May 2012

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Poll: The Next Top Prospect To Be Recalled

We're barely more than 30 games into the season and yet we've already seen a number of high-profile prospects called up from the minors. Bryce Harper has injected some life into the Nationals' lineup, Mike Trout has been part of the Angels' outfield shakeup, and Jarrod Parker assumed a spot in the Athletics' rotation. Will Middlebrooks, Drew Pomeranz, and Wily Peralta have also lended a helping hand following their promotions.

The new collective bargaining agreement moved the Super Two cutoff up just a little bit, so players do not need as much service time to qualify for four years of arbitration as before. Clubs are expected to promote their top prospects a little later than usual because of that, as in early-June rather than mid-to-late May. That hurts baseball and fantasy owners alot, unfortunately. Let's take a look at baseball's top prospects in the upper levels of the minors to see when they could break into the show.

Nolan Arenado | 3B | Rockies

Colorado has used three different third baseman this year and none of them have hit, producing a collective .238/.328/.352 batting line on the season. Arenado, 21, was the talk of the Arizona Fall League and Spring Training but he's only hit one homer this year, resulting in a .299/.368/.410 batting line in 133 Double-A plate appearances. That's not bad by any means, but you have to figure the Rockies hoped to see a little more after he hit 20 homers last season. Arenado has only played 33 games above Single-A, so he shouldn't be expecting a call to the big leagues anytime soon.

Trevor Bauer & Tyler Skaggs | SP | Diamondbacks

The D'Backs have already replaced Josh Collmenter with prospect Patrick Corbin, who has allowed seven runs in nine innings across two starts. He's jut keeping the seat warm for either Bauer or Skaggs. Bauer, 21, has made seven Double-A starts this season, posting an 11.1 K/9 and 1.96 ERA in 41 1/3 innings. The problem is that he's walked 5.4 batters per nine, so Arizona could leave him in the minors for a few more weeks to iron out his control. Skaggs, 20, is also in Double-A. He's pitched to a 3.06 ERA with 12.0 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 32 1/3 innings across six starts. It's worth noting that Bauer is on the team's 40-man roster but Skaggs is not.

Travis d'Arnaud | C | Blue Jays

There aren't many times that a .276/.346/.405 batting line could be considered a disappointment, but when a team's top prospect does that in an extreme hitter's environment like Triple-A Las Vegas, it's easy to feel underwhelmed. d'Arnaud, 23, had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his thumb this past offseason, which could be hampering his offense. With J.P. Arencibia producing a .346/.375/.558 batting with five doubles and two homers in his last 16 games following an awful start, the Jays can afford to be patient with their top young prospect.

Matt Harvey | SP | Mets

There may not be a player in this post with an easier path to the big leagues than Harvey. The 23-year-old has a 4.00 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 36 innings across seven Triple-A starts, but his primary competition for a MLB job at the moment is Miguel Batista and the rehabbing/injury prone Chris Young. There's almost no doubt that Harvey is one of the five best starting pitchers in the Mets' organization right now, so his biggest obstacle may be his own service time and the Super Two cutoff.

Brett Jackson & Anthony Rizzo | OF & 1B | Cubs

Not much is going right on Chicago's north side this season, but their two best prospects are giving fans reason to be excited in Triple-A. Jackson, a 23-year-old outfielder, is hitting .246/.350/.443 with three homers in five steals this season while Rizzo, a 22-year-old first baseman, owns a .356/.420/.661 batting line with ten homers. With Bryan LaHair is hitting the snot about of the ball (.384/.476/.767), Jackson's path to the show is much more clear, especially following the trade of Marlon Byrd. All he has to do is outproduce Tony Campana or wait for Alfonso Soriano to be traded. Rizzo could be stuck waiting a while.

Shelby Miller | SP | Cardinals

Arguably the top right-handed pitching prospect in the minors, the 21-year-old Miller is off to a bit of shaky start in Triple-A: 4.45 ERA with an 11.8 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 in 28 1/3 innings across six starts. He's also facing an uphill battle because the Cardinals have a pretty strong pitching rotation at the moment, with three starters with a sub-2.10 ERA and four with a sub-3.80 ERA. Their worst starter this year has been Adam Wainwright (5.76 ERA), but he's not going to lose his job anytime soon. It'll probably take an injury (or trade) for Miller to crack the rotation in St. Louis in the coming weeks.

Wil Myers | OF | Royals

Myers, 21, has already hit more homers this year (11) than he did all of last year (8), when he battled a knee injury. He's currently mashing in Double-A, posting a .339/.394/.722 line in 127 plate appearances. It is worth noting that he's repeating the level, however. Kansas City has gotten very little out of Jeff Francoeur (.252/.308/.333) and a hodge podge of center fielders (.245/.306/.327), so the need at the big league level is there. However, as J.J. Cooper of Baseball America writes, the Royals are likely to take a similar path to the one they took with Mike Moustakas before bringing up Myers. That means some time in Triple-A.


