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February 4, 11:00 AM ET
Fantasy Sports with Tristan Cockcroft

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:02 AM)

Good morning everyone! The Super Bowl is in the books, we're a week from pitchers and catchers and I'm back from our annual fantasy baseball rankings summit ... that means it's baseball time! So who's got a question? Let's get this started...

Bart (Indiana)

THC, what was your biggest problem at the ranking summit? What player would they just not listen to you on?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:04 AM)

Well, one thing to remember is that in the ranking summit, we all <i>listen</i> to the various player arguments. It's whether we believe in them once we get to the rankings process. But I get what you're asking, and trying to recall now. Jim Johnson was one; I had him in my top 10 closers but the group wasn't buying. I'm also high on Desmond Jennings but the group seemed to shy from him, more so in the overall ranks. And I apparently like Ian Desmond a bit more than most.

dee (VA)

Are you sold on Mike Trout being a first round pick?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:05 AM)

Oh yes, unquestionably. His downside -- cannot assume anything beneath 40 steals -- is a player who would be statistically impossible to fall outside the top 10 players overall, using a formula like the one we do for our Player Rater.

Rob (Krysh)

What do you see Allen Craig doing this year? They have to give him 500 ABs right?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:06 AM)

Oh, they have to. I think what we saw last year was about what you should expect, but let's not overlook that the guy has a dicey injury history. There's at least a noticeable chance that he stays on 2012 pace from a rate standpoint, but plays 20 fewer games. Still a top-100 player, but I'd be careful reaching for him in the top 50.

Chad (OKC)

What prospect are you most looking forward to seeing in Spring Training?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:09 AM)

As odd as this sounds, Chad, it's the honest truth; Kyuji Fujikawa. I'm no Carlos Marmol believer and the reason for the pick is because I <i>haven't seen</i> Fujikawa play in the U.S. yet, whereas I can say that I've at least seen Billy Hamilton, Wil Myers et al play.From a "fantasy buzz" angle, I think Jurickson Profar's spring is probably the most critical to track. I've seen him play so that's why he's not the pick, but if you had asked "most critical," he'd have been the pick.

Tony H (Athens GA )

The winner of my league last year drafted heavy pitching. We all laughed at the draft. She swept the pitching categories and finished middle of the pack in hitting. Clearly this strategy can work. Why don't any of the ESPN experts embrace a pitching heavy strategy?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:10 AM)

I do, but it depends upon the league format -- I've got a points league where it made a lot of sense and the 2011 champion did the same -- as well as the individual's strategy, scouting ability and knowledge of next-level stats.I maintain that there is no one-size-fits-all winning strategy in fantasy baseball. Belief that there is equals laziness.

Rudy (Indio, CA)

In your opinion, what's the latest to draft a catcher? Any names that catch your eye?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:11 AM)

In an ESPN standard league of 10 teams, I see 12 players with whom I'd be very happy to own. That means you can wait as long as you want. Heck, I'd be thrilled to nab Jesus Montero in the 20th round and ride with him. Jonathan Lucroy (our No. 12, if I recall) is a high-upside late-rounder. Waiting on either is an a-OK strategy.

Troy T. (Colorado)

Tristan, no love for me in your rankings? If I guarantee you that I play 150 games this season, where do you rank me?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:12 AM)

If you <i>guaranteed</i> that, you'd be in my first round. But on what basis are you formulating said guarantee? I thought I had ranked you generously, for a guy who has battled injuries to this extent.

Jim (KC)

Can Wainwright and Yu headline a contending pitching staff in a 12 teamer?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:13 AM)

Certainly. It's a point I made at the summit, that it's fine to wait for that second tier of starting pitchers, but your margin of error is slimmer because they've got a chance of flying off the board quickly. If you <i>got</i>, say, Wainwright and Darvish, or even throw in a name like Johnny Cueto, I think you're fine in that format.

