July 2011

As the Trade Deadline Looms: Bats on the Bubble

Wilson Betemit, 3B, Royals

An underrated hitter who blasted 13 home runs with a .297 average last year in part-time duty, Betemit is struggling a bit this season, perhaps frustrated by the fact that he is not an everyday player.  At 29 years old, Betemit can provide instant offense to a competitor.  There’s no room in Kansas City for him with rookie Mike Moustakas on the roster.

 Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets

One of the most sought after sluggers on the market, Carlos Beltran is having a heck of a season with 13 home runs and 58 RBI.  He could end up being a difference maker in San Francisco, where they are desperate for offense.  His numbers, however, will spike if he ends up with the Texas Rangers in a very favorable ballpark plus a stacked lineup, very different than what we’ve seen in New York.

 Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs

After a sensational June, Ramirez is having an even better July with five home runs and 11 RBI through 10 games.  He does have some leverage, as he can veto some trades, but it would strange for a slugger now 33 years old to reject a trade to a contender.  After all, the Cubs are way out of contention once again. 

 Jose Reyes, SS, Mets

He is the NL MVP who is bound to make his fortune this off-season, but yet again, the one thing that can slow him down has done exactly that: a hamstring injury.  Reyes should return in the coming weeks, and maybe it’s just optimism, but I think the move to shed the salary of K-Rod was done with full intentions of using that money on Reyes.  On the other hand, if the Mets get a sense that Reyes will not re-sign, he will be the biggest name moved by the deadline. 

 JJ Hardy, SS, Orioles

Now on his third team in three seasons, it is possible that JJ Hardy may find a fourth if he cannot come to terms with the Orioles for an extension.  The 28-year-old Arizona native is having a solid season with 13 home runs and a .278 average.  He has also offered the team a lift defensively.  Again, Hardy will only get traded if the O’s don’t lock him up to an extension.

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

As the Trade Deadline Looms: Taking a Look at Pitchers

Heath Bell, RP, Padres

One of the elite closers in baseball who made a heck of an entrance in the All-Star game, Bell is competing on a team that is out of contention and looking to shed salary.  If you have Bell on your fantasy team, you may want to trade him, because the odds are he’ll be offering middle relief to a contender by season’s end. 

 Erik Bedard, SP, Mariners

The often injured hurler is dealing with some knee pain right now, but when he’s be on the hill, Bedard has been extremely effective.  You can’t chalk it all up to the Safeco confines either, as his ERA is just 2.16 on the road.  The hard-throwing southpaw is just 32 years old, which may make the Yankees eager enough to take a flyer. 

 Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Rockies

We’ve heard his name on the rumor mill, but I doubt that he will actually be moved.  Jimenez is just 4-8 , but his 4.14 ERA and 1.30 WHIP aren’t all that bad when you consider where he pitches.  The Yankees would probably offer the farm for him, which may get the Rockies listening, but it will be very tough to move the ace of a team that is still in competition. 

 Jeremy Guthrie, SP, Orioles

Despite a 3-12 record, Guthrie has actually pitched well this season with a 4.18 ERA.  Guthrie has played his entire career with the O’s, and his record is 41-60, but at times he has looked like a second or third starter, and will offer a franchise quality innings.  A former first round pick, Guthrie is now 31 years old, so he’s not exactly a long-term investment. 

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

Francisco Rodriguez Traded to Milwaukee

by Eno Sarris //  

With a $17.5 million option looming over every game Francisco Rodriguez finished this year, the Mets chose to get out from under the money and traded their closer to Milwaukee for some players to be named later. While the move won’t mean much in Milwaukee, it does leave a vacuum in New York that must be filled.

John Axford will continue to close in Milwaukee unless he gets hurt. In many ways he’s been better than Rodriguez this year, and he’s much cheaper. K-Rod’s option vests if he finishes another twenty or so more games this year, and the Brewers can’t spend that money. Axford owners should not panic.

