NL Beat

Ouch, That Hurts
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 30 May 2012 09:59

In baseball, injuries come and injuries go and in this see-saw the fate of real baseball teams and their fantasy counterparts often rests.  Every team experiences injuries to some extent or another and how well a team copes with them often determines the outcome of the season.  When the inevitable injury hits, you (and your major league equivalent) hope the replacement player provides enough production to at least maintain the place in the standings – often times this actually becomes a case of not hurting the team too much.

One high profile injury occurred earlier this month when Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers strained a hamstring and was placed on the disabled list May 14.  At the time the Dodgers were in first place in the National League West six games ahead of the San Francisco Giants with a 24-11 record.  Kemp was a big part of their success batting .359 with 12 homeruns and 28 runs batted it.  After their star centerfielder went down, Los Angeles put up an 8-6 record and only lost one-half game off their lead in his absence.

The 27 year old MVP runner up was obviously off to a hot start for his real team and his fantasy owners.  His disabled list stint quite possibly could have hurt the latter more.  This is often the case with injuries as the real team and fantasy team aren’t affected equally in most cases especially since you might not be able to get the same replacement player the team uses.  Kemp returned to action last night and went one for four and everyone – real and fantasy alike – are glad he’s back.  Except me, of course, as I’m in second place in my home league and the team I’m chasing has him.

But it seems many times the injury gods giveth and they also taketh away as just happened to the Dodgers as Kemp was coming and Ted Lilly was going with an as of yet undetermined shoulder injury.  This one personally hurts as I have him on more than one team, including the aforementioned home league.  To be sure, the thirty-six year old isn’t a Cy Young candidate, but he’s pretty dependable in putting up a lot of innings with the kind of stats that wind up helping your team in the long run because he doesn’t hurt you – not flashy but useful.

As for Lilly’s replacement, the Dodgers don’t have much that’s ready in the minors except for Nathan Eovaldi who gets the nod and pitched well last night against the Milwaukee Brewers.  The youngster had been pitching in Double A at Chattanooga presumably because they wanted to keep him away from hitter happy AAA and the Pacific Coast League.  Eovaldi missed bats in the minors but didn’t miss too many when he was called up late last year.  He should be fine for the short haul but isn’t as refined as Lilly obviously is at this point.  His next start comes at Coors Field so temper expectations a bit.

Losing Kemp and Lilly back-to-back certainly hurts but the team that has been bitten hardest by the injury bug is the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Phils knew they would be starting the season with slugging first baseman Ryan Howard on the disabled list due to a ruptured Achilles tendon that required surgery.  At this point there still is no definite timetable for his return to big league action.  On top of that, second baseman Chase Utley – arguably their best offensive player – has also been out all season with recurring issues from the patellar tendinitis that sidelined him a good portion of the 2011 season.  Utley still doesn’t have a timetable for his return either but has been working a bit in left field as well as taking ground balls at second base which has some Philadelphia outlets predicting some playing time in the outfield to try to minimize some of the wear and tear on his knees.

As bad as starting the season without Howard and Utley was, the Phillies have now been hit with another huge bite from the injury bug with the news that Roy Halladay has been placed on the 15 day disabled list.  Todd Zolicki of is reporting that the 35 year old has a strain to his lat muscle (latissimus dorsi for you anatomy fans).  The part that really hurts is the 15 days is likely to be six to eight weeks.  (Update – is now reporting Roy will be shut down for three weeks then begin a strength and rehab program. The six to eight week total timetable is still projected).  The Phillies have only been about middle of the pack in NL pitching so far this season but it was pretty obvious they were going to rise or fall on the arms of their hurlers.

Halladay hadn’t been his normal dominant self the past month after starting off the season in typical Doc fashion with a .950 WHIP and 1.95 ERA although a 5.84 K/9 wasn’t typical.  The past month has been rough, however, with a 1.36 WHIP and 6.12 ERA even though at 8.16/9 the strikeout rate was much improved.  Maybe his performance had something to do with the shoulder but no one is saying right now and it doesn’t matter at this point.

What does matter is who will replace Halladay in the rotation.  Philadelphia missed the boat in re-signing Roy Oswalt so there is now a gaping hole. With Vance Worley already on the DL, they may have to turn to the likes of Dave Bush, Tyler Cloyd, Scott Elarton, or Pat Misch as possible replacements.  We could very well see Philadelphia forced into a revolving door situation.  Either way, their prospects aren’t that good (pun intended) and any fantasy owners of Roy Halladay are in a very tough position for the next couple of months.  This is the kind of thing that can break it for one fantasy team and make it for another.
The Beasts of the East
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 23 May 2012 00:00

Here we are coming into the first turn of the season and, as we mentioned in the last installment of the NL Beat, the divisions are starting to take shape.  The Central Division is being led once again by the St. Louis Cardinals and the West Division has the Los Angeles Dodgers, last week’s focus, occupying the top spot.  Both of these are slight surprises to me but the division that is the most surprising to me is none other than the East Division.

Prior to the season, the Philadelphia Phillies, in most circles, were expected to once again win the title.  Even though there were injuries to slugger Ryan Howard and standout second baseman Chase Utley, the team was expected to rise to the top based on the strength of their starting pitching led by the big three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels.  Add in free agent acquisition Jonathan Papelbon to anchor the ninth inning and the Phillies were poised to repeat as division winners.  But things haven’t gone as planned for Philadelphia as, surprisingly, they are languishing in last place in the division five and one-half games out of first and two games under .500.

Just ahead of the Phillies in the standings are the New York Mets, only three games out of first place and three games above the break even mark.  They have gotten to this point led by David Wright’s .403 batting average and R.A. Dickey’s six victories – tied for the most in the National League - out of seven decisions.  Daniel Murphy and Kurt Nieuwenhuis have been key contributors as well.

Next up the standings ladder in third place are the Miami Marlins.  Moving into a new stadium, they were big players in the free agent market this year in an effort to be winners and attract a lot of fans to the ballpark.  The Marlins are five games over .500 and only two games out of the lead.  The team started out slowly going 8-14 in the month of April but has turned that into a 16-5 record so far in May.  Omar Infante is hitting .326 with six homeruns; Emilio Bonifacio has 20 stolen bases, and Giancarlo Stanton now has nine homeruns after breaking the scoreboard with one of his blasts.  Miami has gotten good pitching from Carlos Zambrano, Anibal Sanchez, and Mark Buehrle.  Especially of note is Ozzie Guillen has managed to keep Zambrano’s temper in check.

Second place is occupied by the Atlanta Braves, eight games over .500 and only one-half game out of first.  Brandon Beachy is quickly becoming one of the best starting pitchers in the league even though he isn’t a big strikeout pitcher.  Tommy Hanson has struggled a bit walking more hitters while striking out fewer.  Craig Kimbrel hasn’t been the monster he was last year but has still been very good.  Freddie Freeman is leading the team with seven homeruns; Michael Bourn is doing what he’s supposed to – getting on base, hitting for average, and stealing bases; Martin Prado is providing a good batting average and has hit three homeruns and stole four bases, his total for all of last year.

