Philadelphia Phillies


Closer Updates: Committees, Injury Returns, Strugglers, and the Early Trading Block

Jason Grilli might have blown his first save, but that doesn't mean he's in hot water. Arguably the season's best closer so far, he won't be making it into any of this week's categories of concern--not even as a trade target, with the Pirates nestled into the second NL Wild Card. Grilli's owners may be lucky, but below are four categories of closers worth worrying about.

Committees

The pernicious closer-by-committee might be favored in sabermetric circles, but it never gets much love from the mainstream media. Why? Because of those of us who play fantasy baseball, I bet. We might have been part of the "sabermetric revolution" at its beginning, but there's nothing we hate more as a group than the closer-by-committee. All those saves going to waste, spread out across three or four fantasy teams....

Brewers

Last week, Jim Henderson made it back to the Majors from the DL, but he didn't slide right back into his old role. Instead, Francisco Rodriguez was allowed to chase the 300-saves milestone. Well, K-Rod is still chasing it, stuck as he is on number 299. Not that Rodriguez hasn't pitched well, but it'd be nice to get this situation down to a single closer. More than likely, Henderson reclaims the job after K-Rod finally gets that big save, but there's no way to be sure. Keep running both pitchers out there for now, as neither will hurt your ratios in the eighth or ninth innings, despite Henderson's eighth inning blown save.

Tigers

Jose Valverde didn't have to fall very far to fall out of favor in the Motor City. The good news is that none of us spent a high draft pick on him. Other than that, it looks like manager Jim Leyland will play whatever matchups suit him, at least until he gets so tired of reporters' questions that he just names Bruce Rondon closer out of frustration. The committee cast has changed a bit since the beginning of the season, with Rondon and Al Alburquerque in AAA, and Octavio Dotel on the 60-Day DL. Expect Valverde to continue getting a few saves, while Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, and Phil Coke share the job with him. Benoit is the group's early leader and a good choice for a pickup, the Tigers seem likely to have a closer high on their spring shopping list. In fact, it wouldn't be a shock to see them swing deals for more than one reliever before the deadline.

Mariners

This is easily the ugliest of the committee situations. Tom Wilhelmsen is no longer the team's closer, though they seem to hold out hope that he'll sort out his struggles. In the meantime, he's already blown a save as a committee member. Other possibilities for saves include Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, and Oliver Perez. (Yes, the Oliver Perez who was once a promising lefty strikeout pitcher who completely imploded, signed a big contract with the Mets, imploded again, and threw a temper tantrum about going to the bullpen.) None is a great option, though Capps is likely to get the most save opps going forward, thanks to his right-handedness, though he coughed up a pair of runs without recording any outs in yesterday's brutal loss to the Angels. Any pitcher who does emerge from this quagmire with a closing gig is a decent investment, because the Mariners aren't in the position to seek outside help in relief. In fact, they're probably just frustrated that Wilhelmsen couldn't stay good long enough to get traded.

Injury Returns

It's never exactly clear what will happen when a closer returns from the DL. Sometimes the replacement keeps the job, sometimes the old guy takes it right back, sometimes the old closer is eased back into his role, and sometimes a committee develops. The plan for the teams below seems to be to reinstate the old closer, but you never quite know for sure.

Indians

I bet you never thought you'd be excited for Chris Perez to come take his job back from Vinnie Pestano. The Indians have scuffled hard since Perez's injury, though Pestano finally recorded his second save of the year. Perez won't be coming back immediately, following a terrible rehab appearance and flawed mechanics. If he gets his delivery sorted out quickly, he'll be back in the ninth just as quickly. If he happened to get dropped in your league, snatch him back up.

Rockies

Rafael Betancourt is inching his way back to the Majors and is scheduled to face hitters today. If everything goes well, he could be back relatively soon. It's far too early to drop Rex Brothers, but don't expect him to keep Betancourt from getting his job back when he does return. And it's advisable to hang onto Brothers after that, though, as he's pitched to a great ERA and Betancourt isn't exactly the healthiest closer in the ninth.

