Brad Lidge: There is a chance that Lidge, who had surgery on his knee, could be ready by opening day. He certainly has the skill set to be a successful closer, 11.8 K/9, but there also some warning flags. He is prone to gopheritis, 10 home runs allowed in 75 innings in 2006 and 9 home runs allowed in 67 innings last year, and his fly ball rate is trending up, 2005/2006/2007 FB%’s of 30%/33%/43%. Moving to a home park that increases left-handed batting power by 30% and right-handed batting power by 36% will not help. Combine that with a high BB/9, 4.0 last year and it could lead to some blown saves and a high ERA.
Tom Gordon: If Lidge is not ready to go by opening day, Tom Gordon will step in to the Phillies’ closer role. Gordon does have experience closing, 34 saves in 2006, but is now 40 years old and his skills declined last year, 2006/2007 K/9’s of 10.4/7.2 and BB/9’s 3.4/2.9. He did pitch in pain last year and if healthy, his K/9 could rebound. One thing strongly in his favor is his 49% GB% last year, is perfect for closing in homer-happy Citizens Bank Park.
Carlos Delgado: Delgado is already battling a minor ailment, a sore hip. An MRI came back negative and he is only expected to be out for a couple of days. Still, at his age, 35 years old, body type, and injury history over the last couple of years, there should be concern about his ability to stay healthy this year. Perhaps a bigger concern is the noticeable drop-off in power, 2005/2006/2007 home runs of 33/38/24 and doubles of 41/30/30. Coming off of a fractured in his left hand, suffered last September, and with his age, don’t expect the power to return to previous levels.
Brian Schneider: Schneider is expected to miss the next couple of days with a strained hamstring. It is mostly a precautionary move, so there really isn’t much to be worried about. The Mets clearly traded for Schneider because of his defensive ability and handling of pitchers, not for his offense, 6/54/.235 in 408 AB last year. His low BHIP% of .210 does not offer hope of a large batting average rebound because it is perennially low, 2004/2005/2006/2007 BHIP%’s of .228/.234/.260/.210. Those numbers are not surprising considering his complete lack of power, 2006/2007 home runs of 4/6, and speed. Consider Schneider an option only in NL-only leagues, even there he is a weak choice.
Mark Prior: Prior has been throwing in bullpen sessions and could face live hitters in a few weeks. Even if he is healthy, it is hard to gauge how much of a toll the injuries have taken on his once elite skills, 2005/2006/2007 K/9’s of 10.5, 10.6/10.2.
Barry Zito: Zito was pounded by his ex-team. The A’s blasted him for 8 runs in just 2/3 of an inning on Saturday. When the Giants signed him to a mega-dollar, long-term deal prior to last season, they thought they were getting an ace, when in reality he has just decent skills, 2005/2006/2007 K/9’s of 6.7/6.1/6.0, BB/9’s of 3.5/4.0/3.8, and GB%’s of 42%/38%/39%. Over the years, he has had good fortune on his side, 2004/2005/2006/2007 BHIP%’s of .287/.238/.275/.258 and has benefited from pitcher-friendly home stadiums. He is far from a top pitching option in any fantasy format.
Troy Percival: The Rays are likely to start the season with Percival as their closer. After missing two years with injuries, Percival was surprisingly effective for the Cardinals last year, 1.80 ERA in 40 innings, while flashing a solid skill set, 8.1 K/9 and a 2.6 BB/9. However, his 55% FB% could lead to some late innings home runs, especially since his stuff is nowhere near as dominant as it was in his prime. Combine that with his age and injury history and it is doubtful that he will last the season as the Rays closer.
Al Reyes: Reyes came to the Rays camp as a non-roster invitee last year and nailed down the Rays closer role. With a strong K/9 of 12.4, he was successful in the first-half of the season, 17 saves in 18 chances. However, in the second-half, his extremely high FB%, 61% for the year and 13 home runs allowed in just 60.2 innings, caught up with him, 5.86 ERA and 3 blown saves in 12 chances. He can be effective if used in the right situations, but is a poor choice to close.
Alejandro De Aza: De Aza is off to a hot start and continued success could lead to the Marlins starting Center Field job. He used a strong spring last year to open the season in the Marlins lineup, but subsequently broke his ankle, forcing him to miss most of the season. De Aza has serious speed, 27 steals in just 69 games in Double-A in 2006, but offers little else. An 80% Ct%, and .45 BB/K in Double-A, combined with no power shows that he will not get on base enough to take advantage of his speed. Even if he wins the job out of spring training, it is doubtful that he will hold it for long.
Pirates Center Field: The battle for the starting center field job is between Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan. McLouth showed some nice pop last year, 13 home runs in 329 AB, but his high FB% of 53% and low Ct% of 77% will be a drain on his batting average, .258 in 2007. Morgan has serious wheels, 26 steals in just 44 Triple-A games and 7 in 10 tries in 28 major league games last year. Without any power, 1 home in 107 AB with the Pirates in 2007, he will need to make better contact, 83% Ct%, to use his ground-ball approach, 57% GB%, successfully. The battle is too close to call, but neither is a strong option in mixed leagues.
Mets Right Field: Ryan Church appeared to have the upper-hand over Endy Chavez and Angel Pagan, but he suffered a grade 2 concussion in a collision with Marlon Anderson on Saturday and could miss up to two weeks. If Church isn’t ready to go by opening day, Chavez is the better option. He could walk a little more, 6% BB% in 2007, but otherwise maximizes his strong speed and complete lack of power, by making great contact and hitting the ball on the ground, 89% Ct% and 60% GB% last year. Besides some speed, 8 steals in 11 tries in part-time duty over the last two seasons, the rest of Pagan’s skill set is below-average; 78% Ct%, 6.3% BB%, and 4 home runs in 148 AB last year. Full-time play would further expose his weaknesses.
Phillies Right Field: Geoff Jenkins and Jayson Werth are competing for playing time as the Phillies right fielder. The situation could turn into a straight platoon, as the lefty-swinging Jenkins has the better skills but struggles against southpaws, 2006/2007 averages of .133/.215. Both are major injury risks, and are not solid options for mixed leagues.
Chipper Jones: Jones tweaked his right hamstring during batting practice and was forced to leave the session. It is probably just a day-to-day situation. Last year, at the age of 35, Jones showed he still had the skills to produce great numbers, 29/102/.337 in 513 AB. Don’t expect his average to be that high again, as he enjoyed a second consecutive season of a .270 BHIP% after his two previous season marks were .203 and .219. However his power and plate patience, 1.09 BB/K, show no signs of slowing down.
Jack Cust: In 7 plate appearances on Friday and Saturday, Cust hit two home runs, two doubles, and walked 3 times. Cust has amazing power, 26 home runs in 395 AB last year, and a strong ability to take a walk, 21% BB%. However he also swings and misses a lot, 58% Ct%, the worst of any major leaguer with regular playing time. Even Dave Kingman made much better contact. If you roster Cust, you will get serious power, just be beware that his BHIP% probably will not be nearly as high as it was last year, .301, which means there is major batting average downside from his .256 mark of 2007.
Francisco Liriano: Liriano is throwing batting practice and could make is spring debut later this week. Prior to his injury, he possessed one of the most exciting skill sets of any pitcher; 10.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and a 55% GB% in 2006. Don’t expect him to immediately return to that level.
Troy Patton: Patton was shut down after tossing just 10 pitches yesterday and it is possible that he has a labrum tear. Even if healthy, with his K/9 dropping to an unacceptable level upon his promotion to Triple-A last year, 6.1 in Double-A to a very mediocre 4.6, don’t expect him to have much of an impact.