January 2011

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Position Battles: Nationals Left Field

Our next position battle review takes us to the NL East, where the Nationals appear to have a three-man competition for their starting left field job. It might've been four but Justin Maxwell, who was probably not going to be ready for the start of the season anyways (Tommy John surgery), was designated for assignment today. Jerry Hairston, Jr. is another possibility but he is more valuable as a utilityman, capable of playing six different positions, so we'll keep him out of this conversation. Here is my breakdown of the three candidates.

Roger Bernadina vs Rick Ankiel vs Michael Morse

Tale of the Tape

Bernadina: 26 years old, $425K salary 2010 stats: .246 BA, 11 HR, 47 RBI, 52 R, 18 2B, 3 3B, 35 BB, 93 K in 414 AB's, 16 SB 2011 Outlook: Slight favorite to start vs RHPs

In an otherwise promising rookie season, Bernadina finished with just 15 hits in his last 97 ABs. If the season had ended before his late-season slump, there might not be a position battle going into 2011. On August 31st, he was hitting .274 with 10 HR's and 13 SBs in 317 ABs. But the season lasted another five weeks and Bernadina's average dipped below .250 while his .OBP was just a few ticks above .300. He likely did enough early on to give him the edge but he won't have the job handed to him after his terrible finish. 

Ankiel: 31 years old, $1.5MM salary 2010 stats: .232 BA, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 31 R, 13 2B, 3B, 26 BB, 71 K in 211 AB's, 3 SB 2011 Outlook: Slight underdog, likely 4th outfielder

Since beginning his post-pitching career with a .270 BA, 36 HR, and 110 RBIs in his first 585 ABs (2007-2008), Ankiel has struggled offensively. Over the past two seasons, the left-handed batter has a .232 BA, 17 HR, 62 RBI, and 170 K's in 583 ABs. So it's understandable if Nationals fans aren't overly excited about the possibility that Ankiel takes ABs away from Bernadina. At the least, he gives the team insurance at all three outfield spots and despite his subpar numbers in 2010, he did manage an .801 OPS against RHPs. 

Morse: 28 years old, $1.05MM salary 2010 stats: .289 BA, 15 HR, 41 RBI, 36 R, 12 2B, 2 3B, 22 BB, 64 K 2011 Outlook: Favorite to start vs LHPs, long shot as full-time starter

Despite a breakout season for the 28 year-old utilityman (.870 OPS in 293 plate appearances), there's a good chance he won't be starting much, if not at all, against right-handed pitchers. Morse appears to have a roster spot locked down for the first time in his career, however, and deservedly so. The right-handed batter posted a .999 OPS against LHPs and he more than held his own against RHPs (.806 OPS). He should be penciled into the lineup right behind Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth whenever the team faces a left-handed starter. Don't completely rule him out as a full-time starter but he's a long shot to be in the lineup on a regular basis.   

Final Word

It's possible that all three candidates end up with a good share of starts but I'd guess that a Bernadina/Morse platoon is most likely to start the season with Ankiel ready to step in if Bernadina struggles as he did last September. If center fielder Nyjer Morgan continues to put up subpar offensive numbers (.633 OPS in 2010), it's not out of the question for Bernadina or Ankiel to take ABs away from him. I'm sure Morse's 15 HRs in approximately half-a-season's worth of ABs has many wondering if he can be a 30 HR+ hitter in the big leagues. It doesn't appear he'll have that chance, though. At least not right now. 

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Position Battles: Reds #5 Starter

In what might be the most evenly matched competition in this series, I'll take a look at the last spot in the Reds' rotation. I can probably expand the list of candidates by two or three but it's unnecessary at this point. Realistically, it's a two-man race between two of the better young pitchers in the game. If you like position battles, take a look at over 50 that I've identified over at MLBDepthCharts.com and will be keeping a close eye on throughout Spring Training.

