Archive for April, 2009

The Scoop

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Josh Anderson isn’t going to hit .341 all year long, but he needs to be owned in most formats right now. Injuries have opened the door for regular playing time, and although he’s hitting toward the bottom of Detroit’s lineup and offers little power, Anderson is a major threat on the basepaths. Over his last nine starts, he’s stolen six bags, and during his brief major league career, he’s posted an 85 percent success rate (17-for-20). This is no fluke, as Anderson averaged 46.7 steals per season over his six years in the minors. And that’s not factoring in his 40-game stint with Atlanta last season. With steals such a coveted commodity, Anderson is firmly on the fantasy radar.

It’s safe to question what type of player Derrek Lee currently is. At age 33 and hitting in a stacked Chicago lineup, it’s difficult to write the guy off, but his lack of power has become a huge concern. Over his final 325 at-bats last season, he hit just five homers, slugging just .390 after the All-Star break. He followed that up by hitting only one long ball over 20 spring training games and is stuck with just one home run on the 2009 season, with an ugly .313 slugging percentage. This futility is becoming a trend, and it’s tough to rank him as even a top-20 first base option right now.

Joel Zumaya remains a big health risk, but he may very well factor into Detroit’s closing mix at some point later this season. Fernando Rodney is 4-for-4 in save situations, but his K rate is way down (4.5 K/9 IP), and this is a pitcher who finished with a 4.91 ERA in 2008 and entered the year having blown a ridiculous 43 percent of his save chances throughout his career. Zumaya has actually been even worse throughout his career, blowing a mind-boggling 81 percent of his save opportunities. Of course, that stat is hardly perfect, since a BS can occur even when the pitcher isn’t truly in a closing situation, but Zumaya clearly has the most upside in the Tigers’ pen if finally healthy. So far, he’s averaged 98.4 mph with his fastball, suggesting he’s feeling just fine. With that kind of velocity, a dominant reliever could emerge.

Speaking of velocity, Oliver Perez is experiencing a decline, averaging a career-low 89.1 mph with his fastball this season. His K rate remains strong (8.48 K/9 IP), but for someone with such poor control (6.98 BB/9 IP), he can’t afford being so hittable. A high BABIP (.354), unlucky HR/F rate (14.9 percent) and low strand rate (.514) reveal the obvious – his current 9.31 ERA will eventually come down. However, there’s even more to dislike about the inconsistent hurler. Perez’s LD% (32.2) is staggering, and his G/F ratio (0.33) is terrible. The Mets clearly should have spent the money on Derek Lowe instead. I’m not sure I could stomach rostering Perez even in NL-only formats.

Bruce Bochy had Rich Aurilia batting cleanup Monday. He can’t be fired soon enough.

With an ERA of 3.73 and an xFIP of 4.59, Armando Galarraga was one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball last season, putting him toward the top of my avoid list entering 2009. I’m still not a huge believer, but there’s no denying his skills have dramatically improved this year, as his K rate has increased from 6.35 K/9 IP last year to 8.88 K/9 IP this year. He’s remained remarkably lucky, as just 5.9 percent of his flyballs have gone over the fence, and his strand rate is an unsustainable .862. Still, the big jump in K rate means he can’t be ignored.

Speaking of luck, I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to Joe Saunders. With a horrendous 4.68 K/9 IP mark last season, I gave zero credence to his impressive 3.41 ERA. This year, his peripherals are even worse, posting a 9:9 K:BB ratio with a truly horrible 2.56 K/9 IP mark. In fact, only Joel Pineiro (2.05) is worse among all qualified starters in baseball. And yet, Saunders’ ERA is 3.41 and his WHIP is 1.232. For someone with a career .293 BABIP, last year’s .267 mark and this season’s .252 line suggest a major correction is imminent. Considering the Angels currently rank 29th in defensive efficiency, Saunders’ performance looks all that more fluky and far from sustainable. His xFIP is 5.98. I don’t care if you get 40 cents on the dollar, trade him as fast as you can.

James Loney is a fine player for the Dodgers, and his 4:15 K:BB ratio is tremendous. However, his lack of power makes him a fairly overrated fantasy property. He never hit more than three homers in any month last season and slugged just .413 after the break. Loney hit just one big fly in 89 spring at-bats, has yet to hit one this season, and his current Isolated Power is a miniscule .081. Like Casey Kotchman and Conor Jackson, Loney is a much better real life baseball player than a fantasy one.

There are some interesting minor leaguers who need to be monitored closely right now. Matt LaPorta is currently sporting a .368/.436/.706 line and would become an immediate upgrade over Ben Francisco in Cleveland’s left field. Manager Eric Wedge has said he’s not quite ready to give the kid a call up, but since Travis Hafner is once again hurting and on the DL, and the Indians are 8-14 sitting in last place in the AL Central, he may not have much of a choice. LaPorta could be a difference maker once given the chance…With Edwin Encarnacion shelved, Adam Rosales (1.233 OPS) is a must-add in NL-only formats…And with Mark Ellis also sidelined, the same could be said for Eric Patterson in AL-only leagues. He had two homers and nine steals in just 19 games in Triple-A this season…And for real deep AL-only formats, consider Mark Melancon, who posted an incredible 17:3 K:BB ratio with a 2.50 GO/AO ratio over 10.1 innings in Triple-A before the Yankees called him up last week.  With Brian Bruney out, Melancon might already be the team’s second best reliever.

I could listen to Jack in the Box’s mini sirloin burgers commercial all day long. I simply can’t get that song out of my head. “yippee ay ah mini sirloin burgers!! yippee ay ah mini sirloin burgers!!”

Kenshin Kawakami has been a big disappointment so far for the Braves, but he shouldn’t be discarded in fantasy leagues. Always exhibiting terrific command in Japan, the biggest surprise has been his shaky control so far (4.57 BB/9 IP). Moreover, his shoulder has been giving him trouble since spring, although a recent cortisone shot seems to have alleviated the problem. Remember, during his 13 seasons in Japan, he was mostly part of six-man rotations, so there’s going to be a transition phase. Kawakami’s 7.48 K/9 IP mark shows he’s hardly been overmatched, and his 1.44 G/F ratio is also highly encouraging. A ridiculous 23 percent of his flyballs have gone for homers, so expect a major regression to the mean there. He’s been dropped in a couple of leagues of mine, and I’ve snatched him up in both.

As a former Rickie Weeks apologist, it figures the year I avoid him altogether is the one he starts realizing his vast potential. He’ll never be a big help in batting average, and he’s actually walking far less this season, but with five homers already, fantasy owners can hardly complain. He’s also on pace to record 108 RBI and score 116 runs. Of course, Weeks remains a huge health risk, but with a career 84 percent SB success rate, expect more steals moving forward, giving up a bunch of upside.

I’d be shocked if Manny Pacquiao doesn’t easily handle Ricky Hatton this weekend.

Melky Cabrera should be long gone in most fantasy leagues, but he now deserves consideration even in extremely shallow formats, as he’s clearly overtaken Brett Gardner as the Yankees’ center fielder. Austin Jackson may eventually replace him later this year, but Cabrera is more than capable of bouncing back after last season’s disaster, and there’s added potential with the way the new stadium has been playing. Sticking with Yankees who belong on fantasy rosters, Phil Hughes is certainly another one. Chien-Ming Wang’s blowup may have been a blessing in disguise, forcing the team to turn to its former top prospect. Hughes dominated in the minors before his call up, posting a 19:3 K:BB ratio over 19.1 innings. With an uptick in velocity that had dropped last season, Hughes has the skills to maintain similar success in the majors.

I wasn’t too high on Chris Dickerson entering the year, mainly because last season’s impressive .304/.413/.608 line was aided so much by a crazy high .410 BABIP. After all, this is a 27-year-old with a career .775 OPS in the minors – hardly a top prospect. Of course, his decent power/speed combo has value in fantasy leagues, even with the inevitable drop in BA, and it’s not like I predicted this much of a horrendous start. If he wants to return playing regularly once he’s healthy, Dickerson needs to stop striking out so frequently (17 Ks in just 44 ABs).

This Bulls/Celtics series has easily been one of the very best of the decade.

With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth in a 4-3 game Wednesday, can someone please explain to me why manager Jerry Manuel pinch hit Omir Santos? Anyone? The move even took Santos by surprise, as he was catching in the bullpen when the switch was announced. Now, Ramon Castro is no All-Star, but he was 2-for-4 during the game, and Santos is a 28-year-old with a career .651 OPS in the minors. And in a bases jammed situation against a pitcher who had already walked two batters and hit another that very inning, was inserting a hitter with zero walks over 25 at-bats this season the wisest decision? Very curious to say the least.

Soon to be 37 years old and after signing a two-year contract, it was safe to question how Manny Ramirez would perform in 2009. After one month, it’s pretty clear his 2007 season (.881 OPS) was an aberration, not a sign of a looming decline. Apparently still happy in L.A., Ramirez looks like one of the three best hitters in the game. And pitchers are treating him as such, as he’s been walked 19 times already, putting him on a pace to finish with 140 – his career-high is 100, set in 2006. Ramirez hasn’t been able to keep up with last year’s .743 slugging percentage, but his current .494 OBP is a career-best. Durability remains a concern, but Ramirez would be worthy of a first round pick if a fantasy draft were held today.