Jared (Iowa)

Keeper league question: I'm already keeping Trout and Kemp pick 3 more b/w: Tulo, Ian Desmond, Weaver, Cain, Beltre, and Encarnacion.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:14 AM)

Let's go Tulowitzki (>Desmond), Adrian Beltre, Edwin Encarnacion. But I'm a guy who believes in his ability to draft pitching, and if you don't in your own, then Matt Cain over Encarnacion is defensible.

Brian (NY)

Do you think Cano has a big contract year?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:15 AM)

Yes. One of the few players for whom I'd say "contract year" is a potential motivational tool.

NHarms (Nebraska)

In your opinion, is hitting more important than pitching in a standard H2H league? I always debate for example whether drafting Pujols is better than drafting Strasburg.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:17 AM)

In my experience, pitching is actually more valuable, and more critical from a strategic standpoint, than hitting in a H2H league. Part of that is probably the streaming angle; pick your matchups right and you can dominate the league.One of the more successful strategies I've seen in that format: Draft heavy on closers so you'll have a strong base of everyday lineup choices, grab an ace (or 2-3), then stream every spot with add/drops not leaving an inactive player in your lineup on any day all year.

Chris (Richmond, VA)

If I'm looking to find top-5 potential that's going in the pick 15-25 range, do you have a particular favorite to pull off a monster, MVP-type season? I'm thinking among the likes of Bautista, Heyward, Wright, Longoria.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:18 AM)

Justin Upton. Jay Bruce. Billy Butler. Jason Heyward. Maybe even Starlin Castro. Any of them finishing in the top 10 on the 2013 Player Rater wouldn't shock me.From the lower tiers, Austin Jackson is an intriguing such candidate as well.

Larry (Tampa)

When do you expect Wil Myers to be called up and what type of impact to you expect??

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:19 AM)

I'm betting on May, and I'd invest more in his power than batting average. Think the kind of guy who could bat .260 with 25 homers, given a full season's at-bats. So maybe that's 20 homers in three-quarters of a season.

John (Chicago)

Is it time to give up on Colby Rasmus and Cameron Maybin? I draft them every year waiting for that breakout season, but it hasn't come.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:21 AM)

I'm much more optimistic about Maybin's chances than I am Rasmus', but that's from a "Maybin's quick and he shouldn't hurt you terribly" standpoint than that I see a massive breakthrough coming. Think a .260 average, perhaps 10 homers, but 40 steals. That's Maybin's potential for 2013, on the higher end.As for Rasmus, his problem is that for about two months last season, he appeared to fix what was ailing him, specifically his plate discipline and ability to handle breaking stuff. Then, over the season's final half, he gave back <i>all</i> of those gains ... and then some.

Jerry (Chicago)

Do you think rizzo could go crazy for the cubs this year? I could see 30-35 hrs 100 rbi hit .295

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:22 AM)

It's not unthinkable, but based on skills and his stats, I'm thinking he's more of a .260-.270 hitter who could reach 30 homers. Buy the power, not the batting average.

Tom (Ca)

AL only keeper question...with 3 keepers, who do you throw back from Cano (r1), Trout (r5), Price (r4) or Pujos (r2)?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:23 AM)

In an AL-only league? Ugh. Hate to throw any of them back. I'd ask you where you sit in the first round, meaning your potential to get Cano back in the draft. If you've got no shot, I can't shed him, considering his value as well as position scarcity. I'd probably let Albert Pujols go and hope I'd be fine filling what'd be the easiest of those positions.

Charley (South Bend, IN)

How do you feel about Bruce Rondon's chances to be a viable close option this year?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:25 AM)

My opinion is that there aren't many greater boom/bust closer candidates in baseball. He's got lightning stuff and could have an instant impact, not necessarily to the Craig Kimbrel level, but I do feel like there are "poor man's" similarities, in that command is really Rondon's question. I'm not banking on him thriving in the role; at the same time I'd be fine with him late, especially if he's throwing great in the spring.

