Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw discusses the best teams in baseball right now and checks in with some of their top players at the All-Star Game.
Coming into the season it seemed like everyone was high on the Angels and Tigers, two of the more active teams in the off-season. It turns out that the Yankees are the best in baseball and the Nationals are not far behind.
The All-Star break provided a chance to check in with some of the top players from contending teams, and one player we got to chat with was Ian Kinsler, the 42nd-best fantasy player accoring to Bloomberg Sports with 65 runs, 10 home runs and 15 steals. He was one of eight All-Stars from the Rangers, a franchise that has made it to back-to-back World Series.
“It was a good first half,” Kinsler said. “I think as a team we played well. We went through a lot more ups and downs than we wanted to but we played well and we’re in first place right now. And we have eight guys here at the All-Star Game, so we’re happy.”
Another team expected to contend for the title is the Detroit Tigers. Prince Fielder was the major off-season acquisition, but this is Miguel Cabrera’s team. Cabrera is enjoying an MVP-caliber season and right now ranks as the seventh-best fantasy player. He made it clear that the start to the second half will be big.
“We feel okay, you know. We want to feel more comfortable at the end of the season, like win the division, get into first place,” Cabrera said. “I think we’re in good position. I think we’re feeling good right now. We want to start good in the second half, start to be more aggressive and win more games.”
Finally, the Angels are putting some heat on the Tigers. Jered Weaver has pitched like an ace and Albert Pujols has turned things around. While everyone is talking about the superstar rookie Mike Trout, it’s the second-year star Mark Trumbo who ranks as the top surprise. He’s batting .305 with 26 home runs and 65 RBI.
“It’s been really special,” Trumbo said. “The first month of the season is probably forgettable. We were out there competing, just the results weren’t coming in. Sometimes that happens. But since then we’ve been rolling pretty well. People are playing to their capabilities and we’ve had a lot more wins to show for it.”
The Tigers, Angels and Rangers were supposed to be the teams competing for an AL pennant this season and so far they have. If the season ended today, all three would advance to the postseason thanks to the multiple Wild Card spots. However, there is still a lot of baseball to play and several surprise teams are still out there, including the A’s, White Sox and Indians. A big move at the trade deadline or even a key promotion could make the difference.
For more insight, visit BloombergSports.com.
Bloomberg Sports Anchors Julie Alexandria and Rob Shaw break down four players worth picking up right now in your fantasy league.
Jordany Valdespin, 2B/LF, Mets
Valdespin is a middle infielder at heart, but the Mets have a need in left field with Jason Bay clearly a fragment of the slugger that he once was. While Bay is batting .179 with four home runs, Valdespin is now hitting .269 with five home runs and has a .354 average since June 10. Valdespin is far from perfect, as he does not draw many walks, but he does have an electric bat. In the minor leagues last season, he boasted 17 home runs with 38 steals.
Adam Lind, 1B, Blue Jays
Lind is hitting .339 with five home runs and 15 RBI in 18 games since his return from the minor leagues on June 25. He will suffer with Jose Bautista out of the lineup but he is swinging a hot bat and should be picked up by anyone in need of some power in their fantasy leagues.
Andruw Jones, LF, Yankees
Jones is now something of a one-trick pony, as he offers power but very little of anything else. He is batting .239 on the season but boasts 12 home runs in just 134 at-bats. Now that word has come out that the Yankees will likely be without Brett Gardner for the remainder of the season, Jones should get some decent playing time.
Michael Brantley, OF, Indians
On Tuesday, Michael Brantley was batting cleanup for the Indians. This was a major surprise for a batter with a .384 slugging percentage last season. However, Brantley is just 25 years old, and he is starting to hit with some power. In 28 fewer games played than last season, Brantley already has just one fewer extra base hit than a year ago, which places his slugging better than .430. He also has 10 stolen bases so far this season.
For more fantasy insight, visit BloombergSports.com.
Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw breaks down four players who have a surprising number of stolen bases this season.
Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals
Molina had a career-high nine stolen bases in 2009, which is impressive from a catcher. He already has seven steals this season, in addition to 11 home runs and a .319 batting average. It’s hard to believe, but the Cardinals may have picked correctly when it came to which free agent to give a big contract to in the offseason, Molina or Albert Pujols. So far, Molina is performing at a higher level this season.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians
Kipnis’ career high in stolen bases was 17, which he achieved last year between AAA and the majors. He already has 17 steals this year and is on pace for nearly 40 by the end of the season. He’s also contributing in the power area with 11 home runs, 46 runs and 42 RBI.
Michael Saunders, OF, Mariners
Saunders stole 29 bases in 2009 in the minors and has 12 stolen bases so far this season. What is surprising is how much playing time he is getting, but he can’t be taken out of the lineup with a .267 average, eight home runs and 35 runs.
Carlos Beltran, OF, Cardinals
We know that Beltran has speed, as he became just the eighth player in MLB history to have 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases. However, he only had seven stolen bases in the past two seasons combined, making his seven steals this year so surprising. He is also batting .312 with 20 home runs and 57 RBI.
For more fantasy baseball insight, visit BloombergSports.com.
by Eno Sarris //
Most health updates at this point in the season are nigh useless. Yes, many major leaguers enter spring training in the best shape of their life. Why should we care?
In the case of Indians catcher Carlos Santana, there’s a little more significance to this latest piece of news:
Almost six months to the date after knee surgery to fix a strained LCL and hyper-extended knee suffered in this horrific collision, it looks like Carlos Santana is looking good again. He can catch and run the bases – he’ll get a full spring training.
Projection systems can’t always take injuries into consideration. Sure, they can read that he ‘only’ managed 438 plate appearances next year, and take that into consideration when predicting his playing time this year, but they can’t examine the knee and declare it structurally sound. Bloomberg’s Front Office tool did its best, using the sage B-Rank to project Santana for a .257 batting average, with 18 home runs, 66 RBI and one stolen base in 538 plate appearances. Those numbers look nice, and will play at a tough fantasy posiiton, even if we can’t see the MRIs and examine the ligament ourselves.
What we can do is remark how spectacular Santana has already been by taking a look at his abbreviated 2010 season. Last year, he showed an OBP over .400 by walking in as many at-bats as he struck out (19.3% walk and strikeout rates in 2010). He also had a .207 ISO (isolated slugging percentage, or SLG – AVG), which translates to above-average for the general population (.150 is about average), but even better when compared to other catchers. In fact, only eight catchers have shown an ISO above .200 since 2005, and none of them showed the same elite plate discipline.
Carlos Santana has already shown he belongs. Once he shows he’s healthy, his price will begin rising. And appropriately so – he’s likely to end the season as a top option at his position. Recent mocks have Santana going anywhere from the seventh to the fifteenth round, but with this news expect that second number to get smaller.
For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com
By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise: Chris Perez
When the team acquired Perez last season, they envisioned him as the closer of the future. They probably did not expect that to come in 2010, but they got what they wanted and then some. Perez racked up 23 saves in 27 chances this season with a 1.71 ERA – third-best in the American League among relievers with at least 50 innings of work. On top of the low ERA, Perez struck out nearly a batter an inning and allowed just four home runs in 63 frames. Defensive independent metrics suggest Perez’s ERA is a bit lucky, so beware of regression in 2011.
Biggest Bust: Kerry Wood
Signed to be the team’s closer is 2008, Wood never lived up to his contract in Cleveland. After injury, ineffectiveness, and the emergence of Perez, he was traded to the New York Yankees at the trade deadline. Before the trade, he was 1-4 with a 6.30 ERA and three blown saves in 23 games. He has since pitched much better as a set-up man for the Yankees, but that does no good for Cleveland.
2011 Keeper Alert: Justin Masterson
Like Perez, the Indians acquired Masterson in 2009 with high hopes for the future. After working mostly out of the Red Sox bullpen in 2008 and 2009, Masterson made 29 starts for the Tribe this year. The fantasy stats, however, are a work in progress: 6-13 with a 4.70 ERA in 180 innings. However, he should be on your keeper list because…
2011 Regression Alert: Justin Masterson
While his traditional stats are not impressive, Masterson is better than his near-five ERA suggests. He has a decent strikeout rate of 7.0 K/9 IP and also lowered his walk rate to a career low 3.65 BB/9 IP. As an extreme groundball pitcher (59.9%), he relies heavily on luck and infield defense. In 2010 he was unlucky on batting average on balls in play: His BABIP .332 was well above the league average of .302. With some better luck, Masterson could eventually put up numbers similar to Trevor Cahill‘s 2010 campaign – maybe even next year.
