A fantasy draft edge

I shared some ideas about a draft strategy in my last column, with recommendations that I hope will improve your chances of acing your draft. Today, I want to touch on another suggestion that could give you another edge in your upcoming fantasy baseball draft. This idea is a bit more subtle, but it could pay big dividends if you implement it.

If you haven’t been hiding under a rock, you know there are major rules changing to Major League Baseball this season. These include a pitch clock, a limit on the number of pickoff attempts, an increase to the size of the bases and limits on the defensive shift a team can use. The latter rule change will be especially important to left-handed hitters. 

Indeed, it is left-handed batters that have been affected most by the shift managers utilize against hitters. This is changing with the new rule that prevents teams from positioning a player in shallow right field where pulled ground balls and line drives frequently land off the bat of lefty pull hitters. This is a game-changer for some of these batters.

If you think I’m exaggerating, consider that more than half of the balls put into play were hit into a shift. This means thousands of base hits were taken away by those shrewd defensive coaches utilizing all those fancy advanced analytics. Left-handed batters were influenced the most by the shift. Estimates were that there was a 30-point decrease in batting average.

With the removal of said shift, left-handers are going to see an increase in fantasy value across the board. But some batters will benefit more than others. The purpose of this column is to give you an idea of how these batters are, and I’m also going to tell you whether there is enough benefit to make them worth drafting at their current average draft position.

In other words, I’m not telling you that every beneficiary of the rule change will suddenly become a screaming value at their current ADP. That’s why I’m not going to just give you the list and wish you good luck. There are some players that will still be busts and others that won’t return enough value because of other factors weighing against them.

The player who hit the most balls into the shift last year was Texas shortstop Corey Seager. It’s not as though Seager had a bad season after signing a 10-year, $325 million contract. He reached a new career high with 33 home runs. He also scored 91 runs and drove in 83 more. On the negative side, Seager’s batting average plummeted to a career-low .245.

The drop in batting average was attributed to a .242 BABIP that should be expected to return closer to his career norm (.317). The Statcast numbers suggest it was mostly bad luck as he hit the ball hard, finishing with a 97th percentile xSLG. Seager gets the bat on the ball consistently, with a strikeout rate ranging from 15.5% to 16.1% over the past three seasons.

How much will the elimination of the shift help Seager? Steamer projects him to bat .271 in 2023, with 87 runs scored and 82 RBI. Since my name is Doubting Thomas, I can’t afford to sound too optimistic, but what if they are underestimating the 28-year-old? A three-time All-Star, Seager is the type of player that could be an MVP candidate if he stays healthy.

The one thing you won’t get from Seager is stolen bases. Even with the rule change, it’s unlikely that he will have double-digit steals since four is his career best. However, drafting a four-category contributor at his current ADP of 67 would make him a good value. But a return in value is dependent on the batting average returning close to his .287 career average.

The players profiled below all hit more than 100 balls into the shift in 2022. Since they are all left-handed hitters, they will also benefit from bigger bases. The reason is that with the removal of the shift, there will be more close plays at first base on pulled balls. Bigger bases will mean more runners called safe as they reach the base a fraction of a second earlier.

JOSE RAMIREZ, 3B, CLEVELAND

Did you really need another reason to draft Ramirez? If you did, please note that he pulled a ball into the shift 175 times. Ramirez is a machine who consistently pumps out terrific fantasy seasons. He finished as the third best player in fantasy last year, behind Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt. He’s a five-category player and is worth drafting No. 1 overall.

KYLE TUCKER, OF, HOUSTON

Another five-category player, Tucker hit a ball into the shift 170 times last year. As good as he was in 2022, his batting average dropped 37 points, compared to the previous year. The new rule could certainly add points to that average, which would make him even more appealing. If you want Tucker, you’ll need to spend a first-round pick. His NFBC ADP is 6.

SHOHEI OHTANI, SP/UTL

Ohtani is a freak of nature. He’s an elite pitcher and five-category hitter. In a league where you can change your lineup every day, he’s the most valuable player in fantasy. In a weekly league, he’s still a first-round player. Ohtani hit 134 balls into the shift last year. Could he actually improve on his .273/.356/.519 slash and 11 stolen bases with the new rules?

YORDAN ALVAREZ, OF, HOUSTON

Alvarez’s Statcast page is a sea of red. He led MLB in average exit velocity, HardHit%, xwOBA, xBA, xSLG and Barrel% in 2022, which is why his ADP is 12. Alvarez drew 78 walks while striking out only 106 times in 561 plate appearances. Alvarez finished as a top-10 roto hitter in 2022. But consider that he hit into the shift 134 times. Could he get even better?

MATT OLSON, 1B, ATLANTA

Coming off a career year in a bad ballpark with a lesser lineup, Olson regressed. He took advantage of the lineup to drive in runs and had 34 homers. His numbers were still solid but his strikeout rate climbed and his BA dropped 30 points. Olson hit 138 balls into the shift in 2022, and with the new rule is batting average could jump back up.

KYLE SCHWARBER, OF, PHILADELPHIA

Schwarber hit 142 balls into the shift last year. With 46 home runs last season, he finished second behind only Aaron Judge. He also scored 100 runs and had 94 RBI. Surprisingly, Schwarber even added 10 stolen bases. The problem was a 73-point in his batting average. How many points could be added back by the new rule? 

The new rules on limiting the shift and bigger bases should spell a meaningful increase in OBP for many left-handed hitters. There are many others, including Max Muncy, Anthony Rizzo, Josh Naylor, Charlie Blackmon, Seth Brown, Rougned Odor, Anthony Santander, Rowdy Tellez, Max Kepler, M.J. Melendez, Keibert Ruiz and Carlos Santana.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

What’s your draft strategy?

I know that it’s only January, but if you’re reading this column, you are serious about fantasy baseball. You’re not the person that’s waiting until after the Super Bowl to discover that you are bored and need another diversion. You’re the person who is already looking through the player pool and thinking about who you want on your team in a season-long redraft or dynasty league.

Anyone that has played the game knows that the first and arguably most important step in winning your league is emerging from the draft with a strong, balanced team. You can add players from the waiver wire to patch holes in your roster, but you will have to be either really good, or lucky, to fix a team that is short on power, speed, or lacks an ace and an elite closer.  

Drafting a strong, balanced team that can dominate right out the gate isn’t easy. However, with a solid plan, a good base of knowledge and hours of preparation, you can accomplish your goal. I realize that everyone doesn’t build their team the same way, but here are some strategies that I use to draft competitive teams. Consider these as guideposts to your draft success.

There is one caveat that I want you to be aware of with this, and it pertains to most of what I write. I’m assuming that you are playing the rotisserie format of fantasy baseball. In this format, teams are ranked from first to last in each of ten statistical categories. Points are then awarded according to the order in each category and totaled to determine overall score and league rank.

FOCUS ON HITTERS EARLY

I’m going to be controversial from the start with this one because there are great fantasy players that draft pitchers in the early rounds. The pocket aces approach is well known. But acquiring a strong base of elite hitters gives your team a solid foundation. You typically can’t find 30/30 players late in the draft, or on the waiver wire. If you want them, you’d better get them early.

The need for acquiring position players early was a lesson learned last year in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. After drafting Rafael Devers late in the first round, I took Max Scherzer, Sandy Alcantara and Ryan Pressly with my next three picks. I finished with a superb pitching staff and mediocre hitters. My team was good enough to win many leagues, but not TGFBI.

This year, I plan to have no more than three pitchers on my team when the ninth round starts. And one of those pitchers will likely be an elite closer. I will do everything in my power to have hitters who can club at least 30 homers, drive in 100 runs, score at least 100 runs, steal some bases, and hit close to .300. If they can do all five of these things, I will be very happy.

At the risk of repeating myself, I will say that it’s possible to build a successful team with pitching first, but it’s more difficult. Pitchers are more erratic than hitters. They get hurt at a higher rate and their win totals can fluctuate wildly depending on run support, bullpen, and luck.  The difference between a fourth-round pitcher and a seventh or 10th rounder is often marginal.

This year, I think that’s this is even more true because the starting pitcher depth is greater than in some years. When you get past Corbin Burnes and Gerrit Cole, there are still a dozen guys that could finish as the No. 1 fantasy pitcher. A pitcher may not contribute in four pitching categories while a good hitter will generally contribute in four, if not all five of the hitting categories.

PLAY IT SAFE FIRST AND THEN TAKE RISKS

Whoever said you must take risks to win didn’t mean drafting injury-prone or unproven players in the early rounds of your draft. I know it’s boring to play it safe, and nobody will make any comments about how brilliant you were to draft Freddie Freeman in the first round if he slashes .298/.386/.509, with 26 home runs, 113 runs and 95 RBI. But no one has a higher floor.

No one loves to receive compliments more than me, but I’d rather look like a genius in October than in March. My advice it to skip over the trendy hitter getting all the buzz. Bobby Witt is a good example. A late surge earned Witt 30 steals, and his 20 home runs in his rookie season has convinced a lot of people to draft him in the first round. But what if he hits .220 this year?

