Twisting Oliver: The best of the rest

With all teams having played fewer than a week’s worth of games, it’s obviously way too early to be making drastic decisions. Hopefully, you’re taking my THT Fantasy colleague’s advice and not changing course just yet.

Of course, every team can use tweaking, and if there’s real value sitting on your waiver wire or free-agent list, you probably don’t have much to lose by acting early.

With that in mind, here are a few of the players who are available in at least 50 percent of both ESPN and Yahoo leagues that Oliver projects as being useful fantasy contributors.

Some notes, once again, about the the two types of rankings I’ll be using when discussing pitchers.

One of them I used a version of last week when discussing undervalued pitchers. In that one, I rank all the players in Oliver’s “Rest of Year Forecast” in each of the 5×5 rotisserie categories. I then add those up and take the average. The players are then ordered by that average. Now that Oliver includes Wins and Saves, I’ll use all five categories to get an average. I’ll refer to these as 5×5.

The other ranking system you may already be familiar with, as it was brought to my attention in the comments of my undervalued batters column from two weeks ago. It was apparently the winner of a Tom Tango contest and it goes like this: 2*W + SV + K/5 + IP – (H + BB + ER)/2, for pitchers. These will be called Tango.

The point, once again, is that these rankings are not perfect but do serve as a decent window into finding valuable players whose stats in one category or another may not jump out at you but who have strong value across the board. I include two different rankings for precisely this reason.

For batters, I dispensed with the rankings since the fact of the matter is most of the players with legitimate across-the-board value have been scooped up in most leagues. Aside from a few stragglers, the batters I discuss here have value because they play a relatively shallow fantasy position or have obvious value in specific categories.


Colby Lewis (6, 5×5; 8, Tango)
If you’ve read any of my previous columns, you know that Oliver is pretty optimistic about Lewis’ return to the majors. I don’t plan on making him a staple of this column, but since he’s available in at least 97 percent of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, he bears mentioning again. Look, the price is never going to be better. You can probably pick him up at the cost of cutting the last player on your bench. I’m not suggesting that he will, in fact, be a top-10 pitcher this year, but if he comes anywhere near his projected line of 3.10 ERA (sixth), 165 Ks (33rd) and 1.09 WHIP (fifth), you’ll look like your league’s oracle. He makes his debut tonight against punchless Seattle; don’t wait to see how he does and risk someone picking him up on a lark. UPDATE: Lewis tossed seven innings, allowed one run, gave up five hits, walked four and struck out four to pick up the win.

Shaun Marcum (43, 5×5; 56, Tango)
In his first major league game since 2008, the Blue Jays starter allowed three baserunners, struck out six and settled for a no-decision in seven innings. While not exactly predicting a Cy Young, Oliver seems to think that start is reasonably indicative of what we can expect of Marcum. There’s no one category in his projection that draws your attention, but he’s pretty steady across the board. I’m a little skeptical that he’ll pitch the 180 IP we’re projecting, but if he can stay healthy Oliver suggests a line of 4.08 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 12 wins and 125 Ks, which certainly makes him intriguing in weeks that he’ll get two starts or face weak lineups. He’s still available in at least 65 percent of Yahoo and ESPN leagues.

Ian Kennedy (62, 5×5; 67, Tango)
This is another player I pumped up in my undervalued pitchers column. He’s still available in well over 90 percent of leagues, so I’m guessing not too many people took my advice. The biggest concern I’d have is, again, that projected IP of 160. That would be a career high. His previous best was the 159.1 IP in 2007, when he shot through three levels of the minors before finishing the season with three starts in Yankees pinstripes. Since then, his stock has fallen dramatically, and he was traded to the D’backs as part of the Curtis Granderson three-way trade. Oliver likes him for 10 wins, a 3.76 ERA (67th), 1.31 WHIP and 155 Ks. Those numbers won’t blow you away, but they’re solid enough for the back end of your fantasy rotation. By the way, he looked pretty good in his debut Wednesday. He essentially threw one bad pitch that was hit for a three-run homer. He recovered, striking out eight and finishing five innings without giving up another run to salvage a no-decision.

