BY ROB SHAW
When it comes to evaluating player performance and creating projections for the upcoming season, Bloomberg Sports takes several factors into account. Here’s a breakdown of four of the nine factors that allow Bloomberg Sports to offer the most accurate projections in fantasy sports while attracting more than 20 Major League teams to turn to the company for scouting and advanced analytical solutions.
The first factor to consider is ballpark. Over the last five years it seems like we have shifted back to the big ballparks that favor pitchers. That is certainly the case for Citi Field, PETCO Park, and Target Field. As a result, just about any Mets, Padres, or Twins hurler performs better at home than on the road.
On the other hand, there are power alleys in Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, and most definitely the Ballpark in Arlington. Fantasy managers want to invest in the pitchers from the large cavernous and the hitters in the bandboxes.
On that note, be wary of pitchers who thrived in pitcher’s parks such as Mat Latos and Heath Bell who now join more hitter-friendly confines and definitely invest in hitters such as Michael Cuddyer making the move from Target Field to Coors this season.
The next fantasy factor to keep in mind is durability. Fantasy managers expecting full seasons from Jose Reyes, Nelson Cruz, and Chipper Jones are playing against the odds. There are durable hitters out there such as Yadier Molina and Roy Halladay. Their durability is a fantasy asset since you know what to expect from them on a day-to-day basis.
Next, fantasy managers should consider the age of their players. Bloomberg Sports has found 26-31 to be the prime age for baseball players. A younger player should be approaching his peak, while older players are typically on the decline. It should not shock you that Ichiro, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez are slowing down with age.
Finally, fantasy managers should consider the impact of a long-term deal. It is very rare that the player delivers shortly after signing such a deal. While we hate to question motivation, we have noticed that stars such as Jason Bay, John Lackey, Carl Crawford, and Jayson Werth were not nearly as productive after signing long-term deals compared to the season prior to the negotiation. On that note, Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols may not be as safe as you thought.
For all nine Fantasy Factors visit BloombergSports.com.
BY ROB SHAW
CJ Wilson may have been the top arm on the market this off-season, but the pressure is certainly not as intense on the hurler as it is on Albert Pujols. The reason is very simple, while Pujols is the best hitter in the world Wilson isn’t even the best arm on the Angels.
Wilson’s struggles in the postseason may have left a bad taste in the mouth of Rangers fans, but the hurler is actually in a much better situation now that he flees the hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington. Putting the 2011 playoffs aside, the year as whole brough great improvement for Wilson. His strikeouts went up while his walks went down.
Another factor for Wilson this season will be his run support. Typically leaving the Rangers, who are loaded with sluggers, will result in a decline of run support. However, that is not the case since Pujols will also join the Angels who already have some former first basemen who know something about providing big bats.
The Angels will be fun to watch for many reasons, and after falling to Pujols and the Cardinals in the postseason last season, Wilson should enjoy the shot at winning with Pujols as his teammate manning first base.
It made perfect sense for the Miami Marlins to sign Heath Bell. The veteran hurler has three straight seasons with 40-plus saves and while the Marlins have had some success in their bullpen in recent years, it has not been as dominant as what the Padres enjoyed. There is just one problem with bringing in Bell and expecting everything to run smoothly. There are signs that the 34-year-old may be losing his effectiveness.
A late bloomer with the Mets, Bell broke out in San Diego, where he had the benefit of little media attention and one of the most favorable ballparks for pitchers. In fact his 2.88 ERA on the road last season was not as dominant as the 2.15 ERA he posted at PETCO Park.
Bell also regressed as a strikeout hurler. His 11 K/9 dropped to 7 K/9, as his whiff rate fell by 9%. This is not just a matter of Bell losing velocity, in fact, the main issue has been a loss of effectiveness in his curveball. In 2010, the opposition hit just .141 against that pitch, and last season it spiked two-fold to .282. The out-pitch is not recording as many outs.
Bell should enjoy plenty of save opportunities since the Marlins did improve their starting rotation and offense, but there should be less heralded hurlers in fantasy leagues who can end up posting better numbers this season.
At first glance, last year was a disaster for long-time Twins closer Joe Nathan. His ERA doubled, his strikeouts declined, and his saves were cut drastically. Of course, Nathan was also returning to the mound after missing all of the 2010 with a major arm injury.
On that note, Nathan’s statistics should be measured differently. Rather than focus on the full season, we should pay greater attention to the end of the season when he finally shed all of his rust. From June 25th on, Nathan was his usual dominant self. His WHIP was a dominant 0.90 from that point forward, which suggests that even in his late 30s, Nathan still possesses the ability to dominate.