Julio Rodriguez is an even better example of a player I won’t draft at his current ADP. While Witt is currently No. 7 overall at NFBC, Rodriguez is currently No. 4. Rodriguez had an awesome rookie year. The outfielder had 28 home runs, 25 steals and slashed .284/.345/.509. He could be the No. 1 overall fantasy player, but he’s more likely to regress in his sophomore year. 

I will probably lay awake at night worrying about anyone I draft in the first round of TGFBI. But I’ll worry less about taking Trea Turner, Jose Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, or Freeman. The same goes for the second round, where I’m fading Fernando Tatis, Jr. Tatis, who could return from suspension to be the No. 1 player, but I’d rather take Rafael Devers, or Pete Alonso.  

Before you write me off, please know that I would be willing to swing for the fences with a player like Byron Buxton. If you look up injury risk in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Buxton, but the injury risk is baked into his ADP of 109. I’m happy to use an 8th round pick on Buxton, who has 40/30 upside if he stays on the field. If he doesn’t, it doesn’t sink my season.

PROTECT YOUR RATIOS

In a standard 5 x 5 roto league, there are 7 counting categories (R, HR, RBI, SB, W, K, Sv) and 3 ratio categories (Avg, ERA, WHIP). On many occasions, I have fallen behind in one, or more counting stat categories and made up the ground fairly easily. For instance, if I’m behind in runs, home runs and RBI, I can usually find a couple of power hitters on the waiver wire to help me.  

However, a couple of pitchers with good ERA and WHIP are not going to fix my team if I’m trailing in those categories. In other words, I’d rather have a team in last place in HRs and RBI in July than I would a team that’s in last place in ERA and WHIP. It’s the same thing with batting average, which is a category that I struggled with last season in TGFBI. Protect your ratios.

I realize that home runs are not as easy to come by now as they were in 2019 (unless you play for the Yankees). But I still prioritize batting average over slugging in a draft. With hitters selling out for power, those few with the eye and contact skills to hit for a high average are now at a premium. Last year, only 11 players with enough plate appearances to qualify hit .300 or more.

In 2000, the MLB league batting average was .270. Ten years later, it was .257. In 2020, it was .245, and it has dropped a point each year since then. My advice is to not draft any hitters with career averages below .250. Even if your team comes out of the draft apparently weak in a counting stat, you can battle back to at least the middle of the pack in that category.

Hitters with high batting averages aren’t the only scarce commodity in baseball. Just 19 pitchers with at least 28 starts had an ERA under 3.00, and only 10 had a WHIP under 1.00 in 2022. When you draft your pitchers, find solid anchors for your ratio categories. Burnes and Cole will cost you a second-round pick, but the other 17 are available later in the draft – some much later.

DON’T OVERPAY FOR POSITION SCARCITY

The key word here is “overpay.” Taking Jose Ramirez early isn’t the issue. Rather, it’s taking a guy with unproven ability in the early rounds just because he plays third base. My example here will be polarizing but consider Gunner Henderson. The rookie had a .259/.348/.440 slash across 132 plate appearances in 2022, but his ADP is 92. At that price, I’ll find another corner infielder.   

I’m not saying that you ignore scarcity at a position like third base. If I’m at the end of the 10th round and don’t have anyone, I might consider Eugenio Suarez. At this point, you might be thinking about the batting average risk, but his career .250 BA is only nine points lower than Henderson’s 2022 mark. And he has hit more than 30 home runs in each full season since 2017.

Fifty picks after Suarez, consider Brandon Drury. You don’t want Drury as your starting third baseman, but he’s eligible at three infield positions, with third base being one of them. Drury has enjoyed something of a renaissance in his late 20’s, and he signed a two-year deal with the Angels after slashing .263/.320/.492, with 28 home runs, 87 runs and 87 RBI last season.    

My point is that you can usually find a player at the same position later in the draft with comparable production. One disclaimer is that if you’re playing in a league with two catcher slots to fill, it’s risky to wait. If the first 12 catchers are off the board, I will be in a panic when I draft my TGFBI team. A thin position is much thinner when you have two lineup spots to fill.

DRAFT YOUNG PLAYERS WITH UPSIDE LATE

I’ve been dissing a few young, up-and-coming players in this column, but it’s only because of their relative ADP. The potential upside with some young players late in the draft is absolutely massive, and the risk is minimal. Let me give you an example of two players from a team that I follow closely – the St. Louis Cardinals. Both rookies were called up in 2022.

A year ago, Cardinal nation was excited about the possibility of top prospect Nolan Gorman being called up. Based on his minor-league career, we knew he was going to have an issue with strikeouts. And he did. Gorman struck out 32.9 percent of the time, and his .226/.300/.420 slash failed to impress. But he did hit 14 home runs in 313 plate appearances, and his ADP is 373.

Another Cardinal player, Lars Nootbar, had a 228/.340/.457 slash, and he’s going almost 200 picks earlier in the draft. Nootbar also had 14 home runs with 34 more plate appearances. Nootbar had more success last year than Gorman, and the analysts love him because his Statcast page has a lot of red. But is he really worth taking 13 rounds earlier in a 15-team league?

I love having players like Gorman and Donovan on my bench, hoping they’ll break out. If it doesn’t work out for one of these young players, I can always drop them for a productive player that I claim off waivers. I would suggest that you draft young players with a high ceiling who have proved themselves to some degree. Don’t draft players who haven’t been called up.

DON’T OVERPAY FOR CLOSERS

This one is tricky because elite closers are few and far between these days. We can debate the number, but it’s a single digit – especially with Liam Hendricks being sidelined. Some managers simply refuse to spend a third- or fourth-found draft pick on a relief pitcher. My approach can be called “The Hero RP.” I want one hero (elite closer) early to build a solid saves foundation.

My plan in TGFBI is to take my Hero RP in the third of fourth round of TGFBI. I will almost certainly miss out on Edwin Diaz and Emmanuel Clase, but I can get Jordan Romano, Devin Williams, or Pressly again. Pressly’s looks like a real value at ADP 53. I drafted him 10 picks earlier last year, and he had 33 saves for the Astros in spite of being limited to 50 appearances.

After taking a closer in an early round, I won’t consider anyone else until at least the 11th round. Andres Munoz has wicked stuff, and I’d love to get him. In the second half of 2022, Munoz led Seattle in K/BB percentage (30.9), WHIP (0.73) and swinging-strike rate (21.4 percent). The problem is that Paul Sewald remains in the mix for saves, so I don’t want to overpay for Munoz.

It’s also possible that I repeat what I did last year in TGFBI – chasing saves. I picked up Sewald a reasonable FAAB outlay early in the season, and he paid off with 20 saves. I also got Rafael Montero cheap when Pressly went down with an injury, and he would up delivering 14 saves. Sprinkle in a little Lou Trivino with 11 saves, and I finished middle of the pack in my league. 

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

Fantasy baseball stats 101

If you have read my bio at Creative Sports, you know that I fell in love with baseball after moving to St. Louis in the mid-1960s. An only child with few friends, some of my best childhood memories were listening to Cardinals baseball games on KMOX Radio with Harry Caray and Jack Buck. After the firing of Caray in 1969, it was Jack Buck and later Mike Shannon.

I learned a lot about baseball from those broadcasts, including the statistics that were important back then. Most of those stats were on the back of baseball cards that I collected and traded religiously. My father taught me how to calculate a hitter’s batting average when I was in the fourth grade. I updated the averages of Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Ken Boyer and Bill White daily.

Back in those days, I believed that the best hitter in baseball was the one with the highest batting average. The best pitcher in baseball was the hurler with the lowest ERA. It was as simple as that. When I started playing fantasy baseball several years ago, I had a growing awareness that my approach to statistical analysis was antiquated and fell far short of what was necessary.

When I started writing about fantasy baseball for CreativeSports, I wanted to write from the perspective of a manager, sharing analysis, commentary, and strategies. Since my father was a college professor and my mother a high school teacher, it was natural for me to love teaching others about what I love. If you’re still learning about fantasy baseball, I hope to help you.  

When I started playing fantasy baseball, I played in only public leagues because I wasn’t invited to play anywhere else. Frankly, I didn’t know anyone else that played fantasy baseball. One of my friends who played in my home league told me that he didn’t have time to play in a season-long league. He said it would be like having a full-time job, and that wasn’t far from the truth.

However, playing in public leagues gave me false confidence because my lack of knowledge didn’t keep me from winning, or finishing second, every time. As it turned out, most of the other managers weren’t very good. A lot of them quit before the season was over. However, reading articles and listening to podcasts opened my eyes to the brave new world of sabermetrics.

