Friday, 03 May 2013 00:00
Well, one month in the books. Sample sizes out there are still teeny tiny but reading through tea leaves, expectations going forward can indeed be discerned!
Let’s start by taking a look at some members of the Red Sox.
For example, Will Middlebrooks has six home runs, but outside of his three-home run game has struggled. The righty has a 30% strikeout rate and appears to be pressing at the plate with a sub 4% walk rate. Owners, yours truly included, need to be legitimately concerned that this might result in a benching or demotion. The one thing that might keep Middlebrooks in the lineup is the lack of a player at the MLB or Triple-A level in the Red Sox organization that could adequately replace him.
Mike Napoli, meanwhile, is playing quite over his head with a .287/.342/.602 line despite a strikeout rate of over 34%. But then again, no one drafted him for batting average help. A significant batting average drop off and general streakiness given his approach are the norm for the catcher/first baseman.
All the spring noise of Joel Hanrahan being the guy as the Red Sox’s closer was just that, noise. If Bailey proved to be healthy, it was only a matter of time until the former Oakland Athletic spirited the job away. Bailey is looking even better than vintage, armed with a 14.6 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 while averaging close to 95 mph on his fastball. Shoulder permitting, Bailey could have the closer’s job for the rest of the season. Even with both pitchers healthy, it would be hard for the Red Sox to justify switching back to Hanrahan given the disparity between the two pitchers' career command and control skills. Bailey’s are simply more ideal for high leverage situations.
Ike Davis owners should remain patient. The lefty is still showing pretty much the same patient, power-oriented approach as in the past. In other words, Davis is having a reverse Napoli moment where as time passes, a push towards the .240s should be expected, particularly if the lefty’s strikeout rates drop slightly to align more with his other two full seasons in the Majors.
Jon Niese owners may have some minor cause for concern despite a 3.31 ERA. The lefty has managed just a 4.7 K/9 as contrasted to his career palindrome mark of 7.4. I am not as concerned about Niese’s rise in BB/9 rate as much of the damage in his 3.6 BB/9 was accomplished in just two starts when he walked a combined seven batters. Niese has walked fewer batters combined in his other four starts. The most notable change I can find is a heavier reliance on his changeup, moving up a full 10% of the time, but pitch f/x reveals that while the change has not been all that effective, neither have been the other pitches save his fastball. So far, Niese’s batting average on balls in play, HR/FB, and left-on base rates are all not overly inflated or suppressed, so for now certainly hold onto him as he is mostly pitching within his skills, but keep tracking those strikeout rates.
Heading over to Seattle, Dustin Ackley owners should be extremely concerned. The former 1st round pick has not shown much, if any, skill development and has a very empty .245/.283/.277 slash. It does not help Ackley’s cause that he is not a natural middle infielder. Nick Franklin, meanwhile, is batting .400 in Triple-A with three homers and four steals while drawing almost twice as many walks as strikeouts yet making contact nearly 90% of the time. While Franklin does not project to be a star, the switch hitter does have long-term .280+ 15-15 potential and enough defensive skill to handle shortstop adequately enough to start, let alone second base. Redraft leaguers should be stashing Franklin if they have not already done so.
Rick Porcello had an amazing spring that lead some to believe that this was the beginning of a new era in which the 24-year-old would finally begin to miss bats and become the middle to upper end of the rotation starter many envisioned when he was originally drafted by the Tigers. While Porcello’s control numbers are in line with his career, the righty has been missing even fewer bats than usual with just eight strikeouts in 19.1 innings of work. On Porcello’s side pointing towards at least some improvement are a .347 BABIP, 49% left-on-base rate and 15% HR/FB ratio. In other words, these numbers should all regress towards the mean. What that doesn’t tell us, however, is whether or not he’ll be any good. Overall, Porcello’s skills still point to a mid to upper 4’s ERA. Last year’s fifth starter, Drew Smyly, is waiting in the wings in middle relief and has been extended on multiple occasions this season, working 18 innings in relief (or one fewer than Porcello) with more than a strikeout per inning and just five walks allowed. As with Franklin, Smyly, even though he is not performing in a significant role at the moment, should be rostered in AL-only leagues.
The A’s are utilizing a platoon situation where Jed Lowrie is in the lineup every day playing either 2B or SS depending on whether they are facing a righty or lefty. In other words, it’s really just a Eric Sogard/Adam Rosales platoon with Lowrie shifting positions. This situation may not last for much longer with both Grant Green and Jemile Weeks hitting pretty well in Triple-A. Green has four homers and a .321/ .397/.500 slash while he continues to make contact more than 85% of the time and is showing improved plate discipline in his second season in Triple-A. Weeks has shown himself to be overmatched and oft-injured over his professional career, but the switch-hitter is once again tantalizing with leadoff hitter walk/contact and speed skills in the Minors. Keep an eye on both players.
Friday, 26 April 2013 00:00
Last week, I looked at warning signs on the Houston Astros roster. Well, Justin Maxwell is now on the disabled list and will be out at least a month. Suddenly, two names are now seeing significant time in the Astros’ outfield in Robbie Grossman and Brandon Barnes. Can they take advantage of these opportunities and become permanent parts of the club's lineup?
Grossman, a former 6th round pick of the Pirates, possesses some interesting tools and skills. First and foremost, Grossman is noted for being a rather patient hitter who has never walked less than 11% of the time in any minor league stop. In recent seasons, Grossman had cut down on his strikeouts to become a fair contact hitter but struggled a bit more with the Astros Double-A and Triple-A farm teams in that department. Grossman has never developed the power expected of him but is a gap hitter with single-digits home run power and slightly above average speed. The Astros could do worse for a leadoff hitter, but it should be noted that despite Grossman’s on-base and contact-making skills and tools, the results have never led to great batting average results and it is possible the switch-hitter could be overmatched/overexposed through regular play at the MLB level.
