Tagged: Houston Astros

Fantasy Baseball Players Getting a Shot: Brown, Olt, Holland, Wallace, and Sanchez


Twitter: @RobShawSports and @BloombergSports


Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw discusses five players who are getting a chance to play in the majors and how valuable they may be to fantasy managers.


Domonic Brown, OF, Phillies

With a couple of outfielders on the move, Dominic Brown has returned to the Phillies. The former top prospect hit .310 with 20 doubles in just 65 games in the minor leagues this season. A month shy of his 25th birthday, Brown’s window of opportunity is closing, so it makes a lot of sense for the Phillies to give him a shot. If you are in need of some offensive support, Brown should be able to offer a decent average and respectable on base percentage, though the power and speed have not developed the way we thought they would so far.


Mike Olt, 1B, Rangers

A late first-round pick in 2010, Olt is a big-time power hitter who slammed 28 home runs with 82 RBI in 95 games at Double-A this season. He was desired by all teams when it came to blockbuster deals at the trade deadline, but instead the Rangers plan to have him contribute in the big leagues now. This is bad news for Mitch Moreland, who offers great power but has not been given much of a shot to play everyday.


Greg Holland, RP, Royals

A 27-year-old right-hander who throws hard but does not surrender many long balls, Greg Holland picked up his first save on Wednesday night with a 1-2-3 inning. Holland can still get wild at times and is not nearly as dominant as he was a season ago, but the Royals are at least providing him with the opportunity to succeed in the high pressure role of closer.


Brett Wallace, 1B, Astros

It took Brett Wallace more than 330 at-bats to rack up five home runs last year. He already has four this year in fewer than 50 at-bats after blasting two in his last start. Though his plate discipline is lacking, Wallace did offer some power at Triple-A this season while offering a .300 average. The soon-to-be 26-year-old will have every shot to contribute for the remainder of the season with the Astros in what could be his last chance at being an everyday player.


Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Pirates

The Marlins found no more use for the struggling Gaby Sanchez while the Pirates are eager to give him an opportunity. Sanchez has a .200 average with just three home runs this season, but this is a player who hit 19 home runs in back-to-back seasons and was batting .302 with five home runs in 34 games at Triple-A. With Casey McGehee dealt to the Yankees, Sanchez has first base to himself in Pittsburgh.


For more fantasy insight, visit BloombergSports.com.

Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire Report: Murphy, Snider, Rutledge, and Maxwell


Twitter: @RobShawSports and @BloombergSports


Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw discusses four players worth picking up off the waiver wire this week.


Daniel Murphy, 2B, Mets

Murphy has nine hits in last 11 at-bats but has been resting against lefties. Though he is hitting .274 against southpaws, he has just a .295 OBP with a .359 SLG against them.


Travis Snider, LF, Blue Jays

Snider hit his first homerun of the season on Sunday and is now hitting .364 through three games in the majors. He had 13 home runs with 56 RBI in 56 games at Triple-A.


Josh Rutledge, SS, Rockies

The injury to Troy Tulowitzki allowed the Rockies to give their 2010 third-round pick Josh Rutledge a chance to play every day.  He now boasts a six-game hitting streak with a .353 season average and three steals. The 23-year-old looked like a five-tool talent at Double-A this season.


Justin Maxwell, OF, Astros

After missing a few weeks due to injury, Maxwell has returned in a big way for the Astros, as he blasted his ninth home run of the season on Sunday.  Maxwell has a ton of power, and though he does swing and miss a lot, he has also drawn some walks. With the Astros slowly improving, he could become a legitimate slugger in the big leagues.


For more fantasy insight, visit BloombergSports.com. 

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

Bill Hall Joins Fantasy Baseball’s Worst Infield

by Eno Sarris // 

You won’t find many fantasy baseball articles about the implications of Bill Hall joining the Houston Astros this off-season. That’s for good reason: Hall’s faults are well-defined, his upside muted, and his strengths not the kind that lead to fantasy dominance. What might be most notable about the acquisition is how well he will fit in that Astros infield.

bill-hall-brewers.jpgHall is who he is. Almost 3500 plate appearances into his career, we know he’ll take walks at about an average rate (7.8% career, 8.9% last year, average hovers around 8.5%), strike out way too often (28.7% career, 30.2% last year, average hovers around 20%), and put a charge into the ball (.193 ISO career, .209 last year, average hovers around .150). He’s versatile – in that he can play most positions without embarrassing himself, though he’s great with the glove. He’ll most likely start at second base for the Astros, but his history suggests he’ll rack up some games elsewhere by the end of the season.

