December 9, 2013
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Friday, January 20, 2012
The expression "market inefficiency" has become pretty buzzy in the baseball community. What exactly is a market inefficiency, though?
Simply put, it is something that is undervalued by an industry. Using an example that was in the spotlight in 2011 because of a blockbuster movie, the A's recognized that players with high on-base percentage were an undervalued commodity during the Moneyball years. How does this apply to fantasy baseball? Expanding coverage of advanced stats though Web sites such as this one, and others like FanGraphs, may have created a new type of under-appreciated fantasy baseball player. That player is one with glowing scouting reports and poor supporting statistics.
There was a time that understanding stats such as xFIP, BABIP, etc. gave gamers a leg up on the competition. The gap between the stat-savvy gamer and the traditionalist is closing as national fantasy coverage is incorporating these SABR stats. Anyone can go to FanGraphs and use its leader board to sort by an advanced stat and identify who was “unlucky.” It's because of this that preseason sleeper lists are looking increasingly similar year to year. So what's next?
While I'm not familiar with his work, I am familiar with songwriter and entertainer Peter Allen's quote “everything old is new again.” Turning the clock back and trusting scouting may be the key to identifying late-round gems. Derek Carty, the former head of the fantasy sports section here at The Hardball Times, and current head of Baseball Prospectus fantasy section, once told me he strives to blend statistics and scouting analysis in his work. Derek masterfully articulates something every fantasy gamer should do. It's important to use all the information at one's disposal when ranking players and identifying which to draft.
I look for a handful of things when attempting to separate the wheat from the chaff, failed prospects from potential breakouts. One is whether extenuating circumstances may have caused poor play in the majors.
One example is lingering injuries and routine trips to the disabled list. A second example is a player learning a new position. A player who broke out this past season and falls under both examples is Alex Gordon. After two disappointing seasons in the majors at age 23 and 24, he battled injuries and was forced to make a transition from third base to the outfield. Those who didn't turn a blind eye to the scouting buzz he created after ripping through Double-A in his professional debut in 2006 were rewarded for selecting him late in drafts or scooping him off league free agent lists.
Not all players who fall under those categories flourish, of course. Jeff Clement is an example of a prospect who was never able to turn the corner.
Another category of failed prospect I look for is one who reached the bigs quickly and struggled initially. Matt Wieters is a recent example. He spent under a season and a half in the minors following his selection in the 2007 amateur draft. In 2011 he began scratching the surface of a skill set that prompted Chuck Norris-like memes.
Conversely, Rick Porcello is a hyped prospect who got to the show quickly but hasn't turned into a fantasy asset. Porcello serves as a cautionary tale for the importance of keeping up to date on scouting reports. Drafted as a hard throwing prep pitcher with a lethal slider, he adopted an approach of pitching to contact and throwing a two-seam fastball predominantly while mostly scrapping the slider. Coincidentally, Porcello bumped up his slider usage this past year, throwing it 20.1 percent of the time compared to just 9.3 percent of the time his first two years in the majors. With that in mind, he could be a player worth monitoring in 2012.
I also tend to gamble on someone who has received few opportunities in the majors. A sub-category are prospects who were jostled around, getting called up and sent down, or who saw inconsistent starting time and rode the pine frequently (think Brandon Belt last season).
Going back a few seasons, you could hold up Nelson Cruz as an example of this fourth category of prospect. Cruz pummeled Triple-A pitching as a member of the Brewers and Rangers organization, but didn't receive a full time gig until 2009 after finishing the 2008 season with a flurry in 31 games with the Rangers. As has been the case with every other category of prospect worth gambling on that I've discussed, category four has a poster boy for failure: Brandon Wood. He has had no problem beating up on Triple-A pitching, but his contact struggles and questionable hit tool have caused him to fall on his face with both the Angels and Pirates.
As with most things, moderation is suggested. Rostering a full team of potential late bloomers is a recipe for disaster, even at the cheap cost of late-round picks or minimal auction dollars. Glue guys that fill out rosters are important, but passing on a few for a lottery ticket or two can result in a great return on investment and possibly even a fantasy title.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 2:07am (21) Comments
Monday, January 23, 2012
I had the pleasure earlier this week of attending a comedy show performed in Nashville, Tenn. The headliner for the evening was one Ralphie May. May was his usual controversial self, blending his form of self-therapy with insensitive racially charged comments to achieve the ultimate goal of getting the audience to think about themselves.
He took us on a roller coaster of emotions that I didn’t want to get off. He was borderline brilliant. As an artist, he took his one-hour time slot and turned it into a two-and-half hour masterpiece.
I didn’t agree with everything he said. Actually, I would say we probably disagree on just about everything, but that didn’t change my appreciation for his talent. It’s a talent that the mainstream comedy industry has relegated to small clubs and occasional late-night television show appearances.
Granted, May can be a larger-than-life figure and push every envelope put in front of him, but he seems to be really developing into greatness. Just recently, May became very ill, ill nearly to the point of death. He’s battled back, and it’s morphed his crude humor into a morally impactful journey.
I must say that my feelings for Ralphie May extend past the stage. I actually work another job that lets me meet every kind of celebrity. From country singers to rappers, from athletes to actors, I’ve met them all over the last 10 years. Some have been great, and some weren’t so great.
Of all the people I’ve met, May has had the greatest impact on me personally. He’s gracious and genuine. I feel like he’s my best friend, and I guarantee he doesn’t even know my last name. Even in a hard day for him physically, he’ll stand ready to deliver a joke to make you smile. His heart is really as big as his waistline, and I am a fan for life.
Sorry for my tangent, but this kind of guy got me really thinking about some players in baseball that I know I like more than you. I will try over the next several paragraphs to gently push my bias upon you. There are a few that will be harder to convince you of than others, but my mission remains the same.
David Wright 3B NYM - If you build it, and David Wright is awful, you should rebuild it. I can’t even get my wife to let me clear out the bonus room so that I can have a retreat in my own house, but Wright has the Mets redesigning a whole stadium for him. Maybe the Mets love Wright more.
So now that I’m depressed, let’s look at these changes. It looks as though the Mets have reduced the gap dimensions. Does Wright still have gap power? I don’t know. His line-drive rate has been in a free fall for the past two years, but his actual power numbers are trending in a positive. I would like to think that the Mets' decision to build around Wright is indicative of their faith in the 29-year-old to regain his stroke, but I can’t tell for sure. I blame it on his back injury and move along.
I have no rationale for liking him this season, none at all. For a site like THT, liking a guy without a statistically backed reason is frowned upon. So everyone collectively frown and get over it.
I’m sure I’ll get the commenter who will point to Pablo Sandoval’s potential to improve, or that Brett Lawrie could be had far cheaper and put up similar numbers. I understand the argument that Kevin Youkilis and Ryan Zimmerman have just as good a chance at success as Wright, but you can’t help what you feel. I also believe Wright’s value will cool from being a second-round pick by the time draft season goes into full swing.
I see him as a mid-third rounder. When he falls out of the second round, I’m buying. For you auction types, I think Wright’s price should fall in drafts. This, too, may be just a feeling, but every “expert” in the industry has already thrown Wright under the bus for 2012. I’m not ready to do that, and I’m willing to bet that his talent rises, as it always does with elite players.
Wright will be my riskiest, most biased player pick for 2012, and I could die by this one. But I’d rather be Wright than wrong. My real mission was to sneak that joke in. Mission accomplished.
David Price SP TB - Going from a 19-6 season to a losing one has to be a mental drain on a starting pitcher. I can’t fathom how you can understand improvement when your win/loss record makes that dramatic a shift. But that’s just what Price is having to deal with as we enter 2012.
Last season, Price increased his innings from 208 to 224 and his strikeout rate from 8.11 to 8.75. He decreased his walk rate down from 3.41 to 2.53. His BABIP and his strand rate are destined to get more luck eventually. If we see more growth from Price as a pitcher, he could get that ERA under 3.00, easily rack up 220-plus strikeouts and find a few more wins along the way.
I will put my reputation out there that Price will be the ace of not only the Rays, but also the AL East. At 26 years old, this could be Price’s big season to begin a trend of many more great years in the future. I plan to target Price as my No. 1 pitcher in drafts. I suggest you do the same, for this Price is worth the price. I’d say I’m two-for-two, bad boy.
Ubaldo Jimenez SP CLE - Oh, I don’t think anybody’s had the fall from grace as quickly as Jimenez. His trade to Cleveland only intensified an already disappointing 2011 season. Jimenez pitched one of the best half-seasons in baseball history in early 2010. Since then, his ERA has fluctuated more than the housing market. There are, however, some very interesting positives underlying Jimenez’ awful stat lines.
