Archive for March, 2009

National League West Preview

Monday, March 30th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Hitting: Orlando Hudson should be an asset when not hurt, but Casey Blake is consistently overrated by media types who care about things like being a “clubhouse leader.” Still, James Loney should improve, and a healthy Rafael Furcal would really help. I do worry about Russell Martin getting so overworked, but the outfield is a major strength. Manny Ramirez will be a big liability on defense, but I have to disagree with the statisticians who think he’s only worth 1-2 wins.

Pitching: The Dodgers are hardly a juggernaut, but this is the year Chad Billingsley should become a true ace, and while Clayton Kershaw will likely battle control problems, he’ll still be awfully tough to hit. Hiroki Kuroda is a solid No. 3, while Randy Wolf and James McDonald form a fine back end of the rotation. The bullpen isn’t all that deep, but Jonathan Broxton is a shutdown closer, and only health can halt the unstoppable force that is Hong-Chih Kuo – he had an OK 44:2 K:BB ratio over 26 innings against lefties last season.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks

Hitting: The Diamondbacks could easily win the West this year, but they’ll need their position players to really step up, as the rotation and bullpen aren’t quite as deep as the Dodgers’. Felipe Lopez wasn’t a bad signing, but he’s hardly a difference maker, and while Mark Reynolds will hit a bunch of homers, he won’t be all that valuable while doing so. Stephen Drew could take the next step, but Conor Jackson’s development, especially in the power department, has been a big disappointment. Chris Young and Justin Upton could blow up, but that will be a necessity for them to win the division. Arizona’s highest paid position player will act as its fourth outfielder.

Pitching: While depth may be an issue, the front of the D-Backs’ rotation has the potential to be the best in the NL. Still, Brandon Webb has been worked hard over the past few seasons, and Max Scherzer is a big injury risk. Dan Haren was the second best pitcher in the NL last season, and he’s a threat to win the Cy Young in 2009. Jon Garland was a curious signing, but Chad Qualls could be an effective closer despite the lack of name recognition. The team really needs Jon Rauch to step it up.

3. San Francisco Giants

Hitting: Last year the Giants hit by far the fewest homers in baseball – 23 fewer than the second least in the NL (the Nationals). The offense should be improved in 2009, but it still figures to be among the worst in baseball. Travis Ishikawa and Emmanuel Burriss have excelled this spring, but they will form a below average hitting right side of the infield. As for the left side, Pablo Sandoval’s bat is for real, but he and Edgar Renteria should form one of the worst defensive combos in the sport. To only Brian Sabean’s surprise, Aaron Rowand saw his OPS drop 140 points after signing a $60 million contract last year. Even more disturbing, after finishing with a strong 8.4 UZR/150 in 2007, he dropped all the way to -7.3 last season, so his defense declined even more than his bat. As a Giants fan myself, I let my emotions get the best of me when I ran into Rowand at a bar last weekend in SF, and here was the result.

Pitching: Some claim the Giants have a chance at winning the West this season, and while I disagree, it’s their pitching that is the reason. Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez could form a deadly foursome, especially if “dirty” can take the next step and truly break out. If Lincecum can remain healthy after getting badly abused by the inept Giants management last year, he could be the most valuable player in baseball, and Johnson will be effective as long as his balky back cooperates. Cain, however, looks unlikely to ever reach his once perceived ceiling. He’s younger than Lincecum, so there’s still time, but improved command is a must, and his fastball has lost some velocity. If Barry Zito can turn into a league average fifth starter, San Francisco would be thrilled. If the team took him to court, there would at least be a preponderance of evidence he was stealing from the franchise.

4. Colorado Rockies

Hitting: Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki look like bounce back candidates, while Chris Iannetta appears primed to develop into one of baseball’s best hitting backstops. However, Garrett Atkins’ career has taken a turn in the wrong direction, and three of the team’s best hitters (Dexter Fowler, Ian Stewart and Carlos Gonzalez) aren’t quite ready to be so just yet. Ryan Spilborghs and Seth Smith aren’t bad in the meantime, but there isn’t a worse defensive outfielder than Brad Hawpe.

Pitching: While the hitting has upside, Colorado’s pitching ultimately leaves them as a fourth place team. Ubaldo Jimenez has potential, but no pitcher in the history of the franchise has ever posted even a 3.20 ERA at Coors Field in a season. It’s nice to see Franklin Morales back on the scene, but this is a team that will be allowing a bunch of runs this season. Expect Huston Street to get most of the saves during the season’s first half and then get dealt before the deadline.

5. San Diego Padres

Hitting: This is going to get ugly. San Diego’s ownership has been forced to go cheap, in part because of a divorce, and the result will be a last place finish in 2009. Adrian Gonzalez deserves better, and I’m putting the over/under for Luis Gonzalez’s OPS this year at .650. It would be an upset if the Padres don’t finish the season with the fewest runs scored in major league baseball.

Pitching: Jake Peavy is terrific, but there’s still a chance he gets traded, and the 3-5 starters are a big problem even with Petco on their side. The team needs a strong campaign from Chris Young, but he can’t stay healthy and has seen a big dip in velocity this spring (although he claims that’s normal for this time of year). There’s really little to like here, and the future doesn’t offer much hope either.

The Scoop

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Call me crazy, but I currently view Jason Motte as a top-10 closer. Sure, there are safer options, but then again, there’s also quite a bit of uncertainty in the closer’s market right now (B.J. Ryan, Brian Fuentes, Francisco Cordero, etc.). There’s always the chance Tony La Russa goes all Ryan Franklin on us, but I always draft for skills, not role, and he’s probably a smarter manager than that anyway. I like Chris Perez, but he’s walked 5.6 batters per nine innings throughout his career, and I’m not sure why he’s generally considered the pitcher with more upside. Motte, a former catcher, didn’t even start pitching until two years ago, compiling a 11.9 K/9 mark throughout 164.2 minor league innings. When you combine last year’s stint with the Cardinals and his stats this spring, you get an acceptable 31:4 K:BB ratio over 21.1 innings. And this has all been accomplished throwing primarily his fastball, as his slider remains a work in progress (and it’s showing definite signs of improvement). With terrific command of a devastating fastball, he only needs the slider to be average anyway. Go get him.