A few years before I “turned pro” and joined CreativeSports, my son gave me a book for Christmas. The book is entitled Smart Baseball, and it was written by ESPN veteran writer and statistical analyst Keith Law, now a senior baseball writer for The Athletic. The subtitle of the book is “The story behind the old stats that are ruining the game, the new ones that are running it, and the right way to think about baseball.” The last part was the most interesting to me.

Law’s chapter on the advent of the MLB Statcast era was eye-opening information. Law explains that the new data stream that teams changed the game forever. The data received from MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) via Statcast includes 1.5 billion rows of data, each of which has about 70 fields, for all MLB games played. That’s about 100 billion items just in a single season.

If I told you I was now an expert on sabermetrics, it would be a bold-faced lie. Frankly, I feel like I’ve only scratched off the tip of the iceberg. The reason why baseball (and fantasy baseball) is so fascinating is that there’s so much to learn. You can spend hundreds of hours reading about stats and trying to apply them to your teams and still feel like you’re a complete ignoramus.

The purpose of this column today is to share some basic stats with you. Understanding these stats and how to apply them will make you a better fantasy manager. I’m talking about stats like BABIP, BB/K, BB/9, GB/FB, HR9, K/BB, K/9 (not a dog). Others, like wRC+, OPS+, FIP and SIERA will be left for another day. Here are 10 statistics that will help you be a better manager.

BATTING AVERAGE ON BALLS IN PLAY (BABIP)

Calculation:

BABIP = (H – HR)/(AB – K – HR + SF)

BABIP measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit. A ball is “in play” when the plate appearance ends in something other than a strikeout, walk, hit batter, catcher’s interference, sacrifice bunt, or home run. In other words, the batter put the ball in play, and it didn’t clear the outfield fence. The league BABIP in today’s landscape is ~.295.

There are several variables that can affect BABIP rates for individual players, such as defense, luck, and talent level. BABIP is one of the simplest and most important sabermetric statistics, but it is also one of the most misunderstood.

Hitters tend to establish their own baseline. If they are far over or under their career rate, then they are due for a correction (regression) unless they’ve changed something. Hitting the ball hard boosts BABIP, as do line drives. Ground balls result in hits more than fly balls in play, so a hitter’s batted ball profile helps shape his BABIP.

Pitchers tend to nestle around the league average. However, ground ball pitchers tend to carry a higher BABIP than fly ball hurlers.

STRIKEOUT RATE AND WALK RATE (Hitters)

Calculation:

K% = K / PA

BB% = BB / PA

Strikeout rate (K%) and walk rate (BB%) measure how often a hitter walks or strikes out on a per plate appearance basis. High walk rates are good for batters because it means they’re reaching base often. Hitters close to 1-to-1 are ideal, and you should avoid hitters with worse than 1-to-2 ratios. Consider in light of the overall set of skills.

STRIKEOUT RATE AND WALK RATE (Pitchers)

Calculation:

K% = Strikeouts / Batters Faced

BB% = Walks / Batters Faced

K/9 = Strikeouts x 9 / Innings Pitched

BB/9 = Walks x 9 / Innings Pitched

While K/9 and BB/9 are more mainstream and relatable, K% and BB% are a truer measure of a pitcher’s skills. For example, if a pitcher fans one and walks one while recording two more outs in an inning, his K/9 is 1.0, while his K% is 25%. However, if he got the side in order with one whiff, his K/9 is still 1.0, but his K% is now 33%. This is an extreme example but should illustrate why K% and BB% are superior for projection and ranking purposes.

In 2022, the league average K/9 was 8.53, while the league average K% was 22.4%. K% over 30% are elite.

The league average BB/9 was 3.10, while the league average BB% was 8.2%. BB% under 5% are elite.

Many feel the single most useful pitching stat is K%-BB%. The league average was 14.3%. Pitchers over 20% are best for fantasy.

STRIKEOUT TO WALK RATIO

Calculation

K/BB

Before K%-BB% came into vogue, strikeout to walk ratio was a popular filter to identify the more highly skilled pitchers. Pitchers above 2.5 are best for fantasy

CONTACT RATE (CT)

Calculation

(At Bats – Strikeouts)/At Bats

Hitters who put balls in play at 90% or above are ideal, but those who put the ball in play less than 75 percent will probably wind up with poor batting averages.

FIELDING INDEPENDENT PITCHING (FIP)

Calculation

((Home Runs x 13) + ((Walks + Hit By Pitch) x 3) – (Strikeouts x 2))/(Innings Pitched + 3.2*)

*Factor used to normalize FIP to the league average ERA

FIP is a defense neutral ERA. In general, a pitcher with a FIP higher than his ERA is getting lucky with his balls that are put in play. This means you can expect regression. The exception is if the defense behind the pitcher is above average, which could cause more batted balls to be converted into outs (example: New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Guardians).

GROUND BALL TO FLY BALL RATIO (GB/FB)

Calculation

Ground Balls/Fly Balls

A strong ground ball pitcher can overcome a low strikeout rate, while a fly ball pitcher will often need a deep ballpark to be successful unless he is adept at avoiding hard contact. A GB/FB > 50% is extreme, while GB/FB < 30% is considered a fly ball pitcher.

HOME RUNS ALLOWED PER 9 INNINGS (HR/9)

Calculation:

(9 x Home Runs Allowed/Innings Pitched)

The league average is usually a little above one home run allowed per nine innings, so you should avoid pitchers who are consistently ending up well above that number.

LEFT ON BASE (LOB%)

LOB% is the percentage of batters that reach base but do not score. Pitchers tend to hover near the league average, which is around 72%. Better pitchers can approach 78%. Reliever LOB% are unreliable since there is too much noise in a small number of innings. Watch for deviations from a pitcher’s career strand rate. For example, a pitcher who has a career strand rate of 71% but has an 85% strand rate in a particular season is getting lucky and will likely experience regression.

Many conflate LOB% and strand rate. They are essentially the same thing, but strand rate was a proprietary metric developed by BaseballHQ. Strand rate proved so useful that it has become mainstream. The league averages are virtually the same as LOB%.

Calculation:

LOB% = (Hits + Walks Allowed + Hit by Pitch – Runs)/(Hits + Walks Allowed +Hit by Pitch – 1.4 xHome Runs)

Strand Rate = (Hits + Walks Allowed – Earned Runs)/(Hits + Walks Allowed – Home Runs)

There are many more statistics that can be discussed, and I will touch on these are a later date. But for now, as you do your draft preparation work for the upcoming season, apply some of these statistics to help you distinguish between pitchers and hitters who are similar in many ways. Subtle differences can be identified by digging deeper with some of these advanced statistics.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

When a game doesn’t matter

When the couple we had invited to dinner had left, I glanced at my phone to catch a score in the Buffalo-Cincinnati game. It was a highly-anticipated Monday Night Football game. The game didn’t have much significance in the NFL playoff picture because both teams had already clinched a playoff berth. The Bengals needed a win to clinch the AFC North division.

I clicked on the ESPN app and was informed that the game had been delayed. With all of the crazy weather, stranger things have happened than weather delaying a game. In fact, a stranger thing had happened. Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin suffered a terrifying injury and had been rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. He was listed in critical condition.

Hamlin had tackled Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, got to his feet and then fell backward to the ground. A stretcher and ambulance came onto the field. First responders administered CPR. Later, it was confirmed that Hamlin’s heart had stopped. It was most likely caused by blunt force trauma after the defensive player absorbed the impact of Higgins’ helmet to his chest on the play.  

My wife, who knows something about medical events after more than 30 years in the field, said Hamlin was actually fortunate that the injury occurred where it did and his life was probably saved because of the care he was able to receive moments after he collapsed. A automated external defibrillator was used to restore his heartbeat before he was taken to the hospital.

Hamlin’s teammates were clearly in shock as they gathered around and watched him being given oxygen. So were the ESPN announcers and everyone else. Hamlin was loaded into an ambulance and transported to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, the region’s only adult level 1 trauma center. Hamlin’s mother was in attendance at the game and rode with her son to the hospital.

Players from both teams surrounded Hamlin. Later, both Bills and Bengals players joined together for prayer. Before the teams gathered, the camera was on Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, who had his hands together and eyes closed. Always in the spotlight, Allen has kept his religious views to himself, maintaining his right to privacy. But this was an unguarded moment. 

I didn’t sleep well, with the image of Hamlin falling to the ground haunting me overnight Monday. I have watched football for sixty years, but I had never seen anything like that. The Darryl Stingley injury in a 1978 that crippled him for life, had also haunted me. Stingley, who died in 2007, said Oakland’s Jack Tatum, who administered the cheap shot, never apologized.

Higgins, who put his helmet into Hamlin’s chest to avoid being tackled, tweeted a message early Tuesday that his thoughts and prayers were with the Hamlin family. “I’m praying that you pull through, bro,” Higgins’ said in the message. I watched the tackle that injured Hamlin over and over again, and I am convinced that Higgins did nothing illegal. Football is a violent game.