Joe (AL)

Could you see Wilin Rosario cracking the top 3 catcher ranks? I could see a 40 HR season from the guy in a full season of AB's....

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:28 AM)

To be perfectly honest with you, Joe, I'd put Rosario's chances of that at less than 10 percent. He's all power, very little else, and his underlying numbers say that he's much more likely to go backwards than forwards. A repeat has a decent shot, but I just don't see him becoming that kind of .280-hitting, 40-homer type that he'd need to be to be top-three (think Napoli in his best year). Frankly, I think Rosario is one of the guys in my top 10 with danger of finishing outside of it. Think about this: Why did the Rockies bring in Torrealba? I'm not sure they're comfortable with playing Rosario enough to get him into the 40-homer range.

Danny (Louisville, KY )

It was mentioned at the summit how important steals are. I don't see it. Late round picks like Gardner, Maybin, Adam Eaton, Juan Pierre could all steal 40. If anything I think you can wait on speed.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:30 AM)

A) Brett Gardner isn't a late-round pick.B) All of the other players you mentioned have warts: Maybin is coming off a bad year and plays in a ballpark that ruins offensive numbers, Eaton is inexperienced and Pierre is one-dimensional and no longer can handle lefties which paints him into a platoon role.I'm not saying that this means you should overdraft steals, but the point we were making at the summit was that a steals strategy is quite a bit more important than it might have been 10 years ago. I feel like if you pass on all those power-speed guys early, you're going to put your roster in a tough spot taking a bunch of Juan Pierres to fill that column.

Jessica (TB)

Hey Tristan. Love your chats. Can Dustin Ackley regain his near-elite potential at 2b this year?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:32 AM)

I think a "good" year for Ackley might be something in the .260-.270 batting average range with 15 apiece in homers and steals. He has a <i>lot</i> of work to do making adjustments at this level. Difficult for me to dig up the exact stat at the speed of the chat, but if I recall, in terms of OPS, he was the worst qualified hitter in baseball the second half of 2012.

Bart (Indiana)

Two Seattle prospects... When can we expect to see Zunino's bat? How far away is Hultzen? If he can touch 93 on 4 seamer and take that Vulcan change down to 82, those are MLB pitches, right?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:33 AM)

Scouts talk like Zunino might be ready by midseason, and he's certainly one of the more enticing catcher prospects in fantasy. I'd draft expecting minimal contributions this year, with him taking over in 2014, though. The Mariners might yet take an extended look at Jesus Montero behind the plate; they have DH locked up for now and they're not going to bench Montero (barring a massive slump).As for Hultzen, yes, I'd say so. I don't think he has ace upside necessarily but he might be quicker to adapt to the bigs than the usual prospect. If he's up by, say, June, I could see him having an impact similar to what Jason Vargas offered you last year, which is better than most think.

Bill (Athens, GA)

A clarification on Bruce Rondon. Is his issue command, control, or both? His walk rate last year was 4.41/9 innings in the minors (~ 2012 Tim Lincecum) and if he isn't commanding the strike zone too, that sounds like a lot of walks and home runs, a recipe for disaster.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:34 AM)

I'd term it an issue of control, misspoke on that earlier. Good catch. Again, speed of the chat. Want to get to as many Q's as possible today!

Brian (NY)

What are your thoughts on SD and SEA hitters w/ smaller parks this year?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:36 AM)

If I'm going to pick on two specific examples related to these ballparks, I'll mention Jesus Montero as a player whose power plays directly to the spots the Mariners adjusted the fences, and Chase Headley as one whose regression to the mean in the power department might not be so drastic due to Petco's adjustments.Kyle Seager is another one to watch with the Mariners.Don't radically alter your projections as result of these ballparks shrinking, however. Most of these factors are small, in the range of less than three home runs. And that's just off the top of my head; I'll have a deeper analysis in the coming weeks.

