Teasing the 2017 Dynasty League Consensus Rankings

Free agency is stagnating, the trade market is cooling, and, well, a whole lot of nothing is going on in the baseball world. Unless you’re a basketball fan, this is the worst time of the year for fantasy sports, and, at this point, hibernation is probably looking like a more attractive option than rewatching another Michael Pineda start. Luckily, The Dynasty Guru is to the rescue. To keep you sane and satisfy your fantasy baseball fix, we’ve got ranks, ranks, and more ranks. Continue reading

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Dynasty Sleeper-Stud: Rowdy Tellez

The Toronto Blue Jays are going to have a rough time replacing Edwin Encarnacion after losing him to the Cleveland Indians in free agency. In 2017, they may be able to cover first with some combination of Justin Smoak, Steve Pearce, and maybe Kendrys Morales. Perhaps that potpourri of bats can be used somewhat effectively, but it’s not an incredible, solid, long-term solution. Luckily for the Jays, that amalgamation might just need to avoid disaster until 21-year-old prospect Rowdy Tellez is ready for the big leagues. If Tellez can keep up what he’s been doing, that day might come sooner rather than later. Continue reading

Double Take

Major leaguers lacking in either draft or minor league pedigree can be hard to gauge from a fantasy perspective.  When these types of players pop up, they are often widely ignored or disregarded as fluky.  They are also not discussed as often in analytical circles.  Today we will look at a September stalwart and an unlikely top-5 Rookie of the Year finisher to see if they can make the leap into fantasy relevance.

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Dynasty Sleeper-Stud: Chance Sisco

Buster Posey, Willson Contreras, and the already seemingly-immortal Gary Sanchez – all of them are alright to own at catcher in a dynasty league, to say the least. Of course, if you do not happen to own stock in one of these commodities, where else can you look? Sure there are plenty of other good fantasy catchers, but there are more mediocre ones. Maybe when you grew up in a small town, when the rain would fall down, you’d just stare out your window dreaming of the day you could draft the next Pudge in your dynasty league. Well purveyors of the fantasy baseball biosphere, I present to you Chance Sisco.

Chance Sisco is a 21-year-old catcher in the Baltimore Orioles system from Corona, California. He was drafted in the second round of the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft and he now ranks as the second best prospect in the Orioles organization (top position player) according to mlb.com. He also ranks fifth amongst all catchers behind Jorge Alfaro, Zach Collins, Francisco Mejia, and Reese McGuire. I suppose his high rankings might have you questioning his sleeper-status, but I’d call him a sleeper because I believe he can be one of the better fantasy catchers in the league as soon as 2017.

Many other rankings have Sisco as the Orioles’ top prospect overall and I think that his number five ranking amongst catchers might not quite correlate to fantasy value either. Sisco is a bat-first catcher. He even played shortstop for most of high school before switching to catcher his senior year just to fill a need on their roster. The catchers that rank ahead of him on MLB are great prospects, but someone like Reese McGuire stands out more for his defensive prowess than his bat (which does not bode as well for fantasy). Mejia is an interesting switch-hitter that has a fantasy outlook fairly similar to Sisco. Alfaro has great power and Collins looks pretty great all-around. These guys deserve to be ranked highly, but if others are biting on these names, I think you can get just as much potential value out of a guy like Sisco and maybe hold out a touch longer to grab him in a draft.

Sisco has not shown an overwhelming amount of power thus far, but he might be able to develop it as he progresses (still, don’t expect Gary Sanchez in the HR category). What Sisco does best is get hits and get on base. He has made adjustments and proved himself at every level so far. In 2016 Sisco played almost exclusively in Double-A before playing four games in the Triple-A playoffs. He had a slash line of .317/.406/.430 over 116 games. He only had six home runs and two stolen bases, but he sure ought to help in nearly every other category you might use.

The future of Sisco might also be coming sooner rather than later. With Matt Wieters as a free agent, the Orioles’ future at catcher is wide open for Sisco. While the recent signing of Welington Castillo may muddle things for the time being, it’s only a one-year deal and talent always finds a way to gain playing time. While Castillo may keep Sisco to Triple-A a bit longer than expected, the Orioles have no reason to play Welington, merely a temporary acquisition, over their top prospect. It’s all coming together sooner or later, and there’s plenty reason to be excited. If you have a new dynasty draft coming up, I implore you, take a Chance. Make a change. And breakaway.

