Archive for ‘First Base’

Saturday: 01.26.2013

Countdown to Spring Days: 27 Days – Yonder Alonso

Only 27 days until live game action…

OK, so the first actual Grapefruit or Cactus League game doesn’t take place until February 22nd, but the Red Sox are splitting up their squad and playing a couple of colleges on February 21st so we’re just 30 days away from organized professional baseball. So why not a countdown of this final, grueling winter month that includes some fantasy analysis?

Obviously my primary focus at this site is on pitchers and you’ll get quite a bit of my analysis on them in late February when the SP Guide drops, thus I was thinking of something surrounding hitters. With 30 days to go, I am going to do a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

YONDER ALONSO

Coming up in the minors, Yonder Alonso had a perfect comp: Sean Casey. It was fitting for a bevy of reasons: he was a Reds farmhand (the team Casey spent eight of his 12 years with), he batted left-handed, had high batting average potential (Casey hit .300), and had a power ceiling in the low-20s (Casey reached 20+ three times, topping out at 25). Comps are should never be used as 1-to-1 gauges, but if you wanted a good idea of what to expect from Alonso as a pro, Casey was a great place to start.

Then he was traded to San Diego.

He moved from one of the best home run parks for lefties to that absolute worst. The Great American Ballpark has a 137 park factor (where 100 is average) for left-handed hitters when it comes to home runs. Only Coors Field is better in the National League checking in with a 150 park factor. Meanwhile, San Diego’s Petco Park has a frightening 61 park factor. Alonso suffered the consequences immediately. In his first full season, he hit just nine home runs in 619 plate appearances including a whopping three at home. Edwin Encarnacion hit nine home runs.

In May.

Alonso was fourth among qualified first basemen in doubles, though, hitting 39. His power manifests itself in line drives as his 24 percent mark was fifth-best among qualified first basemen, but his 31.3 percent flyball rate is easily the lowest among quintet (next lowest was Prince Fielder’s 33.3 percent). Part of that is his game and part of it is his adjusting to what Petco Park will give him. Here is his 2012 spray chart:

spraychart

This is a full spray, home and away, but Alonso clearly leans away from the pull outfield and I bet it would be even starker in a home-only chart (which wasn’t available to me). He understands what he’s dealing with in Petco. His home slugging percentage is actually higher than his road (.398 to .389) because he popped 23 of his 39 doubles at home, but looking for pull power at home is a fool’s errand as a lefty Padre. He hit .290 with a .400 slugging percentage to rightfield at home, but those numbers jumped to .342 and .544 to leftfield.

Obvious next question is: Will the moved in fences help Alonso?

Well they should. They should ostensibly help every hitter, but I’m just being literal and anyone asking that question is actually asking how much they will help Alonso. There is no way to answer that question definitively, but let’s see if we can get some idea based on what he did in 2012. Thanks to MLB.com we know how the new fences will look once the renovations at Petco Park are finished:

petconewfence

For those of you thinking that these changes will turn Petco into Coors Jr., I hope the above picture is a wakeup call. We’re talking about a handful of 9-11 feet moves which may result in a couple extra bombs for the team’s best players. The opposition’s best players will also get a little uptick, but Petco Park is still most definitely a pitcher’s park and the best place to utilize your marginal fantasy starting pitchers. Let’s take a look at Alonso’s outfield flyball outs in Petco last year and see if those extra 10 feet would’ve turned into much.

alonsofboutsI circled a pair of outs in red that look like they might be homers in Petco2. Of course, he’d have to have the same exact hit distribution in 2013 and I highly doubt guarantee that will won’t happen. What may happen, though, is that Alonso is less fearful of pulling the ball for some power thanks to the moved in fences. At the very least, hopefully the new dimensions bring even more doubles which would then likely translate into more runs scored and driven in.

Without improved production, it is hard to justify Alonso being selected in leagues with 12 teams or fewer, even as a corner infielder or utility. He checked in as the 61st corner infielder on ESPN’s Player Rater for 2012. It was his rookie year so I’m not necessarily slamming him for finishing so poorly among corner infielders, just stating it so you’re careful not to overvalue him as he was a blue-chip prospect. And it can’t all be blamed on his home ballpark because his 723 OPS and six homers on the road were far from special.

The 26-year old Alonso is entering his physical prime and now has 746 major league plate appearances under his belt. It isn’t unreasonable to expect him to show some improvement, especially for a guy who was expected to have .300+ capability with at least high-teens power, but expecting it all at once will likely leave you disappointed. Keep him on your watch list for a standard mixed league should you need an early replacement in April or May, otherwise draft him only in NL-only leagues.

ADDENDUM

This piece was supposed to come out earlier on Saturday afternoon before I left for the movies, but I messed up the scheduling of it. So in my haste to remedy that and get it posted before it was all of a sudden Sunday, I forgot to include an instructive graphic.

yonderhmrd

Look at how his power is all to the pull field on the road (as it is with most guys, of course). This backs up the notion that he knows what he’s dealing with when it comes to Petco Park so he’s content to try and pepper doubles to leftfield instead. It will really be interesting to see if the fence move, though slight, will coax Alonso toward the pull field a bit more at home and maybe yield some extra bombs.

Advertisements
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. 

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.

