Posts tagged ‘Daric Barton’

Tuesday: 05.24.2011

Fixing the Contenders – American League

As we near Memorial Day (less than a week away) and turn the calendar to June, we usually see the MLB standings start to stratify a bit with the contenders separating themselves from the rest of the pack.  That may not happen in the 2011 season, at least not for a while.  Right now there are just three teams who are 10+ games out two of which are the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, a pair of teams many still refuse to bury given the uncertainty of the Cleveland Indians and the expectations on those two teams coming into the season.

The other is the Houston Astros who were out of it before the season started.  Only three other teams are more than five games away from .500 (Padres, Dodgers and Cubs) so there could be a dearth of sellers as trading season in the MLB heats up.  Nobody really thought Seattle was going to be much of anything this year, but alas their rotation is running five deep headlined by two aces (Felix Hernandez & Michael Pineda; Erik Bedard, Jason Vargas & Doug Fister round out an impressive rotation) meanwhile Jamey Wright, David Pauley and Aaron Laffey have been nails out of the pen masking the fact that they still have a completely horrible offense.  The pitching has them just one game below .500 and a game and a half out of the division lead.

Similarly, expected bottom-feeders Arizona (23-23), Pittsburgh (22-24), Kansas City (22-24) and Baltimore (21-24) continue to linger.  While the league lacks a truly great team, there are still a group of contenders to be found within the 30, teams that should be focusing their attention on 2011 and doing what they can, whether internally or through trade, to get those October playoff tickets printed as soon as possible.

Today, I will go through the contenders who are ripe for a trade and identify the potential move(s) they could make.  I have seven teams on the list.  There are eight other contenders who I didn’t feel needed to make a significant trade because they are either getting some significant pieces back from injury and/or have the available talent in their minor leagues to fill their holes.  Or, at least in one case, I simply didn’t see a move to be made.  That doesn’t mean that it is a perfect team, just that their path to improvement is either a minor trade or sticking with what they have already.

Cleveland Indians (30-15)

Team Needs: 3B, SP, RP

Let’s start with the league’s best team record-wise.  Wow, that reads weird when in reference to the 2011 Cleveland Indians, but you can’t deny the fact that they have the best record in the baseball after 45 games.  If this team stays as is, I can’t see them holding on for 162.  I just don’t buy in the pitching outside of Justin Masterson, and he isn’t without his flaws (lefties still destroy him).  I think Masterson can be a solid pitcher, but their “best” pitcher to date, Josh Tomlin, will not hold up at all, in my opinion.  The 1.2 HR/9 will soon bite back in a big way and the 4.5 K/9 is just too low for this kind of success.

Jack Hannahan’s hot start (hitting .284 w/.837 OPS on May 3rd) has bought Lonnie Chisenhall some time to try and iron out his issues against southpaws (.208 in 48 AB), but now Hannahan has returned to Hannahandom (.238, .691) and it is time to give Chisenhall a shot.  It actually works out where they wouldn’t have to throw him in the fire right away against lefties as Hannahan is actually crushing them with a .387 average and 1.135 OPS in 31 at-bats.  They could run a straight platoon and improve their lineup.  Currently rated 4th or better in runs, average, on-base and slugging, the Indians lineup is performing beautifully to date, but you can never have too much offense.

To fix their starting pitching, I think they need to focus on someone who can miss some bats. With Alex White and his team-best 7.8 K/9 headed to the disabled list for up to three months with a finger injury, Masterson is the leader with a 6.7 K/9.  That is barely above the AL average of 6.5 among starters, so they should call up the Astros and inquire about a trade for an arm.

TRADE: Prospects Joe Gardner and Zack Putnam to the Houston Astros for Wandy Rodriguez – A pair of upper minors arms who ranked 9th and 17th in the org. list from Baseball America for the 32-year old lefty.  With two years left on his contract plus a 2014 option, Wandy won’t come cheap, but given his age the Astros should be open to trading him as he won’t be a part of their next great team.  Their minor league system is disgustingly low on talent so it’s time to start replenishing in earnest via trade.

They might still need to shore up the bullpen a little bit, too.  But that may be handled internally with the recent call up of Josh Judy, who struck out 20 in 17 innings at AAA prior to his call up.  Elsewhere, Nick Hagadone, their #10 prospect, has recently hit AAA after striking out 24 in 23 innings at AA and he could be there to shore up the relief corps early in the summer.


