Archive for ‘2011 Fantasy Guide’

Friday: 02.3.2012

2011 Starting Pitching Guide Review (and 2012 Announcement)

Well, that dopey groundhog saw his shadow and saddled us with six more weeks of winter allegedly (it was 76 degrees today in Austin), but that’s neither here nor there because the calendar turning to February means baseball is once again on the horizon.  Spring Training will start mid-month and from there we will soon have meaningless Spring Training game stats to ascribe far too much meaning to as we prepare for our fantasy drafts and auctions.

My annual Starting Pitcher Guide is also on the horizon.  Last year’s edition was a resounding success and while it may be difficult to top, I plan to do so in 2012.  While the number of pitchers covered is unlikely to grow for the first year since I started back in 2008, the analysis of those included in the guide will be expanded.  Make no mistake, it will still be a robust offering covering names all the way down to the short season minor leagues, but there just won’t be as many of those project types included in 2012.

What you can expect is another guide that will have utility regardless of your league type.  Whether you play in an 8-team mixed league or 20-team dynasty league with 50-man rosters, you will be well equipped to tackle the 2012 pitching pool with aplomb.

Last year’s guide

…nailed the rebound of James Shields, “He is likely to be dirt cheap and I can’t recommend buying in enough. The downside if his luck just bounces back to average is 2009 while the upside is 2008 or better.”

…outlined the immense upside of Clayton Kershaw (though admittedly it takes all of one time seeing him pitch to understand his greatness), “He has more brilliance in his future including a 20-win season and/or a Cy Young award.  Buy.”

…pegged the sleeper status of Ian Kennedy, “He deserved better than his 9-10 record even with the gopheritis, but that may depress his value again in 2011 making him a sleeper albeit a much different kind of sleeper than prior to the 2010 season” and also offered a solid expectation for teammate Daniel Hudson’s first full season, “I would use Kennedy’s 2010 line (194 IP-3.80 ERA-1.20 WHIP-168 K) as a guide for Hudson’s 2011 (222 IP-3.49 ERA-1.20 WHIP-169 K) and bid accordingly”.

…encouraged aggressively buying into a 2011 rebound for Josh Beckett, “With his BABIP, LOB% and HR/FB rate all working against him, he is ripe for a significant bounce-back in 2011, which may also come at a measurable discount. This is a buy profile regardless of the size discount, because he certainly won’t cost what he did heading into last year.”

…really liked the prospects of Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann even with a reduced workload on the heels of Tommy John Surgery, “[Innings] Limit or not, I love Zimmerman’s skills and will do what I can to acquire his services for my teams.  He has strikeout-per-inning stuff with above average control.  In his 91-inning debut, he pitched like a mid-3.00s starter, but bad luck cost him more than a run rendering him a 4.63 ERA. Buy now on this budding star, especially in keeper leagues.”

…loved Ricky Romero for 2011, “He’s a bit under the radar for some reason. In ESPN’s top 75 starting pitcher list, he’s behind Jeremy Hellickson, Trevor Cahill and Jhoulys Chacin among others. All three of those guys have their merits, but I wouldn’t take any of them ahead of Romero.  He could take another step forward in 2011, but even a 2010 repeat is very valuable.”

…stayed the course with Derek Holland for a second year & reaped the benefits of his 16-5, 3.95 ERA season, “One of my favorites for a little while now, Holland flashed real skill in his 57 innings, but an injured shoulder cost him 55 games in the middle of the summer. He has a good chance of locking up spot in the rotation heading into 2011 and I’m looking for the full breakout.”

…liked Bud Norris for a solid year, especially at his price (next to nothing, even in NL-Only leagues), “If I’m going to buy into an imperfect profile, there has to be a legitimate upside and Norris has it. With his strikeout-per-inning stuff, Norris isn’t far from being an impact arm at the major league level.  The biggest hurdle remaining is his control. If he can get his walk rate under four per game (4.5 BB/9 in ’10; 4.4 career), he could have a big season.”

…suggested keeping Cory Luebke on your watch list for the first opening in San Diego, “If he doesn’t win a job in Spring Training, he will be on call if any of the non-Latos entities falters as they all come with their own special brand of risk. Keep an eye on him. He still qualifies for minor league drafts and he’s almost certain to contribute at some point in 2011.”  Luebke pitched well out of the pen (39 IP, 43 K, 3.23 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) through mid-June before finally getting a start on June 26th and holding a rotation spot the rest of the way (101 IP, 111 K, 3.31 ERA, 1.09 WHIP).

…pointed out that Scott Baker’s skills were much better than his >4.00 ERAs in three of the last four years heading into 2011, “Still, the skills beyond the flyballs are so appealing that it’s hard to stay away. Be prepared to walk if the price climbs too much, but there is value and upside lingering in this profile.”

…preached caution with youngster Kyle Drabek, “Even if he wins the job, I would suggest tempering expectations of a youngster who has skipped AAA. Keeper leaguers invest; re-draft leaguers invest only at the right price.”  Even that tepid endorsement probably wasn’t enough as he was absolutely brutal in any format.

…warned that Clay Buchholz wasn’t a 2.33 ERA pitcher with his skill set, “He continued to be successful because a strong 51% groundball rate was supplemented by very favorable BABIP, LOB% and HR/FB rates that turned a 3.50-4.00 season into a 2.33 one. I love profiles with elite groundball rates and above average or better strikeout rates, but you will pay a premium for Buchholz’s 2010 in most leagues making it tough to invest for profit. I would pass unless his value is commensurate with his true skill.”  He had almost equal strikeout and walk rates, yielding a 3.48 ERA in 83 innings before injuries cut his season short.

…had Jonathan Sanchez’s 2009 season as the barometer for his 2011 forecast, “Use that [2009] season (4.24 ERA, 1.37 WHP, 9.8 K/9) as your guide and bid accordingly.  His price may escalate because of 2010 so don’t be afraid to bow out; let others pay the unnecessary premium.”  Sanchez toted a 4.26 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 in 101 innings.

…didn’t buy Mike Pelfrey’s 2010 artificial breakout at all, “He’s not a legitimate mid-3.00s [ERA pitcher] with his current skills profile. I don’t think he’s going to all of a sudden develop an above average strikeout rate after 683 major league innings at 5.1, so his key to pushing the strikeout-to-walk rate above 2.0 (for the first time ever) is his walk rate. If the record (15-9) and ERA (3.66) inflate his value, step away.”

…virtually nailed Mat Latos’s 2011 performance, “Look for a 3.25-3.50 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP or better and 8-9 Ks per game for the budding star.”  Latos pitched to a 3.47 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with 8.6 K/9 in 194 innings.

…wasn’t deterred by Hiroki Kuroda’s age, instead focusing on his consistent year-to-year performance since coming over to the States, “Though 36, he shows no signs of slowing down (including significant 2nd-half improvement in 2010) yet the elevated age generally brings an unnecessary but welcomed discount.”

…saw improved control mitigating the impact of a worse infield defense for Jaime Garcia, “A 180 inning season with a 3.50ish ERA, 1.30ish WHIP and 140 strikeouts is very good. The worsening defense with the departure of Brendan Ryan will hurt a groundballer like Garcia, but improved control after getting 163 innings under his belt isn’t out of the question either, which would help offset Ryan.”  Garcia threw 195 innings with a 3.56 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 156 K (7.2 K/9).

…was actually a little on high side when it came to Javier Vazquez’s rebound even though his season started off about as poorly as possible, “I’m less concerned [about his velocity dip in the Bronx] as a one year drop doesn’t automatically make it a certainty and though he is 35, I think he will rebound nicely out of the limelight with the Marlins. We almost certainly won’t see 2009, but 200 innings of 3.80 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and a heap of strikeouts has plenty of value.”  On June 11th, 13 starts into his season, Vazquez had a 7.09 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 66 innings, but pitched to a 1.92 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in his final 127 innings to end the season with a 3.69 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 193 innings (as well as a solid 7.6 K/9).

Of course those 18 success stories were but a sample of the insightful analysis found in the 2011 guide and in the interest of full disclosure, there were some duds which is to be expected when putting out 546 player profiles.  I was way too high on Kevin Slowey, who managed just 59 innings of work and while his 6.8 K/BB ratio was a career best, his 1.5 HR/9 led to a 6.67 ERA and 0-8 record.

I also thought buying in on John Lackey was wise.

I saw an implosion for Mark Buehrle, who enjoyed his best ERA since 2005.

I thought Derek Lowe was a low-risk investment (5.05 ERA, 1.51 WHIP).

I vastly underestimated his teammate, Tim Hudson, who showed plenty left in the tank at 35 improving his K and BB rates.

I fell for Ricky Nolasco… again.

I jumped off the Matt Garza Bandwagon before reaping the dividends after loving him in 2010.

I stayed the course with Jason Hammel whose skills were much better than his ERA for two straight years until last year when he decided to regress his skills toward his ERA instead of vice versa.

I thought AJ Burnett could rebound from his dreadful 2010 thanks to a solid track record & big time strikeout ability… whoops (Burnett lowered his ERA just 0.11 to 5.15).

I dismissed the signing of Bartolo Colon by the Yankees, lumping him in with Mark Prior, “even the best Spring Training in the world couldn’t convince to lay a dollar on either, but they are in Tampa and could feasibly pull off a miracle… I guess.”

