A Healthy Brett Anderson?
Anderson made his return from Tommy John surgery in late August for the A's, and made six starts in which he had an ERA of 2.57 along with a 4-2 record. While he benefitted from a .272 BABIP and 5.9 percent HR/FB ratio, there were a lot of positive signs in Anderson's performance. His 8 percent swinging strike rate was a career best, and a 1.80 BB/9 is very impressive after missing an entire year. Anderson has always been known as a groundball pitcher, and he posted a career best 59.8 percent rate in 2012. He averaged 91.5 mph with his fastball, which was an improvement from 2011 (90.9 mph). Owners could expect a slight increase considering another year has been removed from the surgery. Anderson will never be a big time strikeout pitcher, but his ability to limit fly balls and walks should lead to an ERA somewhere between 3.50 and 3.75.
Rookie Watch: Hiroyuki Nakajima (SS)
Nakajima finally made the jump to the MLB this offseason, and is currently slated to be the Oakland's starting shortstop. We've seen various Japanese hitters over the years struggle with their transition in the US, but Nakajima might be a pleasant surprise for owners this year. I've heard many scouts compare Nakajima to Norichika Aoki before Aoki made his move last season. Nakajima hit 13 home runs in 136 games last year with the Seibu Lions while posting a .311/.382/.451 line. Potential owners should expect a drop in home runs (probably a ceiling of 10), but Nakjima has shown to be a strong gap hitter with decent speed. His stolen base numbers should be in the low teens, and I would expect a .275/.330/.375 type of slash line. Nakajima is definitely a risk, but he could provide some value in deep leagues.
Risk/Reward: Dan Haren (SP)
Haren's 2012 season was a struggle pitching to a 4.33 ERA, his worst as a full time starter, while dealing with a bad back for most of the year. As a result, Haren's average fastball velocity fell from 90 mph to 88.5 mph, as he struggled to get his fastball to around 90 mph throughout the second half of the year. His The 32 year-old has made it a point to indicate he has felt healthy all season, but his medical reports were a significant topic this offseason. While a risky pick, Haren should be able to pitch to an ERA between 3.70-3.90 along with a strikeout rate around 7.5 K/9. I expect his HR/FB ratio to improve with a move to Washington along with the possibility of a rebound in his velocity. Haren is passed his peak, but he should keep his walk rate just under 1.8 BB/9, which should also translate to a 1.20 WHIP.
Harper Watch 2013-
Harper's first major league season was a success posting a solid .270/.340/.477 line while hitting 22 home runs and stealing 18 bases in 139 games with the Nationals. Mike Trout's amazing season has distorted the spectacular year Harper put together with a .206 ISO and .352 wOBA. His sophomore campaign this year might be the most anticipated of any player. In terms of his overall slash line, I don't envision Harper to improve all the dramatically considering his 9.4 percent walk rate and 20.1 percent strikeout rate from last year. However, I do expect an improvement in his stolen base rate along with a 28-30 home runs. Harper's 16.2 percent HR/FB ratio was extremely impressive at his age, and owners should expect his 32.3 percent fly ball rate to improve with his improved muscle. With a .275/.350/.500 line, 28-30 home runs and 20-25 stolen bases, we have Harper ranked as the 12th best outfielder.
San Francisco Giants
Is Sergio Romo an elite closer option?
Romo is going into spring training for the first time in his career with the closer title. Despite that fact, Romo should be considered an elite option at the position (our software ranks him as the fifth best option as of right now). The 30 year-old relied more on his slider in 2012 (61.8 percent rate), as his fastball velocity declined to a career low average of 87.7 mph. Even with the velocity drop, Romo still maintained a swinging strike rate of 15.3 percent while maintaining a strong walk rate for a closer (1.63 BB/9). In addition, he has shown the ability to handle left-handed hitters by inducing more ground balls. His 48.2 percent ground ball rate was a career best, and he was able to generate a 60.4 percent rate against LHH. Look for his strand rate to regress in 2013, but I still believe he will have a strikeout percentage greater than 30 percent and finish with an ERA around 2.00.