  1. 3B – Promote Chisenhall up to platoon w/Hannahan
  2. SP – Trade Gardner & Putnam for Rodriguez, W
  3. RP – Judy recently called up; Hagadone en route

New York Yankees (25-21)

Team Need: SP

The Yankees are having the exact issue that everyone thought they would back in Spring Training with C.C. Sabathia as their top starter and a giant question mark after that.  Bartolo Colon has been a godsend with a strong ERA (3.77) and WHIP (1.20) and great skills (8.8 K/9, 3.7 K/BB) backing the rates up, but how long will it last for the 37 year old?  A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova have been up and down while Freddy Garcia, filling in for Phil Hughes, has been better (3.12 ERA) than his skills suggest as a 34-year old journeyman.

There is nothing at the AAA level that stands to be any better than what they have and Manny Banuelos in AA has gone more than five innings just once in his eight starts so he isn’t the savior that fans want him to be after seeing him excel in Spring Training.  That leaves the trade markets.  And while delusional fans might think Felix Hernandez is available, he’s not.  But they should venture out for a trade.

TRADE: Prospect Adam Warren to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Hiroki Kuroda – The 36-year old veteran is a free agent after this year so despite how well he has pitched since coming over to the States in 2008, he won’t net the Dodgers an overwhelming return of prospects.  That said, Warren was just outside of the top 10 on org. lists and the Yankees system is a deep one so that’s not chopped liver.  He has struggled with his control at AAA (27 K, 24 BB in 45 IP), but he is still just 23 years old and the Yankees have moved him aggressively (just 54 IP in AA).

The Dodgers system has a crap-ton of pitching and while you can never have too much, they might opt for a bat instead and I could see a toolsy, raw bat like Melky Mesa being dealt for Kuroda.  Mesa has 16 extra-base hits out of just 30 (.204 avg in 147 AB), seven stolen bases but also caught seven times and 16 walks aiding a solid 83-point AVG-OBP split, but also 50 strikeouts (34% K rate).  The 24-year old has been much better lately (.290/.372/.507 in May) after a horrid April (.129/.209/.256) which may elevate his trade stock a bit, though front offices focus more on pure talent & projectability than stats when it comes to prospects.

The Yankees might need more than one starting pitcher so they could also be in for someone like Jon Garland, Livan Hernandez, Aaron Harang or Francisco Liriano, too.  Again, they have a remarkably deep system so trading for a second level arm like one of the above (can you believe Liriano is now regarded as a second level arm?!) as well as a bigger impact arm would be doable.


  1. SP – Trade Warren or Mesa for Kuroda
  2. SP2 – Trade David Adams for Harang

Detroit Tigers (24-23)

Team Need: RP

Relief pitching was supposed to be a strength of the 2011 Tigers after signing super-setup man Joaquin Benoit and pairing him with Jose Valverde at the back end of the bullpen.  The constant stream of power arms drafted and traded for recently was supposed to fill any gaps from starter to Benoit with guys like Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth, specifically.   Al Alburquerque has been a pleasant surprise with a 15.3 K/9 in his 15 innings, but walks have been a problem (11) for the rookie.

Chance Ruffin is doing well in his debut season as a pro, but he is just 22 and in AA, so the chances of him as a savior are slim.  Plus, the bullpen is young enough already.  Charlie Furbush was just called up from AAA and thrown right into the fire on Monday night after a Phil Coke injury in the fourth inning left the Tigers scrambling.  He responded admirably with 3.7 shutout innings striking out three and walking one.

He has been huge strikeout guy as a starter in the minors (9.5 K/9 career, over 10 the last two years) and he has a legitimate shot to keep those kind of rates in short stints out of the pen.  But with no reliever toting a sub-3.00 ERA, the Tigers will need more than one arm to cure those bullpen woes.

Thankfully for the Tigers, relief pitching is usually one of the most plentiful items in the trade market year in and year out.  And oftentimes, it is the cheapest commodity to acquire, too.  The Padres seem like a great trade partner as I count five arms that could (and should) be up for trade ranging from ace closer Heath Bell to the reborn Pat Neshek.

