BY ROB SHAW
Bloomberg Sports Host Julie Alexandria is joined by Bloomberg Sports Analyst Rob Shaw to break down an expert’s fantasy baseball draft. The draft, which included fantasy experts from CBS, Yahoo!, and ESPN was a 28-round draft that consisted of additional positions such as Middle Infielder, Corner Infielder, and five outfielder positions. Additionally, the league includes more advanced statistics such as OBP and slugging rather than the typical batting average.
Here’s a look at the first nine picks by Shaw:
1) Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
2) Roy Halladay, Phillies
3) Cliff Lee, Phillies
4) Eric Hosmer, Royals
5) Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
6) Adam Jones, Orioles
7) Howie Kendrick, Angels
8) Drew Stubbs, Reds
9) Derek Jeter, Yankees
Picking up with the 10th round pick, I drafted Josh Johnson, who similar to Stephen Strasburg has the ability to dominate on the hill, while also carrying serious health concerns. Again, having both Halladay and Lee as durable aces on his staff allows for these high upside gambles. The best case scenario would be incredible with Halladay, Lee, Strasburg, and Johnson all on the team.
Speaking of gambles, in the 11th round I took a chance that Adam Dunn will bounce back from one of the worst all-time seasons in fantasy baseball. Dunn has extra upside in this league as he is known for his high on base percentage as well as his slugging. Immediately after the draft I even received two offers for Dunn.
In the 12th round I drafted Danny Espinosa. There are concerns that he’s a free swinger who lacks consistency and will hit for a low average. On the other hand, he has a great combination of power and speed for a middle infielder. Plus, as a sophomore, it is rational to expect significant improvement this season.
I opted for a steady option in the 13th round drafting Nick Markakis. It is clear that his power will never materialize into 30-plus home runs, but he does reach base consistently and has some speed and pop too. Considering all the risks I’ve taken, this is a pick I had
The 14th round was a disaster for me. This league requires that we start two catchers and I thought Salvador Perez was a fine hitter with decent run production. Alas, he is injured and is expected to miss the first few months of the season. I will have to find an option off the waiver wire. Josh Thole, though limited in power, may be the safe bet since he will start and does have a respectable OBP.
I finally deployed by strategy to pick up closers in the later rounds with the selection of Sergio Santos. The hard-thrower gets a ton of strikeouts and should pick up 30-plus saves in Toronto. I followed with Joe Nathan in the following round. He dominated late last season and should have plenty of save opportunities with the Rangers.
I picked up my second catcher in the following round with Chris Iannetta. I see him as a potential Mike Napoli-type slugger who at best can slam 20 bombs with a .250 average. He does offer a nice OBP, which is rare for a catcher. Maybe he’ll even surprise me the way Napoli did last season on my fantasy team.
I grabbed another power bat in the 18th round with Edwin Encarnacion. He was tremendous in the second half of last season, seemingly changing his approach at the plate to become more of a patient hitter. The Blue Jays likely won’t tolerate another one of his trademark slow starts, so hopefully, this is the year that he puts it all together.
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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 Tommy Rancel
Joe Nathan‘s worst fears were confirmed this morning when it was announced that the Twins closer is out indefinitely with a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). Nathan will wait a week or two before deciding on surgery, but rest and rehab is not a normal course of action for this injury. To repair the tear, he would need season-ending Tommy John surgery.
This is terrible news to Twins fans and fantasy owners alike. Nathan is not just your normal 30-save closer. He is one of the few, true relief aces in Major League Baseball.
Nathan moved full-time to the closer position in 2004. Over the past six seasons, he has averaged 41 saves with an ERA of 1.87. He has also struck out 518 batters in 418.2 innings. Just to show the magnitude of the loss, over the same period, Mariano Rivera has averaged 40 saves with an ERA of 1.90. He has 424 strikeouts in 440.1 innings.
So the question is, who replaces Nathan in the 9th inning?
Jon Rauch jumps out as a replacement. Acquired mid-season from Arizona, Rauch has the most closing experience of any current Twins reliever. He has 26 career saves and spent most of 2008 as the closer for the Washington Nationals (18 saves). However, beyond the saves and experience, Rauch does not provide much from the closer position.
Despite his size (6’11”, 291 pounds), Rauch does not possess a blazing fastball (90.9 MPH career) nor is he an elite strikeout pitcher. His career strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) is a solid but unspectacular 7.4; in 2009, that number dipped down to 6.3. Rauch’s career walk total of 2.9 batters per nine innings is better than average, netting a strong, if not nearly Nathan-esque strikeout-to-walk rate of 2.5-to-1.
Matt Guerrier is another candidate. Guerrier has never handled the closing duties before, but has been a decent reliever in the Twins bullpen since 2006. In 389 innings as a relief pitcher, his ERA is a low 3.31. Last season, Guerrier pitched in 79 games for the Twins, going 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA. His 0.97 WHIP (walks + hits per innings) was 10th-best in the big leagues among pitchers in full-time relief roles or more.
Guerrier’s 2009 ERA and WHIP were both enhanced by a microscopic, likely unsustainable batting average on balls in play of .222 – well below his career BABIP of .278. Expect some regression here. His WHIP also benefited from a BB/9 of 1.9 last season, that’s much lower than his career 2.8 and could see some regression in 2010.
Guerrier does not possess the dominating strikeout rates you would like to see from the closer position. His career K/9 is just 6.0; in 2009, it was an unimpressive 5.5.
The dark horse candidate in this potential race is Pat Neshek. If this decision was based off talent alone, Neshek would be the clear cut winner. But the 29-year-old with the funky delivery is coming off Tommy John surgery; Neshek missed the 2009 season after appearing in just 15 games in 2008. Pitchers often need several months or more of major league action
before finding their command and returning to pre-TJ levels
That said, Neshek was a dominant middle reliever/set-up man before his injury. With a healthy arm in 2006 and 2007, Neshek racked up 127 strikeouts in 107 innings while maintaining a 2.68 ERA. His career K/9 of 10.59 is definitely a plus for any pitcher, and he has walked fewer batters per nine (2.8) than either Rauch or Guerrier.
Rauch’s combination of skills, health and experience make him our preferred choice right now. Keep a close eye on Spring Training events, though, as Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire may have other ideas. If you draft Rauch, try to back him up with Guerrier and/or Neshek. Track all three to your Bloomberg Sports watch list.
For more information on Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek and hundreds of other players check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.