Fantasy Baseball Round Table: Ryan Braun or Mike Trout, more rest-of-season decisions

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on August 15, 2012 @ 16:00:00 PDT

 

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St. Louis Cardinals 1B Allen Craig
Craig can't be ignored

We're getting close to the home stretch, and it's time to make some difficult lineup decisions. To that end, I have asked the knights to choose between several pairs of players, but they are not arbitrarily chosen. The hidden purpose of this week's Round Table is to focus on the explanations and not just the players chosen.

The choices are:

Ryan Carey

Adrian Gonzalez or Mark Teixeira

Tex had a nice July, but a wrist injury has slowed him a bit recently. For his part, Gonzalez has been an RBI machine for the past few weeks. Throw in the big advantage in batting average and it's hard not to go with the Boston 1B in this match-up.

Tim Lincecum or Jon Lester?  

Despite Lester's 12 K performance against the AAAA Indians, I still have no faith that he has really turned the corner. He still is going to go up against some tough AL East offenses down the stretch. Lincecum has pitched much better since the break, so I think the former NL Cy Young winner is the safer pick here.

Andrew McCutchen or Matt Kemp?

I am taking Kemp in this match-up. McCutchen may be starting to hit the wall a little. He hasn't stolen a base since June 19th and his power seems to have ebbed this month as well. Kemp on the other hand continues to round into MVP form. His 2 SB game last week shows that he is finally getting his legs back. He'll provide better overall production (barring injury) the rest of the way.

Joe Blanton or Ryan Dempster?

Dempster ending up in Arlington was about the worst possible place for fantasy owners. Both pitchers throw for teams who can win ballgames, but for me this battle comes down to the ratios. Blanton is not a flashy name, but he is much less dangerous for your ratios, particularly WHIP, the rest of the way than Dempster will be. Again, if it's close, I am going with the NL hurler.

Prince Fielder or Allen Craig?

I am a big Craig fan, and I guess Todd has thrown this in for a reason only he knows, but I am still going with Fielder purely on history. Craig offers more flexibility with OF eligibility, so that is nice, but Prince hasn't done anything to convince me it's time to jump off his bandwagon yet. His power is down a bit, but he could go on a power spree at any time. It's closer than you might think and obviously Craig is a much more affordable asset to try to acquire.

Mike Trout or Ryan Braun

I am going with Trout here, and for me this was the easiest choice of them all, which seems strange considering who his opponent is. Trout has been the better player over the last 30 days by a wide margin and he offers more upside in SB's and Avg. which for me offsets Braun's slight power advantage.

Lawr Michaels

Boston Red Sox 1B Adrian Gonzalez
A-Gon gone more often

OK, I need to preface my picks below with the fact that I will always pick a player on a contending team over a player who is not on one. Meaning this year I don't care what say Jason Kubel is hitting: I will take Nick Swisher who has a better chance of getting regular play.

Adrian Gonzalez or Mark Teixeira? Mark Teixeira. He is a Yankee. They are in it. He is a switch hitter, and he is a solid second halfer.

Tim Lincecum or Jon Lester? Again, the Giants are in it so the chances Lincecum gets shut down are less than Lester. Timmy has also been deadly end of season in the past.

Andrew McCutchen or Matt Kemp? Tough one. I would probably yield to Kemp as he does have more pop, and due to his time in the DL, might be a little fresher.

Joe Blanton or Ryan Dempster? Is neither a choice? Though I would go Dempster who historically has been a good WHIP arm. Keep runners off base and percentages are that you will get wins, and a better ratio, improve.

Prince Fielder or Allen Craig? Allen Craig is from Berkeley. Need I go further? OK, he can hit, too, and again, St. Louis is going somewhere. I realize too Craig is brittle, but as long as he is healthy, Matheny will write him in every day.

Mike Trout or Ryan Braun? Broken record. And, Trout is scary good. The Angels have to play him every day. Braun is terrific, but if he misses a few games, it does not matter.

Nick Minnix

On the first basemen, I'm not sure. I initially put A-Gon here, because he's shown plenty of good signs for a sustained turnaround in power, but Teix's wrist issue isn't serious. From here on out, Gonzalez probably won't sustain his post-break pace, so I think I'd take a gamble and opt for the Yanks' guys, who was smashing it before a pitch drilled him and who has that second-half track record Lawr mentioned.

