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Four Pitchers Top the Player Rankings

Chris Sale

Chris Sale is the league’s top-rated player with four week remaining in the regular season.

In a season where MLB hitters are on pace to hit nearly 500 more home runs than in any year in history, four pitchers top the SFRRC Fantasy Baseball League rankings.

Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber are the best players in the league with just less than a month remaining in the fantasy regular season. Sale, Kershaw and Kluber have Warning Track Power, Hapamon and Let’s Play 2 in playoff contention. Despite Scherzer’s brilliance, it hasn’t been enough to lift the league’s defending champions, the Marin Menehunes, into playoff contention.

Second baseman Jose Altuve is the league’s top-rated hitter. He’s hitting .363 with 81 runs scored and 21 net stolen bases. Altuve’s hot bat hasn’t been enough to lift Home Run 101 into playoff contention. Bailey’s team is 17 runs behind in the North Division playoff race and 10 games out of the eighth and final playoff berth.

Paul Goldschmidt’s fantastic offensive season has also been wasted in a season that sees Land Shark out of the playoff race and a whopping 32.5 games behind Everybody Hurts in the East Division. Goldschmidt is hitting .320 with a 1.033 OPS, 93 RBI and 91 runs. He’s the best corner infielder in the game.

Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton has been on a tear lately. Stanton, 27, leads the major leagues in home runs with 43, and has hit 10 home runs in his last 11 games. The fact that he’s finally stayed healthy has lifted the Lower Haighters to the best record in the league.

As good as Stanton’s been, first baseman Joey Votto has been better and the veteran first baseman has powered the JetSetters to the league’s second best record. Votto is hitting .317 with a 1.050 OPS with 83 RBIs and 82 runs scored. He’s struck out just 59 times in 524 plate appearances. If owner David Kahn wins his first league championship in 2017, Votto will likely be the team MVP.

If Votto isn’t the JetSetters MVP, then it will be Cleveland infielder Jose Ramirez. Ramirez is hitting .312 with a .906 OPS and 79 runs scored. Like Votto, Ramirez has excellent command of the strike zone, whiffing just 56 times in 489 at bats.

The JetSetters and Let’s Play 2 are the only teams with two players ranked in the Top 16. While Votto and Ramirez lead Kahn’s team, Kluber and outfielder Mookie Betts lead Louie Bottaro’s squad. Betts has scored 78 runs, knocked in 72, has 14 net stolen bases, and has just 54 strikeouts in 532 at bats. Let’s Play 2 is fifth in the overall standings and look like a dangerous team come playoff time.

Reliever Kenley Jansen and rookie slugger Aaron Judge have Everybody Hurts in title contention. Jansen is the league’s top-rated reliever with a 1.20 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 31 net saves/holds. Despite a recent slump, Judge still has a 1.038 OPS and 88 runs scored.

Everybody Hurts needs Judge to step up because Chris Frugiuele’s Stadium Mustard team is just four and a half games back in the East Division pennant race. Stadium Mustard needs starter James Paxton and reliever Andrew Miller to return from injury soon. They are the team’s top-rated players.

While the race for the playoffs is heated, it may not be as heated as the race for the Wooden Spoon. High Cheese, Las Estellas Rojas and Land Shark are in a virtual tie for the worst record in the league. High Cheese and Rojas face each other twice in the final four weeks of the season.

Let the Pennant Races Begin!

Max Scherzer

With nine weeks remaining in the regular season, it’s time to turn our attention to the division pennant races and the chase for the league’s eight playoff berths. Below is a breakdown of each division and what we can expect over the final two months of the regular season.

NORTH DIVISION

This is a three-team race, at least until outfielder Mike Trout returns to Bacon at Mile 11’s lineup sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Bacon has dominated North Division foes, going 33-14-1. The team has yet to lose a division series. They face the Bulls and Home Run 101 three times each over the final nine weeks of the season.

With Trout shelved, Trea Turner has emerged as Bacon’s team leader. Turner is hitting .272 with a .729 OPS, 53 runs scored, 32 RBI and 29 net stolen bases. He’s helped Bacon top the league in net stolen bases. Turner is one of five players ranked in the league’s Top 80 for Bacon.

Hapamon lost all three series against Bacon but they trail by just 2.5 games and they have the division’s top-rated player, pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw has 15 quality starts in 18 attempts with a 2.18 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and a 10.6 K/9. In a two-start week, Kershaw can change the course of a series. The team has the lowest ERA in the league and is tied for the lowest WHIP.

The Bulls have an outside shot at the division title, trailing Bacon by just five games. They are also in the thick of the playoff chase, sitting in ninth overall. But do they have enough firepower? The Bulls have just three players ranked in the Top 80 and they have 11 players ranked below replacement level.

The Bulls need to ride a strong second half from Stephen Strasburg. He’s the team’s best player, earning 12 quality starts in 17 attempts with a 3.28 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. Strasburg has propelled the Bulls to the league’s second lowest ERA.

Home Run 101 trails Bacon by 12 games and has just three players ranked in the Top 80, led by second baseman Jose Altuve. The team is relying on 12 players ranked below replacement level.

SOUTH DIVISION

The JetSetters have the league’s best record thanks to a prolific offense led by veteran first baseman Joey Votto and infielder Jose Ramirez. Votto is ranked sixth overall and is hitting .312 with a 1.038 OPS. He has 61 RBIs and 61 runs scored. Ramirez is ranked 12th and his hitting .326 with a .969 OPS. He’s scored 59 runs.

