Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Look Back at Iowa Wrestling's 2017 NCAA Tournament

I needed a little bit of time to recover before I could do any sort of analysis of the NCAA Wrestling Tournament. It was yet again the best sporting event of the year, even though I can admit that the finals were less than stellar this year. But that's the beauty of the tournament; it's often the leadup that makes things magical. There were incredible matches throughout the tournament, which makes it easier to take Penn State's dominance on Saturday night. But Penn State's dominance is far too depressing of a topic for me right now, so instead, let's look at the mixed bag of Iowa's performance at the NCAA Tournament.

9. Topher Carton - 141 - 2-2: DNP
Here's the thing with Carton's performance. It really wasn't disappointing. It just kind of happened. He won his first match in the pigtail pretty easily. Then he went against George DiCamillo, who made the National Finals this year and got majored, but that's really not too shocking either. He bounced back and majored Cole Martin in the consolation side of the bracket. Then he took on Luke Pletcher which could be seen as a toss up match, but Pletcher seemed to have his number this year and beat Carton 9-6. It was a totally fine performance, but Carton wrestled well enough this year where you could envision him pulling off an extra win or two, but it just didn't happen for him.

8. Thomas Gilman - 125 - 5-1: 3rd Place
Is this too low for Gilman? Probably, but Gilman was the best guy at 125; it wasn't particularly close, and he still didn't come away with a National Title. He came out exactly like he should on his way to the semifinals with two major decisions, followed by a pin. The number two and three seeds had already been sent packing, so it seemed as if Gilman would cruise to a title. But weird things happen at the NCAA Tournament. Gilman wrestled super tight the entire match against Darian Cruz, but Gilman controlled the offense in the match, but eventually his hesitation cost him. He shot in, got Cruz's leg and...held it there. All it took was one beat and Cruz spun hard, kicking his leg free and getting behind Gilman for the two. Thank god for the guy at the top of this list, because I was legitimately distraught on Friday night when Gilman lost. Bravo to Cruz for getting the win, but there is no doubt that Gilman was the best 125 pound wrestler this year. He ended up taking care of business on the backside and getting third place, but anything less than first place was going to be a huge disappointment. I still can't believe he didn't win the National Title.

7. Joey Gunther - 165 - 2-2: DNP
I kind of came into the tournament thinking that if things broke right, Gunther would get one win. Instead, he got two wins, so congratulations to him. He got handled in his opening match, but then came back to win back-to-back matches on the backside of the bracket. His luck ran out when he went up against Bryce Seitert of Northern Iowa, but it was a really solid performance for Gunther. He got better and better during his Freshman season, and usually that would be something to build on. Unfortunately, super recruit, Alex Marinelli, will likely take over the starting spot at 165 next year, and Kaleb Young is going to be tough to beat out at 174. I don't know where things go from here, but Gunther grinded out a lot of matches this year, so let's hope he continues to grind for the Hawkeyes.

6. Alex Meyer - 174 - 2-2: Round of 12
Sometimes results aren't necessarily as important as how someone wrestles in the tournament. Alex Meyer may have only gone 2-2, but he wrestled his ass off. In the first round, he took care of his unseeded opponent and followed it up by upsetting the number six seed in Ryan Preisch from Lehigh. Then, for six and a half minutes, he wrestled his best match of the season. He went up against Bo Jordan of Ohio State, who made the NCAA Finals (and probably should have won if replay had given him what looked to be a takedown). Meyer was up 3-2 with less than a minute left in the match, but with about thirty seconds left, he couldn't stop Jordan from getting to his legs and Jordan got the takedown and ride out to win the match 4-3. After that, he had a match with Kyle Crutchmer and unfortunately got hit with a six point move. He worked his butt off to come back with nonstop aggression but Crutchmer was able to stall his way to victory, 13-10. Last year, Meyer was an All-American, and this year he wasn't. Usually, that would put him lower on this list, but I was able to watch all four of his matches, and even though the results weren't there, the wrestling was, and there's no shame in how Meyer ended his Hawkeye career.

5. Sammy Brooks - 184 - 4-2: Fourth Place
Brooks came in ranked as the three seed, and he ended up finishing fourth. In his wins, he looked as good and possibly better than expected as he pulled off multiple pins and probably the most exciting single moment for Iowa when he managed to reverse a throw and pin Emery Parker of Illinois in the Quarterfinals. I nearly yelled in excitement while watching at work, so that probably would have blown my cover that I only had it on as background noise. Then he went up against Bo Nickal, and it appears Nickal just has Brooks's number as he pinned him yet again in the first period. He bounced back with a convincing win over returning National Champion, Myles Martin, but then got down early and eventually took a pin against TJ Dudley, another guy who has given Brooks a lot of trouble. The Mullet ends his career with back-to-back All-American honors which isn't too shabby.

