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.
Follow me on Twitter.