April 2010

Bloomberg Sports 2010 American League East Preview

By Erik Hahmann

 


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New York Yankees

New York comes into the season as not only a juggernaut in real life, but in the fantasy realm as well. Their offense is anchored by the best infield in baseball, led by Alex Rodriguez, who fully healthy should go back to putting up MVP-type numbers. The infield is rounded out by Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixiera, each of whom is capable of ranking in the top 3 at their respective positions. New addition Curtis Granderson should flourish in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium – he hit 30 homers in far less friendly Comerica Park last year. Home plate is once again manned by Jorge Posada, who even given his advanced age should put up above-average numbers.


CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett lead a strong rotation, with newcomer Javier Vazquez making for an excellent number-three starter. Phil Hughes moves to the rotation and is a rare Yankees sleeper; he was once an elite SP prospect before he became a lights-out bullpen guy, and he’s the number-five starter to start the season. Joba Chamberlain should get a good amount of K’s in the 7th-8th inning role, setting the table for the always reliable Mariano Rivera to once again be the one of the best closers in the game.

 


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An emphasis on defense led the Sox to acquire several new players this off-season. Adrian Beltre could have a bounceback season at 3B now that he is in a more hitter-friendly park – assuming he’s finally healthy. Marco Scutaro is coming off a career year at age 35, so expect some regression from his 2009 season. Center field is now manned by Mike Cameron, with Jacoby Ellsbury and his 70-steal potential shifting to left. Expect regulars like Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew to continue to put up their usual stellar numbers. Playing in Fenway for a full season, in a solid lineup, could also boost Victor Martinez‘s already high fantasy value.

The strength of the team is the rotation. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett lead the way as one of the top 1-2 punches in the game, with John Lackey a close third. Moving to the AL East should slightly hinder Lackey’s numbers, so downgrade him a bit. The closer position is filled by Jonathan Papelbon for now, with Daniel Bard poised to take over if Papelbon falters.


tampa.pngTampa Bay Rays

The Rays set a team record for runs scored last season, and this year’s offense could be even better. Evan Longoria has put up outstanding numbers in his first two seasons and could exceed them this year as he vies for the AL MVP. Last year’s fantasy darling, Ben Zobrist, moves up to third in the order (ahead of Longoria) though he might struggle to approach 2009′s monster numbers. Carl Crawford should make his (probable) last season in Tampa Bay a good one, getting on base and stealing 50 or more bases. Jason Bartlett enjoyed a career season in 2009 and should regress, as his BABIP was a sky-high .364. A player who should stick around all season is Sean Rodriguez, who was acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade last season. He’s hit the cover off the ball this spring and could provide strong multi-positional value at 2B/OF.

The pitching staff is once again led by James Shields and Matt Garza, with Garza a popular pick for a breakout season; both Shields and Garza ranked among the unluckiest pitchers in the baseball for run support, and could both win more games with a little more luck on that front. Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis all offer upside as well, with Davis penciled in as the fifth starter, with a chance to compete for Rookie of the Year honors. Rafael Soriano has looked shaky in his first outings as the Rays’ new closer and has a history of injuries. J.P. Howell could make a good insurance policy for Soriano, assuming Howell himself can return healthy in the near future.


baltimore.pngBaltimore Orioles

One of the more exciting teams to watch this season might well be the Baltimore Orioles. Rookie starter Brian Matusz has the skills to be an above-average performer this season, even in the rugged American League East. Veteran Kevin Millwood will start Opening Day for the Orioles. Millwood is a workhorse who should give Baltimore much needed innings at the top of the rotation.

What everyone will pay to see, however, is the O’s exciting young offense, led by Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters. Markakis drove in more than 100 runs last season and looks poised to do the same this year. While Jones had a slightly down 2009 season at the plate, he did lower his strikeout rate and up his walk rate, a very good sign for a young hitter. He could attain 20 HR/15 SB status this season. It was hard for Wieters to live up to the hype that preceded him last season, but he did an admirable job. It could all come together this season, with 20 HR and a .290 batting average very real possibilities – big numbers from the catching position.


toronto.pngToronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays might not have the talent to finish even fourth in the division, but they still have a few interesting fantasy options for this season. Aaron Hill was one of the biggest surprises in baseball last season, exploding for 36 HR and 108 RBI at second base. He did have a fairly low OBP (.330) and his 36 home runs were 19 more than his previous career high, so some caution is advised. The other member of the Jays’ lineup to enjoy a breakout season was Adam Lind. The 26-year-old seemed to finally put it all together during his first full year with the team, putting up a .300 AVG+, 30 HR+, 100 RBI+ season. He shouldn’t have an issue putting up similar numbers this season.
 
An inexperienced pitching staff is led by Shaun Marcum, who hasn’t pitched since 2008. Ricky Romero, a Rookie of the Year contender last season with a 13-9 record and 4.30 ERA, might be the safest play of any of the Blue Jays starters.

For more information on the AL East, check out Bloomberg Sports fantasy kits

Three-Layered Luke Hochevar Dip

by Eno Sarris

When Luke Hochevar put together his five-hit, no-run masterpiece against Detroit on Wednesday, it reminded people why he was a sleeper going into the season. What’s even more interesting about the start was that it raised questions about Hochevar on three layers. Like any good bean/queso/salsa three-layered dip, this deserves further contemplation.