NFL Draft Recap

Monday, April 27th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

The Cardinals may have preferred Donald Brown, but the team has to be happy Beanie Wells fell to them at No. 31. The offensive line isn’t a great run-blocking unit, but Edgerrin James will be cut soon, and Tim Hightower has proved he’s not an effective NFL back. Hightower may still factor into goal-line duties, but at 6-1, 237 lbs, it’s not like Wells can’t be a short-yardage option as well. He may not catch a bunch of passes, but with defenses focused on stopping one of the league’s best passing attacks, Wells will definitely be a Rookie of the Year contender. Durability is a concern, but Wells is a beast – consider him somewhere in the 13-17 range on your running back rankings.

How does Michael Oher fall all the way to No. 23? The Ravens got an absolute steal there. I would call Cedric Peerman a sleeper, but Baltimore has too many options at running back.

I’m not saying Andre Smith was a bad pick, but it’s pretty funny watching the Bengals continue to stockpile players with character concerns. Ray Maualuga was great value, but Bernard Scott has been arrested five times already.

Braylon Edwards remains with the Browns, but since the team took two wide receivers in round 2, don’t be shocked if a trade still eventually happens. Brian Robiskie could be a starter from day one.

What is Josh McDaniels thinking? Really, a running back with the 12th pick? Denver’s most glaring need was on defense, specifically the front seven. They used one of their 10 picks addressing that need. Robert Ayers better be good, although Alphonso Smith looks like a solid pick. Still, why trade up for Richard Quinn? As for Knowshon Moreno, the draft’s most complete back lands in a pretty good spot in Denver. Sure, the Broncos have a crowded backfield on paper, but none of the other options are any good (Ryan Torain is the exception, but he’s coming off a torn ACL). The team downgraded massively at quarterback during the offseason, but the offensive line is underrated, paving the way to a 4.8 YPC mark, which was the second highest in football last season, despite a below average RB crop. Having Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal on the outside certainly helps as well. McDaniels used a committee system in New England, but there wasn’t a star there either, and it’s doubtful he used the 12th pick in the draft for a part-time player. Moreno can be a three down back, as he’s a capable blocker with receiving skills. His fantasy value is similar to Beanie Wells, but because of his situation and superior ability to catch the ball, he’s probably ranked slightly ahead. Think early-to-mid second round.

I’m agnostic about Matthew Stafford, but drafting a quarterback was the right move, and I also liked the Brandon Pettigrew pick. He’s the rare tight end who can both block and catch. Stafford won’t be an option in non-dynasty fantasy leagues, but at least his strong arm should keep Calvin Johnson atop WR draft boards.

One of the biggest winners this weekend as far as fantasy is concerned had to be Steve Slaton, as Houston didn’t address the running back position. They’ve since brought in a few free agents, and Slaton still isn’t guaranteed goal-line work, but clearly he’s the team’s workhorse, as he should be. Right now, I have him ranked seventh overall on my draft board.

The biggest loser, meanwhile, was easily Joseph Addai, who saw his value drop from an early second round pick all the way to somewhere around 30th in the RB rankings. That’s because Indy selected Donald Brown with the 27th pick. Brown is a complete back who can block and catch passes effectively. Addai may be the nominal starter, but he can’t stay healthy and averaged a pathetic 3.5 YPC despite playing for the Colts last season. Because he’s likely looking at a time-share, Brown’s fantasy value is lower than Beanie Wells, Knowshon Moreno and maybe Shonn Greene, but I’d certainly take him ahead of Addai.

I didn’t think it was possible, but I’m even higher on Maurice Jones-Drew this year after the team drafted Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton with its first two picks last weekend. Jones-Drew needs to be strongly considered with the first overall pick.

I actually like what Minnesota did. Sure, Percy Harvin comes with risk, but this is a player who could also be a true difference maker. And he landed in a terrific spot where his speed can be highlighted on turf. Also, Phil Loadholt looks like an immediate upgrade at right tackle. Both additions could really help Adrian Peterson.

No question about it, Bill Belichick is acting on a different level than all other NFL coaches/GMs. He’s by far the best. New England is going to be one of the elite teams in the NFL for years to come. I’d take Belichick over any current player in the NFL if starting a franchise. Easily.

Another clear winner this weekend was Pierre Thomas. Reggie Bush will obviously remain in the mix, but Thomas is going to be a guy to target in fantasy leagues this year.

I still think the Giants should have traded for Braylon Edwards, but it’s hard to argue with Jerry Reese at this point. Will Beatty could go down as one of the bigger steals of the draft, and while New York didn’t need a running back, how could you pass up Andre Brown at that point (129th pick)? Ramses Barden, who went to Cal Poly like myself, will be someone I’m rooting for.

I applaud the Jets’ aggressiveness. This draft certainly didn’t help their depth, but I’m one who says Mark Sanchez has the better career than Matthew Stafford. Addressing the QB position was a must. Moreover, Shonn Greene looks like an immediate upgrade over Thomas Jones, who suddenly is in serious jeopardy of getting cut. At age 31 with a new coaching regime taking over, it’s probably not the best time to be bitching about a contract. Jones’ fantasy value takes a huge tumble with the Greene selection. I’d definitely draft Greene ahead of the veteran, no doubt about it, as New York’s staff is in love with the rookie.

Da Raiders!!! Darrius Heyward-Bey is fast. OK fine, Al Davis must have him. But why not trade down then? As for their second round pick, Michael Mitchell, he was the first player this decade drafted in the second round who wasn’t even invited to the combine. Word is Chicago might have drafted him just two picks later, but most teams gave him a seventh round/free agent grade. Speed. Kills. Draft grade: F –

Jeremy Maclin was an interesting choice by Philadelphia, if only because he’s such a similar receiver to DeSean Jackson. Still, the team could use another wideout, and I’m sure Andy Reid will utilize him effectively. LeSean McCoy needs to improve his blocking, but he immediately becomes the backup to Brian Westbrook. He’s doubtful to have any value unless Westbrook gets hurt, but that’s a near certainty at some point, so he’s an important handcuff.

I’m not too high on any rookie WRs, and especially one playing in Pittsburgh. Still, don’t be surprised if Mike Wallace passes Limas Sweed on the depth chart. Ziggy Hood is a pretty cool name.

Watching ESPN’s draft coverage, one thing was apparent: Steve Young = very good. Herm Edwards = very bad.

As someone whose family has 49er season tickets, God bless Al Davis for letting Michael Crabtree slip. In Mike Singletary’s offense with no quarterback, it’s hardly an ideal landing spot for Crabtree’s fantasy value. Still, he’s the real deal and should be the first rookie WR taken this year while immediately becoming SF’s No. 1 option in the passing game. He’s supposedly battling Josh Morgan to start at split end, but I can’t fathom why both can’t be starters. It’s safe to say I will be purchasing a Crabtree jersey soon. Glen Coffee is the guy to handcuff to Frank Gore, but he’s not a big threat to take many touches.

Jason Smith is going to be a very good player, and left tackle is the second most position on the field. It also helps Steven Jackson’s fantasy value. Still, the Rams should have taken Mark Sanchez. Marc Bulger is done for.

When it comes to Josh Freeman, I vote “bust” not “boom.” Pretty funny how he has come out and said the Bucs’ signing of Byron Leftwich was only a “smokescreen” so the team could draft him.

Brian Orakpo could be the next Vernon Gholston. Washington still badly needs a quarterback.

The Scoop

Friday, April 24th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Over his last three starts, Melky Cabrera has four homers. With Hideki Matsui’s knees still a major issue and Brett Gardner off to a horrendous start (.240/.283/.300), Cabrera should be looking at increased playing time. Last season was a humbling experience for Cabrera, who doesn’t figure to take anything for granted this time around. This type of early power isn’t going to stay, but with the new stadium appearing to be a major hitter’s park, there’s still some upside here, especially if he decides to run more frequently. Austin Jackson is the future, but Cabrera can be valuable in the meantime and needs to be picked up in all but the shallowest formats.

Bengie Molina currently has a higher batting average (.308) than on-base percentage (.296).

Francisco Liriano’s slow start is at least some cause for concern. His strikeout rate (7.2/9 IP) is down, but the bigger concern is his lack of command (3.8 BB/9 IP), something that figured to only improve the further he’s removed from Tommy John surgery. Relying less and less on his slider combined with a fastball that’s decreased in velocity, it’s safe to say the 2006 version is never coming back. Still, that doesn’t mean the current one can’t be a top-15 fantasy starter, and at least he’s feeling healthy. But dating back to last season and factoring in spring training, Liriano has walked 3.8 batters per nine innings, so improved control is a must.