Brandon Barnes was also a 6th round pick, but in 2005. Now 26 years of age (and soon to be 27), Barnes made the Astros roster with the idea of being a fifth outfielder. The righty is not expected to hold down any starting time long-term and most likely will see platoon duty with Rick Ankiel. Barnes has single-digit to low-teens pop and is capable of stealing the occasional base but otherwise has no outstanding tools or skills. Throughout his career, he’s been too aggressive at the plate and strikes out far too often for someone with limited power. Pass.
Moving to San Diego, the Padres recalled starter Robbie Erlin to serve as a long man in their pen. While the lefty may not have much fantasy value now, his call-up is certainly an opportunity for keeper and dynasty leaguers to grab and then stash him. The 22-year-old is off to a rough start in 2013 but is generally known for his above average command and control and three plus pitches. He profiles well as a number three starter long-term, particularly as long as he remains in the safe confines of Petco.
Avisail Garcia may be another player to target or stash. The Detroit outfielder is on a rehab assignment but it is unclear as to whether he’ll be sent to Triple-A or stick for some time in the Majors once that assignment is finished. Garcia is a big dude with 20+ HR potential and average to slightly above average speed. The 21-year-old has been making some strides in cutting down on strikeouts but remains a rather aggressive right-handed hitter, which leaves me somewhat skeptical of his ability to stick in the Majors as an everyday outfielder. Given his age, there is plenty of time for improvement.
The Orioles have opted to send down Jake Arrieta and have brought up former top prospect Zach Britton. The 25-year-old dominated in the Minors only to first struggle with missing bats in the Majors and then struggle with his control in 2012, though much of that may have been due to injury issues. In Britton’s first three minor league starts, he has a 1.98 ERA but has also walked seven while striking out five in 13.2 innings. Not exactly a ringing endorsement to grab the lefty, but given his past, Britton is worth watching in AL-only leagues just in case. Britton may be up short-term as a long reliever but could also replace Jake Arrieta in the rotation.
The Gimp Guide
Ted Lilly returned not a moment too soon after the Dodgers lost Zack Greinke until at least late June and Chad Billingsley for the season. Lilly is returning from “minor” arthroscopic surgery on his pitching shoulder. The left-hander has never relied on velocity to generate strikeouts but on the quality of his secondary stuff. In his first start back, he looked to be vintage Lilly, throwing around 86 to 87 mph on his fastball. Lilly of course cannot be counted on to stay healthy. The last time he threw over 200 innings, a feat he has only accomplished twice over his career, was 2008.
Speaking of good strikeout lefties who don’t throw hard, the Dodgers should also be getting Chris Capuano back from the disabled list. Capuano has been on a three-year career renaissance and is coming off a sub 4.00 ERA season and back-to-back 30+ start seasons. Capuano is returning from a calf injury, so in theory the injury should not create any long-lasting effects. Amazing how the Dodgers are able to sustain two significant losses and deal Aaron Harang and still maintain a rotation most teams envy. A good lesson in never having too much of a good thing!
Continuing our theme of veteran starters, John Lackey is on track to return from a rehab assignment on Sunday and take back his rotation spot. The righty looked the best he had in some time in the early goings of his 2013 debut before suffering a biceps strain which is not feared to cause any lasting harm. Just keep in mind that Lackey has not topped 200 innings since 2010 and that was an outlier, with 2005 through 2007 being the last time he has had back-to-back or more 200-plus inning seasons. On the positive side, Lackey was throwing 92 in his first start and throwing strikes, two things he had not done in quite some time.
Friday, 19 April 2013 00:00
As a fantasy baseball analyst, I have written about the importance of patience and of sample sizes. Well, unfortunately, at the major league level, baseball managers and general managers do not always have the luxury of patience. In fact, it is fairly astonishing the number of decisions that get made upon small samples and “what have you done for me lately.” This often is the case with closers but is often the case with youngsters, especially when they have options remaining.
One of our first casualties of the year was Brett Wallace, who got sent out to the Minors by the Astros, a team that is not ready to contend, but does regardless have to compete in 162 games. To be fair, Wallace has yet to ever really adjust to the Majors or really ever shown the plate discipline for which he was drafted. Instead, Wallace has proved to be an aggressive hitter who strikes out more than a quarter of the time and at going on 27 years of age, has not shown the skills growth to justify continuing to play him at the MLB level, especially when the former first pound pick has been absolutely flailing at the plate (65% strikeout rate is not a typo) this year. Wallace still has 20-plus home run per season power, but his role will likely be limited to minor league roster filler/right-handed platoon player.
It was no secret heading into the season that whatever the Astros did to start the year at first base, the idea was to figure out how to best manage a stop-gap situation while they waited for Jonathan Singleton to return from his drug (marijuana) suspension and push his way into the starting job. With Wallace out, Carlos Pena will see most of the action at first. The move gets defensive liability Chris Carter out of the outfield and installed at DH.
Carter was acquired from the A’s during the off season and like Wallace had a fairly high pedigree. Also like Wallace, Carter is a 26-year- old righty with a penchant for strikeouts and limited defensive skills. Carter, at least, does have some OBP skills and is treading water with a .246/.317/.491 slash thus far. However, that .246 is the result of a .333 BABIP from an average at best runner who is striking out over 35% of the time. In other words, the Astros could easily be looking for other options at DH as the season progresses.
Unfortunately for the Astros, this does not end with Wallace and Carter. In fact, I’m sure the Astros are well aware they are taking a dart board approach to their roster in the hopes that a few might actually stick. The question is, does any of the players they are using as darts even really have a chance?
Moving to shortstop, the Astros hoped Tyler Greene would claim the shortstop job but he did not even make it out of spring training and Ronny Cedeno was grabbed at the last second for his defensive skills. Well, Cedeno is already out, so enter Marwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a fairly popular target in this past week’s Tout Wars AL FAAB. Defensively, Gonzalez is adequate to the task and refreshingly we are actually talking about a fairly disciplined hitter who has proven able to make contact on a consistent basis in the Minors and as a backup last year. Over the small sample size of this year, Gonzalez is striking out a quarter of the time, but that figure is well out of context with his career and improvement is expected. Gonzalez, in theory, could hold down the shortstop job, but offensively he is a low-single digits home run hitter and a single digits stolen base guy, so the value here is not in the fantasy game. Even with his contact-making skills, he has at times been overpowered in the Minors, so the question is not contact, but quality contact. Other options include prospect Jonathan Villar, noted for his tools, but struggling mightily in the early goings at Triple-A, and Jake Elmore (good plate discipline, speed, no pop) and perhaps both actually offer some value for fantasy players.
