Dear Mr. Fantasy: Taking it to the limit

At first, the Stephen Strasburg innings limit was a healthy concern.

"Only 160 innings? Well, I'll still draft him, but not as my ace."

Then, when all the preseason prognosticators started prognosticating the Nationals for a playoff spot, it became more of a curiosity.

"They say they'll shut him down regardless, but ... come on."

Then, after they got off to a quick start, it was just downright cute.

"Look, they're still saying it. Isn't that precious?"

Now, we're nearing the All-Star break. Now, Strasburg's 90 innings have him just 70 away from his presumed limit, which means you've already gotten most of what you're going to get from him this season.

Now, it's getting a little scary.

With Stephen Strasburg at 90 innings, I'm getting a little nervous about him being shut down at 160-165. I have Rafael Soriano, Chris Perez and Aroldis Chapman at closer, so I have to sit one every week. What do you think of Strasburg and Chapman for Justin Verlander? -- Dave Nash (via e-mail)

SW: Strasburg's ability has never been in question, and yet I included him in my Overvalued and Overrated column this spring and have been calling him a sell-high candidate since the start of the season. Why? The Nationals said he had an innings limit similar to the one Jordan Zimmermann had in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery last year, and like Zimmermann last year, I expected them to follow through with it.

But now that we're at the halfway point and the Nationals still have the best record in the NL, I have to admit I'm slowly drifting over to the "they can't possibly sit him, can they?" camp. My original willingness to go along with whatever the front office said stemmed from my belief that the Nationals weren't quite ready to contend yet -- a belief that didn't waver even when they got off to a hot start. I didn't think the back end of their pitching staff would hold up as well as it has, and I certainly didn't think their lineup would survive with Michael Morse down, Jayson Werth down and Ryan Zimmerman at less than full capacity.

But the former has, and the latter did. And now that Morse is back, Werth is on his way back and Bryce Harper has replaced Zimmerman as the centerpiece, the Nationals are just now hitting their stride. About the only thing standing in the way of their first division title is that darned innings limit.

So ... they can't possibly sit him, can they?

I'm skeptical enough that I'm no longer tempted just to sell Strasburg off to the highest bidder, whatever that bid may be. I'll listen, of course, but if I'm selling him, I'm selling high. If you want him, you better pay like he's the best pitcher in Fantasy.

Fortunately, a deal that brings back Verlander is exactly that. He's about the only pitcher who can compete with Strasburg in value if the innings limit isn't in play. Granted, Chapman is pretty valuable himself, but his recent struggles have brought his value back into perspective and lead me to believe you won't really miss him with alternatives like Soriano and Perez.

You're right to be nervous. The Nationals have more than once stated their thoughts on the matter, and a refusal to listen to them would be pure arrogance. But their circumstances leave enough room for doubt that you can afford to wait around for the right offer.

I've been choosing poorly every day between center fielders Coco Crisp and Cameron Maybin. Any short-term advice on who to roll with? -- @Chris_Rinaldi (via Twitter)

SW: And with that, you've stumbled upon one of my biggest "problems" with daily leagues: They invite change where there ought not be any.

Most Traded Players (as of 6/27)
Player # of trades
1. Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants 860
2. Cliff Lee, SP, Phillies 729
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox 628
4. Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners 545
5. Justin Upton, OF, D-Backs 490
6. Dan Haren, SP, Angels 487
7. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals 482
8. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees 426
9. Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox 410
10. Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers 398

Of course, it's only a problem for the people who have yet to figure out the solution: Start your best players. It's pretty obvious, really, but with all the information available to you in these modern days of batted-ball trends, PitchFX data and Fantasy Baseball 360 (shameless plug for our daily show), paralysis by analysis can quickly take root.

As someone who makes hundreds of predictions every day, on various media, at risk of public ridicule, I can say with complete confidence that nobody can predict what's going to happen on a day-to-day basis. Big-picture stuff, sure. Saying Mark Reynolds will again hit 30-plus home runs this year just because he always has isn't too much of a stretch. But saying the first of them will come tomorrow is nonsense.

