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Fantistics Preseason Prep 2/22

Michael Leone

Toronto Blue Jays
Johnson to get shot at hitting in the 2-hole
Kelly Johnson 2B (TOR) - On Twitter yesterday Blue Jays writer Gregor Chisolm stated that Manager John Farrell said Kelly Johnson would ideally take the role of No. 2 hitter and run with it. That spot in the lineup would certainly help Johnson in the runs scored department as he would be hitting in front of the best slugger in the AL (Jose Bautista) and a rising star (Brett Lawrie). The question is, after hitting a poor .222/304/.413 in 2011, will Johnson be able to take advantage of the opportunity? Unfortunately, the answer isn't very clear. Let's start with the bad. Johnson's K% has grown 3 straight seasons: 15.6/22.1/26.6 and that is killing him. Those are some pretty big jumps and the majority of Johnson's failures are derived from that flaw. Now time for the positives. Johnson has a career 10.7 BB rate that will play nicely from the 2-hole and has not wavered despite his issues with strikeouts. As noted in the Fantistics projections software, Johnson does have a solid power stroke as evidenced by a consistent 10+ extra base hit percentage. He also suffered from some bad luck with a singles average of just .202 last season, a number that is sure to rise in 2012. Bottom line is Johnson is unlikely to have a breakout year as the strikeout problem won't go away over night. However, he should cut the K's down some and that would go a long way towards a productive bounce back season given his patience and power for a middle infielder as well as his projected lineup spot.

The Blue Jays' New Closer
Sergio Santos RP (TOR) - After saving 30 games for the White Sox last season, Santos heads into 2012 as the sole closer for the Blue Jays. The Jays traded for him with the intent on handing him the 9th inning, so right out of the gate job security is something fantasy owners should not have to worry about with Santos. For some reason, Santos is flying under the radar. Perhaps it is the mediocre 3.55 ERA he posted last season, but that is a little misleading. Santos' FIP and xFIP ERA's were much lower at 2.87 and 2.69 respectively. Those low numbers were keyed by some outstanding peripherals by Santos including a K/9 of 13.07, K/BB ratio of 3.17 and GB% of 43%, which is not outstanding but better than most relievers with K rates at that level. Fantistics has Santos as a top 5 relief pitcher and he should be quite the bargain on draft day.

Pittsburgh Pirates
McCutchen is a prime breakout candidate
Andrew McCutchen OF (PIT) - McCutchen just screams breakout potential. He will be 25 for all of the 2012 season and already has 420 games played under his belt the past three seasons. I am really looking for an increase in his power numbers for a number of reasons. The age, as I said before, coinciding with 2011 jumps in McCutchen's patience (13.1 BB%), LD % (20%), FB% (41.7%) and HR/FB% (12.2%) means 30 home runs is not out of the question. One concern owners might have is that the power is coming at the expense of McCutchen's average as his BA fell from .286 in his first two seasons to .259 last year. I don't think this will be the case, though. Yes, the K% is a little bit higher but McCutchen's increased percentage of extra base hits should help stabilize his average. The real culprit for the drop off in average last season was an unlucky singles average of .222. It was .254 and .252 the two seasons prior and since McCutchen's EYE (.71) has not fallen off and his LD% has increased, his singles average should be back in the .250's which will push the average back into the .280 range. Don't be afraid to grab McCutchen early as he will be a fantasy stud who may go 30/30.

