Archive for February, 2010

Podcast

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Check it out. I’m on during the 10-40 minute marks.

The Scoop

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

I’m targeting Jay Bruce this year. After hitting just .223 last season, some luster appears to have worn off. He won’t come dirt cheap or anything, but right now his ADP is 121.62 – making him the 38th outfielder off the board, behind guys like Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer and even Carlos Beltran. Of course, all leagues vary, and I doubt he’ll come at such a discount in any I play in, but the point remains – few players typically available after round seven offer Bruce’s upside; the kind that can win your league for you. There’s no doubt he strikes out too often and still struggles against lefties, but this is also a 22-year-old who has smashed 43 homers over 209 career games in the majors. His walk rate improved last season, and while it’s never great betting on someone coming off a wrist injury (which suppressed his numbers in 2009), Bruce posted a 1.228 OPS after returning in September. That was during only 14 games, but there’s little reason to worry about his health entering 2010. Although he hasn’t been successful on the base paths so far in the majors, he’s also capable of swiping 15-20 bags. Part of his low .221 BABIP last year can be attributed to all those batted balls leaving the yard, and since he strikes out so frequently, BA remains a risk, but it’s also worth noting that his BABIP was 24 points below the lowest among all qualified hitters last year (Ian Kinsler had a .245 BABIP). Bruce has the ability to reach 40 homers – and as soon as this season.

Interesting read regarding Dusty Baker and his propensity to destroy the arms (and sometimes careers) of his starting pitchers. Some pretty damning evidence.

I’m not going to act like I’m the first person to suggest avoiding Javier Vazquez this year. I mean, it’s pretty obvious the move from the NL back to the AL is a detriment to his fantasy value. You also won’t find a bigger fan of his, as I had him No. 2 on my NL Cy Young ballot for 2009 (it’s an absolute joke how much negativity Keith Law got for having him on his ballot, since, you know, he was 100 percent right). Vazquez is a terrific pitcher (in fact, his 2.89 xFIP led all of baseball last season) and was a huge pickup for the Yankees. He’s going to be a big asset in strikeouts and also probably in WHIP and wins. He’s certainly going to have plenty of value in fantasy leagues. It’s just that an ERA less than 4.00 (or even 4.50) might be too much to ask. Bill James, CHONE and Marcel all call for it to be less than 3.85, but I’m not so optimistic. You see, Vazquez is an extreme flyball pitcher (last season’s 41.7 GB% ranked 50th among starters, and that was for only those who qualified), and he’s now playing in the best home run park in baseball (at least based on one year’s worth of data. Obviously, that’s not quite sufficient. But it’s all we have to work with for now). So while contrary to popular belief, the new Yankee Stadium played as a pitcher’s park last year, it’s extremely susceptible to giving up the long ball, making Vazquez a poor match. And that’s before accounting for the fact he’ll now have to face much tougher lineups in his division. Again, Vazquez is a terrific pitcher who is as durable as they come and was a great addition to the Yankees rotation, but during his previous four seasons in the American League, his ERA was less than 4.67 once. His current ADP (12th SP) is simply too high.

Words cannot describe this video. I usually don’t link to ones this long (11 minutes), but this is pure gold (and the finale doesn’t disappoint, so be sure to watch until the very end). The word “surreal” is often overused, but I can’t think of a better description here. While a bunch of sabermetrics are being discussed, Royals GM Dayton Moore uses “runs scored” as his preferred method of evaluation, and when he’s really feeling crazy, he’ll even sometimes delve into “on-base percentage.” You can’t make this stuff up. Justin Upton is really on the cutting edge as well. And I haven’t even gotten into the random interludes by the “hot blonde,” who is there for, well, I have no idea why. Is she really Jim Bowden’s girlfriend? My mind has truly been blown.

Howie Kendrick isn’t assured of even a starting job, has had durability issues, rarely walks and has limited power and speed, yet I still want him on my fantasy team in 2010. While there will be a battle for the second base job, and it would be nice if he walked every now and then, Kendrick should beat out Maicer Izturis (who could also get at-bats at third base) if he plays up to his potential. Kendrick has a .360 BA throughout his minor league career (1,618 ABs), and he posted a .358/.391/.558 line after the All-Star break with the Angels last year. A 20/20 type campaign isn’t out of the question, and there’s no doubt in my mind Kendrick can win a batting title someday, which would actually be an even bigger boost to your fantasy team’s BA since it would come with few walks.

Speaking of the Angels, I’m picking them to win the AL West this season. I’m all about being a contrarian, and in this rare case, backing the team that has won the division five out of the last six years qualifies as such. PECOTA calls for Texas to win the AL West, with the Angels finishing in last. CAIRO says the Mariners win the division, with the Angels finishing third. CHONE is also predicting the Rangers to finish in first. All random commentary I’ve come across seems to agree as much – the Angels are done. It’s true this team seems to have been rather lucky over the past three years, and this division is one of the hardest to predict entering 2010, and I actually don’t really like Mike Scioscia as a tactician, but I also don’t see many holes in this Angels squad. If anyone wants to pick another AL West team to finish higher than the Angels, I’d love to bet backstage. Let me know.

Alexei Ramirez is an interesting case, as he saw his home runs drop (21 to 15) in 2009 compared to 2008 despite getting 62 more at-bats and more experience. His OPS also declined from .792 to .723 during that span, and while a simple explanation would be that pitchers had a book on him finally, it’s worth noting his K rate dropped while his walk rate jumped significantly, so optimism remains for the 28-year-old, despite his second half collapse (.684 OPS) last season. His success on the base paths also improved in 2009 (74 percent) compared to 2008 (59 percent). Ramirez may never become a truly valuable asset for the White Sox, but he plays in one of the most favorable hitter’s parks in baseball, could easily approach 20/20 this year and qualifies at one of the shallowest positions in baseball, making him plenty valuable in fantasy leagues.

Not that I dislike Tony Kornheiser on PTI, but I wouldn’t mind his two-week suspension lasting longer – Dan Le Batard absolutely blows him and Michael Wilbon away. Not even close.

