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2013 Draft Prep: Nando Di Fino's Roto strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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More Rotisserie strategies: Al Melchior | Scott White

Points leagues have their perks: you can face off against friends and family each week in a spirited--oh wait, you can do that in Head-to-Head category leagues.

Let's try that again.

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Points leagues are great because ... they're shallower than regular leagues? They have deep waiver wires? Er ... triples count?

You know, let's do this instead: Rotisserie leagues are all kinds of awesome. Rosters are deeper. You really have to know the player pool. It's the way the game was originally played, along with pun-y team monikers based on your actual name (none of that Anchorman referencing weakness that litters the landscape today). And if you think five categories on each side are too simplistic, know this: not only did Daniel Okrent tirelessly research and identify eight of these 10 categories as closely correlating with actual baseball success when he began writing the rules back in 1980 (eventually, strikeouts and runs were added), but CBSSports.com ran last year's MLB results through both systems -- Points and Roto -- and the results were staggeringly similar: the top 10 teams in real baseball were the same in both formats, with just minor discrepancies between the two.

To some Fantasy baseball newbies, points leagues may be the norm -- it's how the more-popular football game is played, after all. But Roto is beautiful in its simplicity. You have five batting categories (runs, RBI, batting average, stolen bases, home runs) and five pitching categories (wins, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP, saves). You don't have to worry about how many points you lose for a batter striking out or keep referring to the rules on how many points a triple is worth. There are no message board disputes when you find out your opponent just got 75 points for a no-hitter. Remember these 10 categories -- and get know a deeper pool of players, who will all likely be drafted or auctioned -- and you're ready to play.

For the new drafter curious about what to expect, or even the old grizzled vet looking for some new strategy, here are four tips on improving your chances at a Roto win.

1. Your doubles and walks are not welcome here

That loud 'whoosh' you just heard was Royals outfielder Alex Gordon zooming down the player rankings for Roto leagues. Gordon led MLB with 51 doubles last year, and while those doubles play a role in his batting average -- with a somewhat tangential effect on RBI (you'll drive in more runs with doubles) and runs (you'll score more if you start off on second base instead of first) -- you aren't going to get two points for each of his doubles here in Rotoland. The same can be said for silliness such as walks, triples and innings pitched. Rotisserie players are concerned with five hitting categories. Everything else is just background noise.

That being said, you can sometimes use doubles as indicators of a young player's power potential, so they shouldn't be totally ignored when put in the right context. Gordon seems to have settled into a role as a doubles-hitting outfielder (he had 45 doubles in 2011). But someone like Billy Butler hit 45 doubles in 2010 and 44 doubles in 2011, finally turning them into 29 home runs (after seasons of 15 and 19) in 2012, as a 26-year-old.

2. It's OK to consider middle relievers who have no shot of getting saves

If you're playing in a single-league format, chances are you're going to hit a point where the closers are all gone and the starting pitching options look grim -- in other words, they'll hurt your team more than help it. At this point, it might be wise to start looking at some middle relievers who have low ratios (ERA and WHIP), while getting at least a strikeout per inning. While other owners may chase down the closer-in-waiting candidates, who will likely sit on Fantasy benches for a good amount of the season, you can add one of these middle relievers who can contribute from day one. Some solid options for 2013 include Jake McGee, David Hernandez, Tim Collins, Tyler Clippard, Rex Brothers, Antonio Bastardo, David Robertson, Vinnie Pestano and Jonny Venters. The downside? They'll get you about one-third of the innings a starter would. The upside? Their ERAs and WHIPs will be significantly lower and they may only lag behind in strikeouts by as few as 50 or 60 from a low-end starter.

In Points leagues, it's not as sound a strategy, because you aren't seeing points for wins, innings pitched or large strikeout totals. But in deeper Roto leagues, these middle relievers can provide some nice cement for a pitching staff at a point in drafts when you're left to choose among the Jeff Francis and Chris Narveson types.

