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Preseason Prep- March 24, 2012

Eric Nehs

Oakland A's

Crafty Lefty Files: Tom Milone

News came out this week that Milone has one of the A's rotation spots locked up, and he is scheduled to pitch in one of the team's exhibition games in Japan. Milone made five starts for the Nationals during the last month of the season, and pitched to a 3.81 ERA in 26 innings. Throughout his minor league career and his brief stint in the majors, Milone has shown fantastic control posting a 1.46 BB/9. His 2011 minor league strikeout rate (9.4 K/9) won't be reproduced. Milone only averages 88 mph on his fastball, but his deceptive delivery should allow him to produce 6.0 K/9. Oakland is the perfect fit for the left-hander because of his propensity for fly balls. For that reason, I think our software is underestimating his 2012 ERA. He is definitely worth a gamble in AL only and deep leagues, and he might be a good matchup type during the season.

The Chronicles of Reddick:

After being involved in the Red Sox trade for Andrew Bailey, Reddick is expected to serve as the A's everyday right fielder. He has been one of the A's best hitters during the spring, but owners should not expect the young outfielder to produce as consistently as he did during his 278 plate appearances for the Red Sox last season. He has not shown a consistent ability to get on base during his major league career (5.5 percent career walk rate) in addition to a high strikeout rate (20.3 percent for career). Furthermore, Reddick has not had many major league at-bats against left-handed pitching. If he struggle early on against them, Colin Cowgill and Jonny Gomes are likely to get more plate appearances. Considering his above average production last season, Reddick only produced a 7.6 percent HR/FB ratio in 2011. Owners should expect a .250/.305/.420 line along with 13 to 16 home runs.

New York Mets

Projecting the Right Side of Infield:

Ruben Tejada (SS)- Except for those in NL only leagues, Tejada provides almost no fantasy value, even at shortstop. His two most valuable tools on offense are his ability to work the count and take a walk, in addition to his above average contact numbers. However, he will not have very many opportunities to score runs batting in the eighth spot in the order, and he possesses almost no power (1 home run in 631 major league plate appearances). Furthermore, Tejada has not stolen more than 9 bases in a season since his stint in double-A during 2009. Tejada should be able to continue to produce high BABIP because of his superior line drive rate. His defense should keep him in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future and let him have a solid major league career, but his fantasy prospects will remain extremely limited unless he can improve in the stolen base department or run into a few more home runs.

David Wright (3B)- Wright took batting practice outside for the first time the on Thursday since being shut down due to an abdominal strain, and he is expected to play in his first spring training game this weekend. The franchise expects Wright to be ready for Opening Day, and if fully healthy, Wright should make his way back into the top 10 list of fantasy third-basemen. Wright's 2011 season was greatly affected by a stress fracture in his back, an injury he played with for close to month. After spending two months on the disabled list, Wright's overall numbers never recovered. He produced the lowest line drive rate of his career (18 percent), and his highest ground ball rate (42.6 percent). Wright's three-year troubles with strikeouts will keep him from hitting .300, but he should produce 25-30 home runs with a little help from the new dimensions in Queens along 15-20 stolen bases and close to a .280/.360/.485 line. For those still drafting, his injury might make other players hesitant, but he is still a very good second round pick.

Washington Nationals

Lannan Looks to Lockup Fifth Spot (If He is Still in Washington):

With Chien-Mieng Wang's hamstring injury, Lannan looks to have the fifth spot in the rotation all but locked up. However, Jon Heyman indicated the other day that the Tigers still have interest in the left-hander. No matter where Lannan pitches this April, owners should be wary of his fantasy status. His greatest asset is his ability to record ground balls (54.1 percent in 2011), but his poor peripherals (5.17 K/9 and 3.70 BB/9) are more of a reflection of what kind of pitcher he is. His FIP (4.28) and xFIP (4.24) indicate that his ERA should have been higher while managing a .292 BABIP despite having a 20.2 percent line drive rate. If Lannan is moved to the American League (I think he will remain with the Nationals for the first half of the season), his strikeout numbers are more likely to decrease. I believe our software is right on the money in predicting Lannan's stats this season (4.51 ERA, 5 K/9 and 1.50 WHIP). Standard league owners should know to stay away.

