Archive for ‘Predictions’

Wednesday: 07.18.2012

The All Legitimate Team

Content has been light this week as I prepare for a job interview.  Might sound weird as a standard interview is usually a 20-30 minute Q&A.  This one is a 3-hour extravaganza, my third round with this company in which I’ll be presenting a demo so that’s why this is the first piece of the week.   I’ll have plenty the remainder of the month including a planned top x SP list after the trade deadline.  I’m not sure if I’m going to go 50, 100 or >100.  I’m waiting until the trade deadline is completed because I don’t want to do some detailed list I’m proud of only to have it change drastically if 7-10 pitchers change locales.

I gave you the Hail Mary Team last week and now I’ve got a team of players who had great first halves whom I believe in and would have no problem targeting via trade which would essentially be “buying high” or simply holding onto them the remainder of this year as opposed to getting out from under a potential regression.  I am not going to go in-depth with the reasoning as I did on the Hail Mary team in large part because their numbers speak volumes for the player.

HITTERS

Catcher – Yadier Molina – I covered him in depth at the end of June and he hasn’t slowed down since with three more bombs in the subsequent 10 games.  Plus this isn’t an out-of-nowhere season, he’s been building up to this for years save a 2010 blip.

First Base – Allen Craig – Yes, I am going to list the entire Cardinals team.  The return of Lance Berkman has some freaked that Craig will lose gobs of playing time, but I just can’t see how the Cards could bench their best hitter statistically (specifically by OPS+) for any more than a day here and there.

By the way Berkman is right on Craig’s heels for that OPS+ title on the team at 152 (Craig is 154) so he is hardly the one headed to the pine, either.  Honestly, they should just take the defensive hit and put Craig at 2B.  His bat is so far ahead of Daniel Descalso’s that it would be worth it.  Maybe see if Craig has another off-day mixed in soon and then pounce in hopes of catching someone a bit fearful.

Second Base – Jason Kipnis – Through 124 games of his career, he is pacing toward a .275-101-24-91-33 line.  That’s incredible regardless of position, but definitely gets an added bit of greatness at second base.  He is one of those cases where his ranks in things like OPS, wOBA and wRC+ don’t tell the story of his fantasy value.  Robinson Cano is first in those and first in 2B fantasy value, but Kipnis if around fifth or sixth in those stats yet second in fantasy value because obviously his R, RBI and SB contributions aren’t encapsulated in those metrics.

Shortstop – Asdrubal Cabrera – Kip’s double play mate is putting a season comparable to his 2011 breakout in terms of pure production (OPS, wOBA, wRC+), but his fantasy value is down thanks in large part to evaporation of his speed component.  After matching his career-high with 17 a year ago, he’s down to just two this year and a horrible rate at 2-for-5.  Having swiped 17 in 2009, maybe he only steals in odd-numbered years.  Beyond that, he is a safe bet for power production at short.

Third Base – Todd Frazier – I composed this list prior to Joey Votto’s injury, but now Frazier’s inclusion is even more of a no-brainer since his path to playing time is no longer reliant upon Dusty Baker realizing how cooked Scott Rolen is, at least temporarily with Votto done for 4-6 weeks (and we all now how lame injury estimates have been this season).  Frazier has one of the better home run rates among batters with 210+ plate appearances (he has 212).  His rate is on par with the likes of Adrian Beltre and Yoenis Cespedes and he’s tracking ahead of Carlos Gonzalez.

Outfielder – Austin Jackson – An improved approach, advancing power and inclusion on a strong offense leading to plenty of runs scored (8th highest total in baseball despite playing 69 games… of course, Trout is 2nd in 69 games so there’s that) make Jackson a reliable, yet unspectacular option.  I watch him day in and day out and I’m a complete believer.  I was an early adopter here as I legitimately saw differences in his approach back in April.  I know that’s sort of a backpat, but I’m proud that my amateur scouting eye appears to be progressing, plus if you listen to the podcast, you know I’m not above a backpat or 12, lol.  I try to do it tastefully!  He’s unspectacular in that he doesn’t do any singular thing extremely well (‘cept defense, which doesn’t count in 99.8% of leagues).  He’s quite Chooish in that respect.  More on that in a bit.

Outfielder – Shin-Soo Choo – It’s been a bit!  Choo is back.  After a disastrous 2011 that included an embarrassing off-the-field event with a DUI and an injury-marred poor performance on field, he is back to being the steady .300-20-20 guy.  He actually isn’t pacing to hit any of those marks, but I’m using that as more of a descriptor since it paints a cleaner picture than .296-18-18.  Batting leadoff, he has traded some RBIs for runs, just as you would expect with that kind of move.

Outfielder – Josh Willingham – When you put up 29-98 on Oakland in 136 games, a move to Minnesota isn’t scaring anybody in terms of production.  His power plays anywhere and the perception of Target Field eating up all power is a bit misguided fueled by the struggles of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer there.  It dominates lefties, but its 95 home run park factor for right-handers isn’t awful.  Below average sure, but not suffocating like Oakland’s 82 factor.  A trade out to a contender would seemingly only help matters.

Outfielder – Jason Kubel – A little nicked with a hamstring, but set to avoid the DL and return Wednesday night.  I didn’t love the signing this winter if only because they had a perfectly capable outfielder in Gerardo Parra who was less of a bat than Kubel, but a much better fielder.  Kubel’s bat has always intrigued me and return of his 2009-level batting average has made him a very strong outfield contributor who does everything but run.  As a lefty, his move from Target Field to Chase Field (114 LH HR factor) has been a huge boon.

Outfielder – Tyler Colvin – Let me qualify this a bit.  With this “team” of players, I have been endorsing their current level of production or at least a reasonable facsimile (90-95%) of it.  I feel the same way about Colvin’s power which is what earns him a spot on this list, but his .294 batting average is definitely susceptible to plummeting.

He is an incredibly free-swinger which can work quite well especially in somewhere like Coors Field, but he can go ice cold, too, as he did in pretty much all of 2011.  He hasn’t been a complete product of Coors (.833 OPS on the road) which definitely helps, but having half of his games in Coors keeps his floor at a palatable level.

PITCHERS

Several of the pitchers to make this “team” were covered in my 24 to Target piece a while back, so I’ll reference you to that piece for the likes of Johnny Cueto, James McDonald and Cole Hamels who are all part of this team (what, Hamels? WEIRD!!!!).  Here are the other six candidates:

R.A. Dickey – Duh.  I’m not breaking ground here, is anyone not bought in on Dickey?  Despite giving up five in three of his last four outings, I’m not particularly worried and maybe it presents a better opportunity to buy if the guy who has him is skittish.  He still had a 7.0 K/9 and 2.3 K/BB in those games.

Gio Gonzalez – I didn’t include him in the 24 to Target list because I didn’t want to just litter it with studs because you’re going to pay a pretty penny with stud arms like that in the trade market.  That I said, I do believe in his step forward this year and I think there is even more to his game as he continues to refine his control.

Chris Capuano – A sleeper-type for me coming into the season, he has exceeded expectations and I see no reason he can’t remain incredibly effective for the duration of the season.  Home run suppression is the key between Capuano having a solid ERA and a great one.  He’s at a career-best 0.9 HR/9 resulting in a career-best 2.75 ERA.  Though his ERA is nearly two full runs lower than last year’s effort, I don’t think he is a complete fluke you should be fearful of in trade talks.

Ryan Dempster – I don’t think he’ll maintain his scoreless innings streak the rest of the season or even pitch at a 1.86 clip for his ERA, but he has a great base of skills that have been remarkably consistent and even seen a nice uptick this year so he should be a bankable starter with a low-3.00s ERA or better the rest of the way.  Obviously a deal to a contender should improve his chances to scoop more wins, too.

Vance Worley – WHIP is the “runs scored” of pitching.  I think it gets overlooked by many.  If it’s incredible, like sub-1.00 great, then it is noticed and same on the opposite end of the spectrum if it’s at 1.40ish or higher, but anything in between is kinda igored.  Not by everyone, but it certainly doesn’t stand out like wins, ERA and strikeouts.  Worley’s WHIP is his downside right now at 1.38 while everything else has been pretty solid (wins are light, but that’s because Philly has been broken for most of the year) and worth buying in on.

You can’t just chalk his WHIP up to a .315 BABIP and call it bad luck.  A lot of that is the fact that hitters can square his sub-90s heater up and get a good rip (evidenced by his 26% line drive rate) so if those aren’t at-‘em balls that the defense can turn into outs, his WHIP will be susceptible.  I think he can chisel it down a little bit to around 1.30, so if WHIP is a sore spot, then this isn’t someone for you.  But I think he’s a legitimate, bankable mid-level starter as his regression from 2011’s breakout is about what I figured we’d see.