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Mike Rizzo and His Baby Boy

This Mike Rizzo/Bryce Harper/Cole Hamels business has buzzed about the interweb for the last few days, and I feel the need to chime in. Clearly, this woudn't be a story if Cole Hamels had lied, as is the unwritten rule in this situation. If Cole Hamels had lied, there would have been no suspension and no talking heads. 

In this case, baseball is a microcosm for society. Quietly lie and don't ruffle any feathers to get anyone in trouble, and you're all set. Continue along within the preestablished normative framework and you will be spared. Things are this way perhaps because people aren't very good at communicating, and so we attempt to limit the variables of expression and behavior. I love the fact that Hamels told the truth when asked. If you listen to the whole interview with Hamels, he had nothing but great things to say about Harper. Indeed, throwing at Harper's back indicates that Hamels is aware of the historic nature of Harper's talent. 

Harper handled it with class, too. The person who comes off ugly in this exchange is Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, lashing back as if Hamels had beaned his baby boy. Harper might be the baby boy of the Nationals franchise, but to react in the fashion that Rizzo did is expressly infantile. 

As for fantasy, you know the deal with Harper and Hamels. What of the plethora of injured Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies?

Mike Morse, 1B: I wrote a Valentine's Day piece on Mike Morse, encouraging my loving readership to swoon his way. Enter the bitter pill of an injured lat. The latest on Morse has him aiming for an early June return, when the Nationals will begin interleague play, thus allowing Morse to DH. Morse owners will likely be unwilling to part with him at a significant discount, given the waiting game they've been playing, but perhaps he could fill out a larger deal to your advantage. 

Chase Utley, 2B: Utley, unsurprisingly, does not have a timetable for his return. Todd Zolecki of MLB.com quotes Utley: "Once my body tells me it's ready to go 100 percent, that's when I'll go down to Clearwater." Zolecki's article does offer some reason for optimism, however. Zolecki also quotes Utley as saying:

"Being fairly pain-free and not having to think about it is the most important thing. I've built some strength over the past month, and will continue to do that with the things I'm doing. We'll see. I don't want to be a detriment in the field. I want to be ready to rock when the time comes."

Drew Storen, RP: As you know, Storen had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow in April. The latest update on Storen has him "ahead of schedule." What that schedule is, however, remains a mystery, other than vague comments involving a return around the All-Star break. 

Ryan Howard, 1B: Howard has been rehabbing at the Phillies facility in Clearwater, Florida for a week and a half now, and is intensifying his workouts this week. Howard, like Utley, is without a timetable, but did begin taking batting practice on Monday. If Howard is somehow available on your waiver wire, by all means DL him. 

 

 


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Closer Updates: Yankees, White Sox, Marlins

Has anyone seen my ACL? I seem to have left it on the warning track at The K. If found, please ping us on Twitter at @closernews, where you'll find all the latest updates on closers. On with the updates ...

Yankees
Bullpens are inherently volatile, this year seemingly more than ever. But the Yanks are the last team I expected to be writing about in this space based on Mariano Rivera's stubborn refusal to age or decline, kind of like Mickey Rourke except the exact opposite. Unfortunately, Mo finally proved mortal last week, going down as if he'd be been hit from the Texas School Book Depository while shagging batting-practice flies.

Rivera, of course, is (almost) definitely out for the season after undergoing surgery. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Luckily for the Yankees, they have two strong candidates to take the reins in Mo's stead: David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. Unluckily for fantasy owners, the Bombers have played it cool in naming one of them the undisputed closer, with manager Joe Girardi suggesting both will see save opps.

The Yankees haven't yet encountered a save chance since Mo went down, so there's little evidence from which we might infer anything, but I'm siding with popular opinion here in guessing that D-Rob will emerge as the go-to guy. He's the Closer Of The Future (COTF), and frankly, he's damn good -- one of the best relievers in MLB right now. Soriano's ERA is tidy at the moment, and his bloated contract might have a say in the matter, but his strikeout and walk rates continue to trend in the wrong direction.

Bottom line: Robertson is the guy you want. You can add Sori, too, but I wouldn't break my neck if I were in a roster squeeze.

Dodgers
I'd finished this piece by the time the news broke Monday evening that Kenley Jansen had officially been named Dodgers closer. But I have to say, after touting Jansen for the past year or so, I didn't mind updating the piece.

