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Nunez Replaces Rodriguez in Yankee Lineup

By Tommy Rancel //

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replacing Jon Lester

By R.J. Anderson //

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

Carlos Carrasco

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

Jonathon Niese

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

Chris Capuano

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

Rich Harden

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

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

The Abundance of Strikeouts and Fantasy Baseball

by Eno Sarris // 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vance Worley: 4th Ace or Joker?

By Tommy Rancel //

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add Bastardo?

By R.J. Anderson //

Charlie Manuel hinted on Tuesday that Phillies reliever Antonio Bastardo will be the team’s first choice to close out ballgames in the wake of Ryan Madson being placed on the disabled list. Despite that, Bastardo remains available in two-thirds of ESPN’s fantasy leagues entering Thursday. Is Bastardo worth the addition for potential cheap saves, or do the fantasy owners know something more about him than the Phillies?

The easy answer is that Bastardo is still undervalued.  The lefty has a 0.96 earned run average on the season, a 0.86 WHIP, and has more strikeouts than innings pitched. Bastardo’s career splits do not indicate he has much in the way of a platoon split, so the Phillies can use him against lefties and righties without worry. Such flexibility could allow the Phillies to feel more comfortable with Bastardo in the ninth than other options, but it might backfire, and have them using him earlier in the games too.

The drawback to adding Bastardo is that the Phillies have had the third-least save opportunities in baseball, only ahead of the Rays and Dodgers. This is due to a confluence of factors. The Phillies, as a good team, often beat their opponents by more than three runs, and their rotation goes deeper into ballgames, allowing for more complete game opportunities. Add in other stuff—like walk-off wins—and it’s understandable how this can happen.

Adding Bastardo comes down to your league and roster. If Bastardo only holds value as a long-term closer, then consider passing, but if a few saves and holds the rest of the way is just what the doctor ordered, then pick him up and watch him go.

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

Lonnie Chisenhall Set To Debut: Buy or Pass?

By Tommy Rancel //

In many ways a top prospect is like a new toy for fantasy owners. You hear about it weeks, months, and in some cases, years before it is ready to be released and from there the anticipation builds. Once it hits the shelf, there is a rush to be the one on your block – or in this case, league – to get it first.

This season, we have had several top positional prospects make their debut as: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Anthony Rizzo and Dustin Ackley have all debuted to much fanfare. While their debuts were heralded and their careers may be long and successful, it is rare for a prospect to jump into the major leagues with a large degree of success. It does happen from time to time, but those tend to be outliers more than the rule. With the impending call up of Lonnie Chisenhall, any potential buyer should beware of the production under that new toy shine.

Like all of the names above, Chisenhall, a Top 25 prospect according to Baseball America’s pre-season rankings, is projected to have an excellent career in the majors. On an Cleveland Indians team that has quickly fallen back to the back, the young third baseman could provide them with the offensive spark they need. He projects to hit for a lot of power (51 home runs in 373 minor league games) and will take a few walks as well. Meanwhile, he has not hit for a high average (.250-.270 range) and has been know to strikeout a bit (averaged a strikeout once every 5.8 at-bats in minors).

In addition to the “average” average and the strikeouts, Chisenhall, like many other young left-handed sluggers, has struggled with a platoon split. He has mashed against right-handed pitchers while struggling to hold his own against lefties. As the competition increases, and the usage of specialists in the bullpens, the Indians may opt to platoon him at first instead of a baptism by fire against southpaws.

Still, young power-hitting third baseman do not come around very often. If you are in a really deep AL-Only league, Chisenhall’s talent and potential for playing time against right-handed pitchers makes him a pick-up option. That said, if you are looking for hot corner power in standard leagues or shallower AL leagues names like Ty Wiggington and Mark Reynolds are likely lurking on waivers with similar power potential for the rest of the season without the need to prove they can hit major league pitching out of the park.  

For more on Chisenhall and other top prospects, check out Bloomberg Sports Front Office.

