February 2012

Fantasy Baseball Preview: 2012 Top Stolen Base Threats

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports

Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw breaks down the top five players at stolen bases according to the projections behind the Bloomberg Sports Front Office Tool found at BloombergSports.com.

The top stolen base threat will be Braves outfielder Michael Bourn. Bloomberg Sports forecasts that he is the only speedster who will surpass 50 stolen bases this season.  Though he has little power, Bourn has evolved into a fine fantasy option with a high average and as many as 61 stolen bases in a season.  In 53 games with the Braves last season following a trade, Bourn swiped 22 bases.

Next, the Yankees and Red Sox both have speedsters as Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are next on the list. Ellsbury will again be an MVP candidate while Gardner’s value depends upon where he is in the lineup.

Ellsbury is projected to again surpass 20 home runs this season with 40-plus steals.  The fact that he offers an all-around game has taken away from his stolen bases, but fantasy managers should have no gripes.  Gardner, on the other hand, is more of a one-trick pony who relies on stolen bases.  If the Yankees wish to take advantage of his high OBP they could have him bat leadoff, which would lead to more runs, but Yankees Manager Joe Girardi seemed to like having him at the back of the lineup last season.

The Oakland A’s will have no need for speed with Coco Crisp on their team. He is a bit injury-prone, but steals with the best of them.  Crisp also has a little pop, twice hitting 15 or more home runs in a season.  If the A’s lineup shows some improvement you should expect many more runs coming from Crisp.

Finally, BJ Upton has yet to meet his lofty expectations but he does pack some power and should steal close to 40 bases.  Last season Upton shined in four categories with 80-plus runs, 80-plus RBI, 20-plus HR, and 35-plus steals.  Unfortunately, he only hit .243.  There remains some hope he can be the complete package as the 27-year-old once hit .300 for a full season.  On the other hand, Upton has finished with an average less than .245 in three straight seasons.

The ultimate sleeper is Dodgers middle infielder Dee Gordon, while his teammate Matt Kemp predicts that he will go 50-50 for the first time in baseball history.

For more fantasy insight visit BloombergSports.com.

Bloomberg Sports Top-Five 2012 MLB Home Run Projections

 

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports

 

Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw discusses the top five players that Bloomberg Sports projects to lead the Majors in home runs this season.

On that short list includes recent Tigers acquisition Price Fielder, who will still have plenty of support in his lineup, this time with perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera providing the big bat.  BloombergSports.com projects 35 home runs and 111 RBI from the newly acquired slugger. 

Next, we see young slugger Mike Stanton approaching the 40-home run club with the Miami Marlins. He will also have the benefit of Jose Reyes leading off. In total, expect 39 round-trippers and 112 RBI from the 22-year-old slugger. 

Bloomberg Sports projects a bounce back from Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds. The free-swinging Orioles third baseman is projected to offer a low average but plenty of power.  The only threat to his output is the possibility of spending time on the pine if his batting average creeps below the Mendoza line. 

Second on the list is Blue Jays star right-fielder Jose Bautista. One of the elite hitters over the last two seasons, Bautista should regress in batting average, but the power is real and 41 home runs and 115 RBI is a realistic total in the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. 

Finally, even with a move to Anaheim, Albert Pujols should be just fine as we project him to lead the Majors in home runs. In fact, Pujols is expected to improve on last year’s average and 41 home runs and 124 RBI explain why he’s usually considered the best player in baseball. 

For more fantasy insight visit BloombergSports.com.

Bloomberg Sports Hoards Catchers in Inaugural LABR Mixed League Draft

By Tom Trudeau

The inaugural LABR mixed league draft was held this past Saturday night, causing some of the industry’s brightest minds to miss the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Competing against an experienced group of fantasy owners made it even more important to dig deep for undervalued commodities. Using Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office 2012, I was able to find those commodities at the catcher position.

Determining replacement level and evaluating positional scarcity are two of the toughest tasks facing an owner in a deep league with a lot of positions. A top-200 list for a typical 10-team league should look very different from a top-200 list for a 15-team league with two catchers, five outfielders, a middle infielder, and a corner infielder, since any change to positional requirements affects replacement level across the board. 

It’s hard to overstate how much more valuable catchers are in a two-catcher league. Front Office generates “B-Ranks” for each player based on the league’s settings. For example, Mike Napoli’s B-Rank in a one-catcher, 15-team league is 42nd, while Carlos Santana checks in at 55th. For mixed LABR, those B-Ranks jump to 21st and 28th, respectively. B-Ranks for backstops increased enough to make catchers roughly twice as valuable in the LABR draft, by far the biggest increase of any position. This made catchers the most undervalued commodity on draft day, relative to a typical top-300 list or even the ADP results that the experts study.