For Jansen to finally claim the throne, incumbent Javy Guerra had to stumble, and at first glance, Guerra does in fact appear to have slumped badly after a hot start. But looking a little closer, Guerra seems to merely be the victim of some poor luck -- not to mention his manager's inability to recognize said misfortune. There's a huge disparity between Guerra's 5.84 ERA and his 2.35 SIERA, mostly fueled by an insanely high .485 BABIP and very low 61.9% strand rate. Those numbers won't last.

But Guerra's loss is Jansen's gain, and with all due respect to Jav-Guer, it should be a lot of fun to watch Jansen in his new role, as he's capable of reeling off a season not unlike what Craig Kimbrel did a year ago. Guerra can be safely cut; hopefully, his owners didn't spend too much for him on Draft Day.

White Sox
We could probably break the Pale Hose's week-to-week closer dealings into a separate column, but alas, here were are, discussing a pretty surprising twist.

Chris Sale was a sometimes closer in 2011 before being moved to the rotation this season. He got off to a terrific start pitching every fifth day, so I assumed he'd be there for a good while, but he was apparently experiencing elbow tenderness. The South Siders responded by moving him back to 'pen, the dubious logic being that the barking elbow would subside with more appearances that require greater exertion but fewer pitches. I'm not sure it adds up, but we shall see.

Anyway, Sale becomes Chicago's closer, quite the sweet consolation prize for owners like myself who were enjoying his starting contributions. He should fare well as a closer, and perhaps his (re)appointment will finally furnish the White Sox with some ninth-inning stability. If everything breaks right for them, they might not be appearing here for a while.

I'm fine with cutting Matt Thornton (though I'll be holding onto him in my holds league), and Hector Santiago can be safely dropped. Consider keeping a close eye on fireballer Addison Reed, though, especially if Sale doesn't get off to a fast start (or is injured). Reed has come out strong, and he might be next up in this little carousel.

Marlins
Mercifully, the inevitable came to pass with Heath Bell's demotion from the closer's role this weekend. The Fish stuck with their big-money stopper as long as they could before finally conceding that he needed to get himself straightened out in some low-leverage sitches.

Ozzie Guillen tabbed Steve Cishek as Bell's temporary replacement, although that was put on hold by Hi-Ci's three-inning appearance on Friday night. So when a save opp cropped up on Sunday, and Cishek was unavailable, Oz called on Vinia Edward Mujica, who converted without much trouble. I like both pitchers, but since Guillen said Cishek would be his first choice, I'd prioritize them accordingly if either right-hander is still on your league's wire.

Meanwhile, Bell owners shouldn't cut bait. The Marlins will want to shoehorn him back into the role as soon as they can, if only to save face on their big offseason investment. I'm not especially optimistic he'll reclaim past glory, but stranger things have happened.

Quick-ish Hits
The Cubs' bullpen has dissolved so that the body can't even be properly identified with dentals. Kerry Wood is fresh off the DL and pitched poorly in his first outing back. Rafael Dolis and James Russell are not closer types, and Carlos Marmol may have gone completely off the rails. Shawn Camp is a darkhorse but isn't an ideal choice considering he was scooped up by the Cubs in early April after he was cut by the Mariners, a team whose bullpen isn't exactly the second coming of The Nasty Boys. This one could be frustrating all season.

Andrew Cashner flopped in his first outing since Huston Street was placed on the disabled list (albeit in a non-save situation). Cash Money's output has never seemed to catch up with his ridiculous raw stuff, so I'm not especially high on him. Luke Gregerson is not the same pitcher he was a couple years back and needs to be handled carefully, as he's injury prone. Brad Brach has a strong minor league track record, but that has not yet translated in his limited Major League experience. With Street sounding confident about a quick return, this might not be worth the trouble, either.



Silver League Update: An Infield Full of Surprises

We're over a month into the season, not yet so far that it's time to bank your victories, but far enough that results are starting to matter, and you start to wonder which surprises are Jose Bautista ... and which ones are Chris SheltonLast week's article brought up a discussion of one of the players who has surprised me the most: David Freese. He's killing the ball right now, but I suggested he's a great sell candidate, because surprise players have this way of falling back to earth. Spirit of St. Louis thinks I'm wrong, and since he's been at or near the top of the standings all year, I have to confront a possibility I usually ignore: I might be wrong. 

