Understanding ADP

During my three decades as a financial advisor, I have found myself in competition with stock brokers to win a client’s trust and business. The stock broker promises double-digit returns, and the client may believe him until he or she fails to deliver. After all, every investor wants the best return on their portfolio, and the stock broker promise to beat the market.

If a client chooses the stock broker over me, I simply tell the client to stay in touch. If the broker doesn’t deliver, he or she can give me a call. I sound confident, and I should because I know based on surveys that less than eight (8) percent of stock brokers or active managers beat the market. I am not a stock broker or active manager. I use stock indexes to build a portfolio.

If you are wondering what this has to do with fantasy football, let me tell you that picking stocks can be a lot like picking players for your fantasy football team. You may think that you know more than the next guy and can draft a team based on that knowledge. If you believe that, you will likely get beaten by someone like me who uses ADP to enhance his own limited knowledge. 

This doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own ideas about what fantasy players are going to break out and help win league championships. And there are some players I won’t draft at any price. But for the most part, I will roster almost any player if the price is right. But that’s the key. This column is a follow-up to my last post about my drafts and the critique I received from Yahoo.

Average draft position (ADP) is the most important metric that fantasy football managers need to understand. A player’s ADP is determined based on data from thousands of both mock and real drafts. Individual picks are compiled together to generate an average draft position for each player. Knowing when a player is being drafted in other drafts is valuable.

As more drafts were completed, accuracy improved because the sample size is larger.  Using ADP, fantasy managers attempt to predict when a player will be drafted. Even more important, the manager can know where that player has been drafted based on all of the collective research of managers. The manager then knows if he can get the player at a good value.  

While ADP tells you where each NFL player is being selected in fantasy football drafts, Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) represents a collection of rankings from industry experts that are mixed together to generate a consensus ranking. These consensus rankings depict how the experts feel about a player, compared to other players in the category, or overall.

While ECR is interesting to look at, I trust ADP above ECR because talk is cheap. I’ve done rankings before, and I will change them in a heartbeat. The other thing is that when the draft happens, I will frequently draft a player who is ranked below another player. I may do this because the situation dictates, or I may do it because of a gut feeling I have.

While ADP is the most valuable tool in your tool box, it’s important to know that ADP will vary from site to site. Let’s use a wide receiver I like as an example. The wideout is Courtland Sutton. At ESPN, Sutton’s ADP was 54. At Yahoo, Sutton’s ADP was 49. But at NFFC, Sutton’s ADP was 37. NFFC ADP is the gold standard because of who determines the NFFC ADP.

The National Fantasy Football Championship (NFFC) site is where the high stakes fantasy football competitions are held. All of these drafts are tracked by the NFFC and compiled to provide the ADP data. I consider it the gold standard because is determined by the best fantasy football players in the world. These are the guys that use Excel and other computer programs to analyze data.

The National Fantasy Football Championship site was created in 2004 and hosts a number of high stakes fantasy football competitions. In my opinion, there is nothing more valuable than tracking the ADP at NFFC, where players are investing thousands of dollars in entry fees. When you are playing for these kinds of stakes, you are going to spend the time doing a thorough analysis.

The opinions of these fantasy managers, who rank among the most successful in the world, can often differ substantially from the overall ADP rankings seen in lower stakes leagues like ESPN and Yahoo. For instance, based on Sutton’s ADP of 37 at NFC, he could have been drafted at a value at both ESPN and Yahoo if he fell to you late in the fourth or early in the fifth round.

But now let’s look at a player you likely overpaid for if you drafted him. That player is running back David Montgomery. At ESPN, Montgomery’s ADP was 42. At Yahoo, Montgomery’s ADP was 41. But at NFFC, Montgomery’s ADP was 51. The professionals determined Montgomery wasn’t a good value until the fifth round. But the amateurs were drafting him in the fourth round.

According to NFFC, there were a lot of running backs being drafted too early. However, there was one exception that I’ll point out – Saquon Barkley.  At ESPN, Barkley’s ADP was 27. At Yahoo, Barkley’s ADP was 19. But at NFFC, Barkley’s ADP was 14. I tested this theory at ESPN in a recent public league draft. Sure enough, I was able to get him at the end of the second round.

Barkley is an outlier. What I think is most top 20 running backs are being taken too early because many fantasy managers are convinced the success of the team hinges on having good running backs. The fact is that wide receivers are just as important since there are two starting roster spots for each. Some leagues even have three wide receiver spots in the starting lineup.

If running backs were being overvalued, the logical conclusion is that wide receivers were being undervalued. My conclusion was supported by my research, where I have found more than a dozen wide receivers that I like available at a good value. It’s noteworthy that most of these had a deeper discount at Yahoo then at ESPN, so if you are in Yahoo League, take note.

Okay, if you’ve read this far, I’m going to reward you because I buried the lead on this column. Here are a dozen wideouts who are undervalued at many sites and can be drafted with confident – Michael Pittman, D.J. Moore, Mike Williams, Sutton, Allen Robinson, Gabriel Davis, Brandin Cooks, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Darnell Mooney, Elijah Moore, Chris Godwin and Michael Thomas.

These twelve (12) wide receivers are being drafted between rounds three and eight in fantasy drafts. This is the kill zone for you to draft wide receivers that are undervalued and can help you win. Each draft is different, but typically I will draft running backs in the first two rounds and attempt to roster a stud tight end in the third round. Then, I will draft three to five wide receivers in a row.

In the above-referenced ESPN draft, I selected Jonathan Taylor, Barkley and Travis Kelce before my feeding frenzy began. I then rostered Mike Williams, Sutton and St. Brown before taking a break to draft Elijah Mitchell and Chase Edmonds because the price was right. Then I took Elijah Moore and DeAndre Hopkins to fill my stable of five wide receivers. Boy, do I like this team.

If you wonder what I do in the late rounds, know that this is where I draft my quarterback and key backup running backs. In this draft, I took Matthew Stafford in the 11th round and added Nyheim Hines in the 12th and Matt Breida in the 13th because they play behind Taylor and Barkley.       

It’s time to say goodbye

Dear readers, it’s time to say goodbye. Not wanting to embarrass myself with my advancing age, I am stepping down as a fantasy football analyst just a few days before my 67th birthday. It’s better to retire when you’re at the top of your game, but I clearly missed that exit point, so it’s time to cut my losses and retire before Todd Zola and the folks at CreativeSports put me out to pasture.

You see, it’s like this. I entered the long Labor Day weekend with high hopes. I had completed hours of research and really thought I was prepared to smoke two Yahoo drafts. Ready, player one. Drafting on Sunday in David Lehuquet’s private league (invitation only), I was picking from the third spot. As expected, Jonathan Taylor and Christian McCaffrey went off the board.

Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase were still on the board, but I opted to select Austin Ekeler – even though this is only a half-point PPR league. If Ekeler matches his 70 receptions from last year, that’s only 35 fantasy points, not 70 like I’d get in full PPR. But he was the best running back left on the board, and I was leaning into running backs by design.

The fourth round is where the wheels fell off in this draft, according to Yahoo. I took Cam Akers with the 46th overall, pick.  “Despite open slots at quarterback and wide receivers in the 4th round, Alpha Dog (that’s me) drafted running back Cam Akers with the 46th pick, filling the WR/RB/TE flex position at the expense of a position of greater importance.”

Darn. I did draft Amon-Ra St. Brown, Marquise Brown, Darnell Mooney and Elijah Moore in the next four rounds, but I guess it was too little, too late to salvage the draft. The Yahoo analysts responsible for my report card did have one good thing to say. “Alpha Dog netted a mid-round value when they (me, myself and I) chose Stafford at No. 118, about 22 spots later than his ADP of 96.”

But the compliments were few and far between on this review. Listen to what the analyst said about my decision to draft Darrell Henderson, Jr. in the 9th round with the 99th pick. “Everyone thinks they’re the next fantasy expert these days, so there’s no telling who led you to select Henderson Jr. in the 9th round, about 22 picks earlier than his ADP of 121.”

