May 2011

The 35 & Up Club: Berkman, Helton, Ortiz, Lowe, Colon

May be you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. On the other hand, there are a few old dogs in the Major Leagues that are up to their old tricks. Here are five players 35 years of age or older who are producing at a high level. But how long can they keep it up? And what you should do if they are on your roster?

Lance Berkman

Berkman, 35, appeared on our surprise leaderboard list a few weeks ago. Although he has come back to earth recently, he came into Monday night’s games with a season slash line of .347/.434/.694. In just 36 games, he has 11 home runs and 34 RBI – second most in the league. In 122 games last season, he had just 14 home runs and drove in 58. Looking at his current .333 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) compared to his career .317 mark, Berkman’s hot streak appears to be more legit than fluke. The home runs may cool down a bit, but even if they do, he can rack up doubles. After looking done toward the end of last season, Berkman is a keeper in 2011.

Todd Helton

A fixture in the Rockies’ lineup since 1998, Helton is showing more power than we have seen in recent seasons. The 35-year-old belted his sixth home run on Sunday after hitting just eight in 2010. In fact, you’ll have to back to 2005 to find the last 20 home run season from Helton. His home run-to-flyball rate is a bit above average; however, 20 home runs look like a possibility once again for him. Meanwhile, Helton’s .325 average should not come as a surprise to anyone. He has not been a source for runs (17) or run production (19 RBI), but if you need average and gap power, he excels at both.

David Ortiz

In early 2009, it looked as if Ortiz, 35, was finished as a middle of the order threat in the Red Sox lineup. Fast forward to 2011 and Ortiz has a chance for his seventh 30-plus home run season since moving to Boston in 2003. Big Papi is also hitting for a high average (.295) with a sustainable BABIP (.298) despite the overshifting by opposing defenses. A large portion of that is due to a massive cut down in strikeout rates. As the top of the Red Sox order improves, his RBI chances will increase, only adding to his value.

Derek Lowe

One of the more durable pitchers of the last decade, Lowe has averaged 205 innings and 15 wins over the past nine seasons. This season, Lowe is striking out nearly a batter per inning after increasing the usage of his cut-fastball and slider. His 3.73 ERA appears sustainable and his groundball rate is once again amongst the league leaders. In a division where he is easily overlooked, Lowe, 37, remains one of the most consistent performers in fantasy leagues & real life as well.

Bartolo Colon

One of the more intriguing storylines in 2011, Colon has been a pleasant surprise in the New York Yankees rotation. Colon sat out the 2010 season, but has racked up 41 strikeouts in 43.1 innings with New York while maintaining a 3.74 ERA in the American League East. The results have been favorable for Colon thus far; however, one must question how long he can sustain this level of success. There isn’t much fluke in his numbers, but, his health remains a big question mark and his strikeout seems unstable considering he is getting a lot of called strikes. If you can afford to sell high, Colon is a good candidate.

–Tommy Rancel

For access to the top baseball analytics and fantasy tool Bloomberg Sports Front Office visit BloombergSports.com

Bloomberg Sports Waiver Wire Report: Helton, Lucroy, Porcello, Salas, and Posada

Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies
The 36-year old first baseman is having a blast from the past with six home runs, 19 RBI, and a .325 average. He has 3 homers in the last four games and now is just two shy of last year’s total of eight home runs.

Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers
This 24-year old backstop is red-hot with a six game hit streak that includes 10 hits, 2 homers, and 9 RBI. He is now hitting .329 on the season. Lasts eason he hit just .256 with four homers, but this is a guy who once hit 20 homers in a season in the Minor Leagues.

Rick Porcello, SP, Tigers
At 22 years old, Porcello already has 27 wins under his belt, and he is currently riding three straight wins. Over his last 5 starts, Porcello has surrendered just 7 earned runs, and while he does not get many strikeouts, he has offered a solid 3.67 ERA.