So my boy Stephen Strasburg has impressed during early bullpen sessions, to say the least. Pudge Rodriguez has already dismissed Justin Verlander comparisons, instead opting for Nolan Ryan. Strasburg reportedly has also taken to the community, rescuing stray kittens in his spare time, and reputedly, he’s also discovered the cure for the common cold, found a piece of evidence that will rightfully get Amanda Knox exonerated and was the driving force behind Soundgarden reuniting. Don’t expect him to pitch for the Nationals until June, but he’ll still be worth a second round fantasy pick nevertheless (OK, that last part was a bit of an exaggeration).

The Scoop

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

Robinson Cano rebounded from a poor 2008 campaign last season, posting a .320-25-103-85 line. He doesn’t take many walks, but his contact rate is consistently so good (.90 last year), it wouldn’t surprise if he continues to bat around .320 like he did in 2009. Because he doesn’t steal many bags, some may consider Brandon Phillips, Brian Roberts and Ben Zobrist better fantasy options at second base, but it’d be unwise to think of Cano’s 2009 campaign as his ceiling. For one, he’s entering his age 27 season, so further power growth should be expected, and with the new Yankee Stadium acting as the league’s best HR park (at least for one season), Cano could easily top 30 homers in 2010. But by far the biggest area he could see drastic improvement is in run production. No one would complain about a second baseman posting 85 RBI like he did last season, but it could have been so much more, as Cano, despite batting seventh in the order the majority of the time, came to the plate with the ninth-most runners on base in MLB last year. And he hit just .207/.242/.332 in 184 at-bats with RISP. He hit .374/.407/.609 with the bases empty. This is no big outlier, either, as Cano saw his OPS drop 146 points with RISP the year before (when he hit just one HR over 156 at-bats). It doesn’t stop there: in 2007, his OPS dropped 59 points with RISP; in 2006, it declined 148 points; in 2005, it sunk a whopping 234 points. So in all five of Cano’s major league seasons, his performance at the plate has drastically declined when batting with RISP. It sure looks like a trend, but if he’s able to improve in that area, which is typically a matter of luck, we could be looking at massive run production from a MI spot. Cano has averaged 85 RBI over the past three seasons despite failing so miserably in pressure situations (thanks to the loaded Yankee lineup). Don’t be surprised if he has a better fantasy season than Chase Utley in 2010.

Really interesting read about how stress pitches might matter more than pitch counts in regards to pitchers’ health. I was already worried about Justin Verlander’s high workload last season, now I’m strongly considering avoiding him altogether.

Jorge De La Rosa is no sleeper anymore, and there are two aspects working against him: Coors Field and awful control (4.04 BB/9 last year). Still, there’s also plenty to like, as last season’s 9.39 K/9 mark was 10th best in all of baseball. He combined that with a strong 1.34 G/F rate. The (lack of) control is admittedly scary, and De La Rosa isn’t likely to be a big help in WHIP as a result, but remember, last season was his first in the majors that he was given even 25 starts, so he’s still growing as a pitcher. His average fastball velocity last year (93.3 mph) was the second-fastest in the National League by a left-hander (Clayton Kershaw was No. 1), but his massively improved changeup is what makes him truly interesting, as it’s fast becoming a devastating pitch. De La Rosa’s xFIP (3.81) was the 20th best in MLB last season, ranking ahead of CC Sabathia, Matt Cain and Johan Santana. Of course, he’ll come at a fraction of the price compared to those others, and even if De La Rosa doesn’t truly break out in 2010, he should still be a plenty valuable asset for those who play in daily leagues – just start him in road games.

Early word from Giants camp is Madison Bumgarner’s velocity remains down. Of course, it’s still very early. But not good.

On the opposite spectrum of De La Rosa, Roy Oswalt is shaping up to be a boring veteran who looks like he can be had at a discount this year. With a consistently declining K rate (and often an accompanying increase in BB/9), I’ve avoided Oswalt pretty strongly over the past few seasons, but he’s unlikely to ever be had for so cheap in 2010. His build has always suggested a pitcher who won’t be able to pitch deep into his 30s, and maybe last year’s back problems are a sign of further decline and the end is near, but even with a modest strikeout rate (6.85/9), he posted a 3.29:1 K:BB ratio, and maybe his back problems really did stem from pitching in the WBC. Oswalt has a career 3.23 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, and his average fastball velocity was 93.1 mph last season, which ranked 15th in all of baseball and was his highest mark since 2004, so rather than take his eight wins, 4.12 ERA and injuries as reasons to avoid him, use them to your advantage and grab him later than ever before.

Compelling article about Roger Ebert, who hasn’t been able to speak, eat or drink for four years now.

Cameron Maybin has yet to have any success at the major league level, hitting just five homers with a .261/.325/.409 line over 257 at-bats. He’s largely been overmatched, striking out 80 times over that span. Still, we are talking about a tiny sample here, and this is a top prospect who is still just 22 years old. Recognizing that youth, his .862 OPS was more than respectable at Triple-A last season, and he’s been successful on 81 of his 103 stolen base attempts throughout his minor league career. Maybin should finally be given a real opportunity in Florida this season, and he’s slated to bat second in the order ahead of Hanley Ramirez, which sets him up for a whole lot more success (Maybin has posted an .848 OPS batting second with the Marlins, albeit in an extremely small sample) compared to hitting him eighth in front of the pitcher (Maybin has posted a .632 OPS batting eighth). Go ahead and take a flier, maybe the luster has worn off.

Saw “Shutter Island” this weekend and left speechless. I mean, wow. Makes the over-the-top “The Departed” seem tame. It definitely produced a bunch of discussion afterward, which is always great. I think I liked it. But at the same time, I could see someone giving it an “F.” Actually, I think the reviews have been overly harsh, considering the material (and premise) Scorsese was working with. Of course, it probably helped I hadn’t read the book, but for me, the 2.5 hours flew by, and even if you can’t get past some of the cheesiness, I doubt many leave not being entertained. I really, really want to know how others view what happened in the end.