For more on Justin Masterson and the Cleveland Indians’ pitching staff, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise: Carlos Santana
Despite having his rookie season cut short with a gruesome knee injury, Carlos Santana looked as good as advertised in his 46 major league games. After hitting .316/.447/.597 in 57 minor league games, the young catcher compiled an .868 OPS in 192 plate appearances for Cleveland. Although his batting average was just .260, Santana had an on-base percentage over .400 (.401). This is because he walked an amazing 37 times in 192 appearances (19.3%).
Biggest Bust: Grady Sizemore
It is somewhat unfair to label a player a bust when his season ends after just 33 games due to a major knee surgery. But even before the injury, Grady Sizemore was not producing like a top-level outfielder – the spot where most people drafted him this year. As mentioned, Sizemore played in just 33 games. In those games, he hit just .211/.271/.289. This comes on the heels of 2009 in which he hit just .248/.343/.445 in 106 games, itself a huge step-down from his prior superstar performance. He’s a high-upside pick next year, but given the risk, don’t overbid.
2011 Keeper Alert: Carlos Santana
Not only is Santana a really good hitter with ridiculous on-base skills, he does it from one of the least productive positions in baseball. The average OPS for a major league catcher this season is .702, the second-worst mark for any position on the field (shortstop .696). In his brief time, Santana posted an OPS of .868. There are three catchers in the entire league (minimum 190 PA) who posted a higher OPS: Geovany Soto, Buster Posey, and Joe Mauer.
2011 Regression Alert: Matt LaPorta
As the crown jewel in the CC Sabathia trade of 2008, Indians fans are still waiting for Matt LaPorta to replicate his minor league success at the next level. LaPorta has hit just .221/.306/.362 in 425 plate appearances. His batting average on balls in play was also pretty low at .250. A large reason for this is his weak percentage of line drives hit. Just 12.5% of the balls in play off LaPorta’s bat were line drives – the third-worst mark in baseball (minimum 400 PA). It is no secret that line drives are the type of batted ball that tends to fall for a hit the most often. Still, LaPorta’s minor league track record suggests power potential, and he should start right from Opening Day next season. He’s worth a shot in deeper leagues.
For more on Carlos Santana and the Cleveland Indians lineup, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By Tommy Rancel //
Once upon a time, Chris Perez was regarded as the St. Louis Cardinals’ closer of the future. After a few seasons of inconsistency, a trade to Cleveland, and Kerry Wood‘s trade to the Yankees, Perez is finally closing games on a regular basis at the major league level.
Perez made his major league debut with the Cardinals in 2008 when he pitched 41 games out of the pen – compiling a 3.46 ERA with seven saves. Although he struggled with walks, he struck out more batters (42) than he had innings pitched (41.2) that year.
The right-hander would split the 2009 season between St. Louis and Cleveland after a mid-summer swap for Mark DeRosa. While his ERA jumped to 4.26, his strikeout rate improved from 9.04 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) to 10.74 per nine. Walks were still a problem, but his BB/9 dropped slightly (4.33 in ’08, 4.27 in ’09). A flyball pitcher (his groundball rate was an extremely low 35.3% in 2009), Perez’s home run rate jumped to a shaky 1.26 per nine innings.
Perez was slated to start the 2010 season as the Tribe’s set-up man for Wood. When Wood went down with injury early in the season, Perez was temporarily given the closer’s role. Upon his return, Wood assumed control of the 9th inning. When Wood was traded to the Yankees at the July 31 deadline, Perez was once again given the title of closer.
