Archive for ‘Bold Predictions’

Monday: 12.10.2012

Allen Craig in 2013

The 2012 season is officially over.  Whether your line of demarcation is the World Series or the awards season, the bow is now on another excellent season of baseball.  With my beloved Detroit Tigers taking the crushing loss in the World Series, I was ready to put an eye toward 2013 immediately.  So naturally I have already started three drafts, two mocks and one actual league.

The first came in Arizona when I attended the BaseballHQ.com First Pitch Forums (a must event for baseball nut, so much fun).  I actually participated in simultaneous drafts out there, but one was a Scoresheet league (my first!) so I’ll focus on the trio of 15-team mixed leagues for the purposes of this piece.  The other two are mock drafts I set up with podcast group members.  I’ll discuss those in more detail later.  For now, I want to discuss a staple across all of my teams: Allen Craig.

The Wrench landed on all three of my teams due in large part to my aggressive approach to acquiring him.  The league in Phoenix was a standard 15-team NFBC-style draft.  We do 23 rounds live and finish the rest online.  I drew the 10th pick which wasn’t my ideal spot, but I have no real complaints with it, either.  Once Matt Kemp and Carlos Gonzalez went sixth and seventh, I began to think I could get insanely lucky and end up with Joey Votto.  Instead, he went eighth.

I passed on the likes of Albert Pujols, Buster Posey, or Prince Fielder and went with Giancarlo Stanton.  He put up a full season of power in 501 plate appearances with a career-high 37 home runs.  Frankly, I was kind of surprised he was there.  It was round two where I made my move.  Knowing I would have to wait another 18 picks for my third round pick and feeling plenty comfortable with him here, I took Craig with the 21st pick in the draft.  Many believed it was a bit crazy.

The thing with drafts is that it only takes one of your other 14 competitors to sink your plan to roster someone.  With nine of those competitors getting two picks apiece, it was a risk I was unwilling to take even though he may well have made it back to me.  In the two mock drafts, I got the third and sixth picks respectively and ended up waiting a tick longer for Craig nabbing him with the 33rd and 36th overall picks in the third round of both leagues.  The CouchManagers  engine allows drafters to vote picks as “good” or “bad” giving users some instant feedback on how leaguemates view their selections.  Across the two leagues, Craig received three good and nine bad votes.

I get it.  It is unconventional and because many people seem to disagree with the pick both as outsiders looking in and even within the leagues where I selected him, I probably could’ve gotten him later.  Probably doesn’t work for me, though.  I took him where I valued him as I see him as a quality upside pick.  He finished top ten among first basemen in home runs (ninth* with 22), runs scored (tied for seventh with 76), and runs batted in (seventh with 92) despite logging just 514 plate appearances.  He was also second among qualified first basemen with a .307 batting average and fifth with a .354 on-base percentage.

The upside with Craig is simply playing time.  Injuries have limited him to 733 plate appearances the last two seasons with four stints on the disabled list.  It started with a strained left groin in April of 2011 that cost him 13 games.  A bruised right knee from 2011 cost him essentially two months (54 games).  While he did return and closed out the season with a bang (.290 average, .901 OPS and seven home runs in 97 plate appearances), the injury bled into 2012 as the resultant surgery cost him all of April.  I would rather bet on a player who has displayed the skills and needs to stay healthy as opposed to someone with potential who are we are waiting on to see if they can “put it all together” and deliver on minor league promise.  Mind you, health is a skill so while I say the upside is “simply” playing time, there are some who never bring that facet to their game and we are left with a bunch of “could’ve been” seasons.

In fact, look what Craig’s last two seasons could’ve been with a full allotment of plate appearances:

Allen Craig 2013

The only real difference between those two adjusted seasons is the stolen base total.  That is about the furthest thing from the mind of someone drafting him so even if he does manage a full season of playing time and only steals a couple bags, it doesn’t dent his value.

Take the average of the other four numbers (97, 30, 118, .309) and over the past two seasons only two players have hit all four benchmarks: Kemp in 2011 and Miguel Cabrera this year.  Of course, these are just theoretical thresholds for Craig as he hasn’t yet proven the health piece, but the production in four of the five standard categories is excellent and definitely worthy a high pick especially as first base thins out a bit at the top.

Known as a position of depth, there were far few elite level options in 2012 compared to 2011.  Using ESPN’s Player Rater, it took 6.9 rating to make the top 50, which I think we could all agree is the upper echelon of offensive players.  Of that 50, only nine were first basemen.  Of those nine, four were no doubt not utilized primarily at first with Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion qualifying at third base while Posey and Joe Mauer are best deployed at catcher.  Adrian Gonzalez is on the fence as a first base/outfield qualifier, but we can leave him at first.

