- The ability to retire batters via strikeouts
- The ability to limit base-runners by avoiding the issuance of walks
- The ability to limit home runs by keeping the ball on the ground
Pitchers who do a good job at these three things are commonly assumed to be very skilled. Pitchers who do these things well but don’t have a superb ERA to match are seen as unlucky.
- Pitchers with elite ground-ball skills (above 47 GB%) including stars like Felix Hernandez and Chris Carpenter and lesser ones like Paul Maholm and Aaron Cook.
- Pitchers with above-average ground-ball skills (about 44.5%-47%) including stars like Tim Lincecum and CC Sabathia and lesser ones like Joe Saunders and Jeff Suppan.
- Pitchers with below-average ground-ball skills (about 40.5%-44.5%) including stars like Jake Peavy and Cole Hamels and lesser ones like Kevin Millwood and Kyle Lohse
- Pitchers with terrible ground-ball skills (below 40.5%) including stars like Jered Weaver and Matt Cain and lesser ones like Jarrod Washburn and Oliver Perez.
Now, let’s look at each of the categories.
by Eno Sarris //
Since about a third of opening day closers lose their jobs to injury or poor play every year, it’s not the greatest position in which to invest heavily. Instead, waiting to the end of the draft and using the quantity-not-quality approach to supplement an elite closer can provide the best return on investment. Mix the risk in your closer portfolio, in other words. This spring, we’re seeing the merits of this approach already.
In Oakland, Andrew Bailey saw Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday, and though it’s just a right forearm strain, he is known to be slightly frail. The former starter and ROY had Tommy John surgery in 2005 and only managed 49 innings last year because of an intercostal strain and some elbow surgery to get rid of loose bodies in the joint. Add the current forearm strain in, and he is a substantial injury risk.
That is, perhaps, why the Athletics stocked up on bullpen talent last year despite having a strong bullpen in 2010. Brian Fuentes has managed to put up more than 20 saves in each of the last six years, but comes with some flaws of his own. He’s an extreme fly-ball pitcher (33.5% career GB) who doesn’t do as well against righties as he does against similar-handed pitchers (11.34 K/9, 2.86 BB/9 versus lefties, 9.24 K/9, 4.16 BB/9 against righties).
Fellow new acquisition Grant Balfour will figure in the mix somehow if Bailey goes down for an extended period of time. Since he’s a righty, Balfour could contribute some saves as part of a platoon (10.10 K/9, 4.11 BB/9 versus righties). But Balfour, despite the unfortunate last name, is also pretty good against lefties (10.48 K/9, 4.51 BB/9), and if the team can stomach his occasional control blips, he might be the closer all by his lonesome.
Last year, five pitchers accrued saves for the Athletics, and Michael Wuertz was second to Bailey with six. If the 35-year old Fuentes declines further (he used to put up strikeout rates closer to ten than to eight) or the inconsistent Balfour can’t find the zone, Wuertz may again put up some saves. Either way, it’s likely that another half-dozen Oakland pitchers will accrue saves in 2011.
We all have to chase the save, and yet it’s the only stat that usually rewards a specific role on each team. Since pitchers are already more likely to get hurt than position players, and the closer role is so volatile on it’s own, it’s a good idea to spread your risk around as much as possible. Sure, get a stud closer early on, but then mitigate your risk late by taking fliers on pitchers like Fuentes and Balfour. If it doesn’t work out, you didn’t spend much on them, and then you can easily drop them for the next pitcher that starts accruing saves.
For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com
By Tommy Rancel //
Players who offer power and speed are given premium price tags on both the real and fantasy levels. Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford will go within the top 50 picks of most leagues. If you are unable to land one of these primetime players, don’t worry. There are dual threats to be found even as we pass the 100th selection in most standard drafts.
Using Bloomberg Sports’ projection system, here are the top-5 power and speed sleepers with an average draft position of 100 or greater.
In his first full-season at the big league level, Drew Stubbs became one of the game’s true power and speed threats. He was one of just three major leaguers with at least 20 home runs and 30 steals. The other two players -Hanley Ramirez and Alex Rios– are being selected well before Stubbs. His batting average is rather pedestrian and he racked up a ton of strikeouts, but the potential for another 20/30 season is a steal in the double-digit rounds.
Andres Torres experienced a breakout season at the age of 32. In addition to playing a career-high 139 games, the outfielder posted good marks in both home runs (16) and steals (26). As the projected leadoff hitter for the defending world champions, Torres could provide similar results at the cost of a late-round tender.