The first layer concerns his competition. Perhaps the Tigers’ offense is not as good as we thought? Well, for one, Hochevar does not have the Tigers’ number. His 4.85 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 1-2 record against them is slightly better than his career numbers (5.73 ERA, 1.45 WHIP), but not enough to start praying for more Tigers’ days on the schedule (small sample caveat applies). Looking at Hochevar’s career splits page on Fangraphs, you might notice he’s not as good against lefties (5.11 career FIP against lefties, 4.15 against righties). Could it just be that this year’s Tigers are missing a certain punishing lefty-hitting center fielder that could have put some line drives in play? Curtis Granderson certainly enjoyed hitting against the Royals’ starter (.984 career OPS vs. Hochevar in another small sample size), but that’s only one player.

So maybe this really was about Hochevar. The second layer of the dip might concern his strikeouts (or lack thereof). The former first pick in the draft struck out only two Tigers on Wednesday, and it might seem lucky for him to have kept the team scoreless with that sort of punchout rate. In fact, looking at last year, it took a heck of a rally for Hochevar to evenHochevarGrab.jpg approach an average strikeout rate. Take a look at this screen grab from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools – close but no cigar. Even after a two-game stretch late in the year which saw Hochevar strike out 22 batters in 13.1 innings (against zero walks!), he was below average in that facet of the game. So maybe this part of the dip doesn’t taste so good.

Why should the third layer treat us any better than the second one? Well, take a look at Hochevars’ ground balls and fly balls in the game on Wednesday. He had 15 ground balls to only five fly balls. That is what you might call “good.” So good, in fact, that the best GB/FB ratio in baseball last year (2.54, Joel Piniero) didn’t even come close. Of course, that’s over a whole season, and Hochevar’s best groundballing season so far was his 1.64 GB/FB ratio in 2008, which would have been good for 17th-best in baseball had he qualified for the ERA title. Of course, he took a step back (1.30 GB/FB) and we are left wondering if this is just a one-game wonder sort of thing. Head back over to his splits page on FanGraphs, and you’ll actually see that Hochevar improved his groundball rate over the final four months of the season. Can he continue to get better at inducing ground balls? How much impact would that have on his game?

Last year, Hochevar had better than twice as many groundballs as fly balls five times. In those five starts, he gave up 10 earned runs in 38.1 innings – good for a 2.34 ERA. Add in 2008, and you get another four starts that fit the criteria – the number jumps to 22 earned runs in 63.2 innings (a 3.11 ERA). You might be thinking, when was the last time a player with a career GB/FB ratio of under 1.5 put up a ratio over two for the year? Well, it happened just last year, and his name was Joel Piniero.

A season like that would make for some good three-layered Luke Hochevar dip.

For the sour cream on top of the dip, there’s Hochevar’s added
velocity. His fastball averaged over 95 MPH in that game, the first time it has
done so in his career.

For more on Luke Hochevar and other sleeper pitchers for 2010, check out the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.

Bloomberg Sports 2010 American League Central Preview

By Eriq Gardner
The AL Central isn’t the strongest division this year. The Minnesota Twins are accustomed to outperforming expectations on an annual basis, but this year, they start out as the favorites. The strongest competition comes from the Detroit Tigers, who will need a couple of aging veterans to hold up, and the Chicago White Sox, who have resisted full-scale rebuilding, sensing an opportunity to surprise given the lack of quality teams in the division. After trading the team’s best stars last season, the Cleveland Indians are certainly in rebuilding mode. And what can we say about the perennial woeful Kansas City Royals? A huge shocker if they were to make any noise.
Here’s a closer look at each of the teams:
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Minnesota Twins
The Twins will be moving into a new ballpark, Target Field, this season. It’s hard to figure out exactly how the new field will play, but given the cold weather and park dimensions, it could lean toward being a pitcher’s park.
The team features a very underrated staff of pitchers who pound the strike zone and won’t give up too many walks. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and even Carl Pavano are sabermetric-friendly starters with great strikeout-to-walk rates that foreshadow improving ERAs. After an extraordinary performance in winter league ball and spring training, Francisco Liriano is primed for a comeback season and may be key to any playoff run. The injury to Joe Nathan opens some questions about the team’s relief pitching. At the very least, all the team’s pitchers will get support from an improving defense with the additions of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson in the middle infield.
At the plate, the team is extremely well-rounded, featuring the game’s top catcher in Joe Mauer. A core group of Mauer, Justin Morneau, the underrated Jason Kubel, and quietly efficient Michael Cuddyer provide good power and on-base skills. The additions of Hudson and Jim Thome in the off-season should further augment one of baseball’s best offenses outside the AL East.
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Detroit Tigers
The team is managed by the always crafty Jim Leyland, who will need to overcome some issues such as age and a lack of depth to remain competitive.
Miguel Cabrera leads the offense. Some off-the-field troubles made headlines this off-season, but he’s always been a steady producer. The big question will be who produces behind him. New addition Johnny Damon will get on base and score a lot of runs. But the team’s success will largely depend on whether veterans like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen can come back from disappointing seasons and whether youngsters like new 2B Scott Sizemore and new CF Austin Jackson can step up. 
On the pitching side, few young pitchers are better than flame-throwing Justin Verlander. There’s no reason to expect anything less than dominance from him. But the team will need more. Much of the team’s pitching success last year came from a great campaign by Edwin Jackson, who was shipped out in a trade for Max Scherzer, a hard-throwing righty with great strikeout rates but also an injury history and some struggles with going deep into games. Rick Porcello had a great rookie season and projects as a solid mid-rotation guy, or better. Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman make up the back end of the rotation; hold your breath.
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Chicago White Sox
Let’s start out with the big questions: Will Jake Peavy remain healthy? Can Alex Rios rebound? How quickly will emerging star Gordon Beckham adapt to second base? Will Bobby Jenks remain the team’s closer or does that role eventually go to elite set-up man Matt Thornton? What happened to the strong fantasy potential we saw from Alexei Ramirez in 2008? Does Juan Pierre at 32 have enough wheels left to be productive? Will Carlos Quentin recover from a post-breakout injury season? You could make a case for any of these answers going either way.
If all goes well, the team certainly has a good shot to contend. Beyond the majors sits some highly touted, major league-ready prospects, including catcher Tyler Flowers and starter Daniel Hudson. And the starting rotation is deep. John Danks is listed as the team’s #4 starter, behind solid fantasy options Mark Buehrle, Peavy and Gavin Floyd. Not too shabby.
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Cleveland Indians
Nobody is expecting a great deal from Cleveland this year, which might actually benefit the team. The club has experienced a lot of injuries over the years and were forced to shed superstars like CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Victor Martinez.
For the team to take everyone by surprise, Grady Sizemore will need to come back and be healthy. From watching spring training, several scouts aren’t certain he’s 100% yet. Shin-Soo Choo was a great story last year. After years of teasing potential, Choo had a 20/20 season in 2009 with nearly a .400 OBP. Many of the team’s younger hitters, such as Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, and Asdrubal Cabrera, could take steps forward.
The Indians’ major weakness is its starting pitching. The fact that the team holds no pitcher owned by at least 50% of fantasy leaguers should say something. Maybe it’s because Cleveland has the kinds of pitchers (Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook, and Justin Masterson) who produce more real-life value than fantasy value: groundball artists instead of pitchers who whiff a lot of batters. That might be by design: Cabrera is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game.
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Kansas City Royals
The last time the Royals won a division title was in 1985, when starting pitching stud Zack Greinke was just two years old. It would be great to point to reasons why the team has any hope of turning it around soon, but we can’t find any evidence that would accomm
odate such optimism. Even local writers scratch their heads about whether the team has a plan.
The Royals have gone against the conventional wisdom about the value of getting on base, recruiting low-OBP retreads such as Rick Ankiel, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Scott Podsednik. Billy Butler is the one potentially elite offensive player on the roster right now. They’ll need big contributions from Alberto Callaspo, David DeJesus and the recently profiled Alex Gordon just to remain mildly competitive.
Of course, Greinke will give the team a good chance at victory every time he takes the mound. The rest of the rotation is suspect, though. Gil Meche needs to rebound from a disappointing year and mounting injuries, while Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies will be lucky to post league-average performance at the bottom of the rotation. The one wild card is Luke Hochevar, a talent former number-one pick who could benefit from further development and some better luck on balls in play this season.