Don't overpay for Hanrahan's 2011 season
Joel Hanrahan RP (PIT) - I touched on Santos as an underrated closer, but in Pittsburgh the incumbent closer Joel Hanrahan I fear is being overvalued on draft day. Hanrahan had an impressive 2011 campaign, notching 40 saves and an incredible 1.83 ERA. The funny thing is neither I nor the Fantistics software expects Hanrahan to fall off a cliff, but with just some regression he becomes an average closer. Why? For starters, Hanrahan no longer helps in the strikeout category as his K/9 fell from 12.92 to 8 last season. He made up for the drop off by doing other things well (decreased BB rate, increased GB rate), but even still his 1.98 ERA should have been closer to 3 as his xFIP suggests (2.98). Hanrahan experienced a great deal of luck in 2011. His LOB% of 78.2% was well above his career mark of 72.8%, and if anything it should have been lower than his career mark due to the drop off in his K rate. Also, Hanrahan's BABIP was 36 points lower than his career mark and his HR/FB% of 1.9% was over 6 percentage points lower than normal. These things are going to correct themselves in 2012 leading to a bump up in Hanrahan's ratios and likely a few less saves.

Kansas City Royals
Top Prospects Manning the Corners for the Royals
Eric Hosmer 1B (KC) - Hosmer was very impressive in 523 at bats as a rookie, hitting .293/.334/.465. Hosmer should be locked in as a top ten 1B option this year, but I am tempering my expectations somewhat. There are two things I want to see Hosmer do before he becomes a top power hitter in my eyes: improve his patience and get more loft (something Joseph H touched on in the projections blog on Monday). The reason I want to see Hosmer improve his patience (6% BB rate last season) is that hackers often post ISO's that leave much to be desired. By swinging at pitcher's pitches they see less pitches that they are able to drive. Sure enough, Hosmer swung at 36.7% of the pitches he saw outside of the zone last year. In terms of loft, it is quite simple. You can't hit a homerun on a ground ball, and Hosmer hit more than his fair share of those in 2011 (49.7 GB%). Our projection for Hosmer may seem conservative, but it is the right call. This is not meant to drive anyone away from Hosmer, particularly in keeper leagues, but is meant to temper the lofty expectations young hitters often have placed upon them. He still has work to do.

Mike Moustakas 3B (KC) - Unlike Hosmer, Moustakas did not have a very successful rookie season, hitting .263/.309/.367 in 365 plate appearances. Like Hosmer, Moustakas needs to make strides with his BB rate as he posted a 6% BB rate as well. Moustakas' chase rate of 35.2% was higher than the league average (30.6%) and his contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone (76.8%) was also quite a bit higher than the league average (68.1%). This means Moustakas was putting a lot of pitcher's pitches into play, and it showed. Moustakas posted a putrid ISO (.104) and HR/FB% (4.2%). His 86% contact rate and solid LD (20.4%) and FB (41.2%) rates means Moustakas has power potential once he stops hacking. However, that ISO is too tough to ignore for now. He will have a tough time cracking the top 20 3B this year.

Around the League
Adrian Beltre 3B (TEX) - When discussing Beltre with a friend, the topic of his HR projection came up. How come the Fantistics draft software has him projected for 3 less home runs than last year yet 50 more at bats? It comes down to the concept of regression and some simple math. Last season Beltre had a HR/FB% of 16.4. However, his previous season his HR/FB% was 13.5% and that number also represents Beltre's career HR/FB mark. Entering the 2012 season just shy of his 33rd birthday, there really is no reason to expect Beltre's HR/FB mark to be on the rise, so it is safe to project a 13.5 HR/FB% for him. Last season Beltre hit 195 fly balls (in 487 at bats) times a 16.4 HR/FB% to give him 32 homers. In a projected 536 at bats this season Beltre will hit roughly 214 fly balls (assuming his FB% and contact rate hold from the previous season). This upcoming season, though, we expect Beltre's HR/FB% to revert to his career mark of 13.5%, so that leaves him with 214 fly balls times a 13.5 HR/FB% to give him the projected 29 homers. This should serve as a quick lesson in both regression and why you can't simply pro rate a player's stats over more at bats when projecting. Also keep in mind that Beltre's contact and fly ball rates were the best of his career last season and are also unlikely to be repeated. If this is the case, even if Beltre's HR/FB% does not fully revert to his career mark he is unlikely to top 30 homers because lower contact and fly ball rates mean less fly balls mean less chances at homeruns.