Forecasting Brandon Belt (1B/OF)-
Belt had a strange season in 2012 producing a strong OBP (.360) in his first full season. However, his lack of power was troubling (seven HR in 472 plate appearances and .146 ISO) along with his poor strikeout rate (22.5 percent). Despite some concerns heading into this season, Belt should be able to improve upon his power numbers. At 24 years old, Belt should see his 6.8 percent HR/FB ratio increase. His 2.6 percent ratio against right-handed pitchers was shockingly low, and will likely be seen as an anomaly. Belt was likely sit out once or twice a week when Buster Posey needs a rest, but Bruce Bochy is having Belt practice in left field in order to keep his bat in the lineup. While Belt's power should improve, potential owners should be worried about a possible decline in terms of average. His 12.8 percent swinging strike rate might translate into a higher strikeout rate, and it is unlikely that he will reproduce a 25.6 percent line drive rate and .351 BABIP. Owners should expect .265/.355/.440 line and 15-17 home runs.
Around the League
Juan Rivera (OF/1B-NYY)- With Curtis Granderson expected to miss the next 10 weeks, Rivera is of now the front-runner to be the starting left-fielder on Opening Day. The 34 year-old outfielder, who is eligible at first base, went hitless in three at-bats on Sunday and would only be an option in deep and AL-only leagues for the first two months of the year. Rivera hit .244/.286/.375 along with nine home runs in 339 plate appearances last year. Matt Diaz is also supposed to compete with Rivera for the spot, but it appears certain that Rivera will definitely make the team. He will spell Travis Hafner at DH against left-handed starters. I wouldn't expect much a different line from Rivera this year, and he has not produce a wOBA higher than .320 since 2009. His fly ball rate has decreased in each of the last three years along with an increase in his infield fly ball rate.
Cliff Lee (SP-PHI)- Lee made his first spring training start on Monday against the Tigers, and threw two scoreless innings. I did not get any velocity readings from the game, but Lee had complete command of his cutter and fastball while mixing in some change-ups. Our software ranks him as the ninth best starter in the league, and I am still very high on the 34 year-old heading into the year. We have him projected for a 3.40 ERA, which I think is somewhat conservative. His 11.8 percent HR/FB rate is likely to regress, and his strikeout percentage has been above 22 percent in each of the last three years. In addition, his average fastball velocity has increased in each of the last three seasons. Lee is one of the safer starting pitchers, and I like him to finish the year with an ERA just above 3.00 with a similar strikeout rate to last season.
Mike Napoli (1B/C-BOS)- Napoli is scheduled to make his spring debut on Friday playing first base. Obviously his hip condition is something that owners will probably monitor throughout the entire season, but considering his eligibility at catcher, Napoli is certainly worth the risk. Our software is projecting him to hit 28 home runs with a .250/.350/.456 line, but it is entirely possible he can exceed those expectations in Fenway Park. Napoli's batting average tanked in 2012 because of a career worst strikeout rate of 30 percent. However, his swinging strike rate of 11.5 percent was right at his career rate of 11.6 percent. Additionally, his batted ball profile was almost identical to the one he produced in 2011. I don't expect him to replicate his 2011 season, and I believe our projection is right on the money.
Ian Kennedy (SP-ARI)- Kirk Gibson announced on Monday that Kennedy would be the Opening Day starter for the Diamondbacks. The right-hander finished the 2012 season with a 15-12 record along with a 4.02 ERA and 4.04 FIP. Kennedy's elevated BABIP (.306) compared to his career rate (.280) was partly responsible for his higher ERA, and our software expects Kennedy to have an ERA of 3.83 in 2013. His peripherals were almost identical to his 2012 numbers, and his swinging strike rate of 10.2 percent indicates that an improved strikeout rate could be a possibility this year. Kennedy was able to have an ERA below 3.00 in 2011 because of a 7.7 percent HR/FB ratio, but it is likely he will pitch to his career rate of 9.4 percent. Despite some poor luck, 2012 is a better model for Kennedy's 2013 projection.