Silly me. I had this crazy idea that if I had both Akers and Henderson rostered, I would own the backfield of the Super Bowl champions. If Akers is injured (probably when, not if), Henderson steps in. “He will need to outperform expectations to top last year when he rushed for 688 yards and 5 TDs and grabbed 29 passes for 176 yards and 3 TDs over 12 games,” the analyst writes.

Okay, okay. I stand corrected and clearly don’t know what I’m doing. Through my tears, I read the Yahoo analyst’s conclusion: “Blessed with a solid draft position (No. 3 overall), expectations were high for Alpha Dog. But those expectations vanished instantly after they (me, myself and I) drafted, as this team is headed for an unexceptional 7th-place finish in The Leftovers.

“Mayonnaise, middle of the road, mediocre. All words that describe this draft,” the analyst summarizes. There’s no sense even wasting my time setting my lineup each week in this league. My time would be better spent working to obtain world peace, putting a halt to climate change, or rearranging my sock drawer.  Clearly, I have no chance of winning this league.

But what about other Yahoo draft mentioned above? Surely, I would do better the next day when I drafted in my shallow 10-team home league. After all, this was a league I won five years ago. But, alas, that was five years ago. I was younger then and able to think clearly about football. Granted, I haven’t won this league, or even made it to the finals, in the last four tries.

But hope springs eternal – or at least it did until I got my next report card. “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the draft room. Doubting Thomas folded under the pressure of this draft. Picking No. 9 overall, they (me, myself and I) were clearly overmatched. Doubting Thomas are predicted to finish 9th in The Negative Equity Club with a record of 4-10,” the analyst wrote.

On Tuesday morning, I went looking for a rusty razor blade to put an end to my misery. But my wife really hates it when I get blood on the carpet. And I couldn’t find one, anyway. Damn safety razors. I recall a quote from someone. It’s been said that a person can live forty days without food, four days without water, four minutes without air, but only four seconds without hope.

With all hope gone, I have to ask one final question. What went wrong in this draft? Fortunately, the Yahoo analyst didn’t leave me in the dark. Just read: “In spite of remaining openings at quarterback and wide receivers, in the 4th round, Doubting Thomas drafted running back James Conner at No. 32, filling the WR/RB/TE flex position at the expense of a position of greater importance.”

That’s exactly the same mistake I made in the previous Yahoo draft in the same round. Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who summed it up best? “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I just kept drafting that third running back in the fourth round when I didn’t have a single wide receiver rostered. That’s just downright foolish, isn’t it? Or, is it?

Here’s my point, emerging from a bath of satire. Everyone has a different idea of what a good draft looks like. In reality, I like both my Yahoo drafts and my ESPN draft because I executed my draft plans according to script. I took my running backs early, I took my tight end early and I waited on wide receivers. I took 33 wide receivers and running backs in these three drafts.

I watch other people draft, and I shake my head when I see manager taking quarterbacks early, or opting to get their defenses and kickers in the 10th and 11th round to fill all of their starting roster spots before building bench depth. But I need to check my ego at the door because that manager may wind up beating me. Each manager has a different philosophy, and who am I to call them a fool?

Let me conclude with a story to illustrate this point. Last year, my sister-in-law approached me with a trade offer. She offered to trade Chris Carson for Najee Harris. I told her that as a co-commissioner of the league, I had a responsibility to insure that all trades were fair. That’s why I vetoed an earlier trade she had attempted to make, trading Carson for Henderson. I was trying to protect her.

Before the trade offer, I had been bad mouthing Harris because the dude couldn’t gain any rushing yards, or break any tackles. On the other hand, I loved Carson. At the time she offered the trade, Carson’s trade value was significantly higher than Harris’ trade value on most charts. However, Candy was persistent and I finally agreed to accept the offer. The rest is history.

The Steelers rookie running back had a league-leading 381 touches in 2021, and finished as the RB4 in full-point and half-point PPR scoring as a result. Carson played only two more weeks after I traded for him. A neck injury ended his season and his career. Candy won the league. Ironically, I took Harris in the second round of my home league draft this year with the 12th overall pick.

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

TE: Go great, or go late

In my tight end preview a year ago, I described the tight end position as a minefield. My advice was to “go great, or go late.” To go great meant to draft one of three elite tight ends. Last year, that trio was Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and George Kittle. My advice hasn’t changed, although the trio of greats at the top of the food chain has – Kelce, Mark Andrews and Kyle Pitts.

Waller and Kittle are still around, but their stocks have fallen after disappointing 2021 campaigns. The elephant in the room in Las Vegas is Davante Adams. The former Green Bay wide receiver will command a lot of targets. That means fewer for Waller. In San Francisco, Kittle can’t stay healthy. He’s already injured in training camp, and I would expect more of the same this season.

After finishing as the fantasy TE1 for three straight seasons, Kelce was de-throned by Andrews last season, posting his worst points per game average (16.6) dating since 2017. If Kelce was guaranteed 16.6 PPG this season, he would still be worth a second-round pick, but consider that Tyreek Hill has left town. At 33, Kelce is no spring chicken, but he’s still damn good. Draft with confidence.

Last year, Andrews was a second-tier tight end. Based on my “great, or late” philosophy, he wasn’t rostered on any of my fantasy teams. My bad. The Ravens fourth-year TE led the position with a 25% target share, 28% air yards share and 17.5 fantasy PPG. With Marquise Brown traded, Andrews has solidified himself as the clear TE1 and has little competition for targets in Baltimore.

Pitts, 21, finished third among tight ends in receiving yards (1,018) through 17 weeks of 2021 and third in route participation (80%) through 18 weeks. The rookie fell short of lofty preseason expectations only because he scored just one touchdown. With positive touchdown regression a good bet for Year 2, Pitts should be drafted aggressively in 2022. Using a third-round pick is not too aggressive.

But what happens if you miss out on this talented trio? This has happened to me several times in my early-season mock drafts because value simply popped up in the first four rounds. If this happens to you, you need a backup strategy. The remainder of this column will be devoted to mid- and late-round tight ends I like. If they’re not listed, I don’t like them at their current ADP.

DALTON SCHULTZ, TE, DALLAS

Schultz is going in the sixth round of most fantasy drafts this year. He has an ADP of 68 in the National Fantasy Championship League where the high-stakes players compete. The Cowboys led the NFL in scoring last season, and they’ll be near the top again. While CeeDee Lamb is the alpha dog in Dallas, Schultz will probably be Dak Prescott’s second read on most plays with Amari Cooper gone.

T.J. HOCKENSON, TE, DETROIT

Hockenson was on his way to a career year with the Lions before he suffered a thumb injury in Week 13. Through 13 weeks, Hockenson ranked sixth in points per game, fifth in targets per game (7), first in route participation (85%), third in target share (19%) and third in air yard share. He will compete with D’Andre Swift and Amon-Ra St. Brown for targets and is also worth a sixth-round pick.  

ZACH ERTZ, TE, ARIZONA

One beneficiary of the six-game suspension of DeAndre Hopkins is Ertz. Last year, the former Eagles tight end broke out in the Cardinals offense during the last four weeks of the season with Hopkins sidelined. Ertz was TE4 over that stretch, averaging seven receptions per game (24% target share). If you want him, be prepared to take him no later than the seventh round.

COLE KMET, TE, CHICAGO

After Ertz is off the board, you’re free falling off the tight end cliff. Fall right past Dawson Knox, Pat Freiermuth and Mike Gesicki and grab hold of Kmet in round eleven. Kmet should make a huge leap in 2022 with veteran Jimmy Graham a free agent and on his way out. Second-year quarterback Justin Fields is going to be better and Kmet checks off all the boxes for a tight end breakout.

IRV SMITH, TE, MINNESOTA

If you miss out on the Big 3, Schultz, Hockenson, Ertz and Kmet, you’re just about out of decent options. Smith, who is coming off a lost 2021 season due to torn meniscus injury, could be a deep sleeper. I think new head coach and former Rams’ OC Kevin O’ Connell will carve out a huge role for Smith. Just keep in mind that Smith underwent thumb surgery and might not be available Week 1.