I’ve always been a huge Kevin Slowey fan, and normally, I’d recommend him as someone to target coming off an injury-ruined season in which his ERA (4.86) was way out of whack with otherwise terrific peripherals (5:1 K:BB ratio). In fact, over the past two years, Slowey’s K:BB ratio is off the charts (5.08:1). In comparison, Tim Lincecum’s is 3.46:1 over that span. Of course, that stat isn’t the be all, end all, which is especially the case with Slowey, who simply gives up far too many homers. Still, although he’s an extreme flyball pitcher, is HR/F rates have been unlucky over the past three years: 16.5%, 11.5%, 13.0%. So for someone with such terrific control, there is some real upside here. It’s easy to cherry pick numbers, but few pitchers in baseball are capable of posting such dominant stats at times like Slowey, who has recorded a 30:3 K:BB ratio, a 37:2 K:BB ratio and a 25:3 K:BB ratio during three different months over the past 1.5 years. I mean, that’s special. It’s also possible getting outdoors in the new stadium this year will lead to fewer long balls. However, the atrocious Twins’ outfield defense could prove to be a real problem for a pitcher who is constantly giving up flyballs. Minnesota’s outfield posted a collective -30.8 UZR last year, which was the worst in baseball. And that was with Carlos Gomez playing Gold Glove caliber defense in 86 starts in center field. He’s now in Milwaukee, and although the addition of Jim Thome could actually help the defense if it leads to fewer starts from Delmon Young, any outfield combo of Young/Jason Kubel in left, Denard Span stretched in center and Michael Cuddyer in right, should once again be the worst in MLB. I like Slowey, but he’s working an uphill battle.

The Scoop

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

Partially because of Joe Mauer’s ridiculously good season last year, Victor Martinez’s output has been somewhat overlooked, but not since Pudge Rodriguez and Mike Piazza were in their primes has a backstop coming off a .303-23-88-108 campaign not been unanimously ranked as the No. 1 fantasy C the following year. His down 2008, which was ruined by injuries, is now a distant memory, and while he’s unlikely to maintain the pace he set after coming to Boston (.336/.405./507), it’s also worth noting he did that while somewhat struggling at Fenway Park (.808 OPS). That figures to change in 2010, and VMart should hit in the middle of a strong Red Sox lineup. With Adrian Beltre signed to play third, Kevin Youkilis is locked in at first base, so with David Ortiz the DH, Martinez won’t have as many options to play when not catching, so the situation isn’t ideal. Still, it would hardly shock if he put up numbers comparable to Mauer this season, although don’t expect him to come cheap (24.49 ADP). With catchers quickly becoming sketchy after the big three, Martinez would be a good pick if he falls to you in the third round.

I’m not sure if “Shutter Island” looks intriguing or flat-out terrible (maybe both?), but either way, I’ll be seeing it this weekend. If it’s as over-the-top as Scorsese’s last movie, “The Departed,” one thing’s for sure – I’ll be entertained.

Ubaldo Jimenez is no secret and a major topic of discussion in fantasy circles, but he’s the first Rockies’ starter I truly believe in (incidentally, the current staff actually has two). Last year’s 3.51 BB/9 mark was not good, to put it mildly, but it was a significant improvement over the previous season (4.67), and it also (marginally) got better after the All-Star break. At 26, Jimenez is obviously still learning how to pitch, and often control is the last skill grasped. Coors Field remains the best hitter’s park in baseball, but the gap has narrowed significantly, and pitching in a division with the Giants and Padres certainly helps. Jimenez’s average fastball velocity (96.1 mph) last year was easily the highest in baseball, and a full half mph ahead of the next fastest (Justin Verlander). Moreover, according to pitch value, Jimenez’s slider was the fifth-most effective in the National League. Most impressively, only Felix Hernandez had both a higher GB% and better K/9 rate, as Jimenez’s ability to produce grounders while also missing bats is unparalleled in the NL, and that’s the best type of combination a pitcher can have. After an awful April last season (7.58 ERA, 2.11 WHIP) he posted a 3.08 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over the rest of the season. And he’s only getting better. Don’t be shocked if Jimenez threatens to win the Cy Young in 2010.

Sticking with Colorado, Ian Stewart could prove to be one of the biggest steals in fantasy drafts this year, especially in leagues where he’ll remain second base eligible (he played 21 games there in 2009). The former top-10 pick hit 25 homers over just 425 at-bats last year, and he’ll finally be given a full-time job in 2010, with no Garrett Atkins to worry about. Stewart strikes out way too much, and his .228 BA was pretty ugly last season, but that’s obviously bound to improve, and probably by a good 30-40 points – his BABIP was .275 last year, which is well below his career mark of .310 (and that’s after last year’s career-low mark). Stewart gets to hit in Coors Field, and if he plays up to his capabilities, a move up in the order isn’t out of the question (he batted predominantly sixth and seventh last season). He hit just .205/.287/.434 with RISP in 2009, compared to .244/.340/.507 with the bases empty, so that figures to be corrected this year, resulting in more RBI. Stewart is a batting average risk, but he’s also a clear-cut top-10 fantasy option at second base (it doesn’t hurt he’s from the LBC, either). I’d certainly prefer him to Dan Uggla.

I’m beginning to question all those stories about Pablo Sandoval getting into the best shape of his life this offseason.

I kind of like targeting Brad Lidge. I mean, it seems just about everyone is down on him coming off a season in which he had a 7.21 ERA and 1.81 WHIP. He was due to regress after 2008, when he was perfect in save opportunities, but few expected that type of collapse (he was just the second player ever to record at least 30 saves with an ERA higher than 7.00. And he was 0-8 for good measure too). But remember, Lidge bounced back after he posted a 5.28 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 2006 (admittedly, his peripherals were MUCH better then compared to last year), and maybe his terrible 2009 campaign really can be blamed on injuries (and while he may start this year on the DL, the fact he got offseason surgery on his knee should hopefully correct the problem. Plus, it will likely make him even cheaper at draft tables). Lidge’s fastball velocity has dropped in four straight seasons, and it was a pitch that was destroyed by opponents last year, but he continues to miss bats (9.36 K/9), and his .369 BABIP and 14.8% HR/F rate are bound to come down. I’m not saying Lidge will be dominant in 2010, but he should be healthier, should come relatively cheaply, and manager Jerry Manuel is a strong believer. For a closer with good job security (Ryan Madson does not like pitching in the ninth inning) on a team that has won the NL pennant each of the past two seasons, Lidge could be a bargain.

