If you missed my American League preview, check it out here

NL EAST

1. Washington Nationals

2. New York Mets

3. Miami Marlins

4. Atlanta Braves

5. Philadelphia Phillies

Comments/Predictions: Max Scherzer is a top-10 fantasy player, winning the NL Cy Young, while Stephen Strasburg records five more victories than ever before in his career and is a top-15 fantasy player...Bryce Harper finally lives up to the hype and is a unanimous top-five pick in 2016 drafts, while Ryan Zimmerman is more valuable than teammates Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond...Drew Storen leads MLB in saves.

Despite an innings limit, Matt Harvey is a top-five starter and is taken in the first round in many 2016 drafts...David Wright reaches 25 home runs and 100 RBI for the first time since 2010, while Jacob deGrom finishes as a top-20 starter, ahead of James Shields...Bobby Parnell has the most saves in the Mets’ bullpen.

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Giancarlo Stanton leads MLB in homers and wins the MVP, while Dee Gordon proves to be one of the bigger fantasy busts...Steve Cishek is a top-10 closer, but Mat Latos isn’t one of the three most valuable pitchers on his own team...No one who drafts Marcell Ozuna regrets it.

The Braves score the fewest runs in all of baseball, hurting Freddie Freeman’s value the most...Eric Young steals 35 bases despite a sub-.300 OBP...Mike Minor becomes an afterthought, but Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Shelby Miller are all extremely valuable despite lacking wins...Maikel Franco is a major source of FAAB at some point, and despite Ken Giles’ shaky spring, he takes over and dominates as Philadelphia’s closer once Jonathan Papelbon is traded...No team comes close to losing as many games as the Phillies.

NL Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals

2. Chicago Cubs (wild card)

3. Pittsburgh Pirates (wild card)

4. Milwaukee Brewers

5. Cincinnati Reds

Comments/Predictions: Jason Heyward combines for 10 more homers/steals than Justin Upton...Yadier Molina is a top-five catcher, but Adam Wainwright isn’t a top-20 starter, as his value is right on par with teammate Michael Wacha...The Cardinals could easily win the World Series this year.

Kris Bryant hits 30 homers, is a top-five third baseman and wins NL ROY while living up to the hype, but Anthony Rizzo disappoints compared to his ADP...Chris Coghlan is one of the better NL-only picks (don’t sleep on him in deeper mixed leagues either), while Jorge Soler is a top-20 outfielder...Hector Rondon finishes as a top-10 closer, while Jake Arrieta is a top-15 starter, ahead of Cole Hamels and Jon Lester...My favorite bet of the year easily is the Cubs OVER 82.5 wins.

Gerrit Cole is a top-10 starter (thanks in part to new catcher Francisco Cervelli’s excellent framing and pitching in PNC Park), while Andrew McCutchen doesn’t finish top-five overall...In my Primetime NFBC league (which is pretty high stakes), Starling Marte went No. 17 overall!...Francisco Liriano, who had a 2.20 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 94 strikeouts over 86.0 innings after the All-Star break last year, could benefit the most from throwing to Cervelli. Liriano is really slipping in drafts and will be a huge bargain considering his biggest problem has always been control (and health). His 13.6 SwStr% last year was second in MLB only to Clayton Kershaw. I’m also going to guess Pittsburgh’s defense improves with Pedro Alvarez (whom I also like as a cheap source for power this year) no longer playing third base. Go get Liriano.

I wrote about the risk/reward of Ryan Braun here, and I’m also in on Adam Lind (his .856 OPS over the last two years would rank in the top-20 in MLB if he qualified). His questionable durability could become a problem in a league with no DH, but Lind is now playing in a home park that’s increased HR for LHB by 39 percent over the past three years, which is the second highest in all of baseball. He’ll go down as a major steal if he can stay relatively healthy...If his shoulder cooperates (admittedly a question as of now), Mike Fiers will be a top-30 starter.

Joey Votto bounces back as one of the league’s best hitters, but Homer Bailey continues to struggle with injures and becomes an afterthought...No closer finishes close to Aroldis Chapman in fantasy value...Marlon Byrd, who’s 37 years old and had never homered more than 20 times in a season throughout his career until each of the last two years, does so again in 2015.

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Diego Padres

3. San Francisco Giants 

4. Colorado Rockies

5. Arizona Diamondbacks

Comments/Predictions: Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brett Anderson combine for fewer than 100.0 innings pitched, while Brandon McCarthy is a top-35 starter...Carl Crawford is worth using in 10-team mixed leagues when healthy, while Joc Pederson goes 20/20...Clayton Kershaw proves worthy of being the No. 2 overall pick (and yes, I also predicted he doesn’t win his fourth Cy Young in five years)...Yasiel Puig is a top-15 player, while 36-year-old Jimmy Rollins is a top-five shortstop.

Matt Kemp, who had the second-best wRC+ in baseball after the All-Star break last season, continues to hit well but ultimately disappoints his fantasy owners thanks to missing time and a lack of steals...Speaking of not living up to ADP, Justin Upton, who certainly has some encouraging signs after being a top-30 player last year despite batting .171/.269/.293 with RISP with two outs (over 82 ABs yet still managed 102 RBI), is now playing in PETCO Park, which has limited BA by nine percent and runs scored by 17 percent over the past three years, which are both the most in MLB. As for RHB, the park has decreased home runs by 24 percent over this span, with only PNC and AT&T more extreme, so buyer beware...The Padres have a strong rotation (although ERAs helped by PETCO will be hurt by an extremely shaky outfield defense) and ridiculous outfield depth with a good chance of a Jedd Gyorko rebound and one of the better hitting catchers in baseball, so they are serious wild card contenders.

Brandon Belt hits 27 homers, which is the most by a Giants left-handed hitter since Barry Bonds in 2007...Matt Cain bounces back and is a top-50 starter, while Yusmeiro Petit easily outpitches Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong...Madison Bumgarner continues to win at life

Wilin Rosario isn’t a top-20 catcher, while Nolan Arenado is more valuable than Adrian Beltre...There’s a 50 percent chance Drew Stubbs has more fantasy value than one of the Rockies’ three projected OF starters, and that’s not accounting for ADP...Tyler Matzek emerges as the team's No. 1 starter, while Adam Ottavino finishes with the most saves.

Chris Owings is profitable, but it’s A.J. Pollock who goes down as one of the best steals of the 2015 season. He posted a .302/.353/.498 line while hitting seven homers and stealing 14 bases over just 265 at-bats last year. He also scored 41 runs and has been successful on 26-of-32 SB attempts over the past two years. While that pace is unsustainable, Pollock is a good defender and baserunner who has a clear path to playing time on a Diamondbacks team that plays in a home park that’s boosted run scoring more than any other than Coors Field over the past three seasons. He’s not much of a “sleeper,” but I’d be willing to reach for him as a top-30 outfielder. 

NLCS:  Nationals over Dodgers

World Series: Nationals over Indians

Follow Dalton Del Don on Twitter. 

Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: April 2, 2015, 6:39 am

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American League
Baltimore Orioles – Zach Britton (D. O'Day, T. Hunter)
Boston Red Sox – Edward Mujica (J. Tazawa); Koji Uehara injured (hamstring)
Chicago White Sox – David Robertson (Z. Duke, J. Petricka)
Cleveland Indians – Cody Allen (B. Shaw)
Detroit Tigers – Joe Nathan (J. Soria, B. Rondon)
Houston Astros – Luke Gregerson (C. Qualls, P. Neshek)
Kansas City Royals – Greg Holland (W. Davis, K. Herrera)
Los Angeles Angels – Huston Street (J. Smith)
Minnesota Twins – Glen Perkins (C. Fien)
New York Yankees – Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller (D. Carpenter)
Oakland Athletics – Tyler Clippard (F. Abad); Sean Doolittle injured (shoulder)
Seattle Mariners – Fernando Rodney (D. Farquhar, Y. Medina)
Tampa Bay Rays – Brad Boxberger (G. Balfour, E. Frieri); Jake McGee injured (elbow)
Texas Rangers – Neftali Feliz (T. Scheppers, R. Mendez)
Toronto Blue Jays – Brett Cecil (A. Loup, M. Castro)

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National League
Arizona Diamondbacks – Addison Reed (B. Ziegler)
Atlanta Braves – Craig Kimbrel (J. Grilli)
Chicago Cubs – Hector Rondon (P. Strop, N. Ramirez)
Cincinnati Reds – Aroldis Chapman (J. Diaz, S. LeCure)
Colorado Rockies – LaTroy Hawkins (A. Ottavino, R. Brothers)
Los Angeles Dodgers – J. Peralta, Y. Garcia, P. Rodriguez; Kenley Jansen injured (foot)
Miami Marlins – Steve Cishek (M. Dunn, AJ Ramos)
Milwaukee Brewers – Francisco Rodriguez (J. Broxton)
New York Mets – Jenrry Mejia (J. Familia); Bobby Parnell injured (elbow)
Philadelphia Phillies – Jonathan Papelbon (K. Giles)
Pittsburgh Pirates – Mark Melancon (T. Watson, A. Bastardo)
St. Louis Cardinals – Trevor Rosenthal (J. Walden)
San Diego Padres – Joaquin Benoit (K. Quackenbush)
San Francisco Giants – Santiago Casilla (S. Romo)
Washington Nationals – Drew Storen (A. Barrett)

Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: April 1, 2015, 12:42 pm

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Toronto Blue Jays

3. New York Yankees

4. Tampa Bay Rays

5. Baltimore Orioles

Comments/Predictions: The Red Sox lead MLB in runs scored, while Hanley Ramirez finishes as a top-15 player...Mookie Betts finishes as a top-three fantasy second baseman (where he’s eligible in Yahoo leagues), while Dustin Pedroia is also top-five...Coming off a down year, Xander Bogaerts rewards fantasy owners who gamble on him, as he’s a top-10 shortstop...Neither Koji Uehara nor Edward Mujica lead the Red Sox in saves...Despite opening the year in the minors, Rusney Castillo wins Rookie of the Year.

Brett Cecil is a top-20 closer, while Drew Hutchison emerges as Toronto’s clear ace...Dalton Pompey has the best first name in baseball and even steals 30 bases to boot...At age 31, Brian McCann hits five more homers than he ever has during his career...Andrew Miller finishes with the most saves on the Yankees, while Carlos Beltran goes down as a steal...Alex Rodriguez hits 20 homers with 85 RBI, while Nathan Eovaldi is far more valuable than CC Sabathia.

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Thanks to a poor spring training, Steven Souza proves to be a late round steal...A potential starting rotation featuring Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly and Matt Moore (with a strong bullpen) sure has some upside, which is why I made this bet (the Phillies were essentially the same price at the time), but I’m becoming less enthused with all of Tampa Bay’s injuries since then...Chris Davis rebounds and hits .250 with 35 homers, while Manny Machado fully breaks out and is easily a top-10 third baseman...Steve Pearce’s expected regression is overrated, as he hits nearly as well this year as he did last season.

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians

2. Chicago White Sox (wild card)

3. Detroit Tigers

4. Kansas City Royals

5. Minnesota Twins

Comments/Predictions: Carlos Carrasco is a top-10 fantasy starter. If he qualified, his 13.0 SwStr% would’ve ranked first among all AL starting pitchers last year (which is especially impressive considering his 1.91 GB/FB ratio), and his 21.0 K-BB% was higher than Max Scherzer’s (20.9) and just below Cy Young winner Corey Kluber’s (22.9). Carrasco is a former top prospect who posted a 1.72 ERA and 0.90 WHIP after the All-Star break...Carlos Santana hit 20 homers with a .912 OPS during 332 ABs as a first baseman last year. He hit .088/.326/.118 as a catcher and .129/.283/.226 as a third baseman over a combined 37 games. Bump him way up as catcher eligible in Yahoo leagues...Brandon Moss hits more home runs than Albert Pujols, while Trevor Bauer goes down as one of the biggest late round steals among all starting pitchers (seriously, draft Bauer).

Jose Abreu is the only player in the American League to reach 40 homers, while Chris Sale wins the Cy Young...Adam LaRoche hit 26 home runs in 140 games last year in a home park that’s suppressed long balls for LHB by 20 percent over the past three seasons. He’ll now play in U.S. Cellular Field, which has increased HR for LHB by 13 percent over that span, when it’s also boosted run scoring more than any park other than Coors Field. Few players who could easily approach 35 homers with 100-plus RBI are available as cheap as LaRoche. He’s even more valuable in daily transaction leagues, where you can just bench him against left-handed starters (he’s hit one HR per 19.0 at-bats versus RHP over the last three seasons. To put this in perspective, Miguel Cabrera has homered once every 17.5 ABs during his career).

A Sale/Jeff Samardzija/Jose Quintana trio is formidable, but the looming Carlos Rodon addition really puts the White Sox over the top...Joakim Soria is easily the most valuable Tigers reliever, as Joe Nathan is dropped by most fantasy owners by the end of May...Miguel Cabrera recovers from his offseason surgery and returns as the top hitter in baseball...Sadly, Justin Verlander is done.

Alex Rios was a top-20 player in three of the previous four seasons before last year, when he somehow hit four homers over 492 at-bats despite playing in one of the better hitting parks in baseball. He recently hurt his thumb, an injury that he says will affect him all of this season. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success...Yordano Ventura’s average FB velocity (97.0 mph) last season easily led MLB but that resulted in just a 7.82 K/9 rate (which wasn’t even top-30). He also missed some time with an arm injury. However, Ventura returned and pitched in the postseason, and his 10.3 SwStr% was elite (making his K rate all the more improbable), so there’s a ton of upside here, especially if his secondary pitches develop.

Oswaldo Arcia is 23 years old and hit 17 homers over 241 at-bats against RHP last year, so there’s potential here...Joe Mauer isn’t a top-300 player...Over the last three years, Torii Hunter is one of only 20 players with a .300 BA. He’s a fine boring veteran option late.

AL West

1. Seattle Mariners

2. Los Angeles Angels (wild card)

3. Oakland Athletics

4. Houston Astros

5. Texas Rangers

Comments/Predictions: Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz finish well below their ADPs, while Brad Miller far exceeds his...Mike Zunino finishes top-three among catchers in home runs...Taijuan Walker is more valuable than Hisashi Iwakuma...Garrett Richards, whose average FB velocity (96.3 mph) was the second highest in baseball last year, held hitters to the second-lowest “hard-hit” rate. Once he returns from his knee injury, Richards will be a top-15 fantasy SP. He’s the real deal...Mike Trout wins MVP once again.

Kendall Graveman becomes one of the most popular pick ups within the first couple weeks of the fantasy season, while Brett Lawrie becomes back on the radar, even in shallower leagues...The A’s are going to be a major threat to make the playoffs despite so much offseason movement, so I like their OVER 82 wins total.

Collin McHugh is a top-25 starter. He had a 2.12 ERA and 0.93 WHIP with an 8:1 K:BB ratio after the All-Star break last season and despite modest velocity (91.6 mph FB), his 10.8 SwStr% suggests the breakout was legit. Go get him...Robinson Chirinos is a sneaky good pick in 2-C leagues, while Ryan Rua proves to be the same in AL-only and deeper mixed formats...Prince Fielder returns as a top-50 player, while Adrian Beltre isn’t a top-five third baseman..

ALCS: Indians over Red Sox

Check back for my NL preview Thursday.

Follow Dalton Del Don on Twitter

Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: April 1, 2015, 6:09 am

On Monday, we discussed the common-thread hitters who occupy my 2015 fake baseball teams, for better or for worse. For Tuesday, we discuss the recurring pitchers. You’re invited to share your Wallet Players in the comments.  

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-- Aroldis Chapman: The more you respect the competition level of your league, the more I think you should devote some March resources to acquiring saves. Sure, if it’s the land of the blind, you can shift into “don’t pay for saves” mode. Heck, almost any strategy will win that sort of league. But if your opponents know what they’re doing, I suggest trying to get a bank of saves on draft day or auction day.

And here’s the cute thing about some sharp leagues: the big-time closers don’t seem to cost so much. It’s almost like there’s some silent collusion at play, wanting to avoid the gauche strategy of, gasp, paying for a closer. 

Chapman takes on extra juice in any league that caps your innings or starts, since he’s such a ratio dominator and strikeout monster. Consider the last three years: 2.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 16.2 strikeouts per nine innings. You can cast a wider net for your starting-pitching plays (or streaming picks) if you have Chapman at the back end, taking a sad song and making it better. 

Oh, and he’s awfully fun to watch, too – one of the rare closers who’s legitimately appointment television. Fun still has a currency in fantasy baseball, right?  

-- Jake Arrieta: So lovely when a post-hype prospect puts it all together and rings the bell for us, all at a minimum cost. That 2014 run sure was fun. You’ll have to pay more for Arrieta this year, but the cost doesn’t seem unreasonable to me (No. 23 ADP starter in Yahoo, not counting Yu Darvish). I see Arrieta as an easy Top 20 arm, and likely Top 10-15. 

Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio can take a bow; he helped Arrieta tighten his mechanics and perfect a slider (no, it’s a cutter, no, it’s a slider). If you take the nine-run shellacking at Colorado out of the equation (a reasonable request), Arrieta posted a 1.85 ERA over his last 18 starts last year. Hitting Arrieta's slider is like hitting a brick. 

-- Gerrit Cole: I recognize it’s betting on the come with Cole, given we're still waiting for his first complete season. But what’s not to like on his profile? Cole brings gas in the mid-90s, gets ground balls almost half of the time, pitches in a favorable park (and with a respected pitching coach watching out for him), lives in a non-threatening league and division. Every scouty thing you read on Cole is glittering, screams out “future Cy Young” (and he was, after all, the No. 1 pick in his draft class). Usually I’m more of an agnostic, “take what they leave for me” drafter over a target-driven, “must get my guy” owner. But Cole is someone I shoved back on this spring. 

-- Jose Quintana: The only thing wrong with Quintana’s 3.32 ERA last year is that it should have been better, if fielding-independent ERAs mean anything to you (FIP suggests 2.81). Otherwise, just ride the wave with The Q, who’s thrown over 200 innings two straight years, with an ascending strikeout rate and a dipping walk rate. 

-- Mike Leake, Henderson Alvarez: Neither pitcher cost much, but I grabbed both of them as low-investment depth options in some head-to-head and weekly formats, where innings are not capped and quality starts take on more value. Both pitchers collect ground balls by the bucketload, what you want to see from a pitch-to-contact specialist. 

-- Brandon McCarthy: He tweaked his arsenal during a dynamic run in New York, and now he’s headed to Chavez Ravine, where the park is friendly and Vin Scully provides the dreamy backdrop. I want in. 

-- Andrew Miller: Normally I would rather find a new middle-relief hero rather than chase the previous guy, but I expect Miller to be used as an aggressive weapon by the Yankees, to the point that he’ll be in position to get a handful of wins (or saves, or both) in addition to what I expect to be wipeout ratios. In short, I trust Miller truly is as unhittable as he looked last year. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: April 1, 2015, 1:12 am

Realistically, you will not become a zillionaire by playing daily fantasy baseball. Sorry to smack you with cold truth right here at the top, but there it is. Advertising efforts from various DFS sites may have convinced you that such games offer a clear and easy path to extreme, life-changing wealth, but, um ... no, probably not happening.

In fact, a comprehensive review of the Forbes 400 list will reveal that zero of our richest citizens acquired their fortunes via daily fantasy games.

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However, this fact doesn't mean you can't still profit by dabbling in DFS. Daily games are really an excellent complement to the standard fantasy portfolio. If you regret not drafting any shares of, say, Taijuan Walker or Nolan Arenado or whoever else, you can always find opportunities for single-serving ownership in daily.

Today, the mission is to assist those of you considering a foray into daily baseball — we're talking to the first-timers, not seasoned sharks. The advice below is strictly 101 stuff. If you've already built your forecasting algorithm and you're playing dozens of lineups each day, then you're free to leave. Go away. Shoo. But if you're new to daily and hoping to turn a two-figure bankroll into perhaps a modest three-figure bankroll, then please read on...

Know your scoring settings

REPEAT: KNOW YOUR SETTINGS

This is the most basic piece of fantasy advice, applicable to all sports, and yet so many managers brush it off. Really, you shouldn't do much of anything — ever, anywhere — without a careful examination of the rules and terms. The major daily games assign different values to common events, and roster construction is slightly different from site to site. Here's a snapshot of scoring on various platforms. Many in-game events also carry negative point values depending on the site, and pitcher wins are less important relative to innings and Ks.

Just as you wouldn't draft a standard fantasy team without understanding the league settings, you shouldn't construct a daily lineup without familiarizing yourself with the scoring system.

Vegas is your friend

This is most definitely not true in all aspects of life, but it's certainly true with daily gaming. For obvious reasons, you're looking for starting pitchers tied to heavy favorites, and you want batters involved in potentially high-scoring games. Vegas handles much of the heavy-lifting for you, accounting for park factors, weather conditions, pitcher quality, lineup construction and other trends and traits. If bookmakers expect a big pile of runs to be scored in a given game, you should seriously consider stacking hitters in those lineups. Simple enough, right?

FanDuel and DraftKings require users to choose players from at least three different MLB teams, so there are limits to your stacking possibilities. It's a solid tactic nonetheless, because predicting any individual hitter's performance in a single game is kind of a ridiculous endeavor. Which brings me to this...

Pitching is priceless

OK, that's not completely accurate, because each site literally puts a price on each pitcher. This is fundamental to the whole DFS thing. I just really like alliteration in the subheads.

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Anyway, here's my point: You absolutely cannot screw up your pitching choices and still expect to profit. In full-season fantasy leagues, experts will often recommend going cheap on pitchers, sketching in your rotation in the late rounds. But in daily games, I'll usually select my pitcher(s) before scanning the bat rack. Even baseball's most reliable hitters — players like Cabrera, Cutch and Trout — can easily post an 0-fer at any time, regardless of matchup. Forecasting any batter's stats for a single day is incredibly tricky. I almost always feel more confident in the one-day projection of a quality starting pitcher at home in a friendly park, against a less-than-intimidating opponent. You don't need to build around a Kershaw or Scherzer-level starter each day (or any day), but you do need to remember that scoring is driven to a great extent by innings, strikeouts, wins and run-prevention. When chasing Ks, it's easy enough to exploit strikeout-prone lineups and avoid others.

Don't obsess over batter-vs.-pitcher stats

I won't go so far as to say that player-vs.-player history has zero relevance, but, in most cases, we're dealing with sample sizes that are much too small to be useful or predictive. I'm not going to make a spending decision based on, say, a hitter's 7-for-18 history against a certain pitcher. Instead, you should always prefer larger sets of data — the sort of stuff you'll find in Yahoo's Matchup Ratings, for example. All of you already know that handedness of hitters and pitchers is a big deal; typically, you want left-handed bats facing right-handed arms. If you can start Matt Adams against Edwin Jackson and the price is right, great. Jump all over it — even though Adams is 0-for-6 in his career against Jackson. You should care a great deal more about the fact that A) Edwin is a mess, and B) Adams hammers right-handed pitching (.851 OPS vs. RHPs, .553 vs. LHPs).

I hate to suggest that batter-vs.-pitcher history never matters, however. When two players have seen plenty of each other and one of them consistently wins, well ... that's not something you can easily ignore. Omar Infante versus R.A. Dickey has been an unfair fight (17-for-34, 2 HR). Victor Martinez kinda owns Mark Buehrle (28-for-78, 4 HR). Joe Mauer has toyed with Justin Verlander (24-for-65, 8 XBH, 12 BBs). If you believe in a matchup, play it. It's your money.

And here's the final and most obvious tip...

Players can't help us if they don't play

Nope, you didn't need an expert for this one. Nothing mysterious here. We simply need to emphasize the importance of verifying that every player in your daily lineup is also in his real team's lineup. When you mess around with platoon players and other part-timers, this is no small detail. In your hometown roto league, it's not usually a disaster when a player on your active roster gets an off-day. But in daily, you immediately lose money.

It's easy enough to find reliable sources for batting order info — like this feed, for example. The difficult part is making a daily habit of daily lineup hawking. Weather-related postponements are a terror, too. Stay on it.

As in traditional fantasy baseball, you won't profit from the daily game unless you're an active, engaged player. The Yahoo fantasy team will cover daily baseball all season around here, from opening night through September. We're here to help.

I've personally made tens if not dozens of dollars playing daily, so you should totally listen to me.

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: March 31, 2015, 9:52 pm

I thought I’d be jostling for room on the Michael Brantley bandwagon this year, fighting for a comfortable spot. But it's more like a ghost town, all sorts of room available. 

No one missed Brantley’s wonderful breakout 2014 season, which pushed him into the MVP discussion. He finished the year as the No. 3 batter in Yahoo fantasy leagues, off a .327-94-20-97-23 campaign. You name it, Brantley improved at it. He walked more, struck out less, spiked his power rate, improved his outstanding line-drive clip. He handled righties and lefties, no problem. And he came to play just about every night, missing a mere six games. 

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I thought Brantley would be on the cusp of the first or second round in most fantasy leagues this spring, but it didn’t go down that way. His Yahoo ADP checks in at 25.7, outside the Top 2 rounds in a 12-team league. The public at large would rather have Yasiel Puig, or Adrian Beltre, or Troy Tulowitzki, or Stephen Strasburg. Heck, Brantley isn’t even on Yahoo's can’t cut list. 

I guess it comes down to how much you trust last year’s growth. Brantley was a solid but unspectacular fantasy option in 2013, when he posted a .284-66-10-73-17 line. Sure, that’s ownable, but not in the blue-chip rounds. 

Here’s why I was fine to make Brantley my most important fantasy commodity for 2015: 

— Batting average is generally underrated. You can attack the counting stats and pass over the August and September give-ups merely by staying engaged. The ratio categories are trickier, as an early-departure team doesn’t get penalized in those areas. I like to have a base of batting average from the first day of my team building. 

Maybe Brantley won’t hit .327 again, but every logical projection system calls for .290-plus, which is going to help you. And given his growth against left-handers and his elite level of contact and hitting the ball hard, I’d bet he’s over .300 again. 

— I’m not sweating the homer dip in the second half. While Brantley only clubbed five homer runs after the break, he still slugged .488 and hit 23 doubles in 65 starts (along with a .335 average and .388 OBP). He was still crushing the ball and hitting it with authority. Some of those doubles will be homers this year. Brantley isn’t likely to hit 30 homers in any season, but I’ll expect something in the 17-23 range, along with the rest of stats he provides. 

— His batting slot protects his run production. While a good batting slot won’t help you see better pitches - that myth has been debunked in many areas - it is important for counting-stat protection, the type of thing fantasy owners care about. Brantley spent much of 2013 batting fifth or seventh for the Indians, but he captured the No. 3 slot last year. That’s the sweet spot for fantasy, the cushy place to be. 

— The career arc is in a good place. Brantley turns 28 on May 15, so he’s still in the fun years.

Here are some other hitters who are common profile players for me this year: 

-- Nolan Arenado: He was in the midst of a breakthrough 2014 before a finger injury ruined the story. I thought Arenado would become annoyingly-pricy this spring, but it didn’t happen in my pools. I paid a round or two for the plausible upside, but I didn’t feel I was fully charged for it. Colorado, here I come. 

-- Jimmy Rollins: He’s in the Ibanez All-Star years, a boring veteran who no one is excited about anymore. Fine with me. Shortstop is a minefield all over the place for fantasy this spring, but the price for Rollins’s pop-speed combo (ADP 145) seems reasonable to me. 

-- Jose Altuve: He’s never going to be a major power source, but he’s not a zero in that column, either. And like Brantley, I don’t mind that Altuve doesn’t walk a ton - it allows him to get more at-bats and make a bigger impact on my batting average. 

I love what my good friend Gene McCaffrey wrote on Altuve (I didn't read it until mid-March, but Gene is a very good person to agree with): Yes, regression, to about .315 with 40 SBs. The Astros had a bad offense which should get better and get Jose over 100 Runs, with 65 RBIs. He'll hit more home runs than the other 40-SB guys unless you count Ellsbury as a 40-SB guy. He'll go in the 1st round in most drafts, and should he fall to the 2nd I will own him. $32

-- David Wright: I have no cute angle here, I just get the idea rooms are sick of the way his career has leveled off and I kept looking at Wright as a mid-round value play. 

-- Martin Prado: I thought Josh Harrison would be my legos player, one of those multiple-position guys who can cover several roster spots, moving where needed. I love those guys, perhaps to a fault. But while Harrison’s been cheap in general ADP, he’s been chased in my leagues. Prado turned into Plan B, a versatile and underrated vet who’s going to bat in the middle of a sneaky-good Miami lineup. You can use Prado at second, third or the outfield, and his cost is outside Pick 220. 

-- Yadier Molina: Maybe this is heart-over-head, because Molina’s been one of my favorite players for a solid decade, and routinely one of the best places to shop at catcher. No one ever seemed to lose money on this reliable rock, until last year, when he finally encountered a major injury (though Molina still found a way to recover quickly and log 110 games). He’s never going to be a major power source, but Molina’s average season from 2011-13 reads this way: .313-63-16-74-6. If he can get even 80 percent of that back, I’m in for a profit. 

-- Brett Gardner: I was shocked when I counted up all my Gardner shares, but that’s what happens when you fade the Regression Police for a living. No one expects Gardner to match the 17 homers he surprisingly hit last year, but most projection systems at least put him in double digits. Gardner is going to bat second for a Yankees lineup that surely can’t be as bad as it was last year, and he’s an affordable source of 20-30 steals and 80-90 runs. 

Tuesday, I’ll talk about the Wallet Arms, though if you want the names right now, they’ve been leaked to the Twitterverse.

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: March 31, 2015, 12:46 am

Much of the United States is still shivering, but we're only days away from the start of baseball season. That means it's time RIGHT NOW to get your fantasy baseball drafts in order. Head on over to Yahoo Sports' Fantasy Baseball home page, but BEFORE YOU DO ... listen to this podcast.

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Why? Because we've got fantasy maestro Andy Behrens slingin' hot fantasy knowledge every way, that's why! We begin with a primer on how to approach fantasy baseball drafts and auctions (3:38 mark), including stats to seek on pitchers. We continue with how to spot the best hitters for your team (9:53 mark). Andy tells us all the fancy new aspects of the Yahoo Sports fantasy baseball experience, and you'll want to hear this part (23:48 mark). Finally, Andy discusses how fantasy baseball can survive and thrive in an era of fantasy football and one-day fantasy games (37:28 mark).

Ready? Then go sign up!

Thanks for listening to the Grandstanding podcast. Hit us up on Twitter (@kevinkaduk and @jaybusbee) Facebook (Kaduk here, Busbee here) or via the hashtag #grandstanding. See you next ep!

____
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: March 27, 2015, 9:03 pm

If fun were the only stat category in Fantasy Baseball, Yoenis Cespedes would be a lottery pick every season. The guy owns the Home Run Derby. The guy throws out baserunners from ridiculous platforms. The guy takes every swing like it’s his last. 

The enjoyment index is off the charts. And it’s turned Cespedes into one of the sucker fantasy plays for 2015. 

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Just so you don’t think I’m playing a straw man here, let’s establish that some pundits really like Cespedes. Here’s one scribe who considers Cespedes a Top 4 outfielder. Here’s a respected writer (and a friend of mine) who considers Cespedes underrated in the Yahoo game ranks (that's a useful piece, you should definitely read it). On the rank aggregator Fantasy Pros, you'll find 15 different sources who consider Cespedes a Top 15 outfielder for the coming year (no one from Yahoo, of course). 

I don’t see what they’re seeing. I have no problem ranking at least 30 outfielders higher than Mr. Home Run Derby. 

Oh, I understand that Cespedes has brought plenty of pop in his three-year career (71 homers, 262 RBIs), and he’s no longer held down by Oakland’s roomy park (though his Oakland OPS is 53 points higher than his career OPS). The Tigers have plenty of big bats in their lineup, so it’s encouraging, in theory, to see Cespedes moving to his new address. 

That said, be aware that Cespedes is projected to bat sixth in the Detroit lineup. Assuming this sticks, he’ll have plenty of chances to drive in the better Tigers, but they won’t be pushing him around the bases. Every indication from Lakeland says J.D. Martinez will slot fifth this year, Cespedes sixth. Detroit’s Top Six looks rather formidable, but then it skids into Alex Avila, Nick Castellanos, and Jose Iglesias

Cespedes seems like a reasonable bet for about 25 homers and 90-100 RBIs, valuable commodities – especially given the current state of pop in the majors. But what else does he offer you?

His career slash is a modest .263/.316/.464 – he shouldn’t help you in batting average, and he won’t get on base much. And over the last two years, AL pitchers seem to have adjusted to Cespedes. Taking out his rookie year, he’s a .251 hitter and a .298 OBP guy. This looks like a player with tapped-out upside (can you find me any evidence of improvement?) and a fair amount of downside. Panic in Detroit. 

I’m reluctant to bet on the steals. Cespedes swiped 16 as a rookie, but since then he's collected just 14  on 23 attempts. If that success ratio continues, the Tigers might as well give him the red light for good. 

Look, I get it  we have to lower our expectations in the current run-depressed version of baseball. But there's no way I’m spending a Top-20 outfielder ticket on someone who could easily be a two category boost, with downside in other areas. And I don’t know anyone crazy enough to dream about 35 or 40 homers here. 

Well, maybe I know one guy.

You want Cespedes on your team, all you. I’ll nominate him early, while you still have plenty of money left. Step up to the plate. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: March 27, 2015, 7:08 pm

It would not be entirely accurate to say that I entered this year's A.L.-only Tout Wars auction with a highly detailed and thoroughly vetted plan.

No, plan is definitely the wrong term.

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Last year I had a well-rehearsed plan, executed it reasonably well, and then four of my players suffered season-ending injuries almost immediately. Mike Trout couldn't do it all by himself. My pitching staff was basically Yordano Ventura and five dudes who threw like Boof Bonser. That is to say, it was not a good pitching staff.

So this season, I suppose I'm trying to move beyond plan-making, beyond scripting. Still, I did enter the Tout auction with a set of guiding fantasy principles in mind (some of them disposable), plus I'd spent a good deal of prep time identifying players likely to be available for $1 (some of whom went for $7). When preparing for any auction or draft of unusual depth, my focus is generally on finding the best possible end-game targets. It's much easier to tweak your positional budgets mid-auction if you absolutely know that you can live with, say, the $1 outfielders or pitchers or catchers.

At a very basic level, of course, the idea in any fantasy auction is to use your $260 budget to purchase a group of players you believe will deliver far greater than $260 in value. And then you need to remember to address all statistical categories while simultaneously tracking the needs of your competitors ... and their dwindling auction resources, and their bidding habits.