WAIVER WIRE FODDER

If you wait until the end of the draft to take a tight end, you’ve made a mistake. It’s likely that you will be playing the streaming game for the rest of the season, but there are a handful of tight ends that are waiver wire fodder now but might emerge.  Gerald Everett, Albert Okwuegbunam and Tyler Higbee are the ones I’ve identified as the most likely to break out and become fantasy relevant.

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

Embarrassment of riches

In yesterday’s column, I advised against using a zero RB strategy in this year’s fantasy football draft and gave you my insights on which running backs to favor and fade. The reason why I focus on running backs in the first two rounds is that the running back position is not as deep as wide receiver.  You can wait until the third or fourth round to select your first wide receiver and still be fine at the position.

Wide receivers carry the highest ceiling in fantasy football, and breakout players can be drafted as late as the eighth or ninth round. In this week’s column, I’m going to identify some wideouts that could become the next Cooper Kupp, or Deebo Samuel. Kupp had an ADP of 72 last year, and Samuel’s ADP was 79. Imagine how good it felt to have taken Kupp in the 6th and/or Samuel in the 7th in 2021.

I’m going to break down wide receivers that I like, round-by-round, beginning in the third round. But before I do that, let me remind you that there might be some bargains in the first two rounds. If you’re drafting at the turn, or making your second pick, Kupp, Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase should not be passed up. Just be sure that you have one stud running back before you take one of them.  

If I have drafted a stud running back early in the first round and find CeeDee Lamb on the board late in the second, I’m probably going to take him, too. In case you didn’t know, Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson have left Dallas, and a larger target share is a guarantee. Only once did Lamb fail to score double-digit fantasy points in a game where he commanded more than six targets in 2021.

THIRD ROUND

Mike Evans, A.J. Brown and Keenan Allen are going to be taken early in the third round. All have solid floors. Tee Higgins is also worthy of a third-round pick. However, I would prefer to take another running back in this round – especially if it’s James Conner. If you’re picking later in the third round, try and get Michael Pittman. With Matt Ryan under center for the Colts, Pittman is certain to be a target hog.

FOURTH ROUND

My fourth-round favorites have a lot in common. Both ran routes on more than 90% of their team’s drop backs and finished in the top three in air yards share and top seven in target rate per route run. Both were hurt by poor quarterback play, and both are getting an upgrade in 2022. The two wideouts I’m referring to are Terry McLaurin and D.J. Moore. Draft either here with confidence.

FIFTH ROUND

Mike Williams, Brandin Cooks and Chris Godwin are being taken early in the fifth round of many drafts. All three could return value at their ADP, but Godwin is risky since he’s trying to come back from a torn ACL suffered in last season’s Week 15 loss to the Saints. Cooks is my favorite of the three. I love target hogs, and this hog finished fourth in air yards share (36%) and ninth in target share (24%).

SIXTH ROUND

It’s possible that you could get Courtland Sutton in the sixth round of your draft, and you should take him without hesitation. Last year, with an anemic offense, Sutton still finished seventh in air yards (1,756). Now, he gets a huge upgrade at quarterback with Russell Wilson.  Wilson is a good downfield passer which plays heavily into Sutton’s strengths as a vertical threat. Get him if you can.

SEVENTH ROUND

If you think the supply of good wideouts will be dwindling by the seventh round, think again. Darnell Mooney, Allen Robinson II, Michael Thomas, Hunter Renfrow and Gabriel Davis are all worthy of a seventh-round pick. Any of these guys could start for your team as a WR2, WR3, or flex. If you can get one of them in the eighth round, do it because you can’t have too much depth at wide receiver.

EIGHTH ROUND

You’re not going to believe it, but there are still quality wide receivers that could fall to you in this round. As previously mentioned, you could find Renfrow or Davis still on the board. If not, Elijah Moore or Juju Smith-Schuster are likely to be there. The other wide receiver that I like is Rashod Bateman. With Marquise Brown gone, Bateman can step up and be the true No. 1 wideout in Baltimore.

NINTH ROUND

How deep is this position? At this point, approximately 38 wide receivers will be gone. But there is still the possibility of finding a starter for your team. Brandon Aiyuk, who was a monster in the second half of 2021, has an ADP of 95. Robert Woods, now in Tennessee, has an ADP of 99. Christian Kirk has a chance to be WR1 in Jacksonville and has an ADP of 101. All are worthy at their ADP.

LATER ROUNDS

After the ninth round, with perhaps 45 wide receivers off the board, consider adding a rookie who has a lot of upside. Atlanta took the athletic Drake London with the eighth pick in the draft. The New York Jets took Garrett Wilson tenth overall. Treylon Burks was also drafted in the first round by Tennessee. And how about Chiefs rookie Skyy Moore? He’ll be catching balls from Patrick Mahomes.

My conclusion is that it’s hard to go wrong with any combination of the above-mentioned players. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be busts. And I have my list of fades based on their current ADP. My “don’t draft” list includes Jaylen Waddle, Diontae Johnson, D.K. Metcalf and his teammate, Tyler Lockett and Adam Thielen. All have ADPs between 40 and 90, and there are simply better options.    

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

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Getting it straight

One, two, one, two, three, four…People moving out, people moving in…Ball of confusion. Oh yeah, that’s what the world is today. Woo, hey, hey…Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today), 1970, by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong

I heard the Temptations song in my head while I was taking my first deep dive into fantasy football the other day. If you follow me at CreativeSports, you know I’ve been busy this spring and summer writing about fantasy baseball and managing three teams. But it’s August, so it’s high time to look at football, and it really is confusing at first blush. 

It was three months ago that I wrote about fantasy football for the first time this year. It was right before the NFL draft, and I recapped the offseason moves that have rocked the foundation of the league and left fantasy analysts and pundits in the midst of this ball of confusion. If you didn’t read the column, do so before you read this column.

Since we’re talking about 1970, I recalled sneaking into an R-rated movie that year starring Elliott Gould. The movie was about the crazy world of a college campus. I remember Candice Bergen was his girlfriend, and boy was she hot back in those days. Harrison Ford had a small role in the film. Back in those days the world was turned upside down.   

So, what does this have to do with fantasy football? Plenty. All of the player movement is confusing, but the key is getting yourself straightened out before the draft. To that end, I’m going to help you by focusing on the first two rounds. As I’ve said before, you can’t win your league in the first two rounds but you can certainly lose it with a key mistake.

For instance, let’s say that you decide to implement a zero RB strategy. You choose to draft Cooper Kupp, or Justin Jefferson in the first round and pick up Travis Kelce in the second. It’s likely that you just made that key mistake and are on your way to not winning your league this year. I’m not saying zero RB is a flawed strategy, but this is not the year for it.

In my opinion, zero RB is a better strategy when there are only a handful of elite wide receivers and the rest are mediocre. That’s simply not the case this year. If you wait until the third or fourth round to draft a wide receiver, you’re still going to be able to get A.J. Brown, Mike Evans and Keenan Allen. And there’s Michael Pittman, D.J. Moore and a host of others even deeper in the draft. 

If you wait until the third or fourth round to get your running backs, you’re going to be sucking air. You simply must get a running back in the first two rounds, and you’d be better off to get two. Working from this premise, I’m going to take a look at the top 23 running backs in this year’s draft and give you my thoughts on who you should take and who you should fade.

If you have the No. 1 pick, it’s easy. Jonathan Taylor is the No. 1 pick overall. Taylor rushed for 1,811 yards last year, catching 40 of 51 targets across 17 games. Taylor 19.5 carries per game make him a true workhorse running back. In addition, Taylor also led the NFL in red-zone touches (92). Taylor’s 42 carries inside the 10-yard line were 12 more than the next-closest back (Damien Harris, 30).

