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2010 Preseason Prep - March 22nd, 2010

Atlanta Braves – The Young and the Aging – There were a lot of raised eyebrows during the off-season when the Braves traded Javier Vazquez to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera. Vazquez was coming off his best year and the return value on Cabrera didn’t seem quite equal. Braves decision process was probably based upon a number of factors: the inability to trade Derek Lowe, trading Vazquez while his value was at its highest and the unlikelihood of signing Vazquez to a contract after this season. But one of the biggest reasons (gambles) was that the Braves expect a healthy Tim Hudson back on the mound for 2010. Hudson’s bounce back is pivotal to the Braves’ success along with Tommy “Should-Have-Been-ROY” Hanson’s continued growth and development. This year will act as a litmus test for both pitchers. Even though Hudson only appeared in 7 games last year, he showed solid consistency, strong command of his pitches as evident by a good BB/9 of 2.76. The velocity on his fastball averaged 90.4 mph which is in line where it has been the past several season. This spring, Hudson looks like he is up for the task as he has 1.93 ERA in 14 innings and a 1.14 WHIP. He’s also has averaged just a little less than a strikeout an inning. Hudson is a risky gamble for draft day as many people will not want to take a chance on him. He will probably draft late and/or cheap and he could be a real bargain if he continues to look the way he has. Hanson on the other hand won’t draft late and/or come cheap as Hanson is firmly entrenched in many fantasy owners’ playoff plans. Hanson has added a change up to an already stellar arsenal of pitches and can throw any pitch at any time. The Braves will get a full year of Hanson in 2010 and is a good candidate for the 200+ strikeout plateau. Chances are his ERA will take a bump up but he should continue to have a high LOB% (80.3% in ’09) as he has the ability to rack up the strikeouts. The Braves will be counting on both the young and the aging to propel them to success in 2010. The Braves will get Hudson and Hanson for a full season and it could make for an exciting last season for Bobby Cox.

Atlanta Braves – That Other Guy in the Outfield – There has been a great deal of attention directed towards Jason Heyward this spring (deservedly so), but the Braves other key outfielder that needs to perform well is Nate McLouth. Going into spring, it was unknown if Heyward would make the team, how Melky Cabrera would fit in and whether Matt Diaz would start full time or platoon with Cabrera. However, McLouth was the only sure thing in the outfield at the onset of spring training. However, McLouth’s numbers have been, shall we say, less than inspiring. In 35 AB’s McLouth has just one hit (a double) and an .029 average. Good thing there’s another week or so before the season starts. No one should push the panic button in March, but McLouth will need to the power he had in Pittsburgh, before the trade to Atlanta, if the Braves have a shot at the division. He batted an overall .256 last season, hitting almost the same in Atlanta and Pittsburgh. But the power numbers were off quite considerably. He had averaged a home run every 18.7 AB’s with the Pirates but that number in Atlanta went up to 30.8. The home frequency was almost two times better with the Pirates. Last year a strain in his hamstring slowed him down but McLouth should be able to bounce back if healthy for 2010. He’s an above average option in centerfield who should produce a solid 20/20 season. His BHIP is traditionally low (career .284), surprising with his speed, but if that were to increase, he be a solid .280 with plus power and speed. Don’t let the slow spring scare you off of McLouth, he can be a good value on draft day as he should be able to contribute more to the Braves offense than he did last season.
Los Angeles Angels – The Pitching Rotation – In past weeks, we’ve looked at many of the new faces on the Angels. Brandon Wood replacing Chone Figgins. Hideki Matusi replacing Vladimir Guerrero. We’ve looked at the tenuous bullpen situation as Brian Fuentes hangs on to his closer role and we’ve even looked at the yin and yang of the offensive-oriented Mike Napoli versus the defensive-focused Jeff Mathis. Let’s look now at some of the new faces in the Angels’ rotation that were not present last April: Scott Kazmir and Joel Pineiro. Both are solid additions to the Angels pitching but sometimes a pitcher’s contribution to the actually rotation don’t always translate into the fantasy world. Just look at an Angel, Joe Saunders who does a credible job for the team but doesn’t really provide a lot of fantasy baseball value. In Joel Pineiro’s case, I think we are looking at a similar situation. Pineiro was a highly sought after free agent this off season (although the class of free agents was lacking), after a breakout year in 2009. But prior to last season, the past three years Pineiro’s numbers were less dazzling. He’s ERA from 2006 to 2008 was 5.44 with a WHIP of 1.52. He averaged a K/9 of 5.0 and a good BB/9 of 2.7. Hitters batted .301 against Pineiro during that period. But 2009, he was very solid. His control was impeccable (BB/9 of 1.1), and his WHIP was miniscule (1.15).  But the last 12 starts of 2009 we saw a little more of the pitcher who looked like the Pineiro from ’06 to ’08. He’s ERA the last 2 months of the season was 4.64, allowing 8 of 11 the home runs he gave up the entire year during that time frame. Hitters were also doing better against him batting .288. These numbers may be more in line with the type of pitcher the Angels just signed. Be careful not overvalue Pineiro on draft day. Kazmir, on the other hand looks like he ready to be the pitcher people expected him to be back in Tampa Bay. The West Coast agreed with Kazmir posting a 1.73 ERA in 6 games for the Angels. He took a couple of tough losses for them last year, but the pressure of not having to be that #1 guy on the pitching staff, may serve Kazmir well. He’s 2009 FIP was 4.26, compared to an overall ERA of 4.89 which suggests that Kazmir was better than what we saw. His LOB% was low at 67.5% so that should also be an indication of better things to come. Kazmir will probably go somewhere in the middle of the draft and could come at a good value.

