June 2011

Albert Pujols Out 4-6 Weeks; Who Are Possible Replacements?

By Tommy Rancel //

When Albert Pujols left the field clutching his left wrist this weekend, millions of fantasy owners across the world felt his pain. Despite the “down” season, the three-time National League MVP was hitting .279 with 17 home runs and 45 RBI thus far. The 17 home runs were third best in the NL while the 45 RBI were good enough for a top-10 ranking. In the month of June, Pujols began to turn it on with a .317 batting average to go along with eight home runs and a slugging percentage of .778!

Pujols owners scrambling to the waiver wire know they will not find anything close to the machine – even in season where he has not been at his best. Nevertheless, the search for lost production must begin somewhere.  With that in mind, here are a few names to keep in mind…

Casey Kotchman – Because of his market (Tampa Bay) and the fact that he has yet to qualify for the batting leaderboards, Kotchman’s 2011 has largely flown under the radar. After an abysmal 2010 in Seattle, the local product is hitting .345 with an OPS of .878 through 57 games. Kotchman will not provide you with much power (three home runs), and some question how long he can continue to hit for a high average; however, as a temporary solution, his long-term output does not matter. It also helps that he is available in most mixed leagues and will not require a trade.

Mark Trumbo – The addition of Russell Branyan has cut into Trumbo’s playing time, but not to the point where you shouldn’t consider him as the Angels’ primary first baseman. He is available in nearly half the standard mixed leagues, and unlike Kotchman, he is a source of power in Pujols’ absence. His batting average and on-base percentage are lackluster, but he has hit 25 extra-base hits including 12 home runs. Depending on your team’s needs, Kotchman (average and on-base percentage) and Trumbo (power) are quick fixes for cheap in most standard mixed leagues.

Anthony Rizzo – In NL-Only leagues and those with 18-plus teams, the options are less fruitful. Meanwhile, a young slugger like Anthony Rizzo could be available with plenty of upside. San Diego’s first baseman of the future registered three hits in his first three games; however, logged just one hit over the past week. While his bat has gone cold, the rookie has shown a fantastic eye at the plate which should keep his slumps relatively short. A beast in the minor leagues, his power may take a dip in Petco park, but the upside and availability in deep leagues makes him a target nonetheless.

For more on Albert Pujols and potential options check out Bloomberg Sports Free-Agent Finder and Trade Analyzer

Closer Report: The Next In Line

The Future Closers

BY ROB SHAW

@RobShawSports

Al Alburquerque, RP, Tigers

With 40 strikeouts in just 24 innings, Alburquerque is striking out batters at a historic pace.  He is a bit wild with 16 walks, but it’s a battle for the opposition to even put a bat on the ball.  I don’t think he’ll be closing by year’s end, but somewhere down the line someone is bound to give this 24-year old a shot at shutting the door.

 

Antonio Bastardo, RP, Phillies

This 25-year old southpaw is equally effective against right-handers and left-handers.  He has not surrendered a run in his last 11 appearances; in fact, he has allowed just one hit over that period.  If Ryan Madson were to falter, I think Bastardo would pick up the saves for the Phillies.

 

Brian Sanches, RP, Marlins

While Marlins closer Leo Nunoz has hit a wall, Brian Sanches is cruising with a 1.93 ERA.  The 32-year old veteran may not be the most attractive long-term option in Miami, but he has been the most effective over the last two seasons.  In 2010, Sanchez offered a 2,26 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP.  He can get wild at times and he has yet to pick up a save throughout his entire career, but if judging on results this season, Sanchez is the best relief option for the Marlins.

 

Daniel Bard, RP, Red Sox

Though he only boasts five career saves, there is a lot to like about Daniel Bard.  He strikes out more than a batter per inning, he has immaculate control, and the opposition can’t touch him.  He may be the very reason why the Red Sox have not locked up current closer Jonathan Papelbon to a long-term extension.  If Papelbon struggles, don’t be surprised to see the Red Sox turn to Bard a year earlier than expected.

