Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

The Rise of Matusz

By R.J. Anderson //

The below graphic is taken directly from Brian Matusz‘s Bloomberg Sports Front Office profile. Within the graphic, there are plenty of little icons which give you easily referable information (like, whether the player pitches or hits within an offensive-friendly ballpark, whether the player is durable, or in his prime, and how the pitcher’s offense produces). As you can also see, Matusz also holds a B-Rank in the 500s and an ADP in the 180s. I have to say, I agree with the ADP’s take on Matusz’s value more than the B-Rank.

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Matsuz is a big lefty, at 6’4″, with a fantastic pedigree. The Orioles took him fourth overall in the 2008 draft out of the University of San Diego. The 24-year-old reached the majors in 2009 and has since made 40 starts in total, with the majority coming last season. He has a nice arsenal of pitches and seems unafraid to pitch inside on right-handed batters. Matusz’s draft stock received a boost based on his second half performance where he dropped his ERA from the 4.7’s (where it was at the end of the first half) down to 4.30 backed behind eight quality starts in 14 appearances.

The Orioles have improved over the offseason but remain likely to finish in fourth or fifth place within the division, that means Matusz is unlikely to rack up as many wins as he deserves, because the divisional foes are good enough to nudge the O’s in close games. Still, he’s likely to post a better than league-average ERA and his infield defense should be improved enough to help lower his WHIP. The projections suggest he’ll finish with an ERA over 4.00 and while those are based in good reason and numbers, they know not of Matusz’s scouting profile or prospect status.

It’s those very aspects of Matusz’s game that lead me to believe he can outpitch the projections. Maybe not by much, and perhaps the results won’t shine through on his fantasy value, but in a division with fellow young southpaws like David Price and Ricky Romero, Matusz stands his own.

Taking Matusz to be the ace of your staff is too much, but depending on the league size, he could be a very good second or third starter this year and a fantastic keeper option.

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

Top 10 Injury-Risk Starters

by Eno Sarris //

Pitchers get injured. We all know this, and Adam Wainwright serves as a fresh reminder. Still, you might be surprised to learn that the average starting pitcher is 39.1% likely to hit the disabled list? Yes, two out of five starting pitchers will hit the DL this year, and for an average of 66 days. Let that sink in.

So we know that all pitchers are fairly likely to be injured, and that helps us avoid spending too heavily on pitching early in our draft. But once a pitcher is tabbed as an injury risk and falls in drafts, he could become a value. Hey, if all pitchers are 39% likely to hit the DL, how much worse could an injury risk be?

With that in mind, I used the Bloomberg Sports Front Office Tool to make a list. Using “Negative Durability” as a factor, I sorted injury-risk pitchers by their B-Rank for the next year. What follows are the Top 10 Injury-Risk Starters for the upcoming season. Click here to see the full list.

B-Rank  /  Pitcher
152 Shaun Marcum
177 Ricky Nolasco
440 Josh Beckett
670 Anibal Sanchez
748 Edinson Volquez
752 Dallas Braden
777 Brett Myers
803 Kevin Slowey
814 Jake Peavy
840 Jordan Zimmermann

Obviously, all the entrants on this list are not created equal. Shaun Marcum has averaged 169 innings over the last three seasons, Ricky Nolasco 185 and Josh Beckett 171. They may be less durable than your average pitcher, but they are more durable than the rest of this list – and that’s probably why they rose to the top. All three are projected for around 170 innings this year, and all three are generally regarded as sleepers later in your draft.

Another type of pitcher that shows up on this list are the Tommy John returners, Edinson Volquez and Jordan Zimmermann. B-Rank is skeptical about their innings totals – it projects them both for just short of 140 innings – but thinks they might be useful enough at the back end of a rotation, with ERAs around four and WHIPs around 1.3. Both have the upside to better those numbers based on their best outputs to date, but they’re also coming off major injury. Wait a little bit longer for these guys, but if you need a home run pick late, they might be for you.

