Challenge Contests - Justin Eleff
Posted Apr. 04 at 09:02 AM
Our annual look at salary cap-based fantasy games. Today: grouping first basemen and outfielders into tiers, still swooning over Jason Heyward.
Yesterday I said I felt a need to talk through the last two positions consecutively. This should work even better.
FIRST BASEMEN and OUTFIELDERS
For as many years in a row as I can remember, I have advocated finding most of your hitting bargains among players listed as outfielders in the challenges. Because the fantasy outfield combines three real positions, there are many more hitters listed there than anywhere else. And because you have to own three times as many of them (six outfielders, two hitters at each other position), it makes sense to use the position's depth to its maximum advantage, looking for opportunities to skim hitters' split stats.
What I mean is this:
Yesterday I wrote about how carrying Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop could work against me. His usual road numbers are not good enough to justify his challenge salaries -- so if I own three shortstops, and someone other than Tulo has to be replaced, I will not be able to stall for long (if at all) before replacing him. I burn a purchase, or I live with keeping the guy who should be replaced active, or I live with paying for Tulo on the road some weeks.
But consider the outfield, where Tulo's teammate Carlos Gonzalez is also not worth big money on the road; he hit .252 away from Coors in 2011, and even when the number was .289 in 2010, that was nearly 100 points lower than what he did at home (.380). Say I roster him, and just like at shortstop, I find myself needing to replace some other outfielder. Because I have to start six of them every week, I will have rostered multiple backups -- so in Cargo's road weeks I can sit him, sit the guy who needs replacing, and still have enough other players to start. Advantage Cargo over Tulo; advantage OF over the other positions.
The challenges price players based on their usual performance across contexts, naturally, but finding dependable edges you can skim -- like the ones enjoyed by Rockies and Rangers hitters in their home games -- is a huge part of playing these games well. And for the reason I just explained, you don't just get to skim such edges in the outfield. You almost have to.
All of which explains why Cargo will definitely make my roster, and one or both of Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz could, but it does not explain why I chose to write about two positions together. Unfortunately, the thinking behind that begins to cancel out some of what I have just written.
There are indeed many more hitters listed in the outfield than anywhere else this year, same as always. But I am stopping short of where I usually take that thought. Most seasons it continues, so there are many more apparent bargains in the outfield than anywhere else. I have often started with eight outfielders active, not six, using both DH slots on the position and carrying another two on the taxi squad -- so ten in all.
This year, I cannot see rostering more than eight.
The reason for that is twofold:
1. Several of the best hitting bargains I see are not in the outfield but at first base.
2. The best hitting bargains in the outfield are slightly more expensive on average than the best hitting bargains at first base.
To illustrate, I will now combine the positions for real, then sort them into tiers. If what you see below looks slightly odd, ask yourself if there is really anything interesting in players' challenge salaries happening to end in several zeroes. Round numbers are round, not useful, like Snooki. I have the tiers set strictly by where I see dropoffs from one level of quality to another.
($1350 and up in CDM, $1370 and up in Fantrax)
This can get wonky where the two games' salaries do not match up, but the players I mean here (by position, then alphabetically) are:
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, BOS
Albert Pujols, 1B, LAA
Joey Votto, 1B, CIN
Ryan Braun, OF, MIL
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS
Matt Kemp, OF, LAD
Justin Upton, OF, ARZ
You can own any of these guys and I will have no better argument than that I happen to prefer some of them to others. Maybe you think Votto is clearly fourth-best of the first basemen, Upton fourth-best of the outfielders. Fine, but their salaries are lower. I do think Ellsbury is underpriced in CDM, and will surely own him if that's the game I play. But any one of these eight, Votto and Upton most definitely included, could be the best hitter in fantasy baseball in 2012.
You need at least three of the eight in the challenges, and I would prefer to own four or more.
($1210 to $1380 in CDM, $1200 to $1360 in Fantrax)
Tight range but nearly the same number of players.