This brings us to the Washington Nationals – the leaders of the East Division and the only team besides the Los Angeles Dodgers with a better than .600 winning percentage.  That’s right, the Washington Nationals.  The same Washington Nationals that haven’t had a .500 season since 2005 (their first year as the Nationals) or a winning season since 2003 when they were still the Montreal Expos.

Washington is leaning heavily on its pitching to get them to where they now are.  They are the only NL team with a sub 3.00 ERA (2.87) and lead the league with 275 strikeouts.  The team also is tops in the league with a .615 OPS, .217 BAA, and have allowed the fewest total bases.  The starting rotation of Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson, and Ross Detwiler has been superb.  Gonzalez has an 11.36 K/9 and 1.98 ERA, Strasburg a 10.87 K/9 and 2.21 ERA, Zimmerman a 2.47 ERA, Jackson an 8.01 K/9 with 0.97 WHIP.  Even Detwiler has contributed a 3-3 record with 1.20 WHIP and 3.65 ERA, not bad for a number five starting pitcher.  Gonzalez and Strasburg have done what a one-two punch should do with a combined 10-2 record.

On the hitting side Ian Desmond has been better than expected as he’s hit for a solid .280 average and has already smacked eight homeruns, his total for all of 2011, and has stolen five bases.  Jayson Werth has raised his batting average over 40 points to .276.  Adam LaRoche is hitting .298 and has seven homeruns after an abysmal injury shortened 2011. Prospect phenom Bryce Harper was called up and hasn’t been totally overmatched at just 19 years of age, hitting .264 with two homeruns and two stolen bases.

But there are definitely some things to worry about for Washington.  Werth, who was having a nice bounce back season, is now out until at least early August after breaking his left wrist making a play in the outfield.  Catcher Wilson Ramos is done for the season with a torn ACL.  Michael Morse is still on the DL and hasn’t played in a game yet this year for Washington.  Ryan Zimmerman, who missed time earlier this year to the DL with a bad shoulder, is again having problems with the joint.  Brad Lidge is on the DL after surgery for a sports hernia.  Closer Drew Storen has been out for the year and had surgery to remove a bone fragment from his right elbow (especially troubling since replacement closers have blown six saves to date).  Then there’s the innings limit that management says Strasburg will have after coming off Tommy John surgery.

So while it is good to see the Nationals back in the winning column, they have had to contend with quite a few obstacles and bumps in the road in getting to this point and there are still some ahead.  But Washington has put themselves in the position of possibly being buyers instead of sellers when we start talking trade deadline and that’s a good thing.  I think they’ll be buying.
Dodger Magic
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 16 May 2012 04:26

The 2012 Major League Baseball season is just over 20 percent in the books and the races have started to take shape.  Time will tell if the three teams at the top of each National League division will be there at the end.  I have my own feelings on each and since the season is so young, there is still plenty of time for the division winners to turn out how I thought – none of which are currently in first.  In the meantime, it is fun to try to speculate on how each team will do based on its performance to this point.

But of all the teams at the top of their respective division, there is one that interests me the most and that is the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Not only are they in first place, they have the biggest lead of any team – National or American League.  With the Frank McCourt mess behind them and under new management of Guggenheim Baseball Management (with former Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson), the Dodgers certainly aren’t being distracted by off the field shenanigans.  To be sure, that’s what they were dodging last year – not trolleys.

The question of whether Los Angeles will maintain their top spot in the standings depends a lot, of course, on Matt Kemp.  But the team will have to do without their star center-fielder for the next couple of weeks as he is on the 15 day disabled list with a strained hamstring.  All the 2011 Most Valuable Player runner-up has done is smash 12 homeruns and hit to the tune of a .359 batting average, leading the Dodgers to one of the top offensive spots in the league.  About the only thing his fantasy owners have to complain about is the lack of stolen bases.  With only two at this stage, Kemp is on a pace for about 10, well short of last year’s total of 40.  If Los Angeles hopes to remain at the top of the West Division, they are going to need their 27 year old offensive leader to return healthy and play at the level he was before going down.

As good as Matt Kemp is, the Dodgers have been getting good performance from a number of other players on the hitting side.  Andre Ethier has been solid batting .308 with eight homeruns and leads the team with 33 runs batted in.  As good as he’s been, the thirty year old right fielder will have to pick up some of the slack during Kemp’s absence.

A pleasant surprise has been catcher A.J. Ellis.  At 31 years old, Ellis isn’t a spring chicken in baseball terms.  The most playing time he’s had in the big leagues is the 108 at bats he had in 2010, a total that will surely be surpassed this year by the primary backstop.  Ellis has hit for a solid .314 average and has contributed three homeruns, 15 RBI and scored 11 runs.

On the other side of the coin is the light hitting James Loney.  The first baseman is still hitting a lowly .236 even after a .375 clip the past week.  But the six year Dodger still only has one homerun on the year and has never hit more than 15 in a single season and that was way back in 2007.  This lack of pop from a position that teams like to get a good amount of power from.  Reportedly, manager Don Mattingly is not very pleased with Loney’s production and there is the real possibility of a change occurring there.

Then there’s Dee Gordon.  The second year Dodger is arguably the fastest player in Major League Baseball and is tied for second in the league with 12 stolen bases.  Gordon is still learning his craft at the big league level and needs to improve a bit on his 70% success rate.  But the problem with the shortstop is a .212 batting average and .250 on base percentage.  Even at those anemic levels, Mattingly is sticking with the 24 year old at the top of his batting order.

On the pitching side, Los Angeles is led by 2011 Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.  The fifth year Dodger has picked up where he left off last year, compiling a .911 WHIP and 2.22 ERA in posting three wins against one loss.  The only blemish so far is his strikeout rate has slipped from 9.57/9 last year to 8.03/9 in 2012.

After Kershaw in the rotation comes Chad Billingsley.  Even with just a 2-2 record, Chad is pitching better this young season than any year since his 16-10 2008 campaign.  The strikeout rate is up from last year while the walk rate is down.  Combined with a BABIP that is the lowest of his career, the 27 year old is sporting the lowest WHIP and ERA since 2008. Billingsley’s Achilles ’ heel has been the long ball – double last year’s level.

Chris Capuano has been nothing short of fabulous in his seven starts, putting up a 5-0 record with a 1.03 WHIP and 2.06 ERA.  The 33 year old is striking out better than eight batters per nine and walking just over three.  An alarm could be a .236 BABIP which is well below any he has posted in his career.

Ted Lilly was rewarded this past off-season with a new three year $33 million contract.  He has responded with five victories against no losses and a fantastic .965 WHIP and 2.11 ERA.  But the strikeout rate has slipped 2.21 to 5.17/9 and the walk rate has increased by almost one to 3.29/9.  As if that wasn’t alarming enough, even though the 36 year old starter has historically pitched to a BABIP under .300, his .204 mark so far is absolutely unsustainable.  The staff senior citizen has a correction coming.