And obviously you don't want to spend your way into a situation in which you're at the mercy of the room, desperately needing stats or positions you can no longer afford. And you need to react appropriately to unanticipated opportunities.

And you gotta know when to quick-bid, when to exceed your prices (ideally never), and when to simply shut up.

Auctions are hard, is what I'm saying. They're also the truest test of an owner's ability to forecast the season ahead, and, without question, an auction is the fairest method of player distribution — every manager gets a shot at every name in the pool. Basically, when the auction vs. draft debate erupts, I'm with Pianowski.

Before we review Tout rosters, I should note that this particular league is not exactly the standard-issue hometown fantasy setup. We select a total of 324 players, strictly from the A.L. Thus, it's inevitable that every manager will start a part-time player or two (hopefully not three). Also, the league is loaded with sharks — here's the lineup. If my back-of-the-envelope math is correct, the managers in this particular A.L.-only league have a combined 877 years of fantasy experience. (Hard to say with precision, because Lawr's true age is unknown. Lost in the mists of history.) Every owner knows every player. We've all won leagues. We're all paid by someone to know something about baseball. I have a pretty fair record as a fantasy ranker, just for the record. Bargains are hard to find in Tout — they only happen by accident, really. Tough league.

Don't let me down, Xander Bogaerts. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)This year, for the first time, Tout unintentionally added a survivalist element to the auction by holding it in a room that was as cold as deep space. Serious, bone-chilling cold. Twenty minutes into the event, Chris Liss and I were huddled together, burning a stack of Rotowire draft guides for warmth.

But obviously we all made it through the auction safely, with minimal damage. You can find full results right here. Pick a winner, if that's your thing.

Here's a snapshot of my team and its salaries, beginning with the bats...

C: Jason Castro $13, Geovany Soto $2

1B/3B/CI: Jose Abreu $36, Xander Bogaerts $18, Albert Pujols $26

2B/SS/MI: Jonathan Schoop $4, Elvis Andrus $21, Asdrubal Cabrera $15

OF: Lorenzo Cain $16, Dalton Pompey $11, Seth Smith $5, Aaron Hicks $1

UT/SW: Mitch Moreland $2, Mike Aviles $1

RSV: Billy Burns, Delmon Young

Again, this is a 12-team only-league with 23 active roster spots and a $260 player acquisition budget. It's not possible to assemble a lineup of stars. In a standard mixed league, the quality of your draft or auction is usually determined by your best players; in an only-league, the relative strength of your roster has more to do with the worst names in your lineup. You won't need to mess with guys like Castro, Soto, Schoop, Aviles or Hicks in a 10 or 12-team mixer, obviously. But they all have value in a deep A.L.-only league, because all will see at-bats. Schoop just hit 16 homers in his age-22 season. Aviles carries eligibility at 2B, SS, 3B, OF, CI and MI, plus he's likely to see another 300-400 plate appearances.

Dalton Pompey, an $11 Blue Jay (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)Hicks is ... well, OK, he's coming off a rough season, hitting just .215. He also hasn't yet locked down a starting job. He could be a problem. But let's not forget that Hicks has the top-prospect pedigree, and he's demonstrated on-base skills at every level — even in a crummy 2014 season, he still reached base at a .341 clip. Tout replaced AVG with OBP last year, shifting away from traditional scoring.

As mentioned above, my preparations for this year's auction were really all about the end-game names, the $1 to $3 players. Going in, I was comfortable with the depth of the outfield player pool, so I expected to spend sometihng in the $30-$35 range to fill four OF spots, plus UTIL. I would have been substantially below that range, too, if it weren't for a bidding skirmish with Liss on Pompey. No question, I paid full retail price for the Jays presumptive starting center-fielder, but he's a 22-year-old with legit 30-steal speed, and he slashed .317/.392/.471 last year in the minors.

If you need more hype on Pompey (and Burns), I urge you to click here.

Moreland was a prime end-game target of mine, and I nominated him at $2 when no one with an open hitting spot could outbid me. He was an injury-related bust last year, but he's a player with no-doubt power, having a solid spring (10-for-30, 2 HR). Moreland figures to serve as Texas' primary DH this season, so he should have little trouble earning a profit. Unless of course he gets shelved again.

Bogaerts might very well be the make-or-break buy for my team, the player who needs to make a value leap. He's just entering his age-22 season and hitting in a ridiculously loaded lineup, so I'm somewhat optimistic. The kid hit .297/.388/.477 in the high minors back in 2013, when he was only 20 years old, so he remains a high-ceiling young hitter, eligible at premium positions (SS, 3B).

It should go without saying that I'll need Jose Abreu to perform like the 2014 version of himself, when he was one of only two major league sluggers to deliver a 30-100-.300 season. (V-Mart was the other). Abreu was the auction's third most expensive player, behind only Trout ($46) and Jose Bautista ($37), tied with Miguel Cabrera. He's having a silly spring, to no one's surprise, going 18-for-40 with four extra-base hits and seven RBIs. On Tuesday, he hit a ball that didn't land until Wednesday. No, I'm not expecting any sort of catastrophic dip in production in his second big league season.

[Want to join a league and live draft right now? Go to the Yahoo Draft Lobby]

And now for the arms...

SP: Hisashi Iwakuma $19, Phil Hughes $14, Anibal Sanchez $13, Danny Duffy $8, Carlos Rodon $2, Tommy Milone $1

RP: David Robertson $20, Neftali Feliz $11, Ryan Cook $1

RSV: Junichi Tazawa, Ricky Nolasco

Carlos Rodon, dealer of pure un-hittable filth. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)It feels as if I've worked Phil Hughes into pretty much every video and blog post I've produced this spring, so by now you should know that I'm bullish. His Yahoo ADP remains insane (139.5), considering last year's stellar numbers: 16-10, 3.52 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 1.13 WHIP, 7.98 K/). Hughes has found a park that suits his tendencies, and his control of the strike-zone is, at this point, beyond ridiculous. I seem to own him everywhere. Duffy is a hard-throwing lefty coming off an excellent season (1.11 WHIP), having a solid spring. Assuming good health, he's a good bet to return more than $8 in value.

Rodon was the purchase that pleased me most, however — and I felt that way before Wednesday's four-inning, nine-K performance. At his best, his stuff is pure magic. Almost invisible. Check the tape. There's a very good chance Rodon will arrive in May, if not before. I'm in. He was another end-of-auction target. When Rodon was nominated for a buck, I blurted "TWO!" as quickly and emphatically as possible. So deeply satisfying.

Owning two closers in an only-league is a clear luxury, a move that should guarantee 10 or 12 roto points in at least one category. It should also spare me the agony of season-long saves speculation, which burns through FAAB like nothing else. Of course when you spend $31 on a pair of closers, there's an opportunity cost. If I lose a starter anytime soon, I'll likely regret not using Robertson's salary slot on an upper-tier starter. So it goes.

If you've made it this far ... well, wow. That's a lot of time to devote to another person's fantasy team. You've certainly earned the right to ridicule my roster in comments.

As Dock would have said, let's do the do...

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: March 26, 2015, 4:40 pm

Bryce Harper: He’s a 22-year-old with a career 125 wRC+, which is why his ADP (31.9 in Yahoo leagues) remains high despite never reaching 60 RBI or surpassing 22 homers in any of his three seasons in the league. Harper also attempted just four steals in 100 games last season, as his base running took a major step down in general. He’s missed an average of 53 games over the past two years, which has barely discounted his price tag thanks to the past hype of him as baseball’s best prospect. Still, massive upside obviously remains and count me among those who’d be willing to take on the risk as early as round two. Matt Williams has said he might even bat Harper in the middle of the Nationals lineup this season, which is really thinking outside the box.

Hanley Ramirez: He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has missed an average of 46.3 games over the past four seasons. Ramirez has been a top-80 fantasy player just once over this span (in 2012, when he missed just five games and ranked No. 65), so he sure seems like a stretch at his current 22.6 ADP. However, his ability to stay healthy should increase with the move from shortstop to left field (especially in Fenway), and he looks bulked up out of his mind. Moreover, Ramirez will be hitting in the middle of an absolutely loaded Boston lineup in a park that’s increased BA more so than any park in baseball (other than Coors Field) over the past three years. I’m on board with Ramirez as a top-15 pick.

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Masahiro Tanaka: His 2.77 ERA last year would’ve ranked as the sixth lowest in the AL had he qualified despite a 14.0 HR/FB%, thanks to pitching in Yankee Stadium. This is because Tanaka was absolutely dominant before going down with an arm injury, as his K-BB% (22.1) was basically the same as former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez’s (22.2), and his 13.4 SwStr% would’ve ranked third best in all of baseball (well ahead of King Felix). Tanaka was a top-100 fantasy player despite making just 20 starts. But he dealt with an elbow injury (a partially torn UCL) that wasn’t addressed through surgery during the offseason, so there’s obvious risk here (which has admittedly been reflected in his ADP). He’s boom-or-bust in 2015.

Dee Gordon: One of the biggest surprises last year, Gordon was a top-30 fantasy player while leading the majors in steals with 64 by a wide margin (next closest was 56. And stolen bases are very hard to come by in the National League). But Gordon had an anemic .300 OBP and .348 SLG after the All-Star break, when he posted a 47:4 K:BB ratio with a 67.7 SB% and recording just nine(!) RBI over 250 at-bats. He now joins a team that plays in a park that’s one of the toughest on left-handed hitters in all of baseball, so it’s hard to justify his ADP currently being higher than Matt Harvey’s.

Troy Tulowitzki: This is an obvious one. Tulowitzki has the upside to be the No. 1 fantasy player, as he was the No. 3 player on a per-game basis last season, and that’s not even factoring in him being shortstop eligible, which is arguably the shallowest position (catcher would surpass it in 2-C formats). Tulow is obviously a beast, and to put playing in Coors Field into perspective, it’s increased run scoring by 45 percent over the past three years. The next highest has been a tie between Chase Field and U.S. Cellular Field, which have boosted scoring by 10 percent. Of course, Tulowitzki plays a demanding defensive position, has missed an average of 74 games over the past three seasons and has played in 150 games just twice since he debuted in 2006.

Alex Cobb: He looked like an easy top-20 SP entering the year after posting a 15.0 K-BB% and a 10.5 SwStr% last year, with the added bonus of pitching in Tropicana Field and in front of what should once again be a strong Rays’ defense. But Cobb is dealing with a forearm injury, often a precursor for TJ surgery. He says he’s pain-free now and should be good to go a couple of weeks into the year, and he went as late as pick No. 193 in the recent Yahoo Friends & Family draft, so he’s an interesting gamble right now.

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George Springer: He posted a 20-45-51-5 line in fewer than 300 at-bats last season, when he was a top-45 fantasy player as a rookie. Springer hit 37 homers with 45 steals and a .303 BA while scoring 106 runs with 108 RBI in fewer than 500 ABs between Double and Triple-A as a 23-year-old the season before that. ZiPS projects 26 home runs and 17 stolen bases in just 113 games in 2015. But Springer also had a .231 BA last year after getting called up to Houston, thanks to an ugly 33.0 K% that would’ve tied for the highest in MLB had he qualified. I’m a fan of his upside and took him in the third round of the aforementioned Yahoo F&F league, but there’s obviously quite a bit of risk here for such an unproven player who swings and misses so often (Springer’s SwStr% last year was 18.2. Clayton Kershaw led all starters at 14.1%).

Anthony Rendon: He was a top-15 fantasy player last season despite being an afterthought in drafts. A former top prospect, Rendon has an extensive injury history (especially with his legs) and is currently dealing with a sprained MCL. He still owns a top-20 ADP in Yahoo leagues, and while that makes sense for someone who posted a .287-111-21-83-17 line last year, there’s serious risk here (although a full transition to playing third, where he hit better compared to when playing second, could also help his durability). The latest Rendon injury simply has to move Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano above him in 2B rankings, which will likely be the last year he’ll be eligible there.

Danny Salazar: He posted a 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with a ridiculous 23.7 K-BB% and 14.6 SwStr% (which would’ve led MLB by a wide margin last season) in 2013 as a rookie, which led to many hyping him in a big way (including myself). Instead, he pitched through an injury that resulted in decreased velocity (his average fastball went from 96.2 mph to 94.6) and a demotion to the minors after posting a 5.53 ERA and 1.62 WHIP over the first half. Seemingly healthier, he recorded a 73:18 K:BB ratio with a 3.50 ERA after rejoining the Indians after the All-Star break. Salazar’s ADP doesn’t necessarily represent massive risk, but his upside is through the roof, especially if Cleveland can improve even slightly on last year’s MLB-worst defense

Ryan Braun: Between a PED suspension and injuries, it’s become increasingly tough what to make of Braun. He’s two years removed from being one of the very best players in baseball but is coming off a season in which he had his lowest BA (.266), OBP (.324) and SLG (.453) of his career. He’s approaching 32 years old, has been walking less and has been hitting more groundballs than ever of late. Still, the thumb injury is now apparently fully healed through surgery and good luck speculating on PED ramifications. Braun’s base running diminished in a major way last year, so maybe he’s truly in the decline phase, but as a recent former star, I wouldn’t fault anyone for spending a second round pick on him.

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: March 26, 2015, 7:29 am

More rankings: Top 250 | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | C | OF | SP | RP

[Baseball 2015 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

1B Rankings
Yahoo! Sports
Composite
Brandon
Funston
Andy
Behrens
Scott
Pianowski
Dalton
Del Don
FantasyPros
All Experts
1. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI) 1 1 1 3 view
2. Miguel Cabrera (DET) 2 2 2 1 view
3. Jose Dariel Abreu (CWS) 3 3 3 2 view
4. Jose Bautista (TOR) 5 4 4 4 view
5. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR) 4 6 6 5 view
6. Anthony Rizzo (CHC) 6 5 5 6 view
7. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD) 8 9 7 9 view
8. Buster Posey (SF) 7 7 9 12 view
9. Freddie Freeman (ATL) 12 10 8 7 view
10. Albert Pujols (LAA) 9 8 15 8 view
11. Prince Fielder (TEX) 10 13 12 11 view
12. Joey Votto (CIN) 11 14 13 10 view
13. David Ortiz (BOS) 14 11 11 13 view
14. Todd Frazier (CIN) 15 12 10 14 view
15. Victor Martinez (DET) 13 15 14 16 view
16. Carlos Santana (CLE) 16 18 17 18 view
17. Chris Davis (BAL) 18 25 16 15 view
18. Chris Carter (HOU) 27 17 18 17 view
19. Jonathan Lucroy (MIL) 17 19 20 26 view
20. Matt Adams (STL) 20 16 26 22 view
21. Brandon Belt (SF) 22 20 24 19 view
22. Mark Trumbo (ARI) 19 22 23 23 view
23. Eric Hosmer (KC) 24 27 25 20 view
24. Adam LaRoche (CWS) 23 24 21 30 view
25. Brandon Moss (CLE) 28 23 28 21 view
26. Justin Morneau (COL) 25 30 22 24 view
27. Lucas Duda (NYM) 31 21 19 31 view
28. Brian McCann (NYY) 21 31 29 25 view
29. Mike Napoli (BOS) 26 26 27 29 view
30. Steve Pearce (BAL) 30 36 33 28 view
30. Michael Cuddyer (NYM) 32 33 30 32 view
32. Billy Butler (OAK) 35 29 31 35 view
33. Adam Lind (MIL) 36 32 32 33 view
34. Pedro Alvarez (PIT) 29 37 27 view
34. Joe Mauer (MIN) 34 28 34 38 view
36. Chase Headley (NYY) 37 35 35 36 view
37. Michael Morse (MIA) 38 34 36 37 view
38. Mark Teixeira (NYY) 39 37 39 34 view
39. Kennys Vargas (MIN) 33 39 view
40. Stephen Vogt (OAK) 38 view
40. Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE) 38 view
42. Kendrys Morales (KC) 39 view
43. Ryan Howard (PHI) 40 view
43. C.J. Cron (LAA) 40 view
43. Allen Craig (BOS) 40 view
43. Justin Smoak (TOR) 40 view

FantasyPros aggregates and analyzes fantasy baseball rankings and projections from 100+ sites.

Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: March 25, 2015, 5:26 pm

It's been a swing-and-a-miss type of spring for Javier Baez. (USAT)
While Cubs prospect Kris Bryant has been the toast of fantasy this spring, another touted young Cub, Javier Baez, has been a whiff factory, and has seen his batting average plummet deep below the Mendoza Line - total Baez HRs O/U 21.5?

Brandon –  UNDER. Baez hit nine home runs in 52 games for the Cubs last season, and he's averaged 34.5 HRs in his past two seasons (at various pro levels), so it's easy to believe he'd go over this number with a full season in Chicago. But given his major contact issues, I think Baez is going to get a long Triple-A refresher course to start the season, with the Cubs turning to Arismendy Alcantara at 2B until Baez is deemed ready for a return to Chicago.

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Scott – UNDER. So many holes in his swing, and all of a sudden the Cubs have a deep roster – and a team that thinks it can win now. There's a strong chance Baez will spend part of the year in Iowa. 

Andy – UNDER. The Cubs do not lack middle-infield options these days, plus the team expects to contend for a postseason appearance. Baez pretty clearly needs more developmental time (no shame in that); I'm not confident he'll see enough major league at-bats to reach this total.

After disappointing '14 campaigns, NL West second sackers Aaron Hill and Jedd Gyorko are struggling mightily this spring. If you had to pick one of the following bets - that Hill hits .270 or that Gyorko hits 20 HR - which would you choose?

Scott – Right said JEDD. The pop was missing from Gyorko all year, but at least he batted .260 (with a .347 OBP) in the second half. All is not lost. The Padres seem willing to play him no matter what. And he's almost seven years younger than Hill. 

Andy – I'll say GYORKO, but without much enthusiasm. I don't own shares of either player. This is a relatively modest power total (even in PETCO) for a kid with pop. Gyorko can probably manage to hit an empty 20 bombs for fantasy owners. Hill is a past-his-peak player coming off a poor season; not the profile on which I like to gamble.

Dalton – HILL. He hit .302 in 2012 and .291 in 2013 and hits in an above average park for batting average. Gyorko, meanwhile, hits in a park that's suppressed HR for RHB the second most in MLB over the past two years (and this is after PETCO moved its fences in). 

Young Buc Gregory Polanco was a much-anticipated call-up in '14 but hit just .235 in his 89-game MLB debut. He's having a hard time reaching base again this spring, sitting on an average below .200 through 12 games. Polanco batting average in '15, O/U .2499?

Brandon –   OVER. I'll say he goes just barely over (I'll say .252). But I think the bigger concern for Polanco is that his power didn't show up at the MLB level. He slugged .343 last season, which ranked as the 38th lowest among the 263 players with at least 300 plate appearances in '14. And he has just one extra-base hit this spring. There's roughly 10 outfielders that are going, on average, after Polanco in Yahoo drafts that I would prefer instead of him.

Andy – OVER. Ultimately, I don't think Polanco is going to be a low-average player. He hit .328/.390/.504 at Triple-A last season, and he's not a guy who piles up Ks. I'm still bullish, even if the early stats aren't stellar.

Dalton – OVER. Last year's .272 BABIP feels low considering his 19.1 LD% and 1.58 GB/FB ratio, especially since he was a good base runner. He's still just 23 years old with plenty of room for growth.

First basemen Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard will both play the majority of this season at the age of 35. After barely eclipsing 20 HRs (Teixeira 22; Howard 23) in '14, will either of these two veteran sluggers reach 20 HRs again - O/U 19.5 HR?

Dalton – OVER on both. It's going to come with terrible batting averages and not a lot of runs scored, but these two can still easily reach 20-plus bombs this year. They both hit in very favorable environments and have contracts that will demand regular playing time. 

Andy – I'll take the UNDER on both, anticipating injuries. But even if you think they can remain healthy, topping 20 homers, you do not want to own these guys in mixed leagues of any size.

Scott – I'm with Andy, these are guys I don't want to roster. But I'll push TEIXEIRA over the homer count, simply because the Yanks seem prepared to run him out there every day. The Phillies were the last to realize Howard has little left to offer, but apparently they're finally there. I don't think Howard ends the year in Philadelphia, or in a starting lineup anywhere. 

A's offseason acquisition Brett Lawrie is well into a post-hype career slump. Sitting on a sub-.600 OPS through his first 11 games with Oakland this spring, what are your expectations for his '15 season - O/U 23.5 HR+SB?

Brandon – OVER. This is only asking Lawrie to go 12/12. He's still only 25 years old and was good for 20/20 through his first 168 MLB games (in Toronto). The A's have a well-established track record of turning post-hypers around. And there's nobody breathing down Lawrie's neck at the hot corner in Oakland, so he should have a long leash. I'll say he hits 16 home runs and steals nine bases.

Scott – Generally I like betting on whatever Billy Beane is betting on. But Lawrie's headed to a big park and he had zero steals last year (after two seasons of crummy steal percentages). UNDER is the only answer. 

Andy –  Gross. Don't even talk to me about Lawrie. We're on a break. Pass.

Philly veteran ace Cole Hamels is the hottest commodity on the trade market, but his lousy spring (10.2 IP, 9 ER) could be giving some suitors second thoughts. Will Hamels, no matter who he ends up pitching for, be able to outperform his career ERA average - O/U 3.27 ERA?

Brandon – UNDER. Hamels was way under this mark last year in a tough situation in Philly, and he's been sub-3.27 in four of the past five seasons (with an xFIP of 3.28 or less in four of those campaigns, as well). He's still just 31 years old and coming off a season in which his fastball rate was the best of his career (with one of the better K rates of his career to go with it). Even if he's traded, I like his chances of finishing below a 3.27 ERA.

Scott – OVER. I hope the Red Sox don't put No. 1 starter value on Hamels (granted, Ruben Amaro Jr. never has realistic trade demands); he's more of a No. 2 now. If Hamels sticks in Philly, he's mired in a hitter-friendly park and around a bad team. If he's traded, it's probably to the softball league, the American League. I'm confident Hamels won't be on any Pianow rosters this spring. 

Dalton – OVER. Hamels actually averaged the highest FB velocity of his career last year (92.3 mph) and maintained a dominant 11.9 SwStr%. But there's a lot of mileage on his arm, and he could end up in the American League. Seems safer to go over here. 

Two LA starters with some deeper sleeper buzz heading into '15 (the Dodgers' Brandon McCarthy and the Angels' Matt Shoemaker) have been getting smacked around this spring. Which pitcher would you put your money on to finish with a fantasy line that satisfied all of the following: 10 wins, sub-3.50 ERA, 150 strikeouts?

Brandon –  SHOEMAKER. I can see why there's optimism for McCarthy, but he's never once in his nine MLB seasons been able to hit on this trifecta. Shoemaker would have done it last season (his rookie campaign) if he'd logged roughly 30 more innings (what he would have needed to reach 150 strikeouts at his solid 8.21 K/9 rate). Shoemaker is also coming off a six-inning scorless spring outing, which is at least encouraging.

Andy – McCARTHY, please. Gimme the National League starter in a favorable environment. He went 7-5 after the break last season over 13 starts, posting a 3.01 ERA and striking out nearly a batter per inning (79 Ks, 83.2 IP). I'm in.

Dalton – MCCARTHY. He had a 2.89 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with an 82:13 K:BB ratio over 90.1 innings after getting traded to the Yankees last year despite being a right-hander in that park. There's health risk here, but he now joins the NL West on a team that should win a bunch of games that's vastly improved its defense. 

Justin Verlander's career took a nose-dive in '14 as his K/9 rate fell below 7.0 and his ERA soared to 4.54. As his struggles continue this spring, what kind of season ahead are you expecting from the former ace - O/U (for both of the following) 3.79 ERA and 174.5 strikeouts?

Dalton – UNDER and UNDER. I bought into him bouncing back last year after his strong 2013 postseason, but I'm out on Verlander. His FB velocity has dropped in each of the last five seasons. He's not a top-50 SP on my board. 

Brandon – UNDER/UNDER. Verlander thrived with an average fastball of 95 mph for most of his career, but it dipped to 92.3 mph last season, his lowest mark of his career by a full mile per hour. Given his troubles this spring (tied for the lead with 5 HRs allowed), there's no reason to believe he'll rebound with appreciably better numbers than a season ago.

Scott – UNDER on both. I trust Verlander is smart enough to figure out how to pitch with a less-than-dominant arsenal. He's had an offseason to think about it, tinker with stuff. But I'm thinking something in the 3.55 ERA range, and the strikeouts won't come with a snappy K/9 rate – he's going to hurt you in innings-capped leagues. 

For someone that pushes 100 mph with his fastball, KC rookie Yordano Ventura's 7.82 K/9 rate in his '14 rookie campaign was a bit underwhelming. How many Ks will Ventura, who has allowed 15 hits in his first seven innings this spring, register in '15 - O/U 174.5?

Brandon – UNDER. I think his K rate will move closer to a K per IP this season, but I don't think Ventura is a good bet to log more than 175 innings - he's young, he's small, he's coming off a season in which he logged 30-plus more innings than he had in any other professional season. Be it a DL stint, or the Royals just managing his workload, I think he'll lack the innings necessary to acheive the Over here.

Scott –  UNDER. Small pitchers who throw hard make me extremely nervous. Bet on the big guys. 

Dalton – OVER. There's risk here since he had arm trouble late last year, but he had a dominant 10.3 SwStr%, which suggests his K rate was a fluke. Plus there's obvious room for growth from a 23-year-old who had the highest FB velocity among all starters in MLB last season. 

Windy City hurlers Jeff Samardzija and Jake Arrieta are going, on average, as the 21st and 22nd starting pitchers overall, respectively, in Yahoo drafts. And both are sporting ERAs above 5.00 this spring. Which pitcher is most likely to shake off a subpar March and finish inside the top 20 among fantasy starters in '15?

Scott – I already have shares of both, but ARRIETA is the preference. Here’s what he’s done in 208.1 Chicago innings: 2.81 ERA, 1.022 WHIP, 2.92 FIP. The team has been improved around him. He’s one of the most affordable aces in Draft Season, 2015. 

Andy – BOTH, but for our purposes here I'll say ARRIETA. There was nothing accidental or fluky about his 2014. The stuff is tremendous, and he's pitching in the friendlier league.

Dalton – ARRIETA. I like both but while Samardzija has the longer track record, Arrieta plays in the easier league and park. It's also tough to ignore his 2.53 ERA and 0.99 WHIP last season. 

Author: Brandon Funston
Posted: March 24, 2015, 5:55 pm

If you were under the impression that spring training existed entirely as a showcase for Kris Bryant's ridiculous power and for no other reason ... well, we get it. Bryant's dominance has certainly been the top story from the exhibition season. When a prospect slugs eight homers over just 29 plate appearances, hype is gonna happen. It's unavoidable.

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However, Bryant actually isn't the only player making noise this spring — he's been the noisiest, sure, but he's not alone.

Today, our purpose is to discuss other players who've surged in March, several of whom have earned opening day roster spots. We're diving relatively deep here, just for the record, well beyond the early rounds in standard fantasy drafts. You shouldn't need us to tell you about Mike Trout's 1.459 spring OPS, or Brandon Belt's .333/.467/.722 slash. Those guys are well established. The players mentioned below have much, much more to prove.

But before we hit you with a list March heroes, we need to issue the usual warning: Spring greatness doesn't guarantee a thing. This truth should be obvious, yet it's incredibly easy to be distracted and/or seduced by exhibition numbers. Plenty of this year's Cactus and Grapefruit standouts will soon be exposed as Terrmel Sledge all-stars. (Who is Terrmel Sledge? Spring legend back in '07, more recently a member of the Nippon Ham Fighters.)

You don't want to draft a fantasy roster loaded with sleepers and spring monsters. Instead, you should simply add these names to your pre-draft cheat sheet, or bump them up a tier or two...

Joc Pederson, OF, LAD

Well, OK, you'll probably want to draft this dude. The fantasy buzz surrounding Pederson hasn't quite reached Bryant levels, but it's significant. The 22-year-old center-fielder has been ridiculous during exhibition play, slashing .436/.476/.769 with three homers and two steals. He's pretty clearly earned a starting gig. Pederson's minor league stats were silly at every level, so he doesn't have much left to prove below the big leagues.

Taijuan Walker, spring beast. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)Taijuan Walker, SP, SEA

Walker is battling for a spot in Seattle's rotation, and he's had a nearly flawless spring to this point. The right-hander has delivered 12.0 scoreless frames, allowing only four hits and three walks while striking out 13. Like Pederson, Walker is a 22-year-old with an upper-tier prospect pedigree. He's been excellent at lower levels, and now he's mowing down all challengers in the Cactus League.

"He hasn't given up a run, so I guess that's pretty good," says manager Lloyd McClendon.

Yup, guess so. I've snagged Walker everywhere I can (including the Yahoo Friends & Family league), based on his obvious upside and friendly team/park context.

Micah Johnson, 2B, CWS

Johnson is a burner who appears to have run away with the second base job in Chicago. He's reached base at a .514 clip this spring. Johnson swiped 84 bags in the minors back in 2013, so we're not talking about a player with merely decent speed. Defensively, he might just be a butcher, so that's a small worry. Even in the best-case fantasy scenario, Johnson could be lifted late in games.

Dalton Pompey, OF, TOR

Pompey stole 43 bases in 50 attempts across three minor league levels last season, plus he posted a .392 on-base percentage. He also delivered nine triples and nine homers. Pompey has had a nice-enough spring, hitting .308/.325/.436 with three steals in as many attempts. As of this writing, he looks like the best bet to open the season in center for the Jays.

Dalton Pompey, notable source for cheap speed. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Wilmer Flores, SS, NYM

Flores hit 13 homers in 220 at-bats in the PCL last season, plus another six in 259 at-bats for the Mets. So he offers decent pop for his position, and he's had a quality spring, hitting .342/.350/.605 with two bombs and four doubles. He's currently dealing with a bruised left foot, but he expects to be ready for opening day.

Drew Pomeranz, SP, OAK

In 9.0 innings so far this spring, Pomeranz has whiffed 15 batters, issuing only three walks and allowing just two earned runs. If he can avoid disaster in the week ahead, he'll lock up a rotation spot for Oakland. (We can say the same for Kendall Graveman, another spring star for the A's.) The lefty should give us a decent K-rate, and he'll pitch in a not-so-scary home environment.

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Michael Taylor, OF, WAS

Denard Span is expected to miss the opening month following abdominal surgery, Taylor will get plenty of early-season at-bats. He's a power/speed combo player coming off a terrific season in the high minors (23 HR, 37 SB, .304/.390/.526), and he's posted a 1.088 OPS this spring. Taylor homered twice off Justin Verlander on Sunday, which tells you something about the directions those two players are trending.

Billy Burns, yet another base burglar. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)Billy Burns, OF, OAK

Burns has stolen 128 bases in the minors over the past two seasons, and four bags for the A's this spring. He's fast, this guy. He's also gone 18-for-45 at the plate with three triples, and generally been a source of spring excitement. Whenever Burns gets his shot as an everyday player, fantasy owners will need to act. This is a fun player with legit wheels.

Michael Pineda, SP, NYY

Everyone should be familiar with the quality Pineda's work, as well as his significant injury history. He's been fantastic this spring, striking out a dozen batters over 8.2 innings, allowing just one walk, five hits and two runs. I will never not draft Pineda. Sigh.

Tommy Medica, 1B, SD

This guy is a multi-year spring terror, and he's presumably forced his way into San Diego's early-season plans. Medica has gone 15-for-27 this spring with four homers, 11 RBIs and nine runs-scored. So that's absurd. He's seen time in the outfield for the Pads (although that's a crowded place), and the not-so-intimidating Yonder Alonso stands in his way at first. In a deep league, if you have a need for pop, Medica could get interesting. He hit 18 homers in only 280 at-bats at Double-A back in 2013.

Anthony Gose, OF, DET

Here's yet another speedy outfielder, playing his way into a starting role. Gose has stolen four bags this spring, slashing .341/.400/.585 for Detroit. Gose has teased us before, of course, but he's apparently made a batch of adjustments this spring. We'll see if the tweaks ultimately translate into production in the majors, when the stats actually count. He put up huge stolen base numbers in the minors, twice reaching 70 steals, so he deserves our attention.

Ender Inciarte, OF, ARI

Inciarte was a huge help to many of us in deep-ish leagues last season, as he hit .278 and stole 19 bases in 22 attempts over 118 games with Arizona. He's now fighting for playing time in a crowded-if-not-stellar outfield, slashing .472/.512/.528 over 39 spring plate appearances. Inciarte has added four steals, he's doubled twice and scored six runs. The D-backs probably need to find a trade partner to take an outfielder off their hands.

Marcus Semien, 2B/SS/3B, OAK

Another spring, another sleeper mention for Semien. He arrived in Oakland via the Jeff Samardzija deal, and he's expected to serve as the everyday shortstop. (Currently, he carries 2B/3B-eligibility in Yahoo leagues; he'll add SS status after his fifth start at the position.) Semien has had an excellent spring, hitting .308/.372/.513 with two homers. He delivered a 19/24 power/speed season in the minors back in 2013, so he figures to be plenty useful for fantasy purposes.

Devon Travis, 2B, TOR

Travis appears to be the frontrunner for second base duties in Toronto, and he's definitely a player of interest, fantasy-wise. He's 14-for-38 so far this spring, plus he's a career .323/.388/.487 hitter in the minors. He's delivered back-to-back seasons with double-digit power/speed totals at lower levels, so it's tough not to like the profile. You'll like the home park, too. If you play in a mixed league with a MI spot to fill, Travis belongs on a roster.

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: March 23, 2015, 6:34 pm

This column will concentrate on borderline fantasy options who should get strong consideration to start/bench during the upcoming week based on schedules.

Anthony Morrow: Over the last 10 days, Morrow has averaged 17.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.0 steals and a whopping 4.2 3pt while shooting 56.5 percent from the floor. It’s a six-game span in which he’s been the No. 14 ranked fantasy player despite seeing just 27.7 mpg. Morrow is somehow owned in just 30 percent of Yahoo leagues right now, but he’s going to be a major part of a Thunder team that’s going to miss Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka down the stretch. Oklahoma City plays an NBA-high four games in Week 22 as well.

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Ish Smith: He’s averaged 15.3 points, 7.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.7 blocks and 0.7 3pt while shooting 48.8 percent from the floor over the last three games, when he’s been a top-80 player over the past week. Smith has replaced Isaiah Canaan in the 76ers’ starting lineup yet is still owned in just 16 percent of Yahoo leagues. Philadelphia plays a league-high four games in Week 22, so Smith could be a difference maker in deeper leagues.

