Friday, January 29, 2010

2010 Sleeper Alert: Francisco Liriano

Photo from fOTOGLIF

After his 2006 season it seemed certain that Francisco Liriano would never again be put into the category of a sleeper pick. However, after his 2009 performance (5.80/4.87 ERA/FIP) that is exactly what he is. In fact, most owners have been down on him according to early mock drafts. But that is changing, mostly due to Liriano's stunning performance in the Dominican Winter League for Leones del Escogido. Dominican League statistics are hard to come by but at the end of last week Liriano was in the midst of an impressive streak that included 26 and 2/3 scoreless innings and 35 strikeouts in 27 and 2/3 innings. Last night he struck out 10 batters over five scoreless innings against Gigantes del Cibao to claim the Dominican League title in the deciding ninth game of the series at Julian Javier Stadium in San Francisco de MacorĂ­s. He allowed just one hit and improved to 3-1 with a 0.49 ERA. This brought his season totals to 47 strikeouts in just 37 innings.

If I was ever off Liriano's bandwagon, I am clearly back on it. In 2009 Liriano suffered through what the Minnesota Twins labeled Elbow Fatigue, which led to some swelling in his forearm, that led to his DL stint. Some player take more time than others to recover from injury. It is very possible that Liriano simply came back too soon, and put too much stress on his Tommy John repaired elbow. This season he will be more than two years removed and judging by his recent performances in the Dominican he has got that special something back. Combine this good news with the Twins' improved infield defense and the new stadium (with real grass) that should benefit pitchers and the possibilities are soaring.

However owners should still exercise caution in drafting Liriano, who has to be considered injury prone. Still, he should be squarely in every owner's radar. When you're considering the John Maines, Aaron Harangs, and for your fantasy roster you may want to check on the availibility of the Twins young lefty first.

Other opinions on Francisco Liriano:

David Golebiewski of
- Don’t forget Liriano. Exasperating as he is, he figures to post an ERA in the low-to-mid four’s in 2010. He’ll be back. That fastball needs an upgrade, however, if he hopes to terminate opposing batters.

Tim Brown of - While at first glance the White Sox and Tigers have the better starting rotations in the Central, Francisco Liriano will be pivotal. Reports out of the Dominican Republic say Liriano has regained his velocity and the late bite on his slider. The Twins are eager to see for themselves. In the meantime, he’s behind Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano, and battling Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins for the fifth place in the rotation.

NBC Sports/ Rotoworld - Liriano looked incredibly sharp, hitting 95 MPH consistently with his fastball and displaying a tight break on his slider. The 26-year-old lefty had a lousy 2009 campaign, but the Twins have to be pleased with the way he looked tonight. Liriano should have no trouble climbing back into the club's starting rotation with a strong spring and is quickly turning into a legitimate fantasy sleeper. We all know what kind of dominance he's capable of.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Few Players I Will Not Own in 2010 (that you probably will)

There are plenty of sites out there producing sleeper lists. There are plenty of lists available to tell you which players are injury prone, and which players were exceptionally lucky. Unfortunately, even if these lists were ever more than 70 percent accurate they would not cover the most frustrating portion of the player population. I am refering to the players that drop off the map with very few warning signs. That these players exist is why I try so hard to consider more than just scouting reports and statistics. The human elements such as player environments, and situations that may result in distractions or even worse.

This is hardly a complete list. Any player could drop off completely without warning. But these are players who I have decided I will pass on in 2010 for various reasons. I am not suggesting that they'll be worthless in 2010 or even close to that. I am suggesting that the risk is higher than you may think. I prefer to avoid these players than to hope to get lucky with them.

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
To be honest I've been growing more and more down on Miguel Cabrera for a while. Don't worry, I have been called crazy before and I'll get over it. We are still friends here. I've been told by more than one person whose opinion I respected that my opinions on Cabrera are subjective and not based on real statistical evidence. They are not wrong. But I call it trusting my eyes, ears, and instincts. If you look at Cabrera's statistics there is not a single sign of impending disaster, but there are other types of signs. I should qualify this by sharing that if Cabrera was going to come at a severe discount I might roster him. Raise your hand if you think I can draft Cabrera for less than $30? When I spend $40 bucks or the draft equivalent on a player I want it to come with significantly less risk.