On the mend: Adam LaRoche

2011 was a lost season for the consistent first-baseman because of a shoulder injury. His left shoulder bothered him since last spring and it lead him to labral surgery after producing an abysmal .172/.288/.258 line in 175 plate appearances. The injury zapped all of his power (career low 6.8 percent HR/FB ratio and .086 ISO), but he was also exetrmely unlucky on balls in put play (.205 BABIP). Before last season, LaRcohe was a consistent fantasy asset who would produce 25 home runs, drive in 80-95 runs and produce an average around .270. It is impossible to know what to expect from him until the season starts, but he can be an above average contributor at the utility spot if he can produce 15-20 home runs with a .260/.335/.425 line. His 14.8 percent career HR/FB ratio is worth a gamble in the later rounds, and he could end up being a decent replacement for owners whose other gambles at the position do not pan out (ie LaHair).

Around the League

Greg Holland (RP-KCR)- As expected, Soria is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery on April 3. Ned Yost has yet to name a closer, but the manager has said that Greg Holland, Jonathan Broxton and Aaron Crow are the candidates to close out games for the club. While Broxton might seem to be the odds on favorite, I wouldn't be surprised to see Holland claim the job before the start of the season. While the Royals would like to restablish Broxton's value for the deadline, Holland has been impressive this spring recording 11 strikeouts in seven innings this spring. The 26 year-old right-hander posted a miniscule 1.80 ERA (2.21 FIP and 2.67 xFIP) in 60 innings last season along with a dominant strikeout rate (11.80 K/9). His slider was one of the best pitches among relievers last season allowing him to record a 16 percent swinging strike rate.

Joba Chamberlain (RP-NYY)- Chamberlain's s career threatening open ankle dislocation is still hard to talk about this morning, but it wrong not to mention it in today's report. This injury does not have any fantasy ramifications for this season, as Chamberlain was not set to return from Tommy John surgery until June. It is safe to say that Chamberlain will not take over the closer's role from Mariano Rivera if the latter is to retire at the end of the season; David Robertson and Rafael Soriano still the primary relievers to get holds for the upcoming season. Some doctors have said this is similar to the injury Joe Theismann suffered, and here's hoping that Joba can make his way back to the mound in the near future.

Pedro Alvarez (3B-PIT)- Clint Hurdle announced yesterday that Alvarez will not play in any spring games this weekend because of discomfort in his left knee compounding what ha been an already disheartening spring for the former number one draft pick (hitless in 13 at-bats with 8 strikeouts). A 30.5 percent strikeout rate does not bode well for Pirates, and Casey McGhee could look to take some of Alvarez's playing time away from right-handed pitching. In addition to the high percentage of strikeouts, Alvarez had significant trouble getting the ball in the air last season. His 55.2 percent ground ball rate was too high considering his raw power, and he consistently looked overmatched by anything that was off-speed. The best course of action for the franchise might be to send him back to triple-A, and this knee injury might be Neal Huntington's perfect excuse.

Chris Carpenter (SP-STL)- The Cardinals made an announcement yesterday that Carpenter has nerve irritation in his right shoulder, and that he will be out indefinitely. The injury is similar to the issue he had in 2004 which caused him to miss the entire postseason, and the same issue reared its head when he was recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2008. Lance Lynn will stay in Carpenter's spot with Kyle Lohse ready to take the ball on Opening Day. After throwing 235 plus innings over the last two seasons (along with 37 postseason innings), it is not that surprising to see more injury problems even as he was coming off a career year in terms of velocity. His 2007 Tommy John surgery came after throwing 241.2 innings and 221.2 in back to back seasons. He might be still worth holding onto at this point, but this news looks to be the beginning of another lost season.

