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What To Do With Alex Rios

Alex Rios continues to be head-scratcher for fantasy owners. Blessed with five-tool talent, Rios has shown flashes of brilliance along with extended periods of little to no production. After a poor 2009 season, Bloomberg Sports pegged Rios as a rebound candidate in 2010. He responded by hitting .284/.334/.457 with 21 home runs and 34 stolen bases.

Once again, he looked like a rare combination of power and speed that could provide value in extra-base hits, steals, and runs scored. That was until the 2011 season started. Thus far, Rios is hitting just .211 with a .573 OPS. He has been one of the worst everyday players in the majors despite hitting in an offensively friendly environment. That being said, he is a prime target if you like getting players who are worth more than their current value.

Accompanying his career-low .211 batting average is also a career-worst .224 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Far too often people will look at a player’s BABIP and make a case for good or bad luck based on that one metric alone. In this case, it does appear Rios has been unlucky. Here is why…

In terms of batted-ball data (line drives, groundballs, flyballs) Rios is largely the same hitter he has always been. Looking at line drives – the type of balls that fall most for hits – he is actually hitting more liners this year than he did in 2010. This could be some classification bias as liners are sometime misclassified as flyballs and vice versa; however, all of his rates are within career norms.

In addition to the batted-ball information, Rios is showing similar plate discipline. His walk rate is in line with his career number and he has actually cut down his strikeout rate quite a bit. He is also making more contact and whiffing on fewer pitches.

According to the pitch values listed on Fangraphs.com, Rios has struggled with fastballs this year. As a player hits the other side of 30, this could be a concern. Meanwhile, Rios continues to make contact with heaters so it doesn’t appear as if his bat has slowed up enough to be a legit concern right now.

Like 2009, there is a chance that Rios’ slow start turns into a season-long slump. On the other hand, there are signs to point in the direction of positive regression. If you can get Rios at his lowest, the potential reward of that batting average regression – which also means potential increases statistics like steals and runs – outweighs whatever little value you have to toss back to his current owner.

Bloomberg Sports Waiver Report: Niese, Uehara, Norris, Villanueva, Venters

Koji Uehara, RP, OriolesHe may not have any saves so far this season, but Koji Uehara remains the most underrated reliever in baseball. Why? How about a 2.20 ERA and startling 0.80 WHIP? Throughout his career, Uehara boasts 138 K’s to just 23 walks, and the ratio is 35:6 this season. He doesn’t let anyone on base, which minimizes the damage. He won’t help in wiuns or saves, but in ERA, WHIP, and K’s, Uehara is a must add.

Jon Niese, SP, MetsEveryone is talking about Mets rookie Dillon Gee and his splendid 7-0 record, but the better pitcher in my mind is southpaw Jon Niese. Ignore the 5-5 record, Niese has won four of his last five decisions. Over his last five starts Niese has surrendered just five earned runs, cutting his ERA from 5.03 to just 3.51 this season. Niese also gets plenty of K’s, making a solid fantasy pickup.

Bud Norris, SP, AstrosIf in need of a short-term pickup, get to know Astros right-hander Bud Norris. Despite a 4-4 record, Norris is a strikeout artist who averages a K per inning. He also has won his last two starts and on Tuesday has a favorable match-up against the Pirates. Norris is a fine start at home, where his record is 12-8 with a 3.76 ERA.

Carlos Villanueva, SP/RP, Blue JaysA long-time middle reliever for the Brewers, Carlos Villanueva is enjoying a second crack at starting with the Blue Jays. The 27-year old veteran enters the week with a 4-0 record and 3.09 ERA. Most impressively, Villanueva boasts a 0.99 WHIP due to a .196 opposing average. I don’t view this success as long-term, but more a result of the opposition not being familiar with the long-time National Leaguer.

Jonny Venters, RP, BravesWhile I pointed to Koji Uehara as the most underrated reliever in baseball, the best one these days is Braves eighth inning option Jonny Venters. The southpaw dominated last season to the tune of a 1.95 ERA and 93 K’s in 83 innings. He has actually improved this season, allowing just two runs to score in 40.2 innings. He has recently enjoyed some save opportunities with Craig Kimbrell struggling. He is a must-add in deep leagues, though odds are he has already been taken.

