My counterparts at Fantistics have been doing an amazing job breaking down the pre-season players and the key situations to watch for all the teams and I’m excited to jump into the foray and push a few more teams onto the tracks and get them going. We’ll work our way going from East to West and the first stop will be in the Peach State where we’ll take a look at what’s going on with the Atlanta Braves.
Atlanta Braves-- The Outfield Battle—Perhaps the biggest question facing the Braves this spring is who is in the outfield? It’s guaranteed that Nate McLouth will be patrolling centerfield which leaves LF and RF up for grabs. The current candidates are Matt Diaz, newly acquired Melky Cabrera and the guy everyone is talking about Jason Heyward. Heyward is widely considered to be the best prospect in baseball and at age 19 appears to be on the fast track to the big leagues. In the minors he has showed a maturity and plate discipline way beyond his years with a career EYE of 0.76 and possesses an overall OBP of .391 for 3 seasons in the minors. He’s been able to handle both right-handed and left-handed pitching equally well (.357 vs. LH and .308 vs. RH) which is reflected in his overall batting average of .321 and in his spring training performances have been equally impressive drawing walks, stealing bases and hitting for average. This all sounds great but there is a good chance that Heyward will start the season off at Triple A and Diaz will be the RF for the start of the 2010 campaign. By calling him up in late April, the Braves will be able to retain the right to Heyward for the 2016 season. He’ll be a “Super Two” which will make him eligible for arbitration a year earlier but the ends justify the means for the Braves and they did the exact same thing with Tommy Hanson last year. The time in triple A probably won’t hinder Heyward from being the prime ROY candidate but in the meantime Diaz will provide more than adequate replacement value as he produced a slash line of .313/.390/.488 with a runs over replacement player (RAR) of 26.8. Although these are lofty numbers for Diaz to repeat in 2010, he acts a nice bridge to the Heyward years.
Atlanta Braves—Pass the Aspirin—On paper, the Braves look like they could be serious division contenders, but much of their success will depend on the performances of some of their—shall we say—more “seasoned” veterans and the oft-injured one or those who fall into both categories. Going from youngest to oldest, these players are Troy Glaus (33), Tim Hudson (34), Derek Lowe (36), Chipper Jones (38), Billy Wagner (38), Takashi Saito (40). Jones is a huge upside player but he's the guy who needs the biggest turn around if the Braves have a chance for success having come off his worse season. Jones is showing more cracks than what you would see at a plumber’s convention. With Shea Stadium no longer around to feast on, Jones took a major hit on his value last year. Sure, you know the guy is never going to play 162 games a year and the injuries will prevent him from reaching 500 AB’s (an accomplishment he has only done once in the past 6 seasons). But with Chipper, you’ve expected him to make up “for lost time”, with a strong hitting, a .400 OBP and above average power. But 2009, saw new lows in Jones’ career with a .264 BA, sub 20 HR’s, and a WAR (wins of replacement player) of only 2.8. His plate discipline and knowledge of the strike zone are still first class and should continue to help buoy a sinking average. But Jones has always been able to be an effective fastball hitter but in ’09 he had far more trouble than ever with the pitch. His took a huge hit on his wFB (runs generated above the average with the fastball) dropping from 33.5 to 2.0 in ’09. When you see a player like Jones who is already injury-prone begin to take a steep drop like he has, you’re better off taking a pass in the draft as he will only cause more frustration once the season is in full swing. If Jones is still plagued with injuries this season, the Braves will have to rely heavily on Omar Infante and Eric Hinske which doesn't bode well for Bobby Cox's last hurrah.