Zaza Pachulia: He’s coming off a game in which he pulled down an amazing 18 offensive rebounds and has averaged 13.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 0.8 steals while shooting 50.8 percent from the floor and 88.5 percent on free throws over his past six games (a span in which Pachulia has been a top-50 fantasy player). The Bucks play only three games in Week 22, but if you’re looking for rebounding help, Pachulia is available in more than 80 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Here’s Derrick Williams throwing it down

Here’s John Wall with a sick 360 move

Here are the Rockets in a terrific NBA Jam mashup

The San Antonio Spurs: It’s possible the Spurs make the four seed and get home-court advantage in the first round, but there’s no worry of them missing the playoffs. They are one of only two teams to play just one game in Week 25, and this is an organization well known for being willing to rest its players looking at the long term. In other words, it’s a big risk relying upon any Spurs during the final week of the fantasy playoffs (although to be fair, they do have four scheduled games the prior week).

Elfrid Payton: The rookie has averaged 16.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 9.6 assists. 2.2 steals and 0.4 blocks while shooting 53.2 percent from the field over the past five games. However, Payton hasn’t been a top-70 fantasy player over that span thanks to shooting 40 percent on free throws while committing 3.4 TPG. Don’t get me wrong, his future is bright, but he has some areas of his game that need improvement. Most importantly, for the immediate future, the Magic play just two games in Week 22 (the only team to do so) and are scheduled for an NBA-low 10 games from here on out.

Follow Dalton Del Don on Twitter. 

Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: March 22, 2015, 6:28 am

On March 18, we rounded up the usual suspects and held the 11th annual Yahoo Friends & Family Draft. It's a meandering 350-pick mixed league, a highly-competitive industry throwdown. The Yahoo crew has won six of the titles; outsiders have stolen away four of them. Last year's standings are here

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Have a gander at the draft, then settle in for the usual Q and A (pick out a comfortable chair – it's long). Each pundits was asked a question about his team and a question about the league's perceived hits and misses. We welcome your comments (and predictions) in the comments; maybe this will be the year we have a 14-way tie for last.

One key rule change this season: we're capping transactions at 125. Other key specs (these are unchanged from previous years): we start just one catcher, we use four outfielders and two utility bats, and innings pitched are capped at 1,400. We also use 5x5 scoring, of course. We're reasonable people. 

MEET THE FAMILY

Yahoo – Brandon Funston – @1befun

Previous F&F Finishes: 9th, 13th, 13th, 9th, 7th, 5th, 9th, 7th, 9th, 1st

Q: You spent two premium picks on a couple of big-name sophomores who have 76 games of MLB experience to their names (Mookie Betts, Jorge Soler). Does the glut in Boston concern you, or the inexperience of these two players in general? Talk up your future stars. 

Yes, these two do lack MLB experience, but they both offer laudable pedigrees, and they passed the eye test with flying colors in the limited action they both saw in the majors last season. As it stands, Betts is looking like the leadoff hitter for what could be the highest scoring team in the league (and I think his outstanding spring along with Rusney Castillo's health has pushed Betts into the worry-free playing time zone). And Soler is slated to bat cleanup behind Anthony Rizzo in Chicago. This is a league where a premium is put on "youth with intriguing potential" – for example, George Springer No. 35 overall, Nolan Arenado No. 44 overall, Kolten Wong No. 75 overall. If I wanted Betts and Soler (and I did) I wouldn't have landed them had I waited any longer than I did. 

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret  

I regret the Matt Kemp pick at No. 32. I was queued up for Bryce Harper or Buster Posey, and they both went right before me. I was scrambling and a little panicked because I felt like there was nobody left on the board that really commanded a No. 32 overall value. But if Kemp somehow manages to stay healthy, I don't think I'll be too upset in the end.

Loved landing Jimmy Rollins in Round 10 as the 8th SS off the board. He's averaged 15.5 HRs and 27.5 SBs over the past four seasons, and he's leading off what should be a potent LA Dodgers offense. I'll live with a .250 BA if he gets his usual in the other cats.

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft   

I think Starlin Castro in Round 5 was a reach – it was 4.5 rounds later before another SS was taken, and two of the following three shortstops (Alexei Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins) I liked better than Castro.

He's no longer a sexy pick, but I thought Ian Kinsler at No. 78 overall was a really good value (probably about two rounds later than he should have gone). The guy scored 100 runs and drove in 92 last season, and he showed he's still good for at least 15/15 in the power/speed department. Not bad for the 7th 2B off the board. 

Yahoo – Andy Behrens – @andybehrens

Previous F&F Finishes: 14th, 3rd, 1st, 3rd, 5th, 3rd, 7th, 1st 

Q: I don't know about you, but I hate picking on the wheel. Does Robinson Cano's power did concern you? Are you confident Hanley Ramirez can play 145 games? Are you rolling out TMCB here? Tell us about life at the end of the first round.  

When you pick at the turn, you really can't get locked in on names. That's the path to disappointment, always. I'd expected to find myself choosing from a group that included Cano, Hanley, Rizzo, Scherzer, Jones, Edwin and Altuve. I didn't have a specific plan to target the high-end middle-infielders, no. My focus in this league in every round — given the non-existent bench and the thin free agent pool — was to draft proven, predictable players. So Cano is the least of my worries. We all knew the homer dip was coming in Seattle; he still hits for average and piles up counting stats. It's fair to say that Hanley carries injury risk, but I'm also getting a SS-eligible with a terrific resume, and he'll do his hitting is a scary-good lineup. 

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret 

Taijuan Walker in Round 20 works for me. The talent is obvious, he's had a silly spring and it's tough not to love his situation in Seattle. I suppose the pick I kinda/sorta regret is Adam Wainwright, because it cost me Kris Bryant. (And I realize Bryant may not fit the whole proven-player thing discussed above, but I don't think that kid is gonna flop.) Also, Wainwright clearly has a few red flags attached. 

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft 

I'll say Cody Allen as the reach, using him as a representative of the big bunch of non-top-tier closers who went curiously early. I'm not sure Allen will be so much better than the closers who were selected in Rounds 8-11. Among the many steals, I'll call out Micah Johnson. He's had a wonderful spring (.444/.500/.667), and he has a shot to deliver plenty of steals and runs from a tricky roster spot.

Yahoo – Dalton Del Don – @daltondeldon

Previous F&F Finishes: 5th, 6th, 5th, 5th, 2nd

Q: The first few weeks of Spring Training have belonged to Kris Bryant. Tell us about your expectations (include a projection along with games played). Did you pre-target Bryant, or merely feel the price was right at Pick 91?  

I didn't target Bryant at all, but having said that, I strongly considered him in the previous round. All the chatter since suggests I've reached, which may very well be true because I don't pay any attention to ADP, but this is the universally rated No. 1 prospect in baseball (who's 23 and plays in a park that's increased HRs for RHB by 10 percent over the past three years), who's likely to be brought up after just two weeks, assuming his recent shoulder injury isn't significant. I'm actually surprised this pick was deemed controversial. I expect something like 135 games with 25 homers, 80 runs, 85 RBI and eight steals. 

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret  

I love Matt Harvey at No. 50. Frankly I give him around a 50/50 chance of being more valuable than Stephen Strasburg, whom I took in round two. Of course, I'm more aggressive taking starting pitchers than most. But I expect a huge season from Harvey, who's even more valuable in an innings cap league like this. As for regret, I'm not loving my Mike Fiers pick after he's since revealed he's dealing with "shoulder weakness." 

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft 

Danny Salazar in round 16 was a steal, especially in a league that's essentially K/9. He was a huge disappointment last year, but there's a ton of upside still. As for a reach, while I know most disagree, I just don't see Ian Desmond as a second round pick. I'd have taken teammate Bryce Harper ahead of him.

Yahoo – Scott Pianowski – @scott_pianowski

Previous F&F Finishes: 1st, 2nd, 11th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 6th, 2nd

Q: Some people view Jose Altuve as a second-round pick and Michael Brantley as a third-round pick; you selected them at 12th and 17th overall. Are you worried about having enough power? Isn't it a bad idea to buy after a career year?

Three elements drove those selections: I'm floor-driven with early picks (which incorporates the idea of avoiding hurt players); I didn't want to take two outfielders early on (the position looks deep, so I'll fill it at a gradual pace – reverse position scarcity); and I wanted to get a batting average base early, for two reasons (counting stats are partly about staying engaged for six months, but the ratio categories won't discriminate against teams that check out early). I don't feel Brantley and Altuve need to replicate last year to justify what I paid; just keeping the majority of their 2014 stats will be fine with me. 

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret  

When Chris Davis is discussed, the monster 2013 season is often contrasted against last year's crash landing. I take a different approach: let's note what he did in 2012 (.270-75-33-85). If he can get into that general 2012 neighborhood, I love him with the 73rd overall pick. He also qualifies at both corner positions, a handy tack-on. 

I hate to target players in the early stages of the draft, sucking out so much potential value, but I wanted A.J Pollock (Pick 124) on my team. I'm positive he wouldn't be available close to his Public ADP (203), but I didn't know the right price in this exercise. I'm also concerned I might like him more than the Diamondbacks do. For the love of all that is holy, please don't screw with his at-bats. 

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft 

For some reason I lost track of Anibal Sanchez, who went 229th overall. At that price, he's all potential profit. He would probably be the No.2 pitcher on my staff. I also liked the values on Kennys Vargas (221), Scooter Gennett (225) and Marcus Semien (239), and the Ibanez All-Star outfielders who went for nothing (Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter, some others). 

In a capped-innings world, Jordan Zimmermann doesn't move the needle for me at Pick 49. I'd still want to be collecting offense at that point. Jay Bruce looks pricy in the fifth; I'm fine with a last-year's-bum pick, but I'd want more of a discount on the cost. 

Wall Street Journal – Michael Salfino – @michaelsalfino

Previous F&F Finishes: 12th, 13th, 2nd, 7th, 11th, 12th

Q: You've been telling everyone to embrace Zero-SP and that's what you did here. Tell us how it went. 

I thought zeroSP went great. The key was getting the dominant K minus IP closers. I paid retail for them, for sure. But with Robertson and Betances I project 60 Ks over IP. That means I can give my closers a still-winning 9 Ks/9 and have 60 Ks left over. I view that as raising the K/9 of my starting staff by 1.0/9 for 540 innings. And I think my starters are going to be be better than average in Ks anyway. I realize that K/9 isn’t a category but we have a IP cap and, honestly, when we pay the premium for starters a good chunk of that is K rate, as it should be. Now if only I liked my hitting as much as I paid for it.

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret 

I don’t like my Drew Stubbs pick. I was trying to be agnostic with the hitters and just go by the site projections and he gave me 20 steals and double-digit homers where I needed it. But can I afford to roster a potential 350-AB player? I was pushed into making it because I believe he is a better hitter than Blackmon in that park (was last year, easily) and as good a fielder. But it’s so obvious they’ll platoon there. 

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft  

It was a really good room. There weren’t any stupid picks. But given the one-catcher format, I would not have taken Posey where he went at the top of Round 3. It’s not like Posey is going to be a dynamic hitter irrespective of being a catcher. So I’d rather take whoever is left late.

I like Wilmer Flores in Round 23 because he does have some serious power upside — 20 bombs this year would not shock me. He’s already a league-average hitting shortstop and there is upside from there given that he’s only 23 and 6-foot-3.

Buster Posey, man for all seasons (AP/Eric Risberg)
MEET THE FRIENDS 

Rotoworld – D.J. Short – @djshort 

Previous F&F Finishes: 10th, 1st

Q: Although you landed three big-name players to start, not everyone would take Giancarlo Stanton at 2, or David Price in the second round, or Buster Posey in the third (in a one-catcher league). Give us a glimpse into your War Room thoughts through the opening three picks. 

I overlooked power in this league last year, so when I saw I had the No. 2 pick, I knew I was going for Stanton. He has a legitimate chance to lead the majors in home runs and RBI this year and nobody else can touch his power. Price is coming off the best strikeout rate of his career with elite control. Sure, Comerica Park isn't as pitcher-friendly as his old home, but that I took him over Bumgarner tells you that I don't expect much of a drop-off. The Posey move even caught me by surprise, as I never draft catchers this early, but Adrian Beltre and Ian Desmond were gone and I was staring at some names that I didn't particularly like for this year -- Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Freddie Freeman -- so I decided to take the best player at his position. The bonus is that Posey is multi-position eligible (and so is my second catcher, Stephen Vogt) and versatility comes in handy in this league. I'm sure I'll take some criticism for it, as I know people were waiting on catchers, but if Posey produces like he's capable of, I won't be complaining. 

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Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret  

I think getting Garrett Richards at 170 overall was a steal. All indications are that he should be ready by mid-April, so we're not talking about a long absence. He was an ace prior to his knee injury last year. The top of my staff (with Price, Cole Hamels, and Michael Pineda) could be dominant.

I cringed a bit taking Jenrry Mejia at 167 overall, but all the closers were pretty much off the board at that time and I wanted to make sure I had a second one alongside Trevor Rosenthal. It's not that I think Mejia won't keep the job, necessarily, but in retrospect, I would have been more aggressive to get two top-tier closers than reach in the middle of the draft for a bottom-third closer like Mejia out of desperation. It was just a poor value in the big picture.

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft  

I really loved Carlos Carrasco at 122. It's a small price to pay for someone who could emerge as an ace this season. He was great down the stretch last season and I'm excited to see what he does with a full year in the rotation.

For the reach, it's Matt Kemp (No. 33 overall) for me. Bad home ballpark. Bad recent health history. Sure, he was really good during the second half last year, but this just isn't a combination I want early on in a draft. Better bets to be found among outfielders.

Rotowire – Chris Liss – @chris_liss

Previous F&F Finishes: 3rd, 9th, 3rd, 2nd, 9th, 1st, 6th, 3rd, 1st, 9th

Q: In this land of disappearing offense, you went to the mound with three of your first four picks (Scherzer, Greinke, Kluber). Explain to the world. Does your drafting strategy for offense change if you don't get much of it early? 

I might have taken offense had say George Springer fallen to me in Rd. 3 but I'm just looking for the most stats for my buck so to speak. I don't care which side of the ledger they're on. Thought those SPs will move the needle more than the available hitting which I could find later.

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret  

Maybe I should have taken Chapman over Greinke in this format, but I still like Greinke. I felt Scherzer at no. 11 overall was an easy call in this K/9 format facing the NL East so much. Also liked Seager in Round 5.

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft  

Reaches: Posey (one-catcher league), Rendon (injured) and Jay Bruce struck me as picks I wouldn't even consider at those spots. But who knows – maybe they'll pan out. Oddly, nothing jumps out as a steal. Maybe Kershaw at No. 5 – could argue he should go No. 1. 

Razzball – Rudy Gamble – @rudygamble

Previous F&F Finishes: 6th

Q: You opened with three stat-grabbing outfielders (Andrew McCutchen, Jacoby Ellsbury, Starling Marte), and although they'd be welcome on anyone's team, this is a league that only requires four OFs in total. Explain to the masses. Did you feel pinched elsewhere on your offense?  

I want an OF as one of my UTIL in this league so I am always targeting 5 OF. The McCutchen/Ellsbury/Marte trio helped set a great SB/AVG foundation that gave me some leeway in drafting power bats (Trumbo, Gattis, K. Davis) and 4-category MIs in Walker and Lawrie. I didn't mind the flexibility I gave up by going OF/OF/OF as there really was not an OF that jumped out at me until the 13/14th round with Oswaldo Arcia and Khris Davis still on the board.  

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret 

My favorite pick is Gio Gonzalez in the 11th round with pick #143. Great value especially considering how aggressive the room was on the top half of SPs.

My biggest regret is not picking Bryant instead of Shields (6th) or Trumbo (7th). If I could do it again, I'd pick Bryant instead of Shields, take Carrasco as SP2 with my 8th pick, and pass on Gattis with my 9th pick for Josh Harrison. Or blacklist Trumbo for Bryant and target Brandon Moss instead of Gattis.

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft  

Steal: Corey Kluber and a C-eligible Carlos Santana making it to Round #4. I like both better than about 50% of Round 3 picks.

Reach: Brandon Funston's Matt Kemp with pick #32. He's injury-prone, no longer an SB threat, and is moving to an awful hitter's park. Much prefer Springer or Dickerson there.

Rotographs – Brad Johnson/Paul Singman – @BaseballATeam/@PolarizedRanger

Previous F&F Finishes (Singman): 11th, 6th, 12th, 4th, 4th

Preview Tandem Finish: 2nd 

Q: Some of the Regression Police are dogging J.D. Martinez and Josh Harrison this spring, but you don't seem concerned. Go to bat for your bats.  

Martinez was a favorite of mine entering last season based on some personal scouting by Dan Farnsworth. We had every reason to expect his power outburst. He's not going to hit .315 again, but he should repeat the power numbers. 

As for Harrison, I was almost forced into taking him. Since I selected two starting pitchers in the first three rounds, I needed sources of power and speed. Playing time, contact ability, and speed aren't concerns, but I won't be surprised if he fails to pop 10 home runs. With his position flex, that floor is fine in the ninth round. 

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret  

There are probably better picks on my draft board, but I was pleased to select Juan Lagares at 285th overall. Very few starting players were available, and Lagares appears to have a leadoff job sewn up. He's a potential three category guy at a point in the draft where it's hard to find one category of production.

I nearly grabbed Corey Dickerson over Chris Sale in the third round. If I had, I could have snagged a comparable hurler like Jordan Zimmermann in the fourth round and solved catcher late in the draft. Russell Martin went in the 21st round. While I like Carlos Santana more, I don't like him that much more than Martin. 

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft  

The steal of the draft was Russell Martin at Pick 293. He'll bat second in a potent Blue Jays lineup, which should translate to a ton of runs scored with solid supporting stats.

Reaches were plentiful in the early rounds. I know I'm still sore about Mookie Betts going 60th overall. I thought I was going to be making that reach with the 61st pick. 

Razzball – Grey Albright – @razzball

Previous F&F Finishes: 12th, 12th, 10th, 10th, 3rd

Q: You were one of the last teams to enter the saves chase, but you made up for it by taking a bunch of relievers. Explain the process/strategy, and sell us on this bullpen.  

If I may, an anecdote. I went to the supermarket yesterday and bought toilet paper. It cost $18. Ten years ago, you could buy a car for $18. Now you get four-ply TP. You know what that toilet paper looks like in three months?  That's what expensive closers look like too. So, I bought two-ply $8 toilet paper closers named Koji Uehara, Brett Cecil and Luke Gregerson.

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret  

I love Kolten Wong this year. But what I find weird (weird as in I don't know what the rest of the world is thinking) is Kolten Wong hit 12 homers and stole 20 bases last year. If Pedroia did that last year, he'd be a third round pick. Only Wong is 24 years old and about to explode. My one regret is my shortstop (Wilmer Flores) and MI (Jonathan Schoop) look like hot garbage that is left in the trunk of a car on the surface of the sun.  

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft  

There were so many great picks!  Oh, on someone else's team.  Hmm … Marcus Semien went in the 8th round of my Tout Wars draft (which was an awful pick), but I do like him and Behrens got him in the 18th, which is nice value. The reach of the draft is Victor Martinez in the 4th round by Rudy Gamble.  I guess he expects him to hit 30 homers again.  Ow, I just hurt myself by rolling my eyes too histrionically.  

Rotowire – Jeff Erickson – @jeff_erickson

Previous F&F Finishes: 7th, 4th, 4th, 1st, 13th, 11th, 12th, 8th, 10th

Q: Only three of your projected starters (Yelich, Martin, Escobar) offer much stolen-base potential. Tell us something good about one of your rabbits, and/or discuss your view of Speed 2015. 

I'd add Pagan among the potential stolen base guys, but yeah, I did feel as if I were lacking speed all throughout the draft. I also think that Rougned Odor might have some hidden SB potential now that he's more established as a big league player. Clearly Martin is pretty important to me  –  if he sticks at the top of the order, there's a higher bags upside. I just missed out on Ben Revere before that pick – he would have been a better fit.

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret  

I thought I'd regret Alcides Escobar where I took him  –  it was an overdraft  – but as we established, I'm thirsting for bags. So the pick I sort of regret is Javier Baez  – he very well could be sent down by May, but I was trolling for upside. I was pretty happy to get Johnny Cueto when I did  – nobody believes he's for real.

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft 

Steal: Alex Rios in the 14th by Salfino. He's going to run a lot this year. Bust: Trevor Rosenthal in the 8th. I think he's going to implode this year. Glen Perkins, too.

Rotoworld – Ryan Boyer – @ryanpboyer

Previous F&F Finishes: 4th, 10th

Q: You went with a budget starting staff, taking Julio Teheran with Pick 112 but otherwise ignoring the position for 13 rounds. Stump for one of your cheap AL pitchers (Jesse Hahn, Trevor Bauer, T.J. House).

I'm obviously a fan of all three, but let's talk about Hahn. It's just hard for me to believe he won't be successful as long as he stays on the field. Hahn never posted an ERA higher than 2.77 in any season in the minors and struck out a batter per frame. He then went on to hold a 3.07 ERA with a whiff per inning last year with the Padres and this winter got traded from one extreme pitcher's park to another. Hahn will be great if he's healthy.

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret  

I've been buying lots of Ryan Braun stock in drafts. The reports on his thumb are encouraging, and there's just too much five-category upside to pass on at the end of the second round.

I like Brian McCann just fine this year, but that pick was a regret in hindsight when I see perfectly capable catchers getting drafted multiple rounds later.

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft  

I'm not sure why Anibal Sanchez kept getting passed over, but the Singman-Johnson duo got a steal in the 17th round. 

Jose Altuve had a special 2014 season, but the first round is too early for my taste. He finished outside the 120 players in 2013.

Baseball Prospectus – Mike Gianella – @mikegianella

First Year in F&F

Q: No one likes Colorado hitters more than me, but a wide range of outcomes are tied to Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Charlie Blackmon. Tell us your expectations, and talk about your risk-management thoughts with early picks. 

A lot of owners in mixed leagues use a risk/reward strategy on the back end of their drafts. I prefer taking solid guys late so that I can take risks on guys like Tulo/Cargo. The hitter-heavy strategy also offers me some leeway on risk.

Q: Give us a pick to promote and a pick of regret  

No one believes in Blackmon but Colorado plays for him and the speed isn't going anywhere. Had I known I was light on saves I would have avoided Kenley Jansen.

Q: Identify a steal and reach of the draft  

Kris Bryant has a bright future but he is going to have his struggles this year. Sonny Gray was a steal where he went in the draft. Still kicking myself for that one.

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: March 21, 2015, 4:37 pm

Closers are really a fantasy nuisance.

You're a fool if you draft them early — or if you draft too many of them — because we all know several new sources of saves will emerge during the season. Happens every year. Something like one-third of closing jobs will flip at some point.

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But of course if you don't draft any closers — or if you limit yourself to just one — then you'll spend the next six months of your life targeting saves on the wire. And for most of us, that's not much fun. Nor is it entirely practical if you're a normal human, instead of a fantasy professional.

In mixed leagues of standard size/shape, my recommendation is that you snag two or three of the late-round closers on draft day, so as to avoid the in-season stress of the saves chase. Try to do your shopping in the Cishek-Benoit bin, if possible. You should really be able to acquire saves easily enough without snagging one of the luxury closers. However, if you're playing in an A.L. or N.L.-only league, or a deep and competitive mixer, then the upper-tier bullpen arms have quite a bit more appeal. Depending on the quality of your league, you might reasonably decide it's worth paying a small premium for a closer who offers job security and stellar ratios.

Most of you are simply here for the closer grid, so let's get right to it. Today, we're breaking with the standard Position Primer format, scrapping the tiers. Instead, we're basically giving you a user's guide to MLB bullpens. Below you'll find a team-by-team snapshot of every closing situation. Each team's presumptive finisher is listed, with the primary handcuffs and holds options in parentheses. Key injuries are noted as well.

If you desperately need reliever ranks, we've got you covered right here.

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American League
Baltimore Orioles – Zach Britton (D. O'Day, T. Hunter)
Boston Red Sox – Koji Uehara (J. Tazawa, E. Mujica)
Chicago White Sox – David Robertson (J. Petricka, Z. Duke)
Cleveland Indians – Cody Allen (B. Shaw)
Detroit Tigers – Joe Nathan (J. Soria, B. Rondon)
Houston Astros – Luke Gregerson (C. Qualls, P. Neshek)
Kansas City Royals – Greg Holland (W. Davis, K. Herrera)
Los Angeles Angels – Huston Street (J. Smith)
Minnesota Twins – Glen Perkins (C. Fien, B. Duensing)
New York Yankees – Dellin Betances (A. Miller, D. Carpenter)
Oakland Athletics – Tyler Clippard (R. Cook); Sean Doolittle out until May (shoulder)
Seattle Mariners – Fernando Rodney (Y. Medina, D. Farquhar)
Tampa Bay Rays – Brad Boxberger (E. Frieri, K. Jepsen); Jake McGee out until April/May (elbow)
Texas Rangers – Neftali Feliz (S. Tolleson, T. Scheppers)
Toronto Blue Jays – Brett Cecil (A. Loup, S. Delabar, M. Estrada)

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National League
Arizona Diamondbacks – Addison Reed (B. Ziegler)
Atlanta Braves – Craig Kimbrel (J. Grilli, J. Russell)
Chicago Cubs – Hector Rondon (P. Strop, N. Ramirez)
Cincinnati Reds – Aroldis Chapman (J. Diaz, S. LeCure, A. Cingrani)
Colorado Rockies – LaTroy Hawkins (A. Ottavino, J. Axford, R. Brothers)
Los Angeles Dodgers – Joel Peralta (JP Howell); Kenley Jansen out until May (foot)
Miami Marlins – Steve Cishek (M. Dunn, AJ Ramos)
Milwaukee Brewers – Francisco Rodriguez (J. Broxton)
New York Mets – Jenrry Mejia (J. Familia, V. Black); Bobby Parnell out until May (elbow)
Philadelphia Phillies – Jonathan Papelbon (K. Giles, J. Diekman)
Pittsburgh Pirates – Mark Melancon (T. Watson, A. Bastardo)
St. Louis Cardinals – Trevor Rosenthal (J. Walden, S. Maness)
San Diego Padres – Joaquin Benoit (K. Quackenbush, N. Vincent, D. Thayer)
San Francisco Giants – Santiago Casilla (S. Romo, J. Machi, J. Affeldt)
Washington Nationals – Drew Storen (C. Janssen, A. Barrett)

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: March 18, 2015, 4:25 pm

STOCK UP

Enes Kanter: Over the last five games, he’s averaged 19.8 points, 12.6 rebounds and 0.8 steals while shooting 53.4 percent from the field and 80.8 percent from the line, a span in which he’s been a top-50 fantasy player. The near seven-foot Kanter continues to disappoint as a shot blocker, but he’s flourished since joining Oklahoma City and should only put up bigger numbers with Serge Ibaka undergoing knee surgery. Even when Kevin Durant returns, Kanter is going to be a major part of the Thunder’s offense, and he’s still available in more than 25 percent of Yahoo leagues. Steven Adams also gets a fantasy boost with the Ibaka injury, as he’s now starting and has gotten 14.5 ppg and 9.5 rpg over the past two contests.

Nicolas Batum: Playing through a wrist injury, Batum was one of the more disappointing fantasy players over the first half of the season. But he must be feeling healthier as his shooting slump as come to an end, as Batum has been a top-15 fantasy player over the last month, when he’s shot 49.1 percent from the field (his season FG% still sits at an ugly 40.1, which reveals just how cold he was before the recent hot streak). And while Wesley Matthews’ season-ending Achilles injury seemingly benefitted Arron Afflalo the most, it sure hasn’t hurt Batum’s production either, as he’s averaged 9.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.0 3pt since Matthews went down.

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Marcin Gortat: Another player who’s bounced back from a slow first half of the season, Gortat has averaged 14.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 64.3 percent from the floor over the past month, a 13-game stretch in which he’s been a top-10 fantasy asset. Over the last two weeks, Gortat is shooting a ridiculous 68.9 percent from the field, as no player has helped in FG% more over that span (the second most impactful has been Tony Parker, who’s seemingly coming out of his own season long slump of late).

Avery Bradley: He’s averaged 15.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.4 3pt over the last five games and has been a top-50 player over the past month. Bradley is a shaky shooter and doesn’t help in dimes at all for a guard, but at least he limits turnovers, which is especially impressive while playing for a Boston team that has the sixth-highest PACE in the NBA. With Isaiah Thomas out at least the next two games, Bradley is a nice short-term add even in shallow formats, and he’s available in more than 35 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Brandan Wright: He had 18 points and 11 boards in 37-plus minutes of playing time during Sunday’s win over the Knicks. If Alex Len’s ankle injury proves serious, Wright would be a must add. He’s been the No. 16 ranked fantasy player on a per-36 minute basis this season.

Kyrie Irving had a pretty good game against the Spurs

Here’s DeAndre Jordan making his first career three-pointer

A couple of weeks back I mocked Alexey Shved for whatever this was. But here’s some props to him for this shot

STOCK DOWN

Andrew Wiggins: He sure looks like a future star and the heavy favorite to win Rookie of the Year (although in reality Nerlens Noel has probably been more valuable), but it’s worth noting Wiggins hasn’t been a top-150 fantasy player over the past month. It’s gotten worse of late, as maybe some fatigue has set in, as Wiggins has been the No. 218 ranked player over the past two weeks, when he’s shot 41.5 percent from the field. There’s plenty of optimism for his future (it sure seems like Minnesota won the Kevin Love trade), but Wiggins is the No. 274 ranked player on a per-36 minute basis this season, so volume has had a lot to do with his production during his rookie campaign. There’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Paul George: If you own a top seed in a H2H league, the idea of stashing George seemingly makes sense. But recent reports suggest he’s nowhere close to returning, and even with the Pacers currently holding the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference (despite a 30-36 record), there’s little reason to push the team’s franchise player. Even if George miraculously returns sooner than expected, it’s not like he’s going to see many minutes (or be close to his past self). He’s not worth owning in any redraft leagues.

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Kemba Walker: He’s likely just shaking off some rust coming off an injury and will rebound soon enough, but Walker has shot an ugly 22.6 percent (7-of-31) from the floor over three games since coming back from a torn meniscus (no player has been a bigger detriment to FG% over the past two weeks). Mo Williams has played well of late, and Walker is still coming off the bench, so he’s a shaky start right now approaching fantasy crunch time.

Nikola Pekovic: He’s been a top-100 player in each of the past three seasons, including top-70 in the last two. But Pekovic is currently No. 142, including being the No. 227 ranked player over the past month, when he’s shot 35.5 percent from the field. It’s been a disastrous season for Pekovic, who may now be shut down with an ankle injury. Go pick up Justin Hamilton.

John Henson: There’s potential here, but Henson has been given only 19.5 mpg over the past month, when he’s shot 52.2 percent from the line. The Bucks have surprised this year and currently own the No. 6 seed, but it’s still discouraging the promising Henson (he’s been a top-70 player this year on a per-36 minute basis) is seeing such limited minutes as a 24-year-old on a .500ish team in the Eastern Conference.

Follow Dalton Del Don on Twitter

Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: March 17, 2015, 6:16 am

On Monday afternoon, Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant had a miserable day at the plate by his recent standards, merely going 1-for-3 with an opposite field double off the wall.

Normally, he does stuff like this and this and this.

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Bryant is now nine games into his second spring with the Cubs and he's 10-for-23 with two doubles, six homers and an OPS of 1.804. No other ballplayer on any team has hit more than three spring home runs.

By now, you're all no doubt familiar with Bryant's resume. He led all minor league players in homers last season, hitting 43 bombs across two levels, stealing 15 bags and slashing .325/.438/.661. He was the game's top amateur player in 2013, then the minor league player of the year in 2014. Bryant may not be a flawless prospect — he struck out 162 times last year — but the Cubs have yet to find a level at which he struggles.

As Chris Cwik discussed on Friday, Chicago now encounters a tough-but-awesome problem regarding Bryant's debut — it's the usual service-time game, really. Delaying his arrival by two weeks gains the team another season of control of the player; delaying his debut by two excruciating months could avoid super-two status. Obviously no reasonable analyst would argue that Bryant isn't the best option to start for the Cubs at third on opening day. However, no reasonable baseball executive would be eager to swap two weeks of Bryant in 2015 for a full year of his services down the road, in what should be his prime.

For fantasy investors, the dilemma is this: If you draft Bryant in March, how long will he sit on your bench as a useless decoration? Does he have a shot at the opening day roster, or will he be a mid-April arrival, following the George Spring protocol? Or will he seriously be shipped to Iowa until early-June?

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Considering the team's expectations for the current season, it seems, to me, unlikely that the Cubs will stash Bryant for months. Fans would riot; winnable games would be lost. My current expectation is that Bryant will reach the majors shortly after tax day, roughly 10 or 12 games into Chicago's season. Thus, I've ranked him as if we'll get nearly a full season of production in 2015. As of this writing, Bryant is tenth on my board at third, which makes me extremely bullish relative to the industry (though not quite as bullish as Del Don).

We can say with confidence that whenever Bryant arrives, he'll be a heart-of-the-order hitter for the Cubs. It hardly seems crazy to hope for something like a 75-28-90-10-.268 rookie season. Bryant still offers profit potential at his current Yahoo ADP (131.6), despite the hype. Feel free to offer a full-season projection in comments, as well as an ETA. If you're buying, let's hear it. Drafting and dealing? Please discuss.

This is a conversation, gamers, not a monologue...

Related MLB video:

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: March 17, 2015, 3:35 am

Whatever statistical lines of demarcation you've used in the past to define good, bad and ordinary pitching performances, it's well past time for an update. We've hammered away at this general theme in earlier Position Primers, you might have noticed. The run-scoring environment has changed substantially in recent seasons, so fantasy managers need to adapt.

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Back in 2004, for example, the Atlanta Braves led all major league teams in ERA at 3.74. Last year, the average MLB pitching staff posted a 3.74 ERA. Seventeen teams finished below that number, and the average National League ERA was 3.66.

Among all individual pitchers who tossed more than 140.0 innings in '04, only 19 posted ERAs below 3.50. Last season, 26 pitchers delivered sub-3.00 ERAs with over 140 frames of work, and 48 hurlers were below 3.50.

So yeah, times have changed. The strike-zone is clearly expanding while hitters are quite possibly shrinking. Thus, many of the statistical plateaus that seemed significant a decade ago are now completely uninteresting.

