Three Running Back Sleepers to Target

There are just a few weeks left before the start of the 2014 NFL season, and that means plenty of people are looking for fantasy football sleepers to possibly pick up. The running back position is especially important, and some players are making a case for themselves in the preseason. Here is a look at 3 fantasy football sleepers to target.

Jonathan Stewart

Cam Newton might not be 100% to start the year, and the passing game in general for the Carolina Panthers is a bit hit or miss. That means the team will be relying on a pretty strong running game, and Jonathan Stewart seems up for the task. He might not be considered a top running back in the NFL at this point in time, but he could really emerge as a solid contributor in 2014. Staying healthy is always an issue, but he could become a top 30 performer when it is all said and done.

Zac Stacy

There were some people who were concerned at the beginning of the 2014 season that Stacy would lose his starting position to rookie Tre Mason. While the newcomer is a pretty talented player, Stacy is still considered to be the featured running back. That means you’ll get plenty of touches, and he can improve on a stellar end to the 2013 season. What makes him one of the best fantasy football sleepers is that he really excels in short yardage situations, so expect plenty of touchdowns.

Stevan Ridley

In the last preseason game, Ridley reminded people why he is considered to be a bit of a wild card. He fumbled the ball in a preseason matchup for the New England Patriots, but he is hoping to stay out of the doghouse all season long. If he can return to his 2012 production, he is going to be one of the best fantasy football sleepers out there. Anything north of 1200 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground would make him a true standout. Expect him to have quite a bit of success.

This post is courtesy of Fanduel.com.

George Springer – A Question of Playing Time

George Springer introduced as the Houston Astros' 2011 First Round Draft pick (Photo Cred: Bob Levey/Getty Images North America)

George Springer introduced as the Houston Astros’ 2011 First Round Draft pick (Photo Cred: Bob Levey/Getty Images North America)

A rookie is a rookie is a rookie used to be the saying for every rookie in the MLB, but I think that is starting to change. Minor league systems are better at developing players, and amatuer players are more developed when they are drafted/signed as well. George Springer, a 2011 draft pick out of the University of Connecticut, should be a starter in the Astros outfield and  will be a key piece in that lineup for the ‘Stros for years to come.  However, we only care about this year, and the key to Springer’s success this year is based purely on how much playing time George Springer gets. Springer is easily the most talented of the Astros’ outfield options, but he could be limited because he is the young guy. The most ridiculous bias in baseball. Anyway, I look into the projections for Springer and his ability to help your fantasy teams.

Throughout the minor leagues, Springer has had pretty good statistics. He has racked up 62 homers, 81 steals on 97 attempts (83.5 SB%), 51 doubles, and a .299 batting average over the course of 3 minor league seasons. He had his best season last year in AA and AAA with 37 homers and 45 steals. He almost went 40-40 in his 3rd year as a professional! Obviously, he wouldn’t have come that close in the majors, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled off 40-40 later in his career.

To get to his 2014 projection, I have to talk about his underlying statistics that are better at predicting his numbers for fantasy baseball.

In the minors, he has posted a BB% of 12.4, but a horrendous K% of 26.3% including a 30.9 K% when he made his initial jump to AA. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was around .370 throughout 2013. Looking forward to a jump into the major leagues this year, I would expect his BB% to drop and his K% to rise, and they would be around 11% BB% and a 27% K%. His BABIP should also drop to something between .320 and .330.

So the minor leagues do not do a good job keeping track of batted ball percentages so it is hard to make a good projection for this season. Either way, Springer’s minor league batted ball percentages look like he hits line drives on 18% of his contact, ground balls 45% of the time, and 37% of his hits are flyballs. During this past season, he hit 22% of his balls in the air out of the park. My conservative projection for his batted ball statistics in his initial major league year is 50% GB%, 18% LD, and 32% FB%. I also have him hitting 14% of his flyballs out of the park.

