Elvis Andrus- TEX-Andrus gets most of his notice for his Web Gem work at SS. His .267 average during his rookie season was somewhat of a pleasant surprise. However, it is quite possible that it is sustainable, given his reasonable .261 BHIPx. Luck didn’t hand him that average. Add in 33 steals and Andrus has some fantasy worth. In keeper leagues, he is even more valuable, as he very likely could turn into a clone of the player who mentored him last season, Omar Vizquel.
Hanley Ramirez- FLA-Ramirez is arguably the best fantasy SS in the game, but he may not be in line to repeat last year’s lofty .342 batting average. A drop in Batting EYE from .75 to .60 and walk Rate from 13.5% to 9.6% between 2008 and 2009 was obscured by an increase in luck. His BHIP went from .268 to .316. A drop down to something near normal will result in his average being merely excellent instead of stratospheric.
Dan Uggla- FLA- Uggla has a chance to become the first 2B in major league history to string together 4 consecutive 30-homer seasons. Whether he will do that in a Florida uniform is questionable. Uggla agreed to a $7.8 million contract in January and that will make it tempting for the Fish to deal him before the season is out. That’s because along with the homers comes a reputation for streakiness and a propensity for striking out. Uggla struck out 150 times in 564 ABs. His rise in Batting EYE from .45 to .61 was a result of the hitters behind him instead of increased selectivity.
Brian Roberts- BAL- Roberts took some live BP for the first time this spring. He has a herniated disk in his lower back, which is not a good thing for the 32-year-old. Roberts’decline in average last year to .283, his lowest mark in 5 seasons, can partially be attributed to the bad luck shown by a .237 BHIPx. However, the rise in strikeout rate and drop in walk rate that resulted in his second consecutive decline in Batting EYE, to .66, also played a part. While Roberts hit almost twice as many homers (16) last year as in 2008 (9), lower back problems can sap power.
Jeremy Guthrie- BAL- Most of Guthrie’s success in 2007 and 2008, when he was the only AL pitcher with an ERA under 3.70 both seasons, has to do with luck. He enjoyed a BHIP of .268 and .256 respectively in those seasons. Last year, it was at .283, still below the major league average, and his ERA ballooned to 5.04. Given that Guthrie’s strikeout rate has declined for 3 seasons running, even with the pressure of being the staff ace lifted from his shoulders, a return to his numbers of 2 and 3 years ago is not likely.
Adrian Gonzalez- SD- The White Sox are the latest team rumored to be seeking to acquire Gonzalez. Yesterday, former teammate Jake Peavy said he had given Sox GM Kenny Williams a glowing report when asked about the Padres’ first baseman. Chicago would be an even better destination for the likely-to-be-traded slugger. Granted, almost any place away from Petco would make Gonzalez’s numbers soar, given his home road splits of .244 to .306 for average and 12 to 28 for homers in 2009. However, U.S. Cellular Field has had a Ballpark Index of 122 for homers by lefthanders over the past 3 years, while Fenway is at 97. This could mean 60+ homers for Gonzalez if he joins Peavy.
Howie Kendrick- LAA- Kendrick is part of a core Angels’ infield that is signed for the next 3 seasons. What kind of impact he has will depend in large part on improved plate discipline. I know I’m in the minority where it regards Kendrick, but I have problems swallowing that he can get a batting title while walking in 5% of his plate appearances, as he did last year, no matter how sweet his swing is. The encouraging this ins that the 5% was an improvement on 2008, which was an improvement on 2007. Plus, he walked 7 times in 87 PAs when he was sent to the minors last season after posting a .193 average in May. So, it’s too early to consider him a bust, and he will probably break out one of these years and post a .325+ average, but it’s hard to say when that will be.