Of course with that package, Hall’s usual place in fantasy baseball becomes clear. The lack of contact keeps his batting average too low to be a sought-after solution in mixed-league drafts (.250 career, .247 last year) but his ability to hit home runs and fill in at tough positions (Hall played 20+ games at LF and 2B, 5+ games at SS, CF, 3B, and RF) often becomes interesting at some point in the year. He’s mostly a waiver-wire, plug-in type. Maybe a late-round pick.

Remarkably, you might use that tag to describe each member of the Astros’ infield as presently constructed. On that infield, only Clint Barmes struck out less than 30% of the time last year, nobody walked
more than 9% of the time, and Hall’s 18 homers led the group. Dan Symborski’s well-respected ZiPs projections just came out for the Astros, and the projections for Brett Wallace (.261 BA, 17 HR, 59 RBI), Barmes (.245 BA, 11 HR, 8 SB), Hall (.234, 16 HR) and Chris Johnson (.269, 17 HR, 73 RBI) paint an ugly picture: The Astros are a good bet to field the worst fantasy infield in the game next year.

Caveats apply. The average qualifying second baseman put up a .276/.345/.414 line in 2010, and that resulting .138 ISO means that Hall will show well above-average power among his peers at that position. He could keep the starting second base job all year and hit 25 home runs with that short porch in left field, though he’s only once before hit more than 20 home runs. Even if he does top that power mark, the question remains how much losing those 30+ points of batting average will hurt your team.

If your league has corner infield spots, or you took a flier on a young or inconsistent third baseman ahead of Johnson, he could be a late-draft handcuff possibility – but in that case, there’s a chance that someone sees his batting average from last year and likes him better than they should. Wallace and Barmes – well, a wait-and-see approach is best for those two.

MLB Season in Review: Houston Astros Pitchers

By Eno Sarris // 

Biggest Surprise: Wilton Lopez

How does a pitcher who doesn’t strike out batters at an average rate for relievers (6.72 K/9, reliever average well above 7 K/9) become the best reliever in his pen? Lopez did it by not walking anyone (five all year, or 0.67 BB/9) and keeping the ball on the ground (55.7%). Those aren’t always the traits of a great closer – managers love the strikeout – and so Lopez may not be fantasy-relevant in most leagues. But if your league counts holds, or you are looking for a reliever to keep your ratios down, remember this name.

Biggest Bust: Bud Norris

If you’re looking for strikeouts, Norris could be your man; if he could pick up some of that control from Lopez through osmosis, he’d be a veritable ace. He struck out more than a man per inning (9.25 K/9), and that’s valuable. But he struggled to locate his secondary stuff, and his walks spiked as a result (4.51 BB/9). Given that he’s also a flyball pitcher (41.4% groundballs for his career), he’ll really need to cut down on the walks to fulfill his promise in the starting rotation.

2011 Keeper Alert: Wandy Rodriguez

Rodriguez struggled out of the gate (4.97 ERA, 1.52 WHIP before the All-Star game), but a fine second half brought him back to upper-echelon levels (3.60 ERA, 1.29 WHIP). Though his strikeout (8.22 K/9) and walk (3.14 BB/9) rates were the worst he’s shown in three years, they were still strong. He’s a little older than you might think (32 next season), but in the short-term he’s still a good keeper on a staff mostly devoid of young keeper pitching. J.A. Happ, for instance, strikes out more than a full batter fewer than Rodriguez, and usually walks at least a half-batter or more than him too.

2011 Regression Alert: Felipe Paulino

Paulino is a little like Bud Norris in that he can strike a batter out (8.15 K/9 last year), struggles with control (4.52 BB/9 last year), and put up a stinker of an ERA in 2010 (5.11). But Paulino may have an easier time harnessing his stuff. In his first 100 major league innings, he walked fewer than 3.5 batters per nine innings, and even after a poor second 100 innings, he’s got a manageable 3.89 BB/9 for his career. As a flyballer, he’ll always be a little vulnerable to the gopherball. But look for that unsightly ERA to improve next year if his control settled toward career norms.