What does this all mean? Let’s put this into terms of the typical fantasy baseball owner. I think he will get about 550 PA this year if he makes the MLB team out of spring training. His underlying statistics produce a projected stat line that is poor in some areas, but good in others. It is also very conservative in my opinion. I have him having a .246 batting average, which would definitely hurt your fantasy team. However, this could easily turn out to be much higher because of his speed and he can get more infield singles than the average player (like Mike Trout). I also have him getting on base 186 times and taking off for second base 46 times. With an 80% success rate, he ends up with 37 stolen bases. Added to his 15 projected home runs, these counting stats are going to be valuable to your fantasy team. His stolen bases could end up higher than 40. If his batted ball stats don’t regress in his jump to the MLB, fantasy owners could be looking for a 25 homer and 40 SB season out of this rookie. His runs and RBIs are more dependent on his team, but I still have him around 55 runs scored and 70 RBIs.

Overall, Springer looks to be in for an interesting rookie season. If he gets the playing time and doesn’t struggle in the jump to the major leagues, we could be looking at a not-as-great-Mike Trout-type rookie season with less runs and RBI’s because of the Astros’ poor 2014 roster outlook. However, he could end up in the minors for 2014 and not working out for fantasy owners. I believe this will result in a big discount on draft day, and possibly, putting him on the waiver wire at the end of drafts. I would look for him in the mid-to-late rounds of your draft, especially if word gets out that he will be on the major league roster. If you are willing to take a small risk, I would make sure to have George Springer wherever you can in your 2014 fantasy baseball leagues. The way too early favorite for AL Rookie of the Year.

Greg Danchik

2014 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide

SportsDojo4_Rev2_Rev1You may have noticed that I am not writing as much anymore. I rarely do Daily Dojos and most of my writings come from the Dojo Sparring, a very casual article. Anyway, this is mostly because as school rolled around most of my time has been taken up by my Bucknell work. I have to do it because if I didn’t graduate (or better yet, graduate with a good GPA), I would be written out of my parent’s will. With the time that I have leftover after school obligations, I have been working on rankings for the 2014 MLB season. I realize it is early, but there are 30 teams and around 30 players on each team, or in each team’s farm system, that should be known to get a full grasp of the significant pieces of the 2014 player pool. It takes time to do 900 projections and boil them down into understandable rankings that can be used for the average fantasy baseball league. The rankings will be constantly changing from now until February as more information is released about the players and most importantly, playing time and batting order position. These rankings, along with a lot of other great information, strategies and ideas, will be released sometime in February. While doing these rankings, I will be releasing some early player outlooks for one hitter and pitcher for each team that I think will be the most interesting. I will do a hitter from each team and then a pitcher from each team, leading up to the release of The Sports Dojo’s 2014 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (presented by Greg Danchik).

2013 World Series Preview

SportsDojo4_Rev2_Rev1You may have noticed that I am not writing as much anymore. I rarely do Daily Dojos and most of my writings come from the Dojo Sparring, a very casual article (until I unleash the fury about how the Red Sox have been lucky the whole ALCS). Anyway, this is mostly because as school rolled around most of my time has been taken up by my Bucknell work. I have to do it because if I didn’t graduate (or better yet, graduate with a good GPA), I would be written out of my parent’s will. With the time that I have leftover after school obligations, I have been working on rankings for the 2014 MLB season. I realize it is early, but there are 30 teams and around 30 players on each team, or in each team’s farm system, that should be known to get a full grasp of the significant pieces of the 2014 player pool. It takes time to do 900 projections and boil them down into understandable rankings that can be used for the average fantasy baseball league. The rankings will be constantly changing from now until February as more information is released about the players and most importantly, playing time and batting order position. These rankings, along with a lot of other great information, strategies and ideas, will be released sometime in February. While doing these rankings, I will be releasing some early player outlooks for one hitter and pitcher for each team that I think will be the most interesting. I will do a hitter from each team and then a pitcher from each team, leading up to the release of The Sports Dojo’s 2014 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (presented by Greg Danchik). Now, I will stop writing about how I don’t write and give you a 2013 World Series preview.

