By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise & Regression Alert: Mike Morse
Morse was once a light-hitting shortstop in the Mariners organization – his minor league slugging percentage (.425) and 513 minor league games at shortstop might surprise many that saw him play first base for the Nationals late in 2010 (and slug .519). If you look closer at the numbers, though, the power was developing as he aged (four of his five best slugging seasons came since 2009), and he hit a career high number of flyballs in 2010 (37.9%, 33.8% career), so the progression seems natural. That said, he still strikes out a bit much (24.1% in 2010), his .330 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) may not be sustainable (so the .289 batting average may fall), and the outfield is a little crowded in Washington. He’s probably best thought of as a late-round sleeper in very deep drafts next year.
Biggest Bust: Nyjer Morgan
His career-worst BABIP (.305) may not look so bad, but Morgan has no power (.077 career ISO, .145 is average) and lives by putting the ball on the ground and using his wheels to get on base. After three straight seasons of .350+ BABIPs before 2010’s “stinker,” it’s not outlandish to expect a return to better days for the mercurial Morgan. But in fantasy he’s mostly a one-category guy until that batting average returns. Leave him out there until the end of your drafts in 2011, but don’t count him out completely just because of a few run-ins with authority late in the 2010 season.
2011 Keeper Alert: Ian Desmond
We know Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn are fine keepers in the right leagues, and we know Ian Desmond is a flawed player. He doesn’t walk (5% career), he strikes out a bit much (20.3% career), and he’s poor on defense. Last year, his power also tapered off – his .124 ISO was lower than his career major (.145) and minor league (.129) ISO numbers. But ugly wins in deeper leagues, and his production in the ‘counting stats’ – 10 home runs and 17 stolen bases in particular – plays just fine at a tough position, and he’ll get more chances with plenty of job security. Don’t expect him to grow too much (especially considering his .259/.326/.388 minor league slash line), but if last year’s numbers were good enough to play in your league, he should be able to repeat them.
By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Stephen Strasburg
Maybe it doesn’t seem like Strasburg’s performance was a surprise – he did get his fair share of hype on the way up. That said, plenty of top prospects have flamed out, especially on the mound, so the fact that he came up and maintained his double-digit strikeout rate (12.18 K/9) was very impressive. Even better, his control held (2.25 BB/9), and he got balls on the ground (47.8%). When he was on the mound, everyone was watching, and for good reason. Now we have to wait until late 2011, most likely, as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Biggest Bust: Yunesky Maya
Maya did not live up to his somewhat lofty expectations. After dominating in his home country of Cuba and pitching well at the World Baseball Classic, Maya did not show the ability to harness his secondary stuff in the major leagues (3.81 BB/9). With the mediocre fastball that we profiled here late in the season, he’s also not showing the strikeout ability (4.15 K/9) he needs in order to succeed. As of now, he’s not really fantasy-relevant.
2011 Keeper Alert: Jordan Zimmermann
On the surface, Zimmermann’s statistics don’t seem to argue that he’s a keeper. His 4.94 ERA and 1.32 WHIP were not great in his 31-inning return from Tommy John surgery last year. However, his control was still strong (2.9 BB/9, 2.87 BB/9 career), and he did strike out an above-average number of batters (7.84 K/9). The rest of the reason for optimism comes from projecting his minor league numbers, where he struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings for his career. He’s got the punch, the control, and he keeps the ball on the ground – he’s a great deep-league sleeper keeper.
2011 Regression Alert: Livan Hernandez
Hernandez seems to have a good stretch every year, but in 2010, that stretch lasted all season. No matter. Despite some improving numbers, it’s fair to say that the portly 35-year-old right-hander won’t put up another 3.66 ERA – if only because the last time he bettered that number, it was in an Expos uniform in 2004. He’s not a terrible real-life innings-eater, but as a guy who doesn’t strike people out (4.85 K/9 last year) and allows a lot of flyballs (39.3% groundballs last year), he’s not a good fantasy starter for 2011.
By R.J. Anderson //
Biggest Surprise: Jim Edmonds
When the 40-year-old joined the Brewers’ camp in spring, few people
expected him to make the team. Even fewer expected him to play well,
yer that’s he did. Sure, .276/.342/.504 pales in comparison to his
career numbers (which are Hall of Fame-worthy, even if few people are
talking about him in that light). At age 40, after a year away from the
game, that’s an impressive feat. That he enjoyed the postseason ride
with the Cincinnati Reds is a nice touch as well.
Biggest Bust(s): Alcides Escobar and Carlos Gomez
Gomez’s best baseball-related skill remains his speed. That’s why it
has to be disappointing for the Brewers that he cannot get on base at
all, leaving his ability to cause havoc on the basepaths untapped.