Andre Ethier is going to go down as one of the biggest steals in fantasy baseball this year. While he’s doesn’t have a ton of power/speed upside, this is a hitter who posted a .991 OPS after the break last season. And while it’s an extremely small sample size, his early success against left-handers (1.362 OPS) is terrific news moving forward. He’s walked more times (12) than he’s struck out (11) in 2009, and at age 27, he’s just now entering his prime. Moreover, batting cleanup behind Manny Ramirez certainly has its advantages, as Ethier has been to the plate with more runners on base (65) than any other hitter in baseball this season. He’s going to be on a lot of winning fantasy teams in 2009.

Justin Verlander might be the toughest player to evaluate right now. With a 4.84 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 2008, he easily qualified as one of the bigger disappointments who wasn’t injured last season. His walk rate increased and his K rate decreased, so it’s not like bad luck was the culprit. During spring this year, Verlander posted a terrible 15:16 K:BB ratio over 32.1 innings, leaving little room for optimism. However, he’s started 2009 with an impressive 10.7 K/9 IP mark, and his fastball has jumped to an average of 95.3 mph. However, his ERA sits at 9.00 and his WHIP is 1.71. With a .412 BABIP and .455 strand rate, it’s easy to say he’s been quite unlucky, and combined with the strong K rate, he does appear to be an excellent buy-low candidate. On the other hand, a 3.86 BB/9 IP mark is a big problem, his LD% is at a career-high (25%) and his GB% is at a career-low (28.1%), so bad luck certainly isn’t the only explanation. In fact, his xFIP is 4.86. Of course, Verlander’s ERA is going to come significantly down from 9.00, and the K rate is encouraging as well as the increased velocity, which suggests his arm is sound. But to expect a return to the days he was considered a Cy Young contender would also be unwise, as there’s clearly still plenty of reason for concern.

Grady Sizemore is currently on pace to finish the season with 61 homers, 30 steals, 152 runs and 172 RBI. Despite the .258 batting average, I’d probably not go dropping him.

Billy Butler continues to disappoint, hitting just .213 with zero homers to open the year. His K% is way up, and he’s hitting an unacceptable 1.73 GB/FB. Surprisingly, he’s actually hitting righties (.665 OPS) better than southpaws (.561 OPS), which is the opposite trend of the rest of his career. Hopefully Kansas City doesn’t do anything rash and send him down again, but Butler needs to start living up to his potential at some point. I remain a believer.

Speaking of Royals’ disappointments, Mike Aviles is off to a dreadful start (.182/.193/.218). While he’s clearly going to improve on that line, he’s someone I’m less bullish on overall. At age 28, he came out of nowhere last to season to hit .325, but since that was aided by a .359 BABIP, he was someone I strongly suggested avoiding in 2009. I wouldn’t outright drop the guy, but with a 14:1 K:BB ratio so far, expectations need to be lowered significantly.

With a 20:1 K:BB ratio over 19.0 innings, it’s time to start thinking about stashing Carlos Carrasco in deep leagues. He’s always exhibited good strikeout rates, but the improved command shows he’s ready to make his big league debut soon enough. Philadelphia’s ballpark limits his upside, but Carrasco could be a difference maker, especially in NL-only formats (he’s obviously long gone in those).

Speaking of stashing minor league pitchers, Phil Hughes is an even bigger must-add. He has a 19:3 K:BB ratio over 19.1 innings and is the logical choice to join the Yankees’ rotation next week once the team makes up an injury to DL Chien-Ming Wang. I haven’t seen any reports about whether his velocity has returned, but the results suggest it has. The former top prospect still possesses plenty of upside.

Mini Mock Draft

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

An exercise in futility, I like doing a mock draft if only to make watching the telecast that much more interesting. I’m only going to do a top-10, as even that is quite the crapshoot. Here goes nothing:

1. Detroit Lions – Matthew Stafford: Only the Lions would value signability over talent, although look for them to ultimately end up with the more expensive option. Don’t be surprised if Stafford disappoints.

2. St. Louis Rams – Jason Smith: The Rams need a QB of the future, but they also need a left tackle with Orlando Pace’s departure.

3. Kansas City Chiefs – Aaron Curry: Don’t be shocked if Tyson Jackson is the pick instead, and this is early for a linebacker who can’t rush the passer. Still, Curry might be the safest player in the draft.

4. Washington Redskins (via Seattle) – Mark Sanchez: Predicting how the draft will pan out is hard enough without forecasting trades, but I see Daniel Snyder making a big splash here. Clearly, the team (rightfully) realizes Jason Campbell isn’t the long-term answer at quarterback. Sanchez will instead assume that role. He’ll be a better pro than Stafford.

5. Cleveland Browns – Michael Crabtree: Some reports have the Browns badmouthing Crabtree, but that could just as easily be a smokescreen. The bet here is the team trades Braylon Edwards to the Giants and replaces him with Crabtree.

6. Cincinnati Bengals – Eugene Monroe: Some health questions persist, but this is pretty solid value. There have been some rumors of the Bengals taking Beanie Wells here, but that would be crazy.

7. Oakland Raiders – B.J. Raji: Oakland won’t really take Darrius Heyward-Bey here, will they?

8. Jacksonville Jaguars – Andre Smith: His stock is back on the rise. Mike Shula, who recruited Smith at Alabama, is now on Jacksonville’s staff.

9. Green Bay Packers – Tyson Jackson: Green Bay is switching to the 3-4. Jackson is widely considered the best 3-4 end in the draft.

10. San Francisco 49ers – Michael Oher: The 49ers need a franchise left tackle badly and reportedly love Oher. The team would be lucky if he fell to them.

The Scoop

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

After Carlos Quentin hit just two homers over 79 at-bats this spring, it was safe to question whether his wrist injury would cost him some power in 2009. After all, he may have played a bit over his head last season even discounting the injury. However, with seven long balls over his past 10 games, it looks like Quentin’s power is back, and here to stay. With a 7:8 K:BB ratio and a terrific hitter’s park working in his favor, nothing screams fluke here. Quentin could finish as a top-10 fantasy hitter this season.

Speaking of shaky spring performances, Zack Greinke gave up 29 runs over 28.1 innings in March. Of course, 27 strikeouts suggested there wasn’t much to worry about, but few could have predicted 20 scoreless innings to start the year. With an incredible 26:5 K:BB ratio, Greinke could factor into the Cy Young mix with the way he’s throwing. It doesn’t get any more impressive than a complete game shutout (with a 10:0 K:BB ratio) coming in Texas.

Brandon Wood needs to be picked up in all but shallow leagues, although manager Mike Scoscia has made it less of a no-brainer by naming him a bench player as of now. For all of his positive qualities, Scoscia can make some head-scratching decisions at times, as he goes too much “by the book” and plays favorites to veterans far too often. He had Maicer Izturis, who has a career .712 OPS, not only DHing Monday but also hitting third in the lineup. Mike Napoli, who has the team’s second highest OPS, consistently hits seventh in the order, because, well, because he is a catcher I guess. Wood, who had posted a 1.356 OPS in Triple-A this year, needs to get at-bats, and hopefully Scoscia comes to his senses eventually.

Sticking with the Angels, normally Howie Kendrick  is good but always hurt. He’s decided to throw us a curveball this season and stay healthy yet suck at the plate, where he’s batting .196 with a 12:1 K:BB ratio early on. Remain patient, as Kendrick couldn’t bat under .300 if he tried.

After allowing five more runs over six innings Wednesday, Ricky Nolasco now sports a 6.86 ERA over his first four starts of the season. This after a dominant spring in which he posted a 2.00 ERA with a 17:2 K:BB ratio over 18.0 innings. Discouragingly, Nolasco’s poor start has come against an extremely easy schedule, with three of his four outings coming against Washington (twice) and Pittsburgh. Still, he has posted a 17:6 K:BB ratio over 21.0 innings, so he’s not pitching all that poorly. He remains at risk of injury after a big innings increase last season and the heavy usage of breaking balls, but expect a dramatic improvement in results shortly. He’s a good buy-low target if possible.

Jordan Zimmermann impressed during his first start of his career Tuesday, with the only blemish – a two-run Matt Diaz homer – coming on an 0-2 pitch. He wasn’t overpowering, but Zimmermann pounded the strike zone, throwing 51 of his 72 pitches for strikes. His fastball reached 95-96 mph, and his slider was highly impressive. Like most rookies, expect inconsistency this season, but Zimmermann’s future most certainly looks bright.

By now I’m sure you’ve all read about this feat, but it’s pretty ridiculous nevertheless.

Remember Pat Venditte, the switch-pitcher? Well, he’s quietly becoming a legitimate prospect for the Yankees. This is someone I’m definitely rooting for to make it to the big leagues.

For those who like to stream starting pitchers, Ian Snell gets the Padres in Petco Park on Friday, making him a viable option in the short-term.

During his career, Ryan Howard is 4-for-5 with two walks and four homers against Jeff Suppan – good for a 4.057 OPS. Of course, I probably just jinxed him for his matchup with Suppan on Wednesday night.

Kosuke Fukudome isn’t going to finish the year with his current 1.205 OPS, but his hot start is definitely encouraging. He’s been caught on two of his three stolen base attempts, but his plate discipline remains strong (8:11 K:BB ratio), and he’s quickly proving last year’s bad second half wasn’t a reflection of the type of hitter he truly is. Fukudome’s early power surge isn’t here to stay, but don’t be surprised if he finishes with a strong OPB and batting average, which should lead to solid counting stats hitting atop a potent Cubs’ lineup. He should go down as one of the bigger steals in NL-only leagues by season’s end.