Nathan now joins the Texas Rangers, and while he will throw the ball in a much more hitter-friendly ballpark, he joins a better club that will likely result in more save opportunities. The ERA may take a slight uptick, but overall he will enjoy more saves and have more value assuming he can stay healthy. It also allows some of the younger hurlers to take on larger roles in the starting rotation.
by Eno Sarris //
The MLB trade deadline isn’t for another six weeks. That doesn’t mean that it won’t make waves in fantasy baseball sooner than that. There are a couple players in particular that are very likely to move. With these players, it makes sense for both teams to make the trade sooner rather than later in order to get the most value, whether it be in prospects or production.
The Padres are nine games out and at the bottom of the National League West division. Their closer, Heath Bell, is a one of the elite bullpen arms in baseball. He’s also a free agent at the end of the year and is already the highest-paid player on a cash-strapped team. Former GM Jim Bowden recently said that Bell is the player most likely to be traded, and with good reason it seems.
Behind Bell are a couple arms worth owning if he’s going to leave town. Most likely, Mike Adams is next in line. The righty is working on his fourth straight year with more than a strikeout per inning. He also has great control. That mix has produced a 1.71 ERA over that time span — he’s really good. There is one caveat with the 32-year-old, however: he’s only under team control for one more year. Luke Gregerson, on the other hand, is under control for three more years and is also excellent. He’s managed a strikeout per inning over the first three years of his career, and even if his ERA isn’t as pristine as Adams’ (3.14), he gets good ground balls (48.1% career) and has one of the best sliders in the game. If only he was healthy — a strained oblique has felled him at the wrong moment. Then again, Gregerson uses his slider almost twice as much as his fastball, and some of my recent research has shown that heavy slider usage can lead to injury. Adams is the safer pick overall.
In New York, the Mets are eight games back. Even if they only have two teams in front of them, one of them has an historic rotation and the other is stacked with young talent. Add in some much-publicized monetary issues, and it just doesn’t seem like the Mets need Francisco Rodriguez to stick around. The sticking point is a $17.5 million vesting option for next year, and a limited no-trade that allows him to block a trade to ten mystery teams. But if the Mets can find a team that’s not on the list and has an established closer (in order to keep his option from vesting), there’s an immediate match, and the team is highly motivated to make such a deal.
Behind Rodriguez, there isn’t an easy solution. Well, there is, but it isn’t very forward-looking. 38-year-old reclamation project Jason Isringhausen is the obvious set-up man and the team leader in holds. Some fans have hopes for Bobby Parnell as the closer of the future, but the flame-thrower has terrible control. No other reliever has stepped to the fore, although hometown hero Pedro Beato has an interesting pitching mix. He still doesn’t have the strikeout punch of a closer right now, though. Even with Isringhausen’s mediocre strikeout and walk rates, and advanced age, he’s probably the dude once K-Rod leaves town.
The trade deadline comes July 31st. By thinking ahead, you might just own two newly minted closers by then.
For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com
by Eno Sarris //
The trade deadline isn’t until the end of the month, but enterprising contenders are already making the rounds and looking to pick the carcasses of teams less fortunate. Every extra start or at-bat that the contender can get out of the fresh meat is a start or at-bat in their favor, so they might as well get going.
Fantasy owners might take note here and get ahead of the eight ball themselves. The danger in AL- and NL-only leagues is that a fantasy owner’s player gets traded out of their league and creates a hole on their roster. Another danger is that a player moves from a beneficial situation to one less supportive of their skills. Let’s run down the top ten trade targets in the rumors currently and talk a little about where they might land and what that would mean. We’ll handle the pitchers today, and the hitters early next week.
Lee owners in AL-only leagues should be shopping him as hard as they can. Some might even counsel that Lee owners should take whatever they can get, perhaps from a team in the bottom half of the table looking for a home-run shot. Apparently Lee has told his teammates he’s already made his last start for the Mariners (and then he promptly denied it in the media). The worst news is that many of the most-rumored spots for Lee are in the National League. The Mets, Phillies and Cardinals have all been linked to the lefty with the insane strikeout-to-walk ratio (just look at the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider graphs and see how pretty his work has been). Lee owners might take heart that the Yankees and Twins have also been included in the rumors. Even though the source might be a little old, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times said on June 24th that the Mets and Twins were the favorites to land Lee, and that seems to make the most sense. The thing is, the Twins aren’t known for making big trade deadline pickups, as the lede in this MLB.com article about the Orlando Cabrera pickup states. That kind of move seems more up embattled Mets’ GM Omar Minaya’s alley. Keep Lee in an AL-only league at your own peril.
