The Dodgers are thriving this season, sitting alone in first place in the National League West. A great deal of credit is certainly owed to Andre Ethier and NL MVP favorite Matt Kemp. The two outfielders have been prolific run producers and Kemp is fresh off one of the most dominant months in recent history.
While offense is certainly important, it has been the team’s pitching that has let the leads stand. While Chad Billingsley has returned to form this season and Chris Capuano has been a pleasant surprise, the key arms in the rotation have been southpaws Clayton Kershaw and Ted Lilly.
Kershaw and Lilly could not be more different. Kershaw is a phenom, who at not even 25 years old is already a Cy Young winner and on the fast track to Cooperstown. Lilly is a 36-year-old veteran hurling on his sixth Major League team. While both left-handers have very different pasts, they are both a part of an important present for the Dodgers.
Kershaw was as good as it gets last season with 21 wins, 248 K’s, and a 2.23 ERA. What’s even more promising is that he is on a better track this season. Though six starts, Kershaw was just 2-3 with a 3.52 ERA and 15 walks a season ago. This season, Kershaw remains a perfect 2-0, while his walks have been nearly cut in half and his ERA is just 2.63.
Aside from comparing Kershaw to his own personal milestones there are few other peers who have enjoyed his level of excellence. Of course, his dominant stuff coming from a left-handed arm slot may remind some of Dodgers Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. Truth is, Kershaw is very different than Koufax. Kershaw could end up having a far greater impact than Koufax.
Koufax was a late bloomer who did not hone his control until he was 25 years old. He then went on to have six of the most impressive seasons in baseball history before an arm injury prematurely ended his career. Kershaw has been pitching at a high level since he broke into the league in 2008. Here’s a comparison of both Dodgers aces through 24 years old.
To put Kershaw’s early performance in even greater perspective, consider that while the 24-year old southpaw’s next win will be his 50th of his career, Ted Lilly, a two-time All-Star, had just five wins at the age of 25. In many ways, Lilly is more similar to Koufax based on his late bloomer status. Of course, Lilly never quite had the glory days of Koufax, but when you look at his career trends he does resemble a fine wine that gets better over time.
The Dodgers have a nice blend of young talent and proven veterans. While the hope is that Kershaw will remain effective far longer than Koufax did and perhaps remain as relevant in his mid-30s as Lilly, what matters most for Dodgers fans is the present. Right now, the two southpaws are as good as any tandem in baseball.
BY ROB SHAW
To put it mildly, Aramis Ramirez has not had Brewers fans forget about Prince Fielder. While Fielder has already offered the Tigers a .345 average with two home runs, Ramirez has chipped in with just a .129 average and no home runs for the Brew Crew. This is a far cry from the .306 average Ramirez offered last season, not to mention the expectations coming into this season with Milwaukee.
While Ramirez is off to a slow start, he has had a tad of bad luck. Alfonso Soriano robbed him at the left-field wall of an extra base hit on Tuesday, and he already has swiped two bases while nailing two doubles. Plus, Ramirez is a notorious slow starter as March and April are his worst batting months throughout his career.
At this point, fantasy managers should be in a holding pattern, as Ramirez is likely to bounce back. For the first time this season, Ramirez did not strike out in two consecutive games. It looks like he is starting to see the ball better, and that usually leads to a rise in batting average and the power metrics. Patience is a virtue in dealing with A-Ram’s early slump.
There has been a very scary trend in Cleveland for fantasy managers in recent years. We’ve seen players who reach superstardom with the Indians only to lose their luster seemingly overnight due to injuries.
First it was MVP contender Travis Hafner, who went from a .300-plus hitting machine with loads of power to a lackluster DH who struggles to stay healthy. More recently, it’s been all-around sensation Grady Sizemore, who has lost his speed and power in recent years and now is once again on the disabled list for an extended period.
The question that is plaguing fantasy managers right now is whether Shin-Soo Choo will follow that undesirable path. Following consecutive 20-20 seasons, Choo had a season to forget last year with off-the-field controversy followed by an injury-plagued season. Fresh off his worst season with 8 home runs and a .259 average, Choo is struggling once again. The two-time 20-20 fantasy star has five hits, all of them singles.