With this in mind, I was thrilled to land the top-ranked catcher, Mike Napoli, with the 32nd pick, Joe Mauer with the 59th pick, and Salvador Perez with the 269th pick. Perez’ B-Rank of 109 made him one of the best value picks of the day for my squad. He instantly becomes either an overqualified backup or a valuable trade chip in a league where other owners will be forced to start catchers such as Ryan Hanigan, Wilin Rosario, and Yorvit Torrealba.

Click here to see the complete results.

Aces on the Move: CJ Wilson, Heath Bell, and Joe Nathan

 

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports

 

CJ Wilson may have been the top arm on the market this off-season, but the pressure is certainly not as intense on the hurler as it is on Albert Pujols.  The reason is very simple, while Pujols is the best hitter in the world Wilson isn’t even the best arm on the Angels.

 

Wilson’s struggles in the postseason may have left a bad taste in the mouth of Rangers fans, but the hurler is actually in a much better situation now that he flees the hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington.  Putting the 2011 playoffs aside, the year as whole brough great improvement for Wilson.  His strikeouts went up while his walks went down.

 

Another factor for Wilson this season will be his run support.  Typically leaving the Rangers, who are loaded with sluggers, will result in a decline of run support.  However, that is not the case since Pujols will also join the Angels who already have some former first basemen who know something about providing big bats.

 

The Angels will be fun to watch for many reasons, and after falling to Pujols and the Cardinals in the postseason last season, Wilson should enjoy the shot at winning with Pujols as his teammate manning first base.

 

It made perfect sense for the Miami Marlins to sign Heath Bell.  The veteran hurler has three straight seasons with 40-plus saves and while the Marlins have had some success in their bullpen in recent years, it has not been as dominant as what the Padres enjoyed.  There is just one problem with bringing in Bell and expecting everything to run smoothly.  There are signs that the 34-year-old may be losing his effectiveness.

 

A late bloomer with the Mets, Bell broke out in San Diego, where he had the benefit of little media attention and one of the most favorable ballparks for pitchers.  In fact his 2.88 ERA on the road last season was not as dominant as the 2.15 ERA he posted at PETCO Park.

 

Bell also regressed as a strikeout hurler.  His 11 K/9 dropped to 7 K/9, as his whiff rate fell by 9%.  This is not just a matter of Bell losing velocity, in fact, the main issue has been a loss of effectiveness in his curveball.  In 2010, the opposition hit just .141 against that pitch, and last season it spiked two-fold to .282.  The out-pitch is not recording as many outs.

 

Bell should enjoy plenty of save opportunities since the Marlins did improve their starting rotation and offense, but there should be less heralded hurlers in fantasy leagues who can end up posting better numbers this season.

 

At first glance, last year was a disaster for long-time Twins closer Joe Nathan.  His ERA doubled, his strikeouts declined, and his saves were cut drastically.  Of course, Nathan was also returning to the mound after missing all of the 2010 with a major arm injury.

 

On that note, Nathan’s statistics should be measured differently.  Rather than focus on the full season, we should pay greater attention to the end of the season when he finally shed all of his rust.  From June 25th on, Nathan was his usual dominant self.  His WHIP was a dominant 0.90 from that point forward, which suggests that even in his late 30s, Nathan still possesses the ability to dominate.

 

Nathan now joins the Texas Rangers, and while he will throw the ball in a much more hitter-friendly ballpark, he joins a better club that will likely result in more save opportunities.  The ERA may take a slight uptick, but overall he will enjoy more saves and have more value assuming he can stay healthy.  It also allows some of the younger hurlers to take on larger roles in the starting rotation.

Average Joes on the Move: Paul Maholm, Jason Marquis, and Fernando Rodney

 

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports

 

The 8th pick of the 2003 draft, Paul Maholm finishes his Pirates career with 53 wins and 73 losses in 185 starts.  He did not carry much momentum at season’s end, as he lost his final five decisions as the opposition hit .355 against him following the All-Star break.

 

The Cubs are hoping that the southpaw will perform at a higher level outside of Pittsburgh similar to former Pirates hurler Jon Lieber, who excelled with the Cubs.  The big question is whether Maholm has the making of an above average pitcher.

 

Prior to the All-Star break Maholm dominated, limiting the opposition to a .227 average and a .298 OBP.  The problem here is that a larger sample size is the 2010 season and the opposition hit .303 against him then.

 

A move to Chicago does not seem like a career-saver for the 29-year-old veteran.  In fact, he will have enough pressure on him simply to stay in the starting rotation.

 

Despite a run of six straight seasons with 11-plus wins a few years back, Jason Marquis is not considered one of the better hurlers in baseball.  After some success including an 8-5 record and 3.74 ERA through 20 starts with the Nationals last season, the New York native did not fare as well when he was dealt to the Diamondbacks.  Marquis imploded with a sky-high ERA of 9.53 in three starts.