“I hate football,” was my wife’s first comment when I told her about the injury the previous night. This was not new information. She had expressed her dismay when our son, Daniel, injured his back playing on a Pop Warner team many years ago. She refused to allow his two younger brothers to play anything except flag football. Neither of them was interested in that.

Football is a collision sport. In collision sports, the person purposely hits or collides with other people or objects with great force. Football isn’t the only collision sport. Other examples are  boxing and ice hockey. In collision sports, you need the proper equipment and safety gear, including a helmet. Football helmets have come a long way since the first helmet in 1869.

Most people may think that helmets are intended to prevent concussions. But this is not actually the case, and is one of many football helmet misconceptions. While helmets can defend against skull fractures and serious brain injuries, they can’t stop the movement of the brain inside the skull that causes concussion. That’s why so many concussions still occur in the NFL.

But the collision that nearly cost Hamlin his life had nothing to do with a head injury. Doctors believe Hamlin may have suffered a one-in-200 million heart injury that shuts off blood to the brain and triggered cardiac arrest. Doctors believe the blow to the chest threw his heart’s pumping mechanism out of rhythm, disrupting blood flow around his body and shutting off his brain.

The impact in Monday night’s game may have happened during a very vulnerable moment in Hamlin’s heart’s electrical cycle, triggering a condition called commotio cordis. This is a sudden arrhythmia caused by chest impact near the heart. Without immediate CPR and defibrillation, the prognosis of commotio cordis is not good.  The condition is very  dangerous with rare survival.

If you believe in luck (I prefer to call it providence) Hamlin was actually very lucky after he was very unlucky. If he had sustained the blow to the chest somewhere else,  medical professionals would not have been there to  perform CPR within seconds after he suffered cardiac arrest during the game Monday night. Experts say quick CPR was key to his survival, and I don’t doubt that.

By midday Tuesday, the NFL had advised that the game had been suspended until further notice. Although no final decision was made on if and when the game would be completed, it would not be resumed this week. Since the playoff picture probably won’t change, it’s possible that this game won’t be made up. However, the fact that it won’t be this week had fantasy implications.  

As a co-commissioner in my fantasy football home league, I had the responsibility of sending out a communication about how this would impact the league. In this league, the championship game was already settled. The matchup to determine third place was impacted, with my sister-in-law projected to win if Allen completed the game. Instead he finished with 2.72 FP and she lost.

“I’m sure you are aware that Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest last night in the MNF game in Cincinnati. Hamlin’s heartbeat was restored on the field and he is in critical condition. At a time when a man’s life hangs in the balance, fantasy football becomes far less important. However, if you’re wondering about the impact in our league, here’s the rule:

“According to the rule I read, if an NFL game is postponed or cancelled, the players on those teams will be treated as injured players and no points will be given to them unless the game is played on the same day. If the game is played the next day or beyond, the players in that game will not get any fantasy points,” I wrote, taking this information directly from the Yahoo website.

“As this was the final week of fantasy football for the 2022-23 season, the final score will remain as is. So, if you had any Bengals or Bills player on your fantasy team this week, the points will remain as they are now.” I must admit being surprised when my email set off a firestorm of text messages. “I think it’s total BS, but I guess we gotta go with it,” my sister-in-law commented.

I’m sure there were more harsh comments from managers in other leagues where losing possible points from Allen, Joe Burrow, Stefon Diggs, Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon, or Tee Higgins could have cost championships. Having been eliminated from the playoffs in both of my Yahoo leagues, I am not walking in their shoes. However, I’d like to think I would have felt differently. 

In Buffalo, thousands of fans gathered on Tuesday to hold a prayer vigil for Hamlin and his family outside Highmark Stadium. None of them were worried about how the postponed game might affect the Bills in their quest for a first-round bye in the playoffs. They were praying for a 24-year-old known for organizing Christmas toy drives in his hometown while he was in college.

There’s a time when events on a field of play raise issues far bigger than the outcome of the game in question. There might be issues of player safety in the event of a serious injury. There might be issues of justice in the case of malicious actions by heartless thugs like Tatum, who was never disciplined by the NFL. Or, the issue might be coming together to pray for a human life.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

What price glory?

The late George Steinbrenner is rolling over in his grave. The owner of the “other team” in New York is outspending is son, Hal Steinbrenner. Billionaire owner Steve Cohen is on track to spend almost $500 million on payroll and penalties for his New York Mets. Cohen is thumbing his nose at the $233 million luxury tax threshold for the 2023 MLB season, as the Mets’ payroll is now expected to be roughly $384 million. The Mets’ offseason spending splurge has now exceeded $800 million.

The current collective bargaining agreement discourages profligate spending, but it doesn’t prevent it. The CBA anticipates owners operating franchises as a business. That has not been the case. Cohen’s offseason spending spree, in which the Mets have committed $476.7 million to seven free agents, has forced the hand of the Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been quiet.

No one in the Dodger organization stated that they plan to remain under the competitive balance tax threshold, but it seems to be a consideration. After all the costs have counted, no major league team spent as much as the Dodgers in the ten full seasons of the current ownership group headed up by team president Stan Kasten. They’ve had the top competitive balance tax payroll in six of the 10 seasons, and it’s likely be second to the Mets in 2022 when the final numbers are in.

Heading into 2023, the Yankees are now second in payroll, with third-place Philadelphia closing in on them. San Diego is fourth. The Texas Rangers are sixth but moving up fast with owner Ray Davis opening up the checkbook to sign Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $185 million deal. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t the only one surprised by the Rangers outbidding the Mets to lure deGrom away from the only team he’s ever played for. It’s been that kind of an offseason, and the year isn’t over yet. 

While Cohen, Steinbrenner, Davis, Padres owner Peter Seidler and Phillies owner John Middleton have been willing to pay exorbitant salaries, other teams have taken a different approach, choosing to put money into player development, hiring top scouts and an elite field staff. The idea is to find other ways to stay competitive. “Moneyball” teams like the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays have opened the eyes of other teams with success in their advanced analytics to stay competitive.

The analytics movement that spread across baseball in the early 2000s, inspiring a best-selling book and a hit movie, took a huge leap forward with the introduction of Statcast in major league baseball parks across the country. Statcast is a high-speed, high-accuracy, automated tool developed to analyze player movements and athletic abilities. It was introduced to all thirty MLB stadiums in 2015, a year now considered the beginning of the Statcast era. It revolutionized fantasy baseball. 

The question I’d like to explore in today’s column is whether teams like the Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Padres and Rangers will be successful with their attempts to buy their way to a championship? Or, will teams like the Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Guardians, Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles be able to compete? The Brewers, Guardians, Rays and Orioles all have payrolls under $50 million heading into 2023. Stuart Sternberg’s Rays have an estimated payroll of only $31 million.

Let’s take a look at the six highest-paid players and see where they fall in the all-important wins above replacement (WAR) and fantasy ranking heading into 2023. We’ll look at the 2022 WAR leaders and also see how the fantasy community ranks the highest paid players. Keep in mind, that a baseball player’s perceived value in fantasy is not the same as in reality. This is why I thought it would be useful to add the player’s WAR ranking to keep reality and fantasy in their proper focus.

JUSTIN VERLANDER, SP, NEW YORK METS

The Mets signed Verlander to a two-year contract that is worth $86.7 million and includes a $35 million vesting option for 2025. Verlander is coming off arguably his best Major League season at age 39. The three-time Cy Young Award winner had league-best 1.75 ERA over 28 starts for the Astros, leading the Majors with a 0.83 WHIP. Verlander’s WAR was 5.9 and his ADP is currently 45. Verlander reunites with Max Scherzer, who was his teammate from 2010-14 in Detroit.

MAX SCHERZER, SP, NEW YORK METS

It was just one year earlier that the Mets announced their three-year, $130 million deal with three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. As Scherzer heads into his second year in New York, he will earn the identical salary that Verlander will earn – $43,333,333. A pair of oblique issues limited Scherzer to only 23 starts in 2022. This pair of aces tops the list on payroll. While Verlander’s 5.9 WAR was tied for 18th, Scherzer’s WAR of 5.3 was tied for 31st. His ADP is 56.

AARON JUDGE, OF, NEW YORK YANKEES

Judge picked a good time to have a career year in 2022, with 62 home runs, 131 RBI and 133 runs scored. The slugger, who will turn 31 in April, finished with a .311/.425/.686 slash line. The biggest surprise was that he was a five-category contributor, adding 16 steals. Judge easily led the league with a 10.6 WAR. He endured his share of injury issues in the past but played in a career-high 157 games and has missed only 19 contests across the past two seasons. His ADP is 5.

ANTHONY RENDON, 3B, LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Three years ago, the Los Angeles Angels made a big mistake. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Signing Rendon to a seven-year, $245 million contract after a career year with Washington in 2019 was the ultimate “buy high.” Rendon will make $38,517, 428 in 2023.He has played in only 157 games in the past three seasons (including the short 2020 campaign). Injuries may be to blame for huge drops in his batting average and slugging percentage. He had a 1.0 WAR and his ADP is 242.