For more on Felipe Paulino, Bud Norris, Wandy Rodriguez and other young Houston Astros, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

MLB Season in Review: Houston Astros Hitting

By Eno Sarris //

Biggest Surprise & Regression Alert: Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson was a revelation in an otherwise poor season for the Astros; Houston scored the third-fewest runs in baseball in 2010. His .308/.337/.481 rookie batting line is in the books, but can he make a repeat performance in 2011? It’s not likely. His minor league isolated power (ISO) was only about average (.152, major league average is .150), so the power he showed last year (.173 ISO) was a little high – not impossible to replicate, but don’t bet on it either. The bigger issues: Johnson’s plate discipline (4.2% career BB%, 26.7% career K%) and elevated 2010 batting average on balls in play (.387 BABIP last year, a number that trends towards .300 across baseball), point to a big potential drop in batting average next year.

Biggest Bust: Lance Berkman

Tommy Manzanella was terrible, but he was mostly known for his defense anyway. Carlos Lee also had a poor season, but turned it on late to get to 24 home runs and some respectability – at least from a fantasy perspective. Michael Bourn didn’t have a great batting average, but still stole 52 bases. That leaves Lance Berkman. He was injured much of the season, and didn’t crack 500 plate appearances for the first time since his sophomore season in 2000. His knee condition may be degenerative, and he’s seen a three-year decline in slugging and on-base percentages now. He’s best left for the deepest of leagues until he shows life again.

2011 Keeper Alert: Brett Wallace

Hunter Pence is the only no-doubt keeper on this offense, but Brett Wallace is the only interesting player who has yet to establish himself in the major leagues. Coming off his minor league record, in which he put up a .304/.375/.487 batting line, more was expected of him than his rookie-year stats (.222/.296/.319). Then again, many of his better power years in the minor leagues came in high-run environments, so his power might be suspect. In his 159-plate appearance major league debut, he didn’t show the ability to take a walk (5%), struck out too much (34.7%) and didn’t show any power. He’s a deep-league sleeper and an NL-only dynasty keeper at most, but he’s also a name worth remembering, if only for potential help in the batting average category if and when he gets going.

For more on Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson and other young Houston Astros, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

It’s Time To Trust Brett Myers Again

By Eriq Gardner //
Throughout his career, Brett Myers has been synonymous with volatility. He posted a 200+ strikeout season as an ace starter in 2005, a 20+ save season as a decent closer in 2007, and a poor 4.84 ERA as a headache-inducing starter in 2009. Simply put, fantasy owners have no idea what they’re getting in the talented but hot-headed Myers in any given season.   
Remarkably, however, Myers is the model of consistency this season. He’s now pitched 23 consecutive games this season of at least six innings — a new Houston Astros record. He’s allowed three or fewer runs in 16 of those games.
The market has been slow to note the former ace’s recovery. He’s only owned in two-thirds of all fantasy leagues. For those doubting fantasy owners, Myers’ reputation for being untrustworthy has trumped a 3.21 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, and 119 strikeouts in 157 innings. Myers’ numbers compare favorably to some of the biggest-name pitchers in the game.
Picture 23.png
His fine year led to a contract extension with the rebuilding Astros, who turned down offers for him before the trading deadline.
Myers should appreciate the fact that he’s no longer in Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, traditionally one of the most friendliest to sluggers. Last season, Myers gave up an astronomical 2.29 HRs every nine innings. This season, he’s only giving up 0.80 HRs per nine innings. The massive improvement has been aided by a slightly low 8.9% HR/FB, but also a better home environment, more induced grounders, and regression from a ridiculously unlucky HR/FB of 23.4% last year – which can’t possibly all be attributed to the Phillies’ home park.
Just as impressively, Myers seems to be getting better month-to-month. He’s no longer the strikeout master that he was five years ago, but his K-rate has been steadily rising: 6.27 K/9 in April, 6.88 in May, 7.36 in June, and 7.41 in July. 
Picture 25.png
Added up, Myers has a 3.87 xFIP this year, which indicates some good luck compared to his 3.21 ERA, but still very solid. Only 25 starters this season have a better xFIP than Myers.
If there’s one hole in Myers’ armor, it’s been wins. Despite going deep into games and not giving up many runs, Myers only has eight victories this year. It’s hardly his fault. Myers plays for a team that provides miserly run support. Still, the rest of Myers’ profile shows a pitcher who should be owned nearly universally in fantasy leagues.
For more insight to help you dominate your fantasy league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Happ in Houston