Rounding out the rotation is newly signed Aaron Harang.  Even though his record is 2-2 he hasn’t continued the resurgence he had last year with the San Diego Padres and is pitching to a 1.42 WHIP and 4.46 ERA.  These are certainly not numbers the Dodgers were counting on when they gave him a new two year contract.

This has been the Los Angeles Dodgers in a nutshell.  There are obviously very good performers and some not as good as the team would like.  I picked the Arizona Diamondbacks to finish tops in this division and still think Kirk Gibson will rally the troops and come away with first place.  But the Dodgers won’t go quietly and Donnie Baseball (with a bit of Magic) will have his team in the thick of things right until the end.
Who Are These Imposters?
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Friday, 11 May 2012 00:00

It’s rare that a fantasy owner comes out of their draft or auction saying they blew it.  Rather, most of the time we’re beating our chest and proclaiming how much of a genius we were in constructing our latest fantasy team.  We picked the perfect combination of aging superstars and young studs; steady but unspectacular producers and monster sleepers and the season’s as good as over.  All other teams should give up, proclaim the new champion, hand over the trophy (and cash) and give you the Yoo-Hoo shower.  But then a funny thing happens – real baseball games begin and you incredulously see your team languishing near the bottom of the standings as you try to comprehend how the natural order of things became so topsy turvy.

This is just the reality of fantasy setting in.  Our teams are not made up of a bunch of autobots that are programmed to perform to a preset level.  They are flesh and blood like you and I, although in much better shape and with a natural gift that enables them to be professional ballplayers.  Each of them has to deal with injuries, personal travails, lapses of imperfection, and sometimes plain old-fashioned bad luck that affects their performance on the field and their ultimate stats.  It is extremely rare for a fantasy team to complete the season without a couple or few of these sprinkled throughout their roster.

Let’s take a look at some of these culprits.

Jose Reyes – I was one of those thinking he would have a good year in Miami with Ozzie Guillen but it hasn’t materialized yet.  The first year Marlin is batting .226 with a .308 on base percentage.  I felt Jose could swipe close to 50 bases if he stayed healthy.  He has eight so far which puts him on a pace for about 40 so another ten isn’t out of the question yet.  But I also counted on him batting in the .300 range, not the Adam Dunn range.  While it could be just tossed up to bad luck and a .252 BABIP, there might be other things at work here.  An elevated BB rate (11.6%) means he’s getting fewer pitches in the zone to put into play and the way the Marlins are hitting as a team, there’s no reason for opposing pitchers to give him anything good to hit.  Looking further, the shortstop is seeing a good deal more sliders and fewer fastballs and isn’t getting good wood on the ball.  I look for Jose to adjust going forward (especially when the Marlins start to hit as a team) and get back in the range expected of him.

Tim Lincecum – No one expected a losing record (two wins against three losses) after seven starts but that’s exactly what Lincecum owners have gotten.  The bad news, however, goes a lot further than The Freak’s win/loss record as evidenced by a 1.58 WHIP and 5.89 ERA.  The 27 year old has gone more than six innings just once, averaging just over five innings per start when he has averaged better than six and one half innings in his career.  In addition, in five of those seven starts Tim has allowed at least three earned runs so it’s not just one bad game that has done him in.  While the strikeout rate is up over ten per nine innings, the walk rate is also up by better than one per nine innings to 4.66.  With a strand rate of better than 75% in every year but his first, Lincecum is now struggling with a 60.5% rate so far this year.  Translated, he’s letting more runners on base and allowing more of them to come around to score.  Fly balls (which have the tendency to land in outfielders’ gloves) have decreased from a career average of 33.6% to 26.9% while line drives (which have more of a tendency to result in something bad for a pitcher) have increased from a career average of 19.3% to 26.0%.  Looking at pitch types, fastball velocity is down about 2.5 MPH to 89.8 MPH and slider velocity is down about the same amount.  Much has been said about the two-time Cy Young Award winner throwing a third fewer sliders than he has in the past but combining that with a velocity decrease in both his primary pitches raises all kinds of red flags for me that I’m not confident Lincecum will overcome.

Heath Bell – It’s no coincidence there’s a second Miami Marlin here considering the disappointing start the team has had after all the free agent dollars they handed out.  One of the big off-season acquisitions who got some of those dollars, Bell has been so absolutely horrendous that Ozzie Guillen “temporarily” removed him from the closer’s role this week.  The ex-San Diego Padre has allowed eleven earned runs on 16 hits and ten walks in only nine and two thirds innings in 2012.  That equates to a 2.69 WHIP and 10.24 ERA with three saves and four blown saves.  The banished closer’s strikeout rate, which dropped precipitously from 11.06/9 in 2010 to 7.32/9 in 2011 has fallen even further to 6.52/9 with 2012’s small sample size while his BB/9 has more than tripled to 9.31/9.  Want more numbers?  Bell’s BAA is .356 while his BABIP is a robust .405.  That has nothing to do with bad luck when seemingly everything he throws either gets hit hard or is out of the strike zone.  With a fastball still within one mph of the past couple years at 93.1MPH, velocity doesn’t seem to be the issue.  His secondary pitch speeds are also right where they were in the recent past.  Bell has been throwing his fastball only about four percent less while his curveball and change-up usage are both up slightly.  So there doesn’t seem to be much different on the surface from preceding seasons.  Since he is pretty much maintaining his velocity, it doesn’t look like he’s hiding an injury.  The percentage of pitches batters are swinging at outside the strike zone are down by over ten percent while the percentage hitters are swinging at inside the strike zone are up by seven percent.  And when hitters swing at Bell’s offerings they are making overall contact at an 88.5% clip, seven percent higher than last year.  For some reason, opposing batters are getting a much better look at what he is throwing them and are hitting it well.  The Marlins are hoping he rights the ship and, in fact, he had a good inning against the Houston Astros yesterday.  There’s a long way to go, however, before he gets the closer’s role back and I’m cautiously optimistic.

These are just a few of the players – one hitter, one starting pitcher, and one closer - giving fantasy players agita so far this year but there are many more.  Each has to be analyzed by their respective owners carefully to try to figure out what is going on and if there is hope of them improving the rest of the year.
Harper’s MLB Bazaar and More
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 03 May 2012 02:54

There’s hardly a fantasy player around who doesn’t want the next big thing; that can’t miss hot shot prospect.  But what history mostly tells us is there really isn’t such an animal.  Most rookies tend to struggle when they are first brought up – especially when they are brought up at a very young age.  Robin Yount was brought up when he was only 19 years old.  Everyone knows he’s a Hall of Famer who had an outstanding career, winning two Most Valuable Player Awards along the way.  What most don’t realize is he struggled for quite a few seasons.  While the Milwaukee Brewers shortstop wasn’t downright horrible, he only managed to hit for a .250 batting average his first season with three home runs.  In fact, Robin didn’t hit for an average above .290 until his fifth year with Milwaukee and didn’t crack double digit home runs until his seventh season.

