April 2010

Who Replaces Mike Gonzalez?

By R.J. Anderson //

The Orioles’ signing of Mike Gonzalez during the off-season was an odd move. The team had no hopes of competing this year, maybe not even in 2011, yet felt for the talent Gonzalez held, he was too good to pass up for the cost (in draft picks and money).

The start of Gonzalez’s 2010 season was not what the team had in mind when the contract was being crafted. Gonzalez made three appearances over the opening week, completing two innings, saving one game, and taking the loss in the other two. On Wednesday, he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained shoulder. There’s little to no point in looking into the statistics of three outings as anything meaningful. One potential trouble sign did emerge, though: Gonzalez’s fastball velocity was down nearly two full miles per hour.

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Replacing him in the closer role for now will be Jim Johnson.
Johnson is a big right-hander who actually saved 10 games for the
Orioles last season and has pitched in 50 games or more in the past two
seasons.

Johnson certainly could morph into a season-long option. Gonzalez’s struggles had certainly raised the possibility of his closer tag being removed. At the same time, it’s hard to see that occurring now with his injury. At best, Johnson will serve as the temporary closer until Gonzalez returns and proves his health.

The good news is that the rest of the Orioles’ pen looks like a mess. Well, that’s sort of good news, at least. It means Johnson has little to no competition for those save situations, but it also means a few save opportunities could be blown by lesser quality pitchers.

He doesn’t strike out as many batters as you would expect from someone with mid-90s velocity (just 5.0 per nine innings in 2008, an improved 6.3 per 9 IP in 2009), but he is an extreme groundball reliever, which helps to hold his home run totals down. The problem is that the Orioles’ infield defense is rather lackluster, making him a WHIP liability on bad days. That makes young reliever Kam Mickolio a deep sleeper in extremely deep leagues, including AL-only ones. 

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Despite Johnson’s flaws, he’s well worth a pickup in deeper leagues. If nothing else, you can always hoard saves, then trade them for other assets later. In the meantime, keep an eye on Gonzalez’s recovery, and how Mickolio fares in the early going.

For more on Jim Johnson, Mike Gonzalez, and other closing pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Don’t Chase Early Stats

By Eriq Gardner //
Even before Aaron Hill was placed on the injury list by the Toronto Blue Jays this week, the talented second baseman was a good bet to haunt fantasy owners this season. Flash back to April, 2009, and many fantasy competitors were hesitant to pick him up off the waiver wire. Hill ended that month with a .365 average and 5 home runs. Many smart folks seemed sure it was a fluke. Guess what? It wasn’t. Hill ended the season with 36 HR.
The lesson of Aaron Hill might linger in the subconscious of many fantasy players this spring. And if not Hill, then perhaps Marco Scutaro. Or Mark Reynolds. Or Ben Zobrist. Or Jason Bartlett.
Every year, a handful of players hardly get drafted, yet go on to have breakout years. Many fantasy players know if they don’t quickly scoop these players off the waiver wire, they’ll end up on a competitor’s team. Kicking yourself for lost opportunity hurts.
What many people forget is Brandon Inge, Orlando Hudson, Jorge Cantu, Kevin Millwood, and certainly last and least, Emilio Bonifacio. All these players rocketed out of the gate in 2009 only to end the season with drab numbers, or worse. Nothing dulls quicker from the mind than pain.
So which player is the next Aaron Hill and which is the next Emilio Bonifacio? General wisdom forthcoming, but first look at this heat map which shows the players who are red hot or ice blue cold. Players are boxed according to the size of their ownership in CBS Sports leagues and grouped and colored according to the change in ownership over the last week.
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You’ll see above that fantasy owners are scooping up Dallas Braden and Edgar Renteria by the barrel and dropping Frank Francisco and Mike Napoli quicker than a five-ton weight. Is there any sense to these roster trends?
The season is only a small fraction of the way completed and already we’re all making decisions based on very tiny sample sets. Has Rod Barajas really done anything yet to deserve the love he’s been getting? Quite simply, no.
In evaluating potential roster decisions, it’s best to be mindful not to chase recent history. Any player in baseball can have a lucky week. Sure, it’s possible that the good start is indicative of a trend to come, but we must examine context. One or two weeks doesn’t negate years of mediocrity and shouldn’t change our perceptions significantly.
That’s especially the case when it comes to older players like Barajas or Renteria who shouldn’t be counted upon to have discovered the fountain of youth and grown their skill level well into their 30s. Every once in awhile, a Marco Scutaro will come along; more often, they’ll just tease at a great season near the twilight of their career, before showing true colors.
Exceptions can be made for newfound opportunity, or players who may have been slowed in previous seasons due to exigent circumstances. Hill and Zobrist are both good examples here. In 2007, Hill showed tremendous promise in his third season in the majors before being sidetracked due to a concussion. His breakout last year wasn’t a huge shocker. He was on a good path towards stardom before people forgot about him. Similarly, Zobrist always had promising numbers until he was given the opportunity to strut his abilities with full-time playing time (though the size of his breakout surprised even his biggest fans).
Looking at the chart above, we may have similar hope for C.J. Wilson, who has flashed skills in prior years and has now been giving a new opportunity in the Rangers’ starting rotation. The same is true for Kelly Johnson, who has long been projected for a breakout and now gets opportunity in the hitter-friendly confines of Chase Field in Arizona.
But please don’t count on a breakout from Juan Uribe. And don’t give up too quickly on Mike Napoli, despite the buzz that he’s losing playing time. In a few weeks, the law of averages will catch up for both those with talent and those who have proven time and time again that they aren’t worthy of our consideration. Hopefully, in the interim, owners aren’t hit with the double whammy of curses — seduced by the hot start, and reluctant to cut bait at what still appears to be a respectable stat line.
For more on C.J. Wilson, Kelly Johnson, and other breakout candidates, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Slow-Starting Targets: Adam LaRoche, Alexei Ramirez, Hunter Pence

