February 2006

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Jeff Bagwell's 2006 Production

Jeff Bagwell's teammates on his 2006 production:

Brad Ausmus"Twenty-five to 30 home runs.  And around 100 RBI."

Lance Berkman : "Something around 30 home runs and 90-100 RBIs."

Astros fans would be thrilled if they're right, and if you can pick up Bags for couple of bucks you can't really go wrong.

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Howie Kendrick Alert

I hadn't realized Adam Kennedy was in his contract year.  The Angels have a mixed record as far as pushing vets aside for quality youngsters.

The Halos cleared a spot for Jeff Mathis this year by letting Bengie Molina walk.  They did the same for Dallas McPherson the year before with Glaus.  On the other hand, Casey Kotchman and Juan Rivera have kind of been languishing.  And Orlando Cabrera got a four-year deal despite some talent in the pipeline.

Anywho, Howie Kendrick looks like a damn good bet for a .300 average with 15-20 HR pop and 15 steal potential too.  He's a hacker but he makes contact.  His bandwagon is picking up steam lately, so he's not sleeper material.  But he looks like a top fantasy 2B for years to come.  Whether Kennedy is dealt or just allowed to walk after the season, you have to be aware of Kendrick. 

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A Few Thoughts On Bruce Chen

I noticed this comment by ESPN's Tristan Cockcroft today in a chat:

"I can't believe no one is talking more about Bruce Chen, especially with Mazzone now in Baltimore. Everyone seems to focus on Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard as the breakout candidates, but Chen has pitched pretty well for the Orioles of late. I think he's a lot better candidate to repeat his 2005 totals than people think; it's not like he lacks the talent to be a successful pitcher. Plus, he hasn't been picked in a single one of my mixed drafts to this point. I'd take a flier on him."

Interesting case, Bruce Chen.  He surprised many with a career high 13 wins in 2005.  It was his age 28 season, and he also posted a 3.83 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.  His strikeout rate was league average, and 197 innings was a career high.

Chen gives up a lot of home runs, but he's a solid back of the rotation type.  I project him at 11 wins with a 4.08 ERA and 1.26 WHIP this year.  PECOTA calls for 4.24 and 1.32.  This ain't bad, but Chen is waiver wire material in mixed leagues.  I project his value at $1.58.  Still, I'd take him over guys like Jarrod Washburn and Mike Mussina.

Bedard doesn't project a whole lot better, but he's gotten a lot more press.  I have Cabrera valued over $7, however.  He could rack up 175 Ks and an ERA around 3.50.

Still, if you're searching for boring back-rotation guys, why not take the safe money?  I think Paul Byrd, Greg Maddux, and Jon Lieber will be better than any of the previously mentioned starters and have better health/performance track records.  Control pitchers don't get your blood pumping, but you should take these guys over Cabrera.

Liebs especially could surprise some folks.  220 innings from him means 150 Ks, and his WHIP is always near 1.20.  He could win 15-16 games in 2006.  He posted a 3.28 ERA after the break in '05, and with just a couple less HRs could post a 3.75 ERA in '06.  Underrated fantasy starter. 

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Twins 5th Starter Battle

Sometimes I wonder:  are the Twins even trying to win?  I mean, do they just want to put a kind of respectable team on the field and have a record over .500, or are they going for the gold?  (Ewww, Olympics reference). 

I wonder this for various reasons.  First off, Tony Batista.  Do I really need to say more about that?

Second, Ruben Sierra.  Why does he deserve a roster spot?  I know it's too early to get on Jason Kubel bandwagon before he sees game action.  But even 75% of Kubel gives you a better chance to win than Sierra.  Now, Sierra is a non-roster invitee so it's still possible Kubel makes the team over him.  But seriously, I'd rather have Kubel shaking off the rust against Major League pitchers than have Sierra on my bench or DHing.

Let me interject this rant with a related rant.  When an average joe like me proposes a bunch of roster changes like this, sometimes using numbers as an argument, it's often dismissed because the team "isn't a fantasy baseball team."  What exactly does that mean?  Teams make tons and tons of roster moves; why are these any different? 

Back to my main point, that the Twins aren't trying to win it all.  My third data point in that argument is the fifth starter job.  Per Aaron Gleeman yesterday:

"Francisco Liriano has been asked to pitch for the Dominican Republic in next month's World Baseball Classic, and Ron Gardenhire suggests that not being in camp could hurt Liriano's chances of beating Scott Baker out for the fifth spot in the rotation. I happen to think that the Twins have all but decided on Baker already, in which case Liriano might as well pitch for his country if it means a lot to him."