The big storyline to follow in Kansas City may be what happens with Greinke and closer Joakim Soria. Might the team decide to trade either in the middle of this season? The Royals would get a ton in return, especially if Greinke is dealt. The smarter money’s on Soria being the one who goes, though.
For more on Joe Mauer and the rest of the AL Central, check out Bloomberg Sports’ kits

Bloomberg Sports 2010 National League Central Preview

By Tommy Rancel

The St. Louis Cardinals have won six of the past 10 NL Central titles. In 2010, they are once again the favorites, but will have to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers, the upstart Cincinnati Reds, and the Chicago Cubs, in what might be Lou Piniella’s last stand with the team. The Houston Astros are lacking enough firepower to make much noise and the Pittsburgh Pirates are improved, but not enough.


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St. Louis Cardinals

The Cards are the most complete team in the division, led by the greatest hitter on the planet in Albert Pujols. Nearly a consensus top pick in Fantasy drafts, Pujols will likely be the top hitter in baseball once again in 2010. St. Louis also re-signed Matt Holliday, who is likely to maintain his steady numbers in the senior circuit.

Keep an eye on a pair of youngsters to provide offense behind the superstar duo. Center fielder Colby Rasmus was merely average last season, but is talented enough to make the leap to All-Star status – his Opening Day home run was a monster shot that showed his prodigious power. Third baseman David Freese had a hot start to his career, but only has 17 major league games to his credit. Both will see significant playing time in 2010. The Cards lineup packs plenty of punch, but is not a good source of speed.

The Rotation is led by bona-fide aces in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Behind them Brad Penny will try to replace Joel Pineiro as Dave Duncan’s new pet project. Ryan Franklin will reap the benefits of all the talent in front of him and is likely to top 30 saves pretty easily, assuming he keeps his job all year.

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Chicago Cubs

Derrek Lee remains among the game’s most underrated sluggers, though a pullback might be coming, given he’s into his mid-30s. Meanwhile, other high-profile Cubs players simply underperformed last season, for a variety of reasons.

The Cubs biggest off-season addition could be hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. The former Texas Rangers hitting guru will be reunited with former pupil Alfonso Soriano in hopes of rejuvenating the aging left fielder’s career. Soriano is ripe for at least a small bounceback after seeing his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) drop nearly 30 points from his career total.

In addition to Lee and the potentially improved Soriano, the Cubs will need Aramis Ramirez back at full strength. If healthy, Ramirez is a legit 30-home run threat in the middle of the lineup.

On the pitching side, Carlos Zambrano is nowhere near the ace he used to be. Both Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster are safer bets. Meanwhile, Carlos Marmol goes into the season as the unquestioned closer. His walk rate remains among the highest of any closer in baseball, though, making him something of a risk.


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Cincinnati Reds

Led by elite young hitter Joey Votto, the Reds should put up plenty of runs at the Great American Ballpark, especially if young outfielder Jay Bruce follows with a breakout season of his own. Outside of Bruce and Votto, the Reds offense features a member of the 30/30 club in Brandon Phillips, as well as former All-Star Scott Rolen.

Phillips is a good bet for 20/20, a mark he has hit in each of the past two seasons. Rolen, 35, can still hit, as evidenced by his 2009 OPS of .823 – but he’s also an annual DL candidate.