Cabrera is showing signs of complacency. His drive to achieve more in his career seems to be fading. He may not be fat but he's getting softer. I know a potential fat guy when I see him, trust me. In his last 20 games before the showdown against the Twins, Cabrera hit just .244. He is also getting in trouble more often. Two violent drinking related incidents this year that could easily have led to criminal charges.
Television station WXYZ obtained a police report from an alleged incident the preceding August, in which Cabrera was involved in a verbal altercation with diners at a restaurant inside the Townsend. Witnesses say Cabrera threatened to fight the group outside and indicated that he had a gun. Restaurant employees asked Cabrera to leave and police were called. There was no weapon in Cabrera's vehicle and Cabrera told team officials he did not own one. Cabrera then told team officials he had been dealing with personal issues and got upset, and the diners ended up dropping the matter.
He was legally drunk the morning before a crucial playoff game. Early morning on October 3, 2009, police were called to the Cabreras' home and took Cabrera in for questioning. Cabrera had come home at 6:00am, after a night of drinking at the nearby Townsend Hotel, and got in an argument with his wife. He was seen later that day at a game at Comerica Park, with scratches on his face. Cabrera told reporters that the scratches came from his dog and refused to discuss the matter further. It was later reported he had a blood alcohol level of .26, three times the legal limit, when tested at the police station. Dave Dombrowski, the general manager of the Tigers, picked him up from the police station around 7:30am—eleven and a half hours before that evening's game in which he went 0–4 with one strikeout and six runners left on base against the Chicago White Sox.
He plays for a team that traded away its most popular player (signed to a fair deal) for prospects in an attempt to reduce its payroll commitments. Cabrera is a hell of a financial commitment and there are many teams that would be interested if he became available. So Cabrera may not forget how to hit but there is enough here to lead me to put my dollars elsewhere.

Roy Oswalt, SP, Houston Astros
I suggested that Roy Oswalt was in decline before the 2009 season began and was old that was an asinine comment. I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast but I'm like hot butter on breakfast toast. That means I'm right by the way. I was willing to own Oswalt last season if he came cheap enough, I would not touch him this season with a ten foot pole. I find it funny how you can find so many owners willing to complain about pitcher inconsistency but who get defensive about any attempt to warn them off their favorites.

One of Oswalt's strengths has been his durability. But this is coming to an end. His Innings Pitched is in a four year decline and the degenerative disc in his back is not going to make it any easier for him. With the innings go the strikeout totals. His groundball rate was a five-year low, but that may have been caused by a lack of faith in a lousy infield defense. He was shutdown in September in an attempt to avoid surgery on his back. This is not good news. I am going to pass.

Manny Ramirez, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ramirez hit .269 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 77 games after returning from his 50-game suspension for failing a random drug test. I am certain that there are those owners willing to blame his poor numbers on a lack of drugs in his system. I would call them ridiculous. Whether you believe Manny was using steroids or not (he still denies it) his 2009 stats fit into the gradual decline Manny has been in for the last few years. I know how good his 2008 totals were. But I submit that they were the result of an unprecedented hot streak. A lucky streak that coincided with moving to the easier league and feeling great about finally escaping from the Boston Red Sox. Manny will be 38 in May, surely you did not believe he would just keep hitting .330 with 40 homers indefinitely?

I do not believe that Manny will be a complete waste of a roster spot in 2010. But the time has come to downgrade our expectations. Manny still has a good batting eye but was less aggressive in 2010, judging by his swinging at far fewer pitches. That could be a lack of confidence which is one of the results I think would be natural for someone who goes through the humiliation of being outed as a drug user. Especially if he then stops to avoid any further embarrassment. But what I worry about most is the combination of these factors and Manny's reputation for nonchalance. I see the worst season of his career coming.

B.J. Upton, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
I should begin by admitting that I have owned this Upton on various teams since he was drafted. I believe in his tools. He could be a great player. But I no longer believe he will be. It is not just that I've been let down by him in the past (if that were the case my infatuation with Corey Patterson, Bobby Hill and others would be long over, ahem...) but not only have signs of growth been few and far between but the Rays are now willing to trade him. They offered him to Toronto for Roy Halladay. The Rays also have Desmond Jennings who has all the tools of Upton plus strike zone judgment. Upton would not be the first tool-laden superstud athlete to fail to become a productive regular player in MLB. I think B.J. Upton is much closer to that fate than to becoming a superstar.

