, he'll slip further in drafts just so no one makes the mistake of overpaying for a one-hit wonder. It's basically what happened to Alex Gordon, Michael Morse and Melky Cabrera this year. And while none have turned out to be busts, two of the three have fallen short of last year's numbers.

Plus, Encarnacion loses third base eligibility in the offseason. As a first baseman, he's still good, but not so good that you can't expect him to last a round or two into next year's draft.

Of the remaining five, Votto and Kinsler are obvious keepers. When healthy, they're arguably the best at their positions, so let's just go ahead and give them two of the slots. That means you have to leave out one of Hamilton, Stanton and Cain, and though you could make a case for any of them, my choice is Cain.

I don't like keeping pitchers. It's one of my most well-documented opinions over the years. They're at higher risk for injury. Their numbers tend to fluctuate from season to season. They're just dangerous, and again, more than anything else in early rounds, you want "safe."

Of course, Hamilton isn't exactly the best counter to those problems. He's at high risk of injury, and his numbers tend to fluctuate from season to season. If the dilemma was between him and a no-doubter ace like Jered Weaver, you'd keep Weaver instead. But Cain, for as good as he is, is still more of a second-tier starter, as his 4.44 ERA over his last eight starts should indicate. I'm betting you'll have a chance to draft him or someone else like him next year. I can't say the same for Hamilton.

I'll obviously use David Ortiz in my utility spot when he's healthy, but in the meantime, should I use Alex Gordon or Mike Moustakas? I need help in every category. -- @YUSoShady (via Twitter)

SW: If you need help every category, I don't know why you'd even consider Moustakas here. What advantage does he have over Gordon?

Gordon is clearly going to provide the better batting average, which has a direct impact on on-base percentage, which means he's clearly going to score more runs, especially since he's batting leadoff. And though neither Gordon nor Moustakas is Rajai Davis on the base paths, Gordon is more of a threat to steal, having swiped 17 bags last year.

I suppose you could say Moustakas is the greater source of power, but I don't think even that's an open-and-shut case. Sure, he has more homers this year, but if he maintains his current pace, he'll finish with 25, which is only two more than Gordon had last year. True, this year's numbers matter more than last year's, but it's not like 23 was an unrealistic number for Gordon. Maybe his three homers in his last four games are a sign he's going to close the gap on Moustakas between now and season's end.

I suppose if I was selling out for home runs and RBI, I'd give Moustakas the benefit of the doubt over Gordon. But if I needed help in any other category -- and you do in three -- I'd go Gordon all the way.

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Do you like Grant Balfour or Santiago Casilla for the rest of season? -- @angryelvis (via Twitter)

SW: I'm going Balfour here, and it has more to do with my distrust of Casilla than my faith in Balfour, whose past opportunities to close, including one at the beginning of the season, haven't gone well. In fact, I wouldn't even bet on him making it through the rest of this season in the role. The Athletics seem to prefer Cook closing, perhaps given Balfour's history, and will probably turn back to him as soon as he convinces them they can.

Still, a handful of saves during an erratic, short-lived term as closer is better than no saves at all, which is about what I expect Casilla to deliver the rest of the way.

He's been awful, blowing five of his last nine save opportunities. And for a team built on pitching and dependent on winning the close games, that kind of performance could be the difference in making and missing the playoffs. Quite simply, the Giants can no longer afford to have Casilla close.

Maybe his struggles are partially the result of an enormous blister that won't seem to heal, but that doesn't help his case. He can't regain the Giants' trust if he can't pitch. Maybe he'd get another shot if the Giants had no one else who could handle the role, but in Sergio Romo, who has compiled a 1.91 ERA and 0.87 WHIP and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings over the last three seasons, they have what would seem to be a natural ready to step in.

I'm not saying Casilla isn't worth stashing in certain leagues where saves are in short supply. I just think the odds are against him.

