As most of you know, I strongly support rolling with at least one middle reliever on your team - for many reasons.  For starters, they are usually available in most leagues.  Secondly, they will ABSOLUTELY contribute to multiple categories over the course of the season.  In my 10 team ROTO auction league, I have actually employed 3, count 'em THREE middle relievers: Kenley Jensen, Johnny Venters, and Aroldis Chapman.
Jensen (62%owned) LAD - Has had a little trouble with the long ball, but the Dodgers are winning games, and that means Jensen is protecting leads.  He has pitched 10 innings, gathering two wins, a 3.60 ERA, a 0.80 WHIP and 17 K's.
Venters (52%) ATL - This guy is probably the most underrated player in fantasy sports.  He continues to pile onto a huge year from a season ago with 5.2 IP, 9K's, 0.00 ERA.  He has allowed baserunners, but as long as they don't score there should be no problems with him.
Chapman (72% CIN - By far one of the hottest pick-up's in the game right now.  The guy has been flat out dominant thus far.  He has pitched 9 innings of scoreless ball, racking up a whopping 17 K's, and a 0.33 WHIP.  That's with NO WALKS!!

Between the three, we can see 24.2 IP, 43 K's, 5 wins, 0.72 ERA, and a 0.85 WHIP.  If you package the three together, you are most certainly looking at the best pitcher in baseball.  Hands down.  Go out and take a long hard look at the available middle relievers in the game right now.  Here are a few who may be available in your league:

Henry Rodriguez (45%) - He is closing for Washington right now but could carry lots of value even from the set up role.  7.1 IP 0 runs, 9 K's.

Tom Wilhemsen (6%) - 10 IP, 12 K's, 1 W for the lowly Mariners.  He should be owned in at least a quarter of leagues.

David Robertson (36%) NYY - This guy should be owned in more leagues for sure.  Great team, great situation, lots of K's.  8 IP, 11 K's, 0 ERA.
 
 
After becoming the youngest Blue Jays starter to record a win since 1979, the fantasy world quietly took notice.  Skipping AAA at age 21, the young Venezuelan pitcher was overshadowed by the likes of several more expensive fantasy youngsters:  Strasburg, Hellickson, and Moore to name a few.  But being in the AL East should be no problem for Alvarez, as he has maintained a sub 1.8 HR/9 ratio, a 53% GB rate, and a 66% strike rate - all above average.  He is not a power pitcher, but more or a finesse guy.  To quote Baseball Prospectus 2012 "Alvarez sits in the mid-90s with his fastball (which has electric late movement), geneRates plenty of ground balls, and has an advanced changeup."  He has a 42:9 K:BB ratio over 11 starts in the Majors.  He also sports a 3.35 ERA and a 1.10 whip through those games, and should continue to grow this year.  Remember the kid is only 21, and the prospectus says "He’ll be slotted into the back end of the rotation next year, but his ceiling is considerably higher than that."  Is this a Justin Upton on the mound in the making?  Could be, but for this season look for more along the lines of 10-12 W, a sub 3.75 ERA, a sub 1.20 WHIP and 135 K.  After tonights start against the Red Sox, allowing just a solo bomb to Pedroia, I am convinced; this young stud reeks of keeper potential and value.  Let Hendo's 42/9 K/BB over 69.3 career innings speak.  Pick him up now.


 
 
There were lots of moves this offseason.  Capped by Pujols signing on with the Angels, and Prince Fielder joining the Tigers.  V-Mart and Ryan Madson are out for the season, and Andrew Bailey is already out until July with an elbow injury.  We're just 5 minutes away from the start of the '12 baseball season, and here are my predictions.

AL EAST
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Toronto Blue Jays
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Baltimore Orioles

I see the Jays beating out the Rays, mostly in part to some guys falling short/getting injured in Tampa.  I love the young pitching staff the Rays have, but watch out for the Jays, led by Joey Bats and some nice young pitchers.  I think the Jays could push for the wild card.

AL CENTRAL
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Minnesota Twins
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Cleveland Indians

I just don't think Ubaldo Jiminez is the answer in Cleveland.  The White Sox are in a rebuilding year, with some old pieces kicking around.  Dunn and Rios do just enough to keep them out of the cellar.  The Tigers run away with this division and could be the best team in baseball.

AL WEST
1. LA Angels
2. Texas Rangers
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Oakland A's

The A's are a triple A team this year.  They have some nice young pieces, but when Coco Crisp is leading the attack, they have no chance.  The Angels and Rangers both make the playoffs, just beating out the Rays.  Seattle could see a spark from a better year from Ichiro, Ackley getting better and Felix leading the way.

Wild Card
Red Sox over Rangers

Red Sox over Tigers
Angels over Yankees

Angels over Red Sox


NL EAST
1. Miami Marlins
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. Atlanta Braves
4. Washington Nationals
5. NY Mets

If Josh Johnson can stay healthy, the new-look Marlins will push for the East title.  The Phillies hang tight and get the wild card in part to some great pitching.  I don't have the Braves as high as most people, but I am not a fan of this team this year.  The Nationals get better, but not much, and the Mets are in the basement due to some injuries and no pitching.

NL CENTRAL
1. Cincinnati Reds
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Houston Astros

The Cardinals should make the wild card, but I think this is the year for the Reds.  Plus this division lost Pujols.  I don't think they can do it this year.  The Reds have some decent pitching and a heck of an offense.  The Brewers are hurt by the spotlight of the Braun scandal and the loss of Prince.  The Astros and Pirates are a joke.