Joel Pineiro (66, 5×5; 65, Tango)
No one gets excited about the Angels’ newest starter, and I can’t blame them. His value is really derived from an ability to limit walks (projected 1.15 BB/99) and eat innings (200 IP). His projected 4.12 ERA and 1.30 WHIP are admittedly pedestrian. Those are useful attributes, though, when scouting players to fill out your rotation. If he hits those numbers, I’d be willing to bet he outperforms the 10 wins Oliver projects. He’s available in a little more than half of leagues.


Russell Branyan
The fact that he’s injured is probably adding to the Indians first baseman’s availability, but I’m a little surprised that a guy who’s coming off 31-homer campaign is still available in almost 90 percent of Yahoo and ESPN leagues. Obviously, his game has flaws, and Oliver projects a whopping 172 Ks, but it also projects 36 homers (fifth-most in baseball) and 99 RBIs (18th). The key for him is whether he’ll get the nearly 600 plate appearances we project. Again, though, we’re talking about making room on your roster by dropping whoever your worst player is. I sincerely doubt any projection system has that player finishing in the top five in homers.

Matt LaPorta
Truth be told, I found far fewer batters who I felt were legitimately worth mentioning here and had to reach, I must admit. The Indians first baseman, who is probably moving back to the outfield once Branyan is healthy, is here as much for his potential as for the line he actually projects. Oliver suggest a line of 25 HRs, 88 RBIs and 79 runs to go along with a .250 batting average. I don’t know if those numbers alone warrant inclusion on your roster, but he’s going to get playing time for the rebuilding team and he slugged .530 in Triple-A last year. He’s available in about 85 percent of leagues.

Casey Blake
I realize I need to focus on some players who are in the more shallow positions, and according to Oliver the Dodgers third baseman is probably the best out there who fits that criteria and is actually available. Using those rankings, using Tom Tango’s system (HR + SB + (H – .27*AB) + R/3 + RBI/3) he’s rated as the 13th-best third base option and is available in more than 90 percent of ESPN leagues but only about 40 percent of Yahoo leagues. He projects a line of 20 homers, 79 RBIs and a .270 average. Nothing to get excited about but enough to keep you treading water until you find a better solution.

Kevin Kouzmanoff
Similar to Blake, Kouzmanoff is more place holder than candidate for permanent starter. Still, there’s a good chance he’ll end up hitting in the middle of the A’s lineup all season, and the 86 RBIs Oliver projects are the sixth-most among third basemen. Oliver also projects 22 homers, which ranks him ninth at his position. Tango’s system rates him one spot behind Blake. He’s still available in at least 60 percent of leagues.

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Kelly Shoppach
I guess you could call him the poor man’s Mike Napoli. Like Napoli, the Rays catcher is stuck in a platoon with someone with fewer fantasy-helpful numbers. Our projections seem to be taking that into account, though, and see just 415 plate appearances. In that limited time, Oliver projects 19 homers—more than all but three catchers—and 61 RBIs. If he ever wins the starting job outright, watch out. His .477 projected SLG is 53rd in all of baseball. He’s available in more than 95 percent of leagues.

Luis Valbuena
Kelly Johnson has the name recognition, and after his two-homer game on Wednesday, he’s been pretty widely picked up. Well, the Indians middle infielder actually projects to put up better numbers and is available in about 98 percent of leagues. He also has the added bonus of being eligible at both second base and shortstop. His 14 projected homers are ninth among second basemen and his 68 RBIs are 10th. That .245 batting average is pretty unsightly, but beggars can’t be choosers, right?

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Blair Wendell
Blair Wendell
For anyone looking to refine their valuation system, this is more a commentary on the Tango System and it’s method for evaluating players. (HR + SB + (H – .27*AB) + R/3 + RBI/3) I use a similar system for my league, take the total points available, and allocate salary based upon the percentage of points awarded. (Player Points / Total Points)* Total Salary The modification I made to my calculation, was the removal of “replacement level” statistics.  My league is very Deep, a 13 team NL-ONLY, 30 man roster league (with all 30 positions being paid salary).  I assumed… Read more »
rick privette
rick privette

FWIW, Marcum got a ND not a W

Jeremiah Oshan
Jeremiah Oshan

Thanks. Information is fixed, and I updated the story to reflect Lewis’ debut.