Come on, this can’t be real. Suddenly, the Snuggie looks legitimate.

The curious case of Matt Cain. Over his five years in the league, here are his xFIP vs. ERA comparisons: 5.21 v. 2.33, 4.88 v. 4.15, 4.66 v. 3.65, 4.67 v. 3.76, 4.26 v. 2.89. It’s safe to say his peripherals haven’t exactly matched the results. For the most part, this has to do with his ability (luck?) to keep flyballs from leaving the yard. To wit, here are his HR/F percentages over his career: 7.8, 9.0, 6.7, 8.2, 10.1. I’m certainly of the belief there are outliers with everything, so maybe this is a trend, and batters simply don’t make good contact against Cain. A huge increase in his homers allowed isn’t necessarily inevitable moving forward. Despite possessing velocity that isn’t overwhelming, his fastball has always been one of the better pitches in all of baseball, despite his second most used pitch (curveball) being below average. In fact, only Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf had a more effective heater than Cain last season. Still, there are plenty of red flags here, even if his HR/F remains the same and not even questioning whether his career BABIP (.278) stays constant as well. Cain’s control improved last season, but his 3.02 BB/9 mark still isn’t any good, especially considering his modest 7.07 K/9 mark was a career-low. He somehow limited opponents to just a .161 BAA with RISP, which was the second-lowest in baseball (J.A. Happ was No. 1). And with RISP and two outs, Cain gave up a miniscule .101 BAA. Good luck repeating that. Cain is generally considered an unlucky pitcher, as he averaged just 7.5 wins over 2007 and 2008 thanks to poor run support despite a 3.71 ERA over that span, but if you look closer (and past the win stat), few hurlers have been so fortunate. His 81.6 LOB% was also second-highest in MLB last season. Maybe the low HR/F rate and BABIP can safely be viewed as trends now, and it’s possible he’s learned how to pitch better in pressure situations, but I’ll let someone else find out that answer in 2010. I’m not saying drafting Cain is as risky as say, talking trash to “Epic Beard Man” on public transit, but I’d much rather draft Jonathan Sanchez way later.

Podcast

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Check it out.

The Scoop

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

What do we make of Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Ben Zobrist? They were probably the biggest contributors to winning fantasy titles last year when you consider how cheaply they cost. Not one screams fluke, but it’s also worth noting that each were considered good, not elite prospects. Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t become stars at the major league level, but all three enter 2010 as somewhat risky picks, because they came relatively out of nowhere last season yet posted some of the best numbers in baseball.

Hill led all second basemen last season in both home runs (36) and RBI (108) while also scoring 103 runs and batting .286. He started hitting more flyballs than ever before, but the big difference in his production is what happened to those balls once they were in the air, as a whopping 14.6% of his flyballs went for homers. Over his previous four seasons, those numbers looked like this: 2.6%, 3.6%, 8.6%, 2.4%. So while last year’s spike is almost certain to come down in 2010, it’s also clear he had been quite unlucky earlier in his career, and remember, his terrible 2008 can be partially explained by injury. So while it’s hardly going out on a limb to say he’s unlikely to ever match last year’s 36 homers, 25 bombs are within reach, and since he hits atop the order, 80 RBI and 90-100 runs scored are also perfectly reasonable expectations. Still, he’s not a star when it comes to his value to the Blue Jays, as even last year his OBP was just .330, and his UZR was -2.3 (although it was better over the previous two seasons, so it’s safe to call him about a league average defensive second baseman). Entering his age 28 season, there’s still room for growth, but fantasy owners should be wary of paying for last year’s power numbers, especially once pitchers start handling him differently, as this spray chart is about as drastic as it gets.

Hill’s teammate, Lind, meanwhile is similar. He started getting far more lift on the ball last season, as his G/F ratio jumped from 1.08 in 2008 to 0.77 in 2009. His 19.8 HR/FB % was a personal-high, but his career mark (15.7%) suggests a total collapse may not be in store. A former third round pick, Lind has always been an RBI machine throughout the minors, and he’s just now entering his prime, and it’s hard to overlook last season’s output: .305-35-93-114 in fewer than 600 at-bats.

Not only was Zobrist the most valuable of this trio in fantasy leagues last year because he was probably a waiver wire add and did all that damage (.297-27-91-91-17) in just 500 at-bats, but he also held by far the most real life value as well. Thanks to fantastic defense at multiple positions, Zobrist’s WAR (8.6) was the highest among all position players in 2010 (Joe Mauer would have come in first, but they have yet to devise a method to properly give credit to defense at catcher). Zobrist’s outburst seemingly came out of nowhere (although he did slug .505 in 198 ABs with the Rays the year before), and it’s worth noting his OPS dropped from 1.012 before the All-Star break to .886 afterward. Of course, .886 is still fantastic, and he’ll finally be given an every day job at one position in 2010, which can’t hurt. Zobrist’s 2009 season may feel like more of a fluke than the other two, but it was also the best of the three, and because he steals bags unlike the others, he should be the first one off the board in fantasy leagues this year. That said, it will be interesting to see how these three fare, and the wise method (and most obvious) is to expect some real regression from all three.

Cringe-worthy stuff by Oprah. Poor Drew Brees.

Interesting discussion here for true baseball nerds. Is SIERA the next big thing? It sure looks possible to me.

Saw “Crazy Heart” this weekend, and while I’m no fan of country music, and this movie was basically the same story as last year’s “The Wrestler,” I liked it. And can easily see why Jeff Bridges is the favorite to win Best Actor at this year’s Oscars.

