Preseason Blog - March 7, 2008
Noah Lowry - Lowry's start to the 2008 season has been about as bad as it gets. Lowry has complained of "fatigue" in the area between his left thumb and wrist, which definitely does not help his control. In his two appearances this spring, Lowry walked 12 of the 23 batters he faced and posted a 23.14 ERA. Now we have a solid reason. The diagnosis is tendinitis in his left wrist and he'll undergo surgery today (Friday) to fix it. He'll likely miss at least 2-3 weeks and there is speculation that he probably won't see the mound again until at least the end of April. This is definitely not a good way to start the spring if you're the Giants, manager Bruce Bochy, or a fantasy owner. Pitchers Kevin Correia and Jonathan Sanchez are expected to carry the load at the end of the rotation until its time for Lowry to return. Lowry was 14-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 2007. With an ADP of 27.1, he was likely a decent NL-only pick coming into the preseason, but is now considered a high-injury risk.
Albert Pujols - As Albert Pujols continues to drop in fantasy drafts on the expectation of elbow concerns, any news out of Cardinals camp is closely scrutinized. The Cardinals' team physician indicated that Pujols has a "high grade" tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, in addition to bone spurs, inflammation and arthritis in the joint. So, he'll play through the pain (as long as its tolerable) until the Cardinals shut him down. Some speculate that the shut-down date could come as early as July, leaving fantasy owners with at least two full months of a vacant 1st-Base / 1st-Round pick. My philosophy on Pujols this season is to let someone else take the risk in the 1st round or with a high price tag. The odds of him lasting the entire season are not great at this point. I would much rather have a healthier first round, dependable option. If you have a wheel pick at the end of a serpentine draft and he happens to drop to you in the 2nd round, then he becomes a solid calculated risk.
John Lackey - Lackey and manager Mike Scioscia aren't quite on the same page. Lackey, who has missed some time this spring with a sore shoulder, thinks four starts should prepare him for opening day. Scioscia wants Lackey to have a little more time under his belt and slowly build his stamina before he pencils him in for opening day. Either way, Lackey's shoulder soreness shouldn't be a big concern and we're predicting another big year from him with a projected 3.52 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 17 W, and 168 K's. As you can see, we take a slightly conservative approach with Lackey's numbers, driven by higher than expected results in 2007 relative to his 3-year averages for QS and his K/I dominance. His ADP is coming in around 5.0 and just falls out of the top-10 starters tier on my list.
C.J. Wilson - There are a lot of question marks on closer situations around baseball, with the Rangers being at the top of the list. C.J. Wilson was the favorite to secure the job for Texas, but with a recent diagnosis of biceps tenidinitis, his job security is slowly diminishing. We had him projected to earn 20+ saves and post modest decent ERA and WHIP figures of 2.97 and 1.25. In 68 IP last season, Wilson converted 12-of-14 save opportunities with a 3.03 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and a K/I of 0.92. His walk rate was high at a K/BB of just 1.91 and a BB/9 of 4.35, but he definitely showed signs of discipline as the season came to a close. Injury concerns bring Everyday Eddie Guardado and Joaquin Benoit back into the closer picture and have a shot at earning some saves in the short-run. If you're drafting lower-tier closers on draft day, it might be best to pass CJ Wilson and go with another option for now.
Billy Butler - Butler's fantasy ADP is just 23.09, but there's plenty of upside with the young Royal. Mostly an AL-only consideration at this point in his career, Butler broke onto the scene last year with a .292 average and 8 HR in 329 AB. For a full season projection in 2008, we have him hitting 19 HR for a HR/AB of about 30.0 combined with a .300 average and about 80 RBI. Tough to get things going in a watered-down lineup, but Butler should see RBI opportunities in the middle of the lineup and could also see the positive effects of a projected break-out season from Alex Gordon as well. I could see him raising some fantasy eyebrows along the way if he gets into a power-groove. Since he'll likely be the opening day DH , his only drawback is position eligibility of 1B (13 games in 2007) and OF (6).