Votto and Ramirez are two of the team’s five players ranked in the Top 80. The offense has been prolific, leading the league in opportunities thanks to more plate appearances than any other team. The JetSetters rely on just six players ranked below replacement level, a big reason why they have built an eight game lead in the division.

Let’s Play 2 has an opportunity to make up ground on the division leaders as they face them three times in the final nine weeks. Outfielder Mookie Betts is in the conversation for league MVP, currently ranking fifth. He’s hitting .277 with a 0.855 OPS, 58 runs scored, 51 RBIs and 13 net stolen bases.

Betts is one of five players ranked in the Top 80 for Let’s Play 2. The team has nine players ranked below replacement level. If the team can find production in the bullpen over the final nine weeks, it could contend for a division title and a league championship.

High Cheese is the only team in the division that doesn’t have a player ranked in the Top 80. The division title is out of the question, as High Cheese trails by 22.5 games and hopes for a playoff berth are beginning to fade. Mark Reynolds is the team’s top-rated player but High Cheese is relying on 12 players ranked below replacement level.

It’s been a tough initial season for first-time fantasy baseball GM Jen Valdivia. Her team, Las Estellas Rojas, is in last place. Robinson Cano is the team’s top-rated player and one of three ranked in the league’s top 80. Rojas has been very good on the bases, ranking third in net stolen bases.

EAST DIVISION

Stadium Mustard and Everybody Hurts are set to wage a spirited battle for the East Division pennant over the final nine weeks of the season. Stadium Mustard holds a 4.5 game lead but they face each other three times.

Reliever Andrew Miller has been a strong presence in the bullpen for Stadium Mustard in the first half of the season. He’s ranked 15th overall and has 18 net saves/holds with a 1.70 ERA and 0.70 WHIP. Miller is a big reason why the team is tied for the league lead in net saves/holds.

Stadium Mustard has five players ranked in the Top 80 and relies on nine players that are below replacement level. To win the pennant, the team needs to find reliable starting pitching.

Young slugger Aaron Judge will carry the pennant hopes of Everybody Hurts during the stretch run. Judge is ranked seventh overall. He’s hitting .333 with a 1.150 OPS and is a big reason the team leads the league in OPS. Judge has scored 73 runs and knocked in 63. He’s one of five players ranked in the Top 80 for Everybody Hurts. The team relies on just five players ranked below replacement level.

After a tough start, GM Allen Bush has guided the Midtown Marsupials into playoff contention. They’ve won four of their past seven series and face Everybody Hurts three times in the season’s final nine weeks.

The Marsupials have seven players ranked in the Top 80, the most of any team in the division. Infielder Daniel Murphy is ranked 10th and is hitting .340 with a 0.969 OPS. He’s driven in 60 runs in 78 games. Murphy and the offense strike out fewer times than any team in the league. The Marsupials have enough firepower to compete with any team in the division and rely on just six players ranked below replacement level. The pitching has been solid, as the team leads the league in WHIP.

Land Shark has fallen 21.5 games out of first place in the division and has just four players ranked in the Top 80 while relying on 12 players ranked below replacement level. The team can be dangerous on any given week as they have the league’s top-rated hitter in Paul Goldschmidt. The Arizona sluggers is hitting .315 with a 1.022 OPS and has driven in 66 runs over 83 games.

WEST DIVISION

It’s just like old times. A-Rod’s Mirrors and the Lower Haighters are set for another epic battle for the West Division pennant.

The Haighters lead the Mirrors by 8.5 games but they’ll face each other three times over the final nine weeks of the regular season. Both teams are ranked in the league’s top five and feature plenty of star power. Each has eight players ranked in the Top 80 and are led by a reliever.

Corey Knebel is ranked 24th overall and is the top-rated player for the Lower Haighters. He has 18 net saves/holds with a 1.13 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Knebel is a big reason the Lower Haighters lead the league in K/9. The team isn’t built around star players but it has reduced its reliance on replacement level players, where it has just six. The team leads the league in both runs scored and RBI.

Craig Kimbrel is turning in one of the best seasons for a reliever in league history. He has 20 net saves/holds with a 1.22 ERA, 0.51 WHIP and a 15.7 K/9 for the Mirrors. Outfielder Bryce Harper is the top offensive player in the division. He’s hitting .320 with a 1.020 OPS and has driven in 62 runs and scored 66 more. Harper is a big reason the Mirrors have the second most RBI in the league.

Warning Track Power trails by 17.5 in the division but is still in the thick of the playoff hunt. Chris Sale is the division’s best starting pitcher and he’s ranked second overall. Sale has 15 quality starts with a 2.61 ERA and 0.895 WHIP. On a two-start week, Sale can win several categories for Warning Track Power. The team has eight players ranked in the Top 80 and 10 players that are below replacement level.

After last year’s championship, the Menehunes have fallen on hard times this season. They are 25.5 games out in the division race and are fading from the playoff race. They have just five players ranked in the Top 80 and have nine players ranked below replacement level.

While they may be out of playoff contention, the Menehunes can be very dangerous from week-to-week, as they have the league’s top-rated player, pitcher Max Scherzer. Scherzer has 15 quality starts with a 2.61 ERA and 0.895 WHIP. They will come after you with starting pitchers, as they lead the league in both innings pitched and quality starts.