I overrated Brett Cecil suggesting “he definitely merits heavy consideration in most league formats” as he went on to post a 4.73 ERA in 124 innings thanks in large part to a 1.6 HR/9.

I gave Justin Masterson merely a tepid endorsement which may have caused some to miss out on the 26-year old’s breakout season, “There is still to work to be done, especially against lefties. Invest on the cheap in AL-Only leagues and deeper mixed leagues, but maybe reserve (if applicable) or just monitor him in standard 10-12 team mixers.”  I should’ve stayed the course with him after recommending him in the 2010 guide.

I was duped by Bruce Chen again, who lowered his undeserved 2010 ERA by 0.40 despite a strikeout rate below 6.0, “If you are falling for the 4.17 ERA last year and actually consider rostering Chen in any league format, I’d rather you just send me your money since burning it is illegal.”

I thought Joel Pineiro could continue to offer value as a low strikeout, control artist after back-to-back sub-4.00 ERA seasons in 2009 and 2010.  I was so very wrong.  His already miniscule strikeout rate plummeted to 3.8 K/9 and his ERA rose significantly to a completely unusable 5.19 in 146 innings.

In any sort of undertaking like the 2011 Starting Pitching Guide, there are going to be hits and misses, but overall I am happy with how everything turned out both when I published it last winter and now as I look back on how the prognostications panned out.  You can expect more quality analysis in the 2012 guide as well as feature pieces diving into a bevy of starting pitcher-related topics yet to be determined.

Apart from knowing there will be profiles and some articles, details are scant on the 2012 guide because I have several decisions to make in terms of both content and distribution.  I am flattered with how many inquiries I’ve received on Twitter and via email asking if there will be a guide this year so I wanted to make it known that there will be one which also explains why coverage has been scant at paulsporer.com through January.

I’ll post updates throughout the month especially as I get a strong handle on a release date.

Wednesday: 04.20.2011

Donation Jersey Contest Update #2

I want to sincerely thank everyone who donated to the Starting Pitcher Guide.  The response to the guide exceeded even my wildest dreams.  I’m going to be drawing for the contest winners early next week after I get back from visiting my parents for Easter.  If you still want to get in, feel free (in the upper right corner).  I outlined the details of the contest here.  Basically, anyone who donated to the guide is entered and you can win either a Justin Verlander or Tim Lincecum jersey.  I’ll make a YouTube video of me drawing the winners and then email them to secure shipping addresses.

I am also going to put together questionnaire/survey type deal regarding the guide in order to get input for next year’s version.  I plan to make it even better so if you like 2011’s, then just wait for 2012.  No, I mean it, wait… we just started this season, try to enjoy it!

Tuesday: 03.29.2011

2011 Bold Predictions-Part 4

I’m still pretty wiped out from a huge fantasy baseball weekend so I’m going to post the NL bold predictions now and add the commentary tomorrow.  I figured I’d give you something to chew on as we inch closer and closer to Opening Day.  Notice that as with the AL predictions, the ERA-based ones give a .25 spread to cover a bit of random variance.  After I add the commentary to these predictions, I’ll do my season preview starting tomorrow and continuing through the weekend.

Atlanta Braves:

Tommy Hanson throws 225 innings with a 2.50-2.75 ERA and 210 strikeouts – These would all be career highs for Hanson and this would be a Cy Young-caliber season, which is exactly what I’m intending to predict.  He burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2009 and regressed a little once the league caught up last year, but he re-adjusted to improve as 2010 progressed and that impressed me a ton.  I think he consolidates his skills for a huge season.

Mike Minor throws 160 innings with a 3.75-4.00 ERA and 165 strikeouts – Yes, Brandon Beachy won that 5th spot out of spring, but that hardly leaves Minor destined for AAA all year long.  In fact, Jair Jurrjens is already nicked up and could create an opening for Minor pretty quickly.  His skills were excellent in his 41-inning debut last year despite a near-6.00 ERA.  Keep him on the radar and NL-Only leaguers might want to buy cheaply if your league allows bidding on minor leaguers.

Florida Marlins:

Mike Stanton hits 51 home runs – There’s otherworldly power in that bat and this projection suggests it all comes together this year which would require a cut down in his MASSIVE strikeout rate.  He struck out 123 times in 100 games and he will need to tame that to reach this goal in just his second season.  If not, pitchers will just throw him 56-foot curveballs that he’ll dive out in front of all day long.  This is a bet approach improvement, the skill is already there.

Javier Vazquez throws 200 innings with a 3.30-3.55 and 175 strikeouts – Last year was far & away his worst season since… yep, his last stint in New York.  I’m not sure what the Yankees were really expecting.  There is concerns over his velocity drop from ’09 to ’10, but one year isn’t a trend.  Yes, he’s getting older (34 in ’11), but I’m willing to give a guy of his caliber the benefit of the doubt on one bad year in a place he’s already sucked before, especially when he’s moving back to the league he dominated in just two years ago.

New York Mets:

Jose Reyes hits .326 with 71 stolen bases, 19 home runs and 75 RBIs – He’s 27 years old though it’s been a slow grind for him to comeback over the past two years, I am not sure why so many seem to think he will never be great again.  His combined 2009-2010 was essentially a season’s worth of games (169 games) and he was just above average with a 103 OPS+ and 41 stolen bases.  I’m projecting a return 2006-2008 greatness.

Scott Hairston hits 25 home runs – He hit 10 in 100 games at PETCO Park last year so he’s used to pitcher-friendly parks.  Plus, with mixed data in the two years of existence, we’re still not sure exactly sure how Citi Field plays.  It had a 1.1 HR park factor in 2009 and 0.7 last year.  With a full season of at-bats for the first time ever, I think he sets a career high in homers.

Philadelphia Phillies:

Cole Hamels throws 225 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA and 228 strikeouts – Last year I made a wins-based prediction for Hamels and I was disappointed because his excellent season went unrewarded.  This guy is one of the best pitchers in baseball, but even a great season might be overlooked in terms of Cy Young voting because of his rotation mates.

Jose Contreras saves 30 games – Brad Lidge is already hurt and set to start the season on the DL.  Manager Charlie Manuel is leaning toward Contreras right now and it could be because Ryan Madson just hasn’t shown the fortitude to pitch in the ninth as well as he does in the eighth.  I know some disagree with the notion of a “closer’s mentality”, but there do seem to be cases where great eighth inning guys fail repeatedly in the ninth.

Washington Nationals:

Jordan Zimmermann throws 175 innings with a 3.50-3.75 ERA and 180 strikeouts – After Stephen Strasburg burst onto the scene last year, I was so excited for 2011 with Strasburg & Zimm as Washington’s 1-2.  I wasn’t expecting a division title, but major losing streaks were like to become a thing of the past in the nation’s capital.  Alas, we all know what happened to Strasburg and he will miss the season.  That leaves the uninitiated to get accustomed to Zimm’s greatness and begin looking forward to ’12 with those two atop the rotation and A.J. Cole fast approaching.

Ian Desmond hits 24 home runs and steals 29 bases – He and double play partner Danny Espinosa are popular sleeper picks for 2011, but it’s with good reason.  They are both very talented youngsters.  Desmond’s got a full season under his belt whereas Espinosa has just 28 games on his ledger so I lean toward Desmond for the improvement.

Chicago Cubs:

Carlos Pena hits 41 home runs with a .265 average – How funny is it that a .265 batting average is bold?  Honestly, neither prediction here is terribly bold as Pena would simply re-achieve a mark he has touched before in his career.  But too often we see overreactions to one year for better or worse from a player so a regression to the mean the following year is seen as a surprise.  Pena is going to enjoy some lazy flyballs that find their way out of Wrigley on the windier days this summer.

Geovany Soto hits 33 home runs – He was in the midst of a career-best season last year that would have topped his 2008 rookie campaign, but injuries limited him to just 105 games.  Still it was a nice bounce-back from his down 2009 when the league clearly adjusted to him. Now he’s become more patient at the plate and seems to have a firm grasp of what he’s doing up there.  Given his price, he is one of the best catchers available in the game.

Cincinnati Reds:

Chris Heisey hits 22 home runs with a .285 average – The simple fact is that Jonny Gomes should not be an everyday player for the Reds, his OPS is 132 points lower against right-handers.  Even though it’s too small of a sample to say Heisey can’t hit lefties, he was awful against them in 100 plate appearances last year so at the very least the Reds should have a platoon with the two leaving Heisey more ABs to reach these totals.  Are the Reds smart enough to realize this?  Or are they just going to send Heisey down as soon as Fred Lewis gets off of the DL?

Jay Bruce hits 39 home runs and drives in 112 runs – His home runs are creeping up slowly year over year and he’s just 24 year old.  His first two 20+ home run seasons came in under 110 games while last year he surged with 15 home runs in the last two months.  He’s got star written all over him and 2011 could be the first of several great years.

Houston Astros:

Bud Norris throws 180 innings with a 3.75-4.00 ERA and 160 strikeouts – He’s got nasty enough stuff to put a season like this to shame eventually, but at 26 there is plenty of room for growth both with his control and his work with runners on base as well as continued development of his third pitch (a changeup).