On the other side of the age spectrum, Ian Desmond emerged as a rookie fantasy option at shortstop last season. After posting double-digits in both home runs and steals last season, Bloomberg Sports’ projects 15 home runs and 20 steals for the Nationals’ shortstop. Over the past three years, only five shortstops have hit those marks in the same season (Ramirez, Tulowitzki, Jeter, Rollins, Reyes).
Rounding out the list is a pair of players who regressed a bit in 2010. After finishing in the top-10 of MVP voting in 2009, Ben Zobrist hit just .238 with 10 home runs last year. The good news is Zobrist still got on-base regularly and stole 24 bases. Bloomberg Sports predicts Zobrist’s power will rebound to the 18-20 home run area with the potential for an equal number of steals if not more. The Rays are thinking about hitting the versatile player in the leadoff spot meaning the potential for runs scored also increases.
After his breakout season of 2009, the Mariners signed Franklin Gutierrez to a four-year extension. He rewarded the team with a near 40-point drop in batting average and an on-base percentage barely over .300. That said, he did hit 12 home runs and stole a career-high 25 bases in 2010. This year he is projected to put up similar numbers. That is far from OF1 production, but with an ADP in the 230’s, Gutierrez is worth the late-round pick.
Finding players that can give you value in multiple categories is the mark of a good fantasy baseball manager. Finding these players in the mid-to-late rounds is even better.
Young starting pitching is always at a premium in the real world, and often in the fantasy world. As such, serious leagues demand its owners possess knowledge of the top prospects near and far the stage of the majors. With that stated, here are the 10 arms considered the finest pitching prospects in the land by Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office Tool:
1. Mike Minor
2. Jeremy Hellickson
3. Kyle Drabek
4. Chris Archer
5. Manuel Banuelos
6. Zachary Britton
7. Christian Friedrich
8. Kyle Gibson
9. Casey Kelly
10. John Lamb
The top three already have big league experience. Minor started eight games for the Braves last season, completing 40 innings while striking out 43 and walking 11. The former Vanderbilt attendee figures to start the season in the rotation and while he’s unlikely to replicate his 2010 numbers, he’s better than most fifth starters. Hellickson impressed as well, with a similar strikeout and walk rate. Although he’s hampered with a hamstring injury now, if healthy, the Des Moines native will open the season as the Rays’ fifth starter. Drabek’s entrance to the majors did not fare as well, but he’s a top prospect for a reason and could open the season in the Jays’ rotation too.
Archer is one of the jewels the Rays received in return for Matt Garza, he should open the season in Triple-A, but a big league stint near season’s end -perhaps in the bullpen–is not out of the question. Banuelos received hype for a recent appearance, but he’s just now turning 20 and it’s unlikely he’ll get much more than a cup of coffee this season. Britton, on the other hand, should debut this season, as he spent last season in the high minors and pitched fairly well, with sub-3 ERAs at both Double- and Triple-A and peripherals to match.
As for the rest, Gibson shot through the system and stands the best chance of appearing in the bigs this season. That doesn’t mean you should ignore arms like Lamb and Kelly in keeper leagues, though, as again, they have the pedigree for a reason. Just don’t get too infatuated with these guys, as pitching prospects are more volatile than hitting prospects.
By R.J. Anderson //
With fantasy draft season in full bloom, have you wondered whose stocks are rising and whose are falling? Using the Bloomberg Sports Front Office Tool, those answers (and more) can be yours in a matter of seconds. Here are the top 10 moving up draft boards:
1. Juan Pierre
2. Colby Lewis
3. Matt Garza
4. Chris Carpenter
5. Tim Hudson
6. John Danks
7. Tsuyoshi Nishioka
8. Dan Haren
9. Adam Jones
10. Jeremy Hellickson
Nobody noticed, but Pierre set a career high in stolen bases last season at 68, impressive on 33-year-old wheels and a .341 on-base percentage. While he won’t give you much in the way of power, Pierre is generally okay for steals and a decent batting average. His playing time could be interfered with, depending on how manager Ozzie Guillen deals with Carlos Quentin in wake of the Adam Dunn addition and Paul Konerko re-signing.
Only two other position players make the list, in Nishioka (recently named as the Twins’ stating second baseman) and Jones, who seems to be a perpetual breakout candidate. Nishioka figures to bat in the two-hole for Minnesota, which could lead to a ton of runs scored with Joe Mauer and (possibly) Justin Morneau following him.