Thursday: 06.30.2011

The Hail Mary Team, Part 1

As of right now 13 others are at 82 games, 11 teams are at the exact halfway point (81 games) and the remaining six are very close.  By Monday, every team will be at or beyond the halfway point so it’s safe to say the fantasy baseball season is also at the midpoint.  By now you should have a pretty strong feel for your team one way or another.  Unfortunately for some of us, that way might be “another” meaning lower end of the standings seemingly without a prayer.

You might not be like me, a guy who plays multiple leagues, meaning your summer could essentially be ruined before the fourth of July and with football (and with it fantasy football) in limbo, things look bleak.  But fear not, I am here to help.  While things may seem hopeless, they aren’t always as they seem and there may still be some hope or at the very least you can put in every last bit of effort and buy yourself at least another month to six weeks of fun trying climb back into the race.  Remember, while it best to win the league, many leagues still have a strong incentive to finish second, third or fourth (and sometimes fifth depending on league format) assuming there is a prize pool on the line (or a minor league draft which is often the reward for that first spot out of the money).

With that, I present to you the Hail Mary Team.  This team is for the owners who are down deep in the standings and for whom it looks like nothing short of a miracle will save them.  The Hail Mary Team is a list of currently underperforming (and thus almost certainly undervalued) assets who can reasonably be believed to be in for a major upturn in the second half of the season as they regress toward their career mean (regression to the mean isn’t always negative).  Whether they are dealing with a rash of bad luck, injury, flat out poor play or all three, their track record says they are way better than this and thus why not invest, especially at a discounted rate?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula to determine if a team is a candidate for this method, so you will have to base it on your league and the standings are stratified (though feel free to contact me in the comments or on Twitter if you want my opinion on the matter).  Ideally, you would want to have the most points to gain the counting categories (HR, R, RBI, W, SV, K) as opposed to the rate stats (AVG or OBP, ERA & WHIP) because the rate stats will be much harder to move at this point and going forward.  As you pile up innings and at-bats, great performances, even the best of the best, have less impact on those three categories.  That doesn’t mean you want to be dead last in the counting stats, but ideally a few (if not all) would be nicely clumped to where a surge could earn you several points instead of needing 6 HR for 1 pt but then another 20 for the next pt and still 10 more the third point, etc… you get the point.

The guys on the HMT should be available via trade at less than full price in your league (and some may even be waiver wire assets).  What you might do is trade one of your decent guys (not stars) for two or even three (depending on the players involved) of these players so the end result is still a net gain (assuming the Hail Marys [Maries?] connect, of course).  You may already have some of these guys which has led to your issues in the first place.  Hang onto them, add more and hope to catch lightning in a bottle.  The really fun part here will be the building of this team since actually winning is a longshot.  So if you team is on the ropes and you love trading, then this is a strategy for you.

Don’t be afraid to trade your stars in this strategy, but make sure you get a mint and that the extra assets are filling for zeroes or close to it.  Also make sure to get the upper echelon Hail Mary Teamers for your stars.  Don’t trade off your solid Hunter Pence for two “Also Keep In Mind” guys.  That will make more sense when you see the players, but the main point is that if you are getting several assets to plug some of the many holes that buried you in the first place, then don’t trade your star asset or at least don’t trade him to the owner who won’t pay.  Ideally you would like to keep your two or three best assets while adding a handful of the HMT’ers to the equation.  As always, I am available on Twitter (@sporer) clarification or for advice on potential offers.

One other thing before we get to the team of players, this is best executed in redraft leagues for obvious reasons.  If you are toast or near toast in a keeper league, you should be building for 2012 (and reading my Keeper Building Block series to help you with that) as opposed to taking a flier on winning the league or pushing your way into a money spot.

I will break this up a bit, but the entire team will be out by Monday so you can spend your fourth of July day off working the trade wires (or hanging out by the pool with some cold ones… either or).

CATCHER:

Carlos Santana (CLE) – Right or wrong, fantasy managers still pay a lot of attention to batting average and let that be the primary indicator as to whether or not a guy is playing well.  Santana’s batting average is .226 meaning he could be discounted.  However, some owners may realize he has 11 home runs already and he’s on pace for 23 with 74 runs scored and batted in along with an unexpected six stolen bases which is damn good from catcher even with a bad batting average.  If your league’s Santana manager is one of those realizing his full value, just move along, I have another name for you to fall back on.

Mike Napoli (TEX) – He is coming off of a busted month where he only played eight games before getting hurt.  He is slated to started his rehab assignment soon so now is the time to pounce.  His owner might look at the .221 average and think, “Man, I knew he wouldn’t be a batting average asset, but I wanted better than this, plus he only has 10 homers, dude’s weak.”  Dude’s not weak.  He’s toting an .836 OPS and .365 wOBA despite that garbage average because he’s walking at a near-career high clip (15%) and smashing a bomb every 14 at-bats.

Also keep in mind: Joe Mauer.  I can’t imagine he is anywhere near full price.  Some people never discount big names, though.  But check in on his team’s manager, you never know.  He won’t offer the power potential of the other two, though, and his primary asset (batting average) is the toughest category to fix.

FIRST BASE:

Coincidentally, both Santana and Napoli qualify at first base so you could use one of them or go with the obvious name…

Adam Dunn (CHW) – Do I really need to enlighten you on why he’s on this team?  Seven seasons of 38+ home runs including five with 40+, he didn’t just forget how to play.  He’s never been great against lefties, but a career mark of .234 with an .800 OPS is a helluva better than the 1-for-53 superslump he is current mired in against southpaws.  He might suck the rest of the year, there’s a real chance of that when you see him play.  That’s why it is a Hail Mary Team, because he might also smash 20+ home runs and getting some BABIP fortune to push his current .262 BABIP closer to his .294 career mark.