Milwaukee Brewers:

Ryan Braun hits 43 home runs with 130 RBIs – This would require a severe reversal in a growing groundball trend, but obviously I believe that is possible.  Despite four excellent seasons under his belt, he’s just entering his physical prime technically speaking having turned 27 in the offseason.  When your down season is 25 bombs and a .304 average, you’re quite a star.  Braun’s flyball rate will head near back up around 40% and with it comes more home runs.

Chris Narveson throws 185 innings with a 4.20-4.45 ERA with 170 strikeouts – Strong skills in 168 innings were a bit hidden by a near-5.00 ERA leaving him undervalued in fantasy leagues and overlooked at the backend of Milwaukee’s rotation.  I worry about the Milwaukee defense especially if Narveson keeps slicing his flyball and inducing more grounders, but I like the strikeout ability and solid control in this emerging profile.  We might still see some ups & downs before a really big season, but definite improvement is coming.

Pittsburgh Pirates:

James McDonald throws 160 innings with a 3.00-3.25 ERA and 160 strikeouts – There wasn’t very good odds for the bettor on whether or not a McDonald prediction was coming since it was a sure thing.  I went a little conservative on the innings just because I’m not sure how the Pirates will play it with McDonald.  New manager and the first worthwhile arm under this front office make it kind of a new thing.  This IP count would be 30 more than last year.  I’ve loved his talent for years and 2011 is the first full year it will be on display.

Jose Tabata hits 17 home runs and steals 41 bases – Feel like he’s been around for a while despite being just 22 years old?  It’s because he became a pro in 2005 at age 16.  He still has plenty of physical maturing to do, but I think it begins in earnest in 2011 with mid-teens power surge.

Charlie Morton throws 175 innings with a 4.00-4.25 ERA and 135 strikeouts – I know, this seems positively ludicrous, but I’m telling you the skills are there for this kind of season and maybe even better.  He was horribly unlucky last year.  He got hit in all three major “luck stats” with heavily skewed LOB%, HR/FB and BABIP rates that were all absurdly below league averages.  That confluence of events masked an otherwise strong skill set of 6.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 47% groundball rate.  I’m telling you, throw a buck on him in your NL-Only or deeeeep mixed league and it could pay off.  Or you can probably monitor him a start or two to see what happens before having to invest.

St. Louis Cardinals:

Colby Rasmus hits .300 with 31 home runs and 94 RBIs – I could be a year early as he is just 24 this year, but I think this is a star in the making and his growth from year one to year two was mighty impressive.  I think we see another leap in 2011.

David Freese hits .327 with 16 home runs – A post-hype (not that there was a ton in the first place) under the radar guy whose improvement in his first full season would go a long way toward the Cardinals getting by the loss of Adam Wainwright.

Arizona Diamondbacks:

David Hernandez strikes out 110 batters in 80 innings of relief work – I had a prediction of him getting 150 strikeouts as a starter last year, but he shifted to the bullpen after just eight starts and really excelled prompting his new team to leave him there full-time.  He’s also a sneaky pick for some saves if J.J. Putz struggles with injuries all season long.

Stephen Drew hits 24 home runs and steals 21 bases – I’m kind of bummed about this one.  I write these down in my little notebook throughout the offseason as they come to me (several hit the cutting room floor upon further research) and I added Drew to list in January.  Now in spring Kirk Gibson comes out raving about his speed making this look like a bandwagon pick.  I’ll freely admit when I’m hopping on a train already in progress, but this isn’t such a case.  I just see three straight seasons of double-digit triples and growing steals numbers in the same span and feel like a true breakthrough has to be coming for him.  Imagine if he and his brother met their full potential for their entire careers.

Colorado Rockies:

Seth Smith hits 28 home runs with 93 RBIs – Here’s an easy to case for “BABIP luck” because you have two seasons of equal samples (133 games) with just 11 plate appearances separating the two and his skills are essentially intact year over year yet his average dropped from .293 to .246.  In 2009 his BABIP was .324 while it dipped to a paltry .256 last year.  Now with a full-time job in his possession, I think the BABIP regresses and with it comes a power surge and plenty of run production.

Esmil Rogers throws 160 innings with a 4.00-4.25 ERA and 150 strikeouts – Another strong profile covered up by an ugly surface ERA of 6.13 in 72 innings.  He has huge groundball and strikeout rates that will play well for this off-the-map fifth starter sure to be a big time waiver pickup early in the season.  This endgame flier could turn into a real diamond as regression improvement sets in over the course of a larger sample.

Los Angeles Dodgers:

Chad Billingsley throws 215 innings with a 2.65-2.80 ERA – His recently signed extension strikes me as a major bargain.  Paying $10 million a year for three years for a guy with his stuff and resume?  I was surprised that some were panning the deal.  I think it’s very smart and will no doubt pay dividends considering how much pitchers command on the open market.  I limited the prediction to ERA because the rest of skills are already at a rather high level so being bold with them would require being unrealistic.

Matt Kemp sets another career high with 34 home runs and steals 41 bases – His “down” year last year was largely overblown and tied almost entirely to batting average.  He wasn’t as good as his draft position, but he was hardly a bust either as he still produced a ton and played all year.  Busts are guys who massively underperform (Jason Bay last year) or get injured and miss most of the season (Grady Sizemore), not guys who play 162 games and hit a career-high 28 home runs.  Look for a monster 2011.

San Diego Padres:

Tim Stauffer throws 175 innings with a 3.00-3.25 ERA – Great skills combined with a great park, great supporting bullpen and full-time starting gig lead to a big season.  He was a pretty trendy pick this offseason which is somewhat expected with the PETCO Push, but pricing was still pretty modest compared to what he can realistically accomplish this year.

Brad Hawpe hits 24 home runs – In nearly equal samples home and away, Hawpe has OPS marks of .886 (in 417 games) and .839 (in 414 games), hardly an egregious difference compared to most Coors Field products.  In a smallish, but still somewhat viable 175-plate appearance sample in PETCO Park, Hawpe has a .281/.371/.451 line with five home runs.  I don’t see any sense in burying him after one bad season at age 32, especially after four straight seasons of 120 or better OPS+ marks.

San Francisco Giants:

Mark DeRosa hits 26 home runs – Everyone’s favorite former utility darling, DeRosa lost his multi-position eligibility after a 26-game season in 2010, but I don’t think he lost his talent with it.  A spot will open up somewhere allowing DeRosa to get his at-bats and make up for last year by setting a career high in home runs.

Brandon Belt hits .292 with 14 home runs in 400 ABs (might seem modest, but consider that he’s played exactly one season as a pro) This might seem really modest now since he’s been given a spot on the roster for Opening Day between the original posting of these predictions and the commentary fill-in.  I don’t really know where to go with him across a full season.  I really loved what I saw for him in the Arizona Fall League in November, but I know 2011 will have ups and downs.  I’m not sure he offers significant power this year so I’d be more apt to project a .324 average this year than a 25-home run season even in 500+ at-bats.  I’ll still with what I’ve got here since an Opening Day roster spot doesn’t guarantee an entire season roster spot.

Monday: 03.28.2011

2011 Hitting Profiles

Many of your have asked if I was going to have anything similar to the SP guide for hitters.  Unfortunately I just don’t have the time for that and I’m not sure I ever will, but I’ve partnered with a good friend of mine, Ray Flowers, from BaseballGuys.com, SI.com and Sirius/XM radio essentially trading the SP guide for his hitter profiles.  They are found below in PDF form and available for your perusal.  I think you’ll find them quite useful.

 

Hitting Capsules Provided by Ray Flowers

 

Ray on Twitter

Ray on Baseball Guys

Ray’s latest on SI.com

Thursday: 03.24.2011

2011 Guide to Middle Reliever Methodology

Previous versions:

2009

2008

I didn’t do a 2010 version of the MR guide.  I think it was because my main Thursday column over at Fanball was called “Middle Men” so I was writing about middle relievers every week.  A quick refresher on the idea of MRM for the uninitiated—the goal is to acquire three dirt-cheap middle relievers who in turn will net you the stats of an elite starting pitcher. From my experiences, it is best employed in single league auctions. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done in mixed league drafts and auctions, especially deep ones, just that I find it most effective in SLAs.

This strategy seems to gain traction yearly with more and more fantasy magazines and online draft kits dedicating a portion to middle relievers.  Of course they often identify the elite middle relievers.  I won’t gloss over the elite of middle relievers in my list, but I hope to highlight the up & comers so that you have a deep list in case other owners choose to utilize the MRM for their teams as well.  Not only that, but some of us will invariably end up in leagues where the bulk of middle relievers are ignored or severely undervalued.

I’d hate to assume that every league was going to bid up the top ones and leave you empty-handed when they finally do come available on the cheap.  The idea is to find the next elite reliever since the whole goal is to save money in the budget for more hitting*.

(*I’m saving it for hitting, you may choose to invest it in a higher priced ace starter or closer.)

VOLUME

When you’re constructing your three-pack of relievers, you need to keep an eye on their innings totals from the past couple of seasons. Some guys have very appetizing strikeout and walk rates, but are used in a very limited capacity (30-40 IP) and thus should be counted only as your third guy, if at all, unless you are predicting an increased role for 2011.

We are seeing greater balance in workload among the relief corps.  In 2009, eight non-closing relievers managed 80+ innings of relief work.  In 2010, there were only five such non-closing relievers.  Compare that with five years ago when there were 14 and 10 years ago when there were 19.  Only two relievers topped 90 innings last year so you’re looking for 70+ innings at the high end.

