On draft night, you're coming in with a strategy. You have an idea of what position you want when. Even if you aren't locked into it, you are following a general theme or mindset.
At the same time, you're allowed to have some fun. I mean, if James Loney is your favorite player and Paul Goldschmidt is available, yeah, you're taking Goldschmidt. But there are times in every round where the pick isn't completely obvious, where you are free to adjust and take a guy two or three spots lower than another guy if it makes you happier to do so.
Here's the dirty little secret: None of us — not me, not Ray, not Tristan Cockcroft or Ron Shandler — knows everything. I mean, I kind of do, but I'll feign modesty for the sake of this column. We have rankings and projections, and so do you. A lot of care is put into them, and we believe what we say, but it's not much beyond super-educated guesswork. So if I have Adrian Beltre ranked one spot ahead of Josh Donaldson, but you like Donaldson more as a fan, heck, go with Donaldson.
This game is for fun. And my last draft before the season started, I set out to have the most fun with my roster that I could:
April 6, 2015
(Yes, my team name is "Radioactive DK," and yes, that is awesome.)
I was so happy with that roster. If you've read my stuff for more than five minutes, you know that Hosmer is my favorite current player, and Trout, Betts, Davis, et al, are all on the list as well. It was as enjoyable a draft experience as I've ever had.
That team, today, sits in fourth place, with a record of 36-33-3. It's been a good season, but far from a great one so far. Those names up there? Brett Lawrie, Jason Heyward? Just because I had fun on draft day doesn't mean I made all the right choices.
Of course, the "right" choices weren't necessarily the right choices either. At one point in that draft, I needed an outfielder, and Christian Yelich was the next ranked one available. Yelich is all well and good, but he just didn't excite me, you know? A few outfield spots lower was Jay Bruce, who isn't tremendously exciting himself, but I figured I'd enjoy him a bit more. Within minutes, my brother texted me to ask why the heck I took Bruce. I explained that maybe I should've taken Yelich, but no other outfielders in that range interested me, and Bruce has potential, so why not?
Of course, through Wednesday, Bruce is hitting .195/.289/.391. It's been rough. Except for the fact that Yelich is even worse, at .179/.266/.238, with a DL stint thrown in. The "fun" choice for me, Bruce, has offered power but nothing else. The "right" choice, Yelich, hasn't even offered that much. So far this season, I wouldn't have won either way.
That said, there were some outfielders ranked between Yelich and Bruce that I passed over. I didn't trust them, wasn't a fan of them, whatever. One of them? Well, he's been better than Yelich and Bruce. Heck, he's been better than both of them combined. If I hadn't gone with the "right" choice or the "fun" one, you know who I could have ended up with?
The point of this is, first, that you need to have fun with your teams. I debated with John Daigle on his podcast the other day about fantasy football rankings, and how I rank Adrian Peterson far worse than he does. Theoretically, Peterson could fall all the way down to where I have him ranked, and if he does ... I still won't take him. I just don't have it in me to go through an entire season rooting for Peterson, or Josh Lueke, or anyone else with black marks like those on their records. I'll sacrifice just a bit of the "intelligent" call to enjoy my team more.
But for today's purposes, the other point is that you have to be willing to move on. Yes, I'd rather enjoy the players on my team when I don't know much else. But at this point, to pick a name, it's at least somewhat clear that Brett Lawrie isn't going to make the leap I'd been hoping for. I have to move on from him, at least as a fantasy starter. And that's why the waiver wire is helpful.
So we're doing The Ticker thing again today. It's a stock-market journey through the waiver wire. All ownership percentages are as of Thursday afternoon; all stats are through Wednesday's games.
Stocks I'm buying
(low-owned players who are doing well, and I believe it)
Ryan Howard, 1B, PHI (21 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues)
Howard went his first eleven games on the season with no home runs, without even any runs scored. He only had two RBI. He was hitting .175/.214/.250, and we were talking about Darin Ruf or Maikel Franco displacing him in the lineup, with good reason. Then, April 21, Howard went 2-3. He homers, walked, scored twice and drove in two. It started a resurgence, as since then, Howard has hit .292/.346/.615 with eight home runs in 104 plate appearances. Sure, the bad Howard still exists, and he'll have bad stretches again. But one way or another, he's going to end the season with 25 or so home runs and 85 or 90 RBI. That's far more value than we expected a few weeks ago.