Mark Buehrle – As a strikeout-lover, I rarely invest in Buehrle types especially inning or start cap leagues, but you cannot deny how incredibly consistent he has been throughout his career.  Now in the generally easier league with a pitcher’s park for half of his games, he has been able to post his best ERA since 2005 thanks also to some improvements in his skills.  He isn’t flashy and you don’t want to invest if strikeouts are your need obviously, but otherwise he is your guy.

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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.

Wednesday: 07.4.2012

Paul’s 24 to Target

(Ed. note – This will likely be it for the week on PaulSporer.com.  I was going to split it up, but decided to give you all 5,000+ words at once.  I may have something up for Friday, otherwise look for my stuff at BP and then back here next week.)

We have flipped the calendar to July, we’re officially beyond labeling a player’s stat line as a hot or cold “start”*, the All-Star break is right around the corner and trade season is kicking into high gear in both fantasy and real baseball.  With that, I wanted to take an opportunity to highlight my favorite starting pitcher trade targets.  Why 24?  Because it’s my favorite number, that’s really the only reason.

* let’s be honest, this probably should’ve stopped around Memorial Day, but I heard it a lot throughout June.

There is a range of talent within this list so it’s not just a bunch of aces leaving you saying, “No f’n duh!” though some will be entirely unsurprising (“what, Paul likes Hamels?? Weeeiiirrrdddd”), but they represent the group of guys I’d be buying via trade or definitely hanging onto if I already had them on my team.

They aren’t necessarily ranked in order, but look at it more as a talent spectrum with the better guys clustered near the top and the riskier, less-established arms in the 20s.  The exclusion of guys doesn’t mean I don’t like them (obviously acquire Justin Verlander if you can at a reasonable price, but he’s guaranteed to cost two arms and nine legs), these are just my 24 favorites to target.

1. Cole Hamels – I didn’t waste any time with him, did I?  I still don’t think he is universally treated like the ace that he is and that means you may not have to pay ace-level prices for him via trade.  This is especially true with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee pitching at peak, which they obviously aren’t with the former on the disabled list and the latter struggling at times and not getting any support when he’s excelling.

This doesn’t mean you are going to steal him from a leaguemate for Carlos Lee and Justin Masterson, but he rarely costs a price commensurate with his value like a Verlander or Stephen Strasburg.  He is a four-category star (10 wins even on the Phillies, while Lee has 0 showing you just how random the stat can be) with bankable strikeouts, ERA and WHIP and pacing toward a career-high in wins after reaching 15 just once in his career.

2. Madison Bumgarner – Despite posting great ratios (2.96 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) in his first four starts, his peripherals were a bit wobbly (4.6 K/9, 1.6 K/BB) which was a bit unnerving especially for those expecting an ace-level season out of him.  Since then he has a 2.81 ERA and 1.03 WHIP backed by 8.5 K/9 and 5.4 K/BB rates in 86.3 innings of work.

That is despite giving up exactly four runs in five of the 12 outings.  He has been virtually unhittable in the other seven giving up an average of 1 run (four w/1 ER, one w/2 ER and a shutout).  He has three double-digit strikeout outings in that span as well.  In short, he has been the beast we were hoping to see in 2012.  The best part is that he is just 22 years old so he works for those trading for 2012 and those trading with an eye on 2013.

3. David Price – Price is rounding into form as the season wears on.  While his strikeout rate and WHIP improve month over month, his ERA is incrementally on the rise, though a 3.29 peak as we saw in June is hardly reason for concern.  I’m far more interested in the first two factors as he continues to miss more bats and allow fewer baserunners.

As the Rays move toward being whole again (namely getting Evan Longoria back) and stabilizing the defense, his and this next guy’s improved groundball rates will pay bigger dividends.  This franchise isn’t used to spotty D in recent years, but the shuffling in and out of reserves who were supposed to play sparingly throughout the year has compromised their usually razor-sharp defense.   Price could actually get better in the dog days and improve upon his 2.92 ERA, while this guy almost assuredly will…

4. James Shields – Another guy that anyone who has read my work for a while is completely unsurprised to see gracing a list like this.  I’m a huge Shields fan and while things haven’t gone exactly according to plan this year, I foresee improvements in the near future.  He, too, will benefit from a more solid defense as his groundball rate is at a career-high 54%, up from last year’s 46% which was a previous career-high.  Meanwhile he has improved his strikeout rate with only little harm to his walk rate (2.8 BB/9, up from 2.4).

He is the first guy on the list who you can probably acquire at a significant discount compared to his value since the 4.04 ERA and 1.40 WHIP are pretty ugly right now.  The danger is that this become a mini-2010 as his skills were great that year yet he ended up with a 5.18 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.  I don’t see a 5.18 ERA coming, but he needs the defense to start turning his groundballs into more outs and he himself needs to sharpen up with runners on.  I believe he will.

5. Johnny Cueto – Being the unabashed strikeout love I am, you might be surprised to see Cueto on this list, but I just love what he is doing these days.  I’ve watched his last few outings to get a better feel for the 2012 iteration and I came away impressed.  What he lacks in strikeouts (6.6 K/9), he makes up for in groundballs (49%) which is my second favorite skill of a pitcher.  He has a four-seamer and sinker that both sit around 93 MPH and he peppers the zone with both.  Meanwhile he pounds his 83-84 MPH changeup low in the zone, but also down out of the zone (22% of them are out of the nine square strikezone).

He continues to lower his walk rate, too, dropping down to 2.1 BB/9 this year making his strikeout rate more palatable.  He is going deeper into games this year as well averaging 6.7 innings per outing, a number on the rise yearly since 2009.  His next hurdle is a 200-inning season, a figure he is tracking toward this year (on pace for 223 innings in 33 starts).  Obviously if strikeouts are your main need, Cueto isn’t for you, but he delivers everywhere else.

6. Josh Johnson – The start of a player’s season, whether good or bad, can have a lasting effect that often skews the perception of that player for the rest of the season.  Take Johnson for example.  I think a lot of folks in the fantasy community would say he’s having kind of a “meh” season (if not worse) if you asked them their thoughts on him without showing them a stat sheet.  If you brought his 3.80 ERA and 1.37 WHIP into the mix, they would probably feel justified in their assessment.

However, a look into his game log shows that he struggled to work the kinks out after spending most of 2011 on the shelf, but turned a corner in early May and has been quite excellent since then.  The Padres tattooed him for six runs in 2.7 innings in Petco back on May 4th pushing his ERA up to 6.61.  To that point, he had gone more than six innings just twice and completed the seventh just once.  Since then he has a 2.47 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 66 innings across 10 starts going fewer than six innings just once and going seven or more in six of the 10.

His strikeout rate is at 7.8 K/9 in that stretch with a strong 3.0 K/BB.  The strikeouts aren’t up a ton from those first six starts (7.5 K/9), but his walks are done a ton (2.2 K/BB) as he has walked 19 in the 10 starts after 12 in those first six.  He isn’t 100% back to 2010-2011 Josh Johnson, but he isn’t far off and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran off a stretch of vintage JJ starts at some point later this season.

7. Yovani Gallardo – I know I have been beating this drum since early May, but if you lift Gallardo’s two starts against the Cardinals and look at his numbers, he has a 2.80 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.  His walk rate also drops from 4.1 BB/9 to 3.7.  I realize you can’t cherry-pick starts, but if you just avoid his St. Louis starts (he’s always struggled against them), then Gallardo is still the stud we expected him to be this year.

Even with the Cardinals starts, his bottom line numbers are palatable (3.87 ERA, 1.39 WHIP), though hardly star level.  His walk rate has regressed severely after he showed tons of improvement down to a very strong 2.6 BB/9 last year.  He can be successful walking that many, but it obviously eats into his margin for error.  He can be a star if he just gets it back to 3.5 or better.  I am still all-in on Gallardo.

8. Mat Latos – I have stood by Latos all season long and it is finally paying big dividends with back-to-back complete games (1 ER in each).  Home runs look like the primary culprit for his 4.42 ERA as he has allowed 1.6 HR/9, however it isn’t really a consistent issue so much as it is a few bouts of gopheritis really hampering him.  He has allowed 2+ home runs three times this year and those are three of his four worst outings (the other was against those blasted Cardinals).

He allowed five solo shots to the Rockies (not in Coors believe it or not), three in Cleveland and a pair to the Astros at home.  In those outings, he gave up five, seven and five earned runs.  Also of note is that his problems are incorrectly being tied to his shift into the Great American Ballpark.  He has actually fared much better at home (3.47 ERA) than on the road (5.92) despite a better strikeout rate (9.7 compared to 7.4 at home) and nearly equal K/BB rate (3.2 compared to 3.3 at home).

His 3.61 road xFIP suggest brighter days ahead away from home.  Meanwhile, after an ugly 5.7 K/9 in April, he has a 9.4 K/9 in 69 innings since so he could be in for a huge second half as an across-the-board contributor.  On the heels of those complete games, his price has likely risen, but you may also have the effect of some wanting to parlay the outings into an opportunity to dump Latos at a peak.  I think there are more peaks in his future.