Diamondbacks

Heath Bell has been surprisingly good for Arizona. Not, you know, great, but better than we expected. The homers have given him trouble, and his job could be in danger if J.J. Putz comes back. And Putz might just be back soon, as he began his rehab assignment yesterday--a lot earlier than was initially expected. While he may take a little while in the minors, he could also be back in the Diamondbacks' closer role quickly. He was dropped in many leagues, but I'd advise picking him back up if you've got the room to stash him.

Strugglers

A couple of the early season's best closers have hit some serious rough patches and owners should monitor their situations.

Red Sox

Andrew Bailey has pitched horrifically in his last few outings, to the tune of an 11.25 ERA in his last four appearances. Manager John Farrell says that Bailey has "some work to do," but "for the time being...is definitely our closer." Well, doesn't he sound excited to keep Bailey in the ninth, and admits that he would consider other options, "at least temporarily." Bailey is clearly on a short leash, so Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara might be good choices for anyone speculating on saves. Update: Bailey has used up his short leash and is out as closer for now. Pick up Tazaway or Uehara.

Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon is the sort of name you don't expect to have to write very often in a column like this, but he's blown two saves over the course of three days. They're just his first two blown saves of the year, but keep an eye on him. Fortunately for Papelbon and his owners, he should have a long leash given his contract and track record. Though the Phillies appear not to be contending this year, they say they aren't considering dealing Papelbon or their other expensive players.

Early Trading Block

Major League teams aren't likely to be making trades for almost another month, but fantasy owners need to be quicker with the trade trigger. After all, when a closer is traded into a setup job in the real world, his fantasy trade value pretty much hits zero. Any closer on a non-contending team is a good candidate to get traded away, though teams with 2014 ambitions are more likely to hang on to their relievers if they're young and inexpensive. Right now, two closers are generating the most trade buzz.

Marlins

Shockingly, the Fish aren't contending this year for anything but worst team in baseball. They might even beat the Astros for that one. Steve Cishek has been pretty good for them as their closer, but a team playing under .300 doesn't need a good closer. Expect Cishek to get dealt to a contender. Unfortunately, he's unlikely to close for any of them. If you've got him, it would be a good idea to deal him early, even for a mediocre return.

Twins

Glen Perkins is a little more complicated than Cishek, as there are contending teams for which he might close. Like the Tigers. The Red Sox could hypothetically be interested in his ninth-inning services too, but if he is dealt, he's most likely going to set up. He should command more than Cishek on the trade market, but he's also a good one to deal. 

Dont' forget to check out @CloserNews on Twitter for all up-to-the-minute updates on closers around baseball.



Shutdown Corner: NL East Closer Roundup

Last week, we started rolling out closer roundups for every division in baseball. This week, we're heading to the National League East, to look over the projected closer situations for all five teams. If you missed last week's review of the American League West, here's a link.

We're rating each closer on a tier, and here's the tiering system for the pre-season:

  • Tier 1: World-class reliever, capable of putting up a season for the ages.
  • Tier 2: Very good closer, both stable and effective.
  • Tier 3: Average closer, may be lacking either stability or effectiveness.
  • Tier 4: Poor closer, either completely ineffective but stable, or very unstable.

Washington Nationals: Rafael Soriano

The big closer news from the past week is Rafael Soriano (finally) signing a two-year, $28 million deal with the Washington Nationals, ostensibly to be their new closer. Soriano had been linked to the Tigers and a few other teams, but the Nationals ponied up the big bucks to bring him on. It's very likely that he displaces former closers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard ... in fact GM Mike Rizzo said as much when introducing Soriano in a press conference.

Soriano brings closer experience and, best of all, real skill to the Nationals, who now have a pretty scary bullpen. After a dismal 2011 with the Yankees, one that included DL time, Soriano did well as the only non-Mariano Rivera full-time closer for the Bombers since about 1996. He saved 42 games, and did so posting a 2.26 ERA and 24.7% strikeout rate. Not too bad.

The minor problem here is that Soriano probably wasn't as effective as he looked in 2012. FIP (or Fielding Independent Pitching) says that Soriano didn't do the strikeout-walk-homer thing quite as well as his ERA indicated, giving him a 3.32 FIP for the season -- a big difference. Soriano benefitted from a great LOB% (88%), which helped him limit runs despite a high walk rate.

