Archive for March, 2011

MLB Season Preview

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Before we get started, make sure you didn’t miss my latest “Scoop” (I say this because I’m making a rare two posts in one day).

N.L. West

1. San Francisco Giants
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (wild card)
3. Colorado Rockies
4. San Diego Padres
5. Arizona Diamondbacks

N.L. Central

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

N.L. East

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

A.L. West

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

A.L. Central

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

A.L. East

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

World Series: Phillies over Yankees

AL MVP – Alex Rodriguez

NL MVP – Albert Pujols

AL Cy Young – Jon Lester

NL Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw

AL ROY – Jeremy Hellickson

NL ROY – Brandon Belt

Over/Unders:

(these are all bets I actually placed at normal -110 juice at the Las Vegas Hilton)

New York Yankees over 91.5

Los Angeles Dodgers over 83.5

Philadelphia Phillies under 96.5

Tampa Bay Rays over 84

Toronto Blue Jays over 76.5

(Others I like include: White Sox over 84.5, Royals under 69.5, Reds over 85.5, Astros under 72.5 and Padres over 75).

I also took the Reds at 5/2 to win the NL Central and have the Brewers to win the World Series at 40/1.

I also have Jay Bruce (30/1), Carlos Quentin (100/1) and Justin Upton (100/1) to lead MLB in home runs.

By the way, these aren’t for entertainment purposes only. These are all for serious cash, and I need a comeback after this recent epic fail.

The Scoop

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

By Dalton Del Don

Alex Gordon has a line of .244/.328/.405 over nearly 1,500 career at-bats in the major leagues, but thanks to a white hot spring (1.188 OPS) he’s back on the fantasy radar. The former No. 2 overall pick isn’t really a sleeper and don’t expect him to be available super late in drafts, but he could ultimately prove to be a bargain nevertheless. Plenty of past owners have been burned, and many others likely remain skeptical. Gordon posted a 1.019 OPS in Triple-A last season, so it’s not like the former top prospect has forgotten how to hit. While he batted just .215 and struggled yet again in Kansas City, his BABIP was .254 despite a 23.2 line drive percentage. Kauffman Stadium suppresses home runs, especially for left-handed hitters, but Gordon has already been named the team’s No. 3 hitter, so he’s worth giving one more chance, and he’s even eligible at third base in Yahoo leagues and fully capable of swiping 15 bags as well. Teammate Kila Ka’aihue has been even more impressive this spring, with a .397/.462/.845 line and seven homers over just 58 at-bats. It’s only spring training, but big jumps in slugging percentage like that can often portend major breakouts.

Yeah but I bet I could beat this kid at fantasy sports.

I must say, I’ve always been a sucker for “Careless Whisper.”

It’s taken much longer than expected, but Tim Stauffer is finally ready to make a major impact. Taken early in the first round back in 2003, he admitted to the Padres his arm was injured after San Diego used the fourth overall pick on him, but the team signed him anyway. It’s been a long road back, and while it’s obvious his numbers are going to regress this year compared to last, he’s got a decent enough skill set to succeed with Petco Park on his side. Stauffer has pretty good control, and while his fastball is mediocre, his velocity was better than ever last season, and both his slider and changeup are plus pitches, and he’s an extreme groundballer (54.5 GB%). He’s a solid investment.

I could give 15 a pass, but 16 is crossing the line.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Magglio Ordonez is one of my favorite boring old veterans to target this year. Before suffering a season-ending ankle injury last year, he was on pace to finish with 21 homers, 96 runs scored and 101 RBI. He won’t add any speed, and his power is limited at this stage of his career, but he’s also a career .312 hitter, and average continues to be an overlooked fantasy category. Once again slated to hit in the middle of Detroit’s lineup, which improved during the offseason, I’d be fine with Ordonez as my fourth outfielder and thrilled if he were my fifth.

I always suspected the Olsen twins were total racists.

I’m a huge fan of bacon, but even I say this is taking it too far.

The closer we get to the season starting, the more I find myself moving Matt Thornton up my closer rankings. He’s unproven in that role, and Chris Sale looks impressive behind him, but with so many question marks around the league, Thornton suddenly looks like a legitimate top-10 option. He has an elite 4.2:1 K:BB ratio over the past three seasons, a span in which his ERA has never reached 2.75 or his WHIP 1.10. There’s also no reason to worry about him being a southpaw, as he’s almost as tough on righties as he is lefties. The White Sox are my favorites to win the AL Central, so plenty of save opportunities should arise, and his 12.02 K/9 rate last year was fifth best among all relievers in baseball. Thornton’s fastball is simply unhittable.