The rest of the list is pitchers. There are all kinds of red flags around Garza’s presence in the National League Central and Wrigley Field. If anything, Garza’s stock should be dipping, but alas, he looks like an overdraft at this point. Lewis, Hudson, and Danks are solid pitchers on playoff contenders, so wins should be plentiful, while Haren is stuck on a suddenly mediocre Angels team with questions about how his strike-heavy approach leads to a more homer-prone stat line. He’s a good pitcher, though, so it’ll be interesting to see whether his ERA regresses entirely to his peripherals, or only mostly.
Carpenter and Hellickson are odd risers, as both have suffered injuries during the exhibition season. The last Cardinals’ ace standing left a start with a hamstring injury, but should be fine for Opening Day. Hellickson is also dealing with a gimpy hammy, irritated during pitcher fielding drills. He should return to the mound within the next few days, but represents a bit of a question mark for his first two starts. You would think those two would slide down boards with concern, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
If nothing else, these are the players to analyze and reaffirm your beliefs about. Don’t buy into the hype without having a good reason for doing so -and as we all know, “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t cut it.
by Eno Sarris //
He wasn’t washing his car or riding a motorcycle. Instead, it was a pickup basketball game that slayed Zack Greinke this offseason. Aaron Boone sends his condolences. Now that Greinke has a fractured rib and will open the season on the injured list, what does that news mean for his prospects in fantasy baseball circles?
The first instinct is to take the team’s prognostications – that Greinke will miss only two-to-three starts – and say the whole thing is not a big deal. Just a few starts less from the ace, so you could drop him a couple points in the rankings and maybe pounce on him if he falls further than his third-round ADP (42.7 by the Bloomberg Sports Front Office tool).
Then again, even just three starts is a tenth of a pitcher’s season. Should he miss five starts – the likely situation if he misses the first month – he’ll miss a full sixth of his season. Take away a sixth of his Bloomberg Sports projection, and you get 166 innings with 11 wins and 157 strikeouts. Sure, he is still projected for a 3.46 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, but the whole package is just a little less valuable because of the lower innings projection. A rosier projection – that he misses three starts – moves him from about the fifth-best at his position to about the 10th-best. Take another two starts away, and he’ll slide down somewhere between 15th and 20th on the list.
But there might be reason to drop him a little further even.
The rib cage is a tricky place for an injury in baseball. A pitcher’s motion is tantamount to his success, and pain in the ribs will keep him from completing his motion as he’d like. Phil Hughes fractured a rib and missed 136 days. We saw what happened to Jacoby Ellsbury last year. We aren’t doctors here, but we also know that we’ve seen players recently miss extended time with the same injury. That means there’s a risk that he puts in fewer than 166 innings, and a risk he he won’t even be a top-25 pitcher this year.
We know that Greinke will drop in drafts now. We know that he deserves to drop some, and that there’s risk that he should drop even further than he will. The tricky part is knowing when exactly to pick him up. Use conservative projections for his output this season, though, and you’ll probably find the right time. At least it wasn’t an elbow!
For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com
By Tommy Rancel //
When you think of power positions in baseball you immediately gravitate toward the corners. In fact, last season nine of the top-10 home run hitters had fantasy eligibility at first base, right field, third base or left field. These four positions produced 15 hitters with at least 30 home runs including league-leader Jose Bautista, who started at three corner positions (1B, 3B, RF) in 2010. While the bulk of major league power will continue to come from these positions, there is some power to be had up the middle as well.
The following list is comprised of players with middle of the field (2B, SS, C, CF) eligibility who are projected to hit at least 25 home runs in 2011 by Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary system.
Uggla has been a steady source of power from the second base position. He has hit at least 27 home runs in each of his five big league seasons and has topped 30 in each of the last four years. Although he changed uniforms this offseason, Uggla shouldn’t see much of a difference in home runs and is projected to top the 30 home run plateau for a fifth straight season.
Moving down the list, reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton and NL MVP candidate Hanley Ramirez come as no surprise. Both are ranked within the top-25 of all players according to Bloomberg Sports and will come off the board quickly on draft day.
While the list features some well-known names, there are two under-the-radar candidates among the bunch. After a breakout season in 2009, Aaron Hill hit just .206 with a .695 OPS last season. The good news is he still packed some punch and belted 26 home runs. His 62 home runs since 2009 are second behind Uggla (64) among second basemen. Bloomberg Sports’ projects him for another 27 home runs this year with a nice rebound in batting average as well.