It also got me thinking about some other surprise players, and wondering what kind of production we can expect going forward. By happy accident, they form a full infield. Joining third baseman Freese will be 1B/OF Bryan LaHair, second baseman Jose Altuve, and shortstop Derek Jeter. The four of them have disparate backgrounds, but all have been among the best at their positions so far and none were expected to do anything like that. I'm not saying they were expected to be bad, just not superstars. Let's go around the infield in the traditional order:

Bryan LaHair, 1B

LaHair is off to the monster of monster starts (it kills me to remember I dropped him in another league before he even played), batting .370/.460/.767, with a wOBA of .501. He's swatted seven homers and eight doubles. It's he like stole Albert Pujols's talent. To be fair, though, LaHair's got talent of his own. He won't be sustaining an ISO of .397, a HR/FB% of 38.6%, or a BABIP of .504 (.504!) all season long, but he's got a minor league record of (mostly) high BABIPs and ISOs. Last year he clubbed 38 homers for the Iowa Cubs; the two years before he hit at least 25.

LaHair wouldn't be the first Quad-A player to have a stellar month in the Majors only to lose the magic as the season wears on. He also wouldn't be the first 29-year-old to thrive when he finally gets a shot to prove himself. I wouldn't trade the farm to get him, but I wouldn't sell him unless I got a lot in return.

Jose Altuve, 2B

Altuve actually came into the year with high expectations. Sort of. When you're shorter than David Eckstein, expectations only go so high. Still, he was a well-rated prospect and scouts and fantasy projectors were cautiously optimistic about his chances. A decent average and a handful of steals seemed likely enough for a hitter that could be a low-end starting second baseman or a high-end middle infielder. What we've gotten is a .529 slugging percentage and a .346 batting average.

His BABIP is riding high at .386, but his speed and minor league numbers suggest he should be the type of player who sustains a high BABIP. Not that high, but high enough. Power's never been his strongest suit, but he maintained very high slugging percentages in two levels of minor league play last year, so he could keep it up. I think he'll be a solid contributor, but he's also probably at the high-water mark of his value. If you can trade him for a more established player who's underperforming, I wouldn't hesitate.

David Freese, 3B

Freese is another 29-year-old off to a great start. Technically, last year was his "first real chance," and he certainly proved himself, hitting 10 homers and batting .297 in 333 at-bats, not to mention his postseason heroics. The train that started last season just keeps on rolling, as he's already hit six bombs with a .315 batting average. I said last week that I think those numbers are unsustainable, and I haven't changed my mind. His HR-FB% jumped from a pretty high 16.7% last year to a crazy 26.1% this year. To put that number in context, while it isn't exactly up with LaHair or Matt Kemp, it would have led baseball last year.

Looking deeper into his minor league numbers though, I have to admit that the guy's got some power. His ISOs have usually been over .200 and his his lowest BABIP (in more than four games) was .345. I do think his average will drop, but something like last year's power output seems pretty reasonable projected over a full slate of plate appearances.

Derek Jeter, SS

The last player on this list, Jeter is sort of the "which one doesn't belong" of the group. He's one of the most famous athletes in the world. He'll be a first ballot-Hall of Famer. He's won more World Series than most franchises. And he wasn't exactly predicted to do well this year. Gone were the days of Jeter in the first few rounds; before the year he found himself closer to the end of the starting shortstop rankings than the beginning. On the heels of a disappointing season in which he batted .297 but hit just six homers, he already has five. At 38, it seemed entirely reasonable that his Hall of Fame career was about to hit a sharp slope on the decline curve.

A month in, and he's third in the Majors with a 33.3% HR/FB% and batting .390/.425/585. If there's bad news, it's that he's stolen just one base (see, he is getting old!). It goes without saying that Jeter won't continue to do this -- but nobody would. Still, it seems to me that if this were the year that he falls completely apart, a month like this wouldn't have been possible. He seems like a good bet to finish among the top shortstops who weren't drafted in the first two rounds.

Somehow, the teams that drafted these players aren't in the Silver League's top two -- instead they occupy spots three-five. (King Fish 2.0 got Freese and LaHair; no wonder he's surviving picking Pujols first overall.) The pack remains tight, by the way, with nine teams between 60 and 80 points. (Somehow, I'm one of them.) I don't expect any of these four players to change hands anytime soon; they're one of the hardest types of players to part with -- players on a hot start who look like they won't have too far to fall when they come back to earth. If anything, you might want to try trading for one of these guys as soon as he has a bad week or two.


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This Week In Streaming Strategy

As a huge fan of both the Ghostbusters movies and cartoons, I can't believe it took me five weeks of writing this fantasy streaming column to realize that I should've titled it, "Don't Cross The Streams."  Unbelievable.  Somewhere, Ernie Hudson is shaking his head in disgust.  Hopefully, I can make it up to Winston, Egon and the whole gang by giving them some good tips for their upcoming week of fantasy action.  (It would delight me to no end to discover an all-Ghostbusters cast fantasy baseball league. At last check, Dan Aykroyd's "Big Ayk Attyck" is in first place, narrowly ahead of Bill Murray's "1908 CurseBusters" and Sigourney Weaver's "There Is No Dana, Only Eveland" squad.)