These are mine. Who are yours?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Hot Stove Update: Adrian Beltre to the Boston Red Sox

Photo from fOTOGLIF

The Boston Red Sox have signed third baseman Adrian Beltre to a one year contract worth $9 million in 2010 with a $5 million player option for the 2011 season. No one actually expects Beltre to utilize the player option (unless he gets hurt). The option allows the Red Sox to keep the luxury tax value of the contract to just $7 million per season. This signing instantly reduces the fantasy value of Mike Lowell to nearly zero until he is traded or someone is hurt at a position Lowell can handle. I am nearly certain the Red Sox will give Lowell some at-bats against left-handers but they won't have him in a straight platoon so at-bats will be few and far between.

Beltre completes the Red Sox's makeover of their team defense. The infield now has three (maybe four depending on your opinion of Marco Scutaro at shortstop) legit gold glove candidates. Beltre, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are superior defenders. Mike Cameron takes over center field and pushes the speedy Jacoby Ellsbury to left field (yes that is official now). The Red Sox pitching staff should see huge benefits.

Beltre should also play much better offensively in Fenway Park than he did in Safeco Field. He's moving from one of the worst parks for his skill set (right-handed pull hitter) to one of the best parks for his skill set. Dave Allen of fangraphs had a nice article about how Beltre might be better in a more appropriate park. Fantasy owners should be excited about Beltre in a way that you could not be in his years with the Seattle Mariners.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Did you catch Hulk Hogan's return to the wrestling world last night? He's attempting to become the Vince McMahon of TNA iMPACT. There's a great interview with the Hulkster on FanHouse, if you are the least bit interested in wrestling you should check it out.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Jason Bay and the New York Mets Injuries

Photo from fOTOGLIF

I hope you have all borne witness to my powers. A few days ago I wrote about the New York Mets and Jason Bay and the very next day they had completed a deal. For my next trick...

Matt Holliday needs to accept that he will not receive a better offer than the 100 million dollar one he received from the St Louis Cardinals. If he waits much longer he risks pulling a Jody Reed (or more recently a Juan Gonzalez) and end up with a much lesser deal from a much lesser team. But this is not the topic of discussion today.

The Jason Bay deal is a fair one in my mind. It comes with considerable risk in its later years for the Mets but they understand that. They are one of the few teams that can afford give out contracts with extra years and extra millions tacked on to get the deal done. With just the tiniest bit of good luck avoiding injuries (unseen in Queens in quite some time) the Mets should bounce back quite strongly in 2010.

Bay has had just one bad season in his last seven and even that was due to playing through injuries. He walks at a 12.9 percent career rate. He strikes out quite a bit but nothing unexpected from a player with his power, which is considerable. He has a career .240 ISO, which was .269 in 2009 for the Red Sox. He has good plate discipline measured by a career 19.4 swing percentage at pitches out of the strike zone (MLB average is around 25 percent). What does this all mean for your fantasy team (and to a lesser degree for the Mets)? Bay should hit for a decent average with lots of homeruns. With a decent lineup around him he should score runs and collect RBI in bunches.

The key for the Mets is better health and productive seasons for the following players who were certainly disappointments in 2009:

David Wright, Third Baseman
The Mets franchise player was shook by the dimensions of Citi Field Park, which according to the small sample size of one season, actually plays neutral for homeruns. He fiddled with his swing and changed his game dramatically. The result was not a horrible season just not one we were not expecting. He was one of the few players to stay healthy the entire season (well, almost - he missed two weeks with a concussion) and should be productive again in 2010. The question is if this was a one year change or have we seen the last of the David Wright that belonged at the top of the first round in any fantasy draft.

Wright's batted ball rates were in the normal range - he hits a ton of line drives 25.7 percent in 2009, and 35.9 percent flyballs. The flyball rate dropped a couple percentage points but the real difference was in his HR/FB percentage which dropped from a career rate of 13.9 percent to a low of 6.9 percent in 2009. His plate discipline stats were right around career levels. I'm afraid that we will have to wait for David Wright to show us that things are returning to normal before Fantasy Owners can draft him with their former confidence. I'd take him in the second round if he lasted that long but surely someone in every league will jump the gun.