 

The main problem for Marquis is that he is simply too hittable.  The opposition hit .291 against him prior to the All-Star break and that’s when things were going well for him.  He is a junkball pitcher (46% of his pitches are off-speed), who eats innings and gives his team a shot at staying in the game.

 

The good news is that Marquis moves to a pitcher’s park in Minnesota, which should help keep the ball in play and lead to more outs.  While he could reach double digits in wins once again, his fantasy value remains limited due to his lack of strikeouts and soaring WHIP.

 

The Rays have been known for taking underachieving relievers and making them a part of an elite bullpen.  The latest hurler to be added to the mix is former Tigers closer Fernando Rodney, and his potential is sky high.

 

Rodney has been solid in the past, racking up 37 saves for the Tigers in 2009.  However, last season was a step in the wrong direction as he walked more batters than he struck out for the first time in his career.  Rodney has a high velocity fastball, and he can be unhittable at times.  In fact, last season the opposition mustered just a .224 average against him all season, but because of his wildness, his ERA ballooned to 4.50.

 

Part of the issue last season was that Rodney was not 100% healthy.  This season he should be able to bounce back, and with the Rays pitching tutelage working in his favor, a fine ERA and many strikeouts is very realistic.  Regardless, without saves his fantasy value is limited.

New Faces, New Places Part 3: Carlos Beltran, David DeJesus, and Michael Cuddyer

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports

When former Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran joined the Giants, he was a bit slow out of the gate, but by season’s end he hit .323 with a .551 following the trade.  He was particularly hot in September, offering a .378 batting average.  However, by then the Giants were no longer contenders and Beltran was an impending free agent.

While Beltran put together solid figures last season with 22 home runs and a .300 average, this is not the fantasy sensation of years passed when he could belt 40-plus home runs and swipe 40 bases.  Beltran had just four steals last season and his run production was a bit low too with 84 RBI and 78 runs.

At 34 years old, Beltran is limited, but he can still offer some fantasy value.  He now joins the Cardinals, which makes it the first time that he’s stepped out of a pitcher’s park for home games since he played with the Astros back in 2004.

Beltran will not replace Pujols in the lineup, but he can be a solid bat who offers 25 home runs, 90 RBI, and a .300 average.  Of course, his age and injury-riddled past carry plenty of risk as well.

Last season was a season of collapses for many of the game’s most consistent players.  While Hanley Ramirez and Adam Dunn highlight the list, the same can be said about veteran David DeJesus.  The long-time outfielder for the Royals struggled in Oakland with the A’s.

DeJesus never was a fantasy star, but he did once score 101 runs in a season, belted 10-plus home runs twice, and hit better than .290 four times in his career.  That’s why it was so shocking that he hit .240 in Oakland.  The Coliseum certainly played a role, as his batting average dipped to .229 at home.  On the other hand, playing on the road did not bring many advantages.

Despite DeJesus’ struggles under Billy Bean’s A’s, Theo Epstein remained interested and acquired him this off-season.  Even in his worst career season, DeJesus reached base at a respectable .323 clip.  At 32 years old, DeJesus is not going to experience a drastic turnaround, however, he should bounce back to a .280 average with solid run production.  He will remain bettter in reality than fantasy.

It is very rare to call a 33-year-old outfielder a sleeper, but that is exactly the case for Rockies outfielder Michael Cuddyer.  Sure, the veteran had some good moments with the Twins, blasting 32 home runs in 2009, driving in 109 RBI in 2006, and even swiping 11 bases last season.  However, those figures all came while playing half of his games in a pitcher’s park.

This season Cuddyer will call home to Coors Field, one of the most notorious hitter’s parks in baseball history because of the altitude.  Furthermore, he will be joined in the lineup by MVP candidates Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki after spending the last few seasons with injury-prone stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

The scouting report on Cuddyer is not to leave anything over the plate on the first pitch.  Cuddyer ranks amongst the game’s best with a .450 average on first pitches.  He is also a rare hitter that feasts against off-speed pitches (.310 average with 12 home runs).

Always solid, we expect Cuddyer to be stellar this season.

New Faces, New Places Part 2: Chris Capuano, Ryan Ludwick, and Juan Pierre

 

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports

 

Seven years ago Chris Capuano was one of the best starters in baseball, as he went 18-11 for the Milwaukee Brewers.  The good times did not last long as Capuano was derailed by arm injuries that forced him to miss 2008-2009.

 

In his first full season back, Capuano pitched well for the Mets with 11 wins and a 4.55 ERA.  However, a closer look at the statistics reveals that there could endure some trouble ahead.  Capuano surrendered 1.31 HR/9, which would have been an issue had he stayed in New York with the fences getting drawn closer. His 5.42 ERA on the road is also an issue with Capuano moving away from Citi Field.