Pairing Taylor’s elite red-zone usage with his ascending role as a receiver – 11th in routes run and sixth in route participation in 2021 – makes him worthy of the first pick in the draft. The arrival of Matt Ryan only helps Taylor’s stock continue to rise since no quarterback targeted running backs more than the new Colts quarterback did in 2021 – 8.6 targets per game.

CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, RB, CAROLINA (ADP 2)

When healthy, CMC is the best player in fantasy football. This is a running back who puts up quarterback numbers. He played in four games in 2021 with at least a 50% snap share and his PPR fantasy finishes were RB1, RB3, RB4 and RB3. If he stays healthy in 2022, he can win you a league title. The problem is that he’s only suited up in 10 games in the past two seasons. Worth the risk.      

AUSTIN EKELER, RB, LA CHARGERS (ADP 3)

Ekeler isn’t used as a true three-down back, but it’s hard to tell based on his numbers. He finished 8th in the NFL in total touches (276) and 14th in touches per game (17.2). His 13.9% target share and 70 receptions ranked second behind only Najee Harris. Ekeler’s 18 red-zone touchdowns and 63 red-zone touches ranked first and second respectively. Draft with confidence.    

DERRICK HENRY, RB, TENNESSEE (ADP 5)

Henry led the position in fantasy PPR points per game (23.4) through eight weeks in 2021. He averaged 29.6 touches per game – seven more than the next closest running back before his injury. But after the injury, the Titans will certainly reduce his workload, and the lack of pass-game usage is a problem in PPR leagues, although his 20 targets in eight games was a record pace. Worth the risk.    

NAJEE HARRIS, RB, PITTSBURGH (ADP 7)

I drafted Harris in the second round last year, had buyer’s remorse after the first game and traded him away. My trading partner won the league championship. The Steelers rookie managed a league-leading 381 touches but only rushed for 307 yards. Can you count on him to catch another 74 passes with Ben Roethlisberger no longer checking down to him on every other play? Fade him.

DALVIN COOK, RB, MINNESOTA (ADP 8)

Cook is a workhorse back when healthy, and he averaged 22 touches per game (5th) and 15.2 fantasy points per game (RB11) last year. But the consensus No. 2 pick from 2021 has fallen to the back of Round 1, and I don’t know why since positive touchdown regression is coming. His 15 goal-line carries ranked fourth in the NFL last season, but he had only three scores. Draft with confidence.

JOE MIXON, RB, CINCINNATI (ADP 11)

Mixon is the last of the running backs to feel very good about in the first round based on his easily projected large workload within an ascending offense. The Bengals running back finished 2021 third in total touches (334) and sixth in touches per game (20.9). Mixon also ranked third in goal-line carries (16) and tied Jonathan Taylor/James Conner in red-zone touchdowns. Draft with confidence.

D’ANDRE SWIFT, RB, DETROIT (ADP 13)

Swift was RB9 in points per game in 10 games played before his injury. He led all running backs in receptions (53) and averaged nearly 19 touches per game. That would have ranked 9th-best last season. But Swift has failed to claim a role as the team’s bell cow back while struggling with injuries including a concussion in 2020 and an A/C joint sprain in 2021. Fade him at current ADP.  

NICK CHUBB, RB, CLEVELAND (ADP 17)

I would prefer to have Chubb as my RB2 (not RB1). A good back gets better when Deshaun Watson takes charge under center midseason. During his four-year career, the Browns running back has never averaged fewer than five yards per carry. The problem is a lack of volume as Chubb has never been an every-down back and his role as a receiver also leaves a lot to be desired. Okay at ADP.

ALVIN KAMARA, RB, NEW ORLEANS (ADP 18)

Kamara has finished as an RB1 in PPR formats in every season of his five-year career, but there’s a reason why he’s being drafted late in the second round. A suspension looms as a result of his February arrest and charges of battery, and insiders say a six-game suspension is likely. In the six full games with Jameis Winston under center, he was the RB5 in fantasy, averaging 5.5 targets. Risky.  

JAVONTE WILLIAMS, RB, DENVER (ADP 19)

Williams finished 13th in touches last season (246, 14.6 per game), while sharing touches with Melvin Gordon, and he may take another step forward in the passing game after finishing as one of two rookie RBs inside the top-15 in route participation in 2021. In spite of  quarterback upgrade, Williams still has a split workload in what is clearly a better offensive environment. Risky at ADP.

AARON JONES, RB, GREEN BAY (ADP 21)

I would take Jones ahead of Swift, Chubb, Kamara and Williams in spite of the rise of A.J. Dillon. With Devante Adams gone, I expect him to catch more balls from Aaron Rodgers. When Adams has missed time in the past, Jones has been a target and receptions monster, averaging close to 4.5 catches, 6 targets, 48.5 receiving yards and 23 PPR points per game. Draft with confidence.    

LEONARD FOURNETTE, RB, TAMPA BAY (ADP 22)

I have mixed feelings about Fournette, especially with reports that he showed up overweight to camp  after signing a three-year deal worth $21 million up to $24 million. His contract positions him to continue his bell-cow role after playing 86% of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps and rushing for 812 yards in 14 games. He was also targeted 84 times by Tom Brady, catching 69 balls. Okay at ADP.  

SAQUON BARKLEY, RB, NY GIANTS (ADP 23)

Once a top-five fantasy football selection, Barkley has fallen into the third round in many drafts because of his inability to stay healthy. Under a new coaching staff and vastly improved offensive line, there’s reason to buy back in on Barkley. In five games last season when Barkley played a full snap share with Daniel Jones, the Giants RB averaged 16.2 PPR points per game (RB10). Okay at ADP.

JAMES CONNOR, RB, ARIZONA (ADP 28)

I’d be happy with Connor as my RB2 and thrilled to have him as my RB3. With Chase Edmonds gone, Conner could finish as a top-12 running back. He finished the 2021 season tied for second in goal-line carries and third in touchdowns (18). Conner also received extensive work in the passing game with Edmonds out of the lineup from Weeks 9-14 and Week 18. Draft with confidence.

EZEKIEL ELLIOTT, RB, DALLAS (ADP 30)

Like Barkley, Elliott has fallen from a top-five spot into the third round. This could be related to a partially torn PCL suffered in 2021. But his advancing age and the toll of the NFL is also part of it. Elliott has amassed 1,938 touches (22 per game) over his six-year career, never handling less than 268 touches in any season. But with the rise of Tony Pollard, his volume will drop. Okay at ADP.

CAM AKERS, RB, LA RAMS (ADP 31)

Akers draft stock was clearly hurt by the fact that he averaged an abysmal 2.4 yards per carry last year after returning from his Achilles injury. But his production is partially related to the juggernaut of run defenses he faced – San Francisco 49ers (twice) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  In the Rams’ divisional playoff win versus the Buccaneers, Akers played 81% of the offensive snaps. Okay at ADP.  

DAVID MONTGOMERY, RB, CHICAGO (ADP 33)

Montgomery finished as the RB12 and RB6 in each of the last two seasons, and the Bears’ receiving weapons are depleted outside of Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet, so that could mean plenty of check downs. Montgomery has seen an 80%-90% opportunity share over the last two seasons which was the key to his success. The problem is the new regime has no ties to Montgomery. Risky.  

ANTONIO GIBSON, RB, WASHINGTON (ADP 38)

Gibson has been RB16 and RB17 in fantasy points per game the last two years. He also ranked tenth in yards per route run and fifth in evaded tackles. He was tied for seventh in carries inside the five-yard line and eighth in weighted opportunities. However, his pass game usage is capped with J.D. McKissic and now the goal line work could be in jeopardy with the arrival of Brian Robinson. Fade.

JOSH JACOBS, RB, LAS VEGAS (ADP 40)

The Raiders offense looks to reach new heights in 2022 with Davante Adams on the team and that benefits Jacobs since it means more scoring opportunities for the primary red-zone back. New head coach Josh McDaniels is likely to run Jacobs into the ground on an expiring contract as he did with Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen during his Patriots tenure. Draft with confidence.