But in New York there’s a closer’s role change in the offing. The primary candidates are set, so let’s suss them out one by one.

Jason Isringhausen was the early favorite to be the next closer. He holds the team lead in holds and used to be the primary setup man. The fountain of youth has treated him to a sub-3.50 ERA after missing most of 2010 recovering from surgery. But look “closer” and the numbers don’t look as nice. His strikeout rate (6.59 K/9) and whiff rate (6.4%) are well below average for a reliever. He’s walking more than four per nine. He has a .213 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and he’s stranded 80% of runners, numbers that usually trend towards .300 and 70% respectively. As those numbers regress, he might have some struggles ahead.

Hometown hero Pedro Beato is tied for third in holds and has perhaps ‘deserved’ his low-threes ERA more than Izzy. At least, his BABIP is .224, but his strand rate is 52.4%. As both numbers regress, he might stay in about the same spot. The ‘problem’ with Beato is that he’s more of a ground-ball pitcher than a strikeout pitcher. He only strikes out 5.4 batters per nine, and even with a nice 2.7 BB/9 and 54.3% ground-ball rate, he doesn’t have the strikeout rate of a closer. Only one of the top 35 relievers sorted by saves has a strikeout rate well below six per nine, and Matt Capps is not a closer to emulate right now.

That leaves Bobby Parnell as the best option for the role. First, the negative. Parnell has had a career of showing great velocity (95 MPH average on his fastball) and poor control (3.82 BB/9 career). While he was only throwing the fastball and not striking people out (7.7 K/9 before this year), this was a problem. Now, the positive. Parnell is throwing his slider more than ever this year, and this has resulted in the best strikeout rate of his career (10.95 K/9). A recent stretch of better control (three walks since June first) has Parnell showing average control (3.28 BB/9). Strike out three batters for every one you walk, and you’re ready to be a closer. Especially if you’ve got a flamethrower of an arm.

Some Mets fans might doubt the fact that Parnell has the mentality to close. He has had some issues in the past. On the other hand, this year’s version looks like the best version, and the numbers say he’s the best option. Good luck hunting for saves.

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

Nunez Replaces Rodriguez in Yankee Lineup

By Tommy Rancel //

For the second time this season the New York Yankees are depending on 24-year-old Eduardo Nunez to fill some legendary shoes in their lineup. Nunez has appeared in 51 games this season – mostly as a fill in for Derek Jeter at shortstop where he has 24 starts. In 133 plate appearances this year young middle infielder is hitting .279/.318/.434.

When Jeter returned last week Nunez was sent back to the bench. That moved turned out to be a temporary one when Alex Rodriguez was injured. Rodriguez underwent successful surgery on his knee, but will be out for a reported six weeks. After filling in admirably for Jeter, Nunez will be asked to slide to the hot corner and do the same in Rodriguez’s absence.

While Nunez was able to replicate or even outperform Jeter at the plate, he will not do the same with Rodriguez. Although he is on the downside of his career, the 35-year-old third baseman was hitting .295/.366/.485 with 32 extra-base hits in 80 games prior to injury. Nunez presents a downgrade across the board; however, he is still worthy of a pickup in AL-Only formats and deeper mixed leagues as well.

Although he won’t produce like Alex Rodriguez, Nunez will still hit in the same talented lineup and in the same offensive environment. Nunez should produce a slash line similar to his career line (.279/.319/.413). That is pretty much a league average hitter with little value. On the other hand, even if he gets on base at the league average pace, he should score runs in bunches when you consider the rest of the weapons in the Yankee lineup even without Rodriguez. Depending on his place in the order, Nunez should also see frequent RBI opportunities and could rack up a few extra-base hits in the Bronx. He is far from a speed demon, but does have more steals (10) than strikeouts (9) on the year.