Fernando Salas/ Mitchell Boggs
The Cardinal’s closer’s gig is back on the market after Eduardo Sanchez blew a few saves. There are two names to know right now. Fernando Salas is a 25-year old hurler who boasts a 1.15 ERA this season with three saves. He gets about a strikeout per inning, and the opposition is hitting .170 off him. Then there is Mitchell Boggs a 27-year old flame-thrower with a 19-4 strikeout to walk ratio this season. He also has three saves, but his ERA is up to 3.66 and he struggled when initially handed the job a few weeks back.

Jorge Posada, C, Yankees
As if a .165 batting average wasn’t enough to keep him humble, Jorge Posada then asked out of the lineup when he was slotted to hit ninth on a nationally televised Saturday game against the Red Sox. He regrets the decision, and he won’t be punished thanks to his tremendous career in pinstripes. However, it does bring greater attention to the Yankees DH slot. If he does not get his average north of .200 by the end of the week, he is bound to lose his job. He already sits against southpaws, as he hasn’t had a hit in 24 at bats against them this season. Posada actually hit .257 against southpaws last year with a .493 slugging percentage, which is higher than what he offered against right-handers, so the fact that he is now getting benched against southpaws looks more like an excuse to take him out of the lineup.

Kansas City Royals Eric Hosmer Blasts Yankees, Carlos Beltran Update

Bloomberg Sports Anchors Rob Shaw and Michele Steele visit Yankee Stadium where they meet with Royals top prospect Eric Hosmer.

Shaw talks with Hosmer about his first career home run taking place at Yankee Stadium and the incredible talent development taking place at Kansas City.

Next, Shaw discusses another former top prospect for the Royals, Carlos Beltran. Shaw explains how Beltran has changed his game, and yet still is a player of fantasy significance.

For more fantasy baseball insight, visit BloombergSports.com.

Deciphering The Hype of Five Rays

 By R.J. Anderson //

The Rays season has been remarkable. After starting 0-6 while losing Evan Longoria to injury and Manny Ramirez to retirement, Tampa Bay has somehow rebounded and is fighting it out with the Yankees for first place in the early stages of May. Five players in particular are having standout beginnings—but are they for real?

1. Ben Zobrist

2. James Shields

3. Kyle Farnsworth

4. Matt Joyce

5. Casey Kotchman

Zobrist is mystifying. After a power-laced 2009, his 2010 was a shot back to reality—or at least it appeared. Now, Zobrist is back to hitting for power with an ISO that exceeds his 2009 tally (.282 versus .246). Zobrist’s batting average on balls in play is higher than usual (.313 as opposed to a career .280 mark), but his home run per flyball rate matches his 2008-2009 total (around 17-18 percent), so there is some reason to think he can continue to hit for home runs, even if his batting average slips.

After a rough 2010, Shields is back to being Shields. Always solid, Shields has embraced a new style of pitching by leaning heavily on his secondary offerings earlier in the count. The results so far have led to a reduced home run rate and a tick more groundballs. Expecting Shields to only give up a home run every 18 or so innings is a bit much moving forward, but he should finish with at least 12-to-15 victories.

There were questions over whether Farnsworth could handle a closing gig, but so far everything has been fine. In fact, Farnsworth went the entire month of April without walking a single batter (although his first walk came at a poor time—with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in a tied game). Farnsworth is unlikely to hold down an earned run average below 0.75 all season, but is on a good pace to top 30 saves.

Meanwhile, Joyce has been one of the best hitters in the American League so far. He is doing it all—hitting for average, power, and getting on base. Joyce isn’t going to keep up the 956 OPS pace all year, but he will get all the starts against righties and a few against select lefties. Think of him as the AL version of Seth Smith and grab him if he is available.

As good as those guys have been and project to be, avoid Kotchman if possible. Kotchman’s early season line might look like a renaissance, but in reality, he is the same guy as before. A groundball fiend, Kotchman isn’t reliable for power output, and although his batting average on groundballs is holding steady so far, it exceeds his career output and league average by enough to think regression will knock his value down multiple pegs. Maybe take a chance on him in an AL-only league, otherwise, be weary of trying to ride a hot hand.

For access to the top baseball analytics and fantasy tool Bloomberg Sports Front Office visit BloombergSports.com

Ted Lilly: Flawed But Useful?