By Tommy Rancel

The regular season has started, and now it’s time to work your magic as a fantasy general manager. One of the angles to exploit in the early part of the season is slow starts. There is always someone in your league that is on edge beginning Opening Day, ready to ditch a player at the first signs of struggles. With that in mind, here is a look at some notorious slow starters you might be able to steal in a buy-low trade.

Adam LaRoche

LaRoche entered 2010 with a new team, yet got off to the same old slow start. He started his Arizona Diamondbacks career 0-for-13. He’s racked up a few hits since then, but is still hitting an ugly .231/.310/.308 (AVG/OBP/SLG), with no homers, no steals and just 3 RBI in 7 games. Long-time LaRoche owners (if there are any) are not surprised by this start, since the 30-year-old first baseman is your quintessential second-half hitter.

For his career, his slash line in the first half is .250/.324/.444. In the second half of the season, LaRoche blossoms into a .300/.363/.546 hitter. The .768 OPS in the first half represents a .141 point difference from his second-half total of .909.

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The bulk of LaRoche’s early-season struggles come in March and April. Over his career, he has combined for a slash line of .192/.283/.360 in the opening months of the season. However, from May going forward, there is a steady increase in OPS:

.781 (May)

.798 (June)

.908 (July)

He peaks in August with a .933 OPS, and then goes slightly back down to .908 in September.

When targeting LaRoche, in trades be sure to exploit his early struggles. If you’re lucky enough to land LaRoche, just be patient as he is likely to once again heat up with the weather. Also remember he should enjoy playing his home games in doubles-friendly Chase Field.

Alexei Ramirez

Since joining the major leagues in 2008, the Cuban Missile has struggled with his early-season stroke. 2010 has been no different for the White Sox shortstop: He’s hitting .138 with no walks and one extra-base hit through his first eight games. While he is not a second half player per se, Ramirez is definitely a slow starter.

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In the opening months of the season (March and April), Ramirez has hit just .175/.221/.237 in his career. The monthly OPS of .458 is 409 points less than his best month, June, in which his OPS jumps up to .867.

Overall, Ramirez is rated as the eighth-best shortstop according to B-Rank. On the other hand, he is ranked only behind Derek Jeter, Jason Bartlett and Elvis Andrus in the American League. If you do not have one of those three shortstops in an AL-only league, you should be contacting the Alexei Ramirez owner in your league immediately.

If the price is too high right now, you might be able to wait a little bit longer if Ramirez holds to form, as his career May OPS of .719 isn’t impressive either. However, don’t wait much longer than that. In the summer months of June, July and August, his OPS jumps to an average of .834 per month, with the usual double-digit home run and stolen base pace.