 

David Hernandez, RP, Diamondbacks

Many baseball fans thought the Diamondbacks were crazy for trading away a slugging corner infielder in return for a couple of live arms that neither started or closed games.  However, at this moment the D-Backs front office looks brilliant as David Hernandez, a failed starter with the Orioles, is dominating in middle relief in the desert.

 

A scoreless inning on Thursday night resulted in his third win of the season, while lowering his ERA to 2.73.  Hernandez still has some work to do on his control, but he throws in the high 90s racking up plenty of strikeouts while limiting the amount of hits he surrenders.  Should the injury-prone JJ Putz miss some time due to injury, Hernandez will add to his total of two saves this season.

 

Is 2011 the Year of the Reliever?

By E. Gardner //

Time to give relievers some love.

It’s no secret that in the past few seasons, pitching has gotten stronger. One trend that hasn’t been remarked upon in 2011 is that relievers as a class are having a banner year.

Relievers are known as a fickle bunch, and sure, there’s been some attention paid to the closer carousel for the Dodgers, Blue Jays, Cardinals, among other teams, but overall, closers are having a pretty solid season. There’s currently 17 pitchers on pace for 35 saves. Last season, only 11 ended up with that total. Among the 17 pitchers who are on that 35-save pace, every single one of them has an ERA under 4.

But it’s not just closers who are providing value this season.

Throughout baseball, relievers this season have an ERA at 3.65. That compares to the collective ERA of starters at 3.94.

Compare this to last year: In 2010, relievers had an ERA at 3.93; starters had an ERA at 4.15.

In other words, the ERA of starters have dropped two tenths of a run, but the ERA of relievers have dropped nearly four tenths of a run.

Perhaps the most valuable reliever this season was hardly drafted, is still not universally owned, doesn’t have many saves, and yet, according to nearly every player rater measuring value in fantasy leagues, is atop such pitchers as Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, and Tim Lincecum.

We’re talking about Jonny Venters, and if you don’t believe us about his value in 2011 to date, check out ESPN’s player rater for confirmation.

Venters currently has a microscopic ERA at 0.618, an infinitesimal WHIP at 0.8015, and is also contributing in wins (4) and saves (3). His 47 strikeouts this season (in under 44 innings) are also impressive. It’s only two less than teammate and Cy Young candidate Jair Jurrjens.

But Venters isn’t alone.

For those looking for help in ERA, there are pitchers like Mike Adams, Eric O’Flaherty, Aaron Crow, and Antonio Bastardo, who all rank as top-25 contributors in the category this season — even with diminished innings. These guys are available in most leagues.

For those looking for help in WHIP, there are pitchers like Daniel Bard and Tyler Clippard who are producing more in WHIP than even the most elite starters. Again, these guys come free in most leagues.

Undoubtedly, as pitching has grown stronger in baseball, fantasy competitors must chase an ERA in the low-3’s and a WHIP around 1.2 to be successful. Leaning on elite relievers has grown more important than ever.

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

Are They Hall of Famers? Part 2: Helton, Damon, Ortiz, Reyes, Crawford, Cabrera, Verlander, and Sabathia

Are They Hall of Famers?

Part 2

Johnny Damon- Labeled clutch, a winner, and one of the top leadoff hitters of his generation, it is surprising to learn that Johnny Damon has only made two All-Star appearances over his 17-year career.  That tells us that Damon was never the dominant left-fielder of his generation, and will likely put an end to his bid for a spot in the Hall of Fame.  However, the door is not closed yet.

 

Damon is just 357 hits shy of 3,000 for his career and he does not appear to be slowing down that much either.  Other personal milestones that will shortly be reached are 1600 hits and 400 steals.  If Damon can hand around for another three seasons, his longevity as well as his World Series heroics may result in a Hall of Fame plaque.

 

Todd Helton- A .324 career average screams Hall of Fame worthy.  However, for the first time Hall of Fame voters will have to take into account the Coors Field impact.  Helton is a .355 career hitter at home compared to just .292 on the road.  Also, when it comes to power 209 home runs were swatted at home, compared to 133 on the road.

 

So Helton is a dominant first baseman when playing at home, but more of a Mark Grace type hitter when on the road.  Considering he failed to reach any of the common Hall of Fame milestones such as 3,000 hits or 500 home runs, I do not see Helton as a Hall of Famer.