Josh Willingham (RF-MIN)- Willingham went 2-for-3 with a home run in Friday's game against the Yankees, but fantasy owners should be nervous about his prospects of improving upon his career high total of 29 home runs. He is still ranks within the top 60 outfielders in our draft software, but there are some signs that show Willingham might be trending downward. As Anthony pointed out in the software, 10 of those home runs barely cleared the fences. Furthermore, Target Field might be the best pitchers' park in the American League. His career worst strikeout rate of 26.8 percent in 2011 is also very concerning considering his swinging strike rate increased from 7.76 to 9.7 percent from 2010 to 2011 along with a career worst 21.9 percent chase rate. I think Willingham will produce something close to a .245/.340/.450 slash line, and he should finish with little more than 20 home runs by season's end.

Doug Fister (SP-DET)- Fister was removed from Friday's game against the Pirates because of middle finger soreness, however, it is unlikely that he will miss any time because of the injury. There has been a lot of talk this offseason of whether Fister can produce the numbers he put up during the second half of the season after he was traded from Seattle to Detroit in which he produced a 1.79 ERA along with a 7.29 K/9. I don't think he will be able to improve upon his 2.83 ERA as his BABIP is likely to increase due to luck, and the fact that Miguel Cabrera may be manning the hot corner for most of the season. However, I do think he improved strikeout numbers are for real. He improved his chase rate to career best 36.8 percent, and he showed improved velocity after joining the Tigers (He averaged 89.4 mph with the Mariners and 90.5 mph with the Tigers), and he increased the usage of his slider/cutter from 9.9 to 17.2 percent and curveball from 8.8 to 15.3 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Craig Kimbrel (RP-ATL)- Kimbrel tossed his seventh consecutive shutout inning this spring on Friday against the Mets showing the same velocity and swing and miss slider that made him the best reliever in baseball in 2011. Kimbrel's 2.10 ERA was outdone by his 1.52 FIP and 1.94 xFIP, and owners should not worry about his poor finish to the season as an indicator for 2012. Freddi Gonzalez overworked both him and Johnny Venters during Atlanta's epic Wild Card collapse. His ability to record more than 120 strikeouts in a season while producing a 2.10-2.25 ERA with few home runs makes him twice as valuable as any reliever in baseball. Our software has him ranked overall at 55, with the next reliever (Mariano Rivera) coming in at 97. My only concern would be a regression in his walk rate, as his 3.78 BB/9 exceeded every projection I saw last season.

Tyler Chatwood (SP-COL)- Chatwood, the favorite for the fifth spot in the Rockies rotation, was roughed up in his start against the Cubs on Friday allowing nine runs (seven earned) on nine hits (two home runs) and one walk in 4.1 innings pitched. I expressed serious concerns over Chatwood's inability to miss bats (4.6 percent swinging strike rate) despite averaging 93 mph on his fastball. With Jaime Moyer tossing four perfect innings the other day and Chatwood's recent spring struggles, it is conceivable the organization would option Chatwood in order to gain some more seasoning at triple-A. However, unless he develops a more effective swing and miss pitch, he looks to be doomed as a swingman or number five starter for the rest of his career. A 1.02 strikeout to walk ratio will not hold up in any ballpark, let alone Coors Field. Even if he makes the rotation out of spring training, stay from him in all leagues.

Geovanny Soto (C-CHC)- Soto went 3-for-3 with two home runs yesterday against the Rockies, as he continued his strong spring in which he has produced a 1.280 OPS. He is coming off the second worst season of his career due in large part to his career worst strikeout rate of 26.5 percent. An increase in his swinging strike rate (11 percent) demonstrates that this was not a fluke, and he also produced his worst chase rate in which he has played a full season (22.5 percent). In terms of bouncing back, Soto is a risky pick because his stats have on the extremes in either direction over the last four seasons. However, his batting eye should improve giving him an 11 percent walk rate along with a .250/.340/.440 type of line. His HR/FB ratio has been steady over the years, so he should produce his regular 17-20 home runs by seasons end putting towards the bottom of the fifteen best fantasy catchers available. (Our software has him at 14, I'd put him in the 13th slot.)

Follow me on twitter: @enehs

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