Also keep in mind: Aubrey Huff.  Should be dirt cheap and he was great as recently as last year.

SECOND BASE:

Dan Uggla (ATL) – Going with the obvious name here again, but it’s the best fit so there’s no reason not to put him on this “team”.  He does have 12 home runs so he isn’t terribly far off the pace of the 31 average he has set the over the last five years, but it comes with a .178 average and modest RBI and runs scored paces of 55 and 69, respectively, so he certainly shouldn’t be untouchable.  He is basically on pace for Aaron Hill’s 2010 season at this point right down to the absurdly low .189 BABIP so there is a precedent for this kind of season out of a proven player, but his power upside is worth the gamble for this experiment.

Ryan Raburn (DET) – He has become the second half surge posterboy over the last two years.  Last year he ended the first half with a .637 OPS and just two home runs.  He went on to rip 13 home runs, drive in 46, hit .305 and post a .900 OPS in the second half.  In 2009, it wasn’t so much that he languished through the first half, he was solid (.842 OPS, 6 HR in 50 G), but he took it to another level in the second half.  From the trade deadline to season’s end, he hit .350 (in 55 games) with 10 home runs.  Something about the dog days of summer puts a spring in Raburn’s bat.  He has the added benefit of dual-eligibility at second base and in the outfield.

Also keep in mind: Kelly Johnson & Hill.  Johnson is another guy who might draw a discount because of his .210 batting average, but a more savvy owner (or just one paying attention) realizes that his 26 HR/16 SB pace takes a lot of the sting out of that batting average.  You won’t know if you don’t inquire.  Hill’s comically low 3.2% HR/FB can’t  stick all year can it?  Not after years of 15% and 11%, right?  Although he did go a full season with a 4% rate back in 2004 plus he loves being the outlier of bad luck in metrics (see also: his 2010 BABIP mentioned above).  He can be a last resort at this position.

 

Next: Shortstops & Third Basemen

Friday: 05.6.2011

Eric Hosmer & Julio Teheran Called Up

Yesterday and today have brought great news for two of the brightest minor league prospects in all of baseball as Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer and Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran both learned that they are getting the call up to the show.

Both were top 10 prospects on just about any list that you looked at this preseason and I had Teheran atop my list of National League pitching prospects back in March.  The call ups are very different in terms of what they mean for fantasy owners both in the immediate future and going forward.

HOSMER

Hosmer is chief among the coming wave of blue-chip talent for the Royals so him being the first to reach the majors amongst the hitters isn’t terribly surprising.  He probably could’ve broken camp with the team, but they wanted to see what Kila Ka’aihue could do with a legitimate shot at every day at-bats.

The Kila Monster raked his way through the minors including smashing 24 home runs in 94 games a season ago.  And at 27, the organization owed it Ka’aihue and themselves to see if he was going to be a major contributor for what they hope is a winning ballclub in the near future.  Or at the very least he could prove his worth at the major league level and then allow them to either flip him or Billy Butler for even more parts as those two plus Hosmer had the potential for a major logjam.

Well Ka’aihue couldn’t even hit his weight (240 lbs.) which might have been enough to stave off Hosmer a bit longer even though it would’ve been a far cry from the .319 he hit a year ago and the .292 he has posted in the last three years in the minors.  By the way, for those concerned with the financial implications of calling up Hosmer, check out this tweet from Royals aficionado Rany Jazayerli:

Absurd is right.  I understand gaming the system and keeping a guy down until late May or early June of a given year, especially if you don’t really have a shot to contend in a given year like KC this year, but keeping Hosmer down that long was just never going to happen.

So Hosmer gets the call due not only to Ka’aihue’s failures but also his own excellence.  He has punished AAA in his first tour of the league hitting .439 in 26 games along with 19 walks in 118 plate appearances giving him a .525 on-base percentage.  He actually had more walks than strikeouts (16), something he also did in an 87-game sample in High-A at the start of last year.

The power hasn’t been as prevalent as expected with just three home runs and five doubles in his 43 hits, but after posting a .233 ISO in his breakout season across two levels last year as a 20-year old, many believe it is simply a matter of when, not if in terms of his power production.  ESPN’s Eric Karabell made a strong comp to that end likening him to Logan Morrison.  Morrison showed power early on his career, but it tapered as he climbed the minor leagues though the batting average and on-base percentage remained elite.

Morrison hit just two home runs in his 62-game debut last year and was pigeonholed at some outlets as a no-power, high-average asset despite being just 23 years old coming into this season.  In his first 15 games he ripped four home runs while improving both his average and on-base percentage.  Of course that is a tiny sample, but you can see where Karabell was headed.

One aspect of Hosmer’s game many might not be aware of is the speed dynamic.  He stole 14 bases a season ago and amassed nine triples.  So while he may not deliver the punch right out of the gate (remember, he is all of 21 this year), he could offer some sneaky speed at the 1B or CI slot on your roster.

And let’s not completely rule out the power, either.  We are dealing with a whopping 26 games and if just two more balls had found their way over the wall, he’d be on a 31 home run pace over 162 games instead of the 18 we see now.