The rotation, led by Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, is pretty average across the board. Johnny Cueto has the stuff to stand out, but remains too wild and inefficient with his pitches. The wild card in the Reds rotation is prized off-season acquisition Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban national with a 100-mph fastball is the Reds player you must keep tabs on all season, especially in a shallow league where he may still be available on the waiver wire. He starts the season in the minor leagues.


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Milwaukee Brewers

While Pujols and Holliday might be the NL’s top 1-2 punch, the Brewers duo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are not far off. Braun has averaged 34 home runs in his three big league seasons, while Fielder has topped 45 home runs in two of the past three years. There is nothing to suggest anything less from each in 2010. New addition Carlos Gomez should provide fantasy value with his stolen bases, but he’s also an OBP drain who should be batting at the bottom of the order.

Rickie Weeks will return to the top of the order after missing most of last season with a wrist injury. Weeks looked poised to break out in 2009 before the injury, and had an excellent spring showing no ill-effects from the surgery. If he can finally play a full year, he could be primed for a breakout.

Yovani Gallardo is the unquestioned ace of the pitching staff, but he is followed by several question marks. Randy Wolf was signed to be the #2 starter, but buyer beware on Wolf this season. In the bullpen, At age 42, Trevor Hoffman is still going strong, but because of his age, he’s not a sure thing to last the season. One sneaky note about the Brewers: The addition of Gomez in center and slick-fielding Alcides Escobar at short should greatly improve the defense. Teams like Tampa Bay, Seattle and Texas have already shown us how a jump in a team’s defensive skill can go a long way toward improving run prevention – and thus the fantasy stats of a team’s pitchers.

 


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Houston Astros

The Astros spent money this off-season, but on the wrong players. Pedro Feliz was signed to be the team’s third baseman, but he’s a lousy hitter who shouldn’t be rostered. The Astros also spent big bucks on Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom, leaving Houston with two overpriced, undertalented options for the closer spot. Lindstrom gets first crack, but you might consider drafting a top set-up man like Chicago White Sox lefty Matt Thornton a few rounds later, and focusing on offense and starting pitching at that point in your draft.

Lance Berkman is in his contract year, and remains the team’s biggest offensive threat. He’ll start the season on the DL with a knee injury, though. Hunter Pence has 25-home run power and could be a 20/20 threat if improves his stolen base percentage (58% career). Michael Bourn is a budding lead-off man, and is a fantastic source of steals (102 steals since 2008), though he provides little power

The rotation is led by Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez. Oswalt battled injuries last year while Rodriguez was one of the few bright spots for the team in 2009. Both pitchers are likely to benefit from new shortstop Tommy Manzella’s slick fielding. The rest of the rotation looks shaky at best.

 


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Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew McCutchen is the team’s best offensive weapon after less than one full major league season. McCutchen showed decent power and has an outside chance of pulling off a 20-homer/40-steal campaign. Go get him.

Beyond McCutchen, the Pirates have some interesting former top prospects that have yet to live up to potential, as Lastings Milledge and Jeff Clement finally get chances to prove themselves as everyday players. Last year’s breakout Garrett Jones blasted 21 home runs in 82 games, but can he maintain a home run to fly ball rate of 21% over a full season? It’s a long shot, but you have to love his two homers on Opening Day.

The rotation has a few nice back-end guys like Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf and Zach Duke, but none is a front-line starter. Beware of them in NL-only leagues, as there is a possibility of them becoming trade candidates come July – especially Duke. Octavio Dotel is the team’s closer, but has battled injuries this spring and is a trade candidate for the summer as well. If something should happen with Dotel, keep an eye on Evan Meek as a potential source of cheap saves.

For more on Albert Pujols and the rest of the NL Central, check out Bloomberg Sports’ kits.

Gordon Beckham Position Switch Adds Value to Second Base

By Tommy Rancel

It didn’t take long for Gordon Beckham to prove to the White Sox that he was ready for the major leagues in 2009. The eighth-overall pick in the 2008 draft (second Beckham overall, behind Tim) made his major league debut just 364 days after being drafted.

The University of Georgia product didn’t disappoint, as he hit .269/.347/.460 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 14 home runs and 63 RBI in 103 games. He was named American League Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News and the Major League Baseball Players Association.


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Beckham, a shortstop in college, played third base exclusively at the major league level. If we stretched his 14 home runs and 63 RBI over a 162-game schedule, we get a projected total of 22 home runs and 99 RBI. Those numbers are not bad for a third baseman, but fall well below the top producers at the position like Evan Longoria and Alex Rodriguez.

With the acquisition of Mark Teahen this off-season, Beckham will try a new position in the majors; second base. If we take those same 22 home runs and 99 RBI, and apply them to second base, only Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays topped those numbers at the AL keystone position last season.

Looking back at some batted-ball data from 2009, we can get a feel for Beckham in 2010. Among numbers we like to look at as “fluke” stats, namely batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and home run-to-fly ball ratio (HR/FB), Beckham scores well. His .290 BABIP was slightly below average, and could jump over .300 with more line drives (16.6% line drives last year). This would bring his batting average closer to the .280 mark.

Beckham will play a full season at U.S. Cellular Field in 2010. The home of the White Sox had the fourth-highest home run rate in 2009. Because of this, it’s possible that Beckham’s HR/FB rate could move up, placing him among the league’s top power-hitting second basemen.

Another good sign from Beckham was his patience at the plate. He struck out 17.2% of the time last season, but he also walked nearly 9.5% of the time. For reference, Evan Longoria walked 9.1% of the time as a rookie, but struck out 27.2%. With a sharper batting eye, Beckham could increase his walk total, bump up his OBP, and create more run-scoring opportunities. 