WHO’S NEXT?

Here are five young small-sample strikeout studs that you should keep on your radar:

1. Jordan Walden, 23 years old, Los Angeles Angels – He displayed blistering heat (avg. 99 MPH w/his fastball) in his 15-inning sample at the big league level last year striking out 23 batters.  He’s a failed starter as a 2-pitch pitcher whose third just never developed, but he looks like he could be a dominant setup guy behind Fernando Rodney and might even get a shot at saves at some point this year.

2. Kenley Jansen, 23, Los Angeles Dodgers – He had a star turn in 27 innings similar to Walden’s where he struck out 41 batters.  He’s actually a failed catcher that the Dodgers shifted to the pen with great success in limited samples thus far.  Unlike Walden, there is legitimate competition for saves on the Dodgers with Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo so he’s almost certainly going to spend the year in the 6th through 8th innings.

3. Zach Braddock, 23, Milwaukee Brewers – Likely to be just a LOOGY as a southpaw who crushed lefties in his 34 innings of work.  Even still, he has massive strikeout potential and could develop a larger role if veteran arms LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito succumb to injury.

4. Collin Balester, 25, Washington Nationals – Another failed starter, Balester shifted to the pen last year with great success in 21 innings striking out 28 batters.  If the team places importance on Spring Training numbers, Balester should grab a spot in the bullpen as he’s excelled in his nine innings striking out 10 and walking just two.  As a former starter, he could be stretched out for 2-inning stints and end up pushing the 100-inning mark which could make him especially valuable if he continues to strikeout a batter per inning or better.

5. Ernesto Frieri, 25, San Diego Padres – With Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb shipped out for Cameron Maybin, spots are open in the SD bullpen and Frieri had a great 32 inning audition during which he struck out 41 batters.  This could be the next great unheralded middle reliever for the Padres.  He’s no better than fifth on list for saves, so don’t speculate here if you want saves.

NON-STARTING STARTERS

Here are three guys that have come up as starting pitchers, but may be forced to the bullpen due to filled rotations:

1. Kevin Slowey, Minnesota Twins – He’s carried a solid 6.9 K/9 in 473 innings as a starter and I could see that ticking up above eight as a reliever.  How he will be utilized out of the bullpen is a bit of a mystery at this point, but I can’t imagine he would be much more than a 6th-7th inning guy and then a long relief guy for the 2nd through 5th innings every fifth day when Nick Blackburn pitches.

2. Hisanori Takahashi, Los Angeles Angels – The swingman pitched 122 innings for the Mets last year and was much better out of the bullpen.  He struck out 9.4 batters per game in 57 relief innings posting a 2.04 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.  Meanwhile he struck out 7.5 with a 5.01 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 12 starts totaling 65 innings.  He could have some sneaky value, especially if they use him more than an inning at a time.

3. Manny Parra, Milwaukee Brewers – Like Takahashi, Parra struggled when starting and excelled out of the ‘pen.  His strikeouts were strong regardless of role (9.4 as SP, 9.8 as RP), but in 16 starts he posted a 6.19 ERA and 1.74 WHIP in 84 innings.  Meanwhile his ERA was 2.39 with a 1.35 WHIP in 38 relief innings.  The WHIP was still high, but I’m really not concerned with a reliever’s WHIP in terms of impact on a team’s bottom line by the end of the season.  As I mentioned in the Closer Tier’s piece, Carlos Marmol’s crazy awful WHIP from 2009 (1.46) would impact a standard 12-team staff by 0.01-0.02 depending on the final innings count.  There’s an impact, but not nearly to the degree many analysts suggest.

THE ELITE

This is the cream of the middle reliever crop as I see it.  These are the guys that will likely cost you the most to acquire as just about everyone recognizes their value.  In the cases where your league fails to pump their costs, jump at the chance to get them at a discount.  Also, I’m not saying you can’t pay more than a dollar on them, but some of them might creep as high as $8-10 which is a price I’m not willing to pay.  In fact, anything above $5 would likely push me out.  Here are the favorites:

1. Luke Gregerson, San Diego Padres – Back-to-back 75+ inning seasons averaging 10.7 K/9 combined with the ever-looming threat of a Heath Bell trade make him the most sought after middle man these days.  He doesn’t give an elite ERA (3.24 and 3.22), but it doesn’t hurt, either.  You are drafting him for the major strikeouts and potential emergence into the closer’s role.

2. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds – He’s one of the hottest prospects in the game so his value is likely to be through the roof relative to middle relievers.  He could be a 100-inning, 100+ strikeout guy if Dusty Baker doesn’t lean veteran heavy and realizes the gem he has with Chapman.  Eventually he should be tried as a starter, so he should get some 2-inning stints to keep him at least somewhat stretched out.

3. Daniel Bard, Boston Red Sox – The arrival of Bobby Jenks likely puts Bard third on the list for saves, but that doesn’t curb his value for me.  He’s their best reliever for sure and they need him pitching the most important outs to get to the ninth with a lead.  He was excellent in 2010 and I could see him getting even better and taking that strikeout rate back up over 11 as he did in 2009.

4. Mike Adams, San Diego Padres – The skill is not in question at all.  It’s a matter of staying healthy for Adams.  He has yet to put together back-to-back healthy seasons so 2011 would complete his first pair.  He’s been the complete package at relief with gaudy strikeout totals and minuscule ERA and WHIP rates.

5. Joaquin Benoit, Detroit Tigers – Missed all of 2009, but came back with a career year that earned him a hefty contract.  Like Adams, the skill is not in doubt at all, it’s all about staying healthy.  He will be a major asset setting up Jose Valverde and could get some sneaky saves when Valverde needs a break.

6. Hong-Chih Kuo, Los Angeles Dodgers – Another guy similar to Adams whose skill is elite, but staying on the field has been problematic.  A complete season in 2011 would be his first pair of back-to-back full seasons, too.  He absolutely obliterates lefties (.095 last year), but crushes righties too, avoiding LOOGY status.

7. Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants – His value is ticking upward as Brian Wilson’s status for Opening Day remains in doubt.  Romo isn’t guaranteed to get the saves if Wilson is absent, but he is the one most are speculating on thanks to back-to-back seasons with 10+ K/9 rates matched with a sub-3.0 BB/9.

8. Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics – Balfour is a good example of how a reliever’s ERA can vary wildly year-to-year even if the skills stay relatively steady.  The samples are so small that it a bit of randomness can make a huge difference.  He has maintained strong skills with strikeout per inning stuff for his entire career and the control is improving as he ages.  In Oakland’s spacious park, he’ll be even better.

9. Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies – The home runs are always going to keep his ERA high for an elite reliever (3.50 or higher), but the ridiculous control (3 seasons below 2.0 BB/9 including 1.2 last year) and equally ridiculous strikeout rates make him a useful asset.

10. Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees – Speaking of home runs, I’m worried about how Soriano’s massive flyball rate (52% last year, 50% career) will play in Yankee Stadium.  The skills are strong otherwise, but the ERA will likely be higher than the sub-3.00* totals he has posted since 2006.  (*it was right at 3.00 in 2007)

THE NEXT LEVEL

Here is where you can find value.  A few of these guys likely won’t be at the forefront of many radars in your league.  Some are known, but still just don’t command a price tag commensurate with their value (which is of course great for us).  And others have the name, but found themselves in this tier because I value them as next-level despite their elite tier price tag—you may want to pass on those that fit those criteria:

1. Matt Belisle, Colorado Rockies – Came out of a nowhere with a brilliant season last year, but the lack of a legitimate track record is what keeps him out of the elite column.  Can he maintain the strikeout per inning stuff and more importantly will Colorado allow him to throw 92 innings again or close to it at least?  If so, he’s great and likely quite underrated.

2. Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals – This is an example of what we’re trying to find the next example of in 2011.  Clippard was taxed by the Nats throwing 91 innings in 78 appearances, but he delivered with 11.1 K/9, a 3.07 ERA and 11 wins.  In fact, he had 17 decisions.  I wouldn’t bet on anything close to that again as reliever wins are even flukier than starting pitcher ones.  He will likely be overrated in 2011.

3. Bobby Jenks, Boston Red Sox – Don’t underestimate Jenks this year.  He could be closing at some point if Papelbon is moved, but if not we could see his workload increase back into the high 60s for the first time since 2007 as he won’t be used solely according to save availability.

4. Takashi Saito, Milwaukee Brewers – Even at 41, he shows no signs of slowing down.  He’s more a 55-inning pitcher these days as opposed to 65-70 he gave when came to the majors in 2006, but he can still offer 65+ strikeouts in that time.

5. David Robertson, New York Yankees – He’s been a favorite of mine since back in 2009 when he was an unknown.  Now part of a deep bullpen, he’s still pumping out massive strikeout totals, but the lack of control leaves his ERA & WHIP elevated.  The latter doesn’t bother me in the least.

6. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox – I love this kid, but there’s no way he deserved the closer’s role over Matt Thornton based on a 23 innings at the end of the season.  Drafted as a starter, he could be the swingman for Chicago this year which could boost his innings total and add to his value.

7. Sergio Santos, Chicago White Sox – The converted infielder came out of nowhere to have a very good season out of the bullpen last year striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings.  His control was a bit erratic and he seemed to wear down late in the season.  He should improve in 2011.

8. Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals – I know he’s done it for two and a half years, but I still don’t buy Ryan Franklin as a closer.  Motte will get a chance sooner or later.  In the meantime, he’s good for a strikeout an inning and improving control and rate stats.

9. Kevin Jepsen, Los Angeles Angels – Another guy I’ve liked for a while, he’s been up and down, but with Scott Downs on the DL to start the season, he could be first in line for saves behind an ever-shaky Fernando Rodney.

10. David Hernandez, Arizona Diamondbacks – After struggling as a starter despite some quality stuff, he transitioned nicely to the bullpen raising his strikeout rate from 5.7 K/9 in eight starts (42 IP) to 10.9 in 37 innings of relief.  In fact, he improved across the board.  I love JJ Putz this year, but back spasms are putting his Opening Day in doubt and Hernandez should be heir apparent.

11. Joba Chamberlain, New York Yankees – We all know what he can do.  The Yankees aren’t afraid to allow him to pitch more than an inning at a time (did so 15 times last year) so he could feasibly push the 80-inning mark, though the depth of the NY bullpen might eliminate the need.

12. Alexi Ogando, Texas Rangers – With Neftali Feliz officially taking back the closer’s role, Ogando is firmly entrenched as his setup man.  He looked strong in his 41-inning debut and has looked even stronger in the minors with a 12.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 112 innings (all but 31 came in Dominican Summer League, but he dominated AA and AAA for those 31, too).

13. Ryan Madson, Philadelphia Phillies Another high dollar guy (again, relative to middle relievers) because Brad Lidge is so shaky in front of him and he has a long track record of quality middle relief.  His strikeout rate has increased yearly since 2006 nearly touching 11 last year.  A chair kicking incident cost him a lot of time last year as it resulted in a broken toe.  Otherwise, he’s a high workload reliever when healthy.

14. Joel Peralta, Tampa Bay Rays – He enjoyed a breakout season at age 34 last year and color me a bit skeptical.  He is in the mix for some saves as they vow to go closer by committee, but I want to see if the strikeouts are for real before investing.

15. Edward Mujica, Florida Marlins – He finally paired his elite control (0.8 in ’10, 1.4 career) with a big time strikeout rate (9.3) resulting in a sick 12.0 K/BB rate.  His home run rate has been a problem for his entire career and leaving PETCO will be problematic even though Sun Life Stadium is still solid for pitchers.

GOLD MINING

If the last tier is where you find value, then this is where you get rich. Some of your leaguemates won’t even know who a handful of these guys are, but they have the skills and they just might become the next best thing. Even if they don’t become sometimes-closers or vulture five-plus wins, they could just rack up 65+innings of quality work anonymously for your team:

1. Clay Hensley, Florida Marlins – He might be a bit more known as he is supposed to be the next in line behind Leo Nunez, but Nunez was much better than many are giving him credit for so I think he holds the job.  Hensley had his best season yet last year after spending all of ’09 in the minors.  I wouldn’t pay more than $2 to find out if he can repeat.

2. Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants – His career profile is a great example of how volatile a middle reliever’s skills can be as he has bounced from useful to scrub before finally notching his best season last year at age 30.  Don’t go crazy for him.

3. Chris Resop, Pittsburgh Pirates – He has remade himself as a strikeout-heavy reliever and should finally get a chance to do it for a full season, especially since he’s out of options.

4. Sean Marshall, Chicago Cubs – In his first season as a full-time reliever, he took a nice step forward in the strikeout rate and pitched in a lot of high leverage situations allowing him to accumulate seven wins.  Don’t bet on the wins, but this lefty can get right and left handers out.

5. Bobby Parnell, New York Mets – Looked sharp in 76 relief innings between AAA and the majors and I think he is a primed for 80+ inning season with quality stats.  A great dollar value very late.

6. Jesse Crain, Chicago White Sox – If the spike in strikeout rate (8.2 last year, 5.8 career to date prior to ’10) is for real, he’s usually good for at least 65 innings making him plenty useful as a dollar guy in that deep bullpen.

7. Sean Burnett, Washington Nationals – Emerged with an outburst of strikeouts last year raising his rate more than two to 8.9 K/9 in 63 innings.  The backend of Washington’s bullpen is uncertain so he could grab some saves, too.

8. Kerry Wood, Chicago Cubs – He’ll pump tons of strikeouts, but also tons of walks and he’s good for at least a DL stint or two so if you league counts injuries he is a first round pick.

9. Tim Collins, Kansas City Royals – The diminutive Collins (5’7) carries a strikeout rate that belies his stature (13.3 K/9 in 223 minor league IP).  He should make the team out of camp and I see no reason he won’t continue to pile up the strikeouts.

10. Anthony Slama, Minnesota Twins – Nicked a little bit with an elbow issue this spring, but he should be back at some point this season and he can be a huge strikeout asset out of the Minnesota bullpen.  Monitor his return and be ready to jump in.

11. Michael Wuertz, Oakland Athletics – He’s only had the one great season, 2009, so I’m a little skeptical, but he did maintain a strikeout per inning in an injury-riddled season last year.  The home ballpark always helps, but don’t bet on 2009 numbers.

12. Bill Bray, Cincinnati Reds – Looked as good as ever after missing all of 2009, but he is a LOOGY so he doesn’t pile up many innings which limits his potential.

13. Dan Runzler, San Francisco Giants – He’s got an explosive strikeout rate in his 41 innings as a big leaguer, but a 5.5 BB/9 suggests caution.  He could be a great sleeper if he tames the control and increases the workload.

14. Jeremy Jeffress, Kansas City Royals – Triple digit heat and a devastating breaking pitch scream future closer for this top prospect.  He may not break camp with the team, but when he comes up, he will be a target.  Don’t overpay, though.

15. Louis Coleman, Kansas City Royals – A big 2010 in the minors coupled with a big spring have earned him some sleeper buzz.  Reliever spring stats might be the most worthless of all as they samples are insanely small.  His 92 innings from last year are enough to know he can be a big strikeout guy out of KC’s pen.

Thursday: 03.24.2011

2011 Bold Predictions-Part 3

Continuing on with the AL West…

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

Los Angeles Angels:

Jordan Walden strikes out 100 batters – Twice a top 81 prospect (2008: 81, 2007: 70), Walden failed as a starter, but looks like he could become the next great middle reliever for the Angels.  It was a tiny sample, but he dominated in his 15-inning stint out of the pen last year striking out 23 batters.  The Angels aren’t afraid to give a reliever they like 70+ innings and Walden’s recent history as a starter could lead to some 2-inning relief stints.  Even if your league doesn’t use holds, Walden is a nice $1-2 addition to the back end of your AL-Only staff if only for the strikeout help.

Howie Kendrick hits .347 – Seems like predictions of a Kendrick batting title have been floating around for years.  Now a 6th-year big leaguer, he finally played his first full season last year (injuries shortened most of the others), but hit an underwhelming .279 in 616 at-bats.  He still has the skills to rack up hits and this could be the year he finally delivers on the batting average promise of his prospect days.  Some seem to believe second base is thin this year, but it’s really not so don’t reach for Kendrick even if you think he could explode for this big season.  I think it is better to use the 2B depth to fill in your middle (2B/SS) position since shortstop is such a wasteland.

Oakland Athletics:

Coco Crisp stays healthy and goes 20-50 – Like the Carlos Quentin prediction, this one is more of a health one than anything else.  Crisp has never played more than 145 games in a season, but he will need to this year if he’s to meet this 20 home run/50 stolen base projection.  He is seemingly always nicked or bruised with something or other.  The skills are there, as evidenced by his excellent 75-game sample last year (8 HR, 32 SB), but he needs to find a way to play 150+ games.

Gio Gonzalez takes another step forward with the control and tops his ’10 ERA – The easy play is to predict an ERA regression for Gonzalez as his control, though improved, is still high at 4.1 BB/9.  But what if he is just getting started?  What if he regains his K/IP stuff from 2008 and 2009 while improving that 4.1 walk rate and takes the ERA even lower?  I feel like I have been touting Gonzalez forever, but he will be just 25 this year and 2010 was just his first full season.  He is a star in the making and it could come as soon as 2011.

Seattle Mariners:

Michael Pineda throws 175 innings of 3.50 ERA – I have preached time and time again that seasons like Tommy Hanson’s rookie year in 2009 (128 IP, 2.89 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) are the exception and not the rule with freshmen pitchers, even the best prospects.  I still firmly believe that, but Pineda could be another exception.  He is going to secure a rotation spot out of camp and the 22-year old will combine major league-ready stuff with a friendly home ballpark and quality supporting defense.  He will eventually become a legitimate #2 behind Felix Hernandez, but he’s a good spec play in keeper leagues right away because he could easily hit the ground running with the factors working in his favor.  The 175-inning count would only be 35 more than last year across AA and AAA so the Mariners don’t have to limit him too much.

Erik Bedard throws 180 innings – The skill isn’t in question so even projecting a sub-3.00 ERA with 180+ Ks wouldn’t be terribly bold.  It’s all about keeping Bedard healthy and getting him on the mound every fifth day.  He’s a late round upside play that can pay massive dividends just by staying healthy.  Easier said than done, but I think Seattle finally gets some returns from that awful trade with Baltimore that brought Bedard to the Pacific Northwest.