Alright, I can definitely see why Baker should be in the rotation from the get-go.  You know I've been singing his praises for a while now.  But while Baker should be good, Liriano has the potential for greatness.  On any other team except maybe the White Sox, Liriano would also be a lock for the starting rotation.  He's got nothing left to prove in Triple A after posting a 1.78 ERA there in 91 innings.  His peripheral stats - strikeouts, walks, HR allowed -  are off the charts.

Compare this to the proven mediocrity that is Kyle Lohse.  Lohse won his arbitration case after posting an extremely flukey 4.18 ERA in 2005 (it was coupled with a 1.43 WHIP).  The only thing Lohse has going for him is good control and veteran experience.  I project him at a 5.13 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 2006.  It would be impossible to argue that Lohse gives you a better chance to win than Liriano.  It's irrefutable that Liriano is superior.  Liriano is the best pitching prospect in baseball.  Even if he struggles, he's easily better than Lohse.

Sure, Lohse will be traded, released, or demoted by summertime and Liriano will join the rotation.  But every win counts, especially in the AL Central.  The Twins need to make the "fantasy baseball choice" and put both Liriano and Baker in the rotation for the entire season.  But they probably won't, and the fantasy upshot is that Liriano may be overlooked in shallower mixed leagues.

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Armando Benitez Projection

Purchasers of my 2006 Fantasy Guide may have noticed that Armando Benitez is valued at just $2.39, right below Kyle Farnsworth.  Given that Benitez posted a 1.29 ERA with 47 saves in his last healthy season, what gives?  Let's take a peek under the hood and see why I've projected Benitez to have a 4.26 ERA in 2006.

To begin with, I have Benitez pitching 68 innings in '06.  It's his previously established healthy level, and he hasn't really exceeded it since 2001.

Next, let's look at his K rate.  While there are some dangerously small samples from 2003 and 2005, Benitez's strikeout rate has seen a fairly steady decline since 1999.  I've pegged it at 7.6 per nine for his age 33 season, which would be better than his '05 mark in 30 innings.  Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA system thinks Benitez will remain at 2005's 6.9 K/9 rate.  The ZiPS system went with 8.1, a rise from his 2004 mark.

Now it's time to predict Benitez's hit rate.  This is far from an exact science, but I'll do my best.  I put it at 7.4 hits per nine.  It hasn't been that high in a full season since '03, and Benitez  posted a remarkably low 4.6 per nine rate in 2004.  I'm not sure how much control he has over his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) but the .178 mark from '04 seems a tad lucky.  ZiPS says 7.4 and PECOTA went with 7.9. 

Walk rate must also be projected for us to come up with his WHIP.  2004 and maybe 2002 were the only two seasons during which Benitez had walk rates that could be considered good.  He has a 4.62 per nine career mark, and I went with 4.65.   I think he could get this down to 4.3, but I'd be surprised to see much better than that.  The field does not agree, as ZiPS said 4.0 and PECOTA 4.2.  In their defense, Benitez's career walk rate is influenced by some wildness early in his career.

My projections call for a 1.34 WHIP, versus 1.40 from PECOTA and 1.28 from ZiPS.  The range here is huge, with the most variation in the walks allowed portion.  Improved control is how Benitez would most likely prove my projection wrong.

I was pessimistic in projected his HR rate, going with 1.1 per nine.  He hasn't been that bad in a full season since '02, but Benitez did spend 2004 in a major pitchers' park.  ZiPS went with 0.90 and PECOTA predicts 1.1.

Given Benitez's salary and the weak San Francisco bullpen, it'd be a surprise to see him lose his job.  That's why I still predicted 34 saves.  According to the depth chart at The Closer Watch, we could have to endure more 9th innings in the hands of Tyler Walker if Benitez really blows up or gets hurt.   

PECOTA projects a 4.40 ERA while ZiPS is kinder with 4.03.  My final projection:

  IP    H   HR   BB   SO ERA WHIP    W    SV
  68   56    8   35    57 4.26 1.34     5    34

There's plenty of uncertainty here, but three independent systems predict an ERA over 4 for San Francisco's closer.  I'm not sure what kind of price Benitez will go for in auctions this year, but I'd have to think it will be more than $5.  He went in the 11th round of ESPN's expert mock draft, ahead of Tom Gordon, Eddie Guardado, Brian Fuentes, and Jose Valverde.  At this point in his career Benitez just doesn't look like a good fantasy investment, and I'd prefer any of those four.

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Randy Johnson Says He'll Be Better

I've been throwing in a lot of quotes that we'll surely laugh at after the season, like the one about Shea Hillenbrand hitting 30 HR.  But it's only fair that I put in one that I agree with:

"I will have a better year.  I'm certain of that."