Cliff Lee’s fantasy value no doubt took a hit when he was traded back to the American League, as he was flat-out dominant for the Phillies. In fact, his K rate went from 6.34 K/9 in Cleveland to 8.36 K/9 in Philadelphia. While some remain skeptics since he was unable to match his 2008 performance that came out of nowhere, Lee has proven to be a very good pitcher, and even before the trade, he was pitching well for the Indians (3.24 K:BB ratio). The lack of gaudy strikeout totals leaves him outside the top-10 fantasy starters, but he can still be a top-15 one, as he’s found himself in a pretty good situation in Seattle. Although he’s improved in the area, Lee is still predominantly a flyball pitcher, and the Mariners just so happen to have the best outfield defense baseball has seen in years. In fact, last year’s UZR (62.0) was the second-best since the stat was first recorded in 2002. The addition of Milton Bradley and the subtraction of Adrian Beltre hurts, but replacement Chone Figgins has transformed himself into a fantastic defender at third base, and a full season of Jack Wilson at SS combined with the addition of Casey Kotchman at first should more than counter, leaving Seattle as baseball’s best team with the glove once again. Safeco Field is also really tough on right-handed hitters. Lee will be a huge beneficiary, as will his fantasy owners.

Unless drastic changes are made, put a fork in the NBA Slam Dunk contest, it’s done.

There’s already a huge contender for my favorite album of 2010, and it’s “Transference” by Spoon. Really good stuff.

I don’t love the Olympics, but I do try to get into them. And the finish to this race was pretty insane.

Aside from the obvious fact there are so many more than any other position, I have the hardest time ranking outfielders. The hierarchy simply isn’t as clear-cut as others. Maybe there’s a pretty standard top-seven (but even then, I wonder if most agree even there?), but it gets muddled soon thereafter, which in turn probably means it’s a good position to act agnostic and let others decide the differing values among so many players who could be considered as roughly equals. One guy I seem to value higher than others (at least from ADP, the couple of mocks I’ve been in and rankings I’ve looked at), is Nelson Cruz, which is funny because this is a guy who got so much “sleeper” love last season, I completely missed the boat and owned him in zero leagues not believing the hype. It’s safe to say he surpassed it, as Cruz hit 33 homers with 20 steals in just 462 at-bats. And people are taking Jason Bay over him with a straight face? What am I missing here? He also battled through an ankle injury throughout the second half, which in no small part contributed to a paltry .239/.295/.409 line in September. Cruz can no longer be viewed as a Quad-A player, and at age 29, he’s still in his prime. In an effort to break up some lefties, it sounds like Cruz may open the season batting seventh, but if he hits like he’s fully capable of, he’ll be in the middle of the order soon enough, and the advantage of playing in Arlington shouldn’t be underestimated. Cruz sure looks like a top-10 outfielder to me.

NBA All-Star Weekend

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Just for the hell of it, here are my predictions for Saturday night:

H.O.R.S.E.: Kevin Durant

Skills Challenge: Steve Nash

Three-Point Contest: Stephen Curry

Slam Dunk Contest: Gerald Wallace

The Scoop

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

I’ve already let my feelings be known about Joey Votto deserving the No. 6 ranking as far as first basemen are concerned, and obviously Albert Pujols is No. 1, but where it really gets tricky is coming up with the 2-5 order, which pretty much unanimously consists of Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Mark Teixeira. Howard probably has the most upside of the group, since he’s probably the favorite to lead baseball in both homers and RBI (and this is someone who had a SLUGGING PERCENTAGE of 1.138 on flyballs to the opposite field last season), but what if 26-year-old Cabrera finally reaches his power potential (and him stopping drinking can’t hurt), because he’s also likely to hit around .320 as well. Prince Fielder, meanwhile, is coming off a season in which he hit 46 bombs with 141 RBI. Personally, I’m remaining agnostic about deciphering this group, which means if I don’t get an early pick this year, I’d prefer a late one rather than in the middle.

Even though he never actually accomplishes what he set out to do in the first place, I really liked Dan Le Batard’s account of hanging out with Bryant McKinnie during Super Bowl week.

Another tough decision is on the opposite side of the infield: David Wright vs. Evan Longoria. Wright is obviously coming off a disappointing season, hitting just 10 home runs, and while pretty much everyone fully expects that number to return to his career levels this season (or at least into the mid 20s), his big spike in K rate is worth noting. But this is a very good hitter who is likely to have a distinct advantage in batting average and also possesses the ability to swipe 30 bags. Longoria, on the other hand, just posted a 33-100-113 line as a 23-year-old. Something like 40 homers is hardly out of the question, and while he doesn’t have Wright’s SB potential, did you realize he’s a perfect 16-for-16 in stolen base attempts during his career? Still, he’s not a big runner, and Wright’s concussion last year affected his suppressed numbers, and we could be talking about a 30-40 point advantage in BA here. Who ya got?

Interesting stat: the Colts had more first downs gained by the pass compared to the rush this season in NFL history.

One final debate I find interesting is Chase Utley vs. Ian Kinsler. Returning from offseason hip surgery, Utley produced a .282-31-23-112-93 line last season, and it could have been even bigger if not for a .204/.304/.343 September when he was likely hampered by a foot injury. Of course, Utley is seemingly always dealing with some sort of health problem, and while it’s admirable he’s able to fight through the injuries and stay on the field, his numbers typically suffer as a result. Of course, put differently, if he were able to actually stay 100 percent throughout an entire season, he could easily challenge to be the No. 1overall fantasy player. He’s a remarkable 46-for-49 (including 23-for-23 last year) on the base paths over the last two seasons, but he’s more likely to fall in the 15-SB range in 2010 than match last year’s total. I love Utley the baseball player, as he handles lefties quite well and plays fantastic defense at a premium position, making him one of the most valuable players in real life. But he’s now on the wrong side of 30, and his career-high in homers (33) and RBI (105) don’t exactly jump off the page. Kinsler, on the other hand, is just 27 years old, plays in the better hitter’s park and just posted a 30-30 season last year despite missing nearly 20 games. His .245 BABIP suggests you can ignore last season’s low average (.253) and can fully expect a bounce back there in 2010, especially since his plate discipline continues to improve. Then again, Kinsler has made a trip to the DL in each of his four seasons in the league, and last year’s 566 at-bats shattered his previous high, so it’s not like we are talking about a durable player here either. Close call.