First of all, only Fausto "Roberto Hernandez Heredia" Carmona had a worse strand rate than Jimenez in 2011. At 65 percent, Jimenez couldn’t keep anybody from scoring. That’s a positive, because unbelievably bad strand rates in talented pitchers tend to correct themselves over time. His BABIP against was a hefty .314, good for twelfth-unluckiest starter in the game.
I’d say pretty much all of Jimenez's 2011 advanced stats were similar to his career averages. He’ll walk batters and strike out just under nine a game. He’s still filthy and only saw a slight velocity decrease (-2.6 mph) that probably was linked to some health issues Jimenez battled while playing with the Rockies.
Pay attention to his stock come draft day. Jimenez definitely will have his detractors, and there’s really nothing to detract. Live with the dicey WHIP and draft the skills of this 28-year-old hurler. He’ll likely deliver profit in the middle rounds of drafts. I see him as a No. 3 starter on a fantasy team.
Dexter Fowler OF COL - Fowler will be my prototypical, post-hype sleeper for this list. Buzz is rumbling around Colorado that Fowler has trimmed down his body fat and added seven pounds of muscle while working out with teammates this offseason. This could be that typical athlete chatter, but it could also mark a change in work ethic for a guy that really needs to start proving himself.
Toward the end of the 2011 season, Fowler really started to show off those five tools we’ve always heard he had. His OPS was 1.000, .799, .901 in the months of July, August, and September. He stole 10 bases during that stretch, as well. Earlier this offseason, Carlos Gonzalez linked his future success to that of the health of Fowler.
Fowler enters 2012 as the undisputed leadoff hitter on a team that will do its best to drive him in. He still projects as a double-digit home run guy who could legitimately steal 35-plus bases. He strikes me as a 6-foot-4 Shane Victorino. I think we could really see him push those numbers in 2012, and I doubt many fantasy managers will be drafting him. Most of those managers who want a guy like this will focus on Cameron Maybin, who will cost significantly more.
Brandon Belt 1B/OF SFO - I am an admitted Belt fan. He made me look foolish in 2011, but I’m not ready to give up on him just yet. There’s no more Pat Burrell in San Francisco, leaving Belt the opportunity to carve out everyday playing time to prove himself.
In Belt’s final 130 at-bats, he hit eight home runs. The power for this lefty is legit. There’s really no reason to think he can’t belt 25-plus home runs next year. I refuse to believe that his contact percentage will continue to be as dismal as it was in 2011. You must remember Belt will be only 22 when the first pitch is thrown in 2012. He has ridiculous ability but still needs to show more discipline at the plate.
I believe that his successes against lefty pitchers and failures against righties will flip-flop in 2012. We’ll also get a chance to see how Belt reacts to less pressure. The glimmer has faded off this rookie, and that could really work to his and your advantage.
I don’t think we'll see Belt reach his full potential this year, but he’ll bring great power numbers to offset the batting average woes. That’s why I’m bringing in his services on all my NL-only teams if at all possible. He should also be a great one-dollar play later in drafts.
Oh, and don’t forget about Yu Darvish. I like Yu more than you. Well, I like him more than every one of you other than Bobby Valentine. Darvish is ready to succeed now, but I’ve already lamented my feelings about him earlier this month in my article, Ben's 2012 wish list-starting pitchers.
I’m interested to see how everyone feels. Do you like these guys more than me, or have I completely lost it? Leave those comments, and we’ll work it out.
Posted by Ben Pritchett at 5:38am (14) Comments
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
As many of you know, our THT Forecasts tool offers performance and playing time projections for thousands of major and minor league players, auction value calculators, and many other features that will help any novice or veteran owner compete.
I’m not just randomly plugging our wares; I call attention to THT Forecasts because for today’s column, I just plucked the names of a few players about whom I am curious and/or conflicted to see what Oliver, our projection system, has to say.
Before getting into the projections for some of the more contentious players, let me offer a word about Oliver overall. Oliver has received very high praise and performed on par with other industry-leading forecasting systems. However, Oliver’s number often strike me as a tad on the low side. Part of that is that many of the mainstream projections you see, especially in magazines, etc. probably don’t really account for the likelihood of injury with any reasonable accuracy.
Regardless, an important measure of a forecasting system’s accuracy is how well it predicts performance relative to itself. So, just to set the context for the following predictions, consider that Oliver projects only 13 players to reach 30 home runs, two to reach 100 runs, and 14 to reach 100 RBI.
On to the conversation pieces.
Utley returned from injury last season as early as could have been expected. That was the good news. The bad news was that he never really looked like his vintage self. With a full offseason of rest, will Utley regain more of his original form?
I wanted a reason to be optimistic about taking a shot on one of the best players of the 2000s, but it doesn’t look to be there. As far back as last year, Philadelphia Phillies GM, Ruben Amaro, Jr. intimated that Utley’s knee troubles may never fully go away.
To be fair, these are certainly not bad numbers to get from 130 games or so of a second baseman. Utley’s health and age may be working against him, but his home park and pedigree give him a shot at a ceiling that’s much higher than several players who are projected to produce at around the same level. For all the hype about Dustin Ackley, he didn’t out-produce a recovering Utley in 2011, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if he failed to do so in 2012, either.
I see Utley as a solid, good-but-not-elite middle infielder option with a bit of an extra injury risk, but accompanied by the potential to make lots of drafters look really dumb at the end of the season.
This is a monster projection! Oliver thinks Sandoval is going to play the entire season and rake! Panda really had it going last year and was on pace for more than 30 homers, a true feat given his home park.
I was burned by Sandoval in 2010, but I try not to be emotional about these things. Sandoval certainly does have his fans, a group to which I once belonged. Personally, I’m not sure he can be fully trusted given his sordid history.
One thing I do like about him, however, is that he has that very valuable fantasy trait of going few plate appearances without making contact. He doesn’t walk and he doesn’t strike out often for a player with his slugging prowess, which is a nice recipe for counting stats. Further, the lack of strikeouts help make up for the lack of walks when it comes to maintaining a high batting average.
At the end of the day, my concern is pretty much the same as it is every year with Giants hitters. The surrounding cast is weak, which I think will make it more difficult for Sandoval to score runs than Oliver seems to believe, and I worry about the home park. Overall, I’m not as high on the Kung Fu Panda as Oliver is, but I can understand the optimism.
Last season, Pineda quickly became one of my favorite pitchers to watch. I had targeted him in all my leagues and was quite happy with my returns. He’s so big and physically imposing that when he pitches, it looks like you’re watching a Little League game where the kid on the mound hit puberty two years before everybody else on the field.
Now a member of the Yankees rotation (am I the only one who thought it would have made more sense for Seattle to trade Felix Hernandez than Pineda?), the world will get a front-row seat to see what this kid makes of himself.
This is a pretty good projection. The Yankees offense might boost the win total more than noted here. If I had to guess a fairly narrow window, I’d put my money on 14–16 victories. At the same time, it’s possible that the rate stats wind up a bit higher, too. Finally, there also appears to be even greater upside on the strikeout rate. Pineda's swinging strike percentage was pretty impressive last year, at 11.8 percent.
Ben Pritchett likes David Wright more than you do, and probably more than Oliver does. I agree. Actually, when you consider that this projection is expecting Wright will miss 25-30 games, it may not actually be too far below my hopes for the face of the New York Mets.
I wrote about Wright a few months ago, expressing my reasons for optimism there, so I won’t rehash them much. Like Ben, I have “a feeling,” but my optimism for Wright is based on a logical chain of reasoning and my interpretation of his approach gleaned from many years as a miserable Mets fan.
The bottom line is that if he slips to third-round type ADP, he offers as much profit potential as you are likely to find that early in a draft. Even at Oliver’s somewhat tempered projections above, prorated for a full season, that is already third-round production at a somewhat thin position.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:34am (4) Comments
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Every year, as I prepare for draft season, I come across players I don’t like. There are a number of reasons I might dislike a guy. Maybe it's his statistical profiles, maybe he's burned me in the past, or maybe there is no good reason and I just don't like him. On my cheat sheet heading into the draft these players are all marked in red, and under no circumstances will they end up on my roster.
I know that many of you out there are thinking that completely ruling out certain players is idiotic, and that everyone has “value” if they fall far enough in the draft. But as I’ve stated before, I only want to roster players I like, and players I have a high level of confidence in. Especially in the foundation rounds of a draft, you have to be comfortable with the guys you are drafting and believe they will return the numbers you expect them to.