Maybe the least interesting group on the list consists of injury-ridden pitchers that with less upside. Brett Myers (161 three-year IP average), Dallas Braden (152) and Kevin Slowey (136) have all averaged fewer innings than the healthier group, and don’t have the upside of the TJ survivors.

And then there’s Jake Peavy. Projected for 123 innings after averaging 128 over the last three years, he might belong in the high-upside group if you believe he can approximate his early-career work in the American League. If you believe he was more a PetCo mirage that benefited from the environs of the NL West, you’ll probably stay away. The nice thing is, he’ll be cheap if you do deign to pick him up.

And there you have your list of injury-risk starters for 2011. Naturally, they should go after the more durable at their position. But they might also provide some nice value for their cost.

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

Mike Stanton: Sophomore Slam or Slump?

Bu Tommy Rancel //

Stephen Strasburg debuted, Jason Heyward shatter windshields, and Buster Posey won the rookie of the year award. Meanwhile, Mike Stanton quietly mashed in South Florida.  Perhaps the fourth or fifth prospect in terms hype, Stanton’s powerful rookie campaign took a backseat to his more well-known peers. While the world was consumed with Stras-mas, the Marlins’ outfielder hit 22 home runs, drove in nearly 60 runs, and scored 45 of his own in 100 games. Oh, did I mention he didn’t turn 21 until AFTER the season?

Obviously the most impressive part of Stanton’s rookie season was his home run power. Only 12 men – including Stanton – have hit at least 22 home runs in their age-20 season. Names like Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Alex Rodriguez give Stanton pretty good company. Perhaps even more impression is the pace which he took the ball out of the yard.

Stanton needed just 100 games and 359 at-bats to launch his 22 home runs. Of the 12 man group from above, only former Atlanta Braves’ All-Star third baseman Bob Horner hit as many home runs in fewer games and at-bats.  The former top prospect’s ratio of a home run every 16 at-bats ranked fifth best in the National League last season.  Add in the 21 home runs hit before his call to the show, and Stanton showed off his home run trot a combined 43 times in 2010 in just 153 total games.

Of course, Stanton’s rookie season did not come without some bumps along the way. ). In his first 70 games, he hit just .235 and finished the season at with a .259 average despite a higher-than-normal batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In addition to the low average, his plate discipline – 123 strikeouts and 34 unintentional walks – is a work in progress. If you’re looking for some progress, he hit .312 with an OBP of .370 in the season’s final 30 games; however, that is a rather small sample size.

With a solid two-thirds of a season under his belt, expectations of 30-plus home run power over a full season now follow Stanton.  But home runs aren’t Stanton’s only source of value. In addition to the balls that went over the wall, he laced 21 doubles in ball parks across the country.  Also remember, Stanton racked up all these extra-base hits while playing his home games in a neutral park environment.

On top of the gaudy power potential, Stanton’s stock is on the rise because of his placement in the lineup. The Marlins decided to ease their younger in the lineup by placing him in the lower half of the order. Of his 359 at-bats last year, 87% of them came from the sixth slot or lower. In 2011, Stanton is slated to bat clean-up behind a talented trio of Omar Infante, Chris Coghlan, and MVP-candidate Hanley Ramirez.

Because he will not hit for a high average or swipe many steals keeps Stanton from the top-tier of fantasy outfielders. Add in the negative connotation of the strikeouts and his draft position varies from OF2 and OF3. Once again, tucked behind higher-profiled stars, this could leave Stanton as a mid-round steal.

With 30-plus home run power (35 projected by Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tool), the likelihood of an equal amount of doubles, and an increase in RBI opportunities, Stanton could be a fantastic power and RBI source in 2011. Set your target around the eighth round in a standard 12-team mixed-league, but if there is a sudden run on outfielders don’t be afraid to pull the trigger a round earlier.

Update: Stanton was diagnosed with right-quad injury after coming up lame in Sunday’s contest. He is expected to miss two weeks, but continue to monitor his progress throughout the spring.