Jason Castro is off to a slow start as well, particularly striking out more than a fifth of the time while walking under 2% of it. Castro is a good defender coming off a productive spring training and has a history of solid plate discipline skills in the Majors and Minors. The issue is health track record and staying on the field. Expect the Astros to stick with him for as long as they can, but do not be surprised if he is demoted given the way he is currently pressing at the plate. Neither Carlos Corporan nor Jason Jaramillo is seen as anything more than back-ups, so Castro really does not have any significant competition.
Third base will see shuffling too. 23-year-old Matt Dominguez may stick for awhile due to his fine defense, but has yet to show much at the plate in the Majors or Minors and combines an aggressive approach with a mediocre power ceiling. The Astros recent call-up of Brandon Laird, a former Yankee prospect, is not a likely solution either as he is an ultra-aggressive right-handed hitter, albeit with good power potential. Both players have serious warts that will likely hinder their ability to lay claim to a starting job long-term.
The Astros difficulties extend throughout their entire outfield with no player excelling or displaying a skill or talent set that is not replaceable. Fernando Martinez has been injured, Justin Maxwell and J.D. Martinez unimpressive, and Rick Ankiel has already been reduced to a platoon role with journeyman Brandon Barnes.
The Astros will serve fantasy owners throughout the year with a stockpile of FAAB candidates to take fliers on. The issue will be that very few, if any, will be worth opening the pocketbook widely to justify aggressive spending.
Rob Leibowitz is a long time member of the fantasy baseball industry and has been a member of Tout Wars since 2001. The Diamond Exchange appears weekly on Friday's. You can follow Rob on Twitter @Rob_Leibowitz.
Friday, 12 April 2013 00:00
Initially, I had it in mind to take a look at Danny Hultzen and Mike Zunino to note the great starts for both, tiny sample size and all, and the pressure on the Mariners to recall them. Brandon Maurer’s rough start to his Major League career and the very slow start for Jesus Montero only exacerbates the situation. Well, the acquisition of Aaron Harang threw a small monkey wrench into those plans.
As of now, Maurer remains in the rotation despite his 0.2 innings pitched, 6 earned run performance earlier this week. While like Maurer’s stuff and his skill potential as a middle of the rotation starter, the two-level jump that Maurer, like many young pitchers have tried before him, does not appear to be working.
Originally I believed Hultzen would replace Maurer should he be demoted. In 11 innings, Hultzen has already struck out 14 while walking just three batters.Instead, the Harang acquisition gives the Mariner’s a chance to remain competitive and to provide a stop gap for their younger pitchers while they get some much needed Triple-A experience.
However, Harang is far from reliable. Once upon a time, Harang was considered one of the more dominant and reliable starters in the National League, but that was circa 2004-2007. While the righty showed similar skills in 2008 and 2009, the innings he had racked up earlier in the decade started to take their toll. In fact, 2012 was the first time Harang eclipsed 30 starts since 2007. Additionally some notable trends are apparent with Harang’s strikeout rates fading from former glory to a competent, but no longer dominant mid-6’s range. Not surprisingly his velocity has also diminished, now sitting in the upper 80's rather than the previous low 90's. Control is also an issue with Harang’s BB/9 climbing. Last year’s 4.3 BB/9 was the second highest mark of his career. Only his 2002 rookie season was worse. While I believe that Harang’s control may rebound given how out of line it is with the context of the rest of his career, the high strikeout rates appear to be a thing of the past. Harang will be 35 on May 9th and may be capable of eating a few innings for the M’s. As a fly-ball pitcher, working in Safeco may help, but keep in mind the only reason Harang was really able to keep his ERA under 4.00 in 2012 was due to a suppressed .277 BABIP. It is hard to expect that to occur again. Regression is likely.
For now, Harang is not even guaranteed a rotation spot. He’ll work out of the bullpen and have to show he is ready before stepping in, but in all likelihood will garner a few starts to show if he has anything left. American League only owners with shallow free agent pools may be tempted to open their wallets a bit here, but caution is probably the recommended play and sub $20 bid is warranted. Anything more is a risk unless he begins in the bullpen and demonstrates a reversal in his trending high walk rate.
As for Zunino and Montero, one has to expect the Mariners will try to stick with Montero as long as they can. While his 2012 numbers were not earth shattering, one has to keep the perspective that as a 22-year old, the righty held his own in the Majors, showing a reasonable ability to make contact and maturity in his power game with 15 homers in a pitcher’s park. While Zunino is considered the better all-around catcher and is the Mariners' guy long-term behind the plate, his opening week .3854 .414 1.038 SLG and 4 homer performance mus be tempered by a very aggressive, though somewhat out of characteristic approach which will not translate well to the Majors. For now, Montero owners need to simply be patient while Zunino owners should be mindful of the current aggressiveness and hope that as time progresses Zunino’s displays a more disciplined approach.
The Mariners appear to be quite serious about competing this year and have purposefully gone about adding veterans like Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, etc to support their younger players. While the Mariners are not shy in promoting prospects, they don't appear to be in a rush to do so exemplified by allowing pitchers Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton along with shortstop Nick Franklin to continue to hone heir skills on the farm. Expect the Mariner’s to continue to be quite active in the trade market this season.
The Gimp Guide
Looking at a few key injuries of note:
Jered Weaver fractured his non-pitching elbow. While this is certainly quite frustrating and could cause Weaver to miss half a dozen or more starts, as a non-pitching arm injury, it’s possible he can could jump right back into things no worse for wear. Garrett Richards is the rotation replacement. The 24-year old is still transitioning from thrower to pitcher and had won a bullpen spot out of spring training with the Angels. The righty is a four pitch pitcher, but is predominately a hard-throwing fastball/slider type who might be better off in relief in the long run.
