Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The New York Yankees Fantasy Report

If you are a Yankees fan, you are used to seeing the team bashed as if they a dimwit with an unlimited credit card ran the team. Nevertheless, the fact is this is one of the best-managed teams in sports. They should be a model for other teams rather than just the envy of them. They have a very deep farm system. Although not filled with many elite prospects, the depth of B and C prospects is impressive. The vast majority of those prospects are pitchers. The Yankees recognize that nothing is more valuable or more difficult to acquire than pitching. After years known as an organization that would not give a rookie a chance – they are successfully integrating youngsters onto the team on a regular basis. Then they use the savings that these young players provide, and the massive revenue (that years of winning and good business bolstered) to sign the very best players available.

Last year the very best players were CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Mark Teixeira. It should be noted that these players took the roster spots of players whose massive contracts had finally expired – Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Carl Pavano, and so forth. The depth in the system had also made trades for Nick Swisher, Damaso Marte, and Xavier Nady possible. Now that depth may result in the acquisition of Roy Halladay and the level of hatred for all things Yankees would certainly reach new heights. However, it makes some sense. George King of the New York Post calls the Yankees and Red Sox favorites for Halladay because of their ability to part with major league ready talent (or close enough) and to provide Halladay with the Sabathia-like contract he is certain to demand.

Meanwhile, the Yankees could be losing two key players to free agency. Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Andy Pettitte are free agents. Pettitte is not as likely to leave for another team, as he is to retire. However, Damon and Matsui look like prime targets for teams seeking outfielders but unwilling or unable to meet the contract demands of players like Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Ironically, if the Yankees do lose both Damon and Matsui, it increases the chance that they will go after a Holliday or a Bay. Despite their willingness to include young players in the mix, it is unlikely that the Yankees would go into the season with Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, and Melkey Cabrera starting in the outfield.

Fantasy Focus

Alex Rodriguez, 3B
After Alex Rodriguez’s gutsy season, he has won quite a bit of respect from me. After a pre-season that included accusations of (and later admitting) PED use, a tell-all book from Selena Roberts, and surgery to repair a muscle tear in his hip, I had no faith that A-Rod would perform. But he did. He had some help. Derek Jeter turning back the clock and Mark Teixeira providing an MVP quality season took away much of the unwanted attention. For the first time since coming to New York, Rodriguez just played baseball. In just 124 games, he managed to hit 30 homers and collect 100 RBI.

However, there are still some questions to answer. Does he need further surgery on his hip and how will that affect his play offensively and defensively? Do you believe his story about quitting PED use after the 2003 season? If not, how will he react? If he is only stopping their use now, how much will his performance degrade? Right now, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I believe many players stopped their PED use after the 2003 season with serious testing implemented. There are many rumors that A-Rod may not even need the more invasive version of the hip surgery. In any case, Chase Utley’s season provides a ton of reasons to hope for the best. I think A-Rod belongs back in the first round. He needs to prove some things before he returns to the Top 5, but Top 10 is a lock.

Phil Hughes, RHP and Joba Chamberlain, RHP
After the General Manager meetings, the New York media swarmed onto GM Brian Cashman with questions about the direction the team would take in 2010. One of the revelations was that Cashman and the Yankees had not yet made a decision about the starting/relieving status of either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes. Cashman indicated that he thought of both players as starters who could also pitch in relief. Both will be part of a large group of starting candidates in Spring Training. The acquisition of Roy Halladay would almost certainly cost the Yankees one of the two pitchers. In that scenario, I believe that the remaining young player would be in the rotation with Sabathia, Burnett, Halladay, and Chien-Ming Wang or Andy Pettitte.

Phil Hughes had a great season for the Yankees. Fans tend to forget just how highly the Yankees think of Phil Hughes. When Wang went down to injury, Hughes stepped up and performed in the rotation. He was not untouchable as a starter but his talent was on obvious display and it would have been nice to see him stay there. However, when Wang returned (it was a short-lived return) Hughes campaigned to stay and pitch in the bullpen. He not only pitched well there but he may have been the MVP of the pitching staff by bridging the gap between the starters and Mariano Rivera.

Hughes finished the season with excellent fantasy stats including an 8-3 record, 3 saves (3BS), 3.03 ERA (3.22 FIP), 1.12 WHIP, and 10.05 K9. Looking a little deeper, Hughes had solid control (2.93 BB9), kept the ball in the park (0.84 HR9) – the Homerun rate may look on the lucky side but he has been displaying that ability his entire career despite being a flyball pitcher. One of the skills that Hughes seems to have is inducing infield flyballs, which obviously do much less damage than the other sort does. Hughes did not seem to have his previously excellent curveball this season. However, in the bullpen it wasn’t needed. His fastball was excellent and his cutter was a solid pitch. If Hughes can rediscover his curve I believe he will be an excellent starter and is worthy of fantasy consideration. If only one of the two is in the rotation, I believe it will be Hughes.

Joba Chamberlain seems to pitch better in the bullpen because he does not attempt to conserve his energy to make it through multiple innings. However, that is not the only reason he looked better as a reliever in 2009. In the first half of the 2009 season, Chamberlain pitched like an average major league starter (with excellent potential) which is just fine for a young player in his first season in a major league rotation. It is even more impressive when you consider that Chamberlain spent just one season in the minors has pitched just 364.3 innings since being drafted. Even for a college player that is a miniscule amount. Now consider that this young and inexperienced pitcher was skipped whenever it was possible in the first half as part of the attempt to limit his innings. Then in the second half, the Yankees hit on a plan to give him 8-10 days between starts. This quickly proved to be a disastrous idea. The Yankees adjusted the plan to allowing him to pitch regularly in the rotation but with a ridiculously low pitch count that made it difficult for Joba to escape even the third inning. The second half was a disaster.