4. Brandon Sorensen - 149 - 5-1: Third Place
Sorensen wrestled as well as anyone could expect. He came in seeded fifth, but I think every wrestling fan saw that as an absolute worst case scenario. He lost to the top two seeds at the end of the second overtime by riding time advantage. What hurt him on seeding was getting upset by Pat Lugo of Rutgers and losing to Micah Jordan in the Big Ten Tournament. He would end up avenging that loss twice over during the NCAA Tournament. First, he beat Micah Jordan in the quarterfinals, 3-0, but that fifth seed meant that he'd be facing the overwhelming favorite, Zain Retherford, in the semifinals. The good news is Sorensen was the only person to not get tech fall'd against Retherford; the bad news is that Sorensen got pinned in one of the most painful moves I have seen on a wrestling mat. Even after the disappointing loss, he bounced back on Saturday to major decision Solomon Chishoko of Virginia Tech before beating Micah Jordan again for third place, and he didn't give up a single point in either of those matches. Sorensen will go into next season as the second ranked wrestler, but unfortunately, Zain Retherford will be back, which just about guarantees that he's fighting for second place.

3. Michael Kemerer - 157 - 6-1: Third Place
I'll admit that these next two picks may be higher than some might place them. Sorensen got third place as a fifth seed, while Kemerer got third place as a two seed. But it's one of those situations where watching Kemerer, there's really only one guy who wrestled better, and that guy ended up with a title. In his first match, he got a major decision, and he followed that up with a tech fall. His quarterfinal match was against Dylan Palacio which was a nonstop scramble until Kemerer got caught in a weird position and got pinned. The pin seemed questionable, but had Palacio gotten four back points, it was going to be tough for Kemerer to come back. That was definitely disappointing, but it didn't slow down Kemerer. He ended up going on the backside and taking three straight major decisions, including one over Tyler Berger, who gave him one of the best matches of the year during the Midlands this season. He ended going up against Joe Smith of Oklahoma State, who stalled his way to overtime, but Kemerer kept shooting and shooting and shooting until he took Smith to his back in overtime to win the match 7-1 and take third place. Nolf is a monster at 157, but Kemerer looked better in his second match against him than he did in his first, so it wouldn't be completely shocking if he is able to close the gap even more next year. Either way, Kemerer is going to be a ton of fun to watch for the next three seasons.

2. Cash Wilcke - 197 - 3-2: Round of 12
On results alone, there is no way to put Wilcke this high. I mean, the guy didn't even place. But holy shit did this guy beat expectations. When they announced the seedings and at-large bids, you know where Wilcke was seeded? He wasn't seeded. In fact, he didn't even qualify for the dang tournament. He was literally the last guy added as an injury replacement. If he went in and won one match, it would be something for Iowa fans to celebrate. Instead, he came up with a big upset over 13th seeded, Tom Sleigh. Then he did lose to Jared Haught but came back in the consolations to get a win over Josh Marchok. He then had arguably the most insane match of the tournament against Frank Mattiace of Penn. Wilcke had a one point lead going into the final minute but gave up a reversal with about 15 seconds left. Finally, he gets a restart, but there are only two seconds left, and Mattiace has the one point lead, so it's basically over. But Mattiace also had two cautions, so he couldn't jump the gun or he'd give up a point. Wilcke explodes out and gets out before time expires, maybe partially helped by a timekeeper that was slow to start the clock. That sent my jaw to the floor and those guys both to overtime. Then in overtime, Mattiace has another false start, his third caution, and Wilcke gets the penalty point to win the match. It was insanity. He had gone from not qualifying for the tournament to one match away from All-American status. He ended up losing 7-6 in a match that wasn't quite that close, but it was such an impressive performance from Wilcke and has me way more excited about what he can do next year when he drops to his more natural weight of 184.

1. Cory Clark - 133 - 5-0: National Champion
This is a no brainer for top spot as Cory Clark, who had lost the last two years in the NCAA Finals, finally got over the hump and won a National Championship. And man, what a run he had this year. He had no easy outs in the tournament and earned it every step of the way. In his first match, he got Connor Schram, who was unseeded after being a returning All-American. Then, he took out Pat D'Arcy who upset the #13 seed in his first match. After that, he faced a super tough freshman in Stevan Micic from Michigan. After giving up an early takedown, Clark started to take over the match and won 6-4. That set up a match with Nathan Tomasello, a former National Champion, and the #1 ranked, only undefeated wrestler at 133. Clark may have lost in the B1G finals, but he controlled the action, with the benefit of two cheap takedowns, and took care of Tomasello 7-4. That set up a finals against his former teammate, Seth Gross, who had absolutely steamrolled his competition leading up to the finals. Gross's closest match was his opening match, where he shutout his opponent 5-0. Then he won by tech fall, followed by two major decisions. Again, Cory Clark gave up an early takedown but he kept battling and in the third period, he was able to get the decisive takedown to take a 4-3 lead. He rode out Gross in impressive fashion and was able to stand atop the podium. As disappointed as I was about Gilman not getting a title, I was just as happy to see Cory Clark finally end up on top. He is going to be dearly missed next season and beyond, but he ended his career the right way and earned his asterisk on the Iowa wrestling room wall.