TRADE: Bruce Rondon and a throw in C-rated (or lower) prospect to the San Diego Padres for Mike Adams – Rondon is a 20-year old flamethrowing reliever (14.6 K/9), but control is a big time issue right now (8.6 BB/9).  He is allowing next to nothing when it comes to hits (1.6 H/9), though, so he has a 1.62 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.  Adams is 32 years old and a free agent after this year.  Plus he comes with loads of injury risk having never put together back-to-back full seasons.

As such, I’m not sure the Padres could really ask for too much from a prospective trade partner even given how great he is when he does pitch, especially this year with his otherworldly 10.5 K/BB in 22 innings.  His 8.7 K/9 is pretty good, but it’s the disgusting 0.8 BB/9 that is powering his insane season.

Luke Gregerson is five years younger, but also a free agent after the season.  He might draw a little more in return than Adams, but he hasn’t been the Gregerson from 2009 and 2010 so far this year.  His strikeout rate has seen a precipitous drop from 10.2 to 6.0 and he has become a lot more hittable allowing 10.3 H/9 (after 5.4 last year).

I can’t see the Tigers trading for Bell as the cost would be too much and Valverde isn’t going anywhere while Neshek would be too much of an injury risk having pitched just 34 innings since 2008 including his 12 this year.


  1. RP1 – Promoted Furbush
  2. RP2 – Trade Rondon + PTBNL for Adams, M


Oakland A’s (22-25)

Team Need: Bats… about nine of them.

I covered the A’s a good bit last week specifically tied to them addressing their need of a bat (or several!) so I won’t do an entire re-hash.  Internally, I think Jemile Weeks should be called up soon because he is healthy for once and hitting really well in AAA while Mark Ellis is not.  Ellis had a stretch where he had multi-hit games in three out of six (10-for-24) and it moved his average up to a blistering .208.  That wouldn’t cut in 1968 much less now (OK, it might cut it in ’68… but it really doesn’t in ’11 even with the down hitting).

If they don’t want to try Weeks out just yet, then they should look to Adrian Cardenas, who continues to hit well having raised his batting average yearly since 2007 up to .357 this year while finally adding some pop, too, with a career high slugging percentage of .478.  He has shown a strong eye at the plate throughout his career as well, especially at the high minors with 136 walks to 150 strikeouts in 306 games at AA and AAA.  One of the two prospects deserves a look to jumpstart their anemic offense if they want to realistically contend this year.  I also think a trade is in order as they match up really well with another team in contention.

TRADE: Andrew Bailey to the Cincinnati Reds for Yonder Alonso – I covered this in great detail in this piece about Bailey a week ago.  Assuming he comes up back healthy and as good as we’ve seen him, this is a great fit for both teams involved.  Alonso doesn’t really have a future in Cincinnati being blocked by Joey Votto, Chris Heisey and Jonny Gomes and the Oakland bullpen is stocked.  Alonso can move directly into Daric Barton’s spot at first or into the outfield which would allow Josh Willingham to take Barton’s place.  Either way, Barton’s vomit-inducing .280 SLG has to get out of the everyday lineup.  They just can’t expect to win with that lack of production at a power position.  Hell, you can’t really take it on at any position, but especially first base.

The A’s could make another move closer to the deadline, but it would hinge on Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross coming back from their recent injuries to pitch like they were before getting hurt and recently returned Josh Outman to pick up where he left off in 2009 (which he showed he might do on Monday night with 7 strong innings).  That would give them some rotation depth which they could flip for another bat.

TRADE: McCarthy to the Detroit Tigers for Brennan Boesch – Starting pitching isn’t a primary need for the Tigers, but you really can’t have too much and the back end is tenuous with Phil Coke (who left his last start injured) and Brad Penny, meanwhile their outfield has developed some depth with Casper Wells and Andy Dirks joining the club.  Plus Magglio Ordonez will be back at some point which would give them six outfielders plus Don Kelly for three spots (DH is locked up by Victor Martinez most days).  This one would really be contingent on McCarthy’s health, of course.

Boesch isn’t tearing the cover off of the ball or anything, but David DeJesus has been awful and Boesch has at least shown the capability for some power in his time as a major leaguer.  McCarthy was a million dollar flier for the A’s and netting a 26-year old outfielder with some potential would probably be much more than they truly expected when they took the gamble on the former top prospect pitcher.