3. Get to know your low-end catchers

Points formats will have bountiful waiver wires, as leagues are usually set up with one starting catcher per team. But in Roto formats, two catchers is the norm. In a 12-team league, you're going to have to know at least the top 24 catchers, and once teams start taking backups later you'll find yourself digging through actual backup catchers, especially if you wait too long to add one to your team.

Catchers have significantly fewer at-bats than position players. In 2012, for example, the top 25 catchers averaged about 415 at-bats, while the top 25 shortstops got around 560. So you're already talking about somewhat-marginalized players. Waiting for that second catcher, however, can turn up some gems in Roto formats. Two in particular who could be helpful this year are Jason Castro and Welington Castillo.

Castro, 25, was the 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft and is slated to start for Houston this year, after getting just 257 at-bats in an injury-riddled 2012 campaign. While he hasn't shown much in the way of talent at the major-league level just yet (.235 average, eight total home runs in 452 at-bats), Castro has a solid average over four minor league seasons and has flashed some power at times. But what's most important here is that Castro has the starting job locked up, meaning he'll be in position to score and drive in more runs, just by playing regularly.

Castillo, also 25, doesn't have the potential in batting average like Castro, but he has shown better power in the minors. In the final two months of 2012, Castillo hit .279 with four home runs, 18 RBI and 13 runs scored. Again, nothing to get excited about, but he's the starter. Castillo and Castro will probably be auctioned off for a total of around four dollars in mixed Roto leagues, and could put up numbers close to those of catchers who go for far more.

4. Don't be afraid to load up on middle infield gambles

As opposed to points formats, where you fill out a normal infield at each position, Roto leagues force you to draft for those middle and corner infield roster spots. Every year, owners grouse about how shallow shortstop and second base are, and every year they have a chance to address this by loading up early on middle infielders. Yet they tend not to do this, opting for starting pitching or outfielders instead. Corner infield is always deep, thanks to plenty of players -- outfielders, catchers, third basemen -- taking enough turns at first base to gain eligibility, as well as the corners having depth with big bats to begin with. But middle infield doesn't boast nearly as much offense. Most players getting dual eligibility are Nick Punto-style utility types who have an upside of 350 at-bats. And other than a handful of studs with big bats, middle infield is overwhelmed with light-hitting, maybe-he'll-get-20-steals options. So, at the expense of passing on other positions, it would be wise to lock up your middle infield relatively early in Roto drafts. Otherwise, you'll be looking at a long, dark summer, dangling surplus pitchers and big bats in lopsided deals for any help you can get up the middle.

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 us an e- mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
David Buchanan will compete for one of two spots in Phillies' rotation
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:08 pm ET) Phillies starting pitcher David Buchanan said refininig his curveball has been a point of emphasis this offseason, as he prepares to compete for a spot in the rotation this spring, per The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I had success with (my curveball) in certain games,” he said. “It started coming along there toward the end. But it’s definitely something that has a lot of work still to go. It’s definitely something I’m working on. It’s getting better, which is all I can ask for.”

There is two spots currently open in the rotation behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Aaron Harang. Buchanan, Jerome Williams and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez are considered the leading candidates for the openings in the rotation. 

“There’s going to be some competition,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week. “I think that’s the only way that you can get better is by creating competition. I can’t sit here and tell you today that David Buchanan’s going to be one of our guys in the rotation, but he absolutely is going to get an opportunity to pitch in spring training and be ready and compete for one of those spots.”


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(11:55 am ET) Free agent starting pitcher Johan Santana threw a bullpen session Sunday and is said to be feeling fine, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. It is now up to his Venezuelan winter league team to decide if he will pitch for them in the finals.

Santana has been dealing with some shoulder discomfort, which has put his status for the remainder of the winter-league season in doubt. Santana is hoping to latch on with another major-league team after suffering a torn Achilles in June.

The Yankees, Padres and Blue Jays are among the teams showing interest in signing the former two-time AL Cy Young award winner.