MIKE TROUT, OF, LOS ANGELES ANGELS

The fact that Trout will make less money than Rendon in 2023 is one of the great injustices. Unlike his teammate, Trout is still an elite player. He has a career .303/.369/.630 across 12 seasons. Despite missing 43 games, Trout hit 40 homers in 2022, tying Pete Alonso for third place. The only thing limiting him injuries, but history shows Trout can produce more in 130 games than most can contribute over a 150-game season. He was tied for 13th with a 6.3 WAR and his ADP is 24.   

GERRIT COLE, SP, NEW YORK YANKEES

Checking in as the sixth highest-paid player in 2023, Cole is coming off a year where he posted his highest ERA (3.50) since leaving Pittsburgh in 2017. There were some real lows for Cole in 2022, including a five-homer, mid-summer blowup outing in Minnesota. But Cole still led the majors in strikeouts with 257. The two-time Cy Young runner up logged 200.2 innings last season, which was sixth. He continues to bring the heat at 97-98 mph. He had a 2.4 WAR and his ADP is 17.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

Farewell to fantasy football

One of the first nonfiction books that I ever read was Farewell to Football by Jerry Kramer, the Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers. When the book was published, I was 14 years old and already a huge fan of professional football. I’ve been an NFL fan for more than five decades, but I’ve concluded that I’m not as big of a fan of the fantasy version.

The main problem with fantasy football is that there is way too much luck involved. Consider the case of Alpha Dog, which is the name of my fantasy team in one of the private leagues I play in. Alpha Dog scored the most fantasy points of any team in its league across the 14-week regular season. Yahoo had Alpha Dog as a 17-point favorite in the first round of the playoffs.

Alpha Dog lost its first-round playoff matchup by 40 points. The team, which had averaged 111.29 points per game during the regular season, scored 80 – the lowest number of points it had scored in the season. Injuries weren’t the problem. The only injured player on my roster was Jeff Wilson, and he was on my bench. The problem was that Lady Luck abandoned me.

“It’s better to be lucky than good,” quipped an opponent of mine in doubles tennis several years ago. His shot had hit the top of the net and fell over, and there was no way to hit a return. A fraction of an inch lower and the tennis ball would have wound up on his side of the net. I’ve heard that expression many times since then in various situations. But is it really true?

I guess “Better to be lucky than good means that to be gifted with good fortune is better than being simply good at something. I searched the internet for the origin of this expression, and the search led me to the story of Lamar Gillett. Gillett, the only P-35 pilot in World War II to shoot down a Japanese Zero fighter, said it was luck, not skill, that allowed him to succeed.

Perhaps, what Mr. Gillett meant to say something like this: “Skill alone would not have enabled me to shoot down that Zero. I needed some luck.” That makes more sense to me since the idea of relying on luck instead of skill seems foolish. I would much rather work to develop my skill at something (e.g. fantasy sports) than to hope that luck will carry me to the winner’s circle.

Anyone involved in medical research knows that statistically, small sample sizes are not as convincing as larger sample sizes in proving or disproving a theory. For instance, a drug study showing a certain “desired” result (e.g. the treatment group had lower cholesterol than the placebo group), is more reliable with a larger sample size. This is common sense, right?

If I flip a coin twice, and it comes up heads both times, can I conclude that the probability of heads is 100 percent? Of course, not. Since Zay Jones scored 31.9 points on Sunday, can I conclude that he’s a much better fantasy wide receiver than Amon-Ra St. Brown? You were wondering how I was going to bring this discussion back to fantasy sports, weren’t you?

St. Brown, my WR1, scored 11.7 points in my half-point PPR league on Sunday, which 20 points less than Jones, my opponent’s WR1. But 18 of those points were a result of three touchdown receptions. St. Brown had seven receptions for 76 yards and no TDs. Jones had six receptions for 109 yards. When you’re wideout catches three TD passes, you’re lucky.

One of the reasons I prefer fantasy baseball to fantasy football is that there are 162 games in a regular season, compared to 18 in an NFL regular season. But remember that when you reach the playoffs, it’s just one game to determine if you will advance to the next round in fantasy football. If I played the same opponent nine more times, I’d probably beat him seven times. So what?

Another problem with fantasy football is that there are far less fantasy-relevant plays in the mix each game than in fantasy baseball. If you have ever prepared for a fantasy baseball draft, you know that you must familiarize yourself with at least 250 players in a shallow league. But if you are preparing to draft in a deep league (15 teams, or more), you must look at twice that many.  

People might argue that fantasy sports are just supposed to be there for fun, and I agree, to a certain extent. After all, almost everyone I know who plays fantasy sports has a day job that pays the bills. But the people that I know who play fantasy sports are competitive (like me). They are not only willing to spend the hours of research, they actually enjoy those hours of research.

As a fantasy managers, do you want to open the draft window and make your selections without any preparation. Do you want to click on the auto-draft setting and sit back? Where is the fun in that? The fun for me in playing fantasy sports is pitting my knowledge against my opponents. That knowledge comes from research. In my case, it’s probably hundreds of hours.

When you have 10 teams or less in a league, the research is helpful but not essential. The reason is that there are enough good players at every position to draft a good lineup. Twelve teams, and each manager still has a good lineup. More than that? Now it’s getting real. When I drafted for the first team in a 15-team league last March, my roster made me sick to my stomach. 

I wrote at length about my TGFBI draft last year, so I don’t want to repeat myself unnecessarily.  By the time the sixth round rolled around, all the stars were gone. But there were 25 more rounds to go. When the draft was over, each manager in my 15-team league had picked 30 players. There were players with an ADP as high as 600 being drafted on some of the teams.

As the later rounds rolled around, I was going nuts. The players that I had identified as targets for the late rounds were all gone. I was literally doing research on the fly, between draft picks. I would add names to my draft board and then cross them off. With the 13th draft pick, sometimes there were 20 picks between my turns, due to snaking. At other times, there were only four.

I have enjoyed playing in smaller leagues where I don’t have to think, but deep down, I just love deep leagues. I can hear the Adele song playing in my head as I write this. “Rolling in the deep. Tears are going to fall. Rolling in the deep.” I may lose my mind in March when I’m drafting my TGFBI team, but I won’t be relying on luck to draft a good team, or have a good season.

It’s time to bid farewell to fantasy football in 2022. I still have a public league team that’s alive and playing in the semifinals, but I’m not going to invest much time in that. There are five hundred player profiles to be compiled as part of my research for the 2023 fantasy baseball season. I will be sharing a great deal of this information with you readers. See you next year.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

Hot stove sizzles

I thought I was going to be writing about football this week, but the Hot Stove is still sizzling a week after the Winter Meetings ended, with trades and signings holding too many fantasy implications to ignore. The home run king is staying in New York, three of the top shortstops in the game are moving to new venues and the AL Cy Young is coming to the Big Apple.

If that’s not enough, the Braves, Brewers and Athletics made headlines with a three-team trade that left each team with a new No. 1 catcher, while the A’s continued to stockpile prospects. The most notable names on the move are Sean Murphy, from Oakland to Atlanta, and William Contreras, from Atlanta to Milwaukee. Backup Manny Pina, 35, goes from Atlanta to Oakland.

Yankee fans had a few sleepless nights because it looked like Aaron Judge was heading west, with better offers from both the Giants and Padres on the table. But the Yankees ultimately matched a nine-year, $360 million deal from the Giants and were able to resign Judge. The slugger led the league with 62 home runs, 133 runs and 131 RBI to win his first MVP.

Some analysts are making Judge the No. 1 overall pick for 2023 fantasy baseball drafts, although he’s currently being drafted 5th in NFBC drafts. In Roto, where five-category players are the gold standard, Judge was tied for 36th with 16 stolen bases. Keep in mind that Judge never had a double-digit steal season before 2022. It’s amazing what a contract year does for you motivation.

One other thing to keep in mind with Judge has had a history of injuries. After winning AL Rookie of the Year in 2017, Judge underwent offseason arthroscopic surgery on a shoulder during the offseason. He spent two months on the IL in 2018 after being struck on the wrist with a pitch, missed two months with an oblique strain in 2019, and then there was 2020.

Judge reported to spring training in 2020 with something wrong and it was finally diagnosed as

a cracked rib and a collapsed lung. He was all set to miss a significant chunk of the season before the season decided to miss itself, postponed until late July due to the pandemic. Judge wound up playing 28 of the 60 games in that season, with a .257 batting average – his lowest of his career.

In spite of missing some games with lower body soreness in 2021, he played 148 games and then appeared in a record 157 games in 2022 (again, it’s amazing what a contract year does not a player’s motivation). Suffice it to say that those with enough faith to draft Judge before the 2022 season at an ADP of 27 got a handsome return on their investment. But what about next year? 

