Matt Morris: Morris is assured of a spot in the Pirates rotation. Barring a complete disaster, it will be his big contract, not his skills that will keep him there. Morris’ K/9 has now declined in the last five seasons, 6.3/5.8/5.5/5.1/4.6, which is quite a rare feat. With the declining dominance combined with decent control, 2.8 BB/9 in 2007, and the ability to induce some ground balls, 48% GB% last year, he is now firmly entrenched in the innings eater category. Innings eaters are never good for fantasy baseball teams because good teams don’t have a need for them, so if he is making starts for the Pirates, don’t expect him to get many wins.
Luis Castillo: Castillo, who is coming off of knee surgery, expects to play in about a week, which means he should be ready by opening day. Castillo has the perfect profile for a powerless, speedy hitter, 92% Ct% and a 67% GB%. The only problem is that once the speed goes, so does his game. He is now 32 years old with a troublesome knee, so he carries a lot of risk.
Kris Benson: Benson, who is trying to come back from rotator cuff surgery that sidelined him for all of 2007, is throwing, but will not be ready until late April. If one of the Phillies’ starters gets off to a poor start, Benson could have a shot at a spot in the rotation. Prior to the injury, Benson numbers were in a serious decline, 2004/2005/2006 ERA’s of 3.90/4.81/5.65 and K/9’s of 6.0/4.9/4.3. Even if his skills show no ill effects from the shoulder surgery, he doesn’t fit the profile of a pitcher who has success in tiny Citizens Bank Park, i.e. one with lots of K’s and/or who can induce a high number of ground balls. Even if he were to secure a spot in rotation, it probably wouldn’t last long.
Adam Eaton: Eaton has a small herniated disc and slight arthritis in his back. He is expected back in late March, which gives him a shot to be ready to pitch in the rotation at the beginning of the season. Easton went from the best pitcher’s park, 2005 with San Diego, to two of the worst, 2006 with Texas, and last year with Phillies. Add in a rising FB%, 35%/38%/42%, and it is not surprising that his ERA has gone north, 4.28/5.12/6.89. It also looks like he has never recovered from the finger injury that kept him sidelined for the early part of the 2006 season, as his key numbers are going in the wrong direction, 2005/2006/2007 K/9’s of 7.0/6.0/5.4 and BB/9’s of 3.1/3.3/4.0. Stay away from him in all formats.
Scott Kazmir: Kazmir threw off a mound for the first time since he strained his elbow two weeks ago. He reported no problems and should be back to a regular throwing schedule. In his three major league seasons, Kazmir has put up good numbers, 2005/2006/2007 ERA’s of 3.77/3.25/3.3.48, with outstanding K/9’s of 8.4/10.2/10.4. Some health issues and control problems, BB/9’s of 4.8/3.2/3.9, have prevented him from taking it to the next level. If the second-half of last year is any indication; 2.93 ERA, 11.6 K/9, and a 3.3 BB/9, he may have already arrived at that next level.
Edwin Jackson: Jackson who is battling for a starting rotation spot, allowed 5 ER in 4 innings on Sunday. Previous to that outing, he had thrown 5 scoreless innings. Jackson’s 2007 second-half numbers, 4.68 ERA, 6.8 K/9, and a 47% GB%, hint at some nice upside for the 24 year-old. However consistent success will elude him until he can reign in the walks, 4.9 BB/9 in 2007.
Akinori Iwamura: After spending last year at third base, the Rays have Iwamura penciled in as their leadoff hitter and starting second baseman. His speed, 10 triples, and lack of power, just 7 home runs in 491, make him better suited for the middle infield. With 8 caught steals in 20 attempts, it is doubtful that he can be counted on as a major speed source. Also, with a .301 BHIP% combined with his lack of power and second-half fade in skills, first-half/second-half Ct%’s of 80%/76% and BB/9’s of .83/.39, expect a drop-off from his 2007 .285 batting average.
Zach Duke: Duke, who missed part of last season with elbow tendonitis, should be able to secure a spot in the Pirates starting rotation. After a nice debut in 2005, 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA, Duke’s has gone backwards, 2006/2007 ERA’s of 4.48/5.54. Looking at his strikeout totals, it is not hard to see where is has gone wrong, 2005/2006/2007 K/9’s of 6.2/4.9/4.1. With good control and ground ball inducing skills, 2.1 BB/9 and a 51% GB% in 2007, if Duke can get his K’s back up to the 2005 level, he could recapture that success.
