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Player Projections Blog- March 5th

Paul Sauberer

Sure, plenty of attention has been focused on Alfonso Soriano since he signed with the Cubs. It's possible, though, that he may actually be underhyped. After a 2006 season in which he hit .277 with 46 homers and 41 SBs he could be in line to show a substantial improvement. A 50/50 season while flirting with .300 is not out of the realm of possibility. Two major factors work in Soriano's favor. First is his change of ballpark. This is a not a minor thing. RFK Stadium has a ballpark index of 90 for right handed batters in terms of batting average and 81 for homers Since the Nationals started playing there. What this translates to is 10% more difficulty getting hits and 19% more difficulty hitting homers for right handed batters in the Nation's Capital when compared to the average NL park. The numbers are radically different in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. Over the past three years, Wrigley's ballpark indexes for righthanders are 102 for batting average and 119 for homers. Add in a more effective surrounding cast and that explains why Soriano is poised to explode in homers and batting average. What could drive him towards 50 SBs? The new skipper in Chicago, Lou Piniella, has a tendency to use speedsters when he has them. Ichiro! and Carl Crawford got lots of green lights, putting Piniella's teams consistently in the top ranks of the SB attempt counts. Soriano will also likely be sent often and rack up lots of steals.

A word of warning about Barry Zito...He was in the top 5 in batters faced in the AL in 2005 and 2006. In addition, Zito carried similar workloads in back-to-back seasons in 2002 and 2003. In 2004 his ERA jumped by over a run (from 3.30 to 4.48), although he did increase his K total (from 146 to 163).

For comparison's sake, we can look at Johan Santana. The Minnesota ace threw more innings than Zito (233.2 to 221) in the same number of starts (34) but made over 200 fewer pitches than the erstwhile Bay Area free agent (3454 to 3666). Santana made a much more efficient use of his effort. Another positive in Santana's favor in terms of likely durability is that his heavy workloads did not begin until he hit the age of 25, when he faced over 900 batters for the first time in 2004. There is a strong historical correlation between heavy early use and loss of effectiveness and/or health. In Zito's case, he has faced more than 900 major league batters since his sophomore year in the majors in 2001 when he was 23. If you were going to bet on the health of one of those two pitchers, Santana is a clear choice.

Even waiting is not a guarantee where heavy workload is concerned. Roy Halladay was 25 when he got to the majors to stay in 2002 and faced 993 batters. He followed that up by facing 1071 batters in 2003. This was followed by two injury plagued seasons (although it would be hard to blame his broken leg in 2005 on prior overuse). Last year Halladay was able to make 32 starts, only missing the final two due to what appeared to be minor discomfort. Despite logging 220 IP, Halladay is not to be found in the top 20 in AL pitches thrown (he tossed 3050) or batters faced (876). This bodes well for him avoiding major injury woes and that broken leg two years ago may have actually been a blessing in disguise, giving him needed rest.

Speaking of performance trends that track prior season's usage, let's talk about Freddy Garcia. The new Phillie has shown distinct tendencies to post numbers that correlate to how much he was used in the previous year. In every season where he has faced fewer than 900 batters he showed overall improvement the following season. Conversely, whenever he faces over 900 batters his numbers slide the next year. How many batters did Garcia face last year? 917

This is the time of year when you hear a lot about "strength of schedule."Mostly, it is in reference to the NCAA Basketball tournament and how that factor plays into selections for the field of 64 (or 65 or however many it is now). Usually it doesn't matter much in baseball. Over the course of 162 games, that sort of thing evens out. In some cases, though, it rears its head. Takashi Saito is a case in point. Last season, only 20 of Saito's 78- 1/3 innings pitched came against teams that were in the top half of their league in terms of Runs/Plate Appearance. So, in essence Saito compiled an outstanding pitching record against the weaker teams in the majors. The 37-year-old may have a tough time avoiding a sophomore jinx and repeating his 2.07 ERA and 24 saves in 26 opportunities that he got in 2006.

Mark Grudzielanek's injury may give some extra early playing time to Esteban German. German is one of those players who has proven everything he could in the minors but has not gotten an opporunity to play for an extended stretch in the majors. Last season he did manage to post very good numbers (.326 batting average and .422 OBP) in 279 at bats in KC, but Grudzielanek was still the incumbent at 2B. German would likely fill a utility role if Grudzielanek hadn't been injured. Now he's got a month to prove that he deserves a permanent place in the lineup.