There’s no question that you’re “buying high” on Judge is you draft him No. 5 overall in 2023. Trea Turner, Julio Rodriguez, Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Jose Ramirez are being taken ahead of him in early NFBC drafts, and the reason is clearly the five-category potential for each of them. However, none of these players will come close to a healthy Judge in home runs and RBI.  

The bottom line is that if I was drafting from the fifth position, and Judge was still on the board, I wouldn’t pass him up. In fact, I would surely take him ahead of Seattle’s super rookie Rodriguez. Rodriguez deserved AL Rookie of the Year in 2022. He slashed .284/.345/.509 with 28 home runs, 75 RBI, 25 stolen bases and 84 runs scored. But he’s played only one season.

In addition to Rodriguez, it’s likely that I would take Judge ahead of Acuna. Coming off a gruesome mid-summer 2021 ACL tear, he’s got off to a slow start in 2022. He finished better than he started, but he only clubbed 15 home runs in 533 plate appearances. The 29 stolen bases was great, but keep in mind that it will be easier to get steals in 2023 with the rule change.

TREA TURNER TO THE PHILLIES

I am in complete agreement with the high-stakes fantasy baseball players about Turner being the No. 1 overall player in 5×5 drafts for the second year in a row. Judge’s superior power earned him a better contract with the Yankees than Turner got with the Phillies, but a fantasy player shouldn’t take Judge ahead of Turner unless he or she is playing in a points league.

Turner, who signed a 11-year, $300 million contract last week, will return to the NL East after slashing .298/.343/.466 with 21 home runs, 100 RBI and 27 stolen bases in 2022. The shortstop, who began his big-league career with the Nationals in 2015, spent the past season and a half with the Dodgers. Heading into his age-30 season, Turner should thrive in the City of Brotherly Love.

Only three other parks – Coors Field in Denver, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and Miller Park in Milwaukee – are as friendly to power hitters as Citizens Bank Ballpark. Even with the outfield fences being pushed back in 2007, Citizens Bank Ballpark has more home runs flying over the walls thanks to inviting porches down the line and power alleys that aren’t deep.

This benefits Turner simply because he lacks the power of hitters like Judge, Mike Trout and Pete Alonso. That trio is going to hit 30 plus home runs anywhere, but Turner could hit 30 for the first time in his career in Philadelphia. In fact, I expect him to join the 30-30 club this year. Turner has had 30 plus steals in every full-length season except last year when he fell three short.

The reason Turner was limited to 27 steals (still eighth best) last season in Los Angeles was that he was dropped to third in the lineup after the Dodgers offense struggled to generate consistency. Mookie Betts was moved back into the leadoff spot. Turner is projected to bat leadoff for the Phillies, providing a boost near the top of the order for last season’s World Series runners-up.

Turner, who had a .316/.364/.514 slash line over his last 1,613 plate appearances dating back to the beginning of the 2020 season, has averaged 25 home runs and 37 stolen bases for every 162 games played since the beginning of 2018. With his full five-category fantasy skillset, he’s the closest thing that you can get to a lock for guaranteed monster production in your fantasy league.

JUSTIN VERLANDER TO THE METS

It was just two months ago that the Mets were eliminated by the Padres in the first round of the playoffs. Spending more than any other team in baseball, they won 101 regular season games but were unable to hold off Atlanta in the NL East after sitting atop the division for all but six days. Then they were quickly eliminated in the best-of-three National League wild-card series 2-1.

Things got worse eleven days ago when Jacob deGrom signed with the Rangers. Looking to replace the gaping hole in their rotation, New York signed resilient Justin Verlander to a 2-year, $86,666,666 contract. The Mets hope that reuniting Verlander with Max Scherzer will enable the pair to finish what they were unable to accomplish in Detroit – win a World Series title.

The only problem is that General Manager Billy Eppler forgot to check Verlander’s birth certificate. The future Hall of Famer turns 40 in February. Verlander’s remarkable comeback from Tommy John surgery is a feel-good story on every level. The former Astros ace won his third career Cy Young Award this year, becoming the first pitcher to win the award after not throwing a pitch in the previous season. But that doesn’t guarantee the Mets anything in 2023.

Verlander can run but he can’t hide forever from Father Time after pitching MLB 3,163 innings. The Mets might not be worried, buoyed by the fact that Cy Young pitched 7,356 in his career. Perhaps, Verlander skills won’t diminish for a few more years, but counting on a 40-year-old and a 39-year-old (Scherzer turns 39 in July) to lead you to the promised land seems risky to me.

The players at NFBC appear to agree with me. Verlander’s ADP is currently 48, and he’s the 12th starting pitcher coming off the board. Scherzer is the 15th. In terms of his surroundings, Verlander gets a bit of a boost going from Minute Maid Park in Houston to Citi Field in New York. While his age makes him a greater injury risk, he could be a bargain if he stays healthy.

JACOB DEGROM TO THE RANGERS

DeGrom’s five-year, $185 million contract with the Texas Rangers could put then in the playoffs or be a bust. It all depends on one key factor – the health of the former Mets superstar and future Hall of Famer. DeGrom made 38 starts over the past three seasons, missing 188-of-384 Mets games. His current ADP at NFBC is 34, which makes him a boom-or-bust pitcher in fantasy.

Keep in mind that the Rangers’ supporting cast is weaker than that of the Mets, plus Texas’ Globe Life Field, while a much more pitching-oriented environment than its predecessor across the street, is still slightly more hitting-friendly than New York’s Citi Field. However, this amounts to only a slight downgrade. A healthy deGrom has been the best pitcher in baseball, period.

From 2020-22, deGrom paced the majors in ERA (2.05) and WHIP (0.73) among pitchers who had at least as many as his 38 starts or 224⅓ innings pitched during that time, leading in ERA by nearly four-tenths of a run and WHIP by nearly one-quarter of a baserunner. DeGrom also had 17 games with double-digit strikeouts during that three-year span, tied for third-most in baseball. 

DeGrom, who will turn 35 in June, dealt with a barrage of injuries over the past three seasons, including back, neck, hamstring, oblique, elbow, forearm and shoulder issues. An optimist would point to the fact that he finished his last season in New Yor with 12 strong starts (including his one postseason turn). He passed a physical with the Rangers that indicates he’s healthy for now.

If deGrom can double last year’s totals – 22 starts and 128⅔ innings – he would likely return value to fantasy managers brave enough to draft him. But keep in mind that he has not pitched more than 100 innings since 2019. Texas is counting on a healthy deGrom, based on the contract he was given. If you can stomach the risk on your fantasy team, deGrom may be worth his ADP.

XANDER BOGAERTS TO THE PADRES

The Padres were in the bidding war for both Judge and Turner right up until the end but didn’t leave the Winter Meetings empty-handed. San Diego reached an agreement with former Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts on an 11-year, $280 million contract. Rumor has it that Bogaerts preferred to stay in Boston, but the Red Sox weren’t willing to pay up the dismay of their fans.  

Bogaerts will join a Padres team that already includes Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. Boston, meanwhile, was left to pick up the pieces after the loss of a homegrown talent who made his major league debut at 20 years old and leaves at 30 after opting out of the final three years of his contract. With Bogaerts, the Padres may be ready to challenge the Dodgers.

Bogaerts was about as productive as ever last year, but his power decline was evident. Playing half of his games in the friendly confines of Fenway Park, Bogaerts only hit 15 home runs and his slugging percentage dropped to its lowest level since 2017. And now he gets a ballpark downgrade. Still a .456 slug is respectable, and the .307 average was sixth best in the league.   

From a fantasy perspective, Bogaerts is a good value at his ADP of 91. He’s currently being taken as the 10th shortstop off the board, and I’m a buyer at that price. He’s reliable and consistent, and you know he will provide strong statistics year after year. His RBI production has fallen since his salad years in 2018 and 2019, but a .307/.377/.456 slash in 2022 will work.

CARLOS CORREA TO THE PADRES

Correa, 28, got a better deal than Bogaerts, which only proves that he’s a bigger deal in reality than fantasy. The Giants signed Correa to a 13-year contract worth $350 million. His new deal with the Giants is the largest ever for a shortstop and the largest ever for a former No. 1 overall draft pick. Overall, Correa’s $350 million pact is the fourth-largest deal for an MLB player.

The longtime Houston Astros shortstop slashed .291/.366/.467 with 22 home runs in 136 games around a finger contusion (hit by a pitch) and a stint on the COVID list. His defense, which has been historically splendid, took a hit in the eyes of the various stats, but remained above average overall. Correa has averaged 7.2 WAR per 162 games in his career which shows his value.  

Correa is currently the 16th shortstop off the board in early NFBC drafts, with an overall ADP of 125. With a career .279 batting average, his production took a hit after the move from Houston to Minnesota in 2022. Home runs dropped from 26 to 22, runs plummeted from 104 to 70 and RBI dipped from 92 to 64, although he did play 12 less games in his only season with the Twins.   