9. Adam Wainwright – Getting pummeled by the Pirates (7 ER on 11 H in 5 IP) might seem like the end of the world for someone of Wainwright’s caliber, but you might be surprised to learn that the Pirates scored the most runs in baseball during the month of June (146) and led the NL in home runs (39).  So it’s not as bad as it would seem at first blush.  Wainwright has been a rollercoaster ride during his return from Tommy John Surgery, which shouldn’t be too surprising.

Expected him to be vintage Wainwright right out of the gate would be stupid.  So while the peripheral skills have been pretty close to 2009-2010 Wainwright, he still has his off games.  For example, he had a stretch of four starts in June where he posted a 2.70 ERA with 27 Ks in 27 innings, but he sandwiched that run with a pair of 7 ER outings (including the most recent one against the Pirates).

He is still a work in progress in terms getting back to his elite level, but I think the flameout starts will be fewer and farther between as the season wears on.  I think the Cardinals have handled him masterfully with just two starts over 110 pitches and only seven over 100.  He didn’t even hit the century mark until his sixth start.  As much as they need him with Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia on the shelf, they know that pushing him beyond his limits will only result in him joining his fallen teammates on the disabled list.

10. Ian Kennedy – Kennedy was amazing last year, there is no denying that: 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and a 21-4 record in 222 innings.  He had an 8.0 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9.  His BABIP, LOB and HR/FB rates all beat league averages which aided his 2.88 ERA compared to his 3.50 xFIP.  His skills have actually been a tick better this year (8.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9) yet his ERA has skyrocketed to 4.20 thanks in part to a leveling out of his BABIP, LOB and HR/FB rates.  His 3.96 xFIP says the ERA probably regressed a bit too far.

These are skills to invest in and now is the optimal time with his ERA up over 4.00.  You’re unlikely to find someone selling him at a bargain basement price, but there is no way you still have to pay for 2011 Kennedy and he could be that guy from here on out.  We even saw glimpses of it in June, but he was just inconsistent as you can see from earned runs allowed in the month: 0, 6, 2, 5, 1.

He seems to have worked through the home run issue that got him throughout May as he allowed 2 HR in three of his six outings.  And as a flyball pitcher in that home ballpark, home runs will be a big key to his success for better or worse.  I’m betting on better.

11. Matt Garza – Cherry-pick alert.  Garza was brilliant through his first seven starts (2.58 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) before suffering through his worst two outings of the years during which he allowed 13 runs (12 earned) in eight innings thanks in large part to five home runs.  Since then, he has been solid with a 3.72 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 36.3 innings.  The kicker?  Those two outings were against Houston and Pittsburgh, both on the road so you can’t blame the wind in Wrigley.  Minute Maid can be prone to longballs, but PNC Park is a pitcher’s haven.

I know boiling it down to two starts seems simplistic, but he allowed five of his 12 home runs in that outing and he has been a 3.09 ERA, 1.09 WHIP pitcher outside of those outings.  He basically had a bad week.  A couple of rough outings can still skew the bottom line enough to distort how good someone has been as I mentioned with Gallardo and his St. Louis starts, and also Garza in these two starts.

12. Matt Moore – I know better than to jump on the hype train with unproven pitchers, but I still fell victim to it with Moore.  His incredible stretch at the end of last year was a limited sample, but he was so good and those flawless mechanics are hypnotizing.  As much as I bought in on him, I was at all surprised to see him stumble out of the gate because that’s just how it goes so often with inexperienced pitchers.  That said, he is immensely talented and even while struggling he was showing positive signs.  I firmly believed early on that he would get better as the season progressed.

So far that is how it has played out.  He sprinkled a few good starts in during his first nine, but still finished the run with an ERA slightly north of 5.00 at an ugly 5.07 in 49.7 innings.  He hadn’t completed seven innings to that point.  He did so for the first time in his 10th start (the incredible Memorial Day showdown between he and Chris Sale) and has done so three other times since then, too.  In those seven starts, he has a 3.18 ERA in 45.3 innings with 45 strikeouts and just 18 walks (compared to 27 in those first 49.7 innings).

Moore still has room for growth this year, specifically with the walk rate as a 3.6 BB/9 (his rate in the 45.3 IP sample) is hardly special.  You aren’t going to see Moore discounted even a little bit in keeper leagues (which doesn’t deter me from buying), but the ERA north of 4.00 after 95 innings has very likely lowered his price (which was sky-high on draft day) in re-draft leagues and I’d be ready to take advantage of that.

13. James McDonald – I am not averse to buying high on guys when I believe they are for real and as the driver of the James McDonald Bandwagon, I obviously believe in him, but his inclusion is as much about letting fantasy managers know they don’t have to sell high for fear of a second half implosion.  There were 16 pitchers with a sub-3.00 ERA last year and there are 21 in the 2012 group.  There is no reason McDonald can’t be one of the 2012 group by season’s end.

For me, command and control were the missing ingredients for McDonald to reach his potential so it’s no surprise that chief among his improvements this year include a career-best 2.7 BB/9, down from 4.1 BB/9 a year ago.  Meanwhile, his breaking stuff has been downright unhittable, especially his curveball.  In the 73 plate appearances ending on a curveball, batters have a .096/.096/.192 line with 31 strikeouts.  They haven’t fared much better against his slider: .143/.194/.222 with 29 strikeouts.

This isn’t smoke and mirrors.  He has made some real improvements as a pitcher and should remain a quality asset for the remainder of the season.

14. Jonathon Niese – Niese is posting a career-high strikeout rate thus far at 8.6 K/9 aiding career-bests in ERA (3.55) and WHIP (1.27), too.  The intriguing part is that he is some home run bad luck (19% HR/FB rate) away from an even lower ERA as we see from his 3.36 xFIP.  Always a groundball pitcher, Niese has taken it to new heights the last two years at 52% and 51% the last two years (identical 1.8 GB/FB rates).

Niese is hovering around 50% availability at ESPN and Yahoo! and I just don’t get it.  This lefty seems to be improving year over and year, plus at 25-years old, he has keeper potential, too.  He is someone to invest in regardless of league type.  By the way, I typed the Niese portion on Tuesday afternoon and then he went out and threw eight innings of 1-run ball against the Phillies.  Not the stiffest competition, but that should cut into his availability at ESPN and Yahoo!, so act quickly.

15. Dan Haren – I know, you’re surprised that Haren wasn’t listed immediately after Hamels.  I haven’t completely lost faith in my boy Haren, but I am at least a bit concerned.  I know he was dealing with some back soreness early in May when he labored through a trio of starts that he would normally cut through with ease (6.61 ERA at Min, vs. Oak and at SD).  He bounced back with a 1.29 ERA in his next three including outings against the Yankees and Rangers.

Since then he has just been bad (7.94 ERA in four starts) and while you can give him a break for going into Coors, that one was actually his best outing in terms of earned runs (4).  He allowed five earned runs to the Dodgers which I believe accounted for 68% of their June runs.  Through it all, he is still fanning more than last year (7.7 K/9) and maintaining an elite K/BB ratio (3.7) and I just can’t quit him.

His value may never be lower so now is the time to buy in if you’re a believer like me.  I also typed Haren’s piece Tuesday afternoon and he went out and had yet another garbage outing further depressing his value.  You may have to hold your nose while proposing a trade to acquire him, but I don’t think we’re at Tim Lincecum levels with him.  The All-Star break will hopefully help him get right.

16. Jordan Zimmermann – I put some lofty expectations on Zimm heading into the 2012 season and he has essentially delivered.  No one is complaining about a 2.77 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, but a meager 4-6 record and modest 6.0 K/9 have kept him from a truly special season.  The former is hardly his fault as the Nats don’t have a great offense and have often scratched out wins late in the game.  The latter seems to be more of a choice by Zimmermann.

He seems to be one of those guys who will go for the strikeouts when he needs them and take them when hitters are vulnerable, otherwise he is plenty happy to induce weak contact and conserve pitches through shorter at-bats. He has outings with 9,7, 6, 6, 6, 6 & 5 Ks all in seven or fewer innings.  He also has a pair of 1 K outings during which he induced 16 and 14 groundballs, including his start in Colorado where keeping the ball down is paramount to succeeding (to wit he threw seven 1-run innings).

He is probably going to be a guy in the 6.0-6.5 K/9 range, which I can live with if he maintains a 50% or better groundball and sub-2.0 BB/9 rates to go with it.  He essentially becomes a Cueto-type at that point.  These kinds of guys have to be seen to get a better handle on their game because those who just look at the stats will be unsatisfied and automatically assume regression is coming since their ERAs have such big splits from their xFIPs.

