Player Blurbs written by Michael Leone
Eric Byrnes – Last year Byrnes had one of the best fantasy seasons among outfielders, but don’t buy into the hype just yet. His singles average was 43 points higher than his three year average, which would explain why he was able to hit a personal best .286 in ’07. Expect his average to dip dramatically this year (we have him projected at .265), and as a result we could see drops in his numbers across the board (runs, rbi’s and steals). While his improvement in eye is encouraging, Byrnes certainly appears to be a likely candidate to regress this year. As in most cases when a player has a breakout year, Byrnes is being overvalued in drafts, so unless he really slips he might be a player that you want to avoid.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia – Saltalamacchia was sent down to triple A Wednesday, leaving Gerald Laird with the starting catching job. This move has to frustrate Salty’s owners as well as Rangers fans. Not only does Saltalamacchia (22) have much more potential than Laird (28); he is better right now. Laird’s OBP is awful (career mark of .297), while Saltalamacchia already bested that in his first season last year with a .310 OBP. His career minor league OBP is .370. Furthermore, Laird has hit .225 or just below it in three of the last four seasons, and to top things off Laird’s career HR rate is hovering around 2. Saltalamacchia had a HR rate of 3.4 in his major league time last season, and he has a minor league HR rate of 3. It shouldn’t take long for the Rangers brass to replace Laird’s anemic offense with Saltalamacchia, but then again, I can’t explain to you why Salty does not already have the starting catching job.
Felix Pie – Pie owners should be worried with the Cubs signing of Reed Johnson. Fantistics currently has predicted a solid season for Pie, but his breakout season may be delayed due to decreased playing time. Over his career, Johnson’s splits against left-handed hitters are excellent. He has an AVG/OBP/SLG of .308/.371/.462 in 780 plate appearances. It is hard to ignore those numbers, even if Pie is the better defender. As a result, there is a potential platoon situation with Pie .
John Smoltz – Despite the fact that Smoltz will likely start the year on the DL, he will be eligible to come off of it April 6th. Smoltz is confident that he will make that start. Smoltz’s three year numbers are ridiculous with an ERA of 3.06/3.49/3.11 wins of 14/16/14 a WHIP of 1.15/1.19/1.18 and K’s of 169/211/197. Also, his quality start percentage last year was 81% (only Dan Haren and Jake Peavy were better at 82%) giving him an expected win total of 19. That kind of consistency is difficult to find, and I would not be too worried about his long-term health. Don’t let his quick DL stint and his age (40 YO) scare you away from Smoltz. However, you may want to sit him for that April 6th start. Smoltz is lined up to face the Mets and ace Johan Santana, and he may be rusty as he only pitched in one game this spring (March 15th).
Hank Blalock – At age 27 and fully healthy after returning from injury, Blalock appears to be poised for a breakout season. Manager Ron Washington appears to have Blalock slated in as the cleanup hitter come opening day. Last year his HR rate returned to 4.4 from 2.5 in ‘06 and 3.6 in ’05. Both of those seasons were disappointing, especially after Blalock had experienced such early success in ’03 and ’04. This spring Blalock has been raking at the plate, posting an AVG/OBP/SLG line of .377/.421/.660. Don’t expect Blalock to have another low BA (.263/.266 in ‘05/’06), as we have a projected .280 average for him. If his spring and last year’s encouraging HR rate are any indication, Blalock could post surprisingly high RBI numbers for Texas with Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and Josh Hamilton hitting in front of him.
Jesse Litsch – As we have stated before Litsch seems like a candidate for regression, so don’t be fooled by Friday’s marvelous start. Last year Litsch got lucky with the help of a good Toronto defense and a decent GB%, but expect more of those balls to find holes this year. Litsch pretty much won the #5 starter job by default thanks to a season-ending injury to Casey Janssen and a rehabbing Gustavo Chacin. However, there’s a good chance Litsch will not last the whole season in the rotation. His K/9 last season were 4.05, and his K/BB were 1.39. Meanwhile, his 3.81 ERA was deceiving, as his expected ERA was 4.48.
