January 2012

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Position/Role Battles: The Yankees' Fifth Starter

With Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda now added to the fold, the Yankees' starting rotation has gone from being a weakness to a potential strength.  The two newcomers, Ivan Nova and staff ace C.C. Sabathia account for the first four spots in the rotation, and now New York suddenly has a surplus of pitching depth for the fifth spot.

With a powerful lineup and Mariano Rivera closing, any Yankee starter can help your fantasy team in the wins category, if nothing else.  Here's a look at the possibilities for the back end of the Yankees' rotation and how much value they could bring to your fantasy squad...

A.J. Burnett: The number most associated with Burnett is the $33MM he's still owed over the next two seasons, but let's look past the salary and at his advanced metrics.  Burnett posted a 5.15 ERA last season, but his xFIP was over a run lower at 3.86.  His other peripherals from 2011 (a 2.08 K/BB ratio, 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9) are almost identical to his career averages in those categories, with the only major discrepancy being his 1.5 HR/9, well above his 0.9 H/9 career rate.  You would presume this was caused by pitching at Yankee Stadium, but Burnett has pitched significantly better at home than he had on the road over the last three seasons.

These stats should ease fears of both Yankee fans and fantasy owners that Burnett has totally fallen off a cliff, which is good since his paycheck makes him the most likely candidate to be the fifth starter.  You basically know what you're going to get with Burnett at this point --- strikeouts, double-digit wins and frustration.  If you draft Burnett at all, make sure he's no higher than the #5 man on your staff as well, and pay heed to his home/away splits by sitting him when he's starting outside of the Bronx.

Freddy Garcia: Signed to a minor-league deal last February, Garcia was a very nice bargain for the Yankees, delivering a 2.2 WAR performance for just $1.5MM.  The veteran re-signed with the Bombers for a one-year, $4MM contract in December and for that kind of money, Garcia no doubt expects to do more than just serve as a long reliever and spot starter. 

Garcia played with fire last year, doing a decent job of keeping the ball in the park (0.98 HR/9) despite a ground ball rate of just 36.4%, but overall he was a much more consistent performer than Burnett.  The Yankees now have the depth to keep Burnett on a short leash and if he struggles again, the club would have no problem slotting Garcia into the rotation and relegating Burnett to the pen.  There's no reason to think Garcia won't be solid in whatever role he fills, but given his middling peripherals, there isn't much to recommend Garcia for a roster spot on a mixed league fantasy team.

Phil Hughes: At this time last year, Hughes was coming off an All-Star season and looked to be on his way to becoming a fixture in New York's rotation.  After three brutal starts to begin the year, however, Hughes went to the disabled list with the dreaded "dead arm" and didn't return until July.  The right-hander posted a 4.48 ERA in 14 games after his return, getting roughed up in three starts, but allowing two or fewer runs in each of his other eight starts.  

Hughes needs a big spring to lay claim to the fifth starter's job, but if he's back to good health, he is a very intriguing under-the-radar fantasy option.  Hughes is still just 25 years old and showed tons of promise in 2010.  Even if he doesn't win the starter's job and is relegated to the bullpen, Hughes is still a good fantasy pickup because of his potential value out of the bullpen.  Hughes was a monster as Rivera's set-up man in 2009 and, while David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are ahead of Hughes on the bullpen depth start now, Hughes is a great choice if your league tracks holds.

Nova: Burnett, Garcia and Hughes could really be fighting for two rotation spots, should Nova have a tough Spring Training or regress once the season begins.  Nova doesn't record many strikeouts (a career 5.4 K/9), which doesn't mesh well with his 3.2 BB/9 career walk rate, though Joba Chamberlain was the only Yankee regular who recorded a higher ground ball rate than Nova's 52.7% mark.  There are more signs pointing to a regression than a breakout campaign for Nova, and since he provides little fantasy value in the strikeout and WHIP categories, I'd be hesitant to draft him as anything but final-round rotation depth.   On the other hand, Nova's strikeout rate did improve after a brief Triple-A stint in July, so if he can continue to develop his slider, Nova is worth a closer look.

Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos: With the Yankees now having several starting options available, it's unlikely that either of New York's two top starting prospects will get anything more than a token September start or two.  (Betances already received such a promotion last year, pitching his first two Major League games.)  Don't expect to hear much of either hurler at the MLB level in 2012....well, except at the trade deadline, when they'll be mentioned as trade bait for every superstar player in the game, but it's extremely doubtful the Yanks would part with such promising young arms.