Texas Rangers:

Nelson Cruz hits 44 home runs and steals 31 bases – From a pure 5-tool skills standpoint, Cruz is one of the best players in all of baseball.  I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for that, though, because in his two big seasons he has only played 128 and 108 games, respectively.  If he can make it 150+ games, he can have an all-time fantasy baseball season.

Elvis Andrus hits .324 and steals 56 bases – Too often the fantasy community pigeonholes players and closes off the possibility of growth within their profile after one bad season.  I think Andrus might be falling into that category a little bit already (he’s 22!!!).  He regressed some in his sophomore season, there is no doubt about it.  He hit for less average, had a disgustingly bad .301 SLUGGING PERCENTAGE and was only 32-for-47 (68%, 72% is the break-even point for SBs) on the basepaths.  So now he’s a no-hit slick fielding shortstop with some speed for the rest of his career?  After his rookie season, he was the next big thing, but a slight regression as a 21-year old now has many down on him.  There is often too much overreaction to one season whether positive or negative.  Stepping off of my soapbox, Andrus is a talented ballplayer who has legitimate growth potential in his profile.  And we could see a large dose of it in 2011.

Next up: NL East

Thursday: 03.24.2011

2011 Bold Predictions-Part 2

Continuing on with the AL Central…

Chicago White Sox:

Carlos Quentin hits 44 home runs – He hasn’t quite captured the magic from his 2008 season when he hit 36 home runs in 130 games and missed September of what could have been an MVP campaign.  Since that breakout season, he has continued to display very good power, but injuries have remained a huge issue limiting him to 99 and 131 games in the last two seasons.  So I’m betting on health as much as anything else combined with playing in a great park for home runs.

Edwin Jackson strikes out 200+ batters with a sub-3.50 ERA – White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper has done more with less so I’m excited to see what he can do over a full season with someone as talented as E-Jax.  We saw a glimpse of things to come in his 75-inning sample after the trade from Arizona and I don’t think that was a fluke.  I’m not sure why people are so quick to dismiss his post-trade success, but believe that Daniel Hudson’s (sent to Arizona in the deal) is a slam-dunk precursor of things to come (which is leading to an overvaluing of Hudson, even though I really like him).  Jackson’s slider is 4th-best in baseball from 2008-2010 and it will be the primary weapon in his 2011 strikeout fest.

Cleveland Indians:

Lonnie Chisenhall has 400+ at-bats hitting .290/.370/.430 – He probably should have been given the job for Opening Day, but Jack Hannahan edged Jayson Nix in a placeholder duel for the third base job.  Chisenhall will head to AAA and polish his game up a bit more, but he will be up quickly and I think he takes over the job upon arrival.  There won’t be a ton of power right away and perhaps never, but I think he will lace plenty of singles and doubles while drawing a significant number of walks.

Shin-Soo Choo goes .330-30-30 – After a pair of nearly identical .300-20-20 seasons that have put him on the map as the excellent player that he is, it’s time for Choo to have the career year.  I see him going off with 34 home runs and 31 stolen bases and another .400+ on-base percentage, too.

Detroit Tigers:

Victor Martinez hits .372 – I wrote last week about why I thought Martinez was the top catcher for 2011.  I think the lack of catching should make him not only more durable, but also better.  As such, we could see a special season where this “professional hitter” wins a batting title.

Kansas City Royals:

Alcides Escobar steals 57 bases – His speed did not manifest itself in a full season of at-bats in which he grossly underperformed expectations.  A year older and on a team ready to unleash his speed, Escobar could provide sneaky value at the back end of that shortstop pool with a big time speed season.  He might still only hit .260, but he’s going to run a ton.

Kila Ka’aihue hits 37 home runs – He has shown prodigious power more than once in his nearly 1,000 games at the minor league level and at 27 years old, it is time to give him a legitimate shot at the major league level.  I have seen the Kila Monster multiple times as the AAA Royals affiliate plays against the Round Rock Express, who play minutes from my place.  Granted it was against AAA competition, but I am a believer and he could have a huge season if they stopped jerking him around and just let him get a full season of at-bats.

Minnesota Twins:

Kevin Slowey pitches 170 innings – This is bold for two reasons: 1) because he inexplicably lost out to Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing for a rotation spot on the Twins and 2) because he’s never topped 160 innings in his four major league seasons.  His 170 might not come with the Twins as he is rumored to be on the trade block, but even if he sticks around in the Twin Cities, he will get his shot.  He will finally stay healthy and pay the dividends his skills portend.  A small investment in him now could bring huge returns by season’s end as too many fantasy owners get short-sighted when it comes to these situations.  A little patience in April can make your October much sweeter.

Delmon Young picks up where ’10 left off hitting .325 with 30 home runs – Even after last year, you will still hear some analysts dismissing him as a “terrible player”.  That’s just stupid.  No, he doesn’t draw as many walks as we would all like, but to write him off as quickly as so many have makes no sense.  Especially when most of the people doing so are the condescending stathead snob-types.  I wonder if they ever realize they sound as stupid as they think non-stathead types like Joe Morgan sound when espousing the virtues of RBIs.  OK, a bit of a tangent there.  Longtime Rays fan and friend of mine Jason Collette is decidedly not a Young fan, but he doesn’t across like a douche about it.  It’s the one player we vehemently disagree on.  I think Young can build on his 2010 for a huge 2011.  Go Delmon, go!

Next Up: AL West

Wednesday: 03.23.2011

2011 Bold Predictions-Part 1

One of the more exciting things to think about as the season approaches is which players are going to have the break through seasons?  Who are going to be this year’s Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto and Jose Bautista or David Price, Jaime Garcia and Ubaldo Jimenez?  For the past few years I have tried to answer that question with “Bold Prediction” columns over at Fanball.  I could’ve sworn I posted at least the 2009 iteration here, too, but I can’t seem to find after an extensive search.

I’m hardly the only one undertaking this task as Ron Shandler and crew have their Longshot Caucus over at BaseballHQ.com and Matthew Berry has his You Heard Me! piece over at his page on ESPN.  I believe he will be releasing that soon and it’s always a fun read.  Both are, in fact.  Hopefully I am able to deliver to that end as well.

In case you don’t remember from previous versions over at Fanball, the bold predictions column isn’t a bunch of aimless predictions, but rather it looks at a player’s whole profile, in the pros and minors, and tries to project out some best case scenarios for them.  These aren’t surefire bets, they are longshots that need a myriad of factors to go right if they are to happen.  You should reasonably expect between 15% and 20% of them to come to fruition.  The point is to get you thinking outside of the box(score) and not focus so much on what we’ve seen, rather entertain what we could see.

I am not going to have the Brady Anderson 50 home run season-type prediction in here because nothing in his profile would’ve told me that was possible so I wouldn’t project it.  Some of these may be “duhs” to you which simply means you’re already looking at possible outcomes beyond what we’ve seen to date.  In the end if there is a prediction you agree with and it causes you to go the extra buck on a guy and outperforms his cost, but doesn’t necessarily meet the exact figure in the prediction, it’s still a win (i.e. I had Gio Gonzalez projected for 175 Ks last year coming off of a season in which he had a near-6.00 ERA.  He finished with 171 and a 3.23 ERA.  If you bought in, you certainly profited significantly).

Some of the other calls from last year include:

  • Shaun Marcum will pick up right where 2008 left off
  • Luis Valbuena will hit 18 HR and steal 18 bases
  • Juan Pierre will steal 70 bases
  • Kelly Johnson will hit 21 HR and .300
  • Manny Ramirez will hit 40 HR
  • Nate Schierholtz will hit .320 with 15 HR
  • Ubaldo Jimenez wins 20 games
  • Billy Wagner will save 40 games (“And might very well be the league’s best closer.”)
  • Mike Stanton will hit 17 HR
  • Mike Jacobs will hit 35 HR
  • Lastings Milledge will hit 20 HR, steal 20 bases
  • Joey Votto will hit 35 HR, drive in 120 runs

That’s a decent sample of wins and losses.  As you can see, some were incredibly far off the mark by October, but you could have envisioned a scenario where they came true and you wouldn’t have have been utterly baffled as to how like you probably were after Ben Zobrist’s 2009 line of .297, 27 HR, 91 RBI, 91 R and 17 SB.  Yes, I highlighted some of the big wins there.  I definitely did not have a 58% success rate as this sample of 12 might lead you to believe.  In fact, I went 18-for-73 yielding a 25% success rate.  Let’s see if we can top that for 2011:

AL East

Baltimore Orioles:

J.J. Hardy hits a career-high 33 home runs – A bum wrist (and other various bumps & bruises) have sapped his power the last two years after a pair of mid-20s home run seasons in Milwaukee back in 2007 and 2008.  He moves to a very hitter-friendly ballpark and he is reportedly finally 100% healthy and clear of the wrist issues.  He is in the midst of his prime and I’m buying the clean bill of health.  He is going very late in fantasy drafts at the most scarce position on the diamond.  If you out on the “studs” at short in an AL-Only, wait on Hardy.