A legendary drunk dial.

The human garbage can.

A different member of the White Sox I’m actually a bit worried about is Adam Dunn. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling him a bust, but his underlying skills quietly changed last year, even if his traditional stats remained exactly the same. In essentially the same amount of at-bats, Dunn walked 39 fewer times compared to the year prior, and he also struck out 22 more times. In fact, his walk rate was a career-low while his K rate was a career-high. It could mean nothing and just be noise over an inconsequential sample and not the sign of a player 32 years old entering decline, but he’s now playing in the tougher league and has to deal with learning an entirely new set of pitchers. Moving to U.S. Cellular Field will certainly help, but while it boosts home runs for both, it has a much more dramatic effect on right-handed batters than left-handers (according to the Bill James Handbook, over the past three years, the park’s index is 117 for LHB and 145 for RHB). It also remains to be seen how he’ll adjust to becoming a full-time DH, something he’s been reluctant to do his entire career. Dunn will most likely be good for another 40 bombs this season, but remember his career batting average is .250.

These are some serious limbo skills.

This Skittles commercial is pretty whack.

Gio Gonzalez posted a 2.59 ERA and 1.23 WHIP after the All-Star break last season, but while he also showed improved control over that span, he walked 20 batters over 33.2 innings in September, which marked his worst month of the year. Still, his K potential is strong, and pitching in Oakland is always helpful with all that extra foul territory. The defense behind him should also be exceptional. Gonzalez has recorded a 2.30 ERA with 29 strikeouts over 27.0 innings this spring, and his teammates have raved about how legit he’s looked, so if you believe in those kind of things (I personally think sometimes performance during spring matters), you better reach for him, because he’s not coming cheap.

Me talking about my high stakes WCOFB draft.

Those in the Bronx better keep your head on a swivel. And straight toward the ground.

Brett Gardner stole 47 bases last year over just 477 at-bats, and thanks largely to 79 walks that led to a .383 OBP, he also scored 97 runs despite hitting ninth the majority of the time. While his true talent might be more of a .360 OBP kind of guy, he’s slated to bat first against right-handers this season, so his upside is that of a top-20 fantasy hitter. He has a strong 85% success rate on the base paths throughout his career, and since he’s one of the best defensive players in baseball, Gardner should be in the lineup virtually every day. Especially as a left-hander playing in Yankee Stadium, he’s fully capable of also adding something like eight homers and 60 RBI, which is a difference compared to the Juan Pierres and Michael Bourns of the world. I’ve personally been (over)drafting Jacoby Ellsbury, and I’m sure I’ll later be regretting it knowing I could have had Gardner much later.

Meet Rebecca Lanier, the world’s oldest woman.

Here’s a Q & A follow up to a recent Yahoo Friends & Family draft I was in. No matter how I try, looks like I’m stuck with the pic of me with a goat (on a related note, check out the third comment in the article).

While Daniel Hudson looked nothing like the pitcher he was in the minors when with the White Sox, he looked like an ace after getting traded to Arizona. There’s no doubt he was pitching over his head and like anyone with a 1.69 ERA, experienced plenty of good fortune (.241 BABIP, 7.0 HR/FB%), but Hudson also posted a 10.41 K/9 and 2.99 BB/9 in Triple-A as a 23-year-old, so he was a legitimate prospect. As an extreme fly ball pitcher calling Chase Field home, he’s going to surrender plenty of homers, but his WHIP should remain an asset, and it’s hard not to get overly excited about someone who just posted a 4.4:1 K:BB ratio as a rookie who will be pitching in the NL West. Go get him.

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Closers in waiting

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Check it out.

The Scoop

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

By Dalton Del Don

Over the past three seasons, Alex Rodriguez has averaged 31.6 homers, 109.3 RBI and 12 steals while batting .286, which looks even better when you consider he’s also missed an average of 29 games per year over that span. He’s in the decline phase at age 35, but he also benefits from hitting in one of baseball’s best lineups and hitter’s parks. Consistently a top-five pick entering last season, why is Rodriguez now commonly falling out of round one altogether in fantasy drafts? The only difference I see is that he enters 2011 feeling healthier than he has in years. Maybe Evan Longoria goes nuts one of these years, but he hasn’t shown any real improvement over the past two campaigns and plays in a park that ranked as the toughest to hit in all of baseball last season, when he managed just 22 home runs. David Wright has been all over the map recently, and he struck out a career-high 161 times in 2010, so I’m not sure why ARod is typically the third third baseman off the board. Rodriguez is an inner circle Hall of Famer, and if he’s truly back to full health, a monster season should follow, even at his advanced age.

