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Reality Check: Not the time to be stubborn

Senior Fantasy Writer
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On May 5, Prince Fielder, now regarded as something of a disappointment this season, was the top first baseman in Head-to-Head leagues, ahead of even Chris Davis.

On May 5, Kevin Slowey, with his 1.81 ERA and 0.94 WHIP, ranked 27th among all starting pitchers.

On May 5, Mark Reynolds was outpacing Paul Goldschmidt, nearly doubling him up in homers while compiling a higher batting average.

On May 5, John Buck ranked second among all catchers, his 10 home runs leading the position.

On May 5, Yuniesky Betancourt, with his seven home runs, was looking like the better bet at second base than Matt Carpenter, who was batting an underwhelming .274. Jason Kipnis, meanwhile, was buried somewhere behind Luis Valbuena.

On May 5, Coco Crisp had outscored Mike Trout by 2 1/2 Head-to-Head points despite playing in 32 fewer games.

"Gee, Scott, that's some mighty interesting learnin' and whatnot, but ... why the fixation with May 5?"

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Because that was five weeks into the season -- or exactly how much time we have left.

You know what can happen in five weeks? As I think I just demonstrated, pandemonium. When you reduce a 26-week ordeal to such a small fraction, all those statistical anomalies you've trained yourself to ignore are suddenly within the realm of possibility.

So this time of year more than any other, you have to keep an open mind.

It's a definite hurdle for the experienced Fantasy owner who gets a twisted kind of satisfaction from seeing a novice sacrifice the long term for the short term, whether by going all-in on Kelly Johnson during one of his patented hot streaks, dangling Matt Kemp for 50 cents on the dollar as soon as he hits the DL or dumping a struggling Lance Lynn for a two-start, flavor-of-the-week type like Tyson Ross.

But if, specifically in Head-to-Head leagues, you often find yourself wondering how you can fare so well during the regular season only to lose in the playoffs, perhaps it's because you haven't learned when to take a page from the novice's playbook.

With five weeks to go, what do you have to lose?

I'll admit it's safer not to. Stick with the tried-and-trues, and even if you lose, you'll at least have the consolation of knowing you made the "right" move. I'll admit I often defer to a go-with-the-guys-who-got-me-there approach just so I won't spend the offseason wondering why I was willing to wager a season of careful maneuvering on a relative act of stupidity.

But I'll also admit I'm too often one of those owners who finds himself wondering how he can fare so well during the regular season only to lose in the playoffs. And on those fleeting occasions when I actually do take home the title, I usually have a surprising upstart to thank.

In 2008, it was Shin-Soo Choo, an ex-prospect and presumed lost cause at age 25 who justified my decision to trade Vladimir Guerrero for pitching help by batting .404 (44 for 109) with eight homers and a 1.188 OPS over the final five weeks.

In 2010, it was Jed Lowrie, an injury-riddled 26-year-old who more than made up for a season-ending injury to Hanley Ramirez by batting .295 (28 for 95) with six homers and a .938 OPS over the final five weeks.

Just last year, it was Kris Medlen, a converted reliever with less-than-elite stuff who became the ace of a team that had leaned too heavily on a fading Lance Lynn, taking down every Justin Verlander and David Price in his path with a 5-0 record, 1.06 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings over the final five weeks.

You think I saw that coming on May 5? Pfft ... not even on Aug. 5. But I took a leap of faith at that crucial moment when I had to, and it ended up being what put me over the top.

Now, obviously, you can take it too far. The idea isn't to overhaul your roster with a bunch of flavor-of-the-week types, squandering all that made your team good in the first place -- and I can't help but wonder if columns like this one often go by the wayside for fear of Fantasy owners doing just that.

It's bound to happen. Five weeks from now, I'm sure to get an e-mail saying something to the effect of "I took your advice and dropped Chris Sale for Jonathon Niese, and it cost me a championship! Phony! You're a big, fat phony!"

OK. Except I'm not advising anyone to drop Sale. The guy had a bad start last time out, but it doesn't change the way I feel about him going forward. And if it changes the way you feel, I can't help but wonder how you got this far.

That's not to say two bad starts would be enough turn me off a guy. Look at the way Mike Minor bounced back last time out. Perhaps not even a series of bad starts would do the trick. Those who pulled the plug on Jeff Samardzija with his bumpy beginning to August may end up missing out a terrific finish, given the way his last two starts have gone.

I don't know that I can give you an exact number -- in terms of starts or at-bats -- for when to pull the plug on a "proven commodity," but it's on the higher end. When predicting future performance, five months' history should count for more than five weeks' history. Still, there's a difference between riding out the waves of a 162-game season and going down with the ship.

For certain players, based on who they are, how long they've underperformed and where they are in their careers (among other factors), you can just tell they're not going to do much for you the rest of the way.