I’m guessing this cop got picked on an awful lot in high school. I give Ryan Moats a lot of credit – I would have easily ended up in jail if this happened to me.

I’ve written about Johnny Cueto ad nauseam, so I’ll keep it short and simple; he has an 11:2 K:BB ratio this spring and has the upside of entering next year as a top-20 fantasy starter. The 11 Ks have come in 18 innings, so I’d like to see him missing more bats, and his ballpark is always going to remain a big obstacle. Still, the improved command is a very nice sign. I’m still buying.

Your weekly Stephen Strasburg update. He now has an 88:8 K:BB ratio over 42.1 innings.

I’m starting to come around on Todd Helton. Obviously, his prime is well in the past, and I doubt he’ll ever return to his 30-homer days. However, his back appears to be the healthiest it’s been in years, and he’s currently posting a 1.446 OPS during spring. Sure, it’s a tiny sample size, but the four homers are telling. Helton isn’t likely to hit more than 20-25 bombs in 2009, but he still has Coors Field on his side and should be a major asset in batting average. He’s just one year removed from a .928 OPS season and is 35 years old, hardly that ancient. If he’s truly back to health, Helton could be a big help in fantasy leagues.

Everyone always talks about how thin middle infield and catcher are, and normally, I agree. However, I’d argue third base is the shallowest position right now. I guess there’s a top-8 (Wright, ARod, Longoria, A. Ramirez, Youkilis, Chipper, C. Davis, Atkins), but there’s definite injury concerns with three of those, and Atkins is shaky at best. But the real problem is after that group, when it becomes a true crapshoot. I’d much prefer waiting on MI and gambling on a Khalil Greene, Yunel Escobar, Jed Lowrie, Felipe Lopez, Freddy Sanchez, etc. than I would taking a Mike Lowell, Carlos Guillen, Mark Reynolds or Melvin Mora. But the problem is I’m not all that big on any third baseman after the big-three, so Hank Blalock is too often ending up as my starter.

I honestly can’t tell if Richard Justice is being sarcastic here. Based off his last few columns, it appears he’s being dead serious.

I’ve been a Conor Jackson fan for quite some time now, but it might be time to call a spade a spade. I love his plate discipline and home stadium, so he should be an asset in BA and runs scored, but his lack of power is a huge source of concern. Dating back to last year and through this spring, CoJack has ZERO homers over his last 248 at-bats.

I’m not even going to waste much time talking about how absolutely ridiculous it is to have Brandon Morrow become a full-time closer, because it’s not even worth it. Maybe his arm will only hold up as a reliever, but that conclusion has hardly been reached yet. And I don’t care if that’s his preference, just as it shouldn’t matter where Manny Ramirez wants to hit in the lineup. If I were a Mariners fan, I would be highly discouraged – the fact this is being allowed shows complete incompetence from top to bottom. Really, it’s sad. Forget teams comprehending complex stats correctly, or trying to dissect defensive measures, can we at least reach the point where some common sense is instituted?

The Scoop

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

If anyone is interested in joining the RotoScoop Invitational fantasy baseball league, there might be an opening or two due to time conflicts. Comment here or email me at seven3d@aol.com. The draft is tomorrow (Thursday) at 6 PST.

Ryan Braun’s intercostal strain has officially become a major concern. Considering it’s the same exact injury that limited him to a .208/.304/.356 line in September last year, his latest setback can’t be taken lightly. The fact it lingered after a full offseason of rest was worrisome in the first place. I just drafted him with the seventh pick in my main league and am already regretting it. I knew I should have went with Timmy.

It seems the popular thing right now is to call Matt Wieters overhyped. Well, allow me to let you in on a little secret, he’s become so overrated, he’s now officially underrated. Sure, he’s looking at 1-2 months in the minors to open the season, but we are talking about quite possibly one of the five best prospects of the decade. He’s the real deal, so feel free to reach.

I really don’t know what to make of Javier Vazquez – entering last year I strongly recommended avoiding him. The feeling being he was coming off a tremendous year with strong peripherals, but the strong K rate has always been there and a big improvement in strand rate was largely to blame for the better ERA – something I didn’t feel comfortable repeating. Well, he responded with another campaign with very good peripherals yet a 4.67 ERA (his strand rate dropped significantly). David Bush is similar, but Vazquez is the poster boy for “his ERA should have been better.” Despite a 7.99 K/9 and a 3.3 K/BB ratio for his career, his ERA is a pedestrian 4.32 over 11 seasons. He’s posted an ERA under 4.42 once over the past five years. The fact he struggles out of the stretch (opponents have hit 21 points higher against him with RISP than with the bases empty during his career) is obviously a problem, but it does also seem Vazquez has been unlucky. In fact, the difference between his FIP and ERA (-0.86) was the third highest in all of baseball last year. Moreover, Vazquez is now moving to the easier league with a move to Atlanta. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, and according to park factors, last year U.S. Cellular Field was the second most homer-prone stadium in baseball, whereas Turner Field was in the middle of the pack. Bottom line, Vazquez is extremely durable, has struck out more than 180 batters in four straight seasons, should be a help in WHIP and could vie for the Cy Young with the move back to the NL. However, don’t be surprised if you are throwing your arms up at the end of 2009 wondering why his ERA was so much higher than his peripherals suggest it should have been.