Prince Fielder, 1B, DET
Mark Teixeira, 1B, NYY
Jose Bautista, OF, TOR
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, COL
Curtis Granderson, OF, NYY
Josh Hamilton, OF, TEX
Andrew McCutchen, OF, PIT
I can go farther than calling Fielder and Teixeira second-rate first basemen: I will not own either unless I absolutely cannot afford two more expensive players at the position, and the last roster I tried left room for Votto and any other Tier 1 guy I wanted.
I tipped my hand already on Gonzalez. The most obviously divisive player here is Bautista, who far more than earned this year's salaries in each of the last two seasons, but (a) was probably out of his depth a year ago as a .302 hitter; and (b) all but proved as much by hitting just .257 in the second half. Actually, the whole line was .257/.419/.477 -- far enough back to earth that I have decided against carrying Joey's bat to start the new season.
($1020 to $1180 in CDM, $960 to $1140 in Fantrax)
We start to see the price difference between the respective positions' best bargains here. There are no first basemen in Tier 3.
Jay Bruce, OF, CIN
Nelson Cruz, OF, TEX
Call Me Giancarlo Stanton, OF, MIA
B.J. Upton, OF, TB
You may not agree that these four deserve their own tier, or you may believe that others in the same salary range are just as good. To each your own. I will definitely roster Stanton and definitely not roster Upton, the latter only because of his iffy health at present. Both Bruce and Cruz should be skimmed at home if owned.
($760 to $960 in CDM, $800 to $930 in Fantrax)
The two best outfield bargains are here. While there are good first base bargains here as well, a couple in the next (final) tier could outdo them.
Ike Davis, 1B, NYM
Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL
Eric Hosmer, 1B, KC
Justin Morneau, 1B, MIN
Alex Gordon, OF, KC
Jason Heyward, OF, ATL
Desmond Jennings, OF, TB
Michael Morse, OF, WAS
Delmon Young, OF, DET
Again: there may be other players you like in this range. The point of writing these columns is to do some of the work for you, in theory, but if you have a secret spreadsheet that proves Cameron Maybin belongs on your roster, you're not wrong. Maybe.
Also: if you double-take at the inclusion of Young, understand that the bastard owes me. You know his only potential is as a Last Year's Bum (see the brilliant column inside the back cover of this year's magazine), but you cannot know just how much of that potential he has (he must!) unless you owned him on Opening Day 2011.
Elsewhere, Morneau is obviously not like the other first basemen in the tier, and really I include him only out of respect. If he's playing every day come May 15 or so, maybe we can talk. Hosmer belongs on your roster instead, if only because he carries nearly as little risk (for the same reason) as Brett Lawrie yesterday.
In the outfield, I have wrestled and wrestled with whether to carry Heyward in 2012. I expect a big season, but my heart and head do not expect it equally, and should he scuffle to start the season I may have his scuffle to myself. Nothing worse than a barely-owned bum. Just know that even last year Heyward was not a bum to me -- or he was my bum, or something. First real favorite player I have had in many years.
But the best bets in the tier are Gordon and Jennings, clearly. I see no good reason to begin without either of them.
($750 and down in CDM, $790 and down in Fantrax)
Almost home. Two of the three cheapest hitters I carry at any position will come from this tier.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARZ
Kendrys Morales, 1B, LAA
Mitch Moreland, 1B, TEX
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, OAK
Alejandro De Aza, OF, CHW
Chris Heisey, OF, CIN
Logan Morrison, OF, MIA
Dayan Viciedo, OF, CHW
Because this tier covers a lot of salary ground, and I have nonetheless reduced it to just eight players, I should maybe explain my thinking in full. Here goes.