Phillies and Royals, Polar Opposites

The Philadelphia Phillies and the Kansas City Royals are polar opposites. The Phillies stand atop the NL East with a 37-26 record, while the Royals sit in 4th place in the AL Central with a 27-36 record. Yet, there are more to both teams than their records.

It so happens that the Royals are the youngest team in baseball with an average age of 26.2, while the Phillies are the oldest with an average age of 31. Among the youngest players on the Royals, is standout first-basemen Eric Hosmer at 21.

Hosmer, is hitting amongst the likes of Placido Polanco, the 35-year-old Phillies third baseman. Kansas City has the lowest Payroll in the MLB at $36,126,400, while the Phillies payroll, $172,976,381 is only second only to the New York Yankees; making the Phillies payroll about five-times that of the Royals.

Some good news for Kansas City is that they are hitting well, ranking 9th in Runs, Batting-Average, and OBP. On the other hand, the Phillies rank 17th, 20th, and 19th respectively. The old dogs aren’t just rolling over yet.

To no surprise, the Phillies well-tenured pitching staff (including big names Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels) are dominating the younger Royals staff. The stacked Phillies rotation ranks 2nd in ERA and 1st in Quality Starts, with the average age among pitchers at 30 years old. With an average age just over 25, the struggling Royals staff is almost in last place (29th) in ERA and Quality Starts.

While Philadelphia is the team to beat in the NL, Kansas City is a team to take note of. With the All-Star break coming up next month, it will be interesting to see the performance of these two teams in the latter half of the season. Will the younger team be able to mature and continue to get better as the season progresses? Will the old arms of the Phillies hold up as the games start to add up?

Written by Matt Sbordone, Bloomberg Sports @SbordoneZone

Are Recent Infield Arrivals Worth Your Time?

By R.J. Anderson //

With the 2013 Super Two date somewhere in the early-to-mid part of June, teams are beginning to call up worthwhile, if not elite, prospects in hopes for an added charge. Are any of the recent infield promotions capable of doing the same to your fantasy roster? Here is a look.

Dee Gordon

Son of Tom Gordon, Dee could claim owner of the “Flash” nickname too, because he has legitimate top-end speed. Scouts rate speed on a 20-to-80 scale, and many have Gordon at 80. Watching him play, it’s easy to see why, as he covers ground in an instant and his foot speed is a big reason for why he went 22-of-25 on basestealing attempts in Triple-A this season. Offensively, Gordon isn’t going to offer much else. Probably a decent-to-good batting average however he has little to no power. If speed is a priority, consider grabbing Gordon.

Jemile Weeks

Brother of Rickie, Jemile is up in place of Mark Ellis, who was sent to the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday with a hamstring strain. Weeks was hitting .321/.417/.446 in Triple-A with a walk-to-strikeout ratio near 1. He found himself leading off in his big league debut and should get a fair amount of playing time in Ellis’ absence.

Scott Sizemore

Another Athletic, Sizemore has taken Kevin Kouzmanoff’s spot. With Adam Rosales also returning, there is a chance the A’s use a combination of the pair at third base, but Sizemore’s play in Triple-A (an OPS over 1000 in 135 plate appearances makes him a possible change of scenery candidate—even if the only real changes were his uniform and the leniency the organization takes with his struggles.

Cord Phelps 

The newest addition to the list, Phelps was called up on Wednesday and thrown right into the lineup at second base. He can man the skill infield positions, which means he could gain eligibility at third, short, and second over the season. Phelps hit .308/.388/.498 in his Triple-A career and showed more pop than his previous performances. He could see regular playing time.

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

Tim Stauffer & Carlos Carrasco: Fringe Fantasy Starters

By Eno Sarris //

We’re all searching for strikeouts. We know that the batting average on a strikeout is zero. We know that a pitcher with a high strikeout rate is likely to help in pitching categories across the board. We all love the strikeout.

But a couple pitchers showed us last night that there is value in pitchers that don’t rack up the Ks.