Rob Brantly (C-MIA)- Brantly was projected to get most of the plate appearances at catcher this season, but he is guaranteed to get almost all of the playing time during the first month of the season with Jeff Mathis out six to eight weeks with a broken collarbone. Obtained in the Anibal Sanchez deal, Brantly was impressive in his 113 plate appearances at the end of the season. He hit three home runs and produced an impressive .290/.372/.460 line. Brantly showed impressive plate discipline in his brief stint (11.3 percent walk rate), but I expect that rate to drop by three percentage points in 2013 considering his below average walk rates in the minors. In addition, his 10.3 percent swinging strike rate indicates his strikeout rate could increase over the course of a full season. Brantly should really only be considered in NL-only leagues at this point.
Casey Janssen (RP-TOR)- Janssen, who was tabbed the closer earlier in the month, has yet to throw off a mound since undergoing shoulder surgery in November. It is a little early to be concerned about Janssen, but it is worth noting that he is definitely behind in his spring training workload and that Sergio Santos looked sharp in his first spring training outing. Santos would likely be tabbed the closer if Janssen starts the season on the DL. Janssen delivered one of his best seasons in 2012 posting a career best strikeout rate (9.47 K/9), walk rate (1.55 BB/9) and WHIP (0.86). However, he benefitted from an extremely low BABIP (.240) and high strand rate (83 percent). Our software currently has him ranked as the 12th best closer available, but potential owners should keep an eye out on his progress over the next few weeks.
Wilin Rosario (C-COL)- Rosario was scratched from the Rockies game on Monday because of lower back tightness. The 24 year-old catcher hit 28 home runs along with a .270/.312/.530 line in 472 plate appearances last season. As of now there is nothing to be alarmed about, but it is always concerning when a catcher deals with back problems. Our software currently ranks Rosario as the seventh best option at the position, but he might best utilized in daily leagues where owners can sit him when he is playing on the road. Like most Rockies hitters, Rosario's home and away splits are drastic (.957 OPS at home versus .722 on the road). His 14.5 percent swinging strike rate could translate into a higher strikeout rate, and we are projecting him to finish with a .257 batting average. Owners should keep an eye on his progress over the next week.
Adam Wainwright (SP-STL)- Wainwright made his first start of the spring on Monday throwing 2.2 scoreless innings in which he allowed four hits and struck out three. In his first season back from Tommy John surgery, Wainwright struggled with his velocity at times and was victimized by a below average strand rate (67.8 percent). He was also hurt by a career worst .315 BABIP, but his 23 percent line drive rate indicates that he was giving up a lot of hard hit balls. Our software has Wainwright as the eighth best starter available, and I agree that he will have a bounce back season. In terms of peripherals, he was exactly where he was in 2009-2010 and his ground ball rate of 50.8 percent was almost identical as well. Owners should expect an ERA between 3.05 and 3.20 along with a strikeout rate hovering around 8.20 K/9.
Jeremy Bonderman (SP-SEA)- Bonderman took the mound for the first time since 2010 on Monday against the Angels. He allowed three runs on two hits, a home run and a walk in his inning of work. The 30 year-old sat out all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, and he did not look very impressive today. His fastball sat between 87-91 mph today, while he lacked command with both his fastball and slider. Bonderman did not record a swinging strike in his appearance on Monday, and I would be surprised if he made any contributions this season. Sometimes these non-roster invitees turn out well (ie Bartolo Colon in 2011), but it seems as if Scott Kazmir might be the best shot in 2013. Bonderman's career best ERA came in 2006 when he finished the year with a 4.08 ERA in 214 innings pitched. The right-hander constantly underperformed with regards to DIPS because of his career strand rate of 67.3 percent.