17. Edwin Jackson – He was in the midst of a special first half before falling victim to Coors Field (8 ER in 3 IP).  In his other 14 starts, he allowed more than three runs just twice.  He continues to develop as a pitcher and get incrementally better.  For the first time since his season in Detroit, he has a WHIP that doesn’t hurt you, in fact it is very helpful at 1.13.  He has become a rather reliable asset since 2009 and at 28, there is still a bit of upside, too.  That is exactly the kind of guy to invest in, especially since he never carries an exorbitant price tag.

18. Phil Hughes – Home runs are really the only thing keeping Hughes from a great season.  He gave up at least one in each of his first 12 starts, snapped the streak for just a game and then gave up four to the Braves during a home run derby in Yankee Stadium with temps pushing up toward 100.  He doesn’t get a reprieve just because of the park and weather, though, if for no other reason than the fact that he will have to deal with both all season long.

He has finally had back-to-back homer-less games and unsurprisingly he has managed 16 innings of 2-run ball with 12 strikeouts and just two walks.  And both games were at home, so that is also encouraging.  He came out of his May 1st start with a 7.46 ERA, but has a 3.34 ERA since despite that stretch including outings with seven and six earned runs.  In other words, he has been great in his last 11 starts.

A heavy flyball pitcher with home run issues in that ballpark means there is probably a cap on how low his ERA can go (probably around 3.70 or so).  To reach that mark for the season he would be around 3.00-3.10 the rest of the way, but even if he is just a 3.70 guy for the remainder of 2012, he still has plenty of value with his strikeouts (8.5 K/9) and heightened win potential as a Yankee (9 W already this year).

19. Gavin Floyd – Despite the best strikeout rate of his career (8.3 K/9) and a walk rate right in line with what we have come to expect from Floyd (2.7 BB/9), he has posted his worst ERA since 2007 (4.91).  He just hasn’t been consistent this year.  Every time he appears to get going, he flames out for a start or three.  So why am I buying?  Well, apart from the quality skills profile (which also includes a consistent groundball lean; 1.1 GB/FB this year), Floyd has also shown himself to be a better pitcher later in the season.

For his career, he has a 4.87 ERA, 6.8 K/9 and 2.0 K/BB in 620 first half innings and a 4.06 ERA, 7.4 K/9 and 3.1 K/BB in 435 second half innings.  Half-season trends aren’t the most stable splits so I don’t trust them blindly, but Floyd’s skills are such that I would be buying anyway and his penchant for turning it up in the second half only adds to the desire to acquire him.

20. Doug Fister – One of the worries for the 2012 season was that the infield defense of the Tigers would heavily impact both Fister and Rick Porcello negatively as groundball pitchers.  Unfortunately, that has played out as both have bloated .339 BABIPs with Fister allowing 10.7 H/9 and Porcello at 11.2 H/9.  Still, I look at Fister’s peripherals and see someone who has to be better than his 4.61 ERA.  He has a 7.6 K/9 and 3.8 K/BB in 54.7 innings, but the hits just pile up and lead to meltdown innings.

Anecdotally, the defense has extended approximately 53 of the 55 innings he has pitched in with poor defense giving the opposition a fourth, fifth or twelfth out.  Rumors are swirling that the Tigers will look to address second base during the trade deadline and hopefully they look for a defense-first option.  Jhonny Peralta has been fine at shortstop, not great and not awful (-0.1 UZR), but the corners have been as bad as feared with both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder posting -3.6 and -3.9 UZRs.

UZRs aren’t terribly trustworthy in full year samples let alone three month samples, but as someone who has watched every Tigers game, those numbers feel pretty accurate.  All that said, the defense was garbage during his first eight starts and he had a 2.72 ERA.

His start in Texas was the worst of his career and that can’t be laid at the feet of the defense and he followed that up with an outing that just went off the rails after three excellent innings.  He was singled to death in fourth inning some of which was poor defense.  Anyway, I’m rambling at this point.  On the heels of two of the worst starts in his career, now is the time to buy.  He will be fine with these skills.

21. Jarrod Parker – A hard-throwing super prospect with great stuff and a favorable home park is easy to get behind.  Walks are an issue (4.4 BB/9), but he showed some improvement there from May to June (he only had six innings in April).  I think they will remain his biggest issue this year, but that park can cover a lot of mistakes so the key to his success will be keeping his head afloat on the road which he has done with aplomb thus far including seven shutout innings in Coors Field.

He has given up more than two runs just twice this year (though both were 6 ER outings) leading to a 1.54 ERA in seven home starts.  Both of the ugly outings are on the road, but he has still maintained a 3.74 on the road.  At the very least, he is a worthy home-only spot starter for those of you in leagues where such roster management is possible (10/12 mixers, ideally with daily transactions).  I also see him adding strikeouts as the season wears on, too.

22. Michael Fiers – Where the heck did this guy come from?  At 27, Fiers feels like a journeyman, but he was drafted at 24 so it’s not like he has labored through the minors year after year.  He raced through the minors with impressive numbers at each level, though his age kept him from being much of a prospect and likely had some discounting the performance.

He doesn’t have overly impressive stuff, either, which is another reason he wasn’t exactly a blue chip prospect for the Brewers.  You can’t argue with the major league results, though.  It has been a tiny 39-inning sample, but he is striking out 9.4 per game and walking just 1.8 leading to a 2.29 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  He has been a good bit below average with his HR/FB rate (4%), especially as a flyball pitcher so we can probably expect some regression there.

But the skills are rock solid and he should be usable across all formats even if he is more a 3.60ish ERA pitcher the rest of the way.  He has shown to have strong command and control throughout his pro career and a deception in his delivery that keeps hitters guessing.  Those elements do a lot to cover up a lack of raw stuff.

23. Brandon McCarthy – It’s not about skill with McCarthy, it’s all about health.  And right now, his health simply cannot be relied upon.  That makes him a worthy trade target though because it lowers the price.  By the way, if for some reason it doesn’t lower the price in your league, then just move on.  Love the pitcher, love the potential, hate the shoulder.  I didn’t deep dive into the numbers here because there is no real need, they’re great and they will likely continue to be great when he is pitching.  It’s just a matter of keeping him on the field consistently.

24. Joe Blanton – Maybe I’m just being sucked in by an NL-best 5.9 K/BB (OK, not maybe, I am), but I think Blanton’s best work is still ahead of him.  He doesn’t walk anyone (1.3 BB/9, also an NL-best) and he misses plenty of bats with a 7.7 K/9.  His 9.6% swinging strike rate is on a four year rise, too.  On the downside, perhaps he is finding his pitches in the zone too often as his 19 home runs and 115 hits are also “lead” the NL.  Of course, you don’t want to be leading those categories.

The control is there, he can miss bats and he limits walks, but in order to push these skills into better results, he needs to show some better command and put the ball where he wants it more often within the zone as opposed to where the hitters want it.  He is a speculative play worthy of NL-only leagues or deeper mixed leagues.  If you’re in dire need of WHIP with few options available to you, you could do worse than Blanton (1.25) especially since he brings some potential ERA upside along with him.

This will likely be it for the week on PaulSporer.com.  I was going to split it up, but decided to give you all 5,000+ words at once.  I may have something up for Friday, otherwise look for my stuff at BP and then back here next week.

Tuesday: 06.19.2012

Trout and Harper in 2013: The Industry Weighs In

Though we are in the midst of our third straight “year of the pitcher” (maybe it should be an “era of the pitcher”?), two hitters are capturing the attention of the baseball world.  Rookie hitters at that.  Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, the consensus top prospects in baseball this preseason, have lived up to their hype thus far leaving the baseball community drooling in anticipation of what will come next.  The fantasy baseball community might be drooling most of all, especially those with the wunderkinds on their teams.  Those playing in keeper leaguers are giddiest of the bunch.

Trout is on pace to produce one of the five best age 20 seasons since the expansion era (1961), in fact the 2nd-best if he maintains his current pace of production.  Only A-Rod’s insane age 20 season tops Trout’s current pace from an OPS and OPS+  standpoint.  Harper is on pace to be just the 2nd 19-year old to qualify for the batting title and post an OPS+ over 100.  Not 2nd-best, 2nd at all in the expansion era (and subsequently the best at his current pace).

(data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com)

We got a 40-game taste of Trout at age 19 a season and it was less than impressive.  He hit .220 with a  .672 OPS including five home runs and four stolen bases.  In exactly 60 more at-bats than he had last year, he has a .328 average, .907 OPS, six home runs and 19 (!) stolen bases.

Harper, meanwhile, spent his first pro season between A and AA last year.  He crushed the former, posting a .977 OPS with 14 home runs and 19 stolen bases in 258 at-bats before getting a promotion.  He faltered upon arrival posting a .628 OPS in his first 80 at-bats, but closed the year with an .878 OPS in his final 49.

