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Preseason Fantistics Analysis - Monday, March 12, 2012

Joe Ribando

Philadelphia Phillies

Howard's Achilles

There aren't many question marks with the Phillies heading into 2012 other than injury concerns. Of course, the most obvious one is Ryan Howard. Howard will inevitably begin the year on the disabled list after suffering an Achilles injury in the 2011 post season. The 32 year old Howard has been on a steady power decline and this injury certainly won't help his 2012 campaign. His AB/HR from 2006-2008 was 11.2 compared to his 2009-2011 rate of 15.8. While the drop in HR rate affects his XBH% as well, we see a decline in that rate during the same time period of 11.5% to 10.6% (with the last two seasons coming in under 10%). Howard's value on draft day will be all about speculation on his retur. Right now his ADP is about 10.0 (which seems about right), but he could be a huge 2nd-half value, especially in H2H leagues, as patient fantasy owners stash him away for the August/September surge.

Hamels' Changeup

Cole Hamels had surgery on his elbow in the offseason and he is claiming it is helping the effectiveness of his changeup. Hamels is coming off the best year of his career with a 0.986 WHIP, 2.79 ERA, and 194 K's. We also saw a huge jump in his GO/AO rate from his career average of 1.08 to 1.57 last year. That led to a precipitous drop in his HR/FB rate from 10.1% in 2010 to 8.4% last year. If his changeup is going to be even more effective now, we should see a special year out of Hamels as he turns 28. He increased the frequency of his changeup last year from 22.8% to 24.3% (with a drop in fastball frequency from 54.4% to 45.0%). A little run support last year would have made him a serious Cy Young candidate. This year might just be the year.

Detroit Tigers

Second Base - Raburn, Santiago or Inge?

The battle at second base is far from being decided in Detroit. Brandon Inge seems to be the favorite to win regular playing time at the position, but Ryan Raburn is raking in spring training, going 5-for-10 with 3 HR and all of his hits coming for extra bases. No way Jim Leyland errs on the side of defense over hitting at the 2B spot, as he already has said that the 34-year-old Inge will have to hit to have a chance at the job. The likely scenario? Inge makes the team as a backup utility infielder and we have a platoon situation with Raburn and Ramon Santiago, defensively, at 2B. For Raburn, he could also see some time in the OF or at DH, splitting some time there with Delmon Young. For Raburn, he will have to improve his splits against righties. In 2011, there was a 90-point difference in SLG%, favoring his AB against lefties. Santiago is a switch hitter, so Leyland could play the percentages and have Santiago play against lefties. It is still too soon to tell how this situation plays out, but it will certainly be interesting over the next few weeks.

Cincinnati Reds

Because Jay Bruce's batting average has been all over the place over the last few years, he take a little bit of a hit on draft boards and drops to about the 5th round according to ADP. But Bruce took a leap last year by posting his first 30+ HR season and flirted with the 100 RBI mark (97) for the first time at just 24 years old. He's entering his prime and if he can improve his K% just slightly (holding steady around 23.5%) and his balls-in-play % (holding steady around 60%), we will see him continue to improve.

1. Tim Hudson (SP - Braves) - Tim Hudson is still battling "back" from back surgery, but thinks he should be ready to rejoin the rotation around May 1st. The injury should have him drop to the mid-teen rounds (or even further) and at age 36, rightfully so. But in 2011, Hudson had one of his best years by posting a 1.14 WHIP (his best since 2003), a 6.6 K/9 with 158 K's (best since 2001), and a 16-10 record. However, his expected ERA was a good 30 points higher than his ERA of 3.22 as was his xFIP of 3.49. Add back injuries and regression due to natural aging and you have a risky proposition in drafting Hudson and higher. I would only consider him if he comes at a discounted value on draft day.

2. Ian Desmond (SS - Nationals) - Desmond has been playing around with his batting stance and it hasn't been working. He's just 2-for-17 this spring, but look for that to change as manager Davey Johnson works to get Desmond's mechanics back to good working order. While Desmond's full season stats last year would lead you to believe a change in approach was in order, his 2nd half stats yielded solid results. After going just .223/.264/.308 in the first half, Desmond surged in the 2nd half with a .289/.338/.417. At just 26, Desmond has room to grow, but he's a last-round consideration if you miss out on SS. If nothing else, he's a good source of steals out of the SS position. Desmond had 25 SB last year (20 in first half and only 5 in the 2nd, which is slightly counter intuitive to his OBP splits) and should be able to at least match that total in 2012.

