Archive for May, 2009

Wednesday: 05.20.2009

Ugh!

I busted my butt to get the podcast done tonight and try to get to bed at a reasonable hour since Wednesday is the day I go to work early because of softball and then the MyPodcast.com software won’t upload my freakin’ podcast. According to the forums, it’s an issue everyone is running into and some have in the past. Needless to say, I’m VERY frustrated. Any suggestions for another free podcasting site?

Tuesday: 05.19.2009

Around the Diamond – 5.19.09

Around the Diamond – May 19th
FIRST BASE
Mike Jacobs hit his 9th home run tonight putting him on pace for 40, which would set another career high after his 32 last year. Even more impressive is his increased patience as he is on pace to garner 53 walks, up from his 36 last year. The downside is that he already has 38 strikeouts this year putting him on pace for 168, which would destroy his career-high of 119. He is essentially Adam Dunn-lite which was a nice addition to a team ranked 25th in OPS last year. The Royals are now 18th in OPS despite Alex Gordon having played just 7 games and David DeJesus toting a sub-.700 OPS.

SECOND BASE
What’s wrong with Dan Uggla? He his below the Mendoza Line at .192 with just 4 home runs, but he has 20 walks putting him on pace for a career high of 88. He has also cut down his strikeouts giving him a pace that is 30 fewer than 2008. Perhaps this improved plate discipline could be offering a chance to buy low on Uggla and get the upshot of his progression to the mean. He has averaged 30 HR/yr in his 3 seasons leaving a potential for 26 more on the table in 2009.

SHORTSTOP
Jose Reyes left New York’s May 15th game with a stiff calf after just one AB. He sat out over the weekend and then again Monday, but returned tonight going 0-for-3 with one strikeout. Reyes owners breathed a collective sigh of relief as their first round cornerstone returned to action.

THIRD BASE
In my 10-team AL-Only league that allows 2-keepers per year, I was left to make a decision between these three players: Mark Teixeira, BJ Upton and Alex Rodriguez. I decided that I didn’t want an empty spot for what would was guaranteed to be at least a month and half and maybe even more, so I chose Teix and Upton. Part of my error was buying into the sensationalized stories that ARod could very well miss the entire season. The same panic button mentality hit with the Chase Utley injury, but his came far enough before Spring Training that it didn’t negatively impact his value in the bulk of leagues as most occur in March. I was automatically keeping Teix, so essentially I chose Upton over ARod. Frankly, I’d almost rather have ARod at this point. Neither has a batting average to write home about, but Upton has 100 more at-bats of his trash to weigh my team down. Losing Upton’s 12 stolen bases would definitely hurt, but ARod already has more HR and RBI. By season’s end, I think ARod will be the better rated fantasy player. Or there is always the possibility that I’m just bitter.

CATCHER
Joe Mauer has been amazing with 7th home run of the season better than his halfway to his career high of 13. His power surge hasn’t impacted his ability to deliver a massive batting average, either. And the best part? It all comes from catcher!!

OUTFIELD
Colby Rasmus: this rookie class so far is absolutely nothing to write home about as only three players even qualify for the batting title thus far. St. Louis’ Colby Rasmus knocked his 4th of the season tonight pushing his OPS to .741, but if he continued his ho-hum pace en route to a RoY award, it’d almost be embarrassing in light of the performances that have netted the award in recent history. Geovany Soto, Ryan Braun, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Howard and Jason Bay are the past five winners with Ramirez’s .833 OPS bringing up the rear for the quintet. The door is wide open for a mid-season callup to set the league on fire and grab the award.

One of last year’s rookies, Jay Bruce, has shown some incredible power early on with 12 home runs. He is hitting just .232 making him rather boom or bust. And he doesn’t quite have the discipline to draw enough walks to fill the role of the departed Adam Dunn. Nevertheless, he is definitely delivering on the promise he showed in the minor leagues that led to a #1 overall ranking on many top prospect lists last year. To be doing this well at just 22 years of age portends a very, VERY bright future.

Why not finish up the outfield section with some MORE Adam Dunn talk? Like Bruce, he hit his 12th tonight, but also drew two more walks tying him for the major league lead with Prince Fielder and Marco Scutaro. Yes, Marco Scutaro.