By Eno Sarris //

The story on Ted Lilly has been fairly consistent over his career: fly-ball control-type pitcher with a great curveball, a decent slider, and a placeholder fastball. That sort of pitcher often is flawed but useful. Usually pitchers like Lilly will have poor home-run rates, but while they keep baserunners to a minimum, they can also usually be helpful at the back end of a fantasy rotation. Vanilla ice cream has its’ place.

But with Ted Lilly in his 35th year on this planet, it’s fair to ask when this run of usefullnes will end. Right now, he’s showing the worst strikeout rate (5.89 K/) and fastball velocity (86.4 MPH) of his career. Even paired with a great home park as he is – Dodger Stadium can help some of his flyballs die on the warning track – no WHIP is low enough to play a pitcher with a mid-fours ERA.

The bad news first. Lilly is not likely to recover his career strikeout rate (7.67 K/9). His swinging strike rate has steadily been dropping along with his fastball velocity, down from double digits earlier in his career to 7.9% this year. Since 8.5% is average in that category, he’s now getting whiffs on fewer of his offerings than the average pitcher. And while this is a small sample, swinging strike rate is a per-pitch metric. That means it’s much closer to reliable than metrics that are based on the outcome of a single plate appearance.

Then comes the worse news. If he’s not getting whiffs on those curveballs and sliders like he used to, then those pitches will be put in play. If those balls are being put in play, they are most likely going to be fly balls given his historical fly ball rate (34%, and 44% is average across the league). And, going back to beginning of last year, the Dodgers have the worst outfield defense in the major leagues. Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and the cobbled-together left field group in Los Angeles have put together a -12.4 UZR/150 (a zone-based defensive metric), and even the second-worst Braves outfield is significantly better (-8.2 UZR/150).

We can’t look to his batting average on balls in play for much regression, then. Currently sitting at .326, it should move some, but BABIP is related to defense as well. The Dodgers are only turning 70.2% of their balls in play into outs, fourth-worst in the major leagues. We can’t expect Lilly’s BABIP to move towards his .273 career BABIP if his outfield is the worst in the majors and his entire defense is fourth-worst.

Lilly is still showing his trademarked control. Since he’s moved to the National League, even his worst walk rate has been significantly better than the national average (2.81 BB/9 in 2008, average is usually around 3.4). That 2.3 BB/9 since moving to the weaker league has helped him put up a 1.14 WHIP.

But as his fastball gets slower, and his offspeed pitches get fewer whiffs, his margin of error decreases. Once those balls are put into play, we know the defense behind him won’t help him much. Even spot-starting Ted Lilly at home is becoming an increasingly risky decision. Certainly avoid him on the road for now and don’t consider him much of a buy-low.

For access to the top fantasy baseball analytics visit BloombergSports.com.

(Vid) Behind the Numbers: Concussions, Umpiring & Evan Longoria

Umpires, Concussions & Evan Longoria

Hosts: Robert Shaw and Wayne Parillo

Behind the Numbers is a series of conversations and discussions with blog, sabermetric, and fantasy experts.

Watch the entire episode, or use the links below to jump to the exact point you want:

Guest: Jeff W Zimmerman

Writer Fangraphs.com and Royalsreview.com. Follow him at @jeffwzimmerman

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Top 5 Fantasy Pitchers of the Week: Wilson, Gorzelanny, Price, Hudson, and Garcia

1) Brian Wilson

2 wins, 3 saves, 7 K’s, 5 IP, 0 R (9 Straight shutout apps)

2) Tom Gorzelanny

2 wins, 15 IP, 10 K’s, 1.20 ERA(2.87 ERA, 0.90 WHIP)

3) Jaime Garcia

1 win, 9 IP, 8 K’s, 0 R, 0.33 WHIP (4-0, 1.99 ERA)

4) David Price

1 win, 8.2 IP, 10 K’s, 0 R, 0.46 WHIP (3.26 ERA, 1.13 WHIP)

5) Tim Hudson

1 win, 9 IP, 6 K’s, 0 R, 0.22 WHIP (2.86 ERA, 0.95 WHIP)

As far as the historic performances, have some more confidence in Francisco Liriano and Yovani Gallardo, they are good pitchers off to bad starts.  Justin Verlander is an absolute star and that’s why he was often my top pitcher in fantasy drafts.