Don't do any cartwheels over Bobby Crosby's statement that he is feeling no lingering effects from last season's injuries. He put in a full workload in the spring of 2005 before suffering the stress fracture in his rib cage that started off that season's DL-heavy events. This is not to be confused with the stress fractures that Crosby suffered last year and hampered his availability and effectiveness.

Likewise, assurances from Jeff Weaver that his poor results in his spring debut are just due to normal "tinkering"are not enough to put doubts aside. Since leading the AL in batters faced in 2001 at age 24, Weaver has not put together an effective full season.

Contract dances sometimes mystify and such is the case with the Braves and Jeff Francoeur. Atlanta offered an amount if he would agree to sign voluntarily, but when he didn't, renewed him at a lower amount. Why did they seemingly go out of their way to try and build bad blood with Francoeur? What did they hope to accomplish by going this route? Did they do it just because they can? To "prove a point?"Francoeur gave the predictable "there is no bitterness"quotes, but will it have absolutely no effect on his on field performance or desire to stay with the team when the leverage positions are reversed? Who knows? But I wouldn't be surprised if this sort of action comes back to haunt them in negotiations with draft picks. I can just see Scott Boras pointing to this and telling a Braves' first rounder, "You've got to get as much from them as you can up front because they are going to short you as long as they have the power to do so."If Atlanta was willing to pay Francoeur the higher amount, why didn't they do the magnanimous thing and go ahead and renew him at that amount?

David Dellucci's return to the AL should also increase his fantasy value. He may get more playing time than ever in his career and can help in power and average in deeper leagues.

Derrick Turnbow could see a major rebound from his disastrous second half last season. It was like an alien invaded his body. He had a sudden loss of control, seeing his walk rate climb astronomically, while his strikeout rate plummeted and he started giving up a higher percentage of fly balls, too many of which sailed over the fence. That kind of sudden turnaround indicated either injury, attitude problem or mechanical flaws. In Turnbow's case, it appears to have been mechanical flaws which then started a vicious cycle of loss of confidence that led to an inability to correct the flaws. After the pressure of the season abated, Turnbow was able to work on his delivery. He has lost his closer role, but could regain it if Francisco Cordero repeats his struggles of early 2006.

Here are some press notes from the team beat writers this morning:

Keppinger, Jeff - Cin/2B: According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, "Reds infielder Jeff Keppinger suffered a broken right ring finger when he was hit with a pitch thrown by Pirates pitcher Allan Simpson during the fifth inning of Sunday's "A" game at McKechnie Field. He is expected to miss four to six weeks. Simpson faced six batters and threw two wild pitches during the inning."

Johnson, Reed - Tor/OF: The Toronto Sun reports that "there is still no timetable for leftfielder Reed Johnson's first appearance. He's trying to get over a sore lower back."

Gagne, Eric - Tex/RP: According to the Dallas Morning News, "Pitching coach Mark Connor said Eric Gagne's throwing session Tuesday will have an impact on when he makes his first appearance in a game. If the session goes well, Gagne might be ready to go on March 12 at Milwaukee."

FYIUpton, B.J. - TB/3B: The St. Petersburg Times reports that "The team-record six errors the Devil Rays made in Sunday's 7-4 loss to Toronto were concerning enough that there will be extra fielding practice this morning. But most glaring was two were on throws from third by B.J. Upton, who had been looking as if he was putting his defensive woes behind him.

Eckstein, David - StL/SS: As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, "If he feels well after Sunday's light workouts, shortstop David Eckstein (side muscle strain) will begin baseball activities today, but he will be limited to just throwing."

Rolen, Scott - StL/3B: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that "Scott Rolen, usually one to ease into his at-bats in spring training, has cranked up his swing in recent games. On Sunday, he cracked a double down the line for his second hit of the game. "He's taking competitive at-bats," La Russa said."

Lopez, Jose - Sea/2B: As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports, "Manager Mike Hargrove said if 2B Jose Lopez's sprained ankle continues to improve, he could see his first action of the spring in the next couple of days."

Nady, Xavier - Pit/OF: As the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports, "The team learned that outfielder Xavier Nady's inflamed intestine was caused by a viral infection and not a chronic digestive disorder, representing his best-case scenario. That clears Nady to resume full activity -- as he is ready -- in plenty of time for the start of the season. ... Nady's ailment had the potential to be far more serious."