Houston Astros – Oswalt Keeps Slip Slidin' Away – Continuing our journey West, we'll hop on I-65 to the I-10 West, through Baton Rouge and find ourselves in Houston where the Astros have a brand new manager, Brad Mills, but an aging ace in Roy Oswalt. The Astros offense will probably take a bit of a hit this year with Miguel Tejada leaving which means that the team may be leaning a little more on their pitchers to deliver solid, consistent outings. The Astros struggled to score runs as they were 14th in the N.L. behind the Padres and Pirates. But manager Mills has to be concerned about his ace since there’s a disturbing trend developing with Roy Oswalt and it's following a very consistent pattern. With every passing season since 2005 his numbers are getting worse. Let’s see: increasing ERA, plus decreasing LOB%, plus decreasing innings pitched, plus multiple injuries = trouble brewing. It’s true. Oswalt’s ERA has been steadily increasing over the last several season and ’09 he logged a career high ERA of 4.12. He also hit the lowest average of innings pitched per game last season at around 6 innings pitched per start. His LOB% has steadily gone down which explains why the ERA has gone up. His velocity is still good on his pitches but he will be 33 this year and has been battling a string of hip and back issues over the past several season that really began, not surprisingly, back in 2005 and these injuries have increased in frequency. It''s a good thing that the Wandy Rodriguez has been establishing himself, improving every season and can take over as the team's ace. Oswalt was once one a top tier pitcher, but continues to slip season to season. Best let him slip on by come draft day.
Houston Astros – Coin Flip for the Closer-- The Astros had a couple of vacant spots in the bullpen at the end of '09 and needed to fill the closer and the 8th inning setup roles as Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins moved on. In steps Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom to fill the roles although it hasn't been officially decided which reliever will be the closer. Both have experience in the role although neither has had great success. Lyon recorded only 3 saves last year for Detroit but did produce a nifty 2.86 ERA. In '08 he notched 26 saves for Arizona but was hardly a “sure thing” with a 4.70 ERA. His fastball is usually in the low 90's ad typical has fairly good control and is really more of a contact pitcher with a career contact rate of 83%. Lyon's biggest issue right now is that he had some surgery performed in the off-season removing a cyst on his shoulder and although he hasn't pitched yet in Cactus League competition, he is supposedly progressing well and expected to be ready for opening day. Matt Lindstrom is Lyon's competition and saved a career high 15 games last year but was sidelined for a a good portion of the summer with elbow issues. Coming into spring training, Lindstrom is healthy but his numbers will make a fantasy owner looking for a potential closer wince. Sure, he throws in the mid-90's but Lindstrom is the Yang to Lyon's Yin as he tends to be a bit of a wild child averaging about 4.6 BB/9. His ERA ballooned up to 5.89 by year's end partially due to an elevated BHIP% of .342 and an awful LOB% of 61.6%. If he's healthy, we can probably expect better than last year but already in his first appearance of the spring danced through 0.6 innings allowing 2 hits and a walk. Once Lyon is healthy, the competition should heat up for the closer role, but if either Lyon or Lindstrom falter at any point during the season, the other will more than likely get their chance to save a game or two. Unfortunately, this doesn't really benefit the fantasy player when you have two potential closers and neither one of them have a firm grasp on the closing duties. Splitting the job between the two will lessen the value for each.
Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim – Wood Getting a Chance-- We'll hop back on the I-10 going west and take it all the way to the Pacific and cruise down the I-5 south and now check in on the Angels of Los Angeles, Anaheim and Orange County. With Chone Figgins signing with Seattle, the 3rd base position is open and long-time rookie Brandon Wood is FINALLY getting his shot at an every day role. Wood who has spent the last 7 years mired in the Angels farm system is 87 now – just kidding—he's 25 but long time considered one of the top prospects in baseball, he has been held down in the minors unable to establish himself on the big club and has only been up for a cup of coffee or two. Wood's a power hitting 3rd basemen with unfortunate holes in his swing that has probably hindered his progression. He has struck out 23% of the time in the minors for his career but last year was able to reduce that rate to 18.6% perhaps finally showing the maturity the Angels were hoping to see. Last year his EYE was 0.45 and still needs plenty of work, but Wood does posses a minor league career .354 OBP and a career OPS of .895. He'll finally get the playing time to see what he can do and while he is certainly a big question mark come draft day, he is someone to grab as a reserve player who could payoff big dividends.
Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim – Godzilla at Disneyland-- The newest attraction just outside the gates at Disneyland will be the Godzilla display at Angel Stadium. Yes, Hideki Matsui has traded his pinstripes for a halo and the Angels are hoping that he will bring some of that clutch hitting to the team to replace Vladimir Guerrero who will be playing for the Angels' nemesis, Texas Rangers. Matsui also brings with him two bum knees and will probably not see much time in the outfield if any over the season. Because of this restriction, his versatility for a fantasy standpoint may take a hit as well as the need for rest that he will require. This will allow the Angels to get the most mileage out of him for as long as possible. Matsui numbers were solid last year with a slash line of .274/.367/.509 and smacked 28 home runs in 456 AB's which came out to a home run ever 16.3 AB's—very nice. Equally good news is that Masui should be able to find Angel Stadium an appealing park to hit home runs in as well. Angel Stadium was second behind Yankee Stadium as parks that were most home run friendly and only 1 home run that Matsui hit in Yankee stadium last year would have resulted in an out in Angel Stadium. If healthy, Matsui should make solid contributions to any fantasy team but if you are eyeballing him, you can probably sit back and wait a while as he will drop pretty far in the draft because of his injury concerns. Along with the question of his knees, the other question will be whether the Angels come up with a Rally Godzilla to go along with the Rally Money and Thundersticks? Angel fans love to bring their toys with them to the ballpark.
Manny Ramirez (Dodgers—OF) If you thinking about drafting Manny Ramirez and expecting “Manny to be Manny”, you may want to think twice. Ramirez turns 38 early this season and is coming off of a year where steroids have cast a shadow on his career. It's probably best to look at his '09 games in halves to get a real gauge on how we might expect him to do in 2010. The games he missed in '09 obviously prevented him from reaching the 20 HR mark, but after his suspension his HR rate went down to 3.6% compared to 5.8% in the first half of the season. His strikeouts also increased in the second half by over 8% and to top it off his wOBA (weight on-base average) reduced from .487 to .371 in the second half indicating that his overall effectiveness diminished. According to projections we may also see roughly a 26% attrition rate for Manny this year. He still may hit OK for average around .280, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Ramirez hit in the low 20's for HR and in the 80's for RBI. He's got the big name, but his bat may be shrinking (insert you're own punchline here). Coming off steroids, aging and Manny's personality, it may be a safer option to keep away from him in '09.
J.A. Happ (Phillies—SP) J.A. Happ came in 2nd in the ROY of the year voting and captured 10 first place votes for the honor, but don't expect that impressive first year to carry over into 2010. He did finish the year with an impressive 12-4 record and somehow managed a 2.93 ERA, but throw away those surface statistics and look a little deeper. For starters, Happ's peripherals really don't support his performance last year with a K/9 of 6.45 and a BB/9 of 3.04. Pretty close to the league average. With a BHIP of 2.70, you can expect it rise in 2010 because his luck can't hold out without better stuff. His FIP of 4.32 is also troublesome being a full run and half higher than his ERA and don't get me started on his LOB% which was over 82%. All the signs are looking like Happ is heading south this season. Many projections have Happ's ERA adjusting to around 3.50 for next season, but I think Happ will actually hit above 4.00. Don't be fooled by his rookie year because Happ is a pitcher (especially in Citizens Bank Park) that will be hit hard in his sophomore year especially going around the league for a second season. Let him be someone else's problem come draft day.
Javier Vazquez (Yankees—SP) Last season, savvy fantasy players recognized Javier Vazquez's move to the N.L. as a real benefit and realized that a move to the DH-less league and a pitcher-friendly park could reap some nice numbers. They were right. Vazquez enjoyed his best season in the bigs with 15 wins, a sub-par 3.00 ERA and a WHIP that was one of the best in baseball. Vazquez has enjoyed some solid years in the past but none like '09. So with his move to New York and the New Yankee Stadium (a.k.a The Great Softball Field in the Bronx), this should raise a red flag for suitors of Vazquez's services. First, he has never put together solid back-to back seasons with any consistency (maybe that's why the Braves decided to trade him while his value was at its highest). Second, he has made the move to a hot hitting division where he must go back to facing the more unforgiving DH. Third, he will be pitching most of his games at Yankee Stadium-need I say more? Vazquez was able to take advantage of pitching at “The Ted” but Yankee Stadium will be more likely to expose those mistakes that “The Ted” was able to absorb. Being a fly ball pitcher with a 40% FB% for his career, we should expect to see a jump in in Vazquez's ERA well above 3.00 and very well could hit the 4.00's. His WHIP will take a beating too. Yes, he should be able to get his share of wins and he can still control the game with a good BB/K ratio but even that should take a hit. We tend to elevate the abilities of players on the Yankees because, well...they are the Yankees. Be careful not to overvalue Vazquez in the draft because if you are expecting results like '09, you are not going to see that kind of season in 2010.