Reducing a 162-game sample down to one is basically like picking random numbers. It's not supposed to make sense because it's not an adequate sample. What separates the good players from the bad is the probability of that one game being a good game. Even for the best, it's a pretty low number, but over the course of 162 games, it's enough to create a gap.

If you overreact to one game by declaring it the basis for the next, you're ignoring the laws of probability.

Granted, different players have different probabilities in different circumstances. Dexter Fowler has a much higher probability of success at home, for instance. Same for Michael Saunders on the road. Same for Danny Espinosa against lefties. If you familiarize yourself with those discrepancies and are consistent with them when setting your lineup, you can get away with making day-to-day adjustments. But if you pull the plug on it that one day it doesn't pay off, you're again ignoring the laws of probability.

Of course, the "start your best player" mantra is easier to apply to an Austin Jackson-Denard Span dilemma than a Crisp-Maybin dilemma, but I've seen enough from Crisp over the last few weeks to convince me he's the more reliable player. His early-season slump is easy to dismiss as a consequence of his early-season sinus infection. Maybin's just seems like a case of Maybin being Maybin, especially given his track record prior to last year.

Right now, you should stick with Crisp. If something happens to change their probabilities in the future, which is always possible, it'll be obvious enough that you won't have reason to question it.

Please rank for Rotisserie formats: Alejandro De Aza, Dexter Fowler, Drew Stubbs, B.J. Upton and Yoenis Cespedes. -- @JPBru13 (via Twitter)

SW: A good ole fashioned rank-'em. Yeah, I can work with that.

De Aza is No. 1 for me. Because his power translates more to doubles and triples than home runs, I like him a little more in points leagues than Rotisserie leagues, but his on-base ability has led to plenty of runs scored atop the White Sox lineup. Plus, the steals have come at a nice rate.

I'll go with Fowler second, believe it or not, because I think we've seen enough good from him to this point to trust that he's having a breakout season. With a 20-homer, 15-steal pace and the kind of on-base base percentage that should make him a run-scoring machine for the Rockies, he's exactly the kind of well-rounded contributor that Rotisserie owners hope for. Plus, the inconsistencies that hold him back in Head-to-Head leagues -- caused mostly by his radical home-away and lefty-righty splits -- aren't such a big deal in Rotisserie.

Cespedes has arguably the most potential of this group, but he's on pace for only 341 at-bats this season because of all the time he's missed. And it's not like it was a one-and-done, six-week oblique injury that kept him out. Already this year he's dealt with a sore hand, a bruised knee and a strained hamstring, and we're only halfway home. He seems like one of those players in the Nelson Cruz-Kevin Youkilis mold who you can never trust to stay healthy for more than a week at a time. His power potential is impressive enough that I'm still willing to give him some benefit of the doubt at this stage of his career, but I probably rank him lower than most.

Upton's saving grace is that his track record comes with certain assurances. A low batting average is one of them, but a high number of steals is another. You'd miss those if you lost them, and if power numbers pick up again like they did last year, you wouldn't even mind the low batting average so much.

Not all that much separates Stubbs from Upton, which is why I think the Reds centerfielder is sometimes a little underrated. The biggest difference is that Upton still has some slight glimmer of hope for improvement because of his pedigree. In the end, though, they're both power-speed guys with low batting averages, making them more or less interchangeable in Fantasy.

When is too early to "punt" categories in a 10-team 5x5 Rotisserie league? I have recently bolstered my pitching by trading for Stephen Strasburg and picking up Justin Masterson and Daniel Hudson (now injured) off the waiver wire. My team is in fourth place (eight points behind the leader), but I'm dead last in strikeouts, more than 100 behind the team with the ninth-most. Would it be best to move toward lower ERA (currently fourth) and WHIP (running second) pitchers like Ryan Vogelsong or Kyle Lohse, or do you feel that I may still have a shot at digging out of the strikeout basement? -- Lucas Ubersox (via Facebook)

SW: Here's the dirty little secret about starting pitchers in Rotisserie leagues: The high-strikeout guys tend to help in every category.