Do you realize the Tigers signed Dontrelle Willis to a three-year, $29 million contract last year when he was coming off a season in which he posted a 5.17 ERA, 1.60 WHIP and 1.7 K:BB ratio while in the NL? Put a fork in him – his career is over. That signing was dumber than Drew Peterson’s new fiancée, or the fact the Twins built a new stadium for $400 million and didn’t make it a dome.

Two quick recommendations: The first is “I Love You, Man,” and while not a true classic, I thought it was one of the funnier comedies that didn’t involve Judd Apatow in quite some time.  The second is a TV show called “Party Down.” It won’t be popular since it airs on Starz, and I can only vouch for one episode since it just started, but the series premiere was an A+.

If you’re in an NL-only format (or a deep mixed league), David Freese is fast becoming a legitimate option. An early Achilles injury during spring stopped him from being the obvious favorite to replace Troy Glaus at third base for the Cards, but he’s since recovered while Joe Mather has slumped badly. Freese has a .914 OPS throughout his career in the minors, including 26 homers over 464 at-bats in Triple-A last season. He’s a deep sleeper.

I find it absolutely laughable listening to people discuss Curt Schilling’s Hall of Fame credentials and bringing up wins as a reason why he shouldn’t be in. Longevity obviously matters but have we honestly not moved past such an archaic method of evaluating pitchers? Listening to the Michael Kay show, who I generally like actually, he said: “Aren’t wins what baseball is all about?” Umm, yes, but that’s an extremely poor correlation to pitching performance, obviously. Bottom line, we need to stop this numerology when it comes to evaluating careers – and especially when it comes to such an insignificant statistic such as “wins.” By the way, Schilling was one of the best postseason pitchers ever and had a 127+ ERA, so while I’m far from a study of the game and consider the guy a tool, he’s a pretty much a slam dunk.

My Top 50

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Here is my current top-50 but realize every format is different. For instance, in a two-catcher league, I would have upped their values and included three of them here.

1. Jose Reyes
2. Hanley Ramirez
3. Albert Pujols
4. David Wright
5. Grady Sizemore
6. Miguel Cabrera
7. Ryan Braun
8. Tim Lincecum
9. Jimmy Rollins
10. Chase Utley
11. Carlos Beltran
12. Alfonso Soriano
13. BJ Upton
14. Josh Hamilton
15. Ryan Howard
16. Mark Teixiera
17. Ian Kinsler
18. Evan Longoria
19. Manny Ramirez
20. Dustin Pedroia
21. Prince Fielder
22. Matt Holliday
23. Matt Kemp
24. Carl Crawford
25. Carlos Lee
26. Nick Markakis
27. Alex Rodriguez
28. Jacoby Ellsbury
29. Brian Roberts
30. Brandon Phillips
31. Jason Bay
32. Aramis Ramirez
33. Ichiro Suzuki
34. Dan Haren
35. Josh Beckett
36. Adrian Gonzalez
37. Lance Berkman
38. Justin Morneau
39. Johan Santana
40. CC Sabathia
41. Roy Halladay
42. Jake Peavy
43. Brandon Webb
44. Vladimir Guerrero
45. Carlos Quentin
46. Shane Victorino
47. Alex Rios
48. Curtis Granderson
49. Nate McLouth
50. Joey Votto

Linked

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

A batch of links to start your week off right:

Interesting article by the Football Scientist. He dissects just how much better Larry Fitzgerald is than Anquan Boldin and why Terrell Owens and Lee Evans are a poor fit together. Evans is a much, much better vertical threat than T.O. at this stage of their careers.

I’m not sure what to make of this, but when David Price says “My slider’s gone away,” there’s some cause for concern.

I could go on and on about the Jay Cutler saga, but I’m not sure who has come across as the bigger idiot, Josh McDaniels or the general media. Make no mistake, Cutler has been a whiny bitch throughout this process, and his agent deserves blame as well. That said, who does McDaniels think he is? Way to alienate one of the NFL’s top-5 properties before even coaching one game in your career. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. And then there’s the media, and while this isn’t all encompassing, many have written about Cutler as if he’s some solid, yet nothing special quarterback, sighting asinine statistics like the fact he hasn’t made the playoffs during the two years he’s been Denver’s starter. Ya Jay, a true leader would have never allowed his defense to give up 7.7 YPA, a 98.5 QB rating, 5.0 YPC and a 46:13 TD:INT ratio. What a loser! After all, this Cowboys writer states Cutler is “too insensitive to be a championship quarterback.” I’m just glad he stayed away from anecdotal evidence. I’d also have to respectfully disagree with Trent Dilfer, who claims Cutler would not be a big upgrade for the Vikings.

Poor guy.

Barry! Barry! Barry!

A terrific article by the always solid Joe Posnanski about managers’ affects on baseball teams.

Interesting study over at The Hardball Times regarding double plays.

It’s taken long enough, but it does appear my main man Nnamdi Asomugha is finally getting his proper due. Too bad even in this effusive profile they erroneously tell you how to pronounce his name. Ah, it’s still progress for the NFL’s best defensive player.

Barry Zito when asked his opinion of the Giants’ competition at second base between Kevin Frandsen and Emmanuel Burriss: ”Is that it, the battle between them? Is that what’s going on? Is Renteria starting at short?” Ladies and gentlemen, your $126 million dollar man!

Your weekly Stephen Strasburg update. It’s safe to say the Nationals picked a good year to have the No. 1 pick.

It looks like the old Pronk isn’t ever coming back. Victor Martinez, meanwhile, is a strong bounce back candidate.

Anna Farris. Just because.

My Bracket

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

MIDWEST

Louisville over Morehead St.
Ohio St. over Siena
Utah over Arizona
Wake Forest over Cleveland St.
West Virginia over Dayton
Kansas over North Dakota St.
USC over Boston College
Michigan St. over Robert Morris

Louisville over Ohio St.
Wake Forest over Utah
West Virginia over Kansas
Michigan St. over USC

Louisville over Wake Forest
West Virginia over Michigan St.