Things continue to get worse for Cleveland Cavalier fans.

Clayton Kershaw is my favorite pitcher to target this year. The big lefty is coming off a season in which he struck out 212 batters over 204.1 innings at age 22. Some may suggest he’s been lucky with a career BABIP of .284 and a HR/FB ratio of just 6.3%, and while that may very well regress some, it’s pretty safe to say he’s one of the toughest pitcher’s to hit in all of baseball. Over the last two years, Kershaw has held opposing batters to the lowest slugging percentage in MLB. As a fly ball pitcher, it’s not ideal the Dodgers project to field one of the worst outfield defenses in the game, but playing in the NL West certainly helps. Kershaw still walks too many batters, but his control went from 4.79/9 in 2008 to 3.57/9 last season. That number improved even more after the All-Star break, when he posted a 3.03 BB/9 ratio. Kershaw is the No. 4 fantasy pitcher on my board and don’t be surprised if he wins the Cy Young this season.

This guy is intense.

Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder are similar players typically going off the board around the same time in fantasy leagues. Both are coming off disappointing seasons, and each have a .279 career batting average. Citizens Bank Park isn’t as good of a hitter’s park as it’s generally considered, but it is more favorable than Miller Park. But Fielder is nearly five years younger than Howard, who is actually older than Albert Pujols. First base remains one of the deeper positions, but especially with the health concerns of Kendrys Morales and Justin Morneau, it tends to get thin quick. So who you got, Howard or Fielder?

I wouldn’t mind grabbing Ike Davis later if I miss out on the elite first basemen. He may be unlikely to ever become a superstar like the Mets’ organization envisions, but there’s plenty to like here. Davis should hit in the middle of New York’s lineup, and his .295/.362/.443 line against left-handers was impressive as a 23-year-old rookie last season. So were his 72 walks and his terrific defense. If you miss out on the first two tiers of first basemen, Davis is a fine fallback option who can be had much cheaper.

This is a pretty remarkable story about the first person in the U.S. to undergo a full face transplant.

Erik Bedard has allowed just two runs with 10 strikeouts over 10.2 innings this spring, and while the results are obviously meaningless in that sample, the important part is that he’s healthy. Of course, he hasn’t reached even 85 innings in any of the past three seasons, but that’s also why he’ll come at such a discount. A healthy Bedard, which may prove to be an oxymoron still, could really turn a nice profit. His stuff has always ranked among the best in baseball, and pitching in Safeco Park with a strong Seattle defense behind him helps as well. Few late round fliers offer as much upside as Bedard.

That’s one expensive dog.

Check out the results of the recent Yahoo Friends & Family draft I was in.

Pablo Sandoval saw his OPS drop by more than 200 points last season and ended the year as a bench player on a team that struggled with offense, as he was one of fantasy baseball’s biggest busts. His BABIP fell to .294 after finishing above .350 during each of his first two years in the league, and his weight and conditioning became a serious problem. So while normally it’s best to take offseason stories about players being in the best shape of their lives with a grain of salt, it was nice to see Sandoval got in shape over the winter. In fact, he dropped nearly 40 pounds and reduced his body fat from 30 percent to 19. It’s a big deal to help his flexibility, as Sandoval struggled mightily from the right side of the plate last season (.227/.284/.305). Regardless of his weight, plate discipline has always been a major issue for Sandoval. He swung at a greater percentage of pitches than any hitter in the National League last season, but then again, he hit .330 with a similar approach in 2009. Sandoval has impressed this spring, and remember, he’s one season removed from posting a .943 OPS as a 23-year-old, so he’s an excellent bounce back candidate.

This comedian bought a bunch of 800 numbers that were just one number off customer service lines for major companies, which is a pretty brilliant idea. Hilarity ensues.

While there’s admittedly some risk taking a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery who hasn’t been on the mound since 2009, Joe Nathan is one of my favorite closer targets this season. He may not pitch three days in a row right away, but he feels healthy now a full 13 months removed from surgery. Reports of his velocity have varied this spring, but for the most part, they have been positive, and Nathan is clearly still Minnesota’s guy in the ninth inning. He hasn’t had an ERA over 2.10 since 2005, nor one that even reached 3.00 since 2000, which is remarkable. Moreover, he’s now pitching in a park that was by far the toughest to homer in last season. Nathan should be close to the top of the second tier of closers.

