Seattle Mariners Right Fielder – At age 36, will this be the year that Ichiro Suzuki finally shows signs of decline? Last season, Suzuki hummed along as he always does with a .352 average, 225 hits and a career-high .465 SLG%. He did fail to score 100 runs for the first time in his career and stole a career-low 26 bases, but reasons outside Ichiro’s control (poor offense and a second half leg injury) contributed to a decline in both these stat categories. With the addition of Chone Figgins and at least some ABs going to Milton Bradley, the Mariners offense should improve making a healthy Ichiro good for another 100 runs and a nice bounce back in stolen bases. Our projections recognize Suzuki’s high-even-for-him BABIP of .384 in 2009 (which contributed to his .352 batting average) and see a .335 batting average, 101 Runs, 40 Steals and 9 HRs.
Seattle Mariners Starting Pitching – Cliff Lee will begin the season on the DL with a lower abdominal strain and right now there’s no timetable for his return. Obviously this is an injury you’ll want to monitor since Lee is one of the premier pitchers in baseball. Assuming Lee returns healthy from the injury, he will be coming off a 3.22 ERA and 181-strikeout season in ’09 while pitching in homer-friendly Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia. Any additional challenges Lee faces by moving from the NL back to the AL should be offset by Seattle’s pitcher-friendly ballpark and the outstanding Mariners defense. Our projections think Lee will post a 3.68 ERA with a 162 Ks in 211 IP. Those numbers seem a tad conservative considering how well Lee’s pitched the past two seasons so don’t be surprised if he outperforms our prediction.
The “other” Mariners ace, Felix Hernandez, looks to build off his Cy Young-worthy 2009 campaign when he posted 19 Wins, 217 Ks, 1.14 WHIP and a whopping 174 ERA+. Turning 24 in a week, the scariest part about Hernandez is that he’s still just learning how to harness his endless ability. From ’08 to ’09, Hernandez improved his K/9 and BB/9 (from 3.59 to 2.68) while lowering his HR/9 for the third straight season. The only concern regarding Hernandez is his workload which jumped from 200 IP in ’08 to a career-high 238 IP in ’09. Otherwise, you can argue Hernandez should be the second pitcher off the board, after Tim Lincecum, in your draft or auction.
The sleeper pick in Seattle’s rotation is Erik Bedard who could return to the rotation by midseason after having shoulder surgery in August. If healthy, the lefty could provide your fantasy team with a nice injection of strikeouts and a low ERA/WHIP during the second half of ’10. If you have an extra rotation spot, pick up Bedard and stash him on your DL. We predict Bedard will provide 111 Ks in 127 IP while posting a 3.90 ERA so there’s definitely potential value in the oft-injured Mariner.
San Diego Padres First Baseman – Based off his numbers the past three seasons, Adrian Gonzalez might be the most underrated hitter in baseball. Playing at one of the worst run-scoring parks makes Gonzalez’s three-year average of 337 Total Bases, 35 HRs, 106 RBI, and 98 Runs even more impressive. Last season, Gonzalez also displayed outstanding plate patience by recording a career-high 119 BBs and improving his EYE from 0.52 in ’08 to 1.06 in ’09 while lowering his K% by 3.7%. Heading into 2010, rumors are flying that Gonzalez could be traded to a contending team closer to the All-Star break. If traded, Gonzalez becomes even more valuable since pretty much any ballpark is more hitter-friendly than Petco. We believe Gonzalez will continue to improve this season by mashing 43 HRs, driving in 108, scoring 105 Runs, and hitting nearly .300.
San Diego Padres Starting Pitcher (Mat Latos) – Arguably the best prospect in the Padres organization, Latos pitched so well at A and AA ball in 2009 that San Diego decided to allow the right hander to skip AAA altogether and make 10 starts for the big league club by season’s end. Like many young pitchers, Latos showed flashes of brilliance but struggled to miss bats (6.93 K/9) and with his control (4.09 BB/K). He finished his first season as a Padre throwing 50 IP with a 4.72 FIP, 1.30 WHIP and allowed 7 HRs.
In Spring Training, Latos has been nearly unhittable by posting a minuscule 1.59 ERA and striking out 14 in 17 IP. Those outstanding numbers were enough to secure Latos a spot in the rotation, which the Padres officially announced Wednesday. In the long run, Latos should provide excellent strikeout numbers as he recorded K/9 rates of 9.59 and 8.81 in the minors last season. We project Latos to finishes 2010 with a 1.32 WHIP, 10 Wins and 116 Ks. Latos could be a back end of the rotation starter for your pitching staff in 2010, but, realistically, you should target him as a solid option for 2011 once he has a full season under his belt and learns how to lower his walk rate and miss more bats.