And I'm not talking about players you booted from your roster weeks ago, like Raul Ibanez and Daniel Nava. I'm talking about supposed "mainstays" still owned in 85-90 percent of leagues. Guys like Starlin Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jimmy Rollins haven't done a blessed thing for you all season. Gone. Chase Headley is in the same boat. Get him out of there. Nick Markakis was adequate to begin the season, but with a .302 slugging percentage since June 1, he's nothing but deadweight. Forget about him. Tim Lincecum? Yovani Gallardo? Jeremy Hellickson? Hasta la bye-bye.

You hold on to them because what's on the waiver wire doesn't appear to be any better, but that's because certain alternatives haven't been around long enough to close the gap on your league's stats page.

Such as? Well, that's the fun part. To me, the prime candidate to make a worthwhile contribution down the stretch among players who weren't on anybody's radar just a couple weeks ago is Khris Davis, who has assumed Ryan Braun's starting left field job in Milwaukee. If he seems too obvious to you with his six home runs in his last 15 games, well, that's really not the point. For you to justify putting a relative unknown like him in your lineup at this crucial stage of the season, he better be doing special things.

I'm not guaranteeing he'll sustain this pace. In fact, I suspect he'll cool off to some degree before season's end. But I'm not any more skeptical of him than I was of Choo five years ago or Medlen last year. Sometimes, you just have to take a leap of faith, especially when your alternative is someone completely uninspiring like Michael Brantley or Andre Ethier. Davis did hit .350 with 15 homers and a 1.055 in 260 at-bats between three stops in the minors last year, so it's not like this performance is completely out of left field. And given how well he drives the ball the right field, I get the feeling he'll still be a factor in April.

If you need to set your sights a little lower than a player already owned in 61 percent of leagues, L.J. Hoes has emerged as sort of a poor man's Shane Victorino since taking over in right field in Houston. He has terrific plate discipline for a 23-year-old, helping him get the most of his extra-base power, and he's proven to be a better base-stealer than expected. He didn't have big steal totals in the minors, but steals are one of those decision-based stats that don't depend so much on track record. As long as Hoes doesn't run into outs, the Astros will keep sending him.

Speaking of steals, Emilio Bonifacio has been reborn on the base paths since coming over to the Royals in a mid-August trade, becoming the prolific base-stealer he was in his final two seasons with the Marlins. His bat is still in question, but with seven steals in 11 games with Kansas City, he's a potential game-changer off waivers in Rotisserie leagues.

Scooter Gennett has been surprisingly productive since taking over as the Brewers' starting second baseman, particularly in terms of power. Maybe those favorable scouting reports count for more than the minor-league numbers after all. I'd rather have Brian Dozier or Brad Miller, but hey, they're all better than Marco Scutaro and Jurickson Profar right now. A quality second baseman is hard to find.

Since returning from a hamstring injury three weeks ago, Marco Estrada has looked like the pitcher everyone pegged as a sleeper coming into the season, using impeccable control to pile up strikeouts. And though Sonny Gray got hit hard last time out, he showed enough in his first three starts -- in terms of efficiency, endurance and just pure stuff -- to deserve a roster spot in mixed leagues.

Or you can play it safe and hope Mike Leake gives up two earned runs instead of four next time out. Or Travis Wood, whatever. Those two aren't Sale. They're not even Samardzija. Based on what I know about them -- their peripherals, their track records, their pedigrees, etc. -- what they've done recently is what they should have been doing all along.

Unless you think that's good enough to win you a championship, what do you have to lose by trying out something else?

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite .

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Player News
Report: Orioles in 'continuous dialogue' with pitcher Chris Tillman
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) The Orioles and pitcher Chris Tillman are reportedly engaged in "continuous dialogue" for a long-term extension and have been for the past several weeks, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Tillman signed a one-year, $4.315 million deal in January to avoid arbitration and the discussions for a new deal are still considered preliminary, according to the report.

Tillman posted a 13-6 record in 2014 with a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts.


Tigers bullpen decision coming down to Ian Krol, Kyle Ryan
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is running out of time to finish off his bullpen for Opening Day. The final bullpen role will likely be a left-handed pitcher and is expected to come down to Kyle Ryan and Ian Krol, according to MLB.com.

"If I'm there, hopefully it's a good situation, whether it's long or short," Ryan said. "For them to have enough confidence in me to go into Spring Training as a reliever, and actually for them to believe that I might be able to make the team as a reliever, that makes me proud."

Ryan has given up seven runs on seven hits in 11 innings of work this spring. 

"When he throws it right, it's good," Ausmus said of Krol. "He has a tendency to occasionally slow his arm down on his cutter and curveball. He did it a couple times today. But when he doesn't slow his arm down, it's very good."


Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson continues to make his case
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson still doesn't know what his role will be when Opening Day rolls around, but he's showing he belongs on the roster, reports MLB.com.

"There's always stuff I need to work on, and I need to continue to impress," Pederson said after launching his fifth home run of the spring Saturday, boosting his batting average to .373.