Another big rookie who got the call at age 19 was B.J. Upton.  The then Tampa Bay Devil Rays drafted the infielder/outfielder in the first round of the 2002 draft, second overall.  And we’re still waiting for that big breakout 30/30 year with a high batting average everyone is sure is coming.  Any day now; any day.

Darryl Strawberry was all of 22 when he made his major league debut.  The New York Mets first round pick won the Rookie of the Year award after hitting .257 with 26 home runs and 19 stolen bases in 1983.  But for every Darryl Strawberry there is an Alex Gordon or a Brandon Belt, guys who don’t live up to all the hype.

One of the biggest prospects in the game entering 2012 was the Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper.  Harper was picked first overall in the 2010 amateur draft out of the College of Southern Nevada.  From the get go there were all kinds of expectations for the young outfielder.  Some were even wondering if the Nationals would bring Bryce up in 2010 or 2011 when he would have been only seventeen or eighteen.  Now nineteen, the left-handed hitter was called up last Friday after struggling in only 72 Triple-A at-bats and made his first game appearance on Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers on the road.

In his first three games Harper managed only two hits in nine at-bats with one double and one RBI.  In his fourth big league game, Bryce got three hits in four plate appearances, doubling his doubles and RBI totals while scoring his first two runs.  While this was a good game, fantasy players need to resist the urge to think that this is what to expect.  Harper may very well wind up with the Rookie of the Year Award in the National League, but history tells us that the odds are against it and we need to temper our expectations.

Fantasy expert Lenny Melnick likes to say “a rookie is a rookie is a rookie.”  While I don’t necessarily agree that Harper is like most other rookies out there, he still is a rookie and the point is well taken.  There is a tremendous amount of upside for keeper leagues but there will be growing pains for redraft leagues and the ROI for what it cost in FAAB or a draft pick might not pay off in these single-season formats.

Sticking with the Washington Nationals theme, they are leading the National League East with a 15-9 record.  Near the bottom in team hitting, the Nationals have been doing it with pitching.  They lead the senior circuit with a 2.40 ERA and .211 BAA.  Washington is also tied for the league lead with 202 strikeouts.  Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, and Ross Detwiler all have ERAs of 1.89 or lower.  Edwin Jackson is the only starting pitcher for Washington with an ERA over 2.00 at 3.69.

The Los Angeles Dodgers lead the NL with a 17-8 record, led by the torrid hitting of Matt Kemp.  I must admit I was a little skeptical of the 2011 MVP runner-up repeating his performance.  Kemp currently leads the NL in home runs and batting average and is second in RBIs to teammate Andre Ethier (who is putting together a fine year of his own), but talk of a Triple Crown is premature considering we still have 85% of the season ahead of us.

Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw has shown some chinks in the armor his last two starts, allowing seven earned runs in 15 1/3 innings.  The Dodgers and fantasy teams need Kershaw to pitch like the Kershaw of 2011 if hopes of winning a title are to be realized.

Speaking of pitching and title hopes, Wednesday was a rough day for yours truly in the CBS Analysts NL league.  My line for the day from three pitchers was nine innings pitched, 26 hits, two walks, 23 earned runs, 3.11 WHIP, 23.00 ERA and one loss.  That’s going to leave a scar.  The pitchers were Eric O’Flaherty, A.J. Burnett and Roy Halladay.  It was so bad I couldn’t even get mad.  Go figure.
To Buy or Not To Buy
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 26 April 2012 03:26

We’re about three weeks into the 2012 season and things are beginning to take shape, although some things might not last to the official start of summer, never mind last the rest of the season.  Looking at the standings we find the Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers atop their respective divisions.  Personally, while I do think the Nationals will be an interesting team this year, I’m not a believer in any of these teams to actually win their division.  I’m sure at least some fans of these teams would disagree with me.

Before the advent of fantasy, most baseball observers were only interested in how their favorite team was doing within their division and the statistics of their favorite players on their favorite team.  It wasn’t really commonplace to come across someone who knew day-to-day what other teams were doing.  And it was even rarer if someone regularly knew how individual players on other teams were performing.  Nor did most fans really care about players on other teams unless that team happened to be their current or upcoming opponent.

Fantasy changed all that forever.  Now more people than ever know the stats not only of their favorite players, they know the stats of many of the starting players in the major leagues.  There are even those who can rattle off the statistics of literally hundreds of players – major and minor leaguers.  That’s what fantasy has done for baseball.  Casual observers have become rabid fanatics and the sport of baseball – as lucrative as it was – has become even more lucrative and has spawned a separate, yet dependent multi-million dollar industry.

Fantasy team owners are constantly looking at how individual players are doing and assessing their performance, trying to predict how those players will do.  Rosters are gone over with a fine tooth comb trying to maximize team makeup and the points that are derived from it.  Every owner has a player or players that are either underperforming or are off to a hot start.  I want to look at some of these players from the Miami Marlins and put my take on whether or not they are buy candidates going forward.

Anyone owning Mike Stanton in 2011 was likely very happy with his output.  Here was a young up and coming power hitter whose batting average didn’t help you much but didn’t drag your team down into the basement either.  Many looked at the 34 home runs in 516 at-bats last year and predicted 40+ this year.  Well here we are near the end of April and Giancarlo has yet to hit his first ball out of the park.  The 22-year-old was seeing 53.5% fastballs in 2010 and 2011.  That has decreased to 4.1% this year with the difference going to cutters predominately but some to curve balls and sliders.  At the same time, the Marlins' outfielder has seen balls he hits wind up with more line drives and ground balls and about 10.5% fewer fly balls.  Obviously, you can’t hit home runs if the ball doesn’t get into the air.  Additionally with Stanton, there is the knee injury, the effects of which are still lingering.  The longer this plays out, the worse it will be for the outfielder and his owners.  This is not a risk I want to take and I will not be buying on Giancarlo Stanton this year.

Omar Infante is off to a flying start in 2012 for the Marlins.  Where Stanton is falling short as far as home run output is concerned, Infante is exceeding expectations.  In 44 at-bats, the second baseman has four round trippers, giving a boost to his owners from a position not normally known for power hitters with few exceptions.  Not that I’m saying Omar has all of a sudden morphed into a power hitter.  Au contraire.  When he was with the Detroit Tigers in 2004 he hit 16 home runs but never hit more than nine in any year since then.  Now thirty years old, he has hit a home run every 11 at-bats.  For his career, the long ball has come every 57 at-bats.  He could provide a useful batting average but I don’t believe anything other than that.  Hence, I won’t be buying Omar Infante for the rest of 2012.

The biggest acquisition for the Marlins this off-season was shortstop and leadoff hitter Jose Reyes.  He was such an important piece for the Marlins that they moved Hanley Ramirez from shortstop to third base to make room for him defensively.  Reyes was coming off a season in which he batted .337 with seven home runs, 101 runs scored and 39 stolen bases.  The National League batting champion was slowed in the second half by a hamstring strain but was healthy entering this season and there were high hopes for 50+ stolen bases with Ozzie Guillen as the manager.  However, Reyes has been mired in a slump since the start of the year, hitting only .215 with zero home runs, six runs scored, and four stolen bases.  This is definitely not what the Marlins were bargaining for when they signed him.  But the ex-New York Met has two triples and hasn’t shown any sign of an injury.  If this stretch came in the middle of the season instead of the beginning, it would hardly be noticed.  Lacking any kind of an injury report, I have no doubts that Jose will bounce back and will still swipe over 50 bases, so I will be looking to buy.