Barry Zito- SF- Zito says he’s not happy being the #3 starter in the Giants rotation, but given that he shares that rotation with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, at this point in his career, Zito has to live with it. He did make a marked turnaround in the last half of 2008, posting a 2.83 ERA, after a 5.01 mark before the All Star Break. Overall, Zito improved on his strikeout rate and walk rate over his disastrous 2008 performance, going up from .67 to .80 on the former and down to .42 from .57 on the latter. If Zito retains his command of the strike zone, while he won’t be the same Cy Young pitcher he was across the Bay, he will be a solid performer.
Jair Jurrjens- ATL- Jurrjens has been suffering from some inflammation around his shoulder and is behind the other Atlanta starters as far as spring work goes. However, it doesn’t seem to be serious and Jurrjens is still slated to pitch in the season opening series at Turner Field. The Braves have been careful about Jurrjens’ usage over the last couple of seasons, not having him throw an excessive amount of pitches in his starts, although he has compiled 403.1 IP over 2008 and 2009. Right now, his injury risk seems low.
J. J. Hardy- MIN- Hardy is starting over in Minnesota, where one of his good friends is the catcher, Joe Mauer. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Anyway, this could be a deal that his old team, the Brewers, might regret. Most of Hardy’s steep drop in average, from .283 in 2008 to .229 last year, can be explained by a drop in his BHIPx from .248 to .220. Hardy was flat out unlucky. His Batting EYE only declined slightly, from .53 to .51, so the fundamentals are relatively unchanged. Hardy’s drop in power, from a .478 SLG to .357 is less easily explained, but given the potential emotional turmoil his bad luck gave him and the fact that he has hit the magic age of 27 this year, there is a good chance that he will bounce back in a big way.
Tim Hudson- ATL- Hudson is slated to be the 4th pitcher in the Atlanta rotation when the regular season starts. This is not a move reflecting their judgment of his value, but rather is an effort to use the schedule to his advantage. Although Hudson performed credibly after coming back from Tommy John surgery last year, the Braves are conservative with their pitchers’ health. By starting the fourth game, Hudson will have an extra day of rest before each of his first three starts.
Troy Glaus- ATL- Glaus is one to watch closely this spring. At 33 years old and coming off shoulder surgery, there are plenty of reasons to avoid him. However, if the shoulder is healed, as he says, the Braves have handed him their 1B job and he has a golden opportunity. So far he has hit some very deep drives during workouts. If that translates to game conditions, Glaus could return to the form that saw him hit 27+ homers and knock in 97+ runs with a Batting EYE no worse than .58 in 3 of the four seasons prior to 2009.
Brad Lidge- PHI- Could Lidge be the second coming of Mitch Williams? With 34 BBs in 58.2 IP last year and posting a 7.21 ERA and .301 OBA, he is not on solid ground as the closer in Philly. His contract is the main thing that is putting him there. Yes, Lidge had very bad luck, as indicated by a .345 BHIP, but his velocity dropped and hitters were waiting on his fastball. That’s not something entirely explained away by misfortune. Coming off surgery, Lidge is a high risk.
Brandon Webb- ARI- Despite missing almost all of last season with shoulder problems that eventually resulted in season ending surgery, Webb has a good chance of bouncing back. He threw 43 pitches yesterday and his velocity is returning. Webb is currently scheduled to take the mound for the third game of the regular season. His surgery was relatively minor and he has demonstrated a long lasting ability to shoulder (pardon the pun) heavy workloads. The number of innings he threw was probably not the issue or it would have surfaced earlier. Watch Webb and see how his physical progress goes. If he continues to strengthen, then take advantage of those who will be put off by his lost 2009.
Daric Barton- OAK- Barton is poised to realize the potential that made him a prime prospect a couple of seasons ago. Batting just .226 as a rookie in 2008 was in large part due to bad luck, seen in a .222 BHIPx and very poor strike zone control, seen in 99 Ks in 446 ABs. Last season, in 160 major league ABs, Barton hit .269, despite still having a BHIPx of .227. The huge difference is that he struck out just 25 times and walked 26. Give Barton just some average luck, even a little below average given his lack of speed, and he will break out.