Trevor Plouffe, 3B, MIN (19 percent)
Since the start of 2012, Plouffe has hit .251/.317/.425. Since the start of last year, it's .259/.333/.431. He's going to hit between 15 and 25 home runs this year, with 65-90 runs and RBI both. So he isn't going to steal bases or give you a super-high batting average; that's a valuable fantasy contributor. Plouffe doesn't appear in the first page of third basemen in the player page on Yahoo! despite being sixth at the position in wRC+. He might not end the season in the position's top 10, but he's certainly a better option than, to name a name more owned than him, Aramis Ramirez at this point.
David Phelps, SP/RP, MIA (10 percent)
(Okay, I wrote this one before Phelps' rough start Wednesday. My general points hold, but I'm not fixing the stats, because ... screw it, I don't wanna.) There was all sorts of fancy talk about Phelps when he was a Yankee, because there is all sorts of fancy talk about every Yankee. He never really followed through on that, as he got traded to Miami along with Martin Prado in the offseason carrying a career 4.21 ERA with a 4.20 FIP. This year, though, Phelps has a 2.68 ERA. He gave up four runs in two relief appearances (one inning) to start the season, meaning as a starter he has allowed seven earned runs in 36 innings. That's a 1.75 ERA, and a stretch of five straight quality starts. He doesn't strike guys out en masse, but the Miami coaches (and I don't think that's only Mike Redmond) have shown something of a penchant for fixing some broken starters — see Dan Haren. Phelps isn't this good, but he'll still have value.
Stocks I'm not buying
(low-owned players who are doing well, but I am not a believer)
Joe Mauer, 1B, MIN (44 percent)
If Mauer were still eligible at catcher, I would be totally fine with owning him in fantasy. He is sporting a .284 batting average with a .341 on-base percentage. Even with Mauer's absolute lack of power and speed, that's helpful as a catcher. The problem is, Mauer hasn't caught since 2013. He's a first baseman only now, and a first baseman with no power (he hit his first home run Wednesday) and no speed in a lineup that should experience some regression is just not a fantasy option. Of 29 qualified first basemen according to FanGraphs, Mauer's ISO is 28th. He's a one-trick pony at a position where you need more tricks.
Lance McCullers, SP, HOU (20 percent)
On the surface, McCullers' debut was nice enough, giving up only one run on three hits in 4.2 innings. But that's also three walks, which have been a bugaboo for McCullers all the way through the minors. It took him 93 pitches to go those 4.2 innings. Speaking anecdotally, it's just the way it is with this sort of second-tier pitching prospect. If McCullers can hold onto his rotation slot beyond Saturday's second start — itself no sure thing — we'll see more games like this. There will also be some strong outings, some seven-inning, one-run, four-baserunner games. But more of the bad ones as well, and I honestly don't know that the opponent has as much to do with it as McCullers himself. In other words, good luck picking when McCullers will help you.
Marco Estrada, SP/RP, TOR (5 percent)
Estrada has only been "strong" by the standards of this year's Toronto pitching staff. The team's four regular starters — R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Aaron Sanchez and Drew Hutchison — have a collective ERA of 5.36. The best of that group, Sanchez, is at 4.17, but he's also walked more guys than he's struck out. So Estrada, at 3.55 through 25.1 innings, actually looks like a competent pitcher by comparison. The upshot of that is, unless and until some things change dramatically, Estrada is likely to hold on to his rotation slot. For some pitchers, that can be enticing — quantity over quality, that sort of thing. For Estrada, it just scares me more. Dude gives up homers like he was JoS. A. Bank and the first hitter bought a home run at full price. Don't buy into his quantity.
Stocks I'm selling
(high-owned players who have struggled, and I'm out on them)
Matt Kemp, OF, SDP (98 percent)
Like, what's the upside of owning Kemp at this point? He's near his career low in batting average and just bottoming out in OBP and SLG. The 40-steal guy of a few years ago is gone, replaced by someone who you'd be lucky to get 18 steals out of this year. And that's the good side of Kemp, as he only has a single home run on the season. He's not walking anymore, not hitting for power. And all this while his BABIP is more or less around his career numbers. All apologies to Fake Teams godfather Ray Guilfoyle, who loves Matt Kemp like a son, but there's no reason to buy in anymore.
Mookie Betts, 2B/OF, BOS (96 percent)
Here I go again, just inviting trouble. I wrote about Betts' struggles in passing a few weeks ago, more to highlight that Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo could offer value, and you'd have thought I insulted the Pope. At the time that piece ran, April 22, Betts was hitting .200/.262/.345. Since then, he's improved! ... And is .250/.310/.423 over the last month. That's fine. But that's all it is. It isn't special, at least not yet. If those folks from a month ago see this, I'm not advocating sending Betts down, or even benching him. The Red Sox have bigger problems, and Betts is still a net positive as a baseball player. But 96 percent of fantasy leagues? He's a fancy name, guys, and we all love him, but he's just overused in fantasy right now.