These are but a few players that are performing at the opposite end of the spectrum that they were predicted to be.  If none of them are on your team there are certainly others like them that are.  It is sometimes hard to avoid knee-jerk reactions to these types of performances.  We tend to want to fix things ourselves without letting things even out.  Water finds its own level and sooner or later most of these anomalies will right themselves.   In the meantime, try to avoid falling into the trap of dealing an under achiever for an over achiever.
Closer Watch
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 19 April 2012 03:31

If there’s one position that fantasy players fret over more than others it usually is the closer if the league counts saves as a category.  While some owners punt the category and it has worked at times, I don’t particularly like using that strategy.  There are others who don’t chase saves during a draft or auction because the position is so volatile and prefer to get saves through FAAB or the waiver wire during the season.  Due to the fact that closers are such a limited commodity and in high demand, I don’t like this strategy either.  I don’t see much difference in chasing saves in the draft or chasing them during the season with waiver position or FAAB dollars.

I believe getting your closers before the season is the better option since it offers you more flexibility in how you build your overall roster.  Since closers usually tend to go earlier or towards the middle of the draft rather than the end, I like that I can still take different roads to get to my final destination in creating my team.  Waiting for in season acquisitions could tend to take resources from other spots where they are needed due to injury or poor performance.  I don’t have to acquire the top end closers necessarily, but I want to try to leave the draft with two or three closers in tow.  While it is still very early in the year, let’s take a look how these much sought after game enders are faring.

Arizona Diamondbacks – J.J. Putz has appeared five times this season and has four saves in those five chances.  The big right-hander has allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings for a 5.79 ERA.  Two of the three runs against came off a gopher ball.  Still, his job is very safe.

Atlanta Braves – Craig Kimbrel hasn’t allowed an earned run yet this year and is four for four in save chances.  The second-year closer has struck out six hitters in four innings pitched but is a little rusty having issued four bases on balls to go along with four hits against in the same four inning span.  There is nothing for Kimbrel owners to be concerned about at this time.

Chicago Cubs – Carlos Marmol has pitched in five games this year with one save, one blown save, and one loss to show for it.  The wild throwing righty has four strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings but also has allowed four walks.  This isn’t a good start considering he’s always fought with his control.  A 2.40 WHIP and 8.10 ERA should have Kerry Wood owners licking their chops as long as he stays healthy.

Cincinnati Reds – Sean Marshall took over the role from Ryan Madson who is one of the latest victims for Tommy John surgery.  Marshall has struck out four in his 3 1/3 innings of work and has a loss and a save to his record as well as better than a strikeout per inning.  The left-hander has the job of finishing off games in his control.

Colorado Rockies – Rafael Betancourt is three for three in save chances.  Colorado’s closer has appeared in five games and has allowed only one earned run which came off a home run.  Betancourt has four strikeouts and sports a 1.20 WHIP and 1.80 ERA.  No distress for his owners.

Houston Astros – With only two innings of work in two games, Brett Myers certainly isn’t being overused this year.  However, that’s due more to how bad Houston is as opposed to Houston not having faith in the right hander’s ability to finish games.  Myers does have two saves to go along with a .143 BAA.  Even still, one has to believe Brett could be a trade candidate sooner rather than later.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Javy Guerra has made seven appearances and has five saves with one blown save for the year.  Before the season, many people thought it would only be a matter of time before Kenley Jansen took over the closer’s role in Dodger-town.  But Guerra hasn’t given anyone a reason to move him out of the role he currently has and his job is safe for the foreseeable future.

Miami Marlins – Heath Bell has been a major disappointment for his fantasy owners up to this point.  One save, two losses, two blown saves along with a 2.75 ERA and 9.00 WHIP are very good reasons not to be happy with Bell’s performance.  Despite the poor display, the Marlins are committed to the free agent signee.

Milwaukee Brewers – John Axford has started off 2012 a bit shaky.  The tall right-hander has pitched 3 2/3 innings, allowing three earned runs on three hits and five bases on balls.  On the encouraging side, Axford is two for two in save chances and the eight hitters he has retired have all been via strikeout.

New York Mets – Frank Francisco has been a bit of a surprise as have the Mets in general.  The 32-year-old has thrown five innings allowing six hits without a walk and two earned runs.  Francisco has converted three of three save chances, striking out seven batters along the way.  He needs to stay at the top of his game because the Mets do have other options if he falters.

Philadelphia Phillies – Jonathan Papelbon has pitched in five innings, allowing one earned run on a long ball and has been perfect in three save chances.  The Boston Red Sox refugee hasn’t been overpowering, allowing more hits than innings pitched with fewer strikeouts than innings.  Still, he has the job all to himself in Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Joel Hanrahan has one win and one save on his record so far.  The 30-year-old is in what would be his second full season as the Pirates' closer but has been battling a hamstring injury.  As a result, Hanrahan only has one victory and one save on the year.  A little disconcerting is four bases on balls in only four innings of work, although his role as closer is very safe.

San Diego Padres – Huston Street only has one save on the year but has pitched magnificently.  In four innings of work, the Padres' right-hander hasn’t allowed any runs on only one hit against and zero bases on balls.  There are no concerns about Street at all at this time.

San Francisco Giants – Brian Wilson has succumbed to an elbow injury and will have the second Tommy John surgery of his career.  Santiago Casilla seems to be the pitcher for the moment that will get the save chances and he has pitched very well although this could turn out to be the dreaded closer-by-committee.

St. Louis Cardinals – Jason Motte saved nine games at the end of the 2011 season and was anointed the closer for 2012. Motte has solidified his role with only one earned run off a home run in five innings.  The Cardinals’ right hander has one win and two saves and has struck out seven hitters.  If you have Jason Motte as one of your closers, you have no concerns.

Washington Nationals – Drew Storen had elbow surgery to remove bone chips in his throwing arm.  Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez are sharing the save chances.  Lidge has two saves and one blown save while Rodriguez has three saves and one loss.  Both have pitched well with Rodriguez having the edge.  But if there’s one thing we have learned over the years, it’s not necessarily who the better pitcher is, but rather who has the better opportunity.

Random Thoughts
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 12 April 2012 03:17

It always amazes me how many fantasy players have to be talked off the ledge this early each season.  I regularly listen to the fantasy sports channel on Sirius and can’t believe how many callers are asking if they should ditch their slow performing players.  Or trade them for some hot starting flavor of the week.  It has always been preached here that the season is a marathon, not a sprint.  And, to give them credit, all the hosts on Sirius spout the same message but still field many questions that deal with making bad early trades.