No matter what my reason is for not liking a specific player, if he's on the red list, it doesn't matter how far he falls. I'm not taking him. I recommend you take the same course. For starters, if you think you are catching falling “value," remember that 14 other teams passed on that same guy for a reason. Also, to compete successfully at the highest level, you have to have confidence in your player projections. If you feel strongly that a player has too much risk or you believe he is going to under-perform compared to most expectations, then trust your gut instincts and don’t draft him. If you’re putting months of hard work and dedication into your projections and your carefully constructed draft strategy, why would you change everything based on a specific player falling an extra round? It just doesn’t make sense to me.
I use my own personal projections and evaluations of players, rather than trusting an outside source or someone else’s opinion. The more I've learned to trust myself, the better my results have been.
Without further ado, here are a few players who will populate the red list on my rankings this season with explanations for what they've done to deserve their spots. If you disagree with any of these, or if it’s someone you feel very strongly will have a terrific year and outperform expectations, that’s fine.
Nelson Cruz, OF, TEX: I’m not disputing how dominant Cruz can be when he’s healthy, we all witnessed it firsthand as he pummeled the Tigers pitching in the ALCS last season. The problem with Cruz is that he can’t stay healthy. In the last 3 years of full time play, Cruz has only averaged 120 games per season. Another very disturbing trend is that Cruz has dealt with numerous hamstring injuries which have severely limited his speed. Once considered a 20/20 threat, Cruz only managed 9 steals last year. Cruz’s current ADP puts him at pick 44, which is the end of Round 3 in 15 team leagues. Personally, I’m looking for much more than 120 sporadic games from my 3rd round pick, and I’ll gladly let someone else assume the risk here.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, CLE: For one, I don’t believe that his massive HR/FB spike is repeatable. I think he’s more likely to finish with around 14 home runs in 2012 than he is to repeat his 25 homer performance from last season. In my eyes, he’s a .275/80/14/70/15 kind of player. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s solid overall production from your shortstop, but he’s currently being drafted as the 4th shortstop off the boards at pick 52. He won’t be on my teams.
Jayson Werth, OF, WAS: This one falls more into the category of a guy that I just don’t like as much as the general public. After signing his massive contract in Washington, he turned in an absolutely abysmal performance in 2011. While a minor rebound can be expected, I still see a .260 hitter with declining power and speed tools.
Carlos Quentin, OF, SD: Another low average power hitter that I was never a huge fan of to begin with. Now he moves from the cozy confines in Chicago to PetCo National Park. I’d be absolutely shocked if he cracked the 25 home run plateau.
C.J. Wilson, SP, LAA: This one definitely falls into the category of a player who for no logical reason I just don’t like. While the results have been great since moving into the rotation, something about him just rubs me the wrong way. He simply isn’t a player that I have confidence in, and therefore won’t be a target of mine on draft day.
Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, CLE: After one of the greatest half-seasons in modern history to begin 2010, Jimenez fell off of a cliff and hasn’t been the same since. Many pundits are predicting a rebound in 2012, but I’m skeptical. When I see pitchers that rely mainly on their dominating fastball suddenly lose over 2 MPH, it raises a red flag.
And I can’t forget to mention Justin Morneau, Brian Roberts, Jason Bay and anyone else who is dealing with concussion issues. Counting on players with an injury history is bad enough (which these players all have), but adding the lingering effects of a concussion means these players simply aren't worth the risk.
As always, if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve brought up here I’d love to hear about it. Sell me on why these players should remain on my draft board and could help lead me to fantasy glory this year!
Posted by Dave Shovein at 1:49am (43) Comments
Friday, January 27, 2012
Last year, Josh Shepardson, Paul Singman and I did a series of articles on our top 25 guys who are 25 or younger. It was pretty well received at the time, and looking back there were a lot of rankings that would make you go "hmmm" with hindsight. This year, Nick Fleder, Josh and Ben Pritchett did a 2012 edition of the top 25 who are 25 or under.
I had no time to complete a list in time to participate, but I felt that my list was different enough to warrant presenting and explaining separately. More than a mere ego thing, this article began as an in-depth response to the original articles that Josh and others in the fantasy division encouraged me to publicize.
This article will cover players ranked No. 1 through 15 on my list. Part 2 will cover players ranked No. 15 through 30. I always welcome discussion in the comment section, so have at the list when you are done reading.
TLDR: THE LIST
Rank Name 1 Justin Upton 2 Mike Stanton 3 Clayton Kershaw 4 Desmond Jennings 5 Felix Hernandez 6 Matt Moore 7 Stephen Strasburg 8 Carlos Santana 9 Andrew McCutchen 10 Jay Bruce 11 Jesus Montero 12 Mike Trout 13 Bryce Harper 14 Jason Heyward 15 Mat Latos 16 Michael Pineda 17 Yu Darvish 18 Buster Posey 19 Pablo Sandoval 20 Madison Bumgarner 21 Brett Lawrie 22 Eric Hosmer 23 Daniel Hudson 24 Logan Morrison 25 Tommy Hanson The next five 26 Starlin Castro 27 Matt Wieters 28 Yovanni Gallardo 29 Dee Gordon 30 Paul Goldschmidt And five more 31 Jason Kipnis 32 Jeremy Hellickson 33 Craig Kimbrell 34 Dustin Ackley 35 Cameron Maybin Plus two guys it pained me to cut 36 Anthony Rizzo 37 Brandon Belt
1. Justin Upton: Upton tops this list because he is an all-around, five-category real life and fantasy player who has proven himself capable of excellence, is still improving, and is still only 24, though because he came up so young, Upton might seem like he has been around "forever." The junior Upton has averaged 25 home runs and 17 stolen bases per 162 games in his four-plus year major league career—hard to find production.
Upton had a down year in 2010, and it soured a lot of people's opinion of him heading into 2011. Still, a .273 batting average with 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases is nothing to sneeze at. If 2010 is the floor for a rising superstar, then sign me up.
Upton's walks dropped to merely league average last year, but he sliced the strikeout rate in a big way (18.7 percent after posting a 29.0 percent rate in 2008, a 23.3 percent rate in 2009, and a 26.6 percent rate in 2010) while re-upping the power (.240 ISO, .211 career ISO). I expect Upton to repeat his 2011 numbers in 2012, only with a little more batting average and closer to 100 RBI.
Upton might not offer the best overall numbers in any given category, but balanced production is a rare commodity these days. Balance is valuable because balanced players mitigate risks, making replacement production easier to find if a player hits the disabled list. Upton is going to easily push it as a top 15 overall hitter next year, and if you don't value him as much as I do, I assure you that you will lose him to me at the auction table. We'll see who's laughing in September.
2. Mike Stanton: Putting Stanton behind Upton was a hard choice. On one hand, Stanton is only 22 and he has 56 career home runs in fewer than 1,000 plate appearances. Stanton also draws walks at a strong clip, for a player who is of the age of most college draft picks. Of all the players in baseball not named Jose Bautista, Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, Stanton has the greatest potential to hit 40 or more home runs next season if he stays healthy.
On the other hand, Stanton strikes out quite a bit (although he improved his strikeout rate last season. Stanton swung-and-missed more often than in 2010 (and chased more pitches outside the zone) and is unlikely to produce an elite, let alone decent, batting average without some luck dragons breathing fire in his direction. That makes him a liability in at least one fantasy category, unlike Upton. Stanton is also moving to a new park that is predicted to play at least as poorly on righty power as the Marlins' old stadium. Then again, adding Jose Reyes to the lineup certainly bolsters RBI opportunities for the young slugger.
I have high hopes for Stanton in 2012, and he is likely to end up being more valuable overall than Upton next season. Alas, he is the more "incomplete" player compared to Upton, who poses a little less value risk than Stanton and his batting average liability. Maybe I am just looking for hairs to split, though. The difference in value between Upton and Stanton is slim, and will vary depending on what you are seeking in the player you draft.
3. Clayton Kershaw: Although I was skeptical of Kershaw a few years ago, he has become one of my favorite fantasy pitchers. Kershaw has done everything necessary to establish himself as a superstar pitcher working on skill rather than luck. He's substantially improved his walk rate—more than halving it over the past two years—while keeping the strikeouts and slightly upping the groundball percentage. Few pitchers with who strike out 25 percent of the batters they face walk batters at even a league average rate, let alone post K/BB rates just north of 4.50.