Dynasty Battle: Zach LaVine vs. Andrew Wiggins vs. D’Angelo Russell

Since my initial #Dynasty200 I’ve ranked these three Russell, Wiggins and Lavine, though I considered placing LaVine ahead of Wiggins in my December update. This is an interesting debate to me because Russell provides the most upside, LaVine has the most present value and Wiggins boasts the pedigree of the first overall pick. LaVine is already a top 50 redraft player thanks to his improved efficiency, play making ability and three-point shot making. Neither Russell nor Wiggins can come close to making that claim.

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Using Strand Rates to Snag Value

Here’s some dynamite analysis: a pitcher’s statistics will look better if he doesn’t allow runners to score (Thank you. Looking forward to my trophy for Achievement in Baseball). Ideally, pitchers would probably prefer to not allow base runners. However that would lead to perfect games that go on for infinity, so it’s probably unrealistic. The next best solution is to strand the runners that do get on. The league average strand rate for pitchers is 72.9 percent, a number that has remained relatively static since 2008.

Sometimes great pitchers can get away with higher strand rates without concern for regression. In 2016, Jon Lester led the league, keeping 84.9 percent of baserunners from scoring. Max Scherzer held the third highest rate at 81.7 percent. These two guys are studs and there is no real reason to believe that their ability to strand runners will plummet dramatically back to league average. Lester and Scherzer share the top ten with some other pitchers that don’t quite have the same pedigree. By invoking the ancient wisdom of Sesame Street and playing a game of “One of These Things is Not Like the Other”, it’s easy to bet on regression, both negative (and positive NEXT WEEK! MARK YOUR CALENDARS! GET EXCITED! Or you know, whatever. I don’t care. That’s cool.) when it comes to stranding runners on base.

Ian Kennedy

Lester, Scherzer, and Ian Kennedy, and led the league in strand rate in 2016. Which one of those names looks out of place? Kennedy quietly had a totally decent year last year, posting a better than average ERA (3.68) and WHIP (1.22). He was even better than average with his strikeout (8.49 per nine innings) and walk (3.04 per nine innings) totals. The problem, however, is that the rest of his numbers indicate that this is highly unsustainable.

Kennedy stranded runners at an 83.1 percent clip in 2016. His fly ball rate spiked by nearly 10 percent from his 2015 totals, settling at 47.3 percent, the eight highest total in the league. It could be argued that the Royals’ defense (a massive upgrade over the statuesque 2015 Padre outfield) and Kauffman Stadium played a huge role in turning those fly balls into outs. While that’s true, Kennedy’s home run per fly ball rate dipped to 12.8 percent, falling nearly five points from his 2015 total. He gave up significantly more fly balls, yet yielded far fewer home runs. Add his .268 BABIP to the mix, and Kennedy’s 2016 campaign appears to be more façade than for real. The 195.2 inning workload still has value in some places, but don’t hang on or look to acquire Kennedy with hopes of him repeating his 2016 performance.

Kyle Hendricks

Don’t get me wrong, Hendricks is awesome, and at 27 years old, he would typically be the kind of guy you would target in dynasty leagues. However his underlying numbers indicate that his breakout 2016 season might not be replicable. Hendricks stranded runners at an 81.5 percent clip, nearly 12 percent better than his 2015 totals. He has never been a big strikeout guy, hovering around league average fanning around eight batters per nine innings, which means most of his outs come from batted balls. He was also the beneficiary of a legendary, record-breaking season for the Cubs defense, as the team somehow held opponents to a .255 BABIP. Normally, it would be easy to predict that Hendricks’s .250 BABIP would regress closer to league average, but I guess that would discount the wizardry going on at Wrigley.

So maybe it is better to just call Hendricks’s 2016 campaign confusing. He doesn’t walk anybody (2.08 per nine innings, good for 12th in the league), so that’s good. But he also faces similar questions laid out above for Ian Kennedy. Hendricks gave up five percent more fly balls in 2016, yet lowered his home run to fly ball ratio by three percent, making it better than league average. His 3.34 DRA would also indicate that something has got to give. That said, even if Hendricks does regress slightly next season to an ERA in the mid threes, that’s still pretty good for around 200 innings of work. The problem is that for a Cy Young finalist carrying the “Cubs-tax”, you probably will have to pay a lot more to acquire a little less.

J.A. Happ

The curious case of J.A. Happ started with a promising young prospect in Philadelphia. He bounced around from Houston to Seattle to Toronto before landing in Pittsburgh. We all know the story from there. Pitching oracle Ray Searage got Happ to throw his fastball and sinker more, his changeup less, and before you know it, Happ was signing a $12 million per year deal with the Blue Jays. As a 34-year-old, owners might not be rushing out to acquire him in dynasty leagues, even though he has posted two straight seasons of decent production. I tend to agree with that sentiment.