The Value of a Grinder on Your Roster

A superstar can’t carry a fantasy baseball team to victory. Max Scherzer and Paul Goldschmidt are the most recent examples.

Scherzer is the top-rated player in our league while Goldschmidt is second. Scherzer anchors the rotation for the defending league champion Marin Menhunes, who sit 15th in the league standings with a 47-70-3 record. Goldschmidt powers the offense for Land Shark, a team that is 14th overall with a 49-68-3 record.

Both Scherzer and Goldschmidt are having sensational years, but on a 26-man roster, every player needs to deliver if you are going to field a competitive team. You need some grinders.

The table below shows each team as they are currently ranked in the standings and how many players they have ranked in the Top 200. It’s broken down to show you how many players each team has ranked in the Top 50, Top 51-100 and so on. There is a narrative here.

Top 200

It’s not surprising that the top two teams in the league have the most players ranked in the Top 200. It’s also not surprising that the team at the bottom of the standings has the second fewest and is the only team without a player ranked in the Top 50.

The Menehunes have six players ranked in the Top 50, including the league’s top-rated player, yet are second to last in the standings. Now, we begin to understand the importance of a few grinders.

A quick look at the Menehunes’ roster shows us that starting pitchers Jordan Zimmermann, Josh Tomlin, and Rick Porcello are hurting the team. All three are ranked outside the league’s Top 700 players.

Any player ranked outside of the top 416 is essentially a replacement player and the Menehunes have 11 such players with nine in the team’s starting lineup this week.

The Marsupials have 12 players ranked in the Top 200 on their roster but also have 10 players that fall below replacement level with eight in the starting lineup.

The league’s best team, the Jetsetters, have seven replacement-level players on their roster with five in the starting lineup. Of course, when you lead the league with 17 players ranked in the Top 200, their production can offset five replacement-level players.

Good fantasy baseball roster management is a combination of starting good players, reducing the liability of replacement-level players, and making sure that your lineup is healthy.

There are currently 20 Top 200 players available in our league as free agents. They are all relief pitchers but they can instantly make your team more competitive, especially if they are also eligible as starting pitchers.

There are 114 free agents that are better than replacement-level including a number of utility infielders, outfielders, and even a few starting pitchers. They aren’t stars. They are grinders, players that can knock in five or six runs a week and limit their strikeouts.

As we prepare for the second half of the season, look at your roster, make sure you are starting healthy players and scan the waiver wire for players ranked in the Top 400 to replace the dead wood that is currently dragging your team down. Add a few grinders to your starting lineup and your team will instantly become more competitive.

Assessing the League One-Third of the Way Through

Chris Sale

Chris Sale is the league’s top-rated player

Now that we’re more than a third of the way through the season, it’s time to check in with each team. Obviously, each team has its own personality at this point. Of course, that can change based on trades, free agent acquisitions, etc.

The team assessments are categorized by division to make it easier for you to assess your team against your primary competition. Have fun!

NORTH DIVISION

Hapamon (43-38-3): The trio of Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, and Mike Leake provide Hapamon with three of the top starters in the league. All three rank in the league’s Top 50 players, so it’s not surprising that Hapamon is tied for second with 36 quality starts. Kershaw has eight quality starts in nine games. Darvish is fourth in the league with 63.2 innings pitched and Leake is a perfect 8-for-8 in quality starts. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon is the team’s best hitter. He’s the league’s 10th-ranked player and has 203 plate appearances, second most in the league. Unfortunately Blackmon is the primary offensive threat, as the team has the leagues second lowest OPS at .714.

Home Run 101 (41-40-3): The chronically injured A.J. Pollock went down again, this time with a groin strain. Pollock’s loss was a blow to Home Run 101, as he was a Top 50 player at the time of his injury and led the team with nine net stolen bases. Second baseman Jose Altuve ranks 24th overall and leads the team in runs scored and OPS. The seven highest ranked players on the team are hitters and the team is 6-1 in OPS, 5-1-1 in Runs, and 5-2 in both RBI and Plate Appearances. The offense is strong. The starting pitching is not. Home Run 101 is last in the league with 300 innings pitched and yet to win the category through seven weeks. No team has fewer quality starts (13). The team’s four highest rated pitchers are relievers and the top-ranked starter, Tyler Skaggs, is injured.

Bacon at Mile 11 (39-42-4): Outfielder Mike Trout, third baseman Nolan Arenado, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Nomar Mazara are four of the team’s five highest ranked players. Trout is the league’s third-ranked player and has a 1.205 OPS over his first 184 plate appearance. Arenado is ranked 19th. The team ranks second in the league with a .834 OPS. Michael Pineda and Chris Archer anchor the starting staff. Archer is third in the league in both innings pitched (64.2) and strikeouts (77). Archer and Pineda have combined for 12 quality starts.

The Bulls (36-45-3): The Bulls have stayed fairly healthy, though starting pitchers Kenta Maeda and Jonathan Gray have missed time, but it’s been a struggle. The bullpen has struggled, as the team has just nine Net Saves/Holds, second lowest in the league. The Bulls haven’t won the K/9 category and have a league-low 7.5 K/9. The pitching staff has too many average starters in the rotation and not enough elite relievers. Jim Johnson is the team’s only reliever ranked in the league’s Top 150 players and he leads the team with seven net saves/holds. Stephen Strasburg and Andrew Triggs have combined for 12 quality starts and the team is 6-1 in Innings Pitched and 5-1-1 in quality starts. The Bulls could jettison Jason Hammel, who has just two quality starts and a 6.20 ERA in eight starts, and add a solid reliever to help shore up the pitching staff. Outfielder Kevin Pillar is the team’s top hitter and is ranked 50th among the league’s players. Chris Davis is striking out at a phenomenal rate, registering 65 K’s in his first 179 plate appearances. The Bulls have the second most strikeouts in the league.