 

David Ortiz- As a long-time designated hitter, David Ortiz would need at least 500 home runs in order to gain admission to the Hall of Fame.  Considering he is currently 134 home runs shy of that total and has been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, Ortiz will likely have to settle as a Red Sox legend, but not a Hall of Famer.

 

On the Path:

 

Roy Halladay- The dominant pitcher of his era, Halladay has won two Cy Young awards and won 20 or more games on three occasions.  With 178 wins compared to just 89 losses, Halladay will probably need just another season or two of dominance to win over the Hall of Fame voters.

 

CC Sabathia- A very durable ace for the Yankees, Sabathia has the best chance of 300 wins with 165 already under his belt.  He will need another four or five 15-18 win seasons to guarantee a spot in the Hall of Fame.

 

Justin Verlander- So far so good for this young hurler.  Verlander has been durable and dominant.  He has put together a couple of no-hitters, won an AL Rookie of the Year, and made three All-Star teams.  The problem with Verlander is that he is so young, so he’ll need to stay healthy and effective for another 6-8 years.

 

Carl Crawford- A move to Boston should only help his chances.  Crawford has a Gold Glove, four All-Star appearances, more than 1500 hits and 400 steals, which is incredible for someone just 29 years old.  As long as he stays healthy, Crawford has every chance of making the Hall of Fame as one of the most consistent hitters of his generation.

 

Jose Reyes- Despite all of the injuries zapping Jose Reyes over the years, the 28-year old shortstop compares well to Carl Crawford.  He has made three All-Star games and will have every chance of making many more.

 

If he can hit around .300 for a good five to six years while hitting at the top of the lineup with 100-plus runs and 40-plus steals, Reyes will boast some very impressive numbers by the time he reaches his mid-30s.  It’s a gamble on his durability, but I see Reyes making the Hall of Fame.

 

Miguel Cabrera- Though he has yet to win an MVP, Miguel Cabrera has been a dominant player through his first eight seasons.  He will need at least four or five more in order to be considered for the Hall of Fame, but the good news is that at just 28-years old, Cabrera could end up playing another ten seasons assuming he stays healthy.

 

 

Are They Hall of Famers? Part 1: Chipper, Thome, Vladimir, Vizquel, Posada

Are They Hall of Famers?

Part 1

Definitely:

 

Derek Jeter- Just six hits away from 3,000 hits, plus the high average and World Series heroics, Jeter is a first ballot Hall of Famer.

 

Chipper Jones- The dominant third baseman of his era, Chipper Jones was not just a winner, but he posted All-Star production annually.  Jones has already surpassed 440 home runs and 2500 hits, all while batting .305 for his career.  It will also be interesting to see how long Jones plays considering he remains one of the top bats in the Braves lineup to this date.

 

Jim Thome- Just seven home runs shy of 600 home runs, Thome has never been linked to steroid abuse.

 

Ivan Rodriguez- His extended career has driven down his batting average, but Pudge was as dominant a catcher as we’ve seen.  He is just 162 hits shy of 3,000 with 311 career home runs, all from a catcher who was also best known for defense.

 

Ichiro- One of the greatest hitters to ever take the field, had Ichiro come to the States sooner, he probably would have challenged Pete Rose’s all-time record for hits.

 

Albert Pujols- He has dominated the Majors for 10 seasons, which is enough already to warrant inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

 

Mo Rivera- The greatest closer of all-time, Rivera has kept his ERA sub-2.00 for seven of the last eight seasons.  He is just 25 saves shy of 600 for his career.  By the time he retires, he may have 700 under his belt.

 

Up for Debate:

 

Vladimir Guerrero- An MVP who has played in nine All-Star games and boasts a .318 career average.  Guerrero may have been a DH late in his career, but in his prime he boasted the best arm in baseball.  He offered a great blend of power and speed, all while hitting for a high average.  He was the dominant right-fielder of his era.

 

Alex Rodriguez- This is not about the statistics, but whether the Hall of Fame voters are willing to enshrine an admitted steroid abuser.  The counter argument is that he played the second half of his career clean at a Hall of Fame level.