In 2011, the top 50 threshold was at 6.7 on the Player Rater and 12 of those were first basemen.  Of those 12, only Michael Young (third base) and Mike Napoli (catcher) were best deployed at another qualifying position.  Lance Berkman and Michael Morse were like Gonzalez with their outfield qualification.  I definitely didn’t tab Craig with an early selection with the thought of position scarcity front of mind, but it shouldn’t be ignored, either.  Craig also carries the dual eligibility in the outfield adding flexibility to the pick, too.

Craig has been one of the best hitters in baseball the past two seasons ranking 17th in OPS+ among batters with 700 or more plate appearances.  That is my primary reason for selecting him where I have been; he’s a great hitter.  Additionally, in order to put up an elite season, he isn’t waiting on talent develop, rather he needs his body to cooperate.  While that certainly isn’t a given, it is a much sounder investment than betting on someone’s talents to shine through or for them to “get it”.

*Craig logged the ninth-highest total at 22, but there were players tied at 30 and 23 leaving 11 players with more homeruns than him. 

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Thursday: 07.12.2012

The Second Half Hail Mary Team

Your team sucks.  Way to go, idiot.  You are wallowing near or at the bottom of the standings with seemingly no hope.  It’s a redraft league so you don’t even have the option of trading for the 2013 which can be a fun exercise once you realize a season is lost.  So what do you do with the second half?  Hint: ignore your team and start looking for sleepers who will definitely fail in fantasy football is not the answer.  No, the answer is you throw conservatism out the window and chuck some Hail Marys to see if you can make a run.  Cross-sport reference!!!!

As dire as the situation may look now, there is time.  It’s not exactly the halfway point, four teams have played 87 games and all but two have (Washington & Kansas City at 83 & 84, respectively) played 85 or more, but a lot of baseball is still going to be played.  There will be plenty of Cinderella stories in October about a team that was buried at the All-Star Break only to surge through the standings in the dog days of summer en route to an improbable victory.  Let’s make that your story.

Presenting the Hail Mary Team for 2012.  This group of strugglers contain a ton of upside if they can reach previously established heights in the coming months.  Honestly, if you are one of the teams looking up at most of the league in your standings, you probably have a couple of these guys on your team.  They came into the season with elevated expectations and have failed to meet them for a bevy of reasons.  Their price tags have lowered (and if they haven’t, just pass, because there’s no sense paying full price) and with nothing to lose, they could be your ticket to a much better slot in your standings.

CATCHER Carlos Santana

He’s been wretched this year after a great 2011 season.  And it’s not just the concussion that sidelined him near the end of May as he was horrible in that whole month leading up to the injury (.233/.314/.344).  The concussion may be exacerbating the situation, but it’s just been a rough go since a solid .262/.417/.446 line April suggesting that maybe something other than the concussion is in play.  Nevertheless, this is a power force at a scarce position who can be a big time run producer if he gets back to the guy we saw in his first 201 games spanning part of 2010 and all of 2011: .244/.362/.459 with 33 HR and 101 RBI.  Brian McCann got some consideration, but his surge before the break (.421, 4 game HR streak w/11 RBI) likely allayed the fears of many and ate into any discount you could’ve gotten previously.

FIRST BASE – Ike Davis, Eric Hosmer

Both guys have been hot of late, but such wretched starts have their overall lines still in shambles resulting in their appearance on waiver wires in shallower leagues and making them available for little more than a song in leagues where they are on a roster.  Davis has a very healthy .294/.351/.635 line with 7 HR and 28 RBI in the last month so his price might be one of the higher ones on this list comparatively speaking, but I’d be willing to pay it as long as it still represented a discount against preseason expectations.  He’s been a bit Dan Uggla-esque circa 2011 where the batting average was just awful, but the power was still present.  I’m not sure he’s going to run off a 33-game hit streak like Uggla did, but who cares?

Hosmer ripped off a 3-hit game in Yankee Stadium in late May, his first of the year, and that seemed to be something of a turning point for his season.  From that game on: .289/.352/.430 with 4 HR, 19 RBI and 7 SB in 165 plate appearances.  He is still toting a .231/.299/.371 season line, though, which is why he still qualifies for this team.  Like Davis, he will be on the higher end of the cost spectrum among this list of players, but he should still be available at a sharp discount compared to the preseason which is what makes him a worthy Hail Mary target.