Even when A-Rod returns, Nunez may be worth stashing on your fantasy bench. With a pair of 30-somethings who have already missed time in Rodriguez and Jeter, Nunez is New York’s plan B at several infield spots. Because of his time filling in for Jeter, he also has eligiblity at shortstop as well as 3B. There is no reason to overpay or drop someone to make room for Nunez; however, if he is available on your waiver wire snatch up the free talent as soon as possible.

For more on Nunez and other Rodriguez replacements, check out Bloomberg Sports Front Office.

Midseason Warnings and Warm-ups

It’s that time of year again, the All-Star Break. Marking the halfway point in the baseball season, the All-Star Break is a focal point of a player’s statistical performance thus far. Recently we took a look at the Top 3 players that have historically preformed well before the break and struggled after, as well as players that have done the exact opposite (had a slow start and gained momentum after the break). To narrow down the list, we used career batting average pre and post break.

Hot Starts & Slow Finishes

Brennan Boesch, OF – Detroit Tigers

Interestingly enough, Brennan Boesche is the player who replaced Ryan Raburn in the Tigers line-up. Rayburn in his career has frequently struggled in the first half of the season, but is a hot bat in the second. In any case Boesch is off to an amazing start hitting .307 with 12 HR, 57 runs scored and 4 surprising stolen bases. Unfortunate news for Boesch owners, the young talent has the greatest BA disparity from the first to the second half of the season.  Boesch is a career .322 hitter Pre-All-Star break and a .163 hitter Post-All-Star Break (a .159 difference). This 26-year old 2x AL Rookie of the Month Award (May, June 2010) needs to fight past trends and maintain pace to continue his production going into the alter half of the season.

Peter Bourjos, OF – Los Angeles Angles

You can add Angel’s center fielder Peter Bourjos to the sell-high list. If he’s on your team you are probably happy with his production so far this season. He’s batting .272 with 33 runs scored, 17 RBI and 11 stolen bases, however history suggests numbers won’t stay, and Bourjos does not have the stamina to keep up this solid level of play. In his career Borjos is a .268 first half hitter, sliding 64 points down to a .204 hitter in the second half of the season.

Ryan Hanigan, C – Cincinnati Reds

Hanigan might not be the most popular fantasy player and is likely a free agent in your league. In the beginning half of the season he is hitting a modest .255 with 19 RBI and 3 HR. Despite decent numbers so far, like many catchers before him, Hanigan breaks down in the second. Over his career he is a .301 hitter going into the break, but slumps down to a low .239 after. So, if you come across Hanigan on the waiver wire it might be a smart move to pass on him.

 

Building Momentum

Chris Coghlan, OF – Florida Marlins

Chris Coghlan is the former NL Rookie of the Year, but he barely seems like the same player hitting just .230, with only 7 stolen bases to his name, but Coghlan is no stranger to cold first halves, or hot second halves. In his career the 26 year old has had a .250 BA before the All-Star Break compared to a whopping .364 after. In 2009, he had 41 hits in August, followed with 50 hits in September/October, making him the first rookie with back to back 40+ hit months since Ichiro Suzuki in 2004. Looking at his fantasy value, it is very likely that Coghlan will be available in most leagues. If history repeats itself he may be a guy who comes in and hits over .300 with 15 HRs and handfuls of stolen bases. Staying healthy has been a problem in the past, but if he can stay on the field Coghlan is worth a pickup.

Ryan Raburn, 2B/OF – Detroit Tigers

The Tigers utility man is a notoriously slow starter, with a career BA of .225 before the All-Star break and a .291 BA when he returns. After a great second half last year, it was exciting to see how he would start the season, but Raburn has largely been a disappointment. He is only batting .205 with 7 HRs in the first of half the season, but don’t sleep on Rayburn as he looks to repeat last season’s second half run.

Jason Heyward, OF – Atlanta Braves

21-year old Jason Heyward is another player who has been disappointing so far, after almost getting the nod as Rookie of the Year last year. Heyward is just hitting .223 now with 8 HR. He is currently being shown up by his former roommate, and teammate, Freddie Freeman. Historically he is just a .225 hitter in the beginning of the season, but a strong .291 in the second half. If Heyward could repeat this pattern and return to last year’s form he has huge potential for fantasy manager in the latter half of the season.