Beckham’s average draft position (ADP) was 88.2 before Opening Day, which would rank sixth among AL second basemen behind Ian Kinsler, Brian Roberts, Dustin Pedroia, Ben Zobrist and Robinson Cano. He’ll need to meet your league’s in-season eligibility standards first – but that’s impressive company. Looking at Bloomberg Sports’ projections, Beckham’s .864 OPS in 2010 is projected as second-highest figure for AL second basemen.

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Because he played third base last season, Beckham will carry multiple position eligibility that Kinsler, Roberts, Pedroia, Cano, and Hill don’t have. Though your draft has ended and the season has begun, see if you can pry Beckham loose from a leaguemate with a well-timed trade offer. The move could prove a big help to your 2010 fantasy team.

For more on Gordon Beckham and other players switching positions in 2010, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Bloomberg Sports 2010 National League West Preview

By Eno Sarris


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Arizona Diamondbacks
It’s no surprise that a team with big strikeout men Mark Reynolds and Chris Young in the lineup has above-average power and a below-average batting average. A little more development from their best hitter, Justin Upton, and some steps forward from their post-hype sleepers Stephen Drew and Miguel Montero, and this team could actually develop the best offense in their division. They certainly have a nice young core.

The staff is well above average, with sneaky ace Dan Haren leading the way. If Brandon Webb can recover his health, they’ll form a potent one-two duo once again. Newcomers Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy can make for decent NL middle-of-the-rotation guys, too, even if their pasts have been checkered. They’ll enjoy striking out pitchers this year, after spending the past few years in the American League. Chad Qualls and Juan Gutierrez are different pitchers – Qualls has a little more control, Gutierrez a little more gas – but they are a good combo at the end of the pen. Qualls in particular is a very good closer who’s being priced like a bargain-basement guy right now. Don’t be afraid to draft him a round or two above his ADP.


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Colorado Rockies
It’s not surprising that the Bloomberg Sports team spider graph identifies Troy Tulowitzki as the best player on the Rockies. His power from a premium defensive position makes this offense hum. Young Ian Stewart has the potential to be a poor man’s Mark Reynolds, and the team has buckets of upside hanging out in the outfield – Seth Smith, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Gonzalez comprise one of the best collections of young outfielders in the game. Veterans Brad Hawpe and Todd Helton are still there to provide a bridge to all the young talent.

The rotation is led by underrated ace Ubaldo Jimenez. Jorge De La Rosa is searching for a breakout season: He strikes batter out, but also gives up too many walks. It’s a good thing that the Rockies still have young lefty Franklin Morales around, since Huston Street signed a contract extension and promptly hit the DL with shoulder trouble.


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Los Angeles Dodgers
The oufield boasts fantasy first-rounder Matt Kemp, solid young player Andre Ethier, and venerable slugger Manny Ramirez. If this above-average offense is going to get any better, though, it’ll because James Loney finally takes a step forward. Young Blake DeWitt gets another chance to prove his mettle, this time at second base, with a little more seasoning under his belt. Even Casey Blake is quietly effective.

For all of the belly-aching about the lack of a true ace in Los Angeles, Clayton Kershaw certainly has the strikeout rate and wipeout stuff of a number-one starter, and Chad Billingsley is a solid number-two. Their pen is also pretty exciting with stud Jon Broxton anchoring the team on his massive quads alone. The back of the rotation won’t produce as much value as last year, though, with Randy Wolf shipped off to Milwaukee after a strong 2009 season.


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San Diego Padres
The book says that the Padres have a bad offense and a good staff, but is the book right? Maybe it’s just run-supressing Petco Park that gives fans that impression. The Bloomberg Sports team Spider Graph suggest that the team stacks up rather differently. Instead, it’s the staff falling behind the average team in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, despite those pitcher-friendly park effects. Perhaps young fireballer Mat Latos can help them turn that rotation around. He had an impressive showing in his rookie season last year.

On the offensive side of the ball, Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Headley provide good power without the aid of the greatest batting averages. Young players Kyle Blanks and Everth Cabrera also provide run creation with low batting averages coupled with on-base ability and a blend of power (Blanks) and speed (Cabrera). There’s reason for hope here, even if it comes with a .242 team batting average.


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San Francisco Giants
The average age of the Giants pitching staff is 26.8 years old. The starting lineup? 28.4. Take Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval out of that lineup, and the other geezers pull the offense to an average age of over 30. Fittingly, the team has an exciting young staff that keeps their boring old offense in just enough games to matter for most of the year. Will the offense do any better this year?

The Panda needs a robin, but will that be one of the new veterans, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez or Mark DeRosa? Each has had a nice season in the last two years, and each is basically coming off an average or below-average season. GM Brian Sabean was probably looking at those career seasons when he signed each of them. Without some repeats of those career seasons, though, this will be a roster full of guys with .280 batting averages and 20-home run power. Opposing pitchers are already circling their scheduled starts against the Giants as we speak.

Meanwhile, the pitching staff will remain elite. All Tim Lincecum has going for him are two straight Cy Young awards. Matt Cain is one of the best number-two starters in the game. Barry Zito is a reliable, above-average innings eater who’s a valuable commodity, monster contract aside. Jonathan Sanchez is a dynamic young lefty with the ability to post annual 200-strikeout seasons. Brian Wilson has quietly emerged as one of the best closers in the game. Even the top set-up men, Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt, are worth a look in deep leagues.

For more on Tim Lincecum and other American League West players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Bloomberg Sports 2010 American League West Preview

By R.J. Anderson

This is the first of a series looking at all six major league divisions, with the help of Bloomberg Sports’ Spider Charts. We start today with the AL West.