Those hoping for Jeff Niemann to push his way back into the Ray’s rotation will have to look elsewhere for help. The righty injured his shoulder and is done for the season. His injury may create opportunities for Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi as the season progresses.
Freddie Freeman will miss the next two to three weeks with a strained oblique. The injury has created an opportunity for C/1B Evan Gattis who hit 18 homers in the minors in 2012 and already has three in 25 MLB plate appearances in 2013. Gattis has shown fairly solid patience and good contact skills in the minors, but lacks any Triple-A experience and it remains to be seen how they will translate to the Majors.
Friday, 05 April 2013 00:00
It just was not meant to last. The Tigers thought they could simply hand their closer’s job to rookie Bruce Rondon. Instead, Rondon had command and control issues and ultimately did not even make the team. Much ado was made of the Tigers utilizing a bullpen by committee with no set closer, but overall such a technique looked to only stretch the bullpen thin over the course of the season. Now Jose Valverde is back in the fold and when ready, after some belated spring training work, will slot in again atop the bullpen with the rest of the relief staff sliding into specialist roles. Darin Downs is likely to be the roster cut when Valverde returns while Drew Smyly will probably slot into that long relief role.
Valverde, 35, is coming off a 71 games pitched season in which the righty compiled 35 saves. While one can expect to spend in excess of $30 in FAAB in most leagues, if not $50 in redraft leagues, fantasy leaguers should note that Valverde has been amidst a seven-year decline in strikeout rates that endured a two-plus point drop from 8.6 to 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 2012. At least over the past three seasons, Valverde has had a similar improvement in the strike-throwing department, posting a 3.5 BB/9 last year. Valverde now averages around 93 mph on his fastball and has utilized his fastball around the 80% mark each of the past two seasons along with a split finger fastball. There may be enough left in the tank to stick as the Tigers' closer but there are some clear warning signs that Papa Grande is certainly closer to the end of his career than the peak of it.
The Gimp Guide
Stephen Drew (Red Sox), Cody Ross (Diamondbacks), Brandon Inge (Pirates) and David Freese (Cardinals) have all been sent on rehab assignments by their respective clubs.
Inge actually has a stress fracture in his right shoulder blade, but the injury will not result in needing surgery or limiting his play. The Pirates will utilize the former Tiger as a backup infielder and unless there are injuries, he is not expected to see significant playing time.
Stephen Drew is trying to return from a concussion and is currently on the 7-day DL, meaning he could be back as the starting shortstop as soon as early next week.
Cody Ross has been dealing with a strain to his left calf for much of the spring, but like Drew could be back now as early as next Monday, pushing Gerardo Parra and/or A.J. Pollock back to the bench. Despite Parra having an experience leg up on Pollock, Pollock is the superior centerfielder and could end up with most of the playing time as a result.
Following a familiar theme, David Freese is eyeing a return of next Monday to reclaim his starting third base job. Matt Carpenter saw time at second base this spring and could push Daniel Descalso for starting time when Freese returns.
The Reds suffered a significant opening day injury when Ryan Ludwick tore cartilage in his right shoulder which required surgery to correct and could keep him out as late as the All-Star break. Even when back from the injury, its lingering effects could significantly impact his power for the rest of the season. In the meanwhile, Chris Heisey is receiving first crack at the left field job and Derrick Robinson had his contract selected from Triple-A to serve as outfield depth.
Heisey has not been able to replicate his minor league success to date. The righty’s once vaunted plate discipline and contact making abilities have long since evaporated. He now profiles best as a fourth outfielder, albeit one with mid to high-teens HR potential, but offers little in the batting average, speed, or OBP departments. Derrick Robinson is a 25-year-old switch-hitting outfielder with above average speed. A former Royal, Robinson lacks power of any note but has shown modest patience and contact-hitting abilities in the high Minors. He may be useful in NL-only leagues as a source of cheap speed as he profiles best as a fifth outfielder/pinch-runner or Triple-A roster depth. I suspect Robinson would be overmatched as a hitter at the MLB level if used as a starter.
For those looking for Billy Hamilton, the Reds are in no rush to promote the speedster just yet after a lackluster spring training. Still, Ludwick’s injury and uncertain full recovery time can only enhance the likelihood the 22-year-old gets recalled sooner than later.
Sticking with the NL Central, the Cubs have injuries of their own after losing starting second baseman Darwin Barney to the 15-day DL. Barney’s injury is not serious (cut to his knee that required stitches) and he is expected to return as soon as eligible. In the meantime, former White Sox and Brave Brent Lillbridge will be seeing the bulk of the action at second base.
Call it a Comeback
The Indians selected the contract of former Met, Devil Ray, and Angel Scott Kazmir to serve as their fifth starter. The lefty is still just 29 years of age and last saw significant MLB action in 2010 when he threw 150 innings. This spring, Kazmir threw 13 innings and struck out a batter per inning while walking just one, plus his velocity returned consistently to the low-nineties. The separation between strikeouts and walks, extremely small sample size notwithstanding, is quite encouraging. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Kazmir has already landed on the 15-day DL due to a rib cage strain, but the good news is that the injury is not considered serious. He will probably miss a few starts though. Still, Kazmir is someone worth keeping an eye on, especially in AL-only leagues.
Wednesday, 27 March 2013 16:15
This past weekend I had the honor of once again participating in Tout Wars. This is my 13th year in the league, my third in the American League.
Before I get to my draft strategy and how it all worked out, I want to highlight one draft logistics change that I believe will enhance your auctions too.
Rather than utilize a projector and have a person dedicated to entering rosters just for the draft room, the league utilized a Google Drive spreadsheet to track the auction. This way, anyone with a laptop, whether they were directly involved with the auction or merely spectating, could watch the proceedings in real time.
As a participant, this was a great resource as it removed any need to track rosters or budgets. Instead, I was able to just focus on my own budget, categorical needs, and watch the max bids and needs of other teams. The whole process went so well that the very next day in my local AL only keeper league (The Gotham Baseball Club), where we were already keeping some items tracked via Google Drive, we got a volunteer amongst the owners to track the auction. It was such a success that we will be amending our constitution for 2014 to include a clause that requires the last place to team to handle the spreadsheet.
