BY EVAN BLEIER
Although you won’t see his name near the top of any AL Rookie of the Year lists, Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks is putting together a season that should have more folks taking notice. Since being called up to the majors in early May, Middlebrooks been one of the most consistent hitters in the Boston offense despite having his place in the lineup shifted time and again by manager Bobby Valentine. The constant juggling hasn’t seemed to affect Middlebrooks at the plate, as his average has hovered around .300 for much of the season. It currently rests at .299 after career game 64. Pair that average with 13 home runs, 47 RBI and an OPS of .855 and you have the makings of a pretty good rookie season.
In fact, take a look at another first year player’s numbers through 64 games and it’s easy to see why Middlebrooks should be getting a little bit more attention:
BA: .281 HR: 8 RBI: 25 OPS: .817
The numbers above belong to National League Rookie of the Year favorite Bryce Harper. Granted, Harper bats higher up in the lineup than where most of Middlebrooks’ at-bats have come from, so it’s logical that his RBI totals would be lower, but the rest of the numbers more than speak for themselves. Harper does possess superior speed and he walks more than Middlebrooks, but both players struck out at nearly identical rates through 64 games, Harper with 55, Middlebrooks with 61. This is not to say that heralded top prospect Harper shouldn’t be getting his due or that Middlebrooks will turn into a superstar, but the gap between the two players, at the plate at least, is a lot smaller than some might think.
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Bloomberg Sports Anchors Julie Alexandria and Rob Shaw discuss whether or not the fans’ selections for the American League All-Star team were right and who should be starting the All-Star Game in Kansas City on July 10.
Mike Napoli of the Rangers was the fan choice, but White Sox backstop A.J. Pierzynski should be starting in the All-Star Game. Pierzynski is not one of the more popular players in baseball and was actually expected to lose his job coming into this season. However, he is hitting .285 this year with 14 home runs and 45 RBI.
Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays should be starting instead of Prince Fielder. Encarnacion has always had great potential but has been inconsistent in the past. This season, however, he is deserving of a starting spot in Kansas City with a .291 average, 22 home runs, 55 RBI and eight stolen bases.
The fans got this one right, voting in Robinson Cano of the Yankees. He’s batting .310 with 20 home runs and 46 RBI. Not only is he an All-Star but he is clearly the Yankees’ MVP.
The fans chose Adrian Beltre of the Rangers, which is a good pick because he is one of the best defensive players in baseball. Miguel Cabrera, however, is the best third baseman in the American League with a .314 average, 16 home runs and 62 RBI.
Derek Jeter is having a good season, but Elvis Andrus of the Rangers is the best shortstop in the American League right now. He is not a power hitter with just one home run but he’s batting .307 with 32 RBI and 16 stolen bases. The fans should have voted in Andrus instead of Jeter.
Of the three outfielders voted in, only one was the right pick by the fans. It wasn’t a surprise that Josh Hamilton was selected, and he is the right choice. He’s on pace for more than 50 home runs and 140 RBI this season.
Angels rookie Mike Trout should be starting in place of Curtis Granderson. Trout is batting .339 with nine home runs, 33 RBI and 22 stolen bases, and keep in mind that he started this season in the minor leagues.
Adam Jones of the Orioles should have been selected in place of Jose Bautista. Jones has a .302 average, 19 home runs, 42 RBI and 11 stolen bases. He has a bright future and is likely one of the next big stars in baseball.
David Ortiz was the right pick by the fans. He continues to put up big numbers with a .302 average, 21 home runs and 54 RBI this season. This is Ortiz’s eighth All-Star selection.
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Bloomberg Sports Anchors Rob Shaw and Julie Alexandria discuss closers who are struggling right now and provide insight on who may replace them.
Santiago Casilla, Giants
Casilla allowed a run to score for a third straight game on Sunday when he gave up three earned runs to the A’s in his second blown save of the year. Sergio Romo appears to be next in line for closer, as he has both righties and lefties hitting less than .200 this season. Romo, however, is a specialist often used for less than an inning of work. Another option for the Giants could be Jeremy Affeldt, who has some closing experience with more than 25 saves in his career.
Ryan Cook, A’s
Cook, the A’s third closer this season, suffered an ugly blown save on Friday when he gave up two walks, two hits and four runs. In total, he has walked 20 batters in 31.2 innings pitched. Cook could be replaced by Grant Balfour, who started the season as the closer. Balfour has had eight consecutive scoreless outings, which could be good enough to win back his job as closer.
Frank Francisco, Mets
Francisco got a save and the only Mets win against the Yankees in the Subway Series over the weekend, but has landed on the disabled list with a left oblique strain. Bobby Parnell could take over as closer, as his control has improved and he is pitching better this season. Over the next couple weeks, he could emerge as the Mets’ closer for the future.