They're the bat-missers, after all. If they're missing more bats, they're allowing fewer hits, and if they're allowing fewer hits, they're allowing fewer runs. It's so simple that it's almost too simple for some who set out to find as many exceptions as possible in an effort to talk themselves out of it. The exceptions are there, no doubt, but they're few enough and far enough between that you're better off just accepting the correlation as a handy rule of thumb and moving on with your life.

Besides, those exceptions tend to rule themselves out anyway. High-strikeout pitchers are already predisposed to high pitch counts, so if they're giving up a bunch of hits or walks on top of it, they won't make it through six innings. If they don't get the innings, they won't get the strikeouts, and if they deplete the bullpen start after start, their managers won't keep going back to them.

I think what's throwing you, Lucas, is that certain stats have yet to "normalize." We're nearing the halfway point in the season, yeah, but for starting pitchers especially, the number of appearances is still low enough that a bad apple or two can significantly skew the data.

Matt Moore has a 4.13 ERA and 1.38 WHIP on the season, but does that make him a bad source of ERA and WHIP? Not if, like many Fantasy owners, you buy into the idea that he's finally rounding into form. He has a 3.02 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over his last seven starts. If he keeps it up, as his pedigree suggests he can, he'll do more for you than Kyle Lohse can.

Should you punt strikeouts? A hundred is a lot to make up, and to extend yourself as much as you'd need to for just one point seems kind of silly. But I'm not sure it's the kind of category you can punt without sacrificing assurances in other areas. Just like a bad start over the first three months can skew the ERA and WHIP for a high-strikeout pitcher, a bad start over the final three months can skew the ERA and WHIP for your Fantasy team. And for a historically hittable pitcher like Lohse, it's all the more possible.

The irony of this discussion is that Hudson (when he's healthy) and Masterson aren't really high-strikeout pitchers. In fact, Vogelsong had a better rate than both last year. Still, Hudson and Masterson have the most upside of the bunch, which means, with good health, they'd have a reasonable chance of delivering the better numbers going forward. Trading for Vogelsong or Lohse would cost you more than just Hudson or Masterson as their values currently stand, and it might ultimately be a step down.

If you're really ready to sell out for ERA and WHIP, your best bet would be to give Masterson (and Hudson, if he turns out OK) a couple more weeks to reclaim his value and then sell him for help in other, more predictable areas, such as saves, home runs or stolen bases. Then, fill in the gaps with high-end middle relievers, which should be in abundance on the waiver wire. It's a more reliable way to pad those two categories and a more efficient use of the parts that no longer fit.

You'll want to keep a few starting pitchers around for wins, of course, but only the ones you can trust implicitly.

I just acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Upton for Tommy Hanson, Jay Bruce and B.J. Upton. Now I think I clearly won the deal, and it's not even close. Others believe it's fairly even. There's no way both Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Upton can stay busts in second half, right? -- Brendon Sirup (via e-mail)

SW: You know, it's not such a terrible thing for your opponents to classify this deal as fair and even. That's kind of what you hope for, in fact. I understand wanting some recognition for your accomplishment -- not everybody can swing a big deal -- but kudos often come in the form of trade objections. It's not right, but it's the reality of many leagues.

I happen to agree with you. Hanson, Bruce and B.J. Upton, while all solid players, don't have the upside of Gonzalez or Justin Upton, and in mixed leagues, quality almost always trumps quantity. Of course, Hanson, Bruce and B.J. Upton haven't underachieved to the extent that Gonzalez and Justin Upton have this year, which is what makes this trade viable in the first place.

Because I'm confident Gonzalez and Upton will both come around -- and nothing in their batted-ball profiles says they won't -- I think this trade will ultimately work in your favor. Considering his early-season struggles were largely the result of a thumb injury, Upton in particular seems certain to right the ship. He's batting .320 with four homers and an .848 OPS over his last 32 games.