Los Angeles Angels – Second Chances – Probably one of the best, pure hitting second basemen that no one pays much attention to is Howie Kendrick. That’s understandable because he hasn’t been able to produce at the same level in the Major Leagues as he has been able to produce in the minors. In 8 seasons, in the minors, Kendrick hit an amazing .360. But last year, he started off struggling when given the full-time second base job and was sent down mid-season batting just .231. It was a different story when he was recalled to the parent club in July. Apparently, the trip down was a wake-up call because Kendrick pounded out a .351 average for the rest of the season with 10 home runs and a .919 OPS. Fantasy owners who are bargain hunters need to pay close attention here because Hendrick has gone into spring training right were he left off, batting .345. He will be a key component to the Angels run-and-gun offense although his career EYE of 0.21 has a lot of room for improvement; he has a sweet swing that could be a great source for average and for runs in the Angels’ lineup. Hendrick will more than likely go pretty deep in the draft and he is mostly overlooked which makes him a tremendous draft value and could be one of the breakout stories for 2010.

Houston Astros – Making Moves with Pitching – This is a key year on a number of fronts for the Houston Astros and it may be the last season that will allow them to make a run at the division for a while. Lance Berkman is in the last year of his contract. Carlos Lee’s contract is over in 2012. Miguel Tejada has already moved on to Baltimore and Roy Oswalt is trending downward with every passing season. So it’s no wonder that the Astros tried to bolster their pitching this off-season with the attitude of going for it. We talked about Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon fighting it out for the closer job and the setup role. But the addition of Brett Myers is one of the key players who will need to shine if the Astros have any chance at chasing others in their division. Myers is slated as the #3 guy behind Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez in the rotation which is already reason to pause as Bud Norris and Brian Moehler round out the rest of the rotation. Myers has been plagued the past few seasons with injuries (not to mention personal issues) and much of his success in 2010 will depend on his health. He was moderately usable at times last year as he posted a 4.84 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. But the real story is that Myers also posted a FIP of 6.14 last season and had a LOB% of 83.1 which obviously aided to keep his ERA low. But judging from his FIP, he did not pitch all that effectively. Look for him to continue to struggle with the Astros. He may be a reasonable source of strikeouts in deeper N.L. leagues, but he should probably be avoided as he has carries with him the potential for injury.

Houston Astros – The Top of the Lineup – If you are an Astro fan and you are projecting out the Astros’ lineup, your eyes probably scan over the first 5 batters and you crack a hint of a smile. But that smile probably begins to fade as you scan down the bottom of the order. Pitchers navigating the Astros batting will be greeted by some tough batters in Michael Bourn, Lance Berkman (once he’s back), Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence (yea, I left out Kaz Matsui on purpose). But they will be given a nice break afterwards having to face Pedro Feliz, Jeff Keppinger, J.R. Towles and the pitcher. With Lance Berkman out for a while, Hunter Pence will need to be the guy who steps up and provides much of the offense. Fortunately for the Astros, he’s a good candidate to do it. Pence has been having a marvelous spring with a slash line of .467/.529/1.000. He has 3 home runs so far and an XBH% of 64%. He’s been showing improvement ever year with better hitting, consistent power and mostly with better plate disciple. His EYE last year of 0.53 was an improvement by 21 points from 2007. This spring he has been making much better contact with the ball and has only struck out 10% of the time. At 27, Pence could be in for a year that will put him firmly on the map as one of the better outfielders in the league. The one issue is that he will probably struggle to get good pitches to hit if the supporting players in the lineup don’t contribute. As mentioned before, there are a lot of holes in the Astros’ lineup and Pence may not find much to hit. But if he continues to progression, this could be a promising year for Pence owners.