John Axford, Brewers
Axford may be struggling the most of all the closers on this list. He has given up nine runs in his last nine outings with three blown saves during that span. His primary issue has been walking too many batters, as he has 18 walks in 28.1 innings pitched. The pitcher ready to fill in for Axford is Francisco Rodriguez, who has 292 career saves.
Matt Capps, Twins
Capps has a 3.41 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, but a sore right shoulder will likely land him on the disabled list. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton are two replacement options for the Twins. Perkins has been very good this year, with 40 strikeouts in 30.2 innings pitched. Burton picked up his first save of the season Sunday, though he walked two batters.
Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Chapman is the hardest thrower in Major League Baseball and has a 2.03 ERA and a dominant 0.76 WHIP. However, in his last seven outings, he has given up eight runs and has three blown saves during that stretch. Chapman came in as closer for Sean Marshall, who may now take over for Chapman as he has given up just one run in his last 17 outings.
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Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw answers questions from Twitter about managing fantasy baseball roster changes:
Question: I need to free up a roster spot. Should I drop Colby Lewis or Mat Latos? Who has better potential of bouncing back?
Answer: Colby Lewis doesn’t really need to bounce back. He is 4-4 with a 3.50 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, which so far is beating expectations. He will give you a solid WHIP, comparatively high ERA due to the ballpark, and more than 12 wins for the Rangers. His weakness is that he gives up a lot of bombs. He has already allowed 14 home runs this season, including five in one game.
On the other hand, Reds hurler Mat Latoshas struggled a bit despite a 4-2 record. His 4.91 ERA and 1.40 WHIP suggest it’s been a tough transition to Cincinnati. Like Lewis, he has given up a ton of home runs — 12 so far this year. Each year, Latos’ walks and hits have gone up, but he now has to pitch in the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati rather than in the pitcher haven Petco Park.
Ultimately, Colby Lewis is the safe bet since he does not allow many runners on base and has an incredible offense behind him, but Latos has greater potential because of his youth and past numbers. I’d try to trade Latos and keep Lewis.
Question: I really need a new backup catcher on my fantasy teams. Suzuki is struggling and Mauer is day-to-day right now. Do you have any suggestions?
Answer: Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario has been an excellent pickup. He hit his ninth home run Monday night and now has three in his last seven games with nine RBI during that stretch. If he’s still available, he’s the hitter to target. If he’s already been taken, Chris Iannetta will return soon for the Angels and is another good option. He offers a low average but solid on-base percentage and power. Finally, for the Nationals, Jesus Flores has some pop and also hits for the highest average of the bunch.
Question: Is it worth keeping Bryan LaHair in my outfield anymore? Dexter Fowler is available.
Answer: I would rather have Dexter Fowler than Bryan LaHair. However, dropping LaHair would be a mistake. Look to package the Cubs .300 power hitter for your roster’s weakness. Fowler is the complete package in mind, with more power than the speed you expect from him. LaHair is a fine hitter, but not nearly as well-rounded a fantasy performer.
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Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw breaks down four different fantasy players gaining some attention on the waiver wire.
How about the four game stretch from May 24 to the 27th for White Sox rising slugger Dayan Vicideo. The 23-year-old pounded out eight hits, scored six runs, blasted three home runs, and drove in 10 RBI during that stretch. I actually dropped the top prospect in one of my fantasy leagues for the simple reason that he kills your on base percentage. He has just four walks all season if that is a category in your fantasy league, you basically have to depend on him having a lot of power to make up for it. That certainly could end up being the case and as of now I regret dropping the Cuba native.
It was long in the making and long deserved, but middle reliever extraordinaire Tyler Clippard has finally been promoted to the closer’s role in Washington following the injury to Drew Storen and the implosion of Henry Rodriguez. Clippard was for a long time one of the few middle relievers worth owning in fantasy leagues because of his stellar all-around numbers including ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts. A few years ago he even picked up 11 wins. Now he finally gets the glory associated with the ninth inning and he has been perfect in his last four outings, picking up three saves. Clippard’s fantasy value is soaring with saves now within reach.
The last time Sale had fantasy value it was because of our expectation that he would be the 2011 closer after scooping up four saves in 2010. Instead, Sale struggled early and ended up with just eight saves last season as Sergio Santos broke out as the team’s closer. This season Sale became a starting pitcher and after a brief flirtation of him returning to the bullpen, Sale has thrived, pitching at an ace level. On Monday, Sale was at his best, allowing just five total base runners while pitching into the eighth inning. Most notably, he fanned 15 batters, which is easily a career high. It actually might be the best time to sell high on Sale. After all, Sale is now just 13 innings away from reaching last year’s totals. You typically try to avoid the major increase in innings workload, so my guess is that the White Sox will try to limit Sale’s innings for the remainder of the season.