As Michael Salfino mentioned in his latest Pitching By the Numbers, "the most powerful pitching stat is some variation of strikeouts and walks." And this isn't some crackpot Salfino-ish take, either; it's actually a widely accepted principle. If you're looking for a shorthand method to identify the game's most effective arms, focus on defense-independent outs and defense-independent base-runners allowed. It's a fairly simple, sensible idea.

Over time, we've settled on the notion that any pitcher with a K-to-BB ratio of 3.0 or better merits serious attention in fantasy leagues. It's an imperfect standard, certainly, because ... well, because of guys like Joe Blanton and Ricky Nolasco. But still, it's been a useful guide over the years. These days, however, a whole big mess of starters are finishing with K/BB ratios north of 3.0. Here's a quick look at the total number of pitchers each year who've topped that mark since 2000 (minimum 140.0 IP):

2014 – 51
2013 – 44
2012 – 38
2011 – 39
2010 – 26
2009 – 26
2008 – 24
2007 – 21
2006 – 20
2005 – 30
2004 – 17
2003 – 20
2002 – 14
2001 – 17
2000 – 13

This man had as many wins as walks (16) last year. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)That's silly, right?

Again, the previous standard of excellence no longer seems as impressive. Last year, 112 major league pitchers threw at least 140.0 innings, and 51 of them produced K-to-BB ratios above 3.0. A dozen pitchers finished above 5.0 (including 2015 draft value Brandon McCarthy), with another 10 topping 4.0. Phil Hughes led MLB with a ridiculous 11.63 K/BB. (Hughes' current Yahoo average draft position is a similarly ridiculous 146.3, suggesting that many of you were forever scarred by the NYY years.)

Revise your old targets, friends. This will serve as your final warning. Just as you shouldn't bring a 2004 preview magazine to a 2015 draft — you'd leave the room with Esteban Loaiza and both Giles brothers — you can't bring old performance standards to today's game.

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Position averages for the top-48 starting pitchers, last three years

SP1 — 16.6 W, 220.7 K, 2.52 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
SP2 — 12.3 W, 176.3 K, 2.81 ERA, 1.09 WHIP
SP3 — 12.4 W, 162.2 K, 3.06 ERA, 1.16 WHIP
SP4 — 12.8 W, 140.0 K, 3.31 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

2013, SP1 — 14.5 W, 211.8 K, 2.70 ERA, 1.02 WHIP
2013, SP2 — 13.1 W, 163.0 K, 2.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
2013, SP3 — 12.0 W, 164.9 K, 3.31 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
2013, SP4 — 11.8 W, 154.0 K, 3.47 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

2012, SP1 — 17.2 W, 189.8 K, 2.73 ERA, 1.07 WHIP
2012, SP2 — 13.6 W, 190.1 K, 3.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
2012, SP3 — 13.7 W, 162.8 K, 3.45 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
2012, SP4 — 11.7 W, 133.3 K, 3.60 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

Note: We’re treating the starters as four positions, with “SP1” representing the 12 highest-ranked players. The pitchers ranked 13-24 are SP2s, pitchers 25-36 are SP3s, etc.

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STARTING PITCHER TIERS
TIER ONE

Clayton Kershaw
Felix Hernandez
Max Scherzer

TIER TWO

Stephen Strasburg
Madison Bumgarner
Chris Sale
David Price
Corey Kluber
Zack Greinke

TIER THREE

Cole Hamels
Jordan Zimmermann
Jon Lester
Johnny Cueto
Adam Wainwright
Matt Harvey
Alex Cobb
Julio Teheran
Hisashi Iwakuma
Gerrit Cole
Jake Arrieta
James Shields
Alex Wood
Jeff Samardzija
Sonny Gray
Tyson Ross
Jacob deGrom
Phil Hughes
Gio Gonzalez

Tyson Ross, near-ace available in Round 11. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TIER FOUR

Carlos Carrasco
Anibal Sanchez
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Garrett Richards
Andrew Cashner
Masahiro Tanaka
Chris Archer
Mat Latos
Doug Fister
Lance Lynn
Yordano Ventura
Ian Kennedy
Michael Wacha
Homer Bailey
Collin McHugh
Justin Verlander

TIER FIVE

Mike Fiers
Drew Smyly
Francisco Liriano
Jered Weaver
Jose Quintana
Jose Fernandez
Jake Odorizzi
Scott Kazmir
Brandon McCarthy
Matt Shoemaker
Ervin Santana
Kyle Lohse
Matt Cain
John Lackey
Michael Pineda
James Paxton
Danny Salazar
Shelby Miller

TIER SIX

Rick Porcello
Jenrry Mejia
Drew Hutchison
Wily Peralta
RA Dickey
Tanner Roark
Matt Garza
Dallas Keuchel
AJ Burnett
Chris Tillman
Jesse Hahn
Jason Hammel
Derek Holland
Henderson Alvarez
Danny Duffy
Mike Minor
Yusmeiro Petit
Kevin Gausman
Mike Leake
Carlos Martinez
Taijuan Walker
CC Sabathia
Trevor Bauer
Jonathon Niese
Wei-Yin Chen
Andrew Heaney
Nathan Eovaldi
Anthony Cingrani
Yovani Gallardo
Tim Hudson
Clay Buchholz
Bartolo Colon
Dan Haren
Noah Syndergaard
Archie Bradley

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: March 17, 2015, 2:19 am

Boston slugger David Ortiz heads into his age 39 season having averaged 30 home runs over the past five seasons. Can Big Papi hit that mark in '15 - O/U 29.5 HRs?

Brandon –  UNDER. I think Boston's depth is going to work against him this season. The Red Sox will have plenty of solid options to give Ortiz extra days off, and I'd expect (after averaging right at 140 games the past two seasons) that he might finish in the 125-135 games played range when all is said and done this season. I'll put him down for 27-28 home runs.

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Scott – OVER, though it's a shame he's stuck in a park that isn't friendly for left-handed pull power. He's clubbed 42 road homers the last two years. But Ortiz's overall scan is surprisingly stable through his mid-30s, so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt for 2015.

Dalton – UNDER. I love Big Papi, but betting on anyone to reach 30 homers isn’t exactly safe, let alone someone approaching 40 years old who plays in a park that’s decreased HR for LHB by 28 percent over the past three years, which is the third-most in MLB. 

Torii Hunter has finished as a top 100 fantasy commodity in each of his past nine seasons. Back with the team he started his career with (Twins), can the 39-year-old once again outproduce his ADP (178) - O/U top 124.9 fantasy player in '15?

Brandon –  OVER. I don't think Hunter will land in the top 125, but I do think he'll finish in the top 150, which would make him, once again, a late-round bargain. The move to Detroit hurts, but Minnesota only scored 42 less runs than the Tigers last year, so the environment hit may not be so drastic, and he'll be hitting in the heart of the order, which should help keep the RBI/Runs healthy. Pablo Sandoval finished No. 142 overall in the '14 Y! game with a line of .279/16/73/68/0. I think that's a decent projection for Hunter this season.

Scott – I have to say OVER, I'm fading Hunter. Give the old guy credit: he's shown us that walk rate doesn't always have much of a say in batting average. The free passes keep tumbling down, but he's also increasing his contact rate over the past two years. But he's no longer a factor on the bases and he hasn't seen an 18-homer season since 2011. And it's not like I'm married to Hunter keeping a plus average. 

Dalton – OVER. Last year’s .765 OPS tied for his lowest since 2003, and he’ll turn 40 this season. I’m all for drafting boring veterans, but Hunter is way too high in this case (I have him about 50 spots lower than 125). 

After 15 seasons in Philly, 36-year-old shortstop Jimmy Rollins has landed with the Dodgers for '15. The power/speed threat has averaged 43 combined HR+SB over the past four seasons. Leading off in LA, can he push that number once again - O/U 34.5 HR+SB?

Brandon –   OVER. The Dodgers ran more than any other NL team last season, with former leadoff hitter Dee Gordon being a major reason for the large number of steal attempts. In fact, Gordon stole 56 bases out of the leadoff spot, a role Rollins will inherit. With the likelihood that Rollins steals 25-30 bases, I think he shouldn't have too much trouble eclipsing this number (assuming reasonable health).

Scott – OVER is the lean, as it seems like Rollins has kept himself in excellent shape and still wants to run. A lot of 30-somethings decide the running game isn't worth the wear and tear on the body, but Rollins apparently hasn't hit that point yet. 

Dalton – OVER. He had 45 last year in just 138 games. Rollins will hit atop a Dodgers lineup that will turn over quite a bit in 2015. Only an injury will prevent him from reaching this mark. 

Rank these veteran closers in order of expected saves in '15: Fernando Rodney (age 37), Francisco Rodriguez (33), Jonathan Papelbon (34), Joe Nathan (40), Koji Uehara (39), Joaquin Benoit (37), LaTroy Hawkins (42)?

Brandon–  1) Rodney 2) Benoit 3) Uehara 4) K-Rod 5) Papelbon 6) Hawkins 7) Nathan

Dalton – 1) Rodney 2) Uehara 3) Benoit 4) Papelbon 5) K-Rod 6) Hawkins 7) Nathan

Scott – When it comes to saves, I'm more handicapping health and job security than I am raw abilty. It's the one classic fantasy example of roles potentially obscuring skills, not the other way around: 1) Rodney, 2) Uehara 3) Papelbon 4) K-Rod 5) Benoit 6) Nathan 7) Hawkins. 

Cubs prospect Kris Bryant's prodigious power has been on display this spring. (USAT)

Cubs rookie Kris Bryant is currently leading all spring training hitters in home runs. Expected to inhabit the hot corner in Chicago early in the '15 season, how big of an impact do you expect the power-packed prospect to make - O/U 22.5 HRs?

Brandon – OVER. Given his ridiculous spring (6 HRs through March 15) and equally ridiculous minor league power numbers, it's hard to temper enthusiasm for Bryant. But, he's likely to at least miss the first couple weeks of the season (for service time reasons), and there is that nearly 30% K rate in 70 games at Triple-A last season to think about - the potential exists for a confidence-seeking trip back the minors at some point. Still, even if he only gets 115-120 games in with the Cubs in '15, I think that's enough to get him to at least 23 bombs.

Scott – OVER, perhaps well over. This looks like another Longoria case, where a team feels it's ready to contend and will find a reasonable compromise. 

Dalton – OVER. He could be up with the Cubs as soon as a couple of weeks into the season. Strikeouts may hurt his BA, but the power potential is very real. 

Cuba is becoming a pipeline for quality fantasy talent (see Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Aroldis Chapman, et al). Among these '15 Cuban rookies  - Jorge Soler, Yasmany Tomas, Rusney Castillo - rank the players in terms of expected combined HR+SB (and give us a HR+SB projection for each player)

Brandon – 1) Soler (26/7) 2) Castillo (11/20) 3) Tomas (20/7)

Scott –  Soler is my preference here and it's not close. Tomas's defense looks like a problem and the Red Sox have outfielders coming out of their ears (Castillo is also dinged at the moment). Soler: 25 homers, five steals; Tomas 15 homers, nine steals; Castillo 13 homers, 13 steals. 

Dalton – 1) Soler (28/4) 2) Castillo (10/19) 3) Tomas (24/4)

ChiSox lefty prospect Carlos Rodon has drawn comparisons to teammate Chris Sale. The former NC State product is expected to open the season in the minors, but should push for a promotion at some point during the season. The question is how soon he'll reach the majors - O/U 74.9 innings pitched?

Brandon – OVER. This is wishful thinking, as I already paid $7 for him in the AL LABR draft back in early March. But when you hope to contend in the AL Central and you have John Danks and Hector Noesi slated as your No. 4 and No. 5 starters, it's hard to fathom keeping a talent like Rodon down on the farm once service time dates have been cleared.

Scott – OVER. The White Sox know the division is up for grabs and like their cross-town counterparts, they figure to be aggressive with promotions. 

Dalton – OVER. He may not open the season in the rotation, but it’s only a matter of time before he joins it. ZiPS projects 110 innings, for what it’s worth.

Rookie outfielders Joc Pederson (LAD) and Steven Souza (TB) were among the top power/speed combos at the Triple-A level last season. With both expected to start on opening day for their repsective MLB clubs, which will top 39.5 combined HR+SB - Pederson, Souza, both or neither (and give a projection for both)?

Brandon –  NEITHER. I'll take Souza over Pederson because he's a few years older and will probably have a longer leash in Tampa Bay than Pederson's in LA if the whiff rates start reaching alarming levels. I'll go 16/19 for Souza and 17/16 for Pederson.

Dalton – NEITHER. I actually expect both to come close to this number, but a combo of 40 is asking a lot, especially from rookies. I have Souza ranked ever so slightly higher between the two. 

Scott –  NEITHER. I prefer Souza to Pederson because I feel safer about his playing time (Don Mattingly is the genius who benched Yasiel Puig in an elimination game). Souza hits 19 homers and steals 17 bases; put JP down for 15-13. 

Author: Brandon Funston
Posted: March 16, 2015, 8:12 pm

This column will concentrate on borderline fantasy options who should get strong consideration to start/bench during the upcoming week based on schedules.

Jusuf Nurkic: He returned to action Saturday after missing more than two weeks with an ankle injury, and while he saw less than 10 minutes while coming off the bench, Nurkic is a big part of the future of a Denver team devoid of talent. He’s averaged 8.4 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.4 blocks over 22 starts despite seeing just 22:56 mpg this season. Over the last three months, Nurkic has been the No. 27 fantasy player on a per-36 minute basis (when he got 1.8 spg and 2.5 bpg), so he could be a monster down the stretch if given a chance, which isn’t out of the question considering new Nuggets coach Melvin Hunt recently said he’s going to “unleash him.” Nurkic is owned in just 21 percent of Yahoo leagues.

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Matt Barnes: He’s averaged 16.3 points, 2.0 steals, 0.7 blocks and a whopping 4.0 threes while shooting 50.0 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the line over the past three games. Barnes has been given 33.9 mpg while starting, a role in which he may soon lose with Blake Griffin’s imminent return. However, Jamaal Crawford’s calf injury should keep him sidelined for a while, so Barnes should continue to see increased minutes on a Clippers team that owns the NBA’s best Offensive Efficiency (109.4) this season. He’s owned in fewer than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues despite being a top-35 fantasy player over the past week.

Alexey Shved: Over the last five games, he’s averaged 16.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks and 2.2 3pt. Shved is locked into a starting role on a Knicks team that plays an NBA-high four games in Week 21. He’s owned in fewer than 30 percent of Yahoo leagues, is looking at a lot more playing time down the stretch and has been the No. 37 fantasy player on a per-36 minute basis this year.

Rodney Hood: He’s averaged 16.3 points, 1.7 steals and 2.7 3pt while committing just 0.3 tpg in 30.0 mpg over the past three games, with the last two featuring him joining Utah’s starting lineup (fun fact: over this three-game span, Hood has held the same fantasy value as Russell Westbrook in 9-cat leagues, despite the latter getting 26.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 9.5 apg, 2.0 spg and 3.0 3pt). The Jazz sport the NBA’s lowest PACE but at least play a league-high four games in Week 21. Hood is owned in less than four percent of Yahoo leagues.

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Cleveland Cavaliers/Orlando Magic: While both of these teams play four games in Week 21, it’s worth pointing out they follow that with an NBA-low 10 games over the final four weeks of the season (the only two teams to play that few). Moreover, each team has little incentive to win, assuming the Cavs lock up the No. 2 seed soon enough. In other words, it’s not ideal to be relying upon players from these two squads during the fantasy playoffs. Of course, this doesn't mean I'm suggesting you bench Kyrie Irving

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: March 15, 2015, 8:13 am

I wish every fantasy league were run auction style; that’s been my story for 20 years and I’m sticking to it. But with a better format comes more responsibility; auctions are far more challenging than basic snake drafts, and they open up different levels of strategy. Let’s discuss a few key elements here.

The best fantasy auction players are flexible in all areas

Show me someone rigid with his prices or his strategy and I’ll show you someone who’s probably a yearly donator. You need to be willing to adjust to the nuance of the auction as it unfolds: the unexpected flow, the unique nature of the current assignment. Be flexible with your strategy, and for the love of all that’s holy, please be flexible with your prices. Just because it says $20 on your page in black ink doesn’t mean you can’t bid well into the 20s in the right scenario. Everything is relative. 

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Beware of the “last good thing” at a position or in a category class

All it takes is two owners with the same silly feeling on a player and voila, bidding war. And an up-the-ladder bidding war is just about guaranteed when we’re talking about the last valuable piece of something - the last good shortstop, the last power outfielder, the last clear closer, etc. Hopefully you'll be filled in these pockets before they show themselves at the table; if so, sit back and enjoy. If you're stuck in the must-get mode for the last good thing, at least understand the inflation at play and revalue the commodity appropriately. 

If you have to go far past your price on a player, make it for someone you really like or something you really need

Nothing feels emptier than making “just take it all” bids late on lousy players because you have to spend your money somewhere. Because you’ll likely get a few players at surprising discounts, it’s perfectly reasonable to go past market on a player or two, provided it’s a purchase you ultimately want.

Auction prices are about timing

Two points to pivot off here: don’t trip yourself up comparing your middle and late-game prices to what players cost early; it’s almost irrelevant to hold them up against one another. And you can also throw someone else’s auction results in the shredder - they’re probably irrelevant to you unless that previous league contains several owners you’re about to compete against.

In most inexperienced leagues, the best buying pocket comes in the midgame or endgame. In many experienced leagues, the buying pocket often comes early - sometimes immediately

If you want to annoy your league mates, keep bidding with :01 left and don’t be ready with your nominations

These are two scourges of any auction, and a reason why they often take longer than they should. The one-second guys sometimes get bitten, though, if they encounter any internet lag (make sure you’re working off your most reliable connection).

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Nominate from strength or disinterest

One of your consistent goals in the auction is forcing the other owners to spend money, so any nomination of a player you don’t want or don’t need (say, a big shortstop after you just bought one) makes sense. Just be sure to vary your nomination strategy, so you’re not easy to read.

Try to keep your opponents off balance

Throw out a prospect or bullpen handcuff (talk about a sucker play) after a run of stars, just to see how the room adjusts. Aggressively jump (or even open) a bid at a lofty number so your opponents have to think quicker than usual. Nominate expediently when it’s your turn. The best players can think quickly on their feet; the mediocre players might be thrown a bit by the pace.

If the early spending seems crazy, you still might want to buy a player or two

I know what you might be thinking “if everyone else is spending like mad early, won’t I get all the bargains I want later?” It’s possible you could rule the middle of the day, but it’s also possible (a) your pricing structure is out of whack, or (b) at least one other team is saving too, and he’s going to get in your way on the expected bargains. The more owners laying back in the weeds, the less successful that strategy is likely to be.

Don’t bail out the owner who’s just about to screw up

When you’re in the late chase on a player, you should constantly be asking yourself “what happens to his roster structure and financial situation if I release the bid now?” Sometimes the prudent move is to let the opponent “win” the bid, recognizing it will put him in a bad financial spot or stuck with an undesired roster problem.

Try to have extra money for the endgame

Being stuck with all singleton bids in the late stages is a case in frustration; you’re still saddled with the burden of nomination. Toss out a player who’s good and your bid will be trampled by those who still have leverage; try a mediocre player and you’ll probably hear crickets after your nomination. I like to have some overbid leverage for the endgame.

When things are especially late, I’ll start to mess around with possible dollar constructions. Say I need four players and have $8 left: I could go $5 on one jumbo player and accept three singles, or cobble together four $2 options, or maybe a 3-2-2-1 structure would make sense. Obviously it’s dependent on what’s left in the room and who’s in my way. Consider what your options are at all times.

As you get down to limited overbid power, keep in mind it’s important to act decisively. Often times a player will be worth $2 to several teams, it’s just a matter of who registers the bid first. There will be times in the endgame where a $2 opener is more logical than the $1 opener, depending on what leverage the other guys have.

(One argument for $1 players: they have some extra cachet in keeper leagues, where they could become the most intriguing trading chips later on. To be clear, this article is aimed at auction players competing in one-and-done leagues.) 

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The organized owner is the winning owner

Knowing the shape of the player pool in an auction - the pockets of talent, where drop-offs occur - is critical. You also need to know where the buried treasure hides in your draft applet. Your favorite pitching or rookie sleeper might be buried in the rankings. Make sure you’re constantly filling, sorting, and readjusting your queue.

Beware the plus-one button

You’re just one crazy opponent bid away from an unintended number you’ll regret. If you have the time, it’s best to manually put in your number.

I've had my say, now it's your turn. How do you turn your March auction into an October parade? Get the gavels going in the comments. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: March 13, 2015, 2:20 pm

You don’t need me to tell you Clayton Kershaw is good at pitching, but I will argue he should be the obvious No. 2 pick in fantasy drafts this year. After finishing with a 1.77 mark last season, Kershaw became the first pitcher to ever lead the majors in ERA in four straight seasons. He also became the first hurler to win 21 games in just 27 starts since 1880. Kershaw allowed more than three runs in one start last year, a season in which he gave up a total of three unearned runs despite the Dodgers ranking in the bottom five in errors.

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After finishing No. 2 in 2013, Kershaw was the most valuable fantasy player by a wide margin last year, according to Baseball Monster, and this was despite him missing more than a month of action. He led all of baseball in K% (31.9), K-BB% (27.8) and SwStr% (14.1) while somehow combining that with a career-best 1.77 GB/FB ratio. There’s little question Kershaw will regress in 2015, but it’s worth noting just how dominant he’s been relative to his peers as well as the fact he’s in such a good situation. It’s a pretty good combination when the best pitcher in baseball plays in the NL West and throws in a home park that’s decreased runs by 12 percent over the past three years, as only three other stadiums have suppressed scoring more over that span.

Moreover, Los Angeles replacing Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon with Joc Pederson, Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick is a massive defensive upgrade. Kershaw somehow finished with a 1.77 ERA last year with a defense behind him that finished with the eighth-worst UZR in baseball. If that’s not enough, the Dodgers will go from having one of the worst catchers when it comes to framing in A.J. Ellis to one of the best in Yasmani Grandal (although to be fair, Kershaw supposedly loves throwing to Ellis).

So we’ve established Kershaw is the best starting pitcher in baseball, with no one even close (I do love Max Scherzer in the NL this year), but that doesn’t do it justice, as there’s also an argument that top-tier starters should be taken over hitters from a strategical standpoint. Assuming you aren’t punting saves, a fantasy team will employ 6-7 starters compared to 13 hitters, with both accounting for 50 percent of your points in the standings (Chris Liss recently went more in depth on this, but I’ve been beating this drum for a couple of years now). So a pitcher who throws 225 innings is accounting for approximately 15 percent of half your categories, whereas a hitter represents 7.7 percent. That’s around double the impact!

Of course, Kershaw is pretty much a universal top-five pick, so I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but I suggest in general starting pitchers are undervalued, and it’s unclear to me why Andrew McCutchen is going earlier in the vast majority of leagues. I’m hardly a hater, but he wasn’t a top-10 player last year, when he had a career-low 21 stolen base attempts. McCutchen also hits in a park that’s decreased home runs by a whopping 42 percent for RHB over the past three seasons, which is by far the most in major league baseball (to put this in perspective, only two other parks have decreased HR for RHB by 20 percent or more over this span).

But I’m not here to denigrate McCutchen, who’s clearly a star worthy of a top pick (although I’d personally gamble on Miguel Cabrera ahead of him). I’m here to implore you to take Kershaw No. 2. In fact, I say there’s a better argument for him to go first than third.  

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: March 13, 2015, 6:32 am

The outfield is where you'll find ... well, everything.

Whatever you need, it's available in the outfield. All hitting stats, all player traits. This roster spot is where the four and five-category fantasy commodities tend to reside. The top-two overall picks in an average Yahoo draft are a pair of outfielders — Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen — and four additional OF-eligible players are typically selected among the overall top-ten.

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Simply put, fantasy is a numbers game, and the outfield is rich with numbers. If you adhere too strictly to position-scarcity draft principles in the opening rounds, you'll whiff on several of the game's most productive, bankable, multi-category assets.

Eighteen major league hitters posted at least 80 runs, 80 RBIs and 20 HRs last year, and nine were outfielders. (None were shortstops, none were catchers.) Thirteen players at this position delivered a combined homers-plus-steals total of 40 or more. Only five big leaguers topped 35 home runs, and four carry outfield eligibility, including MLB leader Nelson Cruz. Fifteen players stole 30-plus bags in 2014, and 11 were outfielders.

It's certainly true that breakout fantasy monsters emerge in the outfield each season from the mid and late rounds (or the free agent pool), as with Michael Brantley and Corey Dickerson in 2014. But it's also unquestionably true that the elite fantasy outfielders rank among the most predictable assets in our game — most of this year's upper-tier OFs were last year's upper-tier OFs.

Bottom line: If you deliberately avoid this position at the top of your draft, you're choosing to pass on fantasy's most useful and reliable stars. Does that sound like a winning approach?

If it does, um ... then I'd like to invite you to join a few highly incentivized leagues. Prepayment required, no exceptions. We can draft around your schedule, whenever it's convenient.

---

Position averages for the top-60 outfielders, last three years

2014, OF1 — 88.5 R, 23.7 HR, 85.5 RBIs, 14.7 SB, .287 AVG
2014, OF2 — 72.4 R, 14.0 HR, 59.7 RBIs, 19.4 SB, .277 AVG
2014, OF3 — 60.1 R, 10.0 HR, 46.8 RBIs, 10.8 SB, .262 AVG

2013, OF1 — 89.1 R, 24.3 HR, 84.1 RBIs, 18.2 SB, .287 AVG
2013, OF2 — 76.2 R, 17.0 HR, 65.4 RBIs, 14.2 SB, .275 AVG
2013, OF3 — 67.3 R, 14.8 HR, 55.2 RBIs, 13.0 SB, .262 AVG

2012, OF1 — 95.5 R, 28.8 HR, 90.0 RBIs, 17.4 SB, .284 AVG
2012, OF2 — 81.1 R, 22.4 HR, 80.9 RBIs, 11.4 SB, .276 AVG
2012, OF3 — 71.0 R, 15.7 HR, 61.1 RBIs, 18.0 SB, .273 AVG

Note: We’re treating the outfield as three positions, with “OF1” representing the 20 highest-ranked players. The outfielders ranked 21-40 are OF2s, and 41-60 are OF3s.

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OUTFIELD TIERS
TIER ONE

Mike Trout
Andrew McCutchen
Giancarlo Stanton
Carlos Gomez

TIER TWO

Jose Bautista
Adam Jones
Yasiel Puig
Michael Brantley
Jacoby Ellsbury
Ryan Braun
Bryce Harper
Justin Upton

TIER THREE

Corey Dickerson
Carlos Gonzalez
George Springer
Starling Marte
Billy Hamilton
Matt Kemp
Yoenis Cespedes
Matt Holliday
Nelson Cruz
Charlie Blackmon
Jason Heyward
Alex Gordon
Christian Yelich

Bryce Harper, still only 22. We'll get a full season from him one of these years, right? (Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports)

TIER FOUR

Jorge Soler
Jay Bruce
Kole Calhoun
Mookie Betts
Marcell Ozuna
Chris Carter
Brett Gardner
J.D. Martinez
Shin-Soo Choo
Jayson Werth
Ryan Zimmerman
Mark Trumbo
Hunter Pence
Ben Revere
Leonys Martin
Ben Zobrist
Alex Rios
Josh Harrison
Brandon Moss

TIER FIVE

Torii Hunter
Melky Cabrera
Rusney Castillo
Gregory Polanco
A.J. Pollock
Coco Crisp
Wil Myers
Adam Eaton
Marlon Byrd
Avisail Garcia
Austin Jackson
Lorenzo Cain
Rajai Davis
Oswaldo Arcia
Khris Davis
Denard Span
Michael Cuddyer
Steven Souza
Carlos Beltran
Dexter Fowler
Steve Pearce
Danny Santana
Martin Prado
Carl Crawford
Yasmany Tomas
Joc Pederson
Desmond Jennings
Curtis Granderson
Nick Markakis
Dalton Pompey
Michael Morse
Arismendy Alcantara
Angel Pagan
Norichika Aoki
Michael Saunders

TIER SIX

Eric Young
Drew Stubbs
Michael Bourn
Josh Reddick
Domonic Brown
Shane Victorino
Allen Craig
Colby Rasmus
Alejandro De Aza
Stephen Vogt
David Peralta
Jon Jay
Logan Morrison
Jarrod Dyson
Emilio Bonifacio
Darin Ruf
Michael Taylor
Juan Lagares
Dustin Ackley
Melvin Upton Jr.
Anthony Gose
Seth Smith
Garrett Jones
Matt Joyce
Josh Hamilton
Aaron Hicks
Jake Marisnick
Will Venable
Ender Inciarte
Andre Ethier
Gerardo Parra
Chris Coghlan
Brock Holt
Cameron Maybin
Jake Smolinski
Alexander Guerrero
Scott Van Slyke
Byron Buxton

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: March 12, 2015, 5:38 pm

In the latest episode of "As the Chip Turns," the unpredictable ball coach pulled one over on one of his biggest rivals.

Reigning rush king and former Dallas Cowboy, DeMarco Murray, is headed to the City of Brotherly Love.

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For Eagles fans, the twists and turns of the NFL free agency period have been gut-wrenching. The nucleus of last year’s offense – LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin and Nick Foles – are gone, leading many to believe Kelly is a deranged egomaniac hell-bent on ruining the franchise. Murray’s acquisition, though, is a true feather-in-the-cap, a paramount signing that should ease concern.

Murray was nothing short of spectacular last year. Running behind an elite offensive line, he managed to stay healthy, routinely shed tackles, racked receptions and morphed into a fantasy megastar.  His 19.0 fantasy points per game in standard settings set the pace among RBs. Also ranking favorably in peripheral measurements (No. 7 in elusive rating, No. 4 in breakaway percentage, No. 6 in yards per carry (4.7)), he was a Clydesdale by every definition. In a fast-paced, zone-styled scheme, he should again carry investors. In two seasons with Kelly at the controls, Philly RBs have scored the sixth and 11th-most fantasy points at the position. The Eagles’ O-line also ranked No. 1 in run-blocking last year according to Pro Football Focus.

However, everything may not turn up green for Murray in Philly.

Ryan Mathews, who also signed, is in the picture along with change-of-pace option Darren Sproles and power rusher Chris Polk. Undoubtedly, Murray will be the primary ball carrier, but a sharp decline in carries, receptions and touchdowns is a foregone conclusion. He was highly effective near the goal-line in 2014, crossing the chalk 10 times on 29 attempts inside the 10. Still, as evidenced in McCoy’s lack of touches near the pylons last year, Kelly, the new Mike Shanahan, is a coach fixated on player-specific roles. It’s plausible Polk/Mathews/Sproles wrest away a handful of scores. More worrisome, Murray is coming off a 521-touch campaign. For a player with a history of lower-body setbacks, he’s a major injury liability. Gut says he could go the way of Larry Johnson in 2007. Unless Kelly plans to feature the Wing-T, bank on roughly 15-17 touches per game from Murray this fall. That happens and he's more RB2 than RB1 material. 

Because typical fantasy players chase last year’s stats, Murray, who is going inside the top-five on average in early drafts, will be pursued. But the savvy investor, despite nourshing environment, will minimize risk and spend their cash elsewhere.

Meanwhile in Dallas, this was Jerry Jones’ reaction to the news. The owner’s flirtations with Adrian Peterson may soon turn into a full-fledged relationship. If a deal is reached, All-Day would immediately return to the RB top-five. And that’s likely an understatement. The environment in Big D is ripe. He would surely net 20-25 touches per game operating behind a top-notch offensive line. And don’t worry about his age. For the soon-to-be 30 year-old, the year off benefited him physically.

If Peterson isn’t brought in, Joseph Randle would be the next man up, provided his recent off-the-field incidents don’t lead to an extended vacation. Jones could also explore filling the void via free agency (C.J. Spiller? Stevan Ridley? Mathews?) or the draft. The RB class this season is quite deep. 

Related NFL video:

Author: Brad Evans
Posted: March 12, 2015, 4:37 pm

In four weeks, Indianapolis will host the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four.

Come January, the Colts could again make an appearance in the NFL version.

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Indy’s rather young offense added considerable age and potency signing high-performing veterans Andre Johnson and Frank Gore, who spurned Philly.

For fantasy purposes, the impacts are far reaching. Gore’s arrival means Trent Richardson’s reign of fantasy suckage has mercifully come to an end. The ex-Niner totaled 255 carries, 1,103 yards and four scores on the Left Coast a season ago, netting a laudable 4.3 yards per carry. His dwindling yards after contact numbers – he gained a bland 53.1 percent of his yards after contact in ’14 – and 31-year-old body raise concern, but much like Ahmad Bradshaw before him, he should be a highly utilized rusher, particularly near the goal-line. Boom Herron will spell him on pass downs, but a 1,000-total yard, 6-8 TD season is definitely achievable. Andrew Luck’s ability to stretch the field and the Colts’ plus offensive line, a unit that ranked inside the top-half last fall in run-blocking per Pro Football Focus, should create exploitable holes. And, no, I’m not worried about Vick Ballard.

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As for Johnson, revenge is a dish best served cold. Staying in the AFC South he’ll be plenty motivated to perform, especially when facing his former employer. His per game numbers have declined in three consecutive seasons bottoming out at 7.4 fantasy points per contest (standard leagues) last year, but he’s a reliable possession receiver who should haul in 80-plus passes in an explosive offense. That’s useful production in PPR settings. Unfortunately, though, his contributions in traditional formats may again underwhelm. Recall Hakeem Nicks and Reggie Wayne combined for 21 targets inside the 20 and only three scores in 2014. Herron and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen were Luck’s typical weapons of choice in those situations. With last year’s coaching staff intact, more of the same is expected. Consider him a high-end WR3 in non-PPR formats. 

On the downside, Donte Moncrief dynasty owners are a bit peeved. Johnson is sure to slide into Reggie Wayne’s vacated role leaving the second-year receiver to fight for table scraps. T.Y. Hilton, after all, is the Colts’ best all-around receiver. Given the numerous options on roster, Moncrief may only net a modest increase in targets. Barring unforeseen injuries, it’s hard to imagine him surpassing a 45-650-5 line.

Specifically for Luck, he’ll be my No. 1 QB entering peak draft season, just ahead of Aaron Rodgers. Remember, he tallied 27.6 points per game output in traditional formats last year, outpacing A-Rod by a full two points per game. For those that don’t adhere to the waiting-on-a-QB strategy, he’s worth every penny at his current 9.90 ADP. The neck-beard alone is worth a first round pick. Another 5,000 combined yards with 40-plus touchdowns should be expected.