Meet the Dance Assassin.

This year seems like a good time to buy Nick Markakis. His home runs have dropped each of the past three years, bottoming out at a measly 12 last season. Even during last year’s disappointing campaign, he managed a .370 OBP with 45 doubles. Markakis hits too many groundballs to ever be much more than a 20-homer guy, but more fly balls should leave the yard in 2011, as his HR/FB ratio last year was a career-low 6.1%. He’s a career .298 hitter also capable of swiping 10 bags, and he’ll be hitting either second or third in a revamped Baltimore lineup that suddenly looks pretty loaded. Still just 27 years old, it’s entirely possible Markakis’ best season of his career has yet to happen.

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Catchers to Consider

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Check it out.

The Scoop

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

By Dalton Del Don

Hanley Ramirez versus Troy Tulowitzki is a pretty good debate entering the year. Ramirez is coming off arguably the worst season of his career, yet he still ranked as the 17th most valuable hitter according to Baseball Monster, and that’s without adjusting for position scarcity. He saw his batting average drop 42 points from the prior year despite improving both his walk and K rates. His line-drive percentage was a career-low (16.3%), however, and there was nothing fluky about his power outage, as Ramirez suddenly turned into an extreme groundball hitter (1.56 GB/FB). The spike in groundballs dropped dramatically after the All-Star break, so it’s probably nothing to worry about moving forward, and Ramirez is still just 27 years old and supposedly worked harder during the offseason coming off a disappointing campaign. As for Tulowitzki, his numbers prorated over 150 games last season look like this: .315-33-109-117-14. Of course, he’s missed an average of 37.3 games over the past three seasons, so durability remains a question mark. But it’s a terrific set up playing half his games in Coors Field, and this is a player who hit 15 homers with 40 RBI during September. Normally I don’t shy away from being opinionated, but this is a debate in which I have no current answer for.

You can’t make this stuff up.

You can’t make this stuff up, part deux.

Andre Ethier was batting .392/.457/.744 with 11 homers and 38 RBI over 125 at-bats before he suffered a fractured pinkie in mid-May last season. The injury not only cost him 17 games, but it also affected his performance after he returned, as he hit .232 with just five home runs over his next 211 at-bats, later admitting he came back too soon. No one would ever suggest his blazing start was in any way sustainable, but the injury clearly suppressed Ethier’s overall production in 2010. During the FSTA draft in February, Ron Shandler selected Ethier in the second round (25th overall), and while I applaud aggressiveness and picks outside the box, it was surprising nevertheless. In shallow mixed leagues with daily transactions, Ethier could be an absolute monster if you use him exclusively against righties, but his fantasy upside is capped with no SB potential.

Ya, this is pretty awesome.

Fantastic read about a blind man who has essentially taught himself to see.

The Reds have more than a few intriguing pitchers and possibly the best depth of any starting rotation in baseball, and while Edinson Volquez has the most upside among the group, it wouldn’t surprise if Travis Wood finished as the team’s ace in 2011. He quietly posted a strong 3.3:1 K:BB ratio during his rookie season last year, when he gave up more than three runs in just two of his 17 starts. Wood’s ERA could see a bump this year as he’s likely to give up more home runs, but as an extreme fly ball pitcher with good control, his WHIP should remain in elite territory (as Gene McCaffrey astutely points out, big groundball pitchers are better in ERA and wins, whereas high fly ball pitchers are superior in WHIP and strikeouts. But the key is being extreme one way or the other). Wood is undervalued and is one of my favorite pitchers to target this season.

Dave Righetti makes Leo Mazzone look like a hack.

On a related note, here’s an excellent article on my boy Tim Lincecum.

It sounds like Neftali Feliz is officially going to become a starter in 2011, as he’s finally embracing the change in roles. It’s good news for Texas, and while some fantasy owners may now be short on saves, and the move makes his projection more volatile, Feliz could still easily return full value while throwing 100 or so more innings. As for the alternative candidates to close for the Rangers, your guess is as good as mine. There’s Alexi Ogando, Mark Lowe and Darren O’Day, although Ron Washington has publicly stated he’d prefer to look outside the organization for someone “proven,” even though Feliz entered last season with two career saves. As a result, no Rangers reliever is currently worth more than a late round flier.

Totally agree with this. RPI is archaic and needs to go.

This guy seems polite enough, but his ability to follow orders could improve.