SOUTH DIVISION

JetSetters (51-30-3): This is the best team in the league. Nine players are ranked in the league’s Top 100 including first baseman Joey Votto, who is ranked sixth and is tied for second in the league with 38 RBI. The offense has 1,839 plate appearances, second most in the league. General Manager David Kahn has worked the waiver wire, successfully replacing outfielder Starling Marte (PED suspension), Carlos Gomez (hamstring strain), and third baseman Jose Reyes (ribcage). He’s also had to replace starting pitchers Cole Hamels (oblique) and Brandon McCarthy (shoulder). Zack Greinke and Ervin Santana have anchored a pitching staff that is second in the league with 432 innings itched. They also have the second lowest team WHIP at 1.20. Greinke and Santana have combined for 14 quality starts and both have posted WHIP’s under 1.00 and ERA’s under 3.00. Adam Ottavino has 13 Net Saves/Holds in 19 appearances and the JetSetters are tied for second in the league with 38 Net Saves/Holds.

High Cheese (44-37-3): It was a huge blow to High Cheese when first baseman Freddie Freeman was hit on the wrist by a pitch. It resulted in a non-displaced fracture that could leave Freeman out of the lineup through early July. Freeman had a 1.209 OPS over his first 165 plate appearances and led the team with 35 runs scored. When Freeman hit the DL, he ranked 14th overall among the league’s players. With Freeman injured, first baseman Mark Reynolds and third baseman Evan Longoria will need to continue to swing hot bats. Reynolds leads the league with 39 RBI while Longoria leads the league with 205 plate appearances. The pitching staff is good enough to carry the team for six to eight weeks. They lead the league with 432.2 innings pitched and are second in team ERA at 3.60. No team has more quality starts than the 38 posted by High Cheese. Reliever Addison Reed has nine Net Saves/Holds while starter Gerrit Cole is 8-for-10 in quality start attempts.

Let’s Play 2 (43-37-4): The team has four players ranked in the league’s top 50, led by outfielder Mookie Betts (16th). Betts has struck out just 14 times in 182 plate appearances. First baseman Kris Bryant (34th), shortstop Corey Seager (39th) and outfielder Brett Gardner (40th) lead a strong offense. Gardner leads the team with 32 runs scored while Bryant has the top team OPS at .974. Joey Gallo leads the team with 29 RBI but has also struck out 63 times, the second most in the league. Reliever C.J. Edwards has recorded a 1.02 ERA and 0.74 WHIP over 17.2 innings while earning five Net Saves/Holds. Starter Jose Quintana has six quality starts in nine attempts.

Las Estellas Rojas (37-44-3): Outfielder Billy Hamilton is a game-changer. He leads the league with 21 Net Stolen Bases and has pushed Rojas to the top of the Net Stolen Bases category with 32. Hamilton also leads the team with 32 runs scored. Hamilton is now the league’s seventh-ranked player. Third baseman Miguel Sano provides power to complement Hamilton’s speed. In 171 plate appearances, Sano has 37 RBI with a 1.077 OPS. The team’s issue is starting pitching. They are second to last with 303 innings pitched and have a 1-6 head-to-head record in the category. Eduardo Rodriguez is 6-for-9 in quality start attempts with a 3.10 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He leads the team with 49.1 innings. The real problem is injuries. Noah Syndergaard (strained lat), Sean Doolittle (shoulder), Nate Jones (elbow), Ryan Dull (knee) and Francisco Liriano (shoulder) have all missed time.

EAST DIVISION

Everybody Hurts (44-37-3): This has been a quality offense. The team is second in the league in Runs and has gone 5-2 in the Plate Appearances category. Outfielder Aaron Judge is the team’s highest rated player (18th) and has a 1.139 OPS over 164 plate appearances. He’s fourth in the league with 36 runs scored. Outfielders Andrew Benintendi and Adam Duvall both rank in the league’s Top 75 and have combined for 46 runs and 57 RBI. Catcher Buster Posey has been solid, striking out just 12 times in 150 plate appearances while posting a 1.008 OPS. Relievers Kenley Jansen, Bud Norris and Tyler Clippard lead the pitching staff. All three rank in the Top 80. Jansen and Norris each have nine Net Saves/Holds. Starter Dylan Bundy has eight quality starts in nine games while Michael Wacha has gone 6-for-7 in quality start attempts.

Stadium Mustard (39-42-3): James Paxton was a budding ace before a forearm injury sidelined him after six starts. Despite the injury, Paxton still ranks 28th overall, earning four quality starts in six attempts with a 1.43 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. He’s second on the team with 45 strikeouts despite pitching just 37.2 innings. Reliever Andrew Miller is the team’s top-rated player. He has nine Net Saves/Holds in 21 innings with a 0.43 ERA and 0.71 WHIP. While Paxton has been excellent, Mike Fiers has given up more homers than any pitcher in the Major Leagues. Fiers has allowed 17 long balls in eight starts. Overall, the pitching has been good but the hitting has not. Stadium Mustard is last in the league with a .702 OPS and they are 15th in RBI, despite going 7-0 in Plate Appearances. Outfielder Ender Inciarte is the team’s only hitter ranked in the league’s Top 100.