Happ stranded runners at a rate of 79.7 percent in 2016. Like Hendricks, Happ is a low strikeout pitcher. Unlike Hendricks, Happ strikes out around one batter fewer per nine innings, and hovers right around 7.5 punchouts per nine. He also carried a .268 BABIP, good for 15th lowest in the league (tied with our boy Ian Kennedy). Without the Cub defense and positioning, it’s unlikely that number will hold in the future. Despite a very good 3.18 ERA, Happ’s DRA was a hefty 4.42. Combined with a slightly below average cFIP of 104, Happ’s overall totals appear to be propped up by smoke and mirrors. As mentioned before, you’re probably not knocking anyone over for Happ, as if he’s a 32-inch TV on Black Friday. However if you already have him on your roster, now might be the time to use his 3.18 ERA in nearly 200 innings as bait for a prospect (or two, if you’re good).

Follow Mark on Twitter @hoodieandtie

David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell and Running Back Aging Curves

If you’ve checked out any of my #Dynasty250 rankings for fantasy football, you’ve probably noticed my rather extreme propensity to avoid paying a premium for workhorse running backs. (Please burn your eyes out when you get to number 18.)

If you’ve played fantasy football this year, you’ve probably noticed that David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell have both been one man wrecking crews.

If I’m honest, Johnson, Bell and rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliot have caused me to reconsider my bearish take on running backs. That’s a conversation for another day, one which needs to be weighed against the disappointing seasons of similarly highly regarded RB’s such as Todd Gurley and Lamar Miller. Instead, I’ll make the case that the time is now to sell Bell and Johnson in your dynasty leagues based on historical running back aging curves.

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Dynasty Band Aid: Brett Gardner

Continuing my quest to temporarily patch your dynasty teams, I bring you Brett Gardner.

So it’s happened to all of us. You’ve built 90% of your team, and now you’re searching for the last few guys to slot into your lineup. You add a guy with some upside and a lot of risk and say “if he blows up I’ll keep him, otherwise it’s back to the waiver wire.”  Then Aaron Altherr gets killed mid swing, and after you’ve cursed out everyone at your office, and you’re living on the streets you realize you need a new OF 4/5. You now hit that waiver wire, but this time your strategy has changed.

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Digging for Diamonds: 2016-17 Breakout Catching Prospects

Two weeks ago, I began a series on sleepers, breakout, and post-hype prospects, starting with Post-Hype Catchers and continuing last week with Sleeper Catchers. This week, we will be discussing catching prospects who have the potential to become some of the top prospects in their respective organizations, and perhaps all of baseball if they can continue to build on their stellar 2016 campaigns. Here are four young catching prospects who I think can fully breakout next year in 2017: Continue reading

Profit Report

In 2016 I played in 8 fantasy baseball leagues. League types included, but were not limited to, dynasty keep-all, roto, auction, -ONLY and H2H.  My leagues also resided on many different platforms, but mainly ESPN, CBS, and Yahoo.  One common thread of the first and second place finishers in all these leagues was an abundance of popup and breakout players these owners snagged.  Players that fell into the breakout bucket included Brad Miller, Jose Ramirez, Jonathan Villar, and Aledmys Diaz to name just a few.  These players consistently found their way onto the top teams in my leagues.  In many cases, they were snagged for nothing but a waiver claim or an add/drop.  A no cost transaction can lead to amazing surplus value.  Oftentimes, these players are discounted or completely discarded because owners felt they were familiar enough with said player to pass on investing.  Today we will examine two players I feel are in line for a huge step forward.

Contestant number one is CJ Cron, who will be entering his age 27 season next spring.  2016 was the 3rd season in a row he increased his number of plate appearances, as he moved towards earning a full-time job.  He also moved away from his managers yo-yo treatment of the previous 2 seasons.  CJ upped his walk rate for the third year in a row, which is tremendous progress for a notoriously impatient hitter like Cron.  Over that stretch, his BB% has gone from 4.0%, then 4.2%, and finally 5.4%.  More interestingly, his K% has also dropped the last 3 years as follows:  24.1%, 20.3%, 16.9%.  He also swung at fewer pitches out of the zone when compared to the previous two seasons.

Prior to this season, Cron’s numbers versus righties and lefties were virtually indistinguishable.  Starting in 2014, his slash splits were .258/.289/.462 (LHP) against .255/.288/.453 (RHP).  This year he struggled mightily against left-handers, hitting only .234 and slugging .383.  Examining his minor league stats, this struggle was out of character for CJ.  In rookie ball his SLG% versus lefties was .585.  That increased slightly to .588 in HiA, and settled in at .526 in AA.  His 51 at-bat AAA debut may have foreshadowed his lefty problems, as he slugged only .333 before his MLB promotion, though it was in a small sample size.  Addressing this issue next season and returning to form will be paramount to maximizing his value.