Matt Moore SP (TB) - One concern surrounding Matt Moore entering the draft season was on how much the Rays would baby the young lefty in 2012. Well, Andrew Friedman announced that Moore will not have an innings limit in 2012. This does not mean the Rays won't be careful with Moore and certainly does not mean he will be throwing 220+ innings. However, it is worth noting Moore ranks as our 34th best SP with only 176 projected innings. If he can get to 200, you have to figure in more K's, greater impact of the ratios and an extra win or two, and that would have him pushing the top 20.

Ichiro Suzuki OF (SEA) - Mariners' Manager Eric Wedge announced that Ichiro is going to hit third this year. I don't know if this changes Ichiro's outlook too much, but it should leave him with a few more RBI opportunities. Ichiro has not cracked 50 RBI's since 2007, but with his change in the lineup order he will drive in more than 50 runs in 2012.

Tim Lincecum SP (SF) - Don't freak out over Lincecum missing workouts yesterday. He was just sitting out due to some back stiffness. One would think "The Freak's" size and abnormal delivery would make him somewhat injury prone, but he has 4 straight seasons of 210+ innings pitched. He is once again a top 10 SP option with #1 overall SP upside.

Javy Guerra RP (LAD) - As Dave Regan suggested in his projections blog at the end of last week, Javy Guerra will enter camp as the Dodgers' closer. This was confirmed by Manager Don Mattingly yesterday. Guerra posted a 2.31 ERA last season, but his xFIP was just 4.07. It will be a surprise if he is able to hold off Kenley Jansen for long.

Zack Greinke SP (MIL) - I've never been quiet about being a Zack Greinke supporter, and heading into 2012 I am as vocal as ever. Of qualified starting pitchers last season, no one had a higher percentage of strikeouts per batter faced than Greinke did with a remarkable 28.1 K%. Despite a 3.83 ERA, his xFIP was an outstanding 2.56. This was driven by the high K% discussed before as well as excellent control (2.36 BB/9) and a career best GB% (47.3%). Despite the high K%, Greinke was very unlucky at stranding runners, finishing 2011 with a LOB% of 69.8%. He also had a BABIP 10 points above his career mark and HR/FB% 4.6 percentage points higher than his career mark. These numbers should normalize in 2012, making Greinke a top 10 fantasy SP with top 5 upside.

Jeremy Hellickson SP (TB) - While Hellickson is likely to make strides with his K rate in 2012, his 2011 peripherals did not match up at all with his surface stats, meaning he is likely to be overvalued in 2012 non-keeper drafts. Hellickson FIP and xFIP were both over a run and a half higher than his actual ERA. He is FB risky (35 GB%) and the 1.63 K/BB ratio leaves a lot to be desired.

Devin Mesoraco C (CIN) - In conversations with fellow analyst Drew Dinkmeyer the other day, he noted concern over Mesoraco's potential playing time because of Dusty Baker's love of veterans. Sure enough, according to Rotoworld, Baker declined to name Mesoraco the team's number 1 catcher. Frankly, Mesoraco would be a top 10 catcher right away with the right playing time and would be a good bet for 20+ homers. It is going to be tough to bank on that playing time though with Baker at the helm.

Corey Luebke SP (SD) - Leubke put together an extremely solid 2011 season. He struck out a really impressive 9.92 batters per 9. He is a FB pitcher (38.8FB%) which works for Luebke since he pitches in the NL West and more specifically Petco Park. If Luebke is able to keep missing bats (as noted in the projection notes, his K rate in the majors last year was higher than it had been in the minors), he could post an ERA around 3. He is a bit undervalued right now as people are probably concentrating on Luebke's 6-10 record rather than his strong K rate and positive environment. If he pitches like he did last season, the wins will come.

Don't be a stranger! Tweet me at leonem4444 with any fantasy baseball questions you may have for your draft prep and throughout the season.

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