Stocks I'm not selling
(high-owned players who have struggled, but I still believe)
Billy Hamilton, OF, CIN (97 percent)
You drafted Hamilton for one thing: Steals. He's leading the bigs in that stat with 17, three more than the next most. You'd prefer Hamilton hit at least .250, as he did a year ago, or even higher. Right now, he's just hitting the ball in the air too much to be a valuable hitter. But he is running at every last opportunity, and that's enough for fantasy. If you drafted him, you were probably smart enough to get batting average help elsewhere. Hamilton is there for steals, and he's giving them to you. As a major-league baseball player? Eh, I can take Hamilton or leave him. He's got value, but he is also super frustrating. As a fantasy option? He is exactly what you wanted.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, COL (95 percent)
First, check the stats. .205/.271/.339. That's bad. Next, check the BABIP. .239, in a career at .340. That's unlucky. Then, check the hard-hit rate, in case he's just not hitting the ball with any authority. Gonzalez is hitting the ball hard slightly less often than the past, though his soft-hit percentage is basically his career norm. He's just hitting the ball "eh" now. So, okay, maybe we're never again going to see that 24-year-old Gonzalez of 2010, hitting .336 and challenging for the Triple Crown. But this guy? This guy can't exist, not with what we know of Carlos Gonzalez. He'll improve. There's a hot streak coming.
(low-owned guys who have a starter in front of them or another reason to hold off, but there are things that could change)
Tony Cingrani, SP/RP, CIN (4 percent)
God help me, I still want his first name to be "Nick," and I don't know why. But experts said all along that Cingrani would never make it as a starter, that he doesn't have the repertoire to fool guys several times through the order. What he does have is the arm to be a short reliever. The Reds are 18-21 right now, with a decision to make in the next little bit. If they decide to sell, Aroldis Chapman would command one heck of a return. And if that happens, Cingrani would be a nice closer. This is a deep dive, but there's upside in the long run.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, ARI (2 percent)
Okay, so I was wrong when I ranked Saltalamacchia seventh in fantasy coming into last season. That was too high, and I believed in his hot 2013 more than I should have. Given. But does anyone really believe this 2015 version of Saltalamacchia is for real? An OPS+ of 6? That isn't remotely believable. Saltalamacchia put up a BABIP of .063 with Miami after averaging .300 or so the last four seasons. I will grant that the Marlins let him go largely because of his defense if you'll grant that, on the Diamondbacks, that won't matter — Saltalamacchia will be an upgrade over the mythical being that is Tuffy Gosewisch. Things have started poorly for Saltalamacchia in AAA for Arizona, but still, I expect a resurgence back to relevance the rest of the way. Deep leagues, of course, but keep an eye on him.
(handcuffs; low-owned guys who have someone in front of them, but they are strong backups or replacements to stash)
Francisco Lindor, SS, CLE (5 percent)
A month ago, we wondered if Lindor would come up to replace the struggling Jason Kipnis, who ended April hitting .218/.263/.287. But Kipnis has been Harper-ian in May, hitting .459/.540/.743 through Wednesday's games, an insane pace. That might have changed exactly who Lindor might replace, but it doesn't change the general equation. Jose Ramirez isn't hitting at all at shortstop. Michael Bourn has been a disaster hitting in center field. Brandon Moss has some power, but isn't doing anything else. Meanwhile, Lindor is hitting reasonably well in the minors, getting hotter of late. He'll be up soon enough. He'll play shortstop and Ramirez will get sent down or benched. Or he'll play short and Ramirez will move to second and Kipnis will move to the outfield. Something is going to happen. Lindor will be around soon.
Luis Avilan, RP, ATL (1 percent)
There's a reason Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson were scrap-heap finds for Atlanta in the offseason. Grilli was a 37-year-old disaster for Pittsburgh last year; he's a 38-year-old with a 4.73 ERA this year. Johnson saw his ERA rise more than four full runs from 2013 to 2014 as everyone wondering when the wheels would come off were vindicated. Both have pitched better this year — Grilli's 4.73 ERA is accompanied by a 2.38 FIP, while Johnson has a 2.79 ERA and a 3.49 FIP — but, like I said, these guys were junkyard pieces for a reason. Meanwhile, Avilan has been very strong in three of his four MLB seasons, with only a rough 2014 marring his record. He's still probably the best reliever the Braves have in the long run. It's mega-deep diving, but Avilan might find himself stumbling into some save chances.