Kershaw's curveball might be the best in baseball, and 2012 is going to be Kershaw's age 24 season. Stephen Strasburg might arguably have a higher ceiling than Kershaw, but Kershaw has no injury history to worry about and he's already a Cy Young-caliber pitcher who will undoubtedly rank top five among starters in my 2012 fantasy rankings. Strasburg, only a few months younger than Kershaw, should be tickled pink if he ever reaches Kershaw's level. Do not be surprised if Kershaw is the next pitcher in baseball to rack up 300 strikeouts in a single season.
4. Desmond Jennings: Jennings is a special talent who proved a lot of skeptics wrong last year when he made his major league debut. You could confuse Jennings as a Cubs prospect given how long it took the Rays organization to promote Jennings, but he proved himself capable of what we expect from B.J. Upton every year, only with higher batting average potential. Expect big things from Jennings, now 25, these next few seasons. I would not be surprised to see him hit 110 or more home runs with 220 or more steals over the next five years, all the while batting .275 or better. That kind of power and elite speed combination is hard to find, and it's just another reason that I will never have to draft Carl Crawford again.
5. Felix Hernandez: Over seven major league seasons, he has logged 1,388.1 innings with a 3.24 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, a 3:1 K/BB ratio, 1,264 strikeouts and a career groundball rate of 55 percent. Oh, and he's still only 25 (Okay, technically he'll turn 26 in the second week of the season, but he's too good to ignore). Over the last three seasons, his numbers are even better: 722 innings, 2.73 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 671 strikeouts to 208 walks (8.4 K/9, 3.2 K/BB). Even on the offense-less Mariners, he has been able to "win" fantasy owners a respectable 27 games over the past two season—that's about as "no-decision proof" as an elite player on a crappy offensive team gets.
Last season was a "down" year for Hermandez, who still posted a sub-3.50 ERA, sub-1.25 WHIP, plus-8.0 K/9 and double digit wins for fantasy owners. His peripherals were really no different last year than they were in 2009 and 2010 (a few more strikeouts, but a few fewer groundballs), so there is no reason for worry about the production of this workhorse next season. The Mariners have added Jesus Montero, who should add run support, and it's not like their 2012 offense could be much worse than their 2011 offense. Just imagine what kind of numbers Felix Hernandez would put up on a good team or in the National League. Needless to say, he is a top 10 major league pitcher in terms of talent. Matt Moore and Strasburg might have higher ceilings, but Hernandez is the safer pick given his record, home park and division. He'll cost more at the draft table, but he's worth it if money doesn't matter.
6. Matt Moore: Okay, I know what you are thinking: "Yeah, I get Kershaw above Strasburg, and maybe Felix, but Matt Moore? Are you kidding me?" Answer: No, I am not. Matt Moore, in my mind, when you consider his floor and lack of injury history, has similar fantasy potential to Strasburg with less risk. If his end-of-season and ALDS performance are any indication of what this special arm can do, we are likely looking at a potential top 10 pitcher in the making. Moore projects as a guy who can strike out 30 percent of the batters he faces while walking three batters or fewer per nine innings. Moore has no injury history, and is likely to get a higher innings load than Strasburg in 2012 since he pitched 170 innings between the majors and minors last year. My projection for 2012? Only a 3.25 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and a K/9 rate between 9.5 and 10.0. Expect big, big things from Moore. Even in the AL East.
7. Stephen Strasburg: Strasburg could strike out 300 batters, post a sub-3.00 ERA and a low ones WHIP at his peak, but he is coming off Tommy John surgery. Sure, Strasburg's recovery has been smooth, and he showed us that major league batters are still no really problem for him in limited action last year. However, 2012 is going to see Strasburg get the Jordan Zimmermann treatment, limiting his value. Plus, there is no real guarantee that Strasburg will both reach his peak and stay healthy.
Tommy John surgery has a substantially higher full recovery rate than it used to, but surgery can't heal bad mechanics. Tom Verducci explains:
The answer to why Strasburg blew out—and why his future is a risky one—may lie in his mechanics. Several pitching coaches quietly predicted Strasburg was at risk before he broke down. He will continue to bear risky loads on his elbow and shoulder unless he changes the way he throws.
Strasburg, thus, has some serious red flags that prevent me from ranking him top five. Still, we are talking about a once-in-a-lifetime arm here: a guy who can consistently throw in the upper 90s as a starting pitcher and strike out batters like Randy Johnson. That kind of potential is more than enough to outweigh most of the risk if you plan your team properly.
8. Carlos Santana: Santana is a really good hitter who is not only catcher-eligible, but decent enough a defender that he can likely stick at the position until his knees give out. Santana's batting average was pretty poor last year—at .239—but his .263 BABIP was much lower than his peripherals otherwise indicated. Santana has monstrous power for a catcher (27 home runs, .217 ISO last year), but will need to cut down on the number of popups if he is going to hit above .260. Position eligibility is playing a big part of Santana's ranking on this list, but Oliver's 2012 forecast—a .259/.370/.489 triple slash line with 25 home runs, 79 RBI, 73 runs and a handful of stolen bases—says Santana is a good enough hitter in his own right to deserve recognition as a top young fantasy talent. Santana shares a birthday with King Felix, so this will be his last year on this list.
9. Andrew McCutchen: Seemingly a breakout player last year, McCutchen had a second half as bad as his first half was good. His overall season line was still pretty close to his likely true talent line, and that's a pretty excellent level of production. McCutchen is a high .270s/low .280s batter with good on-base skills, an above-average strikeout rate and above-average power. A line of .280/.380/.470 is totally in the cards for 2012, and McCutchen has 20/30 upside. The Pirates may stink, but their young center fielder is a bona fide fantasy stud with five-category potential if he has a little luck on his BABIP.
10. Jay Bruce: Bruce is a frustrating player. His overall line is pretty solid, and he has 2008 Alfonso Soriano-like stretches where he is absolutely the best player in (fantasy) baseball, able to win owners weekly match-ups single-handedly. Alas, he has been the definition of hot-and-cold the last two years, doing his best Luke Scott impression. For Roto, Bruce is great for an owner with patience who is a believer. In H2H, however, Bruce is every owner's worst nightmare. The only thing that you can guarantee with Bruce is that he'll be a deadweight for the first three weeks. After that, you gotta ride the streaks.
Bruce has similar fantasy value to McCutchen, swapping out less speed for more power and a slightly lower batting average true talent line. McCutchen is the more balanced player, and the edge always goes to balance. Expect .270/.350/.490 next season, with 28-35 home runs, five to 10 stolen bases, and 100 RBI. The question is whether you can be patient enough to leave Bruce in daily to get those numbers.
11. Jesus Montero: A change of scenery from New Yankee Stadium to Safeco Field is never a positive move for a prospect whose key tool is his power stroke. Montero has enough raw hitting ability to survive the move and pay loyal believers in spades. Not only would all three of Montero's home runs at home last year have been home runs at Safeco Park (sample size, sample size, sample size, I know), but we're talking about a prospect whose MLE over the past few years has been above an .800 OPS/.350 wOBA.
Oh, and did I mention that Montero just turned 22? True, Safeco tends to be harder on right-handed batters than left-handed batters, but Montero still projects as a high .280s hitter with .350 OBP potential and .200+ ISO power despite the move. Oliver's 2015 forecast for Montero is a .289/.347/.508 line with 25 home runs per 529 PA. Those are ridiculously good fantasy numbers. The best part? Montero might keep catcher eligibility for the next few years as the Mariners figure out where they want to play him to maximize his value. (He's young enough that his defensive shortcomings might not result in a position change until 2014 if the Mariners feel a strong enough need at catcher). Montero is a young star in the making with the potential to make me regret not ranking him in the top 10 by the end of the season.
12. Mike Trout: Trout is also very young: He will not turn 21 until after the All-Star break this season. But Trout has already made his major league debut and is arguably baseball's top prospect—ahead of the legend of Bryce Harper. After ridiculous numbers in Single-A and Double-A ball over the past two season, (combined minor league line of .338/.422/.508 with 22 home runs and 102 stolen bases), the Angels called Trout up last season for a pair of brief stints. He struggled in his first taste of major league pitching—batting a less than encouraging .220/.282/.390—but he is still has projectable potential as baseball's next five- category fantasy stud.
THT Forecast's Oliver system for 2016 projects Trout, in his age 24 season, to hit .307/.378/.500 with a 20/20, potentially 20/30 campaign over a full, healthy year. It's worth buying low on Trout and getting in on the ground floor early in dynasty leagues. He likely won't come cheap for a player with such little (successful) major league experience, but Trout has the potential to be a long term bargain in the right league.