Randy Johnson feels that he improved his mechanics in the second half, and both he and I expect a total return to form.  I have RJ down as baseball's fourth best starter, as I expect a 3.04 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with 204 Ks in 215 innings.

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More ABs For V-Mart?

Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal reports some fantasy-relevant comments made by Indians manager Eric Wedge recently:

"This year, we need Hafner to play a little more first base, so Victor can be the (occasional) DH.  Victor also is taking more ground balls at first, so he can play a little there. It's tough to take his offense out of the lineup."

Owners of these two players just let out a collective "BOOYAH!"  Well, maybe not, but it can only be construed as a positive.  Think about the ramifications:

1.  More at-bats for Victor Martinez.  Most owners of V-Mart barely thought this possible after he tallied 547 ABs in 2005.  But if Martinez continues to catch a ton of games and spends additional time at first base and DH, he could certainly snag 580 at-bats.  Now, such a jump would only mean maybe a 5% bump in his counting stats, but it pulls him even further away from Joe Mauer as the best offensive receiver in the game.

2.  V-Mart gains first base eligibility.  I've never known an owner to have a catcher surplus, and it would be downright silly to use Victor anywhere else.  However, there could be a long-term benefit here to his keeper league owners.  Maybe the Tribe hangs on to Kelly Shoppach, who would make a very capable Major League regular right now.  Martinez continues to catch a decent share of games but severely decelerates the typical catcher decline by switching to a much easier position for half his games. 

3.  Hafner gains first base eligibility.  When I picked Hafner up in the second round in my RotoWorld draft, I was accepting a lack of maneuverability with my DH slot for the rest of the season.  Hafner only played one game at first in 2005, so I can't use him at a corner.  But maybe he starts playing 15-20 games at first base now, giving my team all sorts of options when I start making transactions later.  Hard to pin a dollar amount on position eligibility, but this could theoretically put Hafner slightly above David Ortiz.

4.  Kelly Shoppach stays in Cleveland.  This is actually a negative in my book.  Not only is Jacobs Field a pitchers' park, but a lack of a trade damages Shoppach's fantasy potential.  He's not taking over full-time catching duties from Martinez.  Shoppach bashed 26 HR in 371 Triple A at-bats in 2005, and a park like Citizens Bank would inflate his homers by 20%.  The Phils have a known interest in Shoppach, and such a deal would be the best fantasy scenario for him outside of Coors.    

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Fantasy Hotsheet

Let's take a look at how some of the latest baseball news affects fantasy players.

Jack Wilson tacked on 20 pounds this winter.  His slugging percentage dropped from a career high .459 in 2004 to his career level of .363 in 2005.  Even with the bulk, don't expect more than .270 and 10 HR from Wilson.  He wouldn't be on my radar unless I was in an NL-only league.

Roger Clemens will start his season in May, June, or July if at all.  I've been under this assumption since December, and my 144 inning projection of Clemens reflects that.  I expect a 2.98 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with that.  Clemens is worth about $10-11 if he hits my projection, right behind a full season of Jon Lieber.  It's a tricky situation - find out now how your league would handle his hiatus.  If you get a replacement during that time, the Rocket will still make a solid choice.

Jesus Colome wants a piece of the Devil Rays closer action, rescinding his request to be traded now that opportunity has come a'knockin'.  Chad Orvella is the clear frontrunner, and Colome joins Shinji Mori and Dan Miceli as his backups.  Nothing correlates with saves more than team wins, but occasionally a closer on a lousy team still gets 40 saves.  So keep an eye on this mess, as Orvella will be one of the last closers on the board.

Ivan Rodriguez has a better relationship with Jim Leyland than he did with Alan Trammell, and has a goal of catching 140 games.  You still shouldn't expect more than 520 ABs at the most.  Pudge remains my 6th ranked catcher, comfortable above Jason Kendall.

I'm worried about Jose Guillen, who is recovering from November shoulder surgery.  He might not manage 500 ABs or 20 HR if he misses all of April.  Guillen is a hacker whose power may suffer from the surgery, and I just don't have a good feeling about his 2006.  I plan on avoiding him in all formats. 

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More On Chris Duffy

I last wrote about Chris Duffy on February 12th, mentioning that he could steal 30 bags if he gets 550 ABs.  After reading the praise heaped on him in this article, my confidence in his ability and playing time has improved.

Jim Tracy loves the guy.  It really looks like a foregone conclusion that the center field/leadoff job is Duffy's to lose.  This is his age 26 season, and he's spent plenty of time in the minors.  Despite his blazing speed, Duffy stole only 17 bases in 308 Triple A at-bats last year.  He's not quite  a high percentage basestealer, and he didn't do much in 39 games for the Pirates.