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(11:31 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said he is tentatively planning to bat the right-field tandem of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano second in the lineup, per The New Tribune.

The Mariners ranked last in the majors last season in on-base percentage (.260) from their No. 2 hitters. No other team was lower than .279.

Smith had a .367 OBP last season for San Diego, while Ruggiano had a .337 OBP in 81 games for the Cubs.


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(11:25 am ET) The Rays announced Monday reliever Jake McGee played catch for the first time since undergoing elbow surgery in December. McGee is still expected to miss the start of the season.

Cardinals' Carpenter hoping to build off postseason power surge
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:17 am ET) Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter hit just eight home runs with a .375 slugging percentage during the 2014 regular season, but had a much better power swing in the postseason, belting four home runs and slugging .722 in nine games.

“I took a more of an aggressive approach in the postseason,” Carpenter said, per STLBaseballWeekly.com. “Part of that was from the experience that I had gathered the year before. After a long season, going into the playoffs I felt like I wasn’t as prepared as I felt like I could’ve been. It kind of snowballed and my approach and the way I took the regular season at-bat in the postseason it wasn’t playing out well.”

Carpenter said his postseason success could have a positive impact on his power numbers in 2015.

"Certainly, I’m always going to be a guy who’s patient at the plate, but that was a good learning experience for me -- being aggressive," he said. "I don’t remember the exact numbers but out of the four home runs I hit, I think three of them were on the first pitch. That’s something typically I don’t do a lot of, and it was a good learning experience.”


Tigers' Dombrowski expecting 'real big season' for Justin Verlander
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(10:48 am ET) Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander said last week this is the best he's felt physically approaching the start of spring training in at least three years.

Apparently, the optimism doesn't end with Verlander. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski indicated the Tigers are expecting big things from Verlander in 2015 after he posted a 4.54 ERA in 2014, failing to make the All-Star team for the first time in six seasons.

"Justin Verlander is as prime a pitcher as there is in the game of baseball," Dombrowski said, per the Detroit Free Press. "Last year, he was not the traditional Justin. But when you look at what he came back from with the surgery, I think he's going to go out and have a real big season for us."


Sleep apnea almost caused Red Sox's Mike Napoli to retire
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(10:47 am ET) Dealing with sleep apnea almost caused Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli to retire prematurely from baseball, reports the Boston Globe.

"I couldn't do it anymore, feeling the way I was feeling," Napoli said. "I was like, 'I need to have the surgery or I'm not going play anymore.' That's how bad it was."

During the offseason, Napoli underwent facial reconstruction surgery to correct the condition, which was preventing him from getting a proper night of rest.

"It was a brutal process," Napoli said. "It was probably one of the worse things I've ever done."

With the surgery a success and Napoli recovered from losing weight due to a six-week liquid diet, Napoli is now sleeping better than he ever has.

Before the surgery, Napoli turned to medication, mouthpieces and a CPAP mask, but said those problems are now behind him.

"I wake up now and I'm ready to start my day," he said. "It's great."


Angels' Jered Weaver bulks up in effort to pitch deeper into games
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(10:36 am ET) Angels starting pitcher Jered Weaver has bulked up to 224 pounds, which is six pounds heavier than he has ever been, in an effort to pitch deeper into games in 2015, per the Los Angeles Times. Weaver dropped to as low as 199 pounds during the 2014 season.

“Numbers-wise, it was all right,” Weaver said of his 2014 season (18-9, 3.59 ERA). “But from a personal standpoint, me being ultra-competitive, I want to get deeper in games.

“The bullpen helped me a lot last year. I just want to gain some strength. I went on a different weight-lifting program last year, and it’s been paying off. I’m going to stick with it.”

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(10:08 am ET) After being acquired by the Mariners at the trade deadline last season, outfielder Austin Jackson struggled to produce for the Mariners. In 54 games, Jackson hit .229 and Jackson said the trade affected his playing ability, reports The News Tribune.

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Garcia hit .244/.305/.413 over 172 at-bats last year.


 
 
 
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