NL WEST
1. San Francisco Giants
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
3. Colorado Rockies
4. LA Dodgers
5. SD Padres

I could possibly see 3 teams make it in from this division.  Depending on how the Cardinals handle the loss of Big Albert.  The Diamondbacks are as good as they are young.  This is a fun team to watch.  I like the Rockies led by Tulo and Cargo.  Will it be enough?  The Dodgers have Kershaw, but not much else outside of a nice bullpen.

Wild Card
Phillies over Diamondbacks

Giants over Phillies
Reds over Marlins

Reds over Giants

Angels over Reds

I think the Angels have what is takes this year.  They have three Aces (Haren, Weaver, Wilson), they have the best hitter in baseball, and 4 all star caliber outfielders.  I love the Reds this year, I think the addition of Latos, with Cueto stepping up as a dominant ace should help.  That offense can be scary if Heisey continues to develop.  Phillips is the proVotto is a beast.  All in all I'd like to say my beloved Red Sox make it, but I just don't see it happening this year.  I think Valentine is the perfect guy for this position. 

 
 
Last season, I tried a new strategy in my 10 team auction-keeper-roto league.  I picked up a couple of solid middle relievers, namely Sean Marshall and David Robertson.  I went on to win the league, thanks to a strategy designed to maximize pitching totals in an innings-max league.  Between Marshall and Robertson I accumulated 142.3 IP, 10-6, 6 SV, 179K, 1.89 ERA, and a 1.11 WHIP.  They allowed 27 runs between them ALL SEASON!  That line right there would make for a first or second round starter right there.  Here is a look at some of the better middle relievers that might be available in your league (less than 10% owned in Y! leagues) :

1. David Hernandez, Ari - Every single one of this 26 year old's stats are trending in the right direction over the last three seasons.  He should be the go to guy should Putz falter or get injured.  Look for 10 or so saves, a 3.00 ERA, and more than a K per inning. 9% owned.

2. Antonio Bastardo, Phi - As with Hernandez, this guy has improved each year in the bullpen over the past three seasons.  1.15 K/IP is nice, and the opportunity to close, should Papelbon go down might  net a sub 3 ERA and 1.00 WHIP and a handful of saves.

3. Fautino De Los Santos, Oak - This guy had lots of buzz this pre-season, but has been told he will not close immediately.  Should fragile Fuentes' arm fall off and Balfour, who is unproven in the 9th hits a snag in the road, De Los Santos is your man.  He averaged 1.29K/IP last season.  (Watch the last 30 seconds of the following video).

4. Koji Uehara, Tex - With Mike Adams and Joe Nathan aboard, the overlooked Ranger could be the lone Ranger in the bullpen to post a sub 2.00 ERA, sub 1.00 WHIP, and 100 K this year.  I like.

5. Joel Peralta, TB - I like Peralta more than Farnsworth in the Rays bullpen.  He could have the closer job by the end of the year.  With a 2.93 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP last year with a K/IP, he should continue to still be extremely serviceable.

BONUS: Al Albuequerque, Det - I liked this guy last year before an arm injury cost him some time last season and into July this year.  A nice stash on the DL, Al-Al should have some buzz come late June/July if Valverde gets injured and/or Benoit falters.  Hitters swung and missed on 25% of his sliders last year.
 
 
I'm not too certain I'd have Bourn ranked ahead of Ichiro and here's why - I think that last year (age and all) was the anomaly for Suzuki. Hear me out - Bourn (who's value is propelled solely by SB) is a career .271 hitter, while Ichiro's "disastrous" 2012 yielded a .272 mark and 40 SB. They will both score the same amount of runs. Even if Bourn steals 20 bags more than Suzuki, I'd rather the extra 6-7 home runs, 30-40 rbi, and the temptation of Ichiro getting back to a .310 hitter. Age a question? Not many players have the discipline and training to maintain AT LEAST 639 AB's over the past 11 seasons. Give me Ichiro for $15, and I'll pass on Bourn, even at $12; then take a gamble later on Revere, Bourgeois, De Aza or Pagan for under $8.This is your new blog post. Click here and start typing, or drag in elements from the top bar.
 
 
Ryan Howard was recently cleared to resume baseball activities without a walking boot - a good sign for his fantasy managers. The Big Piece recently went for $12 in my auction ROTO league, and in the 7th round in my H2H snake-draft league.  www.fantasypros.com has him at $6 and round 10.  I think he will produce somewhere closer to my leagues ratings...  Lets call it $10/8th round. Howard has a career .324 baipb; last season his babip was .303; he was fairly unlucky on non K/HR at bats.  Aside from the fact that he won't play until at least late May,I think he will still outperform Freddie Freeman, the next player in most rankings even with fewer AB's.  Freeman is ranked just ahead of Howard, and I'm not buying it.   You should spend the extra $3-4 on Howard, send him to the DL, and pick up another 1B.  In, fact I strongly looked at rolling with a Howard/Napoli/Freeman setup.  When Big How comes back (after spending 3 months working on his stroke), he should turn his  .253 average into something a little closer to his career .275.  I can see a .265 average, 26-28 HR, 90 RBI.  I seriously doubt they try and run with him this year.  I mean the guy averages 42 HR and 120 RBI a season in his career.  And it's not like he's never missed any time before.  Freeman is going for about $9 and round 10.  If Freeman continues to grow into his potential, he will be on the right path with a .280-80-25-85-5 line.  I am going to roll with the big man, owner of the 4th highest career slugging % among active players.
 
 
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