After its splashy moves, Indy is sure to be the AFC favorite come September. 

Author: Brad Evans
Posted: March 11, 2015, 8:25 pm

Not so long ago, back when middle infielders were supposed to look like this dude or this dude, we expected the best of them to hit 30-plus home runs. Today, in a much different run-scoring environment, our projections for second basemen and shortstops are relatively modest.

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Only six middle infielders reached the 20-homer plateau last season, and none topped Ian Desmond's 24. Only four middles finished the year with more than 80 RBIs, and none reached 100. Banking on significant production in the power categories from these spots, is ... well, it's probably a terrible plan.

Generally speaking, the pool of second basemen and shortstops is rich with players who can produce useful-if-not-spectacular power/speed totals — guys like Alexei, Jimmy, Howie and Kolten. The middle also offers a small number of players with zero power, but top-tier speed — burners like Dee, Elvis and Alcides. If you pass on the early-round options at second and short, you can at least find a one-cat specialist later in your draft.

But really, all you're guaranteed to find at these positions — up and down your draft board — are pressing questions. For example...

Can Troy Tulowitzki possibly stay healthy after averaging only 88 games-played over his last three seasons? (Sure, you can do well with 90 games from Tulo, plus 70 from a scrap-heap shortstop. But he's a high-maintenance managerial experience, a dice-roll as a top-20 pick. Much easier to own in mixed than only.)

Will Dee Gordon ever again be the guy we saw last spring, when he slashed .344/.375/.478 in March and April, then ran with impunity in May (21 SB)?

Can Javier Baez somehow not strike out 250 times, if he plays a full season?

Is there a bounce-back coming for Dustin Pedroia? Or Jason Kipnis? Or Jean Segura? Where does Jose Altuve's average go, a year after posting that .360 BABIP? When does Addison Russell join the party, and what would that mean for Starlin Castro? Why are we still drafting Elvis Andrus, like, 90 picks ahead of Alcides Escobar? And is owning Brett Lawrie a bad idea, or a really, really bad idea?

We're dealing with a lot of issues here, and that list above is just a sampler. These spots present uncommon risk, but there's no shortage of talent in the upper tiers. Let's review...

---

Position averages for the top-20 second basemen, last three years

2014 — 76.8 R, 12.3 HR, 62.2 RBIs, 13.2 SB, .281 AVG
2013 — 73.2 R, 13.8 HR, 68.0 RBIs, 11.1 SB, .281 AVG
2012 — 79.1 R, 16.1 HR, 70.4 RBIs, 13.7 SB, .275 AVG

---

SECOND BASE TIERS
TIER ONE

Robinson Cano
Anthony Rendon
Jose Altuve

TIER TWO

Ian Kinsler
Dee Gordon
Brian Dozier
Dustin Pedroia
Jason Kipnis

TIER THREE

Kolten Wong
Mookie Betts
Daniel Murphy
Howie Kiendrick
Neil Walker
Josh Harrison
Ben Zobrist
Chase Utley

TIER FOUR

Brett Lawrie
Jedd Gyorko
Javier Baez
Martin Prado
Asdrubal Cabrera
Brandon Phillips
Aaron Hill
Arismendy Alcantra
Scooter Gennett
Rougned Odor
Marcus Semien
Bradley Miller

TIER FIVE

Chris Owings
DJ LeMahieu
Didi Gregorius
Wilmer Flores
Emilio Bonifacio
Jose Peraza
Omar Infante
Joe Panik
Luis Valbuena
Jonathan Schoop
Josh Rutledge
Stephen Drew
Alexander Guerrero
Jose Ramirez
Yangervis Solarte
Micah Johnson

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Javier Baez, spring training beast (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Position averages for the top-20 shortstops, last three years

2014 — 70.3 R, 11.3 HR, 56.9 RBIs, 16.6 SB, .271 AVG
2013 — 67.5 R, 12.5 HR, 58.8 RBIs, 14.2 SB, .274 AVG
2012 — 74.9 R, 14.2 HR, 63.3 RBIs, 18.9 SB, .271 AVG

---

SHORTSTOP TIERS
TIER ONE

Hanley Ramirez
Ian Desmond
Troy Tulowitzki

TIER TWO

Jose Reyes
Alexei Ramirez
Elvis Andrus

TIER THREE

Jimmy Rollins
Starlin Castro
Ben Zobrist

TIER FOUR

Xander Bogaerts
Erick Aybar
Jhonny Peralta
Alcides Escobar
Danny Santana
Jean Segura
Javier Baez
JJ Hardy
Asdrubal Cabrera
Jed Lowrie
Bradley Miller
Andrelton Simmons

TIER FIVE

Chris Owings
Jung-Ho Kang
Jordy Mercer
Didi Gregorius
Jose Peraza
Brandon Crawford
Everth Cabrera
Josh Rutledge
Wilmer Flores
Yunel Escobar
Jose Iglesias
Francisco Lindor
Jose Ramirez
Stephen Drew
Mike Aviles
Addison Russell
Adainy Hechavarria
Eric Sogard
Jonathan Villar
Chris Taylor

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: March 11, 2015, 12:39 pm

STOCK UP

Russell Westbrook: There are a few things to cover here, as Westbrook is currently on a tear few have ever matched. Since Kevin Durant went down aggravating his foot injury, Westbrook has averaged 34.4 points, 11.0 rebounds, 11.6 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.1 3pt over eight games. As insane as that stat line is, the fact three players (Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard) have been more valuable in 9-cat leagues over that span might be even crazier. This is of course thanks to RWB shooting 43.5 percent from the field and committing a whopping 5.1 tpg, as sometimes a (unheard of) 38.1 Usage Rate (that’s only increased with KD sidelined) has its downside. But still, he’s obviously been the most valuable player of late in 8-cat leagues, and there’s been no player more fun to own than Westbrook recently in any format. Can he win the MVP while already missing 15 games?

Victor Oladipo: Last year’s No. 2 overall pick has really picked it up during his sophomore campaign, despite seeing a similar Usage Rate as he did as a rookie. This is especially true of late, as Oladipo has averaged 20.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.2 3pt with a 46.9 FG% and 90.7 FT% over the past month, a 12-game span in which he’s been a top-15 fantasy player. Oladipo is fast emerging as a star, and there’s little doubt he’ll be an early round pick in drafts next year.

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Arron Afflalo: His fantasy value took a hit when he was traded to the Trail Blazers, but with Wesley Matthews’ unfortunate season-ending injury, Afflalo is back as a must-own player. After averaging 6.7 field goal attempts over six games since joining Portland, he attempted 12 field goals in the one game joining the starting five after Matthews’ injury, and that was with Afflalo fouling out. He’s quickly gone from a drop recommendation to someone to add. The Trail Blazers have attempted the second most threes per game (27.7) this season.

Khris Middleton: Since January 30, among those who’ve played more than six games, Middleton has been a top-10 fantasy player, getting 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.4 3pt while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 89.8 percent from the line over 17 games. Middleton is currently available in more than 30 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Rodney Stuckey: Over the last month, he’s averaged 18.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.8 3pt while shooting 52.2 percent from the floor and 92.3 percent from the line while committing just 1.3 tpg. Stuckey has been the No. 12 ranked player over this 12-game span, yet he’s still owned in just 54 percent of Yahoo leagues. Go get him. 

It’s hard to criticize DeAndre Jordan considering he’s averaged 19.3 rebounds over the past month, but this is about as bad of a brain fart you’ll ever see at the end of a game

Here’s Otto Porter playing some of the worst defense you’ll ever see

Here’s Gerald Green with a monster jam

Here’s Stephen Curry doing Stephen Curry things

STOCK DOWN

Deron Williams: It’s nice to see him back starting and getting more playing time, but the former star point guard is shooting 25.0 percent from the field over the past week. That’s obviously a small sample, but Williams sports a hideous 33.8 FG% over the past three months (a span of 29 games), when he’s been the No. 232 ranked fantasy player. Maybe it’s a good thing Brooklyn has a bottom-five PACE in the NBA. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say Chris Liss was adamant we take DWill in our shared “League Of Leagues” team. 

David West: Here are his rankings per season over the past four years, respectively: 30, 82, 36 and 70. West has been the No. 138 ranked player over the past month, and this is while playing without Paul George and alongside an extremely disappointing Roy Hibbert (who’s shooting 34.5 percent from the floor over his last 10 games). West is an obvious bounce-back candidate, but his current 12.4 ppg is his lowest since 2004/05, and he’s clearly trending in the wrong direction.

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James Johnson: He’s been a top-100 fantasy player this year but has taken a major hit with the Raptors sending him to the bench recently in favor of Terrence Ross. Johnson has actually been a top-50 player on a per-36 minute basis this season, but he’s seen just 14.0 mpg during his new bench role over the past week (covering four games in which he’s also shot just 40.0 percent from the field), so he’s no longer worth owning.

Trey Burke: We could talk about his extreme slump of late, when he’s shot 31.4 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from the line while getting just 0.3 steals over the past four games, but Burke ranks as the No. 191 fantasy player over the past three months. This comes with Alec Burks (20.1 Usage Rate) going down for the season in late December, and Enes Kanter (19.2 Usage Rate) getting traded. Burke’s 23.0 Usage Rate this season is higher than Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, Ty Lawson, Paul Millsap, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard (among many others). Burke is young enough to expect improvement, but his performance so far suggests his ownership (70 percent in Yahoo leagues) is a bit optimistic for the short term.

Andre Drummond: Here’s a good example of how much context matters when it comes to fantasy basketball. Drummond has been the No. 185 ranked player over the past two weeks in 9-cat leagues, thanks to a 31.3 free-throw percentage. But if you were punting FT%, he was the No. 21 ranked player over this very same span, ranking 11 spots ahead of James Harden.

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: March 11, 2015, 6:19 am

As first reported by Mr. Scoops, Jay Glazer, Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round pick were shipped from New Orleans to Seattle for center Max Unger and a first rounder.

Well … that was out of left field.

The move is an enormous shot in the arm for a Seattle passing offense sorely lacking big-play receivers. Doug Baldwin has shown flashes and Paul Richardson and Super Bowl standout Chris Matthews offer upside, but adding Graham is a game changer.  At 6-foot-7, 265-pounds, the man is Groot with a helmet. A touchdown scoring machine, he’s routinely dunked footballs averaging 138.3 targets, 88.7 receptions, 1099 receiving yards and 11.5 scores per season since 2011. As a result, he’s finished inside the tight end top-four in four consecutive seasons. The man is a beast.

Unfortunately, his address change could reduce his numbers measurably. Seattle’s largely conservative offense likely won’t open up, especially with Marshawn Lynch back. Graham will continue to be a red-zone staple and is capable of 8-10 scores in 2015, but his receptions and yards will likely decline. Yes, the ‘Hawks didn’t have a player the caliber of Graham, but Seattle TEs totaled a 48-757-6 line last year, the 16th-best output at the position. The multi-time All-Pro is a top-five lock, but it would be no surprise to see him slip a round or two in drafts. Rob Gronkowski will be the unrivaled No. 1 TE in fantasy drafts.

As for Russell Wilson, Graham’s arrival greatly increases his overall value. Already a projected top-five passer by many, he should see an uptick in vertical production, though possibly at a rushing TDs cost. Roughly 27-30 total scores with 4,200-4,500 combined yards are in my fearless forecast. Covet his consistency and multi-dimensional contributions come August.

In New Orleans, the Saints will continue to do what they do best, throw like mad. Graham’s departure is a significant blow for an aging Drew Brees, but the scheme won’t change. The Saints could fill the void in the NFL Draft. Maxx Williams, for example, is similar in size and skills as Graham. If a suitable replacement isn’t found, Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills would stand to benefit, each potentially enticing some 7-9 targets per game. Tight end Josh Hill is another player to watch. He's no Graham, but he possess considerable athleticism and has the trust of Brees. 

• Elsewhere in the wild and wacky NFL, Chip Kelly was up to his usual unpredictable ways as the Eagles sent Nick Foles and draft-pick compensation to St. Louis for Sam Bradford.  

Yes, I’m just as perplexed as you.

Bradford has only occasionally delivered startable numbers in fantasy. Since playing a full 16-game slate in 2010, he’s missed a whopping 15 games to various injuries. Putting it mildly, he would break a bone in a snowball fight. Still, IF he can stay healthy and IF the Eagles don’t sell the farm for Marcus Mariota, he will be a popular breakout candidate on ‘expert’ lists. Philly’s frenetic, high-flying offense, even sans Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy, is a terrific setup. Last year, Mark Sanchez averaged 21.3 fantasy points per game in the system for crying out loud.  Comparatively, Tom Brady clocked in at 21.4 fantasy points per game.

Though he is now more of a middling QB2 in 12-team formats, Foles, meanwhile, should provide stability for a young Rams offense. Stedman Bailey, Brian Quick, Tavon Austin and Tre Mason receive upgrades. Quick, in particular, could bust out, especially for the PPR masses. Recall, he was on pace for a quality 57-857-7 campaign before a torn rotator cuff sidelined him. Still, the division, despite the Niners' lost defensive potency, is a major fantasy obstacle. 

Author: Brad Evans
Posted: March 10, 2015, 9:08 pm

This column will concentrate on borderline fantasy options who should get strong consideration to start/bench during the upcoming week based on schedules. Dalton Del Don is surfing in Aruba, so Scott Pianowski comes off the bench this week.

Andrea Bargnani: Sure, the Knicks are a joke. Sure, you probably have negative history with Bargnani at some point, like everyone else. But the Knicks are treating Bargnani like a No. 1 option, leading to a useful 18.6-4.8-2.4 line since he joined the starting lineup five games ago. (He also scored in double digits in his last four games off the bench.) New York will probably get stomped on its upcoming road swing, but it’s the only club with five games in the coming week. Let’s take advantage. You can still add Bargnani in 70 percent of Yahoo leagues.

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Dennis Schroder: The German import keeps gaining confidence and playing time, showing the ability to play both guard spots and create space for his shot. Over the last month he’s averaging 11.6 points and 5.5 assists per game, and the Hawks will probably want to keep his minutes on the upswing as they get ready for the playoffs – with the No. 1 seed essentially locked up, there’s no reason to run the starters into the ground. Schroder might be just a deep-league play for the moment, but the 10-percent ownership tag looks light.

Channing Frye: Here’s another paper cup in a windstorm – no consistency – but with Nikola Vucevic battling a sore ankle, Frye becomes an important part of Orlando’s inside game. He held his own against Boogie Cousins and the Kings on Friday, posting a 22-point, 10-rebound, three-block effort as the Magic snapped a four-game losing streak.

Mike Dunleavy: With the Bulls riddled by injury, Dunleavy has been pressed into heavier action, logging an average of 32 minutes over his last six games. It looks like he’s over his February ankle problem, and the shots have been falling regularly (14 triples in his last six games, 47 points in his last three starts). Dunleavy will also give you some rebounds and a few assists, so he’s not just a scoring and perimeter play. The Bulls have four games on the fresh schedule.

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Rajon Rondo: He’s been a strong player since the late-February suspension, even giving us a zero-turnover gem on Friday. But the Mavericks only play two games in the coming week (the only team with that light a schedule), which might push Rondo owners to sit him down.

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: March 8, 2015, 8:58 pm

In '14, Baltimore slugger Chris Davis dropped to 26 home runs, which was 27 fewer than his previous season total (53). Which Davis will we see in '15 - Over/Under 34.5 bombs?

Brandon – OVER. I'll say he goes slightly over here. He couldn't have been unluckier last season (career-low .242 BABIP), but his 162-game pace was still right near this O/U number. The batting average will remain a problem because of the shift and his contact issues. But with a green light to take adderall and assuming a little better luck in general, he should be able to reach 35 bombs.

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Scott – I'll sneak it OVER. It's a fresh start, he's still just 28, the Orioles aren't giving up on him. Davis showed a willingness to hit the ball where it was pitched during his monster 2013 breakout. He can get back to that place. His home park can make him whole again. (Keep drinking that Natty Boh, Pianow.) 

Andy – UNDER. Probably well under. Wherever I ranked him, it's too high. No part of me trusts Davis, following last season's faceplant.

Jason Heyward washed out in Atlanta at an age (25) that many players are still trying to break into the league. Now in St. Louis, can Heyward get his career back on track - O/U .7999 OPS?

Scott – OVER, because when in doubt, I assume the Cardinals know what they're doing (and the Braves don't). But I'm a little sick of the (suspect) WAR defensive metrics framing Heyward into a superstar, a premise I reject. 

Andy – I'll take the OVER, because it feels like we're asking so little. He can get there with merely a .450-plus slugging percentage, a level he reached at age 20.

Dalton – OVER. He's a 25-year-old with a career .781 OPS. And the track record of St. Louis getting the most out of its players shouldn't be overlooked. 

Second sackers Jason Kipnis and Dustin Pedroia both disappointed in '14 by finishing outside the fantasy top 200. Which pivotman will deliver more RBI+Runs, and will that number be O/U 149.5?

Brandon –  PEDROIA/OVER. I'd lean Kipnis here if he wasn't slated to hit so far down in the lineup (No. 7) because he's a better bet in the health department. But Pedroia has the clear lineup advantage, hitting No. 2 for what should be one of the best offenses in the league. If he can play 140-plus games, he should push 100 runs, and there'll be some solid table setters coming to the plate right before him (Bogaerts? Castillo? Betts?) BoSox lineup, so his RBI tally is likely to be healthy as well.

Andy – Give me PEDROIA and the OVER. His path to scoring 90 or more runs is so clean, if he can simply remain healthy-ish. Boston's lineup appears loaded.

Dalton – PEDROIA and OVER. He has such a long track record, now has a healthy wrist and plays in such a better hitter's park. 

Which of these '14 rookie arms is most likely to deliver a breakout  top 100 fantasy campaign in '15 - Marcus Stroman, Yordano Ventura, Jake Odorizzi or James Paxton?

Dalton – ODORIZZI. He's a 24-year-old who posted a 16.0 K-BB% and 9.7 SwStr% last season. He's going to be really good moving forward. 

Andy – In defiance of my ranks (probably), I'll say PAXTON. Give me the lefty who throws 97, in a friendly home park.

Scott – It's so cute when the MSM talks about the Myers-Shields deal and doesn't mention ODORIZZI (or Wade Davis, for that matter). Under the catwalk, that's where the fun is. 

Colorado hot corner Nolan Arenado saw his '14 breakout campaign cut short for health reasons. Assuming he plays 145-plus games this season, what is your prediction for his final five-cat fantasy line?

Brandon – There's a lot to like with Arenado - the breakout preview we saw last season, the home hitting environment and the pedigree. I'll go with .289/24/96/83/5

Scott – America's breakout play. Hope you got him in March, because the helium isn't stopping now. Call it .296-93-27-100-5. 

Andy – OH! I just talked about him on video! You guys should totally watch it. I have extreme confidence in Arenado. I'll say 86-27-93-2-.292. It wouldn't shock me if he finished as a top-3 fantasy third baseman this year.

Buzzy second-year fantasy commodities Kolten Wong and Mookie Betts land back-to-back on the Yahoo fantasy 2B rankings. Which player will wind up with a greater combined HR+SB tally, and will that number be O/U 39.5?

Brandon – BETTS/UNDER. Big fan of both guys, though I like Betts hitting profile better. I think his OBP will trump Wong's by a good margin, which should help him win out in this showdown. That said, I think Betts falls just shy of the O/U number - let's call it, 14 home runs and 24 steals.

Scott – I'm worried about Wong's potential batting slot, so I'll place my bets on BETTS and OVER. I know, Boston's outfield looks awfully crowded, but they'll figure it out. Betts was Boston's leadoff man down the stretch last year and looked unstoppable. 

Dalton – WONG. I actually have these two ranked back-to-back on my own 2B rankings, so this isn't a strong endorsement either way. I like them both, but I'll go UNDER on Wong reaching 39.5 HR/SB.

Bryce Harper's games played and fantasy value has dwindled in each of the two seasons since his rookie campaign. Still just 22 years old, which fantasy feat, if any, is he most likely to reach for the first time in '15 - .280 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 100 R or 20 SB?

Brandon – HOME RUNS. Harper's K rate soared to 26.3% last season. I don't think he's ready to push that batting average over the .280 mark this season. But if he stays healthy, there's no doubt he has the power chops to reach 30 home runs. To that point, his FB% has crept upwards each season, but his HR/FB rate was a career low mark last season. If the FB% gains continue and the HR/FB rate corrects itself, the long balls will come in bunches.

Andy – I think the safest bet here, because it doesn't rely on playing time, is BATTING AVERAGE. He can definitely hit .282 in his 133 games.

Dalton – BATTING AVERAGE. There's zero question when it comes to skills with Harper. Health is the question mark. 

Which power-challenged 1B will rebound from an injury-plagued '14 to deliver an OPS north of .800 this season - Eric Hosmer, Brandon Belt, neither or both?

Dalton – BELT. Call me a homer, but he just went for $23 in LABR. To be fair most projections predict slightly below .800, in no small part because AT&T Park has decreased HR for LHB by a whopping 34 percent over the past three years.

Brandon – BELT. Belt wins in two big components to OPS, walk rate and ISO. With a better power profile and a better career OBP, Belt is the better bet assuming good health for both players. And his career OPS is .791, so it's not much of a stretch to think that, if injuries aren't a factor, he'll finish north of a .800 OPS mark.

Scott – In a neutral park, I'd be on Belt with zero hesitation. But I'm willing to give HOSMER the benefit of the doubt after an injury-marred year (basically an excused absence); I liked what he flashed in October. 

Which cheap Minnesota power source will finish with more home runs in '15, Kennys Vargas or Oswaldo Arcia (and what is your HR prediction for both players)?

Brandon – ARCIA. I'll give Arcia the edge based on the fact that he's logged about a full season more games at the MLB level than Vargas. With only 53 games played at the MLB level, Vargas is more likely to struggle with the growing pains and adjustments that comes with inexperience. Let's say 25 HRs for Arcia, 20 HRs for Vargas (I'm using the Price is Right bidding tactic on Mr. Pianow).

Scott – ARCIA'S playing time seems safer to me. Give him 24 trots, 19 for Los Vargas. It's a shame they both have to deal with Target Field, death to lefty power (Arcia is a lefty, Vargas a switch-hitter). Southpaw homers have taken a 21-percent bath over the last three years, per the Bill James Handbook. 

Dalton – ARCIA. But this is a coin flip. I'll say 25 for Arcia and 23 for Vargas. 

Which K/9 stud from '14 will finish with the most punchouts this coming season - Carlos Carrasco, Jake Arrieta, Danny Salazar, Jacob deGrom or Collin McHugh?

Scott – ARRIETA is another February steal who's going to probably approach a fairer price in March. Chicago's off-season splashes (Lester, Maddon) and ridiculous farm system is screening Arrieta, an ace in his own right. Take advantage. 

Andy – I expect to land at least two of these guys on every mixed team I draft this spring. Great list. I'm gonna say ARRIETA, because I think he's the best of a very good bunch. Last year's gains were real and bankable.

Dalton – SALAZAR. I'm in no way saying I like him the best of this group, but if we are betting on strikeouts, I'll go with the pitcher who owns a caeer 27.0 K% and 12.1 SwStr%.

Author: Brandon Funston
Posted: March 6, 2015, 6:47 pm

Only a couple days removed from the earth-shattering LeSean McCoy-to-Buffalo transaction, another, more predictable player was sent packing to a new team.

Acquired from Chicago for a fifth-round draft pick, Brandon Marshall is a Jet.

Geno Smith, you have no more excuses.

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With Eric Decker, Percy Harvin (for now) and Marshall on roster, New York’s revamped wide receiver corps, a terrible unit two seasons ago, is now quite respectable. Decker and Marshall are big, physical receivers capable of racking 90-plus catches apiece. They’re adept route runners and strong red-zone targets. Their presence could open up the underneath screen/slant game for the shifty Harvin. In light of Marshall’s arrival, the often disgruntled wideout must be wearing a smile.

Assuming Smith is manning the controls, Marshall’s fantasy value obviously takes a step back. However, all is not entirely lost. New Jets coach, Todd Bowles, is defensive-minded, but his offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, is a spread-it-out play-caller who helped advance the careers of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyler Thigpen. In other words, there's hope for Smith. Gailey can turn garbage into fantasy gold. Smith is a viable QB2 with top-15 potential. And, no, I'm not inebriated. His days of 13 pass attempts in a game are long gone. 

Gailey’s K.C. and Buffalo teams didn’t post video game numbers under his tutelage. As the Bills head honcho from 2010-2012 Buffalo WRs ranked eighth, 18th and 29th in overall fantasy value. The most profitable target on those teams was Steve Johnson who peaked at No. 10 in total fantasy points among wide receivers in 2010. Marshall and Decker should be considered back-end WR2s capable of 70-plus catches, 950-1050 yards and 5-7 touchdowns apiece in 2015. As for Harvin, he could become what C.J. Spiller was during his glory days, a multi-dimensional contributor shifted about to maximize matchups. That is, if he isn’t cut. Harvin is owed $10.5 million next year.

Not to be overlooked, Chris Ivory becomes an intriguing mid-round RB2/3 grab. With numerous vertical weapons on roster, he could see many exploitable holes. His role as a pass catcher could also grow.

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Of course, much could still change in New York. The Jets own the sixth overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. It’s entirely possible Marcus Mariota, over Chip Kelly’s dead body, slips to them. Who the heck knows? 

In the Windy City, the over/under on Alshon Jeffery targets is set at 9,999.5. Already the No. 10 WR off the board in early mocks, he's a lock to be selected as a WR1 come August. Pending what the Bears do in the Draft, Marquess Wilson also sees a significant value uptick. The sleeper's plus size (6-foot-4, 185-pounds) and catch radius are very appealing. If he secures the WR2 spot opposite Jeffery, he would be a popular breakout candidate. 

Marshall's move to New York may seem like an enormous downgrade, but the likely discounted receiver should still hold considerable fantasy value this fall. 

Related video - Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab on the trade:

Author: Brad Evans
Posted: March 6, 2015, 5:03 pm

For about three months, I was in full-on Hunter Pence propaganda mode. I promoted him, on the blogs and in the magazines, and tweeted about his sneaky, underrated game. If I wasn’t driving the Pence bandwagon, I at least had a seat near the front. 

[Baseball 2015 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

Today, he’s just another injured player who’s on my skepticism list. 

You probably saw the news item come down Thursday night, but in case you missed it, here it is: 

Pence non-displaced fracture in left forearm (Ulna bone). Expected out 6-8 weeks. #SFGiants

— World Champs (@SFGiants) March 6, 2015

I was prepared to target Pence as a third or fourth-round pick in most of my mixers, but that goes out the window now. He won't be in my Top 100 when I re-rank the 2015 pool, and that probably means I won't get him in any of my upcoming leagues. I always assume someone will drink the optimism Kool-Aid before I will. 

I tend to be highly cautious with the return timetables on any long-term injury, and I also refuse to expect immediate production from any player off a multiple-week injury. I also laugh when I read that a certain type of injury "tends to linger." Tell me what sort of 6-8 week injury doesn't have lingering or extended-rust potential. 

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I know some pundits still view Pence as a Top 75-100 guy. I view that as a grave error. Who's to say he's full-throttle upon return? I'm not happy about it, but I'm probably going to pass on Pence this month, unless I find myself in a room full of similar pessimists (I doubt it). It's nothing personal, just the way I do business.  

To be blunt about it, I'm glad we'll never run out of best-case wishers for those long-term injured. It's the easiest thing to leverage against.

Feel differently? No worries. That's why we have a game. State your optimism case in the comments. Kale Shakes for everybody. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: March 6, 2015, 1:22 am

Many of you have been managing fantasy baseball teams for a decade or more, so you can remember a time when power stats were available everywhere, at all positions. Back in the day, we used to get 25 and 30-homer seasons from middle infielders who weren't even particularly skilled at hitting — like this guy and this guy.

Power was unavoidable. Everyone cleared the fences.

These days, however, power isn't so widely available.

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The average major league team hit just 140 total home runs last season. In 2004, an average team hit 182. Only 11 players reached the 30-homer plateau last year, compared to 37 back in '04. Hitters are presumably less enhanced today, plus the called strike zone has dramatically expanded. All the fantasy benchmarks have changed. Run-scoring is down, Ks are up, batting averages haven't been this low since the Nixon administration and power is fading.

Today, if you don't receive significant contributions in home runs and RBIs from your corner infielders, then good luck competing. Of the 11 players who hit 30 or more bombs last season, eight are eligible at either first or third (or both). Twelve hitters topped 100 RBIs last year, and seven of them were corner infielders, led by Adrian Gonzalez (116). You won't find much speed on the corners — Paul Goldschmidt and Todd Frazier being notable exceptions — but these spots offer plenty of three and four-category fantasy assets. Thus, it shouldn't really surprise anyone to see six corner infielders ranked among the overall Yahoo consensus top-12 players. Fantasy is a numbers game, and the stats are stacked at first and third.

We should also note that last year's minor league home run leaderboard was dominated by corner infielders, including third base prospects Kris Bryant (43) and Joey Gallo (42), as well as 20-year-old first baseman Matt Olson (37). Miguel Sano is on his way, too, following a year lost to injury. And Yasmany Tomas has been known to reach the seats.

 Simply put, the corners are where the power resides in 2015, and there's more on the way.

---

Position averages for the top-20 first basemen, last three years

2014 — 70.3 R, 23.5 HR, 84.2 RBIs, 2.7 SB, .273 AVG
2013 — 80.8 R, 24.7 HR, 92.7 RBIs, 5.5 SB, .289 AVG
2012 — 79.6 R, 28.0 HR, 95.1 RBIs, 4.0 SB, .288 AVG

---

Jose Abreu doesn't seem too stressed about a sophomore slump. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)FIRST BASE TIERS
TIER ONE

Miguel Cabrera
Paul Goldschmidt

TIER TWO

Jose Abreu
Jose Bautista
Anthony Rizzo
Edwin Encarnacion

TIER THREE

Freddie Freeman
Adrian Gonzalez
David Ortiz
Buster Posey
Prince Fielder
Albert Pujols

TIER FOUR

Joey Votto
Todd Frazier
Carlos Santana
Victor Martinez
Chris Carter
Jonathan Lucroy
Matt Adams
Chris Davis

TIER FIVE

Eric Hosmer
Adam LaRoche
Lucas Duda
Brandon Belt
Mark Trumbo
Steve Pearce
Brandon Moss
Justin Morneau
Brian McCann
Mike Napoli
Joe Mauer
Michael Cuddyer
Billy Butler
Chase Headley
Adam Lind
Michael Morse

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Nolan Arenado, clearing bases. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Position averages for the top-20 third basemen, last three years

2014 — 65.6 R, 16.6 HR, 71.3 RBIs, 4.7 SB, .275 AVG
2013 — 74.5 R, 22.1 HR, 78.9 RBIs, 4.3 SB, .278 AVG
2012 — 80.0 R, 24.1 HR, 87.7 RBIs, 8.5 SB, .283 AVG

---

THIRD BASE TIERS
TIER ONE

Miguel Cabrera

TIER TWO

Anthony Rendon
Adrian Beltre
Josh Donaldson

TIER THREE

Todd Frazier
Nolan Arenado
Evan Longoria

TIER FOUR

Kyle Seager
Carlos Santana
David Wright
Pablo Sandoval
Matt Carpenter
Chris Davis
Daniel Murphy
Manny Machado
Ryan Zimmerman
Kris Bryant
Josh Harrison
Aramis Ramirez

TIER FIVE

Xander Bogaerts
Brett Lawrie
Chase Headley
Pedro Alvarez
Martin Prado
Yasmany Tomas
Nick Castellanos
David Freese
Lonnie Chisenhall
Aaron Hill
Connor Gillaspie
Juan Uribe
Mike Moustakas
Trevor Plouffe
Marcus Semien
Maikel Franco
Chris Johnson
Josh Rutledge
Alex Rodriguez

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: March 5, 2015, 4:06 pm

In leagues with standard Yahoo settings, there are basically two acceptable ways to address the position of catcher on draft day:

1) Get Buster Posey in the early rounds, or...

2) Wait it out and find a value — and when it seems like you've finally waited long enough, wait another round or two.

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Seriously, with the exception of Buster, this position is really a minefield of uninteresting numbers and grossly inflated prices. Last season, Posey was the only catcher to finish among the top-50 overall fantasy assets in the year-end ranks (No. 42). In fact, over the past 15 years he's one of just four backstops to have delivered that sort of value. Here's the full list of the catchers who've achieved top-50 status in recent seasons:

2014 – Posey
2013 – none
2012 – Posey
2011 – none
2010 – none
2009 – Joe Mauer
2008 – none
2007 – none
2006 – none
2005 – none
2004 – none
2003 – Javy Lopez
2002 – none
2001 – none
2000 – Mike Piazza

That's it, that's all. No more. Four guys in a decade and a half. Victor Martinez had a couple close calls back in his catcher-eligible days, but he never quite cracked the overall top-50 until he became a DH.

The scarcity devotees may urge you snag a luxury catcher in the early rounds, but, generally speaking, that's a sure way to take a loss. Due to the physical demands of the position, it's rare for any catcher to appear in more than 140 games — only three exceeded that total in 2014. Counting stats will be low. Steals almost never happen. Injuries are incredibly common. No catcher has seen the 30-homer plateau since Lopez in '03. No catcher scored 75 runs last season.

[Related: Dishing on Gattis, and other catchers]

We can find low-level power among the backstops, and Evan Gattis gets a bump because he'll be out from behind the plate. But, again, this is not a spot where you'll want to spend big, unless you're eying Buster. (Or unless you're playing in a two-catcher A.L./N.L.-only league, which isn't the norm at Yahoo. There, you're trying to avoid getting Arencibia'd.)

Posey is the one player who might reasonably give us a 70-20-90-.320 season. Everyone else reeks of 60-14-65-.270. And if you don't believe me, just check last year's average stats...

