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Small Ball: Fantasy Baseball Game Theory (Week 17)

MLB Fantasy

In a world where nothing is what it seems, there’s no one less surprised than me.

Morgan Wallen, anyone? I just quoted one of his songs. Well, almost. I changed one word. The song is “More Surprised Than Me.”


I was listening to it on one of my afternoon walks around Lake Takanassee in beautiful Long Branch, N.J., when Bryce Elder took the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays back on July 9. Elder has long been a pitcher I’ve felt was overrated, so I couldn’t contain my excitement when he was pounded for seven runs in 3.1 innings (six hits, four walks and zero strikeouts) that afternoon. He followed that up with another disastrous outing this past Tuesday against the Diamondbacks. And, as you might have guessed, there was no one less surprised than me.

And boy, did our Fantasy Baseball Discord hear about it.

I called Elder the biggest sell-high in fantasy sports history in the discord earlier this season. Though it was part hyperbole, it’s an important skill to separate what feels good in the moment (his low 2.00 ERA) versus what’s more likely to happen in the future (an expected ERA over 4.00). So congrats to anyone who followed my trade negotiations advice in the Week 15 version of Game Theory. While I won’t be talking about trades this week, I’d like to preview the second half of the season so you can close out your leagues with a championship.

I’ll look at players who will surprise us in August and September. I’ll also highlight some risers and fallers based on what could happen by the August 1 MLB trade deadline. I’ll keep the Morgan Wallen theme going so we can spice things up a bit. Like I did with Bryce Elder, I’ll use popular Wallen lyrics to describe how I feel about specific players moving forward. 

Game Theory Week 15 in Review

Nothing to report last week. So let’s go back and reexamine some of my past advice. First, the bad.

Somebody’s Problem

“(He’s) somebody’s problem, and somebody’s problem’s about to be mine.”

One of the main casualties from my Week 13 article on droppable players was instructing people to “absolutely hold” Luis Severino. Since then, he’s mostly hemorrhaged runs to various opponents. Something’s just not right with Severino this year, and holding him was likely a mistake for those who heeded my advice.

Up, Down

“(The batters in the box) going up, down, up down, up down.”

Looks like our Editor in Chief Daniel Kelley is going to win our friendly battle on Justin Steele.

Daniel famously pegged Steele as his top-250 ADP pitcher to draft this season. Although I didn’t include that in our FTN MLB Preview, I drafted Steele in almost all my leagues. However, I included him as a sell-high candidate in the Week 9 edition of Game Theory – to Daniel’s chagrin. Steele is still lining them up and knocking them down. Perhaps he’ll falter as the season winds down, but it’s another L for me. His last outing was rough, but it was aided by a grotesque decision by the official scorer that put Steele on the hook for 6 ER instead of 1 ER.

Now, to the good. With the second half underway, it’s a great time to revisit my preseason articles on Players to Target and Players to Fade in Head-to-Head Points Leagues.

If I Ever Get You Back

“If I ever get you back, I ain’t gon’ ever have to get you back again.”

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Before the season, I argued that Ketel Marte, Wander Franco and J.D. Martinez were being severely undervalued in drafts. I took my own advice and am heavily exposed to all three. Sometimes, putting your trust in an old flame works out. It certainly has for guys like Marte and Martinez coming off “meh” seasons.

Chasing You

“Chasing you like a shot of whiskey, burning going down, burning going down.”

I also told anyone who’d listen to avoid Brandon Lowe and Matt Chapman in points league drafts. While Chapman made me look silly for about a month, he’s back to his old ways. Who would have thought the “good” Lowe on the Rays would be Josh Lowe, and the “bad” Lowe would be Brandon Lowe? I had a feeling chasing either of these players would be ill-advised.

Now, let move on to my second-half predictions.

Game Theory Week 17: Wasted on You

“It’s all my fault, yeah, I dropped the ball … Thinking ‘bout all I’ve wasted on you.”

Undoubtedly, there are a handful of players who let you down in the first half of the MLB season. But we see it every year – some players just figure it out in the second half. For others, it’s the opposite (cough, cough, Elder).

Let’s first discuss some players I believe will have a significant impact on your fantasy teams in the second half. I have to give a hat tip to my colleague Michael Govier who got this on the site before I could, so I’m including his Daulton Varsho excerpt here:

Daulton Varsho, Toronto Blue Jays

“For anybody with time to spare, go check out Daulton Varsho’s stat line for the season. For those who do this, the discovery will be crystal clear. Varsho’s 2023 is not much different from his 2022. From Aug. 23 to the close of the 2022 season, Varsho cranked 11 round trippers, stole eight bags in nine tries and had a 122 wRC+ over that final chapter of the 2022 season. I remind all fantasy baseball managers of this point because from July 21 to the end of the 2021 season, Varsho ripped 10 homers, scored and drove in 30 runs each while finishing that stretch of 2021 with a 128 wRC+. I am going to confidently state that Varsho’s still got another hot run in him before this season is through. Now is the time to strike.”