LOB% is often viewed as a measure of luck, and while this can absolutely be true over a given sample (maybe even a full year), it’s a stat that generally should be considered far more of a skill. Here’s a list of the top-15 starting pitchers in LOB% over the past three seasons: Johan Santana, Adam Wainwright, Roy Halladay, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Ted Lilly, Shaun Marcum, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester, John Danks, CC Sabathia, Roy Oswalt, Dan Haren and Tommy Hanson. Notice a trend? Part of this is because good pitchers allow fewer base runners than bad ones, which makes it fundamentally easier to prevent them from scoring. But it could also be argued it’s because they are simply superior. Conversely, Ricky Nolasco has the sixth-worst LOB% in baseball over the past three years, and while it’s entirely possible he turns in a strong 2011 season if a little luck turns his way combined with those always fine K:BB ratios, we also shouldn’t act surprised if Nolasco’s ERA once again disappoints compared to his peripherals.

You’ve got to respect someone who writes a blog about how pitchers are being too pampered these days and invokes the player Tommy John as a counter point, and he was in no way being ironical. And is he really equating “quality starts” with “newer statistics?” Two things that couldn’t be on more opposite spectrums. In summation: computers = bad, wins = most important stat for pitchers. There isn’t a lower hanging fruit than Murray Chass, but I give you this blog post anyway because I just can’t help myself.

I defy someone to come up with a song with better lyrics. Bob Dylan who?

I agree with Scott Pianowski (although not necessarily about my main man Jay Bruce!) in that “closers-in-waiting” have become overpriced, as their cost continues to rise while the extreme volatility of relievers remains the same. That said, Wilton Lopez is an intriguing option likely available with the last pick in most mixed leagues. He came out of nowhere last season and posted a remarkable 50:5 K:BB ratio over 67.0 innings. That walk rate (and one was intentional) was actually the seventh lowest in major league history (minimum 65.0 innings). Lopez had a 28:1 K:BB ratio after the All-Star break and is also an extreme groundball pitcher (55.7 GB%). Moreover, while Mark Melancon is another option, Lopez should be the top alternative to close, and he’s only behind a shaky Brandon Lyon, who has recorded a weak 1.79:1 K:BB ratio over the past two years.

A worthwhile read by Jimmy Kimmel regarding the horrible Japan tragedy, in a roundabout way.

Americans are stupid? How dare you. I say this was a sample size issue.

Mark Teixeira is coming off what is widely considered a disappointing season, which is hard to argue since his OPS dropped more than 100 points compared to 2009 and was the lowest of his career since his rookie year. But even while hitting just .256, he still managed 33 homers, 113 runs scored and 108 RBI. Batting in that ballpark and in that lineup is quite advantageous, as Teixeira came to the plate with the third most runners on base in MLB last season. It’s really nice when that’s your floor. Teixeira is a career .286 hitter, so it’s safe to expect a bounce back in batting average, which will in turn improve his counting stats. He’s worth a late first-round pick in fantasy drafts, and if you don’t get him there, look into trading for him in May, as Teixeira is a career .237/.345/.414 hitter in April.

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More LABR Talk

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Via The New York Times.

The Scoop

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

By Dalton Del Don

I bought Rickie Weeks for $20 in LABR over the weekend, which is something I had absolutely no preconceived notion of doing so. In fact, I’d argue this is the wrong time to buy Weeks, who is coming off a career-year in which he played 130 games for the first time ever. But it seemed like everyone else in this particular league shared that sentiment, considering the other prices for second basemen (Dan Uggla $25, Martin Prado $21, Kelly Johnson $19, Neil Walker $18). Weeks is a big injury risk, but I had to go to $20 for a middle infielder who is coming off a season in which he produced this line: .269-29-112-83-11. He’s a career .253 hitter and has attempted just 19 stolen bases over the past two years (spanning 197 games), but Ken Macha is out, and new manager Ron Roenicke is encouraging more running, and Weeks has been successful on 82% of his SB attempts throughout his career, so he’s fully capable of swiping 20-25 bags in 2011. His strong walk rate should afford plenty of opportunities, and it’s also worth pointing out he’s averaged 112.5 runs scored per 162 games over his career. And last year’s 29 bombs were second only to Dan Uggla among second basemen.

I mean, that’s definitely Tim Lincecum, right?