A Carlos Quentin Check-Up

By Eriq Gardner //
As spring training heats up in earnest, this is the time of year where we all play, “What if…”
For most optimists, this entails taking a player with potential — say, Jay Bruce — and imagining a forthcoming season where production finally matches potential. Bruce has never hit 30 HRs in a season before, but he’s only 23 years old, and given the glowing scouting reports and teased power prowess of the past, it’s easy to see Bruce knocking 35-40 HRs out of the park this season.
But that’s not the only way to play the game.
We can also look at a player who has already shown the skills and production, but simply can’t stay healthy. And what if

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Perhaps the best example right now is Carlos Quentin
In 2008, Quentin had a fabulous year where he put up 36 HRs, 100 RBIs, 7 steals, and a .288 average. Going into the 2009 season, he was a hot commodity, but health didn’t cooperate. These past few seasons, Quentin has suffered from various ailments including a bruised hand, a sore knee, a fractured wrist, a plantar pasciitis, shoulder and hamstring problems, etc.
As a result, Quentin has missed considerable time these past two seasons and has developed the reputation as being brittle. That said, there’s hardly conclusive medical evidence out there that supports the idea that some batters are more injury-prone than others. And even if a tendency towards getting injured is real, that hardly means that a brittle player can’t have a healthy season every once in a while. Just ask Josh Hamilton, who entered 2010 with the same sort of injury-prone reputation as Quentin and then delivered an enormously productive, able-bodied year.
Quentin’s missed time has certainly impacted his projections, as most services lay the foundation of their projections on a three-year historical sample that factors past playing time. Bloomberg Sports projects just 459 at-bats this coming season for Quentin. Given his injury history, it’s certainly not an unreasonable call. 
And yet, Quentin still represents a potential value this upcoming season. Bloomberg Sports also projects 29 HRs, 65 RBIs, 4 SBs, and a .268 AVG for Quentin in 2011, which translates as the 70th best player in standard 5×5 leagues. As for where he’s going in drafts, Quentin’s average draft spot is 157th overall.
And remember, that’s just with 459 at-bats. Quentin is the only non-catcher in Blooomberg’s top 100 with less than 500 at bats.
What happens if Quentin stays healthy this season and gets 500 at-bats or even 600 at-bats? Simple math spells a possible 35-40 HR season. Potentially like Bruce, who is going in drafts around the 70th pick.
Quentin has also been bedeviled by a poor hit rate these past couple years. In 2009, his batting average on balls in play was .221. Last season, his batting average on balls in play was .241. Because he hits the ball in the air so often, we might expect a lower-than-normal BABIP, but those numbers still scream flukiness. Since his breakout 2008 season, no player with at least 800 plate appearances has suffered a more miserable hit rate than Quentin. His luck-neutral batting average these past two seasons was roughly .275, instead of .240 he actually hit.
Simply put, Carlos Quentin represents a draft value if he does what we expect him to do, a sleeper with more luck, a super sleeper with more health, and possibly one of the best players in baseball with more luck and health. Feel like rolling the dice?

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

The Ballpark Formerly Known as The BOB Was Made For Branyan

By R.J. Anderson //

Russell Branyan has hit nearly 70 home runs over the last three seasons despite inconsistent and occasionally sparse playing time (just over 1,000 plate appearances). That’s a home run every 16 or so plate appearances, an average on par with Barry Bonds’ career rate (one every 16.5 plate appearances). There’s a chance Branyan can live up to (or exceed) that pace should he stay healthy this season, as he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The D-Backs play in Chase Field, formerly known as Bank One Ballpark, which is unfathomably kind to left-handed hitters. StatCorner provides a park factor for either handed batter at each ballpark in the majors and has the home run factor for lefties at The BOB at 114 -which is to say lefties see their homer tallies increase by 14 percent within this park relative to league average. Branyan has never been one to lead the league in cheapies, but the friendly confines should assist by turning some outs or doubles into round trippers.

branyan projected.jpg

Since Branyan figures to get the lion’s share of plate appearances, he also figures to play quite a bit at first base. This could be the snake in the bushes because Branyan does not have a strong health record. He’s missed at least 45 days due to various injuries over the last three seasons, including roughly the final month of the 2010 season. He turned 35 during December and there’s no reason to believe he suffers from the Benjamin Button abnormality of reverse aging. Put simply, Branyan is all but guaranteed to miss time with a back or trunk injury, the only question is how much that will affect his production.