Land Shark (38-44-2): A pair of first basemen, Paul Goldschmidt and Ryan Zimmerman, and outfielder Nelson Cruz provide Land Shark with thunder at the plate. The team leads the league with a .883 OPS and also has the fewest strikeouts. Goldschmidt is the league’s second-ranked player and has drawn 35 walks in his first 201 plate appearances. He’s third in the league with 38 runs scored. Zimmerman is ranked 12th and has driven in 38 runs, which is tied for second. Cruz has 37 RBI. Now, about that pitching staff. Land Shark has the league’s worst ERA (5.30) and WHIP (1.47) and the second lowest K/9 rate (7.58). The team also has the second fewest quality starts at 15. Relievers Anthony Swarzak and Brad Brach are the team’s top-ranked pitchers. Swarzak has 22 strikeouts in 19.2 innings while Brach has 12 Net Saves/Holds in 22 appearances. Jeremy Hellickson and Jerad Eickhoff have been the team’s most consistent starters.

Midtown Marsupials (33-49-2): Charlie and Allen are beginning to get the hang of fantasy baseball. After a rough start, the two rookie GMs moved infielder Daniel Murphy into their starting lineup. They stuck with Jeff Samardzija through a rough April and now the veteran pitcher is playing well. The offense still needs work. The team is last in Runs and RBI and they are second-to-last in plate appearances with 1,515. They have two hitters ranked in the league’s Top 100 – Murphy and shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Murphy leads the team in plate appearances (181), OPS (.962), RBI (33), and Runs (28). Bogaerts has seven Net Stolen Bases and has scored 22 runs. Relievers Chris Devenski and Raisel Iglesias lead the bullpen. Devenski has struck out 44 batters over 24.1 innings while Iglesias has 25 punch outs in 22.2. The team has the second highest K/9 rate in the league at 9.65. Carlos Martinez and Jacob deGrom both are 6-for-9 in quality start attempts. The starting pitching staff needs a turnaround by both Vincent Velasquez and Matt Harvey if this team is going to make a playoff run.

WEST DIVISION

Lower Haighters (43-36-5): The Lower Haighters have shown the ability to hit. Now, if they could only figure out how to pitch. The power at the plate comes from the corners, first baseman Eric Thames and third baseman Jake Lamb. Thames is ranked 18th overall while Lamb is 33rd. Thames has scored 39 runs, second most in the league. The Lower Haighters are 6-1 in the Runs, RBI, and OPS categories and 5-2 in plate appearances. The team leads the league in Runs, RBI and Plate Appearances. Now, about that pitching. The Lower Haighters have the second worst WHIP in the league at 1.39, the team ERA is a bloated 4.21 and they have just 20 quality starts. Their top three pitchers are relievers, Corey Knebel, Matt Bush, and Tom Kahnle. All were waiver wire additions. The team leads the league with 41 Net Saves/Holds and a K/9 rate of 9.71.

A-Rod’s Mirrors (42-38-4): There’s a big sigh of relief coming from General Manager Sean McKenna. That’s because Dallas Keuchel’s injury isn’t serious. Keuchel is the league’s seventh-rated player and is tied for fourth in the league with 63.2 innings pitched. Kimbrel’s the team’s ace, but he’s not the only solid hurler. Reliever Craig Kimbrel is the league’s ninth-ranked player and is tied for the team lead in Net Saves/Holds with Felipe Rivero (11). The strong pitching staff is third overall in WHIP (1.21), sixth in Net Saves/Holds (31), and sixth in K/9 (8.91). Outfielder Bryce Harper leads the league with 42 runs scored as is ranked fourth overall. Harper, third baseman Travis Shaw and first baseman Justin Smoak are the only hitters ranked in the Top 100 for the Mirrors which is also reflected in the team’s .734 OPS, which ranks 14th overall.

Warning Track Power (41-39-4): Starting pitcher Chris Sale is the league’s top-rated player. He’s second in the league with 65.2 innings pitched, is tops in strikeouts with 95, and is 8-for-9 in quality start attempts. Sale, Marco Estrada and Michael Fulmer are all ranked in the Top 50 overall. Warning Track Power is second in Quality Starts with 36, third in Innings Pitched with 421.1, and is tops in both ERA (3.50) and WHIP (1.15). Greg Holland is ranked 11th overall and is the second best closer in the league, behind Kimbrel. He has 19 saves in 20 attempts to lead the league. Now General Manager Mark Peterson needs to find a way to crank up the offense. They’ve scored just 95 runs (14th), driven in 186 runs (13th), and have just three stolen bases (15th). The return of outfielder J.D. Martinez should give this unit a boost. He’s posted a 1.503 OPS over his first 41 plate appearances since returning from injury. Michael Conforto has been the team’s top hitter, leading Warning Track Power in Runs (32) and RBI (27).