Cleveland Indians Third Baseman – After hitting 23 HRs and posting a career-high 89 RBI and 104 Runs in 2008, Indians fans hoped Jhonny Peralta would be even better in 2009. Instead of improvement, Peralta barely hung on to his starting job after hitting just .254 with a paltry 11 HRs and .690 OPS. There really isn’t a great way to spin Peralta’s 2009 campaign. He witnessed drops in OBP (.316), ISO (.120), and SLG% (.375) while his EYE fell to a meager 0.38. Peralta is still young, turning 28 in May, so there’s hope he can bounce back and be a respectable option at the hot corner. He does have three seasons of 20+ HR and 78+ RBI under his belt and should benefit from Cleveland’s improved lineup in 2010. We believe that Peralta will be much closer to his ’08 season than ’09, predicting 18 HRs, 89 RBI and 85 Runs.
Cleveland Indians Designated Hitter – Between 2004 and 2006, Travis Hafner tore up American League pitching by increasing his HR totals from 28 to 33 to 42 and posting 109, 108 and 117 RBI seasons. His career peaked in ’06 when the man known as Pronk crushed 42 HRs, drove in 117 RBI, recorded a .350 ISO and hit .308 in just 454 ABs before getting injured in September. But since ’06, Hafner has either hit poorly, gotten injured or experienced a mixture of both en route to tallying just 45 HRs between 2007 and 2009.
In ’09 Hafner played in just 94 games and, even worse, didn’t have the strength in his ailing shoulder to play in multiple games in a row. While he did manage to hit 16 HRs with a .198 ISO, fantasy owners had trouble justifying the use of a roster spot on Hafner since nobody knew how often he’d be in the starting lineup. Add in the fact that Pronk can’t hit lefties anymore (career .261 batting average against LHs but just .210 last season) and you’ve got yourself a fringe fantasy player. We predict 25 HRs and 78 RBI from Hafner in ’10, but those numbers only help your team if you can correctly guess when he’ll be penciled into the starting lineup.
Huston Street – Shut down. Those are two words Street's fantasy owners certainly didn’t want to hear, but on Wednesday the Rockies' closer stopped throwing as part of his rehab from a shoulder ailment. There’s no timetable for his return. After recording a 10.2 K/9 last season and lowering his BB/9 from 3.5 in ’08 to 1.9 in ’09, this is a tough break for Street and his fantasy owners. While it may be an imperfect choice, go grab Franklin Morales and, if he falters, keep an eye on Manny Corpas to tally saves until Street returns (whenever that may be). With Morales, the good news is that he posted a 9.2 K/9 in ’09, but the bad news is he also posted an ugly 5.2 BB/9. Don’t be surprised if Colorado’s closer situation is a revolving door until Street returns.
Roy Halladay – Halladay struggled in the first inning against his former team on Wednesday but settled down to strike out four in three innings. He’ll open the season for the Phillies on Monday by facing the Nationals on the road. While moving from the AL East to the NL East will certainly help Halladay’s stats, it’ll be tough for Doc to top last year’s ridiculous 2.79 ERA especially considering his FIP was 3.06. On the other hand, we don’t think homer-friendly Citizens Bank Ballpark will hinder Halladay too much either, considering Doc’s home/road OPS-against splits were .644 and .698, respectively in ’09. With a projection of 226 IP, 206 K’s, a 3.16 ERA and 18 Wins, it should be another Cy Young-caliber season for the 32-year-old veteran.
Oliver Perez – In most cases, pitchers that post a 6.82 ERA and 1.92 WHIP do not win starting jobs in the rotation the following season. Not so for Oliver Perez. Perhaps the biggest tease for fantasy baseball players during the past five seasons, Perez secured the fifth spot in the Mets’ rotation on Wednesday. The left hander is a classic high-risk, high-reward pitcher with the ability to strike out the side or walk the bases loaded. Last season, Perez was downright atrocious as he walked 58(!) batters and allowed 69(!) hits in 66 IP. You’ll be tempted to pick up Perez thanks to all those strikeouts but keep in mind the guy has a career 5.0 BB/9 and 4.78 FIP. We predict a 4.58 ERA, 166 K’s and 9 Wins which further cements Perez as a pitcher not viable for your fantasy roster.
David Huff – No team loves soft-tossing lefties more than the Tribe. One of those lefties, Huff, solidified his hold on the team’s No. 5 spot in the rotation by tossing 7 IP and yielding just 1 run versus the White Sox on Wednesday. Huff started 23 games in ’09 for Cleveland and really struggled to miss bats. He finished with a dismal 4.56 K/9, 1.59 K/BB and 1.56 WHIP. Huff did deal with an unlucky LOB% of 66.6%, but also probably didn’t deserve 11 Wins considering his 5.61 ERA. If he somehow begins striking out batters like he did in the minors, Huff might be worth a look in deep AL-only leagues. We don’t think that’ll happen and project Huff for just 90 K’s in 167 IP in ’10.