* Jonathon Niese.  The southpaw signed a niese nice contract extension in April and has lived up to the deal thus far, posting a 4.08 ERA (3.48 xFIP), a 2.67 K/BB ratio and a 52.4% ground ball rate in five starts. I'm recommend Niese as a two-start pitcher to pick up this week because, even though his two starts are slated to be on the road, he'll be in Philadelphia against the light-hitting Phillies and then in the very pitcher-friendly Marlins Park. There's good potential here for Niese to keep up his strong start against these two offensively-challenged NL East rivals.

* Doug Fister. Here's another opponent-influenced two-start pitcher recommendation. Unless there's a last-minute setback in his injury rehab and activation from the DL, Fister is in line to return to the Tigers' rotation on Monday. Fister could hardly have asked for a better way to ease himself back into action as he'll face the Mariners at Safeco Field and then the Athletics at the Coliseum.  Feel free to activate him from your disabled list and get him in your Monday lineup. If you don't have Fister already, check the waiver wire to see if some short-sighted manager dropped him during his DL stint. 

* Norichika Aoki, Nyjer Morgan. This is a very borderline recommendation based solely on the fact that the Brewers are facing all right-handed starters over their six games this week, meaning these two left-handed hitters have a golden opportunity to get the bats going.  Carlos Gomez is on the DL, too, and while he usually only starts against lefties anyway, his absence means Aoki and Morgan are Milwaukee's only choices in center field. Aoki has shown some good pop against righties (a .273/.385/.455 line against RHP heading into Saturday's action) but Morgan has thus far been a non-entity, with an OPS of just .386 against right-handers. Morgan was a streaming superstar last year and in 2009, always worth a start against right-handed pitching, but his bat has been so cold this season that Aoki could steal his spot in the center-field platoon. If you have Morgan on your roster, this week might be his last stand; another poor week of hitting could earn him an outright release or, at the very least, turn Tony Plush into Tony Bench....hmm, that joke would've worked better if there weren't already an awesome ballplayer actually named Bench.   

* Right-handed Reds. When your only two regular left-handed bats are Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, it helps cover up a lineup's lack of balance. Despite Votto and Bruce both laying the smack down on righties, Cincinnati's team OPS against right-handed pitching is just .677 due to a large number of righty bats who have been quieted by their like-handed mound opponents. The Reds face right-handed starters in five of six games this week, including the likes of Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Jordan Zimmermann. With this in mind, you'll want to consider benching Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Devin Mesoraco or any other right-handed Cincinnati hitters that you might have in your fantasy lineup and find a more favorable matchup off your bench.

* Hector Santiago. Though Chris Sale had impressed as a starter this year, the White Sox announced that they were turning Sale into their closer due to worries that Sale's elbow isn't up to the workload.  It seemed like Robin Ventura was pulling a rabbit out his hat when he surprisingly made the lightly regarded Santiago the closer out of Spring Training, and the move seems to have backfired.  Without saves to prop up his fantasy value, Santiago can be streamed right off your roster.  Even if your league tracks holds, Santiago still has little value given that the White Sox already have such vaunted "holds guys" as Matt Thornton, Addison Reed and Jesse Crain, all of whom are either more proven bullpen performers or have more overall upside.

* Adam Lind. I recently called 2012 a make or break year for Lind, and thus far, he's still broken. The Blue Jays' first baseman hit his second homer of the year on Saturday night, raising (!) his slash line to .200/.287/.333.  He's been a bit unlucky with a BABIP of .235, but still, a wOBA of .257 is just nowhere near good enough for anyone, let alone a first baseman on a would-be contender in the AL East.  There's still a slim chance that Lind turns it around, so if you're in a deep league, I don't recommend releasing him, but keep him nailed to the bench until his bat shows some signs of life. The Jays have four games against the woeful Twins rotation this week, so only consider Lind a) against a right-handed starter and b) if your regular first baseman is facing a tough matchup.