The pitchers? Man, this is tough. Lincecum's results have improved, and minus a five-walk game at Colorado, he's really cut out the control problems. His future NL West showdowns don't scare me as much as Lester's AL East schedule does. The lefty's incredibly sharp breaking ball was reportedly a big reason for success in his last start, so I think there's reason to believe that a turnaround is a good possibility, but historically the curve hasn't been his sharpest pitch, so there's more uncertainty there, and I'd need to see more of it before I wanted to ride him.

I'd probably side with Kemp, too, just because McCutchen's balloon is leaking a little, and like Lawr said, Kemp is undoubtedly fresh and ready for a stretch drive.

Blanton, because he stayed in the NL, moved to a park that should help him prevent home runs (a big problem for him throughout his career) and has a 5.86 K/BB that screams for better fortunes in ERA. The Dodgers also added one of the best outfielders in the game in Shane Victorino. The fears about how Dempster's stuff would play in the AL, and particularly in Texas, have turned into living nightmares, and although the former Cub's fortunes should improve, the degree by which they do doesn't seem likely to make him extremely roto helpful.

Prince, hands down, because I know that he'll be in the lineup every day, and it's not like I'm settling.

Last one is tough. I still can't help but think, as good of a player as Trout is, that a little more correction isn't coming, perhaps in conjunction with the fact that he's hitting dingers more frequently lately. August has been just an OK month for him. He won't sit, though, you know that, and he runs every damn time he has any chance. The Brewers have more incentive to rest Braun for any possible reason, and although he's been durable, he seems to deal with these nagging injuries that get him a game or two off here and there. Then again, he'd also love win a second MVP Award to shove it in the face of his doubters, and if he goes nuts to close this one out, he could win it (although the supposed voters' dilemma of the difference between "most valuable" and "most outstanding" may interfere). I'll let you pick, and I'll take the other one.

Tim Heaney

Pittsburgh Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen
Cutch not so clutch of late

I think A-Gon will simmer down a bit and Teixeira will heat up. Not much science, guess just feel for pace and Tex's history of second-half love. It's quite close, though, and A-Gon closes the gap much tighter in OBP/SLG leagues.

I side with Lincecum over Lester just because of the division and schedule, and (don't ignore this) because Boston is falling apart off the field. Lincecum has looked more assertive on the mound - that was probably the biggest hump he had to get over besides fixing his mechanics. Lester's movement has looked better over the last few months, but NL West > AL East as the unbalanced schedules kick in.

Kemp over McCutchen, because I foresee the Dodger keeping his pace better than McCutchen will the rest of the way. Having Shane Victorino in the lineup will reinvigorate LA, and I trust Kemp to keep up such ridiculous indicators more than I do Cutch.

Just because Dempster moved to the worst possible location post-deadline, I'll go with Blanton, reluctantly. Chavez Ravine, on the other hand, was an ideal landing spot for Blanton.

Fielder is really starting to turn things on, and as much as I love Craig, I gotta go with the track record and the guy hitting behind Miguel Cabrera.

I side with Trout because of his lineup support and grander steals pace. The most shocking answer for me in this one, for sure.

Perry Van Hook

Adrian Gonzalez or Mark Teixeira? - This is category-dependent for most teams ... for overall I would take Gonzalez but a team that needed only HR might take Tex.

Tim Lincecum or Jon Lester? - Lincecum - if nothing else that is the team that will be in the pennant race.

Andrew McCutchen or Matt Kemp? - I will take McCutchen ... who knows when Kemp's next week/month off begins?

Joe Blanton or Ryan Dempster? - Blanton. Dempster in Arlington is putting the fire out with the gas can ... he should have stayed in the NL where the fall off wouldn't have occurred - especially pitching in Dodger Stadium.

Prince Fielder or Allen Craig? - Fielder - more to love in many ways

Mike Trout or Ryan Braun? - I expect Trout to continue to be more valuable.

Rob Leibowitz

Adrian Gonzalez vs. Mark Teixeira - Teixeira. Gonzalez has turned into almost extreme ground ball hitter and his approach at the plate is the most aggressive he's been in any full season of his career. You can't rely on him to hit for power and every HR down those final weeks if you're in the hunt for first place can be huge.

