Texas Rangers

Closer Updates: Giants, Blue Jays, Rangers

We've got the latest on all the @closernews closer news, so unless you want to walk off the mound a loser, read on ...

The headliner since we last spoke came this weekend, when news broke that Giants closer Brian Wilson sustained a serious injury, one that San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy ham-handedly phrased as "structural issues." Yes, that's one way of putting it, Boch. The short of it is, The Beard is very likely headed for a second Tommy John surgery, in which case he would be sidelined for the year and perhaps into next.

Of course, we wish Wilson the best and hope to see him back at full strength as soon as possible. Apropos of nothing, may I suggest this excellent piece by Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com for an interesting look at Wilson, which somehow manages to both strip away and prop up Wilson's "Beard" persona.

Anyway, what do we make of this unfortunate situation from a fantasy perspective? Well, Bochy wasted no time in announcing that he'd be deploying a closer-by-committee of Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez, much to frustration of owners everywhere. It's my experience that fantasy types tend not to appreciate ambiguity in these kinds of situations.

The way it plays out may be simpler than it appears at first glance, though. Lopez can probably be discounted as a seriouus closing candidate on account of his LOOGY profile, unless it should work out that he's brought in to face a tough lefty for the final out of a game. That leaves us Romo and Casilla, and though Romo would be the rightful successor as one of the dominant relievers in baseball, he must be handled gently on account of his propensity for injuries, as Baggarly notes in the above-mentioned article. We can debate it from an old school-new school perspective all we want, but frailty is not a virtue for ballplayers -- especially not for closers, who are supposed to get their Dale Earnhardt on on the mound.

In fact, Casilla is the trendy own, and I think it has merit. Recall that the Giants faced life without Wilson for a substantial chunk of the second half last season on account of an elbow strain (ominously enough). During that time, the bulk of save opportunities went to the right-hander Casilla, a strong-armed reliever whose shiny surface stats have seemed to belie rather pedestrian peripherals for a couple years running now (3.66 SIERA vs. 1.74 ERA in 2011, for example). Casilla will likely get first crack, and although I worry about whether he can run with the job, he's the better pickup.

Blue Jays
Sergio Santos got off to a slow start as a Blue Jay, allowing four earned runs in his first three innings of work. Then, he had the indecency to tend to the birth of his child, which left his ugly small-sample-size numbers to linger on his owners' stats sheets like two-week-old Easter candy.

The good followers at @closernews pinged us with a few questions regarding Santos before he bounced for paternity leave. Though we've seen even the most entrenched closers receive ye olde demotion over the years, I'm not yet worried about Santos' job security. For one, the Jays made a point of trading for him and his team-friendly contract this offseason, so you know he's Their Guy for the foreseeable future. For two, Francisco Cordero ain't much of an alternative at this juncture of his career. I mean, what would be the point?

Unless Santos is injured -- and I have absolutely no reason to believe that -- bet on him bouncing back now that Mary's dropped his baby girl. I hesitate to ignore that whole correlation-causation rule, but would it shock you if Santos' poor early production had something to do with an impending addition to his family? We can't say that for sure, but don't do anything crazy like dropping or selling low on Santos. Sit him down for an outing or two, if you're really concerned.

Like the Blue Jays and Santos, Texas has seen newly acquired closer Joe Nathan scuffle in his first few outings as a Ranger. Ron Washington quelled any concerns with an unequivocal declaration as to the identity of his closer (hint: it's Nathan), but this is a situation I'm watching a little more closely.

Nathan is old and two years removed from Tommy John surgery. The latter concern may not be worth mentioning considering the usual time frame for pitchers to fully recover from the procedure, but at Nathan's advanced age, it may be fair to wonder whether he's looking at a different time table. After all my 29-year-old legs tire when I hike up more than two sets of subway steps at a time, so I can't even imagine whipping a baseball at 93 mph eight years from now coming off TJ.

That being said, the Rangers lavished two guaranteed years and $14.75MM on Nathan this offseason, so the last thing they want at the one-percent mark of the deal is a closer controversy. Nathan will receive every chance to get right. It took Neftali Feliz till August-ish to hit his groove last season, and though he presented the Rangers several opportunities to look elsewhere, they never did.