Rank these pitchers in terms of Head-to-Head value for the rest of the season: Lance Lynn, Chad Billingsley, Bartolo Colon, Scott Diamond, Miguel Gonzalez, Alex Cobb and Jeff Samardzija. -- Rob Ludwig (via Facebook)

SW: Got to love those questions that touch on seven players in one fell swoop. Don't worry; I'll make it snappy.

Lynn is my first choice. Call me sentimental, but he was too good early in the season for me to believe this latest stretch is more than a bump in the road. His 6.55 ERA over his last four starts is downright encouraging compared to the 9.98 ERA he put up during an earlier three-start stretch, and he followed up that bump in the road by allowing one earned run with more than a strikeout per inning over his next three starts. Yes, the innings are something of a concern, but it's not like you listed seven aces here. Given the alternatives, I'm willing to give Lynn the benefit of the doubt.

I don't know what's more impressive: Samardzija's 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings this season or his 2.41 ERA over his last eight starts. I like his ability and came pretty close to ranking him ahead of Lynn on this list, but his inconsistent walk totals and occasional early hooks have me thinking he'll be the less reliable of the two to close out the season. Besides, innings are a concern for him as well.

I guess I'll go Billingsley third. I can't really get excited about him. His control issues are about the same as Samardzija's, but he's not a threat for double-digit strikeouts every time out. Still, he'll get a decent number of strikeouts and more or less avoid the disastrous starts, so I guess I'm fine with him here. Overall, though, meh ...

I'm going to rank Diamond ahead of Colon, which I'll admit surprises even me, but when you get down to the numbers, they both do the same things well: throw strikes and eat innings. Shoot, Diamond actually leads the AL in walk rate. The key difference is Colon has been susceptible to the occasional blowup this year, which in mind makes him more trouble than he's worth in standard mixed leagues.

Gonzalez and Cobb are clearly the bottom-feeders here. I'll give Cobb the edge because he's on such a good run right now and was halfway serviceable last year as well, but I worry about his job security. Gonzalez boasts a pretty good fastball and isn't exactly a joke of a pickup, but judging by his pedigree and minor-league track record, I have a feeling he's due for a letdown.

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 fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Pirates recall Brent Morel from Triple-A
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:09 pm ET) The Pirates recalled outfielder Brent Morel from Triple-A indianapolis Wednesday.

Morel takes the roster spot of Starling Marte, who was placed on the seven-day disabled list Wednesday. Morel has hit .246/.318/.342 with three home runs and 37 RBI in 260 at-bats with Indianapolis.


Starling Marte placed on seven-day disabled list
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:06 pm ET) The Pirates placed outfielder Starling Marte on the seven-day concussion disabled list Wednesday.

Marte initially suffered a head injury over the weekend but returned to the lineup Monday. However, further tests deemed that he required a stint on the disabled list. Marte has hit .255/.328/.385 with five home runs, 34 RBI and 21 stolen bases in 314 at-bats.


Didi Gregorius homers, steals base Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:02 pm ET) Diamondbacks shortstop Didi Gregorius went 2 for 4 with a two-run homer and a stolen base in his team's 11-5 loss to the Tigers Wednesday.

Gregorius was 0 for 8 in his prebious three games before coming up big Wednesday, notching his first home run and steal in over a month. He has hit .232/.330/.404 with three home runs, 11 RBI and two stolen bases in 99 at-bats.


Jenrry Mejia records 13th save Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:56 pm ET) Mets closer Jenrry Mejia secured his 13th save Wednesday, giving up two hits and striking out two in a scoreless ninth inning to finish off his team's 3-2 win over the Mariners.

Mejia earned his second save in as many days despite putting multiple men on base for the first time in four appearances. He owns a 3.74 ERA and 68:32 K:BB ratio in 67 1/3 innings.


Danny Salazar's return a mixed bag
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(6:56 pm ET) Remember those reports coming out of Triple-A Columbus about Danny Salazar being back to form and as good as he was last year? After his first start back in the majors Thursday, the jury's still out.

