Results tagged ‘ Minnesota Twins ’

Fantasy Baseball: MLB Debuts and The Five Players Most Likely to be Traded

 

Twitter: @RobShawSports and @BloombergSports

 

Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw breaks down the fantasy implications of two players’ MLB debuts and the potential trades of five players who are most likely to be moved.

 

The Big Debuts

 

Matt Harvey, SP, Mets

Finally some good news for Mets fans as 2010 first-round pick Matt Harvey made his debut Thursday night and it was a memorable one to say the least. Harvey set a Mets record for a debut with 11 strikeouts and did not allow a run to score in 5.1 innings.

Harvey touched 98 MPH on the radar gun and got some K’s with high fastballs while also getting some weak swings by putting sliders in the dirt. Don’t expect all of his starts to go this smoothly, but Harvey is a strikeout artist who should continue to rack up the K’s, though it could come with some walks as well.

 

Starling Marte, OF, Pirates

On the first Major League pitch he saw, Starling Marte made his mark, blasting a home run. The 23-year-old outfielder is an instant upgrade for the contending Pirates. Marte has some power, as he blasted 12 home runs with 13 triples and 21 doubles at Triple-A. He lacks plate discipline, but also has some speed. I do not see Marte having too much fantasy value this year aside from what could be a hot start since the Major Leaguers lack an in-depth scouting report on him. Regardless, the future is now for the Pirates and Marte only makes the team more interesting.

 

Five Players Most Likely to be Moved

 

1) Zack Greinke, SP, Brewers

The Brewers have come out and acknowledged that they are going to trade their ace, which makes it clear that no long-term commitment could be reached with Zack Greinke.  Ultimately, a trade to a contender will do fantasy managers some good, but at varied levels.

If he goes to the Rangers: The hitter’s ballpark is bound to lead to some extra runs so Greinke’s ERA may spike, but he will also enjoy the best run support possible. This is the trading partner that makes the most sense for everyone. Greinke owns a sensational 2.38 lifetime ERA at Rangers Ballpark.

If he goes to the Angels: Greinke should continue to post similar numbers but with a few extra wins thanks to the offensive star power of Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. You can expect a big second half from the ace who is 44-45 in the first half of seasons and 41-31 following the All-Star break.

If he goes to the Braves: This is the best ballpark for Grienke, plus in the NL he faces opposing pitchers, which will keep his ERA lower. Greinke is 25-9 in 49 starts with a National League club.

 

2) Jonathan Broxton, RP, Royals

The interest in Jonathan Broxton has been limited on the trade market and it may be for a couple of reasons. First, few contenders are desperate for a closer or late reliever right now. Also, Broxton’s numbers are not as good as they appear. He is not getting many strikeouts, which is a reversal of his career trend. He is also allowing 1.40 runners on base each inning, which is a recipe for destruction in late innings. The Royals are wise to put him on the block.

 

3) Jason Vargas, SP, Mariners

With the demands so high for front-of-the-rotation hurlers such as Greinke and James Shields, alternatives such as Jason Vargas are becoming attractive for teams. Vargas has won four straight starts and now owns a career high 11 wins this season. So when he does get traded, what does this mean to his fantasy value? The run support will increase, but his ERA will also soar. He has a 4.67 ERA on the road this season compared to 2.63 at home, which explains everything you need to know about the 29-year-old southpaw.

 

4) Francisco Liriano, SP, Twins

When the Twins dealt their ace Johan Santana to the Mets a few years back, they not only assumed that some of the prospects from the trade would turn into stars, but the hope was that Francisco Liriano would step up as an able replacement at the top of the rotation. Though he did enjoy some success in 2010 with 14 wins, a 3.62 ERA and a career high 202 strikeouts, the following two seasons have been disastrous.

Liriano has found himself in the bullpen and even in the minors over the last two seasons while sustaining an ERA north of 5.00 in the Majors. The positive signs this season are that the opposition is hitting just .239 against Liriano and he is fanning more than a batter per inning. On the other hand, his control is lacking, which makes him a major gamble for whoever brings him in via trade.

 

5) Yunel Escobar, SS, Blue Jays

After a strong 2011 season that included 11 home runs, a .290 average and .369 on-base percentage, Escobar has struggled this season. His average is down to .255, his OBP is .299 and his 19 extra-base hits have resulted in a .342 slugging percentage.

Escobar has shown some life recently with a five-game hitting streak, but there is growing concern about his character according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, which may scare off some suitors. Keep in mind that Toronto is a favorable hitter’s park and the Blue Jays lineup has posted a lot of runs. The 29-year-old Cuban does not make for a very good fantasy investment.

 

 

For more fantasy insight, visit BloombergSports.com. 

Who is Tsuyoshi Nishioka?