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - NL West

Although baseball season is still a few weeks away, fantasy baseball season is here as draft rooms are opening and people are spending fake auction dollars on their favorite players. Everybody knows about the Mike Trouts and Clayton Kershaws of the world, so what you need to do stand out is find those hidden gems on each roster to propel yourself to fantasy greatness. I am going to go through each MLB roster to find at least one underrated player who will have you looking like a genius at the end of the season.

Today, we finally make it to the end of the series and look at the National League West where we promise there are teams outside of the Dodgers.

Arizona Diamondbacks - Robbie Ray
Let's just get this out of the way: Robbie Ray is my fantasy baseball wet dream. He struck out 218 hitters in 174 innings. I literally need no other stats to tell me that I want this guy on my team. I will openly admit my whorishness towards strikeouts for pitchers and home runs for hitters. This guy fills the former in abundance, and that is more than enough for me. Still, he had an ERA of nearly five. Shockingly, his walk rate really wasn't that bad. Instead, he struggled in every other aspect that leads to pitchers giving up runs. He gave up a good amount of home runs, had a .352 BABIP against him (worst in the league by 13 points), and stranded just 68,7 of runners that reached base. The home runs probably aren't changing, but he's basically equal with Max Scherzer, so it's not like he can't be successful while giving up some extra long balls. The big improvement will be the last two categories. It's nearly impossible for his BABIP not to improve, and the stranded runners are likely to improve as well. I'd be shocked if his ERA didn't drop by at least a full run. Robbie Ray is my jam.

Colorado Rockies - Jon Gray
Gray is basically a slightly less sexy Robbie Ray. Like, if I couldn't get my dream girl, this would be a nice one to settle for, and let's be real, she'd still be out of my league. This is getting weird, isn't it? Well, the strikeouts aren't as abundant but neither are the home runs. His big issue was letting runners who reached base score, and I think that can be improved upon this year. I rarely will draft a Colorado pitcher, but this guy is worth the risk.

Los Angeles Dodgers - Julio Urias
Urias may no longer have his prospect status, but his upside is still tremendous. He struggled early, got demoted, got promoted again, and really found his groove down the stretch. The only real question is how much workload can he handle this year, and considering the Dodgers are going to be in the hunt, I think he puts up 160-180 innings this year, and I also think he ends up as the Dodgers second best pitcher (behind Rich Hill, obviously). Don't forget the hype around Urias, because the talent is very real.

San Diego Padres - Travis Jankowski
Hey, the guy will get you steals. And since there are no offensive players on the Padres, he's guaranteed playing time. He could get you 60 stolen bases. I know his average was only .245 last year, but I think he could increase that by 30-40 points. He hit well in the minor leagues, and his minor league strikeout rate doubled once he reached the majors. I think he can figure out how to make more contact, and if he makes contact, his speed will guarantee that he turns that contact into hits.

San Francisco Giants - Matt Moore
After teasing us with talent but never having the health to match, Matt Moore finally put together a full season last year. Unfortunately, even though he finally had the health, the talent wasn't quite shining like it did during his younger days. So why am I buying into him? Well, partially because he's moving to a full year in the National League in a pitcher's park, so that's nice. But also that he may still be getting his groove back after finally getting some health. I've been betting on Matt Moore for six years, and I'll probably keep betting on him for six more. I mean, this could be the year.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2017 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - NL Central

Although baseball season is still a few weeks away, fantasy baseball season is here as draft rooms are opening and people are spending fake auction dollars on their favorite players. Everybody knows about the Mike Trouts and Clayton Kershaws of the world, so what you need to do stand out is find those hidden gems on each roster to propel yourself to fantasy greatness. I am going to go through each MLB roster to find at least one underrated player who will have you looking like a genius at the end of the season.

Today, we visit the World Series Champs and their merry band of misfits, the National League Central.

Chicago Cubs - Jason Heyward
So it's pretty hard to find an underrated player on the Cubs these days as right now we are living in a time where everybody loves the team, so they are hyped to an unbelievable level. But the Cubs level of lovability is about to drop precipitously as the hate is brewing for this Cubs team. Much like Red Sox hate, there isn't a ton directed at the players themselves, but the fans are going to become insufferable pretty quickly. One guy that is not universally loved is Jason Heyward. It's not through any fault of his own. He tries hard, and he's good enough on defense to not be totally worthless, but he was a very bad offensive baseball player last year. He has been a good baseball player in the past, and I can't help but buy into Heyward. The guy has so many natural tools that even though he's well past the age of potential, it's hard not to see all of the great qualities he could have. This is one of those guys where a Cubs fan jumps on him too early, but if he's there after pick 200, take a flyer on him and maybe he'll figure it out, or maybe your league added UZR in the offseason.