The 10 Pitchers who Throw a First Pitch Strike

According to Bloomberg Sports, these are the pitchers who most often throw a first pitch strike:

Roy Halladay 73%
Michael Pineda 72%
Kyle Lohse 70%
Cliff Lee 69%
Chris Capuano 69%
Bronson Arroyo 69%
Brad Bergesen 69%
Ricky Nolasco 68%
Jeremy Guthrie 67%
Jason Vargas 67%

Bloomberg Sports Top 5 MLB Hitters of the Week

Top 5 MLB Hitters of the Week 5/2-5/8

1) Gaby Sanchez

13 hits in 28 at bats, 2 HR, 10 RBI (.328 AVG, 5 HR, 21 R)

2) Adrian Gonzalez

3 HR, 9 RBI, .321 AVG (.314 avg, 4 HR, 24 RBI)

3) Jacoby Ellsbury

6 runs, 5 steals, .387 AVG (.295 avg, 23 runs, 10 stl)

4) Erick Aybar

4 runs, 5 RBI, 4 steals, .406 AVG (Batting .356 with 8 Stl)

5) Vernon Wells

7 runs, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 1 STL (Batting just .179 this season)

 A View of the Diamond:  Derek Jeter- average of .276, 18 runs, riding a 6 game hit streak, he currently ranks 18th at his position, but he seems to be a streaky option, I would play him now, but he could be a platoon option.  Play him against southpaws, he is batting .333 against them this year, and play him in day games when he bats .326.

Padilla & Melancon Take Turns Closing

Another week means another round of changes at the closer position. The most volatile position in baseball has lived up the reputation this season. Even though we are still in the early stages of May, 39 different relievers have registered multiple saves in 2011. With the injuries to Jonathan Broxton and Brandon Lyon, that number will soon go over 40.

Broxton has been up and down as the Dodgers’ closer for quite some time. After temporarily losing the position last season, he has struggled to keep a firm grip on in thus far. An MRI showed no structural damage to his right elbow; however, revealed bone spurs and some bruising. Broxton will take a few weeks before throwing again which means his return will be longer than the 15 days he is required to miss.

With Hong-Chih Kuo returning from injury and Kenley Jansen continuing to struggle with wildness, the Dodgers will turn to former starter Vicente Padilla in the ninth. Padilla, 33, has started 237 career games and just three saves (2 came back in 2000 season). After starting 23 times for the Dodgers over the past two seasons, he has converted in to a full-time reliever in 2011.
In six appearances, he has allowed just one run and two hits in six innings of work. As a reliever, Padilla is throwing a bit harder, but we’ll see how he handles the conversion with more time. Don Mattingly did not hesitate to give the ball to Padilla, so his job seems safe for the foreseeable future.

The MRI results were not so kind to Houston Astros closer Brandon Lyon. After experiencing some weakness in his arm, an MRI showed Lyon had a partially torn rotator cuff, however, it will not require surgery at this time. Lyon had allowed nine run on 21 hits in just 11.1 innings of work.

In his place, Mark Melancon will handle the closing duties. The former New York Yankee came into 2011 with just 37.2 innings of major league experience. He already has 19 appearances with the Astros and earned his first career save this week.

Melancon throws a fastball in the mid-90s and racks up a lot of groundballs. This is a nice trait to have when you pitch in a home run friendly ballpark. The role is a temporary one right now, but considering Lyon’s struggles and the severity of the injury, Melancon could see an expanded look at the back end of the bullpen.

Both Padilla and Melancon are solid options if your team needs some bullpen help. Padilla pitches for the better team which means more save opportunities. Meanwhile, Melancon has the chance to get a longer look. If you need a quick boost in saves, Padilla is the choice. If you went cheap on closers in your draft and are looking for a long-term option, Melancon has more potential for that.

–Tommy Rancel

For access to the top baseball analytics and fantasy tool Bloomberg Sports Front Office visit BloombergSports.com

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