It looked like he was going to need a similar adjustment to AAA as he had a .708 OPS in 72 at-bats before getting the call to the majors as the decimated Nationals needed his potentially impactful bat.  Using arbitrary endpoints again, he seemed to need an adjustment period again posting a meager .650 OPS in his first 13 games.  However, since May 13th he has hit .325 with 15 extra-base hits include seven home runs leading to a .988 OPS in 123 at-bats.

The two are on pace for some pretty impressive seasons even if you don’t factor in their ages:

Harper’s RBI total is pacing a bit low, but it won’t take much to boost that up.  In fact, if you just added five to his current mark, he would move from 59 to 75 in a snap.  By the way, a quick note about the pacing.  I built in five off days for both of them just to be a bit conservative.  I also included an 85% pace which builds in some regression should they fall off their current production pace yet maintain the same amount of at-bats.  It’s kind of a wet blanket/reality check as they are likely at or very near the peak production of their seasons right now.

With the hysteria surrounding the two, I wondered about the future.  Specifically next spring.  I have my own ideas about their 2013 value, but I wanted to know where some of the top fantasy minds in the industry saw them going so I reached out to them with that very question.  Here are the results:

Derek Carty (Twitter) – I imagine both Harper and Trout will be drafted higher than they should — fantasy players love drafting on hype, so much so that they’ll draft a guy who has to make good on his ceiling just in order to break even on the pick (see: Brett Lawrie, 2012) — although both should be quite good.  Harper will offer more in terms of power while Trout will offer more in terms of speed.

A true 80 runner, Trout could swipe 40 bags next year (although some scouts feel he’ll slow quickly as he ages, given his body type).  Harper could challenge 30 HR. and both could provide solid averages, although Trout’s power/speed combo will likely be superior to Harper’s, giving him the edge (especially leading off for the Angels).  I’ll take Trout in the seventh and Harper in the 10th (subject to change, of course, based upon rest-of-2012 performance).

Eno Sarris (Twitter) We asked this of analysts in the online scouting community going into the year for FanGraphs+ ($) and they were all split.  Like right down the middle split.  Dave Cameron writes a piece about how impressive Bryce Harper has been in the early going, and then Wendy Thurm writes that we shouldn’t forget about how good Mike Trout has been.

It seems clear that both will be great, and quickly, and so we’re left with the quintessential question: do you prefer to have power first, or speed?  I’ll take the speedy guy, even if it’s a year older, and here’s why: 1) This speedy guy with power is more likely to add value in all five offensive roto categories. 2) This speedy guy comes with a great contact rate.

There’s nothing worse than a contact problem, and though Harper has a nice strikeout rate, his swinging strike rate (12.5%) is way above average and the sample is almost robust enough to worry about it (Ed. note: this was turned in before Harper’s 5 K performance, which Sarris subsequently wrote about).

Along with Trout’s speed, his better contact rate (9.6% better) should mean that his batting average will be better than Harper’s most years.  It’s as simple as that, but there’s a little more.  If stolen bases by themselves are rare, the true five-cat performer is even rarer, and if you can get your speed from guys with power, you avoid ever having to Juan Pierre it up. I know Harper has the ability to steal some bags now, but I see it more like athleticism and taking advantage of situations — a la Brandon Belt — than Trout-like wheels.

Both of these guys have upside — in one corner, you have a guy who could hit .280 with 25+ homers and 10+ steals as soon as next year, and in the other you have a guy that could hit .300 with 15+ homers and 40+ steals next year. The thing is, there’s an outside shot that Trout’s current batted ball mix (1.22 gb/fb, 12.2% HR/FB) and ISO (.192) are sustainable, in which case he might hit closer to 20 home runs and push the needle further in his favor.

I chose Trout over Harper when they came up and I’ll do it again. Oh, and round? I’ll take him as early as the third or fourth, depending on how the hype works out going into the season next year.  If Harper gets more of the attention, I might gamble on taking Trout in the fifth or sixth in order to really pump him for value.

Joel Henard (Twitter) – Looking at Trout and Harper next season, it’s going to be a tough call.  I definitely see them going way too early in drafts with owners drafting them in the 2nd round.  I see both guys as later 3rd and early 4th round guys.  I am a Harper fanatic and will probably draft him way too early, with that being said I would rank them in 3rd and 4th round.

Riley Breckenridge (Personal Twitter; PO Twitter) Mike Trout: late 2nd round, early 3rd – Updated ZiPS projections have Trout pegged for a 90/15/60/33/.290 output in 2012. I think we’ll see an uptick in all five categories in 2013, (~95/18/70/38/.295), which brought to mind the 2011 model of Andrew McCutchen with more speed, a better batting average, and slightly fewer home runs. McCutchen’s ADP this year sat in the mid-20s, so I’d project Trout as a late 2nd rounder in most leagues.

Bryce Harper: late 3rd round, early 4th – Harper is a tougher call than Trout.  His real value will come when he can give a fantasy owner 30+ bombs and ~20 steals. While I’m fairly certain that day will come, I’m not sure it’ll be in 2013.

Jason Collette (Twitter) – Along where Desmond Jennings and Brett Lawrie were this year both round and dollar wise to be honest.

Nando Di Fino (Twitter) – I actually ran numbers with Harper, Griffey, Yount, Mantle, and A-Rod — their 19-year old season vs. their 20-year old seasons.  All but Yount put up insane numbers. Trout is essentially a year ahead of them right now, so it’s a sneak preview, to a degree. I look at them like this:

Harper: $32 roto player, with lots of power, great average, and some speed.

Trout: $34 roto player, with some power, great average, and a little more speed, which will get his value a tick above Harper’s.

In points leagues, I bet Harper is a little more valuable in 2013 when it’s all said and done, and I would wager that Harper would go in the first round in most drafts, while Trout falls to 2/3. In reality, they should probably both be late first-rounders in both formats next season, and will likely finish with late first-round value.

Al Melchior (Twitter) – Trout probably won’t maintain a .300-plus batting average going into next season, but he should have some Shane Victorino-type value with his speed/power combo. With the added hype of having been a top prospect boosting his value, I see him going as a 4th or 5th rounder.

Harper will hit for more power than Trout, and that will offset his relative shortcomings in batting average and steals. Think of him as Hunter Pence, but with more stolen bases and walks. Also likely to be drafted in the 4th or 5th rounds on average.

Cory Schwartz (Twitter) – Assuming both of these phenoms continue to produce at their current pace and rates, they’ll both be highly coveted in re-draft leagues next year.  Personally I’d go after Trout first, because his edge in the stolen base category will likely outweigh the value of Harper’s superior power.  He’s not likely to hit in the .320’s next year as he is right now, but I think his other production is realistic and projects to high teens in homers and 35-40 steals with an average in the .280’s and nearly 100 runs.

In a 12-team re-draft league, that type of player would probably go in the third round and possibly even sooner… think about Andrew McCutchen this year in terms of value; he’ll certainly go ahead of where Desmond Jennings did this year.  Harper projects for a slightly higher average and could challenge 30 homers next year, while stealing 12-15 bases.

He’ll probably go a half-dozen or so picks after Trout, comparable to or before someone like Hunter Pence. Either way, both have clearly established themselves as potential impact players next year and, based on their production so far this year and expected growth going forward, neither will last very long on draft day.

Derek VanRiper (Twitter) – Valuing Trout and Harper for 2013 requires an unscientific calculation of their expected adjustment period as big league pitchers find ways to get them out. As we’ve learned through the first two-plus months of Brett Lawrie‘s 2012 season, elite tools don’t immediately lead to elite results over the first 500-600 plate appearances.

Trout should run enough to steal at least 25 bases while providing double-digit power, while Harper seems to be a better bet for 15-20 homers and double-digit steals, albeit with a lower batting average because of his ongoing development against left-handed pitching.  In Trout, I think we’re looking at a player who will be valued as a third or fourth-round pick in many drafts next season (similar to Desmond Jennings in 2012), while with Harper it seems as though a Round 4-5 ADP seems more likely.

Chris Liss (Twitter) – Off the top of my head – mixed league, Trout will be a 2nd round pick, Harper 3rd. That is if we drafted for 2013 today. But obviously that could change a lot.

Scott Pianowski (Twitter) – I can’t see Trout lasting longer than two rounds, perhaps getting into the Top 12 or 15. He’s capable of being a dominant speed player right away and he has good (not elite) power, so we might have a five-category player here. It will be interesting to see how the league changes its pitching approach to him, and how the kid reacts.

Harper I don’t like as much as everyone else seems to for the immediate future. Down the road, of course, we can all see the superstar potential. I doubt I’d get him where I’m likely to slot him, maybe fourth or fifth-round value. And before anyone drafts either of these guys in 2013, remember all the sophomores that have broken our hearts.