---

Position averages for the top-15 fantasy catchers, last three years

2014 — 53.0 R, 15.7 HR, 68.5 RBIs, 1.6 SB, .270 AVG
2013 — 60.4 R, 17.2 HR, 71.9 RBIs, 2.1 SB, .279 AVG
2012 — 61.3 R, 19.8 HR, 73.6 RBIs, 2.9 SB, .278 AVG

TIER ONE

Buster Posey

TIER TWO

Carlos Santana
Devin Mesoraco
Jonathan Lucroy
Evan Gattis

TIER THREE

Yan Gomes
Salvador Perez
Yadier Molina
Brian McCann
Matt Wieters
Russell Martin
Wilin Rosario

TIER FOUR

Wilson Ramos
Miguel Montero
Yasmani Grandal
Mike Zunino
Jason Castro
Stephen Vogt
Travis d'Arnaud
Derek Norris
Chris Iannetta

TIER FIVE

Tyler Flowers
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Carlos Ruiz
Alex Avila
John Jaso
Josmil Pinto
Michael McKenry
Christian Bethancourt
Rene Rivera
Christian Vazquez
Robinson Chirinos
Kurt Suzuki
Dioner Navarro
Hank Conger
Nick Hundley
Francisco Cervelli
A.J. Pierzynski
Welington Castillo
A.J. Ellis

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: March 3, 2015, 8:48 pm

The perfect sandwich, the perfect cocktail, the perfect design of a fantasy league, there are no obvious answers. These sorts of things are constantly debated and argued, with a consensus unlikely to be reached. One person’s mistake is another person’s perfect mix. (You really like mayo? Get the hell out of my kitchen.) 

On my fantasy clipboard, there’s certainly room for both of the major formats – but I decisively prefer the auction game when push comes to shove. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with me, of course. Some of my oldest friends don’t agree with me

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To start off today’s debate, I’ve collected some reasons why you might prefer a Fantasy Draft or a Fantasy Auction. Sure, the auction section is longer. I can’t help what I love, what I prefer. I want you to love auctions, too. I want you to carry a gavel everywhere you go.

Why you might prefer a Fantasy Draft 

- They’re unquestionably shorter than an auction, anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent shorter (depending on the specs of your room). In a world where everyone is busy, this is not an insignificant point. 

- It’s the format most people grew up playing. It’s the known format. 

- It’s less intimidating to new owners. It's simpler. 

- It’s more user-friendly if someone gets bumped offline. Assuming the bumped party has a queue arranged, they’ll get players they want. I’ve yet to see a strong artificial intelligence offered by any auction software  the game is too dynamic to get it just right. 

- The pricing is more likely to make sense in a draft room. This is not necessarily an argument I care very much about, but it’s been mentioned by people I respect.

Why you might prefer a Fantasy Auction 

- Anyone can land Mike Trout, or Clayton Kershaw, or Andrew McCutchen. Heck, you could roster all three of them if you’re willing to accept scrambling elsewhere. The entire player pool is open to you. 

You have significantly more structuring options at your disposal. You decide how you want to arrange the flow of your payroll. No one can run a stars-and-scrubs plan in a competitive draft, but it’s on board for an auction. More choices, more fun. 

- You potentially have a say on every player who’s on board. Contrast this to a draft, where owners in different neighborhoods have little influence on each other’s decisions. You're truly opposing everyone in the room, directly. 

You constantly need to monitor the resources of other owners, trying to get into their heads a bit as the evening moves on. You’re being challenged at the poker table. These elements exists in drafts, too, but to a far simpler degree. 

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- The flow of players can come out in any order. Have some fun with it. Nominate a popular closing handcuff before the incumbent closer. Get a hot sleeper on the table when people still have money. Play a game of chicken late, hoping your final targeted piece won’t be mentioned until the room’s financial structure is in your favor. 

You have more opportunity to mess with your opponents. Bid someone up just for the fun of it. Of course if you take it one step too far and get left holding the bag, it can knock you off your game for a while. 

- If you’re out of leverage late, you have to play a delicate guessing game with the burden of nomination. Propose a weak player and you’re likely stuck with him for the minimum. Select a bigger name and watch those with resources trample your bid. Can you find the right pocket of name when you’re tied to this position? Challenge is good. 

- An auction will scramble your brain, and I say that in a good way. I’ve never walked out of any auction without notable regret, and a feeling that I probably missed out on several good pockets of opportunity. Again, these are things you’ll get from the draft, but it’s to a lesser extent. 

Start your engines, gamers. Name your preferred format in the comments. Fill in the draft gaps that you feel I missed, or accept the inevitable  auctions are the best way to do business. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: March 3, 2015, 7:29 pm

STOCK UP

Nerlens Noel: Since the All-Star break, he’s averaged 12.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 3.7 blocks over six games, a span in which he’s been the No. 8 ranked fantasy player despite hitting zero three-pointers and shooting 42.3 percent from the floor. Noel is 20 years old and a rookie coming off missing an entire year while recovering from a major injury, so it’s impressive he’s been a top-10 fantasy player over the past month despite seeing a modest 31.5 mpg while playing for a Philadelphia team that has by far the worst Offensive Efficiency in the NBA (the 76ers come in at 92.0. The next lowest is Charlotte at 97.8). Noel is going to be drafted in the top 2-3 rounds next year.

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Nikola Mirotic: He’s coming off a game in which he scored a career-high 29 points, which should be a sign of things to come with Taj Gibson out for at least another week with an ankle injury. Moreover, Mirotic is going to be asked to carry more of the offensive load (he attempted 23 field goals during Sunday’s game) with Jimmy Butler (and his 20.6 Usage Rate) sidelined for the next 3-to-6 weeks with a sprained elbow. Mirotic has been the No. 37 ranked fantasy player this season on a per-36 minute basis, so with a big increase in playing time forthcoming, he’s a must-add right now (he’s currently owned in just 26 percent of Yahoo leagues).

Jae Crowder: He’s averaged 15.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.6 3pt over the past five games, when he’s ranked as the No. 25 fantasy player despite shooting just 41.8 percent from the field while coming off the bench. Crowder has always been a streaky player lacking consistency, and he could lose some minutes once Kelly Olynyk returns, but Jared Sullinger is out for the season, and the Celtics have the fourth-highest PACE in the league. Crowder has attempted 6.8 3pt over the past five games, a mark that would rank eighth in the NBA this season, and he’s committed just 0.4 tpg over this span. It’s crazy he’s owned in only 18 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Andrea Bargnani: He’s somehow relevant again, averaging 16.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 0.8 blocks while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 82.1 percent from the line over the past five games, a span in which he’s gotten 29.0 mpg and has been a top-75 fantasy asset. He plays for a terrible Knicks squad that ranks in the bottom-three in both PACE and Offensive Efficiency, but on such a depleted team, he’s suddenly New York’s No. 1 scoring option. Who knows how long he can stay healthy, especially with this increased workload, but Bargnani is worth using in the meantime, and he’s currently owned in just 23 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Jeremy Lin: He’s really turned it on since the All-Star break, averaging 17.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.8 3pt while shooting 50.0 percent from the floor and committing just 0.6 turnovers over five games, a span in which he’s been the No. 36 ranked fantasy player despite seeing a modest 27.9 mpg that should only rise if he continues to play so well on such a depleted Lakers team. Lin has no doubt been a disappointment this season, but he’s been a top-100 player over the past month and is available in 32 percent of Yahoo leagues. That number should start declining soon.

This Alexey Shved shot (pass attempt?) might be the worst I’ve ever seen

Here’s “Jiggly Boy” returning to Kevin Garnett’s approval

This collegiate dunk brought the house down

STOCK DOWN

Kyle Lowry: He’s rightfully owned in 100 percent of leagues, but after his biggest detriments always being either health or role, his problem lately has actually been performance, as Lowry has been in a prolonged shooting slump. After ranking as a top-20 fantasy player last year, he’s been outside the top-100 over the last two months and an abysmal No. 247 over the past month, thanks to an ugly 34.9 FG% (it’s dropped to 29.7 percent over the past two weeks). It’s probably best to recommend Lowry as a buy-low candidate as a result, but he was mysteriously rested during Monday’s game, which is something else to keep an eye on.

Rajon Rondo: Forget the recent drama fighting with Rick Carlisle, as Rondo’s demise has been long running before that. He had a nice game against his former Celtics team on Jan 2, but since then, the point guard has averaged 6.5 points in 26.5 minutes, shooting an ugly 36.9 percent from the field and an almost unfathomable 20.0 percent from the free-throw line (while committing 2.8 tpg). Rondo has done so while playing for a Dallas team that has the third-best Offensive Efficiency (108.2) in the NBA this season. He’s been the No. 336(!) ranked fantasy player over this 19-game span yet is still owned in 90 percent of Yahoo leagues.

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Andrew Bogut: I’m a big fan and own him in a bunch of leagues, and Steve Kerr is utilizing him much better this year compared to last (his Assist Ratio has jumped from 18.3 to a career-high 27.6) on a Warriors team that ranks first in PACE and second in Offensive Efficiency. But Bogut’s Usage Rate is only marginally higher this year compared to last (13.1 vs. 11.9), and most importantly, his 23:49 mpg are a career-low, as Golden State is mostly concerned with Bogut being healthy during the playoffs, as the team owns the best record in the NBA. He’s owned in nearly 70 percent of Yahoo leagues but can only really help those in need of blocks while playing fewer than 24 minutes per game.

Dwight Howard: There’s no timetable for his return, and Houston has just 23 games left this season. Thanks to a 52.7 FT% and 3.1 tpg, Howard wasn’t even a top-200 fantasy player before going down. Admittedly, if you punted FT%, he’s been the No. 33 ranked player on a per-game basis this season. But unless you are unconcerned about that category and are waiting for him to return in a H2H format in the playoffs, it’s surprising to see the increasingly disappointing big man still owned in 82 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Aaron Brooks: A popular pickup after Derrick Rose went down with yet another unfortunate knee injury, Brooks has seen a minutes increase since then, albeit split with Kirk Hinrich at point guard. But Brooks hasn’t capitalized to say the least, as he’s shot 11-for-44 (25.0 percent) from the floor since then, a span in which his FG% has hurt fantasy owners more than any player other than DeMar DeRozan. In fact, over his last seven games, Brooks has shot an ugly 26.8 percent from the field.

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: March 3, 2015, 4:10 am

Six free-agent pickup recommendations, that’s how we roll. We’ll try to offer something for every budget. 

Andrew Hammond, G, Senators (28 percent): Sometimes you have to take a story and run with it, even when there’s no pedigree in place. That’s the case with Hammond, a 27-year-old non-prospect who’s been lights-out since getting his chance in the Ottawa cage (five straight wins, two shutouts, 1.31 goals-against, .957 save percentage). Maybe beating the Sharks in San Jose is no great feat these days – those guys can’t seem to play a solid game in front of their home folk – but bagels at Los Angeles and Anaheim need no qualifier, even if it never rains goals in Southern California

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Antoine Vermette, LW/C, Blackhawks (31 percent): Chicago obviously needs up-front reinforcements after the Patrick Kane injury, and the freshly-acquired Vermette should be good enough to hold a spot as a top-six forward. Sometimes there’s an emotional spike when you move from a losing club to a Cup contender. Grab him now, wait and see how the new line turns out. 

Nick Leddy, D, Islanders (34 percent): He’s in the middle of a good-not-outstanding season, a quiet 8-18-26 line along with a plus-15 rating and 96 shots. The Islanders grasp his value, throwing a seven-year, $38.5 million extension his way a week ago. Shouldn’t a Top 50 defensemen (Leddy is No. 44 in Yahoo games to this point) be owned in all formats? A good player in a strong system is often a better fantasy bet than a more-talented option surrounded by problems. 

Jordan Staal, LW/C, Hurricanes (14 percent): A broken leg ruined his first half, but Staal has a sneaky 4-12-16 line since coming back, and he’s been seeing regular work on the first line and top power-play unit. The Canes are starting to pick it up as well, going 5-2 (and scoring 22 goals) over their last seven games.

Andre Burakovsky, LW/C, Capitals (4 percent): If you’re looking for a speculative long-shot, this 20-year-old might be worth a chance. The Capitals are giving him some time on the big line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, and while it’s not going to carry over to specialty teams, at least some opportunity is there. Burakovsky collected three shots and was plus-two in Sunday’s victory over Toronto, though he didn’t factor in the scoring. Keep him on your radar. 

Kris Russell, D, Flames (12 percent): He’s not the biggest name on this blueline, but he’s proven to be plenty valuable in most formats. A 1-20-21 line and plus-10 rating earns ownership in general formats, and Russell also leads all defensemen in blocked shots (195). The Flames are fighting for their playoff lives, which means their Top 4 blueliners will see all the ice they can handle. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: March 2, 2015, 7:07 pm

This column will concentrate on borderline fantasy options who should get strong consideration to start/bench during the upcoming week based on schedules.

Avery Bradley: He’s been the No. 5 ranked fantasy player since the All-Star break, when Bradley has averaged 20.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.4 3pt and an NBA high 3.2 steals over five games. Bradley has been a top-25 player over the past month (the Rajon Rondo trade helped, and his Usage Rate will only rise now with Jared Sullinger out for the year). Boston has the fourth-highest PACE in the NBA and plays four games in Week 19, all against teams that rank in the bottom-10 in Defensive Efficiency (Cle, Uta, N.O., Orl), making Bradley, who’s still available in more than 30 percent of Yahoo leagues, a legitimate start this week.

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P.J. Tucker: Since the All-Star break, he’s averaged 13.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.0 3pt while shooting 48.0 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the line over five games. Tucker has been the No. 20 fantasy player over this span despite going 0-for-10 from downtown over his past three games (he’s a career 36.2 shooter from beyond the arc). He’s somehow owned in just 42 percent of Yahoo leagues despite being a top-35 ranked player over the past month, and that was before the Suns traded away a couple of guys with high Usage Rates. All of Phoenix’s games in Week 19 are on the road, but all of its opponents rank in the bottom-11 in Defensive Efficiency (Mia, Cle, Orl, Bkn).

Markel Brown: Since entering the Nets’ starting lineup three games ago, Brown has averaged 10.7 points, 6.3 rebounds 2.3 steals, 1.7 blocks and 0.7 3pt.  Despite shooting an ugly 36.4 percent from the floor over this span, he’s been the No. 45 fantasy player (he’s made all 11 of his free throws), and the most important takeaway is Brown’s 36.8 mpg, as he’s clearly going to see a major increase in playing time moving forward. He plays an NBA-high four games this week, all of which are at home. Brown is currently owned in two percent of Yahoo leagues. 

Ray McCallum: He’s averaged 13.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks over his past three games. McCallum has shot 54.0 percent from the field over his past eight games, and his Usage Rate is going to see a big increase with Darren Collison out for the season. New Sacramento coach George Karl loves Andre Miller, but McCallum has impressed (he saw 35:37 mpg on Friday) and is owned in just six percent of Yahoo leagues despite now starting for a Kings team that plays an NBA-high four games this week.

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Tony Parker: I’ve mentioned Parker as a downgrade before, but he’s still owned in 89 percent of Yahoo leagues and while the early narrative was him working through an injury, he’s been worse than ever of late, as he’s averaged 6.8 points while shooting 26.0 percent from the field over his past five games. To put this in perspective, Jeff Withey, who’s been given 4.3 mpg over this span, has been more valuable than Parker. The Spurs play just three games this week, but obviously there’s a much bigger concern than that when it comes to Parker (he’s been the No. 262 ranked player over the past three months).

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: March 1, 2015, 6:02 am

Just get to the playoffs, then hope to catch lightning in a bottle once you’re there. That’s the wishing credo of your typical Wild Card team these days, and sometimes it turns into a shocking underdog story. 

The 2014 Royals fit Cinderella’s slipper. With an ordinary plus-27 run differential, it’s amazing they qualified for the playoffs at all. They scraped together 89 wins (five more than the pythagorean formula suggested), then got hot in the AL playoffs. Thanks for coming east, Oakland. Have fun with your theme park, Anaheim. No need to be crabby, Baltimore. 

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The Royals eventually fell to the Giants in the World Series, but it took seven games to dispatch them. After 28 years of non-playoff baseball in the heartland, Kansas City's fanbase finally had an October story to rally around. 

It takes a while to figure out what this team did well. KC was dead last in the majors in home runs, 14th in runs scored, 18th in weighted on-base average. The starting staff ranked 11th in ERA. 

Ah, but there was valuable, if hidden, stuff in the crannies. The Royals ranked first in relief WAR, graded first in many defensive metrics, and were the AL’s best base-running team. You might not think to build a championship contender in this fashion, and it might not stand as a repeatable model, but it was a winning formula in 2014, especially in October. Bunting, baserunning, bullpen – the Ned Yost Triangle of Success

The Vegas sharps aren’t buying into the narrative – KC’s over-under win total for 2015 (80.5 wins) pegs them to be a losing ballclub. Fantasy ballers are skeptical, too. Only six Royals are currently in the Top 200 for Yahoo ADP, and no one has a sticker price in the Top 60. If you want Kansas City players on your fake roster, you shouldn’t have to fight to the death for them. This isn’t a buzzy team. 

That said, there are a few Royals you can talk yourself into. It’s not Brett, Otis, McRae and Wilson, but there’s a core of talent here. Let’s talk about the bigger-ticket items.

Q: Is Greg Holland worth his 67 ADP as a closer? What about saves on a budget and all that stuff? 

A: While I’m not going to discount the volatility of closers and the saves chase, there’s something to be said for considering one or two of the Tier 1 closers – especially if your league uses some form of innings cap. When you’re playing with a finite number of innings, the strikeout category essentially becomes K/9, and you’ll need some relievers to move the needle.

Holland’s last two years jump off the page: 129.1 innings, 1.32 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 193 strikeouts against a reasonable 38 walks. The skills support the minuscule ratios – FIP suggests a 1.59 ERA. He also had dominant relief years in 2011 and 2012, though he wasn’t closing then. Hard-throwing relievers don't always have the longest of shelf lives, but I don't see any logical reason why Holland's game is headed for a dip. Every Yahoo pundit has Holland ranked third or fourth on this year's relief pitcher board. 

Q: Wasn’t Alex Gordon supposed to be a game-changer by now? Is he worth the expected eighth or ninth-round ticket in a standard league? 

----------------A: Gordon’s career has produced a curious arc. Although he was tagged as a possible franchise player back in his draft class (he was the second overall pick in 2005), he eventually developed into a reliable but unexciting player who’s more stealth than superstar. 

Consider what Gordon’s average season looks like, running the last four campaigns: .283-93-19-78-12. A .356 OBP is a plus, a .453 slugging percentage respectable. He’s also turned into a decorated defender in left field, not that we get any fantasy juice from that. 

Gordon’s durability also comes into play: he’s averaged 156 games a year since the beginning of 2011.  He’s taking things slow right now after off-season wrist surgery, but I believe Gordon when he assures us he’ll be ready to go on Opening Day. It’s another case of a well-rounded player who doesn’t have one offensive talent that leaps off the page – these types of players are often underrated. You might be able to land Gordon as your third or even fourth outfielder in some pools, and I can sign off on that. 

Let’s just hope Yost doesn’t waste Gordon in the No. 6 slot again this summer. 

Q: Do the Royals want to break Salvador Perez, their franchise catcher? 

A: Sometimes it sure seems that way. It’s a shame the overworked catcher can’t get an overtime-based contract.

Perez led all backstops in games played last year, then tacked on 15 more starts in the playoffs, and then headed for the All-Star Series in Japan. The hellish workload taxed Perez at the plate; he slashed .229/.236/.360 in the second half, and didn’t do anything in the playoffs (.509 OPS). When Perez made the final out of the World Series, you were almost relieved for the guy. 

The Royals have always valued Perez – remember, they signed him to a forward-thinking contract extension in 2012. But they need to recognize that they’re overworking their well-compensated star. General Manager Dayton Moore talked about Perez’s workload right after the Series loss to the Giants, but no one knows what Yost might do when the bullets are flying. Sometimes less is so much more; if Perez could get a week or two of extra rest this coming year, it would probably boost his slash numbers nicely. I’m not going to target him in standard one-catcher leagues, where his ADP is around 124.

Q: Where is the Eric Hosmer story headed? Here's another guy who was expected to be a star. 

Now that Hosmer’s ADP has dropped into a cheap area (about 162 in Yahoo leagues), I’m considering him as a corner target (your third player between 1B and 3B). A bum hand had a lot to do with last year’s power collapse (just nine homers), and he was driving the ball with authority in September and October. 

Ken Brett's brother (Topps)Hosmer has yet to give us a true breakthrough year, but he’s done some decent things in his four seasons. His rookie year featured 19 homers in just 128 games. He had three double-digit steal seasons before shutting it down last year, perhaps due to injury. He’s batted as high as .302 before. A few years ago, Hosmer versus Freddie Freeman was a legitimate debate; this year, I could see going after Hosmer as the poor man’s Freeman in the middle rounds. 

Yes, Hosmer hits too many ground balls, and last year’s collapse in line-drive rate is worrisome. But again, the hand injury provides a convenient excuse, there’s a high-return pedigree here, and I think we’re in the post-hype portion of the program – a lot of fantasy players seem less than impressed by Hosmer now. It could be the right time to take him at the nice price. He's still just 25. I'm not giving up on the upside, and I love that the current ADP isn't forcing you to price in improvement. 

Q: Young fireballer Yordano Ventura is now at the top of the rotation. Are we on board? 

A: I’ll root for the Ventura story but I don’t think I’ll be drafting him this spring. A 97.0 mph fastball makes for appointment television, but I get nervous watching that kind of head coming from a pitcher with a modest 6-foot, 180-pound frame. And given his raw stuff, how to we reconcile the 7.82 K/9? Shouldn’t it be a lot higher than that?

I'll gladly watch plenty of Ventura this year, as a fan, but something doesn't quite add up here. And most gamers know from personal experience, young pitching – specifically sophomore pitching – can break your heart. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: February 25, 2015, 9:41 pm

STOCK UP

Rudy Gobert: He’s averaged 10.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 4.0 blocks over two games since Enes Kanter was traded to the Thunder. Gobert has been the No. 63 ranked player this season despite averaging a paltry 6.8 ppg and 21:55 mpg. The upside here is through the roof for the 22-year-old, as Gobert has averaged 4.0 blocks over nine starts, a role in which he’s now locked into in Utah as the future of the franchise. He’s been the No. 27 fantasy player on a per-36 minute basis this season and will only continue to improve. Gobert is going to be a fantasy monster.

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Reggie Jackson: He’s averaged 20.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.3 3pt while shooting 85.7 percent from the line over 14 starts this season. Jackson will be starting over the rest of the year after getting traded to the Pistons, as his fantasy value has arguably taken the biggest leap among all players over the past week. Turnovers are likely to be a problem, but Jackson is clearly being handed the keys to the Pistons’ offense. Meanwhile, Brandon Jennings’ long-term role in Detroit is now cloudy, whereas D.J. Augustin’s recent run as a valuable fantasy contributor comes to an end.

Goran Dragic: After ranking as a top-30 player last season, Dragic checks in at No. 64 so far this year, including being outside the top-150 over the past month. He’s moving from a Phoenix team that ranked second in PACE to a Miami squad that ranks last, but it’s safe to expect a big increase in Usage Rate for Dragic. He’s gone from sharing a backcourt with Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas (who has the fourth highest Usage Rate in the NBA) to a Miami team badly in need of scoring, especially with Chris Bosh out for the season (not to mention Dwyane Wade constantly missing games). The trade to Miami should lead to Dragic going back to being an elite fantasy point guard, whereas Mario Chalmers (who’s quietly been a top-100 player over the past month) gets a downgrade.

Luol Deng: He’s played well over the last two weeks, getting 16.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.8 bpg and 1.8 3pt while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 88.9 percent from the line, a span in which he’s been a top-50 player. Deng could easily hold that value over the rest of the season, as Chris Bosh is out for the year and Dwyane Wade continues to battle injuries. Deng’s True Shooting Percentage (58.2) is a career high.

Terrence Jones: He got off to a fantastic start this year before suffering a leg injury, and then he found himself battling Josh Smith (among others) for playing time when he returned. But Jones has averaged 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks over the past three games, and he moved back into the starting lineup Monday. Houston has the third highest PACE this season, and Dwight Howard is sidelined indefinitely, so Jones has a nice opportunity to make a major impact. He’s still available in more than 30 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Here’s DeMarcus Cousins throwing down a monster dunk on poor Jae Crowder

Here’s a JaVale McGee sighting! 

Here’s a sick dunk by old man Richard Jefferson that was somehow called an offensive foul

STOCK DOWN

Patrick Beverley: He pulled off an upset and won the “Skills Competition” as a last minute replacement during All-Star Weekend, but Beverley is in the midst of an epic shooting slump. He’s shooting 28.6 percent from the floor over the past month, resulting in him being the No. 213 ranked player. Beverley looks like a nice buy low candidate, but it’s safe to say his owners have to be losing patience, as he’s shot 2-for-15 from the field over two games since the All-Star break.

DeAndre Jordan: He’s been the No. 42 ranked player so far this year, and with Blake Griffin out with an injury, Jordan has averaged 18.4 points, 12.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2.0 blocks while shooting 67.4 percent from the field and committing just 0.6 tpg over the past five games. Despite those ridiculous numbers, Jordan has been the No. 146 player over that span, thanks to him shooting 43.5 percent from the line on 13.8 attempts per game. Not every team will employ the strategy in which the Spurs did (sending DJ to the charity stripe 28 times), but Jordan’s FTA have increased every month this year, a trend that’s worrisome for his owners.

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Evan Turner: He’s owned in every league I’m in despite shooting an ugly 30.8 percent from the floor while committing 3.5 turnovers per game over the past two weeks, when he’s been the No. 188 player. Isaiah Thomas (who currently sports a higher Usage Rate than LeBron James, James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant) is now a teammate, so feel free to drop Turner.

Jordan Clarkson: He looked like a must-add once he became the Lakers’ starting point guard, but Clarkson hasn’t recorded a single steal or block over the past four games, a span in which he’s shot 43.9 percent from the field. Clarkson has been the No. 180 player on a per-36 minute basis, so even if he continues to start, there’s not much upside here.

Chandler Parsons: He’s missing time with a sprained ankle, but the downgrade here has more to do with his performance on the court than a minor injury. Parsons has been in a shooting slump, as he sports an ugly 28.1 FG% over the last two weeks. That’s a small sample, but his FGA (11.8) have been down ever since Rajon Rondo joined Dallas, a 28-game span in which Parsons hasn’t been a top-80 fantasy player.

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: February 25, 2015, 12:11 am

Six free-agent pickup recommendations, that’s how we roll. We’ll try to offer something for every budget. 

Scott Darling, G, Blackhawks (9 percent): He’s been terrific at both levels this year, starring in the AHL (.927/.202) and coming through in seven spot-starts with Chicago (five wins, 1.97/.937). With Corey Crawford in a funk, the Blackhawks are giving Darling the Tuesday tap on the pads against Florida. Like most coaches, Joel Quenneville isn’t afraid to ride a hot hand in goal  perhaps Darling can get something rolling here. If he can just make the basic stops, Chicago's deep blue line should take care of the rest. 

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Francois Beauchemin, D, Ducks (6 percent): Perhaps the time he missed in November and December is the reason the 34-year-old vet is playing so well now. He’s collected six goals and 10 points over his last 22 games, and he’s a tidy plus-7 this month, skating next to emeging stud Hampus Lindholm. The Ducks know how much Beauchemin contributes at both ends of the ice; he’s wearing an A on his sweater for just reason. He was also given major power-play time in Monday’s win over Boston; Anaheim won’t have Sami Vatanen for another month or so. 

Eddie Lack, G, Canucks (28 percent): The Ryan Miller injury sounds ominous on a name-brand level, but Lack’s percentages are just about identical this year (the goals-against is the same, and Lack’s save percentage is four points higher). Don’t let Lack's 6-7-2 record throw you; he should be owned in all goalie-for-blood leagues, and even in deeper formats where you’re just hoping to get lucky on an ascending backup. The Canucks are a top ten defense with respect to limiting shots on goal, which certainly helps. 

Brendan Gallagher, RW, Canadiens (31 percent): Fantasy owners are hip to what Tomas Plekanec is doing this season, but don’t forget his speedy right wing. Gallagher isn’t giving us as many PIMs this year, but we’ll take the trade off  all of his scoring columns are on the escalator, including shots on goal, and he’s also seeing more ice time. 

Antoine Roussell, LW, Stars (18 percent): If your league includes penalty minutes, a player like Roussell is solid gold. He hops into the sin bin plenty (126 minutes), but you don’t have to completely sacrifice offensive production (11-11-22, 81 shots). Mind you, he hasn’t scored a lot lately, but he’s made a penalty box appearance in eight of his last ten starts. 

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Darren Helm, C, Red Wings (6 percent): He’s no longer a worker bee on one of Detroit's lesser lines; he’s been playing inspired hockey on the Pavel Datsyuk-Tomas Tatar group of late. The speedy, heady Helm has a 5-4-9 line over his last ten games, along with a steady 24 shots – and most of that production came on the road. Head coach Mike Babcock is impressed with Helm, and that’s good enough for me. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: February 24, 2015, 3:20 pm
Trout, McCutchen, Kershaw ... fantasy baseball owners know to grab the big names early in their drafts. But the late-round picks are key to winning your league – and that may include some young guns.

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The big question around this year's top prospects: how soon will they make an impact? In the video above, Yahoo Sports' Andy Behrens explains why that is what you need to consider when drafting a young star this season.
Author: Evan Doherty
Posted: February 23, 2015, 1:04 am

This column will concentrate on borderline fantasy options who should get strong consideration to start/bench during the upcoming week based on schedules.

Alex Len: Fully recovered from his ankle injury, Len has averaged 10.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks over two games since the All-Star break. Most importantly, he’s seen nearly 35.0 mpg over this span, which is significant considering the young big man has gotten 1.6 bpg this season despite getting just 20:41 mpg. Staying out of foul trouble will remain key (Len is tied for the 10th most fouls in the NBA this year despite the low minutes played), but there remains clear upside for the 21-year-old. Not only is Miles Plumlee gone but so are Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, leaving a whole bunch of Usage Rates to be replaced. Len is owned in fewer than 30 percent of Yahoo leagues, although that number is sure to change, as he’s been the most added player over the past couple of days.  

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Isaiah Canaan: He’s averaged 12.6 points, 1.2 steals and 2.7 3pt over nine starts this season with Houston, and Canaan is now the 76ers’ starting point guard after getting traded to Philadelphia. It may take some time before he gets acclimated with his new team, especially as a raw player who’s seen just 13:13 mpg during his career while joining a 76ers squad that has by far the worst Offensive Efficiency in the NBA (Philly’s OFF EFF is 91.6, whereas the next worst Is 97.8). But Canaan should get a huge opportunity on a tanking 76ers team that ranks No. 6 in PACE and has produced two guards who were in the top-15 in Usage Rate this season (Tony Wroten and Michael Carter-Williams) before either going down with injury or getting dealt. Canaan is somehow still owned in just 26 percent of Yahoo leagues.  

Jusuf Nurkic: Over his last five games, Nurkic has averaged 10.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 2.4 blocks while shooting 48.7 percent from the field and committing just 1.4 turnovers. He’s been a top-30 fantasy player over this span, one spot behind Anthony Davis despite seeing just 26.6 mpg. Nurkic is looking at a lot more playing time down the stretch as the key piece to Denver’s rebuilding plan. He also plays an NBA-high four games in Week 18 and is still available in more than 60 percent of Yahoo leagues.  

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Mo Williams: Brian Roberts was given a chance when Kemba Walker went down with a knee injury, but he’s been a huge disappointment, ranking as the No. 140 player despite seeing 34.0 mpg, thanks in no small part to shooting 36.6 percent from the floor. So it’s no surprise Charlotte traded for Williams, who erupted for 24 points, four rebounds, 12 assists and five threes during his first appearance with the Hornets on Saturday. Walker will eventually return, but Williams is owned in fewer than 50 percent of leagues and is a must-add right now despite Charlotte playing just three games this week.

Arron Afflalo: He’s been a top-100 player in three of the past four years, so it’s easy to see why owners have stuck by him despite a disappointing start to 2014/15 (he’s still owned in nearly 75 percent of Yahoo leagues). But Afflalo has been in a devastating shooting slump of late, sporting a 33.8 FG% over his last six games. Moreover, there’s far worse news than a small sample slump, as Afflalo has been traded to a Portland team that will decrease both his minutes and Usage Rate. To further emphasize benching Afflalo, the Trail Blazers play just three games in Week 18.

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: February 22, 2015, 9:06 am

Although the Giants are coming off their third World Championship in five seasons, a glorious run by anyone's standards, last year's triumph wasn't like the first two. After a pair of front-door titles, the 2014 champagne run was a back-door job all the way.

San Francisco barely made the playoffs last year, ducking into the tournament as a wild-card entry with an ordinary 88 wins. The Giants finished 12th in scoring, 10th in ERA, eighth in differential. There was nothing particularly scary about these guys into October..

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It doesn't make the bubbly taste any less sweet, of course. But it puts management in a curious spot – do you judge a team by its ordinary regular season or its glorious end result? 

Expectations are lower for the Giants in 2015. Vegas opened their over/under at 85 wins, considerably behind the league favorites (Nationals, 93) and the NL West favorites (Dodgers, 91). The Cardinals (87.5) are projected to be better than the Giants, too, while the emerging Pirates (85.5) and upstart Padres (84) are in San Francisco's O/U neighborhood. 

General Manager Brian Sabean didn't make any major additions to his roster, and the biggest news of the offseason was the departure of October hero Pablo Sandoval. But there's still plenty of fantasy juice left over; the three biggest names on this roster (Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence) carry Yahoo ADPs of 45 or under.. 

Grab your warmest hoodie (yes, it's freezing at AT&T Park, lovely as it may be) and let's try to figure it out.  

Q: When we last saw Madison Bumgarner, he was mowing everyone down in October. What now? 

TMBGA: I'll never say never, but I'm fairly confident Bumgarner won't be on any of my teams this year. He's a little too famous and popular after the October run. Recency bias on a star comes with a draft-day tax. 

If the price comes down over the next month or so, okay, I'll reevaluate. But right now Bumgarner is trading at 20.7 in Yahoo leagues, a sticker I'm not willing to pay. He is coming off a monster workload season – including the playoff work, he threw 270 innings last year. His career ratios are good but not elite: 3.06 ERA, 1.135 WHIP. And heck, look at how deep the pitching board is. I'll let the position come to me; I don't need to elbow everyone out of the way for the shiniest names. 

Q: So Timmy Lincecum is growing his hair out, working with his Dad, and making another run at the Giants rotation. Any interest? 

A: Sure, as a fan, I have interest. It's a fun story. But I doubt I'll land any Lincecum shares in March. There's been too much bad work over the last three years, the two Padres no-hitters to the side. 

Lincecum's funky career path is worth a deep inspection; it's trying to teach us a bunch of lessons. When do you throw a stat like xFIP in the trash? When the pitcher in question is allowing a ton of hard contact, like Lincecum has the last three years. Look at the bloated line drive rate, and please, stop excusing the homers. 