Looking over the draft pool, the pitching pool in particular, I became increasingly comfortable with the tier of pitchers at the under $10 price point and the amount of talent and upside in that crop as well as those in the middle teens. With that in mind, I opted for a $200/$60 hitting/pitching split to focus on hitting and to take some chances in the pitching department with about $18 in reserve to roster a single closer.
Well, I hit my target overall budget almost exactly with a $201/$59 split as I could not let Nelson Cruz go to for $15 and spent my last hitting dollar on him for a price of $16. While I hit my pitching budget, the spread amongst the pitchers was a bit different than I had originally allocated it. I typically focus on drafting a fairly boring veteran offense, but took more risks than usual as I ended up with a few youngsters without full MLB seasons under their belts. I’m comfortable with this as Tout Wars is a low-trading league and it is usually the teams that took a few chances that get that little something extra that puts them over the top.
C: A.J. Pierzynski $15, Jason Castro $7I actually had originally slotted a few more dollars to both catching slots, thinking I might go $15 to $16 on both of my catchers, but when Salvador Perez went for $19, I targeted Pierzynski and was happy to obtain an upside player like Jason Castro at $7.
1B: Paul Konerko $24First base is quite thin this year so I targeted the first basemen in the $20 to $30 range and hoped to avoid bidding wars like the one that occurred for Billy Butler. Konerko was my main target.
2B: Omar Infante - $12 I had originally budgeted into the low to mid twenties at 2B, but watched Jason Kipnis, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, and Ben Zobrist go above where I had them, so shifted my budget to $12. I had Infante at $13 to $15.
3B: Will Middlebrooks - $19. This may have been a bit of reach at $19, but was pushed on given the lack of depth and upside at the position.SS: Jose Reyes - $31I had originally slotted about $30 for one of my outfield slots, but opted for Reyes as speed source after letting Jacoby Ellsbury go.
CI: Lance Berkman - $11Still has the skills and new the bidding would be timid due to age and coming off an injury. Given a DH role and playing Texas, $11 is a reasonable amount to take a chance on him.
MI: Xander Bogaerts - $2 – My last hitter in dollar days and I why I my budget went to $201/$59 in conjunction with pushing $16 on Nelson Cruz (I had originally had a more even split of money remaining between my last two hitting spots) as I wanted to be sure I didn’t just draft Brendan Ryan, but actually acquire someone with some upside as a mid-season call-up. Nominated him at $2 and possibly would have been outbid had I nominated him at $1.
OF: Alex Rios - $23Had a $23 slotted in an OF slot and was looking for a speed/power mix. Now crossing fingers on Rios’ odd/even year tendencies.
OF: David Murphy - $13One of my budget slots was for about $15 with Murphy in mind at that price level. I’ll take him at $13 given the ability to hit for average and some ability in the power/speed departments.
OF: Leonys Martin - $9 Quasi-price enforcing here, but looking for fifth outfielder/utility spot guys with upside and had Martin at more than $10, though of course there is quite a bit of risk in that projection.
OF: Aaron Hicks - $6Ditto. Again, upside with a value and the ability to return into the teens or more. The bidding simply stopped at $6. I happy to have him as an end-game type player.
SW/UT Josh Reddick $13 and Nelson Cruz $16 - Focused on adding more power to my team, so nominated Reddick with the intention of buying him and did so at a discount with having him valued at around $16. Cruz came out next and given how the whole tone of the auction was with teams running out of money and him valued at about $20, I opted to go for the additional power and let my middle infield budget drop to a $1, which I upped to $2 by borrowing from my pitching to get Bogaerts. In reality, I’ll be switching these two guys into my OF with Hicks and Martin as my swing and utility guys.
Relievers - Addison Reed $14, Matt Thornton $2I originally had slated $18 for a closer, but landed Reed at $14 and decided to back him up with a $2 Thornton.
Starters – James Shields $18, Matt Harrison $11, Clay Buchholz $8, Colby Lewis $2, Joe Blanton $1, John Lackey $1, Trevor Bauer $2I went a little astray as I price enforced and landed Shields who I had valued at a about $20. I was comfortable with this, but it shifted my focus as that $18 could have been a possible second closer or could have been 3 or so sub-$10 pitchers with upside. Buchholz was one of my sub $10 targets as was Bauer and added Harrison for possible help with stability. As I was focused on adding innings, I focused on adding more starters like Lewis (due back in May), Lackey who has shown some possible signs of life, and Blanton.
Reserves - Michael Pineda, Conor Gillaspie, Cody Allen, Scott DiamondAdded Pineda and Diamond for additional bodies to shuffle into my rotation. Allen is a good young reliever with upside who can replace either Bauer or Lewis immediately. I’ll have to add a MI and another pitcher in the first week’s FAAB, but our unlimited DL will allow me to stash Pineda, Diamond, and Lewis for later use. I like Gillaspie as a darkhorse to take over 3B from Jeff Keppinger.
Conclusions - Overall I hit my offensive and pitching targets pretty well, though I did take a few more risks than usual and that could come back to haunt me. On the pitching side, while my staff actually has more “stability” up top with Shields, Harrison, and Buchholz, I didn’t reserve enough dollars to take chances on the $4 to $8 pitching range that may have better filled out my staff. Also, I should have saved my $2 bid for Lucas Harrell rather than the injured Colby Lewis. The idea though behind my pitching strategy is to change starters out at a fairly constant basis, so I am already prepared to replace potential failures there anyway, so it will not require any in-season strategy changes on my part.
Thursday, 03 January 2013 09:44
At 29 years of age, 1268.2 innings thrown and 204 starts, Edwin Jackson is already with his ninth organization. It is quite possible that he could top Mike Morgan, who holds the record for most teams pitched for with 12 (Kenny Lofton holds the overall record with 13). This four-year deal will keep him in Chicago, barring trades, through age 33, meaning the odds of breaking that record are actually pretty good.