 

Fantasy managers can take some relief in the fact that Capuano’s move to Los Angeles means he’ll continue to pitch in a pitcher’s park.  Furthermore, the Dodgers lineup should have more punch than the Mets lineup, which puts 12 wins within reach.

 

In 2008, Ryan Ludwick was one of the best players in baseball.  He blasted 37 home runs, drove in 113 RBI, and hit .299 for the Cardinals.  Ludwick failed to repeat the success and within two years he was dealt to the Padres.

 

In San Diego, Ludwick has regressed a great deal.  His power and average took a severe decline and last season he was dealt to the Pirates.  In particular, Ludwick has struggled against the fastball, and he is no longer hitting many line drives.

 

A move away from PETCO Park will give Ludwick every chance of regaining his confidence.  At 33 years old, Ludwick is far from his prime, but 20-plus home runs with solid run production is a legitimate best-case scenario.

 

One of the most consistent hitters over the last decade has been Juan Pierre, most recently the leadoff man for the White Sox.  In fact, Pierre ranks second on Major League Baseball for plate appearances since 2010.  However, Pierre’s role will change dramatically now that he returns to the National League with the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

Now a 34-year-old speedster, Juan Pierre did score 80 runs with 27 steals and a .279 average last season.  However, his success rate for stolen bases took a nose-dive from 79% to 61%.  In an era in which every statistic is studied by the front office, it is clear that Pierre’s struggles to secure stolen bases actually may have cost his team runs last season.

 

The Phillies are not looking for Pierre to play an everyday role.  The hope is that Dominic Brown regains his confidence and becomes a rising star next to Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence.  Pierre will likely man a fourth outfielder role and offer some serious speed off the bench.  His fantasy value takes a major hit this season.

 

For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com

 

New Faces, New Places Part 1: Prince Fielder, Josh Willingham, and Aramis Ramirez

 

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports

 

The Tigers made a bold move this off-season when they responded to Victor Martinez’s unfortunate season-ending knee injury by acquiring slugger Prince Fielder.

 

Fielder is fresh off one of his finest seasons with 38 home runs and 120 RBI while batting .299 for the Brewers.  The main complaint on Fielder is that his sheer size will eventually lead to some injuries, however, the same was once said of Miguel Cabrera when the Tigers acquired that star from the Marlins.  While Cabrera has had some issues off the field, he is also one of the most consistent and dependable sluggers in baseball over the last five seasons. Similarly, Fielder ranks third in plate appearances since 2006 only trailing Ichiro and Derek Jeter.

 

Another statistic that should provide some confidence for Tigers fans is the fact that Fielder decreased his strikeout rate and total significantly last season.  While Ryan Howard has been a minor disappointment with the Phillies since signing a major contract due to his free-swinging ways, Fielder is more of a contact hitter, which can keep innings and rallys alive.

 

Desperate for some offense, the Twins signed Josh Willingham during the off-season.  The move seems to make some sense as Willingham is fresh off a career-high 29 home runs and 98 RBI and should help replace Michael Cuddyer in the lineup.

 

The problem is that Willingham also saw his average and OBP take a hit last season from .268 to .246 and from .389 to .332.  These numbers are actually lower than Cuddyer posted last season.

 

The hope for the Twins is that Willingham posted respectable numbers despite the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum and the A’s lineup generated very little protection, suggesting that he should surpass those figures this season.  There is a problem with that logic, as Willingham actually performed better at home than on the road and the Twins Target Field is also a pitcher’s haven with a Twins offense that offered little production last season.

 

No question about it the Twins acquisition of Willingham carries some risk.  We will soon find out if Willingham is a one-trick pony that specializes in power or if he can return to his previous year’s level of reaching base more consistently.

 

The Milwaukee Brewers are reeling right now as Prince Fielder left for the Detroit Tigers and MVP winner Ryan Braun may miss 50 games of the season with a suspension for using a performance-enhancing substance.  The lone piece of good news is that the team did acquire Aramis Ramirez over the off-season, which will offer some stability at the hot corner.

 

In effect, Ramirez will have to replace Fielder as the slugger in the Brewers lineup.  The main issue for Ramirez over the years has been his inability to stay healthy.  In fact, Ramirez has managed to play 150 games just twice in his 14-year career.

 

Last year Ramirez was healthy and the result was 26 home runs, 93 RBI, and a .306 average.  Ramirez is a solid all-around hitter who often puts the ball in play while also drawing a healthy dose of walks.  The one statistic that showed Ramirez to return to form last season was his ability to hit the fastball.  After hitting just .236 off the heater last season, Ramirez belted 13 home runs with a .302 average this season.

 

Ramirez should once again offer a solid bat with some power this season… assuming he can stay healthy.

 

For more fantasy insight visit BloombergSports.com.

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