 

Jorge Posada- Certainly one of the top catchers of his era, but by no means the dominant catcher (think Pudge, Piazza, and Mauer).  That explains why he only played in five All-Star games throughout his career.  While Posada will get plenty of credit for playing on a winner, it is worth noting that the Yankees catcher was actually at his worst when it came to playing in the post-season.  His career statistics don’t measure up to Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter.  I don’t see Posada as a Hall of Famer, though he will be honored plenty by the Yankees for years to come.

 

Omar Vizquel- Still playing in the Major Leagues as a surprisingly high level, Omar Vizquel is a very underrated shortstop who is worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown.  He dominated defensively during his era with 11 gold-glove awards, while also making three All-Star teams.

 

Vizquel compares very well to Ozzie Smith, but lacks the big personality.  Vizquel has accumulated 1,423 runs, 2,823 hits, and 401 steals while batting .273 for his career.  Not bad at all for someone who earned his paycheck with his fielder’s glove.

 

Unless he reaches 3,000 career hits by the time he retires, I see Vizquel hanging on the Hall of Fame ballot for nearly a decade before he finally earns the ticket to Cooperstown.

The Legend of Ruggiano?

By R.J. Anderson //

It wasn’t too long ago when Sam Fuld was the darling of the baseball community. Fuld, a small speedy outfielder with an interesting back story, took the league by storm with a combination of base hits and defensive wizardry. Since then, a massive slump has left Fuld on the bench and another longtime minor league outfielder in the spotlight.

The Rays acquired Justin Ruggiano in a 2006 trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Texas A&M product looked to be a throw-in with the chance to turn into a bench player down the road, but attitude and performance issues led to him being removed from the 40-man roster in the spring. Out of options, but clearly not optimism, Ruggiano put in his work at Triple-A, hitting .301/.382/.514 with six home runs in 167 plate appearances.  Ruggiano is encroaching on 50 plate appearances and has an OPS over 1000 and three home runs to show for it so far, leading some to wonder whether they should try to ride the wave, much like they did with Fuld.

It’s a risky proposition, more so in Ruggiano’s case than Fuld, because of the timing. With the Super Two date quickly passing, Brandon Guyer—who was already recalled once this season—could be in line for a promotion. Not only that, but arguably the Rays top prospect, Desmond Jennings—should arrive in St. Petersburg within the next four weeks, and the only logical spot for him to play is left field, unless the Rays trade B.J. Upton by then.

In danger of stating the obvious: Ruggiano is not going to keep this pace up. His career Triple-A line is .289/.362/.472 and he has proved prone to the strikeout. It’s a nice story, and for a short-term fix, he could provide some power, but don’t start sewing the Legend of Ruggiano shirts just yet.

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

Thinking Ahead: The Trade Deadline and Bullpens

by Eno Sarris // 

The MLB trade deadline isn’t for another six weeks. That doesn’t mean that it won’t make waves in fantasy baseball sooner than that. There are a couple players in particular that are very likely to move. With these players, it makes sense for both teams to make the trade sooner rather than later in order to get the most value, whether it be in prospects or production.

The Padres are nine games out and at the bottom of the National League West division. Their closer, Heath Bell, is a one of the elite bullpen arms in baseball. He’s also a free agent at the end of the year and is already the highest-paid player on a cash-strapped team. Former GM Jim Bowden recently said that Bell is the player most likely to be traded, and with good reason it seems.

Behind Bell are a couple arms worth owning if he’s going to leave town. Most likely, Mike Adams is next in line. The righty is working on his fourth straight year with more than a strikeout per inning. He also has great control. That mix has produced a 1.71 ERA over that time span — he’s really good. There is one caveat with the 32-year-old, however: he’s only under team control for one more year. Luke Gregerson, on the other hand, is under control for three more years and is also excellent. He’s managed a strikeout per inning over the first three years of his career, and even if his ERA isn’t as pristine as Adams’ (3.14), he gets good ground balls (48.1% career) and has one of the best sliders in the game. If only he was healthy — a strained oblique has felled him at the wrong moment. Then again, Gregerson uses his slider almost twice as much as his fastball, and some of my recent research has shown that heavy slider usage can lead to injury. Adams is the safer pick overall.