He didn't pitch poorly, but any transformation he may have undergone in his 10 starts at Columbus wasn't immediately evident in the results or on the radar gun. He still struggled with his command, walking three in an inefficient five innings, and he still averaged 1-2 mph less on his fastball than he did for most of his stay last year.

And it's not like the results were radically different at Triple-A. His strikeout rate did improve during his stay there, but he still issued 14 walks in 17 2/3 innings over his final three starts. The red flags remained even amid the glowing reports.

So ... were they all a bunch of hooey? Hard to say. The talent is evident. Even with reduced velocity, Salazar is among the hardest throwers in the game and should at least deliver a high strikeout rate. But with his control issues, will he accumulate enough innings for it to matter in Fantasy?

I already ranked him a conservative 77th at starting pitcher before this start, so I didn't feel the need to move him in response. In most leagues, he's worth owning, but in a what-do-you-have-to-lose sort of way.


Anibal Sanchez roughed up against Arizona
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:54 pm ET) Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez had a tough start Wednesday against the Diamondbacks.

Sanchez allowed five runs on 11 hits over 6 1/3 innings. He struck out four and walked one during the appearance. Sanchez had no issues early, cruising through the first four innings. Things got tough late. After Gerardo Parra and Martin Prado led off the fifth inning with back-to-back doubles, plating a run for Arizona. Didi Gregorius followed that up with a two-run home run. 

Parra struck again in the sixth inning, singling in a run. Sanchez ran into similar issues in the seventh. After a run scored on three straight singles, Sanchez was pulled from the contest. He was replaced by Joba Chamberlain. Sanchez threw 104 pitches.

Opposing starter Trevor Cahill struggled quite a bit Wednesday, which led Sanchez to pick up a win. With the win, he improves to 7-4 on the year. His next start will come against the White Sox.


Taijuan Walker struggles with control Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:53 pm ET) Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker struggled with his control Wednesday against the Mets.

Walker allowed two runs on two hits over five innings. He struck out five and walked six. Walker tossed 94 pitches during the outing. The Mets struck early, as Daniel Murphy doubled in a run in the first inning, but were kept quiet after that. Walker was able to pitch around three walks the next four innings. Things fell apart in the sixth, though. After giving up a leadoff single to start things off, Walker loaded the bases by walking the next two hitters. He was removed from the game in favor of Dominic Leone. Leone allowed just one run to score, which was credited to Walker.

With the loss, Walker fell to 1-2 on the year. Should he remain in the team’s rotation, his next start would come against the Indians.


Trevor Cahill gives up seven runs in loss vs. Tigers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:52 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Trevor Cahill took a loss Wednesday, giving up seven runs (three earned) on eight hits in four innings and striking out three in his team's 11-5 defeat against the Tigers.

Cahill (1-7) gave up a two-run double in the second inning and completely came apart during a five-run fifth, though a one-out error loaded the bases and allowed the Tigers to score four runs with two outs in the inning. He owns a 5.72 ERA and 50:27 K:BB ratio in 50 1/3 innings. Cahill is scheduled to face the Reds Tuesday.


Bartolo Colon takes perfect game into seventh inning
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:48 pm ET) Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon took a perfect game into the seventh inning Wednesday before eventually picking up a win after giving up two earned runs on three hits and one walk in 7 1/3 innings while striking out five in his team's 3-2 victory over the Mariners.

Colon (9-8) retired the first 20 batters he faced Wednesday before giving up a two-out single in the seventh inning. The trouble came in the eighth, when he walked a batter and gave up two one-out hits before being removed. Colon owns a 4.03 ERA and 100:19 K:BB ratio in 134 innings. He's scheduled to face the Phillies Monday.


Ryan Zimmerman dealing with 'pretty substantial' strain
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:45 pm ET) Nationals manager Matt Williams said Wednesday that the hamstring strain suffered by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was "pretty substantial," masnsports.com reports.

Zimmerman is set to be re-evaluated after a couple weeks, and he'll almost assuredly be on the disabled list for longer than the 15-day minimum. He has hit .282/.345/.456 with five home runs and 36 RBI in 195 at-bats.


 
 
 
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