Cincinnati Reds - Devin Mesoraco
Remember that time that Devin Mesoraco actually played a bunch of games. He hit the ball really well when he did that. He hasn't done that the last two years, and even in his minimal time, he's been rather abysmal, but maybe he'll go back to being the 2014 version of himself. I don't know, it's the Reds, and looking up Reds players is seriously depressing, so Mesoraco it is.

Milwaukee Brewers - Keon Broxton
Keon Broxton hits baseballs really hard. They still usually find people's gloves, but they probably a sting a little when people make the catch. So he's probably not going to hit for average, but that's okay, because he's got some pop in that bat, and the dude just wants to steal, steal, steal bases. Milwaukee's kind of a fun team, because they don't give a shit, so they're just going to steal bases and do all the hustly things that may not necessarily make them good, but it will make them fun. Broxton personifies this.

Pittsburgh Pirates - Tyler Glasnow
Okay, so is this going to be a good pick? Eh, probably not. But will it be a fun pick? Oh hell yeah. Glasnow is going to strike dudes out. He is able to dot hat because he has no idea where the ball is going to end up. Sure, you are sacrificing WHIP for this pick, but sometimes, in life, you have to make sacrifices. And this sacrifice leads to fun, so you should do it. Draft him and ride that Glasnow Rollercoaster.

St. Louis Cardinals - Kolten Wong
Remember those shirts from Abercrombie that talked about "Two Wongs Make it Tight." I think it was like a plumbing shirt with an Asian caricature on it. It wasn't funny, and it may not have even been from Abercrombie, but I still remember that shirt. Anyway, don't buy that shirt, but buy in on Kolten Wong. I know he's never put it together at the major league level, but he's got a good line drive swing that should lead to more balls landing in for hits. He's not going to be a home run threat, but I do think he can get some of those balls to drop in for extra bases. He's an extra infielder that you probably don't even need to draft, but he could add some value this year. What won't add value is that stupid shirt. Seriously, if you have that shirt, don't get rid of it, burn it, and make sure nobody else wears that stupid shit.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ranking Each Number One Seed's Championship Chances at the NCAA Wrestling Tournament

It's the most wonderful sports weekend of the year. Starting on Thursday, all eyes will be towards the sports world. Fans will fill out their brackets and hope that this is the year that they win their office pool. And after three days of amazing action, on Sunday you can rest and watch basketball, because the NCAA Wrestling Tournament is here. March Matness is the only thing that matters this weekend, so do yourself a favor and tune into as much as you can.

With that, I wanted to look at all of the number one seeds and rank who has the best and worst chances of being atop the podium on Saturday night.

10. Zahid Valencia - Arizona State - 174
Valencia has had an incredible freshman season, as he has worked his way through everyone that stood in his path to an undefeated record. He faced some solid competition but almost completely avoided the Big Ten, and I believe that is where he will struggle in this tournament. As a number one seed, it's close to impossible to see them lose one of their first two matchups, and Valencia should cruise through those. I believe he'll have to get through Miles Amine in the Quarterfinals, who he did beat by a single point earlier in the season, and Amine has seemed to improve by leaps and bounds since then. After that, he either gets Zach Epperly of Virginia Tech or super Freshman, Mark Hall. I think it'll be the latter, and I significantly favor Hall in that match. His offense has just been incredible, and you could make a pretty strong argument that he outwrestled Bo Jordan in the B1G finals through seven minutes but wasn't able to get the win. After that, I think Bo Jordan comes out of the bottom half of the bracket, but Realbuto is funky enough to give anyone troubles. Still, I just don't see how Valencia gets through all of these landmines to win a championship. But the good news is he's only a freshman, so he'll still have plenty of time to end up as a champion.

9. Dean Heil - Oklahoma State - 141
I'm a Dean Heil hater. I wrote this article last year, and he ranked tenth, but he managed to still win the National Title, so this year he moves all the way up to the nine spot. The guy wrestles way too many close matches to consistently come out on top, but he does manage to always come out on top. I'm still predicting that to end at the NCAA Tournament. He's a tough guy to score on, but I refuse to believe he's going back-to-back this year. Although I have trouble not seeing him in the semifinals, I see him having a tough time getting past Matthew Kolodzik or Anthony Ashnault, especially since the latter is wrestling better than he ever has before. I like Ashnault a lot in this tournament and would bet on him to beat Heil this year, but even if he makes it to the finals, a matchup with Kevin Jack or Joey McKenna awaits him. Honestly, there isn't much separating the top five guys at this weight. Last year, Heil managed to work his way through to a title; I don't see him repeating the feat.