World Series Trophy (Photo Cred: Charlie Riedel/AP)

World Series Trophy (Photo Cred: Charlie Riedel/AP)

The World Series might be the most improper way of determining a champion. Teams compete for 162 games, but must win 3 straight series in order to become champion. The consistent teams, the Athletics for example, are not built for this type of champion determination. They are rarely on a hot or cold streak, but are always well above the average. That’s how a team like the 2007 Rockies made it to the World Series. One crazy hot streak at the right time put them through to the World Series. The reason they lost the series is they had to wait for the Red Sox to put away the Indians in 7 games. If you get baseball players off their rhythm, there’s no telling how long it will take to get it back because baseball is a game of timing and consistency. If you fail to have those things, and you will fail to win games.

The playoffs also require a lot of luck. Fortunately for the Red Sox, luck was on their side in the ALCS. No one was “clutch”, as clutch doesn’t truly exist. It’s a word used by the talking heads on stations like ESPN to create heroes and stories that they can rerun all day and night for weeks. The most “clutch” player on the Red Sox would be David Ortiz. Little known fact… Ortiz, over his career, IS BETTER IN THE REGULAR SEASON! Not by much but he is. His regular season and postseason slash lines are .287/.381/.549 and .272/.383/.516 (AVG/OBP/SLG).

Now that my clutch rant is over, just a basic stat that everyone can understand is that two swings (the two grand slams) accounted for 8 out of 19 runs the Red Sox scored in the ALCS. To see more on my rant about how the Red Sox sucked ass, check out the final exchange I send to Joe in last week’s Dojo Sparring (link at the top).

Anyway, that was a little rant that needed to be thrown out there. My point about the introduction is that this year, despite all of those things, the two best teams ended up in the World Series. The Cardinals and Red Sox both had home field advantage en route to a pennant and had the best regular season records of their respective leagues. I’ll give a breakdown of their starting pitching, bullpens, and position players to try a determine the best team and who will win the World Series.

Starting Pitching- Advantage Cardinals

Michael Wacha (Photo Cred: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Michael Wacha (Photo Cred: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Cardinals’ ability to scout and produce pitchers is masterful. Every starter that will pitch for the Cardinals will be a former Cardinals’ pitching prospect. Their two best relievers right now, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, are both Cardinals’ products as well. These guys are not like Orioles pitching prospects, no sir. I mean the Orioles’ pitchers are mostly former O’s prospects… but they ain’t good! The Cardinals staff is filthy. Adam Wainwright, homegrown, is an absolute stud muffin. He is a Cy Young award candidate, and deservingly so. He is top in the league in IP, 3rd in K’s, 3rd in FIP, and 2nd in BB/9. He has been dominate this year and he is back to his pre-Tommy John form. This is not Wainwright’s first rodeo either. He was the closer in the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series championship team. Michael Wacha will be the Game 2 starter for the Cardinals. The NLCS MVP has been ridiculous this year, especially in the postseason, posting 0.43 ERA in 21 innings and racking up 22 strikeouts while he is at it. He has no sign of slowing down, but you never know how the pressure of a World Series will get to a rookie, a rookie from the 2012 MLB Draft no less. Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly are the starters for the Cardinals once the series heads back to St. Louis. Lynn and Kelly both have had their ups and downs this year, but have been good enough to get the Cardinals this far in the postseason. Oh, and even if one of their starters falter, Shelby Miller waits in long relief to save the day. The former top prospect was dominant in stretches of the year, but was a liability at various points. He could easily come in as a replacement when a starter fails to have success early in a game, and continue to let in runs. However, his fastball/curveball combo (two pitches that are considered, by scouts, to be a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale) should allow him to be dominant in a relief role until the Cardinals’ true bullpen can step in (I say true bullpen because Miller was a starter most of the year).