I don’t even look at the standings for the first month of the season.  To take it even further, I ditched the use of draft software this year which tracked categories and showed the league winner – which I always thought was the kiss of death anyway.  I replaced this with my own spreadsheet to keep track of the draft and auction and combined my budget sheet within.  An added benefit of this was learning a bit more about Excel and the things you could do with it – vlookup, etc (you can teach old dog new tricks).  All I do this early is look to replace injured players and make sure I have the players active each day or week that I want.  In my keeper leagues I start to look for any minor league players I might want to add if I have room for them.

If you made decisions for your teams based on what has happened this early in the season you’d go out and trade for every Houston Astros player you could get your hands on.  After all, they are in second place and have the second highest batting average in the National League.  Maybe loading up on Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers is the key to success this year since they lead the NL with a 1.50 ERA.  Obviously, I am saying this in jest.  But there are some interesting things out there in the baseball world.

The Washington Nationals will be an improved and competitive team that I’m going to like watching.  The New York Mets not so much, in my opinion, as I took the under for total wins for them this year.  But the Nationals and Mets are at the top of their division with the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, and Miami Marlins bringing up the rear.  I do think the Braves and Phillies will struggle with scoring runs this year but you can’t complain about either team’s pitching.  The Marlins should be in the thick of things as long as they don’t get too distracted by Ozzie Guillen’s off the field ridiculousness.

In only one week, Omar Infante has hit about half of his projected home runs for the year.  He has hit more round trippers for the Marlins than Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Giancarlo Stanton, Gaby Sanchez, and Logan Morrison combined.  As of this writing, no NL hitter has more home runs than Miami’s second baseman.  Players like Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Zimmerman, Dan Uggla, and Justin Upton have yet to smack their first of the year.

The St. Louis Cardinals have surprised me with their hitting thus far.  They lead the league in hits, HR, runs, batting average, total bases, and OPS, among other things.  Their team OPS of .913 is higher than the OPS Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, and Mike Stanton had in 2011.  It is also higher than Troy Tulowitzki, Joey Votto, and Hanley Ramirez in 2012.

Starlin Castro leads the league with five stolen bases in five attempts.  The only other Chicago Cub with a successful attempt is Jeff Baker.  The Miami Marlins as a team have the most swipes with seven.  The Philadelphia Phillies are second with five and haven’t been caught yet.

The man many say is the fastest in the big leagues, Dee Gordon, has four stolen bases in five attempts. His .238 average is a drag so far but he is taking some walks.  I am taking the over on 60 total for the year working with Davey Lopes.

David Freese is continuing his torrid play from the 2011 postseason.  In six games, the Cardinals' third baseman is batting .427 with three home runs and 10 RBI.  All of his extra base hits have been of the over the wall variety.  What has me a bit concerned is an early 7:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Although a very small sample, it is more than twice his career mark.

In the first three games started by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels the Phillies have come away victorious in only one of them.  Their opposition scored a total of four runs off the troika in those games but Philadelphia hitters only managed to plate the same number in support of them.

Every year there are differing opinions about drafting or obtaining closers or potential closers in an auction due to their volatility.  2012 hasn’t been a disappointment in this regard.  Antonio Bastardo, Javier Lopez, Rex Brothers, Heath Bell, David Hernandez, Carlos Marmol, and Kerry Wood have already blown saves this year.  On top of that, Ryan Madson and Drew Storen have already been sidelined with injuries – Madson out for the season with Tommy John surgery.

These are just a few of the interesting tidbits from the first week of the 2012 season – some good and others not so good.  The challenge as fantasy players is not to overreact to results at either end of the spectrum at this point.  Forget about the standings for the first month and manage your team in relation to who you want to start from your roster or who you have to replace due to injury.  After that, you can start to worry about categories and where you are in the standings as there will be enough of a sample size to actually get a good grasp of how things are playing out.
Opening Week Musings
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 04 April 2012 03:35

The day we’ve long waited for is back.  I know there were a couple games in Japan last week, but how many people who didn’t have anyone from their fantasy teams playing really noticed?  My attention was still more turned towards the battles going on in the final week of spring training and preparing for the biggest draft weekend of the year.  But still, the games did count and the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics split a pair.  Those in NL only leagues probably didn’t even bat an eye.

This week will be different, however, as every major league team will start their 2012 campaign.  Fantasy players will be hoping their top draft picks start to pay dividends from the outset.  While everyone knows this is a marathon, it’s still disconcerting to see ones fantasy team get off to a slow start, languishing in last place.  I resist the temptation to get overly confident if my teams start with a bang and, conversely, don’t get nervous if they start with a whimper.  I really don’t pay much attention to my fantasy teams except for planning free agent or FAAB pickups for players who might have gotten injured so I don’t have any dead roster spots going into week two.

Instead, I revel in the fact that real baseball is back and watch or listen to as many games as I can, trying to glean as much information as possible about teams and players in games that count.  I have a couple of things (more in my mind than written down) for each team that I am wondering about or concerned about as the 2012 campaign starts off and I’ll go through some of them here.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Not if but how much will Ian Kennedy regress from his Cy Young challenging 2011 season?  Which version of Aaron Hill will 2012 more closely resemble – the 2011 Toronto Blue Jay model that hit .225 in almost 400 at bats or the 2011 Arizona Diamondback model that hit .315 in 124 at bats.

Atlanta Braves – Jason Heyward had problems with southpaws in 2011.  Has he made the adjustments necessary to avoid a platoon again this year?  The Braves haven’t been shy about bringing up their youngsters.  Tyler Pastornicky was in line to be one of them this year but has really struggled at the plate this spring.  His job is safe for now but one has to wonder if Jack Wilson or Andrelton Simmons will be called upon if Atlanta gets tired of waiting for the 22 year-old to provide some offense.

Chicago Cubs – Bryan LaHair will start the season at first base but will he provide enough offense to keep Anthony Rizzo in the minor leagues?  Kind of an obvious one but does Starlin Castro – everyone’s up and coming darling - continue to build upon what he’s already done or have we seen the best he has to offer – not that that’s bad. There are some non-believers. I believe.

Cincinnati Reds – There certainly is enough offense here, but the question remains will this rotation – even with the addition of Mat Latos - be able to hold opposing offenses in check.  To complicate things even more, Ryan Madson had to succumb to TJ surgery and now Sean Marshall will be closing out games.  Will he be able to hang onto the role for the duration?

Colorado Rockies – Will Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy to produce enough to justify his lofty draft position – top five and first overall in some leagues?  Color me skeptical.  Early signs are very encouraging but does Juan Nicasio have the mental and intestinal fortitude to forget about his horrifying injury last year?

Houston Astros – How bad will this team be and will Brett Myers build up enough trade value as closer to be dealt before the deadline?  I’m sure Jed Lowrie would want to make the Boston Red Sox regret trading him but will he be able to?  That I’m not sure of but comparing the Astros to the Red Sox isn’t exactly comparing hot dogs to hot dogs.