Travis Wood vs Mike Leake

Tale of the Tape

Wood: 23 years old, est. $425K salary 2010 stats: 5-4, 3.51 ERA, 10 quality starts, 102.2 IP, 85 H, 26 BB, 86 K in 17 starts 2011 Outlook: Equal chance as Leake to be #5 starter

While Leake made big news early in the season, it was Wood who was a fixture in the rotation from July 1st through the end of the regular season. The 5'11" left-hander allowed three earned runs or less in 15 of 17 starts after joining the rotation while allowing a measly .222 BA to opposing hitters. He even contributed with 3 1/3 scoreless innings in a playoff loss to the Phillies. He could have a slight edge on Leake if the team prefers having a lefty to balance the first four starters, who are all right-handed. A case can also be made for Wood based on his overall numbers compared to Leake, who hitters were obviously more comfortable against (.292 opponent BA).

Leake: 23 years old, est. $425K salary 2010 stats: 8-4, 4.23 ERA, 13 quality starts, 138.1 IP, 158 H, 49 BB, 91 K in 22 starts, 2 relief appearances 2011 Outlook: Equal chance as Wood to be #5 starter

As would be expected from a rookie making the jump directly from college to the big leagues, Leake wore down in the second half of the season and was eventually shut down. But it wasn't before he posted a 7-1 record and 3.45 ERA in his first 18 starts. The right-hander's peripherals weren't overly impressive (1.496 WHIP, 10.3 H/9, 5.9 K/9) and he doesn't project as a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he has the command and repertoire of pitches to be a big league starter for a long time.  

Final Word

It's hard to believe that one of these two pitchers could start the season in the minors. Both deserve to be in a major league rotation. That says a lot about Cincinnati's pitching depth. Having six or more capable starters is almost necessary to be a contending team. In fact, nine different pitchers started games for the NL Central Champs in 2010. Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney didn't pitch terribly in eight combined starts but the team combined to go 2-6 in those games. Having Leake or Wood ready to go in Triple-A when the team needs another starter could be an important factor in the pennant race. If I had to take a guess, I'd say that Wood will beat out Leake, who could finally throw his first minor league pitch after 138 1/3 big league innings and nearly two years after being drafted. 

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A Look At Jeremy Hellickson

Early mock drafts have Rays righty Jeremy Hellickson going in the 16th round on average.  Is this a chance for big profit in mixed leagues?

Hellickson, just 24 in April, cruised at Triple-A this year with a 2.45 ERA, 9.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, and 0.4 HR/9 in 117 2/3 innings.  The effort earned him Minor League Player of the Year honors from Baseball America.  When the Rays gave him an overdue look, he was excellent in 36 1/3 innings.  The only concern in that small sample was a 49.5% flyball rate, which would have ranked third-highest in baseball in 2010 if maintained over 150+ innings.

Projection-wise, ZiPS calls for a 3.58 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and 0.73 HR/9 from Hellickson in 2011.  Baseball HQ sees a 3.78 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, and 1.03 HR/9.  As you'd expect, Hellickson's WHIP is below 1.30 in both projections.  Given Hellickson's flyball rate in his big league trial, I lean toward HQ's HR/9 and ERA projections.

From a scouting standpoint, Hellickson draws tons of praise.  BA says he has a "dynamic repertoire, throws four pitches for strikes, and has outstanding fastball command."  They see him as the team's No. 2 or 3 starter before long.

Hellickson's innings will go a long way toward determining his value.  With the Rays trading Matt Garza, he's now penciled into the starting five.  Last year's 155 2/3 pro innings was a career-high for Hellickson, so perhaps the Rays will be inclined to keep him under 190.

I can see Hellickson ranking around 25th among fantasy starters, so even if you grab him around the 12th round you should be happy with the results.  Pitchers don't have a ton of control over their hits allowed or win total, so if he does well there he'll jump up the rankings.

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Position Battles: Royals Second Base/Third Base

In case you missed it, I've already broken down position battles for the Orioles' closer and Diamondbacks' first baseman/left field gigs. Next up in the series is the battle between four players who will be vying for two starting infield jobs in Kansas City. 