Chamberlain has excellent stuff and if he works on developing his other pitches, he can be a very good starter. There is little point in going into the numbers. He was below average and way off his previous career marks in almost every category. The Yankees still see Chamberlain as a starter but they may not have a spot for him in the rotation in 2010. He will have to earn it. Keeper League owners whose rosters allow Joba to be benched indefinitely should definitely consider holding onto him. With experience, Joba still projects to be an impressive pitcher. However, those in year-to-year leagues are cautioned to avoid Chamberlain as a starter. He will experience ups and down consistent with young pitchers. If Chamberlain in a reliever he should be treated as a very good set-up reliever and next in line for saves should anything happen to Mariano Rivera (knock on wood). In fact he should probably be considered next in line even if he spends the season starting.

Searching for Sleepers

David Robertson, RHP
The most underrated player on the Yankees is probably David Robertson. Illustrated beautifully by the way manager Joe Girardi ignored him during the playoffs. Despite a high walk rate (4.74), Robertson earned a 3.30 ERA and 3.05 FIP. He seems to strikeout batters (12.98 K9) almost at will and despite being a groundball pitcher he keeps the ball in the park, which looked like quite the feat at times this season. He has the stuff to close and probably should become next in line for saves should Joba be established as a starter when Rivera retires.

Francisco Cervelli, C
It is strange the way the Yankees have used Cervelli. He played at four different levels in 2008 and then played at four different levels again in 2009. The Yankees obviously like him as a defensive catcher and he looks like the favorite to backup to Jorge Posada in 2010. Posada is bad enough defensively that I can easily see the Yankees giving Posada lots of at-bats at designated hitter, especially if they do not re-sign Hideki Matsui. If that happens, I believe that Cervelli would make a fine one-dollar catcher. However, this is where the Yankees strange usage makes it hard to predict what he’s capable of doing with consistent at-bats. I think he will make solid contact and hit for a good average but without any real power. Batting in the Yankees lineup on a regular basis should be good for his Run and RBI totals, making him of use in AL-only leagues.

Best Team Blogs for the New York Yankees:

YanksBlog.com - http://www.yanksblog.com/`

Replacement Level Yankees Weblog - http://www.replacementlevel.com/

Was Watching - http://waswatching.com/

Respect Jeter’s Gangster - http://respectjetersgangster.blogspot.com/

Bronx Banter - http://www.bronxbanterblog.com/

LoHud Yankees Blog - http://yankees.lhblogs.com/

River Ave Blues - http://riveraveblues.com/

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hot Stove Update: Heilman, Thompson, Grabow and Stuff!

(This bad-ass photo of Cy Young Winner Tim Lincecum was taken by Brad Mangini of SI.com)

You should see the Yankees Fantasy Report later this afternoon. The Hot Stove season has wasted little time getting going. We have already seen a handful of trades and signings. The Rule V draft is coming and there always seems to be someone drafted that has a major league impact. Last year it was Everett Cabrera who I attempted to grab in my primary NL-only but failed to acquire. The lesson I learned is not to wait until dollar days for the guys you really want. Even if you expect to get them for $2, there is always some owner who hasn't spent his money hanging around to steal your guy! Okay, maybe it was his guy too, but you take my meaning.

The Arizona Diamondbacks strengthened their bullpen by acquiring right-hander Aaron Heilman from the Cubs for a pair of minor leaguers. (LINK)

I like this move for the Diamondbacks. Heilman is not an ideal closer but he has stuff that I think he can rediscover if he's over his pouting about being a starter. Oddly, Heilman was dealt to save the Cubs a few bucks which they used to sign a lesser pitcher. But more on that later. The D'Backs are thin enough in the bullpen that Heilman becomes a potential saves candidate should anything happen to Chad Qualls. The minor leaguers don't appear to be worthy of fantasy consideration at this point.

The Royals agreed to a Minor League contract with former Cardinals right-hander Brad Thompson. (LINK)

This is a good move by the Royals. If Dayton Moore understands anything about team building it is that good relievers can be had. Thompson is unestablished by showed some tools in the past. It was worth the minor league contract to find out if he can harness them. We will have to wait to see how things develop for the Royals before deciding on his chances of having some fantasy impact.

The Cubs and left-hander reliever John Grabow have agreed on a two-year deal worth $7.5 million. (LINK)

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.com went off on this earlier but Grabow is a lefty specialist who is overrated due to his ERA. We fantasy owners like it when our relievers experience good fortune but we smart fantasy owners don't bet on it happening again.

Free-Agent outfielder Jason Bay rejected an offer believed to include four years and around $60 million. This comes from SI.com's Jon Heyman. (LINK)

I have no inside information on how far the Red Sox are willing to go to sign Jason Bay. However, if this report is true and Bay really wanted to return to Boston he probably should have taken the deal. Bay will probably find someone willing to give him more years but I doubt he'll do much better on an annual basis. I do think Bay will continue to be a pretty good fantasy player for a few more years but we've already seen his steal totals erode along with his defense. It is all downhill from here.

Tom Hicks may manage to hold on to the Texas Rangers. Hicks is putting together a group of local investors, including Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, for a bid that would enable him to keep majority ownership of the team. (LINK)

I hope Hicks pulls it off. The Rangers have been doing incredibly good work lately. I would hate to see it screwed up by some idiot looking to make an impact.

Tim Lincecum won the 2009 NL Cy Young Award, and became the first repeat winner since Randy Johnson won four straight times from 1999-2002. (LINK)

I love Timmy. There is no pitcher I would rather have on a fantasy team right now.