I have Freddie Freeman, Michael Morse and Eric Hosmer. I keep holding on to them and letting guys like Will Middlebrooks and Ike Davis pass me by. Are they better than Gordon Beckham, Everth Cabrera, Mark Reynolds and Coco Crisp moving forward? I have room to move up in stolen bases. -- Mike Dohan (via e-mail)

SW: In a vacuum, yeah, Freeman, Morse and Hosmer (though not necessarily in that order) are the most valuable of that group. In fact, I'd say they're more valuable than Middlebrooks and Davis, so I'm not sure what's with all the lamentations.

I understand all three are coming off a rough couple weeks, but Freeman is just getting over a sequence of health issues -- first to his eye and then to his thumb -- that have plagued him since early May, Morse is still barely back from a back issue that sidelined him for the first two months, and Hosmer, well, how many times have we gone over his issues? His plate discipline has improved markedly from his rookie season, and .219 BABIP is unsustainably low. As probably the highest-upside player of this group, he's due for a big turnaround, and considering he's batting .286 over his last 30 games, I like the direction he's headed overall.

The one wrinkle to your situation is your need for stolen bases. Hosmer will chip in a few -- he has seven already -- but that's not exactly this trio's specialty. If you made a move here, it would be strictly based on filling that need, which means Beckham and Reynolds are out of the discussion. They have their uses, but steals isn't one of them. And compared to Freeman, Morse and Hosmer, they're relatively low-end otherwise.

Between Cabrera and Crisp, Crisp is probably the safer source of steals. He led the AL last year, after all, and has been successful in 38 of his last 39 opportunities. Plus, the jury is still out on whether or not Cabrera can hold up against major-league pitching. So far, so good, but that's what we all thought heading into 2010. Cabrera might have slightly more Fantasy value because of the position he plays, but considering you didn't take the time to bemoan your starting shortstop, I'm guessing that's not a consideration for you.

In the end, I just can't justify the drop in value from the three you have to the two you could have. There has to be some other maneuver you could make to get this to work. Maybe you can't get much for Freeman, Morse or Hosmer in a trade right now, but you have to have some other piece who's currently performing well and would become expendable once Freeman, Morse and Hosmer turn it around.

Because I'm confident Freeman, Morse and Hosmer -- particularly Morse and Hosmer -- will turn it around, I'd be shopping that guy first.

When do you think we'll see Brad Peacock, and what do you think we can expect from him? -- Josh Bob (via e-mail)

SW: I don't want to say we won't see Peacock this year, but I'm not sure it's happening without the complete decimation of the Oakland pitching staff.

How many times have the Athletics passed him over already? Dallas Braden, Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy have all gone down, but while rookies Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker -- the two players most often mentioned with Peacock in the preseason -- were quick choices to fill in, Peacock has stagnated.

Actually, he's gotten worse. In 15 starts at Triple-A Sacramento, he has a 5.99 ERA and 1.63 WHIP. He hasn't pitched more than four innings in any of his last five starts and has an 8.44 ERA over his last nine.

So what happened to him? The better question might be what happened to him last year, when he went 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 25 appearances, including 23 starts, between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He was a virtual unknown among minor-leaguers before then, despite having been around since 2007.

Minor-league numbers are tricky. Results aren't as important as development, for one thing. Between that, the questionable competition and the sometimes wacky park factors, trying to assess a player's abilities just by looking at his stat line is a flawed approach, to say the least. Usually, when a player dominates in the minors but remains fairly low on the prospect lists, it's for good reason. Though that didn't happen for Peacock, whose hard fastball gave him his share of believers coming into the season, I still can't help but think his top prospect standing was mostly a result of those crazy numbers.

And if that's the case, his move to more of a hitter's league may have exposed him as a pretender. I'm weighing my alternatives in long-term keeper leagues just in case.

Maybe it's something simpler than that. Minor-league numbers can be just as deceiving the other way, after all. Maybe he's pitching with an injury. Maybe his confidence is down. Maybe he has a slight mechanical flaw that the coaching staff has yet to detect. But at this point in the season, how much time does he have to convince the front office he's back on track?

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Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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