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Preseason Prep- February 25

Eric Nehs

Oakland A's

Top of the Rotation: Brandon McCarthy- McCarthy started 25 games for the A's in 2011 compiling 3.32 ERA, 2.86 FIP and a 4.7 fWAR. With a newfound approach to attacking hitters with a two-seam fastball and cutter, McCarthy saw his velocity jump to a career high (90.9 mph average fastball velocity). The new approach allowed him to record a career high ground ball rate of 46 percent. There is no doubt that Brandon is the ace of the staff with the departures of Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Rich Harden (along with Brett Anderson's injury). We see a similar season for McCarthy in 2012 with a similar WHIP (1.17) and ERA (3.34). The only downside to the 28 year-old right-hander is his injury history.

Position Battle: Who's the closer?- Bob Melvin has not indicated a front-runner to take over the responsibility of closer following the departure of Andrew Bailey. However, there seems to be a consensus forming around four names. Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour are seen as the early frontrunners. Fuentes has the most experience in the role, but his 4.50 xFIP in 2011 was the second worst of his career and he has seen a drop in velocity in each of the last four seasons. I expect Balfour to win the job as he has the right amount of experience, and posted a decent line for the club last season (2.47 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 3.57 xFIP). However, his swinging strike rate and K/9 have dropped in each of the last five seasons. Joey Devine needs to prove he has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, and is expected to be a setup man. Fautino De Los Santos is the dark horse here with his 95-97 mph fastball and wicked slider. He needs to lower his walk rate (4.32 BB/9 last season), but I expect him to have the job by the end of the year, as Balfour and Fuentes will definitely be trade targets comes July.

New York Mets Low Cost Options:

Lucas Duda (NYM-RF)- Duda is expected to be the starter in right field barring any injuries, and he showed during the 2011 season that he is a very productive hitter. In only 340 plate appearances, he compiled a .292/.370/.482 line with 10 home runs. I expect Duda to produce another strong OBP, and the fantistics software expects him to produce more than 20 home runs (might be even more with the Citifield fences moved in). In his time in the majors, he has produced fly ball rates over 43 percent and a HR/FB ratio of 10.2 percent. His main weak link is his inability to produce against left-handed hitters, but any positive adjustment in 2012 might make him a top offensive performer. I do expect Duda's strikeout numbers to be slightly higher in 2012, as his 2011 rate was his lowest since his time in double-A. With that said, Duda is definitely worth a gamble in later rounds and I expect him to be the one of the top Mets performers in 2012.

Frank Francisco (RP-NYM) Francisco was maligned during his time with the Blue Jays constantly in and out of the closer's role. We have noted that he benefited from a 80 percent strand rate, but he was also victimized by a 12.7 percent HR/FB ratio, a number that should come down with a move to New York. While his strikeout numbers declined from 10.21 K/9 to 9.41 K/9, he still produced a 10.6 percent swinging strike rate and produced his best average fastball velocity (94.2 mph) in three years. Francisco will probably land on the 15-day DL one time this season that will limit him to 50-58 games, but I consider him the best option in the bottom tier of closers. We project him to finish with a 3.09 ERA and he does not have much competition behind him to compete for the job if he struggles early on. He's cheap and at worst he will definitely help any owner's strikeout totals.

Washington Nationals

What can we expect from Stephen Strasburg in 2012?- Mike Rizzo announced last week that Strasburg will follow the same type of innings program that Jordan Zimmerman followed last season. Zimmerman finished with 161.2 innings pitched in 2011, and Rizzo expects Strasburg's total to fall in between 150-160. What does that mean for strategy? Well barring any setbacks, Strasburg will pitch until September, so owners should not put him in the top 15 of starting pitchers. His command last season coming back from Tommy John surgery was very impressive, and if he can keep that up for the entire 2012 season he could finish with a sub 2.50 ERA. However, I expect his ERA to be similar to his 2010 number (2.91), and there are bound to be some bumps along the way. His velocity may fluctuate from start to start, but he did average 95.8 mph last season. He should be back to averaging 98 mph by the end of the year, and he will most definitely have a strikeout rate above 9.2 K/9.

Jayson Werth on decline, but still valuable at right price: Fantistics predicted last year that Werth's fortunes would change with a move to Washington, but it was surprising to see Werth compile a .232/.330/.389. Players should expect somewhat of a rebound year from Werth especially in terms of batting average. His .286 BABIP was a career low, and his strikeout rate should have been lower considering he posted a career low 6.9 percent swinging strike rate. We project him to have a 20/20 season, and he still has a 12 percent career walk rate. His ability to get on base, steal bases and produce home runs makes him just as valuable to a fantasy team as his outfield partner, Michael Morse. Lets not forget that a series of nagging injuries to his legs and elbow could have affected some of his 2011 production.

Around the League

Justin Morneau (1B-MIN)- I know Drew updates Morneau's status yesterday, but Morneau made some interesting comments yesterday that might turn some heads. If 2012 goes as well as his 2011 season; it might be the last season that Morneau attempts to play baseball. He told reporters on Friday morning that what he has gone through has been "torture," and "there won't be a career if this is something I'm dealing with." He compiled a -0.3 fWAR in 69 games with the Twins last season and produced career worst .227/.285/.333 line along with a career worst ISO (.109) and HR/FB ratio (3.9 percent). Morneau has 28 million reasons to keep playing until 2013, but those comments indicate he will hang it up if he can't get it going early in the season. I agree with Drew's assessment of him as a broken commodity. Anyone interested much watch any spring training news on his condition, but I would stay away from drafting him unless he makes a mark this spring. Whatever happens, it is a sad situation for one of the best players in the game from 2006-2010.