But what if Nathan doesn't get right? Could it finally be the year for Mike Adams? This is one to keep tabs on.

Heath Bell's first few outings in Florida Miami haven't gone, um, swimmingly, either. The chubby stopper has allowed two runs in two of his four outings this season, and in one of the others, he issued three free passes. Ugh.

Bell's peripherals took a pretty drastic downturn last season, so this is not an altogether shocking development. Is he hurt? That's hard to say. His velocity is down about one mph, but that's in a very small sample, and ... it's one mph. That being said, let's wait a few more outings till we write off Bell as another free-agent flop (joining Ryan Madson). The Marlins -- perhaps even moreso than the Rangers -- have every incentive in the world to stick with their closer till his arm falls off because of the roundly criticized contract they signed him to during their offseason feeding signing frenzy.

Ironically, Bell was one of the beneficiaries of the Marlins' awkward hey-look-at-us-we-have-money campaign. Now, we'll get to see how serious they are  in handling him if it comes down to wins and losses.

Edward Mujica is my pick to succeed the Heater in the event something should go down (although Steve Cishek would be a candidate too, I spose), and while I have my cursor on the add-drop button, I'm not acting until Bell turns in another clunker.

Transaction Analysis: Rangers, Darvish Agree To Terms

Yu Darvish. Even his name is exciting. A colorful ace with rock star fame, Yu Darvish comes to America with with more fanfare than any Japanese player since Daisuke Matsuzaka. He brings the hype of a first-round draft pick and five consecutive years of sub 2.00 ERAs in a league generally considered to be tougher than Triple-A. Rangers fans should be excited by his presence in their rotation, and baseball fans in general should be excited to see if Darvish can prove he really is one of the world's best pitchers on the biggest stage. 

You should be excited to watch Darvish in the MLB. But should you be so excited that you plant him on your fantasy team?

Briefly: yes.

To be sure, there are risks associated with drafting Japanese ballplayers (or signing them, for that matter); one only needs to look at the track records of most Japanese imports to be wary. Daisuke Matsuzaka was an ace in Japan--this year he may not make the Red Sox rotation. Hideo Nomo had his moments, but was maddeningly inconsistent (I know: I once drafted him two years in a row.)

Differing ballpark dimensions, pitch selections, playing styles and ball types all conspire to make it relatively difficult to translate NBP performance into an MLB equivalent, though our own Mike Axisa evaluates some projections at RotoGraphs. Most of the projections that are out now suggest an ERA in the 3.00s with a strikeout rate of about 8.00 K/9, which would be good but perhaps shy of ace-level. There could be a lot of variance in those projections, however any ERA from the 2.00s to the low 4.00s wouldn't surprise me.

Uncertainty aside, there's a lot to like about Yu Darvish, in real and (more importantly) fantasy baseball. Check out his stats since 2007 here

Many have commented on the durability of Japanese pitchers. The Japanese schedule is shorter and more spread out, so many Japanese pitchers come to the Majors with relatively low innings totals. Darvish, however, has thrown quite a few innings recently, pitching 232 last year and breaking the 200 mark in four of the past five seasons.

For comparison's sake, Matsuzaka broke 200 just twice in eight seasons in Japan, and American prospects never throw so many in the minors. While pitching on a five-day schedule instead of a seven-day may take its toll, Darvish has been pitching with a Major League workload since he was 18. Of course, it could always be his previous overwork that breaks him down, but that strikes me as more of a long-term worry and less of a reason to be scared in 2012. If other owners want to let Dice-K scare them off from Darvish, let that be their loss.

Darvish was a strikeout artist in Japan, averaging over a whiff an inning since 2007 (his age-20 season), including a 10.7 mark last year. He has a power pitcher's arsenal, with a 94-mph fastball that may well translate into Major League strikeouts better than the Swiss-Army assortment that many Japanese pitchers employ. Along with those strikeouts he's employed impeccable control, averaging over four strikeouts per walk in four of the last five years. Last year, he posted a 7.67K/BB. (Note of caution: Matsuzaka had limited his walks effectively in Japan, so control may not be a guarantee.) While last year has the look of a career year, he's young enough (he turns 26 this August) that it might have been just another step forward as a pitcher. 