Still, Soriano was paid a lot of money to be the last line of defense for the Nationals, and we should expect him to thrive in the ninth. He's not a top-tier closer at this point, but he is likely to have a good season, especially outside of the tough environment of Yankee Stadium and the AL East.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (moderate-to-high effectiveness, high cost to bring in / stability)

Next in line: Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen

Atlanta Braves: Craig Kimbrel

I wrote quite a bit about Craig Kimbrel in an earlier edition of Shutdown Corner, and the news hasn't changed in the past two weeks.

He's the best closer in baseball.

He's coming off what may have been the best season by a closer in modern history.

He strikes out everybody.

The only question with Kimbrel is whether he'll look like a "normal" closer in 2013, or if he's got another season of sheer dominance left in his right arm. I'm guessing that it will be something in between 2012 and a regular elite closer season. But it's unlikely, especially with Aroldis Chapman moving to the starting rotation, that any closer is as good a bet as Kimbrel.

Projected Tier: Tier 1 (coming off an world-class season, no sign of slowing down)

Next in line: Jonny Venters

Philadelphia Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon

Again, I waxed poetic about the power of Papelbon two weeks ago, and precious little has changed since then. Jon was very consistent (for the most part) in his time with Boston, and little changed in a move to Philly. He threw 70 high-quality innings, striking out a beastly 32.4% of batters faced and racking up just a 2.44 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. While a higher percentage of his fly balls left the park, he's dealt with pitching in hitters' parks before, and this didn't seem to slow him down much in terms of FIP (2.89).

Papelbon already has 257 saves in just seven years closing, which is remarkable. It speaks to his consistency and durability in a position not known for either. Homers and age threaten to bring down this bastion of beatdowns, but I think there's at least another high-end season waiting in the wings for Paps.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (high reliability, high performance, age could be an issue)

Next in line: Antonio Bastardo

New York Mets: Frank Francisco

Last season, the New York Mets bullpen was pretty ugly. Frank Francisco, who suffered through injuries and ineffectiveness, was pretty ugly too. Frank^2 did score 23 saves in just 48 games, which isn't too shabby, but his ERA of 5.53 and WHIP of 1.61 made things pretty scary. Worst of all, Francisco had surgery in December to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow, so he may need time to recover from the surgery.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS projection system sees Francisco as a reasonable option, posting a 3.78 ERA with a 25.6% strikeout rate, which would be a nice improvement from his 2012. Me, I'm not quite so bullish. Bobby Parnell is probably the better reliever at this point, and he isn't dealing with elbow surgery issues. Much like Ryan Madson in Anaheim, I think that Francisco will get the manager's benefit of the doubt if he starts the season healthy, but by the end of the season the younger arm (in this case Parnell) will own the ninth.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (low reliability, low-to-medium performance, stiff competition)

Next in line: Bobby Parnell

Miami Marlins: Steve Cishek

Though the Marlins are projected to be one of the worst teams in baseball history next season, they actually are pretty set at the closer position. Steve Cishek inherited the job last season, and acquitted himself fairly well. He only notched 15 saves in his 68 appearances, but he posted a 2.69 ERA and a career-high 24.7% strikeout rate.

Cishek has a career 2.57 ERA and 2.85 FIP, and does two things very, very well. Cishek gets strikeouts at a serious clip (24.3% over his career), and he keeps the ball in the park (0.29 HR/9 over his career). Walks can be an issue -- I know, stop me if you've heard this before about a closer -- but if his walk rate is closer to his 2011 performance than his 2012 performance, he'll be a very solid option in the ninth.

He, along with Giancarlo Stanton, might be the only solid pieces on this Marlins team.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (moderate performance, little competition, awful team)

Next in line: Ryan Webb (?)

As always, check out @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute closer updates, and find me at @bgrosnick for everything baseball. Shutdown Corner will return next week with a look at the AL East.

All data from FanGraphs.



Utley's Injury Opens The Door For Freddy Galvis

Middle infielders are prone to sharp declines, particularly second baseman after years of turning the blind double play pivot at the bag. Roberto Alomar and countless others fell off a cliff without warning, and now injuries are taking a toll on Chase Utley. The 33-year-old missed 43 games with a thumb issue in 2010 and 45 games with a knee issue in 2011, and chances are he'll open this season on the DL with knee problems as well. Here's what GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhiladelphia. com...