Adrian Beltre - Beltre left the game yesterday with a sore thumb, but it doesn't look serious (his removal was more precautionary than anything else). We all know 3B is really deep, so you can typically wait until later rounds to still get decent value out of the position. Beltre is going in the 9th round or later in some mock drafts, which isn't bad for a forecasted 25 HR, 93 RBI, 13 SB guy. His consistency is spotty, making him less valuable in head-to-head leagues, but he could be snagged for a good value and contribute in roto-style formats.
Kerry Wood - Not so fast Cub fans. Let's not be too quick to hand the ball to Carlos Marmol or Bobby Howry in the 9th inning. Kerry Wood is touching 98 mph (can we get a check on that gun?) and while he'll likely start the season as the Cubs' setup man, he could see himself slip into the closer role if "the other two" have early season failures. Living a stone's throw away from Wrigley, I should be able to hear the "Ker-ry, Ker-ry" chants when Howry blows back-to-back saves in April. I'll keep you posted.
Dmitri Young - First base for the Nationals could be an interesting position battle this season. Dmitri Young had a nice comeback season in 2007, hitting .320 with 13 HR and 74 RBI in 460 AB. On the flip-side, Nick Johnson could provide a little competition to Young if he can go 10 minutes without pulling a muscle. So you're filling your CI position in NL-only leagues and want to know what to do? Well, Dmitri has had some early season oblique-strain issues and we all know Nick Johnson can't get out of the bed in the morning without injuring something. And, Johnson reported to camp overweight and is struggling with Diabetes issues. Both players have ADP's over 27.0 and should really only be considered as last-round options in NL-only leagues.... take your chances somewhere else for now.
Rickie Weeks - It would be great to see Rickie Weeks' wrist injuries subside for at least one season so we can truly see the "potential" come alive. He hit a dinger yesterday and recorded his 3rd hit of the spring and ranks at the bottom end of that 2nd-tier of Second Baseman (with the first tier being just Chase Utley). His ADP of 9.10 makes him a decent pick with the potential to record 20+ HR, 30+ SB, and 100 runs scored in a solid Brewers lineup.
Ryan Braun - Braun took King Felix Hernandez deep yesterday and has certainly picked-up in 2008 where he left off in 2007. He is now 5-for-15 with two HR and 6 RBI in the first 7 spring training games. Braun, a late-1st round pick in most typical drafts, is a bit of a risky pick in the 1st round for my money, considering he only has 451 big league AB to his name. He is certainly a big-time talent and should put up big numbers once again, but you have to wonder if the potential risk of a sophomore slump (for at least a bit of the season) is worth the pick over a more experienced, proven player with a top-12 pick. Something to keep your eye on: while he'll play in the OF for the Brewers this season, he'll probably only have 3B eligibility in most leagues until at least mid-April. He'll have to log enough games to gain OF eligibility in most typical league formats with minimum position thresholds.
News Out of Yankees Camp
Chien-Ming Wang - I think the Yankees, fans, and fantasy owners would like to forget about yesterday's performance. In just 0.2 IP, Wang allowed 6 ER, 6 hits, and 2 walks and faced 10 batters. Definitely a rough start, but chalk-it-up to early season cobwebs for now. In the meantime, let's take a look at Wang's value going into your drafts. His ADP of 13.0 certainly seems high for a guy who has posted back-to-back 19 win seasons. Even with his fingernail problems last year and a few rough spots early in the season, Wang still finished the season with a consistent repeat of his 2006 season. How consistent? From 2006 to 2007, his WHIP dropped from 1.31 to 1.30 and his ERA slightly increased from 3.63 to 3.71. I especially liked his ability to earn the strikeout more often, when needed. Not known for the strikeout, Wang improved his K/9 from an embarrassing 3.14 to a very modest 4.70. Perhaps that trend helps explain his drop in GB/FB from 3.1 to 2.7. Leading the Yankee rotation going into 2008, his consistency brings comfort to draft day and can be a nice compliment to a high-strikeout pitcher who might not earn as many wins (think of a fantasy pitching duo of Matt Cain and Wang who would have total projected numbers of 32 wins, 3.54 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and K/9 of 6.4).