For the Sox pitchers, they have 2 homegrown starters and 2 that were acquired from other teams, but not developed through their farm system. Quite frankly, the Red Sox starting pitchers are fascinating to me. There are 3 Red Sox starters that have struggled in recent years or have failed to play because of injuries. This year, ALL 3 decide to turn it around (except Bucholtz couldn’t resist the DL). The 2013 FIPs of Jon Lester (3.56/4.11), John Lackey (3.86/4.71), and Clay Buchholz (2.78/4.07) are all lower than their career FIPs (If that doesn’t signify how everything has gone right for the Red Sox, it gets crazier with their position players). Jake Peavy is the exception. His FIP is higher than it has been over the course of his career, but that is because all of the injuries he has acquired throughout his career have severely hampered his pitching abilities as compared to his abilities when he was a Padre. Peavy has also been the pitcher that has be least successful in giving the Red Sox a chance to win, costing them a game in the ALCS. I think that for the AL East, the Red Sox’ pitchers have been very good, but are not at the level of the Cardinals starters.

Projected Starting Pitchers by Game

  1. Adam Wainwright vs Jon Lester
  2. Michael Wacha vs John Lacky
  3. Clay Bucholtz vs Lance Lynn/Joe Kelly
  4. Jake Peavy vs Joe Kelly/Lance Lynn

Bullpen- Push

They are both just unbelievable.

Koji Uehara at Tropicana Field (Photo Cred: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Koji Uehara at Tropicana Field (Photo Cred: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

For the Red Sox, the main pieces of the bullpen are older players having career years. Koji Uehara, former Oriole great, has had one of the best seasons a reliever could have. He had a microscopic ERA at 1.09 while racking up 101 strikeouts and giving up 9 walks. He was also able to do this while pitching 7.2 more innings than in any of his previous seasons. Needless to say, Uehara will shut down the Cards in the 9th and give the Sox a victory if they have the lead. However, the key to the Red Sox bullpen has to be Craig Breslow. A pitcher that has given up 3 hits in 7 IP in the first postseason action of his career. He is a lefty pitcher that is better at getting righties out than lefties. Righties have a .205 batting average this season against Breslow, while lefties have a .253 batting average. This could be inflated by the fact that Breslow would have been brought on to face really good lefties and would stay in the game to face poor righties. I don’t know, I don’t have the time to figure that out for sure. Anyway… If this is a true indication of Breslow’s ability to get righties out, I cannot wait to see him pitch against Allen Craig. Craig is coming back from a foot injury (more on this later) and is going to give the Cardinals a much needed righty that can take on left handed pitching. I hope we get to see Craig’s 2013 .340 wOBA go up against Breslow. Either way, Breslow teaming up with Junichi Tazawa to get to the 9th inning will be key for the Red Sox. A bullpen that put up a 3.08 ERA in the second half will have to do even better than that to beat the Cardinals. If they can dominate like they did in the ALCS, the Sox will be in good hands once John Farrell walks out to the mound the first time.

The Cardinals have a different type of make-up. Unlike the Red Sox, the key pieces to the Cardinals’ bullpen are all young guns. The 3 main cogs are Trevor Rosenthal (A.K.A. Adam Wainwright 2.0 – 23), Carlos Martinez (22), and Kevin Siegrist (24). Siegrist is a lefty that brings some heat, but their main lefty specialist is Randy Choate. All 3 of these relievers could easily be stretched out for next year. These three relievers have given up only 3 runs throughout the whole postseason. The best of these relievers is Trevor Rosenthal. Rosenthal has become the Cardinals’ closer after the implosion of Edward Mujica over the course of the season. However, Mike Matheny recognizes that Rosenthal is his best reliever. He will use him in tie games for more than 1 inning if needed. To be 22 and have the trust of a manager to pitch in high leverage situations in the postseason, you have to be great. Rosenthal is great and will be the next great Cardinals’ starter. Cardinals have had 2 postseason games where only 22 (and younger)-year olds pitched. Expect another one of those this series if Wacha keeps up his dominance. Much like John Farrell, Mike Matheny knows that he will be putting the fate of the game into good hands when he comes out to the mound.