Around the Horn: Waiver Wire Pick-Ups

Absent the beautiful Michelle Steele, Bloomberg Sport’s own Rob Shaw goes around-the-horn offering some advice on how to put a solid bat in your fantasy line up.

Catcher: Jorge Posada, Yankees

This was a sleeper in many drafts because of the fact that he was going to be in the lineup everyday without the grueling task of catcher, but apparently it took some time for Jorge Posada to adjust to the designated hitter role.  He hit .132 in April, and didn’t have a homer in May, but in June, Posada is hitting .393 with two home runs.  His season average is suddenly a more respectable .234 and his 8 home runs rank well amongst catchers.  Looks like Posada is still a fantasy option.

 

First Base: Daniel Murphy, Mets

He has five hits over the last nine games with four RBI and four runs.  His average is now at .296 for the season and despite just four home runs, he does have four steals, which is good for a corner infielder.  Murphy is simply a professional hitter who will offer consistency and a great deal of position eligibility, he can play first, second, and third.  Just don’t put him in the outfield, the Mets learned that lesson a few years back.

 

Second Base: Danny Espinosa, Nationals

We have called him the Nationals version of Dan Uggla on this very show and we are not messing around.  The rookie second baseman is putting up an Uggla type season with 14 home runs, 47 RBI, but the improvement is the nine stolen bases, which justifies his entry into your fantasy lineup despite the .242 average.  At this point, Espinosa has been an upgrade over Uggla.

 

Shortstop: Jeff Keppinger, Astros

He kind of fits the Daniel Murphy mold, Keppinger is a crafty hitter despite a lack of power and speed.  At 31 years old, Keppinger is not a prospect, so his playing time may diminish, but it till be tough to remove him from the Astros lineup as long as he is hitting .336 with a couple of home runs.  Keppinger once hit .332 in 67 games for the Reds back in 2007, but he has never hit more than seven home runs or swiped more than four bases.

 

Third Base: Ty Wigginton, Rockies

With four home runs over the last four games, there is no one hotter than Ty Wigginton right now.  By the way, all four of those home ru8ns have come on the road, so don’t think this is a product of Coors Field.  His average is just .275 on the season, but his 12 home runs are legit, after all, he hit 22 bombs last season.  Similar to Murphy, this ex-Mets infielder is a jack of all trades and offers eligibility throughout the infield.

If you need more Rob Shaw, check out our YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/BloombergSports

Is Andrew Miller Worth The Time?

By R.J. Anderson //

Andrew Miller’s career has been anything but picturesque. When Detroit nabbed Miller in the top 10 of the 2006 draft, he appeared to be an integral part of the future. Left-handed starters with the arsenal Miller displayed don’t come around too often, so it was understandable when the Marlins demanded the Tigers build a package around Miller and Cameron Maybin before they would part with Miguel Cabrera.

Miller’s time with the Marlins wasn’t pretty. He walked more a batter every other inning and while the strikeout totals were impressive, it’s hard to escape jam after jam when you continue to give away bases. Eventually, the Marlins, sensing Miller was hopeless, spun him to Boston for another pitcher, Dustin Richardson. Miller has since spent his career in Triple-A, working on improving what ails his control. The common theory is that he nibbles too much, thus running up his pitch count and leading to the walks. Supposedly a new pre-game preparation has Miller becoming more aggressive early in the game.

Whatever the reasons for a recent stretch of strong performances are, Miller finally found himself back in the majors earlier this week. With Clay Buchholz on the disabled list, Miller was called upon to take his rotation spot. His first start, against the Padres, concluded after 5 2/3 innings pitched, he walked three, struck out six, and allowed three earned runs on seven hits (including a home run).

It wasn’t the prettiest start, as the Padres offense tends to be hapless, but with Miller’s next few starts also scheduled against National League teams, he could be worth picking up. Even if he struggles, Boston’s offense could net him a win or two. And, should everything go right in Miller’s development, he could provide above-average contributions the rest of the way.

 

For access to the top baseball analytics and fantasy tool Bloomberg Sports Front Office visit BloombergSports.com

Is 2011 the Year of the Reliever?