Manager Don Mattingly remains quiet on what he will do when the decision has to be made, but Pederson is doing what he can to impress.

"[Opening Day] is out of my control," Pederson said. "It's something you dream about as a kid, playing in the big leagues, and you do anything you can to make that dream come true."


Angels P Matt Shoemaker gives up three runs in loss to Dodgers
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) After pitching six scoreless innings in his last start, Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker struggled a bit in the team's 5-4 to the Dodgers, reports MLB.com.

Shoemaker gave up three runs on four hits in six innings, striking out two. One of the hits he surrended was to Joc Pederson on a two-run homer.

The 28-year-old completed last season with a 3.04 ERA, 124 strikeouts and only 24 walks.


Reds third baseman Todd Frazier feels ready for Opening Day
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Reds third baseman Todd Frazier feels his swing has come back and is ready to tackle the long haul ahead of the regular season, reports MLB.com.

"It comes quick, like usual," Frazier said on Saturday morning. "I get goose bumps thinking about it right now -- another year, it's crazy."

Frazier struggled early in spring training, but has rebounded to go 8 for 23 in his last seven games.

"I hit in the Minor Leagues for about 10 at-bats [on Friday], just to try and feel it back-to-back. I do, and I feel really well," said Frazier, who is batting .262 in 14 games this spring. "I feel like if I had to play tomorrow [in the regular season], I'd be ready to go. It's all about preparation, and offseason stuff. I feel like it's so far, so good."


Angels OF Mike Trout homers in loss to Dodgers
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Angels outfielder Mike Trout homered in Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Dodgers, reports MLB.com.

Trout, 23, robbed the Dodgers' Alex Guerrero of an extra-base hit in the first inning, making it a successful day for him, despite the loss. 

This spring he has a batting average of .477 with four home runs and 14 RBI. 


White Sox hope to have Robertson, Petricka back by Opening Day
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Two key members of the White Sox bullpen are working their way back from forearm injuries, but manager Robin Ventura is confident he'll have both back by opening day. 

Closer David Robertson is scheduled to pitch on Sunday. 

"We're trying to make sure we’re extra careful with him," Ventura said, per Comcast's Dan Hayes. "He doesn’t seem to be concerned about it as much as we do."

Setup man Jake Petricka isn't as far along as Robertson. He played catch on Saturday for the first time in five days.

The Sox are taking it slow, so that the team will have both pitchers for Opening Day as well as the rest of the season. 

"You’re just making sure you’re cautious enough that you feel good about when (they go) out there that there won’t be any setbacks,” Ventura said. 


Indians pitcher Zach McAllister fans nine in outing Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Indians pitcher Zach McAllister went five innings Saturday against the Brewers, allowing two runs on six hits with nine strikeouts. McAllister, who is expected to make one more start before Opening Day, touched 97 mph with his fastball in the appearance, according to Cleveland.com.

"He's been impressive and he's been doing it all spring," said Francona. "He's not just throwing strikes, he's down in the zone when he wants to and then he can elevate with some velocity. I think his hard work is really paying off."

McAllister has felt he always had the added velocity.

"Throughout my career I've always felt I've had a little more (velocity) in there if I could maintain it," said McAllister. "For whatever reason, whether it's being more consistent with my delivery or my arm action, I'm just trusting that when I let it go it's going to go where I want it to go. I'm not trying to place anything."


Pirates Pedro Alvarez looking to stick at first base
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez is hoping to stick at his new position after converting from third base, reports triblive.com.

On opening day, Alvarez will be the team's 54th first baseman in its 129-year history.

“It's a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view,” Alvarez said. “I need to get the reps in so the responsibilities that come with playing that position become second nature to me.”

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talked about the team's past efforts of platooning the position.

“You can't develop something you don't have. You can't buy something you can't afford,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “That's why we've tried to platoon. Over the last couple of years, we've realized that's a challenge for a National League manager. Platoons are much harder here than they are in the American League, especially with a one-dimensional player who can only play one position.”

The hope around the organization is that they can get quality production from Alvarez.

“Our hope that is between Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart, we'll get quality major league production,” Huntington said.

The 28-year-old is batting .306 with two home runs, nine RBI and eight strikeouts this spring.


Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton can't find a rhythm Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton tossed six innings Saturday against the Blue Jays, allowing six hits, including two home runs and no strikeouts. Morton, who is fighting for a spot in the starting rotation, is still recovering from labrum surgery six months ago.

"Physically, Charlie is in a good place," manager Clint Hurdle said to MLB.com. "He is trying to make some mechanical adjustments in his delivery, but we don't have any health concerns about him."

Morton isn't worried about fixing mechanical issues just yet.

"Now is a tough time to put a lot of emphasis on mechanics," said Morton. "I gotta go pitch, adjustments or no adjustments."


 
 
 
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