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Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's edition of Stock Watch recommended Pedro Alvarez as a buy candidate showing signs of a hot streak. Alvarez has certainly justified the buy this week and is now one of the hottest players in fantasy baseball. Hopefully some of these recommendations will also pay immediate dividends:

Buy

  • Ernesto Frieri - Traded to the Angels and may find himself in the closer role in short order. Frieri has struck out 18 batters in 11 2/3 innings on the season with a 1.95 SIERA. Frieri also has closer experience as he saved 17 games in 2010 for the Padres' Triple-A affiliate with a 11.71 K/9 rate.
  • Jonathan Broxton - Although widely doubted (including in this column), Broxton has been impressive in converting four straight saves and has a long leash as closer, with setup man Greg Holland on the DL. Owners should feel confident in Broxton's job security if targeting lower-tier closers in trade.
  • David Robertson/Rafael Soriano - With the unfortunate news that Mariano Rivera is lost for the season with a torn ACL, owners are likely rushing to their waiver wires to pick up Rivera's replacement. Robertson was likely already taken in competitive leagues before the Rivera injury, but Soriano may still be available on many waiver wires. Although Soriano has allowed too many baserunners this season and pitched in the eighth inning yesterday, he may get a chance at closing if the Yankees don't want to disturb Robertson's lights-out work in a setup role.
  • Jason Kipnis - Quietly having a monster season with 4 HRs, 17 RBIs, 15 runs, 5 steals and a .292 batting average. Kipnis got out of the gate slowly but has been tearing it up since. Kipnis does not carry much name-recognition, so he may be available for much less than his numbers indicate he is worth.
  • Jed Lowrie - Streaky hitter is in the midst of a hot streak and should be owned until he cools off.
  • Jarrod Dyson - Hitting leadoff for the Royals and playing every day while Lorenzo Cain remains on the DL. Dyson is available on most waiver wires and is a good temporary source of steals for owners short on speed.
  • Tony Campana - More of a daily league recommendation, Campana is lightning in a bottle that is let loose whenever he reaches first base. Campana is mostly a one-category player, but he makes an excellent bench player in daily leagues where he can be inserted into a lineup on days when he is starting for the Cubs (who have indicated that Campana will start about 80% of games). At this point, it is surprising when Campana starts a game and does not steal a base.
  • Jemile Weeks - Another excellent source of speed, Weeks' batting average is depressed by a .207 BABIP. Weeks is showing improved plate discipline compared to last year as his B/KK rate has increased from .34 to .67, and Weeks has nearly doubled his walk percentage from last season. The more walks Weeks draws the more opportunities he will have to steal bases on a SB-happy team like the A's.

Sell

  • Bryan LaHair - Although LaHair has been one of the season's nicest surprises, his lofty batting average is not sustainable, as he's striking out once in every three plate appearances. So far he has enjoyed the good fortune of a .545 BABIP while reducing his ground ball percentage and increasing his line drive percentage. It is a good idea to see just how much a power-starved owner is willing to pay, and sell high before a BABIP correction and reduction in his over 35% HR/FB rate occurs.
  • Jered Weaver - Coming off a no-hitter, most owners would never think of entertaining trade offers for Weaver. But, Weaver is historically a better pitcher in the first half of the season, and he makes for a potential sell-high candidate for owners that drafted Weaver as their No. 2 starter and were fortunate enough to also have a very strong remainder of their rotation. Despite Weaver's success this season, his swinging strike percentage is lower than any other year he has been in the Majors. Also, his 4.2% HR/FB rate is likely to climb toward his 7.5% career rate, and his .236 BABIP is likely to rise toward his .275 career BABIP. When these events happen his exceptional ERA and WHIP will climb.
  • Derek Lowe - 4.83 SIERA compared to his 2.27 ERA with an anemic 2.56 K/9. Hopefully another owner sees the 2.27 ERA and gives something of value in exchange for a guy who will likely be on all waiver wires in a month.
  • Ted Lilly - Time to see what Lilly can get you in trade since his value should be very high given his 1.38 ERA. But, Lilly's BB/9 has steadily increased from 2.04 (2010) to 2.38 (2011) to 3.12 (2012). Meanwhile, Lilly's K/9 has trended the opposite direction from 7.71 (2010) to 7.38 (2011) to 5.19 (2012). Lilly pitches in a favorable stadium with a team that is scoring lots of runs so he should not be given away, but a savvy owner will be pushing the 1.38 ERA on unsuspecting owners.


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RotoAuthority Live Chat

Click below to read this week's fantasy chat with Steve Adams.



Middlebrooks Gets A Chance With Youkilis Hurt

Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis has visited the disabled list five times since the start of the 2009 season, including his current stint due to a back strain. He's 33 years old, has hit just .205/.307/.345 since last year's All-Star break, and has a $13MM club option in his contract for 2013, so you can't fault the team for starting to think about their long-term future at the hot corner. That future is top prospect Will Middlebrooks, who was called up to the show yesterday and made his big league debut against the Athletics last night.

Middlebrooks, 23, went 2-for-3 with an infield single, a double, and a walk in his first Major League game on Wednesday. He had a monster month of April in Triple-A, whacking nine homers to go with a .333/.380/.677 batting line in exactly 100 plate appearances. That comes on the heels of a .285/.328/.506 showing (23 HR) at mostly Double-A in 2011, the breakout season that propelling him from interesting guy to the 51st best prospect in the game according to Baseball America.