He is undoubtedly already on a roster in any keeper league that has minor league rosters, but of course check just in case.  He is probably rostered in most AL-Only leagues even if they are re-draft leagues as long as they have some kind of bench, but again, check.  In leagues where he is available, he is an asset worth going heavily for just about regardless of format.

The trickiest league for determining his value is the 10-team mixed league.  With legitimately talent consistently on the wire throughout the season, you don’t want to get sucked in by the potential of the shiny new toy.  Just remember what happened to Brandon Belt earlier this year (.569 OPS and demotion back to AAA in 17 G) and how underwhelming Freddie Freeman has been thus far (.700 OPS in 32 G).  Hosmer rates higher than both on virtually all prospect lists, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t end up performing quite similarly.

Rostering him in a 10-team mixer depends entirely on who you would be cutting to get him.  If you want to run your scenario by me, feel free to do so in the comments below or on Twitter (@sporer).  If it’s a luxury spot for you and you want to see if the lottery ticket hits, go for it.  If you’re cutting a contributing member of your team to take a shot on him, consider the potential downside, too, instead of just dreaming of what might happen.

Also, I would raise my bid substantially in OBP leagues.

TEHERAN

The Braves calling up their top pitching prospect was a bit more unexpected than Hosmer, but once the confetti settled and everyone read the fine print, the excitement was tempered after learning Teheran would only be up for a start on Saturday against Philadelphia because of a doubleheader before heading back to the minors.

As such, he should be treated as any other spot starter that you would use from the Trolling the Wire pieces I post here.  If you have been streaming starters this year, then I would consider him just ahead of Tom Gorzelanny, who is one of my recommendations for Saturday.  He isn’t without risk, but the Philly lineup is hardly daunting.

Teheran, younger than Hosmer at just 20 years old, has a 1.80 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 30 innings at AAA-Gwinnett going 3-0 in his five starts.  His 3.1 K/BB ratio is strong, but down significantly from his previous marks thanks to a 7.5 K/9 which is 2.5 off of last year’s pace.  In sort of an odd pattern, he has done this before, though I’m not sure how much stock I would put into it.

In his 15-inning debut back in 2008, he struck out 10.2 per game.  He followed that up with 7.4 per game in 81 innings as an 18-year old in 2009.  Then he ramped it back up to an even 10 last year in his best season yet which totaled 143 innings.  It could just be him getting used to the tougher competition, too.

Looking deeper we see the following:

Every promotion except the one from A-ball to High-A sees a drop in K/9, but when he repeated A-ball from 2009 to 2010, the strikeout rate climbed back up to an elite level.  In other words, as he gets used to a competition set, he adds the strikeout back into his arsenal as the premier way of getting outs.  These are all tiny samples, but the biggest simple sample is the High-A one which is nearly twice as long as most any other one and we see that he also put up his best strikeout rate there.

It would be more helpful to see splits from that stint to see if there is anything to this notion, but my general inclination is to not worry about the lower strikeout rate at the outset of his AAA career as I believe it will rise over the summer.

I wouldn’t read anything into why he is being brought up instead of, say, Mike Minor, either.  Minor pitched yesterday (May 5th) and pitched quite brilliantly mind you as he has all year so far, while Teheran hasn’t pitched since April 30th.  This allows them to build in a longer break for their 20-year old elite prospect as they find ways to limit his workload as well as give him a taste of the majors and perhaps learn something about just how close he is to sticking at the big league level.

Do not cut anyone of value to pick up Teheran in your league.  He should be a daily-league only play for those who are spot starting.  He will be back down to the minors after the start regardless of how well it goes.  The Braves have their five starters and if they need one on a long-term basis, it’s going to be Minor.

Just enjoy Teheran’s sip of coffee and hope that we get to see some of the excellence that is expected from this youngster in the years to come.  But if he’s pounded and lasts just four innings, don’t panic.  It means nothing.

Friday: 02.11.2011

Daily Dose – February 11th

A link-less, abbreviated Dose heading into the weekend as I drop some first base-related knowledge bombs on y’all:

Knowledge Bomb 1: A couple days ago, I released my top 25 catcher rankings to kick off my positional rankings.  Let’s continue our way around the diamond and head over to the ultra-deep first base.  On the offensive side of things, first base is hands down the deepest position with several superstars and plenty of talent to go around.  The best way to utilize the depth is to also grab your corner infielder (in leagues that use the spot) from this pool.  Some feel that the depth at first base allows you to wait on the position altogether, but I don’t think that is the right play at all.

I think you should be ready to double and perhaps triple dip (1B, CI, DH) into the plentiful bounty of first base.  There are other strategies to be employed, but my feeling is that with the excess of power potential at the position compared with the dwindling power supplies in the league at large, why not maximize the position and its four-category contribution: power (HR, RBI, R and AVG as each HR contributes a hit, too)?