Zack Greinke won the 2009 AL Cy Young beating Felix Hernandez by a wide margin. (LINK)

I love Zack. There is no pitcher I would rather have on an AL-only fantasy roster right now. If you listen to Greinke's comments you can see that he still suffers quite a bit of social anxiety. I hope he's continuing to get help.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Boston Red Sox Fantasy Report

Last offseason the Red Sox made a concerted effort to bolster their offense by signing Mark Teixeira. There were also several rumors of them attempting to trade for various offensive stars. They also seemed determined to upgrade their captain Jason Varitek with a younger, more offensively oriented catcher. They pretty much failed in every effort. However, the team projected as stacked and there were few public concerns. Then David Ortiz, the heart of the sox lineup began the season with a horrendous months-long slump. The Red Sox were still scoring runs but after every loss, fingers were pointed at the offense and the lack of it from the designated hitter. Eventually Ortiz did pull out of his slump and had a strong second half but the doubts remains as he heads into the last year of his guaranteed year of his contract (the club holds a $12.5m option for 2011).

As David Ortiz slumped, Jason Varitek was as inconsistent as expected from an offensive viewpoint. Lauded as a great leader and fair defensive catcher, Varitek did many intangible things to help the team win. Nevertheless, the Red Sox wanted offense from the catcher position and got it when they sent several prospects to the Cleveland Indians for Victor Martinez who will be the starting catcher in 2010. Varitek will return by virtue of utilizing his player option for $3m and incentives after the Red Sox passed on using theirs.

The Red Sox run the risk of losing slugging left fielder Jason Bay to free agency. A loss that will be difficult for the Red Sox faithful (an unsabermetricly inclined crowd to say the least, despite the clear beliefs of the teams management) to understand. Most analysts believe that signing Bay to the rumored deals that include several years and over 100 million dollars would be a colossal mistake. Granted, it is a mistake the Red Sox can afford to make. Unlike the rival New York Yankees, the Red Sox have avoided including extra years into contracts as incentives to sign. But Bay is an aging player (who some describe as a Three True Outcomes type) who is mediocre at best defensively and a perhaps a future designated hitter. Paying full price for Bay seems like something the Theo Epstein Red Sox would never do but then you hear things. Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports on the Extra Bases Blog this series of events:
So we're talking to Theo Epstein Monday afternoon and he mentions that restructuring Tim Wakefield's deal will save the Sox $1.5 million on the CBT, which is GM-speak for the payroll luxury tax, or collective bargaining tax. "That's important because there's some things we want to do this winter and we don't have a ton of room under the CBT," Epstein said. The tax threshold for 2010 will be $170 million. Are the Red Sox actually planning to approach that? I mean, zowie. They were around $125 million this season. Keeping in mind that is an extremely rough estimate, I have the Red Sox committed to approximately $109 million for next season. That's figuring arbitration raises for Jonathan Papelbon, Jermey Hermida, Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez and $500,000 each for the assorted 0-3 service-time players. Let's say they sign Jason Bay for $18 million. So now they're at $127 million. Where is that extra $43 million coming from that Theo seemed concerned about? Are the Red Sox leaving room for Roy Halladay and some other superstar? This is total conjecture, of course, and perhaps Epstein was just musing out loud. But perhaps that was a clue that the Sox are, if nothing else, giving themselves the option to make a huge splash.
It seems impossible that the Red Sox could worry about approaching the tax threshold without planning to devote a substantial amount to re-signing Jason Bay. Maybe they plan to sign Bay AND Holliday and put Bay at designated hitter. That would be out Yanking the Yankees, no doubt.

Fantasy Focus

Clay Buchholz, RHP
The Red Sox have a very strong pitching staff. They have a clear ace in Josh Beckett. Jon Lester is among the top starters in the American League and he has room in his development to become a dominating lefty ace. Daisuke Matsuzaka has been a slight disappoint for the Red Sox but he still has that amazing talent which made him such a desirable roster addition. Tim Wakefield is the versatile, and effective veteran that has the ability to throw opposing lineups into weeks-long slumps. But the pitcher who has the potential to have the biggest impact on the Red Sox staff as it now stand may be Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox have been huge believers in his incredible talent and have refused to include him in potential deals for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Felix Hernandez, and even Roy Halladay. After several brief appearances in the Red Sox rotation and some rumored (but hard to document) fiddling with his mechanics over the last three seasons (which include a no-hitter in his second major league start), he appears to have finally cemented a place in the Red Sox rotation for the 2010 season.

Coming through the Red Sox farm system Buchholz displayed double strikeout rates and solid groundball rates. He reportedly owned a potentially plus slider, plus fastball, plus-plus change up, and a plus-plus curve ball --The curve being his devastating out pitch. The strikeout rates have fallen in the higher levels (which is to be expected). However, the 6.65 k-rate Buchholz displayed in the majors in 2009 was much lower than we had come to expect. The 7.85 mark for triple-A Pawtucket was also an unexpected low but it may have been a price paid to deliever something else – an increased groundball rate. Buchholz delivered a career best 52.5 GB percentage for Pawtucket in 2009 (discounting small sample sizes). He brought that powerful skill with him to the majors in the second half where he produced a 53.8 percent mark in 92 innings and 16 starts.

FIP says that Buchholz was not as good as he looked this season (4.69 FIP, 4.21 ERA) probably due to his relatively low .289 BABIP. It does not look quite so much like good fortune when compared to his .270 minor league career BABIP. Buchholz has a minor league career K/9 of 10.12, a ML career GB% of 47.6 percent, and a HR/FB of 8 percent. This makes the 15.7 percent HR/FB in the majors look like more of an aberration than his .289 BABIP. The skills are there and even if his development has not gone exactly as expected he does not have anything left to prove in the minors.