Fantasy outlook: Burnett is the pitcher most likely to be in New York's rotation, but Hughes has the most fantasy upside due to his sleeper potential and value as a holds guy.  Garcia and Nova both have limited fantasy potential while Burnett can be relied upon to deliver his usual season.

The other factor in gauging the Yankee rotation is if Burnett or Garcia will still be on the roster by midseason.  It's safe to say the Yankees would love to get Burnett's salary off the books, but any trade involving the right-hander would involve New York eating the vast majority of his salary.  At that cost, the Yankees might just figure if they're going to pay Burnett anyway, he might as well be pitching for them out of the bullpen.  A change of scenery could work wonders for Burnett and he could conceivably gain sleeper potential if moved to the right situation in the National League.  It's unlikely the Yankees will be able to find a trade partner but if Burnett is dealt to the NL, he'd be worth a roster spot on your fantasy side.

Should Garcia replicate his 2011 performance through the first few months of this season, he could be an attractive trade candidate given his relatively low salary and ability to eat innings.  If the rest of the rotation avoids injury and Burnett/Hughes perform well as the fifth starter and spot man (in whatever order), Garcia could be deemed expendable.  I'm not sure a trade would significantly boost Garcia's fantasy value unless he's dealt to Petco Park, Dodger Stadium or another pitcher-friendly stadium. 



ADP Analysis: Overrated Starting Pitchers

Every Friday during the pre-season I will be analyzing ADP-related issues using the most recent ADP information courtesy of Mock Draft Central and other sources. We start this week by looking at pitchers that are overrated in relation to their ADP positions (don't trade an "overrated" top tier starter appearing on this list for Chris Volstad, unless it is because you have a fanboy mancrush on Theo Epstein), and the upcoming schedule will be:

  • Friday, January 27 - Underrated starting pitchers.
  • Friday, February 3 - Overrated hitters.
  • Friday, February 10 - Underrated hitters.
  • Friday, February 17 - Comparing ADP variances from different sources or other requests from the comments.

Leave any other ADP-related requests in the comments, and I will try to add as many as possible to the pre-season schedule. Here we go with the overrated pitchers (unless stated otherwise, all stat references are for the 2011 season):

  • Any starter in the top 15 overall (Justin Verlander is at ADP 8, Clayton Kershaw at ADP 13 and Roy Halladay at ADP 15) - As I discussed here, I am in favor of drafting a starter in rounds 2 or 3 because a 200-inning starter will have about 13% of your total innings (assuming 1500 inning limit) and a 600 at-bat hitter will have about 7% of your at-bats. I want to lock in 13% of my innings with quality stats since I have flexibility to find cumulative hitting statistics elsewhere, including by streaming at-bats. However, taking a pitcher in the top 15 is too early in this newfound era of the pitcher. I am taking Joey Votto (ADP 10), Evan Longoria (ADP 12), or Prince Fielder (ADP 16) before a starter.
  • The First Five Closers Off The Board - Also as I discussed here, do not be the owner starting closer runs in your draft, you are only chasing one category (an elite set-up reliver can get you similar non-saves stats 50-150 picks later, or off the waiver wire). I do not care if the first five are Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon, Ricky Vaughn (where can I buy the Dorn jersey shown in that link?), or the late great Rod Beck's Des Moines center field RV, resist the urge to take a top closer! This urge will grow if top closers begin falling in your draft, but since we are only chasing one category (saves totals, which are about as predicable as throwing darts against a spinning dart board while blindfolded) the value of closers is relative to where others are being drafted. Craig Kimbrel (current ADP 54) does not increase in value falling to the eighth or ninth round if no other closers are being drafted. Ignore ADP slots or draft sheets, and just try to target getting three out of the thirty closers wherever they are being drafted. I do not believe that any owner should punt saves, just saying getting any three is fine. We will see next week that the bottom tier closers are underrated - wait on drafting closers and then pounce in rounds 11 through 18 to make sure you get three.
  • Jeremy Hellickson (ADP 131) - Among qualified starters, he had the lowest BABIP in MLB last year (.223) and had the highest differential (1.83) between SIERA on the high end (4.78) and ERA on the low end (2.95). He also has a measly 1.63 K/BB rate. And he pitches in the AL East. I'd rather have Anibal Sanchez (ADP 132, 3.29 SIERA), Max Scherzer (ADP 147, 3.63 SIERA with a 3.11 K/BB), or Shaun Marcum (ADP 154, NL Central starter, 3.91 SIERA) or Brandon Morrow (185 ADP, 3.31 SIERA, 10.19 K/9 (!)).
  • Jered Weaver (ADP 31) - 2.41 ERA masked 3.67 SIERA and 3.80 xFIP. His hr/f dropped from 8% each year from 2008 through 2010 to 6% in 2011, and was carried by an insane 3% in the first half of 2011 (10% second half of 2011). Expect regression. Give me instead Zack Greinke (ADP 51, more on this stud sleeper to follow in later posts) or teammate Dan Haren (ADP 39, 3.34 SIERA). Does this mean that if Weaver and Zack Greinke are sitting on the board at 31 that you should take Zack Greinke? The answer is, as George Lucas would have Darth Vader say (or as George Lucas would stupidly remix years later over the audio of your draft), NOOOOOOOOOOOO! It means that you take a hitter, wait a round, and still get a superior pitcher in Zack Greinke to the one you were going to take at 31 in Jared Weaver.
  • Mark Buehrle (ADP 275) - 4.38 SIERA and 4.78 k/9. I prefer the upside of Jon Niese (ADP 279, 7.89 k/9, 3.42 SIERA) or Mike Minor (ADP 296, 3.76 SIERA) instead.
  • Ian Kennedy (ADP 70) - 3.44 SIERA, and the 21 wins will cause owners to overreach. Not saying just yet I would take Madison Bumgarner (ADP 74, 3.18 SIERA) or Daniel Hudson (ADP 78) over Kennedy, but I would rather wait on my No. 2 or a high-end No. 3 starter to get one of these two a round later.