Even if you played up position scarcity and chose a shortstop in the first round and an outfielder in the second round (it’s thinner than you think, folks), you will still have stud potential available in the next two or three rounds.  Let me show you what I mean (guys who have dual-eligibility at first base aren’t going to be included in the actual top 25 as they don’t have nearly the value at first that they do at their normal position.  That means there won’t be any Victor Martinez, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, etc.. Kevin Youkilis will show up because he won’t start the season with 3B eligibility after playing just 2 games there last year.):

  1. Albert Pujols
  2. Miguel Cabrera
  3. Joey Votto
  4. Mark Teixeira
  5. Kevin Youkilis
  6. Adrian Gonzalez
  7. Prince Fielder
  8. Adam Dunn
  9. Ryan Howard
  10. Kendry Morales
  11. Justin Morneau
  12. Paul Konerko
  13. Billy Butler
  14. Derrek Lee
  15. Gaby Sanchez
  16. Adam LaRoche
  17. Aubrey Huff
  18. Ike Davis
  19. Carlos Pena
  20. Lance Berkman
  21. Kila Ka’aihue
  22. Justin Smoak
  23. James Loney
  24. Daric Barton
  25. Matt LaPorta

Overvalued: Ryan Howard – this one is relative as I still think he is plenty valuable as a major power source, but I’m not sure he returns to his truly elite power self as some of the warning signs are to be taken seriously.  He’s been going off the board as the 5th or 6th first baseman in a lot of industry mock drafts that I have seen and his ADP (average draft position) is 6th and 7th at Mock Draft Central and Couch Managers, respectively.  I’ve got him 9th, so it’s not a huge dip, but I wouldn’t make him down for 40-140 automatically in 2011.

Undervalued: None – no one being seriously overlooked, at least not by more than a slot or two which isn’t enough to get up in arms.  There is some value at the position because the depth pushes some guys down, but no one is being criminally passed over in lieu of lesser options.

Target: Kendry Morales – Yes, he is coming off of the big leg injury, but that isn’t something that will sap his power or hamper him at all this year.  He had a breakout 2009 and was in the midst of an excellent follow-up in 2010 when the accident happened, I expect him to pick up right where he left off and continue as one of the best first basemen in the league.  Even if you already locked up an elite first baseman in the first or second round, there would be nothing wrong with coming back in the fifth round and slotting Morales’ 30-home run power into your corner infield spot.

Best of the Rest: Adam Lind – he doesn’t yet qualify at first base in standard league formats, but as his assumed position for Opening Day, your league may allow you to draft him there.  Even if that isn’t the case, he will earn his eligibility there quickly and he has elite power potential with the ability to hit .275+ yet he is going behind LaRoche and Pena (who he is a rich man’s version of) according to current ADP numbers.  If he were first base eligible right now, I would slot him between Konerko and Butler.

Rookie to Watch: Freddie Freeman – He strikes me as James Loney-esque right now lacking enough power to be a starting first baseman.  He could be a .280 hitter with mid-teens power, though, which is still worth rostering even in mixed leagues given the late round cost attached.  He’s really the only rookie 1B with a chance to start in 2011.

Knowledge Bomb 2: There were 13 first basemen to hit at least 20 home runs and drive in at least 80 runs:

  • 10 of the 13 scored 85+ runs
  • 5 of the 13 scores 100+ runs
  • 6 of the 13 hit .290+
  • 10 of the 13 hit .260+ (a .260 AVG will cost a team just .002 in team AVG over a full season)
  • 4 of the 13 chipped in 7+ stolen bases (Votto [16] & Pujols [14] doubled the contribution)

Knowledge Bomb 3: Check out the home run season totals at three key thresholds broken down by position:

Few leagues use each outfield position individually, but even if I had lumped all three together the point of first base’s power prowess would have still held.  You need three to five outfielders in all leagues whereas you need just one first baseman (but could feasibly roster up to three with corner and DH).  First base is the only elite power source on the diamond.  If you leave your draft or auction with Billy Butler (who I really like, so don’t get me wrong there) as your starting first baseman, you have messed up and you will likely be struggling for power all year long.

I will reiterate that you needn’t take a first baseman in the first or even the second round to cash in on the power surplus.  So if you wanted to go shortstop and third baseman to attack some of the scarcity around the infield, that would be a feasible strategy and you would still have plenty of power first basemen available to you in the third and fourth rounds.  However, if you’re looking at a blank 1B spot on your roster in the back end of the fifth round, chances are you are well behind your leaguemates at the position.

Thursday: 01.27.2011

Three Questions – San Francisco Giants

With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide slated for next month, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure.  Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams.  There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.

I paid a lot for Pablo Sandoval last spring, WTF?

Yeah that was a tough one to swallow.  He certainly didn’t come close to expectations, but at the same time he wasn’t the season killer he is made out to be, either.  Season killers are multiple month injuries on April 12th.  You can overcome guys who underperform expectations, but still play 152 games.  Plus it isn’t like his season was a complete & utter disaster, he had streaks of excellence mixed in, namely his April and August where he posted 1.008 and .907 OPS marks, respectively.

In many leagues, Sandoval’s down season (.268/.323/.409 w/13 HRs) will actually create a buying opportunity as owners overreact to what essentially amounts to a sophomore slump at age 23.  Most guys aren’t even in the big leagues at 23 and Sandoval has 1400+ plate appearances under his belt.   We have seen the best of Sandoval and we have seen the worst of Sandoval and with his price being driven by the latter, now is the time to invest.  In the SiriusXM/FSTA Draft during their conference out in Las Vegas on Monday, he was taken in the 8th round (101st overall) of a 13-team mixed league.  Last year he was a 3rd-4th round pick.