BREECE HALL, RB, NY JETS (ADP 44)

The Jets selected the Iowa State product at the top of Round 2, and he’s locked-in as their RB1. Hall’s three-down skill set means he never has to come off the field, and the sheer volume he garners will put him in top-20 running back territory. Hall totaled over 4,500 yards from scrimmage, 50 touchdowns and 80 catches over three seasons in the college ranks. Draft with confidence at current ADP.  

TRAVIS ETIENNE JR., JACKSONVILLE (ADP 48)

Hopes were high when Etienne was selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. However, his rookie season was cut short by a preseason Lisfranc injury. His ADP is now suppressed by the potential time share with James Robinson, but the latter could be limited coming back from a torn Achilles injury suffered on December 26th. Draft with confidence at current ADP.

J.K. DOBBINS, RB, BALTIMORE (ADP 50)

Dobbins’ limited use in the passing game in 2020 hurt his fantasy production. Now, he’s coming off a season-ending ACL injury and will likely begin the season on the PUP list. When Dobbins returns, there is still the problem of a time share with Gus Williams and you should expect zero-to-little pass-game work with Jackson’s tendency to not check down to running backs. Fade him.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about baseball and football for CreativeSports. You can follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

Three lessons learned

Major League baseball teams have played almost 100 games in 2022. Suffice it to say that guiding your team through a 162-game schedule is a challenge. So, as fantasy managers take a break from the daily grind of working the waiver wire and setting their lineups, they should also take stock. What have we learned from the first 15 weeks? Here are three lessons I will share: 

LESSON 1: SHOW PATIENCE WITH SLUMPING STARS

Patience is a virtue. With 162 games in a season, there is a lot of time for players to streak hot or cold and still end up being exactly the players they were projected to be. Marcus Semien is a great example. I traded for him back in May when he was hitting below the Mendoza line. I traded Jesus Luzardo for him four days before the latter pitched his last game in the majors.

Juan Soto, Bo Bichette, Yordan Alvarez, Teoscar Henandez, Whit Merrified and Trevor Story were other players being drafted in the first three round in NFBC drafts last spring that got off to slow starts. I actually was able to pick up Merrified and Story off of waivers in a shallow, 10-team league. Both of them have rebounded, although Story is currently on the injured list.

In that same shallow, 10-team league, I picked up Kyle Schwarber off the waiver wire back on April 27th. Schwarber is only hitting .208 at the break, but he has 29 home runs – second in the league behind Aaron Judge. His slugging percentage is above .500, and I fully expect for him to regress back to his career batting average of .233, which I can live with.

Can a stud player suddenly go cold and drop off the map, never returning value? The answer, of course, is yes. But most of the time, the players you drafted in early rounds will bounce back to their mean after a slow start. This is positive regression, and I have used this statistical reality to make a lot of good trades through the years. I encourage you to do the same. 

LESSON 2: ROOKIES WON’T RESCUE YOUR SEASON

I’m not including Bobby Witt and Julio Rodriguez because you had to draft them in one of the middle rounds to roster them. The No. 1 and No. 2 rookies have had an immediate effect in fantasy baseball, although Witt got off to a very slow start. But consider some of the other top rookies that were drafted later, or picked up with a significant outlay of FAAB.    

Adley Rutschman was billed as a perfect catcher prototype, without blemish or flaw. He may yet be a huge Dynasty asset, but not in redraft leagues. Another catcher, M.J. Melendez of the Royals, has also been a bust. First baseman Spencer Torkelson was demoted by the Tigers on Sunday. The Tigers! C.J. Abrams just got dropped in my 15-team TGFBI league.

What about pitchers? It’s more of the same story. Consider Tampa Bay’s Shane Baz, the No. 1 pitching prospect on most lists. He just went on the 60-day injured list, but he wasn’t that great when he was playing, compiling a 1-2 record, with a 5.00 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. You’re not dropping Baz in Dynasty, but you’ve cut him by now in your redraft league.

Baz is not the only rookie pitcher to disappoint. There’s Seattle’s George Kirby, who went for more than $300 of FAAB in my TGFBI and was demoted. Rumor has it that he will be called up again soon. How about MacKenzie Gore, who was also a FAAB darling in April. He is no longer in the starting rotation for San Diego and is not pitching out of the bullpen.

I could go on with more rookies that have disappointed. And it’s not just a 2022  phenomenon. How about Jarred Kelenic, the No. 1 prospect from 2021, who has been up and down the baseball escalator for the past two seasons. Kelenic sure can hit that minor league pitching, but he’s shown no ability to climb above the Mendoza Line in the majors.

LESSON 3: DRAFTING CLOSERS EARLY IS A FOOL’S ERRAND

Josh Hader and Liam Hendriks were drafted early in the third round of my TGFBI league. Hendricks has 18 saves and is tied for ninth with Greg Soto. Hader leads the league with 27 but has a 4.50 ERA. That’s the same ERA that Raisel Iglesias is sporting at the break. Iglesias was the third relief pitcher off the board in most drafts, and his NFBC ADP was 52.

If you drafted one of those relief pitchers, you don’t read my columns – or you disagree with my philosophy on not paying up for saves. Still, if you had waited until the 15th round in your 12-team league, you could have landed Taylor Rogers. He’s No. 2 on the saves list right now, just one behind Hader. Of course, you had a little luck there, too.

Speaking of luck, you might have considered it lucky if you had drafted Daniel Bard at the end of your draft. Those who didn’t draft Bard, could have probably gotten him off the waiver wire early in the season. Pitching in the unfriendly confines of Coors Field, Bard has 20 saves, an ERA of 2.02 and 1.01 WHIP. Who saw that one coming? Not me.

What I did do is pick up Paul Sewald with a small outlay of FAAB in my TGFBI league. I also picked up Ryan Helsley, Jorge Lopez, Scott Barlow, Dave Robertson and Tanner Scott for little, or no FAAB, in two other leagues. All of them have double-digit saves – more than Giovanny Gallegos. At the risk of repeating myself, the lesson is don’t draft closers early.  

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about baseball and football for CreativeSports. You can follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

TGFBI diary, part 2

Two months ago, I wrote my first installment chronicling my experience in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, beginning with my first ever draft on February 28th. This was in diary form, and it involved more than just sharing my strategy, lineup and waiver-wire moves. I’ve also written about my thoughts and feelings as the season has unfolded. It was full of raw emotion.

In the last two months, there has been more raw emotion as I’ve ridden the emotional rollercoaster, while competing against 464 of the best fantasy baseball managers in the world. Like any rollercoaster ride, there are plenty of ups and downs. But suffice it to say that the arrow is pointing up since my last update. Here’s The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational Diary, Part 2.

MAY 17, 2022

I’ve got a man crush on Sandy Alcantara. The dude is a stud. I’m do glad I drafted him instead of Aaron Nola. There’s always a lot of love for Nola, but Alcantara is the most underrated pitcher in baseball. Eight innings, three hits allowed, one earned run, one walk, five strikeouts and the win. I’ve moved up to 328th overall. That’s an improvement over 423rd just twelve days ago.

MAY 19, 2022

Just when things were looking up for Doubting Thomas comes the news that Max Scherzer may be headed for the IL. This comes one day after he picked up his fifth win. Mad Max removed himself from the game in the sixth inning, complaining of left side discomfort. “Discomfort” doesn’t sound awful, but pardon me for being pessimistic. Scherzer is no spring chicken at 37.

MAY 20, 2022

There’s a reason why they call me Doubting Thomas. No matter how good things are going, I am always waiting for the other shoe to fall. It fell this morning when I learned that Scherzer is headed for the IL with an oblique strain. Is it a mild strain? Oh, no. Scherzer is going to be out for 6-8 weeks. What a gut punch just as I was starting to turn things around with my pitching.

MAY 23, 2022

I cashed in on three FAAB bids last night, and this may prove to be my most lucrative haul so far this season. I picked up utility player Brendan Donovan ($52), Pitcher Jeffrey Springs ($44) and A’s outfielder Seth Brown ($7). Donovan is going to hit for a high average in a good Cardinals lineup and play all over the field. Springs has a rotation spot with an excellent Rays team.