Pedro Feliz: The Phillies signed Feliz in the off-season to be their everyday third baseman. Feliz has to be excited about leaving a home park that decreases right-handed batting power by 16% to one that increases it by a whopping 36%. After blasting 16 home runs in just 235 AB in 2003, Feliz’s power has been stagnant over the last several seasons, 2004/2005/2006/2007 home runs of 22/20/22/20, while his fly ball rate is increasing, 37%/39%/43%/42%. That shows that he is losing power. The new park alone should be able to net him a 20 home run season, but don’t expect much more.
Jorge Sosa: Perhaps auditioning for another team as the Mets do not have room for him in the bullpen, Sosa has tossed 6 shutout innings this spring. On the surface, Sosa was more than adequate last year, going 9-9 with a 4.47 ERA in 41 appearances, 14 of those were starts. However, he faded badly as the season wore on, first-half/second-half splits in ERA of 3.92/5.21. With a 5.5 K/9, a 3.3 BB/9, and 38% GB%, his skills are below league average. To be productive he would have to be on top of his game all year, plus have some good fortune, so all the risk is on the downside.
Duaner Sanchez: Sanchez, who is trying to come back from shoulder problems that have kept him out for a year and half, said he is nearly 100% after an outing on March 8th. It is hard to judge if he will actually be 100% by the opening of the season. Prior to the injuries, Sanchez was having a very productive 2006 season for the Mets, 5-1 with a 2.60 ERA, backed up by solid skills, 7.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, and a 52% GB%. He is still only 28 years of age, so a return to his previous levels is quite possible. Chances are he will start the season pitching in the minors. If that is the case, NL-only leaguers should stash him on reserve.
Rocco Baldelli: A new season and guess what, Baldelli is injured again. The problem is the hamstring that forced him to miss a big chunk of 2007, which would lead you to believe that this is not just an ordinary hamstring injury. In a small sample size last years, 137 AB, Baldelli showed the growth in his FB%, 2006/2007 34%/44%, needed to complement his raw power. That would normally be exciting for a 26 year-old, but it is hard to trust such a small sample size and his injury history carries a huge risk.
METS INJURIES: The aging Mets team is suffering from a rash of injuries which affects several players’ values going into the season.
Moises Alou: Alou is expected to be out 4 to 6 weeks with a hernia. Unfortunately, 41 year-old bodies don’t heal as fast as ones in the 20’s or early 30’s, so count on at least 6 weeks and maybe more. That begs the question, is Alou worth rostering? Even at his advanced age, his numbers, 13/49/.341 in just 328 AB, and skills, 91% Ct% and a .90 BB/K, are impressive. With a 2007 BHIP% of .298, it is unlikely that he will hit for as high an average as last year, but these are the skills of a .300 hitter. With his power just league average and injury history, he is certainly not worth paying up for, but if those in daily transactions leagues can get him at a discount, it is worth a shot. Those in weekly transactions leagues should avoid him. There is nothing more frustrating then a player getting hurt one or two days into the new transaction period and then having a dead roster spot the rest of the week.
Damion Easley: With his ability to play both the infield and outfield, Easley, who himself is coming back from torn ankle ligaments, could see some significant playing time at the beginning of the year for the injury-ravaged Mets. At 38 years of age, any speed that Easley once had, double digit steals from 1997 to 2001, is long gone. Despite having a .280 batting average last year, his 2006/2007 LD%’s of 15%/16%, shows that he not getting good wood on the ball. Also he cannot hit right-handers, 2005/2006/2007 batting averages of .218/,217.202. Extended play would expose his weaknesses. He is nothing more than an end-game player for NL-only leagues.
Jose Valentin: The 38 year-old Valentin is returning from a torn ACL and may be needed to play more in the early season than the Mets would like. With his injury history and age, it is unlikely that he can duplicate his strong 2006 season, 18/62/.271 in just 384 AB. If he can play, his high FB%, 2005/2006/2007/2008 FB%’s of 56/47/53/45, should produce some power but it will be at the expense of his batting average.
Ruben Gotay: The Mets received some good news when it was revealed that Gotay’s ankle injury was a sprain and not a break. However, sprains can affect performance well after the player has returned, think Rafael Furcal in the first half of last year. The 25 year-old Gotay saw his power increase last, but will need to get more loft on the ball to see further improvement, 2007 GB% of 46%.