With a .184 batting average and a 16:1 K:BB ratio, Jarrod Saltalamacchia continues to look like a Quad-A player. There’s not much, if any, statistical evidence in his performance so far to back me up, but I remain a believer. Don’t go dropping him just yet.

Off to a .361 start at the plate, I’m not sure what’s hotter, Felipe Lopez’s bat or his wife.

I’ve been a Manny Parra apologist from the beginning, and while his latest start can be forgiven since it came in Philadelphia, nine walks over 14.1 innings is simply unacceptable. At some point, the kid needs to trust his stuff and quit messing around. His command remains a big obstacle, and I’m becoming less optimistic about that big breakthrough ever coming to fruition.

I fully underestimated what the move to Anaheim would do to Bobby Abreu’s fantasy value. With seven steals already, it’s safe to say he’s in store for his most bags since 2004, as the Angels’ aggressiveness on the base paths is a team philosophy. He’s still yet to homer, but Abreu’s contact skills remain intact, and at age 35, he’s hardly in store for a complete collapse in the power department. However, the loss of Vladimir Guerrero certainly doesn’t help, and it sounds like the slugger could be out for quite some time. Still, Abreu is running wild, giving him a nice boost in value.

The Scoop

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I don’t care if it came against the Giants, Clayton Kershaw’s performance last week was special. A one-hitter with a 13:1 K:BB ratio over seven innings? He just turned 21 less than a month ago! He’s had about as easy of a schedule as possible through two starts, but this is an invaluable keeper league property. Kershaw might not be much of a help in WHIP this season as he continues to battle control problems, but he’ll be extremely tough to hit regardless, and his K/9 rate should rank among the best in all of baseball already.  That curveball is simply unfair.

Plenty of my preseason touts have been misses so far, but Chris Duncan certainly isn’t one of them. Finally healthy, the pitching coach’s son has posted a 1.185 OPS and is now a fixture in the Cards’ outfield, especially with an improved stroke against southpaws. Duncan’s defense is brutal, but this power is for real. As for the rest of the St. Louis OF, don’t expect to see Ryan Ludwick on the bench as much as he has been so far, as he’s quickly proving last year was no fluke. Rick Ankiel, who I still like and should not be sold low right now, looks to be the short-term loser in playing time, as he and Colby Rasmus form a semi-platoon. Just realize Tony La Russa changes his mind quite frequently.

Rumors of Tim Lincecum’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

You can do all the studies in the world and match previous dimensions, but predicting how a new baseball stadium will play is impossible. Just ask the Yankees, who appear to have an absolute bandbox on their hands when their intentions were otherwise. Obviously, it would be foolish to develop a conclusion in such a tiny sample size, but the ball appears to just fly out of right field. I honestly think all Yankees need to be adjusted accordingly. This is good news for my man Robinson Cano. Last season, he hit .151 in April and didn’t hit his first homer until the 14th game of the year. In 2009, he’s batting .388 and already has three long balls with a 5:6 K:BB ratio. A career-year should be in store. As for Chien-Ming Wang, I don’t remember ever seeing a worse start. Ever. He’d have to pitch 46 consecutive scoreless innings just to get his ERA under 4.00.

Entering Sunday, Manny Ramirez was on pace to finish the season with 189 walks. His career-high in that department is 100.

Dan Haren has a 17:3 K:BB ratio over 19 innings with a 1.89 ERA and 0.79 WHIP so far this season. And zero wins to show for it. Again, why are “wins” ever even mentioned when evaluating pitching performance? Haren is getting frustrated and showed up everyone by slamming his helmet in the dugout after he was pinch-hit for during Friday’s loss to the Giants, and frankly, I can’t blame him.

All this “are the Redskins risking their relationship with Jason Campbell” rhetoric really drives me crazy. Who cares if they are? They need to find a better quarterback.

After Brad Lidge blew his first save since 2007 on Saturday, surprisingly, Philly fans gave him a standing ovation as he walked off the field. Lidge hasn’t looked right all year, but it’s been mostly a location problem, as the K rate remains strong. Expect him to get it turned around shortly.

Stephen Strasburg update: During his last start, he struck out 14, walked one and tossed a complete game shutout. He also threw more than 120 pitches, which seems unnecessary. It’s been a long time since there’s been such an obvious No. 1 overall pick.

Finally got around to watching “Zack & Miri Make a Porno” and thought it was terrible. It’s safe to say Kevin Smith’s fastball isn’t ever coming back.

During Rich Harden’s three-inning start Wednesday, he recorded zero outs on balls in play – this hasn’t happened ever in the last 50 years.

Derrick Rose is easily a top-10 commodity in the NBA – hands down…As someone who lives close to Sacramento, I pray the Kings get the No. 2 pick in the draft and take Ricky Rubio. This kid could literally save the franchise…Do you realize Jose Calderon shot 98.1 percent from the free throw line this season?!

Freddy Sanchez eventually flied out during a whopping 17-pitch at-bat against Chris Sampson on Thursday.

I think using “percentage owned” as a tool for writers suggesting whom to pick up is fairly ridiculous and pointless. The numbers are simply non-reflective of any league I’ve ever participated in.

Remember when those who argued against Joba Chamberlain being a starter suggested an eighth inning setup man would be harder to find than a starter? And how “bridging the gap to Marion Rivera” was key? Yeah, that guy was so hard to find, he was already on the team! Brian Bruney has a 2.57 ERA and a 0.428 WHIP with a dominant 12:2 K:BB ratio over 7 innings. And this hardly came out of nowhere, as he posted a 1.83 ERA and 0.99 WHIP last season. Bruney has the stuff to last as a legitimate setup guy, even on a World Series contender. The argument of whether Chamberlain belongs in the rotation should have nothing to do with which role is more important (anyone with a brain should realize 180 innings is more valuable than 70) but whether if Chamberlain is capable of holding up as a starter or not. And finding out if he is has always been the smart strategy.

During August last season, Paul Konerko posted a 1.074 OPS with a 10:19 K:BB ratio. In September, he clobbered nine homers with a .649 slugging percentage. He then hit .364 with four homers during an impressive spring training. Konerko has followed that up by batting .341 with three homers, 11 RBI and a 4:4 K:BB ratio so far this season. It’s safe to say the 33-year-old isn’t quite washed up just yet, and last year’s brutal first half had more to do with injuries than anything else.

Matt Holliday owners sure are hoping his sluggish start is just that and not a bigger sign of life after Coors. There are plenty of stars struggling at the plate (read: Braun, Ryan), but Holliday entered the year with more questions than any other typical second round pick. It could be adjusting to the new league, as his strikeouts are way up. But obviously the ballpark switch is the biggest concern, and zero home runs so far isn’t too comforting. In fact, the A’s as a team have hit a total of just three long balls over their first 12 games. Even the Giants have twice as many, for crying out loud.

NBA Round One Preview

Friday, April 17th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Cleveland (1) vs. Detroit (8)

Comments: The Cavs won the season series 3-1 and should have no problem dismissing an under .500 Pistons squad – the only such team that made the postseason. It’s safe to say the Chauncey Billups/Allen Iverson trade didn’t work out too well for the Pistons. It’s pretty sad he’s unwilling to come off the bench even for a team that made the playoffs. Anyway, Cleveland is rested and healthy and ready to make a deep run in 2009.

Prediction: Cavs 4-0

Boston (2) vs. Chicago (7)

Comments: Boston went 2-1 against Chicago this year, yet the Bulls’ one win came during their most recent matchup and after Chicago had made its trade for John Salmons and Brad Miller. The Bulls enter playing well, but they are the worst road team in the postseason, posting a 13-28 record this year. The Derrick Rose versus Rajon Rondo matchup should be fun to watch. Obviously, the big story with the defending champs is the loss of KG, but they have persevered without him this season, and while it will eventually catch up to them, they can get past the Bulls regardless.

Prediction: Celtics 4-1

Orlando (3) vs. Philadelphia (6)

Comments: Orlando won the season series 3-0, and although it was impressive the 76ers were able to make the postseason getting nothing from Elton Brand, the team entered the year with much higher expectations. The Brand signing turned out to be an utter disaster. This is yet another lopsided first round matchup in the East.

Prediction: Magic 4-1

Atlanta (4) vs. Miami (5)

Comments: The Hawks won the season series 3-1, although one of the wins came Tuesday when Miami sat Dwyane Wade. After winning just 15 games last season, Miami improved to 43-39 this year. While Atlanta is solid, Michael Beasley is coming on, and Wade will easily be the best player on the court. He’ll be the difference.

Prediction: Heat 4-2

Los Angeles (1) vs. Utah (8)

Comments: The Lakers were 2-1 against Utah this season, and the already underdog Jazz suffered a blow when Mehmet Okur injured his hamstring this week, leaving his status questionable. Utah is certainly no slouch for an eighth seed, but this Lakers team is absolutely loaded and isn’t likely to get pushed in round one.