Los Angeles Dodgers – With Ervin Johnson, et al, at the helm will ownership have enough money left over to actually run the team?  On the field, what is the over/under for saves before Javy Guerra gives way to Kenley Jansen (I say 13)?  Dee Gordon is reputed to be the fastest man in baseball.  How many stolen bases will he get the green light for – 50, 60, 70?  My vote is 60 but he’ll certainly be fun to watch whatever the number is.

Miami Marlins – Hanley Ramirez gets pushed to third base and reportedly isn’t real happy with it.  Will it spur him to another level or will he languish in self pity.  Many are predicting a career year for Jose Reyes but will he stay healthy enough?  It’s going to be very interesting to see if Ozzie Guillen can soothe the savage beast of Carlos Zambrano and channel his emotions to being a successful pitcher or will he again self destruct.  I’m betting Ozzie will reach something inside Zambrano.  In fact, I’m betting on Guillen to lead the Marlins to a division title.

Milwaukee Brewers – A couple things on my mind are will Ryan Braun perform well after the whole PED test thing and will Mat Gamel take a step up this year.  I stand in the affirmative for both of them.  Aramis Ramirez needs to help the Brew Crew forget Prince Fielder.

New York Mets – Will Johan Santana defy the odds and be a good pitcher over a full season?  Even though it’s for the cross town rivals, I’m hoping he does.  The fences of CitiField were lowered and brought in.  Will that result in more balls going out of the park for David Wright and Jason Bay?

Philadelphia Phillies – After being signed to a big free agent contract, will Jonathan Papelbon lead the NL in saves?  Me thinks so.  I do not believe Ryan Howard is a near 50 home run hitter anymore (even if he was healthy).  I even think mid 30’s is pushing it.  As a result, I have some real concerns for the Phillies offense this year.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Overall, I think this team is interesting and will be fun to watch – especially Andrew McCutchen and Alex Presley.  I believe McCutchen is a 30/30 player in the making.  Conversely, I’m concerned for Pedro Alvarez.  The number two overall pick from 2008 may be fighting for his career.  I’ll be pulling for him but don’t have much faith.

San Diego Padres – Some don’t believe in Cory Luebke but I do and I’m sorry I haven’t been able to roster him on any of my fantasy teams.  Pitchers like him are special – especially in Petco Park.  I’m just skeptical there’s enough offense here to enable him to have a .500 record.

San Francisco Giants – Will the Giants stop screwing around with Brandon Belt?  I hope so.  How long will management continue to allow Barry Zito to steal a roster spot?  Buster Posey has been working on swipe tags at home plate this spring.  It will be interesting to see if old habits are harder to break than his leg was.  He could benefit from watching film of Jorge Posada who never blocked the plate (sorry, pet peeve of mine).

St. Louis Cardinals – Not that anyone can, but who will pick up the mantle from Albert Pujols?  There is a serious offensive shortfall here that Carlos Beltran has no hope of filling.  There are huge question marks with Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.  So much so that will the Cards be forced to accelerate the timetable of Shelby Miller?

Washington Nationals – This is another team I’m going to like to watch.  There are some promising positional youngsters and the rotation isn’t as barren as we’re used to seeing.  Everyone will be watching Stephen Strasburg’s comeback from Tommy John surgery and newcomers Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to the starting five.  Then there’s the pool in every office in Washington when Bryce Harper will make his appearance.

These are just some of the things I’ll be looking at and for over the first part of the season.  What will you be on the lookout for in the National League?
The 2012 All-Underrated Team – NL Version
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Thursday, 29 March 2012 00:00

Ryan Carey did a great job on his installment of this topic for the American League a couple weeks ago.  I got some inquiries about a National League version and actually kind of started last week with a list of pitchers I like near the end of a draft or for a few dollars in an auction that could return a few dollars or more of profit for their owners.  I continue this week going through the rest of the positions and listing some of the players I think could wind up the year in a better position than their current ADP dictates.  As Ryan did in the AL, the ADP’s are in parentheses and are based on a mixed league to give all readers an overall point of reference.

So, without further ado, here is my NL All-Underrated Team for 2012.

C – Carlos Ruiz, PHI (296) – At 33 years old entering the season, Ruiz is no spring chicken. Well, compared to me he is.  But he is playing in a good park and has a good eye, drawing as many walks as the number of times he strikes out.  You’ll get a good batting average (think .280 plus), with the potential for double digit home runs.  The power total was disappointing in 2011 but I consider that an aberration considering a 30% decrease in HR/FB over his career mark even though FB% was up.

1B – Adam LaRoche, WAS (344) – 2011 was a major disappointment for the 32-year-old as it was cut short by shoulder surgery.  As a result, it was the first year since 2007 that Adam failed to hit 25 home runs.  Twenty home runs should be a lock if he gets 450 AB with 25 a decent possibility.  You can get a batting average about 30 points higher but it will come with barely double digit home runs from a position I want power at, not necessarily a good average.  In the case of James Loney (287), that pick will come almost 60 spots earlier in the draft.

2B – Aaron Hill, ARI (199) – While I certainly don’t expect him to repeat 2009, I am expecting a lot better than 2011 with the Toronto Blue Jays.  After being traded to Arizona, there was an increase in BA from .225 to .315 and an even more impressive jump from .313 to .492 in slugging percentage.  Hill is still in his prime and a season of mid-teens HR and SB with an average in the .265 - .275 range is certainly in the cards.

SS – Alex Gonzalez, MIL (363) – Definitely a case of getting no respect according to his ADP.  At 35 years O.D. Gonzalez is the oldest player on my list.  Yet he still managed to hit 15 home runs for the Atlanta Braves last year.  Miller Park played slightly better for home runs than Turner Field in 2011 so there could be a bump in HR total in 2012.  So why is Stephen Drew (271) going 92 picks earlier?

3B – Mat Gamel, MIL (280) – I’m already on board with Gamel as a post-hype sleeper and have him in at least one league so far with the intent of increasing my ownership.  He will be playing first base for the Brew Crew but will have third base eligibility in most leagues.  Mat has hit pretty much all through the minors but hasn’t done much at The Show as of yet.  I think he could put together a pretty good year.  So far this spring, the former fourth-round pick has hit four home runs and stolen three bases (a bonus).  The average will still be an issue but if he can get it up to the .250 range with power and a few more steals than projected he will out earn his draft spot.

MI – Jason Bartlett, SD (361) – Not spectacular, but for your middle infield spot you can do worse than the seven year major leaguer.  Bartlett is what he is but playing for San Diego – a team that will struggle to produce runs – the shortstop could swipe more than his projected number of bases with an average that won’t kill you.

CI – Bryan LaHair, CHI (318) – The 29-year-old got a quick look last year and managed a .288 batting average, but do not expect that over the long haul at this level.  LaHair’s game is hitting home runs and the replacement for Carlos Pena at first base could hit 20–25 of them if he gets enough at bats.  I’ll take that from my corner spot in an NL-only league any day.