My takeaway: Varsho has been a disappointment, but at the break, Steamer had him projected for 11 more home runs, 35 RBIs and eight stolen bases ROS. That would put him at 23 HR/19 SB for the year. That’s nearly a 20/20 season from a player still eligible at catcher who plays almost every day.

C.J. Cron, Colorado Rockies

C.J. Cron got injured back on May 14 and didn’t return to the Colorado lineup until June 27. From that point through the break, he hit .306 with just one home run and three RBIs in 10 starts. It should be noted that half those games were on the road. We haven’t seen the last of Cron, and I believe people have somewhat forgot about him because of the injury. He’s someone who can give you a power/RBIs boost down the stretch – like he did against the Yanks last weekend with a go-ahead grand slam. Since I included him in my rough draft of this article, he’s done nothing but mash. I promise, I wrote this on a Monday…

Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees

Along the same lines, Giancarlo Stanton’s season has been quite choppy, inconsistent and downright disappointing. A two-homer game on July 8 against the Cubs was a bright spot before the break. More importantly, it showed Stanton can still hit the ball in the air, like, really hard – and far. He’s another source of power who may have been left for dead.

Nick Pivetta, Boston Red Sox

“I think I’m gonna stay right here tonight, ‘Cause that could be dangerous.”

You might be flashing back to the section about Luis Severino (he’s somebody else’s problem). While Nick Pivetta and “problem” typically end up in the same sentence, the right-hander has been a different guy since moving to the pen. My hope is they continue to use him in long-relief appearances – especially following an opener – like he did back on July 7 when he pitched five innings and allowed two earned runs on eight strikeouts in a victory over Oakland. His next bulk appearance against the A’s was even better (13 strikeouts!) He’s exerting more effort in these shorter appearances but also maximizing his chances for strikeouts and wins. Relief-Pivetta might be a thing. But I won’t blame you if you click the red X next to his name to avoid the temptation. We’ve been burned before. This time, I think Nick’s for real.

Trade Deadline Bold Prediction

This is mostly guessing, but sometimes you can get ahead of your competition by visualizing how the MLB trade deadline will play out for certain teams, positions or players. The most impactful way to do this is to guess right on a closer being moved – and therefore, a set-up man who takes over the closer role on his respective team. Nabbing that set-up man in FAAB the week before the deadline could give you a cheap source of reliable saves the rest of the way.

Conversely, adding a former top closer who the industry has soured on could pay dividends. Here’s my major trade deadline bold prediction.

Helsley is a top-5 closer ROS

“Puttin’ in that overtime and comin’ up with nothing,’ sure as hell ain’t for lack of tryin’. There’s no use wastin’ time in fightin’ for somethin’ when you see that white flag a flyin’.”

Oliver Marmol jerked us around early in the season with Ryan Helsley’s usage – he refused to pitch him back-to-back days, then twisted the knife by allowing the inconsistent Jordan Hicks to pitch three days in a row following Helsley’s injury.

Hicks has all but rendered Giovanny Gallegos useless as well (who was stealing opportunities from Helsley every other day). It seems Marmol was dead-set on not letting Helsley be “the guy.” His sole purpose was holding down his stud closer, not winning ball games. Hence, the team’s 43-53 record.

I have this weird feeling Helsley is going to get traded by the deadline. We know the Cardinals want to sell. Even Nolan Arenado knows he’s not safe. Most people believe Hicks will be the one sent packing. And they might be right. After all, this wouldn’t be a “bold” prediction if I didn’t go against the grain.

Teams should be lining up for Helsley’s services – a guy who throws 102 with a devastating arsenal of offspeed stuff. But he’s hurt, you might say. I know he’s still technically “hurt,” but he’s approaching the timeframe we expected him to return to action. In fact, he threw a bullpen Wednesday. It was the first update we got on the right-hander since ‘Nam.

We’ve seen it a million times. A frustrated player who doesn’t get along with the coach/manager/organization gets “hurt” but quickly returns to form once he’s jettisoned to another team. Cue The Undertaker meme. I believe that’s what happens with Helsley this year. I’m not losing faith in the guy. It’s not quite “Quittin’ Time.”

As always, hit me up on Twitter @Adam15Young and reach out in Discord with more questions. 

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