Colby Rasmus is coming off a season in which he hit 23 homers with 12 steals (with an .859 OPS) over just 464 at-bats when he was 23 years old. Just because Tony LaRussa seemingly doesn’t like him doesn’t mean fantasy owners shouldn’t be salivating. After struggling mightily against southpaws during his rookie year in 2009 (.160/.219/.255), he more than held his own last season (.270/.349/.461). While Rasmus’ defense went from terrific in 2009 (9.1 UZR) to not so much last season (-6.5 UZR), he had the highest OPS among outfielders who primarily played center field in all of baseball. Rasmus finished with the 11th highest FB% in MLB last season, and among those ahead of him, only Jonny Gomes had a higher line drive percentage, and none hit fewer infield flies. With some natural progression, Rasmus could be a legitimate star both in fantasy and real life baseball as soon as this year.

Well, that’s one way to get a red card.

Chris Perez still walks too many batters, something that can really destroy a reliever working in small samples if he has a year with a poor hit rate. While it’s probably safe to say he was somewhat lucky to finish with a .182 BAA last season, Perez’s career BABIP is .246, so this is a pitcher who’s clearly difficult to hit. Over the last two months in 2010, his walk rate also improved dramatically (2.49 BB/9), and if that truly is a sign of things to come, he’ll be a top-five closer in 2011. Perez posted a 0.63 ERA and 0.87 WHIP after the All-Star break last season, as his fastball/slider combo can be deadly. Even if his control remains shaky and/or his luck turns south, there might not be a team in the league with fewer alternatives to close than Cleveland, so although he’s new to the position and just 25 years old, Perez’s job security is safe as well. He’s someone to target.

This guy really needed to take a shower.

Seth Smith entered the All-Star break last year with 12 homers, 36 runs scored and 38 RBI over just 202 at-bats with an .894 OPS. He slumped badly afterward, posting a .192/.267/.372 line over the second half. He admittedly benefits greatly from Coors Field (career OPS at home is .970 versus .713 on the road), but that matters zero to fantasy owners as long as he’s not traded. A former second round pick, Smith’s .256 BABIP last year should bounce back, and he’s hit 32 homers over the past two seasons in a platoon role. He’s going to finally get the chance to be a full-time player in 2011, and while his BA may suffer facing more lefties, there might not be a better outfielder to target in the later rounds. His strong defense should keep him in the lineup even through slumps, especially without any serious alternatives in Colorado’s system. Smith is one year removed from posting an .889 OPS, is entering his age 28 season and is now an everyday player for the Rockies. Go get him.

Meet Rifca Stanescu, who became a grandma at age 23.

Derek Holland and Mike Minor are two of my favorite targets who can typically be had in the later rounds of drafts. Neither is guaranteed a rotation spot at the moment, but if they pitch up to their capabilities, that won’t be an issue moving forward. Holland has solid velocity for a lefty and a nasty slider, and don’t forget he was well on his way to establishing himself in Texas’ rotation before an injury derailed his season last year. Forget the disastrous World Series appearance (when he walked all three hitters he faced, producing just one strike over that span), Holland could emerge as the Rangers’ second best starter as soon as 2011. Most scouts didn’t believe Minor had much upside when the Braves took him with the seventh pick in the 2009 draft, but the lefty soon saw an increase in velocity and dominated the minors as a 22-year-old last season, striking out 146 batters over 120.1 innings in Double and Triple-A. Minor promptly fanned 12 Cubs (while walking just one) during his third start in the big leagues and finished the year with a 43:11 K:BB ratio over 40.2 innings with Atlanta. Forget the ugly ERA (5.98) and WHIP (1.57), as he clearly held his own at the major league level. This year will be the last time you can get both Holland and Minor so cheap.

This is a pretty cool concept.

Daric Barton, Mitch Moreland, Matt LaPorta and Justin Smoak are all interesting options this year, especially in AL-only leagues. All four are likely valued similarly, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they bring the same thing to the table. Barton is the safest among this group, as he’s locked in as Oakland’s first baseman. Last year’s 12.1 UZR is almost certainly unsustainable, but his strong defense means he should be penciled into the lineup almost everyday. His fantastic OBP could even lead to 100 runs scored if Oakland’s offense improves as expected, and he even added seven steals last year. However, considering Barton hit just 10 homers while playing 159 games, his fantasy upside might also be the lowest. Moreland, on the other hand, hit nine homers over just 145 at-bats last year and is in a much better situation playing in Texas. Still, his track record is limited, and it’s not like Moreland was ever viewed as an elite prospect. Matt LaPorta has the best pedigree and probably the most upside of them all, but he still ha a lot to prove in the majors. As for Smoak, his fantasy value obviously took a big hit with the move from Texas to Seattle, but he was better than last year’s slash line suggests (.218/.307/.371). Smoak’s walk rate was strong (11.6%), and that .255 BABIP screams fluke with such a strong line drive rate (23.1%).