SECOND BASE – The Weekeseseseses, Rickie & Jemile

The Brothers Weeks have been awful this year lending to the decimation of the second base this year which could’ve been a plentiful position had players met or at least been near expectations.  Surges from Aaron Hill, Neil Walker, Jason Kipinis and Jose Altuve are only masking failures of the brothers, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Ackley instead of adding depth.  Back to these two, though, with Rickie first.

Injuries have always been a problem as he has just one season with more than 129 games played, otherwise he has usually performed quite well as long as he is on the field.  Until this year.  Even a depressed offensive environment can’t mask his woes as he checks in just under the Mendoza Line at .199 with just 8 HR and 6 SB in 81 games.  He hit 20 HR in 118 games last year, so even doubling his current output would be short of expectations.  He’s running at the same clip as last year, but he’s not really a speed asset these days anyway, that’s his brother’s area of expertise.

Speaking of Jemile, he has been an abomination thus far.  Imagine he were even average, the A’s might be above .500.  As it is, they are right at the mark and his return could help them stay there or exceed the level going forward.  The real bummer is that his poor half has overshadowed the huge gains in walk rate (up from 5% last year to 11% this year) paired with a small improvement in strikeout (down 1% to 13%).  If Dee Gordon can lead baseball in stolen bases (30) with a .280 on-base percentage, Weeks should have more than 12 with a more palatable .312 OBP.  He is an easy target if steals is a category where you’re severely lagging.

SHORTSTOP – Alexei Ramirez

When Ramirez ended up April with a paltry .498 OPS, some may have seen that as a prime buying opportunity as he routinely takes a while to get going.  Over his career, April is easily his worth month checking in with a .561 OPS compared to .721 or better in every other month peaking with .822 in July.  He sputtered to a .581 mark this May.  He improved to .678 in June so he is progressing, but not nearly as rapidly as usual.  In a scant 7-game sample for July, he is at 1.057 so maybe he finally ready to let loose.

The power has been noticeably absent throughout with just two home runs.  He has run a bit more to help alleviate a bit of the damage checking in with 10 SB, three more than all of last year in a full season.  He has long been one of those guys who is much better as a fantasy asset than as a real life one with only one season over 99 OPS+ (104 as a rookie).  He had become a bankable 15-70-10-80 with an average around .270.  It will take a helluva rally to get there this year, but if he just performs to the levels we have seen in the past, he will be a positive asset at shortstop at a nothing cost.

THIRD BASE – Ryan Zimmerman

I was surprised the other day when I heard some fantasy analysts dismissing him as a non-entity.  The basic premise was essentially that he’s never been any good so why are folks still hung up on him?  That’s just crazy talk.  He was excellent in 2009-2010 and was tracking toward another great season last year when injuries cut it short.  He hasn’t been good this year and I think injuries are a big reason again as he had a DL stint back in late April through early May and then he took a while to get going once he was back.

I’ll grant that he isn’t the sturdiest guy around.  That seems to come with territory when dealing with defensive stalwarts like Zimmerman, but he is definitely a damn fine hitter capable of big numbers.  In fact, he has been hot of late starting with a Coors Field trip (always a nice remedy for a hitter) totaling 14 games in all during which he has hit .333/.394/.683 with 5 HR and 18 RBI.  He has a 1.003 OPS with 3 HR in the non-Coors part, so don’t worry that he is Brandon Mossing us.  His bottom line is still gruesome (.694 OPS) enough that the price won’t be too steep.

OUTFIELD – Cameron Maybin

Proponents of Maybin’s are pointing toward last year’s second half dash to the finish that saw him swipe 28 bases after the break with an improved .268 average (up from .259) and hoping he has another such run (pun fully intended) in him.  The talent is there in glimpses, but those are all too brief because even when he’s hitting the longest home run in Chase Field, he’s still only carrying a .212 average.

Ichiro Suzuki

This is probably just the decline of a 38-year old former star, but it’s hard not to look at his 39 SBs from just a year ago and dream of him stealing 20+ in the second half.

Shane Victorino

He has been a far cry from what we expect in the slugging department thanks to a precipitous drop in triples as he has just two after leading baseball two of the last three years and notching 10 in the third of those seasons.  Aside from that, he hasn’t been awful save a little batting average misfortune.  I think the perception of his struggling is stronger than the truth of it as he already has as many steals (19) as he did in all of last year and his eight homers are just off of last year’s pace.  Try to prey on the trade rumors swirling about and his benching the other day for not liking his slot in the order as well as the general Phillie malaise that has seemingly stunk up every non-Hamels entity.