If you do select Branyan in a deeper league, perhaps look to handcuff him with the player most likely to replace him during his downtime (at this moment, Brandon Allen, although his name could surface in trade talk). Otherwise, make sure Branyan is your fallback option rather than the primary. He’s going to mash when he’s healthy, but that could be less often than everyone involved would hope.

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

Jeremy Hellickson: The Next David Price or Wade Davis?

by Eno Sarris // 

The Rays, as seems to a yearly tradition, have a bright young pitching prospect hitting their rotation this year. Jeremy Hellickson comes off a stellar, if short, debut, already has a scintillating nickname in “Hellboy.” But we’ve seen this story before, and with varying results. How does Hellickson stack up against fellow young Rays David Price, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann

Take a look at the table below for a quick overview of the relevant statistics these young Rays accrued in the minor leagues and in their respective debuts. The percentage of games started is included because players always perform better in short stints out of the bullpen.

HellicksonChart2.jpgSome differences immediately step to the fore. Not all debuts were created equal. We can probably eliminate the chance that Hellickson ends up like Niemann based on a few factors, including his debut. Not only did Niemann show the worst control of the group in the minor leagues, but his strikeout rate dropped as he advanced through the minor leagues, eventually bottoming out in his debut.

But eliminating Niemann still leaves the possibility that Hellickson ends up more Wade Davis than David Price. Now, these pitchers are all different, and have varying arsenals, ages, and histories, but they all have the common misfortune of having to face the AL East from the get-go. David Price obviously did well, and Hellickson’s numbers compare favorably to Price’s. If only Hellickson used his left hand, we’d have a nice comparable player to point to.

hellickson.jpgWhy won’t Hellckson end up like fellow right-hander Wade Davis? Control is the easiest answer. Hellickson’s is elite, Davis’ average or below. Another answer lies in their comparative arsenals. Davis relied mostly on a fastball, while Hellickson has a plus-plus changeup and a solid curveball to go with his 91 MPH fastball. Bloomberg Sports has him putting up a 3.89 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, and he obviously has the upside to better that.

Given his elite control, strong off-speed arsenal, and historical record so far, Jeremy Hellickson is on track to be more David Price than Wade Davis. Expect a strong year from Hellboy, even if he hits a few bumps along the way.

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

James Shields: Sink or Swim in 2011?

By Tommy Rancel //

On the surface, James Shields had a poor season in 2010. The Rays’ opening day starter got off to a hot start with a 5-2 record, 2.99 ERA, and 71 strikeouts in his first 10 starts.  Unfortunately, he would go 8-13 the rest of the way with an ERA of 6.31 in his final 24 appearances. Many in the Tampa Bay area soured on Shields; however, the organization, manager Joe Maddon, and progressive analysts think Shields’ traditional stats will rebound in 2011.

Shields earned a dubious triple crown in 2010 by leading the league in hits, earned runs, and home runs allowed.  He watched 34 bombs leave the yard on the strength of a home run-to-flyball rate of 13.8%. This number is two percent higher than his career average and the highest among major league starters with at least 200 innings pitched. Shields has always given up his fair share of longballs, but is unlikely to get shelled like this going forward.

In addition to the home run issues, Shields was labeled as hittable with 246 hits allowed. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .341 was nearly 40 points above the league average, more than 20 points higher than the next closest starter with at least 200 innings, and around 70 points higher than any of the other Rays’ starters. In fact, the next highest BABIP in the Rays’ rotation came from Wade Davis and Matt Garza at .272 apiece. This means Shields was extremely unlucky or was somewhat unlucky with other factors involved since he pitched with the same defense and in the same environment.