8. Nathan Tomasello - Ohio State - 133
Tomasello's a stud, but 133 is absolutely stacked this year. It's either this weight or the next one I'm going to talk about for the toughest weight class in college wrestling. Tomasello will cruise through his first two opponents, but things start to get very interesting in the quarterfinals. Zane Richards is a tough guy who was looked at as a top-five guy entering this year. I do think Tomasello can take care of business there, but things get very interesting in the semifinals where he is likely to take on Cory Clark or Stevan Micic. He barely beat Micic 6-5 at the Big Ten Tournament, and that is a guy who has gotten a ton better as the year has gone on. I'm still hoping it's Clark he's going to see, and Tomasello won by a literal last second escape (and was helped by getting a point for an illegal move as well). I think it was a learning experience for Clark, and I think Tomasello is in serious trouble if Clark gets past Micic. Then you have the bottom half of the bracket that is led by Seth Gross and Kaid Brock, two guys who can absolutely put up points, and even they have to get through Eric Montoya and Dom Forys just to get there. Tomasello could beat any of these guys, but it's going to be tough to beat all of them, and I just don't see him doing it this year.

7. Gabe Dean - Cornell - 184
On talent and resume, Gabe Dean should definitely be higher on this list. I know that, you know that, we all know that. But 184 has a legitimate claim at being the toughest weight class in college wrestling this year. There are just so many landmines at this weight class. I mean, yes, Dean is cruising through his first two opponents, but then he likely gets Nate Jackson of Indiana or Jack Dechow of Old Dominion, both of who are tough guys. Then he will likely get Zach Zavatsky (I'm not a believer in Nolan Boyd) who is another legitimate challenger. Those guys are all tough, but Dean has faced tough guy after tough guy and almost always comes out on top. I have trouble seeing him not make the Finals, but then he goes up against either Sammy Brooks or Bo Nickal. Bo Nickal may have the most fun offensive moveset in college wrestling, as the guy is always looking for a huge move. He has the ability to hit it on anybody, and that include Gabe Dean. But don't sleep on Brooks who wrestled Dean tight two years ago and is wrestling better than he has ever wrestled right now. Dean is the best guy at this weight, but with the competition that he is going to have to go through, it is far from a guarantee that he ends up on top of the podium.

6. Thomas Gilman - Iowa - 125
Is there some Hawkeye bias here? Maybe, but who exactly is he going to lose to before the finals? He's basically dominated every opponent he's had outside of Nick Suriano, who is both injured and on the other side of the bracket. He's beaten just about every guy on his side of the bracket, and with the way he's wrestling this year, it seems highly unlikely that anyone is going to rise up and take him out. So that leads him to a relatively easy path with a likely matchup against Suriano or Joey Dance from Virginia Tech. Suriano is hurt, and I really don't think he's going to be able to make an impact on a bum ankle. He's 1-1 against Dance, but they wrestled both of those matches two seasons ago. Both have gotten better since then, but Dance is only very good where Gilman is an absolute dominator on the mat these days. I think Gilman finds his way through the bracket to become the Hawkeyes first National Champion since Tony Ramos.

5. Isaiah Martinez - Illinois - 165
Isaiah Martinez is going for his third national title in three years, this time up a weight at 165. Although there are some tough guys at 165, Martinez is still the clear favorite. He's going to cruise to the semifinals where a likely matchup with Isaac Jordan awaits. Jordan is always rock solid in his wrestling, but I just don't think he has the offense to truly threaten Martinez. The most interesting matchup lies in the finals where he will take on Logan Massa. Outside of getting hit with a six-point move in the Big Ten Tournament, Massa has wrestled Martinez tough, but I have a tough time seeing anyone stop Martinez from a threepeat.

4. J'Den Cox - Missouri - 197
Originally, I had Martinez ahead of J'Den Cox, but then I got to looking at things, and then I thought about some things and decided it's really hard to put the 2016 Olympic Bronze Medalist lower than this. He's wrestled against the #2, #3, and #4 ranked wrestlers and beaten them all. Yes, they have been relatively close as he's won each match by two points, but he's winning, and he's super good. Also, this weight isn't that strong past Cox. Kollin Moore and Brett Pfarr are both good enough to push Cox in the Finals, but third best in the world almost definitely means that he's the best in the NCAA.

3. Zain Retherford - Penn State - 149
I could probably just say, "Ain't nobody stopping the Zain Train," and call it a day, but what fun would that be? There are two interesting matchups for him. One with Brandon Sorensen, who he beat 9-8 after having an advantage in riding time in the second tiebreaker, and Anthony Collica, who he only beat 2-1 in their match late in the season. Those were his only two decision wins, and honestly, I still wouldn't be surprised if those remained his only two decision wins this year, as I could easily see him storming through everyone in the tournament. As a Hawkeye fan, I'd love to pick Sorensen for the upset, but ain't nobody stopping the Zain Train.