Ray Flowers (Twitter) – If I was drafting today for the 2013 season I’d roster Trout for the reason many others are saying Trout would be their choice – it’s the speed component. I don’t doubt that Harper could make a run at 20 steals, but if Trout is swiping 40 bags as is obviously possible, Harper is going to have to hit a who lot more dingers to make up that difference in the fantasy game. Plus, I’m not sure that Harper is going to be a .300 hitter right off the hop, which will make his need for a major home run driven effort exceedingly important if he is going to outpace Trout next season.

Speaking of sophomore slumps, notice the 4th-place hitter on that age 20 list from above.  Jason Heyward.  Just two years ago he took the league by storm with a five-tool game worthy of the #1 prospect ranking he earned that preseason.  Since then things haven’t necessarily gone as planned.  He labored through injuries dropping 50 points on his batting average and 141 points on his OPS a season ago.  He has been better on the whole so far this year, but his walk rate has dipped again while his strikeout rate is at a career-high 23%.

He serves as the most ready-made example of what Pianowski is talking about as does Brett Lawrie, a name elicited often by our panelists.  I know what you’re thinking, “Harper and Trout aren’t Heyward and Lawrie!”  And that may be true, but they were both elite, blue-chip prospects who took the league by storm in their debuts and have since struggled by comparison.

Trout didn’t take the league by storm initially (87 OPS+ in that 40-game sample last year) which is maybe why he feels different meanwhile Harper seems to be a generational, once-in-a-lifetime-type talent to whom rules of history don’t apply, unless we’re talking about the rules of Ken Griffey Jr.’s early career.  While Trout matches up somewhat with A-Rod (who struggled in 17 and 48-game samples as an 18 and 19-year old before storming the league at 20).

Nevertheless, if they maintain these incredible paces, no one is going to care about cautionary tales from history and the pair will be very highly drafted in 2013 (like top 10 if they keep their current paces up).  For me, I have Trout higher than Harper.  His speed changes the fantasy game and when paired with his run production ability and batting average potential makes him my favorite type of player.  I would value him as a 2nd rounder in 12-team mixed leagues and I can legitimately see him creeping into the 1st round.

Harper, meanwhile, is of course no slouch.  He oozes with ability and his power could be transcendent in a hurry.  In the lowered offensive era, that is huge.  The Hunter Pence comparison given by a few of the analysts makes sense, but I would give him more pop (30+ HRs) while taking away some of the batting average (closer to .265-.270, compared Pence’s .280-.290 range with a couple of .300s mixed in), at least initially.  Harper has .300/35 capability, I’m just not sure it shows up in year two.  I would value him as a 3rd rounder.

Loosely averaging everyone’s thoughts and opinions yields Trout as a late second/early third round pick and Harper as a mid-to-late third round pick.  They will continue to garner a ton of attention the rest of this season and their draft position will be written about a ton during the upcoming winter and early next spring at the various internet outlets and in every magazine that hits newsstands.

Monday: 05.14.2012

Trolling the Wire Notes

I just wanted to post a quick message letting you know that you can now find the Trolling the Wire picks in the sidebar before an accompanying post is put out.  In fact, there won’t always be an accompanying article outlining the reasoning behind the picks (like these two last week), but  I will at the very least post the picks in list form similar to how it appears in the sidebar since the sidebar isn’t always easily accessible in mobile formats.

If you have questions about someone I would urge you to comment on that post, tweet me @sporer or email me.  The reason that there won’t usually be an article anymore is because I want to dedicate more time to the other content like the pitcher breakdowns or “best pitches of the month” stuff you have seen this year.  By no means did I want to sacrifice Trolling as it is very popular and I think very useful, too, so this is the best way to still distribute it in my opinion.  Not to mention, I utilize a lot of the same guys and it gets a bit repetitive finding ways to tell you that Edwin Jackson should be on your team.

The picks are listed in order of confidence so if you have a choice between the 1st and 4th listed on your waiver wire, I like the 1st listed more.  I’ll include a guy if he’s 30% or more available at a primary outlet (ESPN, Y!, CBS) when I post.  For example, Max Scherzer might seem crazy, but he’s only 70% owned at ESPN and 65% at Yahoo! so he makes the cut.  I don’t suspect we’ll see him available too much longer, but for now he should be plucked.

Friday: 05.11.2012

Trolling the Wire – Weekend Edition

Here are the weekend selections:

SATURDAY

none

SUNDAY

Jeff Samardzija (CHC) – He’s been excellent this year without question.  I was skeptical when he debuted with a gem, felt justified for that skepticism when he followed it up with a pair of 5 ER outings, but now can’t help but be impressed by his last three outings during which he has yielded just 2 ER in 21 innings.  He also has 23 strikeouts in those three starts with a pair of wins.  (@ MIL)

A.J. Burnett (PIT) – He followed up his disastrous outing against the Cardinals with eight strong (2 ER) striking out 10 and walking just one.  He was left out to dry in that meltdown, but I don’t think it completely ruins his season.  Not only can be useful for your fantasy team the rest of the way, but it isn’t a stretch to suggest he finishes the season with a sub-4.00 ERA.  Let’s say he’ll go about 175 innings this season after missing a pair starts at the outset.  He’d only need to be a 3.64 ERA pitcher in his remaining 151 innings to finish with a 3.96 ERA for the season.  He’ll be fine.  (vs. HOU)

Edwin Jackson (WAS) – If you participated in Trolling last year, then you aren’t surprised to see Jackson here.  He was the most often recommended spot starter here last year.  To read/hear some write/speak about him, I can’t help but find him underrated.  You would think he has had a 4.50 ERA in the last three years as opposed to two sub-3.80 seasons along with a 4.47 one.  And in that latter one, he surged late posting a 3.24 ERA in 11 starts with the White Sox.  This year he has his best peripherals ever with a 7.9 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9 which is a major improvement over anything he has ever done.  (@ CIN)

Jonathon Niese (NYM) – A pair of 4 BB starts bookend his 6 outings thus far raising his walk rate, but otherwise his peripherals are still sharp while his xFIP continues to suggest his ERA should be lower.  A trip into the cavernous Marlins Stadium seems like a nice remedy to get back on track after an OK start in Philly.

 

Tuesday: 05.8.2012

Trolling the Wire: Week 7

I spent of the first month of the season debating a different distribution method for the Trolling the Wire column that appeared weekly last year.  After deliberation, I’m just going to continue distributing as I did last year, through this site.  Some leagues allow same-day pickups so I’ll cover some guys for tonight along with the rest of the week.

(pitchers are ranked in order of confidence on a given day)

TUESDAY

Joe Blanton (PHI) – Those dismissing his complete game shutout against the Braves because it came after the marathon barn-burner the night before are missing out with Blanton.  He looked great before that start.  His strikeout rate is down to 5.4 which I don’t love, but his walk rate is on a five-year decline down to 0.8 BB/9.  (vs. NYM)

Edwin Jackson (WAS) – Last year’s TTW most used arm, Jackson is least available of the four listed (41% available at ESPN), but he is still underutilized.  Both his strikeouts and groundballs are at career-best marks (8.2 and 52%, respectively) while his walk rate is down to a career-low 2.3 BB/9.  Some people refuse to believe in E-Jax, but I remain steadfastly loyal.  (@ PIT)

Danny Duffy (KC) – I expected to see Duffy’s profile raise after a five-plus strong innings against the Yankees, but he remains widely available.  He needs to exhibit more control (4.8 BB/9), but he has built himself a solid margin for error with a 10.3 K/9 in his 23 innings.  (vs. BOS)

AJ Burnett (PIT) – Yes, St. Louis absolutely obliterated him and your fantasy team’s ERA, but you already sustained the worst of him so why jump off the train now?  He was excellent in his two starts prior to that massacre (btw, why the hell did Clint Hurdle leave him out there for that long?) and he has the stuff to get back on track again.  (vs. WAS)

Jarrod Parker (OAK) – The heralded rookie who was acquired in the Trevor Cahill deal has looked sharp in his first two outings in the American League including great work last week in Fenway.  He has a passable 6.2 K/9 rate in his first two starts, but I think we can expect to see that number rise as the season progresses.  Pitching in Oakland always helps, especially with mega-talented arms like Parker.  (vs. TOR)  — Parker was originally scheduled for Tuesday, then flipped with McCarthy for Wednesday and then flipped BACK again to Tuesday.  Thanks for the heads up from commenter Brad.