Louisville over West Virginia

WEST

UConn over Chattanooga
BYU over Texas A&M
Purdue over Northern Iowa
Washington over Mississippi St.
Utah St. over Marquette
Missouri over Cornell
Cal over Maryland
Memphis over CSU Northridge

UConn over BYU
Washington over Purdue
Missouri over Utah St.
Memphis over Cal

UConn over Washington
Memphis over Missouri

Memphis over UConn

EAST

Pittsburgh over E. Tennessee
Tennessee over Oklahoma St.
Wisconsin over Florida St.
Xavier over Portland St.
UCLA over VCU
Villanova over American
Texas over Minnesota
Duke over Binghamton

Pittsburgh over Tennessee
Xavier over Wisconsin
UCLA over Villanova
Duke over Texas

Pittsburgh over Xavier
Duke over UCLA

Duke over Pittsburgh

SOUTH

UNC over Radford
Butler over LSU
Illinois over Western Kentucky
Gonzaga over Akron
Arizona St. over Temple
Syracuse over Stephen F. Austin
Clemson over Michigan
Oklahoma over Morgan St.

UNC over Butler
Gonzaga over Illinois
Arizona St. over Syracuse
Oklahoma over Clemson

UNC over Gonzaga
Arizona St. over Oklahoma

UNC over Arizona St.

FINAL FOUR

Louisville over Memphis
UNC over Duke

UNC over Louisville

The Scoop

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Rich Harden has about as much upside as any fantasy player in baseball. By now, everyone knows the inherent injury risk – he’s reached 150 innings in just one season during his six-year career. But this is someone who posted an 11.28 K/9 IP mark once he came over to the NL last season. Despite a high-walk rate, Harden is generally unhittable, and with the Cubs’ offense supporting him, there’s every reason to believe he can be a top-10 SP asset even if he tosses just 150 innings (factoring in an average replacement player). That said, there’s one aspect getting overlooked in the Harden scenario – what if he is able to stay on the mound, but the results are diminished due to all that arm trouble? His velocity was way down at the end of last season, and while he remained effective, he did post a 14:12 K:BB ratio over 17 September innings. He’s getting eased back into work this spring, but realize a long-lasting decrease in velocity could be especially troublesome since Harden has transformed himself into mainly a two-pitch (fastball/changeup) guy because of all the arm troubles. I’m not saying avoid at all costs, but it’s also worth noting his dominant performance in a Cubs uniform last season was accompanied by a .229 BABIP and an .873 strand rate. While his ERA was 1.77, his xFIP was 3.64.

Speaking of Cubs starting pitchers, Sean Marshall is one of my favorite targets in 2009. Too often overlooked as an option in the rotation last season, he did post an 8.02 K/9 IP mark and enters this year firmly entrenched as Chicago’s No. 5 starter. So far this spring, the lefty has recorded a 0.63 ERA with an 8:1 K:BB ratio over 14.1 innings.

With the Cubbies remaining on my mind, I question whether Derrek Lee’s power will ever return. Over the last 104 games last season, he hit just seven homers. That’s carried over into spring, when Lee has slugged a pathetic .214 over 28 at-bats. Obviously, the spring stats are too small of a sample size to write him off completely, but this is a worrisome trend. Lee isn’t worth his price tag (his ADP is currently higher than Joey Votto’s).

Clint Barmes isn’t a bad endgame option at MI this year. In fewer than 400 ABs last season, he racked up 11 homers and 13 steals. Sure, he isn’t a very good player in real life – .606 career OPS on the road – but the fact remains he plays half his games in Coors Field. Ian Stewart could spell him at times, but with Jeff Baker providing little competition this spring, Barmes is set to enter 2009 as the Rockies’ clear starter at second. He’s even more valuable in leagues with daily transactions, where you can play him exclusively at home.

Another solid late-round option is Gary Sheffield, whose current ADP sits at 245. He may be 40 years old and injury-prone, but he still managed 19 homers and nine steals over just 418 at-bats last season. Of course, that came with an ugly .225 BA, but that can at least partially be explained by a .237 BABIP. He seems to be over his shoulder problems, and the fact he’s finally OK with staying at DH could lead to better health. Although it disappointed in 2008, Detroit’s lineup should be potent.

A Tiger I’m less enthused about a bounce back is Justin Verlander. I certainly liked his career path entering last year, but his ugly 2008 was the result of an increased walk rate and a decreased K rate – not bad luck. Sure, every pitcher can be forgiven for a bad season, and I’m not writing Verlander off completely, but I worry his price tag will rise after glowing reviews that are completely misguided. For instance, “Detroit News” claimed Verlander “looked fabulous” during his start Tuesday, when he allowed just one run over six innings. Well, that also came with a 2:3 K:BB ratio, so “fabulous” wouldn’t have been my description of the outing. Moreover, Verlander has posted a 7:12 K:BB ratio over 15.1 innings this spring, so I’d temper my expectations.

Hoops Scoop

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Patient owners or those who were quick enough to grab Larry Hughes off the waiver wire after getting traded to the Knicks have been nicely rewarded. During seven games this month, he’s averaged 19.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.1 threes and 2.3 steals. Hughes is even shooting an uncharacteristic 44.3 percent from the field. He’s been a great fit for Mike D’Antoni’s system.

Andrei Kirilenko’s career continues to disappoint. An already lackluster season has gotten even worse since returning from ankle surgery, as the usually pesky defender has totaled just one steal over the past eight games. He’s blocked more than one shot in a game just once since January 12. In fact, his blocked shot numbers have dropped in each of the past four seasons. What has happened to the AK47 we know and love?

With Devin Harris (shoulder) sidelined indefinitely, Keyon Dooling is a must-add. He’s actually been solid when given a chance this year, averaging 15.6 points, 5.1 assists and 1.0 steals in seven starts – shooting 52.5 percent over that span. The Nets are in 12th place in the East, so the team has little incentive rushing back its franchise player.