by Eno Sarris // 

J.A. Happ (pronounced ‘Jay’) is headed south as the centerpiece of the Roy Oswalt deal. Should fantasy owners be interested in the player who is available in 62% of Yahoo leagues?

Judging solely based on ERA, the answer would be in the affirmative. Happ has a 1.73 ERA so far this year, put up a 2.93 ERA last year, and sports a 3.11 ERA for his career. Check, check and check, right? Not so fast – and judging from his availability, it seems most fantasy players these days are savvy to the limitations of ERA for predicting future ERA.

Looking at Happ’s underlying statistics, there are plenty of reasons to worry about him in Houston. Just a peek at his 2010 strikeout rate (5.28 K/9) and walk rate (7.04 BB/9) alone should send the proverbial shiver down the spine. Happ has had some trouble finding the strike zone all year, as he walked 4.1 per nine on his rehab stint too. Granted, he’s pitched only 15.1 innings this year.

Then again, this wildness is not typical of Happ’s career to date, and we also know that walk rates take a while to stabilize (550 batters faced). Happ’s career walk rate is 3.48 BB/9, which is about average (3.33 BB/9 is average this year). The problem is more his lack of a great strikeout rate (6.59 K/9 career, MLB average is 7.03 K/9 this year) or groundball rate (36.5% career, 44% is league average). This package adds up to a mediocre career xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching, a number that strips out batted ball luck, home run luck and other factors, and produces a number on the ERA scale) of 4.65. Happ did put up a 9.2 K/9 in the minor leagues, but until he shows an improved number in that category in the major leagues, we’ll have to go with what we see.

Some analysts might talk about Happ’s move to Minute Maid Park as a reason to avoid the pitcher – and the park does boost home runs for lefties 6% and righties 18% – but that move will actually be a positive one for him. The Phillies’ home park boosts home runs 16% for lefties, and 22% for righties.

Really, given the fact that he’s got an average walk rate and below-average strikeout and groundball rates, there is limited upside for Happ, despite his pristine career ERA to date.
HappGrab.jpg You might even call the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools projection on the right (3.82 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) a rosy scenario for his future. He’s best left on the wire in standard mixed leagues.

For more on other trade deadline movers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

This Bud (Norris) is for You (and Your Fantasy Team)

by Eno Sarris //

Sometimes deep league managers have a hard time reading fantasy advice columns. “But he’s already owned” is the refrain of many a frustrated dude (or dudette). Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs did a little piece about ownership cutoff rates in fantasy leagues and what the definition of a ‘waiver wire guy’ is depending on the size of your league. The upshot is that players who are owned in 11% of Yahoo fantasy leagues or fewer are on the waiver wire if your league rosters 350 players. That number drops to 6% if your league rosters 400. So, in other words, if you are in a 14-team league with 25-man rosters, your waiver wire should be full of guys that have about an 11% ownership level.

With that in mind, let’s look at two very different pitchers who are owned in 9% of Yahoo leagues. They are both interesting pitchers, but it will be up to your personal preference whether you take Bud Norris or Chris Volstad in the end. Apples and oranges here, but we’ll cover Norris today and Volstad in a subsequent post.

Norris’ overall 78.2% contact rate this year puts him between Adam Wainwright and Ubaldo Jimenez in that category — elite company. He was top-five in contact rate outside the zone last year, so it’s no fluke. He has a 9.5% swinging strike percentage in 2010 – which is above average (around 8.5% across baseball). So Norris brings legitimate stuff to the table.