Prediction: Lakers 4-1

Denver (2) vs. New Orleans (7)

Comments: The teams tied the season series 2-2 this year, and Denver enters as a somewhat vulnerable two seed. The team has been eliminated in the first round in five consecutive seasons, and Carmelo Anthony has never made it to the second round during his career. Still, the team became much improved when it jettisoned Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups.

Prediction: Nuggets 4-3

San Antonio (3) vs. Dallas (6)

Comments: The season series was tied 2-2, but the big news here is Manu Ginobili’s (ankle) absence. Since he’s probably one of the 20 best players in the league, San Antonio’s ceiling dropped significantly, but they still have homecourt advantage over the surging Dallas squad. Moreover, the Spurs have a pretty large coaching edge.

Prediction: Spurs 4-3

Portland (4) vs. Houston (5)

Comments: The Rockets won the season series 2-1, and this figures to be a hotly contested matchup. The Trail Blazers made the playoffs for the first time since 2003, which ended the longest drought in the NBA. Portland enters riding a six-game winning streak, but Houston has been a much better team without Tracy McGrady.

Predictions: Rockets 4-3

The Scoop

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I write this coming down from a 103-plus degree fever, so if anything comes across as even more off the wall than usual, blame the meds.

Edwin Encarnacion currently has a .167 batting average, but his 4:8 K:BB ratio is highly encouraging. He makes for a decent buy-low if the opportunity presents itself.

At least so far, it certainly looks like Nelson Cruz is going to live up to all that hype. All those strikeouts will likely lead to a mediocre average, but he already has five homers, 12 RBI and a steal. Playing in Arlington is just such a big advantage as well.

Anyone hoping for a bounce back season from Fausto Carmona is likely to be sorely disappointed. He finished spring with a 2.67 ERA, but that was accompanied by a 13:8 K:BB ratio over 27 innings. The seven Ks over 10 innings so far this season are actually encouraging, but since he’s also walked six batters there’s just little room for optimism. Ever since his impressive 2007, his control has completely abandoned him.

Because David Ortiz finished strong last season, his early struggles are less worrisome. However, just one extra-base hit through 34 at-bats is a bit eye-opening. Someone of his stature never figured to age well, and the wrist injury was always a concern moving forward. He’ll probably be fine, but there’s no doubt Ortiz has looked lost at the plate so far.

The Chris Carpenter return sure was fun while it lasted. And he looked so good before going down with yet another injury too. At least it wasn’t to his arm.

I’m not saying Lastings Milledge deserved to get sent down to the minors, but since it means consistent playing time for Elijah Dukes (at least until his next injury), the move was fine by me. Dukes is the team’s best player and had no business getting benched in the first place, and while sitting the perennial disappointing Austin Kearns and moving Milledge to right field may have made more sense, the team needs to get Kearns at-bats in an effort to trade him. Other than August of last year, Milledge has never lived up to his potential, and the fact he’s terrible defensively (his -20.1 UZR/150 ranked dead last among center fielders last season), and combines that was serious character issues (at least Dukes makes up for that with strong play on the field), some humility in Triple-A may do him some good.

Octavio Dotel has a 26.1 K/9 IP mark this season.

Because of Jason Motte’s early struggles and Ryan Franklin is, well, Ryan Franklin, Chris Perez simply needs to be owned in all leagues as of now. It wouldn’t surprise if he led the team in saves this season. While I still like Motte, he’s dug himself quite a hole already.

The Scoop

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

The first week of the season might be the toughest time to write about baseball. There’s no more looking forward before fantasy drafts, yet the sample size is so small there’s also little information to form an opinion about what’s happened. As Joe Sheehan might say, no one would notice a 20 at-bat stretch in the middle of June, but because it’s opening the year, they get highlighted. And do you really need me to tell you to sell-high on Emilio Bonifacio? Nevertheless, let’s move onto the notes:

There are some exceptions to my not paying attention to the season’s first week theory, and Travis Hafner is one. I’m not saying he’s all the way back or anything, but three homers already are highly encouraging. After such a disappointing spring, his power has certainly been a surprise. Maybe his shoulder is finally starting to get back to full strength.

Miguel Cabrera probably isn’t going to finish the season with a .520 batting average, but this is going to be the year he starts challenging to win the Triple Crown. Over his last 75 games, he has 80 RBI.

Jason Kendall was intentionally walked twice last week – over the previous six years, he had been intentionally walked more than two times during an entire season just once. And while it was extremely unlikely for Randy Johnson to give up a homer to Yovani Gallardo afterward on Wednesday (it was the first pitcher he’s ever given up a long ball to during his 21-year career), the move has got to be questioned since Gallardo has a .490 career slugging percentage. Kendall’s is .388.

Speaking of terrible managerial decisions, can someone explain to me why Jack Cust is batting so low in Oakland’s lineup? I know, managers don’t like to be bothered by pesky things like stats, but you might want to have your team’s best on-base guy hitting higher in the order. And don’t get me started on Elijah Dukes not being an everyday player. And how long is Boston going to waste Clay Buchholz for far inferior options like Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny?

If loving “Celebrity Apprentice” is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

I like Pablo Sandoval, but if he doesn’t change his approach at the plate, he’s going to end up a big disappointment this season. He might already have the best plate coverage in all of baseball, but there’s simply no reason to throw him a strike if he’ll swing at everything. Because his power isn’t all that great, Sandoval is highly batting average dependent, and his current mentality needs to change.

It’s too early to call Andy LaRoche a Quad-A player, but this is someone with a career minor league line of .294/.380/.517 yet over the first 330 at-bats in the majors, he’s hitting .176, including a dreadful 0-for-14 start to 2009. He’s combined that with terrible defense at third. Yuck.

Barry Zito on Twitter: “It’s cold in my room, but my Dutch oven warms me up..” Ladies and gentlemen, your 126 million dollar man!

Counting spring and dating back to last year, Conor Jackson has hit zero home runs over his past 290 at-bats.

One early season performance that looks legit is Josh Johnson’s terrific start to the year. The increase he saw in his velocity after returning from TJ surgery last season has remained intact, which is a nice combination with improved command. A Cy Young type season wouldn’t surprise.

Aside from those who do it as their profession, I can’t think of anyone I’d want to fight less than “CT” from the Real World/Road Rules challenge. This guy is quite clearly clinically insane.

This criminal is the bookkeeper for my family’s business.

I’ll preach patience with Tim Lincecum (duh!), but I remain worried about Cole Hamels, who did not ease concerns about his elbow with his debut. His fastball averaged just 86 mph, and remember, this is a fragile pitcher who threw the most pitches in all of baseball last season. It’s just one start, and he claims he feels fine, but if I owned him, I wouldn’t be sleeping well at night (and yes, these are the type of issues I think about while lying in bed).

I was at the 1999 playoff game when Steve Young threw a 25-yard TD pass to Terrell Owens with three seconds left and also the NFC Championship game in 1994 when the 49ers jumped out to a 21-0 lead over the Cowboys within the first five minutes. I also witnessed the second biggest comeback in NFL playoff history. I’ve seen Barry Bonds hit numerous bombs into the bay, while also watching Michael Jordan during his 72-win season with the Bulls and also when he hit a game-winner at the buzzer in Phoenix while paying for the Wizards. But nothing, and I mean nothing was crazier than when I was at an otherwise boring 7-1 SF Giants win last Thursday, and in the ninth inning, a screaming Mike Cameron line drive hit Joe Martinez directly in the face. The sound was unforgettable. And haunting.

The Scoop

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

One of the bigger surprises so far might be the Giants’ offense exploding for 10 runs during their opener, including three homers. For comparison‘s sake, the team didn’t hit their third home run until the eighth game of the season last year. As for Tim Lincecum’s poor outing, I wouldn’t worry too much. His velocity was fine, but his command wasn’t. While it appears he might have a small blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand, Lincecum’s arm seems healthy. As for the Brewers starting Jeff Suppan on Opening Day, it’s a joke seniority takes precedence over winning.

How about the Phillies scoring just one run through two homes games? And neither outing came against a southpaw. Expect a correction here shortly.

After touting Jason Motte quite a bit, it was tough seeing him blow an Opening Day save to the Pirates. What made it even more frustrating was that the bases clearing three-run double came on a 0-2 pitch to Jack Wilson. Still, Motte actually displayed an impressive changeup to go along with his plus fastball, so I’m still a believer. However, that was a pretty awful time to have a blowup, as he’s now far from secure in the closer’s role.

According to the Indians’ broadcast team, Cliff Lee threw to first base just five times all of last season. This seems insane to me.

After finishing spring with a 12.96 ERA and an 8:9 K:BB ratio over 16.2 innings, Chris Young wasn’t a recommended play early on. However, a small mechanical adjustment led to an impressive first start Tuesday against the Dodgers, limiting L.A. to just two runs over six innings. Young will remain a bit risky still, but the most encouraging news was his fastball reaching 89-90 mph, as his velocity had been way down a couple of weeks ago. With his height, that’s all the velocity he needs to be effective.