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While luck was definitely involved, Shields also didn’t do himself any favors with pitch selection and location. He went to his fastball and cut-fastball far too often and in some cases left them in the nitro zone. Since it is the same fastball he has had success with in the past, a change in selection could go a long way; especially considering his change-up remains one of the premier pitches in the league.

The struggles with home runs and hits allowed have been documented. Meanwhile, Shields did quite well last season in other areas. He posted a career high in strikeouts (187 in 203.1 innings) and gave up just 2.3 walks per nine innings. According to his 3.72 xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) – a metric that measures walks, strikeouts, and uses the leave average home run rate to further strip luck out of the equation- Shields actually had a very good season.

Shields is similar to Ricky Nolasco in a few ways. Both starters posted good strikeout rates, solid walk totals, but were bitten by the long ball. Not surprisingly, both had better showings in defensive independent metrics than their ERA. This may scare away prospective owners on draft day, leaving them as quality choices on the scrap heap.

In the case of Shields, regression to the mean will help, but he’ll also have to do a better job of mixing up his pitches and spotting the ball around the zone. He did this from 2007-2009 when he averaged 12 wins, a 3.85 ERA, and over 200 innings per season. His durability alone (four straight seasons of at least 31 starts and 200 innings) makes him a back-end of the rotation target, but the chance for regression could make him a real steal in the later rounds of a mixed-league draft.

Miguel Cabrera Isn’t A Safe Fantasy Pick

By Eriq Gardner //
Miguel Cabrera is, without a doubt, one of the biggest talents in the game today. Among the players throughout baseball history listed by Baseball Reference as being similar through the age of 27 is Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Albert Pujols. But this could be the year to pass on putting Cabrera on a fantasy roster.
It’s not only the fact that Cabrera was arrested for DUI the other night, which is certainly concerning in and of itself, and holds legal ramifications that could interfere with both his schedule and focus for the upcoming season. Cabrera held significant risk even before this tragic week.
So far in most drafts, Cabrera is being taken with the third overall pick, which represents the highest that Cabrera has ever been taken in fantasy drafts throughout his career. Cabrera has done great things in his eight seasons in the major leagues, but plays first-base — always a deep position where more is expected.
Thanks to his finest season yet in 2010, where he hit 38 HRs, drove in 126 runs, and hit .328, Cabrera made that jump in the eyes of the draft community. But to justify being taken with the third overall pick, a first baseman like Cabrera will need to repeat such specialness from a season ago.
Here’s why it might not be in the cards. First, let’s put aside his legal troubles for a moment.
Consider his power. Cabrera’s typical season is 33 or 34 HRs, and while he’s still young enough that 38 HRs comes as no surprise, it’s a better bet that he’ll regress slightly. His HR/FB% last year was 19.8%, above his career mark at 18.3%, and while he did more by hitting the ball in the air in higher frequency rather than on the ground, normal regression to career achievements would seem to yield a HR total closer to 33 than 40.
Consider his average. His .328 average represented the second best mark of his career — his best since 2006 — and while he has a long track record of overachieving the standard “Batting Average on Balls in Play” (BABIP) of about .300, is it realistic to expect another .336 BABIP like the one he posted last year from a man whose weight tends to be on the slightly high side and isn’t really that fast? 
His xBABIP, a measure of what his expected BABIP should have been in 2010 based on other statistics like home runs, strikeouts, line drive percentage, points to .312, meaning we should expect to see some regression there too.
A few fewer home runs, a slightly lower batting average, and probably less RBIs and runs too…which starts to raise the question of whether Miguel Cabrera is really going to be much better than the other elite 1B this season including Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez. Based on the projections we’ve seen, the difference between Cabrera, Votto, and Gonzalez has always been a tad overstated — even before this week’s bad news. See my piece on Adrian Gonzalez in December as an example.
Now let’s factor in the DUI arrest. 
Regardless of the projections, the case for taking Cabrera first among the group could easily have been made on the assumption that he was the safest of the group. Votto has only one full elite season on his belt; Gonzalez is still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. 
But now? Cabrera could miss some time to put his legal troubles to bed. He could lose focus. He could be battling alcohol again, which has reportedly caused him problems in the past. Doesn’t mean any of these things will necessarily come to pass, but suddenly Votto’s lack of track record and Gonzalez’ minor injury concern don’t jump out as being any more risky at the moment. And based on news yet to come, it’s quite possible that Cabrera represents the biggest risk of the bunch.
For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com

Is Peavy Worth a Look?