  1. Bat1 – Trade Bailey for Alonso
  2. Bat2 – Trade McCarthy for Boesch

That covers the American League contenders.   I left out the Rays, Red Sox, Rangers and Angels, all of whom are contenders in my eyes, but don’t have an obvious trade scenario for a high-impact move.  The Rays, Red Sox and Rangers have pretty deep systems to attack needs or can be expected to play better once their current set of 25 begins to meet expectations (Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford; Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz returning from injury).

Meanwhile the Angels don’t have a glaring flaw they can attack via the market.  There aren’t any major first basemen available that would be a huge upgrade over Mark Trumbo.  If Vernon Wells performs anything like expected upon his return from the DL, he will help their power woes and they could shore up their pen via trade, but Scott Downs, Rich Thompson and Jordan Walden give them a solid trio and they can probably manufacture one more reliable arm without having to make a move.

Next up, the National League contenders.

Tuesday: 05.17.2011

On Andrew Bailey

 catbird seat

–noun (Informal)

an advantageous situation or condition:

His appointment as acting dean put him in the catbird seat.

A team that is just a game over .500, one game out of first place and in third place in their division isn’t often said to be in the catbird seat, but you could make a case that the Oakland A’s are in fact there.  The A’s have the best pitching in all of baseball when measured by ERA (2.75) and the best in the AL when measured by FIP (3.19) and xFIP (3.49).  Their bullpen ranks very well, too, checking in third and fifth in baseball by ERA and FIP and tied for 14th in xFIP.  The best part about their pitching is that they have the 2nd-most innings pitched in baseball, but their bullpen has the second fewest (by a third of an inning to Philly).

Their advantageous situation comes in the fact that they are succeeding this much despite their ace closer, Andrew Bailey, not having logged a single inning this year.  In fact the fill-in closer, Brian Fuentes, has been one of their worst relievers to date (4.19 ERA, modest 7.0 K/9).  Their bullpen is in for significant improvement when Bailey returns which is expected at the end of May.  He slots in at closer and everyone else moves down a peg (or out in Craig Breslow‘s case as he is the worst reliever to date statistically speaking).

But what if he doesn’t return?  Bailey has hardly been the bastion of health during his three year career and while the results when in have been excellent, he has three different DL stints for three different parts of his body (back, right elbow, right forearm) making him a constant risk.  The prospect of using Fuentes as their closer for the whole season is probably unsettling for the Athletics’ brass.  He has a history of home run issues which is about the worst thing for a closer.

He has avoided them this year with a 0.5 HR/9, but that’s thanks to a 3.3% HR/FB rate which is highly unlikely to stick considering he has a 55% flyball rate.  The home ballpark definitely masks some of it, but I doubt the park will cover him ALL year.  He has already notched three losses, a blown save-win and an ugly save where he allowed two hits and a run (a Dirty Fuentes if you will–full credit to Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz of ESPN).  And that is with just the one home run on his record.  As that HR/FB rate regresses to the mean, it could get really dirty.

Enter the catbird seat.  Their AAA closer in Sacramento is a name you might be familiar with, Joey Devine.  He makes Bailey look like Cal Ripken Jr. with an injury track record longer than Paris Hilton’s STD test results.  But he is healthy right now and mowing down the competition with 12 shutout innings during which he has struck out 17, walked one and allowed just four hits notching three saves and three wins.

If you will recall, the last time he pitched in the majors was 2008 for the A’s and he was excellent in 45.7 innings.  He had a miniscule 0.59 ERA, microscopic 0.83 WHIP and elite-level 3.3 K/BB rate powered by his 9.7 K/9.  He is a major talent who could definitely wrest the closer’s role away from Fuentes should Bailey miss more time than expected.  Or his & Bailey’s health and performance could facilitate a trade for the A’s to shore up their woeful lineup.

It is unlikely that they could flip Devine for a game-changing piece, but a healthy Bailey (who is only signed through 2011 according to Cots combined with the fact that the Billy Beane brass has never been tied singling out a closer and making him the unquestioned guy in the role) could probably net a useful bat especially as several wannabe contenders have a hole (or five) in their bullpen (Reds, Angels, Cardinals, Rockies, Brewers, both Sox, Rangers, Dodgers and Tigers all rate 16th or worse in bullpen ERA).  And six of those teams (Cardinals, Reds, Yankees, Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox) are among the top 10 in runs scored adding to the potential for a trade fit.

