SV Unit: Grab Contreras and Corpas

If you’re not already following Tim Dierkes’s Closer News on Twitter, you’re probably harboring some deep-seated resentment issues against a great uncle. Or maybe you’re in a holds-only league. That’s cool I guess, hope those work out. My great uncle used to say I looked like a walrus AND he played in holds-only leagues. But the CloserNews account is essential reading for vultures who only drafted Octavio Dotel like yours truly. Tim’s helped me snag cheesy Alfredo Simon and more, and two shakeups look to be in order tonight for dudes owned in 13% or less of Yahoo! leagues.

Jose ContrerasBrad Lidgedidn’t feel like he wanted to feel” after a throwing session. Contreras somehow has a 0.77 ERA and 15/1 K/BB ratio this year, but hopefully you picked him up after the first sentence anyway. Another barking Lidge elbow could mean a more-than-temporary late game assignment for Contreras, who seems like he could thrive for a while in this role.

Manny Corpas – Shoulder weakness sent Franklin Morales to the DL and Huston Street is still two weeks away. Manny has looked far from corpse-like so far. I’d like him on any of my teams til Huston proves he won’t flounder as fireman.

Mailbag: Pocketful of Poseys And Other Tales

May should be a month of celebration — No more school! Moderately significant baseball sample sizes! Maypole! — but  it can easily engender panic in owners already stuck in a rut. Look at it this way instead: No matter what situation you’re in standings-wise, you should be taking this opportunity to capitalize on this panic rather than get capitalized on, regardless of your being hamstrung by injuries or slow starts. Throw offers out on struggling stars, particularly steady hitters. This is typical fantasy schmo columnist advice of which you gotta take heed.

Chris writes:

I am in 5th place of a 12 team H2H mixed league. It is also a keeper league. I have been able to stay competitive with all my opponents but not blow them out like i did the 1st 2 weeks or so. I have a lot of guys on the DL right now. It has created a hole in my line up. Should I drop anyone to stream a spot until guys on my DL are healthy or just let it ride out as is? Is Montero worth holding on to? I could drop him and keep Napoli around until Posey or Santana get called up in June? Your thoughts on keeping Francisco? Any help would be appreciated.

Let’s examine Chris’s lineup, which has indeed seen some stormy weather.

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Is Jason Vargas For Real?

Never thought I’d ask that question. Though most of us to have adapted to the cold-blooded and calculated lineup engineering championed by our computer overlords, sometimes I feel quaint pangs of 20th-century “emotion” when making decisions on my players. In this particular case, that meant blackballing Jason Vargas from ever appearing on my teams for no apparent reason. Sometimes he’d pitch a good game, but hey, replicants have gotten pretty advanced since Rutger Hauer — I’ve got multiple blade runners out making sure Vargas, Scott Feldman and Mitch Talbot never throw a pitch for me.

But then the existential question emerges: What if we’re ALL replicants?

Vargas was a top-10 prospect for the Fish in 2005, managing a 4.03 ERA and 59/31 K/BB in 71.2 rookie innings. He mixed in a nice changeup, but he’s never lived up to the “gas” part of his name. His fastball averaged out at 89, and in recent years — he lost all of 2008 due to a bone spur in his elbow and a torn labrum in his hip — his velocity has dipped even further. Despite the lack of oomph, his repertoire helped him average 8.0 K/9 throughout his minor league career. He’s never whiffed as many major leaguers as he had at this year’s clip, 7.67 K/9.

I have to admit: I’m developing a strange fascination for his ch-ch-changes.

In ’05, when he was last effective, that changeup was a killer out pitch. FanGraphs valued it at a robust 3.2, declaring all his other pitches average. His change hasn’t come anywhere near that value — until this year. FanGraphs estimates it to be 2.6 this season, good for 20th in all of baseball, for what that’s worth. He’s sporting a decent xFIP of 4.17, and his groundball percentage is 40.7%, the highest of his career (though not stellar).

So Vargas seems to have turned a corner of some kind, but can he keep up this pace (3.69 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) all season long? His BABIP is .252 and his HR/FB rate is a low 7.0, so he’s had a little luck so far, but nothing extremely out of the ordinary. I’d say AL-Only leaguers have to take a chance on him at this point. Streamers desperate for a hero — just for one day — may want to give him a shot against the Angels tomorrow. That glimpse will be the true test for us curious mixed-leaguers to see if he’s the faker. My guess? His ceiling looks to me like a fringe no. 5 starter in 12-team mixed leagues capable of posting a respectable Kevin Correia-type season from last year.

Paydirt: Pick Up Justin Masterson

It’s looking like Scott is finally moving below Mary-Kate and Ashley as the most dysfunctional Olsen. Hopefully you picked him up per my request prior to his near no-no last night against the surprisingly awful Braves offense.

In the meantime, let’s dig in with some more waiver wire sorcery.

Somehow, Justin Masterson is owned in only 7% of Yahoo! leagues. There’s a formula somewhere that guarantees a league-average Red Sox or Yankees player at least 30% fantasy ownership, which I can completely understand — I’m all about the intangibles on my team, and I only like to field a squad of hustling gritty winners that play on the east coast.

Then there’s Cleveland. Before Masterson got shipped there in the Victor Martinez deal he had to waive his hustling gritty winner clause, causing him to fall off the world’s fantasy radar. But here’s the crazy part, guys: Remember when Bugs Bunny pulled out the “Secret Stuff” in Space Jam so the Looney Tunes could defeat the Monstars? I’m convinced Masterson’s had the hustling gritty winner spirit all along, and he doesn’t even need a team with Wayne Knight to get it back.