In his debut with the San Diego Padres, Carlos Quentin blasted a double, scored a run, and picked up an RBI. The power is legit, but keep in mind that Quentin is going from back-to-back hitter ballparks first in Arizona then in Chicago’s US Cellular to the ultimate pitcher’s park, PETCO Park. This is very much a streaky hitter, which tells me that the frustration of the cavernous home ballpark could end up wreaking havoc on Quentin’s season. I am not picking Quentin up off the waiver wire, allowing his low average to hurt my competitors.
After spending last season with the Twins and Indians, Jim Thomes will return to the National League in a backup role with the Phillies.
Thome, who boasts 604 home runs for his career, has the most opposite-field home runs of all-time. This isn’t exactly something new for Phillies fans as their current first baseman Ryan Howard boasts the most ever in a single season.
Since Thome left the Philles and was replaced by Howard, Thome’s on-base percentage has been 21 points higher than Howard’s (.389 to .368). With Howard recovering from an Achilles injury, Thome is a fine backup option.
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by Eno Sarris //
The former Yankee outfielder has quite a year in the powder blues. Melky Cabrera was drafted 260th, on average. He ended the season ranked 122nd by B-Rank. Where should he be drafted next year?
Luck on batted balls is always the first place to check. Cabrera had a .332 BABIP this year, tops in his career and much better than his career .299 number. But he’s a reasonably fleet-of-foot outfielder (if, perhaps, in the Bobby Abreu mode) and he hits more ground ball than fly balls. He can expect a better BABIP than most. Lo and behold, his xBABIP this year was .330, and his career xBABIP is .319. This could have been regression toward what should have been his career mean.
Power is the second outlier in his statistical profile. His .174 ISO this year is a career high, more than fifty points higher than his .123 career ISO. He was more aggressive at the plate this year — his walk rate hit a career-low and his strikeout rate was a career-high — but it seems to have worked. Can a guy with a career 1.52 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio put up close to 20 home runs again next year?
Probably. Other players with similar profiles — Adam Jones (1.52 GB/FB over the last three years), Michael Young (1.51), and Brandon Phillips (1.44) — have done so fairly consistently. And if you look at fly-ball distance, as Jeff Zimmermann did here, you’ll see that all the Melkman did this year was recover his old fly-ball distance. He hit balls an average of 278 feet in 2009, 263 feet last year, and 274 feet again this year. Maybe something just went wrong last year.
There is a caveat. The 27-year-old outfielder did steal 20 bases this year, but his career high before was 13. He was also only successful on 67% of his attempts, which is exactly break-even for the steal to be a worthwhile thing. Maybe the Royals don’t care about that break-even point — they stole more bases than anyone in baseball — but they were successful on 73% of their attempts. So Cabrera was one of the less efficient base-stealers on the team.
Cabrera is an interesting case. He hit career highs in so many categories that it only seems natural that he will regress to his career norms. Then again, his career highs were only modest improvements when you look at the rate stats. He did manage 706 PAs this year (compared to an average of 531 over the past five seasons), so it’s only natural that his counting stats looked good.
If you walk Cabrera back in the power and speed departments and give him his career BABIP, he’s more likely to put up a .280 15/15 season than to approach .300 20/20 again. In most leagues, that’s still a good showing, but it’s more like a fourth fantasy outfielder. Treat him as such in drafts next year and in your keeper decisions.
For more fantasy outfielders, check out BloombergSports.com
By R.J. Anderson //
As the offseason nears, it’s time to start compiling a list of 2012 players to keep your eyes on. Catcher is often one of the more difficult positions to find a worthwhile bat at, so any glimpses of good value should be treated with interest. Sometimes that can mean gambling on variables like playing time and continued player development. If you’re willing to do that, then add Jarrod Saltalamacchia to your list.
Not long ago, Saltalamacchia was a consensus top-50 prospect. Baseball America even ranked him in the top 20 prior to the 2006 season. He made his debut during the 2007 season before being dealt to the Rangers. From there, his struggles (including a battle with the yips) are well-established. His season with Boston, however, is giving everyone a new reason for hope, thanks to his .240/.295/.466 line and 16 home runs.
Power is the key to Saltalamacchia game, if that wasn’t evident, and he flashed plenty in recent months by slamming eight homers in July and August. The problem with Saltalamacchia is that he has issues putting the bat on the ball. His career strikeout rate is nearly 29 percent and he doesn’t walk enough (eight percent career) to post decent on-base percentages. Still, the ball can go a long way when he makes contact, and that makes him an attractive option.