Cespedes could be one of the best hitters on the planet. Since that is possible -- flawless résumé in Cuba (except that there is no such thing), one home run in two career MLB games -- it can hardly be wrong to roster him. But since his middle name may as well be ?, and he also owns three strikeouts in six career MLB at-bats, and the A's only play twice this week anyway, I say we wait and see. Cespedes will either be added to a lot of challenge teams in April or dropped from a lot. Maybe both.
Morales was one of the best hitters on the planet not so long ago. Missing 273 games in two seasons (including all of 2011) makes for a lot of rust, and it sounds like Mike Scioscia will sit Morales occasionally early in the year. But he should bat cleanup, and with Albert Pujols batting third no less. I have little doubt that a healthy Morales would be the single biggest bargain in these games this year. But I understand the urge to wait and see on him, too.
It is profoundly weird to think of Logan Morrison as the safest option here -- what with LoMo apparently short for Loud Mouth, and his relationship with the Marlins looking no healthier than Colby Rasmus's with the Cardinals at times last summer -- but he is. Those were the Florida Marlins, and these are the Miami Marlins. Totally different; check the silly new logo. Morrison can hit, and at least one of the players I have listed here probably cannot. Such is the nature of gambling on cheapos, but I may not own Morrison for just that reason. We gamble because our gambles could pay off big. I see a solid argument against playing for what looks like a bankable .275 and 20 home runs when the other two players I just wrote about could be All-Stars.
Everyone else here can be skimmed, some (like Moreland) perhaps better than others (like De Aza, playing more of a speed game in a power park). I defer to your argument that you should own these players or not depending mostly on which stats you will need to bolster your weaker categories. Then again, few of us know exactly what we have (and thus what we need) on the eve of a new season.
I include Heisey because his game reminds me of his teammate Jay Bruce's, and if you were considering the latter you might think about dropping down to the former if you want to add salary at another position.
I leave you with this:
I know I have written very little about my own roster in these challenge columns so far, and I know a lot of you would rather look at one sample team than three columns' worth of, you know, words. But I am still making many decisions myself, and some of you would be steamed if I posted a sample team and then entered a roster that barely resembled it. I believe it is more important that you see how I think about these games than exactly what I think, first because (ego on display in three, two, one) I have done very well at them many times before, and I believe that thinking the way I do would help you do well too; second because my actual thoughts from moment to moment are as terrible to look at -- as wild, as fleeting, as corruptible and subject to superstition -- as anyone else's. Today I saw a new picture of Heyward and was struck for the 222nd time by how much he looks the part of a superstar, so he found a spot on my latest roster. That exact way of making decisions led to a revolt in an MLB front office once. You may have read about it or seen the movie.
And with all of that said, one salary-saving move I am committed to making at the start of the season (you are of course welcome to steal it): Goldschmidt is
in my starting lineup, even facing Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain this weekend on my roster. The short version of why is that he hit .317 for his career in the minors, costs next to nothing and is as good a bet to hit 30 home runs in the majors this season as any player who has never done so before. The long version involves nuances like the fact that hitting seventh early in the year (a drawback in other respects) will limit his at-bats and thus limit any damage he does to my team batting average -- not to mention the fact that I kind of have a feeling about the move.
I am an idiot. Own who you like.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Apr. 05 at 07:37 PM
Wound up here, if anyone wonders: M.Napoli B.Posey (C.Santana) / A.Pujols J.Votto (P.Goldschmidt) / R.Cano I.Kinsler (D.Pedroia) / H.Ramirez B.Lawrie / J.Reyes D.Gordon (T.Tulowitzki) / R.Braun J.Ellsbury N.Cruz G.Stanton A.Gordon D.Jennings (J.Upton C.Gonzalez) / E.Hosmer K.Morales / C.Kershaw Z.Greinke J.Johnson M.Garza S.Strasburg C.Luebke (R.Halladay C.Lee C.Hamels M.Bumgarner B.Beachy) / C.Kimbrel J.Guerra S.Marshall (J.Papelbon) / A.Aceves. Good luck to all.
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