BY ROB SHAW
Edwin Jackson is young, durable, and has been a winner with 10-plus wins in each of the last four seasons. The solid track record begs the question why did so many teams pass on him.
The 28-year-old hurler is now on his seventh Major League team and he hasn’t played for losers either. He went 5-2 down the stretch for the Cardinals last season, playing a role in the team’s World Series Championship.
One of the hardest throwing hurlers in baseball, Jackson has improved his control over the years. His greatest weakness recently is that he is just too hittable. Even in his successful run with the Cardinals the opposition hit .300 against him. The good news is that he keeps the ball in the yards, but for fantasy managers looking for a low WHIP, Jackson is not a solution.
The move to Washington means he’ll now don the jersey for his sixth team over the last four years. However, Bloomberg Sports likes his fantasy value. The larger ballpark and National League setting should translate to 170 strikeouts, double-digit wins, and a 4.21 ERA.
Jackson is a fine low-risk, high ceiling option in the later rounds of fantasy drafts. After all, it was just a few years back that he threw a no-hitter while pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Let’s see if he can finally sustain such dominance over a full season.
Once one of the hurlers in the most demand in the Major Leagues, Erik Bedard hopes to build on his improvement from last season while joining the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Bedard was a disaster in Seattle. Because of injuries, he never lived up to the hype and while the Mariners traded away top prospect Adam Jones to the Orioles for him, they ended up letting him go for very little in return last season to the Red Sox.
The good news is that Bedard showed that even after all of the injury-ravaged seasons, he still has some potential right now. He offered fine control last season and fanned a batter per inning throughout the year.
A move to Pittsburgh should lead to some good results for Bedard’s fantasy managers. Pittsburgh’s ballpark plays neutral and he will no longer have to deal with designated hitters in the majority of his starts. Most importantly, he has sustained his health, which is the key to his performance.
BloombergSports.com projects a solid 3.74 ERA and 1 .30 WHIP from the veteran hurler this season, and with some luck he could reach double-digit wins for the first time in five years.
The loss of CJ Wilson could be crushing to the Texas Rangers. Just a year removed from a second World Series, the Rangers lost their ace for a second time. First it was Cliff Lee who bolted to rejoin the Phillies. Now it’s Wilson, and while he may not be as dominant as Lee, the fact that he joins the rival LA Angels of Anaheim makes matters worse.
The Rangers were desperate to respond and without many proven stars on the market they had to compete with teams including the Toronto Blue Jays to land Yu Darvish, an ace from Japan. With an enormous bid, the Rangers land the hard-throwing hurler who will enjoy the loftiest expectations by a free agent to join the Rangers perhaps since Alex Rodriguez signed his now infamous $252 million deal.
As far as realistic projections for Darvish, BloombergSports.com offers a 13-8 record, 185 strikeouts, and a 3.63 ERA for the hard-throwing hurler. That makes him the 16th best starting pitcher, and a top-50 fantasy talent.
Despite the lofty projections, there is still a great deal of risk for fantasy managers. After all, Darvish is new to America and will have to adapt culturally to Major League Baseball, plus he calls home to one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league. He will not get away with many mistakes and the media will be hounding him all season long.
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Kyle Seager, 2B/3B, Mariners
The Mariners have surprised us in recent weeks with an offense we did not know could exist in Safeco. While we’ve discussed Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp, another fine hitter to emerge this season is Kyle Seager. A third round pick in the 2009 draft out of North Carolina, Seager boasts a .313 average after a hitting binge that included 15 hits over six games. In 24 games at Triple-A Seager hit .387 with a .585 slugging percentage. So success at the dish is nothing new for the 23-year-old prospect.
John Mayberry, OF, Phillies
While everyone drafted Dominic Brown in their fantasy drafts this season, it’s instead the 2005 first round pick John Mayberry who is enjoying the better season in the Phillies outfield. The 27-year-old slugger has blasted 12 home runs with 41 RBI through 77 games. Best of all, Mayberry is not a one-trick pony, as he has swiped six bases already this season. Mayberry has blasted 18 home runs in 266 career at bats in the Big Leagues and while he can still improve his plate discipline and lift the average some, Mayberry has earned his way to your fantasy roster.
Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves
The Braves legend will not go away. Chipper Jones has been written off a number of times this season because of his usually array of injuries, but right now he is putting together a nice little hot streak with plenty of power. The batting average is up to .281 on the season with 13 home runs and 58 RBI. Since the All-Star break, Jones is batting .387 with five home runs. 51 home runs shy of 500 for his career, the 39-year-old Jones has already stated that he intends to come back for another season.
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
Since the All-Star break, Derek Jeter has hit .355 with 26 runs in 37 games. While that’s nice and all, what’s more remarkable to me is that on the season his average has soared all the way up to .299. So is Jeter back to being Jeter? Yes and no. The average is good and the 13 steals isn’t bad, but the limited power he once had is all but gone. During his hot streak, Jeter has just 10 extra bases including one home run. While he’s not a power guy, it seems that a lot of his hits are coming on grounders with eyes. Regardless, Jeter has played a large part of keeping the Yankees afloat with A-Rod. He also took away a lot of the pressure for next season, as fans will not be clamoring for a position switch.
By Eno Sarris //
Fantasy football players are used to the concept of the handcuff. Because the running back position is highly volatile, fantasy players in that sport will draft both a team’s starting running back, as well as his backup. The most volatile position in fantasy baseball is the closer. Fantasy baseball players should consider the handcuff when it comes to their bullpen options.
Up in Seattle, David Aardsma has found success the past two years. Over that span, he’s struck out more than a batter per inning and posted a 2.90 ERA, while racking up 69 saves. Even with his sub-optimal walk rate (over four batters per nine innings both years) and flyball tendencies (35.1% GB career – spacious Safeco Field and Seattle’s great outfield defense have helped him immensely), he’s been dependable, for the most part.
Except that he’s also spent some time in the trainer’s room. He didn’t officially hit the DL last season, but he did miss two weeks with an oblique strain. Then, this off-season, he had hip surgery. The most recent report has him available in mid-April, but that’s an early prognosis. The surgery was a little more extensive than the M’s had hoped, and hip surgeries can be difficult. Aardsma is a question mark going into the season.
Cue the handcuff. Brandon League doesn’t quite have the strikeout rate you’d like from your closer (6.72 K/9 career), but he’s one of the most extremely groundball pitchers in the game (62.2% GB career), meaning he’ll limit extra-base hits. He also shows pretty good control (3.20 BB/9 career). League has improved his strikeout rate lately (9.16 K/9 in 2009). He also filled in for Aardsma last year, accruing six saves. His splitter is a plus-pitch and his fastball averages more than 95 MPH. He’s a strong handcuff.
The best way to take advantage of this plan is to identify places where the backup is a solid pitcher and the bullpen won’t disintegrate into an open competition once the closer goes down. Other handcuff options around the league include Florida – pick Leo Nunez and Clay Hensley late – or Atlanta – Craig Kimbrel is the favorite, but Jonny Venters lurks. In a way, though, the Seattle pen is ideal. You can stash Aardsma on your DL if you’ve got a spot there, play League early on, and take your time making a decision as more information flows in.
As many as one-third of baseball’s closers lose their job to injury or poor performance every year. Waiting until late in the game and picking an iffy closer and his handcuff will net you plenty of saves, at a reduced cost. Steal the strategy from fantasy football, and reap the benefits.