Buchholz is an extremely talented pitcher and the Red Sox view him an extremely valuable. In fact, if what we know of trade negotiations is true, they see Buchholz as untouchable. This places him in a very elite class of prospect. I think the Red Sox look at Buchholz and see a pitcher that will eventually compare well to Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay. While Fantasy Owners should be very careful not to expect too much of young pitchers without a full season of experience in the majors, I think there is a lot of reason for optimism here.

Jonathan Papelbon, RP
They have died down recently but not long ago, Red Sox Nation was flooded with rumors about a possible change in the closer role for the Red Sox. These rumors found fertile ground in a few areas. One, Red Sox General Manager, Theo Epstein, does not believe in paying exorbitant prices for closers. He has learned well the PR lesson of not actually having a closer but I doubt that his core beliefs on building bullpens has changed. Two, Jon Papelbon has refused attempts to sign a long-term contract. He has indicated that he will not accept anything that does not pay him as one of the best closers in the league. In other words, he wants to be paid like Mariano Rivera. This makes it unlikely that he remains in Boston past his arbitration seasons. Three, rookie Josh Bard came up from the minors and justified all the talk of him being the closer of the future. In fact, Bard was dominating in the playoffs. Meanwhile, many fans have blamed Papelbon for the Red Sox failure to advance past the first round.

Papelbon was not his usual self in 2009. His control was way off and his fastball was much less effective than it has been. This is not to say that Papelbon was bad. In fact, he was a fine closer. Nevertheless, he was less deceptive, less dominating, and less intimidating in 2009. It does make some sense that the Red Sox in their search for offense use Papelbon as bait. Bard is definitely a closer-quality talent who the Red Sox love. They have a deep bullpen and plenty of help in the minors should Bard fall apart. With the Detroit Tigers in dump mode, perhaps the Sox can pry Miguel Cabrera away to fill the role they failed to fill with Teixeira. It would give the Tigers a real closer finally, and dump enough salary that they could keep Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson. Just a thought…

Searching for Sleepers

Jeremy Hermida, OF
Red Sox fans were surprised by the acquisition of Jeremy Hermida. They were expecting news regarding Jason Bay, one of several shortstops, or maybe even Roy Halladay, not a fourth outfielder. This is what Hermida represents to Red Sox fans these days. If you aren’t a huge name with a huge contract, what good are you? The thing is Hermida has it in him to be good…very good. I will not re-hash Hermida’s development as a prospect. Since the trade, a million and one blogs and newspapers have related the story of Hermida’s high minor-league walk rates and impressive plate discipline. However, what they have neglected to share is that Hermida was probably a bit overrated based on numbers put up in the low minors. Yes, he had good walk rates but his strikeout rates were not very impressive and this is part of his problem.

I am not going to pretend to completely understand strike zone dynamics, but I am going to share my theory anyway. Despite the ability to lay off pitches outside of the strike zone, Hermida still has high strikeout totals. He is not missing pitches in the zone; he has an upwards trending contact rate in the strike zone. I am guessing that he is being called out on strikes in the zone (I could not find this data – I know it is out there somewhere, but I wanted to get this published). Perhaps he is being stubborn about a personal strike zone, or Umpires just are not respecting his judgment. Whatever it is, I think he needs to start swinging at more pitches. Hermida had a 90 percent contact rate in 2009, and swung at just 23.9 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. Either he has been just unlucky (possible), or he is being called out on borderline pitches, pitches that Hermida needs to do something with. There is more evidence that Hermida needs to swing more in his BABIPs. His MLB career BABIP stands at .322, yet his career batting average is just .265. How can his discipline be good, his BABIP be high, and his batting average low, when he does not swing at many pitches? If you look at the image below, it appears that he does receive a lot of called strikes out of the zone but I have no idea if this is typical or not.

Here is what we do know. Hermida makes better than average contact in the strike zone, and less than average at pitches outside the zone. When he makes contact the result is better than average. His walk rate is back on the rise and has been better than average anyway. He is trending more fly balls and line drives and fewer groundballs. He looks (in my eyes) like a player just on edge of a leap forward. The Red Sox obviously see things they like and believe he can be a productive player for them. They certainly did not acquire him for his defense. Therefore, they must believe that he can contribute with the bat. The Red Sox are excellent evaluators and have top notch coaching, that in combination with Hermida’s talent make me willing to take a chance on Hermida in AL-only leagues. I would have to be very impressed during Spring Training to recommend him to shallow mixed-leaguers, but anything can happen.

Best Team Blogs for the Boston Red Sox

Firebrand of the American League - http://firebrandal.com/

Yawkey Way Academy - http://www.ywacademy.com/

ProJo Sox Blog - http://soxblog.projo.com/

El Guapo’s Ghost - http://elguaposghost.blogspot.com/

Sox Prospects - http://soxprospects.com/

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dock Ellis, LSD, and the No-Hitter

This is getting around but its so funny that I want to share it too. It was made by one of the guys at No Mas - a New York Yankees blog. It features former Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Doc Ellis and the story behind his no-hitter, which he says he did on LSD. He even claims that he could not see the hitters, just the catcher and a general impression of whether the batter was on the left or the right. You want to watch this and definitely check out No Mas.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Baltimore Orioles Fantasy Report

The Baltimore Orioles are very close to re-emerging as a force in the American League East. They have the core of a solid lineup in place. The offense is led my right fielder Nick Markakis (.293/.347/.453) and features several emerging young hitters. Matt Wieters will catch and although he did not look like it in 2009 could be the best hitter on the team. Adam Jones, the center fielder who constantly frustrated the Seattle Mariners with his injuries and uninspiring performances, was arguably one of the best hitters in baseball for the first two months of the season. Left fielder Nolan Reimold led the team with a .365 wOBA (of players with at least 140 at-bats) and an .831 OPS. Veteran second baseman Brian Roberts continues to be a steady presence in the lineup providing surprising power and steals in bunches. Luke Scott (.229 ISO) enjoyed his first season in the AL very much, providing power from multiple positions(but mostly DH).

