Victor Martinez | Boston | C
2009 Final Stats: .303/.381/.480
From a fantasy perspective, Martinez is like Joe Mauer “lite.” He contributes in four categories, doesn’t get credit in most formats for his good OBP, and plays a lot of games elsewhere when taking days off from catching. Entering 2009, there were serious concerns that his 2008 injuries had diminished Vic’s skills, but nothing could be further from the truth—it’s almost like the rest rejuvenated him, as at age 30 he surpassed all his excellent career norms. And, with his newer, friendlier ballpark and lineup, don’t be surprised if he keeps it up. Getting at least 100 more PA than a typical catcher, and a lot less hype than Mauer or Wieters, Martinez may actually be undervalued on draft day, considering the huge dropoff after the Big Three to the rest of the pack of AL catchers.
Miguel Cabrera | Detroit | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .324/.396/.547
As a fan of “the game of baseball”—even above any team fandom—the “incident” involving Cabrera’s personal life late in the 2009 season was very disappointing. With less fanfare than Pujols, Miguel Cabrera has staked out a claim as the second-best young hitter with his .311/.383/.542 career batting line (though ex-teammate Hanley Ramirez may dispute said “claim”). Entering his age-27 season in 2010 with 4,441 PA already, he has a chance to post some amazing career totals still. He had to drive in 19 runs in the final 24 games to get over 100 (103) this year, but expect his RBI to “rebound” to more than 110 again as Granderson’s OBP rises back above .327. We won’t profess to know what will happen in M-Cab’s off-field life, but while we’re hoping for the best—that he lives his life as excellently as he hits baseballs—we’d suggest tempering mathematical valuation projections by $1-2, since off-field events that generate public backlash can occasionally spiral out of control. Not much of a hedge, though, since when it comes to racking up fantasy stats, he’s about as good as you’ll find in the AL.
Adam Jones | Baltimore | OF
2009 Final Stats: .277/.335/.457
Two months do not a season make, as Adam Jones will attest. On June 2, he knocked two hits against the team that drafted him, the Mariners, putting his stat line at an amazing .347/.402/.611! The former shortstop prospect looked great defensively in center, putting him among the most valuable players in the league at that stage. Rumors of Felix Pie and a voodoo doll weren’t substantiated, but Jones hit like Pie had the rest of the way—.230/.290/.353 (and Pie picked up the pace shortly thereafter … things that make you go “hmmm”?). Mystic explanations aside, Jones is starting to show signs of being one of those players who is constantly injured, which isn’t much fun for anyone—fan or fantasy owner (though Pie benefited). Here is a list of injury reports from 2009:
April 20 – hamstring
May 19 – hamstring
June 14 – shin
June 30 – neck/shoulder (after collision with wall)
July 12 – fluid drained from both knees
August 23 – back injury
September 1 – ankle – out for season
No direct causality around the June 2 collapse, but it’s easy to understand how he wasn’t able to break out of a slump when he was constantly injuring different body parts. Expect to read about how he’s “worked harder than ever” and is “in the best shape of his life” in spring training—the usual pablum. But he’s clearly in the “high risk” category now. The awesome start to his 2009 season indicates that he’s a guy who has almost unlimited four-category upside, but don’t be the team that pays full value for his “potential.”
Michael Cuddyer | Minnesota | OF
2009 Final Stats: .276/.342/.520
Where did THAT come from?! Long thought to have great hitting skills, for which the Twins made him the ninth overall pick in the 1997 draft, Cuddyer hadn’t been very impressive, hitting .268/.344/.441 in his first eight seasons with the Twins (2,646 PA), and playing mediocre defense. It wasn’t totally a surprise that he slugged over .500, as he’d done so in 2006, also. Nor was it a surprise that he drove in 94 runs (he had 109 in 2006), but he was coming off a brutal .249/.330/.369 season, which followed a sub-par 2007, and gave him a distinctly downward-pointing trend line. With the way he kept the team alive after Morneau went down, he has cemented his role on the team, almost certainly insuring that his 2011 club option is picked up. Since he appears totally healthy, expect slightly more than his .270/.344/.457 career stat line, and lots of Mauers—er, baserunners—on base to drive in.
Jon Lester | Boston | SP
2009 Final Stats: 10.0 K/9, 3.5 K/BB, 3.41 ERA
By request, we’re discussing what to expect from Jon Lester. The short answer is: Expect more of the same. His ERA was 3.41, his FIP 3.25, his xFIP 3.33. His second-half improvement of over 1.00 ERA bodes well for his 2010, though much of it was “luck balancing,” as his first-half BABIP was .336, compared to .286 in the second half. He’s not only unperturbed by pitching in Boston, he’s been better at home, allowing just five HR compared to 15 on the road. When his biggest claims to fame were being a cancer survivor and wildness that limited his effectiveness, it seemed quite the reach for Steve Phillips (formerly of ESPN) to tab him as the first pitcher he’d take to build around, but that’s not looking so absurd anymore. He had some trouble throwing strikes to the Angels this year in the postseason, but his career postseason ERA stands at 2.57 (in 42.0 IP), so “clutch” pitching doesn’t appear to bother him. We wouldn’t take him first, but he’s a very good bet to have an ERA under 3.5, and a WHIP under 1.3, both of which he’s accomplished each of the past two seasons.
Justin Verlander | Detroit | SP
2009 Final Stats: 10.1 K/9, 4.3 K/BB, 3.45 ERA
What number is next in this xFIP sequence: 4.67, 4.38, 4.78? If you said “3.41,” you win! And the Tigers won with Verlander, as he went 19-9 in 2009. His 2008 season had many of the warning signs of a pitcher who’d been overused in his formative years, including a decline in average fastball velocity (“down” to 93.6 mph, but he’d been around 95 the previous 2 years). Well, he rediscovered the triple-digit heat that got so many raves pre-draft, averaging a career-best 95.6 mph on his fastballs. And he also reined in his control, reducing his walks to a scant 2.5 BB/9. Verlander is a flyball pitcher, and can be expected to give up a homer about every 10 IP, so he was slightly “lucky” in 2009, but his BABIP was .323, which can be expected to adjust downward. With the Central being the weakest division, Verlander is arguably the preeminent AL fantasy pitcher to get in 2010, though we’d probably rank a couple of the other heavyweights above him for now, until he shows he can maintain his great control for another season.
In answer to the reader query, we’d take Verlander over Lester, but either should be great. Mike should be commenting on Carpenter on the NL side, but it’s presumed that he’d be third in that group, just due to the uncertainty of his injury history.