Hunter Pence

The 27-year-old Astros outfielder is also off to a rough start in 2010 (3-for-25 with no walks). He was even benched for Sunday’s game against the Phillies. The slow start isn’t that big of a surprise, though, given his early-career track record.

A career .286 hitter, Pence’s batting average in the first month of the season is just .254. In addition to the batting average struggles, Pence’s power is slow to develop. His .391 slugging percentage in March and April represents the only monthly slugging mark below .462.

While he struggles in the first month of the season, history tells us that Pence will blow up in the month of May. His slash line in the second month of the season is .358/.415/.561. His 49 RBI in the month of May are also the highest of any monthly total.

Even with the slow start, Pence is likely to cost you a fair amount, given his combined 50 homers and 25 steals in the past two seasons. However, his B-Rank of 87 shows he’s among the game’s top 100 talents, and his owner might not have him valued that high if his early struggles continue. If you can get Pence at a slight discount, do it.

For more on notorious slow starters like Hunter Pence, Adam LaRoche and Alexei Ramirez, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Kits

Neftali Feliz: The Closer


By R.J. Anderson

When it comes to early-season role shuffling, Neftali Feliz to the closer’s spot in Texas is as big a maneuver as you’ll ever find. Ignore whether or not it’s the right real-world call for the Rangers, and just focus on the facts:

- Feliz is 21 years old.

- He throws fire.

- He’s one of baseball’s top prospects.

Those three reasons alone are enough to give him fantasy value. Add in the extra pleasure of getting saves credit for his appearances, and the decision has made some fantasy owners downright giddy. It’s hard to project just how good he will be and the worrisome part is that no timetable on his closing efforts is being publicly made. That means that owners of Feliz have two choices:

1. Ride the tidal wave and hope the Rangers don’t move him to the rotation, or away from the ninth inning.

2. Let him rack up even more hype, then ship him off, and hope the Rangers realize he’s wasting away in a closer’s spot, since he’ll likely provide more real-life value (if not necessarily more fantasy value) as a starting pitcher.

It’s a difficult call. How many saves could Feliz rack up, anyway? Last year, Frank Francisco recorded 25 saves, which led the Rangers, but C.J. Wilson also tallied 14, and four others had at least one, including Feliz. All told, there were 45 saves recorded. The Rangers won fewer games in 2008 and as a result only racked up 36 saves, although team quality did not stop the 2007 Rangers from topping 40 saves once more.

Skeptics might speculate that Feliz is too young, too new, and too untried to wage war in the 9th. They have no idea what they’re talking about. In 34 career big league innings, Feliz has per nine ratios of 11.8 strikeouts and 2.6 walks. During his time at Triple-A, mostly as a starter, he posted about a strikeout per inning, and his career minor league numbers are 325 strikeouts in 276 innings. He’s got the stuff to miss bats and produce outs, even in high-leverage situations.

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If Feliz is the full-time closer from here on out, he’s getting something like 35-40 chances for a save. That’s valuable, but it’s not like another closer’s job won’t change hands and lead to a similar opportunity before the month of May is even upon us. So, depending on the needs of your team, and the offer quality presented, you could either ride the wave or ship Feliz out for a king’s ransom.

Either way, Feliz could win you a title. If your league has weekly transactions and Feliz isn’t owned yet, use that number-one waiver claim, or empty your FAAB account.

For more on Neftali Feliz and other pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Diamondbacks’ Miguel Montero Hits DL; Chris Snyder To Start

By Tommy Rancel

Going into the 2010 season, Miguel Montero was considered a top-10 fantasy catcher. At Bloomberg Sports, we liked Montero’s chances just as much as anyone else. After belting 16 home runs and driving in 59 runs in just 425 at-bats last season, the expectations of a bigger season seemed attainable.

Unfortunately, Montero’s season is now in limbo, as we learned this weekend that he has a torn meniscus in his right knee. He will undergo further tests to determine if there is any more damage. Currently, there is no timetable for his return, but MLB.com is reporting that he will need surgery. At the very least, he’s on the 15-day disabled list.

With Montero on the shelf, the Diamondbacks will turn to former starter Chris Snyder to handle the workload behind the plate.