Robinson Cano - A great sign out of Yankees camp has been Cano's hot bat in the first few games of the pre-season. In 10 AB, Cano has 7 hits and 3 RBI and looks to be well on his way to continue his great 2nd half from 2007. Cano's average draft position is 6.06 and he is typically ranked as the 5th-7th best fantasy baseman. I have a big up-arrow on Cano and think he's a steal if he drops to the 5th round. A look at his total 2007 season doesn't tell the full story. Prior the All-Star break last season, Cano struggled at the plate, hitting just .274 with a .741 OPS and a 52:15 K/BB ratio. He found his groove at the break and hit .343 with a .953 OPS and a 33:24 K/BB. So, thinking about Cano's career in aggregate, he has basically had one bad half since breaking into the the league in 2005. I expect another great season of high average and a nice HR boost of 20+ HR (not to mention plenty of run-scoring opportunities in a stacked Yankees lineup).
News Out of White Sox Camp
Bobby Jenks - How does Bobby Jenks stack-up against the other closers in the game? From an average draft position standpoint, he's been going in the 8th rounds, just below Francisco Cordero and just ahead of Jose Valverde. He has had back-to-back seasons of 40 saves and posted a solid 0.89 WHIP, 2.77 ERA, and 56 K's in 65 IP in 2007. We have him at a 0.97 WHIP, 2.98 ERA, 36 saves, and 51 K's for projected 2008. Unlike previous seasons, he's healthy this season and isn't experiencing the typical elbow soreness he has had in previous seasons. If he is this healthy and the White Sox can score some runs to give him the ball with the lead in the 9th, there might be a little upside to Jenks, but I would keep him valued exactly where he's been going in drafts - after Cordero.
Nick Swisher - Maybe I'm showing my cards to my fellow-fantasy leaguers who also subscribe to Fantistics, but Swisher is one of my "watch list" players on draft day. New scenery on the south side of Chicago gives Swisher a great park to launch HR with a ballpark factor of 118. We all know the propensity for homeruns at U.S. Cellular, ranking 4th last year in homeruns allowed compared to Swisher's old home in Oakland that ranked 25th - check out the rankings here. He's also at that magical fantasy age of 27 and has a proven EYE with improving 3-year trends. With an ADP of 7.09, I'll be extremely happy to grab him as my 2nd OF at that value.
News Out of Nationals Camp
John Patterson - Is this the year? Like clockwork, I seem to ask this question to myself every year around this time. He claims to be relaxed and healthy for the first time in about three years. Let's take a quick walk down memory lane. In 2005, Patterson posted some big-time numbers - 1.19 WHIP, 3.13 ERA, 185 K's. Injuries were introduced to the fantasy picture and he has since totaled 71 IP over the last two seasons with terrible results (the numbers are pretty gaudy, including a 7.52 ERA and 1.96 WHIP last year in just 31 IP). Anyway, there is no doubt he has the talent to be an impact pitcher and we have him projected, if healthy, to put up 164 IP with a 3.89 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 151 K's, and 13 wins. Aggressive for someone who hasn't had a full season in 3 years, but he does look to be in good shape coming into the season. One question is the effect of the new Nationals Park on pitchers. In 2005, Patterson posted a GB/FB of 0.61 (basically, 1.65x as many fly-ball outs as ground ball outs). We have the ballpark factor of 116 (favorable to pitchers), but only time will tell for sure how the ball flies in the new stadium. ADP is coming in around 33.0, so he's only an NL-only consideration at this point with a "radar-screen watch list" status for everybody else.
Johnny Estrada - You know its spring training and the start of the fantasy season when you start talking about the backup catcher for the Nationals. Johnny Estrada's right elbow injury is not getting better, so its looking like Chad Moeller and Wil Nieves (veterans) will fight for the backup spot behind Paul Lo Duca. The Nationals have been clear they will not have Jesus Flores spend 2008 on the bench as a backup catcher, so he'll likely play the flip-flop role between the minors and the big-leagues this year, depending on the health status of the other guys. As for Lo Duca, his left knee seems to be improving and he's scheduled to play in an exhibition game March 15th. Really, the only fantasy advice here is unless its Paul Lo Duca, there is little fantasy value here, even in the deep NL-only leagues.