The lone catcher on the list is Mike Napoli. Although he made a pit stop in Toronto, Napoli finds himself in a hitter-friendly environment with the Texas Rangers. He will spend some time at first base and DH, but Napoli’s value comes in his catcher eligibility. He led MLB catchers with 26 long balls last season and should have no trouble matching that number this year; especially in his new digs.
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By Tom Trudeau
fantasy experts and one over-confident Bloomberg Sports analyst met in Phoenix
Saturday for the 18th draft of the League of Alternative Baseball
Reality (LABR). The AL-only, 12-team league uses standard 5×5 scoring, with
$260 to spend on 14 offensive positions and nine pitcher slots.
My own confidence stemmed two
distinct advantages. First, I was using Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office tool to
get custom rankings based on the league settings. Second, at just 24 years old,
I can spend more time thinking about fantasy baseball. Sure, these guys work at
Rotowire and ESPN, but they have families and real world obligations.
Meanwhile, I live with my parents and it’s considered a rough day if I have to
walk the dog or unload the dishwasher, which leaves plenty of time for
course sometimes there can be too much information out there, causing you to
second-guess yourself after every bad two-inning spring outing or report of a
stiff neck. That’s why it’s so valuable to have a projection tool such as Front
Office to remove all of the noise and ill-advised impulses that occur this time
of year. Sure, it’s nice to have read that Koji Uehara had a cortisone
injection in his elbow, but without the emotionless suggestions that Front
Office provides, it can be hard to remain disciplined and bid with confidence
in the heat of a draft.
Having participated in hundreds of
fantasy drafts, I fully expected the biggest difference between LABR and any
other would be the skill level. Instead, it was the presence of Sirius XM’s
Fantasy Sports Radio. Located feet from the draft table, the Sirius guys broke
down each pick with colorful commentary (“Chris Liss getting involved with Josh
Hamilton,”) and sometimes clouds of doubt (“Lawr Michaels picking up proposed Oakland closer, Andrew Bailey”).
As for the draft itself, I was
tempted to go all-in for two Front Office darlings: Adrian Gonzalez ($35) and Dan
Haren ($23), but I opted for a more conservative approach early on. The result
was a flurry of pick-ups in the middle of the draft (“Trudeau strikes again!”),
allowing me to pick up several B-level players at good value such as J.P.
Arencibia ($10), Alcides Escobar ($13) and Ryan Raburn ($16). I was the only
team without a $20-plus player, but I will get meaningful production from
almost all of my starting offensive spots. I had a league-high eighteen players
won for double-digit dollars (Jason Gray was second with fifteen).
The headline of my draft may have been my dynasty of closers.
It was not my intention to finish with five guys who could get saves (Matt Thornton,
Joe Nathan, Chris Perez, Brandon League and Fernando Rodney), but I kept getting them for less than I felt
they were worth. The fantasy adage “don’t pay for saves” really means, “don’t
overpay” for saves. With the exception of Rodney ($7), I drafted guys that will
help me in rate stats, in addition to the saves category, all for reasonable
prices. I’ll have to be active in trades, but the strategy paid off right away
as the inevitable search for saves resulted in significant dollars spent on
Scott Downs ($6), Rafael Soriano ($8), Jake McGee ($12), Uehara ($6), Chris
Sale ($7), and Kevin Gregg ($10) among others.
By the end of the draft I had wasted
about $5 (I spent my last $6 on Corey Patterson, who I could have had for a
buck). It was slightly less efficient than I would liked to have been, but it
still looked to be a below average figure in terms of waste. Other owners were
throwing their remaining dollars at whoever was left, such as J.J. Hardy ($18).
To see Bloomberg’s Front Office tool
in action, go to www.bloombergsports.com. Check out the complete results of the AL LABR
draft at: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/fantasywindup/post/2011/02/labr-fantasy-draft-al/1
Follow Tom Trudeau on twitter @Tom_Trudeau and Bloomberg Sports @BloombergSports
By Eriq Gardner //
- Josh Johnson
- Dan Haren
- Brandon Phillips
- Billy Butler
- Carlos Marmol
- Nick Markakis
- Joel Hanrahan
- Sergio Romo
- Rafael Soriano
- Daniel Bard
Josh Johnson has a little bit of a reputation for being injury-prone, having a Tommy John surgery a few years back, and missing the last month of last season with shoulder inflammation, but he’s also pitched nearly 400 innings these past two seasons as one of the elite hurlers in the game.