Erik Bedard owners have to be pleased with his first outing of the year, when he finished with an 8:0 K:BB ratio over five innings against the Mariners. The final line shows three runs allowed, but it should have been just one, as home plate umpire Chuck Meriwether badly missed what would have been an inning-ending strike three call. Instead, Michael Cuddyer ended up with a two-run single later in the at-bat. Of course, that kind of stuff happens all the time, and the key thing here is Bedard’s sharp breaking ball, which looked to be in midseason form. His fastball is down in the 92-93 range, but he should be a steal for fantasy owners who gambled on him as long as he’s healthy.

2009 Season Predictions

Monday, April 6th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

First, a recap of my division previews:

NL West

1. L.A. Dodgers
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
3. S.F. Giants
4. Colorado Rockies
5. S.D. Padres

NL Central

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

NL East

1. Atlanta Braves
2. New York Mets (wild card)
3. Philadelphia Phillies
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals

AL West

1. L.A. Angels
2. Oakland A’s
3. Texas Rangers
4. Seattle Mariners

AL Central

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

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees (wild card)
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays

NLDS: Dodgers over Mets, Braves over Cardinals
ALDS: Red Sox over Angels, Yankees over Twins

NLCS: Dodgers over Braves
ALCS: Red Sox over Yankees

World Series: Red Sox over Dodgers

NL MVP: 1) Albert Pujols 2) Manny Ramirez 3) David Wright

AL MVP: 1) Miguel Cabrera 2) Mark Teixeira 3) Grady Sizemore

NL Cy Young: 1) Tim Lincecum 2) Dan Haren 3) Ricky Nolasco

AL Cy Young: 1) Josh Beckett 2) Roy Halladay 3) Kevin Slowey

NL R.O.Y.: 1) Jason Motte 2) Cameron Maybin 3) Tommy Hanson

AL R.O.Y.: 1) Matt Wieters 2) David Price 3) Travis Snider

My favorite over/under bets:

Atlanta OVER 83.5
Dodgers OVER 82.5
Cardinals OVER 82.5

Giants UNDER 80.5
Padres UNDER 71.5
Blue Jays UNDER 80.5

American League Central Preview

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

1. Minnesota Twins

Hitting: In one of the toughest divisions to predict, the Twins enter 2009 with a bunch of health questions. Joe Mauer is the team’s most important player, and his ability to recover will be paramount.  Justin Morneau isn’t as good as MVP voters suggest, but he’s capable of further growth, especially in the power department. While no big names exist, the team’s outfield should be a plus. Jason Kubel should be a big help against righties, and it’s possible Delmon Young finally breaks out. Carlos Gomez isn’t going to be an asset at the plate, but he might already be baseball’s best defensive center fielder.

Pitching: The team’s strength, led by their front three of Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker, who can hopefully get healthy fast. Nick Blackburn is an average No. 4, and the bullpen does have question marks after Joe Nathan. Still, the front three are all legit, even if the old Liriano isn’t ever coming back. Slowey might be the favorite to finish with the best K:BB ratio in major league baseball.

2. Chicago White Sox

Hitting: With shaky pitching in an extreme hitter’s park, the offense must carry Chicago in 2009. With Dewayne Wise and Chris Getz set to hit atop the order, that prospect looks bleaker. Still, there’s a lot to like in the heart of the lineup, as Paul Konerko should bounce back, and Jim Thome remains one of the game’s better hitters. There’s also Carols Quentin and Jermaine Dye in a walk year. Alexei Ramirez’s development will be key as well.

Pitching: John Danks is for real, but at least based off last year, Gavin Floyd most certainly is not. Moreover, Mark Buerhle has been dealing with a mysterious arm issue this spring. Jose Contreras beat the timetable for his return to the mound, but relying on him and Bartolo Colin is a risky proposition at this stage of their careers. The bullpen should definitely be a strength.

3. Cleveland Indians

Hitting: The Indians are certainly capable of winning this division, but they’ll need Travis Hafner to return to form for it to happen, something that looks highly unlikely. The middle infield looks solid, but the team overpaid for Mark DeRosa’s career-year. Expect Victor Martinez to rebound in a big way, and Grady Sizemore is one of the AL’s most valuable players.

Pitching: A huge problem. Cliff Lee wasn’t all smoke and mirrors last season, and he should remain the team’s ace. However, he’s been bad this spring, and a natural regression seems likely. Fausto Carmona has posted a 2.67 ERA this spring, but that’s been accompanied by a 13:8 K:BB ratio over 27 innings, so expect his 2009 to look more like last year than his brilliant 2007 performance. Carl Pavono, Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes? Please. Kerry Wood upgrades the closer position, but that’s not going to make a big difference.

4. Detroit Tigers

Hitting: Talk about lowering expectations compared to entering last season. No 1,000 runs scored predictions have occurred this spring. Miguel Cabrera should turn into the AL’s best hitter this year, but after Curtis Granderson and Magglio Ordonez, there’s no longer much to get excited about with this lineup.

Pitching: Justin Verlander probably won’t be as bad as he was last year, but with a 16:15 K:BB ratio over 32 innings this spring, it’s clear further struggles are in store. What a huge disappointment. Armando Galarraga was one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball in 2008, so expect him to come crashing down to earth this season. All those sliders have ruined Jeremy Bonderman’s career, and while Rick Porcello has a bright future, he’s unlikely to be of much help in 2009. The team had to lie just to get Dontrelle Willis on the DL. Don’t be shocked if Ryan Perry collects saves in Detroit’s pen at some point.

5. Kansas City Royals

Hitting: It’s understandable why there’s some optimism for Kansas City, but that outlook shouldn’t be applied to 2009. Expect some nice progression from Billy Butler and Alex Gordon this year, and Mark Teahen could prove to be one of the league’s better hitters at second base. Still, with Mike Jacobs at first, Teahen at second and Gordon at third, the defense should be absolutely brutal.

Pitching: Zack Greinke has been roughed up this spring, but he could easily develop into one of the top 15 starters in major league baseball this year. Gil Meche has surprisingly earned his contract, but the rotation falls off a cliff after that. Kyle Davies was once viewed as a nice prospect in the Braves organization, and he impressed during September last year, so he can’t be completely written off. Still, he’s a long shot, while Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez form quite possibly the league’s worst back-end of a rotation.

American League East Preview

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

1. Boston Red Sox

Hitting: With no Manny Ramirez and a declining David Ortiz, the lineup certainly isn’t as formidable as it was 2-3 years ago. Still, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have developed into stars, and Jason Bay is a pretty good No. 6 hitter. Boston shouldn’t expect much from Mike Lowell or Jason Varitek, but Jed Lowrie could surprise, and J.D. Drew will be productive when not hurt. Rocco Baldelli still has an uphill battle in front of him.

Pitching: A huge strength. Josh Beckett is my favorite to win the Cy Young, and Jon Lester is rock solid. Dice-K could go one of two ways – see his ERA skyrocket after a lucky 2008 when he led the league in walks. Or, he could improve his command and become ace material with his stuff. Brad Penny hasn’t been any good in years, and that was in the NL. Still, John Smoltz will eventually be back, and Clay Buchholz could be the toughest guy to hit on the entire staff – he needs to get a legitimate chance in 2009, and the team better not let mediocrity like Tim Wakefield or Penny stand in the way.

2. New York Yankees (wild card)

Hitting: Alex Rodriguez is the obvious X-factor. Even if he returns in late April, how productive can he be at 85 percent? Healthy returns by Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada are important, as was the Mark Teixeira addition. Derek Jeter is in decline, but Robinson Cano should bounce back in a big way. Run scoring won’t be a problem in New York.

Pitching: With CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlain, the rotation does have some health risk. Still, it’s a deep staff loaded with talent. Chien-Ming Wang is underrated, and Andy Pettitte pitched better than his cosmetic stats indicated last season. Middle relief has some question marks, but this staff is among the best in baseball.

3. Tampa Bay Rays

Hitting: The Rays are in no way a fluke, and they’d easily be the favorites to win the AL West and AL Central. Unfortunately, baseball’s top-two teams just happen to play in their division. Matt Joyce and Pat Burrell were sneaky signings, and Carl Crawford looks poised to rebound from a poor 2008. B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria could both be first round picks in fantasy leagues next year.

Pitching: With James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and eventually David Price, Tampa Bay has a tremendous 1-4. And that’s before Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson enter the equation. The team’s terrific defense is a big help as well. Grant Balfour is likely to go down with an arm injury, but he could also finish with the best K rate in baseball.

4. Baltimore Orioles

Hitting: Can Aubrey Huff repeat last year’s performance? Do you realize Melvin Mora hit .376/.417/.656 after the All-Star break last season? Matt Wieters is the second coming of Jesus, and with an outfield comprised of Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Felix Pie with Cesar Izturis at shortstop, Baltimore’s defense could be one of the best in the league.

Pitching: The defense will help, but this staff is pretty terrible. The Orioles will need to get a lot out of Koji Uehara and Jeremy Guthrie, because the rotation is not deep. However, there is plenty to like in their minor league system, so the future does have promise. I’d much rather Chris Ray than George Sherrill in a fantasy league.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

Hitting: Aaron Hill could bounce back, but it’s time Alex Rios starts developing more power. Travis Snider is going to be good, but this lineup is weak. Adam Lind hit more groundballs (141) than fly balls (131) in 2008.