Scott Feldman (Rangers—SP) If there are any fantasy owners out there that are looking at Scott Feldman to repeat his 17 win performance this season, I hate to burst your bubble, but last season was a lucky year for Mr. Feldman. Feldman was one of the most fortunate pitchers in the win column getting about 4 more wins then he actually deserved. Normally, pitchers will only win about 74% of their quality starts and it seems that Feldman won 94% of them. His luck is accentuated by a poor xFIP at 4.49 and a low BHIP of .275. He really doesn't have the peripherals for that balancing act to continue since he averages just a little over 5 strikeouts a game, walks more than 3 and allows better than 8 hits per nine innings. So don't be seduced by that overinflated win column, there are too many signs that point to troubled waters ahead for Feldman.
Josh Hamilton (Rangers—OF) The funny thing about baseball is that it takes just one really good year to give everyone the perception that you're better than you really are. For me, Josh Hamilton falls into that category and there is no denying that his 2008 season with the Rangers was off the charts. But other than that we really don't have enough of a track record to award him top tier outfielder status since he has never played a full season other than that one great year. Dave expressed the same concerns a couple of weeks ago regarding Hamilton and my sentiments are similar. His 2008 plate appearances exceeds the total of his plate appearances for 2007 and 2009 combined. There's no quibbling that he has power to spare clubbing a home run in about every 20 AB's for his career and Arlington Stadium does help to give hitters a nice power boost. But Hamilton's bigger issues is just staying on the field. In 2008, he was relatively injury free but in other years his injuries have included nerve impingements in the lower back, groin strain, rib strain, hamstring strain, sprained wrist and a bout with gastroenteritis. Now in spring training he is coming up with shoulder issues. Where does it end? He'll be 29 this year and it's a real concern that the guy is already past his prime. So if you feel the need to take a chance and roll the dice on Hamilton, go for it. It could be a big payoff. But with just one great year and the rest of the times headaches, it seems like a risky proposition to include him heavily in your draft day plans. Just because one-hit wonder Carl Douglas had a huge record with “Kung Fu Fighting”, doesn't make him the Beatles.
Carlos Marmol (Cubs—RP) There's a lot of pressure on Carlos Marmol this year to shut down those close games in the 9th inning and secure a Cub's win. But if Marmol isn't doing the job, the Cubs aren't going anywhere this season. There’s no denying that Marmol has a great, "live" arm. The guy averaged over 11 strikeouts per nine innings last year. But if your eyes are popping out of your head from that impressive statistic, you should probably take a glance to the right or left of his stat lines and check out those walks per nine innings. Yup, that's pretty impressive too. Impressively bad. Marmol was very generous with his base on balls allowing just fewer than 8 walks per nine frames. Add a little fuel to that fire with a 5.16 xFIP and you've got a pretty wild, flyball pitcher who appears to have been more lucky than good. Although, he only allowed 2 home runs last year, you should probably expect that pattern to change this year. Even if it doesn't, is this the kind of pitcher you want for your closer? Chances are Marmol will have you reaching for the antacids in every appearance and even the saved games will be like walking a tightrope.