Despite the uncertainty in roles, Perez has turned into a fairly reliable fantasy option at the back end of games. Overall, he has a 2.17 ERA over 49.2 innings. His K/9 has dropped to 8.34, no longer elite for a reliever, but still very playable. His BB/9 has dipped slightly to 3.99, a positive sign.
Speaking of progress, Perez has made his greatest strides over the past three months. Since June 1, Perez has struck out 29 batters while walking 12 in 31.2 innings. During the same time period, he has allowed just five earned runs (1.44 ERA). In the small sample size of August, he has not walked any batters while striking out nine and giving up just two runs.
Perez is certainly not the caliber of Mariano Rivera or Rafael Soriano. And his team is middle of the pack on their best day. That said, the low ERA, the stellar strikeout numbers, the unchallenged save opportunities, and the availability on most waiver wires make him an attractive option to deep AL only owners, and those looking for late-season closing options in mixed leagues.
Be warned, though: The biggest change in Perez’s results by far, though, has been a plunge
in his HR/9 rate. That’s down to a career-low 0.72 this season, and
seems to be mostly a product of tremendous luck: His HR/FB rate has
tumbled to 6.5% this season. A pitcher inducing a microscopic groundball rate of
30.3% (for comparison, Perez’s teammate Justin Masterson is generating a 62.3% GB rate) isn’t likely to avoid homers this successfully for long. Perez’s strand rate is a higher-than-average 83.6%, while his batting average on balls in play is just .254, well below the league average of about .300. His xFIP (a stat that runs along the same scale as ERA, but also adjusts for ballpark effects, aberrant home run rates, batted ball luck, and other factors) of 4.67 dwarfs his 2.17 ERA, and shows that luck has played a big role in his success.
Grab the saves, but don’t expect a Mariano-like ERA forever, especially if you’re in a keeper league.
For more on Chris Perez and other late season additions, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By Tommy Rancel //
In the summer of 2008, the Dodgers acquired Casey Blake from the Cleveland Indians. Blake, 36, was a soon-to-be free agent after the season. In exchange for a few months of Blake’s services, the Dodgers parted ways with catching prospect Carlos Santana and minor league relief pitcher Jonathan Meloan.
The Dodgers re-signed Blake after the ’08 season, and the four-corner man (1B/3B/RF/LF) has been a good player for Los Angeles. On the other hand, he is far from an impact player. While it may have not seemed like it at the time of the trade, one of the players sent to the Indians may indeed become an impact player.
Jon Meloan has bounced around the league, from Cleveland to Tampa Bay to Oakland. Meanwhile, Carlos Santana has become a top-10 prospect in baseball. With the Indians already out of the race 2010, the focus has shifted to the future.
Santana figures to be a key part of that future. A former third baseman/outfielder, Santana was converted to catcher in 2007. His defense is still questionable, but Santana’s ability at the plate has him ready for the big leagues right now.
In 2008, while splitting time between the two organizations, Santana hit .326/.431/.568 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 21 home runs and 117 RBI. That said, 560 of his 568 plate appearances came at the Single-A level. The Indians promoted him to Double-A in 2009, and he responded by hitting .290/.413/.530 with 23 home runs and 30 doubles. Ready for the top level of the minors in 2010, Santana appeared in 57 games for Triple-A Columbus – compiling a slash line of .316/.447/.597 with 13 longballs in just 246 PAs.
Along with a good batting average, and very good power (.241 Isolated power, aka slugging minus batting average, in 2009), perhaps Santana’s greatest skill is his batting eye. As a member of the Indians farm system, he walked 145 times and struck out just 132 times over the past two plus seasons. Throughout his minor league career, he has 333 walks and 322 strikeouts. It is that fantastic plate discipline that should help ease the transition from a good minor league hitter to a good major league one.
So far, so good. In his first four games as a major leaguer, Santana had three walks and just one strikeout. He also belted his first major league home run on Saturday. Although his batting average may take an initial hit at the top level, his plate discipline should keep him on base at an above-average clip.
Despite playing in the same division as Joe Mauer, don’t expect Mauer-like production, at least not right away. Meanwhile, looking at the man Santana indirectly replaced, Victor Martinez, we may have a more apt comparison. If Santana is on your waiver wire, put in a claim immediately in all mixed-league and AL-only formats.