MAY 26, 2022

No pitching, no problem! My hitters just keep on crushing it. Rafael Devers, Jared Walsh and Tyler Naquin all went yard Tuesday. Yesterday, it was Dansby Swanson and Seth Brown. I told you that guy was going to pay off. Charlie Morton had another miserable night but Spencer Strider came in to relieve Morton, pitching 2.2 hitless, scoreless innings to get the win. I’ll take it.

MAY 28, 2022

When I completed my draft three months ago, pitching was supposed to be my strength. I have only 21 total pitching points in my TGFBI league. It’s pretty damn hard to compete with that kind of production.

At least, my hitters are still producing, with Jared Walsh hitting his 10th home run of the year last night. Rafael Devers, meanwhile, is batting .342 and could be the AL MVP.

MAY 31, 2022

Nineteen! That’s how many pitching points my team has in a 15-team league out of a possible 75. The latest disaster was Spencer Strider’s first start at Arizona. I felt so good about him when he was pitching in long relief, and I guessed he would be even better as a starter. This was the easy game, and now Strider gets pitches at Coors Field Saturday. My team has slipped to 301st overall.

JUNE 17, 2022

I’m back from a two-week vacation, and a change of scenery was all I needed. My team has gone from 301st to 175th overall. It’s not as though I didn’t touch the team, still doing my FAAB bids and setting my lineup twice a week under the disapproving eye of my wife. I was right about Donovan, picked up four weeks ago. He’s hitting .341 and is now eligible in the outfield which is huge.

JUNE 18, 2022

Uncle Charlie, welcome back! Morton pitched seven shutout innings yesterday against Chicago, striking out nine. He gave up only three hits and no walks. The nine strikeouts came six days after he struck out 12. His ERA is still 5.08 and his WHIP 1.37, P he’s moving in the right direction. Several weeks ago, I made some moves to focus on repairing my terrible ERA and WHIP. It’s working.

JUNE 20, 2022

I have not managed my $1,000 FAAB money well and risk running out before the season is half over. Like real life, when you’re short on money, you tighten your belt and spend less. I picked up relief pitcher Brad Hand and starting pitcher Matthew Liberatore for a total FAAB outlay of $8. Call me Thrifty Thomas. I now have 40.5 pitching points. That’s double what I had three weeks ago.    

JUNE 21, 2022

Jose Berrios is killing me softly. He gave up six earned runs and nine hits last night and gets the lion’s share of the blame for dropping my team from 189 to 221 overall. The three quality starts in a row lured me into taking him off the bench against the White Sox. And more bad news with the announcement that Manuel Margot is lost perhaps for the season with a knee injury. I can’t buy a break.

 JUNE 24, 2022

The pitching disease has spread to my bullpen. Normally reliable Ryan Pressly gave up four runs on three hits and two walks, lasting only one-third of an inning in a blown save that reverberated from Yankee Stadium to Texas. Pressly has not been that good, and it would be just my luck if Dusty decides to turn closing duties over to Rafael Montero, 3-0, four saves, 1.88 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.

JUNE 26, 2022

Sunday, bloody Sunday. The blood is mine after another abysmal start by none other than Jose “Batting Practice” Berrios. I had elected to start him last Monday, and he was locked in my lineup for two starts against the White Sox on Tuesday and Milwaukee today. I really should have known better. Berrios has an ERA of about 20 in the United States this year, and both of these games were on the road.

JULY 2, 2022

I’ve been chasing saves all season long, and I may have caught a break with the addition of Lou Trivino last Sunday. I picked him up with $3 of FAAB and he earned a save last night with a clean inning in Seattle. The poor guy still has an ERA above 7.00, but the A’s are so bad that he’s their best closer option since Dany Jimenez went on the IL. Brad Hand also got a save last night against St. Louis.

JULY 6, 2022

I’m mad about Max. Scherzer, that is. He’s back, baby. Off the IL after seven long weeks, pitching like a madman last night in Cincinnati. Six innings, two hits allowed, no runs, no walks. And eleven strikeouts. Fifteen swinging strikes in only 79 pitches. The Mets ace should be suing for nonsupport because his teammates got him no runs, losing to the hapless Reds 1-0. No worries! Max is back.

JULY 9, 2022

“I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation. And the only explanation I can find. Is the love that I’ve found, ever since my pitching came around. Fantasy pitchers put me on the top of the world.” I’ve got Karen Carpenter’s voice in my head, and why not? Today, I find woke up to find myself 113th overall in TGFBI.  Just two months ago, I was 423rd and on the verge of taking my own life.

JULY 10, 2022

Stupid Smeltzer, or is it Stupid Seltzer? After all, I was the one who started this guy against the Rangers last night. The Rangers. That juggernaut that makes opposing pitchers quake on the mound. At least, if you’re name is Smeltzer. Three gopher balls. Kole Calhoun looked like Aaron Judge. Seven earned runs, three walks and an early shower. You needed that shower, Smeltzer, because you stink.  

 Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, also writes about baseball and football for CreativeSports. You can follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

Chasing closers update

I posted a blog two months ago, shortly after the 2022 Major League Baseball got underway, on the subject of relief pitchers and saves. Suffice it to say, that a lot has happened in the past three months, but my philosophy on closers hasn’t changed. I won’t pay up for them because saves are only one of ten categories in a 5×5 rotisserie leagues, and you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on it.

It’s easy to spot an amateur in your fantasy baseball league. He or she is the manager who eagerly adds relief pitchers, hoping for more saves, while neglecting the starting pitcher rotation. This is the same manager who drafted Josh Hader, or Liam Hendriks, in the second or third round. Every year, I watch managers squander early round picks for a player who is going to get his or her team one stat – a save.

A second or third round pick should be used on a starting pitcher who will contribute to your team in four categories, or a position player who will help in four or five. I selected Max Scherzer and Sandy Alcantara with those picks in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. I have no regrets. Alcantara is on pace to win the NL Cy Young, and Scherzer was off to a fine start before he went on the injury list.

This doesn’t mean that I punt the saves category. I am currently tied for seventh in my 15-team TGFBI league with 31 saves. That’s the middle of the pack. In the past ten days, I have picked up eight of those saves with four rostered relief pitchers – and only one of them was drafted by yours truly. Ryan Pressly was taken in the fourth round of my draft, and he has 18 or those 31 saves in spite of missing some time on the IL.

I picked up Paul Sewald back on May 8th for a $10 FAAB outlay. That’s $10 of my $1,000 FAAB money, or 1%. Sewald leads the Marines with nine saves. The other two relief pitchers were picked up recently – Brad Hand on June 19th and Lou Trivino on June 26th. Hand and Trivino have just a handful of saves. Sewald picked up two saves last week, and Hand secured a save last night in St. Louis.

If you need to add a closer, I would recommend Sewald, Hand and Trivino in that order. Sewald seems to have a hold on the closer job in Seattle. Trivino picked up the last three saves for Oakland with Dany Jimenez on the IL. Many analysts think Seranthony Dominguez and Hand will share the closer job in Philadelphia now that Corey Knebel is out. But Hand has 130 career saves and Dominguez has 18.

The good news is that all three of these relief pitchers are available in more than half of Yahoo and ESPN leagues. Sewald and Hand have excellent ratios, which is extremely important to me and should be to you. The last thing in the world a manager needs is a relief pitcher destroying his ratios – even if he does pick up some saves. If my math is correct, ERA and WHIP represent twice as many categories as saves.

In addition to this trio, there are others to consider. No one has more talent than Ryan Helsley. I added him to a public league team in May, and the 27-year-old fireballer has nine scoreless appearances in his last 10 trips to the mound for the Cardinals, picking up five saves and two wins while also striking out 22 in that span. Giovanny Gallegos was believed to have a lock on the closer job, but not anymore.