2. Kyle Snyder - Ohio State - Heavyweight
How can I put the United States's youngest Olympic gold medal winning wrestler below the top spot? I'm struggling with that question myself. I actually originally had him at the three spot, but decided to move him ahead of Zain. The other issue is that he won that gold medal at 213 pounds, and the heavyweight limit is 275. Even if he's walking around at 225-230, he's going to be giving up around 50 pounds to some of the big boys at this weight. He's still steamrolled everybody that he's gone up against, as he's a takedown machine. He's freakishly strong as no heavyweight can push him around on the mat, and he's such an incredible athlete that he can do whatever he wants despite the size disadvantage. He's going to win his second straight national title, but I just couldn't put him ahead of this last guy.

1. Jason Nolf - Penn State - 157
Nolf is winning the National Title this year. The only thing that stopped him were some incredibly close matches with Isaiah Martinez last year, and this year, he doesn't have to worry about that. In fact, he doesn't have much to worry about at all. There is only one guy he hasn't scored bonus points against this year, and that is the second-ranked Michael Kemerer, but that does not mean that these were close matches. Kemerer lost by more but looked better in their second match, but Nolf is just too good. Even as a Penn State hater, there is no way to not like watching Nolf. There is no question that he will come home with a National Title; the only question is whether he gets bonus points in all of his matches or not. He's that good, and that is why, out of all the number one seeds, there is nobody I am more confident in taking home the title than Jason Nolf.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

2017 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - NL East

Although baseball season is still a few weeks away, fantasy baseball season is here as draft rooms are opening and people are spending fake auction dollars on their favorite players. Everybody knows about the Mike Trouts and Clayton Kershaws of the world, so what you need to do stand out is find those hidden gems on each roster to propel yourself to fantasy greatness. I am going to go through each MLB roster to find at least one underrated player who will have you looking like a genius at the end of the season.

Today, after getting through the American League. We make our way to the National League, and just like Columbus before us, we will start in the NL East.

Atlanta Braves - Brandon Phillips
Probably not the sexiest pick for a young up and coming team, but sometimes you need to just go with an ol' faithful, and Phillips fits the bill. He'll give you about a .280 average with double digits steals and home runs. Since Atlanta isn't stacked offensively, that means he's probably hitting near the top of the order which will help those counting stats. He's a desperate choice for your top second basemen but is ideal somebody who can fill that 2B/SS role.

Miami Marlins - Adam Conley
He will pitch for the Marlins this year, and I read he got stronger this year. This was by far the hardest team, but since I had to pick somebody, I went with Conley, since I wasn't sure if I could count Giancarlo Stanton as a sleeper.

New York Mets - Travis d'Arnaud
d'Arnaud is a guy who isn't even getting drafted this year, but in 2015, he absolutely crushed the ball for a catcher. What happened in 2016? Injuries, mostly. His batted ball data cratered, and I don't think he has completely lost the ability to hit forever and ever. The guy has been able to hit at every level, and he even did it in the major leagues. I think he could be due for a big year this season as he could be a top-5 catcher if he can stay healthy and show that 2015 is the real d'Arnaud.

Philadelphia Phillies - Aaron Nola
Nola's results were worse last year, but his pitching was better as he had nearly ten strikeouts per nine innings, had about the same walk rate, and significantly lowered his home run rate. He was the victim of bad luck in more ways than one as his BABIP raised by about 50 points, and he only had a comically low 60% of runners left on base. When more people reach base by luck and they always find a way to score, then it's going to be pretty tough for a pitcher not to take a significant step back. If Nola's luck balances out, he's likely a top-20 pitcher this year, so yeah, you should draft this dude.

Washington Nationals - Shawn Kelley
I don't know who's going to be the Nationals closer, but if it's Shawn Kelley, then that's a pretty sweet deal as the Nationals are likely to win a lot of games and closing games isn't that difficult. He strikes out a good amount of guys, so snag him late and he'll probably perform as well as any other closer.

I'll admit, this division had a lot of, "Well, you gotta pick somebody" picks, but I can just about guarantee that one of these will be one of my three best sleepers on my entire list. It's your job to figure out which one that is (Hint: It's probably d'Arnaud).

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

2017 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - AL East

Although baseball season is still a few weeks away, fantasy baseball season is here as draft rooms are opening and people are spending fake auction dollars on their favorite players. Everybody knows about the Mike Trouts and Clayton Kershaws of the world, so what you need to do stand out is find those hidden gems on each roster to propel yourself to fantasy greatness. I am going to go through each MLB roster to find at least one underrated player who will have you looking like a genius at the end of the season.