Meanwhile, Escobar struggled in his first full season in the bigs.
These two are still young enough to turn it around in time to
contribute to a winning Brewers team, but for 2010 you have to label
2011 Keeper Alert: Lorenzo Cain
And the reason Gomez might never get another starting chance in
Milwaukee is Cain. The 24-year-old only got a little over 150 plate
appearances, but he hit .306/.348/.415 while showing solid defensive
chops. He’s probably the Brew Crew’s Opening Day center fielder in
2011 Regression Alert: Corey Hart
1) Hart’s BABIP was well above his career average (.324 instead of
.310) and 2) his home runs per flyball ratio was too (16.7% instead of
12.4%). Maybe Hart is just maturing as he heads into his statistical
prime seasons, but more likely, he’s not quite as good as he showed in
2010. A drop to 20-25 home runs is a more reasonable projection than a
repeat of 30.
By R.J. Anderson //
Biggest Surprise and 2011 Keeper Alert: John Axford
Axford will begin the 2011 season as the Brewers’ closer. That’s the only thing in the 27-year-old’s career that seems like a given, as he’s had one heck of a ride to this point. A former Yankee farmhand with a handlebar mustache, Axford had seven Major League appearances before appearing in 50 games last season and saving 24 games with a 2.48 ERA. A devastating strikeout rate (11.79 K/9 innings) points to a closer with staying power, even if his walk rate (4.19 BB/9 IP) is a bit worrisome and his flukishly low home run rate’s likely to edge higher next year.
Biggest Bust: Trevor Hoffman
Hoffman managed to break the 600 career saves mark in 2010, which represents a high point in his season. Otherwise, 50 appearances and 31 earned runs suggests the man who made “Hells Bells” a ballpark anthem is near the end of his career.
2011 Regression Alert: Randy Wolf
Give Wolf some credit, as he was able to squeak out one more inning in 2010 than he did in 2009, despite making 34 starts both years. Unfortunately, for Wolf and the Brewers, his ERA shot up nearly a full run, and his peripherals suggest he just didn’t pitch as well as that 4.17 figure might suggest. The National League Central is not a good division and Wolf’s history suggests he should bounce back in 2011. The problem being, of course, folks will overvalue his 2010 performance based on the ERA, innings, and wins. Let someone else overbid.
By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Anibal Sanchez
He’s been pitching in the major leagues since 2006, but 2010 was the first time Anibal Sanchez put together more than 30 starts. He still doesn’t have great upside beyond his fine 2010 season (3.55 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) because of his good-but-not-great K rate (7.25 K/9 in 2010, 6.87 career). His groundball percentage improved (45.1%), but if he has a little less luck on home runs next year, his ERA might be closer to four. The rest of his line was pretty luck-neutral, though.
Biggest Bust: Ricky Nolasco
Leo Nunez lost his closer role and Chris Volstad had a poor year that included a demotion, but much more was expected of Ricky Nolasco, so he’s the bigger bust. Nolasco put up some poor stats (4.51 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) and frustrated owners who saw that he’d been unlucky in 2009 (5.06 ERA, 3.35 FIP) and expected a big rebound. Well, he did it again, as his 3.86 FIP in 2010 was much better than his ERA. Nolasco still struck out a lot of batters (8.39 K/9), and walked very few (1.88 BB/9), but all those flyballs keep turning into home runs (1.37 HR/9), and he needs to iron that wrinkle out before returning to the top echelon of fantasy starters.
2011 Keeper Alert: Clay Hensley
It’s not a great idea to keep a closer, with all the volatility in the position, but this team didn’t show any great young arms in the bullpen. Into the breach stepped 31-year-old Clay Hensley, who found that magical combination of strikeouts (9.24 K/9), control (3.48 BB/9), and groundballs (53.4%) that makes him interesting despite his iffy pedigree.
2011 Regression Alert: Alex Sanabia
Alex Sanabia had an xFIP (a number on the ERA scale that strips out batted ball luck and normalizes home run rates) of 4.57 in 2010, and an ERA of 3.73. He’s got great control, but he’s a flyballer without a strikeout pitch, so he’ll have a little more trouble next year. Leo Nunez had terrible luck on the batted ball (.337 BABIP) and could easily return to his role with some positive regression in 2011.
By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Gaby Sanchez
Gaby Sanchez opened eyes in his freshman season mostly by not striking out (17.7%, average is 20.7%). His high-contact approach did lead to a decent batting average (.273) and some RBI (85), and it’s not like he’s completely without power – his .175 ISO was above-average for all players (.150), just not first basemen. Deep keeper leaguers will find a place for him, but otherwise he’s best in standard mixed leagues as a utility player, taken late in 2011 drafts.
