By R.J. Anderson
This is the first of a series looking at all six major league divisions, with the help of Bloomberg Sports’ Spider Charts. We start today with the AL West.
The American League West figures to be the tightest division in baseball, without a clear favorite or doormat in sight. It would be inaccurate to say every team has an equal shot, but there’s certainly an opportunity for each of them to ascend to the throne and punch a ticket for October baseball. Here’s a quick look at the fantasy standouts on each club.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Even with the losses of Chone Figgins and John Lackey, the Angels have several interesting fantasy options. Kendry Morales, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, and new addition Hideki Matsui represent the team’s sluggers. Meanwhile, Mike Napoli is one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball; if he can shake the injury bug and wrest the full-time job from Jeff Mathis, he’ll be a great pick this season. Abreu and Hunter form two-thirds of a aging outfield, alongside Juan Rivera; though Abreu and Hunter both bring diverse skills to the table, don’t overbid on either player. Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, Maicer Izturis, and Erick Aybar
have fantasy potential too, with Wood being the much hyped and much
delayed former top shortstop prospect who finally gets his shot. Kendrick in particular could be a breakout player if he can finally stay healthy for a full season.
The pitching staff could be hurt by the loss of Lackey, but ample talent remains. Brian Fuentes saved 48 games last year despite so-so peripherals; newly acquired Fernando Rodney and sleeper flamethrower Kevin Jepsen would nab saves if Fuentes falters in 2010. The rotation features Jered Weaver, a perennially good, but underrated anchor. Scott Kazmir and Ervin Santana represent intriguing starting options, but both are also huge injury risks, with Kazmir opening this season on the disabled list. Joe Saunders’ peripherals suggest he’s closer to last year’s version than the 2008 addition. The Angels appear solid across the board, without any defined flaw.
The Mariners were everyone’s off-season sweethearts with the acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins, but Lee’s injury changes the outlook of this team, as does Erik Bedard’s continued battle with the machete-yielding injury bug. Regardless, Felix Hernandez is still the King, and one of the top five starting pitchers in baseball. Ryan-Rowland Smith is the type of finesse lefty who could get a boost from Safeco Field’s spacious dimensions and great outfield defense (see Jarrod Washburn, 2009), and he’ll certainly be available as a late-round flyer in any mixed league of 12 teams or less.
Ichiro is Ichiro. He’ll approach 200 hits, steal bases, and potentially get undervalued in leagues that overemphasize youth. Milton Bradley has been discussed here before, and while Seattle essentially features black holes at designated hitter and shortstop, the addition of Figgins gives Seattle another speed/contact option to bat at the top of the lineup in front of Franklin Gutierrez, who could lead the team in runs batted in. The sleeper here is either Brandon League or Mark Lowe, either of whom could get the call if David Aardsma‘s out-of-nowhere 2009 performance turns out to be a one-time deal. Meanwhile, it’s probably best to avoid Jose Lopez in the early rounds. His home run total is nice, but the switch to third base and fact that he is the absolute worst type of hitter for Safeco means you should let someone else overbid for his homers and RBI.
Given their deep stable of young talent, Texas has the greatest potential for a big leap this season, and in the next few years. The addition of Rich Harden makes them even more intriguing. Much like Ben Sheets and Erik Bedard, if Harden is healthy, he’s fire. The Rangers hope the program set forth by pitching coach Mike Maddux, as well as the innovative strength and conditioning regimen implemented by Jose Vazquez will do for Harden what they did for other Rangers pitchers last year. Scott Feldman, the biggest beneficiary of the Rangers’ pitch-to-contact approach last season with 17 wins and a 4.08 approach, is a long shot to duplicate last year’s numbers. Meanwhile, Derek Holland has considerable upside, as does Neftali Feliz; Holland will start the season in the minors, Feliz in the bullpen.