PITCHER
Dontrelle Willis dominated the Texas Rangers for 6+ innings tonight striking out five and walking just two. The Rangers are the 2nd-highest scoring team in the American League with 5.65 runs per game while Willis has been a human hitting machine and notched his first win since September 25th, 2007. I watched his first start last week against Minnesota and it was a little better than the numbers would’ve led anyone to believe, but there is NO WAY I could’ve predicted this kind of performance against an amazing lineup like Texas’. If first year pitching coach Rick Knapp can fix the D-Train and Bonderman comes back strong, the AL Central had better look out.

Lost in the shuffle of the immense suckiness of the Chicago White Sox as a team is Mark Buehrle’s brilliant start. He is a highly underrated, remarkably consistent veteran starting pitcher. Given how riddled with uncertainty the field of speculating starting pitchers is, it’s nice to have someone like Buehrle to rely on year after year. His one blip since 2001 was his follow up to the World Series season in which he pitched 260 innings. If it weren’t for Zack Greinke and Roy Halladay, Buehrle would be atop the ranks for AL pitchers. If he continues to shine like this, he will be headed back to his home state for the All-Star game in July.

And finally, rumors of Trevor Hoffman’s demise were greatly overstated. After “just” 30 saves and a 3.77 ERA last year, Hoffman was written off in terms of elite closers. It was his worst season since 1995. The 41 year old left San Diego for Milwaukee and then started the season on the disabled list adding to the doubt. After Carlos Villanueva bombed in Hoffman’s stead, Hoffman returned with a fury. In his 11 scoreless innings, he has allowed three hits, walked nobody and struckout 9 batters leading to 10 saves.

Monday: 05.18.2009

Around the Diamond

Tomorrow will mark the return of my podcast under a new format that will go “around the diamond” using the positions on a baseball field as the segments to break up the show. While I may cover a few things at some positions depending on how much news there is in a given night, I will do no less than one bit from 1st base, 2nd base, Shortstop, 3rd Base and Catcher; three bit from the Outfield and two-three from the mound generally two about starters and one about a reliever. I had hoped to kick off tonight, but I can barely keep my eyes open after a long day at work so I’m going to post the topics without the accompanying sound tonight:

FIRST BASE
With two more home runs tonight, any chance to buy low on Mark Teixeira has completely vanished. He is hitting .316 since May 4th raising his average 44 points to .239 and he’s hit seven home runs with 18 RBIs in the same span. His OPS is an eye-popping 1.158 thanks to a gaudy .754 SLG. I owned him in four leagues and turned down multiple offers at different points during his slump. Some of the offers were really good, but I just knew he would come out the funk so I passed and it has paid dividends.

SECOND BASE
Over at the Owner’s Edge for fanball.com, I wrote a two-part predictions piece where I made a series of “unconventional” predictions. Essentially, they were supposed to be daring but with some shred of statistical basis. Atop my list for hitters predictions was that Rickie Weeks would hit 20 HRs and nab 30 SBs. And while I’m way off pace as of today thanks to his diminished speed output, my main point for these predictions was to bring the spotlight on to some guys that other fantasy owners could target. So while I wouldn’t have considered the prediction a win, I definitely felt good about pointing out Weeks as a potential breakthrough candidate for 2009… that is until it was announced today that he would be out for the remainder of the season with a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist. He was on pace for .272-39 HR-105 RBI-123 R-9 SB. I’d have settled for 75% of that pace and completely forgiven him for the menial SB output.

As for the Brewers, who knows how they will move forward. Craig Counsell seems to risky as an everyday player having not topped 372 at-bats since 2005. Is Alcides the answer? No, not Escobar-their hot SS prospect. Hernan Alcides Iribarren has hit .314 in 2099 minor league at-bats, but just 14 major league at-bats to his name. No way he can fill the entire void, but quality glove work and a .275 average would be adequate.

SHORTSTOP
With a 3-for-3, 5 RBI performance tonight, Jason Bartlett continued his career year raising his average to .384. More impressive is the massive 1.010 OPS thanks to 16 extra-base hits. With 11 stolen bases, he is already halfway to his 2008 total of 20.