Marin Menehunes (32-49-3): General Manager Elizabeth Gravely is finding it difficult to defend a championship. The Menehunes have the worst record in the league. Starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann is the poster child for the team’s struggles. In 44.2 innings pitched, Zimmermann has posted a 6.25 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, and has one quality start in eight attempts. The team has the second worst ERA in the league (4.72) and has the fewest Net Saves/Holds (3). Max Scherzer and the starting staff are propping up the pitching staff. Scherzer (13), Alex Wood (31) and Jason Vargas (43) are the team’s three highest rated players. They have combined for 16 quality starts. Wood has a 1.88 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 43 innings pitched while Vargas has a 2.03 ERA and 1.03 WHIP over 48.2 innings. Eduardo Nunez is the team’s top-rated hitter and he and Lorenzo Cain have combined for 23 Net Stolen Bases. The team is second in the league with 30 Net Stolen Bases. The team’s .738 OPS ranks 13th, they are second to last in Runs with 192 and are 14th with 182 RBI.

Competent Starting Pitching is Rare as a Unicorn

noah-syndergaard

Noah Syndergaard is one of several key starting pitchers to go down with injury.

Starting pitching has been brutal the past two weeks. In Week 4, the league’s teams totaled 54 quality starts, the lowest league total this season. Yes, it’s early, but in Week 5, there were only 57 total quality starts. But this goes far beyond our league.

Steve Gardner, the excellent fantasy baseball writer at USA Today, described starting pitching as a minefield. Here’s how he summed up the season.

Yes, pitchers can be unpredictable, but this season seems to have taken disappointment, despair and disabled list stints to new levels. It’s enough to drive fantasy owners crazy.

Scott White at CBS penned an article titled, “Fantasy Baseball: All pitchers are terrible (including yours).” It’s difficult to argue. As White said, the worries about starting pitching began before the season’s first pitch.

In putting together my initial starting pitcher rankings, there were about 30 who I felt pretty confident were trustworthy and about 70 who could honestly go either way.

White describes a starting pitching landscape that has changed a great deal over the past five years. Quite simply, there are too many variables.

More than at any other point in its history, baseball is a three-true-outcomes game, meaning most every plate appearance (if you’ll excuse the exaggeration) ends in a home run, a walk or a strikeout. In that environment, the only sure way to sustained success is by missing bats, which puts an emphasis on velocity, which begets injuries, which begets early hooks and innings limits.

The problem isn’t at the top of fantasy pitching rotations. Most teams have one or two reliable starters. The problem is depth. It is difficult to find reliable No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 starters. Fantasy GMs that can build deep starting rotations will have a leg up on the competition.

Do you trust veterans like Andrew Cashner, Ricky Nolasco, or Jered Weaver? Do you wait for minor league pitchers to be promoted? Both decisions are fraught with peril.

At this point, your best strategy might be to cross your fingers and hope.

Chris Sale, Bryce Harper Top Player Rankings

Chris Sale

Chris Sale is the league’s top-rated player over the season’s first month.

In the first month of the season, two players have shown they have the ability to lead their respective fantasy teams to a championship – Chris Sale and Bryce Harper.

Sale is the top-ranked player in the league. He’s started five games, earned five quality starts, pitched 37.2 innings with a 1.19 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and 12.4 K/9. Sale is the primary reason Warning Track Power has 19 quality starts over the first four weeks of the season. That’s tied for the third most quality starts in the league.

Over 25 games, Harper is hitting .391 with a 1.281 OPS. He’s scored 32 runs and knocked in 26. The only blemish is his base stealing, where he’s -2 on the season. A-Rod’s Mirrors are fifth in RBI with 132 but, by himself, Harper hasn’t been able to make the Mirrors one of the top offenses in the league. Outfielder Steven Souza, added by the team as a free agent, is the only other Mirrors hitter ranked in the league’s Top 80.

While Harper and Sale are the top two players, neither Warning Track Power nor the Mirrors lead their division. It’s early, but the top teams in the league are Let’s Play 2, the JetSetters, Land Shark, the Lower Haighters and Hapamon. Each team is built differently. Let’s take a look at their construction.

Let’s Play 2

Louie Bottaro has built a deep, offensive, powerhouse. Eight players are ranked in the league’s Top 80, including six offensive players and two pitchers. Shortstop Corey Seager is the team’s top-rated player. He’s hitting .319 with a .961 OPS. He’s scored 16 runs and knocked in 17. The addition of Joey Gallo as a free-agent has paid big dividends, as the power hitter has 16 RBI and a .880 OPS. Let’s Play 2 is fourth in runs scored, fourth in strikeouts, fourth in plate appearances, and tied for first in net stolen bases. This team is bludgeoning teams to death.

JetSetters

The JetSetters have seven players ranked in the Top 80 including starting pitchers Ervin Santana and Ian Kennedy, offensive payers Chris Owings, Joey Votto, Jose Ramirez and Starlin Castro, and relievers Adam Ottavino and Cody Allen. Offensively, the team is second in plate appearances, fifth in runs scored, fourth in RBI, fifth in strikeouts, and fifth in OPS. On the mound, they are first in innings pitched, fourth in ERA, fifth in WHIP, third in quality starts, and third in net saves/holds. Is the picture clear? This team is balanced. They can beat you a number of ways.

Land Shark

Offensively, this is one of the most puzzling teams in the league. Plate appearances generally drive offensive production. Without opportunities, it’s tough to produce. Land Shark is second-to-last in the league with 876 plate appearances. But they are producing. They have six hitters ranked in the league’s Top 80, though they did lose Adam Eaton this week with an injury. Ryan Zimmerman has found the fountain of youth and has 29 RBI in his first 24 games. While Land Shark hasn’t had as many opportunities, they’ve made the most of them. They lead the league in OPS and have struck out just 158 times, fewest in the league. The question is, can they continue this pace of production without more opportunities?