The 2009 rotation fronted by names like Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Berken, Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez, and Rich Hill was largely a disaster. None of these guys were very successful but they won’t need to be in 2010, which is when a highly touted group of pitching prospects is expected to have a major impact on the future of the Baltimore Orioles. Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Britton should debut in 2010. These names should be on the long-term radar of fantasy owners searching for the next Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester, or Brandon Webb.

Fans of other teams or ones too young to remember may forget just how much financial muscle the Orioles can muster. It was not that long ago that the Orioles had one of the highest payrolls in baseball. They can hang with the big boys in the AL East when they judge that it is once again time to reach into the wallet for that missing slugger or ace starter. This is very important. Unlike the Tampa Bay Rays or Minnesota Twins who struggle to hang on their talent past their arbitration years , the Orioles can go dollar for dollar with almost anyone.

Fantasy Focus

Nick Markakis, OF
Before the 2009 season, Nick Markakis signed a six-year, $66.1 million contract. Then he had a disappointing season. It happens a lot. Players try to justify the money they are earning and become more aggressive and slip out of the game that won them the contract in the first place. You can see it pretty clearly in his stats. His walk rate went down quite a bit. He was swinging at more pitches out of the zone, and fewer pitches in the zone. The result is a drop in almost every meaningful stat. On top of this, he was probably a little unlucky as well. His BABIP dropped to .323 in 2009, which is only high when not compared to Markakis’ previous career average. Even his defense suffered. This is a player out of sorts. Fortunately, Markakis is such a talented and disciplined hitter than even when he not focused he is capable of producing decent stats.

The 2010 season should see a resurgent Markakis kicking butt in the American League East. His tools, patience, discipline, and pitch recognition are too high to predict anything else. He has good (not great) speed and can steal 10-15 bases if the desire is there. He has good power that has not yet peaked. His homerun totals may never be very high but I expect his HR/FB to return to their normal levels and that should be enough to push his homerun total back into the 20-25 area even if nothing else changes. However, just a small improvement in his FB rate might have him surpassing 30 homers as has been predicted for Markakis in the past. At his 2009 fly ball rate and a 12 percent HR/FB rate 600 at-bats would leave him just a fraction short of 30 homeruns. Fantasy owners should be very careful not to believe that they have seen the best of Markakis. He is just reaching what should be his peak years. Unless there is an injury that we do not know about I am much more comfortable predicting a career year than another down season.

Matt Wieters, C
One of the big stories of 2009 was the wait for Matt Wieters. The Orioles wisely as it seems, sent Wieters back to the minors to begin the season to cries of “cheap bastards” and worse from those believing they did so solely to save a few bucks and delay arbitration another season. As it turns out, Wieters did not dominate in the fashion of his 2008 season. He was producing, especially relative to his position. His late May promotion did not come with the offensive explosion that many fantasy owners were awaiting. For the season, he produced at about the level of the average major leaguer, which from the catcher position is super. It just is not what a fantasy owner is looking for out of his stud, catching prospect.

Wieters has shown signs of being a highly disciplined hitter. I expect him to improve in almost every area in 2010. His walk and contact rates should edge closer to his minor league levels as he gains experience. He is a linedrive hitter who rarely swings at pitches out of the strike zone. I also have to imagine that a more confident Wieters will manage a better HR/FB than the 8.4 percent mark produced in 2009. The Orioles have worked hard to keep from putting immense amounts of pressure on their young catcher. That should pay off for fantasy owners very soon.

Searching for Sleepers

Josh Bell, 3B
Josh Bell became an Oriole via the Los Angeles Dodgers by being the primary return in the George Sherrill trade. There is a strong possibility that he begins the 2010 season as the starting third baseman. Oddly, it seems his development as a switch hitter is going to be a major factor in the decision. Bell is extremely good from the left side of the plate facing right-handed pitchers. According to minorleaguesplits.com, Josh Bell hit .340 with 19 homers in 315 at-bats as a left-handed hitter, and .198 with one homer in 131 at-bats as a right-handed hitter in 2009. Most reports say his mechanics are fine from both sides of the plate though ESPN’s Jason Grey has said he can “get a little big” swinging from his heels on the right-handed side.

There are those that believe that Bell should abandon switch-hitting and become a left-handed batter. This is the possibility most likely to send Bell to the minors (assuming he has a strong spring and the Orioles do not make a huge move to fill the position). In this scenario, the Orioles would be unlikely to allow Bell to adjust to seeing left-handed pitching from the left side in the majors. Fortunately, those closest to the Orioles believe they are happy with Bell as he is and want to see him continue to switch hit. The belief there (and here) is that Bell can develop enough as a hitter from the right side to be an asset.

Josh Bell just became more dangerous as the season and the post season passed. He was a monster in the AFL. He posted an Isolated Power of .281 (for reference Alex Rodriguez has a career ISO of .271) after the trade, during 114 at-bats at double-A for the Orioles. On the season, he slashed .297/.370/.538 with 35 doubles, 2 triples, 20 homeruns. He also received a very favorable projection from theThe Bill James Handbook 2010. He probably will not be much of a sleeper come draft season but he is an incredibly talented prospect that is worthy of fantasy attention even as a rookie.

Zach Britton, LHP
He has not received as much attention as Matusz, Tillman, Arietta, and even Brandon Erbe but Zach Britton may outperform them all. Nothing attracts me to a pitcher like the combination of strikeouts and inducing groundballs. In the last three seasons, Britton has GB rates of 64.5, 63.8, and 65.0 percent and K-rates of 6.36, 6.96, and boosted it to 8.42 in 2009. His rates are only getting better as he increases levels, which is a very nice indication of his development. His walk rates do show room for improvement, but are not high enough to be a major problem. I keep looking at him and thinking Brandon Webb. I like this guy a lot.