Our good friend Steve is at it again.

We can only hope this technology also translates to a scissor lift.

After a somewhat disappointing 2009, Cole Hamels got off to a rough start last season, finishing April with a 5.28 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. His fortunes started improving soon thereafter, however, culminating in a terrific 104:22 K:BB ratio over 96.2 innings after the All-Star break, resulting in a 2.23 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. The sample size police will want me arrested, but few pitchers in all of baseball are capable of dominating a month like Hamels did in August, when he recorded a remarkable 48:4 K:BB ratio over 42.0 innings. After posting good but not great K rates in 2008 (7.76/9) and 2009 (7.81/9), he jumped all the way to 9.1 K/9 last season. That may regress some this year, but Hamels’ average fastball velocity was a career-high 92.0 mph last season, which was significantly better than 2009 (by 1.8 mph). He also began using a cutter for the first time in his career, which resulted in a career-best groundball rate (45.4%). And we all know his changeup is one of the best in baseball. Increasing strikeout and groundball rates simultaneously is a pretty good combination. Hamels is a dark horse candidate to win the CY Young in 2011.

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Al-Only Strategies

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Looks like I’m going to start writing for the New York Times. This can’t last long.

The Scoop

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

By Dalton Del Don

Batting average is such a fluky stat. Everyone talks about how unpredictable pitching can be, but make no mistake, hitters fluctuate year-to-year an awful lot as well. Take Aaron Hill, who saw his average drop from .286 in 2009 all the way down to .205 last year. His K rate jumped some (from 14.4% to 16.1%), but it was relatively modest, and his walk rate actually saw a similar improvement. Hill’s .196 BABIP was the lowest mark in baseball over the past 30 years (it might actually be the lowest ever, as it was tedious looking at this year-by-year, so that’s as far back as I went, because I’m lazy. The second lowest was Dave Kingman’s .204 in 1986, and it’s interesting that Mark McGwire finished with the lowest BABIP three times over this span, with marks of .214, .223 and .214 from 1989-1991), which really is saying something. Of course, part of this was due to his approach, as his 54.2 FB% was remarkably high, but that also enabled him to hit 26 homers (while missing 24 games) even in a serious down year, and there’s every reason to believe plenty of bad luck was also involved. Hill is one season removed from hitting 36 homers with 103 runs scored and 108 RBI and is a career .270 hitter. Now is the time to buy him.

This incident is pretty horrifying.

As a collective culture, have we ever witnessed anything quite like what’s happening with Charlie Sheen right now? As oversaturated as it’s become, I still say he’s underrated. Winning!

If you prorate Coco Crisp’s numbers from last season over 150 games, you get this: .279-16-102-76-64. On a per game basis, that made him the 10th most valuable fantasy player according to Baseball Monster. Of course, there’s little chance he can ever again maintain such a pace, and he remains one of the bigger injury risks in all of baseball (he’s averaged 64 games missed over the past five seasons). But while last year may go down as his peak, he’s always been productive when on the field, including terrific defense. Crisp has been successful on a remarkable 85.2% of his stolen base attempts (115-of-135) over the past five years, and few guys with his blazing speed also offer decent pop like him. There are other negatives though, namely him playing in Oakland and also a recent arrest (quick side rant: it’s “drunken” driving, not drunk driving. Also, printing that someone “was arrested for DUI” is libelous. It should be noted “on charges of” or “suspicion of” but it’s done otherwise all the time). I digress. Anyway, Crisp has a cool name and is someone to target later in drafts.

In the word’s truest definition, it’s ironic Domino’s Pizza actually saved a life.

Hey, if my house nearly burned down, I’d probably kick back a few beers myself.

There are quite a few pitchers with huge K rates and poor command in baseball. But none might be as extreme as Brandon Morrow. He was shut down in September thanks to an innings limit, but if he had qualified, his K rate (10.95/9) would have led baseball by a wide margin (Tim Lincecum’s 9.79 was the highest). In fact, Morrow’s mark would have been the highest among qualified hurlers since 2004 – although the leader then was Oliver Perez (10.97), which certainly isn’t a desirable comp. Morrow also has extremely shaky control (4.06 BB/9), although he showed modest improvement over the second half last year. Even considering the numerous no-hitters, Morrow’s performance against the Rays on August 8 (complete game shutout in a 1-0 win with his only hit allowed being a single with two outs in the ninth and a 17:2 K:BB ratio) was the single most dominant pitching performance of 2010. He leaves little margin for error walking so many batters, especially in the A.L. East, but last year’s .342 BABIP is likely to come down, and if he makes further improvements on his walk rate, Morrow is the type of player who could win your fantasy league for you. His strikeout potential is second to none.