Third base is still pretty thin so his value won’t completely plummet, but I would consider that 8th round value to be the high end of where he will go in drafts so you might be able to get him a few rounds later depending on your league.  Once you get past the top 10 of Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Aramis Ramirez, Pedro Alvarez, Martin Prado, Michael Young and Casey McGehee then I think Sandoval is just as good of a pick as the other guy.

He won’t offer nearly as much power as Mark Reynolds, but his overall profile is much more stable.  He doesn’t carry the age/injury risk of Scott Rolen & Chipper Jones and factoring in reasonable improvement regression, he should be better than them even if they manage to stay healthy.  Bottom line is you should pay for a guy hitting .300 with 18 home runs and 75+ runs scored and driven in, but be willing to go the extra buck or two for the potential he has as a 24-year old still coming into his own.

Andres Torres was a prototypical fantasy All-Star last year, what about 2011?

At 33, we’re not dealing with a growth profile here.  Torres’s 570 plate appearances last year eclipsed his career total by 115 spread across parts of five seasons.  That said, he gave us a taste of 2010 in 170 plate appearances in 2009 when he had six home runs and six stolen bases along with eight(!) triples.  After an amazing July, he sputtered down the stretch no doubt suffering some fatigue from his first whole season.  For 2011, it is going to be all about cost.

I’m confident he can put together another solid power/speed season as a “glue guy” for any fantasy team, but is the price tag going to be that of a glue guy or second tier fantasy star?  Early returns are mixed.  His ADP (average draft position) at one popular mock draft sites is off the charts ridiculous.  He is checking in as the 35th outfielder off the board (116th overall) ahead of guys like Curtis Granderson, Adam Jones, Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells and Nick Markakis.  While I said I don’t doubt he can repeat 2010, drafting him ahead of those guys means he has to repeat for me to get proper returns on my investment.

In the industry draft I mentioned earlier, he went in the 20th round (250th overall) which actually hits the other end of the spectrum as a great value.  I doubt he will go that late in most drafts, but anything before 15th-16th round is really ramping up the risk on your end.  He is a great story who has overcome his ADHD to have success in the big leagues, but you still have to remember he is a 33-year old strikeout machine with solid speed in a lineup that is still only decent at best.

Look for a .260-76-12-55-22 line which has value, but let your team construction dictate if he is a fit or not.  If you have a lot of high risk/high reward youth on the team, then Torres is a great stabilizing vet who’s downside isn’t  going to kill you.  But if you have a veteran-laden team on offense, then bet on the upside of a Travis Snider or Logan Morrison before taking a low ceiling Torres.

Is there anyone off the radar who could make an impact for the reigning Champions?

Yes there is and it is someone who has already been covered in depth here, first baseman/left fielder Brandon Belt, who was my favorite player to watch that Arizona Fall League back in November.  As presently constructed, the Giants lineup is essentially Posey, Sandy and Six Old Dudes.  Now those old dudes came through huge last year, especially in the playoffs and helped bring home a title, but older players aren’t bastions of health.  Injuries create opportunities which is where someone who is just about ready for the big leagues, like Belt, comes into play.

The reason Belt now has left fielder attached to his defensive description is because first base, his normal position, is pretty well sealed up for the time being.  Aubrey Huff parlayed his excellent 2010 season into a deserved contract and though he is 34, he has averaged 152 games per season since his age 26 season.  In that time, he has played fewer than 150 just once.  That said, age is fickle.  But the real opportunity could come in left field where Pat Burrell was something of a savior for that lineup in 96 games last year but is neither young (34), agile (-39.7 career UZR) or super healthy of late (122 & 120 GP the last 2 years).

Belt was a breakout prospect last year crossing three levels before heading to Arizona where he continued to stay hot.  Only 13 of his 136 games came at AAA-Fresno so he will start the 2011 season down there to get some more seasoning so he isn’t someone who should be drafted as anything other than a minor leaguer right now, but don’t be surprised if he earns an early summer call-up to spark that offense.

Make no mistake that the Giants won the World Series because of their pitching and that remains their overwhelming strength for 2011.  The offense is far from perfect and the veterans will have to produce with Posey if the team expects to contend out west and if not, GM Brian Sabean will have to find guys who can with Belt being the best minor league option for the Giants.

Saturday: 01.22.2011

Three Questions – Texas Rangers

With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide slated for next month, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure.  Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams.  There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.

Michael Young. Go.

OK, that’s not really a question, but his offseason has been one of uncertainty with the signing of Adrian Beltre and Baseball-Reference.com referring to him as Mike Young for some reason, so what does 2011 have in store for him?  For fantasy purposes the movement on the diamond whether over to first base or off the field to designated hitter has no real impact on his fantasy value because he will still qualify at third base based on last year.  That is where his value is highest without question.  I can’t really see the position move impacting his offense too much, either, though sometimes guys just don’t respond well to DH’ing.

Young has been a legitimate fantasy asset now for eight straight seasons and even at 34 years old there is nothing in his profile to suggest that will change.  The batting average dipped below .300 for only the second time in the eight year stretch since 2003, but with his flyball rate climbing yearly since 2007, that is hardly shocking.  The tradeoff is the likelihood of his power staying in the upper teens, lower 20s area.  His team dependent numbers should remains strong as the lineup actually gets better than its 2010 iteration with addition of Beltre.  With third base still one of the thinner positions on the infield (shortstop is the thinnest), Young remains a quality asset whether at third or filling your corner infielder spot.