I'm sure the Rangers took all of this into account when they signed Darvish, but we get to consider something that Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels couldn't: the Rangers themselves. The Rangers are a smart club and they know pitching, having earned some benefit of the doubt with Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson and their willingness to try Neftali Feliz in the rotation. The fact that they spent $111 million on Darvish gives me confidence that I wouldn't have gotten from the Orioles or the Reds making the same decision.

For fantasy purposes, of course, there's another team-factor to consider: the Rangers are a good team with a great offense in a division that includes two weak sisters. They're going to win plenty of games and some of those wins will fall to Darvish, even if he underachieves relative to expectations. While his home park won't do him any favors, the Seattle and Oakland offenses will.

There are no minor league comparables for Yu Darvish, as any pitcher in the Western Hemisphere with his talent would have been in the Majors long ago, but Eno Sarris of Fangraphs drew up a list of similar Major Leaguers last month. He suggests that Johnny Cueto makes an appropriate floor for Darvish's value and Jordan Zimmermann a rough median projection. Felix Hernandez provides a ceiling. Which seems to say that he'll probably be at least very good -- a No. 2 starter, for a good team -- his potential is among the best in baseball. Even Johnny Cueto has fantasy value, and he'd have even more with the Rangers.

Right now, Darvish's ADP is 124.14 -- appropriately, just two spots ahead of Zimmermann (ironically, Cueto is being drafted about a round earlier.) This strikes me as a decent prediction of where he'll be taken in a lot of drafts, as the 10th and 11th rounds are good times to take the top prospect off the board, but I wouldn't be afraid to take him a round or two early. I wouldn't make him as my ace, but taking him as a second or third SP would give your staff a lot of upside. Don't get me wrong, Darvish is far from a sure thing, but I've found that playing it safe is a good way to finish in the middle of the pack; winning teams make calculated risks, and Darvish looks like a risk worth taking.

Nelson Cruz's Potential

Nelson Cruz raked at Triple-A in 2008 (37 home runs, 24 steals) and continued that production for a month with the Rangers.  We touted him as a big sleeper heading into '09, and as an 11th-round pick he returned great value (33 home runs, 20 steals).  A sprained ankle limited him to 515 plate appearances that year, and we felt he was still being undervalued in 2010 drafts as a sixth-rounder.

However, Cruz hit the DL three separate times in 2010 for a hamstring injury.  He picked up only 445 PAs, but his numbers were even better - a .318 average, 22 home runs, and 17 steals.  His home run rate was down, but his slugging percentage increased.

Since 2008 Cruz is hitting .292/.360/.555 in 1093 big league plate appearances, with 62 home runs, 180 RBIs, 154 runs, and 40 steals.  What if Cruz finally stays healthy in 2011?  89 players racked up 600+ PAs this year.  If Cruz reaches that level, his last three years suggest something like .292-34-99-85-22.  Few players can match that, and the ceiling could be more like 40 homers, 120 ribbies, and 25 steals.  Here's hoping Cruz goes in the sixth round or later again in 2011.

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C.J. Wilson Worth A Look

We've seen relievers convert back to starting successfully in recent years, with examples such as Ryan Dempster and Justin Duchscherer.  Is the Rangers' C.J. Wilson the latest success story?

Today Wilson allowed no runs with nine strikeouts and two walks against the Blue Jays, so he's probably on the fantasy radar now.  While the Jays project in the lower half for AL offenses, the performance is still impressive.  In relief Wilson was a big strikeout/groundball guy, so perhaps some of that will carry over to starting.  WHIP may be an issue, as he's always walked his fair share.  On the flip side perhaps he can keep the hits down more than the average hurler.  Wilson may be worth trying against the Indians next time out.

Remember, you can't afford to wait for a sufficient sample size.  If someone is interesting, pick him up and ask questions later.  Those who hesitated missed out on Kendry Morales, Ben Zobrist, and Aaron Hill last year.

2010 Sleepers: Julio Borbon

Rangers outfielder Julio Borbon is currently being picked in the 16th round on average, and he could be quite a bargain for your fantasy team.

According to this AP story, Borbon will not be shielded against lefties in 2010.  He is penciled in as the Rangers' center fielder and leadoff man.  Say I put him down for 600 ABs, not atypical for a leadoff man.  In that case Borbon would have a projected fantasy line of .293-5-53-95-40.  It'd be a very Juan Pierre-like line (Pierre is a huge sleeper himself, since he'll play everyday and lead off for the White Sox).