Mike Aviles vs Chris Getz vs Wilson Betemit vs Mike Moustakas

Tale of the Tape

Aviles: 29 years old, est. $475K salary 2010 stats: .304 BA, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 63 R, 16 2B, 3 3B, 20 BB, 49 K in 424 AB's, 14 SB  2011 Outlook: Favorite to be starting 3B, could be 2B if Betemit or Moustakas win 3B job.

After Tommy John surgery cost Aviles a majority of the 2009 season, he returned with a successful 2010. In his two full big league seasons (2008, 2010), the right-handed hitter has shown the ability to maintain a .300 BA and the potential to add 10-15 HR's and 15-20 SB's over a full year. His .801 OPS from the #2 hole last season should solidify his spot in the lineup. The only question is whether he plays second base or third base.

Getz: 27 years old, est. $440K salary 2010 stats: .237 BA, 0 HR, 18 RBI, 23 R, 9 2B, 19 BB, 28 K in 224 AB's, 15 SB 2011 Outlook: Favorite to be starting 2B

Multiple injuries (oblique, concussion) cost Getz a chance to stay on the field consistently in his first season with the Royals after being acquired from the White Sox last offseason. When he did play, he didn't hit much but the left-handed hitter showed an ability to work the count, take a walk, and wreak havoc on the basepaths (15 SB in 17 attempts). He'll likely have a couple of months to prove that he can provide enough offense to be a big league regular. If not, he'll likely have to make his living as a utilityman.

Betemit: 29 years old, $1MM salary 2010 stats: .297 BA, 13 HR, 43 RBI, 36 R, 20 2B, 36 BB, 74 K in 276 AB's 2011 Outlook: Should see good number of AB's at 3B, DH, 1B, LF

Even after resurrecting his career with an .889 OPS and finishing the season as the team's primary third baseman, Betemit is more likely to get his AB's at another position in 2011. The Royals probably want to get a good look at second baseman Getz early in the season, keeping Aviles at third base. Even if Getz can't hold onto the job, Moustakas should be in Kansas City no later than mid-June. Still, the switch-hitting Betemit is versatile enough that he'll get his share of AB's somewhere and could claim the designated hitter role full-time if Kila Ka'aihue struggles. 

Moustakas: 22 years old, est. $414K salary 2010 stats: .322 BA, 36 HR, 124 RBI, 94 R, 41 2B, 34 BB, 67 K in 484 AB's, 2 SB (AAA/AA) 2011 Outlook: Long shot to be starting 3B on Opening Day, Favorite to be starting 3B by mid-June

Like Buster PoseyMike Stanton, and Stephen Strasburg in 2010, Moustakas is expected to spend most of April and May in the minors before a permanent call to the big leagues. It doesn't mean he won't have a chance to break camp with the team but he'll have to put up huge numbers in Spring Training in order to force the Royals' hand. Between Aviles and Betemit, the team should be able to stand pat and allow Moustakas to continue developing in the minors. 

Final Word

While there is little doubt that Moustakas will be the Royals' third baseman at some point in 2011, there is a good chance he starts the season in Triple-A. With that in mind, the Royals can use the early part of the season to determine if Aviles or Getz will be the starting second baseman for the remainder of the season once Moustakas arrives. Betemit could be a trade chip later in the season, especially if he continues to hit as he did in 2010, but he'll need ABs in order to build up his value. 

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Position Battles: Diamondbacks First Base/Left Field

Last week, I analyzed the battle for the Baltimore Orioles' closer job in the first edition of the 'Position Battles' series. Today, I'll examine two starting spots, first base and left field, for the Arizona Diamondbacks and five players who will be competing for the jobs in Spring Training. An archive of over 50 position battles that I have identified are accessible over at MLBDepthCharts.com. I'll be highlighting some of the more interesting competition's here at RotoAuthority. 