James (Long Island)

Come on you guys rated mauer over teix at first... I feel like mauer is falling into a 310-80-80 (great numbers for a catcher) but teix could hit 40 hr and drive in 100 and no one would blink.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:38 AM)

I would blink. I've got him in the 30-100 range, and his batting average is much more likely to be .250 than .280. That said, I have Teixeira eight spots higher in my personal rankings, but the formula says it's absolutely a debate worth having.

dee (VA)

Who could be this years Mike Trout?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:40 AM)

Nobody will be this year's Mike Trout. I might be more confident in that statement than I am in anything I predict the entire preseason. The chances of someone managing a Player Rater score equal to or greater than Trout's is probably less than a thousandth of a percent.I sincerely doubt that any rookie will manage a season in the top 25 overall players, but if I'm picking the player with the best chance at it, I'll take Jurickson Profar ... if he makes the team or forces his way in by May.

Chris (Ohio)

What went into the reasoning of putting Wieters as the number three catcher? Thats the highest ranking for him I've seen so far this year.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:41 AM)

Thirty-homer potential. In my notes I said that if his 2012 was a "down" year, well, the next-level stats said it was effectively a "spun-his-wheels" season. Yadier Molina is an outstanding example of the catcher who bloomed late; I think Wieters still has room to grow especially in the homer category.

James (NY)

Hey Tristan, as you mentioned being in a points league, what do you do to help balance out pitchers having such a higher potential for points than batters? Last year, our league tried giving hitters extra bonuses (a la extra point for game winning rbi or a +2 for grand slammies) Any thoughts?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:42 AM)

Don't award a single point for wins, drop pitching bonuses for things like complete games and shutouts, and make sure it's all weighted so that pitchers are most rewarded for outs and most penalized for hits, walks and runs. I don't see anything that contributes more to overrating pitchers than bonuses for things like wins, complete games and shutouts.

Ryan (Seattle)

Is David Phelps a sleeper to target late in your draft? Seems like NYY don't want to give this guy a rotation spot for some reason.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:44 AM)

Phelps has good stuff but having watched him a lot last year, I feel like it's good enough to play as a reliever over 2-3 inning chunks more than it is as a starter facing the opponent's starting nine several times a night. As an AL-only sleeper, sure, it's worth a shot, but he's not really discussed as more than a rotation fallback. There's a very real chance you're taking the Yankees' sixth/seventh-inning man if you draft him, and nothing more.

MeisterNJ (Mendham)

Billy Butler #6 at 1B? Wow, 1B is actually pretty weak now.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:45 AM)

Billy Butler was the No. 5 first baseman and No. 29 overall player on our 2012 Player Rater.

Brian (NY)

Which position do you think is the shallowest this season?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:46 AM)

Catcher, statistically speaking, rated the weakest. I made the point in the summit that the reason was lesser at-bats accrued by the replacement-level player, so don't put a ton of stock in it.From a draft valuation standpoint, I think it's more important to lean on second base as the weakest position. Stats-wise, it was the second-weakest, and among the non-catcher spots, it had the easy "advantage" in that regard.

Bill (Athens, GA)

Phew. Well, Rondon can go back on my sleeper list. Thanks for keeping up the fast pace. What do you see for Alex Rios next year? I have the opportunity to keep him for a reasonable price ($14) in my AL only league, but he is terrifying. I know he won't repeat a career year at 32, but have you heard of any changes to his approach, swing, or anything else that make you think that the 2012 season is partially sustainable?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:48 AM)

I looked extensively at Alex Rios before our summit, and the fairest note I made was, "Heck if I can predict this guy." Everything about his 2012 screamed "legit," but at the same time we've seen him inexplicably collapse in certain years. I wish I had more for you; unfortunately this is one of the few players whom I must classify unpredictable.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:48 AM)

At $14, I'd say cross your fingers tightly and keep him.

Jeff (CT)

Tristan- What does your gut tell you about how Chapman will perform as a starter this year? Does he look more like Chris Sale or more like the failed Joba experiment?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:50 AM)

I think that he would succeed if given the chance, and have greater fear that the Reds will simply change their minds. I've never personally witnessed Aroldis Chapman's changeup -- it's on my list of things I'll be looking for closely come spring training -- but all reports have it being good enough to carry him as a starter, in the ballpark of what Sale did in 2012. I ranked him that way.