Charlie Villanueva is currently having the best season of his life, which is a bit ironic since it figured his personality would clash with coach Scott Skiles. The highlight of Villanueva’s year occurred Sunday, when he posted a message to his Twitter feed during halftime of a game against the Celtics: “In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt. We’re playing the Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up.” That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!

After LeBron James, the Cavs have a roster full of good, not great players, despite Mo Williams’ All-Star outcry. Still, with homecourt all but locked up in the East, Cleveland has to be considered the favorites to win the title. After all, the team is a solid 30-1 at home this year. Williams and Delonte West form an underrated backcourt, and James is far and away the best player in the league. Expect the Cavs to be hoisting the trophy in the end.

The Scoop

Monday, March 16th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I wouldn’t mind Josh Johnson ending up on plenty of my teams this year. He returned from Tommy John surgery earlier than anticipated last season and saw an increase in velocity in doing so. His control still needs to improve, but his 7.94 K/9 IP mark and 1.56 G/F ratio reveal a lot of potential, especially from someone just returning from major arm surgery. Johnson also had a .332 BABIP against him, and it stands to reason he’ll be even better the further he’s removed from the operation. Still just 25, Johnson could really break out in 2009.

Chris Ray should prove to be one of the cheaper sources for saves this year. George Sherrill racked up 31 saves last year, but that was accompanied by a 5.57 BB/9 IP mark, leading to an ugly 1.50 WHIP. Baltimore is sure to leave him in the role as Ray eases back from arm surgery, but Sherrill is likely to get traded at some point, and Ray appears to still be the team’s long-term answer in the ninth.

Maybe it’s nothing, but it does sound like Joe Mauer’s health issue is a big concern. His loss would be crushing to the Twins, while also significantly hurting Justin Morneau’s fantasy value.

I’m not touching Mike Pelfrey this season. On the surface, it appeared he started to live up to his draft status (ninth pick in 2005) after May last year, finishing the following four months with ERAs of 3.52, 2.70, 2.93 and 4.06. He does have a potent Mets offense on his side, and it looks like the team is actually counting on him to be their No. 2 starter. However, a 4.93 K/9 IP mark just won’t cut it, especially with his shaky command. Just 7.2 percent of his fly balls went over the fence, making him the fifth luckiest pitcher in baseball in that department. It comes as no surprise his xFIP was 4.70 – nearly a full run higher than his ERA. Pelfrey is still at the point in his career where he can grow as a pitcher, but his skills would need to dramatically improve for him to be considered in mixed fantasy leagues.

If I’m worried about Joe Mauer’s health, consider me positively terrified of Cole Hamels. This is someone who was already an injury risk before tossing 262.1 innings last season – 72.1 more than in 2007. In fact, Hamels threw more pitches than any pitcher in baseball last year (3,914). His fastball/changeup combo is usually much safer than a hurler who throws a lot of sliders/curveballs, but this latest elbow concern is a major red flag. Stay away.

Daniel Cabrera, who was 0-for-14 with 14 strikeouts in his career with the bat, singled last week during a spring at-bat.

Despite continuing to battle oblique injuries, Wandy Rodriguez is someone to target in 2009. His walk rate has declined while his K rate has increased during each of the past three seasons. He fanned 66 batters over 62.1 inning after the break last year, and after posting huge home/road splits in 2007 (2.94 ERA vs. 6.37), that schism got closer last year (2.99 vs. 4.34), so don’t be surprised if Rodriguez emerges as Houston’s ace by the end of the season.

Linked

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

A batch of links to get you through the weekend:

Stephen Strasburg is officially the best pitching prospect in the history of baseball. Through 27.1 innings this year, he has a decent 59:5 K:BB ratio. There’s now even talk he could be in the Nationals’ rotation later THIS year.

Speaking of “best pitching prospect ever,” here’s a terrific article by Jeff Passan regarding the fall of Mark Prior. My favorite excerpt: “In Prior’s last nine games, including three in the playoffs, he logged the following pitch counts: 131, 129, 109, 124, 131, 133, 132, 115, 119. House believes the overuse by Baker doomed Prior. Eight pitchers this decade have thrown 109 or more pitches in nine straight games, and half of them needed reconstructive arm surgery.”

Here’s a recent podcast I recorded.

Bill Belichick would probably rank in my top-10 of those I’d want to have a beer with.

To call Pablo Sandoval a “free swinger” would be an understatement. He makes Vladimir Guerrero’s plate coverage look modest.

Hire Joe Morgan?

It doesn’t sound like Pacman Jones or Plaxico Burress is changing anytime soon.

The Rick Porcello era looks ready to begin much sooner than anticipated.

I haven’t seen “Watchmen,” but if I did it would be for the criminally underrated Malin Akerman.

LeBron James’ recent three-game string of consecutive triple-doubles impress you? Please check out Michael Jordan’s box scores starting from March 25th on during the 1988-89 season.

Interesting look on how current MLB free agents would fare as a team. It remains unclear why Jim Edmonds hasn’t been signed yet.

The more I think about it, the more I say “Revolutionary Road” was the best movie of 2008. Especially if you like feel-good, uplifting flicks. I didn’t rank it in my year-end list, because I hadn’t watched it yet. But for everything Sam Mendes did wrong with the awful “American Beauty,” he gets right here.

The UConn/Syracuse six-overtime game was definitely entertaining and crazy (odds of it happening were 1 in 122,000), but it was also a little overrated. For one, nearly every shot that ended a quarter was a miss. Also, the final margin of victory was 10 points.

More LABR Talk

Friday, March 13th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

After posting the results of my auction, I wanted to discuss some strategies and players who ended up on my team.