I’m not even sure what’s going on here, but this is my favorite meteorologist since Phil Connors.

After Stephen Drew posted a .927 OPS after the All-Star break in 2008, everyone was hyping him like crazy (including myself) entering last year. Well, after he came through with a disappointing .261-12-65 line, he was one of the bigger 2009 busts. Of course, this means he’s someone to target in 2010. Drew struggles against lefties and uses Chase Field to his full advantage, but remember the former top-15 pick is still just 26 years old, and it’s worth noting only 5.9% of his flyballs last year went over the fence. Drew should hit toward the top of a lineup that figures to be improved, and he still has the upside to be a top-five fantasy shortstop.

I know that’s not what Steve Phillips MEANT, but come on man.

Jon Lester had a 6.07 ERA over his first 10 starts last season, despite 62 strikeouts over 59.1 innings. From that point forward, he posted a 2.31 ERA despite pitching in Fenway Park and in the AL East. That was also accompanied by a 163:43 K:BB ratio over 144 innings. Lester’s fastball velocity took a big jump last season, and his cutter (one of the most best pitches in baseball) and curveball are actually even more effective. He has a strong groundball rate (47.7%), and his 9.96 K/9 IP ratio ranked third-best in baseball in 2010. His xFIP (3.33) was sixth-best, ahead of both Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander. With Boston improving its defense quite a bit during the offseason, don’t be surprised if Lester wins the Cy Young in 2010, and he should be considered a top-five fantasy starter. If anyone wants a Lester versus CC Sabathia bet, please let me know.

Podcast

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Check it out.

The Scoop

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

I’m not exactly going out on a limb saying I like Roy Halladay this season, and I’m guessing I also won’t be the only person to suggest a move from the AL to the NL will be beneficial. However, I’m here to argue he should be closer to the No. 1 fantasy starter than anything below it, and while I typically won’t draft a SP too early, his current ADP (32.26) seems extremely low, as I view him as a legitimate late first round option. Halladay’s fairly high workloads over the past four seasons are of some concern, but the improvement in his K rate over the past two years has turned him into an elite fantasy option. Halladay’s xFIP has ranked first and fourth over that time span, respectively, and few pitchers possess his ability to induce groundballs (50.2 GB% last year) with such a strong K rate. Everyone knows Halladay is good, of course, but the move to the National League really can’t be understated. Over the past two seasons, he put up remarkable numbers (leading all of baseball in K:BB ratio each year), and he did so while facing the second-highest opponents’ aggregate OPS in 2008 and third-highest in 2009. To put that in perspective, Tim Lincecum’s schedule was ranked as the 54th hardest last year. And if you’re of the opinion wins are predictable, well, the Phillies’ loaded lineup shouldn’t hurt matters. Going from a division that featured three teams that finished in the top-seven in runs scored last season to one with the Nationals, Mets and Braves (who all finished in bottom-half of MLB in scoring), how good could Halladay’s numbers end up looking this year? I hope I find out that answer with him on my fantasy team.

It sounds like it will take Carlos Beltran 12 weeks before he even starts baseball activities, so don’t expect to see him before June at the earliest. Stay away in fantasy leagues unless he comes at a real discount.

Pablo Sandoval truly is a pretty rare case. He sports a .333 career batting average despite being by far the freest swinger in all of baseball. In fact, he had the second-highest O-Swing% (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) last year (second only to teammate Bengie Molina. As you can infer, the Giants really understand the merits of working the count) and would have “led” the category if he had enough at-bats during his rookie campaign in 2008. Moreover, “Kung Fu Panda” (seriously, how baked must have Barry Zito been when he was sitting at home watching that cartoon when he came up with the nickname?) also had the highest Z-Swing% (percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone) last year as well. What does this all mean, exactly? His .356 career BABIP suggests he can get away with this, but his 717 at-bat sample is hardly enough to learn if that number is sustainable. Then again, there’s also plenty of room for him to grow as a hitter given that he’s just 23 years old. Swinging at essentially every pitch thrown at him last season, Sandoval’s .943 OPS ranked seventh-best in the NL, and he somehow posted a 35:28 K:BB ratio after the All-Star break, so he showed signs of improvement in plate discipline. He’s generally viewed as a poor defensive player, but his -4.1 UZR rating at third last year wasn’t exactly an abomination for someone learning a brand new position at the major league level. I’ve never seen a more athletic person who weighs 250 pounds, but it’s also nice to hear about his rigorous offseason workout regime. Of course, it’s usually best to ignore such stories, and he’s supposedly gained some weight back after travelling home to Venezuela, but Sandoval clearly understands the benefits of taking care of your body, which can’t be bad. Someday I hope to do the same thing. With improved hitters surrounding him in the lineup, Sandoval’s counting stats have nowhere to go but up as well. I’d take him over Mark Reynolds.

I don’t know about you, but this tweet from Matt Holliday made me lower him in my outfield rankings.

On the opposite spectrum of the young and upcoming corner infielders, I wouldn’t mind grabbing Troy Glaus late in drafts. At age 33 and coming off a season ruined by injuries, he shouldn’t be too costly in fantasy leagues, but it’s worth noting over the previous four years (from 2005-2008), he averaged 31 homers and 91 RBI while never accruing even 550 at-bats in a season, including getting just 385 ABs in 2007. Glaus isn’t going to help in batting average, but if he’s back to health in 2010, there might not be a cheaper source for power.

A “Story Highlight” from Peter King’s latest MMQB column: “If Dwight Freeney sits with an ankle injury, Saints’ chances of winning increase.” Folks, you can’t get this insight elsewhere.

Good defensive back breakdown by Football Outsiders. It reinstates the obvious – that Darrelle Revis was the best defensive player in the NFL in 2009. But it also shows just how much respect the rest of the league has for Nnamdi Asomugha.