Best Team Blogs for the Baltimore Orioles:

Orioles Hangout - http://www.orioleshangout.com/index.asp

Camden Crazies - http://camdencrazies.com/

Oscar Salazar 3B 17 31 13 0 0 2 4 6 2 4 0 0 0.419
Nick Markakis OF 161 642 188 45 2 18 94 101 56 98 6 2 0.293
Michael Aubrey 1B 31 90 26 7 0 4 12 14 5 10 0 0 0.289
Matt Wieters C 96 354 102 15 1 9 35 43 28 86 0 0 0.288
Brian Roberts 2B 159 632 179 56 1 16 110 79 74 112 30 7 0.283
Jeff Fiorentino OF 24 64 18 1 0 0 8 8 8 16 2 0 0.281
Nolan Reimold OF 104 358 100 18 2 15 49 45 47 77 8 2 0.279
Adam Jones OF 119 473 131 22 3 19 83 70 36 93 10 4 0.277
Ty Wigginton 1B/3B 122 410 112 19 0 11 44 41 23 57 1 2 0.273
Felix Pie OF 101 252 67 10 3 9 38 29 24 58 1 3 0.266
Melvin Mora 3B 125 450 117 20 0 8 44 48 34 60 3 3 0.260
Chad Moeller C 30 89 23 8 1 2 6 10 7 16 0 0 0.258
Luke Scott DH 128 449 116 26 1 25 61 77 55 104 0 0 0.258
Cesar Izturis SS 114 387 99 14 4 2 34 30 18 38 12 4 0.256
Aubrey Huff 1B 110 430 109 24 1 13 51 72 41 74 0 6 0.253
Gregg Zaun C 56 168 41 10 0 4 23 13 27 30 0 0 0.244
Robert Andino SS 78 198 44 7 0 2 31 10 15 47 3 3 0.222
Lou Montanez OF 29 82 15 5 0 1 5 6 5 16 0 1 0.183

George Sherrill 0 1 2.40 42 0 20 3 41.1 3 13 0 39
Brad Bergesen 7 5 3.43 19 19 0 0 123.1 11 32 2 65
Cla Meredith 0 0 3.77 29 0 0 0 28.2 3 12 0 17
Danys Baez 4 6 4.02 59 0 0 2 71.2 8 22 2 40
Koji Uehara 2 4 4.05 12 12 0 0 66.2 7 12 0 48
Jim Johnson 4 6 4.11 64 0 10 6 70 8 23 2 49
Mark Hendrickson 6 5 4.37 53 11 1 2 105 16 33 2 61
Brian Matusz 5 2 4.63 8 8 0 0 44.2 6 14 0 38
Brian Bass 5 3 4.90 48 0 0 0 86.1 11 44 6 54
Jeremy Guthrie 10 17 5.04 33 33 0 0 200 35 60 1 110
Dennis Sarfate 0 1 5.09 20 0 0 0 23 3 14 0 20
Chris Tillman 2 5 5.40 12 12 0 0 65 15 24 4 39
David Hernandez 4 10 5.42 20 19 0 0 101.1 27 46 3 68
Matt Albers 3 6 5.51 56 0 0 4 67 3 36 3 49
Jason Berken 6 12 6.54 24 24 0 0 119.2 19 44 0 66
Chris Ray 0 4 7.27 46 0 0 3 43.1 8 23 0 39
Rich Hill 3 3 7.80 14 13 0 0 57.2 7 40 1 46
Adam Eaton 2 5 8.56 8 8 0 0 41 9 19 1 28

Monday, November 09, 2009

The 2010 World Series Odds

From Bodog.net...

# New York Yankees: 11/4
# Boston Red Sox: 13/2
# Philadelphia Phillies: 9/1
# Los Angeles Angels: 10/1
# St. Louis Cardinals: 10/1
# Los Angeles Dodgers: 11/1
# Chicago Cubs: 15/1
# New York Mets: 15/1
# Tampa Bay Rays: 15/1
# Atlanta Braves: 18/1
# Colorado Rockies: 18/1
# Chicago White Sox: 22/1
# Detroit Tigers: 25/1
# Florida Marlins: 25/1
# Minnesota Twins: 25/1
# San Francisco Giants: 25/1
# Texas Rangers: 25/1
# Arizona Diamondbacks: 40/1
# Cincinnati Reds: 45/1
# Milwaukee Brewers: 45/1
# Oakland Athletics: 45/1
# Cleveland Indians: 50/1
# Seattle Mariners: 50/1
# Toronto Blue Jays: 60/1
# Baltimore Orioles: 75/1
# Houston Astros: 75/1
# San Diego Padres: 75/1
# Kansas City Royals: 100/1
# Pittsburgh Pirates: 100/1
# Washington Nationals: 100/1

Hot Stove Update: Iwamura, Teahen, Hermida, Hardy and More!

I have been pretty sick this week which the reason for the lack of posts. I have had the flu, combined with a series of migraine headaches that make looking at the computer for more than a few minutes absolute agony. I have the team retrospectives for the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees almost ready to go. I wrote them out long hand just need to check my stats and type them up. You should see those popping up this week.

Also remember to e-mail me with any questions, or for second opinions on players, trades, or transactions you may be considering in your keeper leagues. Jon (at) Advanced Fantasy Baseball (dot) com or just use the button in the sidebar.