Not much has gone the Indians’ way in 2010, but Santana’s supernatural on-base ability should be fun to watch this summer.
For more on Carlos Santana and other top prospects, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By Tommy Rancel //
Under most circumstances, a pitcher who is 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA would be close to a benching – if not dropped – in most fantasy leagues. However, Justin Masterson is a player you should be actively seeking on the waiver wire or via trade.
Masterson has been a portrait of inconsistency in his five starts this season. He pitched 7.2 innings in his last start, following two starts in which he went eight innings total. Despite the winless record and the high ERA, there is a lot to like about Masterson.
First, we have a terrific strikeout rate. With 31 strikeouts in 26.2 innings, the young righty boasts a strikeout per nine (K/9) rate of 10.46. Only Tim Lincecum and Justin Verlander were in that territory last season. Of course the small sample size rules apply, but if he regresses toward his career K/9 of 8.03, that would still translate into 150 strikeouts should he pitch 170 innings.
In addition to the favorable strikeout rates, Masterson is a noted groundball machine. He has induced 54.2% groundballs in his career, and is currently getting grounders 57% of the time so far in 2010. His career numbers suggest that is perfectly sustainable. Again, we love groundballs because they limit the damage that can be done on a ball hit in play. In fact, more than two-thirds (66.9%) of at-bats against Masterson end in a strikeout, a groundout, or a single.
With all that said, Masterson does have flaws. His career walks per nine (BB/9) rate is a bit high at 4.13. This season his BB/9 is 4.05. On the other hand, when a pitcher is getting more than a strikeout per inning, as well as almost 60% groundballs, you can accept a few walks.
The biggest cause of Masterson’s inflated ERA thus far has been bad luck. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) thus far is an astronomical .420. A normal BABIP for a pitcher is near .300 and Masterson’s career number is .304. Expect regression to come soon, and with it a big improvement in his fantasy numbers.
Here’s another example of Masterson’s terrible luck: Less than one-fifth of the balls (18.5%) hit off Masterson are flyballs. Yet, almost one-third of those flyballs are leaving the yard. Masterson’s current home run-to-flyball rate (HR/FB) of 26.7% is the highest in the league. That number is more than double his career number of 13.2% and much higher than last year’s “leader”, Braden Looper, who had a 15.8% HR/FB for the Brewers.
When his BABIP and home run rates regress, Masterson should see a significant drop in ERA. Presently, his fielding independent pitching (FIP), which measures strikeouts, walks and home runs, is 4.30 – a full run less than his ERA. Going even further, his expected FIP or xFIP, which normalizes his home run rates to further remove “luck” from the equation, and give a more accurate look at true talent level, is an excellent 3.12 – the fourth-best mark in the majors.
Masterson, 25, is still learning how to pitch at the major league level. In general, a starting pitcher needs at least three pitches in order to survive lineups turning over three or four times a night. Right now, Masterson is living dangerously with just his fastball and slider. There are two versions of the fastball: four-seam and sinker; however, batters are seeing some form of the hard stuff nearly 85% of the time. He has been throwing his slider nearly 14% and barely using his change-up, which has a usage of less than 2%.
The sinker/slider combo, as well as Masterson’s three-quarters delivery, have been effective against righties, who are hitting just .226/.288/.302 vs. Masterson. Meanwhile, the heavy heater diet has been a feast for lefties who are smashing him to the tune of .414/.493/.655. If Masterson could spend some time with new teammate Mitch Talbot, the owner of a plus change-up, he could use that pitch as a great equalizer against his left-handers.
All things considered – the strikeouts, the expected regression, and the groundballs – Masterson has the tools to be a solid starter in the American League. Currently, he is available in nearly 60% of leagues.
If you are in a mixed-league, pick him up. If you are in a deeper league or an AL-only league, in which he is owned, it shouldn’t take much to pry him away from an owner who is concerned with ERA. There will be some growing pains, but the potential for reward outweighs the relatively low risk.
For more on Justin Masterson and other buy low candidates, check Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
odate such optimism. Even local writers scratch their heads about whether the team has a plan.