Well, Tim Stauffer did actually manage eight strikeouts in eight innings of shutout ball against the Rockies Tuesday night, but that’s not his norm. For the year, he has a strikeout rate that’s just above average (7.27 K/9, 6.97 is average this year). This mediocre rate is supported by a below-average swinging strike rate (7.6%, 8.4% is average), so it’s not likely to change much going forward. It’s also tempting to say that he’s a creation of his home park, but he has a 1.35 WHIP at home, and a 1.26 WHIP on the road. He’s been solid at home or away.

What does prop up his production is his walk rate and his groundball rate. Stauffer is only walking 2.31 batters per nine this year. He only walked 2.61 per nine last year, and has a 3.12 rate for his career. All of those numbers are comfortably above average (this year, 3.22 BB/9 is average). Stauffer also keeps the ball on the ground. The last couple of years, 44% of all contact has gathered dirt – and Stauffer has shown a 53.4% groundball rate. Among pitchers with more than 150 innings pitched since the beginning of 2009, that rate places 13th. He’s a worm-burner with great control that deserves to be on most mixed-league rosters even if he won’t rack up the strikeouts.

Most of the same things can be said about Carlos Carrasco in Cleveland, but to a lesser extent. The paradox is that this makes him more likely to be available in your leagues, and also more of a risk.

Carrasco pitched well last night, but not as well as Stauffer. He got six strikeouts in eight and a third innings to Stauffer’s eight. He did hold a team scoreless, but it was the punchless Twins. Carrasco also fails to rack up the strikeouts, but his rate is more poor (5.21 K/9) than mediocre. Carrasco also has shown good control (2.60 BB/9 this year), but his groundball rate (49%) is not as strong. Call him Stauffer-lite – even his home park helps suppress the home run to a lesser extent (3% fewer home runs to lefties, 12% fewer to righties).

There is one note of upside left in Carrasco’s profile. While Stauffer has a below-average swinging strike rate, Carrasco’s is barely above average (8.5%). By using his strong curveball and changeup, he actually managed a strikeout rate above eight per nine ever since he hit Double-A in the Phillies’ organization. His strikeout rates have been better than Stauffer’s at every minor league level.

So there’s your wrinkle. Neither Carrasco nor Stauffer will headline your staff because they are unlikely to be strong plusses in the strikeout category. But by limiting the walks and keeping the ball on the ground, both will be useful this year. Consider picking them up in your leagues if you are looking for good ratios.

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

The Cheapest Way To Make Up Statistical Ground

We’ve come to the point in the season where fantasy competitors begin taking a hard look at the standings and their rosters in an attempt to figure out how to make up ground.

Often, a competitor might see his or her struggles in a particular category, and with advancement in mind, begin thinking of players who are statistical superstars. Figuring out the players who are strongest in a particular category is one way towards making up statistical ground —  but not the only way. In fact, there’s something to be said for identifying one’s weakest players in  the category in question — and then looking to replace them with merely average ones.

Why?

League leaders in categories like HRs get a lot of attention. (Hello, Jose Bautista!) And if you want to trade for them, prepare to open up your wallets. It’ll be costly and likely open up other deficiencies for your team.

One of the overlooked aspects of a statistical chase, however, is that certain players deliver negative value. These players are like megaton weights chained to the ankles of one’s statistical drive.

For example, in most leagues at the moment, there are currently 12 players who qualify as second-basemen with seven or more HRs. Those who drafted Brian Roberts, who only has three HRs so far, are getting negative value in power from their second baseman.

This team might be suffering in HRs and begin thinking about a trade. The smart move, though, might not be to pay top dollar by trading for a Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, or Mark Teixeira, but rather to erase the negative.

Think about it.

The team with Mark Teixeira/Brian Roberts isn’t getting any more HRs from this combo than the team with Paul Konerko/Neil Walker. Neither Konerko nor Walker are doing anything above the norm at their respective positions, but by keeping pace, they aren’t hurting either. A guy like Roberts, meanwhile, drags down the value of the collective.

If Walker isn’t attainable for the team looking to upgrade on Roberts’ power, there are other options: Howie Kendrick has 7 HRs and is coming back from the disabled list this week. Or check out guys like Ryan Roberts (8 HRs) or Allen Craig (4 HRs in 102 ABs and now getting regular PT), who are both just a couple games from qualifying at the second-base position. Not only would Kendrick, Roberts, and Craig offer power advancement over a guy like Brian Roberts, but they are adequate enough to represent positive value in the other categories too.