“He hasn’t been felling all that great,” Amaro said. “He hasn’t gotten to the point where he feels confident enough to get on the field without making it worse.”
 
“I would think it’s doubtful that [Utley] would be prepared to play second base for us opening day,” Amaro said. “We’re trying to hit it with a couple of different things to get him over the hump."

Assuming Utley has to start the season on the shelf, 22-year-old Freddy Galvis is almost certain to open 2012 as the club's everyday second baseman. Utility man Michael Martinez recently broke a bone in his foot as well, giving Galvis a little more security. The Phillies are reportedly looking for some infield depth, but the job appears to be his for now.

Baseball America ranked Galvis as Philadelphia's sixth best prospect in their 2012 Prospect Handbook, but unfortunately for fantasy owners, it wasn't because of his offense. "Galvis is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the minors," wrote the publication. "He has plus range despite fringy pure speed, and he also has excellent hands, an above-average arm and incredible instincts ... A switch-hitter who sprays the line drives, Galvis makes consistent contact but will never hit for much power."

Defense and injuries will keep Galvis in the lineup, but he does have something to offer fantasy owners: stolen bases. He stolen 23 bags in 137 games split between Double- and Triple-A last season, a year after swiping 15 in 138 Double-A games. The Phillies didn't emphasize the running game as much last year after losing first base coach and baserunning guru Davey Lopes to the Dodgers, but with Utley and Ryan Howard hurt to start the season, speed figures to become a bigger part of their offense. Batting eighth ahead of the pitcher will boost Galvis' on-base percentage just a bit (via intentional walks), which should then boost his stolen base total.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS projection system expects a .261 average with 19 steals out of Galvis given regular playing time, putting him in a class with guys like Jemile Weeks (.267 and 21), Dexter Fowler (.264 and 18), and Lorenzo Cain (.259 and 17). Not a star player, but a decent fantasy option to fill out your roster in case of injury or in a particularly deep mixed league/NL-only setup. Galvis figures to pick up both second base and shortstop eligibility, and the extra bit of flexibility is appreciated. Utley's injury is going to hurt the Phillies and fantasy owners alike, but Galvis is a useful piece that could contribute more than expected with just a little BABIP love.



Position/Role Battles: The Phillies' Left Fielder

Domonic Brown's time will come.  Phillies fans who are worried about why their consensus top prospect (and the fourth-best prospect in the sport, according to Baseball America's pre-2011 rankings) hasn't quite broken through to win a starting job with the club should remember that Brown is still just 24, and the Phillies are a team that is built to win now.  With so much uncertainty and health issues surrounding the Philadelphia lineup, the team can't just hand Brown the starting left-field job and hope that he grows into it while the Phillies are gunning for a World Series. 

This is the reason why the Phils have surrounded Brown with a number of veteran options, all of whom could end up seeing more playing time than Brown does in 2012.  The situation is very fluid, however, and Brown may well end up getting the lion's share of the starts in left as the season develops. Let's take a look at the Phillies' left-field candidates and weigh their respective fantasy values ...

Brown: Let's start at the top.  Brown has battled a thumb injury during Spring Training and has looked shaky at best defensively in shifting to left from right field. Combine this with Ruben Amaro's oft-stated preference that Brown get some more minor-league seasoning, and it seems unlikely that Brown's long-awaited impact will come this season. Brown has nothing left to prove hitting-wise in the minors, but his next term in Triple-A will be focused on shoring up his left field glove.  If everything works as the Phillies hope with their left-field platoon, they might not even need Brown until the rosters expand in September.

This said, there is no doubt Brown will get the most fantasy attention of all the Phillies' left fielders simply because it's a lot more exciting to draft a top prospect than it is to draft a journeyman. I'd let someone else bite on Brown in a mixed-league draft simply because there are more reliable outfield options out there than a player whose Major League status is such a queston mark. If Brown is still around by the last or second-to-last round, take him on a flier, but his high profile will probably mean he's gone by then, and he isn't worth a higher pick right now.

John Mayberry: I mentioned earlier about how some Phillies fans are worried about Brown because he hasn't been an All-Star from day one, and perhaps Mayberry is an example of how quickly fans can forget about a prospect.  Mayberry was taken 19th overall in the 2005 draft by Texas but never really broke through in the minor leagues and was dealt to the Phillies in 2008 in exchange for Greg Golson. Now, he's positioned to not only get the most playing time in left field but to also get time at first base while Ryan Howard recovers from injury.