Ryan Franklin (Cardinals—RP) What an amazing season Ryan Franklin had in ’09 (at least until the post-season). A career high in saves (38), a minuscule ERA of 1.92 and a LOB% of 85.7. What?!? 85.7!! If you are thinking that’s an unreal LOB%, you’d be right. Let’s be frank (no pun intended), Franklin is simply not as good of a closer as we saw last season and that LOB% is going to take a dump. His strikeout and walk average doesn’t support him repeating anything close to his numbers in ’09. Franklin only allowed 2 home runs last season but with a FB% of 34.4%, you can expect more home runs to go over the fence this upcoming season. His xFIP of 4.27 is probably the biggest indicator that his ERA is a fluke; what a disparity between the two numbers of almost 2 and half runs. Also with a BHIP of .269 in ‘09, we should expect less batted balls to find leather and find the hole in the infield since Franklin really doesn’t have the stuff to blow hitters away. Hitters made contact against him 82% of the time compared to the MLB average of 80%. He simply doesn’t have the equipment to sustain a year like he had last season. This is not to say that Franklin won’t get his share of saves and be a viable closer on a strong Cardinal team, but do not expect the ’09 Franklin to show up in 2010.
Kaz Matsui (Astros—2B) First, let’s talk about the good news with regards to Kaz Matsui. He managed to stay relatively healthy for most of 2009 and logged more AB’s (476) and games played (132) than at any other time in his major league career. He also hit more home runs (9) and had more RBI (46) last season which was really more of a result of just playing more often than any surge of excellence. But at least we can say that Matsui had career highs in few categories. Oh goodie! Granted, on draft day we tend to be more forgiving of the middle infielder with the realization that not everyone is going to be Chase Utley. But last season, Matsui was only able to squeak out a OBP of .302 and took a hit of 43 points on his batting average with all of the extra playing time. His WAR (wins over replacement player) was only 0.5 for the season putting him slightly above the average replacement player. Speaking of replacement players, what if we compare Matsui to Willie Bloomquist, the quintessential replacement player? Not much difference. Bloomquist hit for better average in ’09 (.265 versus .250 for Matsui) and had a better OBP (.308). Matsui did produce better SLG at .357 versus .355 for Bloomquist (excuse me while I yawn). But the bigger picture is that Bloomquist is coming off the bench for the Royals and Matsui is the starting second baseman for the Astros. So the question is: would you draft Willie Bloomquist for your fantasy team? Highly improbable. So why would you draft Kaz Matsui?
Kendry Morales (Angels--1B) Last year, Kendry Morales put together one of the most surprising seasons for any player in baseball with 34 homers, 108 RBI and a .306 batting average. Great numbers, but who was expecting that? There were such great numbers that they earned him 5th place in the MVP vote sandwiched between Miguel Cabrera and Kevin Youkilis. Nice company. But its’ probably going to be tough for Morales to repeat those gaudy numbers in 2010. His HR/FB% was the highest it has ever been in his career at 18.1%. Not to mention that his BHIP was a pretty chunky .329 and with a K% of better than 20%, it’s hard to really get behind the idea that he is primed for a repeat of last season. Also, I tend to be a little wary of players in their second full season that produced bloated results in their first full season. Usually the second go-around, pitchers in the league have figured out how to make adjustments to hitters and Morales may be one of those guys who’s weaknesses may be exposed the second time around. Don’t be surprised if there is a drop off and Morales’ stats look less impressive.
Joba Chamberlin (Yankees—SP/RP) We have a tendency to overvalue those guys that wear the pinstripes and Joba Chamberlin is player who could be a real disappointment on draft day. First, there's always the potential that GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi will continue to flip-flop on whether Chamberlin should be a starter or a reliever in the bullpen which would certainly lessen his value if he is the setup guy for Mariano Rivera. But his viability as a starter is in question too. In 2009, Chamberlin struggled posting a 9-6 record and a 4.75 ERA. He allowed better than 9 hits and 4 BB's per 9 innings. But let's say that Joba improves and is able to reduce all of those numbers. One of the other concerns for Chamberlin is the potential for injury. The reason that all of these “Joba Rules” were put into place was to comfortably build up his innings pitched to avoid the potential for injury. But the Yankees relied heavily on Chamberlin last year because of Wang's woes and Joba wound up pitching more innings last year than 2008 and 2007 combined. This puts him at risk for injury especially if the Yankees are planning to slot him into the rotation. They may decide to split starts between Phil Hughes and Chamberlin but once again, Chamberlin loses value in this scenario too. Come draft day try to imagine Chamberlin in a different uniform other than Yankee pinstripes and than decide if you would really want to take a chance on him
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