Can Mitch Moreland hold the first base spot all year or does Chris Davis take that job and run with it?

Moreland joined the Rangers late in July and enjoyed a solid 47-game stint, but the results aren’t indicative of what you should expect over a full season.  He showed uncharacteristic power (9 HR in 145 AB; 12 in 353 minor lg. AB) thanks to a 21.2% HR/FB which would be tough to sustain over an entire season and would certainly qualify as an upset if he did it.  With a 29 AB/HR rate in 1398 minor league at-bats, no one is betting he is going to sustain his 16 HR/AB over a full season in the majors.

Conversely, he showed a much better knack for getting base hits in the minors than he did in his short time at the big leagues.  A career .313 hitter in the minors, Moreland hit just .255 in his time with the Rangers.  In essence, I would bet on the two trends reversing where he a low double-digit home run total for the season would be paired with a .285+ batting average and above average plate discipline.

But will it be enough?  For your fantasy team, not in mixed leagues as he profiles as a slightly better Daric Barton.  For the Rangers, that is to be determined.  Davis is a prototypical AAAA guy who has mashed his way through the minor leagues on multiple occasions, but failed to carry it into the big leagues in his last two years after a strong rookie debut in 2008.  Of course despite being written off as a complete bust by most, he is still just 25 years old.  Plenty of guys don’t even start their major league career until age 25 and he already has 872 major plate appearances under his belt so it’s far from over for him.

On the whole, Davis has more upside than Moreland related specifically to his prodigious power so inking Moreland in at first base on your Texas Rangers lineup projection is dangerous.  A lot can change between now and Opening Day.  It is a situation to monitor closely throughout the spring, but in the end it is one to avoid in anything but the deepest leagues where I would be more willing to gamble on Davis with a late pick if he has a solid spring than invest in Moreland’s higher floor, but much lower ceiling.

Is this the year that Ian Kinsler finally puts it *all* together?

Kinsler, a fantasy favorite for a few years now, has a 30-30 season (2009), a 20-20 season (2007), a .319 season (2008), a .517 slugging season (2008), two 100 runs scored seasons and two All-Star appearances (2008, 2010) yet his career still feels like something of a disappointment when you realize it could be so much better.  In the 30-30 and 20-20 seasons, he hit .253 and .263 respectively.  In the All-Star seasons he only played 121 and 101 games.  In fact he’s only played more than 130 games once in his five year career.  He is either putting up an incredible minus one key factor and/or having injuries cut dream seasons short.

So is 2011 the season of 150 games, 100-30-90-30? … No, of course not.  Sorry, but there is just no way you can realistically project that at 29 he is all of a sudden going to make it through an entire season.  Health is a skill and it’s one he lacks.  That said, he is still generally putting up a season’s worth of numbers in the 100-odd games he does play so he is still worth drafting relatively given the risk, but I think it would be foolish to reach for him at a position that has a lot more depth than many seem to realize.

Maybe shortstop’s stink drifts over to second base or fantasy owners just associate middle infield positions with scarcity, but second base has plenty of viable option.  Those automatically ahead of Kinsler for include Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia, Dan Uggla and Brandon Phillips.  After that group, Kinsler’s power-speed combo is just too rich to pass up for guys like Rickie Weeks and Martin Prado, who are very good, but just don’t offer Kinsler’s robust fantasy excellence.  Plus you can always dream that everything goes his (and your) way and he finally plays a full set of games.  Just don’t bet on it.

Thursday: 01.20.2011

Three Questions – Los Angeles Angels

With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide slated for next month, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure.  Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams.  There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.

Will Howie Kendrick finally be the batting title contender he was thought to be as a prospect?

If there was one thing Kendrick could do in the minor leagues, it was get base hits.  He hit .363 or better in four minor league seasons from 2003-2006 leading many to believe he would be a perennial batting title contender once he hit the major leagues.  It hasn’t quote turned out that way in his first five seasons as a big leaguer.

First off, last year was the first in which he topped 105 games played, but it was also the first one he hit below .285 (.279 in 616 at-bats).  Then there is the fact that his batting average dropped year since a 2nd-season peak of .322 back in 2007.  From there he hit .301 then .291 and then last year’s .279.  So is a .350+ batting average in store for Kendrick?

No, probably not.  Coinciding with his batting average decline is a BABIP decline (not surprisingly), but while pitchers generally tend to cluster around .300 for BABIP, a hitter sets his own over time.  Kendrick’s is declining rapidly (.313 last year, career high of .381 in 2007) as both his groundball and line drive rates erode while his flyball rate ticks up in the last three years.

The case for him (however thin) would be that he is just entering his prime and despite having logged five years of major league time, it’s really just parts of four seasons and one full one.  He has shown the mix of skills needed for a batting title worthy average (high contact rate, high BABIP, significantly more groundballs & line drives than flyballs and decent speed needed to beat out a handful of hits over the course of the season) and 2011 could be the year that all of those skills combine for the breakout we have been waiting on for a while.

I am fine endorsing Kendrick as an asset to buy, just make sure your expectations are in the right of frame of mind.  You can dream of the scenario where he has the unexpected breakthrough season, but don’t pay for more than a double-double (10+ HR/SB) with a batting average floor that won’t ever hurt and a ceiling for much more.

What does Kendry Morales’ late-May broken leg do to his 2011 value?