SEAN MURPHY TO THE BRAVES

The Oakland Coliseum is a difficult place to hit. In fact, it rated as the single worst venue for home runs. Consider Murphy, who hit .226, with a .702 OPS there compared to .272 with an .812 OPS on the road. Truist Park is a better hitting environment, and Murphy certainly has a better supporting cast in Atlanta. Expect him to improve on 18 home runs, 67 runs and 66 RBI.

In spite of playing more games than any other catcher in the majors, Murphy’s statistics were depressed last year by batting in the middle of a young, rebuilding Athletics lineup – baseball’s second-worst last season (3.51 runs per game). Now, he’s headed to Atlanta to slot in batting sixth or seventh in the Braves’ potent order (third-best 4.87 runs per game). Holy cow, Batman.

Potent may be an understatement. Ronald Acuna, Jr., Ozzie Albies, Matt Olsen, Austin Riley, Vaughn Grissom and Michael Harris II are reminiscent of the 1927 New York Yankees. That lineup, dubbed  Murders’ Row, included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. By the time a starting pitcher gets to Murphy, he’ll be so shook up that he’ll be in need of therapy session.

Murphy showed signs of a player breaking out in the second half of 2022. From July 1, Murphy hit .278 with an .828 OPS, reaching base at a .366 clip and striking out just 17.4 percent of the time. He finished the season with a .250 batting average and .426 slugging percentage. It’s no surprise that he’s already climbing up the NFBC draft board, currently being taken 136 overall.

WILLIAN CONTRERAS TO THE BREWERS

By most statistical measures, the younger brother of the Cardinals’ Willson Contreras was better than Murphy last year, but he got only 334 at-bats, compared to Murphy’s 537. Contreras even got fewer plate appearances than teammate Travis d’Arnaud, who will remain in Atlanta and cut into Murphy’s playing time. For Contreras, the move to Milwaukee can only be seen as a plus.

The Brewers are ready to make Contreras their No. 1 option behind the plate, and you won’t find too many venues more hitter-friendly than American Family Field. If you combine the benefits of more playing time and a better park, that may offset a weaker lineup in Milwaukee. Contreras’ percentile rankings on Statcast are almost identical to his older brother, now his division rival.

WILLSON CONTRERAS TO THE CARDINALS 

The Cardinals are not known for making big deals at the Winter Meetings, but they had a big hole to fill and they wasted no time in filling it. After 19 seasons of Yadier Molina carrying the load behind the plate, St. Louis signed Willson Contreras to a five-year, $87.5 million contract. This signing had to anger Cubs fans who hate the team by the river, 300 miles to the south.

Contreras moves on after a seven-year run in Chicago. His defense has declined a bit at age 30, but Contreras does have a big arm and can rotate into DH duties. He’s a considerable offensive upgrade to Molina. Contreras is currently going just outside the top-100 picks overall. Only J.T. Realmuto, Daulton Varsho, Will Smith, Salvador Perez and Adley Rutschman are ranked higher.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

There are many more significant moves. The Phillies jumped into the arms race at the Winter Meetings, setting the tone by agreeing to surprising four-year, $72 million contract with Taijuan Walker. Chris Bassitt signed a three-year deal with the Blue Jays. In the last two seasons, Bassitt has compiled 339 innings pitched with a 3.29 ERA and a 23.6 percent strikeout rate.

Rest assured, that millions of words will be written about all of the deals made and still being made in the months to come. It’s been a record-setting offseason, so far, and it’s not over yet. Opening day is March 30, and I’m glad I’ve got time to digest all of it. Please keep reading Doubting Thomas for more updates and insights on the crazy world of fantasy baseball.  

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

A difficult task

The most difficult task that I face every week with each of my fantasy teams is setting my starting lineup. If setting your lineup is easy for you, I can only conclude that you either have a team without much depth – a dangerous situation.

I have a routine that I go through each week. The fantasy football week starts Tuesday morning after the final game of the week is played on Monday. On Tuesday, I review the results from the previous week and decide on waiver claims to make.

Waivers run overnight Tuesday in the leagues I play in, and I’m always excited to see if I got the players I bid on. At this point, my roster should be set for the week. Sometimes, I will add another player, or a defense, or kicker, later in the week.

But the most important thing that I do on Wednesday is begin the arduous task of setting my starting lineup. There is a sense of urgency if a player is scheduled to play on Thursday night, as opposed to those who play on Sunday or Monday.

Let me stop here and share my deepest fear heading into a particular week. My fear is that because of a lack of due diligence, I will leave a player on the bench who goes off for 20 plus points, or start one who gives me single-digit production.

In Week 12, for instance, I almost sat Miles Sanders. The Philadelphia running back had put up two straight games of less than six fantasy points. He was playing on Monday night, and I didn’t put him in until the last minute when I sat Michael Pittman.

Starting Sanders turned out to be a good decision because he rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns on his way to 29.5 fantasy points in my half-point PPR league. As it turned out, I would still have won with Pittman because he scored 15.6 FP.

Heading into Week 13, I was set on only two starters – Austin Ekeler and Amon-Ra St. Brown.  As one of the top running backs in fantasy, Ekeler will start every game he’s healthy. St. Brown is also an automatic since he’s been money for me the entire season.

With only two players on my automatic list, I had five starters to determine – a quarterback, a running back, a wide receiver, a tight end and a flex. Typically, I will put a player with an injury designation in the flex spot so that I can substitute either a running back or wideout.

Unlike my other teams, this particular team had no players with injury designations. Unless something changed later in the week, I didn’t have to worry about “questionable” players and those dreadful game-time decisions on whether a player would be active. 

First, I made a decision on quarterback. The choice was between Tom Brady and Geno Smith. Smith has been my starting quarterback for most of the season, but I picked up Brady when he was dropped during his bye week. I decided to stick with Smith.

Second, I made a decision on tight end. Cole Kmet had been a favorite target for Justin Fields but caught only two balls from Trevor Siemian in Week 12. But with Fields expected to return and Darnell Mooney lost for the season, I chose him over Gerald Everett. 

Next, came the hard part. I had six players being given serious consideration to start and only three spots to fill in my starting lineup. There were three running backs and three wide receivers to choose from, and here is a summary of my analysis:

PLAYER NO. 1 – MILES SANDERS, RB, PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles’ opponent in Week 13 was Tennessee, and they have been the third best team against running backs. Sanders has had four single-digit fantasy games this season already. Still, I couldn’t bench him after he scored almost 30 FP last week.

PLAYER NO. 2 – JEFF WILSON, RB, MIAMI

I claimed Wilson in Week 9, and he was good that week and even better in Week 10. But coming off his bye week, he only produced 11.7 FP against Houston – the best matchup for a back in fantasy. The Week 13 matchup against the 49ers scared me.

PLAYER NO. 3 – ISIAH PACHECO, RB, KANSAS CITY

Pacheco has racked up 258 rushing yards over the last three games as Kansas City’s No. 1 running back. The problem is that he’s only caught one pass in those three weeks and scored one touchdown. He has a nice floor but a relatively low ceiling.   

PLAYER NO. 4 – CHRIS OLAVE, WR, NEW ORLEANS

Olave is an amazing talent, and if he had a good quarterback, he’d be a WR1. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. Andy Dalton targeted him nine times last week against San Francisco, but Olave only caught five. The overturned 30-yard TD catch would have made his day.

PLAYER NO. 5 – MICHAEL PITTMAN, WR, INDIANAPOLIS

Pittman has at least six catches in six of the past seven games, and a favorable game script should help him against Dallas. He was targeted 11 times, but it took a TD catch to give him double-digit fantasy points. He’s only scored twice on the season.

PLAYER NO. 6 – CHRISTIAN WATSON, WR, GREEN BAY

He’s scored 19 plus half-point PPR points the past two week, and none of them have counted since he’s been on my bench. He’s also six trips to the end zone in the past three games, and the rookie has a great matchup against the Bears in Chicago.

I finally decided to start Sanders (RB2), Olave (WR2) and Watson (FLEX). This was a mixed bag with Watson scoring 22.9 FP. Sanders was saved from another subpar, single-digit game by a fourth-quarter touchdown to score 10.8 FP and Olave had 8.5 FP.   

Watson scored 22.9 FP in spite of only catching 3-of-6 passes for 48 yards. One catch was for a touchdown and he rushed 46 yards for another touchdown. The end around, which iced the game for the Packers, was his eighth TD in the last four games.       

My decision to start Smith over Brady was the right one. The Seahawks signal caller had his best game of the year – he completed 28-of-39 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns after Kenneth Walker left the game early with an ankle injury.

It really wouldn’t have mattered who I started at tight end since Kmet and Everett had similar games. Kmet caught 6-of-7 targets for 72 yards and 10.2 FP, while Everett caught 5-of-6 for 80 yards and 10.5 FP. Neither tight end got into the end zone.