Xavier Nady vs Juan Miranda vs Gerardo Parra vs Brandon Allen vs Wily Mo Peña

Tale of the Tape

Nady: 32 years old, $1.75MM salary 2010 stats: .256 BA, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 13 2B, 17 BB, 85 K in 317 AB's 2011 Outlook: Regular playing time400-500 PA's between 1B/LF

His one season with the Cubs in 2010 was disappointing as he posted the lowest OPS (.660) of his career. To be fair, he was coming back from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for a majority of the 2009 season. The previous season, he posted career-highs in BA (.305), OBP (.357), SLG (.510), HR's (25), RBI's (97), 2B's (37), and BB's (39) between the Pirates and Yankees. If he can rebound and stay healthy, he has the type of straightaway and opposite field power that plays well at Chase Field. New GM Kevin Towers, who was the Padres' GM when they drafted Nady back in 2000, sees him getting 400-500 plate appearances and believes he can bounce back but needs regular playing time in order to do so. Of course, Towers won't be filling out the lineup card everyday but it is an indication that they will give the right-handed hitter every chance to be in the lineup on a regular basis. 

Miranda: 27 years old, est. $440,000 salary 2010 stats: .285 BA, 15 HR, 43 RBI, 15 2B, 52 R, 33 BB, 71 K in 295 AB's (AAA) 2011 Outlook: Favorite to be starting 1B, out of options

The former Yankee has nothing left to prove in the minors, having put together four consecutive solid seasons (one with Double-A Trenton and three with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre), posting a combined .845 OPS. Out of options, the D'Backs will risk losing him on waivers if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster. He doesn't appear to have the same offensive ceiling as Allen but he might be a more polished hitter at this point in his career and could benefit from playing in hitter-friendly Chase Field. 

Parra: 23 years old, est. $440,000 salary  2010 stats: .261 BA, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 19 2B, 6 3B, 23 BB, 76 K, SB in 364 AB's 2011 Outlook: Underdog to win starting job, likely fourth outfielder

After a solid rookie season at age 22 (.290 BA, 5 HR, 60 RBI, 21 2B, 8 3B), Parra regressed in 2010. His .679 OPS was the lowest of any starting left fielder in the big leagues aside from Juan Pierre. But Pierre had 68 SB's while Parra stole just one base. Without great home run power or blazing speed, he'll have to make his living by hitting for a high BA, OBP, and a good amount of doubles and triples. He'll have to prove early on that he's going to provide more offense or he's likely destined for reserve outfielder duty. 

Allen: 24 years old, est. $414,000 salary 2010 stats: .261 BA, 25 HR, 86 RBI, 18 2B, 3 3B, 72 R, 83 BB, 95 K, 14 SB in 371 AB's (AAA) 2011 Outlook: Underdog at 1B and LF, minor league options remaining

In 145 Triple-A games since being acquired from the White Sox in July 2009, Allen has 37 HR's, 118 RBI's, 26 2B's, 103 BB's, and 20 SB's. Like Miranda, he has nothing left to prove in the minors. However, he'll come into Spring Training as an underdog to Miranda for the 1B job and Nady for the LF job. He began playing left field while in Triple-A last season and made a handful of starts at the position when he reached Arizona as a September call-up. With Chris Young and Justin Upton manning the other two outfield spots, Allen wouldn't have much ground to cover. If he can carry over what he did in the minors offensively, his bat should be enough to make up for any inexperience in the outfield. 

Peña: 28 years old, minor league free agent 2010 stats: .324 BA, 9 HR, 34 RBI, 6 2B, 28 R, 15 BB, 45 K in 142 AB's (AAA) 2011 Outlook: Extreme long shot for LF job, AAA depth, lots of BP home runs

I just couldn't ignore Peña, who showed in a brief late-season stint with the Padres' Triple-A team that he can still hit the ball a long way. The former Reds, Red Sox, and Nationals outfielder has been out of the big leagues since 2008. Prior to then, he hit 71 HR's in 1212 big league AB's from 2004-2007. Unlike me, the D'Backs will probably ignore Peña when evaluating starting left field candidates so he'll need to have a big camp to put himself on the radar. 

Final Word

Miranda and Nady will enter camp as the front-runners but Allen is right behind them and could win a starting job with a good spring. While Nady could see regular duty in the middle of the lineup, Miranda, Allen, and Parra would likely hit near the bottom of the lineup where the pressure is lower but RBI opportunities are fewer. 