We’re not trying to pick on Roberts, of course. Almost every team has weaknesses that can be salved. Understanding negative value is the key here. In sum, remember basic calculus from your school days: Subtracting a negative equates to an addition.

–Eriq Gardner

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In Need Of Pop? Add Espinosa

By R.J. Anderson //

Entering Tuesday’s game, Cliff Lee had allowed six home runs in his first 11 starts. Danny Espinosa added a pair, as the Nationals routed Lee and the Phillies—booting the free agent signee after 5 1/3 innings pitched and tacking on six earned runs.  For Espinosa, it is a feat sure to garner him some publicity, as the former Long Beach State attendee now has 10 home runs on the season, tying him with Kelly Johnson for the second most home runs by a National League middle infielder.

It is an interesting development for Espinosa, who at 6-feet tall does not have the typical build of a slugger. What he lacks in size he makes up for in violence. With a high leg kick leading into a fierce twist, Espinosa is able to generate enough torque to thrust the ball beyond the fences. As you would expect, Espinosa’s unique swing antics result in some strikeouts too, as he fanned in nearly 27 percent of his first 280 or so major league at-bats.

Those strikeouts assist in diluting Espinosa’s fantasy value because his batting average so far is nothing to write home about (.216) and his on-base percentage suffers because of the diminished batting average (.299). Most of the time, a batter with two-thirds of a career line of .216/.299 isn’t worth fantasy or real world considerations, but Espinosa’s pop makes him an intriguing option in the fantasy world, and his ability to field and run the bases makes him a real world starter too.

Espinosa may be available in your league because of his strikeouts, horrid batting average, and terrifying on-base percentage. Truthfully, he doesn’t fit every team—as those who can sacrifice some pop for average and walks should do so—but if your team could use a little thunder and has some average to spare, Espinosa is a nice little pickup.

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Is Roy Oswalt a Sell-High?

by Eno Sarris //

By all accounts, Roy Oswalt is dealing. He’s got an ERA under three, a good WHIP, and is pitching for a contender that should get him wins. If you drafted him to be your number two, you’re probably happy with his performance. Why should you consider selling high on the second-best Roy in Philadelphia?

In a word, swinging strikes. The average swinging strike rate across baseball is usually around 8.5% in any given year. Oswalt has been average or better in the statistic for eight of his last nine years, and that’s how he’s built a strikeout rate that’s usually average or better. This year, Oswalt has a 6.9% swinging strike rate, the lowest of his career, and far below average. That’s behind his 5.8 K/9, again the lowest of his career and far below the 7 K/9 that is average across baseball right now.

There are other facets to pitching well. Oswalt still has his patented control, as his two walks per nine inning show (3.25 BB/9 is average this year). That should continue, and it will help him keep his WHIP and ERA manageable even if he regresses. He just won’t have a ton of baserunners even if he isn’t racking up the strikeouts.

Oswalt also gets about half of his contact on the ground, which is ahead of the 44% league average. But that’s not an elite ground-ball rate, and it’s not enough for him to ‘deserve’ his current home run rate. He is giving up the fewest home runs of his career in Philadelphia (0.4 HR/9 this year, 0.76 HR/9 career). This is because only 4.5% of his fly balls are leaving the park. That number trends towards 10% yearly across baseball, and Oswalt himself has an 8.9% number in the category. More home runs are coming.

At 33 years old, there’s a little less gas in Oswalt’s tank. He’s lost a tick off his fastball (down to 91+ MPH from 92+ MPH) and he’s foresaken the slider so far this year. He’s using the slider 5% of the time after using it around 15% of the time the last three years. Sliders are known to cause stress on arms – but we haven’t heard from Oswalt that his arm is hurting. His back was the issue earlier in the year, but that’s just the sort of thing he’ll deal with as he gets older.