Biggest Bust: Chris Coghlan
Even during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2009, Chris Coghlan didn’t show a ton of power or speed. He did ride an unsustainable BABIP (.365) to a great batting average (.321), and with a nice end to the season he caught a lot of eyes. He still showed a high BABIP in 2010 (.336), but with his higher strikeout rate (23.5%) and lower power (.115 Isolated Slugging), his line was devoid of interest. And that’s not even mentioning the injuries that limited him to 400 plate appearances. As a third baseman next year, Coghlan could still be interesting in deeper leagues.
2011 Keeper Alert: Mike Stanton
Mike Stanton is not yet 21 years old and yet his isolated power (.248) would have been 12th-best in the major leagues if he had qualified for the batting title. That’s impressive, even if his strikeout rate (34.3%) means he may have a hard time putting up high batting averages in the future. After hitting 22 bombs in his short first season, he could easily hit more than 30 home runs next year, thus making him a promising keeper even with the batting average risk. Logan Morrison is also interesting (especially on Twitter), but he profiles a little more like Gaby Sanchez right now, albeit with more power upside long-term.
2011 Regression Alert: Dan Uggla
We all know who Dan Uggla is. Lots of power, not a great batting average – a boon at a tough position, especially for teams starved for power. Then again, Uggla had a career-high .287 batting average this year, on the back of an unsustainable-looking BABIP (.330). That part of the package probably won’t return in 2011, so don’t overbid.
By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise: Hideki Matsui
When Godzilla left the Bronx, no one knew how he would adjust to losing Yankee Stadium as his home park. Matsui answered those questions by hitting a solid .274/.361/.459. His batting average and on-base percentage were nearly identical to the numbers he posted in 2009 (.274/.367). As expected, his slugging dropped from .509 to .459, but he still hit 21 home runs while driving in 84, giving fantasy owners who trusted their utility slot to Matsui a lift.
Biggest Bust: Brandon Wood
Once a top prospect in the Angels’ system, Wood, 25, got his first real chance to start in 2010. He responded by putting up one of the worst offensive seasons in baseball. Over 81 games, he “hit” .146/.174/.208 with four home runs and 14 RBI. Making matters even worse, Wood showed no plate discipline or pitch recognition. He walked less than 3% of the time while striking out more than 30%. Of the swings he took, nearly 15% ended up in a whiff. There is still time for him to improve, but don’t hold your breath waiting.
2011 Keeper Alert: Mike Napoli
Mike Scioscia’s fetish for catching defense over offensive production pushed Napoli out of the Angels’ lineup more often than not at the beginning of the season. However, after injuries to Jeff Mathis and then Kendry Morales, Napoli found his way into a career-best 140 games. In those games, he hit .238/.316/.468 with a career-high 26 home runs; those 26 homers led all catcher-eligible players. With Morales coming back to man first next season, Napoli is likely to hit another 20-plus bombs with catcher eligibility next season. He should also see a boost in batting average with some simple BABIP regression.
2011 Regression Alert: Erick Aybar
Aybar was a pleasant surprise in 2009 when he hit .312 with 37 extra-base hits for Los Angeles. In 2010, he hit just .253 with 27 XBH, despite 30 more at-bats. In June, Aybar dealt with a knee injury and his season was cut short in mid-September due to a sports hernia. In addition to the injuries, Aybar’s BABIP was nearly 20 points less than his career number. This is due in part to a decline in line drives hit. He has hit 17% liners in his career, but managed just 15.3% this year. A healthy, luckier Aybar would make for a nice late-round pick in deeper leagues, with multi-position eligibility next season.
For more on Mike Napoli and the Los Angeles Angels lineup, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits
By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise: Jered Weaver
Can it be considered a “good” surprise when a 16-game winner drops to 13 wins? In the case of Weaver, yes. Although his win total dropped, the righty was at his best in 2010. His strikeout rate was a career best 9.35 per nine innings, while his walk and home run rates dropped to career-low levels. He also made a career-high 34 starts and threw 224 innings. Once the owner of ace potential, Weaver has now reached ace status.
Biggest Bust: Scott Kazmir
Once upon a time, Kazmir had that ace status. Now, he’s more like a soft-tossing 35-year-old than a 26-year-old former foundation player. Making matters worse, he spent a total of 42 days on the DL with shoulder issues. When healthy, Kazmir made 28 starts going 9-15 with a 5.94 ERA in his first full season with the Angels. He struck out fewer than six batters per nine innings while walking nearly five per nine. Many cried foul when the Rays traded Kazmir last August, but it looks like Andrew Friedman made the deal just in time.