My TGFBI team is not the only one where I am chasing saves. I was in 11th place in that category on the above-mentioned public league team until I added Helsley, Jorge Lopez and Tanner Scott. Now, I’m in fourth place in that category. Lopez’s rostership percentage grew last month as he had continued to earn saves for Baltimore, while compiling a 0.73 ERA. However, you should check your waiver wire.

When Scott’s ERA ballooned to 6.14 on April 24th, no one expected him to ever be in the discussion for the closing job in Miami. But Scott had 12 scoreless efforts in 13 appearances in June, with only one blip, while picking up eight saves. He got another save last night and is closing for a team who’s climbed back into the Wild Card race in the National League. And Scott is available in more than half of Yahoo and ESPN leagues.   

Will Smith has notched three saves for Atlanta while Kenley Jansen has been on the IL, and he’s widely available in most leagues. However, I don’t have Smith or A.J. Minter rostered on any fantasy team. Other managers have been rushing out to add one, or both of them but not me. Why? Because I think Kenley Jansen will be back in less than a week, pushing both to a supporting role in the Braves bullpen.

Let me add a caveat. I’m a fantasy baseball writer, not a doctor. If I’m wrong about Jansen, Smith is available in more than half of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, and Minter is even more widely available. If one of them ends up closing exclusively for the defending world champions, that’s a good pickup. If you still want more ideas on chasing saves, here are three more players available in more than half of leagues.

JHOAN DURAN, TWINS (49% YAHOO, 21% ESPN)

Emilio Pagan has almost twice as many saves as Duran, but anyone who follows baseball know that the latter is the better arm. I added Duran to one of my public league teams this week, expecting him to get more saves in the second half. One of Minnesota’s top pitching prospects, he relies on a power sinker and a fastball that has touched triple digits on the radar gun. That fits the bill for a top-notch closer.

TANNER RAINEY, NATIONALS (47% YAHOO, 15% ESPN)

Save opportunities are few and far between in the nation’s capital, but Rainey gets them when they roll around. He’s notched 12 so far, and had a 2.88 ERA.32 WHIP and 30:11 K:BB over 25 innings while going 11-for-14 in save chances through the end of June. Rainey became the closer for the Nationals late last year Kyle Finnegan struggling down the stretch, and he’s likely to maintain that role through the season.

JASON ADAM, RAYS (22% YAHOO, 5% ESPN)

I know, I know. You don’t chase saves in the Tampa Bay bullpen, but this 30-year-old righty should be on your radar in deeper leagues. Adam was non-tendered by the Cubs after posting a 5.91 ERA last season, but the Rays offered him a contract. Know that this guy misses bats, as he owns a 37.0 % strikeout rate in 24.1 innings across the last two seasons. He only has three saves so far, but that will change.

 Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about baseball and football for CreativeSports. You can follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

Here’s the pitch

I was having a good day on Sunday until I received a live scoring update on my TGFBI team and saw that Jose Berrios had given up a season high eight earned runs to the Milwaukee Brewers before being pulled in the third inning. He has given up five home runs in his last two starts and struck out only two as his ERA soared to 5.86 and his WHIP 1.39. He has only 64 strikeouts over 78.1 innings.

Wasn’t it just three months ago that I had felt so good about my pitching staff on this team? After all, I had drafted Max Scherzer, Sandy Alcantara, Berrios and Charlie Morton to anchor my pitching staff. Only one out of four has met my expectations. Morton got off to a miserable start, only recently starting to show signs of life, and Scherzer has been out with an oblique injury since May 18th.

It’s not a stretch to believe that some readers are enduring similar struggles with starting pitchers. You may have drafted Lucas Giolito with a second- or third round pick. He had his first decent start in more than three weeks on Monday, having allowed 30 runs (27 earned) over his previous 25.2 innings. There are some advanced stats, including a .360 BABIP, that suggest he’s had some bad luck, too.   

There are other starting pitchers that were drafted in the early rounds that have also been more than a little disappointing. Lance Lynn, Trevor Rogers, Blake Snell and Jack Flaherty were all top 50 pitchers according to NFBC ADP. None of them have returned any value. You shouldn’t be dropping any of them, but you’re probably leaving them on your bench unless you’re a glutton for punishment.

As we near the midpoint of the season, you may need help. There’s always a chance you can trade for someone, but trading for an impact arm will cost you a pretty penny. What about the waiver wire? If you play in a shallow league, there’s probably a number of good options. If you play in a deep league like TGFBI (15 teams in each league), it’s going to be more difficult. But it’s not impossible.

I was able to pick up Spencer Strider for a song in mid-April on that team when he was still pitching in long relief for the Braves. He was already missing a lot of bats, and I speculated that the Braves would move him into the starting rotation. Did you happen to catch him pitching on national television against the Dodgers on Sunday night? He might still be available in your league. Check right now.

More than a month after I acquired Strider, I picked up Jeffrey Springs. He had also been in the Rays bullpen (are you seeing a theme here?) but had moved into the starting rotation by that time. Springs has a 3-2 record, with a 2.25 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. He also misses some bats, striking out a season-high nine batters in his last start. Like Strider, he might be available in some shallow leagues.  

Here are some starting pitchers that are available in at least 50 percent of Yahoo and ESPN leagues:

KEEGAN THOMPSON (SP, CUBS, 50%/44%)

Thompson started out the season in long relief for the Cubs, and he’s aging like a fine wine. If you were streaming Thompson earlier this month, you suffered through two dismal starts. But in his last two starts, he’s given up a total of six hits and one earned run while striking out 16 over 12 innings. The right-hander has been effective overall this season (7-2, 3.10 ERA, 1.15 WHIP).

ROSS STRIPLING (SP, BLUE JAYS, 38%18.7%)

Stripling also emerged from the bullpen to pitch well as a member of the Blue Jays rotation, logging a 2.81 ERA before Tuesday night’s game. The good news is that he plays for a team who will provide run support. The bad news is that he pitches in the AL East against teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. Stripling doesn’t miss many bats, but he has an ERA close to 3.00 and a WHIP close to 1.00.

TYLER WELLS, SP, ORIOLES, 26%/22%)

Here’s another pitcher who was plucked from the bullpen. At the beginning of the season, he was expected to pick up where he left off last year as the Orioles closer. Instead, he joined the starting rotation. He’s won each of his past five decisions, registering a 1.97 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. As a flyball pitcher, he’s surely benefitted from them pushing the wall back in Camden Yards.

DEVIN SMELTZER (SP, TWINS, 17%/14.4%)

I was attracted to Smeltzer because of his name and picked him up for my TGFBI team shortly after he was promoted from Triple-A St. Paul on May 25th. He has earned a permanent spot in the Twins rotation. With a funky delivery, he has a quality slider and curveball that can offset unimpressive fastball velocity. He’s similar in some ways to Stripling, with an ERA and WHIP in the that range.  

JUSTIN STEELE (SP, CUBS, 6%/3.8%)

For the deeper leagues, take a look at Steele. His 4.39 ERA and 1.48 WHIP may not impress you but know that he plays in the weak NL Central division and is continuing to improve, while missing a lot of bats.  The 23.8 K% last year was promising for a rookie, but the 10.9 BB% along with a 1.9 HR/9 offset the gains from his strikeouts. He has improved on those stats and is a diamond in the rough.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about baseball and football for CreativeSports. You can also follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

New talent, new blood

With the major league baseball season nearing the halfway point, many fantasy baseball managers are feeling discouraged as they fall in the standings. You may be one of them. What you need right now is an injection of new talent. If you find yourself in that boat, consider three rookies who have been called up in the last few days. All three are rostered in fewer than half of fantasy leagues. 

One caveat here about this threesome of talented young players is that two of them have already seen time in the majors before their most recent call-up. Riley Greene, the highest-ranked prospect of the trio, offers both power and speed. The Detroit outfielder made his major league debut on Saturday, going 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored. On Sunday, he went 0-for-2 but walked twice. 