The biggest concern about Middlebrooks' game is his plate discipline, or lack thereof. He really didn't improve on it a great deal during his short time in Triple-A either. His career walk rate coming into the season was just 7.5% of all plate appearances, right in line with his seven walks in those 100 minor league plate appearances this year. His 18 strikeouts are a touch below expected given his 26.8% career strikeout rate coming into the season. It typically takes between 150-200 plate appearances for walk and strikeout rates to stabilize according to FanGraphs, so the tiny bit of info we do have about WMB's plate discipline isn't overly reliable at the moment. Given his homer surge, it's fair to wonder if opposing pitchers have been pitching him more carefully, though you'd think that would result in more walks.

Anyway, you'd expect most young players to struggle with walks and strikeouts when they're first called up, so Middlebrooks' discipline issues won't be out of the ordinary for a rookie. The one thing the right-handed hitter will give fantasy owners is big power numbers, though it should be noted that Baseball America says his home run power is "to the opposite field and are line drives that carry out of the park" in their subscriber-only scouting report. Opposite field power is good, but that wouldn't allow him to take advantage of Fenway Park's most prominant feature, the 37-foot wall in left field that turns routine fly balls into doubles with regularity. Baseball America also cautions that Middlebrooks might not top a .275 batting average given his strikeout issues, but I was thinking something like .250 for his age-23 season anyway. Modest expectations, really.

The biggest problem for fantasy owners and WMB alike is Youkilis, who presumably will not stay on the disabled list forever and eventually reassume his starting third base job when healthy. Middlebrooks might only be manning the hot corner in Boston for another two weeks or so before returning to Triple-A. Youkilis hasn't done much with the bat in quite some time, but I would be surprised if manager Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox pull the plug on him before a few hundred plate appearances this season. Middlebrooks' fantasy value is dependent on how the club plays him more than anything. There's 20+ homer power here if given regular playing time, which makes him a fantasy option along the lines of Mike Moustakas or maybe even declining Aramis Ramirez.  Middlebrooks is definitely a name to remember for the future, but he might not offer enough to be worth a roster spot in 20120



Matt Kemp and Dianetics

We're one month in, and Matt Kemp is having a Barry Bonds-steroid-era type start to the season. His home run-to-fly ball rate is an impossible 60%. I do not have him on any teams.

In fact, after his 2010, I traded him to my archnemesis in a no-limit keeper league. That archnemesis's name is Jim. Perhaps you, too, are fated with a Jim. I'd like to dedicate this post, then, to the Jims of fantasy baseball leagues everywhere: Jims, may your star players all discover the intricate metaphysics of Scientology and leave baseball to follow the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard. Speaking of which, have you ever heard of Operation Snow White, the largest infiltration of the United States Government in history? 

April was cruel indeed. But we have five more months!

Dave Cameron wrote a nice piece yesterday on Kemp's April over at FanGraphs; check it. Kemp's video-game start had me curious about the home run-to-fly ball leaders in April. Astonishingly, three of the five hitters following Kemp are catchers:

Curtis Granderson: 36.4%

Josh Hamilton: 36.0%

Buster Posey: 33.3%

Mike Napoli: 33.3%

Matt Wieters: 31.6%

And Carlos Santana is at 23.1%. Sadly, none of these catchers are on any of my teams. Granderson's splits were impressive: 32.2% line drives, 30.5% ground balls, and 36.4% fly balls, yet only a .275 BABIP. Teams are shifting on Granderson and turning those line drives into outs. Still, he appears poised for a near repeat of his MVP-caliber 2011. 

Other interesting names near the top of the home run-to-fly ball leaderboard in April:

Adam Dunn, 25.0%: After a lost 2011 that saw Dunn's rate drop to a 9.6%, the old Dunn is back. His strikeout percentage was an alarming 35.8% in April, however, and not even an old Dunn season is sustainable at that rate. Let's see if he can bring it down to 30% in May. 

Alex Rodriguez, 23.5%: A-Rod's display of home run power in April should be an obvious sign of good things to come. His disturbingly high ground ball rate from 2011 (48.6%) ballooned to 54.5%, however, resulting in a measly fly ball rate of 25.8%. Rodriguez has to lift more balls skyward before we see a 30-home run season. 

Dexter Fowler, 22.2%: In 1,613 career plate appearances prior to the 2012 season, Dexter Fowler had 15 home runs. In 81 April plate appearances, Fowler had four home runs. Granted, all four home runs have been at Coors, but if Fowler is on your waiver wire and you have some flexibility, pick him up and see what May brings.  