Pitching: What once looked like a potential dominant staff is now down to pretty much just Roy Halladay. David Purcey and Jesse Litsch are OK, but good luck pitching in this division. How Dustin McGowan eventually comes back from his arm injury will be huge for this franchise. It looks like B.J. Ryan’s stuff isn’t ever coming back.

American League West Preview

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

1. Los Angeles Angels

Hitting: What a terrible division. Still, the Angels remain the class of the West, although injuries have certainly made it closer. Kendry Morales should be a fine option at first, and Bobby Abreu was a great bargain signing. Vladimir Guerrero is in decline, but Mike Napoli will provide plenty of pop from the catcher’s slot as soon as he returns to the lineup. Howie Kendrick is the new human hamstring pull, but he could still win a batting title someday on the off chance a hang nail doesn’t cost him a month of playing time. Gary Matthews Jr. is the fifth-highest paid outfielder in baseball. He’ll also act as the team’s fifth outfielder this season.

Pitching: As if losing John Lackey and Ervin Santana to injury wasn’t bad enough, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders have both battled some health issues this spring as well. The Angels are lucky to be in a division that can afford them some time to get healthy, but this rotation is a big question mark, especially with the certainty of Saunders falling back to earth. At least Kelvim Escobar should be a reinforcement at some point.

2. Oakland A’s

Hitting: The highest batting average by an Oakland infielder last year was Bobby Crosby’s .237. Still, the team clearly upgraded its offense by adding Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Matt Holliday during the offseason. Healthy returns by Mark Ellis and Travis Buck would go a long way as well. Unlike all the seasons in recent memory, the offense figures to be better than the pitching in 2009.

Pitching: Oakland’s projected starters are an average age of 23 – the youngest of any rotation in baseball by three years. In fact, all five projected starters are 25 or younger – and according to Jeff Fletcher, “there has never been a team in baseball history (since 1901, anyway) to give the ball to five starters 25 or younger at least 25 times in a season.” No doubt, this rotation has a very bright future, but for 2009, it figures to be the team’s weakness. Injuries to Justin Duchscherer and Joey Devine certainly don’t help.

3. Texas Rangers

Hitting: The offense could be the best in the division, and that’s not even counting two blue chip catcher prospects and Justin Smoak. Michael Young is going to be overpaid as a third baseman, and Elvis Andrus isn’t ready to be much of a help with the bat, but Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz are two of the more hyped bats entering 2009. Ian Kinsler is a top-15 fantasy commodity, while Hank Blalock could rake if he ever stayed healthy. Jarrod Saltalamacchia should take the next step forward in 2009, and you’ve got to love Josh Hamilton still tinkering with his swing after a fantastic 2008. Don’t be shocked by a .300-40-140 type season.

Pitching: As good as the offense looks, the pitching looks equally as bad. At least Brandon McCarthy showed a pulse this spring. And Frank Francisco could become a dominant closer. But this staff could have the highest ERA in baseball.  Can Neftali Feliz live up to his potential while pitching in Texas?

4. Seattle Mariners

Hitting: As crazy as it sounds and despite this last place prediction, it wouldn’t be shocking if Seattle hung around the top of the AL West late into summer. No one really stands out on offense, but there are plenty of decent bats in the lineup. Russell Branyan and Ken Griffey Jr. should be productive against righties, and for what it’s worth, Adrian Beltre is entering another contract year. Still, the offense is hardly a strength.

Pitching: It’s highly unlikely to happen, but Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard have the upside to form one of baseball’s best duos. Hernandez needs to show improved command, while Bedard needs to stay off the DL. At least he’s pitching for a contract. The rest of the rotation is bad, and while the fact diabetes maybe played a role makes it a bit more understandable, Seattle became noticeably worse when Brandon Morrow was announced as a full-time reliever instead of a starter.

National League Central Preview

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

1. St. Louis Cardinals

Hitting: The Cardinals don’t jump out at you on paper, but there are no real weaknesses in the lineup, especially if Skip Schumaker can remain at second base. Having the game’s best hitter has a big ripple effect on the rest of the lineup, and although losing Try Glaus is a big blow, David Freese is a capable replacement, and a healthy Chris Duncan should crush righties. Maybe Ryan Ludwick takes a small step back, but Rick Ankiel should show continued progression, and Khalil Greene could finally bust out away from Petco.

Pitching: This prediction largely hinges on Chris Carpenter’s ability to return both effectively and remain off the DL, but his spring was highly encouraging. Adam Wainwright is a solid No. 2, and while no one would confuse the rest of the staff as aces, all are solid, and pitching coach Dave Duncan has a knack for getting the most out of his hurlers. The bullpen may be unproven, but Jason Motte and Chris Perez could form a dominant 8th and 9th inning duo.

2. Chicago Cubs

Hitting: On paper, the Cubs probably have the best team in the National League, so it may seem a bit crazy keeping them out of the postseason. They will certainly be contenders throughout, but there isn’t a more combustible roster in baseball either, with health being the main issue. Derrek Lee’s power is gone, and Aramis Ramirez is always good for a DL stint or two, and Mike Fontenot needs to prove last year wasn’t a fluke, something his minor league track record suggests. Still, Geovany Soto and Alfonso Soriano are two more bats in what looks like a potent offense. Center field looks average at best, and while Milton Bradley will surely be productive when in the lineup, last season’s 126 games played were easily the second highest total of his career, and that was with him playing 99 games at DH.

Pitching: This staff has the potential to make this second place prediction look awfully silly. Even Sean Marshall should be a well above average No. 5 starter. Still, there’s a very good chance this group fails to live up to expectations.  Carlos Zambrano has seen his K rate fall for three straight years, and his control remains substandard. No pitcher has been worked harder over the past six years. Ted Lilly is a better fantasy pitcher than a real life one. He’s definitely solid, but the WHIP doesn’t match the ERA because of all those homers surrendered. I have a tough time expecting a repeat from Ryan Dempster, and his command will be of the upmost importance. And then there’s Rich Harden, who is pitching with a damaged arm. He was nothing short of brilliant after joining the Cubs last year, but don’t forget that was accompanied by a .229 BABIP and an .873 strand rate. While his ERA was 1.77, his xFIP was 3.64. Chicago has the talent to win the World Series in 2009, but they also have a roster that could require a ton of depth to get them there.

3. Cincinnati Reds

Hitting: A year or two from now, Cincinnati should be division contenders. Don’t be shocked if they hang around for quite some time this year as well. Joey Votto is ready to explode, and Jay Bruce might not be too far off either. Still, Edwin Encarnacion remains a disappointment, and the Willy Taveras signing was uninspired, although he does fit the Dusty Baker bill as far as not “clogging up the bases.”

Pitching: Aaron Harang looked like a bounce back candidate entering 2009, but after a rocky spring, he now looks more like a future trade candidate. Still, Edinson Volquez is for real, while Johnny Cueto could emerge as the team’s ace in the future. The biggest development for the Reds has been Homer Bailey this spring, as it now appears he may yet reach his vast potential, something that seemed highly unlikely last year. Micah Owings could probably make it as a batter in the league if he fails as a pitcher, and Bronson Arroyo’s carpel tunnel syndrome may force him to begin the season on the DL.

4. Milwaukee Brewers

Hitting: Prince Fielder’s power should come all the way back in 2009, but the team will need Ryan Braun to get healthy fast. Can Bill Hall resurrect his career? Will Rickie Weeks ever stop disappointing?

Pitching: With the losses of Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia, the Brewers are no longer playoff contenders. While a full season of Yovani Gallardo should help, it remains to be seen how many innings he can pitch after throwing just 24 last year. Still, his future is plenty bright. Manny Parra has almost as much upside, but he really needs to improve his command (and remain healthy) for him to show it. The rest of the rotation is ho-hum, and the bullpen isn’t all that deep.

5. Houston Astros

Hitting: With Michael Bourn in center and Geoff Blum at third, the Astros could employ two of the weaker position players in the National League. At least it won’t be three after signing Pudge Rodriguez to play catcher, but Miguel Tejada is in major decline, and Lance Berkman can’t be expected to repeat last year’s performance. I like Hunter Pence as much as the next guy, but this is a hitter who has hit 24 more groundballs than fly balls throughout his career.

Pitching: Roy Oswalt stopped a 3.5 year decline with a fantastic second half last season, but that’s unlikely to happen again. Wandy Rodriguez looks like a major breakout candidate and could emerge as the team’s ace as soon as this season. However, any rotation featuring one of Mike Hampton or Russ Ortiz, let alone both, is a joke.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates

Hitting: At least they drafted Pedro Alvarez. Actually, it’s not THAT terrible, as Nate McLouth looks like a plenty useful player, even if his defense is demonstratively overrated (and yes, I know he starts out playing shallow in center). Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Doumit are also solid, and Andy LaRoche could become the same as well. Nyjer Morgan could be a sneaky source for steals in fantasy leagues, but it’s Jose Tabata who looks like a potential star in the future.