Mike Minor (SP-ATL)- Frank Wren told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he Minor is the incumbent for the fifth starter role because of his experience and the fact that he is a left-hander. I think at this point that Minor is almost a lock to make the Braves rotation given the fact that Tim Hudson is likely to begin the season on the disabled list because of offseason back surgery. Julio Teheran could use some more seasoning in the minors, and Randall Delgado does not record enough strikeouts to take Minor's spot away. Minor was impressive during his time with the Braves last season posting a 3.39 FIP along with a strikeout rate of 8.38 K/9 in 85 innings. He increased his velocity in 2011 and his change-up is a true plus pitch. He was hurt by an unlucky BABIP (.350). We expect him to produce a lot of strikeouts and finish with an ERA close to 3.75 and provide great draft day value.

Elvis Andrus (SS-TEX)- Andrus had a wart removed from his right heel, but the injury isn't expected to keep him from playing in the near future. Despite not being a big time power threat, we have Andrus ranked as the fifth best shortstop available. He is a lock to steal over 30 bases, and Andrus cut his strikeout rate from 14 to 11 percent in 2011. Most importantly, he showed a quicker bat which lead to more power in the gaps. We are only projecting him to have five home runs this year, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him with eight to ten by the end of the year. I also wouldn't be surprised to see him finish with similar numbers to Jose Reyes, although at a much cheaper price.

Josh Tomlin (SP-CLE)- Tomlin's 2011 season was cut short because of elbow soreness, but it appears as if he is back on track to remain the Indians' number four starter after a ten-minute pain free bullpen session on Friday. He finished last season with a 4.25 ERA despite posting 1.08 WHIP. His FIP (4.27) and xFIP (4.03) indicate that he pitched to his performance, and we are predicting another similar season for Tomlin. While he does have fantastic control, I doubt he can replicate a 1.44 BB/9 and it is unlikely that he will be able to produce a .253 BABIP once again. Expect him to produce a WHIP closer to his 2010 figure along with a slightly improved strikeout rate. (His 2011 swinging strike rate was similar to his 2010 rate.) He remains a strong option in deep and AL-only leagues, as he will be nothing more than a good number four starter for his career.

Grady Sizemore (CF-CLE) It was reported yesterday that Sizemore is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day because of a back strain until mid April, and that a trip to the DL is on the horizon. While the good news is that Sizemore isn't having trouble with his surgically repaired knees, this is a microcosm of Sizemore's career. While he could produce a 20 home run season if he played close to a full season, he has shown year after year that he cannot stay on the field. We generously predicted that he will have 565 at-bats, but I feel certain that he will not come close to that number in 2012. He only produced a .302 wOBA last season, and his 12.9 swinging strike rate was the highest of his career. Throw that in with a declining walk rate, and I can only recommend staying away from him again in 2012.

Cliff Lee (SP-PHI)- Lee is dealing with an abdominal issue this spring like he did in 2010, but this issue is not expected to keep him from missing any time. Our software has Lee ranked fourth among starting pitchers, but owners can't expect him to replicate a 2.39 ERA in 2012. He benefited from an 81.4 percent strand rate so a 2.80 to 3.00 is more realistic for this upcoming season. Despite the beneficial strand rate, Lee's strikeout and ground ball rates were the best of his career. That can be attributed to the increased usage of his cutter, and the fact that it and his fastball have increased in velocity over the last four seasons. Because of his durability and control, Lee remains one of the safest players to draft and should be take within the top 25.

Vicente Padilla (SP-BOS)- The Red Sox see Padilla competing for a starting spot in the rotation and not role in the bullpen, despite not starting a game for the Dodgers last season. Assuming Daniel Bard takes the fourth spot in the rotation, Padilla is going to battle Aaron Cook, Andrew Miller, Carlos Silva and Ross Ohlendorf for the final spot in the rotation. I believe Padilla would be the best served to pitch in the AL East as he features a good assortment of pitches and averages a little more than 92 mph on his fastball. It is safe to say he would average between 6.5 to 7 strikeouts per nine innings and produce an ERA in the 4.30 to 4.15 range. If anyone is looking for a Freddy Garcia type of sleeper to start this season, Padilla might be able to serve in that role if given the opportunity.

Angel Pagan (CF-SFG)- CSN of Bay Area reported yesterday that Pagan will leadoff duties and start in centerfield. While Pagan's batting average dropped last season that was based mostly on luck. His BABIP dropped from .331 to .285 in 2011, but he did produce a strong line drive rate of 24 percent. Don't let his poor 2011 season close of your mind. He showed some good signs from 2011 were improving his walk rate from 7 percent to 8.3 percent and a career low strikeout rate of 11.3 percent. While Pagan won't produce more than 10 home runs, he should produce anywhere from 30-40 stolen bases for the Giants (assuming he stays healthy). The software's prediction of a .277/.340/.391 line sounds just about right, and he is sure to help any owner because of his speed.

Carlos Beltran (RF-STL)- Any owner contemplating Carlos Beltran this spring has to worry about the possibility of injuries, and news coming out of camp indicating the Cardinals might consider splitting some of his time in centerfield has to worry perspective owners. I can't imagine Beltran's balky knees holding up at the position for too long, and my guess is that this is typical early spring training conjecture. Because of his ability to get on base and produce more than 20 home runs still gives the 35 year-old value, but he is a better pickup for the Cardinals than an actually top flight fantasy outfielder. We still rank him behind Nick Swisher, Delmon Young, Jason Bay and Lucas Duda in terms of outfield production. There is no doubt that Beltran will help your team, but make sure to get him at the right price.

Follow me on twitter: @enehs

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Eric, Why don't you include Aceves as competing for the fifth starter spot in Boston?

Since he is training as if he is going to start, I should have included him. I think he stays in a similar role.

Thanks for responding, Eric. I enjoy the blog.

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