Lower Haighters

This team features one of the most potent offensive lineups, a strong bullpen, and terrible starting pitching. They are second in net saves/holds and K/9 but they are 15th in ERA and 13th in WHIP. Six of their seven players rated in the Top 80 are hitters. Young starter Luis Severino is the only pitcher that has turned in keeper status. Eric Thames is the team’s top-rated player and his hitting .345 with a 1.276 OPS over 24 games. He’s scored 28 runs. Kevin Gausman and Jake Arrieta have contributed to the team’s poor start on the mound.

Hapamon

The team has six players ranked in the Top 80 and they are evenly divided between hitters and starting pitchers. Clayton Kershaw, Mike Leake, and Yu Darvish have been terrific. Hapamon is third in total innings pitched, and tied for first in quality starts. The bullpen has been leaking oil but that’s the easiest part of a fantasy team to rebuild. Outfielders Christian Yelich, Charlie Blackmon, and Michael Brantley are the top offensive threats. If GM Robert Kirkbride is going to keep this team in playoff contention, he’ll need to scour the waiver wire for additional offensive help and find some a few good relievers.

Assessing the League After Three Weeks

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners

James Paxton is one of the early season surprises.

I’m switching it up this week. As I said before the season started, I was going to touch on different topics during the course of the season, rather than stay with weekly series previews. I’ll certainly get back to the previews, but, for this week, I’m looking at the leaders in our scoring categories and what that means early in the season.

In reality, with only three weeks down, stats don’t mean a lot. That doesn’t make them any less interesting, just less important. Let’s dig in.

Innings Pitched

A great measurement to determine the effectiveness of starting pitchers is innings pitched. The deeper a starter can go into a game, the less taxing it is on the team’s relief pitching. In fantasy baseball, it rewards teams that maintain a full roster of healthy starters.

Through the season’s first three weeks, Hapamon and the JetSetters have set the standard in this category. The JetSetters lead the league with 206.2 innings pitched. Leading the way is Minnesota pitcher Ervin Santana. The veteran right-hander has pitched 28 innings over his first four starts. Only Chris Sale has logged more innings through four starts.

Hapamon has two innings-eaters at the top of their rotation. Yu Darvish leads the league with 32.2 innings pitched in five starts while Clayton Kershaw has 28.1 innings in four starts. As a team, Hapamon has logged 194 innings pitched.

Home Run 101 has logged the fewest innings pitched this season with 135.2. Milwaukee’s Zach Davies has struggled, pitching just 19.2 innings over four starts.

ERA

Dallas Keuchel and Carlos Carrasco have been sensational for A-Rod’s Mirrors over the first three weeks of the season and they are a big reason the team leads the league with a 2.87 ERA. Through their first four starts, Keuchel has a 0.96 ERA while Carrasco has a 1.65. The Mirrors posted the lowest weekly team ERA with a 2.21 in Week 1.

Stadium Mustard has a 3.00 ERA thanks to starter James Paxton and reliever Wade Davis. Paxton has logged 25.1 innings in four starts with a 1.78 ERA while Davis has pitched 8.1 relief innings without giving up a run.

The Menehunes have the worst team ERA with a 5.27 and much of that can be traced to miserable Week 2 when the pitching staff posted an 8.39. A number of starting pitchers have underperformed for the team including Josh Tomlin (three starts, 12.1 IP, 11.68 ERA), Jordan Zimmermann (three starts, 16.2 IP, 5.94 ERA) and Brett Anderson (three starts, 14.1 IP, 4.40 ERA).

The Lower Haighters have the third highest ERA in the league and are the only team that has yet to post a weekly ERA under 4.00.

WHIP

Given the performance over the first three weeks of Keuchel and Carrasco, it’s no surprise that the Mirrors own the league’s lowest WHIP at 1.11. The team’s relievers have also been solid. Closer Craig Kimbrel has a 0.64 WHIP over his first 9.1 innings while free-agent acquisition Felipe Rivero has a 0.94 WHIP over 11.2 innings.

The JetSetters have the league’s second lowest WHIP at 1.123. As we’ve documented, Santana has had a hot start to the season and his WHIP is 0.64 after his first four starts. Milwaukee reliever Jacob Barnes has a 0.68 WHIP after 10 relief appearances and he hasn’t given up a run.
Home Run 101 has the league’s highest WHIP at 1.430. The team’s 1.51 WHIP in Week 3 was the third highest weekly WHIP allowed this season. Relievers Sergio Romo and Darren O’Day both have WHIP’s above 2.00.

K/9

The Midtown Marsupials have struggled to win series early this season but the pitching staff throws gas. They lead the league with a 10.17 K/9 mark. Chris Devenski has struck out 25 batters over 13.1 innings playing the role of swingman for the Astros. Starters Vincent Velasquez (11.4 K/9) and Carlos Martinez (12.3 K/9) have also been racking up the strikeouts.

Las Estellas Rojas posted the highest K/9 in a week, striking out 11.05 batters per nine innings in Week 3. The Marsupials have the second and third highest weekly strikeout rates at 10.8 in Week 1 and 10.71 in Week 2.

The Bulls are striking out a league-low 7.57 batters per nine innings. Starter Andrew Triggs is striking out just 5.2 batters per nine innings while Pat Neshek, another ground ball specialist in the ‘pen, has a 6.4 K/9.