Jackson has several strengths. First off, the righty is durable. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2007, he has made no fewer than 31 starts and thrown no fewer than 161 innings. On the other hand, Jackson has not topped 200 innings since 2010, though in two of those years we are talking about a start or two shy in his most recent years.
Jackson has become a more complete pitcher over the years, showing far better command than in his early days, and has posted a sub 3.0 BB/9 in three of the past four seasons and has not gone over 3.5 since 2008. The former Dodger's strikeout rates have remained solid, fluctuating between 6+ to nearly 8.0 K/9. 2012 was actually a career high.
Despite these skills and an arm blessed with at least two plus pitches, Jackson still owns a career 4.40 ERA. Last season, despite having a career year in the strikeout and walk rate departments, he still posted 4.03 ERA. This was due in part to a career high HR/FB rate, which speaks to command issues within the zone. While this factor is likely to regress, it needs to also be noted that Jackson produced one of the lowest batting average on balls in play (.278) of his career, and as a predominately ground ball pitcher, is likely to see some regression in that area too.
So what does this mean? Well, while Jackson is capable of producing a sub-4.00 ERA as he has accomplished in the past, an ERA in the high 3’s to low 4’s is a more realistic expectation.
From a rotation as a whole perspective, the Cubs now feature Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Jackson, Scott Feldman, and possibly Carlos Villanueva. Travis Wood could challenge for a spot as well as Scott Baker when he is ready to return after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Perchance to Start
Brett Myers has moved between roles effectively multiple times over an eleven-year career. On two separate occasions the righty has gone from almost 200 innings of work to 65 to 70 inning seasons in relief and back to a 190 or more inning season with success. At 32 years of age, this will be Myers' third attempt. 2013, however, will be Myers' second season in the American League and first in a starting capacity.
Given the former Phillies’ proven durability and role flexibility, it is difficult to nay say his ability to once again reach the 200+ innings, 30+ start plateaus. From a skills standpoint, Myers has become a better strike thrower with age with four straight seasons of improving walk rates. However, that has been coupled with three straight seasons of declining strikeout rates. Myers' 5.7 K/9 as a reliever last season was a particular surprise. As a short-reliever, one would’ve thought the trend would have reversed itself given an opportunity to max out his stuff over a single inning. It is even more surprising considering the trend was indeed reversed in the velocity department with Myers’ pitches gaining over 3 mph from the previous season.
Going forward, it is hard to see a bright future for Myers. If he remains in the rotation, he could very well eat 200 innings and make 30 or more starts. However, it is clear he is more of a mid-to-high eighties pitcher when used as a starter and has long had an acute case of gopheritis. Even though his new park in Cleveland is considered to be more pitcher-friendly than Chicago, it is hard to expect a sub-4.00 (let alone a sub 4.50) ERA from Myers in 2013.
Roster wise, the move places Myers as the #3 or #4 starter alongside Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, and Zach McAllister. The fifth spot will mainly be a competition between Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Corey Kluber.
Is There Anything Left in the Tank?
The Royals signed a pair of veterans to minor league contracts. Endy Chavez will compete for a back-up outfield spot. Miguel Tejada will compete for a back-up infield position. Neither of these players will get much opportunity to play unless there is an injury or profound ineffectiveness on the part of one of the Royals’ youngsters. Tejada, 38, saw only minor league action last season. The righty continues to show an ability to make contact and potentially has the ability to hit for average, but his power has dwindled away over the years. In 2011 with the Giants, he managed just four homers in 343 plate appearances or a 4.4% HR/FB compared to his career 12.2 mark. Like Tejada, Chavez also played for the Orioles in 2012, but received 169 MLB plate appearances. He hit just .203 while struggling with a hamstring strain. The nearly 35-year-old will figure as a fourth or fifth outfielder, seeing occasional starts against right-handers, but his days of being a somewhat valuable outfielder in deep leagues are now well behind him.
Wednesday, 26 December 2012 16:55
In one of the worst kept secrets of the past week, the Red Sox and Pirates finally came to an agreement that ships closer Joel Hanrahan to the American League along with minor leaguer Brock Holt. In return the Pirates received Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel, Ivan De Jesus, and Jerry Sands.
So in Beantown, the closer situation has become a bit more fluid with Andrew Bailey as a closer candidate as well as Hanrahan coming off two 35+ save seasons. Given that Bailey is coming off an injury plagued season, Hanrahan likely has a leg up on the competition. Hanrahan, however, does own a fairly colorful history in the command and control department including a 5.4 BB/9 performance in 2012. However, he does at least miss bats at a high rate (10.1 K/9) and throws a good mid-nineties fastball/slider combo. When healthy, Bailey induces the use of fewer Rolaids given a good history of command control (2.7 BB/9) for his career, but is not quite (though still solid) the bat-misser, Hanrahan is. Both pitchers, health willing, are capable of holding onto the job. Given, however, both pitchers shortcomings, it seems to make it almost imperative that someone wishing to own one of the two makes sure buy the other as a handcuff.
The Pirates closer role will now fall first to Jason Grilli. The former Giants’ first round pick has only gotten better with age. Now 36, Grilli established career highs in strikeouts with a 13.8 K/9 while showing some of the best control of his career (3.4 BB/9). Grilli, however, owns just 5 career saves and his 58.2 innings in 2012 was by far the most he’s pitched in a season since 2008 (75). Given the righty’s history, a high bid cannot be justifified.
Mark Melancon was supposed to have been a setup man and possible closer candidate for the Red Sox last year and ended up needing to go to Triple-A to get his game back together. There is room for optimism here despite a 6.20 ERA. Melancon managed an 8.2 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. His issues early on were due to command and resulted in a 22% HR/FB rate which knocked this dominant groundball pitcher’s numbers get rather out of whack. The soon to be 28-year old is likely to be an inexpensive end-game option, yet one who could end up being quite valuable.
The prospects involved in the deal are on the marginal side. Brock Holt is a left-handed hitting second basemen who earned a call-up to the Pirates in 2012. The lefty profiles best as Triple-A roster filler or a utility man who can make consistent contact, play adequate defense, and provide some gap power.