I’m an absolute sucker for anyone who can throw a K per inning, leading to dangerous liaisons with Daniel Cabrera and the like. But Masterson, currently sporting an ugly 5.40 ERA and 1.80 WHIP, has struck out 31 in 26.1 innings against just 12 walks. Where he’s getting destroyed is his hit rate — he has, as the experts say, an “unsustainable” .420 batting average on balls in play, which is due for regression to the mean, which is typically .300.

Why is a .420 BABIP unsustainable, especially in Masterson’s case? For one, he is a flickering beacon of light in our Paydirt pitching formula. He’s pounding the bottom of the zone, inducing a nifty groundball rate of 56.3%. The Indians defense is far from airtight, but those grounders are bound by physics to stop finding holes and stealing our fantasy oxygen. It also appears that Masterson is shaking off a bit of his offseason rust; his pitch trajectory shows a guy who has yet to reach his typical velocity. With perhaps diminished confidence in his breaking stuff, he’s throwing 10% more fastballs so far than what he averaged all of last year. At a lower velocity, those are going to get hit. As Masterson mixes up his repertoire going forward, hitters aren’t going to be able to sit on his fastball. Contact is gonna get weaker.

To top it off, a whopping 26.7% of fly balls induced by Masterson have gone for home runs, which is not gonna keep. Worst in that number last year was Braden Looper, who somehow managed to make only 15.8% of his flyballs go over the fence.

Like Zack Greinke and all Indians starters, Masterson will pitch some gems that won’t net him a W. That said, he is absolutely worth picking up in 12-team mixed leagues. This is a prime example of a talented young pitcher who needs to shake off some early season issues. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him kick off a string of brilliant starts, beginning tomorrow against the Tigers. Go get him.

Paydirt: Playing Duncanball With Starting Pitchers

MOAR GROUNDERS!

So say the posters at Viva El Birdos, playfully mocking the philosophy of curmudgeonly pitching coach Dave Duncan. His success with transforming hapless fireballers into dirt devils makes for many decent but relatively unappetizing fantasy starters. Pair groundballs as a side dish to a strikeout souffle, however, and you’ve got fantasy gourmet.

At least, so said this guy. Warning Track Power, a well-spoken but defunct fantasy blog of old, gained my trust with the hypothesis that a pitcher sporting at least 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a groundball rate of at least 45% has the makeup of an ace. It’s hard to argue with the names from last year, too. With a minimum of 150 IP, here is the list of 26 pitchers to achieve roughly WTP’s criteria in 2009:

Chris Carpenter
Felix Hernandez
Ubaldo Jimenez
Brett Anderson

Adam Wainwright
Ricky Romero

Josh Johnson
Roy Halladay
Clayton Richard
Jon Lester
Tim Lincecum
Ryan Dempster
Josh Beckett
Jason Hammel
Chad Billingsley
Yovani Gallardo
Wandy Rodriguez

John Lackey
Kevin Correia
Jorge de la Rosa
Carlos Zambrano
Gavin Floyd
John Danks
Carl Pavano
Roy Oswalt

Not too shabby, eh?

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Has Scott Olsen Returned To Form?

When you live life like a hated professional wrestler, “return to form” could mean a number of things — Scott Olsen has flipped off fans, taken haymakers from Randy Messenger and kicked at police while they attempted to taser him. But there was a time when he was a promising pitcher, too. Using a nasty fastball-slider-changeup mix, the ’06 Olsen whiffed 166 batters in 180 innings and finished 9th in Rookie of the Year voting, a darling of the next year’s fantasy drafts.

The black eye from the Messenger was a sign of the pummeling to come: His home run rate exploded (1.1 to 1.5/9) in ’07 and his K tendencies took a nosedive. He almost became a useful if boring fantasy pitcher again in ’08, posting a 4.20 ERA in 201 innings, but injuries diminished his velocity and thus his usefulness in the K category. Scott Olsen became the bro you invite over once a year for poker only to ban him indefinitely when he flips the table and punches the wall again.

But us fantasy GMs forgive bro tantrums. Hell, it’s just poker — what’s the harm in inviting dude once a year? From what we’ve seen from Olsen so far, this might be the year I buy a case of O’Douls and give him another shot.

Olsen’s raw ratios are pedestrian in four starts this year (4.35 ERA, 1.50 WHIP), but there’s plenty to like in the periphery. If you check out his pitch trajectory from year to year, you’ll notice the implosion began when he traded his changeup for more fastballs and sliders in ’07. He took a better-mixed approach in ’08 but had lost significant oomph on his fastball, its average velocity down to 87.8 mph from a peak of 90.9 in ’06, leading to a huge dip in strikeouts. He was then out for most of the ’09 season with a torn labrum, which may explain the dip in speed.

This year, Olsen’s already averaging a full 1-2 mph higher on his three-pitch repertoire, which he’s mixing up at the same level as his successful rookie-year campaign, sporting a solid 18/8 K/BB ratio in 20.2 IP. It’s early, but those are significant improvements. Elsewhere, his WHIP’s soured by .348 BABIP that is due for regression, and he’s sporting a 3.96 xFIP. And he’s still only 26, pitching in a rotation where league-average is ace-level, thus facing little competition.

Barring an unprovoked drunken attack on the foam heads of our founding fathers, I’m convinced Olsen is worth a pickup in NL-Only leagues. Mixed leaguers will want to monitor his next couple starts, but he could be a decent spot starter right away, especially against offenses who can’t hit southpaws.

Enter the Edgeball.

Greetings, Internet stranger. This is Edgeball, where I will storm the fantasy baseball gates with fantastical analysis. Feel free to shoot me any and all questions at askedgeball@gmail.com.