Jeff Clement is someone I’ll be targeting, especially in 2-C or NL-only leagues. He’s been completely overmatched during his big league career (.237/.295/.360 with 66 strikeouts over 219 at-bats), but that’s an extremely small sample, and this is someone who has posted an .865 OPS over his minor league career (1,526 ABs) and will now be moving to the easier league after Pittsburgh traded for him. Clement was taken third overall in the 2005 draft out of USC, so the pedigree is there, and the Pirates figure to give him a legitimate opportunity after he was the centerpiece of a trade that saw the team ship both Ian Snell and Jack Wilson to Seattle. Like all prospects, Clement may or may not pan out, but there’s a real chance he acts as the Pirates’ first baseman this season, and since he’ll be catcher eligible in fantasy leagues, he could prove to be a steal while playing everyday.

For those with Shin-Soo Choo in keeper leagues, you can breathe a big sigh of relief.

First the negatives: Juan Pierre isn’t a good real life asset, who played way out of his head during Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension last season and has hit one homer combined over the past three seasons. Still, there’s also plenty to like about his fantasy value in 2010. He’s been traded to the White Sox, where manager Ozzie Guillen will no doubt overrate Pierre’s silly attributes like speed and grittiness, which should lead to an everyday job, probably as the leadoff hitter. While he may have to adjust to playing in the American League for the first time in his career, Pierre moves to a much more favorable hitter’s park, and this is someone who averaged 55 steals over a seven-year span (2001-2007) before seeing decreased playing time in L.A. over the past two seasons (and even then, he swiped a whopping 70 bags despite never receiving more than 380 at-bats in either year). Incredibly durable, Pierre also sports a 337:340 K:BB ratio throughout his career, so he’s very likely to help in BA as well. I’m a big fan of Jacoby Ellsbury (20.34 ADP), but it makes a whole lot of sense to draft Pierre 17 rounds later (251 ADP).

The best answer to an interview I’ve seen since Mike Tyson was prominent. Since I’ve seen this, I’ve started to use this specific answer as a response to basically all things in life.

The first of many to come.

I’m staying far away from Ryan Franklin at draft tables this year. He enters 2010 as the Cardinals’ closer, but there’s little reason to respect his ERA (1.92) from last season. This is a pitcher with unimpressive stuff who posted a 17:17 K:BB ratio (and a 1.70 WHIP) after the All-Star break last season, and while he typically keeps the ball on the ground, last year’s 85.7 LOB% and ridiculously lucky 3.7 HR/F% simply aren’t repeatable. Jason Motte, meanwhile, posted an 8.58 K/9 last year and suffered poor luck with a HR/F% of 16.6. He’s been criticized in the past for being essentially a one-pitch pitcher, but his slider was actually effective last season, and although his fastball wasn’t, the average velocity was 95.9 mph, and let’s not forget he posted an 11.9 K/9 over 164.2 minor league innings while also fanning 27 batters over 23.1 innings after the All-Star break for St. Louis last season. With Chris Perez now in Cleveland, there are few alternatives in the Cards’ bullpen. Forget the discrepancy in ADPs, I’d draft Motte ahead of Franklin this year.

As for this installment of my YouTube songs, I’m throwing a curveball right out of the gate: a Bjork song with a music video directed by the ridiculously talented Michel Gondry:

Why I’m Backing the Colts

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

Immediately after the Championship games, I was convinced I was backing Indy in the Super Bowl. Of course, it’s never smart to overly rely on the last game played, and considering the Saints are a No. 1 seed that had the far better point differential throughout the season, I assumed the spread would be around three points and certainly not approaching seven like it has been. Plenty of Colts games this season were close, and five-six points is quite a bit to be laying against a team that has a legitimate argument as the best in the NFL, especially on a neutral field. This is essentially saying Indy would be favored by nine points if they were at home, which is pretty crazy. Moreover, the Colts beat the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds at home to get into the Super Bowl, while New Orleans annihilated a good Cardinals squad before beating a Vikings team that could also easily be viewed as the best in football, even if the Saints were lucky in doing so. Dwight Freeney’s injury is obviously a big concern (although conversely, the lack of a pure pass rusher may actually hurt the Saints’ screen game, an area in which they excel), and there’s a 30 percent chance of precipitation, which would probably help the underdogs. Another injury that seems to be underrated is the one to talented young DB Jerraud Powers, who is questionable with a foot problem that kept him out of the AFC Championship game. Secondary depth will sure mean a whole lot more against the Saints than it did versus the Ravens and Jets.

Delving into the Xs and Os, it’s fairly simple; both teams have mediocre run defenses, underrated secondaries and strong passing attacks, although the Saints’ ground game is noticeably better. And then there’s Peyton Manning, who is probably the best football player ever. Drew Brees had a terrific season with gaudy stats, but so did Philip Rivers. And Tony Romo. Manning is simply in a class by himself and is currently the most important player in sports. When Brees played outdoors this year, his numbers took a precipitous drop (7.7 YPA, 9:5 TD:INT ratio compared to 9.0 YPA, 25:6 TD:INT indoors), whereas Manning’s YPA actually increased from 7.5 indoors to 8.2 outdoors; it might not mean much, but it’s something to think about. While Manning was picked off 16 times this season (the most since 2002), and New Orleans’ 26 interceptions were the third-most in the NFL in 2009, with two weeks to prepare and on the biggest stage possible, I just don’t see this remaining a team strength for the Saints. Moreover, New Orleans loves to blitz, which is suicide against Manning, and the vaunted Saints’ passing game faces an Indy secondary that allowed just 6.2 YPA this season – the third-lowest in the league. Put simply, the matchup doesn’t exactly favor New Orleans.

Right now it’s clear the public is all over the Colts, and the sharps are supposedly backing the Saints, but in my opinion, this means far less in the playoffs, especially the Super Bowl (Vegas takes advantage of these situations over big samples, plus they could easily lose ATS yet kill on the O/U, which appears to have a bunch of action on the “sucker side” – the over). My early Indy convictions have definitely been tested over the past 10 days, and this is a game I’d recommend staying away from if not for it being the Super Bowl (of course you have to bet!). Five-six points is quite a lot in a seemingly even matchup, and even a straight MLB on New Orleans makes sense, but I’m backing the Colts to cover Sunday, and it’s pretty much because of one single player.