 

Replacing Jon Lester

By R.J. Anderson //

With Jon Lester heading to the disabled list, fantasy owners of him have to scramble to the waiver wire to find a replacement. Here are some names to look for.

Carlos Carrasco

The centerpiece of the Cliff Lee-to-Philadelphia trade, Carrasco is owned in about 70 percent of ESPN leagues, which is a little surprising given his 8-5 record and 3.95 earned run average. Carrasco is coming off a strong June, where he made six starts, averaged over seven innings per outing, struck out 28, walked seven, and held a 1.90 earned run average. He is unlikely to be that good heading forward, but doesn’t need to be in order to be worth a roster spot.

Jonathon Niese

Like Carrasco, Niese is coming off a strong June—a 3.16 earned run average, and more than six innings per start—however, his owned rate has actually dipped to 12.3 percent in ESPN leagues. Niese doesn’t pitch for the best team in the division, but his modest 7-7 record should not be enough to scare people off. Factor in a comfortable home park, and Niese is a smart addition.

Chris Capuano

A teammate of Niese, many of the pros and cons apply to both. Capuano is only owned in seven percent of ESPN leagues despite an above-.500 record and 4.19 earned run average. Since a six earned run outburst in late May, Capuano has made eight starts with an earned run average of 3.00 and 43 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched. Again, comfy home ballpark.

Rich Harden

For the upside fiends in the crowd, Harden made his return a few days ago, and went six innings, struck out six, allowed four hits, and zero walks. The story with Harden is the same old, same old, as injuries have affected each of his seasons since 2005. For a short-term investment, Harden makes a lot of sense, but just know there is a chance he ends up on the disabled list before Lester can make a recovery.

For more on other arms, check out Bloomberg Sports Front Office.

The Abundance of Strikeouts and Fantasy Baseball

by Eno Sarris // 

Strikeouts are up across baseball. Well, if you look at strikeouts per nine, that’s not necessarily true. The average K/9 this year is 6.98, last year it was 7.13 and the year before it was 6.99. But all three of those numbers are higher than the previous three years. And if you look at strikeouts as a percentage, as Christina Kahrl did on ESPN Insider today, they are up. Probably because walks are down. This year’s 2.21 K/BB ratio is the highest of the last seven years.

Anyway, it looks like pitching has taken a step forward. FIP, or fielding-independent pitching, is down to 3.84 around the league after at least 15 years of being over four. What does this mean for fantasy purposes? Easy: trade pitching for hitting because you can find pitching on the wire.

Let’s look at Wandy Rodriguez. He has a 3.88 FIP right now, and is striking out 7.33 batters per nine. He gets 45.6% of his contact on the ground, barely above the 44% average. His 2.6 BB/9 is good, but as the average walk rate has improved to 3.16 this year, it looks less exciting against the backdrop of the league. His 3.25 ERA right now is just about as exciting vis-a-vis the league (13% better than average) as his 3.60 ERA was last year (9% above average). He’s looking like the new average fantasy starter in mixed leagues.

Going into the season, my personal projections had Rodriguez going for a 3.49 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 12 wins and 189 strikeouts. With his injury, the strikeout total might not come true, but going into the season, the package was worth $11.20 when compared to the replacement-level pitcher, Jorge De La Rosa and his projected 4.13 ERA and 1.33 WHIP with 168 strikeouts in 176 innings. That doesn’t look like the replacement-level pitcher this year. This year’s FIP is 6% better than last year’s. If we move the replacement level about 6% higher, that takes a $1 off of Wandy’s value.

