The Henderson Alvarez fantasy baseball brodown continues

      April 3, 2012 @ 18:39:46 PDT


To be fair, I lobbed the first analytical grenade in this trench clash.

Game reset: Ray Flowers of Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio and BaseballGuys.com tweeted that the Toronto Blue Jays' Henderson Alvarez had no chance of being a top-75 mixed starting pitcher in 2012.

Toronto Blue Jays SP Henderson Alvarez
Going into battle

I did not concur. He did not concur with my non-concurrence. Dude called me a jerk-face. What the what, bro?

And, lo and behold, we have ourselves an old-fashioned brodown. Not Hamilton-Burr. As Ray said, we go way back - no dirty bullets here. This has been more like when opposing generals used to partake in high tea before battles.

Even in waging war on Alvarez's behalf, I know he's hardly a perfect cause. It's easy to write off hurlers who don't post big K rates as mere waiver-wire fodder - rentals that we have to deal with when dire times arise.

Ray said, in essence, that he'd "need a belt of booze" to "chat up" the idea of tabbing Alvarez as a potential top-75er because of the right-hander's inexperience.

It's one thing to worry about the level of commitment to buy a Brett Lawrie or Matt Moore, but this hardly carries the same weight and significantly more profit potential.

Alvarez's lack of Triple-A experience bothers me, sure, but not a great deal when (a) my investment is for a buck or less in a mixed auction and (b) when he's a No. 7 or 8 mixed SP.

Maybe the Jays having Alvarez skip Triple-A will, oddly enough, work in their favor. Instead of wondering how to quantify and qualify the extent of his ability in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League at the homer haven of Cashman Field, they'll skip the filler and get the most from him in the big show. He did little last year to make them think of doing something different.

Luckily, there are more reasons to believe in Alvarez.

***

You know the phrase "one skill away?" Alvarez fits it to a T. Whether it's a slider or a cutter (depends on who you ask), the breaking offering that's carrying Alvarez's spring could bump his K/9 to the next level as soon as this season.

Of course, his underlying profile doesn't vanish with the new approach, but he lines up to add a sprinkle of growth to the skills he has always displayed, even if he has to sacrifice some control. We're supposed to take an arm learning a new pitch with a grain of salt, but when it's happening to one with an already beyond-his-years foundation, I'm more confident in the conversion.

As for the supporting cast: His park tends to allow plenty of homers, but those who man the Rogers Centre's soft-turfed infield is at least capable; the UZRs of Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson invoke more valor than vomit. Alvarez has the guile to counteract Rogers' homer-happiness.

***

We love to speak in absolutes in this industry, even when there are more shades of grey than we care to admit. SP tiers aren't solidly stratified among the sleeper depths, leaving plenty of justified hypotheticals to be addressed.

In buying late-round surgers, you look for some combination of component skills and stuff. A 22-year-old with strikeout upside that already induces weak contact - with as many as three types of fastballs and two types of changeups - stands out.

It's hard for a K/9 to blossom so soon in a career that hasn't shown much of it, but more often than not, you see power arms that can't limit free passes. If it's a power arm with Alvarez's control that has to add K's, the chase is hardly as much of a fantasy. Alvarez moving closer to his minor league K/9 in the mid-6.00 sector and sustaining the rest of his makeup would easily put him in the top-75 wheelhouse. His hard, downward-moving stuff could ring up more sticks by accident.

***

Player-pool perspective helps. You know who likely landed somewhere close to, if not in, most final top-75 SP ranks in mixed leagues last year? Ryan Vogelsong. Kyle Lohse. Jeff Karstens. Bartolo Colon. Philip Humber. Mostly luck-based, and ... maybe Colon carried as much upside as Alvarez is hinting at.

That pattern makes a smidge of sense, you say, because they have "experience" and, to some degree, "reliability." But why accept that as the only way to break through? It's becoming easier and easier for talented arms, even those like Alvarez with a limited MLB sample size that was fueled by some LOB% help, to make a significant fantasy dent.

(Plus, those names are good fallback plans if you whiff on the upside arm. Why jump the gun for the same-old, same-old?)

***

Remember, the point of this argument was that Alvarez has a chance to break the top 75 among mixed SP, statistically, this season - the possibility of Alvarez reaching such a level. If more experienced, less dominant arms can do it, Alvarez can at least jump and touch that tier with his knuckles, if not break through the ceiling.

I'd take my chances on Alvarez putting things together - if only for this year in advance of future regression - before I settle for praying the likes of Ivan Nova and Josh Collmenter beat the odds again.

Experience matters. But a relative lack of it shouldn't make irrelevant a player with talent that's already flashed it, to a degree, especially if it'll cost you peanuts to test it.

In this back-and-forth, the apprehension displayed by Flowers is, as Bobby Darin would proclaim, artificial.

Ouch. Maybe I am a jerk-face. I blame the tea.

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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