As a bonus, like seeing the Avengers teaser at the end of the Captain America credits (yes, I was one of the five or so nerds in the theater opening weekend that knew it was coming and forced my girlfriend to sit through five minutes of credits), here is a guy that seems like he would be overrated but is being drafted at about his correct slot:

  • Stephen Strasburg (ADP 58) - He will put up sick numbers for 160 innings, and then you can round out the other forty innings or so with bantha fodder set-up men from the waiver wire. I love taking him before the next two starters on the ADP list (Matt Cain at 65 and James Shields at 66). Nab him in the fifth round if he is available, particularly if you have not drafted a starter yet.



RotoAuthority Chat Transcript

Click below to read a transcript of today's chat with Steve Adams.



2012 Position Rankings: Catcher

Draft season is rapidly approaching, and over the next few weeks we'll be revealing our position-by-position rankings, starting today with catcher. Unfortunately, one of the best fantasy catchers around will be a non-factor in 2012. Victor Martinez is expected to miss the season after tearing his ACL during an offseason workout, and he almost certainly would have been a top three fantasy backstop because he was going to DH all season, avoiding the physical wear-and-tear while enjoying more plate appearances than other players on our list.

The rankings were put together with an eye on standard 5x5, 12-team mixed leagues, and the slash lines cited are AVG/HR/RBI. We'll go 25 players deep for each position (more for outfielders and pitchers), but hopefully you won't need to go that deep to fill your roster.