Frank Thomas – While I don’t buy into any of the suspicion that Thomas will coast through this season since he can fall back on his $10 million option for next season, I do believe that the regression we saw last year will continue. Many people, including the “Big Hurt” himself, attribute his poor spring to the fact that he is a rhythm hitter. While the everyday routine of the regular season will help Thomas, there are other factors as to why I think his numbers will continue to decline. His decrease in HR totals can be attributed to a steep decline in his HR rate 7%/4.2%. His OPS is also in steady decline: .987 in ’04, .915 in ’06, and .853 in ’07 (he missed most of ’05 due to injury). Even more disturbing is that the one category that Thomas is known to excel in (EYE) is also in decline 1.12 in ’04, 1 in ’06, and .86 in ’07.
Francisco Liriano – Liriano made a strong push to make the Twins rotation with a very successful start yesterday. Over five innings he yielded just one run off of 3 hits; he struck out seven batters versus two walks. The strikeouts are definitely a good sign that Liriano his healthy, but the Twins still want to see him build up his pitch count before entering the rotation. So, for now, the plan is for Liriano to make a start in A ball and then one at AAA before joining the Twins around the middle of April.
Scott Kazmir – Kazmir has been on the cusp of becoming an elite pitcher for a few years now, but injuries and poor control have kept him from joining that elite status. At age 24 there is still plenty of time for Kazmir to make that leap, but the fact the he is already facing injury problems is discouraging. However, he did throw in the outfield yesterday without any problems or discomfort. If the Rays don’t rush him back, this could be Kazmir’s year. If you are in need of a starter and not afraid to take a risk, now might be the time to buy low on Kazmir. Don’t forget that his K/IP of 1.16 was the best in the AL last year, and as I said he is only 24 YO, yet with three full years of experience under his belt. This could help Kazmir to mature and learn to harness his control this year.
Nick Markakis – Sometimes second half numbers don’t necessarily indicate future performance, but since Markakis is such a young player, with only two years of major league experience, I think there is some stock in those numbers. Last year is HR rate rose slightly from 3 to 3.3, but in the second half of the season his HR rate was 4.4. During that second half his AVG/OBP/SLG line was .325/.389/.550, and he also stole 9 bases to boot. A comparable player to Markakis is Toronto’s Alex Rios; both are 5 tool outfielders. With the Orioles organization in decline, Markakis seems to get less press, and as a result he is being drafted about one round later. To me, they will produce similar statistics, and we actually have Markakis projected to produce better numbers. If you are in a late draft, target Markakis, as you will get better value for that pick than you would if you drafted Rios.
Joel Guzman – Since the Rays have sent Longoria down to AAA and Willy Aybar is nursing a hamstring injury, Guzman may actually be the Rays starting 3B on opening day. The 23 YO rookie has a career OPS of .765 spanning six years of Minor League Ball, but in his second year at the AAA level, Guzman posted only a .689 OPS. He may develop into a good player in the future, but at the moment Guzman does not offer much fantasy value other than an emergency injury replacement. He has never stolen double digit bases, but he does have some decent power. More importantly, even if he does start opening day, he will not see much playing time. Aybar will be healthy soon, and as we all know, in a couple of months Longoria will be beginning his promising career at the hot corner for the Rays.
Chris Young – Good news for Chris Young owners; Young has felt so comfortable with his windup that he toned down his spring training mound sessions. The reason why this is such good news is that Young’s performance has been known to fade in the second half of the season. He has also experienced injury issues in the second half of the season each of the past two years. Young’s ERA/WHIP/K:9/W in the first half over the past two seasons have been 3.12/1.09/8.53/8 in 109.7 IP and 2.00/1.06/8.59/8 in 104.7 IP. Imagine the tremendous fantasy value Young would have (not that he isn’t already a very good starter) if he could continue to post those numbers over the second halves of seasons and stay durable as well. With this new spring training regiment, maybe this is the year that Young is able to do that; now, he just needs to learn to pitch on the road.