Stadium Mustard opened the season with a 5.91 K/9 in Week 1, the lowest weekly K/9 rate posted this year.

QS

With Hapamon and the JetSetters setting the pace in Innings Pitched, it’s no surprise that they also lead the league in Quality Starts with 17 apiece. High Cheese and Warning Track Power each have 16.

Hapamon had eight quality starts in Week 2 while the Menehunes equaled that mark in Week 3. It’s the most weekly quality started totaled this season. Max Scherzer and Ivan Nova are both 4-for-4 in quality start attempts for the Menehunes to begin the season.

Home Run 101 has the fewest quality starts with six. Zach Davies doesn’t have a quality start in four attempts and the team had just one quality start in Week 3.

NSVH

The value of a good bullpen in fantasy baseball, like real baseball, can’t be ignored. Good relievers can lower your ERA and WHIP, increase your K/9, and they’re the only players to earn saves and holds.

Colorado closer Greg Holland has emerged as one of the league’s top relievers, earning nine saves in the first three weeks. Holland has teamed with Justin Wilson (5 NSVH) and Zach Britton (5 NSVH) to form the league’s best bullpen for Warning Track Power, which has recorded a league-high 21 NSVH over the first three weeks.

The Bulls are the only team without a NSVH through the first three weeks of the season. They finished Week 1 with -2 NSVH and Week 3 with -1. In his first seven games, Xavier Cedeno has -3 NSVH.
Plate Appearances

In the first three weeks of the season, Seattle’s rookie outfielder, Mitch Haniger, led the league in plate appearances with 93 over his first 20 games. He’s a big reason the Lower Haighters lead the league in plate appearances with 843 and had 284 in Week 1 and another 280 in Week 3. Haniger, however, hit the DL this week, which is going to hurt the Haighters.

Injured players and the DL are the primary reasons the Marsupials are last in plate appearances with just 657. It’s also the reason Buster Hugs had just 186 plate appearances in Week 2, when Geovany Soto, Buster Posey, and shortstop Jean Segura combined for seven plate appearances because of injuries.

OPS

Land Shark is one of the more interesting teams in the league offensively. They are second to last with 658 plate appearances which would normally indicate poor offensive production. But that hasn’t been the case. The team leads the league with a 0.876 OPS, which has propped up the counting stats.

Cincinnati third baseman Eugenio Suarez (1.200), Washington first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (1.215), Baltimore DH Trey Mancini (1.035) and Atlanta outfielder Matt Kemp (1.080) all have an OPS in excess of 1.000 after three weeks. In Week 3, Land Shark led the league with a 0.918 OPS, the highest weekly OPS this season.

Stadium Mustard has the league’s lowest OPS at 0.662. In 82 plate appearances, outfielder Jose Bautista has a 0.465 OPS for Stadium Mustard. The team finished Week 1 with a .608 OPS, the third lowest in the league.

Strikeouts

In 74 plate appearances, Colorado shortstop Trevor Story has struck out 29 times. Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber has struck out 25 times in 83 plate appearances. It’s no wonder High Cheese leads the league in strikeouts with 189. In Week 2 alone, the team had 68 strikeouts, the most for any team in 2017.

The teams with the fewest strikeouts, Midtown Marsupials (118) and Land Shark (122), also have a low number of plate appearances, so it’s not necessarily related to a great batter’s eye.

Runs

Milwaukee outfielder Eric Thames is absolutely on fire. Thames has scored 21 runs, just one behind league leader Bryce Harper. The hot start for Thames has the Lower Haighters in the league lead with 116 runs scored. But he’s not alone. Mitch Haniger (19), Jake Lamb (15) and Ryan Braun (13), have also been strong for the Haighters. In Weeks 1 and 3, the Haighters scored 44 runs, the top mark in the league.

Home Run 101 also scored 44 runs in Week 2 and they are third behind Land Shark (97) with 96 runs scored. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes leads the team with 12 runs.

Warning Track Power has scored the fewest runs with 68, followed by the Marsupials (70) and the Bulls (79). The 16 runs scored by the Marsupials in Week 2 was the lowest weekly total this season.

RBI

While Thames is creating headlines, Jake Lamb quietly leads the Lower Haighters with 18 RBI, just three off the league lead. The Haighters lead the league in RBI with 109 followed by the JetSetters with 104, the Mirrors with 103 and Bacon with 100.

The Mirrors have three of the four leaders in RBI after three weeks. Bryce Harper (20), free-agent acquisition Steven Souza (18) and Travis Shaw (18).

High Cheese drove in 43 runs in Week 3, with Trevor Story leading the way with eight. Veteran Mark Reynolds leads the team with 8.

The Marsupials have the fewest RBI with 55 and had just 11 in Week 3, the lowest weekly total this season.

NSB

Jarrod Dyson and Brett Gardner each have five net stolen bases this season to lead a Let’s Play 2 team that leads the league with 17. Gardner had three in Week 1 when the team had seven. Home Run 101 and the Menehunes both had seven net stolen bases in Week 3 to tie Let’s Play 2 for the weekly hight.

After three weeks, Warning Track Power had a total of -1 net stolen bases while High Cheese had zero. Hapamon and the Marsupials both finished Week 3 with -2 net stolen bases while High Cheese did the same in Week 2.

Not surprisingly, Cincinnati outfielder Billy Hamilton leads the league with eight net stolen bases. Hamilton is the only player with Las Estellas Rojas to exceed three net stolen bases.