The Reds look like a strong fit because they have an aging (36) closer in Francisco Cordero whose strikeout rate is dwindling rapidly (12.2 K/9 in 2007 down every year to 6.1 this year) and their heir apparent, Aroldis Chapman, would walk Vladimir Guerrero… repeatedly.  Couple that with their abundance of bats with no place to play, namely Chris Heisey, and trading seems to fit.

In addition to Heisey, the Reds also have Fred Lewis and Jonny Gomes (though he is a platoon player on the short end as righties kill him) at the major league level.  But if they wanted to keep Heisey and the A’s had no interest in Lewis or Gomes (which would be smart), their AAA team has two strong candidates the A’s would be wise to covet: Yonder Alonso and Juan Francisco.

Alonso is a first baseman they are trying at left field simply because he is blocked by the reigning MVP Joey Votto, but their best deployment of him is probably in a trade.  He is carrying a .331 average .916 OPS in 130 at-bats for AAA-Louisville and for his career he has nearly 600 plate appearances of .848 OPS at AAA suggesting he is ready for .

I appreciate Daric Barton’s ability to take a walk as much as the next guy, but a team can’t compete with a  .293 SLG out of their first baseman.  That’s so disgustingly bad that I’m sure 64% of you will go check his stats just to make sure it’s not a misprint.  The A’s could keep Alonso in the outfield, but that would put him in Josh Willingham’s spot or require moving Willingham to rightfield.  You can’t take his bat out of the lineup, though, because his .405 SLG actually qualifies as a power bat in the Oakland lineup.  I guess they could put Alonso in left and then Willingham in for Barton (Willingham has played 3 games at 1B.  Letting him learn on the fly would still be better than having to suffer Barton’s bat even though Barton is a plus defender), but that would only be an option if they decided that Alonso was a major value-add in left.  I can’t speak to his defense in the outfield at all.

Francisco is primarily a third baseman which just so happens to be another power position from which the A’s are getting ZERO power.  Kevin Kouzmanoff has an OPS (.591) that you would like to see as a SLG from one of (if not more) of your power positions of 1B, 3B, LF and RF.  His .351 SLG would make a nice OBP for crying out loud.  Francisco is a 24-year old top 10 prospect in their organization from whom big things are expected, but even the .295/.356/.400 production from his 59-game sample in the majors the last three years would be better than anything Kouz can deliver at this point.

The Reds also have a multi-positional Todd Frazier in the midst of a breakout at age 25 on their AAA team so the options run deep.  With as many holes as they have in their lineup, a singular trade won’t completely turn around Oakland’s offense, but it would be a big step in the right direction.  Plus they are doing pretty well overall despite their scrub lineup so maybe one bat would make a world of difference.  They have also some options on their own AAA team that could boost the lineup.  I’ll cover that at a later date.

Of course before any of this Bailey trade talk can come to fruition, he needs to come back and prove his health as well as show the kind of excellence we have seen from him in the past two years.  If he doesn’t, the A’s won’t have as much leeway to trade bullpen arms for help in their lineup, but with Devine surging and a major league bullpen that has been one of the best in baseball so far, they don’t need Bailey to return to succeed.  They are in a strong position either way, but obviously Bailey returning to greatness is the ideal scenario for them to maximize their time in the catbird seat.

Friday: 02.11.2011

Daily Dose – February 11th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: 01.22.2011

Three Questions – Texas Rangers

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

Michael Young. Go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday: 01.21.2011

Three Questions – Oakland A’s

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

How will the playing time be split between the 947 outfielders on the roster?

After their offseason acquisitions, the Oakland A’s have the following outfielders on the roster: Chris Carter, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, Conor Jackson, Hideki Matsui, Ryan Sweeney, Michael Taylor and Josh Willingham.  With Jack Cust no longer on the team, you pretty much pencil Matsui into the DH spot for most of the season.  That leaves seven players for three spots.  So the ideal setup would be DeJesus in left, Crisp in center and Willingham in right.

Ideal is the operative word here because though the A’s would love to get 150 apiece games out of that trio, they are far from the modicum of health.  DeJesus played just 91 games last year and has only once topped 144 in his career (157 in ’07).  Crisp has never reached the 150-game plateau.  In the past three seasons he has played 118, 49 and 75 games, so he is far from a sure thing.  Add in that he is now on the wrong side of 30 years old (31), too.  Like Crisp, Willingham has never reached the 150-game plateau, either.  He has only topped 500 at-bats twice in his career and they were in his first two full seasons as a major leaguer (2006 & 2007).  In the subsequent three years, he has 351, 427 and 370 at-bats.