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AL To NL Starting Pitchers

Like many people, I believe it's easier to pitch in the National League than the American.  The following pitchers will move to the NL for 2011:

  • Cliff Lee, Phillies.  Lee is currently a fourth-round pick.  He spent all of 2010 in the AL and flourished; he'd logged 12 regular season starts in the NL with the Phillies in '09.  That's when he had his career-best strikeout rate at 8.4 per nine, so we could see a similar boost in 2011.  Keep in mind that if Lee finds his way back to 33 regular season starts he could reach 240 innings.
  • Zack Greinke, Brewers.  He's a fifth-round pick at this time as fantasy leaguers prepare to see what Greinke can do in the NL for the first time, with a powerful offense behind him and the motivation of contention.
  • Matt Garza, Cubs.  Garza is going in the ninth round, which isn't much of an added NL boost.  If he pairs his '09 strikeout rate and '10 walk rate and manages to keep the ball in the yard, he could post a huge year.
  • Javier Vazquez, Marlins.  The ninth round is pretty early for Vazquez, he admittedly dominated in his last NL stint.  I've always got interest in Vazquez, but he may have shaken his perennial undervalued tag if that's where he's getting drafted.  I'd want him a few rounds later given his intense struggles last year.
  • Shaun Marcum, Brewers.  I suppose a lack of name value is keeping Marcum in the 14th round.  You're getting a strong WHIP and sufficient Ks; he's a major sleeper unless he climbs to a much earlier spot.
  • Dan Hudson, Diamondbacks.  Hudson came to the NL in July of last year and looked very good in 11 starts for Arizona.  As an 18th round pick you're not risking much.
  • Jake Westbrook, Cardinals.  He also moved to the NL at the trade deadline, and at 6.6 per nine posted one of the better K rates of his career.  If that holds you might be able to squeeze 160 Ks out of the groundballer.
  • Ryan Rowland-Smith, Astros and Dustin Moseley, Padres.  A very low strikeout pair that even the NL can't save for fantasy.

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Position Battles: Orioles Closer

Over the next several weeks, I'll be taking a closer look at some of the more intriguing position battles that are likely to take place in Spring Training. I have identified over 50 position battles over at MLBDepthCharts.com with a short analysis on each. You'll get an extended breakdown of the competitions here at RotoAuthority, beginning with the battle for the closer's gig in Baltimore.

Koji Uehara vs Kevin Gregg vs Mike Gonzalez

Tale of the Tape

Uehara: 35 years old, $3MM salary in 2011 2010 stats: 2.86 ERA, 44 IP, 37 H, 5 BB, 55 K, 13 Sv in 15 chances, 6 holds 2011 Outlook: Favorite, along with Gregg

Even with Gregg agreeing to a two-year, $10MM deal last week, Uehara’s 2010 performance gives him just as good of a shot at the closer’s job in 2011. He did blow two saves in September but was nearly flawless otherwise. Most spectacular was the 11.25 K/9 and 1.02 BB/9 that he posted over his 43 relief appearances. After the All-Star break, the right-hander walked only one batter while striking out 45. Amazing numbers considering his fastball averaged just 88.1 MPH, according to FanGraphs. It’s his repertoire of pitches, mainly a change up and splitter, that kept hitters off balance. He’s endured multiple injuries (two hamstring injuries, two elbow injuries) and four DL trips over his two seasons since arriving in the big leagues from Japan so durability is a concern.

Gregg: 32 years old, est. $4-5MM salary 2010 stats: 2-6, 3.51 ERA, 59 IP, 52 H, 30 BB, 58 K, 37 Sv in 43 chances 2011 Outlook: Favorite, along with Uehara

Unlike Uehara, staying healthy hasn’t been a problem for Gregg. He’s averaged 70 relief appearances over the past four seasons with 121 saves over that span. The right-hander also has an array of pitches that he utilizes (92 MPH fastball, cutter, slider, splitter) to get batters out. While his reputation is that of a fearless workhorse, his overall numbers aren’t as impressive as the top relievers in the game. He puts a lot of batters on base (52 H, 30 BB in 58 IP) and has blown 22 saves over the past three seasons. His durability and experience, however, might give him a slight edge. 