At this point Duffy looks like a .280-.290 hitter who would have a hard time not stealing 20 bases in a full season.  But it seems that he's expected to be aggressive and utilize his speed, so 30 is entirely possible.  Regardless, Duffy has little value to mixed leaguers except perhaps as a short-term injury replacement.   NL-only folks should view him top 25 outfielder worthy of a double digit bid.  In the best case scenario, Duffy becomes Randy Winn in a few years. 

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My RotoWorld Fantasy Team

Fantasy teams are kind of like dreams - they're not at all interesting unless they're yours.  Nonetheless, I'm going to indulge myself and write a post about the squad I drafted in my recent RotoWorld Mock Draft.  The other 11 dudes definitely know their stuff, as they're all affiliated with RotoWorld, mostly as writers.

The structure is a mixed 5x5 with 12 teams and no reliever requirement.  For a while in the beginning I thought we might play this one out, so I drafted with some future transactions in mind.  That's why my team doesn't have any closers - at least you can't call me a hypocrite.

I started off with the 3rd overall pick, grabbing Johan Santana.  I wanted the ace of all aces, as I planned to stock up on cheap starters later.

In the second round, I grabbed Travis Hafner.  I think he could be on par with Ortiz this year.

Picked up Jeter in the third round, followed by Ben Sheets in the fourth.  Sheets might well be a top three starter in 2006, so now I had the best and possibly third-best starters in the game.

I took Richie Sexson in the fifth round, looking for 40 HR potential with tons of RBIs.  I was surprised to find Barry Bonds available in the sixth round, so I snatched him up.

My seventh round pick was Ryan Howard, adding to my stable of mashers.  I then took Willy Taveras in the eighth, something I may have regretted if we played this one out.  If Taveras doesn't get 600 ABs or can't steal 50+ bases, this will turn out to be a bad pick.  I wanted a speed guy though.

I took Troy Glaus in the ninth round, as Aaron Gleeman snagged Scott Rolen right before me.  Picked up Jonny Gomes in the tenth, and now I'm stacked with power guys.

I started getting a tad concerned about my batting average with guys like Sexson, Howard, and Gomes on the roster.  That's why I picked Placido Polanco in Round 12 - he's a lock to hit .300. 

Kenji Johjima is my favorite catcher pick, and Ramon Hernandez had gone a few picks before.  I grabbed Johjima with hopes of Willingham as my next pick.

Willingham was snagged two picks before my next, though, so I went with Bengie Molina.  I'm not a huge fan, but he won't kill you as a backup catcher.

In need of outfielders, I went with Brady Clark.  He should continue to be solid in average, runs, and steals while hitting double digit HRs.  I'm not thrilled with this one and he could easily collapse. 

For my next pick, Doug Davis was just too awesome to pass up in Round 16.  He's a borderline top 20 starter, capable of 210 Ks and solid ratios.  His luck may turn around and he could get 15 wins this time around.

Itching for speed but not willing to sacrifice power, I picked up Reggie Sanders next.  Royals outfielders in general get no respect in drafts, but Sanders, DeJesus, and Brown are all solid choices late in the game.

Didn't expect to see Brad Penny available in Round 18, so took him.  Then I took Greg Maddux in the 19th, as I think he can provide 15 wins and a good WHIP in tons of innings.  That has serious value even if it's boring.

Grabbed another good ratio guy in Ryan Madson in the following round.  There's a fair chance something necessitates his return to the 'pen, but if not he could have a nice year under the radar.

My boy Scott Baker was the next pick, followed by an uninspiring selection of Aaron Harang.  I topped off my nine starters with Anthony Reyes, who's yet to lock down a rotation spot.  He'll be in rotation by the break if he's healthy though.

So I've got nine solid starters, the first four of which are pretty much locks.  I'd likely cut one of Maddux, Madson, Baker, Harang, and Reyes depending on performance and opportunity as new closers become available. 

Looking at The Closer Watch, I could see Ray, Foulke, Jenks, Wickman, Jones, MacDougal, Orvella, Reitsma, Weathers, Borowski, and Benitez with the chance to falter.  At least three of these eleven guys will not be closers at year's end.  Injuries will create even more chances for me to find some saves.

My pitching strategy is mildly risky.  Not sure whether we would've instituted an innings cap, but I probably would've jumped out to an early lead in wins and Ks to make up for my lack of saves.

As for my offense, I think I have a pretty good handle of every category except steals.  Jeter, Taveras, Gomes, Clark, and Sanders would all have to meet my projections for me to compete.

Overall, it would've made for an interesting club with a good mix of upside and reliable guys.

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