THIRD BASE
I was really impressed with the Adam Dunn signing in Washington this offseason. Not really because they needed an outfielder (of course, they didn’t), but because they had a bunch of quality hitters that fit several different spots in a lineup well except 4th. Absolutely no cleanup hitters in the group which led to the likes of Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge and Dmitri Young manning the role for large segments of last year. I think the notion of protection is definitely overrated by many, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely non-existent. See Ortiz, David post-Manny and Ethier, Andre with Manny. Dunn protects Ryan Zimmerman and the results have been nothing short of amazing. Zimm is hitting .358 so far this season including a 30-game hit streak along with 10 HRs and 31 RBIs. He is on pace to smash his career highs and though his numbers will even out a bit, he is still headed for a banner season.

OUTFIELD
The hard times that have beset Dexter Fowler and the false start to Matt LaPorta‘s major league career will likely bring one of the fantasy baseball world’s biggest flaws: blanket judgments of a player off of small sample sizes. Both prospects rate #1 in their organization according to Baseball HQ’s Minor League Analyst, yet I guarantee you there are throngs of keeper leagues across the nation where their value has shrunk 10-fold since the beginning of the season because they aren’t pulling a Ryan Braun or Evan Longoria. Fowler less so than LaPorta because the 5-stolen base game is a nice landmark that is still fresh in the minds of many. But regardless, neither should have experienced the slightest drop in value thanks to 31 (LaPorta) and 112 (Fowler) at-bats. Keeper league players, test the waters on both and I guarantee the asking price isn’t what it was seven weeks ago.

Speaking of small sample sizes, Nick Swisher was hitting .312 with 7 HR through April 30th. He is now hitting .236 with 8 HRs. He is who we thought he was, well most of us at least. Had I owned him in any league, there is NO chance I’d still own him after that April. He basically had his hot month (June in ’08, May in ’07) in April this season. But he is still the solid power, no average, good OBP guy he’s been FOREVER!

Rick Ankiel could return to the lineup on Wednesday and the Cardinals will welcome him with open arms! In 26 games with him, they average 5.4 runs per game and only 3.7 in the 11 games without him. He has just a .721 OPS with 2 HR so I am not about imply that he was the catalyst driving their offense, but they lost Ryan Ludwick while Ankiel was out and so they need a power bat back in the middle of the lineup to complement Albert Pujols.

CATCHER
A derivation of the phenomenon I discussed earlier is when fantasy baseball players put too much stock into a sample that is counter to a player’s proven record and subsequently over or under value that player severely in the following season. Examples of each in 2009 would be Gavin Floyd and Victor Martinez. Martinez is showing what some, but too few believed to be true: last year was an injury-riddled bust, plain & simple. It was decidedly NOT the beginning of the end as some predicted. A good friend of mine joined my 10-team AL-Only 2-keeper league this offseason and I was having a hard time getting him on the phone to lock in his final keeper with Grady Sizemore. Knowing him rather well and trusting my own instincts, I considered Martinez the no-brainer option.

He objected a bit when he found out saying he might’ve wanted to keep Francisco Liriano or one of the other few worthy options he had on his team. Since it was still a long time until draft day, I offered to let him rollback and get Liriano knowing full well I’d LOVE to get Martinez for myself. He passed and said he’ll see how it goes with Martinez. Needless to say, he is pretty pleased with judgment. Martinez has 3.5x the HR output of 2008 and he is still hitting over .400 thus far. He has been one of the very few bright spots on the lowly Indians thus far. And though there is still PLENTY of time in the season, I’m confident that he is next in the long line of players that proves that you can’t overreact to one aberrational season for better or worse.

PITCHING
The Cardinals are also set to get Chris Carpenter back on Wednesday. At 3-7 in their last 10 and players dropping like flies, getting their ace back along with one of their better power hitters is great news for the Cards who managed not to fall too far behind in the Central despite their bad luck with injuries. Adam Wainwright has been flawed so far this season leaving the rotation without a dominant ace and Carpenter will fulfill that role if healthy.