  1. Mike Napoli, TEX - I wouldn't expect another .320/30/75 performance again, but Napoli has legitimate all-fields power and is in the right lineup and ballpark to continue putting up gaudy counting stats. He should also see some DH time to maximize his plate appearances.
  2. Brian McCann, ATL - Six straight years of at least .269/18/71 with an average of .287/22/86, and still only 27 years old (28 next month). Sign me up.
  3. Carlos Santana, CLE - Santana came to the plate 105 more times than any other qualified catcher last year because he started 63 games at first base. His batting average will climb out of the low-.200s once his insanely high 17.2% infield fly ball rate comes back to Earth.
  4. Miguel Montero, ARI -Fully healthy and in the prime of his career, Montero put together a .280 average with 16 homers for the second time in the last three years in 2011. He'll continue to hit in the middle of a stacked lineup and in a great ballpark, and is poised for a McCann-esque year.
  5. Joe Mauer, MIN - The 2011 season was a disaster for the former AL MVP, mostly due to injury. Mauer has hit double digit homers just twice in his seven full seasons, and his freakish hand-eye skills might not be enough to overcome his slowing body, meaning those insanely high batting averages could be a thing of the past.
  6. Buster Posey, SF - The collision and ankle injury get all the attenion, but Posey's production (specifically power) was down in the big way before his season ended. An uptick in ground ball rate and general wear-and-tear following the longest season of his life are to blame, but he has too much talent not to rebound at his age.
  7. Matt Wieters, BAL - Wieters doubled his homer output and posted a respectable batting average last year, but his platoon splits are hard to believe. He's Barry Bonds from the right side and Neifi Perez from the left. Unfortunately, there are more right-handers than left-handers in baseball.
  8. Alex Avila, DET - Avila looked worn down in the playoffs after starting 130 games behind the plate, which might carry over into 2012. Expect his .366 BABIP (and his .295 batting average) to drop if he continues put nearly two-thirds of his balls in the play in the air.
  9. Jesus Montero, SEA - His opposite field power can conquer Safeco, so the real question is whether or not he'll qualify at catcher. With Miguel Olivo and John Jaso on the roster, it's not guaranteed.
  10. Wilson Ramos, WAS - Now the undisputed number one in Washington, Ramos has the power to threaten 20 homers even if his batting average isn't anything worth writing home about.
  11. Russell Martin, NYY - He won't ever be the guy he was in 2007 again, but Martin has enough power to flirt with 15+ homers annually and has plenty of help around him in terms of lineup and ballpark. He's probably the only backstop in the game with a chance to steal double-digit bases as well.
  12. Yadier Molina, STL - The youngest Molina brother had the best season of his career in 2011 (.305/14/65) thanks to his lowest ground ball rate in five years. I keep waiting for the catching workload to catch up to him, but it hasn't yet at age 29.
  13. Geovany Soto, CHC - Soto has alternated .280+ and sub-.230 batting averages for four years now, and is due for a good year in 2012. Too bad it doesn't work like that. Soto is still a threat to hit 20 homers despite the shoulder questions.
  14. Chris Iannetta, LAA - The change in ballparks will definitely hurt, but Iannetta should still sock double-digit homers and draw enough walks to have big value for those of you in OBP leagues.
  15. J.P. Arencibia, TOR - He's just keeping the spot warm for Travis d'Arnaud, but only three catchers hit more homers in 2011. He won't hit for a high average or contribute in any other way, however.
  16. Ramon Hernandez, COL - Hernandez has always hit a good average (for a catcher, anyway), and now he's moving to a park that should boost his power. How will playing everyday for the first time in three years affect his 35-year-old body?
  17. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, BOS - Finally healthy in 2011, Salty produced top-15 homer (16) and RBI (56) totals among catchers last season despite coming to the plate fewer than 400 times. There's more to come at age 26, and he'll get an added boost by his teammates and ballpark.
  18. Devin Mesoraco, CIN - The Reds wunderkind has the ability to pop double-digit homers and provide a solid batting average, he just has to wrestle the full-time job away from Ryan Hanigan. That's expected to happen, but probably not on Opening Day.
  19. Carlos Ruiz, PHI - Catchers that can hit for average are rare, and that's pretty much all Ruiz can do. His OBP will be artifically inflated by getting intentionally walked in front of the pitcher, which helps those of you in OBP leagues.
  20. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL - Lucroy's early season power binge didn't last, and nothing in his track record suggested it would. He can still provide double-digit homers and a solid batting average from fantasy's weakest position, however.
  21. Salvador Perez, KC - The 21-year-old quitely produced a .331/3/21 line in 158 plate appearances after being called up, though I wouldn't expect him to continue to hit for that kind of power. He's shown the ability to hit for average throughout the minors.
  22. Rod Barajas, PIT - Another all-power guy, Barajas has hit at least 16 homers in each of the last three seasons. The only other catcher who can make that claim is McCann.
  23. John Buck, FLA - It's not surprising that Buck was unable to replicate his .281/20/66 season with the Blue Jays in 2010 with the Marlins in 2011, but he has legitimate power and an improved lineup around him. The wildcard here is the Marlins' new stadium and its unknown park effects.
  24. Ryan Doumit, MIN - I like Doumit as a sleeper this year since he figures to get plenty of DH at-bats, though Target Field might be a total drain on his home run total.
  25. Miguel Olivo, SEA - Olivo will hit 15 or so homers for your team like clockwork, but he won't do much else. Montero and Jaso will inevitably cut into his playing time, which is a problem.

Honorable Mention: Jaso; Nick Hundley, SD; Kelly Shoppach, BOS; Kurt Suzuki, OAK; A.J. Pierzynski, CHW


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7 Starting Pitchers You Have to Draft

Hello potential future employers! You have found a red flag in your hiring process! Red is the color of passion!

Apparently, red is also the color of the Root chakra, which is located at the base of the spine and allows us to be grounded and connect to the universal energies. And, in case you just picked up a rock tumbler, gemstones that will aid the Root chakra include lodestone, ruby, garnet, smokey quartz, obsidian, hematite and onyx (see here). 

So set down your Coke Zero, distance it from your laptop, and focus up. It's time for us to mine the gemstones in this year's quarry of starting pitchers.