Gonzalez: 32 years old, $6MM salary 2010 stats: 1-3, 4.01 ERA, 24.2 IP, 18 H, 14 BB, 31 K, 10 holds 2011 Outlook: Underdog. More likely for 7th-8th inning setup duty

The lefty is behind Uehara and Gregg in the race but don’t forget that he signed a $12MM deal before the 2010 season to become the team’s closer for the next two seasons. An early-season shoulder injury robbed Gonzalez of his effectiveness and eventually landed him on the DL after two blown saves in three appearances. He did return to form when he was activated in late July, posting a 2.78 ERA with 28 Ks and 10 holds in his last 26 relief appearances. If healthy, don’t completely rule him out for save chances throughout the year. His fastball-slider combination can be nasty as evidenced by the career .209 BA opponents have managed against him throughout his career.

Final Word

The biggest question might be, "How many opportunities is the Orioles’ closer going to get this season playing in an always tough AL East"? The offense should be better with the addition of veterans Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy, and Mark Reynolds and the group of middle relievers (Jim Johnson, Jason Berken, Jeremy Accardo) and setup men (two of Uehara, Gregg, and Gonzalez) appear to be improved. If the starting rotation can offer its share of quality starts, I can see a big year from whichever pitcher ends up getting the majority of saves for this team.  To follow every development, follow @closernews on Twitter.  Voice your opinion on the best fantasy pick out of the Orioles bullpen by taking the poll below.

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The First Round

Mock Draft Central has baseball drafts up and running, which means we can get an early read on what the general fantasy player is thinking.  I'm not sure if we can consider this information meaningful in mid-January, but it should get us in the ballpark.  Here's how the average first round plays out:

  1. Albert Pujols
  2. Hanley Ramirez
  3. Miguel Cabrera
  4. Troy Tulowitzki
  5. Evan Longoria
  6. Carlos Gonzalez
  7. Joey Votto
  8. Adrian Gonzalez
  9. David Wright
  10. Robinson Cano
  11. Josh Hamilton
  12. Ryan Braun

Comparing to last year:

CarGo, Votto, Adrian, and Cano are truly new to the first round, having never come near it in past drafts.  As we saw last year with guys like Kemp, Joe Mauer, and Mark Reynolds, one huge season does not necessarily mean the player has arrived as an annual fantasy first or second-rounder.

Maybe CarGo doesn't hit .336 again, but in a half-season in '09 he did show that he mostly just needed playing time to be able to flirt with 30/30.  That's why so many forecasters were touting him and he was often drafted inside the first ten rounds last year.  The concerns with him for 2011: he could theoretically become complacent with a long-term contract in place, he wasn't first-round material away from Coors, he's battled injuries before, and he doesn't draw walks.  Back in October I guessed CarGo would be drafted third overall, but it appears you could get him sixth or even a few spots later.  It's hard not to like him, but the risk is higher than with other first-rounders.

Aside from stolen bases, Votto had an elite fantasy season in 2009.  The 16 steals and added power in '10 were bonuses, but many were comfortable taking him in the second round last March.  He's a 27-year-old monster who could bump it up to 40 home runs this year.  Take him early with confidence.  I know it's not statistically proven but from a fantasy standpoint I'd prefer to see him not locked up to an extension, with the carrot of a monstrous second-year arbitration reward in his sights.

Adrian is coming off shoulder surgery but moves to a better ballpark and lineup with the Red Sox.  He will also be facing tougher pitching.  He draws tons of walks but unlike Votto isn't a huge average guy and has no speed.  If Votto is off the board you could wait until the second round for Fielder as your primary first baseman.  Contract year for the big man.

Cano has it all except speed, plus he plays second base.  He spent most of the year batting fifth or fourth and added a bunch of RBIs over his previous season.  He's been very durable over the last four years.  You can justify this pick, but he wasn't much different when he was going in the fourth round last year.  Give some thought to instead buying low on Utley, Dustin Pedroia, or Ian Kinsler.

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