Wins are a cruel whore. Jorge de la Rosa and Randy Wolf have a combined 2.91 ERA in 99 innings with 91 K and 35 BB yet they’re a combined 2-4 (both wins by Wolf). Bronson Arroyo and Jason Marquis, de la Rosa’s teammate, have a combined 5.16 ERA in 110 innings with 50 K and 37 BB yet they’re a combined 10-6 (5-3 each). Don’t chase wins, they’ll give you chlamydia.

I’ll let you all know when the podcast is back up & running!

Friday: 05.15.2009

K/BB as an ERA Indicator Addendum

Over at Owner’s Edge by Fanball.com, I wrote a piece about strikeout-to-walk ratios and how they relate to a pitcher’s ERA. I looked at the past two seasons to see how strong a correlation there was between K/BB ratio and ERA. If a strong enough relation existed, I wanted to use that information to see which pitchers stood out as buy-low or sell-high targets based on their K/BB and ERA thus far.

I was happy with the results in terms of the players identified, but some of my statistical conclusions left me a little uneasy, so I went back to the drawing board a bit. This time around, I went five years back and grabbed every qualifying ERA. This data set presented 393 samples with ERAs ranging from 2.27 to 6.47 and K/BB ratios from 8.3 to 1.1. I was comfortable with the depth of this set. In the original piece I used a 2.0 K/BB threshold, but given that 2.0 is the baseline that we generally look for in the fantasy baseball world, I thought it was a bit low for the purposes of what I’m looking to get out of the data.

I bumped it up to 2.5. At 2.0, it’s essentially a coinflip which isn’t surprising considering that it is hardly an elite mark. In fact there were 248 data points of 2.0 or better and it was a 60%/40% split of ERAs +/- 4.00. The worst ERA in the entire study, Eric Milton‘s disgusting 6.47 offering from 2005, actually topped the 2.0 threshold thanks to his sparkling 2.5 BB/9 rate. Moving to 2.5 cuts out the bottom 31 ERAs in the study and 46 of the bottom 50.

Here are the results with the deeper data pool and higher K/BB threshold:
k-bb ratio

4.00+ ERA

The above charts show that a 2.5+ K/BB ratio is three times more likely to yield a sub-4.00 ERA than not. Within a given season, there will be a group of pitchers whose skills should have netted them a better ERA, but poor defense or simply bad luck plagued them and left their skills unrewarded. The average was eight such starters per season. Given that recent trends have between 80 and 90 ERA qualifiers, it is about 9-10% of starting pitchers that get the short of the stick regardless of skills.

Here are some of the best buy-low opportunities who are also at risk of being part of this year’s batch of unlucky pitchers:

buy low

I don’t think you can really buy low on Justin Verlander given how unbelievably hot he has been lately striking out 9, 11, 11 and 13 in his past four starts. However all four of his AL Central counterparts on the list should come at legitimate discounts. I’d target Minnesota’s Kevin Slowey above all. His 0.9 BB/9 is amazing and while it might not hold 100%, he maintained a 1.3 in 160 IP last year so it’s unlikely to jump up too much. Rich Harden, Jon Lester and Jake Peavy won’t be bargain bin pick ups because of their gaudy strikeout totals (and because Harden and Peavy don’t have outrageous ERAs), but if you can get them at any discount, I’d recommend doing so immediately.

The at-risk group has it’s fair share of star power on it, too:

sell high

Three-fifths of the New York Yankees rotation is overachieving so far while the remaining two are getting obliterated (A.J. Burnett-5.36, Phil Hughes-7.56). And that over achievement has earned a record just one game above .500. Any regression could be very damaging and quickly push the Yankees to fourth in their division. But I actually expect Sabathia and Chamberlain to get better as we close out May and head into June. Sabathia will up his K-rate while Chamberlain will trim his BB-rate and continue to strikeout a batter per innings.

Jair Jurrjens and Brian Bannister are major red flags. We know what the bottom looks like for Bannister (1.9 K/BB in 183 IP last year led to 5.76 ERA), but Jurrjens flirted with the 2.0 threshold last year and ended up having a pretty successful year. Of course he did go for a sub-3.00 ERA in the first half and then regress heavily with a 4.49 in the second half. At least in 2008 he was straddling the limit with a 1.9 first half and 2.1 second half. I’d sell him instantly. And I’d have never bought Bannister so if you do have him, cash in that lottery ticket as soon as you can because it has an expiration date.