Position Players-  Push (Offense – Advantage Red Sox/Defense – Advantage Cardinals)

Boston Red Sox starting lineup in Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS (Photo Cred: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Boston Red Sox starting lineup in Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS (Photo Cred: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

To add onto the narrative of EVERYTHING has gone right for the Red Sox, most of their hitters increased their WAR from 2012 to 2013. These players include Jacoby Ellsbury (1.4 to 5.8),  Dustin Pedroia (4.4 to 5.4), David Ortiz (2.9 to 3.8), Shane Victorino (2.9 to 5.6), Mike Napoli (2.0 to 3.9), and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (1.9 to 3.6).Since these games will have a DH in Games 1,2,6,7, the lineups could be constantly changing, especially for the Red Sox. The Red Sox are built with a full time DH, David Ortiz, so they will have a normal lineup at home, but will have to move things around on the road. Will Napoli catch? Does Napoli go to the bench (plenty of scenarios where this is useful)? The Red Sox had the dominant offensive force that finished top 2 in BA, OBP, and SLG. However, their line up has gone cold in the postseason. To pull from last week’s Dojo Sparring…

Now the Red Sox… they have no excuse except they have been dominated. When I made my “The Red Sox have been horrendous this series” claim, they had a stellar batting average of… .133! That’s super duper if you’re a pitcher! Except, the Red Sox are all top notch hitters, not a lineup of pitchers. Now with Game 4, they were able to raise that to .186. Still below the Mendoza line (.200, for those who did not know). Now get this, the Red Sox have a BB/K of .21 this postseason. In other words, they have 53 strikeouts to 11 walks. That’s not good. They can’t get on base or put the ball in play to even get sacrifices. Those 53 strikeouts in 140 plate appearances give them a K% of 38%! That means about 3.42 batters strike out every time the Tigers pitchers go through the lineup!

Obviously, the Red Sox went cold in the ALCS. I realize this is a small sample size, but if this continues, they will not succeed against the Cardinals. The Cardinals have more depth in their lineup than the Tigers and will score more runs. Their bullpen won’t give the Red Sox a chance to win each game like the Tigers’ bullpen did.

When the series shifts to St. Louis, the Red Sox lineup will take some turns. David Ortiz will play first base; John Farrell already announced this. The question is who plays catcher? I would say Napoli would be the better choice, but will his poor defense screw the Red Sox? I mean Ortiz is no defensive wizard at first base so maybe the Sox have given up on those spots defensively and will try to out slug the Cardinals. I would say this is their best bet, but they need to realize that they will probably give up a run or 2 because of the defensive weaknesses.

The Red Sox also have plenty of speed. They had a SB% (SB/{SB+CS}) of 87% this season. However, they will be running against the active leader in catcher CS%, Yadier Molina (45%). I think that the Red Sox will still run (if they are on base), but not as well as they have been this season. Molina is a difference maker on offense and defense and would have been NL MVP had he not hit the DL this year.

For the Cardinals lineup, they get to go to Boston with an advantage over most NL teams. They have enough bench bats to have a AL-quality DH. Allen Craig comes back for that role, specifically. Recovering from a mid-foot sprain, Craig will DH for the games in Boston. It gives the Cardinals the ability to put all of their best offensive weapons into their lineup. Craig had a slash line of .315/.373/.457, much better than your average player (.252/.316/.394). He also gives the Cardinals a righty in the lineup that they will need to have success against Boston’s best lefties (Lester and Breslow). Craig’s bat gives the Cardinals the DH they need to compete with Boston’s offense. I tweeted at Jonah Keri on Sunday.

 

Obviously, the Sox didn’t listen to my suggestion. I understand this though. It goes back to my beginning points about how baseball is a game of timing and consistency (see… it all comes full circle). Lester is on schedule to pitch Game 1 and Allen Craig’s timing will be off because it will be his first game since September 4th. Keeping Lester’s timing on schedule and taking advantage of Craig’s timing adjustment is the best decision for the Red Sox.

