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April 9, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

High-Stakes League Free Agent Rundown

by Jason Collette

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Crazy early-season statistics can make fantasy owners do silly things. In the past week, I have heard from a few Twitter followers that have either executed or witnessed some head-scratching moves already this season.

The most recent one was a report from someone in a 12-team mixed dynasty league who dropped—yes, dropped—Norichika Aoki to pick up Trevor Bauer. The move breaks two tenets of fantasy baseball: Do not play for the future in the first two months of the season, and do not drop anyone you just drafted unless he is injured. MLB.com’s Cory Schwartz has a nice guideline for this using an inverse scale. If you draft someone in the 23rd round, you have to keep him for at least three scoring periods; conversely, first-round picks should stay on your roster for at least 23 weeks.

This past Sunday, we witnessed an “Acepocalypse” (h/t @ThatTonyG), as many big-ticket pitchers put up ugly numbers, giving us a very powerful example of just how unpredictable baseball can be. Itchy trigger fingers can lead to a lot of troubles, especially in 12-team mixed leagues, which remain a popular format. The popularity of that format is driven in a large part by the popularity of the online competitions held by organizations such as the NFBC. I am playing in such a league this season, and a weekly scan of the free-agency report makes it very enticing to join the fray in the panic disco and dump a few of my slow starters, such as Chris Carter and Jeff Keppinger.

When scanning through the free-agent list in my particular league, I am rather taken aback by the quality of the players owned in less than 60 percent of leagues. Maybe it comes from years of playing in single-league formats, but here are some of the names that hundreds of mixed-league players are still on the fence about in high-stakes leagues:

Wily Peralta (59 percent owned): Why, yes, I consider the rookie roster-able if you have a reserve list. He can miss some bats and keeps the ball in the yard. Peralta is by no means a must-start, but you could do a lot worse for a spot starter depending on the matchup.

Al Alburquerque (55 percent owned): I like to use at least two spots on my reserve list to speculate on saves. I am a believer in talent, and I strongly feel that Alburquerque has the best talent in the confusion that is the Detroit bullpen. The fire-baller still strikes out one-third of the hitters he faces, but the walk rate is what is holding him back from taking the next step.

Ryan Cook (53 percent owned): Grant Balfour has had health issues in recent years, which makes Cook a strong insurance policy. He is off to a rough start, but showcased his skills last season, when he struck out three guys for every one that he walked while keeping the ball in the park.

Jake Arrieta (45 percent owned): Last season, Arrieta had a 21 percent strikeout rate and an eight percent walk rate—both better than the league average. A lowly 57 percent strand rate ballooned his ERA up to 6.20, even though his FIP was 4.05. If you drop a late draft pick to add Arrieta, I will not criticize you; he is well into Rodney Dangerfield territory with this ownership rate.

Zach McAllister (39 percent owned): In 2012, McAllister struck out 20 percent of the hitters he faced while walking seven percent of them. He’s an intriguing matchup play, as his major-league strikeout rate has not slipped from those that he posted in the upper minors, and the defense behind him is better than it was last season.

Mark Melancon (20 percent owned): Beneath the atrocious ratios that Melancon posted last year was a healthy 21 percent strikeout rate and a six percent walk rate. Melancon’s numbers were destroyed when he gave up 11 earned runs in a two-inning span with the Red Sox, and he is a must-own if you have Jason Grilli. Grilli does not have a particularly long track record of success, while Melancon’s skills have been rather good for three straight seasons.

These are some of the free agents that owners in the high-stakes leagues picked up in the most recent FAAB period. Keep in mind, NFBC owners have a $1000 FAAB budget. The dollar amounts represent the lowest and highest bids:

That list includes some very aggressive bids (you pay what you bid) based on small-sample-size speculation. This is about the same time that Fernando Rodney emerged out of nowhere from the Rays bullpen last year, but it is also the same point when people were blowing their FAAB budgets on Hector Santiago, believing he was going to lead the White Sox in saves.


Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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