In a word?  Nothing.  Not for me at least.  He will be nearly nine months removed from perhaps the most embarrassing walkoff grand slam celebration ever when Spring Training fires up next month and all reports indicate he will be 100% ready to go.  As such it is reasonable to expect that he will start 2011 where his breakout 2009 season and excellent start to the 2010 season left off: mashing.  In the 203 games spanning that time, he had a .302/.353/.548 triple slash with 45 home runs, 147 RBIs and 115 runs scored.

Even with the incredible depth at first base, I have Morales just making the cut of the top 10: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard and Morales.  Though if we knew Justin Morneau was going to be 100% and ready to go by Opening Day, he would crack that list and push Morales just outside.  Look for Morales to settle into a cozy .290-80-30-100 prime for the next few years.

Is Brandon Wood… nevermind, who cares?  What does a full season of Peter Bourjos look like?

Bourjos is a bright 24-year old prospect for the Angels who few had penciled into the 2011 lineup when the offseason began back in November.  The Angels were heavy favorites in the Carl Crawford Sweepstakes which would have left them with a Crawford-Torii HunterBobby Abreu outfield.  Abreu would take some days off at DH sliding Hunter to right and getting Bourjos some burn, so it’s not like he was expected to head back to AAA-Salt Lake, but after the spectacular failure that was their offseason, the Angels will now look to him for 500+ at-bats in centerfield.

Known primarily for his blazing speed (and exemplary defense), Bourjos will have fantasy value even if he isn’t ripping the cover off of the ball.  Obviously he will have to hit enough to merit everyday at-bats, and extrapolating a 51-game sample is dangerous so you can’t just look at Bourjos’ six home runs and 10 stolen bases and expect 17/27 over 500 ABs.  However, his minor league record suggests he can be a .270 hitter with 10-12 home runs and 30+ stolen bases.  His .204 batting average from last season was driven mostly by a .228 BABIP so the bulk of the 66-point increase I am projecting is tied to regression improvement of his abnormal BABIP.

Sunday: 01.2.2011

Comparing My Top 24 w/a Mock Draft, The Misses

As I’m wont to do around this time each year, I started a mock draft up over at CouchManagers.com with a group of diehards if for no other reason than to forget about the luck-ridden awfulness that is fantasy football. While I do have severe issues with fantasy football, that isn’t really why I fire up baseball mocks so quickly after the season. A couple reasons are that I like to see how much the previous seasons figures in on 2011 expectations, especially in the early rounds and I am just a baseball junkie so I like to keep it on the brain year-round.

We started the 27 round (1 ea. of 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, COR, MID, UT, 2 C, 5 OF, 9 P, 4 BENCH) draft back on December 14th and surprisingly (given the holidays) we’re at the end of round 21 as of 11pm Sunday night. I’ll be sharing different aspects of the draft with you in this very space in the coming days, but today I wanted to look at how our first two rounds coincided with my top 24 from back in November.

What I wanted to see was who would come out as the biggest “values” in that they went much later than where I rated them in my top two dozen. Of course, I also wanted to see who came out the most overrated by the same measure. There was a subset of guys who I didn’t have on my top 24 that were drafted in the first two rounds of our mock. Let’s look at them first before we delve into how my top 24 fared against the draft.

Prince Fielder (15th overall) – The entire first round fell within my top 24 which isn’t terribly surprising, but I knew things would start to come off the tracks eventually as I only rated two additional first basemen after the Power Three (Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto) and our first two rounds saw four other 1Bs leave the board after the power three. Fielder was the first. I don’t hate the pick, mind you, even after a down 2010. He’s just 27 and I think he’s more likely to top 40 HR again in 2011 than he is to be just over 30 as he was in 2010. On the whole, I think a second round pick is better spent elsewhere especially when Adam Dunn was available 26 picks later.

Ryan Howard (16th overall) – I can get behind Fielder on some level (although his owner had just taken Adrian Gonzalez), but I won’t support Howard in the top 24 let alone 16th. At 31, you can’t bank on the gaudy HR and RBI totals that he needs to set himself apart from that middle tier of first basemen. The offense in Philly struggled last year, is a year older and now missing Jayson Werth. I’m avoiding Howard at his current cost.

Joe Mauer (23rd overall) – I fell hard for Mauer last year up until around March when I was swayed by the contingent screaming that he wasn’t a first round (or even second round, really) pick. I remain in that camp after his 2010 season. He’s a great player and I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he went 2009 on us again this year or sometime soon, but I’m not taking that high-priced risk in my draft.

Dustin Pedroia (24th overall) – This one is essentially semantics since I cut off my list at 24 because it’s two rounds of a standard draft and happens to be my favorite number, but Pedroia is 25th on my “official” list. I don’t think he will have any lingering issues with the foot in 2011 and thus he will be back to his All-Star form. Oh yeah, I also don’t have any issue with this pick because I am the one who made it.

None of the four names are particular surprisingly as they have all been early round staples the last couple of years, but I can’t envision any scenarios where I would take either Howard or Mauer. Maybe I got Carl Crawford or Troy Tulowitzki in the first round, I would come back around with Fielder, but by and large, he is a pass for me too. Pedroia, as I already mentioned, was my second round pick so obviously I can envision a scenario where I would bump him up (that scenario was getting Pujols and not wanting an outfielder in the second round).

Next up, I’ll look my 24 and how they fared in the draft.