OF – J.D. Martinez, HOU (256) – With the departure of Hunter Pence, Martinez was able to stick the whole season in the Houston Astros outfield.  The 24-year-old acquitted himself well, hitting six home runs and batting .274 in 53 games.  No one is really sure what his power ceiling is but mid-teens HR with a pretty good average isn’t a bad thing.  Martinez leads the ‘Stros with 12 RBI this spring and will get plenty of time at whichever outfield spot they play him.

OF – Chris Heisey, CIN (293) – Entering his magical age-27 season (for those that put stock in that), Heisey has the type of power that will play well in Great American Ballpark.  The outfielder hit 18 home runs last year in only 279 at-bats to go along with six SB and a .254 batting average.  While he will lose some AB to Ryan Ludwick, I see the majority of the playing time still going to Chris with 20+ home runs a likely outcome. He’ll even steal you a handful of bases.

OF – Alex Presley, PIT (301) – Not considered much of a prospect, the young outfielder made an impression when he was brought up after hitting .333 at Triple-A and stuck for the remainder of 2011.  Alex responded with a .298 average with four home runs and nine stolen bases in 52 games.  Even though GM Neal Huntington said he would lose time against the top left-handers in the league, 450 at-bats seem like a lock with 20 stolen bases to go along with an average that could threaten .300 are possible.

OF – Jason Kubel, ARI (236) – A new team preceded by a season with a lot of time lost to injury will help to push the former Minnesota Twin under the radar a bit.  Jason never seems to get any love but has produced 20 home runs pretty consistently when given the playing time.  Moving to the desert from Target Field should only serve to assure the likelihood of the 29-year-old hitting home runs in his peak power years for the Diamondbacks with a bit more upside.

OF – John Mayberry, PHI (219) – At 28 years of age, Mayberry isn’t a young prospect.  But he got a chance last year after Domonic Brown didn’t do anything to warrant keeping a big league spot.  The 2005 draftee of the Texas Rangers responded, hitting .273 with 15 home runs and eight SB in 267 at- bats.  At 6’6” and 235 pounds, the outfielder certainly has the size, plays in a great ballpark for power hitters and could wind up outperforming his draft position.

These are some of the guys I think could produce at a better clip than their ADP going into the season.  It might not be considerably more but in a non-mixed league, you need to find as many tidbits of profit as possible if you want to walk away with the trophy at the end.
Pitching on the Cheap
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Wednesday, 21 March 2012 09:36

As long as I can remember playing this game, the conventional wisdom was to spend much more on hitting (whether it be auction dollars or high draft picks) than on pitching. That has generally been borne out to be the best strategy as pitching was too unpredictable. Or maybe it is that hitting was much more predictable. Either way, the end result was the same – hitting trumped pitching. I’m sure someone could provide an example where a team with a heavy pitching budget went on to win their league but I’d be willing to bet that was the exception rather than the norm. So this year, I’m going to follow the same path in constructing my fantasy teams.

Last year starting pitching came on to the point 2011 became known as the year of the pitcher in many circles. It seems like we’re heading into a cycle where the pendulum might be starting to swing from MLB being dominated by hitters to pitching at least being on a comeback. Some might say that, since pitching may be on the rise and hitting might be falling back a bit, that fantasy players should be leaning more towards pitching than they have in the past. While that might seem intuitive to some, I don’t subscribe to that theory.

I do believe that hitting is on a bit of a decline. Total homeruns per team in all of baseball (National League and American League combined) have steadily fallen from an average of 190 per team in 2000 to an average of 152 per team in 2011. Likewise, total runs scored per team have dropped from an average of 832 per major league team in 2000 to 694 per team in 2011. On the pitching side, the average ERA for all teams was 4.76 in 2000 and 3.94 in 2011 while average BAA went from .270 in 2000 to .255 in 2011.

If, as the evidence suggests, overall hitting is on the decline, I want to make sure I get as many of the studs as possible. Conversely, if pitching is becoming better or more of a reliable asset to fantasy teams, that’s even more a reason for me to wait longer to draft them or spend less to acquire them in an auction. I won’t need that expensive upper tier of pitching if I deem it too expensive for my taste. I would be perfectly happy to fill out my pitching slots with a bunch of guys from the third or fourth tier of hurlers. To that end, I will go through some of the pitching names I will be looking to own in as many fantasy leagues as possible this year.

  1. Johan Santana – Everyone knows Johan as the talent that could have been if not for the injuries. He’s coming off a shoulder injury that has left many a pitcher on the scrap heap in MLB history. Not me. I consider that a buying opportunity for 2012. The New York Mets potential opening day starter has been pitching well this spring and I’m willing to spend the handful of dollars required to acquire his services for my team in as many leagues as possible.
  2. Chris Capuano – The Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander has had two Tommy John surgeries in his career. That alone will scare off most people. With the New York Mets last year the 33 year old won 11 games with an 8.13 K/9. Capuano is going to another pitcher’s park and should again post good strikeout numbers and improve on last year’s ratios.
  3. Ricky Nolasco – A perennial underachiever for fantasy owners, I’m willing to give the 29 year old another shot in 2012. Even thought the strikeout rate decreased last year, there’s still enough giddy up to get over 150 punch outs. And if Ricky can manage to get his BABIP to just an average level there’s some upside.
  4. Mike Minor – The southpaw pitched 82 innings in 2011 with almost a strikeout per. Minor had some BABIP problems to the tune of .355 which contributed to an inflated ERA of 4.14. A WHIP of 1.49 came from a slightly elevated BB rate and better than a hit per inning against. The 24 year old is fighting for a rotation spot this spring and has said he wants the role. With 14 shutout innings tossed so far, ten strikeouts, and only seven hits against, he very well could land that spot.
  5. Juan Nicasio – Catching a comebacker in the head is a scary thing. When that comebacker also manages to break your neck that really ratchets the scare index up quite a few notches. Still a young 25, Nicasio had surgery to fix the break and was back on a mound by October. The fireballer has a 1.43 GB/FB ratio which plays well at Coors Field. Juan looks to be back on track this spring with 12 innings pitched and nine strikeouts with only three earned runs allowed.
  6. Eric Surkamp – Here’s a case of a pitcher who is not overpowering (88 mph fastball) but still manages to get strikeouts in bunches. Surkamp did not fare well in his call-up last year but I am still optimistic for his chances in 2012. The southpaw won’t start the year in the rotation but he should be the first to get the call should an injury strike (Ryan Vogelsong, anyone?) or ineffectiveness (Barry Zito, anyone?).
  7. Carlos Zambrano – This is the kind of gamble I like to take. The big right-hander is an impressive site on the mound and still throws over 90 mph. The strikeouts have come in bunches this spring with 16 in nine innings pitched but Big Z needs to get the walks down with five handed out in his work so far. If new manager Ozzie Guillen can keep his head screwed on right (and I’m betting that he will since he’s a hothead also and will know where Zambrano’s coming from) I think this is the kind of gamble that will pay off nicely.
These are a few pitchers I will be looking to get for low to mid single digit dollars or mid to late round picks this year. A few of them I have already managed to roster in drafts but I have my auctions coming up (although mixed league) and I want to walk away with more of these guys in each.
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