In New York, the Mets are eight games back. Even if they only have two teams in front of them, one of them has an historic rotation and the other is stacked with young talent. Add in some much-publicized monetary issues, and it just doesn’t seem like the Mets need Francisco Rodriguez to stick around. The sticking point is a $17.5 million vesting option for next year, and a limited no-trade that allows him to block a trade to ten mystery teams. But if the Mets can find a team that’s not on the list and has an established closer (in order to keep his option from vesting), there’s an immediate match, and the team is highly motivated to make such a deal.

Behind Rodriguez, there isn’t an easy solution. Well, there is, but it isn’t very forward-looking. 38-year-old reclamation project Jason Isringhausen is the obvious set-up man and the team leader in holds. Some fans have hopes for Bobby Parnell as the closer of the future, but the flame-thrower has terrible control. No other reliever has stepped to the fore, although hometown hero Pedro Beato has an interesting pitching mix. He still doesn’t have the strikeout punch of a closer right now, though. Even with Isringhausen’s mediocre strikeout and walk rates, and advanced age, he’s probably the dude once K-Rod leaves town.

The trade deadline comes July 31st. By thinking ahead, you might just own two newly minted closers by then.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com

Three Fantasy Sleepers, and An Injury Report on Jeter, Santana, and Zimmerman

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox

After a slow start to the season Jarrod Saltalamacchia is red-hot for the Red Sox.  He is batting .400 this month with a home run, two doubles, and a triple.  His season average is now a respectable .252 with five home runs.  Remember, as bad as he was early in the season, Salty was once a mega prospect who was traded for Mark Teixiera.  He may never reach that potential, but if he can hit .280 with 15 home runs in Boston, the run production will pile up.  My only warning is that his defense is still not very good, so it will remain a platoon with Jason Varitek. 

 

Charlie Blackmon, OF, Rockies

Lost in the rookie rush a few days ago was the call-up of Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon.  A former second round pick out of Georgia Tech, the 24-year old has the highly sought combination of power and speed.  He was hitting .337 in Colorado Springs with 10 home runs and 12 steals.  With Dexter Fowler injured, Blackmon will enjoy a shot at playing everyday.  If he contributes, look for him to become an everyday player, which means tons of fantasy value. 

 

Carlos Carrasco, SP, Indians

Before the season began we asked Jay Levine from LetsgoTribe.com who was the top hurler on the staff and he surprised us with Carlos Carrasco.  At first we questioned his call since Carrasco was just 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA through six starts into the season, but since then, Carrasco has gone 5-1 while lowering his ERA to 4.09.  He has not allowed a run in either of his two starts while fanning season highs six and then seven batters.  What was most impressive about his last win was that it came in Yankee Stadium against the hot-hotting Bombers.  At just 24 years old, Carrasco is a great long-term investment. 

 

Injuries-

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals

After more than a month on the DL, Ryan Zimmerman will be activated to play tonight.  Zimmerman was batting .357 through eight games when he got hurt.  His presence should help the entire lineup that has struggled to replace their third baseman as well as their injured first baseman Adam LaRoche. 

 

Johan Santana, SP, Mets

The idea was for the Mets to simply be competitive for the next few weeks until David Wright, Ike Davis, and Johan Santana returned.  Well it looks like Johan is not on the path to recovery as fast as we all thought.  He has been dealing with soreness and now at the earliest, the Mets ace will not make it back until August.  By then, a lot of his teammates could be traded. 

 

Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees

What does it mean that Derek Jeter is nearing 3,000 hits.  Sure, he’s an all-time great, but he is also really old at 36-years old.  Well age may have gotten the better of him this week as he strained his calf.  This makes the guessing game even harder to play about when he will hit number 3,000.  My guess is that because of his age the Yankees will be conservative and place him on the DL, though this could end up being just a day-to-day issue.  My guess is that the New York media will keep you updated on his status. 