Lincecum's average fastball was in the 92-94 range during his salad days; it's been between 89.6 and 90.4 during his three-year free fall. His K/9 has been dipping, but K-percentage actually describes a more significant giveback. If you want to talk yourself into Lincecum, be my guest. I'll watch this one from the sidelines. 

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I'll throw in one disclaimer before we close the discussion: I might have some Lincecum interest if the Giants converted him to a full-time reliever. Lincecum was a wipeout, shutdown reliever during the 2012 championship run, and there are endless examples of failed starters who make terrific short relievers. I'm surprised the Giants aren't going down that path already, but maybe they want to give Lincecum one more chance to make good (don't, don't, don't . . . let's start). 

Q: Is there a Giants player you're actually targeting, or do you hate them all equally? 

Oh hush, you. We're just in it for the numbers.

I'm one of the industry pundits who contributes to The Fantasy Baseball Guide, a nifty baseball preview edited and compiled by Peter Kruetzer. The scribes are invited to share pics and pans on whatever players they feel like discussing. Here's my "pick" (endorsement) for outfielder Hunter Pence.

Bonds Sr. (Topps)

One of the regional sports networks did a big piece on how Pence is a Kale Monster, to the point that the team chef cooks for him and there's some garden exhibit at the San Francisco park, in his honor. Now maybe some people need meat and maybe others don't, but look at the games played column with Pence: he's given you nine straight *full* seasons, which is immensely valuable. He's never going to win an MVP, but the floor you get with Pence is wonderful.

He's also a contributor in all five roto categories without being dominant in any single one, and that usually leads to a player being underrated. And heck, Pence's awkward gait and style on the field (which I feel guilty mentioning, as I recently discovered it's a physical issue and not his fault) might chop a few bucks off the price. I don't need shiny new toys. Give me a team full of Kale Monsters like Pence, I'll kick your meat-eating ass. (Okay, give me a steak, too, medium.)

Pence's boring but reliable consistency is once again getting overlooked in the early Yahoo draft season. He's currently the 14th outfielder off the board in the Y world (44.2 overall), going after players like Justin Upton (hello, Petco), Bryce Harper (still a speculation pick) and Billy Hamilton (so many things he can't do yet). You won't win the room with a Pence pick, and his auction nomination rarely causes a major donnybrook. These are good things. Kill them softly with a value play.

The Else: One-catcher strategy is a little like one-quarterback strategy, boring but reasonably effective. I'll avoid Buster Posey in basic leagues that don't require multiple starters, but I'll give him a little chase in a mixer if two backstops are needed. In the Norwegian Wood auction that went down Wednesday night (13 teams, $260 budget, two catchers), I price-enforced on Posey and was left with a perfectly acceptable $25 purchase. To put it in some context, Todd Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury also went for the same price, while catcher-eligibile Carlos Santana fetched $20 (the dinged Jon Lucroy ticketed at $17). Posey will also get occasional work at first base, which brings backup Andrew Susac into play as a streaming candidate in daily formats . . . Casey McGehee is an interesting replacement for Sandoval, another stocky corner infielder who will hit a bunch of line drives but not too many homers. Okay, Panda did sock 16 last year – Hits McGehee totaled just four in Miami. You need to be in a deeper mixed pool before McGehee offers much juice; I'll put him down for a .272-58-7-69-3 season . . . Man, there's a lot of older players carrying the skeleton of the roster. Every key reliever on the club is in his 30s. McGehee and Nori Aoki, the two biggest additions, are 32 and 33, respectively (everyone in the outfield is 31 or older). This team's window could be closing soon . . . Joe Panik's line-drive bat led to a surprising .305 average over 73 games as a rookie, but it came without any category juice (one homer, no steals). Even if he lands in the No. 2 position, I don't see enough to carry a mixed-league starting spot. Have fun with the puns, but aim for better numbers at second base . . . It might look like Brandon Belt's progress has stagnated some, but a busted thumb and a concussion mucked up his 2014 season. His slash line plummeted to .243/.306/.449, but he did clock 12 homers in just 214 at-bats. Entering his age-27 season, I still see plausible upside here. The Yahoo ADP of 188 is dripping with potential profit . . . Matt Cain is coming off elbow and ankle problems, not to mention two horrible seasons. He'll need to play his way back into my circle of trust, and if I'm beaten to the punch in March, that's fine. There's no guarantee he'll be at full throttle come opening day; he's yet to begin throwing in camp. I'll spend my speculation monies elsewhere. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: February 19, 2015, 4:22 pm

Don’t look for Anders Lee in this space, we gave him to you last week. Onward and upward, here are six widely-available pickups to consider for your fake hockey squad. 

Kevin Klein, D, Rangers (13 percent): He’s the No. 44 defenseman in the Yahoo game, a testament to a useful but fluky season. Klein’s somehow posted a 9-16-25 line despite little power-play time – he’s yet to register a man-advantage point in 2014-15. The nine goals are a mirage, coming off a modest 64 shots (his career shooting percentage is a mediocre five percent). And this isn’t some young up-and-coming talent; Klein’s in his age-30 campaign, and posted just nine points in the 77 games immediately prior to this year. All those caveats established, he’s getting regular ice with a decent team, so we can trust the hits, blocks and even the plus-minus (plus-22). In most pools, there’s a case for picking up The Big Chill. 

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Morgan Rielly, D, Maple Leafs (9 percent): While you generally want to avoid the train wreck that’s ongoing in Toronto, Rielly has been productive during his sophomore year (7-12-19) and he’s headed for loads of responsibility with Cody Franson traded and Dion Phaneuf still hurt. And heck, a minus-8 rating on this team is like a plus efficiency on a decent squad. Points are points, and Rielly has seven over his last 11 starts. The lightbulb is coming on for 2012’s fifth overall pick. 

Mike Hoffman, C/LW, Senators (18 percent): For a while it looked like Hoffman was one of those Quad-A players, to steal a baseball term. Plenty of scoring in the minors, but not considered a true prospect. Nonetheless, the Senators gave the 25-year old a healthy role early in the year and he continues to run with it, making beautiful music with Bobby Ryan and Mika Zibanejad on the second line. Hoffman has a snappy 19-12-31 line over his past 46 games, and he’s been a plus player every month. If he were a player with a pedigree, his ownership level would be two or three times the current number.

Tyler Myers, D, Jets (23 percent): We’ll try to keep expectations in check; his terrific rookie season is now five years in the rear-view mirror, after all. But moving from the dormant Sabres to the up-tempo Jets is a boost to anyone’s value. Sure, Winnipeg’s power play is just middle of the pack, but Buffalo’s man advantage is dead last. Myers is off to a 1-2-3 start with his new club, over three games, and he’s been more assertive shooting the puck. Looks like a good fit. And we no longer have to be deathly afraid of a major minus rating (Myers was 15-under with the Sabres). 

Mikko Koivu, C, Wild (45 percent): He couldn’t get out of his way in the early part of the season, but he’s in fine form now, like most of his mates (Minnesota has hockey’s best last-10 record). While playmaking centers aren’t that difficult to find for fantasy, anyone on a 2-11-13 stretch over 14 games is worth a fantasy pickup. Skating with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville is chicken soup for the hockey soul. 

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Travis Hamonic, D, Islanders (30 percent): The offense is humming on the Island (20 goals in five games) and Hamonic is coming along for the ride, racking up eight assists this month and skating with the top power-play unit. Just hang around John Tavares and friends these days, the puck will follow. Hamonic also throws his weight around, picking up 73 PIMs and 147 hits. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: February 17, 2015, 2:10 pm

When the Chicago Cubs last appeared in the World Series, the team's pennant-winning roster included names like Dewey, Mack, Walter, Stan, Lon, Cy, Len, Lennie, Hank and Peanuts. The National League was composed of only eight teams. Baseball cards, discontinued during the war, generally featured painted images. Mordecai Brown was still alive, Bud Selig was 11 years old and Rob Manfred was not yet born.

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Chicago lost the 1945 Series to the Newhouser and Greenberg-led Tigers, and so began one of the more remarkable periods of sustained non-achievement in the history of team sports. These past seven decades have been a little rough for the Cubs.

But today, the team is guided by a battle-tested manager and a collection of proven executives. Chicago's farm system is ridiculously talent-rich, featuring a trio of consensus top-20 prospects — Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler — plus another half-dozen young players with obvious potential. Things are suddenly looking up for the Cubs — so up, in fact, that the team signed a 31-year-old pitcher to a nine-figure deal in the offseason. When a franchise splurges like that, you know it expects to win, and soon.

Still, the range of possible outcomes for the 2015 Cubs is awfully wide, what with so many under-25 players expected to produce. But there's no shortage of optimism on the north side — and, finally, the hopefulness doesn't seem misplaced or insane. Chicago certainly offers plenty of interesting fantasy pieces this season, so let's field a few questions that press ...

Q: GIVE US BRYANT. NOW. MUST HAVE. URGENT.

A: I mean, that's not even a question. Please respect the Q&A gimmick.

Q: OK, fine. When will Kris Bryant arrive in the majors for keeps, and what will his early numbers look like?

A: Better. Thank you.

Cubs projected startersThe first thing we need to say about Bryant, just so everyone's on the same page here, is that he's an exceptional prospect, a kid with upper-tier fantasy potential. Bryant was named Baseball America's 2014 Minor League Player of the Year, and it probably wasn't a tough call. He hit 43 bombs across two levels last season, driving in 110 runs, crossing the plate 118 times, swiping 15 bags and slashing .325/.438/.661. Bryant has plenty of swing-and-miss in his game (162 Ks), which is no small issue as he attempts to conquer big league pitching — it wouldn't be much of a surprise if he didn't hit for average as a rookie. But everyone expects immediate power contributions. At a time when home runs are increasingly scarce, Bryant offers them in abundance. He's quickly dominated at every stop, throughout his career. Prior to winning BA's Player of the Year award, he was named the Arizona Fall League MVP, plus he claimed the Golden Spikes Award in 2013.

Simply put, it's been quite a while since Bryant was anything less than the top player at his level. We shouldn't completely rule out the possibility that he may open the season as Chicago's starting third baseman, if he forces the issue this spring. Bryant isn't blocked by anyone notable. The Cubs' early-season placeholder options include Mike Olt (uninteresting) and Arismendy Alcantara (very interesting, extremely versatile). Clearly, Bryant's spring performance will be a huge storyline throughout March — arguably the biggest in fantasy. If he doesn't demolish Cactus League pitching, then the Cubs will have cover to do business-of-baseball things, perhaps stashing him at Triple-A until May. Whenever he arrives in Wrigley, Bryant figures to be a middle-of-the-order hitter with high-end power potential. Again, batting average is really the only mild near-term concern.

Bryant was drafted in Round 10 of the LABR mixed league earlier this week, a price that left plenty of room for profit. If you need a 5X5 fantasy projection from us right now, today, here you go: 71-26-77-5-.269.

Q: How 'bout the rest of Chicago's silly collection of prospects? Who are the names to know?

A: We really can't stress enough how deep and impressive this system is entering 2015. The Cubs have multiple prospects generally ranked outside the organization's top-10 — guys like 1B Dan Vogelbach and LHP Carson Sands — who would be viewed as seriously buzz-worthy commodities in other systems. Chicago has a terrific talent pool from which to deal, if the right vet becomes available at the right time. And, of course, the team can continue to promote young, cost-controlled weapons.

Phil Cavarretta, 1945 MVPBeyond Bryant, the two most interesting names for 2015 are Soler and Russell. With each player, the primary concerns are injury history and ... well, not much else. If healthy, both guys figure to be very good major league ballplayers. Soler was terrific last season after the late call-up (24 games, 5 HRs, .292/.330/.573), and he's demonstrated power and on-base skills during his minor league career (lifetime .300/.375/.525). He could very well emerge as a star, plus he's set to open the season in the majors. Draft and enjoy.

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Russell, at age 21, ranks alongside Bryant as a long term prospect. He plays a premium defensive position and does it reasonably well, but at the moment he's blocked in Chicago by Starlin Castro. One of those guys may eventually find himself at third (which would bump Bryant to left), or at second (if Javier Baez can't adjust), or perhaps at short for the Mets (Starlin-for-pitching has always made sense). When Russell makes it to Chicago, it will be an actionable fantasy event. He can hit for average with double-digit power/speed totals, not unlike Castro.

Chicago's prospect parade won't stop any time soon, not with C/OF Kyle Schwarber and RHPs Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards advancing steadily. Schwarber is a dynasty must-own.

Q: So what are the odds that Baez will be a total bust?

A: Total? Well, that seems unlikely. For all his faults, he still managed to belt nine homers in 229 MLB plate appearances last season. When Baez hits 'em, they stay hit.

Javier Baez, after yet another out. (Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports)The problem, obviously, is that he rarely hit anything last year when facing major league arms. Baez whiffed a remarkable 95 times over those 229 PAs, drawing just 15 walks. His swinging-strike rate was 19.1 percent, which of course is funny-bad — much higher than guys like Chris Carter (16.5), Tyler Flowers (16.4), Ryan Howard (15.5) and Mark Reynolds (15.3).

As general manager Jed Hoyer said back in January, "[Baez] is going to have to make more contact to stay in the big leagues."

With new coaches and new expectations in play, Baez will presumably need a strong spring to earn his spot in the opening day lineup. He'll then need to demonstrate in April that he's capable of adjusting to big league stuff. Baez's power ceiling remains extremely high, but his floor is Uggla-ish. If he fails to impress in February and March, Alcantara or new arrival Tommy La Stella can leapfrog him. Fantasy owners shouldn't ignore Baez, but you can't afford to draft your way into a spot where you need him to succeed. He's a lottery ticket, not a lock.

Q: What's the story with Jake Arrieta? Was he a fluke last season, or is he for real?

A: Legit. Solid. One hundred percent real — or at least greater than 90 percent. Draft with confidence. Arrieta's breakout was no accident of luck. He tweaked the pitch mix last year, threw as hard as ever, cut his walks, and missed a million bats (OK, hundreds of bats). Arrieta's swinging-strike percentage (10.2) placed him in the neighborhood of guys like Jordan Zimmermann (10.3) and new teammate Jon Lester (9.9). His ERA was 2.53 and his xFIP was 2.73. Again: Not some miracle of friendly bounces. Arrieta is entering his age-29 season, coming off a terrific campaign. If you don't want him, leave him for me.

Q: And this year's Cubs closer is the same as last year's Cubs closer, right?

A: Yup, Hector Rondon. He's coming off a quiet 29-save season, he posted useful fantasy ratios last year (2.42 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) and he whiffed 4.2 batters for every walk. This is a bargain closer, friends.

Q: Will they have an actual ballpark on the north side this season, or will it just be a deep crater surrounded by cranes and heavy machinery?

A: Renovations at Wrigley are ongoing, beset by legal challenges and not happening as fast as anyone would like. Bryant may arrive before the new bleachers, even if he opens the season at Triple-A. The park alterations are a strange sideshow in an otherwise exciting year. The expected changes are likely to have some sort of impact in the way the ballpark plays, but weather has always been the dominant factor. Wrigley can be uncommonly hitter-friendly one day, then overwhelmingly pitcher-friendly the next.

Weird, fun place. Weird, fun team. Let's play two.

---

Rest in peace, 14. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)
Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: February 13, 2015, 9:28 pm

Normally you walk into Petco Park and start thinking about a fish taco or a specialty beer. 

This year, buy a scorecard first. 

It’s been a while since the Padres were especially relevant. They haven’t had a winning record since 2010 and they haven’t seen the playoffs since 2006. Their last October series win dates back to 1998, when they hoisted the National League pennant before the Yankees swept them.

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So no one can fault new general manager A.J. Preller for shuffling like a madman during his first Padres offseason. The Friars made three blockbuster trades (check out that snappy outfield, Upton-Myers-Kemp), then chased it with a late signing on a major free-agent pitcher, James Shields. It’s a new team, and it’s a fun team. And for the first time in a while, it's actually a buzzy, name-brand team.

Of course, the playability of Petco overwhelms any San Diego fantasy discussion. Although the fences were brought in two years ago, Petco has nonetheless taxed scoring by 17 percent and batting average by nine percent over that period. Left-handed power hitters do fine here, but right-handed power takes a 24-percent bath. It’s still the most pitcher-dominated park in the majors. 

With that in mind, we open this Padres PQ at a logical place – the pitcher’s mound.

Q: What becomes of Shields at his new address? 

First things first, let’s throw the Big Game James nickname in the shredder. When we last saw Shields in October, he was posting a messy 6.12 ERA over 25 innings for the Royals. His career playoff ERA is 5.46, covering 11 starts. Give James Worthy his nickname back for good and let’s call it a day. 

Shields had to wait for his free-agent payday, but earlier this week he turned into Big Contract James. The Padres handed him a four-year, $75 million package, ready to park him at the front of the rotation. 

----------------Those fading Shields for 2015 will find some ways to support the argument. He’s entering his age-33 season and his strikeout rate has fallen two straight years (last year’s 7.14 K/9 is actually a negative in most capped leagues). San Diego’s freshly-assembled defense could be a mess, a far cry from the plus units Shields enjoyed in Tampa Bay and Kansas City. 

That doesn’t mean the Padres threw their money away, of course. Shields also trimmed his walk rate down to 1.74/9 last year, his KC earned-run average never went past 3.21, and he’s one of the more durable pitchers around. He’s logged 932.2 innings over the last four years, easily the most in baseball, and he’s topped the 200 mark for eight straight years. If you’re in a deeper league where any muffed pick is especially hazardous, Shields brings an interesting floor.

The Yahoo fantasy crew has Shields slotted between 17th and 25th on the starting-pitcher board (my current rank: 19). At the end of the day, you can’t ignore the Petco float and the cushy womb of National League baseball. It’s a floor pick all the way, but that doesn’t make Shields a bad pick.

Q: Who looks good in the rest of the rotation? 

When you consider the starters lined up behind Shields, the signature signing makes more sense. There’s plenty of talent in the group (audited smartly here by Paul Sporer of Fangraphs), but unlike Shields, the other primary starters come with more downside.  

The risk-reward siren of Andrew Cashner sits in the No. 2 slot. Last year’s 2.55 ERA and 1.13 WHIP were lovely, but they came in spite of a tumbling strikeout clip (just 6.8/9, a silly-low number when you consider his raw stuff). A heavy ground-ball trend and Petco’s wide-open spaces make for a fun backdrop, but Cashner’s health is also a perennial concern. A shoulder problem cost him 12 starts last season, and he’s made four DL trips in his last four years. I never say never on most players, especially someone with this much talent, but I always assume someone in the room will want Cashner more than I do. 

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Tyson Ross is also coming off an outstanding year (2.81/1.21, 195 strikeouts), and he might have more upside than Cashner (Ross strikes out more batters and has an even loftier ground-ball rate). But Ross also had an elbow issue late last year, on the heels of a season that saw him throw sliders a ridiculous 41 percent of the time (far and away the most in the league). I realize most pitchers fall into two categories  those currently hurt and those soon to be so  but in the case of Ross, you can almost hear the ticking of the watch. With an ADP around 100, I’ll likely avoid him. 

Ian Kennedy might turn into the value pick of the staff. His ADP is about 70 picks after Ross’s, probably because of Kennedy’s ordinary 3.63 ERA. But he’s coming off a 207-strikeout year, and he actually had the highest K/9 rate in last year’s rotation. 

Kennedy’s peripheral-suggested ERAs were lower than the front door number last year, and it’s interesting to note his ERA was a lot higher at home (3.93 at Petco, 3.32 elsewhere). Write that off as a stone fluke. Kennedy looks like a nice foundation pick for the second half of your rotation. 

There's not much of a mixed-league case for No. 5 starter Odrisamer Despaigne, but keep a couple of longshot tickets in mind behind him (Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow). Both of those star-crossed righties crash-landed in Toronto, mostly due to injuries, but there's no better park for a pitcher to rebuild his career. 

Q: How about the outfield? We haven’t been this excited since Gary Coleman and Dave Winfield roamed the San Diego greenery. 

The Padres picked an interesting time to buy on Myers (off a wrist injury) and Kemp (dealing with an arthritic hip, though he still played 150 games). Upton’s value has been stable in recent years, but the Braves might have been motivated to move him a year in front of free agency. 

Treble Cove Road (Topps)It’s a shame all of these sluggers are right-handed – a left-handed power hitter would play fine here – but Upton, Myers and Kemp certainly have enough brawn to keep themselves in fantasy relevance. Be careful not to pay for stolen bases – Upton hasn’t seen double-digits since 2012, and Kemp’s shut it down for three years. 

Kemp and Upton both went in the third round of this week’s LABR mixed draft, though it was Kemp who surprisingly flew off the board first. I think that’s a mistake, given his medical file (one full year in three); I’d give him lukewarm consideration in the fourth round but probably talk myself out of it. Upton’s scan justifies a third-round tag in my book, at least to the later part of the proceedings. Myers at Pick 166 is delightful – he’s all upside at that price. 

Defensive ability is always a secondary concern for fantasy purposes; obviously we're not being graded on it. So long as a player isn't going to kick his way out of the lineup, we generally don't sweat his glovework. But when you look at San Diego's defensive lineup in total, it's a red flag for the pitchers. There isn't a plus defender in the outfield – Myers in particular is an interesting question in center field – and the infield could be a mess, even if good-glove, no-hit Clint Barmes settles in at shortstop. 

Bordertown Babble: I wouldn’t blame anyone (cough, Teddy Bell, cough) who swore off Jedd Gyorko after last year’s nightmare first half (.162/.213/.270), though a foot problem explained part of the slump. Gyorko did rebound in the second half, somewhat (.260/.347/.398), showing better patience, even if the slugging percentage still leaves us cold. Bottom line, he hit 10 homers in a terrible year and 23 in a solid rookie year. Second base is a rather thin position. You have to at least consider Gyorko in the Round 11-15 area . . . Maybe Will Middlebrooks is an offensive improvement over Yangervis Solarte at third base, maybe he’s not.  Both guys are limited on defense, lining up with the team theme. Solarte's angle is versatility and line drives, while Middlebrooks offers some pop but with batting-average risk . . . Skipper Bud Black usually gets exceptional mileage from his bullpen, which means the Padres should be fine even if closer Joaquin Benoit struggles, gets hurt, or is traded. Handcuffing is one of the all-time overrated fantasy strategies, but if you’re in a league that puts value on non-closing relievers, be aware of Kevin Quackenbush (2.65/1.10, better than a strikeout per inning). Fun name, ownable game . . . With all the moving parts to the roster, somehow Yonder Alonso is still the first base option. That’s a shame. He’ll hit for a reasonable average and steal the occasional bag (a sneaky 12 over his last 181 games), but he’s never made it to ten homers in a season. He shouldn’t on the field against left-handed pitching (career .648 OPS). 

 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: February 12, 2015, 6:52 pm



The baseball season is fast approaching, so it's time to take a look at how the first round of fantasy drafts could play out by examining the Yahoo consensus top 12 players on the board.

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While Mike Trout still leads the way as the No. 1 ranked player, there are some fresh faces that should go early, including a pair of first basemen in Chicago. Meanwhile, some 2014 breakout players have something to prove before becoming first-round locks.

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Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: February 11, 2015, 3:51 pm

STOCK UP

Tyreke Evans: With Jrue Holiday sidelined, Evans has taken on a much bigger role as a facilitator in the Pelicans’ offense, averaging a whopping 9.4 assists over the past 10 games (only John Wall and Ty Lawson have averaged more over this span). Moreover, the career 27.4 percent shooter from downtown has hit a three in 13 straight contests, as Evans has been a top-50 fantasy player over the past two weeks. His Usage Rate (26.0) is the second highest of his career and would only rise if Anthony Davis were to miss time with his scary looking shoulder injury (get well soon Brow!).

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James Johnson: He’s shot 15-of-17 from the field over the last two games, including Sunday’s 20-point effort in which he replaced Greivis Vasquez in Toronto’s starting lineup. Johnson has averaged 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.0 blocks over eight starts this season, so he’s well worth adding should his new role be permanent. Johnson is owned in just 14 percent of Yahoo leagues but has been the No. 60 ranked fantasy player on a per-36 minute basis, according to Basketball Monster. It also helps playing for a Raptors team that sports the fourth-best Offensive Efficiency in the NBA.

Gerald Henderson: He’s been a top-50 player over the past two weeks, when Henderson has averaged 16.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks and 0.7 3pt while making 90.9 percent of his free throws. He’s attempted 13.5 field goals over that span, as Henderson has become a much bigger part of Charlotte’s offense since Kemba Walker has been sidelined with a knee injury. Henderson is owned in just 28 percent of Yahoo leagues right now, but that number is climbing, as he was the third most added player Monday.

Mitch McGary: He’s gotten 18.0 ppg and 10.0 rpg over the two contests without Steven Adams, shooting 66.7 percent from the floor over that span. McGary is no lock to even enter the starting five, but Adams is expected to miss at least the next three weeks, so if you’re desperate for rebounds, it would make sense to take a flier on the rookie big man.

Ricky Rubio: He’s had modest production since returning from a severe ankle injury, averaging 10.8 points, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals, even resting during Sunday’s game. But the good news is Rubio is back on the court, and it’s hardly surprising it’s going to take a while before he’s back to his old self after missing so much time. Rubio was the No. 57 ranked player last season despite getting just 32.2 mpg, when he recorded the second most spg (2.3) in the NBA. Still just 24 years old, Rubio is averaging career highs in True Shooting percentage (50.8), Usage Rate (23.6), Rebound Rate (10.5) and PER (17.29).

Here’s Anthony Davis sinking an amazing double-pump game-winning three (his first made trey of the year) against the Thunder, becoming the only player with at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and a game-winning buzzer-beater in the last 10 seasons. He’s 21 years old.

Here’s DeMarcus Cousins with a nice game-winning buzzer-beater of his own. (Seriously though, what’s going on in Sacramento? How many coaches can one team fire in the same season?)

STOCK DOWN

Goran Dragic: It’s not surprising he’s taken a step back with Isaiah Thomas joining Eric Bledsoe in Phoenix’s backcourt, but it’s been more of an efficiency issue than a problem with lack of volume of late. Dragic has been the No. 201 ranked fantasy player over the last two weeks, when he’s shot 44.7 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from the line. Dragic will bounce back, but this slump has been prolonged, as he’s been outside the top-170 for a full month now. His Assist Rate (20.0) this season is easily the lowest of his seven-year career. Meanwhile, Bledsoe is in the midst of his best fantasy campaign by far.

DeMar DeRozan: He flirted with a triple-double during Friday’s contest (24-9-8), but few players have hurt your field goal percentage more than DeRozan. Over the past 20 games, he’s shot an abysmal 38.2 percent from the floor on 14.4 FGA. He’s been the No. 233 ranked fantasy player over this span after finishing No. 56 overall last year. DeRozan has done so while getting the 17th highest Usage Rate (26.2) in the NBA on a Raptors team that has the fourth-best Offensive Efficiency in the league. The 25-year-old has been quite a disappointment.

Marcus Smart: I’m a fan of Smart’s game and long-term value in keeper leagues, but there are going to be serious growing pains. The rookie has taken on a much bigger role in Boston of late, but it hasn’t yet translated to fantasy value. Over the last two weeks, Smart has averaged 5.1 rpg, 5.6 apg, 1.3 spg and 1.4 3pt (only four players in the NBA currently average at least 5.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.0 3pt), yet Smart has been just the No. 188 ranked player over this span thanks to horrific scoring/shooting (7.4 ppg, 33.3 FG%, 55.6 FT%). Smart is averaging more three-point attempts (3.7) than two-pointers (2.1) this season, which is interesting for someone who has a ton of work to do to improve his shooting.

Enes Kanter: He’s a nightly double-double threat and somehow remains in the starting lineup over Rudy Gobert, but this is a 6-11 big man who has recorded one block over his past nine games combined (and zero over his last six), a span in which he’s produced a 3:18 AST:TO ratio. Kanter is owned in the majority of fantasy leagues, but he hasn’t been a top-200 player over the last two weeks and plays for a Utah team that has the third-lowest PACE in the NBA this season.

Deron Williams: Since returning from his rib injury, Williams has gone 11-of-42 from the field (26.2 percent) and 56.3 percent from the charity stripe, averaging 6.8 points over five games. Williams was the No. 24, 39, 24 and 55 ranked fantasy player over the past four seasons, respectively, and the hope was he entered 2014/15 healthier and finally over his recent ankle woes. Instead, he’s missed more time and hasn’t even been a top-100 asset when on the court. Williams is owned in 92 percent of fantasy leagues, and while he shouldn’t be dropped, owners have to be beyond fed up at this point.

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: February 10, 2015, 8:02 am

Get out your shopping lists and let's hit the waiver wire for some free stuff. As always, we'll focus on players owned below the 50-percent Yahoo Fantasy Hockey threshold, and we'll try to include players at a variety of ownership levels. Something for everybody. 

Tomas Hertl, LW, Sharks (37 percent owned): The struggling sophomore was given a couple of AHL games during the All-Star break, and maybe that triggered a rebound in confidence. Hertl registered two assists in his Worcester action, and is on a 2-3-5 run in six San Jose games since. Hertl was the club's best forward in Saturday's loss to Carolina, burying two chances from the crease and adding an assist in the final minute, when San Jose was in desperation mode (merely being selected at that time is a vote of confidence). Hertl remains stuck on a third line for now, though he's seeing secondary power-play time – and the up-and-down Sharks could easily promote him if the stick stays hot. I'm expecting a strong push in the final third of the year.

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John Klingberg, D, Stars (43 percent): Kindly do me a favor and push his ownership tag past 50 percent so we don't have to keep discussing someone this obvious. Most of Klingberg's early scoring came in 5-on-5 situations, but his snappy 5-8-13 line in January included four points on the PP, and he's been Dallas's main quarterback in February (the first unit in Big D features Klingberg and four signature forwards). It's not too late for the snappy Swede to make a run at the Calder Trophy.

Alexandre Burrows, LW/RW, Canucks (6 percent): He's seeing power-play run and he's getting time with the Sedin Brothers, two obvious selling points. You also love the dual-eligibility from a forward, and a handy two-point game from Saturday. Burrows's shot rate is the highest it's been in four years, and he'll throw in some hits and PIMs for those in dynamic leagues.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Lightning (13 percent): While Ben Bishop is the obvious No. 1 in Tampa Bay, the uber-talented Vasilevskiy could see a sneaky chunk of time over the final few months, especially when the schedule gets heavy. Vasilevskiy has the pedigree (the 19th overall pick from the 2012 draft) and he's looked ready through six NHL appearances (1.96 GAA, .934 SVP, 4-1-0 record). The Bolts play seven games over a 13-day period, beginning Tuesday, which means Vasilevskiy will be needed. Most of those matches come during a nasty five-game Western road trip, but Tampa Bay is capable of beating anyone, anywhere. (If you're in a non-competitive group, sure, grab Devan Dubnyk or Cam Talbot or Curtis McIlhinney. They should be long gone in any pool with a pulse.)

Marco Scandella, D, Wild (14 percent): It's a shame he's not receiving man-advantage time, but when I see 11 shots and two assists over a two-game period, I'll follow along for a while. Scandella was a PP staple during a snappy December before falling completely off the map last month. Let's see where the story goes.

Anders Lee, C/LW, Islanders (6 percent): Injuries have pushed Lee onto a line with John Tavares, and so far, so good (three goals in four games). Lee is also part of a power-play that has been clicking since the All-Star break. Good work if you can get it.

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: February 9, 2015, 12:23 am

When last we saw Clippers big Blake Griffin, he was playing 36 minutes in a loss at Toronto, delivering a rich stat line (26-6-9-1-1). No obvious signs of trouble.

But on Sunday morning, bad news broke:

Clippers say All-Star Blake Griffin will undergo surgery in LA on Monday, Feb. 9 to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.

— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) February 8, 2015

Brutal. Just brutal.

We don't yet have a clear recovery timetable for Blake — could be two weeks, could be six or more — so let's simply say he's out indefinitely. The Clips currently occupy the sixth spot in the Western Conference standings, both Griffin and J.J. Redick (back) are sidelined, and the near-term schedule is a minefield: at OKC, at Dal, Hou, SA, Sac, Mem, at Hou, at Mem, at Chi. So things could certainly get rough for L.A.

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Fantasy-wise, a familiar vet (and respected fashion maven) figures to gain value...

PF/C Spencer Hawes, LAC (30 percent owned)

Hawes has been stuck at 17 minutes per game to this point in the season, averaging just 6.1 points and 3.9 boards, not really helping the fantasy community. But he drew the start on Sunday, and his minutes should jump to 28-32 during Blake's absence. With that sort of playing time, he's a decent bet to give us plenty of 13-and-7 games, with threes and blocks and acceptable percentages — not exactly Griffin-ish, but not bad. He needs to be added, today.

SG/SF Gerald Henderson, Cha (21 percent owned)

Henderson has scored 17 points or more in four of his last five games, so it's tough to argue with the recent production. We're not talking about an across-the-board contributor here (despite the 9-dime game on Saturday), and he's not a significant 3-point threat, but he can certainly help anyone who's scuffling in a points league. Charlotte is dealing with non-trivial injury issues at the moment (Kemba, MKG), so Henderson's minutes are safe for now.

PG Jordan Clarkson, LAL (18 percent owned)

Sure, Clarkson had the 0-for-4 clunker last Wednesday in a loss to Milwaukee, but the rookie has been mostly useful in recent days. He's starting, playing 30-plus minutes per night, typically scoring in the teens, with assists and steals. I'd added him in two leagues, dropped him for Hawes in one.

SG/SF Paul George, Ind (10 percent)

Yeah, it's merely a mid-season dart throw. A scratch-off ticket. Yet another injured player to manage around. If you're the owner of a middle-of-the-pack fantasy team, battling injuries, then George isn't worth the flier. But if your season has been smooth to this point ... well, it's probably time to take George's rehab seriously. (You've seen the post-practice clips, right?)

Few of us thought George would make it back in 2014-15 following the horrific summer injury, but he's hoping to return to full practices by March 1. Clearly there's no guarantee that he'll see game action in March or April, but it's at least a legit possibility. In the Eastern Conference, teams are finding it difficult to tank their way out of the playoff race, so the Pacers are in the mix, even at 19-32. If George returns for the closing weeks at limited minutes, that's a huge win for Indy.

Again, there are no promises being made with George. But I've picked him up in a pair of head-to-head/ weekly-lineup leagues, just in case. If nothing else, perhaps he can serve as a fantasy trade sweetener ahead of the deadline.

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: February 8, 2015, 6:27 pm

This column will concentrate on borderline fantasy options who should get strong consideration to start/bench during the upcoming week based on schedules. Something to note: Leading up to the All-Star Break, every team in the league plays either one or two games this week.