Fecta! 

Lodestone: Brandon Morrow

Bran-Morr knows how to get the K's, but he's had some problems finding the plate. His inner lodestone marauder is looking fearsome in 2012, however, because Brandon is getting the walks under control (5.68 BB/9 in '09, 4.06 in '10, 3.46 in '11). Of course, Bran-Morr pitches in AL East hell, but with a duplicate SIERA of 3.31 in '10 and '11 and an '11 ERA inflated (4.72) by an unusually low LOB% (65.5%), Morrow is looking lustrous at his current ADP of 186.00 (Mock Draft Central). 

Garnet: Max Scherzer

The Dirty Scherz had a slighly better SIERA in '11 than he did in '10 (3.63 to 3.68). In 2011, he was being drafted wicked high. In 2012, his ADP is a shiny 153.83. Get him. 

Ruby: Zack Greinke

Wait for it.

Two pitchers stat lines from 2011:

9.57 K/9, 4.59 K/BB, 2.81 SIERA, 233.1 IP, 2012 ADP 12.45

10.54 K/9, 4.47 K/BB, 2.66 SIERA, 171.2 IP, 2012 ADP 53.68

The first is the monster season of the 2011 NL Cy Young Award Winner, Clayton Kershaw. The second is completely made up. Zing!

No, no, the second is, in fact, the almost as monstrous (less IP) season of Zack Greinke. Classic case of peripherals slaying the roto stats. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Greinke, 2012 fantasy wolf! See, I can coin phrases too! Wowee! And the opposite case is a fantasy sheep! YES! YES! PUT ME ON TV AND PAY ME SIX FIGURES! 

As a counterpoint to Greinke’s bejewelled draftability, see this.

Smokey Quartz: Vance Worley

While the other Vance Worleys of the world were lurking in pawn shops, Vance Worley, Starting Pitcher, was hawking fantasy gold to his owners on the cheap.  His K/9 will likely come down given his paltry SwStr% of 5.5%, but Vance Worley doesn't care about sabermetrics. He pitches in the NL, had a SIERA of 3.72, and his favorite pizza toppings are pepperoni and mushrooms. Not to mention he has a piping hot ADP of 223.01. Cowabunga! What do gemstones and pizza have to do with each other? Everything, and nothing. Your mind is a sieve, and Vance Worley is baking with it. 

Hematite: Johan Santana

Johan is aiming for Opening Day. Johan has had a long time to heal. Johan used to be a first round pick. His ADP is 222.59. He'll be 33 in March. Fantasy hematite! Ha! Wikipedia is in protest, sucka. No succulent hematite knowledge for you!   

Onyx: Erik Bedard

E-Bed moves to the NL Central, where he'll be forced to pitch against the powerhouse lineups of the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs. Bedard has almost always been good when healthy. He'll be better in 2012. His ADP is 225.39. That's it. Oh, don't forget about the hip-hop group Onyx. I'd link the Wiki, but...yeah. You're welcome. 

Obsidian: Roy Oswalt

Roy has nothing at all in common with obsidian. I'm also at my word limit. Draft him! ADP 227.29! Obsidian has been used in blades in surgery. Nothing like a scalpel to get that Root chakra flowing. Check this cutting-edge article on Roy Obsidian before you go.


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Do AL-To-NL Starters Reduce Their Walk Rates?

In my post discussing Gio Gonzalez, I pointed to Ted Lilly as an example of a pitcher who drastically reduced his walk rate upon moving from the AL to the NL.  As it turns out, there is no evidence a starter moving from the AL to the NL will reduce his walk rate, and Lilly was one of the more extreme success cases.

I asked stat guru Matt Swartz of FanGraphs to run some numbers on starters who had at least 180 innings in the AL one year and at least 100 in the NL in the next.  Since 2005, only 14 starters even fit these criteria.  Their walk rates dropped from 2.40 to 2.39 upon moving to the NL -- virtually no change.  Javier Vazquez, Ted Lilly, and Dan Haren had decent-sized walk rate drop-offs, while others like Edwin Jackson and Shaun Marcum actually had sizeable increases in the NL.  Matt also pulled this data dating back to 1993, which gave us 43 pitchers, and still found no significant change.

The bottom line: you can hold out hope that Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Mark Buehrle will see an NL-related benefit to their walk rates, but there's no evidence it'll happen.  Maybe someone like Gio will see the light anyway, but don't overrate the league switch in terms of walk rate.  Now, strikeout rate on the other hand...