Carlos Beltran is a postseason monster. I know I said there is no such thing as a clutch player. I have no explanation for Beltran’s postseason slash line of .337/.449/.724  except sample size. It is only about 1/3rd the amount of at bats a player will get during a full season. I am sure over the next 400 at bats it would regress towards his career averages, but we will never be able to see that because he is so old. Who knows how he will perform. If you put a gun to my head, I would say he dominates his first (and only) World Series.

The Cardinals don’t lose much going back home because that is how they have functioned all year. Their defense will be much better than the Red Sox in St. Louis even with Matt Adams at first base.

Final Thoughts and Series Prediction

Overall, I think there is way too much information about each of these teams to digest at once. I can’t give everyone’s slashline and stats on these teams. I picked some key stats and threw them out there. It’s too much to go through to get the best possible prediction. However, I think all of this information I have gathered can be boiled to a good prediction. Lets realize that a World Series is a short series to determine a baseball champion. It creates a high amount of variability in the prediction because the season averages won’t determine the champion. Red Sox could win in 4-7 and so could the Cardinals. There is no definite answer.

Also, Vegas has the Red Sox as the favorites to win the World Series. Remember, Vegas bookmakers’ job is not to pick the correct outcome. It is to put a line out that gives equal betting on both sides, so the sportsbook always wins. This is why the Patriots were like 12 point favorites during the Week 2 clash against the Jets. The public LOVES the Patriots, and the bookmakers knew that they could place a huge line and get close to even betting. I suspect a similar thing is happening here. I think the public knows the Red Sox best (Thank You ESPN) and will bet more on the Sox. I would say the smart money is on St. Louis. I think the Red Sox advantage on offense may not exist anymore if their cold streak continues, but the Cardinals’ pitching advantage will shine bright throughout the series.

Basically, this series comes down to this… Can the Boston starters contain the Cardinals’ bats? If not, can the Red Sox bats go back to mid-season form and score runs off the Cardinals’ starters?  I think the answers to both of these questions is no. The Cardinals will be your World Series Champion.

Finally, for the part you are waiting for…

The Way Too Specific Prediction That’s Way Too Likely To Be Wrong

Cardinals take both games in Boston. Their starting pitching advantage will shine and hold the Red Sox scoring down. Series shifts to St. Louis. Cardinals take a 3-0 lead and prepare for a sweep. Lester comes in and pitches Game 4 and takes advantage of no Allen Craig in the lineup. 3-1 Cardinals going into Game 5. To surprise of every viewer in America, Lacky outduels Wainwright in Game 5. The game goes to the 9th at 1-0 because of a Jacoby Ellsbury triple and Pedroia sac fly. Koji comes in. Kolten Wong pinch hits for Pete Kozma in the 8 hole. He draws a walk. Everyone remember Kirk Gibson

Allen Craig pinch hits for Trevor Rosenthal and hits his first 2013 Postseason home run. It wins the Cardinals the series in 5. They celebrate in front of a top 5 baseball fan base in America. Carlos Beltan is your 2013 World Series MVP.

Greg Danchik

Top 5 Fantasy Basketball Team Names

The quickly approaching basketball season and a temporary lull in my midterm schedule have afforded me the perfect opportunity to help the readers prepare for the upcoming fantasy basketball season. I will address the most important element of any team. The team name. Provided are my top five suggestions for team names and accompanying logos. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: I have no basketball knowledge whatsoever. If you are in my league I have already claimed the name Duran Durant. Deal with it.

5. 50 Wades of Grey

fifty shades of wade

4. James and the Giant Peach

jamesandthegiantpeach

3. Bosh Spice

boshspice

2. Admiral General Hardeen

admiralgeneralhardeen

1. Duran Durant

DuranDurant

Daniel “Leonardo da” Dicce has no formal training in Photoshop.