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Snyder went into 2009 as Arizona’s primary backstop; however he suffered a back injury and was never able to regain his spot thanks to Montero’s breakout. The Diamondbacks tried shipping him to Toronto this off-season – a deal they are now lucky they didn’t make. It’s unlikely that Snyder will be able to permanently pry the position back from Montero’s grip. But for now, Snyder is definitely in play as a fantasy option, especially in a deeper mixed league.

From 2006 to 2008, Snyder racked up nearly 1,000 plate appearances for the D-Backs. Over the three-year span he averaged .251/.346/.438 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 12 home runs a season. An OPS of .785 with double-digit home runs represent solid numbers for a catcher. Of the 29 catchers with at least 300 PAs last season, only six had an OPS greater than .785.

Due to the injury, and subsequent decrease in playing time, Snyder had a down season in 2009. He appeared in just 61 games, hitting .200/.333/.358. Those numbers are ugly in raw form; however, consider these stats as well.

Despite the Mendoza level-like batting average of .200, Snyder still reached base one-third of the time. Thanks to a career walk rate of 12%, he doesn’t need to hit .300 to get on base at a decent rate. Another thing to consider is his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). His 2010 BABIP of .237 represents a 37-point drop from his career .274 mark. With some regression, his batting average could see a significant rebound.

If you own Montero, especially in a mixed league of 12 teams or more, or an NL-only league, Snyder is a must-get. He should be available on the waiver wire in most leagues, but act quickly if you haven’t already snagged him. For non-Montero owners, Snyder is still worth a flier, especially since Montero needs surgery and the position is so physically demanding. At a thin position, Snyder provides a decent bat with a proven track record. If nothing else, grab him before the Montero owner in your league does, setting up a potential trade.

For more on Chris Snyder and other potential waiver wire catchers check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits

Tim Hudson: Comeback Kid

By Erik Hahmann

 

It’s easy to forget about Tim Hudson. After all, he did miss more than a full calendar year from July 2008-September 2009 recovering from Tommy John’s surgery. He’s back now, and fully healthy. After starting seven games at the end of last season, Hudson seems ready to make a name for himself once again.
 
When healthy, Hudson has been a near-perennial elite pitcher. In the seven seasons in which he started at least 25 games, Hudson averaged 217 IP and saw his ERA rise above 4.00 just twice – it was under 3.00 twice as well. Hudson has never been a high-strikeout pitcher; his career K/9 is just 6.13. But he’s consistently struck out at least twice as many batters as he’s walked, as his 2.22 career K/BB indicates.

Seeing Hudson go in for Tommy John surgery was troubling to his fantasy owners, and to the Braves. But the elbow replacement surgery carries strong recovery rates. In seven starts after returning from Tommy John last season, Hudson showed signs of a healthy recovery, posting an impressive 3.47 xFIP (a stat which strips out the effects of bad luck, defense, bullpen support, aberrant HR/FB rates, and other factors).

 
 
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Still, as you can see in the Demand vs Scarcity chart above, the fact that Hudson underwent Tommy John’s surgery has indeed severely affected his fantasy value. For comparison’s sake, pitchers like Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia are given five-star rankings. Even Ben Sheets, who missed the entire 2009 season, has a two-star ranking.

Hudson was ranked in the one-star group, with names like Carl Pavano, Gil Meche and rookie Brian Matusz, all of whom Hudson could easily outperform this season. Continuing his late-season dominance from last year, Hudson was dominant this spring, putting up a 1.35 ERA while striking out 17 batters and walking just 3 in 20 IP. While you must take spring training stats with a grain of salt, they can be instructive for young players, and especially for players trying to prove themselves after an injury. According to Braves catcher Brian McCann: “He look[ed] great. He’s putting his pitches right where he wants them. He’s definitely ready for the season.”

 
 
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The newest addition to the Bloomberg Sports consumer product is the Auction Values tab. Now, instead of just listing a player’s Average Draft Position, you can see how much that player is worth in a standard 12-team, 5×5 auction style league, with a salary cap of $260. Hudson could prove to be a steal at the $6 under which he was listed. Bloomberg Sports is projecting Hudson’s 2010 season to look like this: 25 starts, 11-7, 3.62 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 98 K, in 159 IP. If Hudson is indeed at full health, the could easily exceed those projections.