Matt (GA)

Do you like Jon Lester to bounce back now that he has John Farrell working with him again? Since his best years came with him and his worst without him

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:51 AM)

Well, if anyone can fix Jon Lester, certainly it should be Farrell. That said, Lester's lost velocity and command of his fastball, which was more than a one-year pattern, disturbs me. He's a greater project than people think and it's why I'm conservatively regarding him no more than a top-40 starter or so.

Chris (Toledo)

Where does Ben Revere hit in the lineup? Will he get on base enought to steal 50?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:53 AM)

I trust colleague Eric Karabell's opinion when it comes to Phillies lineup construction -- he'll have as good an angle on it as I would the Yankees -- and he's convinced that Revere will be either their No. 7 or 8 hitter. And if Revere's the eight hitter, then he'll be on base a fair amount with the pitcher up, meaning more red lights than usual on the base paths. I'd estimate 40 steals, it's dangerous to expect more.

Danny (Louisville, KY )

How far does Jeter move up your SS rankings if he's healthy on opening day?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:54 AM)

Maybe to 12th or 13th, in the Alcides Escobar/Marco Scutaro range. Jeter's advantage is that the Yankees <i>will</i> bat him leadoff (or second) every day that he's healthy, and that means he'll fall into a good 90-plus runs based solely on role.

Mike (Arlington, TX)

Along the same lines as Jeff's question above, what are your feelings about Alexi Ogando in the Rangers rotation? Can he match or exceed what he did a few years ago?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:55 AM)

I love Ogando in the Rangers' rotation. He has electric stuff and a track record -- albeit somewhat short -- of success in the role. I'm not positive he can hold up for 180-plus innings considering health and workload history, but I'd buy for sure in the late rounds on Opening Day and might simply trade him midseason, as I said all year in his big 2011, if he starts hot.

Brandon (RI)

Do you compile stat projections during the rankings summit?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:56 AM)

I've been working on our projections since November. They merely got a polish during the summit, and are currently being finalized.

MeisterNJ (Mendham)

Are your personal rankings available? didn't see them.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:57 AM)

<a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/fantasy/baseball/flb/story?page=2013_ranks_250" target="_new">My top 250 for 2013</a>.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (11:58 AM)

For those interested, here are my in-depth thoughts on my top 10 overall players (video): <a href="http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8895358" target="_new">Top 10 video</a>.

Brandon (STL)

How do you come to the individual projections for a player?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (12:00 PM)

OK, let's establish my high level of geekiness, shall we? (Not that I mind it, I kid, I kid.)Three-year statistical profile (2010-12), including MLEs, are the only seasons considered. Players weighted to most recent season, and their batted-ball statistics include <i>some</i> regression to the mean (it's not the same amount for every player, it's as much as I consider it relevant in each example). Ballpark translations also applied where applicable.

Joe (Bronx, NY)

Can you name some highly ranked players who you are very confident and/or not as confident to actually live up to their lofty rankings. Thanks.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (12:04 PM)

Interesting question, Joe. It brings up the point that we must all rank all players considering at least a bit where we think they might be drafted, or at least their most likely 2013 result. It doesn't always mean we're willing to draft every single player in the spot we ranked them.For me, I'm confident in my ranks of Jay Bruce (38th), Billy Butler (42nd), Matt Cain (26th), Cole Hamels (29th), Prince Fielder (10th). I think they all have extremely high probability of reaching or exceeding those numbers on the 2013 Player Rater.I'm scared, however, of Jose Bautista (14th), Josh Hamilton (23rd), Jose Reyes (35th), Curtis Granderson (39th) and Jered Weaver (37th), and think every one of them has a steep enough downside that I probably wouldn't be targeting them until several picks later if I could help it.