NorrisGrab.jpgSome of his other peripheral stats are nearly off the charts.  His 12.08 strikeouts per nine  innings would be very impressive if he wasn’t allowing a correspondingly terrible 6.39 walks per nine innings. It’s a rare combo. Take a look at this chart from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools — those other three dots with huge strikeout rates are Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren and Jonathon Broxton. To approach that group’s overall performance, Norris will have to maintain his elite strikeout rate while also improving his command significantly. Is there a chance he develops his abilities further this year?

Let’s take a look at the locations of his pitches this year (click image for full size version). You may notice something about theNorrisLocation.gif red squares. Yeah, he’s all over the place with his fastball. Looks like rearing back for that gas really hurts his command of the pitch – only about 55% of those fastballs find the zone. Norris’ other pitches find the zone more than 60% of the time.

A look at the spin and movement graph of Norris’ pitches shows that he only really has two pitches this year. He’s a fastball/slider guy, and that’s why whispers of future reliever duty have followed him up the ranks. Satchel Price at Beyond the Box Score recently had a post that outlined the reasons to move a pitcher to the bullpen (Insider link), and inconsistent command of a smaller repertoire was one such condition.

NorrisMovement09.gifBut if we look at last year’s spin and movement chart to get a larger sample size, the change-up actually looks like a legitimate pitch (see how distinct the purple squares are on the left). Since he can command it better than his fastball and it has shown a distinctly different movement and spin in the past, the change-up might be Norris’ path to fewer walks in the future. This year, the change is getting the best whiff rate of his three pitches (19.4%); it has the potential to be a strong third pitch for Norris.

If you are interested in strikeouts no matter what the damage to your WHIP, Norris is already a play for your mixed league team. If you’re looking for further development from Norris, watch his fastball command and change-up usage. If they trend up in future games, we may yet see solid, more consistent starting pitching from Norris. He can certainly miss bats.

For more on Bud Norris and other flame-throwing starters, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.    

Bloomberg Sports 2010 National League Central Preview

By Tommy Rancel

The St. Louis Cardinals have won six of the past 10 NL Central titles. In 2010, they are once again the favorites, but will have to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers, the upstart Cincinnati Reds, and the Chicago Cubs, in what might be Lou Piniella’s last stand with the team. The Houston Astros are lacking enough firepower to make much noise and the Pittsburgh Pirates are improved, but not enough.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cards are the most complete team in the division, led by the greatest hitter on the planet in Albert Pujols. Nearly a consensus top pick in Fantasy drafts, Pujols will likely be the top hitter in baseball once again in 2010. St. Louis also re-signed Matt Holliday, who is likely to maintain his steady numbers in the senior circuit.

Keep an eye on a pair of youngsters to provide offense behind the superstar duo. Center fielder Colby Rasmus was merely average last season, but is talented enough to make the leap to All-Star status – his Opening Day home run was a monster shot that showed his prodigious power. Third baseman David Freese had a hot start to his career, but only has 17 major league games to his credit. Both will see significant playing time in 2010. The Cards lineup packs plenty of punch, but is not a good source of speed.

The Rotation is led by bona-fide aces in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Behind them Brad Penny will try to replace Joel Pineiro as Dave Duncan’s new pet project. Ryan Franklin will reap the benefits of all the talent in front of him and is likely to top 30 saves pretty easily, assuming he keeps his job all year.


Chicago Cubs

Derrek Lee remains among the game’s most underrated sluggers, though a pullback might be coming, given he’s into his mid-30s. Meanwhile, other high-profile Cubs players simply underperformed last season, for a variety of reasons.

The Cubs biggest off-season addition could be hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. The former Texas Rangers hitting guru will be reunited with former pupil Alfonso Soriano in hopes of rejuvenating the aging left fielder’s career. Soriano is ripe for at least a small bounceback after seeing his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) drop nearly 30 points from his career total.

In addition to Lee and the potentially improved Soriano, the Cubs will need Aramis Ramirez back at full strength. If healthy, Ramirez is a legit 30-home run threat in the middle of the lineup.

On the pitching side, Carlos Zambrano is nowhere near the ace he used to be. Both Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster are safer bets. Meanwhile, Carlos Marmol goes into the season as the unquestioned closer. His walk rate remains among the highest of any closer in baseball, though, making him something of a risk.


