The Choices at Third Base – Jayson Nix, Jason Donald, Luis Valbuena or a box of rocks.
By the rules of Major League Baseball, the Indians must employ a living, breathing human to play third base this year. Therefore, Tribe fans will be rewarded with a spring training position battle between Jayson Nix (.676 OPS in ’10), Jason Donald (.690 OPS in ’10), Luis Valbuena (.531 OPS in ’10) and perhaps the newly signed Orlando Cabrera (.657 OPS in ’10). Frankly, between those choices, Manny Acta might want to think about putting Slider at the hot corner and hoping for the best.
Of this motley crew, do any have fantasy value in your league? In a word, no. Nix posted a 0.23 EYE and struck out in 26% of his ABs last season. He did have a respectable .172 ISO and slugged 14 HRs but he took a first pitch strike in 61% of his ABs and swung at 33% of pitches outside the strike zone. Donald recorded an OPS+ of 94, which means he was only slightly worse than league average but he also did nothing well en route to posting a .253/.312/.378 slash line with 4 HRs in 296 ABs. Valbuena was easily the worst hitter of this group, which is actually kind of impressive. He posted an almost unbelievable slash line of .193/.273/.258 with a .065 ISO and 1 steal (he was caught twice). Finally, there’s Cabrera who is supposed to challenge for the second base job (a position that will be just slightly less terrible than third base for the Tribe in 2011). If Cabrera does get a shot at third, he’ll be coming off a 2010 campaign where he on-based .303 and hit 4 HRs in 494 ABs. Go Tribe!
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t care about the Indians’ third base situation until Lonnie Chisenhall gets called up. Otherwise, steer clear of this abyss.
Grady Sizemore returns. Will fantasy relevance return with him?
After playing in just 139 games during the past two seasons, Grady Sizemore enters camp determined to regain the swing that helped him become one of the better outfielder options in all of fantasy baseball between 2005-2008. During those four seasons, Sizemore averaged 27 HRs, 29 steals, 116 runs and 81 RBI while recording more than 700 plate appearances each year. However, in 2009 Sizemore experienced a regression as he hit just .248 with a .788 OPS, although his power (.197 ISO) mostly remained. In 2010, Sizemore only played in 33 games (playing quite horribly in those games) en route to smashing 0 HRs and posting a Luis Valbuena-like .560 OPS.
With Sizemore returning for the 2011 season, it’s hard to say if the 28-year old will be able to regain his form of old. Our projections like him to bounce back to the tune of 24 HRs, 28 steals and 90 runs, but that seems a bit optimistic to me considering he hasn’t been that good since 2008. If there’s one Indian to watch this spring, it’s Sizemore. He has the potential to make an impact for your team and can be had for a lower cost based off his recent performance and injury risk. We’ll continue to monitor his situation as the Tribe’s camp unfolds.
St. Louis Cardinals
Some Guy in St. Louis Didn’t Sign a Contract Extension
While the media made a big deal out of Albert Pujols not signing a contract extension with the Cardinals last week, it shouldn’t change anything in terms of his fantasy production. Prince Albert’s 162 game average during his 10-year career is pretty decent: 42 HRs, 128 RBI, .331 BA and 1.011 OPS. There’s no reason to think he’ll fall too far from those numbers in 2011, even as he enters his age-31 season. In 2010, Pujols’ OBP did drop from .443 in ’09 to .414 while his ISO fell from .331 to .284. He also experienced a drop in his SLG% from .658 to “just” .596. Part of the reason for this slight decline is due to Pujols making contact on a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone. During his career, he usually makes contact on 67% of pitches outside the strike zone but in 2010 that number jumped to 76%. This likely means Pujols was making weaker contact more often than in past seasons. It’s nothing of which to be alarmed. Our Fantistics projections are 44 HR, 123 RBI, 15 steals, 120 runs and a .318 BA – par for the course for the best hitter in baseball.
Cardinals’ Third Base Situation – Freese Bird
After missing a large chunk of 2010 due to two ankle surgeries, David Freese is expected to take over the starting third base position for St. Louis in 2011. He broke onto the major league scene in 17 games in 2009 before accumulating 270 plate appearances last season. While Freese has a history of crushing the ball in the minors, (he hit 26 HRs at AAA in ’08), that power didn’t translate last season as the corner infielder posted just a .108 ISO with 4 HRs. Freese’s lack of power can be attributed to an incredibly low 29% FB% and 1.68 GB/FB mark. He did manage to hit .296 with a .361 OBP but those numbers were inflated by a .376 BABIP.