 

What To Do With Alex Rios

Alex Rios continues to be head-scratcher for fantasy owners. Blessed with five-tool talent, Rios has shown flashes of brilliance along with extended periods of little to no production. After a poor 2009 season, Bloomberg Sports pegged Rios as a rebound candidate in 2010. He responded by hitting .284/.334/.457 with 21 home runs and 34 stolen bases.

Once again, he looked like a rare combination of power and speed that could provide value in extra-base hits, steals, and runs scored. That was until the 2011 season started. Thus far, Rios is hitting just .211 with a .573 OPS. He has been one of the worst everyday players in the majors despite hitting in an offensively friendly environment. That being said, he is a prime target if you like getting players who are worth more than their current value.

Accompanying his career-low .211 batting average is also a career-worst .224 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Far too often people will look at a player’s BABIP and make a case for good or bad luck based on that one metric alone. In this case, it does appear Rios has been unlucky. Here is why…

In terms of batted-ball data (line drives, groundballs, flyballs) Rios is largely the same hitter he has always been. Looking at line drives – the type of balls that fall most for hits – he is actually hitting more liners this year than he did in 2010. This could be some classification bias as liners are sometime misclassified as flyballs and vice versa; however, all of his rates are within career norms.

In addition to the batted-ball information, Rios is showing similar plate discipline. His walk rate is in line with his career number and he has actually cut down his strikeout rate quite a bit. He is also making more contact and whiffing on fewer pitches.

According to the pitch values listed on Fangraphs.com, Rios has struggled with fastballs this year. As a player hits the other side of 30, this could be a concern. Meanwhile, Rios continues to make contact with heaters so it doesn’t appear as if his bat has slowed up enough to be a legit concern right now.

Like 2009, there is a chance that Rios’ slow start turns into a season-long slump. On the other hand, there are signs to point in the direction of positive regression. If you can get Rios at his lowest, the potential reward of that batting average regression – which also means potential increases statistics like steals and runs – outweighs whatever little value you have to toss back to his current owner.

Bloomberg Sports Waiver Report: Niese, Uehara, Norris, Villanueva, Venters

Koji Uehara, RP, OriolesHe may not have any saves so far this season, but Koji Uehara remains the most underrated reliever in baseball. Why? How about a 2.20 ERA and startling 0.80 WHIP? Throughout his career, Uehara boasts 138 K’s to just 23 walks, and the ratio is 35:6 this season. He doesn’t let anyone on base, which minimizes the damage. He won’t help in wiuns or saves, but in ERA, WHIP, and K’s, Uehara is a must add.

Jon Niese, SP, MetsEveryone is talking about Mets rookie Dillon Gee and his splendid 7-0 record, but the better pitcher in my mind is southpaw Jon Niese. Ignore the 5-5 record, Niese has won four of his last five decisions. Over his last five starts Niese has surrendered just five earned runs, cutting his ERA from 5.03 to just 3.51 this season. Niese also gets plenty of K’s, making a solid fantasy pickup.

Bud Norris, SP, AstrosIf in need of a short-term pickup, get to know Astros right-hander Bud Norris. Despite a 4-4 record, Norris is a strikeout artist who averages a K per inning. He also has won his last two starts and on Tuesday has a favorable match-up against the Pirates. Norris is a fine start at home, where his record is 12-8 with a 3.76 ERA.

Carlos Villanueva, SP/RP, Blue JaysA long-time middle reliever for the Brewers, Carlos Villanueva is enjoying a second crack at starting with the Blue Jays. The 27-year old veteran enters the week with a 4-0 record and 3.09 ERA. Most impressively, Villanueva boasts a 0.99 WHIP due to a .196 opposing average. I don’t view this success as long-term, but more a result of the opposition not being familiar with the long-time National Leaguer.

Jonny Venters, RP, BravesWhile I pointed to Koji Uehara as the most underrated reliever in baseball, the best one these days is Braves eighth inning option Jonny Venters. The southpaw dominated last season to the tune of a 1.95 ERA and 93 K’s in 83 innings. He has actually improved this season, allowing just two runs to score in 40.2 innings. He has recently enjoyed some save opportunities with Craig Kimbrell struggling. He is a must-add in deep leagues, though odds are he has already been taken.

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