The 11-win total should be easily reachable now that the Braves have added more firepower in the forms of Jason Heyward and Troy Glaus to an already talented lineup. The defense behind Hudson as improved as well, with Heyward in right field, Melky Cabrera (career 4.0 UZR in LF) seeing time in left, and Garret Anderson (-16.5 UZR last season) no longer on the roster.

Hudson’s 2010 debut was an impressive one: 7 innings, 2 runs, 3 hits and no walks. A couple of caveats apply. First, he was facing the Giants, who have only one elite hitter in their entire lineup in Pablo Sandoval. Second, Hudson only struck out two batters in his inaugural 2010 start. Still, his best indicator of success, aside from his pinpoint, no-walk control, was his impressive groundball rate: Fourteen of the 21 outs Hudson rang up Friday against San Francisco came via groundballs. That’s a great sign for a pitcher who’s thrived on worm-burners his whole career.

Hudson’s probably owned in even the shallowest leagues, and his value spiked after his opening start, such that targeting him in trade now doesn’t make much sense. But if you already own him, resist the temptation to sell high. Unless someone bowls you over with an offer, hang onto Hudson and give him a chance to put up a big season.

 
For more information on Tim Hudson and other starting pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.
 

Chris Iannetta: Fantasy Post-Hype Sleeper or Bust?

by Eno Sarris

We close out our post-hype infield with Colorado Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta. Just to recap, that was Chris Davis at first base, Rickie Weeks at second base, Stephen Drew at shortstop, and Alex Gordon at third base.
As I mentioned before, this is not a strategy to try at home. I was
hoping to find one or two good, young and cost-controlled infielders in
a league with contracts and 15 keepers, so I had to try something. (Gotta love Weeks’ huge first week.)

Iannetta presents a mixed bag of positive and negative indicators. Yes, he has a slightly worrisome fellow backstop in Miguel Olivo. But Olivo has established himself as a prolific outmaker throughout his career.
As evidence that the team still believes in their young catcher, the Rockies gave Iannetta a three-year contract in January.

Iannetta came tearing through
the Rockies’ minor league system and has held the Catcher of the Future
title there for a while now. An accomplished college catcher that was around average age at each level of the minor leagues, his .303/.409/.511 career
line there was still impressive. After struggling to hit for power or
batting average in his first two attempts at the majors, he
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had a breakout 2008, hitting .264/.390/.505 with 18 home runs in
407 plate appearances. So, in fact, Iannetta has already been a
post-hype sleeper before and come through with a great year. Now, after
a less impressive .228/.344/.460 and just 350 PAs last season, he’s once again
undervalued. Take a look at the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool, which shows how cheap he is compared to other possible top-10 catchers this year – increasing the likelihood that he could be available on the waiver wire in your shallow league.

So
what changed in 2009? Why did Iannetta’s batting average suddenly plunge the year after establishing himself? Once again, the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool,
with some recently added stats, gives us great insight into his 2009
struggles. As you can see from this screen shot, Iannetta suffered from
terrible luck on the balls in play last year. He walked with about the same
frequency as he did the year before, struck out a little less, had a similar
isolated slugging percentage (.241 in 2008, .232 in 2009) and looked
like the same hitter in general. However, he had a .245 batting average
on balls in play (BABIP) in 2009, and his career number in that
category is .283.

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Even though BABIP holds steady around .300 across all of baseball, each player has their own true level. Ichiro Suzuki‘s
BABIP (.357) is a great example of this. Using a players’ batted ball
profile and speed, however, we can estimate a player’s BABIP.
Iannetta’s xBABIP last year? .303. It seems that Iannetta had some
rotten luck last year.

Given that Iannetta held his power
steady in both 2008 and 2009, and showed the same control of the strike
zone both years, it seems to follow that he can put in another campaign
that looks like 2008, once the BABIP normalizes. With an
acceptable batting average (for a catcher, a position where the average
line was .253/.320/.394 last year), fantasy owners will benefit from
getting his above-average power cheaply.

And yet, there’s that pesky timeshare. If you’re an optimist, though, you can look at the current situation this way: Iannetta’s lack of playing time means he might not be owned in many shallow leagues. So if you’re a Miguel Montero owner and you’re looking for a replacement at catcher, don’t chase first-week stats by proven mediocrities like Rod Barajas. Take a shot on someone with real upside. Someone like Chris Iannetta.