Ivan De Jesus was once considered the Dodgers shortstop of the future. However, like Holt, he is now seen as more of a utility player who could perhaps hit for average, but does bring much of anything to the table in terms of the power and speed department.
Jerry Sands is listed as an outfielder but is more ideally used as a first basemen or DH. The righty has legitimate 20-plus, if not 25-plus homerun power potential, a patient bat, and makes contact around 80% of the time. However, the Pirates appear to have all of the positions he plays locked up at the moment and it appears most likely that Sands will spend most of 2013 in Triple-A. Given more interleague interactions, it’s possible that Sands could see action in AL parks.
Stolmy Pimentel may be the key of the deal. He’s a big right-hander with an at times overpowering fastball, but the consistency of his secondary pitches have been the question mark. Since his pro debut in 2008, Pimentel’s K/9 has dipped and only saw an uptick this year to 6.7. I suspect if he makes the Majors, it will be as a reliever, but given that he is still only 22 and has no Triple-A experience, there is still some time on his side to get things together.
The Indians signed Nick Swisher to a four-year deal with a vesting option for a fifth. So, in theory, this deal should be the last multi-year contract of Swisher’s career, unless a team is willing to sign him to a multi-year contract when he is 37.
2005 was the former first round picks first full season in the Majors. He truly became an everyday player in 2006 after the A’s and since then the lefty has received no fewer than 588 plate appearances (2008) or played in fewer than 148 games. Swisher has also hit no fewer than 22 HRs since 2006 and his plate discipline numbers have fluctuated only nominally over that time with a career marks of 79% contact rates and 13% walk rates that remain very reasonable base lines going forward.
Swisher's yearly batting average on balls in play has fluctuated wildly, rendering a batting average that swings from .219 to .288 without a significant change in skill set. So that really is the only warning when considering Swisher as an option, keep your expectations on the .250 or so side of things and hope for more. The focus for his purchase should instead be on the consistent power skills and looking for help in the batting average department elsewhere.
Ross to Arizona
The Diamondbacks wanted a right-handed hitter with legitimate 20+ homerun power. Ross provides that and an aggressive approach that includes a mediocre ability to get on base (.324 life time OBP) and strikeout rate outs around a fifth to a quarter of the time. At first glance, a three-year deal for a mediocre 32-year old is a bit of a head scratcher, particularly when you consider a .253 .312 .415 slash against righties. Against lefties, however, Ross is a force with a .284 .353. .557 line. The former Tiger’s skills are equally more impressive against lefties, showing solid plate discipline numbers and an ability to make contact over 80% of the time.
The move has Ross tentatively in CF alongside Jason Kubel and Justin Upton, but given the presence of Adam Eaton, Gerardo Parra and don't forget A.J. Pollock, it’s more likely the Diamondbacks will ship Kubel, his contract, and his DH-worthy defense out of town. As long as Ross continues to play every day, the righty will be overexposed and will not help quite as much in the batting average department. He’s much more valuable for those who can make matchup based daily lineup changes.
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 23:16
The Blue Jays off-season has been inspiring. Their moves are typically reserved for fantasy league when someone goes all in. The Jays' appear to have timed this move well with no other teams in the AL East aggressively improving. Most are retooling or sticking mostly with their rosters as is. Armed with a deep rotation and improved offense, it puts the Jays in position to win the division and more.
As for the most recent deal, R.A. Dickey adds another durable inning eater who is coming off of three consecutive seasons of displaying above average command and control of his knuckleball. The 2013 projection we have him for him with an ERA climbing back into the mid 3’s seems appropriate as regression in the strikeout department (8+ K/9 is a career high out of line with the context of his career) and a 80% left-on-base rate is simply unlikely to be sustained. Josh Thole will continue as Dickey’s personal catcher. The 26-year old is a platoon player with little pop. The lefties’ 2011 performance should be seen as his ceiling.
As for the Mets, one has to admire Sandy Alderson’s tenacity and patience to hold out for potential impact players whenever he deals a high profile veteran. The move makes sense for the Mets . Yes they lose an ace who was only slated to make $5 Million in 2013, but this is not a roster designed to compete with the Nationals, Braves, or Phillies. So, selling high on Dickey makes sense.
Travis D’Arnaud is recognized as the top catching prospect in the minors right now. The righty gets good reviews for his bat speed, power potential (20-25 HR per season), defense, and makeup. However, it will be interesting to see how D’Arnaud compares to the other catcher acquired by the Mets – John Buck. Buck was a highly regarded defensive catcher when he came up with 20+ HR potential. Unfortunately, Buck has been an inconsistent and overly aggressive hitter who regularly strikes out a fifth to a quarter of the time and owns a career .235 .303 .405 line. D’Arnaud strikes out right around that one-fifth mark and is a rather aggressive hitter too. While the nearly 24-year old has a short swing, it needs to be noted that he is a catcher (read: slow!) and that a realistic expectation should be for a .260 to .280 batting average line from him with a downside that he could indeed end up the next John Buck.
To provide some further grounding, It is worth noting that the player D’Arnaud, as the best hitting catcher the Mets will have in quite awhile, will draw comparisons to (and unfairly at that), is Mike Piazza. Piazza, however, was not just a power hitter, but a highly disciplined hitter who made contact over 85% of the time and it was that combination of abilities, not to mention 30-40 per season HR power, that allowed him to be a career .308 hitter. D’Arnaud may have hit over .300 in ultra-hitter friendly Las Vegas, but he has yet to show that kind of contact-making ability yet at the upper levels of the minors, let alone the Majors. Time will tell to see how much of an impact player D’Arnaud can actually be. Regardless, D’Arnaud will likely begin 2013 in Triple-A to work out the rust after coming back from injury, but could be up to stay in the Majors well before the All-Star break.
Noah Syndergaard also has high-impact potential for the Mets. The barely 20-year old hurler threw 103 innings in full-season ball where he showed a good feel for throwing strikes, a plus fastball, a curve and changeup with plus potential, and good mechanics. The righty could be the better of the two prospects, but at his age will need to prove to be durable and effective at the higher levels of the minors yet. Syndergaard will advance to A+ ball in 2013 and if all goes well, should arrive in the Majors in late 2015 or mid-2016 on a one-level at a time approach.