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Sleepers & Busts: Kenley Jansen, Michael Young

The pseudo science of projecting fantasy production can be a vexing one. Short of happening upon a copy of Grays Sports Almanac, there's just no telling how a player will perform any given year. We must solider on, though, and every spring brings with it the promise of assembling the perfect team. I'm into stories, so I create a narrative in my head of somehow mastering this fool's errand.

It always ends with me being victorious, of course. I'm sitting at my computer in the final days of September, coasting to an easy title and a large pot. Scrolling through my league's wire, I notice it's littered with draft-day castaways -- all once belonging to my leaguemates. Some of the names are of the household variety. Others are the would-be sleepers that didn't pan out, and others still are those forgotten souls who were lost to season-ending injuries. My team, meanwhile, is perfection, an ideal blend of on-the-money early rounders, late-round lottery tickets that I've long since cashed, and healthy-as-horses workmen.

This fantasy (no pun intended) has not yet come to fruition, and it never will, but one must try. In that spirit, here's our first installment in Sleepers & Busts, which might otherwise be thought of as Undervalued & Overvalued.

Sleeper

Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers: Javy Guerra's unexpected ascent to closing duties as a rookie was the primary storyline out of the Dodgers' bullpen last year, but Jansen's eye-popping (and record-setting) strikeout rate had fanboys clamoring at the thought of the monstrous right-hander getting a crack at the ninth inning in 2012.

Let's be clear: It's not yet known whether Guerra or Jansen will close this season. But if Ken-Jan gets the nod, he has the dominant upside of a Craig Kimbrel type, which is to say he's essentially unhittable when he's on top of his game. Albeit in a limited sample of 80 2/3 Major League innings, Jansen already has a career strikeout rate of 15.29 K/9 and a 1.87 SIERA. Those numbers will play!

Kimbrel finished No. 30 overall on ESPN's 2011 Player Rater. I hate to get too far carried away with the Kimbrel comparisons before Jansen's even been anointed the Dodgers' closer, but if you're looking for a guy who could provide that type of value relative to draft position, Jansen could be it. Jansen's average draft position is currently 177, per Mock Draft Central, although he'll likely jump up a few rounds if he breaks camp as the nominal stopper.

There's also the matter of drafting Jansen even if he's not the Dodgers' closer at the conclusion of Spring Training. Obviously, the 24-year-old is a must-draft in holds leagues, but even in formats that don't count that stat he could be a viable draft candidate. First, there's not much in Guerra's profile to suggest he can repeat 2011's success and retain the job: He's neither a strikeout king, nor a control artist, nor a groundball specialist. As well, many owners round out the back of their staffs with elite setup men like Jansen in the hopes that an injury, demotion or transaction will wisk these eighth-inning studs into closerdom -- the heaps of strikeouts and tiny ratios don't hurt in the meanwhile.

Bust

Michael Young, 1B/3B/DH/(maybe)2B, Rangers: Folks have been predicting Young's demise for years, and I'm going to continue that fine tradition here, hoping that I'll be right because the guy can't go on at a high level forever, right? Right?

Some of Young's standard fantasy stats in 2011 suggested he wasn't far from his prime: .338 average, 88 runs, 106 RBIs. On closer examination, though, it won't be easy for the right-handed hitter, now 35, to repeat those figures in 2012, and his 11 homers in 2011 already left a lot to be desired.

Young has always posted high averages because he makes a lot of contact and hits line drives, but his .367 BABIP in 2011 was a career high and nearly 30 points higher than his career average of .338. If his 2012 BABIP is closer to his career average, he should come in with a batting average closer to .300. That's not bad by any means, but without many homers or steals to speak of, he'll need to make up most of his value in RBIs and runs lest he flirt with becoming the Freddy Sanchez Special - i.e. empty average. He shouldn't have much trouble scoring runs or driving them in as part of the Rangers' potent offense, but since those are lineup-dependent stats, there will be some luck involved on that front.

Over at Fangraphs, the average of three projection systems currently pegs Young for 13 homers, 83 runs, 89 RBIs, five steals and a .306 average. Those are solid numbers, especially the runs and RBIs, but I wouldn't take Young at his current ADP, No. 77 overall - or the early-sixth round in a 12-team draft. I rank him No. 10 at both second and third bases, which would push him back a couple rounds to the 100-110 range.

Young also won't be second base-eligible in many leagues, which means he'll be swimming in the deeper end of the pool if you select him to play third base. In an odd twist, he was among the best third basemen last year, but that was largely due to the confluence of Young's extraordinary batting average and the rash of injuries among superior players. I wouldn't bank on it happening again.