The Pirates acquired second baseman Akinori Iwamura from the Rays in exchange for right-hander Jesse Chavez

Akinori Iwamura is a better player than Freddy Sanchez so the Pirates got that much right at least. Especially when you consider that they received a prospect in Tim Alderson, who should be much better than Jesse Chavez in the long term. If there is one thing that Neal Huntington understands it is that decent relief pitchers are a dime a dozen and with the quantity of arms he has been acquiring filling out his major league bullpen should not be a problem. On the other hand, I thought the Pirates should have given Delwyn Young a larger opportunity at second base where his bat projects very well. But I understand, since they believe defense has to be a priority for them. The Pirates are looking like an extremely good defensive team in 2010 and that should mean good things for their pitchers. Iwamura will remain a decent fantasy player in NL-only leagues and perhaps in extremely deep (think 18-plus) mixed leagues. He does not really pad the stats - a few homers, a few more steals and a good batting average. He should score runs in front of the Pirates power hitters. He won't make or break your fantasy team, but sometimes just not breaking it is the important part.

For Tampa Bay, Iwamura was becoming an expensive spare part. Ben Zobrist has clearly become the Rays second baseman and is also one of their better hitters. Jesse Chavez is a hard throwing reliever. His stats scream mediocre so unless he finds himself in contention for saves he is not worth much to fantasy owners.

The Royals' Mark Teahen has been traded to the White Sox in exchange for second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman Josh Fields.

The Royals have actually made a pretty good deal for themselves. They save themselves a little money and they acquire two useful players. The odd part is that neither of them is likely to be a starter off the bat. Josh Fields has a powerful bat but strikes out a bit too much. Okay, a lot too much. He does draw some walks just not so many as to negate his strikeouts. But he destroys lefties and is still young enough to develop some patience. He may be able to win a regular job against lefties, perhaps in a platoon with Alex Gordon or by splitting time at first, third and the outfield. or even better yet, he could fill the gapping hole the Royals have had at the designated hitter spot for years. Becoming a DH would relieve the Royals of having to tolerate his below average defense.

Chris Getz has some skills with the bat, he draws walks and makes excellent contact (at least he did in the minors). He knows how to work counts and draw walks. He is an excellent base stealer and a defensive asset at second and adequate at shortstop and third base. He has zero power. Getz is exactly the type of player that the Royals need -- players that can get on base. But he is blocked by Alberto Callaspo for now. Getz is only of use in fantasy if he is getting enough at-bats to steal meaningful numbers of stolen bases. This does not necessary mean he can't get them in some sort of utility role, but not all players can produce in such a role.

Mark Teahen becomes the White Sox third baseman
, moving Gordon Beckham to second base. His homerun numbers figure to improve just by virtue of hitting in the better park for hitters. Teahen is a player that is frequently put down by the sabermetric crowd for being overpaid and mediocre. In fantasy baseball however, Teahen is a useful player, so it is important not to get caught up in talk that is not as relevant to our game when making choices for your fantasy team. Teahen can play at a few different positions which makes it a lot easier for him to stay in the lineup. He has okay power, walks some, doesn't strikeout to an extreme, and can steal some bases. With better plate discipline he could probably stabilize his place in a lineup. He obviously is more valuable in an AL league than a mixed league but he should not be a priority in either. Teahen is a decent player to fill out your lineup but you would not want to count on him to produce. His price should match that expectation or lack thereof.

The Red Sox have acquired Jeremy Hermida from the Marlins in exchange for minor league left-handed pitchers Hunter Jones and Jose Alvarez.

Jeremy Hermida was supposed to be the outfield version of Keven Youkilis but it never happened. In the minors he had outstanding on-base percentages and showed signs of becoming a productive outfield bat with solid defensive potential. It could still happen. Everyone is assuming that the Red Sox will acquire a Jason Bay or Matt Holliday and Hermida will find himself the fourth outfielder and that is the most likely scenario. But it is not the only one. The Red Sox went hard after Mark Teixeira last year and failed to sign him. They seem to be low balling Jason Bay (there is more interest in Jason Bay out there than some saber-types believe he deserves) and I think they have much more of chance at Bay than Holliday who many teams seem to have on their radar including teams like the Cardinals, Giants, and Yankees who can all spend money when they feel inspired. The Red Sox could also trade for Adrian Gonzalez and move Youkilis to third base which would lessen the need for a proven power hitter in left field.

Hermida re-discovered some of his plate discipline in 2009. His problem is he refuses to swing the damn bat at pitches in the strike zone. He walked 11.5 percent of the time and struck out 23.5 percent of the time, which also represents an improvement. Moving to Fenway Park should give all his numbers a boost that fantasy owners will like. Hermida has solid opposite field power and should love the Green Monster. The big question is how many at-bats he will see. I think the Red Sox may have another steal on their hands on a par with the David Ortiz acquisition. I hope to get him cheap. Hermida is almost the definition of a post-hype prospect.

The Milwaukee Brewers today acquired outfielder Carlos Gomez from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for shortstop J.J. Hardy.

If you did not realize that shortstop J.J. Hardy was on the trade market, you were not paying attention. This is a good trade for both teams. Hardy is a very good defensive shortstop and has been an offensively productive player at times. It would be easy to point to Hardy's low .264 BABIP in 2009 as the source of his problems (and I'm certain that was part of it) but you also need to note that Hardy's career BABIP is just .280 and in his best seasons featured just .280 and .306 BABIP's. We also need to look for a rebound in Hardy's HR/FB which dipped to just 8.3 percent in 2009 after a career high 14.1 in 2008 and a career average of 11.2 percent. It looks like it is very possible for Hardy to rebound from his bad 2009 season in 2010. There is not anything in the numbers (beyond his BABIP and HR/FB) that seems out of his normal range, especially considering the horrible luck he was enduring. In fact his IFFB (infield-flyballs) percentage actually sank to a reasonable level from his typically high marks, which helps make his .264 BABIP look like even more of a disaster level result. The Twins should be very happy with Hardy for the next two seasons at least.