So I watched “Hall Pass” last weekend, and like most Farrelly brothers movies these days, it was both awful and hilarious at the same time. Definitely had its moments though. Speaking of, I can’t say I’d be against this sequel.

Pitching prospects to look at in A.L.-only leagues, speed round: Kyle Gibson looks like a potential future ace, especially with Target Field on his side, and he may get an opportunity this season, but it’s likely to come later in the year (he’s worth a stash in deep formats)…Kyle Drabek is a favorite to open the year in Toronto’s rotation, so he’s definitely worth a look. He was the main piece in the Roy Halladay trade, but he’s fighting an uphill battle pitching in the A.L. East…Teammate Zach Stewart is lesser known and will come much cheaper, and while he’s unlikely to open the year in the rotation, he could easily overtake the likes of Jesse Litsch and/or Marc Rzepcynski later on (worth a stash in deep formats)…Zach Britton could get an opportunity in Baltimore immediately. Strong groundball rate, but again, has to pitch in the A.L. East. Still worth a look…Michael Pineda is in a class by himself. He’s unlikely to be in Seattle right away, but he’s head and shoulders above the rest of this list and should be worth more in four months than the rest of them would be in a full season. Pineda is a special talent who’s possibly worth stashing even in deeper mixed leagues.

I really enjoyed this story about a news reporter breaking up a fight.

Over the past seven seasons, Aramis Ramirez has averaged 28 homers and 96 RBI while batting .295, and that’s with him missing 32 games per year. Of course, recently his health has become an even bigger question, as various injuries have forced him to miss 118 games over the past two years. He’s still managed 40 homers and 148 RBI over 206 games during that span, so his bat hasn’t slowed much after turning 30 years old. Although one aspect does jump out – strikeouts. Ramirez has always fanned far less than most sluggers throughout his career, but last year he struck out 90 times over 465 ABs. His career-high is 100 Ks, and that occurred in 2001 over 603 at-bats. Maybe the increased K rate has to do with age. Or his injuries. Or it was totally random. One thing is for sure – those strikeouts had nothing to do with last year’s extremely low .245 BABIP. Ramirez will always be an injury concern, and even more so the older he gets, but he’s always productive when on the field, so now might be the time to buy the .282 lifetime batter coming off a year in which he hit .241 and is viewed as on the downside of his career. Look at it this way – would you have preferred him to hit 25 homers with 83 RBI over 600 at-bats last year or over just 465 ABs (like he did)?

I swear, this wasn’t me (the evidence is that the guy was against Cutler, not that he wasn’t clothed).

This is pretty interesting.

There are a lot of strong projection systems out there, and Baseball Prospectus’ ranks among the best, but I don’t understand it pegging the Cardinals as favorites to win the NL Central even after Adam Wainwright’s season-ending injury. In fact, they still give them a 43.8% chance to make the playoffs, which seems extreme. Even before Wainwright’s injury, I would have given them a 33.3% chance to win their division (I actually had them finishing third, but it was a coin toss), and with the Braves and the N.L. West loser all strong WC contenders, not to mention the possibility of a team coming out of nowhere and surprising, I have to disagree, especially since St. Louis appeared to be built as a classic “stars and scrubs” team. I’ll never put anything past St. Louis’ management, but to me, the Cardinals are now pretty big underdogs in a suddenly deep N.L. Central.

This weekend I’ll be in Phoenix competing in LABR, and this year, it will actually be broadcast live, so check it out if you’re bored Sunday night.

In 2009, Jonathan Papelbon recorded 76 strikeouts and walked 24 batters over 68 innings, which resulted in a 1.85 ERA. Last year, he recorded 76 strikeouts and walked 28 batters over 67 innings, which resulted in a 3.90 ERA. ERA is a fickle stat to begin with, but this highlights just how ridiculous it can be with relievers. In fact, digging deeper, he gave up just two more homers last season compared to 2009, his BABIP wasn’t drastically different (.278 vs. 287), and he even improved his GB% quite a bit (26.7% vs. 38.3%). The only real difference in performance was the timeliness of his hits allowed, as his LOB% tumbled (89.3% vs. 68.7%), and batters hit .298 with RISP. Papelbon started throwing a split-fingered fastball more last season, but he was essentially the same pitcher he was in 2009, despite his ERA increasing by more than two full runs. He remains an easy top-five fantasy closer.

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