The American League West figures to be the tightest division in baseball, without a clear favorite or doormat in sight. It would be inaccurate to say every team has an equal shot, but there’s certainly an opportunity for each of them to ascend to the throne and punch a ticket for October baseball. Here’s a quick look at the fantasy standouts on each club.

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Even with the losses of Chone Figgins and John Lackey, the Angels have several interesting fantasy options. Kendry Morales, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, and new addition Hideki Matsui represent the team’s sluggers. Meanwhile, Mike Napoli is one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball; if he can shake the injury bug and wrest the full-time job from Jeff Mathis, he’ll be a great pick this season. Abreu and Hunter form two-thirds of a aging outfield, alongside Juan Rivera; though Abreu and Hunter both bring diverse skills to the table, don’t overbid on either player. Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, Maicer Izturis, and Erick Aybar
have fantasy potential too, with Wood being the much hyped and much
delayed former top shortstop prospect who finally gets his shot. Kendrick in particular could be a breakout player if he can finally stay healthy for a full season.

The pitching staff could be hurt by the loss of Lackey, but ample talent remains. Brian Fuentes saved 48 games last year despite so-so peripherals; newly acquired Fernando Rodney and sleeper flamethrower Kevin Jepsen would nab saves if Fuentes falters in 2010. The rotation features Jered Weaver, a perennially good, but underrated anchor. Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana represent intriguing starting options, but both are also huge injury risks, with Kazmir opening this season on the disabled list.  Joe Saunders’ peripherals suggest he’s closer to last year’s version than the 2008 addition. The Angels appear solid across the board, without any defined flaw.


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Seattle Mariners

The Mariners were everyone’s off-season sweethearts with the acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins, but Lee’s injury changes the outlook of this team, as does Erik Bedard’s continued battle with the machete-yielding injury bug. Regardless, Felix Hernandez is still the King, and one of the top five starting pitchers in baseball. Ryan-Rowland Smith is the type of finesse lefty who could get a boost from Safeco Field’s spacious dimensions and great outfield defense (see Jarrod Washburn, 2009), and he’ll certainly be available as  a late-round flyer in any mixed league of 12 teams or less.

Ichiro is Ichiro. He’ll approach 200 hits, steal bases, and potentially get undervalued in leagues that overemphasize youth. Milton Bradley has been discussed here before, and while Seattle essentially features black holes at designated hitter and shortstop, the addition of Figgins gives Seattle another speed/contact option to bat at the top of the lineup in front of Franklin Gutierrez, who could lead the team in runs batted in. The sleeper here is either Brandon League or Mark Lowe, either of whom could get the call if David Aardsma‘s out-of-nowhere 2009 performance turns out to be a one-time deal. Meanwhile, it’s probably best to avoid Jose Lopez in the early rounds. His home run total is nice, but the switch to third base and fact that he is the absolute worst type of hitter for Safeco means you should let someone else overbid for his homers and RBI.

 

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Texas Rangers

Given their deep stable of young talent, Texas has the greatest potential for a big leap this season, and in the next few years. The addition of Rich Harden makes them even more intriguing. Much like Ben Sheets and Erik Bedard, if Harden is healthy, he’s fire. The Rangers hope the program set forth by pitching coach Mike Maddux, as well as the innovative strength and conditioning regimen implemented by Jose Vazquez will do for Harden what they did for other Rangers pitchers last year. Scott Feldman, the biggest beneficiary of the Rangers’ pitch-to-contact approach last season with 17 wins and a 4.08 approach, is a long shot to duplicate last year’s numbers. Meanwhile, Derek Holland has considerable upside, as does Neftali Feliz; Holland will start the season in the minors, Feliz in the bullpen.

On the hitting side, Nelson Cruz will seek to duplicate the 30 HR-20 SB performance he put up in ’09, his first full major league season. Michael Young will be overvalued after some gaudy numbers last year, and is a good bet to see significant regression. Vladimir Guerrero should only be bought if he comes at a bargain price; as last season showed, the Vlad of old is gone. A deep sleeper could be David Murphy, a solid if unspectacular left-handed hitter entering the prime of his career in a deep lineup, with Arlington’s hitter-friendly backdrop acting as a tailwind.


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Oakland Athletics

Oakland’s offense offers little other than a sprinkling of speed, with Rajai Davis and Cliff Pennington leading the way. Pennington in particular could be a strong sleeper if he can extend his promising 2009 performance over a full season. An even bigger sleeper could be Jake Fox, who becomes the A’s designated power threat without an obvious position after the team cut Jack Cust.

At least there are a few hurlers worthy of consideration. Ben Sheets, for one, even with his health being a perpetual question mark. Brett Anderson is another, coming off an terrific rookie season that was even better than his superficial numbers suggest. Closer Andrew Bailey has health issues, as does set-up man Michael Wuertz, which could push sleeper saves candidate Tyson Ross into the equation. Ross was one of the Athletics’ top pitching prospects and will be used out of the bullpen to begin the year. He gets groundballs and has above-average stuff, which should translate to a good number of strikeouts.

If you’re in a keeper league, the A’s also feature some intriguing offensive options in the minors. Chris Carter and Michael Taylor could be up at some point this season and definitely should be on your list of sleeper pickups. Oakland probably has the lowest chance of actually winning the division, but in the wild West, anything can happen.

For more on Ichiro Suzuki and other American League West players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Should You Sit Your Starting Pitchers in Week 1?

By Eriq Gardner

A reader wrote in to ask whether or not the numbers support sitting a starter in the first week of the season.

I understand the reasoning behind the strategy: In the first week of the season, starters might be dangerous, as they haven’t built up the stamina to go long into games, may not have fully gotten control of their arsenal of pitches, and might be expected to be less likely to put up wins and more likely to damage a fantasy teams pitching ratios.