WEDNESDAY

Erik Bedard (PIT) – I’m going right back to the Pitt-Wash series well for Wednesday.  I guess the history of these two teams makes it difficult for fantasy managers to buy in on their starters and the early season success they are enjoying.  As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s never been about talent with Bedard, just health, so get everything you can out of him while he is whole.  He’s been great this year, though I’d like to see some more pitch efficiency.  Even in his last two starts where he only walked a pair in each, he has been able to go just five innings both times.  (vs. WAS)

Drew Smyly (DET) – What more does Smyly need to do for fantasy folks to buy in?  He has deftly handled Tamp Bay, Texas and the Yankees in New York yet his ownership rate is 45% at ESPN and somehow 32% at Yahoo!.  The added bonus is that he has shown some great strikeout potential, too, with 7 Ks in each of his last three outings (TEX, @ NYY, CHW).  He will have some ups and downs, but I’m buying in on the big picture.  (@ SEA)

Anthony Bass (SD) – Bass is an even more unheralded version of Smyly.  He started 2012 in the bullpen and after a pair of appearances in relief, he has moved into the rotation and looked fantastic.  Of course pitching in San Diego always enhances a pitcher’s value, but his two starts out of PETCO Park have been just fine, too.  He is missing bats (10.6 K/9 in his 5 starts) and getting tons of groundballs (55%).  His BABIP is a bit low (.247), but his 3.19 xFIP says he should be even better than his 3.51 ERA.  (vs. COL)

Ross Detwiler (WAS) – I have been a fan of Detwiler for a while and I’m glad that he is starting to display his talents at the major league level.  In limited time the last three years, he showed incremental improvements, but this year at age 26 he has taken a major step forward.  His secondary pitches are yielding both more strikeouts (career-high 6.7 K/9) and groundballs (career-high 58%) which has driven his success.  His .215 BABIP will certainly regress at some point, but there is enough to believe in with Detwiler and he shouldn’t be available in 52% of ESPN leagues.  (@ PIT)

THURSDAY

Henderson Alvarez (TOR) – Limited options with six games on Thursday and a handful of aces going, but Alvarez is coming off of a complete game shutout yet remains on the wire in many, many leagues.  The problem is that he couldn’t strike me out.  His 2.6 K/9 is frighteningly bad.  His game is to induce weak contact and let his fielders do the work (57% groundball rate), but you have to strikeout SOME batters.  He is going to have a game where several balls find the holes and he gets BABIP’d to death, but I think he will best Minnesota here.  (@ MIN)

FRIDAY

James McDonald (PIT) – Yes, another Pirates starter.  Unlike last year when their starters were drastically outperforming their peripherals, this year’s rotation actually has some strikeout arms doing pretty well yet not getting the love for it.  McDonald wasn’t missing bats early on (6 Ks through his first 3 starts) and I was concerned, but he has 25 Ks in 21 IP across three starts since without giving back the walk rate gains we saw at the start of the season.  A longtime favorite of mine, don’t be surprised if McDonald appears repeatedly on TTW as long as he remains available in many leagues.

Felipe Paulino (KC) – He’s back!  Unfortunately, Paulino started the season on the DL, but he returned last week with six shutout innings against the Yankees as he picked up where 2011 left off.  I really liked Paulino last year and I like him even more this year.  As with the Pirates starter, he is unlikely to get much love even with sustained success so jump in now.  (@ CHW)

Chris Capuano (LAD) – Fantasy managers are catching on with each passing start, but Capuano is still out there in 30% of ESPN leagues and 44% of Y! leagues so I thought he was worth mentioning.  That 2.21 ERA is going to regress a bit as home run issues have always been there with Capuano, but the strikeouts and mid-3.00s ERA by season’s end are well worth it.

Weekend picks on Friday

Wednesday: 04.11.2012

National League Predictions

I meant to get this up before leaving town for the Easter Weekend, but I didn’t so here it is now.  Since these predictions come from a contest form I turned in several weeks before the season, I don’t mind sharing them even 5-6 games into the season.  Of course, even if they weren’t something I locked in beforehand, my opinion would NOT be changed by less than a week of games.  So without further ado, here are my NL predictions.

NL East

Philadelphia Phillies 90-72

Washington Nationals 87-75*

Atlanta Braves 84-78

Miami Marlins 81-81

New York Mets 76-86

 

Anytime you have Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee heading up your rotation, you are going to be around to make some noise in your division.  Their neutered lineup is a bit of a concern without question especially with Juan Pierre leading off, but that rotation can mask a lot because even Vance Worley and Joe Blanton offer something at the back end.  I love what Washington did with their rotation this winter acquiring Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to pair with their aces in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan ZimmermannBryce Harper, if ready and that’s a reasonable assumption, serves as a mid-season trade acquisition as I suspect he should be ready around June 1st.

Most of what Atlanta does pitching-wise is excellent, though I can’t have much faith in any team purposely giving Livan Hernandez innings.  Their offense gives me pause outside of Brian McCann/Dan Uggla/Michael Bourn.  The key, obviously, is Jason Heyward.  Miami made some great additions to their team and while some are seeing playoff potential, I’m not sure they are in the right division for such a surge.  Even an 81-81 record represents a 9-win improvement from 2011 which is pretty significant.  It’s painfully obvious to say that Josh Johnson is the key to their season, but this 81-81 record has him staying healthy.  I’m not sold on the rest of the rotation or their bullpen holding leads that the strong offense should be able to obtain.  I don’t think the Mets are complete failure that many see them as, but again they are in a tough division to make noise in as a scrappy upstart.  They will have some nice stretches, but when push comes to shove, they don’t have enough.

 

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals 90-72

Cincinnati Reds 85-77

Milwaukee Brewers 85-77

Pittsburgh Pirates 80-82

Chicago Cubs 64-98

Houston Astros 61-101

 

Sure the Cards lost Albert Pujols and that stings in general, but it certainly doesn’t decimate the team.  Off the bat, they “replace” him with Adam Wainwright returning and Carlos Beltran coming in via free agency.  Then you factor in Rafael Furcal at short for Ryan Theriot (Furcal had a better WAR in 50 G for the Cards than Theriot did in 132), David Freese in at third base full-time for Daniel Descalso (who had a 0.5 WAR in 148 G) and more production from Allen Craig when he returns from injury.  Yes, the loss of Chris Carpenter and potential regression of Lance Berkman takes some of those gains away, but you could also add to Matt Holliday’s production as he played just 124 G last year and still managed 5.0 WAR.  This team is loaded.  Not to mention that Shelby Miller should be ready to bolster the rotation in the summer.  Cincinnati could make more noise than this if things gel properly.  I think they have a deep lineup especially if Zack Cozart pans out as expected while the addition of Mat Latos should be huge.  I worry about the rotation outside of him as they could really go either way (well, except Arroyo, he’s only going one way).

The top of the Milwaukee rotation with Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke features two NL Cy Young contenders.  They didn’t quite replace Prince Fielder as thoroughly as StL did with Pujols, but switching him, Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee out for Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez and Mat Gamel could be a net gain if Gamel pans out to a level commensurate with his AAA stats.  The additions the Pirates made this offseason weren’t blockbusters, but they were all legitimate positives including Clint Barmes’s defense at short and a pair of strikeout pitchers in Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett.  Can they score enough for it to make it matter, though?  Outside of a handful of appealing pieces, this Cubs roster is a disaster.  I sure hope Theo Epstein is planning on moving a bunch of these veteran pieces throughout the season, including ace Matt Garza.  Houston’s move of Brett Myers to closer was a poor one in my estimation as they now need to find 215 innings elsewhere, but I guess they think he’s more tradable as a closer.  I sincerely disagree, but I’m not in charge.

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers 88-74

Arizona Diamondbacks 86-76*

San Francisco Giants 83-79

San Diego Padres 81-81

Colorado Rockies 76-86

The Dodgers winning the division isn’t based on their sale especially since I’m not sure that has a 2012 impact on the field.  In 2011, they managed 82 wins (and 79 losses, didn’t make up a game) and were underachievers for all intents and purposes.  They have two of the absolute best players in the game and they were peak performers last year, but even some regression from Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp should be offset by regression up to the mean for several other guys including Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley and Mark Ellis.  The Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang signings were solid moves to shore up the rotation and the bullpen is sneaky strong, too.  Not satisfied with their breakout season from 2011, the Diamondbacks went out and got Trevor Cahill and Jason Kubel.  Cahill was a great addition, but I’m not sure Kubel is a huge positive after the development of Gerardo Parra in 2011.  They aren’t going 28-16 in 1-run games again, though.  The return of Buster Posey and additions of Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera should help the Giants offense, but it won’t make it anything close to reliable and they also have some 1-run regression headed their way after a 33-22 record in those situations last year.

The Padres might take a while to get going, but they are better than many realize in my opinion.  The rotation is always given a boost by the home ballpark, but they have some real talent with Cory Luebke and Edinson Volquez as the 1-2 while the lineup is getting incrementally better especially after adding Yonder Alonso and getting Nick Hundley back for a full season.  They were also rated as the best farm system in all of baseball by multiple outlets meaning reinforcements are on the way, too.  I really like Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland to come up during the season and replace the weaker parts of their rotation.  It is hard to be down on the Rockies with two superstars in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez as well as other appealing bats, but the pitching is just so uninspiring.  There is some long-term promise, but I think they will struggle to compete in 2012.  This division is regarded as weak, but I think it’s quite a bit stronger than many (any?) give it credit for being from what I’ve read and heard.  At 37 years old, Rafael Betancourt isn’t someone the Rockies need to keep around for the long haul so if he excels in the closer’s role, he should be moved which would open the door for 24-year old flamethrower Rex Brothers, one of my favorite middle relievers this year.  Yes, I have favorite middle relievers.