On the hitting side, Nelson Cruz will seek to duplicate the 30 HR-20 SB performance he put up in ’09, his first full major league season. Michael Young will be overvalued after some gaudy numbers last year, and is a good bet to see significant regression. Vladimir Guerrero should only be bought if he comes at a bargain price; as last season showed, the Vlad of old is gone. A deep sleeper could be David Murphy, a solid if unspectacular left-handed hitter entering the prime of his career in a deep lineup, with Arlington’s hitter-friendly backdrop acting as a tailwind.
Oakland’s offense offers little other than a sprinkling of speed, with Rajai Davis and Cliff Pennington leading the way. Pennington in particular could be a strong sleeper if he can extend his promising 2009 performance over a full season. An even bigger sleeper could be Jake Fox, who becomes the A’s designated power threat without an obvious position after the team cut Jack Cust.
At least there are a few hurlers worthy of consideration. Ben Sheets, for one, even with his health being a perpetual question mark. Brett Anderson is another, coming off an terrific rookie season that was even better than his superficial numbers suggest. Closer Andrew Bailey has health issues, as does set-up man Michael Wuertz, which could push sleeper saves candidate Tyson Ross into the equation. Ross was one of the Athletics’ top pitching prospects and will be used out of the bullpen to begin the year. He gets groundballs and has above-average stuff, which should translate to a good number of strikeouts.
If you’re in a keeper league, the A’s also feature some intriguing offensive options in the minors. Chris Carter and Michael Taylor could be up at some point this season and definitely should be on your list of sleeper pickups. Oakland probably has the lowest chance of actually winning the division, but in the wild West, anything can happen.
By Tommy Rancel
Despite playing most of his career in major media markets (Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles), Bobby Abreu remains one of baseball’s most underrated players.
Since 2001, Abreu has averaged .295/.400/.485 (AVG/OBP/SLG), 21 home
runs, 102 RBIs, 106 runs scored and 30 steals. In eight of those nine
seasons – including 2009 – he topped 100 RBI.
Last season Abreu took his bat west to Los Angeles. The change
in time zone didn’t change his production much. In his first season for the
Angels he hit .285/.390/.435 with 15 home runs and 103 RBI. He also scored 96 times and swiped 30 bases.
Abreu’s all-inclusive skill set has avoided most signs of
decline. Though he’s not the fastest runner in the game, he still
racks up plenty of steals. His
career 22.8% line drive rate (LD%) keeps his batting average
consistently above .280. His trained batting eye – shown by a 14.9%
walk rate – allows his on-base percentage to hover around .400. The
only element that’s held him back from true superstar status is his
Still, Abreu does carry some concerns heading into 2010.
First, he turned 36 this week. For most players, this would be a
flag. But Abreu profiles differently than most aging players, with a
high-contact swing and good speed to go with walks and gap power. On the other hand, that power appears to be waning: Abreu’s 15 homers and .142
isolated slugging (slugging percentage minus batting average) were both
his lowest figures for any full season.
Over the past three seasons, Abreu’s batting average on balls in
play (BABIP) is .338. This would be high for a normal player with a
league average near .300 BABIP. For Abreu, a .338 BABIP is nearly 10
points lower than his .347 career mark. The high BABIP is a product of
his career 22.8% line drive percentage. Even if he regresses further toward .300, his
batting average will likely remain playable.
Many will point to the departures of Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero as additional causes for concerned. Guerrero was already on the downswing of this career, and he’ll be replaced by Hideki Matsui at
designated hitter; Matsui’s 2009 OPS of
.876 was 82 points higher than Guerrero’s .794. But Figgins’ 100-walk,
.400 OBP ability will be nearly impossible to replace. The Angels will
hope to do it by committee, relying more on
younger players like Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Brandon Wood. Those three players, along with Mike Napoli, Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter and 2009 breakout Kendry Morales, should continue to offer the kind of support that leads to solid counting stats.
B-Rank loves Bobby Abreu with a ranking of 30; however, his
average draft position is a low 100.2. Even if you move Abreu’s value
down a bit to account for age and Figgins’ departure, you’re still
looking at big value potential around the seventh round in 12-team
mixed leagues or the eighth round in 10-team mixed leagues.