Today, after going with the less sexy divisions in the American League, we go with the most talked about division in all the land, the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles - Dylan Bundy
I've been all-in on Dylan Bundy since he was drafted in 2012, so the fact that I can still buy low on him excites me. He's probably not going to be the game changing pitcher I expected when he was blowing through every minor leaguer that stood in front of him. Due to injuries, he's a different pitcher, but he's still shown that he could be a very good pitcher. Even though he struggled more as a starter in the second half, he was still striking out over a batter an inning, and he's still building up his strength after coming back from injuries. Right now, he's a ranked as a late round flyer, but I think he can produce a mid 3 ERA with a strikeout per inning which wouldn't be a bad haul for a final round pick.

Boston Red Sox - Eduardo Rodriguez
It's damn near impossible to find an underrated Red Sox player. I mean, even Pablo Sandoval made the top 300. Hanley Ramirez ranked 69 which is nice. Maybe I could take a flyer on their top prospect, Andrew Benitendi, but he's already ranked ahead one of the greatest hitters ever, Albert Pujols, so yeah, I can't really say he's underrated. Let's go with Rodriguez who struggled at the beginning of the year but basically pitched like a number two starter in the second half of the season. I doubt he'll be quite that good, but if he gets anything close to that, then he'll be worth it.

New York Yankees - Gary Sanchez
I know this isn't a deep sleeper or anything, but it was the only way I could avoid recommending Chris Carter (I always recommend Chris Carter). I know he's ranked as the second best catcher, but he was only at 113 overall, and that seems at least 30 spots too low. I don't think he's Catcher Babe Ruth, but he's still damn good, and considering the lack of options at catcher, he's worth going above his ranking to go out and secure his services for the year.

Tampa Bay Rays - Jake Odorizzi
Odorizzi's only real issue last year was health, and before that, he had proved to be rather durable. The split may put some extra strain on his arm, but considering the strong track record, he's a pitcher I'd like to have this year. Computer projections continue to love the Rays, so eventually they're going to have to be right...right?

Toronto Blue Jays - Troy Tulowitzki
Making a case with my head for Tulowitzki isn't the easiest. He has been a disappointment since getting traded from Colorado to Toronto. Still, he wasn't too bad last year as he hit 24 home runs, and had he had a better BABIP, he could have easily raised his batting average 20 points. That's what I see happening this year as a little better luck gets him closer to his former glory although not quite all the way there. Is this my head talking? No, but the heart wants what the heart wants. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

2017 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - AL West

Although baseball season is still a few weeks away, fantasy baseball season is here as draft rooms are opening and people are spending fake auction dollars on their favorite players. Everybody knows about the Mike Trouts and Clayton Kershaws of the world, so what you need to do stand out is find those hidden gems on each roster to propel yourself to fantasy greatness. I am going to go through each MLB roster to find at least one underrated player who will have you looking like a genius at the end of the season.

Today, we continue the series with a lack of East Coast bias and look into the AL West.

Houston Astros - Lance McCullers
Obviously, the big concern with McCullers is is health. He had major struggles with injuries last year, and it's definitely a concern going into this year, but there are very few young pitchers where injuries aren't a big concern. the other concern is his control as he walked five batters per nine last year, and that's not good. I think part of that is the injuries as he was just never able to get comfortable and find a groove druing the season. I think he can at least get his walk level back to its 2015 level, possibly even better. He's ranked 244 despite having a 3.22 ERA the last two years and striking out over a batter per inning (over 11 K/9 last year). He's probably not your 200 inning ace, but he could give you a really nice 160 innings, and getting that late in the draft sure sounds like a steal to me.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - Ben Revere
Real talk, I had no idea that Ben Revere was on the Angels. I also kind of forgot that Cameron Maybin was on the Angels. But I'm still going with Revere, even though I'm not sure if he'll beat out Maybin for the starting job. I figure between Maybin's injury history combined with Albert Pujols getting another year older and needing some time off, they'll be able to find some space for Ben Revere. Two years ago, he hit .300, then his BABIP dropped by 100 points below his career average, and he batted .200. I think things just balance out again this year and he gives you a .300 average, with top 10 stolen base numbers and a good number of runs scored. He may not be the sexiest hitter, but he will be valuable.

Oakland Athletics - Marcus Semien
Semien managed 27 home runs last year, and I do think his average can come up from the .238 he hit last year. His BABIP was only .268, so if that gets closer to .300, it will not only increase his runs and RBI, but he can probably get closer to 20 stolen bases. Right now, he's ranked as the 18th best shortstop. Even if he doesn't improve, he'll be able to reach that level, but if the BABIP does bounce back and the power continues, you're looking at a top-10 guy.