The names on this list that I’m least worried about are: Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer and Matt Garza because of their strong K-rates of 9.3, 8.4 and 7.9, respectively. Yes Mitchell Boggs is toting an 8.1 K/9, but the last time he reached a mark that high was his final year at the University of Georgia in 2005 so I’m not buying it in the least with just 22 innings of work. As I mentioned earlier, I do think Chamberlain will turn it around, but there is still some risk because he has a nearly 10.0 H/9 rate to go with the gaudy BB-rate. There are concerns that he is trying to save himself to go six or seven innings and it’s causing him to be very hittable in the rare instances that he is actually in zone.

Tuesday: 05.12.2009

Running Wild

Teams across the league are stealing bases as a rapid pace (pun completely intended) as compared to last year. On average, teams have swiped 20 bags apiece paced by Tampa Bay’s 53, who are of course paced by Carl Crawford and his 22 steals. Teams are on pace for a 101 average after 93 in 2008.

Meanwhile, Crawford’s stolen base total is better than 20 other teams!!! Crawford really caught everyone’s eye when he abused Jason Varitek to the tune of six stolen bases. This was after rookie Rockie Dexter Fowler burst onto the scene with five against the notoriously slow delivery of Chris Young. And now tonight, Jayson Werth grabbed four off of the Dodgers.

One of the vagaries of the game is that catchers take the full brunt of the blame when players run wild even though the pitcher is at least as culpable if not more so in many instances. That said, any pitcher is only starting every five days so any catcher that finds himself atop the stolen bases allowed list isn’t blameless. So who are the stolen base sieves behind the dish? It’s no surprise that the two guys victimized by Crawford and Fowler are the top two in SBA:

C SBA

But it’s actually another guy who has the worst caught stealing percentage:

C CS%

A.J. Pierzynski is allowing a stolen base per game! Meanwhile, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is ensuring he stays out of a full timeshare with Taylor Teagarden by adding value behind the dish. Of course Teagarden is only hitting .219 right now, so it hasn’t been hard for Salty to set himself apart. Get your basestealers in against Chicago (A), San Diego, Boston and Baltimore. But if you have a stolen base guy on your bench that you rotate in, you might want to choose the other option, whether it’s an AVG or HR-RBI option ahead of the SB guy when playing Texas, Colorado, St. Louis, Los Angeles (N), Washington, Houston and Detroit. And I’m talking more of the marginal basestealers like a Shin-Soo Choo, Kaz Matsui or Ryan Spilborghs, not Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Willy Taveras, etc…

Sunday: 05.10.2009

Abreu on 4 Times in 0 At-Bats

Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) outfielder Bobby Abreu has long been known for his tremendous plate discipline. From 1999-2006, Abreu strung eight straight 100+ walks seasons which stands as tied for a major league record with Frank Thomas. On Sunday, he pulled off an impressive though not entirely unique feat involving walks. His boxscore was 0-0-0-0-4-0-0. He went 0-for-0 with 0 runs, 0 runs batted in, 0 strikeouts and 0 left on base. His afternoon consisted of four free passes!

As I mentioned, this not a unique feat nor is it the record for walks in a game with 0 at-bats. The record is 5 achieved by 19 different players include Alex Gordon just last year. All told, 10 of the 19 instances have happened since 2000 and all but two have occurred since 1975. Barry Bonds, not surprisingly, is the only repeat achiever on the list. Teams for guys that have done this are 12-7. Here is a look at the list of those currently sharing the record as copied from Baseball Reference.com:

5 walks 0 at bats

Saturday: 05.9.2009

The Next Wave

Here is a quick look at how some of the baseball’s top prospects are performing so far this year:

HITTERS (sorted by OPS):
Mat Gamel is destroying the ball, but there isn’t a clear spot for him in Milwaukee especially because he’s a horrible third baseman and Bill Hall is doing pretty well thus far. They will do something to make room for him if he continues to hit this well, though.