13. Bryce Harper: Harper rounds out three guys (the other two being Montero and Trout) who are among baseball's next big thing in hitting prospects. Harper gets ranked lower than the other two simply because he might spend 2012 in the minors. Of course that might change in a heartbeat, depending on how the Nationals start the season with their pitching phenom Strasburg back on the mound and whether they sign an outfielder.
If you do not yet know why Bryce Harper has a lot of buzz behind him, then you need to watch this video of him blasting a 500-foot-plus home run at Tropicana Field a few years ago. He is baseball's premier power prospect—ahead of even Mike Stanton. Not even 20 years old (he'll turn 20 in October), Harper projects as having .300 ISO potential power in his prime. Not only does Harper have raw power, but he is also pretty athletic and has good bat speed, according to the scouting reports I have read. He also has solid plate discipline for a 19-year-old, walking 59 times over 109 games last year. Put it all together, and you have a guy who can hit .290 with good on-base numbers, excellent power (30+ home runs) and double digit stolen bases. Harper's only real flaw is
14. Jason Heyward: In his age 21 season, Heyward walked 91 times in 142 games (14.6 percent rate). That's a rare level of excellence, and top 10 all time in number of single season walks for a player 21 years old or younger. In fact, in 2010, he was tied for eighth in the league in total walks, behind seven players who all played 150 or more games, top five overall in the league among qualified batters. One more walk would have made him top three. That is elite plate discipline for any batter, let alone one who was barely old enough to drink. Combine that with a .179 ISO and you have yourself one of the top prospects in baseball.
But 2011 was largely a disappointment for Heyward, who battled injuries. His groundball rate remained high (53.9 percent), his popup rate skyrocketed (21.8 percent), his line drives fell off (13.1 percent) and his power dipped (.162 ISO). All of that can be expected when batting nagging shoulder injuries. What is important is that Heyward's mastery of the strike zone largely stayed intact, proving his 2010 plate discipline was no outlier. Heyward still walked 11.2 percent of the time while striking out at the exact same rate in 2011 as he did in 2010.
This will be Heyward's age 23 season, and he has plenty of time to get back on track as one of baseball's elite young hitters. If he is healthy, he should pick up where he left off at the end of 2011 (you know, before the playoffs). Even with an injury-stifled 2011 skewing his career numbers, Oliver forecasts Heyward to hit .273/.367/.475 this season with 20 home runs and double-digit stolen bases. By the time he is 27, I would not be shocked to see Heyward log at least one 30 home run season and one 20/20 season, and there is no reason, with a little luck on his side, that he can't hit .280/.390/.480 this year. I'm expecting a 25/15 campaign as well. Now is the time to buy low. Heyward is ranked this low only because of injury risk.
15. Mat Latos: When healthy, Latos has one of baseball's most electric young arms—a potentially top 20 arm. With a mid-90s fastball, mid-80s power slider and solid change-up, Latos has been able to dice through both handed batters with minimal platoon splits (career 3.49 xFIP versus LHB and 3.53 xFIP versus RHB, 23.1 K percentage versus LHB and 23.9 percentversus RHB). Sadly, health has proven an issue in his short career. Latos had with a shoulder injury that forced him to the disabled list to start 2011 and limited his effectiveness in the first half of the season. With a 25-plus percent slider rate, health may be an issue in the future as well. Oliver's 2015 forecast for Latos' age 27 season is a 3.18 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 9.1 K/9 and a +4.5 WAR per 180 innings. If healthy, Latos should be able to pitch 200-plus innings a year. "If" is a big word, however. Consider Latos a moderate-risk, high-reward player at this point.
Comments? Questions? Concerns? Feedback? Leave it all in the comments below. Make sure to check back for the second part.
Posted by Jeffrey Gross at 2:45am (21) Comments
Saturday, January 28, 2012
The 2012 Hardball Times Mock Draft has come and gone, and we are left with a wealth of fun information to discuss over the upcoming weeks. Look for several of the THT authors to write their own analysis of the results. For the time being, this will be only a results post.
First we need to give a collective thanks to Mock Draft Central. MDC hosted the THT mock without issue and put everything together for us amazingly quickly.
Here’s the draft order:
1. Ben Pritchett, The Hardball Times
2. Derek Carty, Baseball Prospectus
3. Robert Burghardt, TG Fantasy Baseball
4. Mike Stein, Fantasy Judgment
5. Dave Shovein, The Hardball Times
6. Paul Singman, The Hardball Times
7. Al O’Harra,Fantasy Sports R Us
8. Derek Ambrosino, The Hardball Times
9. Josh Shepardson, The Hardball Times, Fantasy Baseballl 365
10. Brett Greenfield, Fantasy Phenoms
11. Nick Fleder, The Hardball Times
12. Brad Johnson, The Hardball Times
I know you didn’t come here for the draft order, but I want everyone to notice the writers/owners of the other sites that were so gracious to lend their own expertise to our draft. Without them, we would not have been able to accomplish this draft, especially in such short notice. I personally know or compete against all these guys. They are some of the best minds in the business. I have visited all the sites above, and they all offer something a little different. Please take the time to visit their sites and see for yourself.
Now here are the results for The Hardball Times Mock Draft 2012 . We used the standard 5X5 rotisserie settings with a 1,600 innings pitched limit, 20-game eligibility. For all you fantasy nerds, including me, I also have the THT mock draft spreadsheet. Over the next weeks, we will be doing some further breakdown. For the time being, feel free to digest these results and comment below.
Posted by Ben Pritchett at 10:58am (17) Comments
Monday, January 30, 2012
First of all, if you haven't gotten the chance to familiarize yourself with the results of THT's recent mock draft, you can do so by clicking here.
When I took on the duty of organizing and putting together the mock draft, never did it occur to me that I would be forced into the No. 1 pick. I hate drafting first, and not for the reasons you may think. Sure, it’s a nice problem to have. You get your choice of anybody. Who could have a problem with that?
Personally, I really hate the length of time in between picks, which is probably the reason why I am a proponent of the auction draft. I like to pick players on my terms. I enjoy taking the bidding process to decide how much I value a guy. In a snake draft, you are a slave to the draft order and the clock. I digress.
Upon learning of my first pick, I narrowed my selection down to four guys: Albert Pujols, Matt Kemp, Miguel Cabrera, and Jose Bautista. I labored through several different scenarios. I had it all narrowed down to Pujols, then God and Mike Ilitch gave Cabrera back his third-base eligibility. For me, my decision became clear. Miguel was my man.
Even though third base isn't as bad as it was last year, that distinction is just enough to set Cabrera above Pujols. Cabrera is old in baseball years, but not in real life. He’s only 29. He’s every bit as capable as Pujols to put up the same stats, but I would much rather my third baseman flourish than my first baseman.
One note I made in my head during our mock draft was that first base isn’t quite as deep as you may think. So I wouldn’t sleep on the middle tier, because once those guys are gone, it gets really nasty.
Here I am, ecstatic with my selection of Cabrera. I was set on drafting another big first baseman like Prince Fielder or Mark Teixeira and either Mike Stanton or Ryan Braun during my swing picks. I had underestimated the stock of both Stanton and Braun as they flew off in the second round before I got the chance. I adjusted and grabbed Tex. So I decided the remaining hitters weren’t quite up to the talent level of the starting pitching so I nailed Tim Lincecum down as my ace.
With Lincecum, Cabrera, and Teixeira in my quiver, I aimed my sights on speed and talent. Nelson Cruz was the most talented player on the board, and Michael Bourn was the best source of speed to help offset all the power I was starting to amass. Bourn is a very undervalued commodity even if he loses some of his batting average in 2012. With an assumption that Cruz could stay healthy, I am very happy with the way my team is starting to look.
As we entered round six, I really wanted a studly catcher, but Derek Ambrosino decided he needed to not only draft Brian McCann but also Joe Mauer, a sleeper pick of mine. Ambrosino’s greed forced me to go back to the starting pitching. I struggled with the safe pick of Matt Cain or the riskier, more-talented Adam Wainwright. Anybody that knows how I play fantasy baseball knows the decision I will make here. When in doubt, draft talent, so the result was Wainwright.
I paired him with Kevin Youkilis, who had dropped way too far. I understand the age, health, and production problems he displayed in 2011. But I don’t need him to mash 30 home runs. Throughout Youky’s career he’s been an OBP monster. That’s what he gives me. He also gives me some flexibility at the hot corner if I were to need to trade later. I know this is a mock draft, and it’s silly to prepare for trading, but that’s how you prepare, people!