Bay, Jason - Pit/OF: According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, "Outfielder Jason Bay, coming back from offseason knee surgery, has been running for four days and expects to get into a game by tomorrow or Wednesday."

Gordon, Tom - Phi/RP: According to the Philadelphia Inquirer & Daily News, "Closer Tom Gordon will pitch in his first Grapefruit League game tomorrow in Bradenton against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Gordon has pitched in simulated games thus far but is healthy. ... Gordon went 3-4 with a 3.34 ERA and 34 saves last season, when he earned a National League all-star spot. He also missed time with a strained right shoulder."

Frandsen, Kevin - SF/2B: The Contra Costa Times reports that "Second baseman Kevin Frandsen had three hits, including a home run into the wind and a two-run single, in the Giants' 5-4 victory over Seattle at Scottsdale Stadium. ... Noah Lowry struggled with his fastball command, walked two and gave up two hits but held Seattle scoreless over 2ª innings. Sun-Woo Kim pitched two shutout innings despite a lingering flu bug. Left-hander Steve Kline allowed a two-run home run to Adrian Beltre. Ryan Klesko singled, doubled and scored twice."

Benitez, Armando - SF/RP: As the Contra Costa Times reports, "Armando Benitez threw for more than 12 minutes off a bullpen mound, his first major activity since being knocked down for two days with the flu. Pitching coach Dave Righetti said he'd know today when Benitez would make his Cactus League debut.
"He got a good sweat going," Righetti said. "He's got to face some hitters pretty soon, though."

Kotsay, Mark - Oak/OF: As the Contra Costa Times reports, "Geren said he anticipates some light being shed on the condition of Mark Kotsay's back after the center fielder gets a third opinion on MRI results today. "We should have a lot better understand of the situation," Geren said. "I've talked to him, and he's encouraged. He sounds great and is very positive about what he's heard so far."

Harden, Rich - Oak/P: According to the Contra Costa Times, "Contrary to the initial impression, Rich Harden is not yet ready for October. But he probably had more than a few people fooled Sunday. The A's projected ace was lights out in his Cactus League debut, striking out five of the last six hitters he faced and tossing two scoreless innings in his team's 4-3 win over the San Diego Padres at Peoria Sports Complex. Harden surrendered only a two-out double to Adrian Gonzalez in the third inning, and second baseman Marcus Giles was the only other Padre to make contact against him. ... Harden whiffed the final four hitters he faced, using a mixture of power and finesse. Josh Bard and Russell Branyan were caught looking at strike three on what appeared to be changeups. Khalil Greene and Geoff Blum went down swinging on what appeared to be high heat. ... Harden said he'll mix in his curveball and slider as the exhibition season continues."

Hernandez, Orlando - NYN/P: As the New York Post reports, "Orlando Hernandez may make his spring debut on Wednesday or Thursday, according to Randolph. El Duque has been dealing with neck arthritis."

FYIRivera, Mariano - NYA/RP: The Newark Star-Ledger reports that "Closer Mariano Rivera will pitch in his first spring training game of the season today."

FYIIgawa, Kei - NYA/P: As the Newark Star-Ledger reports, "Kei Igawa will make his spring training debut today, starting and pitching two innings against the Tigers."

Ford, Lew - Min/OF: According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "Outfielder Lew Ford will not need surgery on his right knee, in which the meniscus is slightly torn. He will probably need another week before he can get into a game. Last week's cortisone shot was for tendinitis, which the Twins suspect is the main problem."

Turnbow, Derrick - Mil/RP: The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that "It's only exhibition play but Derrick Turnbow is starting to look like the all-star reliever he was in the first half of last season, not the train wreck of the second half. Turnbow turned in his second consecutive strong outing Sunday in a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, pitching a perfect eighth inning with one strikeout. Turnbow has retired all six batters he has faced in the two games, striking out two. ... Turnbow lost his pitching mechanics and confidence in the second half of last season, forfeiting the closer's role to Francisco Cordero in the process. In 23 outings after the break, he compiled a 0-5 record and 11.29 earned run average, with only one save. Turnbow went home over the winter and threw more bullpen sessions than normal in an effort to fix his delivery. So far, so good. ... Manager Ned Yost still plans to finish games with Cordero, with Turnbow in a set-up role, but has been pleased with the progress of his former closer."

Fielder, Prince - Mil/1B: According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "First baseman Prince Fielder was allowed to take batting practice and field ground balls in the morning workout as he continued to make progress with his strained right quadriceps muscle. Outfielder Gabe Gross (hamstring strain) and catcher Damian Miller (calf strain) hit balls off a tee but were not yet ready for regular BP. "They're all making progress," Yost said. "They're all getting better."