The bottom line is, draft Young as a complementary piece, but don't count on him to reproduce last year's value.



Transaction Analysis: Kuroda, Pineda, Montero

In a matter of a couple hours on Friday night, the Yankees pulled off two moves -- teaming up with the Mariners on one -- that have given fantasy owners a lot to consider. When the dust settled, no fewer than three potentially high-impact players changed teams, and there was a fourth on the move who could sneak into consideration in deep AL-onlies or super-deep mixers.

Let's have a look a look at what went down and what it could mean ...

The Yankees agree to terms with Hiroki Kuroda

With a profile that includes strikeout ability, solid control, above-average groundball rates and relative durability, Kuroda has been a salt-of-the-earth commodity in the fake game in his four Major League seasons, all of which were spent with the Dodgers. You probably wouldn't have won many leagues with the Japanese right-hander as your No. 1 starter, but he's been an ideal No. 3 or 4.

Now, things are about to get tougher for Kuroda. He's leaving pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium for a home ballpark in the Bronx that favors hitters. He's also staring at his age-37 season and is leaving behind the navigable NL West for baseball's toughest division. Factor in that his draft-day price -- current ADP of 170, per Mock Draft Central -- will likely be inflated in the coming weeks by his new pinstriped uniform, and we seemingly have a formula for a guy who is a good pitcher but could land on our overpriced list.

But owning a good starter who takes the ball every fifth day for the Yankees has one notable allure (in most leagues): that little stat we call "wins." The fact remains that, barring an unprecedented rash of injuries or the world's untimely demise in May, the Yankees are a virtual lock to win 90-plus games in 2012, and someone has to be the beneficiary of all those Ws.

For example, Phil Hughes and his 4.05 SIERA won 18 games in 2010, while Ivan Nova and his 4.29 SIERA won 16 games in 2011. Kuroda is better than both of those fellas. Of course, there's a lot of random chance factored into that equation. Fantasy pinada A.J. Burnett drew Lady Luck's short straw last season, winning only 11 games despite posting a 3.89 SIERA that was better than both Hughes' two years ago and Nova's last year.

The bottom line is, I'd let the plusses and minuses of this move offset each other with respect to Kuroda's fantasy value. He remains a No. 3 or 4 for me, and while the potential for an uptick in wins is enticing, there are factors at play that could just as easily point toward mild regression in his ratios and strikeouts.

The Yankees acquire Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners in exchange for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi

Blockbuster alert! Two of the game's at- or near-the-Majors top young talents in Pineda and Montero are on the move.

On the heels of a brilliant rookie season in which his 3.36 SIERA was actually better than his sharp 3.74 ERA, Pineda, like Kuroda, is tasked with overcoming a more challenging home ballpark and schedule. And with more strikeouts than innings pitched in 2011, Pineda certainly has the higher upside of the Yankees' two new arms, although he also comes with some risk.

In his breakdown of the swap, ESPN analyst/scout Keith Law (sub req'd) cautions that Pineda, still something of an unpolished two-pitch pitcher at this juncture of his young career, may not be able to repeat 2011's surface stats, especially against lineups with tougher left-handed hitters. For what it's worth, Pineda posted a .237/.296/.357 line and a 2.96 K/BB ratio vs. lefties last season, so it's not his L/R splits that worry me. Instead, I'd keep an eye on the 36% groundball rate he posted last year, as some of those fly balls could come back to haunt him in 2012 if they bleed out of Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch.

Even if there's regression in the cards for Pineda, a guy who struck out more than a batter per inning and walked fewer than three per nine frames as a supposedly raw rookie is not one to be ignored. His current ADP is 97, which indicates to me there is still some skepticism among owners. If you're more of an aggressive type, I'm fine with grabbing Pineda as many as two or even three rounds earlier, because he has second- or third-round upside, but don't get too carried away.

In Montero, the Mariners get their much-needed and long-sought-after offensive stud, and in the Mariners getting Montero, fantasy owners get the opportunity to draft a touted hitter who may qualify at catcher but probably won't play there often, which is always advantageous.

You can't really find a bad word written about Montero's hitting, and it's been that way for some time. He has hit for average and power, and drawn enough walks, at every stop along the way in the Minors and in a brief Major League stint in 2011 to suggest he'll be productive. As a 20-year-old in his first trip through Triple-A, Montero hit .289/.353/.517 with 21 homers. Yup, nobody messes with The Jesus.