I feel that CJ would have broken out in 2016 if not for his untimely hand injury.  However, the statistical suppression from the injury creates a prime buying opportunity.  Cron has legit 30 hr power.  To approach that number he needs to stay healthy and return to his lefty crushing ways.  2017 should be the first season he exceeds 600 plate appearances, and become the primary 1B for the first time in his young career.  While not fleet of foot, he has worked hard on his defense and would have finished 3rd among all 1B in UZR/150 had he played enough to qualify.  Albert Pujols also logged 123 games as a DH last year, a number I do not expect to rise following his recent foot surgery.  Next year could be the year CJ makes good on his 1st round draft pedigree, and hit the ceiling projected in his minor league scouting reports.

Mike Foltynewicz has long been a favorite of mine since his days as an Astros’ prospect.  Going back to his amateur days, the scouting report on Folty has remained fairly consistent across different websites.  Armed with a double plus fastball, a potential plus curve, a developing change that flashes league average, the only thing he’s missing is consistent command/control.  Unfortunately, that glaring weakness has many analysts worrying he could end up in the bullpen. Still, there’s enough raw stuff there that Folty could succeed as a starter.

A first round pick in 2010, Folty will begin his 4th major league season next spring.  In 2016 he logged 150.1 innings between the majors and AAA.  During his first three years in the bigs, his K/9 has increased as follows, 6.8, 8.0, 8.1.  Conversely, his WHIP has saw a dramatic decrease over his first two years as you can see, 1.607, 1.627, 1.297.  His BB/9 also dropped with each progressing season, 3.4, 3.0, 2.6.  The increase in Ks combined with a dip in free passes adds up to a pitcher who may be figuring things out.

When examining the reason for Folty’s improvement, the answer may be found while evaluating his pitch mix.  Consider how his pitch frequency has changed over the years in the table below:

Season    FB%    SL%    CB%    CH%

2014        73.0%  5.8%   10.4%  10.7%

2015        71.0%  14.8% 10.5%    3.6%

2016        62.6%  19.2% 10.3%    7.9%

Foltynewicz is now less reliant on his fastball and is more trusting of his developing slider.  This may also explain his newfound ability to keep left-handed hitters in check.  During his first 2 years in the league, Folty was killed by lefties yielding a wOBA over .400, and a slugging percentage of approximately 600.  In a dramatic turnaround, his 2016 slash line vs lefties was 247/320/456, which included a wOBA of .329.  These numbers nearly mirrored his 2016 rates vs same handed hitters, 268/319/431 and a wOBA of 322.

One variable we cannot predict is how park factors could influence the final stat line Foltynewicz may produce next season, since the Braves are moving into their new stadium in the spring. In reviewing the dimensions, the biggest difference is in right field, which will be 15 feet closer than Turner’s configuration. Partially alleviating concerns from that is a 16 foot fence that will surround right field.  The closer distance is also somewhat mitigated by Folty’s success vs lefties this year.  The similar dimensions should allow their new stadium to play closer to Turner Field as opposed to the launching pad that was Fulton County Stadium.  Still, the fear of the unknown here could help keep his price down.  The final factor suppressing Folty’s price tag is the DL stint he endured in June for bone spurs in his elbow.  Any time an elbow injury occurs, fantasy owners hold their collective breath.  However, this aliment is a common occurrence with pitchers. and is one that can be managed for long periods of time without surgical intervention.  Following his return from the DL, Folty spun quality starts at the White Sox, at SF, at STL, and at WAS down the stretch.

All of these signs point to a developing pitcher on the upswing who is about to begin his age 25 season.  Another point in his favor is that he seems to have the trust of an organization willing to let him work through his struggles at the big league level.  Folty could very well end up as a #2 starter that his prospect reports once predicted.  Realistically, he may settle in as a mid rotation starter with the upside for big games against weaker offenses.  Either way, Foltynewicz has shown enough growth in my estimation to reasonably expect success in the future.

Both Cron and Folty can help all teams, whether you are going for the title or in the middle of a rebuild.  The opportunity for profit is there regardless of how you plan to use the player in the future.  Buying players in this manner before a breakout occurs is how leagues are won or lost.  I practice what I preach and am actively trying to acquire these players as well.  Buying early in the off-season can be risky, as trades and free agent signings can ruin the promise of playing time.  However, Cron and Folty seemed locked into their roles, and that projection is unlikely to change unless they are traded form their current teams.