Assuming Freese starts hitting more fly balls, we should see a nice spike in power.
The Cardinals’ other option is Nick Punto, which means they don’t really have another option. Punto hit just .238 in ’10 to go along with a .303 SLG%. Needless to say, he’s not worthy of any fantasy team’s roster in any league or any format.
Houston’s Mr. Consistency – Meet Hunter Pence
Hunter Pence won his salary arbitration hearing Saturday and is set to make $6.9 million in 2011. When you talk about a consistent hitter, most people think of Adam Dunn and his ability to hit 40 HRs almost every season. But don’t overlook Pence, who has quietly posted some valuable fantasy numbers the past 3 seasons. Check it out:
2008: BA - .269, HR - 25, OPS - .783, Hits - 160
2009: BA - .282, HR - 25, OPS - .818, Hits - 165
2010: BA - .282, HR - 25, OPS - .786, Hits - 173
Just go ahead and pencil in another 25 HRs and .280 BA for 2011, and let’s talk about someone more interesting. The fact is you can likely grab the Houston outfielder for a pretty good price and know exactly what you’re getting. He won’t win you a championship, but Pence can definitely provide some cheap HRs and a decent enough BA. The Astros’ lineup leaves much to be desired (especially with an aging and declining Carlos Lee), but Pence should still score 80 runs and drive in 80 to go along with about 15 steals.
Ed Wade Likes to Gamble
Usually when people fail miserably at their job, they don’t get a raise. Unless their boss is Ed Wade, that is.
Fresh off a 2010 campaign where his SLG% dropped by 89 points to .351, HR total fell by 15, RBI total decreased by 26 and ISO plummeted to just .116, Clint Barmes received a raise from his new employer, the Houston Astros. Not only that, he is slated to start at shortstop for the Astros which gives manager Brad Mills another bat in his lineup who simply cannot get on-base. Barmes had a nice enough 2009 season for Colorado, when he belted 23 HRs and posted a .195 ISO. However, he also recorded a 0.26 EYE and .294 OBP that season, making him a one-trick pony. Last season, Barmes HR/FB rate sunk to just 5.1% and he connected on just 8 HRs in 387 ABs. Temper your expectations for 2011, people.
If Barmes struggles to start 2011, there isn’t much help behind him as the primary backup right now is Tommy Manzella. Manzella, who will also take groundballs at second and third this spring, hit just .225/.267/.264 with a putrid ISO of 0.39 in 2010. He also struck out 71 times in just 83 games.
Vicente Padilla – In 95 innings last season, Vicente Padilla pitched well for the Dodgers, posting a 7.96 K/9, 4.07 ERA and 4.20 FIP while enjoying an unsustainable .250 BABIP. Despite struggling with the long ball (1.33 HR/9), and to most everyone’s surprise, Padilla had some value in deep leagues as a back-end of the rotation starter. Heading into camp this season, it appears Padilla will be a starter in spring training but could eventually move back to the bullpen. With that uncertainty in mind, the big right hander isn’t worth a roster spot during draft/auction day. If he ends up as a SP during the season, you could probably do worse when looking for a spot starter against weak-hitting opponents.
Rich Harden – Rich Harden was shut down this week with stiffness in the lat area of his pitching arm and he’ll be out for at least a few weeks. Even before this latest setback, Harden’s performance has been in steady decline. In the past 3 seasons, he’s posted the following K/9 rates: 11.01, 10.91, 7.34. During that same time period, his BB/9 rates have moved in the opposite direction: 3.71, 4.28, 6.07. As he’s walked more batters, his ERA has also climbed from 2.07 in ’08 to 4.28 in ’09 to an ugly 5.58 last season. Clearly, Harden is regressing and becoming a pitcher that provides your team little fantasy value. Steer clear until he can stay healthy and reverse the trends in his strikeout and walk totals.
Jason Hammel – I really like Jason Hammel as a sleeper option in 2011 based off his numbers the past two seasons. In 2009, Hammel posted a 6.78 K/9, 2.14 BB/9 and 0.87 HR/9 and followed that with a 7.14 K/9, 2.38 BB/9 and 0.91 HR/9 in 2010. However, despite experiencing nearly identical BABIP marks during those seasons, Hammel’s ERAs were just 4.33 and 4.81, respectively. Those ERAs aren’t too impressive on the surface but dig a little deeper and you’ll notice Hammel’s FIP marks the past two seasons were 3.71 in ’09 and 3.70 in ’10. He’s been consistent and a bit unlucky, and I expect things will even out for the 6-foot-6 right hander in 2011.