2011 Keeper Alert: Jered Weaver
It will be interesting to see if Weaver can maintain his high strikeout rate from this season. Even if it falls back to his career rate of 7.82 per nine, Weaver is one of the better pitchers in the American League. With nothing suggesting his 3.01 ERA was a product of luck, the 28-year-old appears to be entering the prime of his career.
2011 Regression Alert: Dan Haren
When the Angels acquired Haren, he was 7-8 with 4.60 ERA in 21 starts for Arizona. However, we informed you that Haren was due for some positive regression. With an above-average strikeout rate (9.0 K/9) and a minuscule walk rate (1.85 BB/9), the righty was getting some ridiculous bad luck on BABIP (.350) and home runs (1.47 HR/9). Although his Ks dropped (7.18 K/9) and his walks increased a bit (2.39 BB/9) as a member of the Angels, his home run rate was lowered to 0.77 per nine while his BABIP dropped to a manageable .286. The normalization of those two stats gave him a 2.87 ERA in 14 starts with the Angels. You can expect more of the same in 2011, even while others balk at his inflated overall numbers.
For more on Jered Weaver and the Angels pitching staff, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By R.J. Anderson //
Biggest Surprise: Jake Westbrook
Acquired at the trade deadline in a three-way deal, Westbrook excelled in his 12 starts with the Cardinals, following in the footsteps of other veteran pitchers paired with St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan. Lasting 75 innings with a 2.29 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 3.48 ERA, he deserved better than a 4-4 record. A free-agent-to-be, Westbrook may or may not return to St. Louis; his performance certainly may have endeared him to some new potential suitors.
Biggest Bust: Kyle Lohse
Owner of mediocre seasons in the past, this one is on another level. Lohse endured a forearm injury while making only 18 starts. His 4-8 record and 6.55 ERA look bad, but his peripherals suggest his ERA should’ve been in the 4-5 range. Expect Lohse to be better next season, if only because he can’t be much worse.
2011 Keeper Alert: Adam Wainwright
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 24-plus months, then no explanation is required. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball (7th in Pitching Wins Above Replacement this season) and should continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
2011 Regression Alert: Jeff Suppan
Suppan had a 3.84 ERA for the Cardinals. Let that sink in for a moment. Okay, now consider that Suppan’s seasonal ERA was 5.06. Believe it or not, 70% of his innings came with the Cards, and yet his nightmare performance with the Brewers still capsized his season. He’s not quite as bad as the 7.84 ERA with the Brew Crew, but he’s also not nearly as good as his 3.84 mark. Expect an ERA near 5 over a full season of starts (he’s at 4.69 for his career) with whomever decides he’s worthy of a roster spot next year. Just don’t let it be your fantasy team.
For more on the Cardinals, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise: Edwin Jackson
Ever the tease with his talents, Edwin Jackson looked like a top pitcher in his time with the White Sox. In 11 starts on the south side, E-Jax went 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA. Even more impressive, he struck out 77 batters and walked just 18 in 75 innings. Without many fluky stats, and under Don Cooper’s instruction, maybe, just maybe, Jackson is finally living up to the hype.
Biggest Bust: Bobby Jenks
Since saving a career-best 41 games in 2006, Jenks has seen his saves and innings totals drop in each subsequent season. This year he saved just 27 games and tossed 53.1 innings. He dealt with injuries and landed in Ozzie Guillen’s doghouse throughout the season on his way to a career-worst 4.44 ERA.
2011 Keeper Alert: Chris Sale
When the 2010 season started Sale was a starting pitcher for Florida Gulf Coast College. He ended it as a relief pitcher in the Chicago White Sox bullpen. Chicago’s first-round pick in this June’s draft made just 11 minor league appearances before his call-up. The tall, lanky lefty was impressive in 21 appearances – going 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA and four saves. With a mid-90s heater, he struck out 32 batters in just 23 innings. His role for 2011 has yet to be determined (the White Sox drafted him as a starter), but he has a chance to thrive in either role.
2011 Regression Alert: Bobby Jenks
Despite mediocre traditional stats, Jenks had a good season in several peripheral categories. He struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings while walking just 3.1. With favorable control rates, he allowed just three home runs in over 50 innings. Jenks was extremely unlucky on batting average on balls in play: His .368 BABIP was well above the league average of .302 as well as his career number of .306. His future in Chicago is uncertain, but Jenks is a prime bounceback candidate in 2011, assuming he hasn’t lost the faith of his manager.
For more on Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox pitching staff, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.