In a deep format like this, I’m all about not paying for stars and trying to accumulate as many at-bats as possible. In fact, I didn’t spend more than $23 on a single player. In shallow mixed leagues, it’s all about the superstars and upside. Here, it’s more about floor and safety. Moreover, I’m not a fan of paying for saves, although punting a category is pretty risky. I may need to pull off a deal in April.

Chris Iannetta was one of my two specific targets, although $20 was quite steep (and later ridiculed). He’s never been a full-time catcher in the big leagues, so there’s some uncertainty for sure, but he posted a .915 OPS in 803 minor league at-bats and has Coors Field on his side. He’s currently crushing the ball in the WBC and walked 29 times over his final 42 games last season. With Joe Mauer’s health in serious doubt, Russell Martin getting overworked and Victor Martinez coming off an awful campaign, Iannetta could finish as a top-3 catcher. Still, $20 was no bargain.

Chris Young (Ari) was my one other target entering the auction. I figured his career .243 BA should lower his price, and he actually regressed as a sophomore last season. Still, he hit .278 after the All-Star break, including eight homers and six steals over the final two months. It’s odd to see someone with his speed sport just a .281 career BABIP, and Chase Field is a terrific hitting environment. Remember, Young nearly went 30/30 as a rookie – don’t be surprised if he accomplishes the feat this year.

Elijah Dukes for $21 looks pretty bad in hindsight. Jayson Werth ($21) and Justin Upton ($17) were much better buys to be sure. Not only is Dukes a questionable character (“you dead dawg!”), he’s also battling Josh Willingham, Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena for playing time. Dukes is also quite injury-prone. Still, he did post a .972 OPS with a 26:22 K:BB ratio after the break last year, and given 550 at-bats, he could approach a 25/25 season. He’s still just 24 years old, so more improvement should be expected. However, his price tag was exorbitant.

I waited to fill my CI spots, and it shows. Bill Hall is supposedly recovering nicely from his calf injury, and he’s expected to be given every opportunity to be Milwaukee’s third baseman this season. He has some pop, but Hall is a major BA liability – he hit .174 against right-handers in 2008. I may not even know who Travis Ishikawa was if I didn’t follow the Giants. He does look like the favorite to start at first base, at least.

I certainly wasn’t planning on buying Chris Young (SD) entering the auction, but I felt $12 was just too low, and $13 stuck.  Studies have shown there needs to be about six full seasons of data to get a sufficient sample size for BABIP, so it remains possible Young’s last three years have been a fluke in that department. Still, he is an extreme fly ball pitcher, and Petco helps as well. Wins will be a problem with San Diego’s joke of a lineup, but Young has a strong K rate, although he’s also rather injury-prone.

Manny Parra is also a risk in the health department, but his 4.39 ERA last year was deceiving. He had a .337 BABIP, and a whopping 14.3 percent of his fly balls went over the fence – the eighth highest percentage in major league baseball – so he was quite unlucky. His xFIP was 4.03, and a 7.97 K/9 IP mark with a 1.60 G/F ratio is a good combination.

I’d like to see more strikeouts, but so far, so good regarding Chris Carpenter’s spring. It still remains to be seen how much velocity he’s lost after multiple arm surgeries, but as a $6 flier, I was happy to take the risk. He was the unanimous No. 2 starter off fantasy boards just two years ago.

I had completely written off Homer Bailey, but a strong spring made me buy him for a buck. He’s supposedly finally in the right frame of mind, and early reports suggest he’s regained some velocity. However, his curveball was once projected to be among the best in baseball, and it just hasn’t developed that way. I could see him imploding and killing my ERA, and in LABR’s quirky rules, no player bought can be benched unless they are hurt or in the minors. Micah Owings has actually been even more impressive this spring, so Cincinnati’s rotation is loaded.

John Raynor is a deep sleeper this year. Over his last two seasons in the minors, he’s racked up 102 steals. His OPS over that span was .919, so he’s no slouch at the plate either. Unless you’re a big believer in Cody Ross or think Jeremy Hermida is durable, Raynor could factor into Florida’s outfield mix at some point in 2009.

2009 NL LABR Results

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Here’s the team I drafted at LABR this past weekend. I’m still getting caught up after being out of town for nearly a week, so for now, I’ll post only the results. I’ll go into much greater detail Thursday. Remember, it’s a 13-team league with extremely deep rosters (14 offensive players, 10 pitchers). Anyway, without further ado, here is my team:

Pos Player Price
C Chris Iannetta 20
C Bengie Molina 15
1B Travis Ishikawa 5
2B Freddy Sanchez 12
3B Edwin Encarnacion 20
SS Yunel Escobar 13
CI Bill Hall 2
MI Edgar Renteria 13
OF Chris Young 23
OF Elijah Dukes 21
OF Willy Taveras 17
OF Rick Ankiel 14
OF Seth Smith 6
U Chris Duncan 5
P Yovani Gallardo 19
P Chris Young 13
P Randy Johnson 12
P Manny Parra 8
P Chris Carpenter 6
P Jonathan Sanchez 6
P Jordan Zimmermann 6
P Homer Bailey 1
P LaTroy Hawkins 1
P Peter Moylan 2
B Mike Lamb R
B Tom Glavine R
B John Raynor R
B Jacque Jones R
B Brandon Jones R
B Jeff Stevens R

LABR

Friday, March 6th, 2009

I’m off to Phoenix, so posting will be scarce for the next few days. I’ll make it up to you when I get back. Got any specific NL-only targets you recommend I should go after? Let me know and wish me luck!

The Scoop

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Joba Chamberlain is one of the toughest calls this year, as he has a ton of upside yet is a health risk, and his role remains somewhat in question. He’ll almost certainly be a starter moving forward – after all, the Yankees would be fools not to put him in the rotation. But the team has tentatively given him a 150 innings cap, which makes sense considering he tossed just 100.1 last season. Chamberlain has struggled so far in spring – including Thursday when gave up five runs against Team Canada without recording an out. Still, other than Tim Lincecum, there isn’t a pitcher with a higher ceiling in baseball. He has an 11.02 K/9 IP mark since getting called up by New York.