Okay, here’s where I start taking some chances. Lured in by the two front-end aces and underwhelmed by the hitters available, I paired Yu Darvish with Josh Johnson to complete a solid front four in my rotation. I’m not usually so pitcher-heavy, but I absolutely love the talent of all four starting pitchers I’ve assembled.
Everybody is wrong about their hesitation against Darvish, and I’m tired of saying why. Johnson is ridiculously good when he toes the rubber. How often he toes that rubber is the real question, but I think that’s worth a ninth-round pick to figure out.
I spent the next four picks filling out my positional needs with upside. Andre Ethier will bounce back now that he’s healthy. Ike Davis will benefit from the cozier home park and natural growth. I’m not usually a Dustin Ackley fan, but he was far-and-away the best second baseman available, and he should help my average. Alexei Ramirez gives me a solid shortstop. I have him pegged as an upper-middle-tier option up the middle. He still has potential, but if he continues to do what he’s been doing, then that would be fine for this roster.
I decided to go all talent with the next four picks. Cory Luebke is a stud in the making. For those that don’t know, you should really acquaint yourself with this guy. Part of the reason the Padres were ready to let Mat Latos move on was because Luebke is ready to take that next step and lead that staff.
Yes, I did draft Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes. I literally looked at the players available, and I couldn’t get the scouts' comparison of his power to Mike Stanton. With a 70-plus scouting grade on his speed, we really don’t know how good this guy really is. He’ll strike out, I’m sure, but I’m all about spending a fifteenth-round pick sheerly on chance, especially in the outfield position.
My next two picks were pretty obvious and easy for me. I still felt like I could add some more speed, and I still hadn’t garnered the services of a closer, hence my selections of Jason Motte and Mike Trout.
I believe Carlos Quentin has the power to still hit home runs in Petco if he stays healthy. That’s a really big “if,” but there’s little risk this late. Quentin will serve as a solid backup to Trout and Cespedes.
I absolutely love Jim Johnson. I’m glad he’s getting a chance to close, but I secretly hoped he would get his chance to start. He’s a special talent that the rest of the baseball world doesn’t know yet.
Round twenty marks a stretch of five out of seven picks I do not like. Gordon Beckham was really the best available middle infielder, but I’m by no means sold on a breakout. I don’t know if I’d draft him on a real team, but he’ll do as a middle infielder. If not for the forcing of Jason Kubel as my last pick (we had to roster an actual DH), I would have drafted Tyler Pastornicky to back up the unstable Beckham.
I learned my lesson that I will need to draft a catcher, earlier than I did especially in a two-catcher league. I drafted Geovany Soto and prayed that Devin Mesoraco would last to me in the next pick. Well, he didn’t, and I settled with Salvador Perez.
Perez hit very well in Kansas City last year, but I’d be fooling myself if I thought he could replicate those stats. However, the full-time gig is his to lose, and Wil Myers has moved from behind the plate to the outfield, so he doesn’t have that talented rookie pushing him. It’s worth a wait-and-see.
I don’t like Francisco Liriano anymore, but I didn’t have much choice. I probably should have drafted Matt Thornton with this pick, but hindsight is always twenty-twenty.
My other two pertinent picks were Yonder Alonso and Jair Jurrjens. I was very excited to get Alonso this late. He has pole-to-pole gap power, and he’ll finally get his chance to show the baseball world his skill set. It’s a shame it’s taken this long.
I’m not a huge believer in Jurrjens, but at some point, the hate has to end. Round 25 is about that time. Jurrjens enters 2012 still recovering from his injuries, but that has been the theme with my pitching staff. Why stop now?
Here’s the final product:
C- Geovany Soto CHC
C- Salvador Perez KC
1B- Mark Teixeira NYY
2B- Dustin Ackley SEA
3B- Miguel Cabrera DET
SS- Alexei Ramirez CHW
CI- Kevin Youkilis BOS
MI- Gordon Beckham CHW
OF- Nelson Cruz TEX
OF- Michael Bourn ATL
OF- Andre Ethier LAD
OF- Yoenis Cespedes FA
OF- Mike Trout LAA
DH- Ike Davis NYM
B- Carlos Quentin OF SD
B- Yonder Alonso OF SD
B- Jason Kubel OF ARI
P- Tim Lincecum SP SFO
P- Adam Wainwright SP STL
P- Josh Johnson SP FLA
P- Yu Darvish SP TEX
P- Cory Luebke SP SD
P- Francisco Liriano SP MIN
P- Jair Jurrjens SP ATL
P- Jason Motte RP STL
P- Jim Johnson RP BAL
I’m not overly impressed, but I’m not embarrassed. I was able to get a lot of my guys, and I missed a lot of my guys. Personally, I felt Paul Singman’s team was the best, but I enjoyed the practice.
I hope that I, along with you, will take this opportunity to refine some of my flawed draft practices. I won’t make a real team this volatile. I know that, but I don’t see where I necessarily would have strayed too far from the guys I drafted. I like eighty percent of my team, and that’s not too bad. I look forward to seeing your opinions and comments.
Posted by Ben Pritchett at 5:39am (12) Comments
It’s hard enough following one’s own fantasy team without having to keep track of an entire sport’s daily transactions.
So here’s a column dedicated to recapping the most notable trades, signings, promotions, demotions and role changes across the majors over the past week as they relate to fantasy. We'll do this on a regular basis. If you feel I've missed anything important, please don't hesitate to keep the conversation going in the comments below.
Prince Fielder to the Tigers
As if anyone expected anything less from Scott Boras.
Sure, it took the superagent some time to complete his latest masterpiece, but from a business standpoint, it’s hard to argue with the success of a nine-year, $214 million contract, especially when it’s signed by a player who is almost certain to be significantly overpaid by the second half of the deal.
For us mere fantasy-playing minions, who own no such financial stake in Fielder’s future fortunes, Detroit’s acquisition will likely prove to be the most consequential transaction of the offseason for its impact on not one, but two, superstars.
Let’s start with the obvious. Very much in the prime of his career, Fielder, 27, is an OPS machine on wheels who’s nearly a lock to put up monster numbers this season. Having played in no fewer than 157 games since his first full season in 2006, Fielder’s lifetime triple slash line of .282/.390/.540 provides a baseline of consistency that hints at another 30-plus home run season in 2012.
Granted, Stat Corner’s data note that, unlike Miller Park, Comerica Park suppresses left-handed home runs by 12 percent. Then again, a typical Fielder home run isn’t bound to the same limits of mortal major league hitters, as the big fella’s 38 home runs, on average, would have escaped the playing fields of 25 major league parks, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker.
As THT’s Nick Fleder points out, the trio of Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch and Miguel Cabrera should provide similar table-setting opportunities compared to the Brewers’ 1-2-3 of Rickie Weeks, Nyjer Morgan and Ryan Braun. And I’m willing to bet Fielder will see worse starting pitching in the AL Central compared to his old division, as the Twins, Royals, Indians and White Sox all finished in the AL’s lower half in team ERA last year.
Fielder’s arrival, as you already know, bumps Miguel Cabrera over to third base in what will likely be the worst trial since the Stanford prison experiment. But that’s just Detroit’s problem, right? Well, not necessarily. As we look forward to watching Miggy gain eligibility at third base, keep an eye out for an eventual shift to DH, a spot currently occupied by the likes of Don Kelly, Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge, all of whom could spell Cabrera in the field.
If (when) he’s demoted to DH, Miggy’s productivity runs the risk of a 10-percent decline, and although 111 plate appearances is hardly conclusive, his career .230/.306/.370 line doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. That said, Cabrera still enters 2012 as the most desirable third baseman in fantasy and probably surpasses Albert Pujols—if not Matt Kemp—with regard to candidacy as the first overall pick.
Francisco Cordero to set up Sergio Santos
In the end, Cordero was the closer left without a chair when the offseason music stopped, as a guy who’s averaged nearly 39 saves over the past five seasons settled for a one-year, $4.5 million deal to serve as Santos’ caddy.
Of course, at 36 years old, Cordero is entering a stage of his career when he’ll begin experiencing a natural decline, a trend already evidenced by several drooping numbers. At 5.4, Cordero’s K/9 rate was his worst since 2001—when he hurled all of 2.1 innings—and his average fastball velocity has lost two mph since 2009. Last year’s 4.02 FIP is out of sync with his 2.45 ERA, as were his .214 BABIP and 82.3 LOB percentage, numbers well outside his career norms.
Still, Cordero improved upon his walk rate and WHIP and still retains significant value in leagues that reward holds. And while his presence at the back end of Toronto’s bullpen will boost Santos’ fantasy value, he now represents the most immediate threat to the new closer’s job security if things go haywire this season.