Mayberry hit .273/.341/.513 in 296 plate appearances last season, boosted by a .299/.341/.604 slash line against left-handed pitching. At worst, it seems like Mayberry is a very solid platoon option and could well be able to handle an everyday job; at age 28, he's right in his prime as a hitter. He might end up more or less playing every day, anyway, due to the number of banged-up players (Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Howard) in the Phillies' starting lineup.  Mayberry and Ty Wigginton will split time at first in Howard's absence, with Jim Thome also getting some field action against righty starters, but the versatile Wigginton could be called into action at second or third if one of the Phils' other infielders needs times off.

Add it all up, and I'm pretty bullish on Mayberry's fantasy potential.  I like him as a sleeper pick for your outfield, and, as I noted earlier, Brown's higher profile may allow Mayberry to slip into the very late rounds of your draft. I can't say he'll be a consistent everyday option for the entire season given how the Phillies juggle their lineup due to injuries, but at worst, Mayberry will be a platoon player who destroys left-handers. In the best-case scenario, Mayberry plays virtually everyday and you've found yourself a 30-homer player in the 19th or 20th round of your fantasy draft.

Laynce Nix: Your classic left-handed bench option, Nix has provided a solid bat against right-handed pitching over the last few seasons. Nix signed a two-year deal with the Phillies this offseason and can provide OK defense all over the outfield, so his job is secure on the roster. I'd say the only way Nix doesn't receive semi-regular playing time this season is if Mayberry hits like a boss and forces his way into an everyday job. With this in mind, Nix is worth a last-round draft pick as an outfielder you can throw into your lineup when the Phillies are facing a right-hander. If he isn't producing after, say, four weeks, then you can release him at no real cost. If Nix does produce, however, he is a cheap power source flying under everyone's fantasy radar.

Juan Pierre and Scott Podsednik: There is a tendency to group these two together simply because they're such similar players on paper. Both are left-handed singles hitters in their mid-30's (Podsednik is 35, older than Pierre by 17 months) whose games are built around their base-stealing ability, and they're both in the Phillies' camp on minor league contracts. 

I'd say the similarities end there, however, since I think Pierre is clearly the better player of the two. Pierre has been perceived as a bust simply because he didn't live up to the five-year, $44MM Dodgers contract and because Ozzie Guillen kept playing him every day in Chicago despite Pierre's declining skillset. In a limited platoon capacity, however, I think Pierre brings more to the table than Podsednik, who spent all of 2011 in the minors. Both men have roughly a 75% base-stealing percentage for their careers, but Pierre is the far more prolific base-stealer, just two years removed from a league-leading 68 steals. Pierre is also probably the better defensive option --- he has the better UZR/150 rating over the years (+4.3 to Podsednik's -1.8), though Pierre did post a -10.7 UZR/150 with the White Sox last year.

Pierre and Podsednik both have limited to no fantasy value outside of their stolen bases. One of them will be cut by the end of Spring Training, and the winner of their battle will, at best, be splitting time with Nix against right-handers.  Speed is a valuable commodity in fantasy, but it's not worth having a "quarter-platooner" on your roster.

Fantasy outlook: As I noted earlier, the Phillies' lineup is in a state of flux as the team isn't sure about the health of several key players. Utley hasn't seen any game action at all during Spring Training, as the Phils want to keep him fresh for Opening Day. Howard's potential return date of June 1 may be pushed back due to a setback with his injury rehab. Polanco had hernia surgery in the offseason and suffered a finger injury on Saturday.

If Utley and/or Polanco miss any significant time during the season, Freddy Galvis or a newly-acquired infielder would see playing time, but Wigginton is also a possibility. If Wigginton is moved off of first during the first few months of the season, Mayberry would become essentially the everyday first baseman (with Thome getting a few starts against righties), thus turning the left field platoon into Nix and Pierre/Podsednik.  All three are lefty bats, but Pierre and Podsednik are at least better against southpaws than Nix. Calling up Brown wouldn't necessarily solve this problem since he's also a left-handed hitter.