Zach Britton pitches 120+ quality innings at the big leagues – His absurd sinker and devastating slider are major league ready while his changeup is catching up quickly.  He will almost certainly start the season in AAA, but he shouldn’t be there long.  The O’s rotation is hardly stable as it currently stands so once the Super 2 Deadline passes, he should be inserted into the big league rotation where I think he will be an instant success.  “Quality innings” is a bit vague so to clarify, I’m thinking he can net a 3.50ish ERA (give or take .15 for random variance) with 6.5 K/9 and 2.0+ K/BB.  The strikeouts will rise as he gains experience, but he will utilize that sinker to induce a ton of groundballs as he gains his feel for the big leagues.

Nick Markakis finally has the .300-30-100 season – I made this one last year and I’m headed to the well again.  I was only off by 18 home runs and 40 RBIs last year!  Joking aside, he is just too good of a player to be hitting 12 home runs in a season.  A 30-home run season would be seven higher than his previous career high and 10 more than his last three seasons.  He is still at the front end of his prime so don’t rule out an explosion that would shock the narrow-minded.

Jake Fox’s regular season home run total won’t match his Spring Training total… – … because he’s not good.  He has eight as of this writing and even if he doesn’t hit another one this spring, he still won’t top that figure in the 2011 regular season.  Don’t waste your money.

Boston Red Sox:

Jacoby Ellsbury hits .320 with 16 HR – The speed will be there, too, but with a career high of 70 there is nothing that would be all that bold.  If he met this projection, he would be a Carl Crawford-lite.

Jon Lester posts a 2.50-2.75 ERA with 24 wins en route to an AL Cy Young – I had too many wins-based predictions for pitchers last year which was dumb because I’m always beating the “skill doesn’t always translate to wins” drum so I was leaving the projection in the hands of the offenses, defenses and bullpens when I was really trying to comment on the pitcher’s skill.  I included the 24-win mark in Lester’s prediction because I think he has the appropriate backing of offense, defense and bullpen to reward his increasingly excellent skill.

New York Yankees:

Alex Rodriguez hits 52 home runs – It’s hard to really predict anything that can reasonably be considered bold with A-Rod, but he’s 35 years old and has back-to-back 30 home run seasons leading many to believe he is firmly into his decline phase.  There is some skill erosion, but the decline is much smoother with transcendent players like A-Rod and I think he has at least one more MVP-type season in him.  He is a bona fide bargain at a very thin position as he goes mid-to-late second round in many leagues.  The best part about A-Rod, other than the fact that he’s finally healthy again, is that there’s a very high floor so why not invest?

Nick Swisher hits 38 home runs – He’s actually getting better the deeper he goes into his prime and though he hasn’t topped 29 in the last four seasons and 38 would be a career-high, the potential is there especially in that park.  He’s another guy with a high floor having played 150+ games each of the last five seasons.  The batting average isn’t quite the risk that many make it out to be as his .219 season in 2008 is now the clear outlier of his career.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Evan Longoria hits .324-41-133 – No, I’m not among those freaking out about his 11 homer  drop from 2009 to 2010.  After all, his OPS dropped a whopping .010 to .879.  This guy is a superstar and as such he will have some truly excellent seasons in his career.  I am looking at his age 25 in 2011 as the first such season.  All three figures would be career highs and while it wouldn’t necessarily come out of nowhere as he’s a clear first round pick, it would definitely be a profit-laden season.  Some outlets have questioned his mid-first round status, but I think it’s justified even if he “just” repeats 2010 because third base is so lame after the star cut.

James Shields posts a 3.25 ERA – His base skills actually showed significant improvement in 2010 yet his surface stats were the worst of his career because of an atrocious 1.5 home run rate.  He’s not a flyball-heavy pitcher, in fact he’s had a sub-40% flyball rate each of the last three years, yet when someone got a hold of one it was gone.  His skills are just too damn good for a 5.18 ERA or even the 4.14 ERA from 2009. I’m seeing a major course correction.

Toronto Blue Jays:

Ricky Romero shaves nearly a full walk off of his control rate and takes his ERA below 3.00 – I could see the strikeouts rising up above eight per game, but I’m not betting on it just yet as he seems to understand that inducing groundballs is the more efficient way of pitching.  I love that he has the groundball and strikeout in his arsenal.

Travis Snider completes his Adam Lind Path to Stardom – I hope he doesn’t take every step Adam Lind has after Lind’s 2010.  Both had a strong call up, then regressed in their true rookie season and bounced back to average in another half season of play.  Lind followed it up with an explosive 2009 hitting .305 with 35 HR and 114 RBIs.  I’m not sure Snider will hit .305, but he could also top the 35 homers that Lind hit.  I think a big season is in the offing and he’s two years younger than Lind was during his ascension.  Put Snider down for .270 and 38 bombs.  His RBIs will be determined by batting order.

Brandon Morrow improves his walk rate and cuts over a run off of his ERA – With his incredibly electric stuff, Morrow could accelerate his progression with improved command.  Regardless of how much he can improve his walk rate, I think there is a legitimate ceiling on Morrow’s 2011 because the Jays will cap his innings.  I could see the cap ending up somewhere around 175.  In a surprise announcement today, he will start the season on the disabled list with elbow inflammation.  Hopefully this curbs his value a few days before one of the biggest draft/auction weekends of the season.  As I mentioned re: Kevin Slowey yesterday, don’t draft for April.  If anything, take advantage of any inherent discount brought on by his missing a start or maybe two.

Next Up: AL Central

The goal is to put these up throughout the day tomorrow.  I didn’t realize how lengthy they were going to get as I originally intended to go AL/NL in a two-parter.  That would’ve been too long (that’s what she said) so I’m breaking it up by division.  I will also have my Middle Reliever Guide out this week.  I was hoping for today, but again this project expanded a bit more than I expected.

Tuesday: 03.22.2011

18 of My Favorite Pitchers for 2011, Part 2

Here is the second half of my favorites for this year:

Part 1

10. Kevin Slowey – Without a spot in the rotation his value is going to plummet, but it’s a buying opportunity.  Don’t draft solely for April.  It’s a 6-month grind and skills almost always win out.  Slowey has more talent than Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing, but to start the season both will have rotation spots while Slowey will work out of the bullpen.  Slowey will be an afterthought even in AL-Only leagues and I would be more than willing to slot in him as your 8th or 9th pitcher for a few bucks and wait for him to win a spot that he deserves.  A 4.6 K/BB rate doesn’t lie.  He’s long been one of my favorite pitchers and a poor decision by Minnesota at the beginning of the season isn’t going to change that.

11. Tim Stauffer – The former #4 pick overall took a while (29 y/o in 2011), but it looks like he’s finally paying dividends on that lofty draft status.  He plays in the perfect park for pitchers, showed a major uptick in groundballs last year (up to 55%) and has seen his team add strong middle infielders (Jason Bartlett & Orlando Hudson) to field those grounders adding up to a potential breakout season.  There is a slight premium on anyone in PETCO for obvious reasons, but Stauffer seems to be firmly entrenched off the radar in most standard drafts.  He went for $8 in NL Tout Wars and could easily return twice that when you consider what PETCO did for someone with lesser skills than Stauffer in Jon Garland.

12. Chris Narveson – His near-5.00 ERA from 2010 (4.99 in 168 IP) is sure to scare most away, but he pitched much better than that.  He doesn’t have the groundball tilt I usually like out of my pitchers, but with Milwaukee’s horrendous infield defense, that might not be such a bad thing.  He has nice base skills, the next step is learning to work with runners on so he can strand a few more guys.  Part of that is cutting down the long balls, too.  I think he takes a step forward in 2011 and ends up as one of those $1-3 glue guys instrumental in a team’s success.

13. Bud Norris – Like Narveson, his skills were better than his 4.92 ERA indicates, but many will pass based on that figure and the team name on his jersey.  I’d caution strongly against that as Norris has the kind of stuff that “out-of-nowhere” seasons are made of starting with his 9.3 K/9 rate being overshadowed by unimportant factors.  Are you one of those owners dying for an upside pick?  Norris is your guy.  The lofty strikeout rate is matched with an average groundball rate and a BABIP and LOB% combo worse than league norms that could be in for positive regression.  Even if he doesn’t take that major step forward this year, his sub-$5 price tag is at worst an even investment with all of the strikeouts.

14. Carlos Carrasco – We could have a budding Sporer Trifecta of Excellence (patent pending) profile on our hands.  It was only 45 innings of work last year, so temper the expectations a bit, but he had a 7.7 K/9 with an elite 57% groundball rate and his changeup was the best pitch in his arsenal.  This is a 3-time top 54 prospect (2007: 41, 2008: 54, 2009: 52) according to Baseball America so the pedigree is there, too.  Like Norris, his jersey will have some shying away or ignoring him completely, but his first full season in the majors could be a big one.

15. Derek Holland – It seems like I have been touting Holland for so long that he should be older than 24.  Alas, he doesn’t even have 200 major league innings under his belt yet here I am again espousing the virtues of this man’s abilities.  He started to come together in a 57-inning sample last year, but the loss of Cliff Lee opens an opportunity for him to finally prove it over a full season.  Although the sample was tiny, it was nice to see him greatly improve on 2009’s ugly 1.7 HR/9 down to 0.9 a season ago.  That’s about the limit for him if he is to have that breakthrough season many see as a possibility.  He’s one of those popular sleepers so be careful if his value gets too high in your league.