3. Jamey Carroll (SS - Twins) - Jamey Carroll has been struggling with the bat this spring, but I still expect him to post a solid average this year as the starting SS for the Twins (and the likely #2 hitter in the lineup). Carroll is just 1-for-15 this spring, but has a lifetime batting average of .278 and a .291 average over the last two seasons with the Dodgers. While he's just an AL-only consideration at best (no power and 38 years old), you know what you're getting with him - decent average and double-digit SBs.

4. Mark Reynolds (3B - Orioles) - So what if he strikes out a third of the time? Reynolds' power more than makes up for the K (unless you play in a league that explicitly penalizes for K's). While Reynolds has only averaged a .228 average and 210 K's per season for the past 3 years, he has also averaged 38 HR, 91 RBI, a .331 OBP, and an .820 OPS. Reynolds is the type of fantasy player I love having on my team, but hate watching on TV because of the PA/K of 3.0. At just 28, we forecast the same power and production numbers from Reynolds in 2012. As for health, he has struggled with some back issues early this spring, but it doesn't look real serious. He has dropped some weight (almost 20 pounds), but there is no concern it will affect his power, especially playing in Baltimore with a ballpark factor of 112.

5. David Wright (3B - Mets) - Cortisone shots the first week of spring training are always a cause for concern. David Wright was sent back to NY to get a shot for his injured rib cage (suffered while doing some infield drills in Florida). The Mets seems fairly optimistic about the situation, but until he's given a clean bill of health, I would drop him a tick or two in drafts just in case this injury lingers. Right now, he's considered a 3rd round pick with 28-30 HR potential with the fences being brought in at Citi.

6. Alexi Ogando (SP - Rangers) - The Rangers haven't finalized their rotation plans, but it certainly is looking more and more like Alexi Ogando will be sitting in the bullpen as a reliever to begin the season. Ogando was solid last year as a starter, making the All-Star team and finishing the season with a 1.14 WHIP, 3.51 ERA, 13 wins, and 126 K's. But with Neftali Feliz moving to the rotation and Matt Harrison looking like the best candidate to take the 5th spot, Ogando will move to the pen. For holds purposes, Ogando will be the best option to earn the elusive stat, setting up for newly acquired closer Joe Nathan.

7. Joakim Soria (RP - Royals) - Soria had a roller-coaster of a year in 2011, briefly being removed from the closer role and then earning his way back. Owners may undervalue him given his troubles last year as he posted a 4.05 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 7 blown saves. It was easily his worst season with career averages of 2.40 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and save conversion % of 92% from 2008-2010. His LOB% dropped from 89% in 2010 to 72% in 2011 while maintaining a K/9 of 9.0 (from 9.7 the year before). Soria is dropping to the mid-to-late teen rounds in most mixed leagues which I believe is an excellent value for a pitcher who has a high probability of a bounceback year.

8. Ryan Vogelsong (SP - Giants) - Vogelsong has yet to get a start in Cactus league action as he recovers from a back injury. The Giants said he will probably get about 3 starts this spring to get him ready for opening day. Vogelsong had a breakout season in 2011, posting a 2.65 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 13 W in 180 IP. But with numbers like that, he will likely be overvalued as his FIP was 3.67 (with an xFIP of 3.87) and he posted a difficult to replicate 80.4% LOB%. Let others overpay for Vogelsong on draft day as we expect him to post an ERA closer to 3.62 with a WHIP of 1.34 in 2012.

9. Mike Stanton (OF - Marlins) - Mr. Giancarlo Stanton got hit on the left hand on Sunday and underwent a few X-rays (all which were negative). The diagnosis is a wrist contusion and doesn't seem too serious. Probably will be sore for a few days and the Marlins won't push it too hard in spring training, but no reason to alter his fantasy rankings because of it. Stay the course.

10. Josh Bell (3B - Orioles) - Josh Bell was once considered a prized prospect by the Orioles and long-term keeper leagues, but that value is slowly diminishing. Bell was cut by the Orioles on Sunday and sent down to the minors after not hitting too well this spring, hitting just .182 in 11 AB one XBH and 6 K's. In 220 big league ABs, Bell hasn't been much better posting just a .200/.221/.264 line with 3 HR and 78 K's. The 4th round draft pick in 2005 has a long way to go before becoming fantasy relevant. Nothing of value here for now.

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