All of this is to set up a conversation about the relative value of Wandy Rodriguez in a trade. Say you’re trying to get out in front of a possible trade to the Yankees and you want to capitalize on a player that might not know that pitching is more abundant this year. If you can sell him at $11 and get someone like Jayson Werth or Corey Hart in order to bolster your speed and power, it might make a lot of sense. Even at $10, more Andre Ethier and Nick Markakis territory, you might have to consider it.

After all, there’s more pitching on your wire this year, and we’ll be here to help you find it.

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

Second to None: The Best Second Baseman, the Surprise, the Bust, and the Sleeper

Second to None!

 

The Best: Rickie Weeks, Brewers

After breaking out last season with 29 home runs, 112 runs, and 11 steals many baseball fans expected Rickie Weeks to take a small step back this season.  I’m not really sure why expectations were so low. 

The second overall pick of the 2003 draft is finally healthy and at 28 years old he should be in his prime.  Plus, he is surrounded by sluggers such as Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Corey Hart, all who guarantee that Weeks will rack up plenty of runs.  Weeks has managed to cut down on his strikeouts this season, while improving his batting average to .286.   Considering the drastic difference in expectations, Weeks gets the edge as the best second baseman over Yankees star Robinson Cano. 

                                                       

The Surprise: Danny Espinosa, Nationals

Coming into the season, Danny Espinosa had been called the poor man’s version of Dan Uggla.  While the expectations have been met with Espinosa blasting 15 home runs despite just a .238 average, it turns out that Espinosa has actually outperformed Uggla. 

At 24 years old, Espinosa is a building block for the Nationals.  The 2008 third round pick out of Long Beach State has also impressed with a keen ability to draw walks.  Plus, something that he offers that Uggla never has is his speed on the base paths.  Pretty soon, baseball fans will have to compare Espinosa to Rangers star second baseman Ian Kinsler. 

The Bust: Dan Uggla, Braves

After belting 33 home runs with 105 RBI and a .287 last season, Dan Uggla was sought by several teams and ended up joining his long-time rival Atlanta Braves.  As it turns out, Uggla is not done punishing the Braves.  This time the damage is not a result of his power, but instead an unsuspecting power outage. 

Sure, Uggla does have 12 home runs, which still ranks amongst the top second basemen.  The problem is that his .178 average is more than 100 points off last year’s batting clip, as his home runs make up 22% of his total hits.  There have been no signs of a let-up either, as Uggla hit just .179 in June. 

The 2nd Half Sleeper: Howie Kendrick, Angels

Riding a nine-game hit streak, it looks like Howie Kendrick is on the verge of a bounce back season.  After hitting just .279 last season, his average is up to .305 plus he has shown signs of power and speed.  The good news is that Angels fans can expect even better for the second half of the season. 

Kendrick missed some time in the first half due to a injury that forced him out of the lineup for two weeks and when he did return, Kendrick was hitless in his first ten at bats.  Now that he is healthy, Kendrick should surpass his first half production culminating in what could be his best season so far.

Vance Worley: 4th Ace or Joker?

By Tommy Rancel //

Through a series of moves over the past two seasons, the Philadelphia Phillies have put together what is known as the “four aces” rotation. After acquiring Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt last season to join their own ace in Cole Hamels, they signed Cliff Lee this offseason to complete the quartet. Thus far, three of the aces have lived up to the hype. Hamels, Halladay, and Lee have been fantastic in 2011. Oswalt, on the other hand, has battled injuries – including a back injury that could jeopardize his career. With an ace down, the Phillies have pulled out a wildcard in 23-year-old Vance Worley.

Worley tossed seven shutout innings on Monday against the Florida Marlins to run his record to 4-1 in 10 appearances (eight starts) this season. He has made 10 career starts (15 appearances) with a 2.03 ERA in 62 innings. This includes a stellar 2.29 ERA in 49 innings this season. On the surface, Worley is performing like a fourth ace, but buyer beware on the youngster.