The good news is that Shoo is drawing walks and already has two stolen bases while his OBP is north of .400. For now fantasy managers should be in a holding power with Choo. The solid plate discipline suggests that he is seeing the ball well and could bust out of his power outage at any moment. In fact, if you have confidence in the 29-year-old outfielder go ahead and acquire him while his stock is low.
What’s the deal with Mets first baseman Ike Davis? Last season he got off to a excellent start before a bum ankle shut him down for the season with seven home runs, 25 RBI, and a .302 average through 36 games. This season has been the total opposite. Davis has two hits through 28 at bats, and both hits have been singles.
While the Mets are calling Davis healthy, there are some questions as to whether a fungal disease suffered during spring training is still limiting him physically, or if at this point, the toll is mental, as Davis has 10 strikeouts through the first eight games of the season.
To be specific, the ailment that Davis encountered this spring was Valley Fever, a lung disease that could lead to fatigue. It very much should be taken seriously, as the illness once knocked 130 games out of the season from Conor Jackson. So yes, fantasy managers should be on red alert, as the disease commonly found in desert environments such as Davis’ hometown in Phoenix could be an issue.
Some good news is that David Wright returned from his broken pinkie on Saturday and blasted a home run. With Wright’s return to the Mets lineup, there are more likely to be runners on base for Davis to drive home. Furthermore, Lucas Duda has looked very much like a slugger this season with three home runs already. With Duda batting behind Davis, there could be an uptick in the runs scored as well.
Of course, the main focus for Davis right not is to snap out of the slump, then he will no longer hear the whispers of mystery ailments and more concerns about the health of Mets players.
When last season concluded with Tim Lincecum brandishing a losing record, there was not much panic in San Francisco as his 13-14 record came with a superb 2.74 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. On that note, fantasy managers again picked Lincecum early in the drafts this season expecting him to contend with rival Clayton Kershaw for the NL Cy Young award. Through two starts the Giants ace may have already pitched himself out of contention.
Tim Lincecum currently sits at 0-1 with a 12.91 ERA. Fantasy managers are wondering if it will it be sink or swim by the Bay this season for Lincecum. This is a major concern for a number of reasons, but near the top of the list is that Lincecum is usually strong out of the gates. April is usually the best month for him, at 12-3 entering this season with a sub-3 ERA.
Another key concern has been the diminishing velocity. Lincecum is so far throwing his fastball at 90 MPH this season, down from 91 MPH last year and 92 MPH the year before. He relies a great deal on his high velocity since his outpitch is no longer his slider, but his change-up. In fact, Lincecum has mentioned that he will try to avoid use of his slider this season since it puts pressure on his arm. It will be tough to get away with just a fastball and change-up if he can’t reach the mid-90s.
Keep an eye on Lincecum’s next start as this may be a concerning trend. For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com.
BY ROB SHAW
Every season a different strategy has to be utilized in fantasy baseball drafts in order to appropriately take into account positional depth and player rankings. In general, a unique strategy can be utilized on a round-by-round basis. Here’s a breakdown of Bloomberg Sports recommended Fantasy Baseball Strategy 2012 Edition:
In the early rounds, the focus is finding the best available player while also taking into account the disparity between the best player and the next best option at each position. For example, there is a plateau in excellence for starting pitchers as Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw can all be claimed as the best of the bunch. On the other hand, Troy Tulowitzki stands alone amongst fellow shortstops.
If your fantasy league includes slugging percentage and on base percentage as statistical categories, there is no competition for Jose Bautista in the outfield while there are several stars at first base including Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Joey Votto. The best strategy is to pick up the best talent at a position where there is a large enough disparity that when the next player is drafted from that position there is a decisive advantage in your favor.
In the early middle rounds, it’s not a bad idea to scoop up a fine hurler who has the potential to rank amongst the best. Players such as Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia, and Danny Haren as well as Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg make sense in these rounds. These hurlers have the ability to dominate and enjoy a Cy Young caliber season thanks to their enormous upside.