But let’s look at the numbers.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any “first week” splits anywhere, but we were able to gather together data for pitchers who made starts between April 5 and April 12 going back five years. We can call this set of data, “Starters in Early April,” which may be better anyway since what we’re talking about is a pitcher’s seasonal maturity at this early part of the year. We compared these data to how starters performed overall in the past five years.

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The results of the study were somewhat surprising.

Let’s start with endurance and the potential for wins. We’re shocked to learn there’s hardly any difference at all. Starters in early April average 5.8 innings per game started. Starters average the same 5.8 innings per game started throughout the season. In early April, starters win the games they start 34% of the time. Throughout the season, that only ticks up to 35%. In early April, starters are a little less likely to be on the hook for a loss and a little more likely to be given a no-decision, but unless your league counts those stats, that’s not very important.

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Let’s go to ERA and WHIP.

Here we find big differences, but in the complete opposite direction we expected. Starters in early April average a 3.92 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. Over a full season, starters average a much worse 4.50 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP. Is it because teams mostly have their best starters healthy at the onset of the season? Perhaps that’s one factor, but I think we can explain the difference better by jumping into the peripheral numbers.

First, we find no command issues. Both time frames yield an average of 3.1 walks per 9 IP.

Interestingly, despite the better surface ratios, pitchers at the beginning of the season strike out fewer batters. In early April, pitchers strike out 5.5 batters per 9 IP. Throughout the season, the number jumps to 6.3. If starters are whiffing fewer batters in early April, how are they managing to gain a better ERA?

We can put the mystery to bed by taking a look at the HR numbers. In early April, the HR/9 rate of a starter is only 0.94. Throughout the season, it’s 1.1. Clearly, the biggest advantage that a starter has at the start of the season is the colder weather. If you’ve ever swung a bat in frigid temperatures, you know it stings upon contact. Moreover, because warm air is less dense than cool air — ask your local meteorologist — balls travel further in those warm summer months.

So while it might seem a good idea to bench your starters early in the season, the numbers say you should do no such thing. 

For more on starting pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits

The Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Squad

By Jonah Keri

It’s one
thing to dig into the numbers and make a bunch of predictions for the
upcoming fantasy season. It’s quite another to put your fantasy draft
where your mouth is. That’s just what I did last week in the Brian Kenny Show Fantasy Baseball League.

Run by ESPN anchor and radio host Brian Kenny, the league
includes some heavy hitters at the Worldwide Leader, along with a special guest from the pigskin world. Mike Greenberg (of the Mike and Mike Show), Linda
Cohn, Jay Harris, Ryen Russillo, Amy Lawrence, Buster Olney, Rob Neyer
and NFL wide receiver T.J. Houshmanzadeh (I was as surprised as you, but the man’s got a good team) joined me in the league, along
with Kenny, his producer Mike Urrunaga, and three listeners.

The format is a little different than your typical fantasy league.
Instead of the standard 5×5 format, or the original 4×4, this is 6×6.
The offensive categories are: HR, RBI, R, SB, along with OBP and SLG
(no Batting Average). The pitching categories are: W, K, ERA, WHIP,
along with Quality Starts and Saves+Holds (instead of Saves only).

The strategy here was simple: Load up on offense early and grab
quality starting pitching periodically. Then take advantage of the
league’s unique categories in two ways: 1) Punt saves, so that while
others are fixated on lousy closers, I can swoop and take elite set-up
men who’ll produce almost as many holds, with much better ratios. 2)
Target hitters late in the draft who are better in real life than in
fantasy, since they typically put up low batting averages but also
strong on-base percentages and slugging averages.

Picking 10th in the draft, I grabbed Rays third baseman Evan Longoria
with my 1st-round pick. I wanted big power numbers right away, since
cheap steals figured to be abundant. Third base is also a thin position
this year, Alex Rodriguez was gone, and I trusted Longoria’s improving game and stacked Rays lineup over David Wright, the 10 home runs he hit last year, and his abysmal Mets teammates.

I was hoping to address position scarcity again and grab Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki with my 2nd-round pick, but he went four slots ahead of my #19 selection. Come on down Roy Halladay! The Phillies’ new ace is the most dependable starting pitcher in the game, ranked #2 behind only Tim Lincecum
this season and #14 in B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary ranking of
all MLB players). The initial goal might have been to target offense
early, but you don’t say no to Halladay at this point of the draft.
That Quality Starts were an additional category in this league only
made Halladay (and other top SP) more valuable.

The next four rounds were an offensive blitz. Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez
is already an elite hitter in standard leagues; add OBP and SLG to the
mix, though, and he’s arguably a top-10 hitter. So heck yes, I’ll take
him at #38. With Longoria and Gonzalez now anchoring the infield and
the power categories, it was time to look for speed, which is copious
this year in the outfield. Kenny was hosting his radio show as the
draft was going on, and had no qualms about calling out players he
wanted. In Round 4, he was jonesing for Rays outfielder B.J. Upton.
At #47, I was already planning to take Upton if he fell to me; huge
source of steals, and now that he’s reportedly over the shoulder injury
that plagued him in 2009, I expect big bouncebacks in OBP, SLG and
counting stats. Taking Upton three spots ahead of Kenny, and eliciting
a horrified on-air reaction, only made the pick sweeter.

For my fifth-round pick, I turned to the first of several Bloomberg
Sports Blog-profiled players I would nab in this draft: newly-minted
Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson. Here again I wanted a power-speed guy and agreed with the take of colleague Tommy Rancel, who profiled Granderson as a
30-home run player coming to Yankee Stadium, a place that greatly
favors slashing left-handed hitters. Much later in the draft (16th
round), I would grab Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, adding more speed to the roster, and a second Bloomberg Sports Blog-touted option for 2010.