Now, the whole process starts all over again in the final week of the fantasy regular season.  To make matters worse, Byemageddon has arrived, with six teams on bye. Olave, Watson, Pittman and Kmet are all on my bench because they have no game.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

QBs matter to WRs

If you are a reader of this column on a regular basis, you know that I don’t value quarterbacks. The reason is because the position has been traditionally deep enough to wait until the late rounds to draft one. The opportunity cost of selecting Josh Allen in the third round, or Patrick Mahomes in the fourth round is too high.

Mahomes might change my mind with his 29 touchdown passes and 3585 passing yards through 11 games. But Mahomes is not the focus of this column. The point I want to make is that quarterbacks matter to wide receivers. Consider Michael Pittman, who was taken in the third round of many fantasy drafts.

Things started out peachy for Pittman in the Colts’ first game. Quarterback Matt Ryan peppered him with 13 targets, and Pittman caught nine of them for 121 yards and a touchdown. That added up to 27.1 PPR points. He was averaging almost 16 PPG until former head coach Frank Reich benched Ryan in late October.

Reich named Sam Ehlinger as the starter for the remainder of the season. Indianapolis was 3-3-1 at the time, and Reich believed the second-year quarterback could give the Colts a boost. Suffice it to say that the Ehlinger experiment did not go well. After a mediocre game against Washington, Ehlinger was a bust against New England.

Ehlinger wasn’t the only one who was awful in the 26-3 loss in Foxboro. Pittman had his worst game of the season, managing to catch only 3-of-6 targets for 22 yards. His 5.2 fantasy points had many of his managers on a suicide watch heading into Week 10. After all, Reich had named Ryan quarterback for life in Indianapolis, and the future was bleak.

The future brightened a bit the next day when Reich was fired, and it got even brighter when interim head coach Jeff Saturday named Ryan the starter against Las Vegas. As soon as that news broke, I proposed a trade to a manager in one of my leagues. I offered him Nick Chubb for Miles Sanders and Pittman. He quickly accepted the trade.

Pittman underwhelmed in the game against the Raiders, although he was targeted nine times.  He caught seven for 53 yards and 12.3 FP. The next week, in a tougher matchup against Philadelphia, Pittman caught 6-of-7 targets for 75 yards but still hadn’t gotten into the end zone since Week 1. Then, on Monday night one of seven catches was for a touchdown.

It should come as no surprise that I’m pretty happy with the trade I made. Sanders, who scored 29.5 FP in my half-point PPR league last week, was the bigger piece. However, Pittman had his best game since Week 6. He was targeted 11 times in the Monday night game against Pittsburgh, and I’m hoping he’s due for more positive touchdown regression.

Pittman is just one of several wide receivers that are either being boosted, or hurt by the performance of their quarterback. D.J. Moore and Garrett Wilson are riding high right now after a quarterback change, but other talented wide receivers have been dragged down by poor quarterback play. Let’s take a look at seven more to see what happened.    

D.J. MOORE, CAROLINA PANTHERS   

The Moore doubters were crawling out of the woodwork as recently as last week after Carolina’s No. 1 receiver put up his third straight single-digit clunker. The fact that Sam Darnold made Moore look elite on Sunday speaks more to how bad Baker Mayfield is than how good Darnold is. Moore is a must-start WR as long as Mayfield stays on the bench.   

GARRETT WILSON, NEW YORK JETS

Speaking of a must start, Wilson is just that now that Mike White has replaced Zach Wilson. No doubt, Garrett Wilson was on many fantasy manager benches on Sunday after being limited to just two receptions for 12 yards in Week 11. Wilson showed immediate chemistry with White on his way to five receptions, 95 yards and two touchdowns. Fire him up!

ZAY JONES, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, may have come of age in Sunday’s comeback win over Baltimore on Sunday. That bodes well for Zay Jones, who has been targeted 24 times by Lawrence in the past two weeks. Jones had 27.5 FP without getting into the end zone, so check your waiver wire and see if he’s available.

CHRIS OLAVE, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

An injured Jameis Winston passed for 353 yards and a touchdown in Week 3. In that game, Olave was targeted 13 times, catching nine for 147 yards. The rookie sensation is 18th in target share (25.8%), 12th in target per route run rate (28.3%), and fourth in air yard share (40.2%). But the play of Saints QB Andy Dalton continues to drag him down.

DRAKE LONDON, ATLANTA FALCONS

With Kyle Pitts sidelined, London should have gone off Sunday. Instead, he caught 2-of-4 targets for 29 yards in a loss to Washington. The reason why the Falcons are a run-first offense is because Marcus Mariota can’t hit the broad side of a barn. London ranks 13th in target share (27.1%) and 11th in target per route run rate (11th). It doesn’t matter.

DIONTAE JOHNSON, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Another talented wideout hurt by poor quarterback play, Johnson has seen his aDOT and target share drop with rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett at the helm. Over the last two games without Chase Claypool, Johnson has seen his target share dip to 15.6%, with an average of only 1.05 yards per route run. Johnson still doesn’t have a touchdown this season.

BRANDIN COOKS, HOUSTON TEXANS

Like Johnson, Cooks was being drafted in the fifth round but has been a bust. He hasn’t finished as a WR3 or better since Week 4. A quarterback change on Sunday helped only slightly, with Cooks catching all five of his targets for 59 yards. Cooks has a 22.1% target share, 28.8% air yard share but only three red zone targets over his last seven games.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

Spoiler alert: Team is bust

My hopes were high when I drafted my home league team on September 5, 2022. Drafting ninth in a ten-team league, I took Joe Mixon in the first round. Seventy-five days later, Mixon and fifth-round pick Mike Williams are the only drafted players still on my roster.

The old adage in fantasy football is that you can’t win your league in the first two rounds, but you can lose it. Extend that to the first five rounds, and it’s a lock that your team is going to be circling the drain by the trade deadline. That was certainly the case with mine.

Mixon, Najee Harris, Kyle Pitts, James Conner and Williams were my first five picks. I can declare them all busts, except for Mixon who is currently RB8 in PPR leagues. Of course, Harris started showing signs of life after I traded him, but he’s still only RB22.

Pitts, one of the Big Three tight ends, is TE12 but is averaging less than five points per game. I traded him a month ago in a deal to acquire Jeff Wilson Jr. Of course, I dropped Wilson after the Christian McCaffrey trade and before he was shipped off to Miami.

Conner, a player who was notorious for not being able to stay healthy, had two double-digit fantasy games in his first five before getting injured. When he had 23.6 points in Week 10, I traded him as part of a deal that included Lamar Jackson.

I must confess that I was excited about getting Jackson, the QB5, coming off his bye to play Carolina on Sunday. In the past, and quarterback has been a deep position and I could afford to wait late in the draft to acquire one. But not this year.

Jackson, just like everyone else, proved to be a disappointment. He managed only 15.46 points. What happened to the Jackson that scored 42.62 and 39.42 points in back-to-back weeks earlier in the season. That was the Jackson I traded for.

Another player I was excited about in Week 11 was Williams. Returning after a three-week absence, he had a dream matchup with the Chiefs on Sunday night. He managed one catch and reinjured his ankle on that play early in the first half. Injury bust.

My sixth-round pick on draft day was Diontae Johnson. When I traded him for Eno Benjamin, he was averaging 11.6 points per game. After Week 11, he’s averaging less than 10 points per game and hasn’t caught a touchdown pass. What a bust.

Another player I was high on was Brandin Cooks. Things started out well with my seventh-round pick garnering 22 targets in the first two games. But he hasn’t been targeted more than seven times since then, and he has only four double-digit games. Bust.

My eight-round pick was Marquise Brown, and he was returning tremendous value, averaging more than 20 points per game, until he fractured his foot in Week 6. With a lengthy absence, I finally had to drop him to hold Williams to my only IR spot.

Rounding out my other draft picks, I traded ninth-round pick Antonio Gibson early in the season, dropped Elijah Moore, dropped Matthew Stafford, dropped Drake London and dropped Darrel Williams. I seldom hold on to defenses, or kickers.    

I had my share of bad luck with this team, but I also made some bad draft picks and trades. When things go wrong, you can always blame fate. However, the fantasy managers who takes responsibility for his mistakes can learn from them.

This is my seventh year playing fantasy football, and I’ve never had a losing season. But after Week 11, I’m 3-8 and guaranteed a losing record with this team. I hate losing. I hate missing the playoffs. But I’m not going to quit trying to win.

If you’re wondering why anyone would continue to do their best after they’re eliminated from the playoffs, you have a character flaw. You lack integrity. Other teams in your league are fighting for the playoffs, and you owe them your best.  

So, Doubting Thomas has a new name – at least in this league. My new name is Spoiler Thomas. My job is to beat each of my last three opponents and hurt their playoff chances. That includes my own flesh and blood, Nathan, in the final matchup.

Before you feel too sorry for me, you should know that I have two other teams. One is 5-6 and still has a shot at making the playoffs. The other team is 7-4 and currently in third place. I hope to win at least one league championship before it’s all over.  

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.