In deep leagues and NL-formats, Worley is a good pickup. Considering the health of both Oswalt and fellow injured starter Joe Blanton, Worley is likely to rack up a starts from now until season’s end. In a deep league, the counting stats alone are worth the pickup. Meanwhile, the righty offers little in terms of peripheral statistics and his ERA almost certainly will rise with a larger sample size.

A groundball pitcher, Worley, has done a good job of covering balls in play into outs. This is also a byproduct of defense, but in general, keeping the ball on the ground is a good thing because it can be easily converted in to an out. Groundballs are also good because they can never go over the wall for a home run. Despite pitching in a hitter-friendly environment, Worley has surrendered just three home runs in his big league career.

While he could be an outlier in terms of a lower than normal batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and home run-to-flyball rate (HR/FB) conventional wisdom says Worley will fall back to the pack at some point. Because he is so young and does not have an established history, we don’t know where that will be; however, considering his stuff (upper-80s/low-90s), peripherals (1.85 strikeout to walk rate) and his ballpark, his current marks of .259 BABIP and 3.6% HR/FB are not likely to continue even if he blossoms into the fifth ace down the road.

If you have Worley in a standard 10-12 team mixed league, now would be the time to sell. Consider using Worley as part of a package that could net you a more proven starter who has traditional stats that may not be up to par. For example, David Price’s ERA is nearly a full run higher than it was last season. That said, he continues to rack up strikeouts as a good rate, has drastically reduced his walks and does not give up a ton of home runs. Also consider, Tropicana Field has turned in to the East Coast version of Petco Park. If Worley and a decent position player can nab you a true ace like Price, do it now.

For more on Worley and other young arms, check out Bloomberg Sports Front Office.

MLB Shortstops: The Best, The Bust, The Surprise, and the Second Half Sleeper

Nothing Short of Sensational!

The Best: Jose Reyes, Mets

It’s not a bad time to be Jose Reyes’ agent.  The Mets shortstop was supposed to be a middle-tier free agent well behind Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols this off-season, but instead the speedster may be the most in demand.  Reyes is on pace for some pretty historic statistics: 130 runs, 30 triples, 60 steals, and a .352 average.

 

Mets owner Fred Wilpon said early in the season that Jose Reyes was nuts for expecting Carl Crawford type money.  It turns out Reyes would be crazy to accept Crawford-type money.  He is younger, plays a more difficult positions, and this year proved that he has a higher ceiling than the Red Sox outfielder.

                                                       

The Surprise: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians

Entering this season Asdrubal Cabrera had never before hit as many as seven home runs in a season.  At the half-way point in the season, he is currently sitting on 13 dingers with 47 RBI, 12 steals, and a .296 average.

 

Just 25-years old, Cabrera is thriving for the surprise Cleveland Indians.  While the career-season is impressive, it is not necessarily shocking.  After all, Cabrera did belt 42 doubles in 2009 despite missing 31 games due to injuries.

 

The Bust: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins

Coming into the season a hot debate was who to draft with the first oversall pick Hanley Ramirez or Albert Pujols.  As it turns out neither big talent has been worthy of the top pick.  While Pujols struggled then endured a fractured wrist, Hanley Ramirez has been downright awful.

 

Ramirez took a minor step backwards last season, as his average slipped from .342 to .300.  However, no one could have predicted that his average would decline to .221 mid-way through the season.  Ramirez has at least shown some signs of life over the last 10 games raising his average 21 points.  However, it will take a major bounce back over the next few months for Ramirez’s production to return to its normal standards.

 

The 2nd Half Sleeper: Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks

Stephen Drew has always been a strong second half batter.  In fact, his .282 average following the All-Star break is 20 points better than his career first-half statistics.  At the moment, Drew is having an up-and-down season.  Drew’s 43 runs and 43 RBI are solid, considering he spent the first week of the season injured.  However, his five home runs and four steals are a bit pedestrian considering this a player that blasted 15 home runs with 10 steals last season.  Expect Drew to heat up as the season progresses, perhaps reaching 100 runs and 100 RBI by season’s end.

 

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