Pitching: The most important development for Pittsburgh this season may very well be Ian Snell’s performance. Can he develop into a legit No. 2? Or was last year his true self? Improved command is a must, but there remains potential here. Paul Maholm posted a 3.71 ERA in 2008 and a 1.52 ERA this spring, but I’m not all that high on him because of a very pedestrian K rate. The rest of Pittsburgh’s rotation – Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens – is pretty brutal.

National League East Preview

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

1. Atlanta Braves

Hitting: The Braves hardly have the best offense in their division, but they do have two superstars in their lineup, and Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar and Casey Kotchman could all take the next step this year. However, the outfield is probably below average, and Jeff Francoeur’s development (or lack thereof) will play a big role in Atlanta’s prospects for 2009.

Pitching: Easily the deepest and best rotation in the division, the Braves’ staff will need to carry this team, just like the old days. A front three of Javy Vazquez, Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens is nice, and Kenshin Kawakami is likely to be an above average No. 4 starter as well. It remains to be seen what Tom Glavine has left, but Tommy Hanson is the NL’s best pitching prospect and ready to step in when needed. Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez need to stay healthy, but the bullpen has some upside as well. Maybe it’s just my overly optimistic thinking since I bet on the Braves to win the World Series a couple of months ago at 50-1 odds, but this rotation is very strong. Moreover, ESPN used their computers to run through a bunch of scenarios and they had Atlanta finishing fourth in the division, nearly 10 games under .500 – so that made me feel more confident.

2. New York Mets  (wild card winner)

Hitting: It remains to be seen how the new park will play, but all signs point to it being pitcher-friendly. Even so, the Mets figure to be among the league’s better offenses, and it wouldn’t surprise if both David Wright and Carlos Beltran finished in the top-five in MVP voting. It wouldn’t be wise to count on Carlos Delgado to hit like he did after the break last year, but Luis Castillo has supposedly rededicated himself, while Ryan Church and Daniel Murphy could be sneaky productive.

Pitching: While the team upgraded its bullpen, the starting rotation could be a problem. It looks like Johan Santana dodged a bullet, but his skills took a noticeable decline last season, and with a decrease in velocity, he no longer looks like baseball’s best pitcher. Still, he’ll be plenty effective if he can remain healthy, but the rest of the staff all have question marks. Oliver Perez might be the most inconsistent starter in the game, and Mike Pelfrey really needs to start missing more bats if he wants to live up to his billing. John Maine has looked shaky this spring, but with that offense, the team just needs its No. 2-4 starters to be average. Their No. 5 looks to be one of the worst in the league.

3. Philadelphia Phillies

Hitting: This is no knock on the world champs, and in fact, I’d have the Phillies easily winning the NL Central. But like the American League, the East is the senior circuit’s strongest division, and it’s never easy the following year after winning the World Series. Still, if they do in fact fall short of the postseason in 2009, it won’t be by more than a game or two in a tightly contested division. Chase Utley’s health is integral, and Ryan Howard’s monstrous spring is a terrific sign. I’m a big Jayson Werth fan, but he and Shane Victorino are rather injury-prone. Also, this lineup is ridiculously left-handed heavy, so Philadelphia should struggle against southpaws.

Pitching: Cole Hamels is back on the mound, but his velocity has been way down, and this is an injury-prone pitcher who threw the most pitches in all of baseball last year, and if he goes down, so does the team. Brett Myers lost a bunch of weight during the offseason and could finally pitch like a true No. 1/2 starter this season, but since he also threw the third most pitches in MLB last year, including a ton of curveballs, he’s also a candidate to breakdown. The rest of the rotation is pretty much a mess, so this team will need to be carried by its sticks. Ryan Madson is a rock solid setup man, but there’s not a chance Brad Lidge converts 100 percent of his save chances like he did last year. With a shaky and injury-prone rotation pitching in a hitter’s park, don’t be surprised to see the bullpen heavily overworked.

4. Florida Marlins

Hitting: The Marlins are a trendy pick this season, and if not for playing in the NL East, there’d be more merit to it. Cameron Maybin can help in fantasy leagues right away, but he’s probably a year or two away from being truly helpful to Florida. Emilio Bonifacio is an uninspired choice to man third base, although maybe this is the year Jeremy Hermida finally lives up to his potential. Dallas McPherson hit 42 homers in 127 games last year in Triple-A, but the Marlins felt that warranted his release this week.

Pitching: A definite strength. Ricky Nolasco was one of the three best pitchers in the NL last season, and he could definitely vie for the Cy Young this year if he can remain healthy (certainly a big if). Josh Johnson is a fantastic No. 2 starter who could turn into an ace, and Chris Volstad induces enough grounders to get by without a good K rate. Anibal Sanchez and Andrew Miller have even more upside than Volstad, but if spring training was any indication, they remain far away from reaching that potential. Kiko Calero is a sleeper in deep NL-only leagues.

5. Washington Nationals

Hitting: The offense actually might not be terrible, although that would require the unlikely event of Nick Johnson staying healthy, and Ryan Zimmerman needs to avoid the bust label. Anyone counting on Cristian Guzman repeating last year’s performance will be left disappointed, although the outfield is crowded in a good way (not to fantasy owners, however).

Pitching: The top-three of John Lannan, Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera have disaster written all over them. However, Jordan Zimmermann and Shairon Martis are intriguing. While pitching will be a problem this season, at least Washington has a future that looks better than bleak. Zimmermann was nothing short of fantastic this spring, while Martis is a deep sleeper. Remember, Brian Sabean traded him for Mike Stanton back in 2006.

The Scoop

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

One of my biggest regrets during draft season is not having Kevin Slowey on a single team of mine. He’s never going to win any ERA titles with his susceptibility to the long ball, but his pinpoint control makes Slowey one of the bigger helps in WHIP.  He’s also showing signs of even bigger things to come, as he fanned 44 batters over the final 46 innings last year and has posted a sparkling 20:1 K:BB ratio over 20.1 innings this spring. He’s a darkhorse candidate to win the Cy Young.

I was surprised to see Gary Sheffield released, as I considered him a sneaky fantasy pick while a full-time DH this year. It would have to be extremely frustrating to end a career stuck on 499 homers, but it would also be sweet karmic revenge for throwing my main man Barry Bonds under the bus. Prediction: Sheffield never plays baseball again.

During my NFBC draft Wednesday night, a whopping 24 relief pitchers were taken before the end of round 11. I have been shying away from my usual punting saves strategy, but I was left with no choice during this madness. I like Chris Ray quite a bit this year, but I didn’t expect him to go in round 11. As for some middle relievers who I have been stashing in hopes of getting saves later while also helping in the meantime: Ryan Madson (14:0 K:BB ratio over 13.1 innings this spring), Octavio Dotel (14:2: K:BB ratio over 10 innings this spring, Jenks is somewhat shaky), Rafael Soriano (terrific when healthy, coming cheaper than expected after more injuries this spring), and Santiago Casilla (Devine looks done for, and we’ll see how Ziegler does the second time around the league. His low K rate is a red flag. Casilla hasn’t been all that impressive this spring, but he has upside and reminds me a lot of former A’s prospect Jairo Garcia).

What if Luther Head’s dad named him Richard instead?

Judging from the drafts and auctions I’ve been in this year, most are much higher on Scott Kazmir than I am. Listen, he might have the most upside of any pitcher in the American League, especially in the K department, but there’s also plenty of downside. Maybe an offseason of rest cured him, but I can’t shake the memory of how different he looked at the end of 2008. Despite striking out 94 batters over 85.1 innings, Kazmir didn’t finish with a WHIP better than 1.43 in any of last year’s final three months. He’s reached 190 innings in just one of his four big league seasons, so he’s a pretty big injury risk. He’s shown improved command this spring, but this is a pitcher with a career 4.13 BB/9 mark. I’m not saying I’d avoid Kazmir, but he’s certainly gone high for my taste, at least in the leagues I’ve been in.

For a good laugh, read this joker over at newsday.com. He’s another misguided soul who believes Joba Chamberlain would be more valuable throwing 70 innings than 150 (and eventually 180-200). The money quote: “Many can start; few can finish. Joba can finish. He was a great setup man, and someday he’ll be a great closer. Those commodities are a lot scarcer on the market than starting pitchers.” One quick glance at the discrepancy between starting pitchers’ salaries versus closers’ salaries makes it pretty clear which one is the “scarcer” of the two.

Jay Cutler to the Bears. Wow. We may never see a bigger trade in the NFL ever again. Top-five commodities in their prime are rarely available. I applaud Chicago and Washington for their aggressive pursuit (although now the Skins may have to deal with an unhappy Jason Campbell) and am left dumbfounded why the 49ers sat this one out. I would have traded my team’s entire 2009 draft plus a first rounder next year for Cutler. This deal was flat-out robbery. I mean, this year’s first round pick is just No. 18 – and one can only assume it will be lower next year with Cutler on board. Then again, ESPN’s Trent Dilfer said Kyle Orton has something Cutler does not – “moxie,” so what do I know anyway? Josh McDaniels might be the worst coach in NFL history before even coaching his first game.