Wayne Ellington: He’s averaged 17.4 points, 1.0 steals and 2.4 3pt over the past five contests, when Ellington has been a top-75 player. While he’s shot poorly over that span, he’s also been given 39.0 mpg while getting 15.6 FGA. To put that in perspective, the former would be the second highest in the NBA this season, while the latter would be more than Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Dirk Nowitzki and John Wall. In fact, among the top-30 fantasy assets this season, only 12 have more FGA than Ellington has over this stretch. It’s a small sample, but it’s also clear he’s going to be the biggest beneficiary of Kobe Bryant’s season-ending injury. Both of the Lakers’ matchups in Week 16 come against teams that rank in the top-10 in PACE, but even for a season-long view, it seems crazy Ellington is owned in just 26 percent of Yahoo leagues.

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J.R. Smith: Over the last five games, he’s averaged 13.2 points, 2.2 steals and 3.2 3pt while committing just 0.8 tpg and shooting 47.2 percent from the field (which would easily be a career high). Smith was nothing short of a disaster with New York earlier this year, but since joining Cleveland, he’s been the No. 38 ranked fantasy player over 16 games. Still available in a quarter of Yahoo leagues, Smith is worth starting in all weeks, let alone ones in which the Cavs play an NBA high.

Devin Harris: With Rajon Rondo sidelined throughout the All-Star Break, J.J. Barea has moved into the starting lineup, but it’s Harris who gets the bigger fantasy boost. While the former has shot an ugly 37.0 percent (20-of-54) from the floor with just one steal in five games since Rondo went down, the latter has averaged 2.6 3pt and 0.6 blocks with a 4:1 AST:TO ratio. Harris has been the No. 53 ranked fantasy player over the past week yet is owned in only 12 percent of Yahoo leagues. Assuming his recent ankle tweak isn’t serious, he should continue to see a nice increase in minutes and Usage Rate in Week 16, when both of Dallas’ opponents rank in the bottom-half in Defensive Efficiency (moreover, the Mavs are one of only two teams to play an NBA-high three games in Week 17).

Markieff Morris: He’s owned in 88 percent of Yahoo leagues despite not being a top-150 player over the past month. Morris’ prolonged shooting slump will come to an end at some point, but the Suns play just one game in Week 16, and that’s against a Houston team that has third best Defensive Efficiency in the NBA. 

Nicolas Batum: I’ve been on board with Batum as a buy-low candidate for some time, but it’s become increasingly hard to deny his struggles, as he’s shot an ugly 31.9 percent from the field over the last 16 games, a span in which he’s been the No. 162 ranked player. It’s clear his wrist injury has really hindered his shooting ability this season. Obviously don’t go dropping Batum, but Portland plays just one game next week (albeit in a favorable home matchup against a Lakers team that has the second worst Defensive Efficiency in the league), so he’s not exactly a must-start in shallower formats.

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: February 8, 2015, 8:18 am

The waiting is the hardest part. The waiting is just about over. 

Your 2015 present has finally arrived. Yahoo Fantasy Baseball is back. 

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In addition to all the established features that you know and love, here are some game enhancements to sink your teeth into:

• New draft client with better research tools, including player notes and projected standings.
(Everyone loves being graded, even if they want to complain about it later.)

• League chat that allows you to message your league mates across all devices.
(Talk trash on your tablet. Sound smack on your smartphone. Build your fantasy brand 24-7)

• Condensed games on video allowing users to scout players for adds, drops and trades through 8-10 minute videos of every game from the previous day. Exclusive to Yahoo Fantasy Baseball through our partnership with MLB.com.
(Admit it, there’s a scout inside you, fighting to get out. Game tape is your friend. Bring a clipboard everywhere you go.)

As usual, commissioners will have a bunch of customizable options to choose from. Draft or auction? Small rosters or large rosters? Roto scoring or head to head? Standard categories or funky ones? Have fun building your perfect sandwich. 

You're now free to dance among the comments. As for who to pick, we'll work on that over the next two months. Welcome back, gamers. 

Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: January 29, 2015, 7:23 pm

Although it’s been 31 years since Detroit’s last World Series title, the Woodward faithful hasn’t had much to complain about in recent years. The Tigers are taking aim at their fifth consecutive AL Central title. The glorious run has been fueled by a mix of potent offense (no one has scored more runs since the beginning of 2013) and reliable pitching (Top 10 team ERAs for three straight campaigns). Detroit generally assembles a strong lineup and a formidable starting staff and dares teams to match it over the six-month marathon. Most opponents fall short.

To be fair, there are subtle areas where the Tigers routinely struggle. They’ve been one of the worst defensive teams in the majors for several years now, and the bullpen hasn’t been good for a while. Detroit fans become anxious whenever the opponent puts the bat on the ball, and there’s a collective Eight Mile shriek whenever the bullpen door opens. 

Order up a hot and ready and let's try to figure it all out. 

How do we price J.D. Martinez after that shocking monster year? 

I understand why a lot of pundits will run from Martinez this year. His 2014 breakthrough took everyone by surprise, and sometimes the scribes hold a grudge for that sort of thing. And obviously no one wants to pay the freight on a career year; no one wants to be that sucker.

----------------------But remember “Regression!” should always be viewed as the start of a conversation, not the ending of one. Even if Martinez comes down notably from last year’s .315-25-76 line (and certainly no one expects him to bat .315 again), he has a chance to return you a fantasy profit. Sometimes you can cobble together a nifty profit simply by fading the Regression Police. 

Keep a few things in mind as you try to digest last year’s emergence: Martinez consistently posted silly numbers in the Houston minor-league system; the breakout came during his Age 26-27 season; Martinez significantly altered his plate mechanics prior to last year; and he showed monstrous power to all fields (as opposed to being a pull-happy slugger). He also posted a line-drive rate over the league average. Attribution can be a tricky thing in the fantasy racket, but at least we have something we can hang our hat on.

Martinez’s 2014 stats were heavier in the first half, but it’s not like teams solved him after the break (.292/.342/.478, 10 homers). He’s working in a strong lineup, with some notable OBP monsters just ahead of him (okay, and hacking Yoenis Cespedes). Martinez is a Top 35 outfielder on my board entering the first days of draft season. I could live with him as my third outfield option, and I’d really love him as an OF4 or OF5, something you might be able to get.

Any interest in a Justin Verlander comeback season on the eve of his 32nd birthday? 

Generally I never say never on anyone, assuming it's a draftable commodity in the first place. Maybe the price will be so cheap on game day, I’ll be tempted. But Verlander’s career trajectory scares the daylights out of me.

Anytime you see a name player – especially a name pitcher  performing like dirt, you worry about an unreported injury. Maybe Verlander pitched through problems in 2014 that no one knows about. But I can’t get past the fact that his ERA and WHIP have spiked for three straight years (bottoming out at 4.54 and 1.40 last year) while his fastball velocity has dropped five straight seasons. Verlander’s K/9 dropped below 7.0 in 2014, and his swinging strike number was the lowest it’s been since 2008. 

Framed a different way, my problem with Verlander isn’t 2014 isolated, it’s the path his career is taking. 

Verlander currently trades as the No. 47 starting pitcher in NFBC leagues, so not everyone has given up the ghost. Ian Kennedy, Mat Latos and Phil Hughes are a tiny bit pricier; Jose Quintana is cheaper. I have no problem talking myself out of Verlander at his current sticker.  

Speaking of Age-32 seasons on the way, what do we do with Miguel Cabrera? 

I don’t want to hear anyone bellyaching about Cabrera’s .313-109-25-101 haul from last year. Sure, it was a mild disappointment from the level of production we’re used to, but Cabrera was playing with a bum ankle through most of the year  and still gutted his way through 159 games. And heck, all you really want from a first-round pick is a cornerstone type of season  everything else is gravy. If your team finished under your expectations, it wasn’t Miggy’s fault. 

Cabrera was hobbling around like Fred G. Sanford in September, on a crummy wheel that required surgery after the season  and somehow managed to bat .379 with eight homers that month. Tip your cap for that unreal performance. 

We live in a world of shiny-happy surgery anecdotes, but the Tigers haven’t treated Cabrera’s situation that way. When Miggy had his October procedure, GM Dave Dombrowski frankly conceded the injury was “worse than what we ever would have anticipated.” Earlier this month, Dombrowski admitted the team isn’t certain Cabrera will be on the field for Opening Day.

Johnny B Good (Topps)With all that in mind, we’re presented with a risk-reward question for our draft seasons. I still view Cabrera as a first-round pick. He’s been durable through his career (averaging 157 games over the last 11 years) and he’s also shown that he can still produce when he’s not healthy. He wants to stay in the lineup, even when he’s not close to 100 percent. We’re not buying him for base running or defense.  

If I were drafting tomorrow, I’d have no problem taking Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt or Giancarlo Stanton over Cabrera. After that, it’s a conversation. Is Carlos Gomez worth consideration in the middle of the first round? Is any pitcher worth that tag, even someone as dominant as Clayton Kershaw? Are you willing to spend a premium pick on someone who might not be ready in March or April? These are questions everyone has to answer for themselves. For the time being, I’m giving Cabrera the benefit of the doubt. 

Tiger Tales: The club would like to see Joe Nathan take the closing job and run with it, though he’s 40 and is coming off a horrendous season (4.81 ERA, seven blown saves, five homers, 29 walks). Joakim Soria is a solid Plan B, albeit he didn’t pitch that well after his acquisition at the trade deadline . . . Rajai Davis has a sneaky way of playing more each season than anyone expects, but the Tigers might stop that trend now that Anthony Gose is on the roster. Goes is a better defender in center field, while Davis is the superior offensive player. The big concern with Davis: his career OPS is .804 against left-handers but just .645 versus the righties. If this turns into a straight platoon, Davis would be on the shallow end of it . . . If you need a Home Run Derby guy or someone to chuck a baseball 300 feet, Yoenis Cespedes is your man. But his offensive game becomes less interesting the closer you examine him (which might explain why he’s been traded twice in six months). A .263 average and .316 OBP isn’t what you expect from a corner outfielder making decent coin, and even his .464 career slugging percentage is a disappointment. Maybe leaving Oakland will push the numbers up, though Cespedes was comfortable enough at home to post a .277/.343/.490 slash there. Cespedes has the arm for right field but not the experience; thus, the Tigers will probably sink or swim with Martinez in that key spot . . . Alfredo Simon steps into the rotation as the Rick Porcello replacement, and both right-handers have the same game plan (throw strikes, rely on ground-ball outs). Your league format makes the call on Simon – he's not someone you can trust if K/9 is the golden goose, but he might be a sneaky, underrated commodity in deeper pools that have more liberal rules. Double-digit wins and an ERA under 4 seems within reach . . . I wish I saw Ian Kinsler's monster year coming. Oh, I thought he'd do fine in the womb of the Detroit lineup, but I also expected him to miss the Arlington undertow, and I didn't expect a full season, either. You could probably win a few bar bets centered on Kinsler's GP and RBI columns from last year. He was also one of the few Tigers who played acceptable defense. Sure, Kinsler's walk rate plummeted, but when the production is this good, I'm not going to sweat it. He looks like a solid option somewhere in the fourth, fifth or sixth round of your draft. He's currently No. 4 on my second-base board. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: January 28, 2015, 8:33 am

STOCK UP

D.J. Augustin: With Brandon Jennings out for the season with an Achilles injury, Augustin becomes Detroit’s new starting point guard. Over four starts this season, he’s averaged 18.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.3 3pt while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 90.0 from the line. Three of those four starts came when Josh Smith was still on the team, while the other was Sunday’s huge performance (35 points, eight assists, 12-20 FG with five threes). Those numbers are obviously unsustainable, but Detroit has played far better since Smith’s departure, and Basketball Monster projects Augustin to be a top-100 player over the rest of the year. He’s currently owned in just 54 percent of Yahoo leagues, which should rapidly increase.

Nikola Pekovic: He returned from a two-month absence while recovering from an ankle injury last week, and while he struggled during Monday’s game, Pekovic is already back in the starting lineup, which was hardly a sure thing given Gorgui Dieng’s strong play (he's remained in the starting five, shifting to power forward). Dieng’s emergence should hurt his value some, but Pekovic has been a top-70 fantasy player each of the past two seasons and appears to be back to 100 percent healthy.

Brian Roberts: Kemba Walker will be sidelined for the next 6-to-8 weeks with a torn meniscus, resulting in Roberts becoming Charlotte’s starting point guard. He’s not going to be a star, but Roberts has averaged 13.0 points, 4.0 assists and 1.0 3pt in three starts this year and is a career 92.3 percent free throw shooter (although admittedly he doesn’t get to the line much). Roberts can be a useful player as long as Walker is out and is still owned in fewer than 20 percent of Yahoo leagues.

LaMarcus Aldridge: While it’s unusual to upgrade someone who’s now dealing with a torn thumb ligament, fantasy owners have to be ecstatic Aldridge is going to play through an injury that originally ruled him out for 6-to-8 weeks. He attempted 22 field goals and made all eight of his free throw attempts during his surprising return Saturday, and he plans to play through the pain over the rest of the season. It’s a pretty big turn of events for someone who was even briefly removed from Yahoo’s Can’t Cut List, as it’s rare to be given a timetable of missing possibly two months and then return to the court immediately. Aldridge has been a top-10 player so far this season.

George Hill: He’s back in action and should return to the starting lineup soon enough. It’s been a rough year in terms of health so far for Hill, but there’s quietly a lot of upside here if he can avoid injuries moving forward. With the Pacers so depleted this year compared to last, Hill should set a career high in Usage Rate by a wide margin. In fact, he’s averaging a career-best 14.4 ppg despite playing a lowly 23:50 mpg (he got 10.3 ppg in 32:01 mpg last season). It’s been a small sample (seven games), and there’s no guarantee Hill returns to full health and stays that way, but he’s been the No. 16 ranked fantasy player on a per 36-minute basis in 2014/15.

Here’s Kevin Durant posterizing Marcin Gortat

Here are the 76ers somehow missing five shots inside two feet within five seconds

Here’s Kyle Korver dunking! 

Here’s Hassan Whiteside recording 12 blocks in the midst of a triple double in fewer than 25 minutes

Here’s Klay Thompson scoring an NBA-record 37 points in one quarter

STOCK DOWN

Dwyane Wade: He had a strong performance Sunday, but it marked the first time Wade shot better than 45.5 percent from the floor in 10 games, a span in which he’s gone 0-of-9 on three-point attempts. Wade’s mpg (32:28), rpg (3.9), spg (1.1) and bpg (0.4) are all the lowest of his career, while his tpg (3.3) are his most since 2009/10. This all despite Wade having the third-highest Usage Rate (32.2) in the NBA thanks to LeBron James leaving town. The concern with Wade has always been health, but he’s been just the No. 88 ranked player when on the court this season (and No. 263 over the past two weeks).

Roy Hibbert: He got off to a fantastic start to the year, and it was reasonable to expect it to continue considering the Pacers lost both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency) during the offseason. But since then, Hibbert has been nothing short of a disaster. Despite a nice game Sunday, the big man has averaged 7.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.0 steals and 0.5 blocks while shooting 43.3 percent from the floor over the past four games. Hibbert is seeing the fewest mpg (25:02) since his rookie campaign and has been the No. 163 ranked player over the past two months.    

Kobe Bryant: Normally I shy away from downgrading injured players, since that’s so obvious, but there are two points to be made here. First, it’s sad watching how Bryant’s career is winding down (he’s going to miss a total of 123 games over these last two seasons, not to mention he wasn’t even a top-100 player this year despite owning the second-highest Usage Rate in the NBA). The second problem is unfortunately there really aren’t any obvious beneficiaries on the Lakers despite the team losing a player who nightly attempted 20.4 FG and 6.9 FT. A handful of Los Angeles players deserve a slight upgrade, but the loss of Bryant doesn’t move the needle on any specific one.

Mario Chalmers: With LeBron James out of Miami (and Dwyane Wade continuing to miss time), Chalmers has seen a big jump in responsibility on the Heat this season (his 19.0 Usage Rate is easily a career high), which resulted in a terrific start to the year. But it’s been downhill from there, as Chalmers has struggled mightily shooting, as he’s gone an ugly 38-for-112 from the field (33.9 FG%) over the past 15 games, including going 4-of-23 from downtown over the past nine contests. He’s shooting a career-low 27.3 percent from beyond the arc, which especially hurts owners since he attempts 3.0 per game. Chalmers has been the No. 199 ranked player over the last two months.

Lance Stephenson: Owners keep waiting for Stephenson to bounce back, which makes perfect sense considering he was the No. 111 ranked player last season and has moved to a Charlotte team in which he’s been given a much bigger role (his current 20.3 Usage Rate is a career high). But bad keeps going to worse, as he’s shooting a hideous 15.3 percent from downtown on the year and has been the No. 357(!) ranked player over his last 15 games. Stephenson is still owned in more than 75 percent of Yahoo leagues.

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: January 27, 2015, 8:06 am

In most seasons, Fenway Park is a safe place to chase offensive production. The park is tiny and a bonanza for scoring, and the Red Sox usually have a stable of capable hitters. 

Alas, 2014 wasn't like most years for the Olde Towne Team. A collection of slumps, injuries and mediocre players combined to torpedo the Boston offense, and with that, any hope of a championship repeat died quickly. The Red Sox finished 18th in the majors in scoring last year, a notable drop from their normal perch. Boston posted a Top 4 scoring offense in six of the prior seven seasons. (And to be fair, it hasn't been all Fenway Park; only the Yankees scored more runs on the road from 2007-2013.)

The fix-it plan is fairly simple if you're one of the "haves" in baseball – you throw money at the problem. Boston started that theme last August (landing Cuban outfield prospect Rusney Castillo with a $72 million package), and the spending continued over the winter (about $200 million went out for Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval). The Red Sox still have questions on the mound and with roster construction, but this team should be scoring plenty in 2015.

Let's load up some Ps and Qs and see where we get.

Q: Does a change of location help Ramirez and Sandoval? 

I can't see how it won't. Obviously American League life has advantages for most hitters (the DH, more cycling through the order), and the ballpark change in particular is a daisy for both players. 

Ramirez previously toiled in Dodger Stadium, where runs take a 12-percent dip (grading over the last three years, per the Bill James Handbook) and right-handed batting average drops seven percent. Fenway's float: scoring rises by eight percent, and batting average jumps six percent. 

The run-scoring environment is even trickier in AT&T Park, Sandoval's prior stomping grounds. AT&T pushes average down by four percent, and crushes scoring by 16 percent. Sad Panda? Not in The Hub. (It's not just the tiny size of the yard, but also consider the minuscule amount of foul territory.)

Ramirez is also looking at a position change – after a career at shortstop and third base, he'll be Boston's left-fielder. I don't see any reason to dock Ramirez for that, and it might even turn out to be a positive. The middle infield is rife with collisions, but left field is a benign place to be. The Wall takes a bit of work at Fenway, but it's really not that big of a challenge defensively - and a postage stamp would cover the tiny amount of real estate in that park. Ramirez looks like a second-round fantasy play to me, given that he still carries the critical shortstop tag. 

---------------Q: Where else is the offense likely to be upgraded?  

If you compare the 2014 Opening Day lineup with what’s likely this time around, Sandoval replaces Will Middlebrooks and Ramirez replaces Mike Carp. Everyone sees the upgrades there.  

At shortstop, you’re comparing sophomore Xander Bogaerts to rookie year Bogaerts. A likely win. And while Castillo is shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, he should be a notable gain from the last days of Grady Sizemore

Fantasy players get a bounce in their step when discussing Mookie Betts. Fun name, exciting game. Betts had a monstrous 99-game run in Double and Triple-A last year (.346/.431/.529, 11 homers, 33 steals), and did just fine in a third of a season with Boston (.291/.368/.444, five homers, seven steals). Heady stuff from a kid who turned 22 right after the season. 

Betts finally had a job for good in the second half of August, and the fun really started when the team elevated him in the lineup for September. Betts slotted first in his final 21 appearances, scoring 15 runs, walking 10 times, slashing .305/.387/.439. He was a Top 10 middle infielder for the final month of 2014, and should be parked in the leadoff slot when the fresh season begins. Start your engines. 

Although Betts is slotted for outfield duty in 2015, he'll qualify as a second baseman in many pools. That's the best place to deploy him. His current ADP is 108 in the NFBC draft world, but I expect the price to keep rising as we move closer to April. 

Q: What about the pitching staff? 

Three is the magic number for Boston’s starting rotation – you won’t find an ace on the roster, but there are plenty of guys who could be a No. 3 at their best, even on a contending club. The depth isn’t bad here. It’s just a matter of finding a horse or two between now and the dog days of August. 

The Red Sox tried to make an offseason pitching splash, to be fair. GM Ben Cherington made an aggressive pitch for old friend Jon Lester, and they kicked the tires on Cole Hamels. If the club is contending come midsummer, you have to figure this team will explore a major deal, even as it would be costly from a luxury tax standpoint. 

The Eck (Topps 1981)Clay Buchholz has toggled between overachieving and underachieving through his eight-year career. He’s been an All-Star twice, his two dynamic fantasy seasons (2010, 2013). Injuries have also been a big part of his story, though he was frustratingly healthy for most of 2014 (5.34 ERA, 1.39 WHIP). His FIP was over a run lower than his front-door number last year, if you wanted to know. He underwent knee surgery shortly after the year. 

Boston was happy to scoop Rick Porcello in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes (square peg, round hole for the Red Sox), but Porcello is another tricky fantasy call. A 3.42 ERA and 15 wins, you like that, but his puny strikeout clip (129 over 204.2 innings) is a killer if you play in a format that caps innings or starts.

Porcello’s game is pitching to contact (most of it on the ground) and letting the chips fall where they may. You’ll have to earn your way on base against him; Porcello issued just 37 unintentional walks last year. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s just entering his Age 27 season. 

If you want to talk yourself into lefty Wade Miley, look at the 2012 numbers. Justin Masterson's best showing came in 2013; same for Joe Kelly. In an AL-only format, they're worth exploration and consideration. In the mixers pools we tend to focus on, we'll ask them to force their way onto our rosters. Show us something first. 

Hub Happenings: Although veteran closer Koji Uehara expired down the stretch, succumbing to fatigue, the Red Sox quickly resigned him in the offseason and plan to use him in the ninth inning again. Uehara remains in tremendous shape overall and I expect he'll be surprisingly affordable at the March tables. I'm not holding his final 2014 quarter against him . . . You have to get in line to bash Dustin Pedroia these days; he was panned four times in the 2015 Fantasy Baseball Guide (full disclosure: I didn't write on Pedroia but I did contribute to the magazine), and my friend D.J. Short recently offered his own thumbs-down on Pedroia. I'm not particularly bullish on Pedroia, either, after watching him suffer through a couple of injury-marred seasons. But he's going to slot No. 2 in a loaded lineup, and if the cost on him is reasonable (he might not be a Top 10 second baseman in some formats), I'll consider playing the contrarian card and hoping a fixed wrist will lead to a rebound season . . . We’ve seen plenty of Cuban imports produce right away in recent years (Cespedes, Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig), not that Castillo’s expectations should be in that realm. Nonetheless, we are talking about someone who’s already 27, a finished product, and Castillo hit the ground running in his 10-game September trial, homering twice and stealing three bases over 10 games. Every projection I’ve seen for Castillo calls for a double-digit year in homers and steals, along with an acceptable average . . . Brock Holt and Daniel Nava had some splashy moments with the 2014 team, but they're slotted as bench players entering the fresh season, which speaks to the improvement of the roster. Shane Victorino is also a man without a job, coming off an injury-riddled Age-33 campaign. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: January 22, 2015, 12:28 am

We're in the middle of a week in which every NBA team plays at least three games, which should make this a relatively low-stress time for fantasy owners. Perhaps you're not desperate for a pickup. Maybe you briefly freaked about Kevin Durant's dinged elbow, but, thankfully, that sounds like a non-issue.

Still, many of you treat your league's free agent pool like an all-you-can-eat buffet, so for you we offer the following options...

Langston Galloway, NYK, PG (9 percent owned)

Honestly, I really have no great sense for where the Galloway story will go, and New York's roster hasn't exactly been a fantasy gold mine. But he's found his way into the starting lineup — no small feat for a 10-day contract guy — and he's coming off a 21-point game against New Orleans and an 11-point, seven-rebound effort against the 76ers. In the D-League, Galloway piled up steals (2.7 per game) and points (16.5), and he'll clearly have an opportunity to do the same for the Knicks. I'm interested enough to have contributed to the adding binge, in a small way.

"He's got a very high ceiling," Derek Fisher has said. We'll see. We've established that Galloway can do stuff like this, which is cool. Let's hope he sticks.

Marcus Smart, Bos, PG (39 percent)

Smart is playing 27-32 minutes per night of late, contributing solidly in steals, threes and assists. Check the per-36 numbers: 11.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 2.2 3PG. Smart's shooting percentages aren't stellar, but he's coming off his best game of the season (14-7, 4 threes) and his playing time is guaranteed. He also has a string of five games in seven days beginning Thursday, so you can leave him parked in your active lineup for the next week..

Ersan Ilyasova, Mil, SF/PF (44 percent owned)

Oh, hey, look who's back. No one's going to guarantee rest-of-season good health, necessarily, but Ilyasova is worth owning when he's right. He delivered a 14-7 game on Monday, playing just under 23 minutes. It doesn't sound as if Ilyasova will be starved for playing time...

Ersan Ilyasova likely to start at PF for Bucks on Thursday vs. Utah. Ilyasova worked with first unit in practice Wednesday.

— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 21, 2015

...which puts him back on the fantasy radar as a modest contributor across multiple categories.

And speaking of Bucks...

Khris Middleton, Mil, SF/PF (41 percent owned)

Middleton has been a steady source for points and threes, but he really distinguishes himself as a thief. Check out the January steals surge:

Khris Middleton

Anyone with a need for a category specialist should probably act now.

Courtney Lee, Mem, SG/SF (41 percent owned)

If you were worried that the Jeff Green deal would derail Lee ... well, no. Lee has scored double-digits in five straight games, hitting 11 threes during that stretch. He's an excellent percentage shooter (49.0 FG, 85.9 FT), offering low-level scoring, threes and steals. He also has a pair of 4-game weeks ahead. Lee isn't quite a must-own player, but I'd give him can't-hurt status.

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: January 22, 2015, 12:06 am

Six pickups of varying availability levels, that's what we do here. Put some batteries in the cordless mouse or keyboard and let's get some new players for your roster.

Zach Bogosian, D, Jets (15 percent): The development curve is often a deliberate one for blueliners, especially the taller guys at the position. Even with that caveat out of the way, the waiting has been painfully slow on Bogosian, who was the third overall pick of the 2008 draft. Wasn't he supposed to be an impact player by now? It hasn't worked out that way. (Look at the two defensive superstars he was selected between.)

Nonetheless, Bogosian is still just 24, and he's been sizzling since he returned from his lower-body injury, ringing up three goals and two assists over his last six games. He's getting some trickle-down time on the power play, he's shooting the puck aggressively, and of course there's the pedigree to chase. I added a Bogie share in one of my pools; who's with me?

Justin Abdelkader, LW/RW, Red Wings (32 percent): We generally view Abdelkader as a physical winger, one of those guys who likes to hit and be hit. You don't think of him as a big scorer. But an 11-14-25 line through half of a season isn't too shabby, and he's been seeing plenty of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in recent starts. A traffic cone could score with those cagey veterans. Keep crashing into things, Abdelkader; those other guys will make sure you see the puck. The dual-wing eligibility is always a nifty selling point.

Sean Monahan, C, Flames (32 percent): Puckheads don't have a lot of trouble finding scoring up the middle, but nonetheless it doesn't make sense to see Monahan this widely available. A 14-15-29 line (with 115 shots) plays in just about any format, and remember we're talking about the sixth overall pick from the 2013 draft class, and someone who has steadily improved all season. He's comfortable on a line with two estimable veterans, Jiri Hudler and Curtis Glencross, and he's had the hot stick (three goals) during Calgary's stunning four-game road winning streak.

Jason Zucker, LW, Wild (5 percent): You have to accept some baggage on this one  Zucker's isn't getting any assists, his road stats have been mediocre, and he's buried in the minus. But 16 goals can't be ignored, and you like how he's shooting the puck more aggressively this month (28 SOGs in nine starts). The road schedule for the rest of the month could be hairy, but I still think he finishes with 25-30 goals. Note that all of his markers have come at even strength, but he's finally receiving second-unit power-play time. A few easier scores should follow in the second half.

Jason Demers, D, Stars (29 percent): Believe it or not, he's been a Top 100 fantasy player over the last month, doing a little bit of everything (five points, 27 PIMs, two power-play points, 18 shots on goal). He's also seeing some secondary time on the man advantage. Demers needed a change of scenery and got it at the right time  the Dallas coaching staff trusts him considerably more than San Jose's did.

Joni Ortio, G, Flames (17 percent): He wasn't standing on his head with the Adirondack Flames of the AHL (2.52 GAA, .916 save percentage), but when the call came to the parent club, Ortio was ready. He's reeled off four straight victories with Calgary (1.23/.958), coming through splendidly while Karri Ramo deals with his upper-body injury. Ortio could be back in the minors before the month is out – Ramo's making steady progress with his rehab - but the move with goalies is to grab now, ask questions later. Someone's likely to post decent crease stats in Calgary, backed by an underrated blueline group. 

Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: January 20, 2015, 2:42 pm

STOCK UP

DeAndre Jordan: Over the past month, Jordan has shot a hideous 34.8 percent from the free throw line. The only player to hurt fantasy owners in the category more over that span is Andre Drummond, yet despite this, Jordan has been a top-50 player during this stretch. That’s because he’s been so good on the glass, grabbing 13.9 rpg while swatting 2.3 bpg over this span. He leads the NBA in rpg (13.4), FG% (71.5) and ranks second in bpg (2.3). He also has 20+ more dunks than any other player in the league. If you’re punting free throw percentage, Jordan has been the third most valuable fantasy player so far this season.

Victor Oladipo: The sophomore has really turned it on over the past month, when he’s averaged 19.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.2 3pt over 15 games. Oladipo has been a top-30 fantasy player over that stretch, and while his Usage Rate has actually decreased this year compared to his rookie campaign, a big improvement in efficiency has more than countered that. Meanwhile, teammate Elfrid Payton has also shown marked improvement of late, and he’s available in more than 40 percent of Yahoo leagues. Tobias Harris will eventually return from his ankle injury, but Elfrid is must-own in deep leagues in the meantime, while Oladipo is a must-start even in shallow formats.

Alex Len: Over the past five games, Len has averaged 10.6 boards and 1.2 steals. Over the last nine contests, he’s averaged 2.9 blocks. Len’s playing time remains inconsistent, and the 21-year-old is hardly a volume scorer at this stage of his career, but those in need of rebounds and blocks should look no further.

Nerlens Noel: The rookie remains a problem at the free throw line (although at least there’s not huge volume there) but continues to impress in the defensive stats, as Noel has averaged 2.4 steals and 2.0 blocks over the past five games. Despite being a 20-year-old rookie coming off a major injury and barely seeing 30:00 mpg this season, Noel is one of only three players in the NBA to average both 1.5 spg and 1.5 bpg this year (the other two being Anthony Davis and Draymond Green). Noel has been the No. 41 ranked player over the past two weeks and should only improve from here on out.

Brook Lopez: He was the No. 28 ranked player in 2012/13 and No. 12 last season before his year was cut short by an injury, so Lopez has been one of the bigger disappointments so far, as he currently comes in as the No. 58 fantasy asset. Still, he’s played better lately, and there increasingly looks like a chance he gets traded. Wherever that’s to, it’s likely a safe bet his minutes increase, as he’s currently seeing a career-low 26:12 mpg while toiling on a Brooklyn team that sports the fifth-lowest PACE (94.2) in the league. Lopez’s stock is about to jump assuming he gets dealt.

Here’s Nikola Vucevic posterizing Pau Gasol

Here’s Florida’s Devin Robinson mildly overestimating his dunking ability

This Stephen Curry no-look pass to Harrison Barnes was pretty sick

STOCK DOWN

Nicolas Batum: As someone who’s been a top-40 fantasy player in each of the past three seasons (including No. 21 in 2012/13), Batum’s current rank at No. 86 has been both disappointing and surprising so far this year. He’s struggled even worse of late, as he’s shot an ugly 28.8 percent from the field (and just 68.8 percent from the line) over the past two weeks, when he hasn’t been a top-200 fantasy asset. Maybe the wrist injury he’s been playing through is more severe than we were led to believe, but Batum has too strong of a track record to ignore, making him more of a buy-low candidate than anything else. His Usage Rate could soon see a big jump if the thumb injury LaMarcus Aldridge left with Monday proves serious.

Tony Parker: After finishing as the No. 27 fantasy player in 2012/13, Parker came in at No. 119 last season, but that looks like a huge profit compared to what he’s done so far this season, when he’s ranked as the No. 179 player. He’s been dealing with injuries all season, but Parker’s 4.7 apg are the lowest he’s gotten since his rookie season back in 2001/02, and this hasn’t really been a volume issue, as the point guard hasn’t been a top-250 fantasy player on a per-36 minute basis this season, which is pretty incredible.

Nikola Mirotic: His future looks extremely bright, but it’s clear when Chicago’s frontcourt is fully healthy, it’s tough for Mirotic to hold much fantasy value. If injuries strike, there’s a ton of upside here, but Mirotic is getting dropped in droves in Yahoo leagues right now for good reason.

Ryan Anderson: Here are his final fantasy ranks over the past three years, respectively: 8, 49 and 18. Anderson has been the No. 177 player over the past month, when he’s suffered through a major shooting slump (he’s shooting 31.8 percent from the floor over the past seven games). Anderson’s minutes have predictably taken a hit with his new role off the bench this season, but his Usage Rate has actually increased this year compared to last. The biggest problem has been his 34.8 percent shooting from downtown, which is easily a career worst.

Rajon Rondo: He’s always been a volatile fantasy player whose importance came down to format, and despite seeing his FGA jump from 9.1 to 12.5 after getting traded from a depleted Boston team to a loaded Dallas squad, it’s actually hurt his fantasy value, as the FG% hit has been bigger, and the point guard has also shot an insane 23.5 percent from the free throw line since joining the Mavericks. Rondo has combined that with grabbing fewer rpg and dishing out his fewest apg (8.1) since the 2007/08 season with his new team. He’s been the No. 288 most valuable fantasy player over the past two weeks. 

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: January 20, 2015, 8:01 am

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