By R.J. Anderson //

Jake Peavy is one of the most difficult, yet intriguing pitchers in the field this season. A few years ago, Peavy was one of the finest pitchers in the league while benefitting from the spacious environment of San Diego’s cavernous ballpark. Injuries have since crept into Peavy’s life, leaving his status as an annual question mark. Peavy’s below league-average ERA certainly did not help his draft value and neither will the reports suggesting he is set to miss the beginning of the season. Not everything is so dire, though, as when Peavy pitched in 2010, he was actually solid.

Peavy’s first five starts were nothing short of disasterous as he allowed nearly as many earned runs (25) as innings pitched (28.2) with a strikeout-to-walk ratio barely topping 1. Over his next 12 starts, Peavy allowed 30 earned runs in 78 innings while posting a strikeout-to-walk ratio over 5. The exact reasoning for the turnaround is unknown. Perhaps Peavy adjusted to his new surroundings or finally began to feel healthy after missing most of the previous season. The important thing is whether Peavy can continue the success once he returns this season.

Most projection systems say yes, but are without knowledge of Peavy’s injury history. The exact effect of the ailments are impossible to know. Perhaps he bounces back just fine, or maybe he loses some zip on his fastball and some command. There’s no safe expectation to be had. In which case, the best approach is cautionary. Peavy could prove to be a waiver wire steal upon his return, but for now, treat his status delicately.

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

Baltimore Closer Battle

by Eno Sarris // 

The closer carousel in Baltimore continues. Since 2008, George Sherrill, Alfredo Simon, Jim Johnson, David Hernandez, Mark Hendrickson, Mike Gonzalez, Lance Cormier, Jim Miller, Cla Meredith and Rocky Cherry have all notched a save for the Orioles, and that’s not mentioning the two main candidates for the closer’s role this year.

This past offseason, the Orioles signed Kevin Gregg to a two-year, $10 deal. Gregg has functioned as his teams’ closer for four straight years, providing solid-but-not-spectacular numbers for the Marlins, Cubs and Blue Jays along the way. Now that he’s the second-highest paid player in the pen, and owns the most career saves of the crew, is the the favorite for the role?

Probably, but that doesn’t mean he’s not without his flaws. Last year, Gregg struck out 8.85 batters per nine, walked 4.58 batters per nine, and had a 42.3% groundball rate. All of those numbers are too close to average for relievers to get very excited about. Relievers averaged 7.58 strikeouts per nine, 4.56 walks per nine, and a 42.7% groundball rate last year. That means that Gregg was a mere strikeout per nine away from being an average pitcher, which doesn’t scream “Closer” with a capital ‘c.’

Last year’s closer, Koji Uehara, is still with the team, as he was resigned to a one-year, $3 million deal that can jump to $5 with incentives. He might be paid a little less, but he’s a better pitcher. After moving to the pen last year, Uehara had an insane 11.25 strikeouts per nine against 1.02 walks per nine. He’s an extreme flyball pitcher – his 23.6% groundball rate has to count against him – but that kind of strikeout punch and control is ideal for a closer. Some may point to his relative inexperience in the role as a negative, but Uehara pitched over 1300 innings in Japan, saved 32 games in 2007, and has a generally excellent resume once you include his Japanese history.

gregg projected.jpgTake a look at the Bloomberg Sports projection for Kevin Gregg on the left, and the argument comes into focus. Gregg may be in line for the saves right now, but his projected ERA (4.11) and WHIP (1.37) should make fantasy managers nervous. Remember, saves are just one category, and Uehara should easily trump Gregg in the other categories – and could easily steal the job completely. Consider handcuffing these two together late in drafts this year.

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

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