Cody Ross to enter right-field platoon for Red Sox
Three years removed from a season in which he posted 24 home runs and 90 RBIs, Ross is a classic platoon player, featuring a career .912 OPS against left-handed pitchers that’s nearly 200 points above his mark against righties. That’s important, since he projects as a platoon partner with Ryan Sweeney as they anchor Boston’s right field.
Of course, his fantasy value will be limited so long as his at-bats are capped, but he could be an intriguing option in deeper AL-only leagues, especially if he’s fully recovered from the left hamstring injury that plagued his second half last year.
Odds and ends from around the majors
• The Phillies agreed to a minor-league deal with 34-year-old Juan Pierre, who will have to contend with John Mayberry, Jr., Laynce Nix and possibly Scott Posednik for playing time in left field. A steady job could return steal-happy Pierre to fantasy relevance, though his stolen-base success rate last year was an abysmal 61.3 percent, and his 44 attempts were nearly a career low over a full season.
• Ryan Theriot enters spring training as Brandon Crawford’s most threatening competition for shortstop appearances, though manager Bruce Bochy has reiterated his plan to hand the position’s keys to the 25-year-old this season. If Crawford runs into trouble, Theriot’s old buddy from Chicago, Mike Fontenot, also could compete for regular playing time.
• Jeff Keppinger will likely see utility work on the Rays this season, though it’s possible he’ll be relegated mostly to action against left-handed pitchers. He hit .255/.285/.333 in 230 plate appearances last year between the Astros and Giants.
• Brad Lidge has signed with Washington to help set up Drew Storen, but it’s not clear if he’s next in line following Tyler Clippard’s excellent 2011 season as the Nationals’ eighth-inning man. At 35, Lidge's injury history is also unavoidable, particularly after a partially torn rotator cuff zapped the first half of his 2011 season and probably helped slow his fastball to an alarming 89 mph.
Obviously, there's no guarantee Clippard will replicate last year's magic, and if something disastrous strikes Storen, opportunity may come knocking for the veteran reliever.
• Cincinnati’s currently projected starting rotation doesn’t leave a lot of room for Jeff Francis, who signed a minor-league contract this week. Then again, it remains to be seen whether Aroldis Chapman finally will make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation, or whether Homer Bailey—whose first name not only serves as a distinctive moniker but a source of ironic black humor—will hold down a starting job this season.
True, no one's running out to buy Jeff Francis t-shirts just yet, but in his defense, several teams were reportedly interested in his services this year, and his contract allows him to opt out before March closes if he feels he can find a better opportunity elsewhere.
Posted by Karl de Vries at 5:40am (3) Comments
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
On Jan., I participated in the Hardball Times expert fantasy baseball mock draft with some of the best names in the industry. For me, this was my first mock draft of the season and I was very pleased with the team I selected. The format of the mock draft was a 12-team 5x5 roto league with starting lineups that included two catchers, five outfielders, a corner and middle infielder, and nine pitchers. I had the fourth overall pick in the draft and was quite surprised with who slipped to me in the first round. For this review of the mock draft, I will provide some insight and analysis of the entire first round and then summarize all of my picks.
1. Miguel Cabrera (1B-DET). The growing trend over the past couple days since the Tigers signed Prince Fielder was moving Cabrera up to number one overall status. This is because he will have the ultimate in lineup protection with Fielder batting cleanup behind him. Cabrera is one of the best hitters in baseball for both power and average, and he should have no trouble matching or exceeding his career averages which total over 30 home runs and 100 RBI. He is as close to a sure thing as there is in fantasy baseball.
2. Matt Kemp (OF-LAD). It was a breakout season for Kemp in 2011 as he flirted with the Triple Crown in the National League. There was never a doubt about his talent. But he finally matured and put it all together amassing incredible offensive numbers that almost garnered him an MVP. His five-category production makes him one of the most valuable roto players in all of baseball. The only question with him is whether he will put too much pressure on himself to justify the new eight-year contract worth $20 million per season.
3. Jacoby Ellsbury (OF-BOS). This pick was quite a surprise. Ellsbury had an incredible season in 2011 as he stayed healthy and developed tremendous power numbers as the Red Sox leadoff hitter. He sacrificed some stolen bases for a lot of home runs, RBI, and extra base hits. Whether he can replicate that performance is another question and exactly why I was surprised he was taken third overall. He is extremely talented and certainly capable of putting up those type of numbers. But with the third pick, I would prefer a known entity.
4. Albert Pujols (1B-LAA). This was my pick and I didn’t hesitate at all to take King Albert in his American League debut. Pujols has seen his numbers slightly decline over the past three years and he has had some injuries. But he is only 32 years old and can now be rested in the DH slot. Pujols will be looking to impress his new teammates so an MVP in the American League is not out of the realm of possibility.
5. Jose Bautista (3B-TOR). I guess 2010 was not a fluke after all. Bautista stormed back in 2011 with another impressive offensive barrage. He didn’t surpass 50 home runs again, but he was amongst the league leaders in most offensive categories. He even improved his batting average and on base percentage which makes him even more valuable in fantasy. Plus, third base is a relatively weak fantasy position this year as there are only a handful of viable options.
6. Joey Votto (1B-CIN). I see both sides to taking Votto here. He does have more stolen base potential than many of the other remaining options, and he has the benefit of playing home games at the bandbox in Cincinnati. But I would say that Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder are better options than Votto based on pure power numbers.
7. Troy Tulowitzki (SS-COL). It was strange to have first shortstop taken was not be Hanley Ramirez. After Ramirez’s atrocious year in 2011, it appears that Tulowitzki has ascended to the top option at shortstop. He is just entering his prime and should be a lock for 25 home runs and close to 100 RBI. He will have the benefit of additional lineup protection with the additions of Michael Cuddyer, Ramon Hernandez and Marco Scutaro. Tulo tends to be streaky which is more of a downside for H2H leagues, but at the end of the day he will justify his position as a Top 10 pick.
8. Robinson Cano (2B-NYY). Cano gets all the love as the top second baseman in the league, but arguments can be made that Dustin Pedroia is actually a better fantasy option because of his stolen bases. Cano never runs, and this is even further emphasized by the fact that he may be hitting third or fourth in the Yankees batting order permanently. Cano is without question one of the best hitters in all of baseball and certainly merits being a top 10 pick at such a scarce position. He is a lock for a .300 batting average with 20+ home runs and 100+ RBI.
9. Evan Longoria (3B-TB). This pick was a bit surprising because he probably would have lasted into the second round. After Bautista was off the board, Longoria is arguably the next best option at 3B. His batting average in 2011 was likely an aberration so I am not overly concerned about that. Now entering his fifth season, Longoria could be on the verge of an explosion as he approaches the magical age of 27. His walk ratio was up and his strikeouts were down last year, a good indication of things to come.
10. Adrian Gonzalez (1B-BOS). If ever anyone was a victim to the ballpark he played in, it would be Gonzalez who was hampered by the cavernous, pitcher-friendly PetCo Park in San Diego. After being traded to Boston, Gonzalez was able to showcase his talents to the whole world and fully took advantage of hitting in a potent lineup at a great hitter’s park. Assuming he is healthy, Gonzales is a lock for a .300+ batting average, 30+ home runs, and 100+ RBI. He will also score a ton of runs just by virtue of hitting the middle of Boston’s lineup. I would have taken him over Votto several picks before this.
11. Justin Upton (OF-ARZ). It is too bad that fantasy baseball doesn’t take into account the length of home runs hit. Upton crushed several home runs well over 450 feet last season and really established himself as one of baseball’s brightest young stars. His combination of power and speed makes him an attractive roto option in the outfield which has become a very thin position compared to years past. Upton should also benefit from better lineup protection with the addition of Jason Kubel and the emergence of Paul Goldschmidt. He is certainly worthy of a first round pick given his five-category production.
12. Curtis Granderson (OF-NYY). Without a doubt, Granderson’s fantasy value increased more than any other player last year. He put together a season for the ages with 41 home runs, 119 RBI, 136 runs scored and 25 stolen bases. The most impressive part of his game was his improvement against left-handed pitchers. Granderson is now an elite fantasy option and should continue to thrive in the Yankees’ explosive lineup and the home run haven known as Yankee Stadium.
Now here are my picks in the remaining rounds:
Second round – Jose Reyes (SS-MIA). It pained me a bit to make this pick, but after Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez were off the board Reyes was the best shortstop available. His contract may come back and bite the Marlins years down the road, but for his inaugural season in Miami I think Reyes will be very productive on a good team and with something to prove. He may not steal 50+ bases anymore, but we can expect a .300 batting average and lots of runs scored.