Hideki Matsui - Matsui could have a huge season this year. He will be hitting in the middle of a stacked Yankees lineup. Last season, Matsui’s singles average was 22 points below his average of the three previous seasons. As a result, there’s a good chance that his batting average will increase towards the .300 mark. Another thing in Matsui’s favor is his EYE, which also improved over his three year average. Matsui had an EYE of 1 last season, and often hitter’s with an EYE greater than one are .300 hitters. If Matsui’s EYE continues to show improvement, that is another reason to see his batting average climb. Matsui already went 100/100 in the R/RBI department and with more hits we could see him go 110/110. Consider that Magglio Ordonez and Matt Holliday were the only OF who accomplished that feat last season.
Jon Garland – If Garland can pitch like he did on Thursday night, he could be on track for a very solid season. Garland’s success comes from his ability to throw strikes and get ground balls. Garland’s ability to get ground balls is a result of a very good sinking fastball, and he has posted a career ground ball percentage of 47%. Last season Garland only won 10 games but his expected win total was 16. Moving from a bad White Sox team to a good Angels team will allow Garland a better chance of having his actual win total match his expected win total. There are some areas of concern, though. Garland’s GB% has decreased over the past two seasons ( 47%/44%/40%), and he does not strikeout a lot of batters, getting only 98 punch outs in 208.3 IP during his ’07 campaign.
Esteban Loaiza – Loaiza has won the 5th spot in the Dodgers rotation until the injured Jason Schmidt comes back. Don’t look too much into this as Loaiza is just a fill in. At age 35 it is unlikely that his career should experience a renaissance of sorts. He had a good season in 2005, but his numbers decreased across the board in 2006. Most glaringly his K/IP went from .8 to .63, and his QS% dropped from 71% to 38%. Last season, Loaiza battled injury issues. He is fantasy irrelevant unless he is used as a spot starter in NL only leagues.
Tony Gwynn – Manager Ned Yost has officially named Gwynn the starter for opening day, and he should get plenty of playing time while Mike Cameron serves a suspension. The more interesting news is that Yost is at least considering batting Gwynn second in the lineup (J.J. Hardy would then hit 7th). This would definitely make Gwynn a worthy play in all formats. Wherever Gwyn hits he should post a decent average and nice stolen base totals, but if he hit in front of stars Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and Bill Hall, Gwynn would also post better than average run totals for the time being.
Brandon Lyon – Many people expect Lyon to lose the closer role at some point to this season, either to Tony Pena or Chad Qualls, and for good reason. Last year Lyon’s expected ERA was 3.05 versus his actual ERA of 2.67. Also, his K/IP, which has never been anything to brag about, was his lowest in four years at .54. Clearly, Lyon does not project as your prototypical closer. His spring is doing nothing to discard that notion either. He has an ERA of 14.09 and has struck out only 3 in 7.7 IP. Keep an eye Lyon’s early performance, and target either Pena or Qualls should Lyon falter.
Josh Beckett – Beckett owners should be somewhat concerned this year. Right now the hip and back problems that are bothering Beckett do not seem like they will be long term problems, but remember, Beckett has been injury prone in the past. Beckett has logged over 200 IP in each of the last two seasons, but his previous highs were 178.7 and 156.7. His early injury issues could be a result of some wear and tear, and while Beckett may return for an April 4th start against the Blue Jays, be wary of his health this season.
Adam Dunn – Many people judge players too quickly, and those people have a tendency to take a quick look at Dunn and pass as soon as they see that .260 BA. Do yourself a favor and don’t be one of these people. Dunn has gone 100/100 in R/RBI in 3 of the past 4 seasons. He has also hit 40 HR three years in a row, and he hit 46 the year before that. This year we have him projected to hit 42 HR, more than any other OF. I believe that it is more important to worry about the counting stats, and if you take BA out of the consideration Dunn is a premiere fantasy player, even giving you somewhere between 5-10 stolen bases.
Matt Cain – If you want to get good value for a SP nab Cain instead of his teammate Tim Lincecum. Cain will probably strikeout around 20 less batters than Lincecum, but he comes with less risk and can be got at a much better price. There are some very encouraging signs, on top of the fact that Cain is only 23 and bound to get better, that point to a breakout season. First of all, his expected ERA was 0.42 runs lower than his actual ERA. Furthermore, his expected wins had him at 16 rather than the 7 he was credited for. The Giants are a bad team again, but it is highly unlikely that Cain would get that unlucky two years in a row.