Certain speedsters are not getting proper respect this year.  Borbon, Pierre, Rajai Davis, Everth Cabrera, and Elvis Andrus are all projected to swipe 40+ bags and score 80+ runs, but they're going in the 13th round or later.

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2010 Sleepers: Colby Lewis

The more I hear about Rangers starter Colby Lewis, the more I like him as a 2010 fantasy option.  His career MLB work is ugly: a 6.71 ERA and 1.81 WHIP in 217.3 innings.  Fantasy owners don't care about him; he's not being drafted among the top 389 picks according to Mock Draft Central.  So why is he a quality sleeper?

Lewis spent the last two years in Japan, and he was awesome there.  His 2009 performance: 2.96 ERA, 9.49 K/9, and a 0.7 BB/9.  That's a 9.79 K/BB ratio.  In 2008 it was a 2.68 ERA, 9.25 K/9, 1.37 BB/9, and a 6.78 K/BB.

ESPN's Tim Kurkjian has a great article explaining Lewis' transformation in Japan.  He gained a new mindset, delivery, and cutter in his time there, and this winter a dozen MLB teams were dialing up his agent.  It's not common for an American player to return from Japan and get $5MM.  Lewis is still only 30 years old.

How do the projection systems feel about Lewis?

  • CHONE: 3.99 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.08 K/9, 2.05 BB/9
  • ZiPS: 4.39 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.53 K/9, 2.60 BB/9
  • PECOTA: 3.89 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.04 K/9, 2.36 BB/9
  • HQ: 4.52 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 6.71 K/9, 3.19 BB/9

Quite a range, with two of the four projection systems suggesting Lewis could be quite valuable in any league.  As is the case with most mixed league sleepers, you've got little to lose.

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Chris Davis Projections

Most projection systems see big things for Rangers infielder Chris Davis after he smacked 17 home runs in 295 ABs as a rookie.  Davis qualifies at first base, and also at third if ten games played cuts it in your league. 

Assuming 550 at-bats, here are the projections for Davis:

So we're looking at something like .284-35-107-99-6 on average.  Davis is currently being drafted in the ninth round, 15th among first basemen (behind Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee, Carlos Delgado, Joey Votto, and James Loney).  None of these guys have anything on Davis aside from experience.  Here on December 19th he looks like a great sleeper at position 105.25, but we'll see where that average draft position is in March.

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Chris Davis Gets The Call

Haven't seen this elsewhere yet - the Rangers have called up first baseman Chris Davis, according to his hometown paper.  I took a look at him in this post.  Big-time power.

Davis is available in CBS leagues, so go snag him if you have the roster space.

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A Look At Chris Davis

Heading into the season, Baseball America ranked Rangers first baseman Chris Davis 65th among all prospects.  He hit .298/.340/.573 in High A ball and .294/.371/.688 in Double A in '07, totaling 36 home runs.

Davis, now 22, has been even better this year.  He continued mashing Double A at a .333/.376/.618 clip.  That earned him a promotion to Triple A, where he's hit a ridiculous .356/.410/.733 in 90 ABs.

Davis could disrupt the Rangers' plan, which had been to use Hank Blalock at first base when he came off the DL.  Blalock is targeting a Tuesday return.  He is no sure thing - he could be moved back to third, he could need more time on the DL, he could even be traded.  Davis will find a way into the lineup this year, it seems.

Davis is available in CBS leagues, so add him if you have the roster space.  He certainly looks like at least a 30 HR bat (and may not need much adjustment time).

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Fukumori Leading Save Candidate In Texas

It's officially time to bump the Rangers' Kazuo Fukumori up on your cheatsheets.  C.J. Wilson and Joaquin Benoit are both questionable for Opening Day, leaving an opportunity for Fukumori to beat out Eddie Guardado for save chances.  Fukumori has six scoreless innings this spring.  Kind of meaningless, but managers like that.

Granted, I have Fukumori posting a 4.82 ERA and 1.66 WHIP this year.  But how many times have we seen a Japanese reliever blow away his projections?  You can't be too picky with waiver wire closers. 

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