Needless to say, there's a lot more uncertainty than the Phillies would like given that their window for another World Series with this aging core group is closing. The only constant seems to be that Mayberry will be a regular part of the Philadelphia lineup, no matter if it's at first base or in left field.  That makes him the best fantasy option of the lot.



Transaction Analysis: Pierre, Lidge, Francis

Other than that little matter with that big first baseman, it was a relatively quiet week for transactions. But quiet isn't silent, and when I saw that Juan Pierre signed with Philadelphia, Brad Lidge joined Washington, and Jeff Francis agreed to terms with Cincinnati, it occurred to me that this would have been a huge day back in 2007. Pierre was coming off a 64-steal season, Lidge had just resurrected his career (for the first time), and Francis won 17 games leading Colorado to the NL Pennant.

How times change. Pierre and Francis have signed minor league contracts, while Lidge will earn just $1MM. All three entered the offseason with the potential (however slight) at being fantasy contributors, but all three find themselves in situations that significantly diminish their values but bear at least some attention.

Juan Pierre

Pierre joins a crowded left-field picture for the Phillies, and he will vie with John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, and Domonic Brown for playing time. It's possible that he won't make the team, or that he will be relegated to pinch -unning duty, both of which obviously kill whatever fantasy value the 34-year-old speedster had left after stealing just 27 bases for Ozzie Guillen's White Sox in 2011. Those desperate for steals (in leagues that don't count CS, at least) should keep an eye on Pierre, though, as he has a knack for worming his way into Major League lineups. Pay extra attention if Ryan Howard's injury lingers.

Pierre isn't the only player whose potential value takes a downturn with this move, as Brown just got another roadblock to playing time. This doesn't end his chances at winning a starting job, but it certainly doesn't make it any easier.

Brad Lidge

 Say what you want about Lidge, the guy doesn't stay down. Or up. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a higher-variance ballplayer than Lidge, who can be the worst reliever in baseball or the best. Though it seems safe to say his best years are behind him, the upside that seems to follow him led to speculation that he might land a closing gig somewhere. That speculation ends with his deal with the Nationals. Though he earned the prestige of a Major League deal, it doesn't look like he'll be pitching in the ninth inning, or even the eighth with Drew Storen closing and All-Star Tyler Clippard setting up. Though trade rumors swirled about Storen over the summer, it seems unlikely that a Washington team with dreams of contention would trade both at once.  

Lidge's best chance at fantasy-relevance may hinge on pitching well enough to get traded into another team's stopper job. Deep leagues can at least note that his strikeout rate has never dipped below a batter per inning.

Jeff Francis

Though teams like the Mets and Mariners were thought to have interest -- and room in their rotations -- for Francis, he signed a minor league deal with a Reds team that doesn't have room for the starters they already had. Coming off a mediocre 2011 in which his 4.10 FIP wasn't good but was better than his 4.82 ERA and 16 losses suggested, Francis might have been worth a late-round flier in deep leagues. If he manages to crack the Reds' rotation (he's probably seventh in line if Aroldis Chapman is under real consideration) he'd be worth a look, as Cincinnati looks to compete and Francis's 47% GB rate ought to play decently in cozy Great American Ball Park.

It would probably take a trade or injury to get Francis into the Cincinnati rotation, but if it happens he could be a useful two-start pitcher or streamer, though that's probably where the upside is.

Five years ago, all three of these guys looked like (or even were) fantasy mainstays. At the beginning of the offseason they looked like they could still help your team if they found the right situation. None of them did.



Time To Pick Up Joe Blanton?

Phillies starter Joe Blanton is owned in less than 5% of ESPN leagues, which will probably trend upward after his 10K effort against Tampa Bay last night.  Has anything changed with the 28 year-old righty?

First off Blanton is in his first full National League season.  He bumped up his K/9 upon joining the NL last year, from a career-worst 4.4 to a career-best 6.2.  This year it's much higher at 8.3.  This is reminiscent of Bronson Arroyo, who took the NL by storm in 2006 and faded thereafter.

Blanton's always had solid control, and that's continued this year.  His two problems have been hits and home runs, which have led to a 5.06 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 83.6 innings.  While Blanton has the weakest groundball rate of his career, he still shouldn't continue allowing HRs at 17.5% per flyball.  As for the hits, Blanton's .316 BABIP exceeds his team's .308 by a touch.