Tampa Bay’s Desmond Jennings is another guy who is on fire, but appears to be blocked at every avenue in the majors. Though B.J. Upton is off to a horrible start, he isn’t the kind of guy that will get bumped for a minor leaguer, even a star in the making like Jennings.

Keeping with the trend of being blocked, both Jeff Smoak and Buster Posey are 2008 draftees that already turning heads with their bats. Smoak might not be as firmly blocked as the others with Chris Davis striking out in an absurd 47% of his at-bats. If he didn’t have eight home runs already, he would almost certainly be back in the minors. Meanwhile Bengie Molina has been San Francisco’s best hitter and he’s highly regarded as a catcher. Of course, Posey is not really “blocked” because he would stay in the minors until September even if Gregg Zaun was San Francisco’s starting catcher.

Speaking of Zaun, what is Baltimore waiting for with Matt Wieters? Wieters hasn’t been otherworldly in AAA, but he’s ready. Enough of the Zaun/Chad Moeller combo that has yielded a robust .224 average and .303 on-base percentage in 107 at-bats. With an average of .290 and an OBP nearly 100 points higher, Wieters has been good enough to make it clear that the O’s are keeping him down for service time/financial reasons. Enough already.

minor hitters

PITCHERS (sorted by IP):
Tommy Hanson has got to heading to the majors very soon. Kenshin Kawakami and JoJo Reyes have both been horrible and I don’t know that Kawakami’s mediocre outing today will be enough to save him. Yes he won, but he still walked four in six innings and dropped his ERA to a microscopic 5.79! Kevin Medlen has been brilliant in the minors so far this season, too, but Hanson is far more heralded and could get the first shot. The Braves might be best served giving both a shot together since they have two big holes.

With Joakim Soria headed to the DL, the Royals have finally called Luke Hochevar up. Hochevar had stretches last year, but overall he walked too many and didn’t strike out enough batters.

Baltimore not only has one of the best hitting prospects in the game, but they have several pitching reinforcements making their way through the minors, which is their biggest problem right now anyway. They actually have a capable lineup that ranks 7th in OPS in the American League, but their team ERA is 12th of 14. None of their starters hold an ERA below 4.00. The sooner that Brian Matsuz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta can get to the majors, the better. Hopefully Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara can be stable forces atop the rotation and teach the youngsters later this year and moving forward.

Super phenom David Price was massively overhyped in the fantasy baseball realm this offseason based on his strong playoff performance, but he failed to break camp with the team and he hasn’t been flawless down in the minors struggling with control and the long ball. He WILL be up this season, but those that invested double-digits in him for a non-keeper league are immediately regretting their decision.

minor pitchers

I’ll post another minor league update in a few weeks.

Friday: 05.8.2009

A National Power?

In my 2009 predictions, I slotted the Washington Nationals last in their division, but I suggested that they would have some legit offense thanks to offseason additions and growth from pieces they already had, “Washington finally doesn’t have an offense hinged on whether or not Nick Johnson stays healthy. They are pretty strong 1-8 as well as deep on the bench with Elijah Dukes, Josh Willingham and Willie Harris.”

Though it is still only May, it looks as though the Nationals won’t be dead last in the NL in OPS. Last year, they posted an embarrassing sub-.700 (.696) that was “topped” by only the Oakland Athletics (.686) in all of baseball. This year has been markedly different with the Nationals improving nearly 100 points in OPS to .794 that is good for 4th in the NL and 8th overall. Adam Dunn has been a huge addition with nine home runs already, but also an impressive .297 average. He has never hit anywhere near that level so it is safe to bet that the average will come down at least a bit. He has seasons of .264 (2007) and .266 (2004) that stand as his two highest. With one of the game’s best batting eyes and a commitment to not being a batting average anchor, Dunn is capable of .275-.280, but even if he only manages to match his career high of .266, he will still post a .400+ OBP with 40+ home runs.

Cristian Guzman has spent some time on the DL already this season, but he has remained the hitting force he was last year carrying a .386 average with 12 multi-hit games and just two 0-fers in his 17 games played. Nick Johnson‘s ability has never been in question, but his inability to stay healthy has stunted his career. He’s healthy right now and back to being the high average-high on base perfect #2 hitter for this lineup. Typically you want big time power from your first baseman, but Dunn fills that role and takes the heat off of Johnson when it comes to home run hitting.