Ben (Seattle)

What kind of 1-for-1 trade makes sense for Jurickson Profar in a dynasty league right now? Say, a Jay Bruce, Brett Lawrie or Billy Butler in a best-case scenario?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (12:05 PM)

A player like Brett Lawrie would make sense. A fellow kid on the rise, but not one without questions. I'd avoid trading a proven big-leaguer like Bruce or Butler, if I could help it.

MeisterNJ (Mendham)

You don't see Ike Davis taking the next step after 30 hr's even with the Valley Fever?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (12:05 PM)

I do see him taking another step, but another step for him, meaning reaching his ceiling for 2013, probably puts him in the range of a .270 average and 40 homers. And you should never draft players simply based upon their ceilings.

Troy (NH)

Is Matt Moore ready to make significant improvements this year and become a top 25-pitcher, or is that expecting too much?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (12:06 PM)

I think he is. I'm no longer optimistic that he'll contend for an 11-K's-per-nine ratio, but he made adjustments the second half of the season that bode well for his 2013. Frankly, I think his 2012 first half was his "adjustment period" that all young pitchers face in the majors.

Jon (Minneapolis)

Tristan updated keeper ranks on their way? I need two out these four. P Alvarez, W Middlebrooks, T Skaggs and J Walker. The 3bs are behind Lawrie and Machado but add depth and trade potential while the SPs might not play till mid season? Help Please

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (12:09 PM)

Yes, updated keeper rankings are in the works. Also make sure to check out our recent dynasty mock, which actually placed players fairly close to where I'll have them in my upcoming top 250. It was eerie, and I didn't even release my list to our group in advance.If you're keeping third basemen as trade chips, I'm going Middlebrooks over Alvarez, and I'm probably trying to make that deal sooner than later. Is that Taijuan Walker? I'd keep him over Skaggs, but I admit that is personal preference.

Gordon (WA)

What do you expect of Carl Crawford this year?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (12:10 PM)

Well, any projection cannot possibly grant him a full season, and I don't think citing numbers here in any other format than assuming a full season is helpful. It's why I say things like "scaled to games played," and that's what I'm doing here: .270 average or so, 12-15 homers, 30-35 steals. I don't think he's as much of a base stealer as he once was, and I'll point out that I have him projected for only about 130 games.

Todd (Ohio)

Last keeper...Moore 13 bucks or Sale 11 bucks.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (12:11 PM)

Can't go that wrong with either considering prices. Sale for me, though I've maintained that he's someone I'd put on a list of mid-season trade candidates. If your need is more long-term, I probably go Moore.

Brian (NY)

Thoughts on Everth Cabrera? If he steals 50 isn't he a top 10 SS?

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (12:14 PM)

He's <i>all</i> speed and practically nothing else. Heck, there might not be a stronger candidate (among projected regulars) to manage a higher on-base percentage than slugging percentage. (Well, maybe Ben Revere.) If not for his ability to walk every now and then, I'd be completely anti-Cabrera. As is, I'm thinking he's a .230-.240 hitter, meaning at best he's .330 on base (.315 a smarter guess), and that makes it difficult for him to swipe 50. I say .235 and 38.

Bill (Athens, GA)

What about Prince Fielder makes you say that he is likely to hit top 10 on the player rater, when he finished 26th last year? Is there something that makes you think he'll improve substantially? I know he is about as safe as you can be, but it is hard for anyone to be top 10. Of your top 10 for 2013, only 4 were in it last year...

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (12:15 PM)

Full year's experience against American League pitching, and a bolstered Tigers lineup surrounding him, boosting RBI/run potential. I'd be amazed if Fielder didn't have a better 2013 than 2012, health willing.

Tristan H. Cockcroft
  (12:16 PM)

OK, time to wrap things up for today. Thanks for all your questions, and sorry if I couldn't get to yours. Remember, I'm always reachable on Twitter (@SultanofStat), if we didn't chat today. Take care everyone, and see you next time!