16. Jason Hammel – Similar to several guys on the list whereby he has above average base skills, but is missing one ingredient that keeps him from legitimate success.  For Hammel, it’s an ability to work with runners on as he his LOB% actually got further from league average 2010 leaving him with an ERA a half run higher despite improved skills.  You could easily be looking at $10+ profit out of Hammel if leaves a few extra men on base and continues or improves his already impressive skill set.

17. Chris Tillman – Remember when Tillman was the 22nd-ranked prospect in all of baseball?  It was alllll the way back in 2009.  He then proceeded to dominate AAA for 97 innings posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 9.2 K/9 and a 3.8 K/BB.  Later that season he was knocked around in 12 starts in his major league debut resulting in an ugly 5.40 ERA and 1.55 WHIP.  The skills were nothing like his minor league pedigree at 5.4 K/9 and 1.6 K/BB.  It was essentially rinse & repeat for 2010 with 121 strong innings at AAA then 54 ugly ones in the majors.  He turns 23 on Tax Day this year.  Too often the fantasy community gives up on top prospects if they don’t set the world afire right away a la Ryan Braun or Jered Weaver.  This is a post-hype play going for as little as a dollar in some AL-Only leagues who could end up as a tremendous keeper for 2012 and beyond.  Worst case is he is still not ready in 2011 and you cut bait with little invested.

18. Ross Detwiler – This is my biggest spec play of the bunch.  I just think there could be something here with Detwiler.  He has 278 innings of minor league success suggesting he is better than the 106 innings of major league work thus far.  He is the left-handed Tillman with less fanfare and a few years older (OK, I guess there are a enough differences to make that a bad comp).  Point being he showed enough in the minors to be something of a top prospect and though he hasn’t put it all together at the major league level yet, there is reason to believe he still can and will.  Furthering his spec play status is the fact that he’s not going to have a rotation spot on Opening Day, but the four surrounding Jordan Zimmermann are neither bastions of health, nor particularly skilled at pitching so he will get a shot at some point.  If he doesn’t win a bullpen spot, just monitor him.  But if he does make the team out of camp, he could be a high strikeout $1 reliever as he bides his time for a rotation chance.

So there they are, my favorite 18 for 2011.  There is something in here for everyone regardless of what kind of league format you play in.  I guess the only thing missing is minor league prospects, but I posted 50 from each league just a few weeks ago, so you know who I like there.  I know it’s a big draft/auction week for everybody so I’m trying to get as much material out as possible for your last minute prep.  I have a draft tonight, but hopefully I can get another piece up shortly after it finishes.

Monday: 03.21.2011

18 of My Favorite Pitchers for 2011, Part 1

Any fantasy baseball magazine, book or website is bound to have a sleepers section somewhere.  They are a fantasy staple loved by all and for good reason as everyone is looking to get the next big thing at a great price that will propel them to a title and help them for years to come if they play in a keeper league.

Of course in the Information Age we live in these days, it is really hard to get anything by your leaguemates in terms of a legitimate sleeper.  The more obvious sleepers turn up in seemingly every one of these articles all of sudden making them overvalued or at least just fairly priced sapping the value.  I am not here to bash sleeper articles as I have done them for the last five or six years whether here or at the various outlets I have worked for in the past.  I wanted to try a different approach this year.

Instead of worrying about sleeper label and pretending like we are pulling a fast one on our leaguemates, let’s just look at some guys I like for 2011.  These aren’t necessarily sleepers as many will be firmly entrenched on the radar of your opponents.  Nor are they necessarily breakout candidates, either.  After all, who really knows what defines a breakout?  It can mean 10 different things to 10 different people.

If you read the Starting Pitching Guide then you won’t be surprised by some of these guys as I made it clear how much I liked them there by suggesting you aggressively buy in or go the extra dollar or a host of other ways I used to convey my excitement for them.  Essentially if they are on this list, I like them more than their current projection meaning there is profit to gained.  There isn’t a uniform theme to this piece so let’s just get started with the names and you’ll see what I mean.

1. Cole Hamels – Seeing Hamels on a list like this might come as a surprise after all he doesn’t fall too far out of the top 10 starting pitchers in most drafts.  His inclusion is due to the fact that I have him as a top 5 guy for 2011.  He has Cy Young-quality stuff.  It was a travesty that his pitching led to just 12 wins, but that’s why judging pitchers on wins is foolish.  He is a bit overshadowed by teammates Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, but I think he’s the best bet from a production-to-cost ratio.

2. Tommy Hanson – Like Hamels, this is a superstar in the making, but an overreaction to a 10-11 record from 2010 is depressing his value a bit.  Guys like Hamels and Hanson are the ones who will be my aces in 12-team mixed leagues because I refuse to pay the premium attached to the Lincecums and Felixes of the world.  If you’re looking for guys to take Ubaldian leaps from good to great, target Hanson and this next guy…

3. Chad Billingsley – Noticing a trend with these first three guys?  Billingsley also had a record that belied his true value going 12-11 for the second straight season masking his return to 2008’s 2.5 K/BB and a career best 0.4 HR/9.  Are you surprised to learn that he is just 26 years old?  In a standard 12-team mixer, I’m building my hitting base filling in some scarcity fields like shortstop (if I can get Hanley or Tulow), third base and outfield (remember, we need five) while taking advantage of the first base depth with those first 6-8 picks then pairing Hanson and Billingsley as my 1-2 punch.  My offense is going to be better than the guy who took Halladay in round 1 or 2 and my pitching is going to nearly on par and potentially better even if he paired a Sabathia or Weaver with him using yet another early round pick.

4. Brandon Morrow – I think he is getting a little trendy raising his value, but that doesn’t dissuade me.  Last year, I loved Gio Gonzalez and Jonathan Sanchez to make big leaps forward and they didn’t let me down.  Morrow is my guy of that class this year.  If he can shave a full walk off of his rate like Gonzalez did, he would be near 3.0 and if it didn’t cost him over two strikeouts in the process (as it did Gonzalez), he can be truly elite.

5. Ricky Romero – I love me some Blue Jays this year.  I will lift a quote from myself from the Guide re: Romero, “Romero meets the three criteria of Sporer Trifecta of Excellence (patent pending) with a strong strikeout rate (7.5 K/9), a truly elite groundball rate (55% career) and an above average changeup (though it was valued higher in ’09)”.  He has the stuff to take a step forward, but even a 2010 repeat has value at the cost I’m seeing for him in the two drafts I have already done and the expert leagues that have already taken place.

6. Hiroki Kuroda – A victim in the W-L column going just 11-13 last year despite a very strong skill set.  He has managed three straight sub-3.80 ERA seasons in the majors despite failing to reach even 70% LOB% let alone the league average 72% mark.  His age (36) undoubtedly scares some off, but nothing in his profile warrants fear (50%+ GB rate, 2.2 or better BB/9 and improving K/9 reached 7.3 last year).  He comes cheaper or at the same cost as the likes Matt Garza and Tim Hudson despite a more stable set of skills and even a tick of upside if that LOB% bumps up to average.

7. Edwin Jackson – Not much love out there for Jackson for some reason.  Maybe because it took him so long to begin paying any sort of dividends on his elite prospect status (4th in baseball in 2004) or because he teased and tantalized with so many false starts prior to that breakout year in Detroit back in 2009.  In Don Cooper I trust.  In 75 innings he righted Jackson’s season from the disaster it was in Arizona assisting Jackson to eight quality starts out of 11 including a run of three in which he struck out 11, 10 and 11.  I think Cooper and the Sox will finally extract the best out of Jackson for a full season returning a sharp profit on his current value.

8. James McDonald – This is the third year of me driving the McDonald Bandwagon.  He’s just getting going after a trade to the Pirates finally got him into a rotation so I’m not going anywhere now.  He went for $4 in NL Tout Wars over the weekend.  He is the kind of endgame play that can yield $10+ dollars of profit and be integral to a championship run.  Frankly I’m surprised he was so cheap as he has popped up on a lot of sleeper lists this offseason, much to my chagrin.

9. Jordan Zimmermann He got a nice little 71-inning (31 in the majors) tune up last year coming back from Tommy John Surgery displaying 99% of his velocity from 2009 (92 of 93 MPH) and posted some decent stats albeit in smallish sample.  I am quite intrigued by what he can do in a full season (though a full season this year may mean  approx. 170 innings) having displayed strikeout an inning stuff throughout his minor league career as well as the 91 innings from his rookie year.  Injury returns are often a great source of profit and Zimmermann will be a prime candidate in this field for 2011.

Tomorrow’s portion of the list will feature nine names geared more towards single leagues and deeper mixed leagues.  That doesn’t mean they are entirely out of play for 10 and 12 mixed leaguers, especially if you have a reserve roster or taxi squad, but a lot of those leagues will have several of these guys on the waiver wire after the draft.

Ed. Note – if you’re wondering where Dan Haren is on this list, I figured he was too obvious to include.  If you’ve been reading my work at all this offseason, participated in the chat I hosted a few weeks back or talked with me via Twitter, you know how much I love this guy for 2011 (and beyond for that matter).  He is an unheralded ace with one of the best and most stable skills profiles in all of baseball.  He was tied with Max Scherzer as the 6th most expensive starter in AL Tout Wars ($20), a bargain in my book.  I have him 3rd-best in the AL behind Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester, just ahead of Justin Verlander.