Cincinnati Reds

Led by elite young hitter Joey Votto, the Reds should put up plenty of runs at the Great American Ballpark, especially if young outfielder Jay Bruce follows with a breakout season of his own. Outside of Bruce and Votto, the Reds offense features a member of the 30/30 club in Brandon Phillips, as well as former All-Star Scott Rolen.

Phillips is a good bet for 20/20, a mark he has hit in each of the past two seasons. Rolen, 35, can still hit, as evidenced by his 2009 OPS of .823 – but he’s also an annual DL candidate.

The rotation, led by Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, is pretty average across the board. Johnny Cueto has the stuff to stand out, but remains too wild and inefficient with his pitches. The wild card in the Reds rotation is prized off-season acquisition Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban national with a 100-mph fastball is the Reds player you must keep tabs on all season, especially in a shallow league where he may still be available on the waiver wire. He starts the season in the minor leagues.

Milwaukee Brewers

While Pujols and Holliday might be the NL’s top 1-2 punch, the Brewers duo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are not far off. Braun has averaged 34 home runs in his three big league seasons, while Fielder has topped 45 home runs in two of the past three years. There is nothing to suggest anything less from each in 2010. New addition Carlos Gomez should provide fantasy value with his stolen bases, but he’s also an OBP drain who should be batting at the bottom of the order.

Rickie Weeks will return to the top of the order after missing most of last season with a wrist injury. Weeks looked poised to break out in 2009 before the injury, and had an excellent spring showing no ill-effects from the surgery. If he can finally play a full year, he could be primed for a breakout.

Yovani Gallardo is the unquestioned ace of the pitching staff, but he is followed by several question marks. Randy Wolf was signed to be the #2 starter, but buyer beware on Wolf this season. In the bullpen, At age 42, Trevor Hoffman is still going strong, but because of his age, he’s not a sure thing to last the season. One sneaky note about the Brewers: The addition of Gomez in center and slick-fielding Alcides Escobar at short should greatly improve the defense. Teams like Tampa Bay, Seattle and Texas have already shown us how a jump in a team’s defensive skill can go a long way toward improving run prevention – and thus the fantasy stats of a team’s pitchers.


Houston Astros

The Astros spent money this off-season, but on the wrong players. Pedro Feliz was signed to be the team’s third baseman, but he’s a lousy hitter who shouldn’t be rostered. The Astros also spent big bucks on Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom, leaving Houston with two overpriced, undertalented options for the closer spot. Lindstrom gets first crack, but you might consider drafting a top set-up man like Chicago White Sox lefty Matt Thornton a few rounds later, and focusing on offense and starting pitching at that point in your draft.

Lance Berkman is in his contract year, and remains the team’s biggest offensive threat. He’ll start the season on the DL with a knee injury, though. Hunter Pence has 25-home run power and could be a 20/20 threat if improves his stolen base percentage (58% career). Michael Bourn is a budding lead-off man, and is a fantastic source of steals (102 steals since 2008), though he provides little power

The rotation is led by Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez. Oswalt battled injuries last year while Rodriguez was one of the few bright spots for the team in 2009. Both pitchers are likely to benefit from new shortstop Tommy Manzella’s slick fielding. The rest of the rotation looks shaky at best.


Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew McCutchen is the team’s best offensive weapon after less than one full major league season. McCutchen showed decent power and has an outside chance of pulling off a 20-homer/40-steal campaign. Go get him.

Beyond McCutchen, the Pirates have some interesting former top prospects that have yet to live up to potential, as Lastings Milledge and Jeff Clement finally get chances to prove themselves as everyday players. Last year’s breakout Garrett Jones blasted 21 home runs in 82 games, but can he maintain a home run to fly ball rate of 21% over a full season? It’s a long shot, but you have to love his two homers on Opening Day.

The rotation has a few nice back-end guys like Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf and Zach Duke, but none is a front-line starter. Beware of them in NL-only leagues, as there is a possibility of them becoming trade candidates come July – especially Duke. Octavio Dotel is the team’s closer, but has battled injuries this spring and is a trade candidate for the summer as well. If something should happen with Dotel, keep an eye on Evan Meek as a potential source of cheap saves.

For more on Albert Pujols and the rest of the NL Central, check out Bloomberg Sports’ kits.