Having two high potential and consistent hurlers is more valuable than having just one dominant ace. Therefore, by drafting where there is greater disparity in the early rounds with a focus on position players, then nabbing a couple of pitchers with sky high potential fantasy managers can enjoy the best of both worlds.
In the later middle rounds you can draft a closer and many of them. Closers are often overrated in fantasy leagues since they only contribute 70 innings, which means saves are all that matters. Second-tier closers still get the job done and players such as Joe Nathan could end up as bargains. In fact, rather than selecting a Jonathan Papelbon in the sixth or seventh round, you can grab a Gio Gonzalez or a Drew Stubbs, someone who will have a much greater impact on your fantasy team.
Then five rounds later go ahead and draft three closers in a row: Sergio Santos, Jason Motte, and Frank Francisco. Plus, usually about 10 closers become available on the waiver wire each season. In fact, all three of the pitchers just mentioned did not start the season as closers for their respective teams last season.
Finally, in the later rounds, it’s not a bad idea to focus on young talents with great potential as well as players with multiple position eligibility. This allows you to pick up some big time prospects while also enjoying depth. Consider top prospects such as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. There is no telling if the precocious sluggers will develop into stars as soon as this season.
On the other hand, drafting veteran players such as Ryan Raburn and Daniel Murphy is also a key strategy in the later rounds since they cover multiple positions, providing depth to your fantasy teams. This way if a player on your team gets injured, a single bench player can fill multiple holes.
For more fantasy insight turn to BloombergSports.com.
BY ROB SHAW
Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw uses the BloombergSports.com Front Office projections to rank the top five strikeout artists in Major League Baseball for the upcoming season. While Justin Verlander is expected to lead the Majors in strikeouts, National League rivals Tim Lincecum andClayton Kershaw are not expected to be far behind.
Verlander is fresh off one of the greatest seasons ever by a starter and while he earned the MVP and Cy Young award, he is expected to repeat his success this upcoming season. The Tigers have added some pop to their lineup in the form of first baseman Prince Fielder, while Miguel Cabrera is now destined for third base.
While most fantasy managers will focus on that offensive boost, a greater concern may be the poor defense behind Verlander. The good news is that he may become more dependent on strikeouts. Bloomberg Sports projects a staggering 244 strikeouts from Verlander this season.
On the west coast, Tim Linecum and Clayton Kershaw will battle for fantasy supremacy. The hurlers seem to be moving in different directions as Lincecum has regressed a tad in recent years while Kershaw is peaking. Regardless, Lincecum remains a safe bet pitching in AT&T Park with a proven track record that includes 220 or more strikeouts in each of the last four seasons. It also helps having a healthy Buster Posey back in the lineup.
Kershaw finally put it all together last season as he improved his control, went deep into games, and finished with a stellar 21 wins and 248 strikeouts. The southpaw’s statistics are looking more and more like Sandy Koufax’s by the day. The BloombergSports.com Front Office tool projects 239 strikeouts from Kershaw this season.
The fourth most strikeouts will likely be racked up by the forgotten Felix Hernandez. The Mariners 2010 Cy Young award winner has a little more offensive support this season, which should lead to more wins and greater confidence. The durable right-hander picked up 222 strikeouts last year despite some struggles at home. He is projected to surpass 200 K’s for a fourth straight season.
Finally, Cliff Lee edges teammate and fellow ace Roy Halladay on the list. The veteran hurler brandished a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in one of his finest seasons yet. He tallied a career-best 238 strikeouts and that number is expected to take just a minor decline this season.
if looking for sleepers, a couple of less heralded hurlers who can deliver K’s are Braves starter Brandon Beachy and A’s top prospect Brad Peacock. While Beachy is hoping to be a bit healthier in his second full season, Peacock is just the latest young hurler hoping to breakout in Oakland.
For more insight visit BloombergSports.com for access to Front Office.
By Eriq Gardner //