Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: You Ask, RotoExperts Answers

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I just took over a team in a 12-team mixed head-to-head keeper league. We can keep three players and lose the pick for the round they were drafted last year. I can choose from Billy Butler (round nine), Danny Espinosa (round 20), Adam Jones (round 7), Ike Davis (round 16), Justin Verlander (round 2) and Cole Hamels (round 3). Who do I keep?

The one name that jumps out immediately is Davis. It is difficult to envision a player getting off to a worse start than Davis did in 2012. He really was one of the worst players in baseball for the first couple of months. It appears some of the reason for it was Valley Fever. Davis recently admitted that the Valley Fever did cause him to be fatigued early in the season. The stats back it up for sure. Davis barely spent any time in Triple-A, playing just 10 games at that level in 2010 before he had 19 home runs and 71 RBIs in 147 games. He was limited to just 36 games in 2011 due to injury. Davis was batting .158 with a .507 OPS after June 8 in 2012 and there were rumbling the Mets might send him to the minor leagues.

They did not, and stuck with Davis, and it turned out to be a smart move as well as for those who stuck with Davis on their Fantasy team. Davis batted .265 with 27 home runs and 69 RBIs the rest of the season. Davis batted .227 for the season with 32 home runs and 90 RBIs. Davis strikes out a lot, as a 24.1 percent rate from 2012 indicated, but he also had a 10.4 percent walk rate. Davis has the ability to hit .260. He hit .264 as a rookie. The key is Davis making improvements against left-handers. He has a .217 career average and .643 OPS against left-handers. Don’t be surprised if Davis hits 40 home runs. He is the first choice.

Jones is a good value in round seven. I don’t think Jones takes another step forward. People tend to assume that a player’s stats automatically increase each season. The numbers for Jones went up, as he went from 567 at-bats to 648 at-bats, leading to an increase from 25 to 32 home runs, an increase from 12 to 16 stolen bases and an increase in average from .280 to .287. The runs went from 68 to 103 because the Orioles offense improved while his RBI total dropped from 83 to 82. Jones doesn’t hit a lot of fly balls. He was at 33 percent or less in three of the last four seasons. The strikeout and walk rates were basically similar in 2011 and 2012. With that said, I’d still keep him because he does help across the board. I just don’t want people to assume he’s going to be a consistent 30-homer player.

If you play a middle infield spot, I’d consider Espinosa since he is eligible at second base and shortstop in a lot of leagues. He is playing with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, an injury he played with in September and the playoffs. Espinosa said rehab has worked and he feels good, but there is risk there.

I’d go with the better player and keep Butler. He finally had that increase in power with a career-high 29 home runs to go with a .313 average and 107 RBIs. I don’t see him reaching that amount of home runs again considering he had a career-low fly ball rate of 28.8 percent and a 20 percent HR/FB rate, which is well below is career average of 11.4 percent. He still hits the ball on the ground too much. Butler is more likely to have a home run total in the lows 20s with an excellent average and will drive in many runs. He’s a good value in round nine.

Is Jason Hammel going to continue his good trend with the Orioles?

A lot of people are going to dismiss Hammel and call him a fluke. The knee injury he had in the second half will only depress his value more and people will point to his 34-45 record and 4.99 career ERA prior to 2012. Every year I would expect good things from Hammel and he disappointed. He finally delivered for the Orioles after being acquired from Colorado. He got off to a great start last year before he needed surgery to remove cartilage from his right knee in July and returned for two starts in September in addition to pitching Games 1 and 5 of the ALDS against the Yankees.

The big difference for Hammel with the Orioles was the addition of a two-seam fastball. Hammel had a career best 8.62 K/9 and career high 53.2 percent groundball percentage. In 20 starts, he pitched 118 innings with a 3.20 BB/9, 3.43 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. A swinging strike percentage of 10 percent shows this isn’t a fluke. I believe he is legit and the best part is you won’t have to pay much to get him. He is going very late in the drafts that have been done so far.

I’m picking 10th in a 10-team league and thinking of taking Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg with my 10th and 11th pick. Is this a good move?

I am a believer that you can win a Fantasy league with a variety of different strategies if you know the player pool well and know how to build a team. I generally don’t take pitching early and prefer to build my offense and get my pitchers in the middle rounds. It’s important to get power early. When a player hits a home run, it helps four categories, and if you find a power hitter with the ability to get stolen bases, you have someone that contributes in each category in a typical 5×5 roto league. A starting pitcher can help in a max of four categories since they can’t get saves.

There’s also a variety of factors that go into a pitcher getting a win. A starting pitcher can dominate and still not win. Cliff Lee is an example from last season. He struck out 207 in 211 innings with a 3.16 ERA and 1.11 WHIP and won just six games because the Phillies did not score for him. Especially in a 10-team league, there will be lots of good pitchers to get in the middle rounds. Taking two starting pitchers with the first two picks is not a strategy I would employ.

Would you keep Wilin Rosario for $2 or Kenley Jansen for $7 in a two-catcher league?

Rosario is an easy call here, especially in a league that starts two catchers. He has really good power and he will go for much more if you threw him back. There are some concerns because he’s a bad defensive player and his 99:25 K:BB ratio in 396 at-bats last season isn’t great, but he hit 28 home runs with 71 RBIs and a .270 average. Playing in Coors Field certainly helps as he batted .297 with 18 home runs and .242 with 10 home runs on the road. A lot of people expect Jansen to eventually close because he has better skills than Brandon League, but League was paid to be a closer and has the job entering the season. League has displayed the ability to close and could keep the job. I’d target Jansen late in drafts, but he’s not worth it in this scenario.

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