The most impressive thing about the Nationals’ hot hitting thus far is the fact that it has come with NOTHING from Lastings Milledge (.397 OPS-now in AAA) and Josh Willingham (.693 OPS propped up by 10 walks; hitting just .174). Their worthlessness has been erased by the guys already mentioned as well as one of my favorites to rebound in 2009: Ryan Zimmerman. His only 0-fer of the season was in the 2nd game of the year which has resulted in an on-going 27-game hitting streak. He is hitting a robust .336 with six home runs and 21 RBIs. His 71 total bases are 2nd-best in the National League.

The downside to Washington’s offensive uproar? It hasn’t translated to much in the win column as they are dead last in not only the NL East, but the entire National League with a 10-18 record. That futility rests on the shoulders of the pitching, or severe lack thereof. Only Joe Beimel (1.74 ERA in 10 IP) has an ERA below 3.60 on the entire staff. Only three others are below 4.66. After two strong starts in late April, ace-of-the-future Jordan Zimmerman has been rocked for 11 runs in 11 and 2/3rds innings over his two latest starts. Allowing him to learn on the job and take his inevitable lumps wouldn’t be a problem on team that had two or three other starters capable of stopping a losing streak, but on a team like this it just adds to the mess. It’s reminiscent of Jeremy Bonderman‘s 2003 rookie campaign on that God-awful 43-119 team that saw Mike Maroth lose 21 and would’ve featured two 20-game losers had the Tigers not purposely moved Bonderman to the bullpen to save him that hit on his psyche.

If Zimmerman (20 years old) and their other youngster that surprisingly broke camp with the team, Shairon Martis (22) can develop into reliable rotation pieces through their experiences this year, they will go with ace John Lannan (24) to give the Nats a fair 1-3. Then there is the X-factor… or should I say the S-factor as in Stephen Strasburg. There hasn’t been a pitching prospect with this much promise in quite some time and recent reports suggest that the Nats will wisely take the San Diego State righty with the #1 overall pick in this June’s amateur draft despite the potentially absurd $50 million dollar asking price from idiot loser Scott Boras. Unfortunately for the Nats, you simply can’t pass on a talent like this:

2007 – 37 IP, 2.43 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 11.4 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9
2008 – 97 IP, 1.57 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 12.3 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9
2009 – 87 IP, 1.24 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 17.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9

So confident was I that the Nationals just COULDN’T pass on the youngster that I had this made:

Stephen Strasburg Custom Nationals t-shirt

Stephen Strasburg Custom Nationals t-shirt

I will be in D.C. for a game later this year and I’m hoping I’m the only one with that shirt, but since it’ll be a week after the draft, I’m sure there will be a few others floating around. And that’s also assuming that locals haven’t gotten the same exact idea I had and already own one.

With the offense they have displayed in the early going and the potential rotation they’re developing, the Nationals may be making noise much sooner than most would have expected. I haven’t even covered some of their up and coming minor league arms like Ross Detwiler, Tyler Clippard and J.D. Martin, all of whom are off to good starts as well as Colin Balester, whom the organization likes a lot. The biggest hurdle for the Nationals is their four opponents in the NL East. It will be interesting to see what Strasburg does for the team and how they choose to play the free agent and trade markets in an effort to thwart their worthy competition within the division.

Wednesday: 05.6.2009

The Next New Closer

Bullpens across the league are in complete disarray which creating a lot of excitement in the late innings of many games, but also leading to plenty of uncertainty at the back end of bullpens league-wide. Sure, Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera are locked and loaded as their team’s closer barring injury, and there are a handful of others, but we’ve already seen a carousel on several teams including St. Louis, Oakland, Baltimore and Washington. This could be helpful for the many fantasy baseball owners that employ the Punt Saves strategy with their pitching staff at their draft or auction. Given the immense volatility with closers, this strategy says to pass on buying closers and spend the money on offense or starting pitching. Then, actively pursue newly anointed closers as they come up throughout the season. The problem this year might be that you might get lucky and snap one up, but how long will he last?