For more information on Chris Iannetta and other underrated catchers this year, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit for yourself.

Fantasy Baseball Intelligence, Episode 5

By Jonah Keri

In Episode 5 of Fantasy Baseball Intelligence, Eriq Gardner, Bloomberg Sports writer and founder of the Web site
Fantasyballjunkie.com, talks with Bloomberg’s Wayne Parillo about the
value of choosing quality relief pitchers for your fantasy team.

Here’s the direct link to the podcast. To subscribe to an RSS feed of Bloomberg Sports’ podcast, head here, or check out Fantasy Baseball Intelligence at iTunes.

For more on the value of relief pitchers in fantasy baseball, see Part 1 and Part 2 of Eriq’s series.

For more information on top relievers and other fantasy baseball topics, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.

The Boston Red Sox Pitchers and Run Prevention

By Tommy Rancel

The Boston Red Sox made a conscious effort this off-season to improve the team in terms of run prevention. The highlights of the Red Sox off-season include the signings of respected defenders Mike Cameron in center field and Adrian Beltre at third base.

While Epstein is on record as saying he doesn’t agree with some publicly found defensive metrics (presumably Ultimate Zone Rating aka UZR, which rated Jacoby Ellsbury as one of the league’s worst center fielders last year), his actions suggest otherwise. Even before Jason Bay signed with the Mets, leaving a void in the Boston outfield, Epstein saw the need to sign an able defender like Cameron as an upgrade.

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Despite Epstein’s support for Ellsbury as a center fielder, and the fact that Cameron is 10 years older than Ellsbury, it is Cameron who is patrolling center field for Boston this season.

Looking at UZR, Cameron is a perennial favorite of the metric. Even at his advanced age of 37, he is rated well above average (10.0 UZR in 2009). Ellsbury on the other hand has bounced around the spectrum, rating well above average in 2008 (+16.5) to well below in 2009 (-18.6).

The Ellsbury/Cameron moves highlight the outfield changes, but Beltre at third base is another gift to Boston’s pitching staff. Regardless of your fielding metric of choice, Beltre is a consensus top defender at the hot corner. His 14.3 UZR ranked fourth-best among major league third basemen, and he was runner-up at the position to Ryan Zimmerman in the 2009 Fielding Bible Awards. His plus/minus, a defensive statistic created by John Dewan, is also second to Zimmerman at third base over the past three seasons.

Looking at the Red Sox third basemen in 2009, Beltre will be a welcome addition to the left side of the infield – Mike Lowell (-10.4 UZR in 895 innings) and Kevin Youkilis (-1.6 UZR in 494.1 innings) were both below-average defenders in 2009. The Red Sox will also welcome Marco Scutaro to the left side. In his first full season at the position in 2009, Scutaro rated just above average at shortstop.

It is easy to pick out a few positions and point out the flaws, but the Red Sox as a team posted a UZR of -16.3 last year. This led to a highest-in-MLB batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .320. For comparison’s sake, the Seattle Mariners led the league in team UZR with 85.5 runs above average. Not surprisingly, they also had the lowest team BABIP in the majors at .280. The design of Fenway Park leads to some quirky BABIP in itself, but the Red Sox maintained a .297 team BABIP in 2008, and .292 while winning the World Series in 2007.

The Red Sox staff as a unit should benefit greatly from the improved defense, but Jon Lester especially. Fans of other AL East teams might want to close their eyes, but with a .323 BABIP in 2009, Lester was still good enough to maintain a 3.41 ERA. As a pitcher who yields comparable numbers of groundballs and flyballs, Lester should benefit from all the additions, and could see his BABIP fall this season. This could mean an improvement in his numbers, across the board.

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Beyond Lester, young righty Clay Buchholz and his career groundball percentage of nearly 49.9% should greatly benefit from the above-average infield defense of Beltre, Scutaro, Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia.

Feel confident in Boston pitchers not only for their individual abilities, but also because of the imported vacuum cleaners brought in to upgrade the defense. That those pitchers figure to benefit from solid run support won’t hurt either.