There might not be a cheaper source for steals than Nyjer Morgan this year. He’s the favorite to win the left field job, with Steve Pearce headed for more seasoning in Triple-A, and Andrew McCutchen far from ready. Morgan doesn’t have any power, but he hit .347 in 118 at-bats after the All-Star break last season and stole 70 bases over his last 130 games in the minors. He’s a sleeper.

Don’t forget about Rafael Soriano. Obviously, he’s one of the bigger injury risks around, as he’s coming back from nerve-transposition surgery that also removed a bone spur in his right elbow. But he’s healthy now, and while Mike Gonzalez is definitely the favorite to close in Atlanta, he’s had a checkered past as far as health is concerned as well. The left-hander also struggles with his control at times. Meanwhile, Soriano is simply one of the game’s best pitchers when on the mound. He’s one of the few middle relievers who can be an asset in fantasy leagues even if he isn’t getting saves, but don’t be shocked if he finishes with a dozen of those as well.

The more the details start coming out regarding Alex Rodriguez’s hip, the more dangerous the situation has become. A torn labrum is serious, and the Yankees are surprisingly asking him to play through it. Because surgery would knock him out at least four months, ARod would have to come at a severe discount to be considered in fantasy leagues. I won’t be touching him

Speaking of hip conditions, it sounds like Chase Utley is recovering extremely well. I’ve moved him back ahead of Ian Kinsler as the No. 1 ranked second baseman, and I’m far less worried about his prognosis than I previously was. He can be considered late in the first round.

Early indications are that Terrell Owens is getting the Barry Bonds treatment. It’s still early, obviously, but it looks like he’s going to struggle to find a new team. Owens may not want to play for a losing franchise, but don’t be surprised if Oakland is the only team that comes calling. And really, wasn’t Owens just born to be a Raider?

The Scoop

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

It really wouldn’t be all that crazy to consider Carlos Beltran late in the first round of drafts this year. His current ADP is 22.33, which seems low – behind inferior options like Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and Justin Morneau. Normally I’m against recommending players on the wrong side of 30, but it’s not like Beltran is that past his prime at age 31 (he’ll turn 32 in April). Now, injuries are a concern with him, and it’s not best to target a somewhat fragile player coming off a season in which he played 161 games, but he actually enters 2009 healthier than he’s felt in years now finally over knee problems. Over the past three years, Beltran has averaged 34 homers, 22 steals, 113 RBI and 112 runs. He’s not a huge help in BA, but his K rate dropped significantly last year, and his career 88 percent stolen base rate is truly remarkable. Since he’s also extremely good defensively (his 8.5 UZR/150 last year was sixth best among center fielders), he’s one of the most underrated players in the game.

I have mixed feelings about Felix Hernandez. When he entered the league in 2005, he was probably the best prospect of my lifetime. While he certainly hasn’t been a bust since then, it’s safe to say he’s been a pretty big disappointment. His command regressed badly last season (3.59 BB/9 IP), as did his G/F ratio – his 1.68 mark was still very good, but it was at 2.67 in 2007 and 2.15 in 2006. Also, his 7.85 K/9 IP feels like a letdown with his arsenal.  Over the last three years, his WHIP has gone from 1.34 to 1.38 to 1.39. It’s easy to forget, but King Felix is still just 22 years old, so it would be a major mistake to give up on him, but his lack of progress has been frustrating. A Cy Young type season wouldn’t surprise, but he pitched worse than ever over the final two months last year (54:30 K:BB ratio in 69.2 innings), and he remains an injury risk, so don’t go assuming stardom is fast approaching.

Rick Ankiel might be a bit undervalued this year since he hit just .169 over the last two months in 2008, finishing with a modest .264 BA. However, a sports hernia was directly to blame, and this is someone who had 20 homers at the All-Star break. Remember, Ankiel has only been a full-time hitter for three years now, so there’s still room for improvement even at age 29. He does strike out too often, but the power is for real, and he’s slated to hit cleanup behind Albert Pujols in a contract-year this season. Go get him.

With Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Felix Pie in the outfield and Cesar Izturis at shortstop, the Orioles have the makings of possibly the best defense in baseball. Baltimore has some solid young arms in the minors, but it’s too bad there aren’t any major league options for fantasy leaguers to take advantage of. Don’t be surprised come midseason when writers are throwing up their arms about how hurlers like Jeremy Guthrie have much better numbers than their peripherals suggest they should.

Jose Reyes vs. Hanley Ramirez is much closer than most realize, as Ramirez almost always goes first in drafts. He’s the superior real life player, obviously, but there’s real risk his SB totals start dropping dramatically, especially since he’s slated to move to the three-hole. Thirty steals are still likely, but Reyes has averaged 64.5 swipes over the past four seasons. He hits in the superior lineup and also has 20-homer pop. You can’t go wrong either way, and incredibly, both are just 25 years old.

In this article written by a reporter from the “Cleveland Plain Dealer,” Tony Grossi, a beat writer for the Browns, talks about a rumored trade of Brady Quinn and Shaun Rogers for Jay Cutler and a third round pick. Now, this trade isn’t going to happen, but what struck me was that Grossi claims in that scenario the Browns get “shortchanged,” even referring to Cutler as “kind of an upgraded version of Derek Anderson.” Yeah, kind of. One’s a potential Hall of Famer and one of the five most valuable properties in football. The other sucks. I realize Rogers is a good player, but he wants out anyway after Eric Mangini has alienated him to no end. (By the way, it’s become abundantly clear Mangini doesn’t have what it takes to run a football team). The fact Denver would have to add a third rounder in this fictitious deal makes it even more laughable. And people wonder why newspapers are deader than Elvis.