XFIP says Blanton has pitched worthy of a 3.96 ERA, and his Expected WHIP is about 1.40.  So he will not help your WHIP without some good fortune in hits or improved control.  It might not be a trend, but Blanton has a 1.95 BB/9 for June and did flash that kind of control in 2007.

Blanton is sitting at the same 89.4 mph fastball as always, but has dialed up slider usage at the expense of his curveball.  He's also using an unidentified pitch almost 10% of the time, a career-high.

Blanton's next matchups are scheduled against the Braves, Mets, and Pirates.  Nothing too terrifying in there, given the Mets' depleted lineup.



2008 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Shane Victorino

Recently a friend suggested to me that Shane Victorino looked like a pretty good sleeper.  I agreed - I've got him at .280-15-63-91-29 in 550 ABs.  Maybe not a five-category guy, but a well-rounded addition to the middle of your outfield in the eighth round.

Then I looked more closely at Victorino's 2007.  Not only did he have to battle with Jayson Werth somewhat for playing time, but a calf strain limited him to only 47 ABs in the season's final two months.  This year, it's Geoff Jenkins who will have to deal with Werth.  Victorino has center field all to himself with the departure of Aaron Rowand.

I got to wondering how Victorino might perform if he was healthy for all of '08 and performed at his '07 pace.  I'll just wipe away the final two months and look at the first four.  The result:

614 ABs
174 hits
.284 average
17 HR
63 RBI
108 Runs
48 steals
$27.09 value
10th most valuable position player; 3rd-ranked OF

Whoa!  Obviously we can't pencil Victorino in for these numbers.  But the potential for a monster fantasy season is there, and I'd advise grabbing Victorino in the seventh or eighth round of a 12 team 5x5 mixed league.  Can you think of anyone else drafted outside of the first 90 picks who could have first or second-round value this year? 



Second Half Sleepers - Philadelphia Phillies

Before we discuss Phillies sleepers, a brief aside on trade rumors involving the Mets.  The Mets have been rumored to be after a myriad of players, but speculation always runs rampant in New York. 

Among the names tossed out include Alfonso Soriano, Jose Mesa, Danys Baez, Jeff Kent, and Adam Dunn.  None of these players would be worth trading both Yusmeiro Petit and Lastings Milledge.  Those two are the Mets #1 pitching and position prospects, respectively.  Only for Adam Dunn should the Mets consider trading one of them.

On to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Are there any hidden gems on this squad?

Jimmy Rollins has a bit of a Corey Patterson complex, fancying himself a power hitter and never taking a walk.  Rollins was just rewarded with a huge contract that the Phils will regret within a few years.  In fantasy baseball, however, Rollins is a hot commodity.  He might steal 50 bags one of these years along with 20 HRs.  Jimmy's .277-8-28-23 line this year doesn't impress much to an owner who paid big bucks before the season to acquire Rollins.  Deal for him if you're making a push towards fantasy gold this year.

Pat Burrell's resurgence was unexpected by most, and his patience at the plate implies more of the same.  Burrell is only 28, so take a gamble on the injuries and acquire him for a Dontrelle Willis type. 

Jim Thome is finished, so pick up Ryan Howard if it's not too late.  For a waiver wire pickup, Howard will give you decent production.  He'll hit around .270 and can hit 25-30 HRs in a full season.  Don't overpay for him in next year's auction, though - his numbers may not be above average for a first baseman.

Ugueth Urbina is a somewhat shaky reliever at this point in his career, but be alert in the event of a Billy Wagner deal.  Urbina is the only possible replacement for Wagner as Philly closer.

Robinson Tejeda's 2.90 ERA looks mighty fine right about now, but he's a sell-high candidate if you own him.  His WHIP is 1.39 as he's been walking people like crazy.  His ERA won't stay under 3 or even 4 if it keeps up. 

If Vicente Padilla is dumped in a trade, keep an eye on Ryan Madson.  If Madson is thrown into the rotation he's a nice sleeper.  Plenty of Ks and otherwise solid peripherals.

Speaking of Ks, Brett Myers is for real.  If a fellow owner thinks it's a fluke or doesn't appreciate the strikeouts, pluck Myers from the ingrate.  Myers is primed for an excellent run for several years.




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