FYIRoyals - KC/T: According to the Kansas City Star, "Third baseman Alex Gordon broke a zero-for-six spring with a line-drive single in the second inning. First baseman Ryan Shealy took away a hit from Frank Catalanotto with a nice diving stop on a grounder up the line for the final out in the third. Center fielder David DeJesus is now zero for nine after going hitless in three at-bats."

FYIRoyals - KC/T: The Kansas City Star reports that "Zack Greinke breezed through a one-two-three fourth, including an inning-ending strikeout of Sosa, before getting roughed up for three runs and four hits in the fifth. Ian Kinsler's two-run homer was the big blow."

Thames, Marcus - Det/OF: According to the Detroit Free Press, "Marcus Thames, who is attempting to learn first base, started there for the third straight game. If Thames can play first base part-time during the season, he can regain some of the at-bats he would otherwise lose because of Gary Sheffield's addition to the Tigers' lineup. Thames misplayed a routine grounder by Grady Sizemore to open the bottom of the first Sunday. He went errorless for the remainder of his five-inning stint. In 21 innings at first base in this exhibition season, Thames has made two errors. Manager Jim Leyland said Thames would play "quite a bit" at first in spring training."

FYIReds - Cin/T: As the Cincinnati Enquirer reports, "Right-handed reliever Dustin Hermanson faced hitters in live batting practice Sunday. "It felt better than the other day," he said. "I had my legs under me."Hermanson will skip today and then face hitters Tuesday. He thinks he'll be ready to pitch in a game.

FYICubs - ChN/T: As the Arlington Daily Herald reports, "Mark Prior, Ted Lilly and Kerry Wood will pitch today for the Cubs against the Seattle Mariners' Miguel Batista in Peoria, Ariz."

Baker, Jeff - Col/3B: As the Rocky Mountain News reports, "Jeff Baker started in place of Helton at first, a position Baker is being asked to learn this spring to add to the playing time he will get. Baker is expected to back up at first, third, left field and right field."

FYITulowitzki, Troy - Col/SS: According to the Rocky Mountain News, "Troy Tulowitzki, battling Clint Barmes for the starting shortstop job, went 3-for-4 with a double, three runs and three RBI in the 14-7 victory against Arizona on Sunday night at Tucson Electric Park. It's the Rockies' only night game of the spring."

Helton, Todd - Col/1B: According to the Denver Post, "First baseman Todd Helton missed his second consecutive game because of inflammation in his right knee. Helton recognizes that at age 33 he must take more precautions with injuries, particularly in spring training. "I feel good. It will be fine," Helton said Sunday. Helton would not have played the past two games because he rarely travels to Phoenix, a concession to his previously injured back. His absence created more playing time for Jeff Baker, who is learning first base and figures to be a reserve corner infielder and outfielder."

FYISabathia, C.C. - Cle/P: According to the Akron Beacon Journal, "There will be no spring training golf for C.C. Sabathia this year. Sabathia made his first start of the spring Sunday, as the Indians dropped a 7-4 decision to the Detroit Tigers at Chain of Lakes Park. In two scoreless innings, he gave up two hits and struck out three. Retiring every batter in exhibition games is not Sabathia's priority. Avoiding a strained muscle in his rib cage is. That precise injury sidelined Sabathia for the first month of each of the past two seasons. Sabathia thinks golf might be the problem."

Hansen, Craig - Bos/RP: As the Providence Journal reports, "Craig Hansen, who threw a bullpen session yesterday, will do some light work today and could pitch in a game as early as Wednesday. Mike Timlin, still being brought along slowly because of a muscle pull in the back, could get into a game by the weekend."

Schilling, Curt - Bos/P: The Boston Globe reports that "Curt Schilling's experimentation with a relatively new changeup is going well. ... Schilling threw nine or 10 changeups yesterday in 3 1/3 innings of a 6-1 win over the Twins at Hammond Stadium with a grip he's been working on for three years. He's to the point, at age 40, that he feels he can use the pitch to make hitters hit the ball into the ground. ... Schilling allowed only one run, a homer on a fastball over the plate to Michael Cuddyer with one out in the fourth."

Lee, Travis - Was/1B: According to the Washington Post, "First baseman Travis Lee, who hasn't played in a Grapefruit League game because of a strained oblique muscle, took batting practice Sunday and said he will likely get a couple of at-bats in the team's minor league camp Monday. His first game could come Tuesday."