Carlos Gomez hits infield flyballs at a extremely high rate (nearly 20 percent) and this is dragging his BABIP and thus his batting average down. His BABIP is also low for someone with a 19.2 LD percentage. His HR/FB is also extremely low for a player projected to develop power at some point. He hits fly-balls at a pretty typical rate which is not good for the skills that he presently possesses. Gomez is very simply, an unproductive player when he hits the ball in the air. As one of the fastest players in MLB, Gomez should be hitting the ball on the ground and even bunting for hits when he can. The stats feel like a player that is trying to be Carlos Beltran when he should be happy as Michael Bourn or even Juan Pierre. But the news on Gomez is not all bad.

In 2009, Gomez increased his walk rate and reduced his strikeout rate. He swung at fewer balls out of the strike zone and is one of the better defensive center fielders in baseball. He also is said to have a plus arm. Gomez has uncanny speed and with the exception of 2009 has been a very good base stealer. The Brewers have a very good coaching staff that I am certain will make developing Gomez a high priority. While Gomez should not be a high priority for Fantasy Owners he is worthy of some consideration in long term keeper leagues. In an NL-only league I would be happy to own Gomez for a single-digit price as my fifth outfielder. At that price his steals alone should make him a solid value, and it becomes an excellent price should he develop into a worthy keeper.

The Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley reports the Chicago White Sox paid OF Jermaine Dye a $950,000 buyout of his $12 million option for 2010, making him a free agent.

Jermaine Dye is an aging player who is no longer an asset on defense and prone to more frequent minor injuries. His disastrous second half will certainly bring his fantasy price down in 2010. But Dye still has impressive power and will find a team to give him close to full-time at-bats in 2010 which puts him squarely on our fantasy radar. The slugger is a bit closer to end of his career and the results are definitely going to be in decline but if you can get Dye at a reasonable rate there is no reason he can't help a fantasy team hitting in the area of .260/.340/.480 with 25-30 homeruns. The key is acquiring him at the right price, something in the $12-$18 area in AL-only leagues would be alright. Much more than that and the risk becomes much higher than the reward.

Outfielder Manny Ramirez notified the Dodgers Friday that he will exercise his $20 million option and return to the team in 2010.

Manny Ramirez is an interesting case for 2010. On the one hand I was convinced that Manny would be a disaster (for the Dodgers and owners that believed he'd play as he did in his late season stint with the Dodgers) in 2009. This was based on his declining numbers as a Red Sox the last few seasons. He wasn't in a massive (dump him while you still can) kind of slump but the more subtle sort that can sneak up on you if you are not paying attention. I do not believe that performance-enhancing drugs have been inflating Manny's numbers. The science just does not support it at this point. But I do believe that their is a less-studied mental/psychological aspect of taking such drugs and that when the drugs are stopped it could have an effect on a player's confidence. This is just a theory, I have no proof of any kind. But if Manny has been using for a while and has now stopped because of the media attention -- that combined with his age-related decline could combine to predict a real disaster on the field. I suggest Fantasy Owners avoid owning Manny unless he comes at a large enough discount that the risk is significantly reduced.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The 2009 Fantasy Player of the Year!

I have trouble believing that anyone could go outside of these three players. On the outside edge you might be able to make a case for Carl Crawford but his 2009 season is not really all that far off from his typical performances. Though in the first half it seemed like he might be headed towards a record breaking stolen base total.

Personally, I think it has to be Joe Mauer both for his performance and the price he likely went for in auctions. Albert Pujols cost $40-plus in just about every league, we know at this point that he'll hit for average and 40 homers and what that will cost. Zack Grienke probably was not as expensive but he is also a pitcher who did not collect many wins. Cy Young? Yes. Fantasy Player of the year? Not so certain. Mauer was hurt the first month of the season and had to come at a severe discount in most leagues. My vote is for Mauer.

Who is your pick and why? Let's discuss in the comments.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

2010 Hot Prospect: Jose Iglesias SS Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox have been struggling to find a long-term solution at shortstop since they traded away Nomar Garciaparra. They won a World Series for the first time in a hundred and something years but Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, and a few others have failed to make the Red Sox happy for various reasons. The answer may have finally arrived in the form of Cuban defector and shortstop, Jose Iglesias.

The Red Sox signed Iglesias to a four-year, $8.2 million contract. He has been placed on the 40-man roster and invited to big league Spring Training. Iglesias is not expected to begin the season in the majors but could move very quickly. His glove is ready. He has already drawn comparisons to Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel. The question (especially for fantasy owners) is will he be able to hit. The Red Sox seem to think so. They expect him to make good contact and eventually develop into a gap to gap hitter with speed on the bases.

From the Boston Herald:
“What jumps out are his raw athleticism and the instincts for the game,” Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen said. “He’s maybe not polished yet. I don’t know what his coaching was like (in Cuba), and there probably were some nuances -- basestealing, selectivity at the plate -- that need work. But his natural instincts are incredible.”

“His tools are really impressive,” said Brandon Hyde, a minor league manager for the Florida Marlins who is serving as Mesa’s manager. “For as young as he is, he has unbelievable upside. He’s raw, but really talented. He’s an incredible defender. (At shortstop), it’s really about fine-tuning. He has amazing quickness. His hands are great and his footwork is excellent. For him, it’s all in there. It’s really about making the routine play consistently.”
Iglesias should not be high on the radar of Fantasy Owners even in long term keeper leagues at this point. His offense (despite a nice start in the AFL) is still way behind his defense. He will need a few months (at least) in the minors and it may be a few years before his bat becomes fantasy worthy. The hype is going to be huge especially if he does well. You need to know that he is not ready to be a fantasy option just yet.