Lastly, an addendum to yesterday's post from esteemed colleague Dan Manella: keep your eyes on Scott Maine, of the Chicago Cubs bullpen. Carlos Marmol has been atrocious so far for the Cubs. Kerry Wood returns tomorrow, yet, per a Chicago Tribune report on Monday, Wood's role is likely to change. In the article, Paul Sullivan assumes that Rafael Dolis will enter the setup role should Wood vacate it, but Maine has been electric since his April 20 call up. Maine already leapfrogged Shawn Camp, and if he continues to dominate, he could pass Dolis and his 2-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. 


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Closer Updates: White Sox, Angels, Nats, Marlins

Henry Rodriguez ought to watch his back, because Chad Cordero has designs on a comeback to Major League Baseball. More on Washington's situation and others below, but first a gentle reminder to give a follow to @closernews on Twitter for all the latest breaking news.

White Sox
Named Chicago's closer after a heated spring competition, Hector Santiago never really found his rhythm once the curtain went up on the regular season. Manager Robin Ventura offered the rookie left-hander a vote of confidence after an epic meltdown last Wednesday (three earned in one-third of an inning), but no one really believed that, right?

Indeed, our skepticism was rewarded when old friend Matt Thornton was called upon for a four-out save on Sunday, which he converted without incident.

But does it signify a clean handoff? The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. I'd expect Ventura to cycle through a few different guys before maybe settling on one, so Santiago owners shouldn't lose heart yet. If you have the roster flexibility, just bench him for the next week or so -- until we've seen how Ventura divvies up the next couple save opps. Thornton, meanwhile, should be added by saves-needy owners, and fireballer Addison Reed is probably worth a look, too. Just know that there's bound to be some frustration, no matter which one you own, at least in the short-term.

Angels
Jordan Walden's unexpected -- and apparently temporary -- demotion sure felt like a panic move, didn't it? Don't get me wrong: Walden hasn't pitched especially well. But the guy has one blown save in two opportunities.

Unless there's something going on behind closed doors with Walden -- an injury or some other tomfoolery -- this one smacks of desperation, a feeble attempt at appeasing a bloodthirsty mob that's furious over the Halos' slow start.

In the meanwhile, Scott Downs takes over closing duties, and he should be added where available. Walden owners are within their rights to be steamed, but take heart and stow this young flamethrower on your bench. Seeing as he's the Angels' anointed Closer Of The Future (COTF), I'd expect him to regain the gig sooner rather than later. Downs is a perfectly adequate reliever but shouldn't be much less prone to the occasional flareup than Walden is.

It's worth noting that the Angels are kicking tires on potential trades involving closers, in which things could get hairy. If this frightens you enough to consider flipping him now, I don't blame you, but know that his value is pretty low right now considering he's not closing.

Nationals
Brad Lidge has been placed on the DL, and so what was a supposed closer platoon last week has quickly been streamlined into a one-man show led by Rodriguez.

H-Rod has mostly done the job so far, but I'm not especially high on him. (My colleague Tom Warman disagrees, which gives me serious pause because Tom is a sharp fantasy mind. But alas, I have to stick with my gut). Rodriguez's stuff is nasty, but he lacks control, which can lead to ugly meltdowns -- like the one he suffered Saturday night in Los Angeles. Plus, although I'm not a scout, he showed a Benitezian lack of composure as the game slipped away. Sounds like a powder keg, don't it?

The surface stats look pretty now, but don't be surprised if they've peaked, so if you're comfortable in saves or have other needs, H-Rod could make for a decent trade candidate. That being said, stranger things have happened than a guy like Rodriguez tearing off an extended hot streak, and since I firmly believe all closers should be owned, I have no problem holding onto him.

Marlins
 I wrote about Bell two weeks ago, and it's amazing how little the story has changed. He continues to stink, and the Fish continue to run him out there for save opps. His Rotoworld page is pretty depressing, actually, between the headshot and string of bad-news updates.

Can he snap out of it? I'm not optimistic. He's either injured or has fallen off a cliff age-wise, and I'm afraid neither of those scenarios is especially good news for his owners. But the only option for his owners now is to stash him and wait it out. Since the Marlins continue to use him as closer, something will eventually have to give here, and it'll get sorted out. Meanwhile, speculators are left to throw a dart at Edward Mujica or Steve Cishek, either of which could take the reins if Bell goes down. Cishek'll be your trendier pick du jour because of his better season stats to date, but Mujica is more of a sturdy veteran type. Recall, if you will, that the Fish were cagey as all heck last summer when naming a temporary replacement for then closer Leo Nunez (now Juan Carlos Oviedo).




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