NL Playoffs

Wildcard – Nationals defeat Diamondbacks

Division Series – Dodgers defeat Phillies 4-2; Cardinals defeat Nationals 4-1

Championship Series – Dodgers defeat Cardinals 4-3

World Series – Rangers defeat Dodgers 4-2

 

NL Awards

MVP – Matt Kemp, Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Tulowitzki, Joey Votto, Hanley Ramirez

Cy Young – Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmermann

ROY – Zack Cozart, Robbie Erlin, Bryce Harper

Thursday: 04.5.2012

American League Predictions

I realize this is the third Opening Day of the season when you consider the games in Japan between Oakland and Seattle last week as well as last night’s St. Louis/Miami game, but I’m certainly not the only one who considers today the real Opening Day.  And while there aren’t nearly enough games (just seven games), we’re not here to focus on the negative.  The important thing is we have seven games sprinkled throughout the day including Justin Verlander vs. Jon Lester today at noon central!  With that, it’s time for the most important part of the season: predictions.  These mean SO much and they are very scientific.  I expect to be held accountable to these, punishable by death.

AL East

New York Yankees 92-70

Boston Red Sox 91-71*

Tampa Bay Rays 90-72

Toronto Blue Jays 85-77

Baltimore Orioles 62-100

The Yankees would obviously be in better shape if Michael Pineda had dominated throughout Spring Training and was slotted into to their #2 slot, but Hiroki Kuroda is still an upgrade there.  Even with some age regression factored into the lineup, it is still one of the best in all of baseball.  A lot of people are sleeping on Boston for some reason.  First let’s be clear that Andrew Bailey going down doesn’t matter AT ALL.  It’s a complete non-factor and easily the most replaceable piece of the team.  The guy hasn’t topped 50 innings the last two years so Bailey is especially easy to replace, but even if he were a 65-inning stalwart it wouldn’t be a problem.  Few things are more overrated than closer.  Their lineup is amazing, but I worry about the non-Lester rotation pieces given Josh Beckett’s health track record and the general uncertainty of the other three (Buchholz, Doubront and Bard).

This division is just so filthy.  It is hard to look at that Tampa Bay rotation and not have them in the playoffs, especially since the lineup is improved from 2011, too.  Honestly with a three game split from first to third, the top of this division could easily finish in any order.  My guess happens to be in this order, though I would love to see Tampa-Boston-New York.  Don’t sleep on Toronto, either.  I don’t think they quite have the rotation to stack up top to bottom.  I love Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, but it drops off from there especially compared to Tampa Bay.  There are some nice pieces in the Baltimore lineup, but the pitching staff remains rough.  They need to see some major improvement from their former prospects (Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and Chris Tillman).

AL Central

Detroit Tigers 92-70

Chicago White Sox 82-80

Cleveland Indians 79-83

Kansas City Royals 73-89

Minnesota Twins 66-96

I know most of the world has my beloved Tigers going 170-0 (yes, we’re going to win 8 more games than anyone even plays) and frankly it disturbs that everyone thinks the team simply can’t lose and will run away with the AL Central.  When the general public thinks a team simply cannot lose, that’s usually when they lose.  Even with the curse of expectations, this is a really strong team with an amazing lineup, killer rotation and solid bullpen so it isn’t hard to see them among the AL’s best.  The infield defense as a liability is massively overrated.  For the few that aren’t bought in on the Tigers, this is their only real reason, but the next time that an infield defense dooms a team will be the first time.   If you’ve got “Sox” in your name, it seems you’re being slept on.  The White Sox are the opposite of the Red Sox in that their strength is the rotation while the lineup has some questions, but this is a great 1-5.  On offense, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios simply cannot be as bad as they were in 2011.

The Indians have some really nice pieces, especially on offense, but I’m not entirely sold on the rotation top to bottom.  What Ubaldo Jimenez are they going to get?  Will Justin Masterson’s continued issues with lefties doom him in ’12?  I like the lineup, but the rotation will keep them below .500.  Kansas City isn’t quite ready for the big time, either.  Love Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon leading the lineup, but the rotation is still a mess.  The bullpen will cover up some of the mess, but they need some of their pitching prospects to make an impact this year.  Everyone is excited for Francisco Liriano’s 2012 based on his impressive Spring Training (33 K, 5 BB in 27 IP with 2.33 ERA and 1.11 WHIP).  I’m not so sure it portends regular season success, but even if he’s peak Liriano, they still don’t have nearly enough in the rotation to compete.  Add in the major injury risks littered throughout the lineup and it’s going to be another long season in the Twin Cities.

AL West

Texas Rangers 91-71

Los Angeles Angels 90-72*

Oakland Athletics 70-92

Seattle Mariners 70-92

It’s a two-horse out west with the incredibly deep Rangers powered by their disgustingly good lineup and the new look Angels led by their elite rotation and some guy named Albert.  Don’t overlook the Texas rotation, though.  They replaced CJ Wilson with Yu Darvish and they’ll enter the season with eight starters on the staff as Alexi Ogando, Scott Feldman and Robert Ross have all been starters during their career yet find themselves in the bullpen for now.  I think Ogando is better than Neftali Feliz, but the Texas can afford to see the experiment through with Feliz since they have so much depth.  LA’s lineup is hardly Albert & The Scrubs.  Howard Kendrick is going to explode for a big year while Kendrys Morales finally appears ready to contribute again.  Like Dunn in Chicago, Vernon Wells simply can’t be that bad again (.248 OBP in 529 PA) while Chris Iannetta and Peter Bourjos make up a hell of an 8-9 combo at the bottom.

Oakland and Seattle both have a handful of intriguing pieces, but neither has the team to contend especially in this division.  Brandon McCarthy’s profile has been raised this offseason with mainstream exposure through ESPN and I like him for a big year.  Yoenis Cespedes should enjoy some success, too, but a Coco Crisp/Seth Smith combo at 3-4 in the lineup is telling.  I’m a huge Dustin Ackley fan and see big things for him with the M’s, but the rotation stalls out quickly after Felix Hernandez.  Help is on the way with some great pitching prospects on the rise, but they are unlikely to make a big dent in 2012 making another down season likely in the Great Northwest.

AL Playoffs

Wildcard – Angels defeat Red Sox

Division Series – Tigers defeat Angels 4-3; Rangers defeat Yankees 4-2

Championship Series – Rangers defeat Tigers 4-3 :sadface:

AL Awards

MVP – Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Albert Pujols, Brett Lawrie, Dustin Pedroia

Cy Young – David Price, Dan Haren, Justin Verlander

ROY – Matt Moore, Joe Benson, Yu Darvish

I’ll do the National League next.

Monday: 03.19.2012

The 2012 Starting Pitcher Tiers & Projections – Now Available

When I released the 2012 Starting Pitcher Guide last week, I made mention into the introductory piece that there the tiered rankings you are likely used to seeing in the guide would be part of a supplement to come out later.  Later is now as I have completed the file.  It is a lot different from previous years in that this year’s version includes projections for 124 starters across the AL & NL.  I’ve never tackled projections before, but decided that it would be a healthy addition to the tiered rankings and give you a better handle on how well (or poorly in some cases) I think these guys will do in 2012.  For the aforementioned 124 arms, there will also be an additional comment within the spreadsheet so if the 73,000 words of the guide weren’t enough, I’ve got more reading for you!

Here is a sample of the AL rankings (click for full-size)

As you can see, they are split into colored tiers with the projections and comments included.  That sample shows a couple from each grouping in the AL.  There are 64 names in AL who got a projection.  I cut it off there because I’m not sure how useful projections are for the lower grade guys like Nick Blackburn, the uncertain playing time guys like Jacob Turner and the who-really-cares-if-they-pitch-200 IP-anyway-guys like Bruce Chen.  Of the 21 names in that bottom grouping that you will see on the spreadsheet, I’m sure some of them will emerge into useful arms whether in AL-only formats or all formats, but things aren’t adding up that way right now so I focused on the most useful names (in my estimation).

Here is a sample of the NL rankings (click for full-size)

Right now, the Tiers & Projections will be available to donors only. 

I’m insanely appreciative of those who donate for the work I do and I wanted to reward that generosity so once you donate through the PayPal link (also found in the upper right of the page), you will be sent the Excel file containing the information.  If you’ve already donated, it should already be in your inbox.  If it’s not and you believe you should have it, please let me know via email or on Twitter.  If your PayPal email address isn’t where you want it sent, just let me know and I’ll make sure you get it at the proper address.