By E. Gardner //

Time to give relievers some love.

It’s no secret that in the past few seasons, pitching has gotten stronger. One trend that hasn’t been remarked upon in 2011 is that relievers as a class are having a banner year.

Relievers are known as a fickle bunch, and sure, there’s been some attention paid to the closer carousel for the Dodgers, Blue Jays, Cardinals, among other teams, but overall, closers are having a pretty solid season. There’s currently 17 pitchers on pace for 35 saves. Last season, only 11 ended up with that total. Among the 17 pitchers who are on that 35-save pace, every single one of them has an ERA under 4.

But it’s not just closers who are providing value this season.

Throughout baseball, relievers this season have an ERA at 3.65. That compares to the collective ERA of starters at 3.94.

Compare this to last year: In 2010, relievers had an ERA at 3.93; starters had an ERA at 4.15.

In other words, the ERA of starters have dropped two tenths of a run, but the ERA of relievers have dropped nearly four tenths of a run.

Perhaps the most valuable reliever this season was hardly drafted, is still not universally owned, doesn’t have many saves, and yet, according to nearly every player rater measuring value in fantasy leagues, is atop such pitchers as Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, and Tim Lincecum.

We’re talking about Jonny Venters, and if you don’t believe us about his value in 2011 to date, check out ESPN’s player rater for confirmation.

Venters currently has a microscopic ERA at 0.618, an infinitesimal WHIP at 0.8015, and is also contributing in wins (4) and saves (3). His 47 strikeouts this season (in under 44 innings) are also impressive. It’s only two less than teammate and Cy Young candidate Jair Jurrjens.

But Venters isn’t alone.

For those looking for help in ERA, there are pitchers like Mike Adams, Eric O’Flaherty, Aaron Crow, and Antonio Bastardo, who all rank as top-25 contributors in the category this season — even with diminished innings. These guys are available in most leagues.

For those looking for help in WHIP, there are pitchers like Daniel Bard and Tyler Clippard who are producing more in WHIP than even the most elite starters. Again, these guys come free in most leagues.

Undoubtedly, as pitching has grown stronger in baseball, fantasy competitors must chase an ERA in the low-3’s and a WHIP around 1.2 to be successful. Leaning on elite relievers has grown more important than ever.

For access to the top baseball analytics and fantasy tool Bloomberg Sports Front Office visit BloombergSports.com

The Legend of Ruggiano?

By R.J. Anderson //

It wasn’t too long ago when Sam Fuld was the darling of the baseball community. Fuld, a small speedy outfielder with an interesting back story, took the league by storm with a combination of base hits and defensive wizardry. Since then, a massive slump has left Fuld on the bench and another longtime minor league outfielder in the spotlight.

The Rays acquired Justin Ruggiano in a 2006 trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Texas A&M product looked to be a throw-in with the chance to turn into a bench player down the road, but attitude and performance issues led to him being removed from the 40-man roster in the spring. Out of options, but clearly not optimism, Ruggiano put in his work at Triple-A, hitting .301/.382/.514 with six home runs in 167 plate appearances.  Ruggiano is encroaching on 50 plate appearances and has an OPS over 1000 and three home runs to show for it so far, leading some to wonder whether they should try to ride the wave, much like they did with Fuld.

It’s a risky proposition, more so in Ruggiano’s case than Fuld, because of the timing. With the Super Two date quickly passing, Brandon Guyer—who was already recalled once this season—could be in line for a promotion. Not only that, but arguably the Rays top prospect, Desmond Jennings—should arrive in St. Petersburg within the next four weeks, and the only logical spot for him to play is left field, unless the Rays trade B.J. Upton by then.

In danger of stating the obvious: Ruggiano is not going to keep this pace up. His career Triple-A line is .289/.362/.472 and he has proved prone to the strikeout. It’s a nice story, and for a short-term fix, he could provide some power, but don’t start sewing the Legend of Ruggiano shirts just yet.

For access to the top baseball analytics and fantasy tool Bloomberg Sports Front Office visit BloombergSports.com

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