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With the five-outfielder format of this league, I wanted another power-speed OF early, so Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz (33 HR, 20 SB, .524 SLG in his first full season last year) made it three such picks in a row, at #75.

Then, the pitching onslaught began. In recent weeks, we’ve discussed the huge upside of Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco and Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez (as well as his slightly less talented but still solid teammate Jorge de la Rosa).
I landed all three of those pitchers, in the 7th, 8th, and 15th rounds
respectively. All three project to put up big strikeout numbers, with
Nolasco and Jimenez also targets to produce stellar ratios and even
darkhorse Cy Young seasons.

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In the later rounds, I drafted a
boatload of players who figure to benefit from the league’s OBP/SLG
yes, AVG no format, including Yankees outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher, Nationals outfielder Josh Willingham and Angels catcher Mike Napoli. Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks
is a definite injury risk, but his power/speed/OBP potential made him
too good to pass up in Round 11 (and I hedged by grabbing Twins second
baseman Orlando Hudson in post-draft free agency as a backup).

Rounding out the draft, I landed no fewer than four top set-up men
who figure to combine for 100+ holds plus occasional saves, all four
with strong strikeout and ratio numbers. Good to have you, Matt Thornton, Daniel Bard, George Sherrill and Mark Lowe. You’ll be a lot easier to carry all season than shaky Opening Day closers like Matt Capps and (shudder) Matt Lindstrom.

I’ve pasted the roster for the Bloomberg Sports Squad below. We like our chances. (Round selected in parentheses)

You can follow the league, all season long, here.

HITTERS
C Mike Napoli (13th)
1B Adrian Gonzalez (3rd)
2B Rickie Weeks (11th)
3B Evan Longoria (1st)

SS Everth Cabrera (16th)
MI Marco Scutaro (18th)
CI Nick Swisher (14th)
OF B. J. Upton (4th)
OF Curtis Granderson (5th)
OF Nelson Cruz (6th)
OF Denard Span (10th)
OF Josh Willingham (20th)
UT Paul Konerko (17th)

PITCHERS
SP Roy Halladay (2nd)
SP Ricky Nolasco (7th)
SP Ubaldo Jimenez (8th)
SP Brett Anderson (9th)
SP Max Scherzer (12th)
SP Jorge de la Rosa (15th)
SP Ervin Santana (22nd)
RP Matt Thornton (19th)

RP Daniel Bard (21st)

BENCH
RP George Sherrill
RP Mark Lowe
2B Orlando Hudson
1B Russell Branyan (DL)

For more on how to build and manage your fantasy team throughout the season, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Alex Gordon: Post-hype Sleeper or Bust?

by Eno Sarris

Think back to 2006. That quaint comedy Beerfest was taking the country by storm while we were all saying prayers for Barbaro’s quick recovery. Faint memories of a movie called Little Miss Sunshine waft through the house like the scent of apple cobbler. Ah, those were the days.

Those were also the last days that featured Alex Gordon as The Future of the Royals Franchise. He was tearing up the minor leagues at the time, a number-two pick overall making good on his promise with a stellar .325/.427/.588 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line in Double-A. Fans of the powde -blue were practically salivating at the thought of the new George Brett rescuing the franchise. Gordon was the epitome of the hyped prospect and was being penciled in for the 2007 Rookie of the Year hardware before the season began.

Unfortunately this story was not going to be without some speed bumps. Gordon produced an underwhelming .247/.314/.411 major league stat line in 2007. Though he played a decent third base and was actually an above-average player when appraised as a whole, the hype balloon was popped. If his second season’s line, .260/.351/.432, was also not very inspiring, and last season his year was cut short by an injury, why is there hope for Gordon to have a good year thisGordonGrab.jpg season? He’s currently hurt – could his stock fall  any lower? Take a look at the graphical representation of his 2009 compared to other major league batters in the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Kit. Yuck.

Taking
a player on the hopes of a rags-to-riches journey is always enticing for a fantasy player
looking for value. Consider that Gordon actually showed some signs of
life between his first two years, and you’ll find that his 189-plate appearance season in 2009 is not enough to write those gains
off. If you instead focus on his first two years, here’s a short list
of underlying statistics that Gordon improved in his sneaky-good
sophomore season: walk rate, strikeout rate, isolated power, line drive
percentage, fly ball percentage, home runs per fly ball, reach rate,
and contact percentage.

That’s a lot of improvement. In other
words, Gordon walked more, struck out less, reached at fewer balls outside the strike zone, and hit the
ball higher, further and harder. Isn’t that the kind of improvement you want from your best prospect? There’s reason for a bit of concern after last season, and Gordon’s health needs to be watched. Still, there’s reason for hope too.

Looking at his minor league
numbers and you might still expect super-stardom from Gordon, but there is
a slight asterisk that must come into play. As an accomplished college
star, Gordon hit Double-A at 22 years old (the average age of his league that year was 24).
Age matters when considering a player’s statistics in the minor leagues
- if a teenager is holding his own against top talent (like Elvis Andrus, who was 19 in the same league in 2008, or Jason Heyward
hitting the majors at 19), he gets extra credit. If a guy in his
mid-20s comes in and destroys younger pitching, his stats lose a
tiny bit of luster. Have some fun and check Kevin Maasminor league statistics and the picture becomes clearer.

In
any case, the positives here still outweigh the negatives, as nebulous
as Gordon’s future may seem. Gordon has a good bit of power, a little
bit of speed, plays an important position, and has an improving
approach at the plate. The ending of this movie has not yet been
written, and it may just yet be the story of a Post-Hype Sleeper that
made good.

For more information on Alex Gordon and other cheap third-sackers this year, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kit for yourself.   

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