In an earlier column I wrote about drafting Oneil Cruz in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. Then he got off to a slow start in Triple-A this year, and it looked like he wouldn’t be called up anytime soon by Pittsburgh. He was barely hitting .200 in May and was also injured, so I dropped him because I needed the space on my bench for all of my injured players (there are no IL spots in TGFBI). Then things changed quickly.

Cruz slashed .279/.379/.527, with eight home runs and four steals in his last 34 games before being called up Monday by the Pirates. The 23-year-old shortstop electrified the fantasy baseball world with a strong run at Double-A last season, followed with six games at Triple-A and two games with the Pirates. He hit .466, with six home runs in those eight games in Triple-A and the majors and people took notice.

The third player, Alex Kirilloff had already gotten 244 at-bats in the majors between this year and last before he was recalled by the Twins on Friday. He was hitting below the Mendoza line when he was sent down last month, but he hit nine long balls and had 25 RBI at Triple-A. He’s gone 2-for-10 since he rejoined the Twins lineup. In spite some skepticism, I picked him up in my TGFBI league.  

There’s also C.J. Abrams, who hasn’t actually arrived yet but is reportedly on his way. The 21-year-old shortstop looked like a deer in the headlights in 55 at-bats earlier this year but got hot at Triple-A. He was pulled from the lineup at Triple-A El Paso on Sunday and could be joining the Padres soon depending on the severity of Manny Machado’s ankle injury. Stay tuned on that one. 

The four above-mentioned players aren’t the only ones out there. Before I go on, let me take a moment to brag. Playing in a 15-team league, I have been scrambling for more than a month to find players on the waiver wire to help my team. Here are the three players I picked up with a modest expenditure of FAAB money on May 22nd – Jeffrey Springs, Brendan Donovan and Seth Brown.

Springs was another one of those Tampa Bay project pitchers. He was DFA’d by the Red Sox last February after a poor 2020, but the Rays traded for the left-handed reliever. After numerous appearances from the bullpen, he earned the trust of Kevin Cash. He started in the pen again in 2022 but was moved into the starting rotation last month and has flourished. 

Springs has three effective pitchers which has resulted in three wins and an impressive 1.45 ERA. He also has a 0.91 WHIP and 50 strikeouts. The biggest improvement was in his changeup, which he now throws 36.6% of the time. Statcast has graded it as a top-20 overall pitch in terms of run value, giving him a three-pitch selection that he is locating better than he ever has during his pro career.

The Rays hurler is now rostered in 72 percent of Yahoo leagues and 58 percent of ESPN leagues. If he’s still out there, grab him immediately and don’t forget to thank me. If he’s rostered by someone else in your league, offer a trade. You could trade a player like Charlie Blackmon or Trent Grisham for him – especially if you play in a league with five starting outfielder positions to fill.  

Speaking of outfielders, I love Donovan. The versatile Cardinals rookie has made an impact with his bat, but he’s also eligible at two infield positions. Hitting near the top of a St. Louis lineup that includes Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and fellow rookie Nolan Gorman, Donovan has gone 14-for-25 (.560) in his last six games, with seven runs and seven RBI.

This is the kind of production that has forced manager Oli Marmol to find a place for Donovan in the lineup. The 25-year-old has a .338/.447/.466 slash line with one home run, two steals, 20 RBI, 22 runs and 13 doubles in 159 plate appearances. With a roster percentage at 52 percent in Yahoo leagues and 33 percent in ESPN leagues, you might be able to jump on the Donovan train today.

I wrote a column on Donovan and the other Cardinals rookies on May 24th, but I want to circle back on Juan Yepez. Yepez, eligible in both the outfield and at least one infield position, got the one thing he desperately needed Monday when Tyler O’Neill went on the IL – a clear path to playing time He’s slashing .285/.340/.477, with six home runs, 18 runs scored and 16 RBI in just 130 at bats.

If you play in a deeper league, consider adding Seth Brown. He’s rostered in only 5 percent of Yahoo and ESPN leagues. A poor man’s Joey Gallo, Brown is also eligible in the outfield and at first base in most leagues, and is on pace to hit 25 home runs for Oakland.   Brown, 29, was finally given an extended look at the big-league level in 2021, hitting 20 bombs in only 307 plate appearances.

Outside of going deep at a solid 14.1 AB/HR clip, the 29-year-old’s output has been underwhelming. He’s struck out 29% of the time while posting a disappointing 7.5% walk rate on route to slashing .202/.269/.404. There are some reasons to be optimistic about his offensive upside, however. His .230 BABIP in 2021 is a case for positive regression in his batting average.  

On the subject of deeper leagues, I picked up Cubs lefthander Justin Steele two weeks ago on my TGFBI team for $1 of FAAB. Steele, 26, made his major-league debut in 2021 as a reliever. His 23.8 K% was promising for a rookie, but the 10.9 BB% was troubling. Since he had worked as a starter throughout his minor-league career, it wasn’t a shock when he was moved into the starting rotation.

Steele became a popular streamer after striking out 19 batters in two consecutive starts against Arizona, but he quickly fell from grace in a nightmare outing at Cincinnati on May 26th. Since that time, he’s been much better, even picking up his second win of the season Saturday at home against the Braves. He’s widely available in every league and has a juicy matchup at Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Another widely available player that I’m happy to have added with a low FAAB expenditure was rookie catcher Gabriel Moreno. The 22-year-old backstop was one of the top breakout prospects in the minors in 2021, and it was no surprise when he was called up by Toronto recently. In his first five games, the Blue Jays rookie has hit .421. He hasn’t shown much power yet, but it’s early.

Toronto has indicated that Moreno is their catcher of the future, and he could continue to get playing time – even when Danny Jansen returns from the IL. It was supposed to be Jansen and Alejandro Kirk behind the plate this year before Jansen got injured and Moreno got the call. Moreno has also played the infield in the minors, and it’s possible he could get some playing time there.

I don’t talk as much about Statcast metrics as much as other fantasy writers because I am also looking at other factors like team context, playing time and track record. However, this tool developed to analyze and predict player is useful in finding players who have been unlucky and could be worth adding from the waiver wire. One such player for me was Patrick Wisdom of the Cubs.

Wisdom, 29 got a chance to show what he could do last season and there was a propensity to hit home runs and strike out. When he makes contact, he has the traits to generate home runs. He hits the ball in the air (31.4 GB%) and hits the ball hard (92nd percentile maxEV). He has 12 home runs so far in 2022, and statcast data indicates he deserves more. He’s available in about 50 percent of leagues.  

In the list below, I’ve identified three first basemen who have been unlucky, according to Statcast metrics. While there are many statistics to consider, hitting the ball hard is a near the top of my list. All of these players on this list are hitting the ball hard and experiencing outcomes that are worse than expected. And all of them are available in more than half of fantasy leagues.

ROWDY TELLEZ, 1B, MILWAUKEE

Tellez’s roster percentage dropped below 50 percent in both Yahoo and ESPN leagues since he’s been struggling through a power outage, going almost three weeks without a home run. He does have 33.8% career chase rate. Still, Tellez for the season has an 88th percentile barrel rate and a 72nd percentile hard-hit rate. He hits in the middle of the order for the Brewers in a great hitter’s park.

CHRISTIAN WALKER, 1B, DIAMONDBACKS

Walker homered twice on Sunday and has 18 for the season. But he’s rostered in less than 40 percent of Yahoo and ESPN leagues. Okay, the .201 average is a drag, but Walker ranks third in batting-average bad luck — Statcast suggests he should be batting .278. And while a .469 slugging percentage is no embarrassment, the expected number shoots up to .621.

CHRISTIAN BETHANCOURT, C/1B, ATHLETICS

Athletics first baseman Christian Bethancourt got off to a slow start this season after four years away from the majors, but he has emerged as a top power hitter in recent weeks. His exit velocity has always put him in the top 20 percent of big-league hitters, but a swing adjustment in late May enabled his exit velocities to surge to an elite level. He’s also eligible at catcher.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about baseball and football. You can follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.