Dustin Pedroia – Before a season-ending injury in ’10, Dustin Pedroia owned, by far, the highest ISO of his career at .205 to go along with a .493 SLG%. Playing in 75 games, Pedroia was on pace for 20+ HRs, 110 Runs and 80-85 RBI despite just a .291 BABIP (compared to .310 career mark). He’s just 27-years old so there’s no reason to think that Boston’s second baseman can’t maintain his power from ’10. As an added bonus, Pedroia could leadoff meaning a real chance at leading the league in runs scored since he’ll have the likes of Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and David Ortiz hitting behind him.
J.D. Drew – The Red Sox outfielder hasn’t tested his tight hamstring yet this spring but doesn’t expect to be limited in camp. That said, even if Drew remains healthy, he’s a risky fantasy OF this season after posting just a .255/.341/.452 slash line in 2010 with his lowest ISO since 2002. Drew’s EYE mark was also just 0.57, the lowest since his rookie season in 1998. At 36, and with a history of injury problems, I’d stay away from Drew during your auction/draft.
Jason Kubel – Jason Kubel has already reported to camp for Minnesota and is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 season. After slamming 28 HRs and posting a solid .239 ISO in ’09, Kubel jacked just 21 HRs and recorded a .178 ISO last season as he experienced a 5% drop in his HR/FB ratio. Part of the problem is that Kubel swung at more pitches outside the strike zone – 28% in ’10 compared to 24% in ’09. Worse, he also experienced a huge spike in his contact percentage on pitches outside the strike zone, increasing from 57% in ’09 to a whopping 70% in ’10. Bottom line: he was chasing more pitches and making weaker contact more often in 2010 than 2009.Keep an eye on these indicators as the 2011 season begins to get a sense of whether Kubel will approach 30 HRs or 20 HRs this year.
Vernon Wells – After hitting 35 HRs between 2008 and 2009, Vernon Wells ripped 31 HRs and improved his ISO by 102 points in ’10. If Wells is anything, it’s inconsistent. He posted an OPS under .715 in 2007 and 2009 while recording an .840+ OPS during 2008 and 2010. Our projections have Wells hitting 26 HRs and I actually think that’s a bit generous considering the type of spike we saw in his power numbers last season. Additionally, he’s moving from a ballpark which had the 4th highest park factor for HRs in MLB to a park that was just 23rd. All signs point toward a regression and I wouldn’t consider Wells more than a No. 3 OF in deep leagues.
Adam Dunn – What do you get when you cross a perennial 40 HR hitter with a ballpark that was home to the most HRs allowed in baseball last season? You get the 2011 version of Adam Dunn. The Big Donkey should feast on American League pitching by playing half his games at U.S. Cellular, which owned the highest park factor rating for HRs in baseball last season at 1.54. Dunn was his usual self last season, clubbing 38 HRs and posting ISO and SLG% numbers of .276 and .536, respectively. Dunn’s BB% did drop by 6% which caused his OBP to fall from .398 in ’09 to just .356. The good news is that Dunn will have a better lineup around him Chicago, which should result in additional RBIs. Overall, I like Dunn to do what he always does – hit 40 HRs, drive in more than 100 and strike out in more than 30% of his ABs.
Mike Aviles – The Royals locked up Mike Aviles with a 1-year deal Sunday and he is slated to start at shortstop in 2011. Last season, Aviles hit .304 but that success was in large part thanks to a .327 BABIP. I expect a regression of his BABIP which should result in the BA falling well below .300. Aviles also didn’t walk much (4.5% BB%) and owned just a 0.41 EYE. Since shortstop is such a thin position, it’s fine to take Aviles later in your draft/auction but don’t expect more than 10 HR and 15 steals with a .280 BA.
Jason Heyward – The Atlanta outfielder heads into his second season looking for improvement upon his 18 HR/.849 OPS rookie campaign. In ’10, Heyward punished RHP with an .895 OPS and .291 BA but also held his own against southpaws by recording a respectable .755 OPS and .249 BA. He showed very good patience for a young hitter, walking in 14% of his ABs while owning a 0.71 EYE. Heyward caught some breaks in the second half as his BABIP jumped to .367 in 320 plate appearances but he also increased his FPI from 0.62 to 0.75. Our projections have Heyward cracking 27 HRs, stealing 17 bags and hitting .287 – all good enough for top 15 OF status.
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