Bes Jond Unnings and D.J. Jupton

Paired together for obvious reason, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton have been colossal disappointments this year, though like others in the list they have run enough to stem the tide a bit on their being fantasy sinkholes.  Both have 15 SBs, impressive more so for Jennings coming in eight fewer games, but both are still on the wrong side of .680 OPS to date.  It looks even worse if you extend back into September for Jennings as he jumped off a cliff after a blazing hot run from late July through August.

Meanwhile, no one is expecting anything batting average-wise from Upton, but what is with the power outage?  He’s been around a 20 HR hitter the last two years which combined with his speed and 80ish runs driven in and scored made the batting average plenty palatable.  He’s now on pace for 13, down 10 from last year, but he can string together some 4-5 HR months and rally to or above 20 if he’s right.  Both of these Rays have plenty of upside that make gambling on them easy, especially at a discount.

Nelson Cruz

He has been lying in wait just ready for a Cruzian streak.  It may be bubbling up near the surface, too, as he entered the break with three multi-hit games including four doubles, but no homers.  When he gets hot he can carry a fantasy team so he is an easy inclusion even though he hasn’t been as rotten as the others with a 99 OPS+.  You may have to package one of your few worthwhile assets to get him and someone else on this list.  It could pay major dividends with a monster like Cruz.

PITCHING

Tim Lincecum

Duh.  Just look at the track record, I don’t really need to tell you why he’s a Hail Mary candidate.

Dan Haren

Currently injured making it a nice time to strike.  For the purposes of this exercise it also helps that he was terrible for five starts (8.67 ERA) before finally hitting the DL with a balky back.  His brilliant track record and the glimpses of greatness this year when healthy make it clear that he is still someone worth targeting.  The rest will hopefully get him back to 100% and he will return to his previously established level of excellence.

Rickey Romero

Let’s be honest, he didn’t really earn a 2.92 ERA last year from a skills standpoint. He still got the 2.92 ERA and I’m sure it helped many a fantasy team, but expecting that this year would’ve been silly.  Similarly, he isn’t a 5.22 ERA pitcher, either.  The skills have deteriorated this year without question, but not 5.22 deterioration.  His control is all out whack with a career-worst 4.7 BB/9.  That points to a potential mechanical issue which hopefully can be identified and corrected.

Unfortunately, the bubonic plague is sweeping across the Toronto rotation so injury could be an issue, too, but he doesn’t seem to be laboring or hurting when I view his starts with my amateur scouting eye.  A 3.50 ERA from a workhorse who will put himself in position for decisions (and ideally wins given their stout offense) can go a long way toward fixing your flailing staff.

Derek Holland

We saw last year, specifically in the second half and playoffs, what he can do when he is click.  His skills are in line with last year’s save a bit of home run trouble which has no doubt led to his inflated 5.05 ERA.  He quietly came off the DL just before the break and had a quality start, strike quickly before he strings a few together and saps up any discount via trade or starts getting scooped up off the waiver wires.

Doug Fister

The infield defense has struggled as planned and Fister has been a prime casualty, but that isn’t the only factor as a 17% HR/FB rate has led to a 1.2 HR/9 rate.  That factor should regress, especially for a groundball artist (2.2 GB/FB ratio), and that will cut into his 4.75 ERA.  Completing the Hail Mary pass would be a tightening up of the defense allowing him to pitch to a level on par with his skills which would be around 3.45 or better.

Francisco Liriano

Personally, I don’t think he should be trusted, but we are talking Hail Marys here.  He has a 3.12 ERA and a strikeout per inning in his seven starts since returning to the rotation.  We know the upside he has when everything is going perfectly.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Is he the next Liriano after his fall from grace last year?  Probably so, but like Liriano he is streaking in his last seven with a 2.93 ERA and 44 Ks in 46 innings.  In fact, they both started their streaks on June 5th so they are even more similar this year.  They both have ace upside.  Doesn’t mean they’ll will reach it, but the chance is there.

Ervin Santana

He likes to throw a stinker season in every once in a while to keep everyone honest I guess, but his capability is a commodity as proven in three of the previous four years from 2008-2011.  Unsurprisingly home runs were his issue in 2009, too, so figuring that out will be the key to his potential success going forward.  He doesn’t quite have ace potential because he peaks around 6.8-7.0 K/9, but with the Angels clicking, he can run off a bunch of wins with quality ratios if he gets himself figured out.