Seattle Mariners - Mike Zunino
This pick is not sexy pick. Zunino is ranked as the 18th best catcher, and considering his struggle in the batting average category, he's probably never going to be a top guy. But he did rake at AAA last year and showed progress when he was in the major leagues. He hits for good power, and there are guys in the top-10 like Evan Gattis and Brian McCann who probably aren't that different than Zunino who you can probably pick up as a free agent.

Texas Rangers - Nomar Mazara
One of my common themes when picking guys is post-hype sleepers. Mazara got a ton of love at the beginning of 2016, but it seems as though he wore down as the season went on, and his numbers dropped accordingly. Last year, he still managed 20 home runs, and although I don't see the power taking a big step forward, I think the guy can flat out hit. He could easily be in the .280-.300 range, and with solid power, he'll be right in the middle of the Rangers lineup to rack up those counting stats. He's currently ranked as the 58th best outfielder, and I'd say it's a fairly good bet that he exceeds those expectations.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

2017 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - AL Central

Although baseball season is still a few weeks away, fantasy baseball season is here as draft rooms are opening and people are spending fake auction dollars on their favorite players. Everybody knows about the Mike Trouts and Clayton Kershaws of the world, so what you need to do stand out is find those hidden gems on each roster to propel yourself to fantasy greatness. I am going to go through each MLB roster to find at least one underrated player who will have you looking like a genius at the end of the season.

Today, we start the series with an oft-forgotten division, the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox - Tim Anderson
Tim Anderson had a really nice rookie year for any position but especially for a shortstop. He was a fairly well thought of prospect, and still, he barely makes ESPN's top 300 and is only ranked the 24th best shortstop. Now, yes, his BABIP was unsustainable as that .375 number is probably not going to hold up, but with his speed and batted ball profile, it is likely to remain above average. There's also a good chance that he can reduce his K% to make more contact meaning the BABIP won't have to remain quite as hight. On top of this, he managed 49 stolen bases in AA in 2015, and I think he could see a decent spike in those stolen base numbers this year. There is a lot of depth at shortstop this year, and outside of the top 5 (Machado, Correa, Seager, Lindor, Bogaerts), are you totally confident that any of them will definitely outproduce Anderson? I'm not, and considering where he's ranked, he'll make an excellent late-round addition.

Cleveland Indians - Cody Allen
Poor Cody Allen. He is a guy who is underestimated not by anything that he did, but because his teammate is Andrew Miller, possibly the most dominant reliever in all of baseball. Since most teams use their most dominant reliever in the closer role, everyone goes into this season that Allen will lose his job. Is it possible? Of course, but Allen has been a pretty darn good reliever these last few years, and one of Miller's greatest attributes is his versatility. Terry Francona is going to do everything eh can to keep Allen in the closer role, and he's likely to produce top-10 results with top-5 upside while currently only ranked as the 19th best relief pitcher. Drafting closers is rarely sexy, but it can still be valuable.

Detroit Tigers - Justin Upton
If I can justify selecting a brother (non-racist way), I'm going to do it. My fascination with drafting brothers in fantasy is a long and sordid affair that almost never works out for me. It started with the Giles brothers, drifted to the Drews, and finally made it to the Uptons. Despite it usually doing me more harm than good, I still always enjoy my experience. But I do believe this is a good year to buy in on Upton. Although he started off poorly for the Tigers, he lowered his strikeout rate and hit 22 home runs in 68 games during the second half last year. I think he's far closer to that second half player for the whole season this year. Although he's ranked in the 60s, I think he can produce at least that if not be up in the top-40 at the end of the year.

Kansas City Royals - Jorge Soler
Joe Maddon said he was Vladimir Guerrero with better plate discipline. That comment will never die in my head, and that means I will end up with Jorge Soler for the next ten years in fantasy baseball by drafting him 100 spots before anyone else. I'm kind of serious. He's ranked 260 right now. I will be at least considering him at 160. Dominant relievers are more highly valued than ever before, and the Royals were happy to trade one of the most dominant relievers for Jorge Soler. Clearly, they believe in him; clearly, I believe in him, and, guys...VLAD GUERRERO WITH BETTER PLATE DISCIPLINE.

Minnesota Twins - Byron Buxton
I'll admit this pick could be a year too early, but Buxton still gives plenty to dream on. Even though Buxton was drafted in 2012, he has far less minor league experience than other people from that draft as injuries have cut short a lot of his time, and he had that compounded by being brought up to the major leagues before he was ready. Still, he struggled in the majors, got sent down, raked in AAA, and showed improvement when he got called back up. It wasn't huge, but he hit some more homers, doubled his walk rate, and slightly improved on the strikeouts. If he can continue to lower that strikeout percentage, it is going to improve every aspect of his game, as just putting the ball in play makes him dangerous with his speed. If the power continues to blossom, you're looking at a true five-tool player. I'm not sure if that's going to happen, especially in 2017, but there were enough positive signs to make him worth the risk late in the draft.