This is a few days old, but worth mentioning. Very cool article written by Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs. Research shows there’s a significant difference between home and road BABIP – just another tool that could prove useful. It also makes plenty of sense. Not only would fielders have a distinct advantage playing on their home turf, but hitters are likely to perform better under their more familiar conditions as well.

The Scoop

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Chris Iannetta is my favorite target at catcher this year. He’s no secret after posting an .895 OPS last season, but he’s not exactly getting treated like a future star either, with an ADP of 135 (with seven catchers going before him). Durability questions remain, but he’s clearly Colorado’s future at catcher, so he’s looking at a career-high in at-bats in 2009. Iannetta is no fluke, as he posted a .915 OPS throughout his minor league career. Moreover, he actually hit better on the road (.280) than at home (.250) last year, and it’s safe to expect better numbers at Coors Field this season. I wouldn’t be shocked if he has a better year than Geovany Soto. However, I would be surprised if Iannetta isn’t the better value.

I’ve always liked Anthony Reyes and targeted him in all my leagues last year, even paying $6 for him at LABR. After getting away from Dave Duncan, whom Reyes never got along with, he posted a 1.83 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in Cleveland, and he enters 2009 with a clear place in the Indians’ rotation. However, the pretty ERA came with some ugly peripherals – a 15:12 K:BB ratio over 34.1 innings. A 3.93 K/9 IP mark is brutal. It comes as no surprise his BABIP was .262 in Cleveland, and his strand rate was .878, so it’s not like he improved as a pitcher. There’s still some talent here, but it looks like it’ll never be realized, and he was even shut down at the end of last season with elbow soreness. Stay far, far away.

Pretty awesome headline from Newsday.

You don’t need me to tell you Jay Bruce is an elite talent, but he’s also not a bad target this year. After a scorching start to his career, hitting .577 with three homers over his first seven games, he never hit better than .256 in any of the season’s final four months last year, so some of his “best prospect in baseball” luster may be worn off in upcoming redraft leagues. Bruce strikes out too often to be a help in BA, but he clubbed 14 homers of the final two months last year and could run more if he so pleases (although his success rate has been dreadful throughout the minors). He really struggles against left-handers, so Bruce becomes a better option in daily leagues, but there’s a ton of upside here. I’d take him over the likes of Torii Hunter, Hunter Pence, Magglio Ordonez and Adam Dunn.

Sadly, it sounds like the old Francisco Liriano ain’t ever coming back.

Trevor Hoffman is one of the better values at closer in 2009. Many will look at last season’s 3.77 ERA (his highest since 1995) and his move out of Petco Park as reasons to avoid him, but even at age 41, his skills remain intact. Last year’s 9.18 K/9 IP mark was his best since 2002, and his command was superb as well (1.8 BB/9 IP). He had a better K rate on the road last year, and he actually allowed seven of his eight homers at Petco. Hoffman isn’t an exciting name, and he won’t throw more than 60 innings, but those should come in relatively low leverage situations; i.e., with the lead and no baserunners on one inning at a time. That should lead to another strong ERA and WHIP, so he remains safe to pursue.

Michael Crabtree’s decision to get surgery now and not run the 40 seems like a no-brainer. Sure, his speed remains in question, and maybe some of his stats were trumped up by playing in the spread offense (Graham Harrell won’t even get drafted), but he had no reason to risk further injury and a delay in minicamps to run at his pro day. Because the Seahawks just signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh, maybe Crabtree falls out of the top-5. But he’ll certainly be a top-10 pick, and I’d actually consider him first overall (although I’d probably take Jason Smith).

Before Monday’s game, Andruw Jones had struck out in eight of his nine spring at-bats. It doesn’t appear a turnaround is imminent. I wonder how old he really is.

Stephen Strasburg struck out 16 batters over 6.2 innings during his last start and reportedly reached 102 mph on the radar gun seven different times. Only Scott Boras or a detached arm can prevent him from going first in this year’s draft.

Jay the Joke

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Truly awful article written by Jay Mariotti today, with the basic premise being Bill Belichick traded Matt Cassel to Kansas City at a discount because he’s friends with Scott Pioli. Here’s an excerpt:

“What better way to thank Pioli, who tag-teamed with Belichick to mold three Super Bowl-champion teams, than by setting him up with a dramatic personnel boost in his first winter? Problem is, it smacks of an integrity issue when Belichick earmarks business with a pal and doesn’t maximize his return in a big trade…These developments really should draw the attention of the commissioner.”

With the Jay Cutler rumors, it does appear obvious New England could have gotten a higher draft pick if wanted, but that’s certainly not necessarily a good thing, and Belichick knows this. An early second round pick figures to be a rather cheap starter under the team’s control for around four years, especially if executed properly, something the Patriots do more often than not. Conversely, a top-10 or top-five pick is looking at more money than an established superstar. But forget that, the notion I have the most problem with is the accusation Belichick would ever make a deal that isn’t in the best interest of his own team. There’s a little bit less than a zero percent chance of that happening. And then, Mariotti drops an even bigger bombshell:

“Of course, some will say Cassel should have been kept as Gisele Insurance, pointing to Brady’s creepy track record since he began dating his new bride, supermodel Gisele Bundchen. They initially hooked up in 2006. In 2007, the Patriots lost the AFC championship game and dealt with Spygate. In 2008, they were upset by the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, a jolt followed by Brady’s lost season. While Gisele is dressing her dogs in matching Dolce & Gabbana floral lace collars, she might want to extend more tender, loving care to her hubby.”

As far as I can tell, Mariotti isn’t joking. Forget how ridiculous it is to blame Gisele for Brady’s performance on the field, it’s even more mind-boggling to call an AFC Championship loss followed by a Super Bowl loss during a season when Brady threw an NFL-record 50 touchdowns a “creepy track record.” I’m aware most people who know their sports don’t take Mariotti seriously, but this is bad even by his standards.