January 2010

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Closer Report: Red Sox

A closer report on the Red Sox isn't tricky - Jonathan Papelbon is the first stopper off the board in most leagues (he, Mariano Rivera, and Jonathan Broxton start moving in the 6th round).  Papelbon is quite valuable in fantasy leagues, and the 6th round is appropriate if you're not the type to take chances on closers.

If you're searching for a chink in the armor after a 1.85 ERA season, check out Papelbon's 3.2 BB/9.  It was his worst walk rate since his rookie year, and it pushed his WHIP all the way up to 1.15.  He tinkered with his delivery early in the season, so that might've caused the extra walks in the first half.  Regardless, we're nit-picking.

In the seemingly unlikely event Papelbon misses time with an injury, who's next in line?  Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez were used in the highest-leverage situations last year.  Ramirez's peripherals were shaky, however.  Hard-throwing sophomore Daniel Bard could be the guy, assuming he's in the midst of a strong season.

Dark horses?  Scott Atchison dominated out of the Hanshin Tigers' bullpen last year.  Boof Bonser had interesting peripherals in '08 out of the Twins' pen, but that was before shoulder surgery.

You shouldn't worry about Papelbon's backup unless you're really digging for saves in a deep AL-only league.  Bard is the current favorite, but keep an eye on Atchison.

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Overhyped Sleepers Can Still Provide Profit

Athletics pitcher Brett Anderson is a pitcher "you'll pay too much to roster in 2010," writes Erich Smith of Fantasy Hurler.  Smith's reasonable logic is that by March the "sleeper" hype on Anderson will cause him to be drafted early enough where solid value is unlikely.  A further discussion in the comments section of the post clarifies that the hype has not yet fully arrived on Anderson, but he could reach a 10th-round average draft position by March.

This post is not to debate Anderson's value specifically, though I am projecting a 3.75 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 167 strikeouts in 185 innings for a $16.26 value.  That'd put him in the ballpark of the projected fantasy value of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Jered Weaver, Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, A.J. Burnett, and Roy Oswalt.

My suggestion is that players often provide profit despite the hype.  From March 2009 fantasy drafts, consider Matt Kemp (4th round), Mike Napoli (14th round), Joey Votto (7th round), Nelson Cruz (11th round), Jayson Werth (12th round), Adam Jones (16th round), Javier Vazquez (12th round), Zack Greinke (13th round), Scott Baker (19th round), and Josh Johnson (13th round).  Tim Lincecum, drafted around the 10th before the '08 season, also comes to mind.

Yes, I cherry-picked those, and you could easily point to guys like Chris Davis and Matt Wieters who went way, way too early and did not pay off at all.  Sometimes the hype machine does go overboard - in hindsight, the 6th round for Davis was absurd.  But the 10th or 11th round for Anderson is perfectly reasonable.  You could make a legitimate case for taking him over John Lackey and Jair Jurrjens in a similar spot. 

Certain players like Anderson, Tommy Hanson, and Carlos Gonzalez will be on every sleeper list this fantasy season, mine included.  This may push their average draft position lower than you'd like, but I sure don't regret having Cruz and Werth on a bunch of my teams last year. 

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Closer Report: Orioles

Closers such as Ryan Franklin, David Aardsma, Fernando Rodney, and Andrew Bailey could've been had for nothing in 2009 fantasy drafts.  In hopes of finding similar gems, let's embark on a series looking at each team's closer situation.  We'll start with the Orioles.

Given that the O's committed two years and $12MM and gave up a draft pick for Mike Gonzalez, it's safe to assume he'll enter 2010 as their closer.  He's always been a huge strikeout, low-hit, shaky control guy, and that formula will probably work well enough.  Currently a 17th-round pick, he could be a better choice than earlier picks David Aardsma, Ryan Franklin, and Bobby Jenks.

Gonzalez logged a career-high 74.3 innings in '09 despite back stiffness and elbow tendinitis.  He had Tommy John surgery on that elbow in June of '07.  If he hits the DL, the Orioles could turn back to Jim Johnson (he of the 5.5 career K/9).  Koji Uehara, on the hook for $5MM, is another possibility.  He's got great command and his 6.5 K/9 would presumably play up with a return to the pen.  However, his season ended in June with an elbow strain.

Kam Mickolio, who averages about 95 on his fastball, could be the pen's sleeper.  He whiffed 66 in 57.3 innings between Triple A and the bigs last year.  He did deal with biceps inflammation, however.

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Can David Wright Bounce Back?

Mets third baseman David Wright will most likely be drafted between the 12th and 18th pick in your 2010 fantasy league.  If you have a pick or two in that range, your decision whether to draft him could affect your team's chances greatly.  In 2009 drafts Wright seemed like a safe choice at 3rd overall, yet his .307-10-72-88-27 line had some labeling him a bust at year's end.

Was Wright truly a bust?  According to ESPN's Player Rater he ranked 7th among third basemen and 64 among all players.  Obviously he was a letdown in the power categories, but if you blame this pick for losing your league you're just making excuses. 

More importantly, what can we expect from Wright in 2010?  You may recall that Wright was struck in the head by a Matt Cain fastball on August 15th, an injury that he admitted remained in the back of his head a month later.  Wright told Newsday's Anthony Rieber, "You see a ball that kind of comes up and in, it makes you flinch a little more than normal."  The symptoms from that injury caused Wright to dip to 535 ABs in '09, so we'll assume he jumps back to his typical 600.  As for the mental aspect, we can only guess whether the time off will straighten him out.  Wright had his worst month of the season after returning from the beaning in September.