FYIJames, Chuck - Atl/P: The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that "Chuck James allowed a run on three hits and a walk in the first inning of his spring debut, then retired the Dodgers in order in the second and headed for the showers. Braves starters work two innings in their first game of spring. ... The left-hander said he's working on his slider this spring, a pitch he never felt comfortable enough to use much last season. He thinks a slider could help him combat left-handed hitters, who batted .297 against him last season. Right-handers hit only .215 against him."

FYILee, Derrek - ChN/1B: As the Arizona Republic reports, "Derrek Lee hit his first homer of spring training for the Cubs, who dropped to 0-3 in Cactus League play."

Sosa, Sammy - Tex/OF: The Arizona Republic reports that "Sammy Sosa hit his first home run of spring training. Sosa, who has 588 career homers, drove a 1-1 pitch from Royals right-hander Luke Hudson over the left-center fence to lead off the second inning. It was Sosa's first home run since Aug. 4, 2005, when he was with the Orioles. ... Sosa struck out and flied out in his other two at-bats. He started in right field after being the Rangers' designated hitter Saturday and in a "B" game on Friday."

Wells, David - SD/P: As the Arizona Republic reports, "Left-hander David Wells participated in a morning batting-practice session and said he expects to throw a bullpen session in the middle of the week. "It went very well," Wells said. "I don't feel 100 percent velocity-wise, but it's getting there."

Crosby, Bobby - Oak/SS: According to the Arizona Republic, "Shortstop Bobby Crosby faced live pitching for the first time this spring training and showed no lingering effects from the back injury that sidelined him for the final two months last season. ... Crosby missed 63 games in 2006 with a stress fracture in his back and other injuries."

FYIBonds, Barry - SF/OF: The Arizona Republic reports that "Barry Bonds missed spring training workouts for the second straight day because of the flu. Bonds wasn't in the Giants lineup for a home exhibition game vs. the Mariners after coming down with the same bug that has affected much of the Giants roster in the past two weeks."

Grudzielanek, Mark - KC/2B: As the Arizona Republic reports, "Kansas City Royals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek will have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee today and is expected to be out at least a month. Grudzielanek has a medial meniscus cartilage tear. He first experienced knee pain Friday night and reported it to the training staff Saturday. ... Grudzielanek will have surgery in Kansas City. Once he is cleared to travel, he will return to spring training camp in Surprise to begin rehabilitation, the Royals said Sunday.  In a news release, the team said there is no timetable for Grudzielanek's return. But General Manager Dayton Moore offered an estimate on the radio broadcast of Kansas City's game against the Texas Rangers."

Johnson, Randy - Ari/P: As the Arizona Republic reports, "Johnson threw 61 pitches on Sunday in his fourth bullpen session of camp and will throw at least one more on Wednesday before facing live hitters in his continuing rehab after back surgery."

Brazoban, Yhency - LAN/RP: The Los Angeles Times reports that "Reliever Yhency Brazoban has been throwing from a mound and remains on target for a June return from elbow ligament replacement surgery."

Saito, Takashi - LAN/RP: According to the Los Angeles Times, "Closer Takashi Saito threw 25 pitches in a simulated game and is scheduled to make his first Grapefruit League appearance Wednesday. The Dodgers have been cautious with Saito because he reported to camp with a sore right calf."

FYIAngels - LAA/T: As the Los Angeles Times reports, "Closer Francisco Rodriguez and setup man Scot Shields are expected to make their exhibition debut Friday, preceded sometime this week by setup man Justin Speier. Rodriguez pitched three innings in the Cactus League last season, then led the majors with 47 saves."

Kotchman, Casey - LAA/1B: According to the Los Angeles Times, "The Angels handed the starting first base job to Casey Kotchman last spring, but he contracted mononucleosis and sat out most of the season. The Angels have promised him nothing this spring, but he appears well on the way to winning his job back. Kotchman homered and singled in the Angels' 5-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday. At first base, offense is the Angels' first priority. They haven't ruled out Kendry Morales at first base - or Shea Hillenbrand, if they really do trade for a big bat at designated hitter - but Kotchman's defensive superiority could clinch the job for him as long as he keeps hitting."

There are over 100 press news items similar to the news above posted in the member section by 8 AM EST each morning during the season. If you are not already a member, take a look at some of what we offer.

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