Rich Harden – Harden’s fantasy owners had to be nervous when the right hander signed to pitch with Texas and in the run-friendly environment known as the Ballpark in Arlington. So far this spring, Harden hasn’t done much to quell those concerns as he’s posted an 8.87 ERA which includes getting shelled on Wednesday to the tune of 4 runs on 8 hits in just 4 2/3 innings. It seems fantasy owners and experts alike are down on Harden heading into 2010 and with good reason. In ’09, Harden’s fastball averaged just 92.1 mph (about 2 mph slower than in ’07), he posted a 4.28 BB/9, and batters swung and missed on pitches in the strike zone just 66% of the time (compared to 69.6% in ’08). While those indicators are trending the wrong way, Harden is still just 28 with a career ERA of 3.39 and did strike out 10.91 batters per game last season. If you can get past the fact it’ll often take him 90 pitchers to throw five innings, Harden can provide your team cheap strikeouts and a decent ERA this season.
Mike Jacobs – Daniel Murphy is out 2-to-6 weeks with a knee injury which means Jacobs gets a chance to see extended playing time at first base for the Mets. If your league uses OBP as a stat category, you can just skip the rest of this blurb because Jacobs is your worst nightmare. In ’09, Jacobs posted a .297 OBP and struck in 30%(!) of his ABs. You might be able to get away with those numbers if you’re slugging 40 HRs in a season. But when your ISO is just .173 and your SLG% sits at .401, that’s a major problem. Jacobs will be 30 this season and he’s only OPS’d over .800 one time during his career. We think Jacobs will hit 18 HRs, but his .242 average and inability to put balls in play spell a platoon role at best with the Mets in 2010.
Ryan Madson – Thanks to inflammation and soreness around his right elbow, Brad Lidge had a cortisone shot Tuesday and will probably have his season debut pushed back at least a few days. Meanwhile on Wednesday, Madson struck out two and tallied a scoreless inning of relief. The fact that manager Charlie Manuel stuck with Lidge for so long last season, despite his struggles, indicates the closer’s job is definitely a part-time gig for Madson. However, Madson’s worth a roster spot because he’ll get you saves for part of April, post good strikeout numbers and a solid ERA throughout the season (9.08 K/9 and 3.26 ERA in ’09) and potentially could be a great source of saves if Lidge is injured or struggles long-term. I realize Madson struggled as the 9th-inning guy last season, but he’s got nasty stuff and probably the toughest change up to hit in baseball. We think Madson records 14 saves with a 3.33 ERA in 2010, and that’s assuming Lidge is healthy and effective – a big “if”.
Matt Capps – The season hasn’t yet started and already the clock is ticking on Matt Capps’ time as closer for the Nationals. Wednesday, Capps yielded two runs, three hits and a walk while recording just two outs. In ’08, Capps was outstanding for the Pirates by walking just 0.84 BB/9 and enjoying a fortunate .272 BABIP while recording 21 Saves. Last season, Capps experienced a different type of luck as his BABIP jumped to .370 and he walked nearly 3.00 BB/9 although he did manage 27 Saves. Heading into ’10, Capps hasn’t pitched well in Spring Training (for what it’s worth) and has highly-touted reliever Drew Storen breathing down his neck. While we predict 34 Saves for Capps, the future is Storen. If you can trade Capps, do it now before he has absolutely no value on your team.
Chipper Jones – You won’t believe this but Jones was scratched from the lineup with an injury on Wednesday. I know, how unlikely? Thankfully for his fantasy owners, Jones’ in-grown toenail shouldn’t be an issue for the regular season opener. At 38, and coming off three straight seasons with fewer than 80 RBI, Jones is a very risky play at the hot corner. After three seasons with an OPS of more than 1.000, Jones plummeted to a pedestrian .818 in ’09. If you can sell Jones based off his name recognition, do so immediately. Jones has enjoyed a Hall of Fame career, but he’s now a bench player on your fantasy team.
Aroldis Chapman – Yesterday’s blog mentioned the high probability that Chapman starts the season in the minors, and now Sports Illustrated is reporting the official roster move will be finalized today. In one-year leagues, Chapman makes a great mid-season pick up and if he’s not already owned in keeper leagues, pick him up today. With a blazing fastball that can touch triple digits and four pitches in his repertoire, it’s only a matter of time before the Cuban defector is part of Cincinnati’s big league rotation.
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