Joe Mauer (Twins—C) Lots of big news out of Minnesota. Congratulations to Joe Mauer who agreed with the Twins on an 8 year $184 million contract. It’s a well deserved payday for the best catcher in the game and one of the best hitters in baseball. Mauer capitalized on an amazing ’09 where he hit .360 with 28 home runs and an OPS of 1.031. There is little doubt that Mauer could be considered a first round draft choice, especially with his position scarcity, but fantasy owners should expect a little bit of a tail-off in 2010. It’s difficult to estimate how the new Target field will play for the Twins, but Mauer’s power was more than what should be expected this season. Expect that he will hit in the low 20’s for home runs rather than the high 20’s and the average may take a bit of a dip since Mauer had a BHIP that was 29 points of his career BHIP of .344. Mauer’s new deal comes out to be about 23 million a year and based upon his WAR (wins above replacement), Mauer would net about an 8.1 WAR which would convert in today’s market to $36.6 million a season. At $23 million, it looks like the Twins are getting a steal. Expect a slight decline in Mauer’s numbers this year but he is still crème of the crop.

Matt Guerrier (Twins – RP) The good news out of Twins camp Sunday was the Mauer signing. The bad news was that Joe Nathan played catch today and didn’t fair too well. The decision has been made that Nathan will undergo Tommy John surgery which means now the Twins seriously have to look at options at closer. One of the in-house options is Matt Guerrier who was a valuable source of holds last year but could see his stock rise if he gets a shot at closer. But he would be a risky choice at closer since his K/9 has decreased from 2008 (6.96) to 2009 (5.54). His secondary pitch, the slider, was thrown more often in ‘09 than in ’08 and far less effective with his whiff rate on the pitch dropping better than 6% to 16.1%. His BHIP of .222 is a real red flag that is due for an upswing especially since his LOB% was very high 85.9%. Guerrier has done well in spring training; he hasn’t allowed a run in 6 innings but the Twins are likely to try to find someone who has experience in the closer role. If by chance Guerrier does get a shot and you are inclined to take a chance on him, be prepared to have some backup plans as he may not hold (no pun intended) onto the job for that long.

Heath Bell (Padres – RP) The rumor mill is buzzing now that Joe Nathan is to undergo TJ surgery and one of the potential options to fill his role is Heath Bell, the Padres closer. Whether there is a potential trade in the works, remains to be seen, but a $4.0 million-dollar closer on a team that isn’t going anywhere is really more of a luxury and definitely not a necessity. No doubt, Padre owner Jeff Moorad would be happy to explore what kind of prospects the Twins could send the Padres way. Hypothetically, if Bell where to switch to the Twins, his value would go way up playing for a contending team where saves opportunities will be more prevalent than what can be expected in San Diego. As Joseph, my counterpart here at Fantistics, mentioned earlier this month about Bell’s improved strikeout ratios, GB% and ERA, I also want to add that his FIP of 2.42 was better than his 2.71 ERA indicating his terrific effectiveness. Joseph also mentioned a terrific HR/FB rate but this is certainly aided by pitching at Petco Park which was one of the most difficult parks to hit home runs at. Bell’s xFIP, which takes into account fly balls unlike FIP which just accounts for home runs was higher than his FIP at 3.02. This indicates that a potential move to somewhere other than Petco Park could have some negative results for Bell. Target field is a new ball park so no one knows how it will play, but keep one eye on Bell if he is involved in a trade and another eye on the frequency of home runs at the Twins new ballpark. We may see a slight upturn on Bell’s numbers compared to last year if he winds up in the Twin Cities.

Bobby Jenks (White Sox – RP) Bobby Jenks hadn’t made an appearance on the mound in over a week for the White Sox as a calf injury has sidelined him. An MRI on Sunday reveled a mild strain but Jenks said that he would be good to go for the season opener. Jenks has an abysmal spring this far with 37.80 but has only been able to get 1.2 innings of work under his belt in actual game time. Last season Jenks still delivered his blazing fastball at 95 mph but his ERA took an upswing by more than a full run compared to ’08. Batters improved on their batting average against him going from ..227 in ’08 to .257 in ’09 and his LD% went up by 4%. With this injury and his performance last season, Jenks has taken a hit in the fantasy market. The White Sox have two very good options in J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton who can take over the closer role should Jenks falter. Watch Jenks’ progress closely and monitor Thornton and Putz for a possible emergency closer option.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (Red Sox – SP) Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 32 pitches in an intra-squad game on Sunday and retired 7 out of 8 batters with a walk as the only blemish. Matsuzaka has been behind the other pitchers in camp with neck and back soreness but his outing Sunday was a step forward after a poor ’09 campaign. In the World Baseball Classic, Matsuzaka opted to pitch with a thigh injury that threw his mechanics out of whack and wound up pitching only 59 innings last season with a 5.76 ERA. Batters had a 23% LD rate against him last year and assuming his ailments are behind him he should be able to improve on both of these stats. Granted, now that he has been around the league a couple of times around, he is not the mystery he was when he made his debut, but he should be a good bounce back candidate for the upcoming season. While he is not as bad as he pitched in ’09, he is not as good as he pitched in ’08. Fantasy owners should temper their expectations and he should be able to produce fairly consistent quality results with a potent Red Sox offense.