The point is, he doesn’t look like a true-talent mid-twos ERA guy at this point in his career. He’s not getting the swinging strikes, and some luck is covering up his lack of strikeouts. He’ll be good going forward – don’t sell him too low. But consider an ERA in the high threes much more likely from this point on. That means that if someone is willing to pay ace prices, you should listen.

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Josh Willingham Producing Runs In Oakland

By Tommy Rancel //

With a slash line of .244/.328/.446, Josh Willingham appears to be having a pretty average season. Meanwhile, his 35 RBI in 48 games puts him in the top 10 of American League run producers – just one RBI behind notable sluggers like Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, and Mark Teixeria. Considering he has around 20 plate appearances less than those names, Willingham has been quite the run producer while flying below the radar in most fantasy leagues.

Playing for a team that scores less than four runs a game, Willingham has made the most of his opportunity to drive runs in. In fact, Willingham’s at-bat-to-RBI ratio is second best in the league behind Jose Bautista. Of all his baserunners, 17% of them have scored which is above the league average of 14%.

Although the Oakland A’s have struggled to score, Willingham is projected for some benchmark fantasy numbers. With nine home runs in 171 at-bats, he is on pace for more than 25 bombs should he get 500 at-bats this season. If he continues to drive in runs as he has during the first two months, he will top the 100 RBI mark while scoring 60-plus runs on his own.

While several outfielders like Jason Bay, Austin Jackson, and Nick Swisher, are hitting the waiver wire for performance issues, Josh Willingham provides a cheap alternative. Mike Morse currently leads the rush for waiver wire outfield eligible players; however, Willingham comes with a larger track record of success and more job security. Considering Melky Cabrera –a player with less home runs, RBI, and lower on-base percentage – is owned in nearly 100% of leagues, you could be missing production that is just waiting to be claimed.

Not everything about Willingham is good. For one, he does have some injury concerns. He has played more than 130 games just once over the past three seasons, but appears to be healthy now. He will not hit for much more than a .250 average, but has shown a willingness to walk in the past giving him a solid on-base percentage. He has hit more than 20 home runs in a season three times, and as mentioned above, he is on pace to do so once again.

The negative injury history could manifest at some point; especially considering his age (31). Meanwhile, the cost of a waiver claim and an OF3 spot does not come with a hefty price tag. With the opportunity for 50-plus extra-base hits, 100 RBI, and another 60 runs scored, Willingham could be one of the sneakier pickups in 2011. If you have an opening, strike now. If not, keep an eye on his progress and if/when the opportunity presents itself (injury or trading a similar player on your roster to strengthen a position of weakness), remember Josh Willingham’s name as a low-cost run-producing source with decent power on top of that.

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Rubby De La Rosa as Closer?

By R.J. Anderson //

The end-game portion of the Dodgers bullpen has been a mess this season. Jonathan Broxton, formerly one of the game’s better closers, has struggled with his control (walking more than six batters per nine innings pitched) while allowing too many home runs and watching his strikeout rate recede. If that isn’t enough, top set-up man Hong-Chih Kuo is on the 15-day disabled list with anxiety disorder. Even makeshift closer Vicente Padilla is on the DL with right forearm irritation.

In recent times, the Dodgers have turned to Mike MacDougal and Javy Guerra to close down games. There is bad, then there is “MacDougal in for the save” bad. On Tuesday, the Dodgers took some action by promoting one of their top prospects to the majors. Rubby De La Rosa is not a household name yet, but he could be in due time. The 22-year-old made his debut in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game and here were the results:

Struck out Hunter Pence (six pitches)
Forced Carlos Lee to groundout (two pitches)
Struck out Brett Wallace (five pitches)

It was only Houston, sure, but striking out Pence and Wallace in your first appearance is a nifty start and if De La Rosa’s minor league stats are any indication, there will be plenty more Ks flashing on the Dodgers scoreboard in the years to come. Beyond just his stats, De La Rosa has the stuff of a closer too—with a high 90s fastball and power slider. There are whispers of his ability to occasionally hit triple digits, which just adds to his mystique.

That Don Mattingly was willing to toss De La Rosa into the eighth inning immediately feels like a sign he may go to him in the ninth sooner than later too. In which case, scoop De La Rosa up if you have the space, because he could be a source of saves by the end of the season.

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

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