San Francisco Giants SP Tim Lincecum
More big time for Timmy Jim?

Lincecum vs. Lester - Tough choice as the skills seem there for both pitchers, but their heads are not. Lester's K/9 has now dipped each of the past three seasons. I'll go with Lincecum for the strikeouts, win potential, not having to face a DH, and better ballpark.

McCutchen vs. Kemp - I'd feel golden with either. I'll go with Kemp on the basis that he has hit only 6 fewer HRs and 8 fewer steals than McCutchen in approximately 200 fewer plate appearances.

Blanton vs. Dempster - Blanton's nothing special, but at least he has moved to a pitcher's park and doesn't have to face the DH. I'll reluctantly go with the guy who probably throws too many strikes for his own good.

Fielder vs. Craig - Fielder. Track record for power is legitimate, plus given his ability to make consistent contact with authority is a better bet for him to retain a .300 batting average for the rest of the season than Craig, a right-hander who is striking out about 20% of the time. The Cardinal is the more likely to come back to earth.

Trout vs. Braun - I'll go with Trout given the not too significant power reduction, but significant speed benefit. There's also the side though that with the Brewers out of it, should Braun get at all dinged up, he could be shut down while the Angels should be in it to the end.

Lord Zola's Wrap-up

The choice of Teixeira and Gonzalez involves a couple of first baseman, one that historically excels the second half and the other who is quietly scorching since July 1. In his previous 37 games spanning 143 at bats, Gonzalez is hitting a whopping .378 with 7 HR, 37 RBI and 23 runs. Prorated to a full season, that's 30 HR, 160 RBI and 100 runs, basically what is expected save for the bloated average. While I'm not quite ready to say the old Gonzalez is back, I am more optimistic, especially for next season. As for which one I would take, I agree with Perry: Tex for HR, A-Gon for average.

Back in March, a discussion involving Lincecum and Lester could have been about possible Cy Young candidates, now it is which disappointment will come closer to returning to form. Both have expected ERA's better than their real ERA's. And while I realize Lincecum is in the NL, pitches in a favorable park in an easier division, Lester's peripherals are more appealing to me, especially the walk rate so I would go against the tide and take him.

For what it's worth, I tend to ignore some of the anecdotal analysis such as team standing and whether or not the team recently had a clandestine meeting trying to get the manager fired. I am not saying doing this is better, just different strokes for different folks.

I have taken a beating over at ESPN for twice advising to sell high on McCutchen, specifically suggesting his power will regress. For the record, since I first made that declaration on July 18, Cutch has a measly one dinger. Did you know McCutchen has not stolen a base since June 19? In the 29 games Kemp has played since returning, his is hitting .363 with 5 HR, 20 RBI, 23 runs and has even swiped 4 bags. Give me Kemp all day long.

I think my favorite comparison is Blanton versus Dempster. Blanton is a run-of-the-mill innings eater while Dempster was sporting an ERA near 2.00 pre-trade and was one of the Majors nice stories. Before they were traded, no one in fantasy would have dealt Dempster for Blanton. Much like real estate, their present value is all about location, location, location. I think Nick nailed it - Blanton's outstanding K/BB will play better in Dodgerland than Philly.

Since June 1, Craig has 4 DNP's and has pinch-hit 4 times. He's a full-time player, I have no worries with respect to playing time. He hit 5 HR in May, June and July and has 2 thus far in August so another 5 is well within reach. This prorates to 30 in a season, which is what can be reasonably expected from Fielder. I'm a guy who relies on historical performance, but in this instance, I am going to go with Craig as a high-risk, high reward pick especially if you have to make up ground.

I have taken a beating over at ESPN for twice advising to sell high on Trout, specifically suggesting his power will regress. For the record, since I first made that declaration on July 18, Trout has a ... measly ... eight ... dingers. Sigh, win some, lose some. What Trout is doing is historically insane. He's making analysts look like idiots and risk takers look like geniuses. On the other hand, Braun has been the best fantasy player over the past three seasons. I'll take three seasons over three months, even if the months are amongst the best ever.

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About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.

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