Third round – CC Sabathia (SP-NYY). I didn’t want to wait any longer to take my first pitcher, so it came down to a choice between Sabathia and Jered Weaver. I opted for Sabathia because I like the Yankees bullpen a lot more to preserve wins, and I think Weaver will be unable to replicate his 2011 performance. Sabathia is a lock for 19-20 wins, a 3.00 ERA, close to 200 strikeouts, and a sub 1.30 WHIP.
Fourth round – Alex Rodriguez (3B-NYY). Oh how the mighty have fallen. Once a guaranteed top five pick, A-Rod has fallen on hard times over the past couple years as age, injuries, and a lack of steroids have sapped him of his power and run production. I thought this was a great time to grab Rodriguez because he still has the capability of putting up a monster season. Even if he only hits 25 homers and drives in 90 runs, that is still solid production for a fourth round pick. He will slip in most drafts, so the question is when to pull the trigger on him. This is probably the right spot for him to go.
Fifth round – Jon Lester (SP-BOS). For my second pitcher, I took Red Sox ace Jon Lester. He fell off of people’s radar because of how poorly he pitched down the stretch in 2011 as Boston’s epic collapse unfolded. But he is still a young and dominating starter who should be counted on for at least 15 wins and close to 200 strikeouts.
Sixth round – Alex Gordon (OF-KC). By the sixth round, I still didn’t have an outfielder. I took Gordon over Shin Soo Choo because Gordon has proven to be consistent in all five roto categories and is one of the cornerstones of an up and coming Kansas City offense. Choo has more power potential, but I at least know I am getting a .290 batting average with 15-20 homeruns, 80-90 RBI, 80-90 runs scored, and 10-15 stolen bases from Gordon.
Seventh round – C.J. Wilson (SP-LAA). I was very happy to get Wilson as my third pitcher because he has established himself as one of the more effective and consistent starters in the game. He will be pitching for his hometown Los Angeles Angels and will likely be their number three starter.
Eighth round – Michael Cuddyer (OF-COL). Continuing my goal of drafting players who can contribute in all categories, I took the Rockies’ new outfielder Michael Cuddyer. He should flourish hitting in the thin air of Denver and could reach 30 home runs if things go right. He also hits for a decent average and can get double-digit steals. I am liking the Gordon-Cuddyer combination so far.
Ninth round – Ryan Howard (1B-PHI). This is my steal of the draft. Sure he will probably miss the first month of the season, but there is no reason to think Howard won’t come back fully healthy and with a vengeance. Even if he doesn’t play a game until May 1, he will be a huge addition to my team and can obviously provide tremendous power numbers.
10th round – Howie Kendrick (2B-LAA). Fresh off a new contract extension, Kendrick will have the pleasure of batting in front of Albert Pujols. He showed he can be a consistent hitter in 2011 and that should continue into 2012 as he gets a healthy dose of fastballs batting second in the Angels order. I was very pleased to get a second baseman like this at this point in the draft.
11th round – Mariano Rivera (RP-NYY). With only a couple closers off the board by this point, I thought I should start paying attention to saves and grab the best in the business. Age apparently is not a factor for Rivera who has shown no indication he is slowing down. Assuming he stays healthy, he should surpass 40 saves again with a miniscule ERA and WHIP.
12th round – Chris Young (OF-ARZ). For my third outfielder, I liked Young because he has great power and speed capabilities. He could be a 30-30 player every year, but he must improve his pitch selection and batting average.
13th round – Jose Valverde (RP-DET). To complement Rivera, I was fortunate to get Valverde who was perfect in save opportunities for the AL Central champion Tigers. He should have a chance approach 50 saves with their pitching staff and terrific offense.
14th round – Chad Billingsley (SP-LAD). This was a bit of a risky pick, but I thought the 14th round was a good time for a reclamation project. Billingsley was once one of the top young pitching prospects in baseball, but he struggled mightily in 2011. Even if he doesn’t bounce back, there is not much to lose with this gamble.
15th round – Colby Rasmus (OF-TOR). I really liked this selection because Rasmus has all the potential in the world and now gets his first full season in Toronto. For various reasons, he couldn’t put it all together in St. Louis. Now, without the additional pressure, he will get a chance to shine in a very good lineup.
16th round – Jaime Garcia (SP-STL). I was surprised Garcia lasted this long because all he has done is win with a low ERA since getting to the big leagues. He will now get pushed back to the Cardinals’ number three spot in the rotation because Adam Wainwright will be back.
17th round – Huston Street (RP-SD). To cap off my closers, I grabbed Street here instead of Chris Perez of the Indians. Street has pitched very well since coming to the NL West and will have plenty of chances to save games with the low-scoring Padres. Even if he only gets 30 saves, he is my third closer.
18th round – Bobby Abreu (DH-LAA). Former fantasy stud Bobby Abreu has fallen on hard times as he approaches 40 years old. He saw his batting average plummet in 2011 and he didn’t even reach double digits in home runs. However, he still figures to score a decent amount of runs and can swipe a few bags here and there.
19th round – Russell Martin (C-NYY). I usually punt on catchers because the handful who have any value are always big health risks and they pale in comparison to other options earlier in the draft. My goal is just to get a catcher or two who start and play at least five times a week. Martin will be the Yankees starter and can still hit a bit, so I was pleased to get him in the 19th round.
20th round – Jason Bay (OF-NYM). Ugh. With the fences brought in at Citi Field, maybe Bay can actually hit 20 homers this year. Nah, who am I kidding?
21st round – Ivan Nova (SP-NYY). Nova is one of the few pitchers who can win almost 20 games and not even strike out 100 batters. He developed into a solid pitcher in 2011 and will look to improve upon that in 2012. He will help for wins, but if he can punch out batters at a better rate this pick will be even more valuable.
22nd round – Kurt Suzuki (C-OAK). Because this format requires two catchers, I grabbed the best available backstop who starts for his team. Suzuki didn’t have a great year in 2011, but he is a solid hitter and can at least be counted on to play most days.
23rd round – Mike Aviles (2B-BOS). For my middle infielder, I took Aviles because he should get most of the playing time at shortstop for the Red Sox. After trading both Jed Lawrie and Marco Scutaro, Aviles will get the call until Boston’s next prospect is ready. Aviles has had success before and will now have the benefit of hitting in their potent lineup.
24th round – Alfonso Soriano (OF-CHC). Oh how the mighty have fallen even more. Soriano is an albatross for the Cubs with his prohibitive contract and poor play. But he is also an albatross for fantasy owners who remember what he used to be able to do. For the 24th round, I can live with whatever he provides because by some miracle he could still hit 30 home runs and steal 20 bases.
25th round – Seth Smith (OF-OAK). It isn’t often that you find a cleanup hitter in the 25th round of a draft, but that's what happened here. Smith was traded to Oakland and should finally have a chance to play every day. The A’s lineup does not look impressive on paper, so Smith may have limited chances to drive in runs, but at this point in the draft, I was looking to acquire depth and fill out my bench.
26th round – Jake Peavy (SP-CHW). It is even less often that you find a former Cy Young Award winner who is supposedly healthy and still pitching in the 26th round of a draft. Peavy has never matched the success from his award winning season, but he should get a chance to reclaim his past glory with the rebuilding White Sox. For my last pick in the draft, this was certainly worth the risk.
Overall, I was very happy with the team I drafted. I have a good mix of power and speed, including several players who contribute in both categories. My pitching staff is solid and I have three good closers. I would go into battle with this team any day of the week. Here is my roster by position:
C Russell Martin-NYY
C Kurt Suzuki-OAK
1B Albert Pujols-LAA
2B Howie Kendrick-LAA
3B Alex Rodriguez-NYY
SS Jose Reyes-MIA
OF Alex Gordon-KC
OF Michael Cuddyer-COL
OF Chris Young-ARZ
OF Jason Bay-NYM
OF Alfonso Soriano-CHC
DH Bobby Abreu-LAA
CI Michael Cuddyer-COL
MI Mike Aviles-BOS
BN Ryan Howard-PHI
BN Seth Smith-OAK
SP C.C. Sabathia-NYY
SP Jon Lester-BOS
SP C.J. Wilson-LAA
SP Chad Billingsley-LAD
SP Jaime Garcia-STL
SP Ivan Nova
RP Mariano Rivera-NYY
RP Jose Valverde-DET
RP Huston Street-SD
BN Jake Peavy-CHW
What are your thoughts on the team I drafted?