Looking at players with similar production to Abreu last year, Nick Markakis
is a pretty close comparison. In 2009, Markakis hit .293/.347/.453 with
18 home runs, 101 RBI and 94 runs scored. Markakis wins the slugging
battle .453 to .435, but Abreu was on base at a much higher clip (.390
to .347). The big difference came in steals: Mid-30s Abreu stole 30 bases, compared to mid-20s Markakis’ total of just
Markakis places 59th in B-Rank with an ADP of 54.2. While it’s
usually a good idea to discount older players and bump up players
entering their physical prime, Abreu still projects to produce similar,
or possibly better numbers than Markakis in 2010 – yet he’s being
drafted 46 spots behind his Orioles counterpart.
As long as there are no major health concerns with an older player,
that’s often a great place to find value in your draft. Abreu’s career
low in games played since his first season as a regular is 151; he’s
been a model of durability for the past 12 years. If he falls in your
draft, pick him up.
For more on Bobby Abreu, and hundreds of other players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
By Eno Sarris
At the start of last season, the Angels had a vacuum at first base after Mark Teixeira chose pinstriped dollars and headed East.
Enter Cuban import Kendry Morales. Morales had totaled 1,130 at-bats at the Double-A level or above, showing the
Angels he was at least ready to provide league-average offense at
first base, with a nice glove. The Angels previously let light-hitting Casey Kotchman man first base – Morales couldn’t be much worse, could he?
Many fantasy players were caught off-guard when Morales zoomed right by
average. Here was a player that once hit five home runs in a full year
(2007 in Triple-A Salt Lake, a park that usually inflates home runs by 10%
or more in a given year). He wasn’t supposed to come up and mash
.306/.355/.569 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in his first full MLB season. That slugging percentage
was even better than the minor league number (.528) he put up in much more favorable hitter’s parks, even better than the best number he put up at any one stop along the way.
This season, the first-base position is deep for fantasy baseball purposes. Managers can afford to wait before grabbing a first baseman, especially if someone like Morales (B-Rank 43) is
slipping below his average draft position (61.3 ADP). Let’s say he won’t drop further than the fifth or sixth round, though. Do you pull the trigger? Will he hit for the same power and batting average this year?
Let’s take the easier question first. Morales hit .306 last year, but sported a .329 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). If that BABIP regresses towards the league-wide average (around .300), he should sport a lower batting average, correct? Not so fast. While BABIP figures across baseball hover close to .300, each player has some control over that number, especially if he possesses unique speed and hitting ability. Consider that Ichiro Suzuki has a lifetime BABIP of .357, for instance. Luckily for us, baseball analysts Peter Bendix and Chris Dutton developed a simple calculator for Expected BABIP (xBABIP); if you plug in Morales’ component statistics, you get .320. So while there might be a little regression in his stats, but it looks like this career .332 hitter in the minors stands a good chance of posting a batting average around .300 next year.
Now the harder question. What will his power output look like? it’s an open question for sure, since Morales had a slugging percentage closer to .400 in his first couple of attempts at the major leagues, then zoomed right by that figure, and .500, last year. Look at his monthly slugging percentage and you’ll see that it took him half of last year to get there. Will he see a summer surge that big again?
One good sign for Morales’ power potential is his minor league Isolated Slugging number (ISO, which is Slugging Percentage minus Batting Average). Even granting the homer-friendly parks he played in, Morales hovers around a .200 throughout his minor league career, a good sign. Major leaguers who posted an ISO around that number last year included Torii Hunter, Curtis Granderson, Matt Holliday and Robinson Cano. These are useful comps: Many of these players might hit 30 home runs, but would you bet your house on it? Bloomberg Sports is bullish on Morales and projects 32 homers. Still, there’s always the potential for regression to the mean after such a huge breakout season.
Morales could be a good acquisition if you can get him late enough in the draft. But considering that his power might skew closer to Robinson Cano than Prince Fielder, an early-round pick might be a bit of a reach.
For more information on Kendry Morales and other draft options, and more, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.