So like I said, in a dream world the A’s would give the bulk of time to those three players but history says that you really shouldn’t bet on that with any level of certainty.  Since he can play all three positions, Sweeney is natural fit for the fourth outfielder as he can be plugged in for any of the three starters.  Jackson primarily plays left, but could play right in a pinch.  He can also play first base so he could end up rotating around the diamond to get his playing time.

Carter and Taylor might both start the season in AAA.  The former can’t really play anywhere so he projects as the backup DH right now while the former is on the cusp of being a busted prospect.  He was rated 29th by Baseball America before the 2010 season and went out and laid an egg with a .740 OPS and just six home runs after seasons of 19 and 20 and OPS marks of .968 and .944 in 2008 and 2009.  He can play all three outfield spots so he can back anyone up or take over a starting job if he establishes himself at the plate in AAA.

The A’s have great depth in the outfield which suits them quite well, but does little inspire fantasy owners.  All of their outfielders are likely to be discounted both because of health concerns and the lack of clarity around playing time so if one or more of them manages to play a full season, they will be very profitable for their team.  I would pick one you think is most worth gambling on, but avoid rostering multiple A’s outfielders.  Ranking them, I’d go: Crisp, Matsui, Willingham, DeJesus, Sweeney, Jackson, Carter and Taylor.

What’s up with Kurt Suzuki?

That is kind of a vague question, but looking at his 2010 season against 2009 season shows significant decline in total player value, but more so to the A’s than to fantasy owners.  His runs and RBIs sunk, but a lot of that is tied to the 75 fewer at-bats as opposed to a production drop.  His power output was essentially the same as he hit two fewer home runs in the 75 fewer ABs.  The big drop came in 32-point batting average decline which shades his season as much worse than it actually was, again from a fantasy aspect specifically.

Calling it a 32-point drop sounds a lot worse than calling it what it really is, a 3.2% dip over the course of 131 games.  Playing 131 games is essentially 21 weeks of a 26 week season and in that span the difference between a .274 batting average and a .242 batting average is 16 hits, or less than one a week.  When you think about it like that, he needed less than one extra bloop a week to fall in and all the talk about “what was wrong with Suzuki?” would be non-existent.

This is why I don’t flip out over batting average fluctuations from one year to the next within a certain range.  Some raise an eyebrow and there is something within their skills that points to a long-term problem, but mostly it’s statistical noise.  For Suzuki, he suffered a very weird anomaly where he had a 20% infield flyball rate, more than double his previous career high.  It contributed to an ugly .245 BABIP which obviously held his batting average down.

Use Suzuki’s 2009 as a baseline projection for his 2011 season and draft accordingly.  Catcher is deeper than usual thanks to the recent influx of young talent (namely Carlos Santana and Buster Posey) and Suzuki projects as a borderline top 10 candidate at the position.

Does Daric Barton have any value in standard 5×5 leagues?

In a word?  No.  Because standard leagues don’t use on-base percentage which eliminates his most value asset: the ability to draw walks (AL high 110 last year).  And that leaves you with a first baseman or corner infielder hitting a blasé .265-.275, barely scraping double digit power with fewer than 60 RBIs (due at least in some part to his team setting) and not turning his high on-base percentage into a high number of runs scored (again, due at least in part to his team setting).  That’s trash.

There were 15 first basemen that hit 20+ home runs, which is double Barton’s output and there were 27 in all who hit more than his pitiful 10 home runs.  There were 22 first basemen with more RBIs than his 57 including Kevin Youkilis who topped him by five in nearly 200 fewer at-bats.  Slotting him at corner only makes things look worse as there were another 11 third basemen with 20+ home runs, 21 topping 10 as well as 19 guys who topped his RBI output.

Unless you play in a specialty league that counts walks and/or on-base percentage, Barton is waiver wire fodder until further notice.  And I’m only leaving the door open slightly because he is 25 years old and it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities for him to develop some power and for the Oakland lineup to stay healthy and generate plenty of run scoring and driving in opportunities, but the opening is very minimal and I certainly wouldn’t advise you to bet on it.