I have a hidden gem for you that is starting to get more and more run at some fantasy outlets. I drafted him in two different NL-Only leagues thanks to his strong spring that suggested he was completely healthy after missing virtually all of 2008. He threw 10 clean innings with seven strikeouts, one walk and three hits allowed. As I’ve mentioned before, I pay heed to Spring Training numbers when someone is coming back for injury or a youngster fighting for a roster spot. At 34, this guy is an established veteran, but he was coming back from a torn right rotator cuff. The mystery man is Florida’s Kiko Calero. He has picked up right where his Spring Training left off having allowed just three runs in his 14 innings of work while striking out 19 and walking four. Meanwhile, the current closer Matt Lindstrom hasn’t been great. I would caution reading too much into Lindstrom’s 7.20 ERA as it’s borne mostly of an outing in which he allowed 7 runs in 2/3rds of an inning. I just don’t particularly trust him in general and think he will collapse enough at one point to open the door for Calero, not Leo Nunez.

The worst case scenario is that Calero appears to be one of the few middle relievers you can trust if you’re using the Middle Reliever Methodology to solidify your rotation, but regardless I think he should definitely be watched especially if Lindstrom strings a few poor outings together.

Tuesday: 05.5.2009

What About Peavy?

The first few weeks of the baseball season always produce some big time humor. When a team like San Diego starts off 9-3, you can find columns devoted to the various different scenarios under which this team, that many predict will lose 100 games, can now contend. Of all the hot starting teams, San Diego was biggest fraud going 2-12 in their last 14. So as they continue to free fall into the abyss that is the bottom of the NL West standings, Jake Peavy‘s name will undoubtedly be rumored out by the trading deadline. They have a perfect trading partner in their counterpart division: the Texas Rangers.

No one is going to run away with that AL West, not even when the Angels get their guns back in John Lackey and Ervin Santana. So if the Rangers can hang around .500 with what they’ve got until the end of June, they should be at most a handful of games out of 1st and a piece like Peavy would be enough to make them serious contenders for that division. The Rangers have one of baseball’s deepest farm while the Padres have one of the league’s thinnest making the two virtually perfect trade partners. Moving to the American League from Petco to Arlington would all but eliminate the chances that we’d see Peavy post a sub-3.00 ERA as he has done in four of the last five seasons, but even with his slight flyball tendencies he can be a 3.85-4.00 ERA pitcher thanks in large part to a better than 1.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio he has had every year but one since 2004. His off year still featured an 8.6 rate.

According to Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein, the Padres system is the league’s 25th-best due in large part to a lack of depth while placing the Rangers 2nd behind only Oakland. Right now Peavy’s stock isn’t at a point that would command Texas’s top guys like Neftali Feliz and Justin Smoak and if it got to a point where Texas was adamant on those two, I doubt Texas would be interested. Texas is deepest at outfield and catcher while 2/3rds of San Diego’s outfield is older and Nick Hundley hardly has a stranglehold as their long-term starting catcher. Something around Engel Beltre and Taylor Teagarden with maybe a pair of second level arms is a good start. The price tag won’t be cheap because of Peavy’s very nice contract over the next four years: 2010:$15M, 2011:$16M, 2012:$17M, 2013:$22M club option ($4M buyout) (courtesy of Cot’s contracts).

Looking over Texas’s pitching stats year to date is vomit-inducing so Peavy alone won’t make them playoff contenders. They appear to be easing Derek Holland into the rotation Johan Santana-style, which is a move I love. Hopefully he is ready to be a contributor every 5th day by late-June, early-July. Meanwhile one of Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy has to not suck all year especially because I can’t envision Kevin Millwood maintaining his 2.78 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. Though he will at least remain effective if he continues to be ultra-stingy with the free passes (1.6 BB/9 thus far).

Peavy is the kind of starting pitcher that Nolan Ryan wants in the organization which is another reason why I could see them trading for him if they are within striking distance around the All-Star break. It’s a move that makes complete sense on both sides, not necessarily the exact pieces I mentioned, but just a trade in general. The Padres are going cheap and they have shopped Peavy before, while the Rangers are an up and coming team in an easy division that could get a legitimate ace without depleting their embarrassment of riches at the minor league level.