Brian Roberts (Orioles – 2B) Unable to play all spring because of back pain, Brian Roberts was finally able to resume some baseball activities on Sunday. He took batting practice and reported no problems after taking his swings. This is good news for the Orioles and for fantasy owners that have taken a chance on Roberts despite the herniated disk. Last year Roberts was a great source of stolen bases (30), doubles (56) and managed to knock 16 home runs. Roberts' EYE of 0.66 is good but you would hope for more out of a lead off hitter. I'm a big Roberts' fan but despite my appreciation for him, I'm wary of the back injury. Back problems are difficult to play through, take a long time to heal and can reoccur with the one awkward movement. If healthy, Roberts is a top tier choice, but if not, you might look elsewhere for your second baseman. Or if you are the gambling type, take a chance on Roberts because he will pay high dividends but be prepared to have a back up plan in place should his back begin to act up.

Matt Holliday (Cardinals-- OF) Matt Holliday has not played for two weeks after a rib cage strain however he should be back in action on Monday. The move to St. Louis agreed with Holliday as he was able to put together a .353 BA during his time and a wOBA of .423. Joining Albert and the gang had its benefits. Don't expect that kind of production all year as Holliday's BHIP with the Cardinals was out of control at .380. Expect a little regression along the way. But the more immediate concern is the rib cage. Continue to draft Holliday as a top of the tier outfielder but monitor the injury. If it sidelines him at all, it shouldn't be for too long.

Jon Garland (Padres—SP) Jon Garland managed to play some catch on Sunday before the start of the exhibition game which is good news since he has been out of action for a while with a “cranky shoulder”. Garland has never been dominant but over the years but he has been one of the most consistent inning-eaters in the game. The fact that he was able to play catch is probably a good sign and the move to San Diego this season could be a better one for Garland. Garland managed a ERA of 4.01 splitting his time between the Diamondback and the Dodgers but his xFIP of 4.63 indicates that he did not pitch as effectively as his ERA would suggest and he tends to be a fly ball type pitcher. He gave 23 home runs last year and had a HR/FB of 10.7%. This is why the move to Petco Park should serve Garland very well as the spacious Petco Park will probably turn some of those home runs to outs in San Diego. Garland is not going to be a first class choice, but he could be a nice option in deeper leagues or N.L. only leagues as a serviceable option.

Travis Hafner (Indians-- DH) OK, here's a name that you haven't heard in a while: Travis Hafner. Remember this guy? Well, if you did forget about him (and who could blame you), you may want to start paying a little bit of attention to him. Last season he struggled with a shoulder injury but managed to bounce back and hit 16 home runs and hit .272 in 338 AB's. This spring he has been looking at little more like his former self as he is batting .308 with 2 homers and a .471 OBP. If he proves to be healthy, Pronk can smash the ball and could be a great pick up in later rounds in the draft as he can provide that awesome power plus a solid OBP as he tends to get a lot of walks with a career EYE of 0.66. He probably won't return to his '06 form when he belted 42 home runs, but he could be good for 25+ and a solid OPS.

Rich Harden (Rangers-- SP) Rich Harden got knocked around for 6 earned runs in 3.6 innings on Sunday and he explained that his change up “just wasn't there”. OK, spring training is a time for experimentation, to try different approach and work on command. But Harden has 11.75 ERA this spring and hitters batting .31.3 against him. When healthy, Harden can be one of the best pitchers in the game as he owns a career K/9 of 10.9. When not healthy, it's a whole other story. The move to Texas from Wrigley field probably won't do much to help Harden's home run rate as he had a HR/9 rate of 1.47 last year and a FB% of 43.8%. Expect Harden to get regular rest throughout the year as the Rangers will do their best to try to preserve his arm throughout the season.. Because of this, he may frustrate fantasy owners with missed starts every now and then. But considering the alternative, this is far better than Harden missing major chunks of the season. Draft at your own peril as Harden is the very definition of high-risk/high-reward.

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