Millwood is actually second-most likely starting pitcher to be traded to Lee. Because of his advanced age (35), rough ERA (5.40), expiring contract, and the Orioles’ record (24-54), if anyone wants him they can probably get him. The thing is, he’s sporting his best strikeout rate since the last time he was in the National League (7.00 K/9) and a walk rate that is right in line with his career number (2.78 BB/9). He’s giving up a few too many home runs (1.69 HR/9), and that’s will happen to a flyball pitcher (42.9% GB% career) in the AL in a tough park for pitchers (1.283 park factor for home runs). Given his nice underlying statistics, and his success in the NL in the past, Millwood is less of a loss for AL-only owners and more of a potential pickup for NL-only owners. He’s not someone to bust your FAAB budget on, but he’s certainly worth some money, especially if he ends up in a park that suppresses home runs like Citi Field (.595 park factor for home runs) or Busch Stadium (.763 park factor for home runs).
The sharks circling Houston are a little less rabid despite the obvious state of that carcass, but that’s perhaps justified in the case of Oswalt. He is due $16 million next year and has a $2 million buyout in 2012. That’s a lot of money for a pitcher that is 32 going on 33, never had an elite strikeout rate, and has a body type that some feel doesn’t age well. On the other hand, Oswalt is showing the second-best strikeout rate of his career and is pitching the best he has in about four years. Because of the money, he’s a little less likely to change hands. Even with owner Drayton McLane saying he would eat some of Oswalt’s salary, the only team linked to the pitcher so far has been the Rangers. That’s a bit ironic, considering their financial situation. It’s also worrisome to NL-only Oswalt owners.
The Cubs aren’t used to being sellers, but they are 10.5 games out, 11 games under .500, and have a -24 run differential. They don’t look good. Many of their problem players have salaries that are too onerous to trade – no team will want to take on the rest of the Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Zambrano contracts, for example – but then there’s Ted Lilly. We talked about Lilly as a fantasy hold – his velocity is returning, and he’s showing a nice ERA – but his strikeout rate is still lagging, and he’s still an extreme fly ball pitcher. Look at the difference between his xFIP (4.60) (expected Fielding Independent Pitching, a number that strips out batted ball and home run luck to produce a figure on the ERA scale) and ERA (3.12). If the Cubs are smart enough to sell, they’ll get some interest in Lilly, but the trade rumors have been light so far. GM Jim Hendry might give the team as long as he can before selling a piece like Lilly, so fantasy managers should probably take the same approach.
Though the Diamondbacks are obviously cleaning house, the feeling is that the team would have to be ‘overwhelmed’ to trade their ace. First of all, it might be selling low, because despite secondary statistics in line with his career rates (8.90 2010 K/9, 7.71 career K/9; 1.70 2010 BB/9, 1.96 career BB/9; 41% 2010 GB%, 44.1% career GB%), his ERA is not pretty (4.56). Secondly, he only costs about $33.75 million from 2010 until 2012 according to Cot’s Contracts. It wouldn’t make much sense to trade an underpaid ace at a lowpoint in his value. It’s much more likely that the team trades some of its veteran position players.
The Indians are terrible (31-47), and Carmona is cheap ($11.375 million combined 2010/2011), but it will be interesting to see how much teams will want to pay for his services. He relies very heavily on his sinker-inducing ways (58.6 GB% this year, 60.8% career). When his control eludes him (3.16 BB/9 this year, 3.78 career), he can be terrible. But right now, despite his inability to strike people out (4.73 K/9), he’s doing well enough to elicit interest (3.68 ERA, 1.28 WHIP). On the other hand, named suitors don’t abound (the Mets “aren’t interested‘ according to Joel Sherman), and his fantasy trade value is hard to gauge. Carmona may be one of those players that fantasy managers are happy to have owned when he was going well.
This group may include the most-dealt pitchers on the list, as relievers cost less in both contracts and salary. They also are perceived as difference-makers for contending teams with poor bullpens, rightly or wrongly. Heath Bell tops the list, as his Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider chart shows. His owners should be slightly nervous, as rookie GM Jed Hoyer is talking about adding offense, and has two ready-made replacements in Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson, but as long as the team is going well, Bell should remain in San Diega.
Kevin Gregg, on the other hand, might change hands if someone wants him. Toronto isn’t going to the postseason, and they also own Jason Frasor and Scott Downs, so teams needing bullpen help will be calling. The thing is, Frasor and Downs have been pitching better and are free agents at the end of the year. They might be preferable to contending teams, and with Gregg’s bloated ERA (4.20) and walk rate (5.40), he could just stay in Toronto.
David Aardsma is struggling (5.33 ERA), and is also cheap (arbitration-eligible for three more years), so he’ll probably stay in town despite the odd rumor. If he does leave, it’s Brandon League that will take over. Octavio Dotel has surpassed expectations and is obviously not in the long-term plans for the Pirates, so his owners should be worried. Suitors are not yet obvious, though, and his perceived value is probably not too high. His owners could shop him to saves-starved teams to be ahead of a possible trade, on the other hand.
For more on Cliff Lee and other possible trade-deadline movers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.