Clay Buchholz

Another guy I don’t really buy into, but people I respect do and besides, I’m trying to fix your crappy team not mine.  Even including the thrashing he suffered right before hitting the DL, he had 3.35 ERA and 5-1 record (including 4 straight Ws) in eight starts whittling his ERA from 9.09 to 5.53 in the process.  He is currently sitting on the DL with terrible bottom line numbers making now the best time to strike if you are interested.

Tuesday: 04.5.2011

2011 Season Awards

Other Divisions:

Here’s my award balloting for the 2011 season.  There are some chalk picks, but hey, sometimes the chalk wins.  I went three and sometimes four deep to cover a decent swatch of candidates for each.  Limiting to just one is such a crapshoot so I decided to expand it a bit.  Let’s be honest, limiting it to just three or four guys with six months of play where so many different things can happen is also a crapshoot, but it feels less crapshooty when picking a few extras.

American League Awards

MVP:

1stAlex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees

2ndMiguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers

3rd Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas Rangers

This isn’t borne out of A-Rod’s hot start.  In the bold predictions, I put him down for 52 home runs, but he doesn’t even need to reach that to take home the hardware here.  It could be the second time that a Detroit Tiger has an excellent season, but just loses out a great A-Rod year (Magglio in ’07).  If Cruz finally stays healthy, he’s an MVP waiting to happen.

CY YOUNG:

1stJon Lester, Boston Red Sox

2ndFelix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

3rdDan Haren, Los Angeles Angels

I’ll join the rest of the *world* with Lester, but in fairness I did pick him back in mid-February in Starting Pitcher Guide.  I didn’t realize at the time that I was making such an obvious pick, but apparently I was.  But just because it’s a crowded bandwagon doesn’t mean I’m going to hop off.  Hernandez is still the best in the league, but I’m not sure he can win it again with low-to-mid teens wins and I’m not sure Seattle can give him more than that.  I have LA contending all year and it’s due in large part to the fact that they have two aces, one of which is Haren.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

1stLonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Cleveland Indians

2nd Zach Britton, SP, Baltimore Orioles

3rdMichael Pineda, SP, Seattle Mariners

4thJordan Walden, RP, Los Angeles Angels

If Jack Hannahan keeps hitting like a man possessed, I guess Chis won’t get his shot, but I’m quite confident that Hannahan will soon start hitting like Jack Hannahan.  I cheated a bit and picked four because I couldn’t leave one of Britton or Pineda off.  I think Britton is the more polished product right now, but he plays in a hitter’s park in one of the hardest divisions in all of baseball, but Pineda has an incredible park and defense supporting him and could have outstanding strikeout numbers, too.  So I went with both.  Walden could take the job from Fernando Rodney by May 1st and we’ve seen how the electorate reacts to rookie AL West closers.

National League Awards

MVP:

1stAlbert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

2ndMatt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

3rdJay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati Reds

Hey, he’s not the incumbent for once.  I know it’s boring to pick to Pujols, but he is the best player in baseball and if that team contends into the dog days, you’d better believe he will win it.  And I am trying to be right, too, so I can’t just pick outlandish guys for fun.  Kemp and Bruce are two of my improvement picks for ’11 and given their All-Star level now, a step up would make them MVP-caliber.

CY YOUNG:

1stCole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

2ndClayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

3rdTommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves

Votes don’t seem to like repeat winners whether they deserve it not (which is absolutely ridiculous to me), but I’m preying on that stupidity with three newcomers to voting in lieu of really boring you with Pujols and Halladay picks.  I added a fourth to make sure Halladay gets his due, but I think voters will look for a reason not to give it to him and since I have Hamels exploding this year, a teammate outshining Halladay would be a story the voters would glom onto.  Kershaw can be a runaway winner if he matches his already displayed skill with more seven and eight inning outings.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

1stMike Minor, SP, Atlanta Braves

2ndBrandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants

3rdBrandon Beachy, SP, Atlanta Braves

4thAroldis Chapman, RP, Cincinnati Reds

With just 41 innings last year, I’m almost certain that Minor retains rookie eligibility this year.  I like him a lot this year even though he lost the 5th spot to Beachy initially.  It wasn’t through any lack of performance by him, they were both off the charts great in spring.  They will battle each other for the award all summer in Atlanta.  I’d have Belt as a candidate even if he didn’t make the roster out of spring, but the fact that he has only adds to his candidacy.  Chapman is a darkhorse who will rise up the list if, and only if, he takes the closer’s role in Cincy.  I can’t imagine a middle reliever winning the award with so many other viable candidates in more impactful roles.

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.

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.