Projection systems don't know about the mental side of the Cain beaning.  They also can't tell us whether moving to Citi Field got into Wright's head.  Assuming 600 ABs, here are three projected lines:

  • Baseball HQ: .295-20-96-103-23
  • Bill James:  .302-23-99-100-24
  • CHONE: .305-24-104-102-21

Very similar results...they're all just penalizing him for '09 by predicting fewer than 25 HRs.  But more simply, Wright averaged 29 HRs in the four seasons prior.  A return to 30 HR is entirely within reach for the 27-year-old.  Any logical forecaster is going to say Wright's power will return and his strikeouts will come back down in 2010.

On the other hand, Citi Field isn't going anywhere.  Greg Rybarczyk of Hit Tracker Online has suggested Wright lost nine home runs to the new park in 2009.  If he'd hit 19 bombs and driven in 85, it would've been easier to write off '09 as a blip.

We've learned that Wright is likely to bounce back to some extent, though he's riskier than ever.  In my tentative batter rankings, Wright is 17th.  I am not one to spring for a pitcher in the first few rounds, so my question is how many hitters I'd rather take than Wright who will not be there for a subsequent pick.  Though my early rankings have 16 hitters above Wright, Holliday, Reyes, and McCann may be available with your following pick.  There are nine players - Pujols, Hanley, Braun, A-Rod, Utley, Kemp, Howard, Cabrera, and Fielder - I'd have to take before Wright.  Beyond that, I'm not convinced that Teixeira, Longoria, Lincecum, Mauer, Kinsler, and Crawford need to go before Wright.

There's my current debate - Teixeira, Longoria, Lincecum, Mauer, Crawford, and Kinsler vs. Wright.  One point in Wright's favor is that he's projected to give balance - above-average contributions in all five categories.  Drafting exactly 12th (in a 12-team league) might make the decision easier, as you could take Wright and one of the six back-to-back.

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A Look At Kyle Blanks

Padres right fielder/first baseman Kyle Blanks is intriguing to me.  Let's start with projections:

  • CHONE: .265/.353/.459 with 16 HR in 416 PAs (23 HR in 600 PAs).
  • Bill James: .277/.362/.475 with 25 HR in 590 PAs
  • Shandler: .252/.327/.454 with 21 HR in 476 PAs (26 in 600 PAs)

So, the systems are looking at Blanks' age 22 season at Triple A - .283/.393/.485 with 12 HR in 280 PAs - and also his big league line of .250/.355/.514 with 10 HR in 172 PAs.  Both of Blanks' home ballparks were pitcher-friendly, though it didn't affect his power at the Triple A level. 

A potentially low-average guy projected to hit 25 HR at best...you're probably not hooked.  Did I mention the plantar fasciitis?

What makes Blanks a pretty good pick is that he's barely being drafted in mixed leagues.  Padres players often fall under the fantasy radar.  Also, Blanks' scouting reports talk about a huge guy with massive raw power.  MLB.com's Corey Brock says his foot is healed.  Blanks is worth snagging in the late stages of your draft as a potential breakout candidate.  Already projected to hit 25 HR, he's got the potential to hit 30+.

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2010 CHONE Projections - Power Sources

The free 2010 CHONE projections are out, and they're a great way for fantasy geeks to pass the time in January.  In my opinion it's too early to be mock-drafting - the results you'll get are not meaningful because the "sleepers" and supposedly undervalued players are not yet common knowledge.  Once the magazines and major websites hammer home their favorites, those players will move up in draft position (Carlos Gonzalez, for example).

With that, we'll dig into CHONE's more interesting sources of power.  Since playing time is difficult to estimate, we'll look at projected HRs per 600 PAs.  Plenty of "Quad A" types here, but sometimes those guys do get chances.

  • Jay Bruce - 34 HRs per 600 PAs.  No big surprise, as Bruce hit 22 HR in 387 PAs last year.  He broke his wrist in July but came back strong in the season's final weeks.  The one concern is his AVG, but CHONE predicts it'll jump way up to .283.  Bruce is currently being drafted in the 11th round; he was a 9th-rounder last spring.  I'd like to see him slip further.
  • Mike Hessman - 33.  He'll be 32 in March, and he had a lousy 2009 in Triple A.  But he slugged .602 at that level the year prior.  Hessman signed with the Mets, who could provide a path to the bigs even if they re-sign Carlos Delgado.
  • Shelley Duncan - 31.  Duncan killed at Triple A in '09 - .277/.370/.546.  Who knows, he could sneak into the Indians' first base or left field jobs.
  • Chris Davis - 29.  In hindsight, Davis in the sixth round last spring was a horribly risky move.  He didn't get on base, didn't hit lefties, and whiffed constantly.  It's not prudent to read too much into his strong September.  Playing time will be harder to come by, and Davis has only slipped to the 12th round.  If he drops another six rounds I'm interested, though we'll have to see who the Rangers add for 1B/DH roles.
  • Wladimir Balentien - 29.  The Reds' left field gig is unsettled, so we should keep an eye on Balentien.
  • Brandon Wood - 26.  If he can get past Maicer Izturis, Wood could finally become the Angels' regular third baseman in 2010.  He might struggle to hit .250, but the power remains.
  • Ryan Raburn - 25.  He mashed 16 HRs in 291 PAs in '09, and stands to gain PT in '10.  Only concern is that he got to face lefties 54% of the time.
  • Randy Ruiz - 25.  Crushed 10 HR in 130 PAs; slugged .584 at Triple A.  The Jays have nothing to lose by sticking the 32-year-old at DH.

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