For more on the Boston Red Sox pitching staff, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Bloomberg Sports’ 2010 National League East Preview


By R.J. Anderson

This division will likely a two-team race. The Phillies are the favorites, but Atlanta is better than most people would like to acknowledge. Don’t be surprised if both of these clubs make the playoffs, and be prepared for a possible National League Championship Series match-up.


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Atlanta Braves

Jason Heyward is already ahead of schedule, and the season just started. We wrote about him at Bloomberg Sports, calling him a shiny toy, and fretting that he might get sent to the minors. Clearly that last part was a little less than prescient. Heyward made headlines this week by hitting a home run in his first career at-bat, and has become a hot commodity; so much so that he’s probably overpriced as a trade target right now. Brian McCann, Nate McLouth, Yunel Escobar and Martin Prado project as less-hyped but still solid producers who are worth discussion, if you don’t already own them.

The starting rotation offers several interesting storylines. Can Jair Jurrjens repeat his amazing 2009 season? Will Tommy Hanson emerge as a 200-inning ace in his first full big league campaign? The biggest question mark is Tim Hudson. Prior to missing most of 2009 and part of 2008, Hudson had made 25+ starts in every season since 2000. He’s back and looked good in the spring, but he’s no sure bet to stay healthy all year. If his price is reduced due to injury concern, inquire about him; if he’s being priced like the Tim Hudson of old, pass.

 

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Philadelphia Phillies

Cole Hamels might be the only player on the two-time defending National League pennant winners who qualifies as a sleeper. Though his won-lost record and ERA turned much worse in 2009, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) shows identical 3.72 marks in both seasons, making him a potential value pick. Everyone else is a known commodity, including newly-acquired ace Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth


Ryan Madson is the man in waiting if closer Brad Lidge stumbles once more. Madson has typical closer velocity, checking in last season at 95 MPH, but also uses a cutter and change-up as his secondary pitches, rather than the commonplace slider. Raul Ibanez‘s hot entrance to the National League fraternity is what people will remember from last season, rather than his quick descent back into the real world. A year older, Ibanez has bust potential written all over him. Avoid.

 

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Florida Marlins

The Marlins are in the running for the most top heavy team in baseball. Hanley Ramirez is one of the best players in baseball. Last year, Josh Johnson appeared to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Bloomberg Sports also loves number-two starter Ricky Nolasco.

After that, things get murky. Jorge Cantu provides some pop. Chris Coghlan is a decent sleeper. Dan Uggla had his name floated in trade rumors for what seems like the umpteenth year without a move happening; he’s a good bet to 25-30 home runs, but his low-batting average/solid on-base percentage is a lot more valuable in real life than in standard 5×5 fantasy leagues. The Marlins do have some strong outfield prospects on the rise. Cameron Maybin and his blend of power and speed potential are already on the major league roster, and Mike Stanton has Jason Heyward-like power potential.

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Washington Nationals

Well, there’s Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Nyjer Morgan and … well … have you heard about Ryan Zimmerman? The good news about teams like the Nationals is that literally everyone besides the superstars qualify as sleepers Ian Desmond can sneak through the cracks. Desmond is the 24-year-old rookie shortstop who had a coming out party last season in Double- and Triple-A, with a .354 batting average in 55 Triple-A games. In National League-only leagues, he’s an intriguing upside play at shortstop – even more so in keeper leagues.


Brian Bruney is someone else we’ve profiled as a potential sleeper, but again, only in deep NL-only leagues, as he’s the closer in waiting for now.

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New York Mets

Jose Reyes could be a good target is his asking price has crashed due to injury concerns. David Wright will probably cost full value though: Bloomberg Sports and other projection systems expect a full recovery, despite last year’s career-low 10 home runs. Assuming Citi Field doesn’t become a wasteland for hitters, Jason Bay should put up solid numbers too. Manager Jerry Manuel’s lineup fetishes will ding his RBI totals, though. Manuel had Bay batting fifth on Opening Day, behind an ugly collection of bats that included Alex Cora, Luis Castillo and Mike Jacobs.

On the pitching side, Johan Santana‘s value depends on his valuation: Do your leaguemates still see him as one of the top three starters in the game, or can he now be had at a discount? Santana’s rotation mates are avoidable in shallower leagues. Meanwhile, Francisco Rodriguez isn’t the dominant closer he used to be; don’t overpay.

For more on Hanley Ramirez and the rest of the NL East, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy baseball kits.

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