Jose Reyes, Shortstop
With a few years separating him from the rash of injuries that he suffered to begin his career, we had stopped thinking of Jose Reyes as injury prone. I am not suggested we re-attach the tag. However, Reyes is obviously still sensitive about the designation. He repeatedly tried to test the injury in an attempt to return as soon as possible and that set him back further each time. It also did not help that the Mets medical staff seemed unable to figure out exactly what was wrong with Reyes or how to treat it.

This lead Reyes' agent, Peter Greenberg to attempt his own solutions. He pressured the Mets to allow him to take Reyes to Toronto to receive platelet-rich plasma therapy — a procedure that does not violate baseball’s performance-enhancing drug policies — from Dr. Anthony Galea. If that name is familiar it is because he has also provided his service to other high-profile athletes such as Tiger Woods. Galea was recently arrested for attempted to smuggle drugs (including Human Growth Hormone) into the United States where he is not licensed to work. Fortunately, the Mets were smart enough to have a team official with Reyes during all the testing and treatment done with Galea so there is no reason to suspect Reyes of wrong doing. Unfortunately, the treatment did not work.

Reyes was finally forced to have surgery on his hamstring, which the Mets believe will solve the problem completely. In mid-December Reyes claimed to be healthy, and was doing some light running leading up to full workouts in January. The Mets expect him to be at full health to start Spring Training. Fantasy would be wise to avoid drafting Reyes in the early rounds before seeing evidence that he is in fact healthy and ready to resume stealing bases at a high rate of success.

Carlos Beltran, Center Fielder
Carlos Beltran was assigned to the disabled list because of a bone bruise behind the right knee cap on June 22nd. He wouldn't play again until September 8th. Beltran seems like another victim of the Mets' medical staff's inability to properly diagnose injuries but there is no evidence (aside from a very long recivery period) that they did anything wrong. Like Reyes, the player and his agent began to seek second opinions from outside sources. Beltran visited Dr. Richard Steadman in Colorado. Steadman is the doctor who invented microfacture surgery but he agreed with the Mets that Beltran was suffering from a bone bruise. Steadman suggested a longer rest and recovery period.

If Beltran is healthy he is one of the better players in baseball and worthy of a first round pick. Fantasy Owners would be wise to avoid picking Beltran too early but at least he was able to play when the 2009 season ended. But as with the other names on this list Spring Training will tell the story. The Mets medical staff will return in 2010 largely intact. But they did release a statement in October regarding a new direction when it comes to treating and diagnosing injuries.

From the New York Post:
The medical staff will remain in place for 2010 but “we are changing our medical protocols to better treat and prevent injuries,” Wilpon said, declining to get into specifics. The son of owner Fred Wilpon also said he plans to take a more active role in how the club releases information about ailing players.

Injuries to Reyes, Beltran and Delgado became a season-long soap opera as they appeared to be close to playing again, only to remain sidelined. Beltran was the only one of the three who returned to the lineup.

Wilpon said part of the communication problems occurred when players were hurt on the road.

“We relied on visiting team doctors to diagnose,” he said. “When Jose had a hamstring tendon that was partially torn to begin with, the doctor in, I forget where it was, L.A., said it was his calf. Now the radiating pain was through his calf. It wasn’t really what happened.”
Carlos Delgado, First Baseman (presently a Free Agent)
Delgado is nearing the end of his career, of that there can be little doubt. But he was productive in limited time in 2009 and has just begun a stint as DH for Gigantes de Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League. The Mets are one of the few teams interested in adding a 39-year old first baseman, mostly because they do not have many options. Daniel Murphy was productive but with the Mets trying to put butts in the seats and get back to the playoffs, he'd fit better as depth for now.

Delgado missed most of the season due to a need for right hip surgery. Complications of the surgery delayed his winter league debut but he was able to perform as the designated hitter on Sunday (he went 1-for-4). Hip surgery has become all the rage, but older players like Delgado and Mike Lowell do not bounce back as quickly as Chase Utley and Alex Rodriguez. Fantasy Owners (and the Mets) are likely to see Delgado playing far less than full time and likely at a lesser level than they are used to seeing from the veteran slugger. I suggest fantasy owners avoid rostering Delgado unless they can bench him at minimal expense.