The move to a bad lineup and a ballpark markedly tough on righty hitters won't help his counting stats, but I like Montero right at the fringe of the top-10 catchers once he qualifies at the position. Just be sure that you know your league's rules about position eligibility, and monitor how the M's deploy Montero in Spring Training, before drafting him. We'll be watching that one closely.

Noesi is a high-probability but low-upside right-hander in the mold of Mike Leake based on his minor league peripherals, which could be a useful profile in Safeco Field. He'll be 25 later this month, so he's not someone you'd expect to have some marked improvement from his history as a control specialist in the minors. Noesi could be useful as a streaming candidate in standard mixers, especially at home against weaker offenses, so he's probably safe to pass on in drafts for those formats, but file away his name in very deep mixers or AL-onlies.

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Projecting Gio Gonzalez

The Nationals clearly believe in Gio Gonzalez.  They paid a hefty price to acquire him from Oakland, and then locked him up through at least 2016.  Fantasy leaguers always pay extra attention to solid starters moving from the AL to the NL; what can we expect of Gio in 2012?

Gonzalez's vitals for the 2011 A's:

  • 3.12 ERA, 3.78 SIERA
  • 1.32 WHIP
  • 8.8 K/9
  • 4.1 BB/9
  • 0.76 HR/9
  • 47.5% groundball rate
  • 7.8 H/9
  • .287 BABIP vs. .289 for A's in general and .287 for Nationals

The walks are the obvious red flag.  If Gonzalez pushed that down to league average, around 3.1, his WHIP would go from 1.32 to 1.21, all else being equal.  With a little control, Gonzalez's WHIP would go from liability to asset, given how hard he's been to hit the last few years.  And I do expect him to continue to be difficult to hit.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo discussed Gonzalez with reporters upon acquiring him in late December, saying, "We see his walks trending in the right direction, we see him having general command, and as he progresses into his career, he's going to improve on his command each and every year."  While it's true that Gonzalez has improved his walk rate each year, the progress has been minimal.  Tossing out the 34-inning 2008 sample, Gonzalez has gone from 5.11  in '09 to 4.13 in '10 to 4.05 in '11.  He spent all of 2010-11 in a big league rotation and his walk rate was virtually the same.  He allowed the most walks in the AL in 2011 and tied for third-most in 2010.

Gonzalez did not show improvement as the 2011 season wore on; here are his walk rates by month:

  • April: 4.20
  • May: 3.90
  • June: 4.08
  • July: 4.50
  • August: 4.65
  • September: 3.29

Sometimes though, as Rizzo suggested, the league switch does the trick.  Working in the AL East for the Blue Jays from 2004-06, Ted Lilly was a consistent 4+ BB/9 lefty.  Upon moving to the Cubs in the NL, his walk rate immediately dropped under 3.0 and stayed there, and lately has been closer to 2.0.  ESPN's Keith Law believes Gonzalez is likely to maintain some value in Washington, "while leaving the club frustrated that he's not better."

Baseball HQ projects a very mild improvement for Gonzalez's move to the NL, with a 4.0 BB/9.  That'd lead to a 1.35 WHIP, but they still call for a 3.37 ERA.  If you think Gio can manage 3.5 BB/9, then his WHIP would at least drop below 1.30.

Over at Mock Draft Central, Gonzalez's average draft position is 109.55, meaning he's going in the 10th round of a 12-team mixed league on average.  His main asset is strikeouts, but you can get those from Brandon Beachy, Anibal Sanchez, and perhaps Cory Luebke, all drafted after Gonzalez.  The trio lacks Gonzalez's control issues, but only Sanchez can be counted on for innings.  Matt Garza goes a few picks before Gonzalez.  I'd rather have Garza, but only if he starts the season with an NL club.

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Welcome To The New RotoAuthority

Welcome to the new RotoAuthority!  I've recruited a team of my favorite writers to provide regular content for 2012.  The preseason schedule:

  • Sundays: Mark Polishuk covers position battles.
  • Mondays: The RotoAuthority team addresses the latest news.
  • Tuesdays: Dan Mennella looks at sleepers and busts.
  • Wednesdays: Edwin Van Bibber-Orr offers humor and/or a bold prediction.
  • Thursdays: Mike Axisa ranks players by position in the morning; Steve Adams holds a live chat in the evening.
  • Fridays: Tom Warman tackles average draft position-related issues.
  • Random days: Tim Dierkes looks at individual player projections.

As always, the focus here is on mixed leagues.  Once the season begins, our writers' roles will shift to cover your needs to help maintain and improve your team.  All of our posts will linked at our Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds.  Be sure to check the Facebook page, as Dan will keep things interesting there with polls, questions, and comments.


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