Fueling the sex appeal is an increased output of power this season too. It’s not unexpected for a player moving into Fenway, but remember that Saltalamacchia played his home games in hitter-friendly Arlington prior to this season. Saltalamacchia is running a career-high ISO (.226; career: .164) and percentage of hits that go for extra bases (51 percent; career: 38 percent) during his age-26 season. Since players tend to begin their statistical peak around this time in their careers, it isn’t impossible to think Saltalamacchia’s power is a genuine skill set shift rather than a flash in the pan.
The other big concern for Saltalamacchia’s fantasy value, and the reason he isn’t owned in more than nine percent of ESPN leagues, is playing time. Jason Varitek is still getting reps, and that means Saltalamacchia’s value isn’t as high as it could be. Time is working against Varitek and you have to think the Red Sox are pondering what Saltalamacchia can do with even more plate appearances. Catchers with the potential to post 20-plus home runs and ISO well over .200 That’s why you should tuck him away for the 2012 draft.
For more on potential 2012 bargains, check out Bloomberg Sports.
By Tommy Rancel //
Prior to the 2011 season, I wrote the following about Mike Stanton onthe Bloomberg Sports’ blog:
“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.”
Stanton has lived up to those lofty expectations despite the fact he will not turn 22 for another two months. Perhaps the owner of the rawest power in the majors, Stanton has smashed 34 home runs in his first full season of play. In addition to the long balls, he has 27 doubles – and although he does not possess much speed – five triples. The 66 combined extra-base hits are the sixth most in the National League.
One knock on Stanton’s offensive game coming into the season was batting average. A free-swinging slugger like Stanton is not prone to hit for a high average. Not surprisingly, he has hit just .265 this season. Meanwhile, he showed improvement in his plate discipline; an encouraging sign moving forward.
Stanton struck out in more than 31% of his plate appearances as a rookie. He struck out in just over 27% of his PA this season; however, a four percent decrease is nothing to overlook. In addition to fewer punch-outs, he increased his walk total from under 9% to just over 11%. Because of his ability to take a free pass, he has maintained a healthy .357 on-base percentage despite the pedestrian average. He will still chase at pitches out of the zone, and does whiff quite a bit, but is headed in the right direction as far as rates go.
As we shift focus to the 2012 season, Stanton is a name you need to move near the top of your draft board. Because he doesn’t hit for a high average or steal many bases, he narrowly misses the top-tier of outfielders; however, his power is unquestioned and he can get on base in other ways even if he does not hit .280.
The one question mark for 2012 is Stanton’s home ballpark. The Marlins will open a new stadium next season, so we do not know what type of environment he is walking into. Meanwhile, his current home is a pitcher-friendly park and he had no problems clearing the walls on a regular basis. Stanton was drafted between rounds 8-10 this year. I may be bullish than others, but I’d bump him up at least two rounds going into 2012.
For more on Stanton and other Bloomberg Sports’ favorites, check out the Front Office tool
By R.J. Anderson //
Although the Cubs chose against moving Carlos Pena at the deadline, don’t be surprised if someone else on their roster is in the running for becoming the team’s starting first baseman in 2012. The dark horse candidate is a fellow by the name of Bryan LaHair, and because he could become an intriguing option heading into the winter, here’s what you should know about him.
LaHair, who turns 29 in November, was drafted by the Mariners in 2002 out of Holy Name Central Catholic in Worcester, Massachusetts. Until January 2010, LaHair had spent the entirety of his career within the Mariners organization, and even reached the majors in 2008 for 150 plate appearances (during that span he hit .250/.315/.346). After the 2009 season, LaHair became a minor league free agent and signed with the Cubs, with whom he has played for since.
After an impressive 2010 season in Triple-A Iowa, LaHair raised the stakes further in 2011 by hitting 38 home runs and driving in 109 runs. Those numbers came in the Pacific Coast League, but so ha the numbers LaHair had accumulated over much of the previous five seasons, and nothing quite stuck out like his 2011 campaign. The question then becomes whether LaHair has legitimately improved, or if enough repetition and familiarity can lead to some unsustainable success. Perhaps, as is so often the case, reality has it as a mixture of both.
LaHair exited the 2007 season with a .156 ISO, and yet his ISO has increased in each subsequent season; from .156 to .202, from .202 to .241, from .241 to .249, and then from .249 to .333. It could be the league’s offensive-friendly environment playing tricks, but it’s rare to see ballparks provide a steady improvement like the one LaHair is experiencing with his power outputs. That is a reason for optimism. Now, whether the power will translate to the major leagues is another question, and a question without a known answer.
There are murmurs that the Cubs will re-sign Pena, but given the Cubs willingness to slot LaHair into the lineup as an outfielder, he could still become a fantasy contributor if given the playing time.
For more on potential 2012 bargains, check out Bloomberg Sports.