Terrible Article That Deserves Ridicule

Monday, February 1st, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

I’m obviously borrowing (stealing?) the now defunct FireJoeMorgan.com’s method here, but I’ll make it up to Mose Schrute by telling all of you to be sure to check out “Parks and Recreation,” every Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on NBC (seriously, it’s a great show). Anyway, without further ado, I give you one of the worst articles I’ve read in recent memory.

“While teams created by Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies or Brian Cashman of the Yankees cling hopelessly to National League and American League pennants and a misplaced faith in the old order represented by stats like batting average, fielding average and RBI, teams of the new millennium like the Red Sox believe those are insignificant relics of a bygone era, the buggy whips of baseball.”

Last season the Yankees led all of baseball in this silly stat called on-base percentage (by a wide margin), the Red Sox had 34 more RBI than Philadelphia, while the Phillies also happened to have the fourth-best team UZR in the National League. But these don’t fit Mr. Borges’ preconceived narrative, so let’s move along.

“They have been replaced by faith in OBP, OPS, UZR (I thought those were the initials of a former Russian state only to learn it means Ultimate Zone Rating)”

You see, he writes about sports for a living, yet he’s proud to admit he just learned what UZR means, and this is a good thing! I’m not saying all writers must accept and use all the newer metrics (after all, I still read Bill Simmons despite his clear naivety with advanced stats), but it’s one thing to stubbornly ignore them and quite another to mock them. Maybe there are reasons other than being too intimidated to learn something new, but the fact so many openly admit their ignorance, almost in a bragging tone, is what’s truly fascinating to me.

“Based on crunching numbers into these new formulas, one expert in baseball metrics, John Dewan, has written that the addition of Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro and Mike Cameron in the field will add nine more victories to the Sox’ bottom line. Lo and behold, we just won the pennant! Who knew?”

I’m curious how far Mr. Borges takes his utter lack of acceptance regarding advancements in technology to the rest of his life. Has he grasped computers? Or is that only for bloggers still living in their moms’ basement while he sticks with the typewriter that worked just fine over most of his career? Does he still have a non-HD TV? Does he eschew the DVR (another funny acronym!) and continue to use VHS to record things? I really want to know how far this guy takes rejecting ideas during this “new millennium.”

“A year ago, the Sox won 95 games despite apparently stumbling around in the field like a half-drunken softball team in a Wednesday night league. Somehow they miraculously finished only eight games behind the Yankees without being able to catch a cold standing naked in the Alaskan wilderness. Fortunately, those Sox have been replaced by guys whose gloves are more valuable than Michael Jackson’s.”

Right, because the Red Sox won 95 games last year (and make no mistake, eight games is A LOT, and they were swept in the wild card round), improving last season’s -16.3 UZR must be a horrible idea (the team also ranked 28th in Baseball Prospectus’ Defensive Efficiency rating). The Yankees won the World Series, so what are they thinking adding Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson and Javier Vazquez? Morons. What’s truly bizarre here isn’t even the UZR aspect (and yes, defensive metrics are imperfect and introduce subjection into the equation, unlike such useful and objective stats like batting average), but Borges seems to dismiss defense altogether. And not to pile on, but that Michael Jackson joke simply wasn’t funny. Can I try my own? Ron Borges makes Ron Burgandy seem like a Mensa candidate.

“Together, Cameron, Scutaro and Beltre hit eight home runs more than Jason Bay but, as we now know, home runs are meaningless.”

No one is saying this. I believe this is referred to as a “straw man argument.”

“Fortunately Sox fans, so are RBI because Bay had 119, which was 49 more than Cameron, 59 more than Scutaro and please don’t ask how many more than Beltre (all right, 75 if you must know but compare his DVD to Bay’s CD and divide by BVD and see what you get – a pennant, of course).”

There are still people who follow baseball that believe RBI is a useful statistic in measuring player performance? As Dale from “Step Brothers” would say, “The last time I heard that I laughed so hard I fell off my dinosaur.” And yes! More acronym mocking, a staple of writers who don’t get it. (VORP, WARP, DORK, haha!)

“Some might argue that pitching in Fenway Park is not exactly like pitching in Yosemite Park, but Sox’ management has discovered that despite mistaken evidence to the contrary, scoring runs is no longer essential to winning games. Interesting concept.”

I love this logic. Somehow, scoring runs is more important than preventing them. How are they not equals, exactly?

“Moneyball, which became defined as the love of sabermetrics over old-school stats like HR and RBI, has led Billy Beane, the godfather of this con job, to build an economic Oakland A’s team that hasn’t won a pennant in 20 years or a World Series in 21, but did manage to have a best-selling book written about the concept. The A’s did win division titles in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2006, but what they have actually won during the Moneyball era is nothing. No sequel is planned.”

It’s truly remarkable there are sportswriters out there who STILL don’t get “Moneyball,” which highlighted targeting market inefficiencies (and not just an obsession with OBP). But the arrogance of this paragraph is only matched by its callowness. A team with constantly one of the smallest payrolls in all of baseball won its division just four times over the past decade? Only four?! And anyone who follows major league baseball doesn’t need me to explain the randomness of its postseason, when a sport that relies heavily on big sample sizes is cut dramatically. But forget the A’s, how about the clueless Theo Epstein’s Red Sox, who have only won two World Series over the past six years. Dude must have no idea what he’s doing.

“As the days dwindle toward the start of another spring of hope, let’s pray that’s no longer the case, because if all this talk of OBP, OPS, UZR, DRS and PMR was really only about ATM that’s going to end up BAD for US.”

I see what you did there, Mr. Borges, attempting to make “BAD” and “US” into acronyms through capitalization. You sir, are an IDIOT.

Mock Draft

Monday, February 1st, 2010

I know it’s baseball time, and I’ll have multiple “The Scoops” up this week, along with a different type of article (be on the lookout!) later Monday as well, but until then, here’s a fantasy football mock draft I was just in for you all to chew on in the meantime.