Wuilmer Becerra was the remaining prospect received by the Mets. The 17-year old has just 32 at-bats of professional experience and has some hit tools and power potential and was a highly regarded International Signing by the Jays. Right now it is too early to tell what exactly the Mets have in him.
As a result of the deal, the Mets will feature a rotation of Johan Santana, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Matt Harvey with Collin McHugh probably being the best current in-house option available. Jenrry Mejia, Chris Schwinden, and others will compete too. The Mets have not be reluctant to try veterans coming back from injuries (Chris Young, Chris Capuano, etc) in the recent past and it would not be surprising to see them go that route again too.
The Mets made another deal on Tuesday sending former top International signee Jefry Marte to the A’s for Collin Cowgill. Marte is a 21-year old third basemen with Double-A experience. The righty makes consistent contact and plays adequate defense, but has no speed or significant power to speak of. Cowgill was a sleeper heading into the 2012 after the A’s acquired him from Arizona in the Trevor Cahill deal. The righty possesses good plate discipline, solid defensive skills, and doubles power. Most likely Cowgill is Triple-A roster filler or a bench player, but a platoon of journeyman minor leaguers in Mike Baxter and Collin Cowgill could actually end up being quite solid, if given the opportunity.
Trading Cowgill was not the only move for the A’s. They signed Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to a two-year deal. The 30-year old is a career .302 hitter who makes consistent contact, but with gap power and a little speed. Nakajima is not a high-ceiling player and is more of an end-game flier on the hope he gets plenty of at-bats and helps in the batting average department.
Tuesday, 11 December 2012 23:33
The Winter Meetings just aren’t the same anymore. Nothing happens. The blockbusters occur after all that discussion with two massive deals in three days time.
As we all know, Dayton Moore has been taking a lot of heat for his push to make the Royals a competitive team in 2013. For someone who has been a fantasy baseball analyst for almost 15 years this drama is pretty irrelevant. I just care about the fallout. How do the acquisitions impact the rosters involved and what can we expect from the players acquired. That’s it.
With that in mind, the Royals now feature a rotation of James Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, and Bruce Chen. Wade Davis may move back from the pen, where he was finally effective, to the rotation. If not, the Royals have last year’s rotation mainstay Luke Hochevar, Will Smith, and hopefully pitchers like Danny Duffy returning mid to late season.
Shields commanded a heavy price due to a reasonable contract that has him potentially under the Royal’s control through 2014. The other factor was of course his durability, a key focus of the Royals this off-season. Shields has made no fewer than 31 starts since his first full season in the Majors (2007) and thrown no fewer than 203.1 innings in that time. Over the past four seasons, Shields’ K/9 has hovered or been above the 8.0 mark while consistently thrfowing strikes and owning a career 2.1 BB/9. The one flaw in the 31-year oldl’s game is the long ball. Despite being primarily a groundball pitcher ,Shields’ HR/FB rates have only once been below 10% (9.8%) in his entire career. This may be the result of throwing so many strikes and trying to be too fine that results in occasional trouble. 201ve2 was a regression year from an suppressed batting average on balls in play in 2011 and is actually a good baseline going forward.
Wade Davis had by far the best season of his career in 2011. In 54 games, the righty posted a 11.1 K/9 and 3.7 BB/ while adding 2 mph to his fastball and 3 to his slider and curve. Davis originally came up with the Rays as a potential top end of the rotation starter, but failed to excite and we have two seasons of 29 starts and mediocre numbers to show it. It is quite within the realm of possibilities that Davis has matured as a pitcher and does not matter what role he is given. On the otherhand, like many pitchers, the move to the bullpen may simply be where he should stay – a place where he can just air it out over short stretches.
The Ray’s Haul
Todd and I discussed Wil Myers briefly Monday morning and looking over Baseball America’s player of the year, we both came away somewhat underwhelmed. Why? Yes, Myers has excellent and legitimate 20+, if not 30+ long-term homerun per season power. Yes, Myers is also a fairly patient hitter who walks about 10% of the time. However, Myers is also a former catcher, not a fast runner, subpar on defense, and is a right-handed hitter who strikes out more than 20% of the time. His .304 and .351 batting averages of 2012 were the result of .349 and .425 batting averages on balls on play. When looking more closely, Myers’ line-drive numbers over his career are also below the 20% rate. In other words, Myers does not scream .300 hitter at the MLB level. In fact, .260 to .270 feels a lot more appropriate given these skills, speed, and handedness. A good career comparison for Myers may end up being Josh Willingham. Willingham, like Myers, is a former catcher with 30+ HR power and good patience. The right-hander is career .261 hitter with solid career OBP, but more of a player one takes as their second or third outfielder, not their first. If Myers becomes the next Josh Willingham, I suspect the Rays will be quite happy indeed, but I do not think he is the potential superstar some have in mind. Expect him to be given the RF job as his to lose this spring.
I’ve discussed Jake Odorizzi on multiple other occasions. The righty had been pushed out of the Royal’s 2013 rotation plans already as a result of the Santana and Guthrie acquisitions and is still on the bubble given the Ray’s still deep rotation and may be behind Chris Archer on the pecking order should rotation spots open up. The 22-year old is a good strike thrower with a solid 4-pitcher repertoire that gives him middle of the rotation potential. Mike Montgomery, the Royal’s best farm pitcher headed into 2012 has fallen off the charts, not due to a lack of stuff, but inability to command his plus fastball/changeup combination. A move to a relief role may in the cards and could do for Montgomery what it did for Wade Davis.
Finally, Patrick Leonard will be slotting into A or A+ ball for the Rays in 2013. The righty is a solid defender at third with impressive power and plate discipline for someone who only turned 20 after the season was finished. Leonard has an interesting ceiling, but is a long ways away from the Majors.
Tomorrow, a full breakdown of the Indians/Reds/Diamondbacks deal and a look back at some other recent transactions!