By Eriq Gardner //

The Minnesota Twins have a chance to sign Tsuyoshi Nishioka, after winning the exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with the 26-year-old Japanese infielder.
Will Nishioka be a sleeper heading into the 2011 season?
The answer might depend, in part, on Nishioka’s position eligibility. He played shortstop for the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, but the Twins are said to be considering him as a replacement for Orlando Hudson at second base. But that’s not set in stone yet. The Twins are also rumored to be exploring trading J.J. Hardy, and many fantasy league service providers could give Nishioka shortstop credentials anyway, thanks to his time spent at the position last year in Japan.

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It may seem like a small point, but the difference between second base and shortstop could mean a lot as far as his value in 2011 fantasy baseball.
Talent at shortstop, after all, is extremely thin. Even Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki couldn’t help the league’s top 10 shortstops from posting the fewest amount of runs created in any time since 2006. Compared to their peers at second base and third base, shortstops are clearly are the worst run producers in the infield. (See chart.) 
Take a look at the top options at shortstop and you will see a mixture of aging veterans like Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, and Rafael Furcal and a gaggle of slightly younger types like Alexei Ramirez and Stephen Drew who aren’t quite superstars. 
Last year in Japan, Nishioka hit 11 HR, had 22 SB, scored 121 times, and put up a .346/.423/.482 slash line. We’d be lying if we claimed to have seen a second of this guy play, but judging by the stats alone, the comparables to Ryan Theriot or Chone Figgins sound reasonable. That might not sound like much. Others make the case there’s a shade of Ichiro Suzuki in him. Again, he’ll have to be graded on a curve depending on where he gains eligibility.

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Assuming he does get credit for his ability to play shortstop, he may very well be worthy of early speculation. After the top players at shortstop, the talent curve becomes relatively flat (See chart #2). We believe this means it’s best to either invest a lot on a premium player like Hanley or Tulo or wait until the very end of drafts to secure a shortstop who can come close to average production at a fraction of the price.
Fantasy managers who opt for the latter course will likely want a shortstop who brings some upside. Being an unknown quantity isn’t quite the same as having upside, but Nishioka has at least shown a very good batting eye and an ability to run the bases. The Twins will also have an opening near the top of their lineup with the likely departure of Hudson. Since Nishioka will be slightly off the radar at the opening of the season, the price may be right to gamble on hitting it big with this Japanese import.
For more on more fantasy baseball sleepers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office

Delmon Young: Finally Living up to the Hype

By Tommy Rancel //

If you evaluated the Delmon Young for Matt Garza/Jason Bartlett swap after the 2008 season, the Rays would have won in a landslide. Bartlett was (controversially)
named the team’s most valuable player for the regular season, while
Garza won the franchise’s biggest game ever – Game 7 of the American
League Championship Series. He was also named ALCS MVP.

On the other hand, Young was wrapping up his second full season in
the big leagues. His numbers (.290 AVG/.336 OBP/.408 SLG) were decent,
but a far cry from the lofty projections of a top overall pick.

Flash-forward to present day, and the trade looks a bit more even.
Garza is still a good-but-not-yet-great starter for the Rays. Bartlett
is still an everyday shortstop, but is on the wrong side of 30, and
struggling both offensively and defensively in 2010. Meanwhile, Young
is finally showing some of the potential Minnesota hoped to tap into
when the deal was made.

After posting two mostly average seasons for the Twins
(.288/.325/.413), Young is breaking out in 2010. His slash line stats -
.316/.349/.511 – represent career highs across the board. His 5% walk
rate is above his career norm (4.2%). Meanwhile, his
strikeout rate of 12.5% is a vast improvement over his 18.8% career
number.

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That said, Young’s plate discipline has room to improve.
Currently, he is swinging at pitches out of the zone more than 40% of the
time. The biggest difference is he is making contact on 72.3% of those
pitches — vs. 56.6% in years past.

In addition to the improving walk-to-strikeout rate, Young is
hitting the ball with more authority, as evidenced by his .511 slugging
and .195 ISO (Isolated Power, which is slugging percentage minus batting
average). He is also turning into to quite the run producer; he’s knocked in
22% of his base runners, tied for tops in the AL.

Young’s batting average
on balls in play (BABIP) of .327 this season looks high, but it’s actually lower than his BABIP numbers the past two seasons, .338 both times. As
of June 1 this year, his slash line was .273/.323/.469; his BABIP was
just .274. Since then, he is hitting .350/.372/.548 with a BABIP of
.368.

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According to ESPN.com, Delmon is still available in more than 5% of leagues.
If you happen to be in one of those leagues, put in a claim immediately.
If you are not fortunate enough to be in such a league, check in with Young’s owner. This breakout looks like it could be the real deal.

For more on Delmon Young and 2010 breakouts, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

Is Francisco Liriano the Best Pitcher in the American League?

By Tommy Rancel //

Similar to the recently profiled Josh Johnson, Francisco Liriano captivated the major leagues as a rookie in 2006. As the understudy to staff ace Johan Santana on the Minnesota Twins’ staff, Liriano went 12-3 with a 2.15 ERA in 28 appearances.

In an unfortunate similarity to Johnson, Liriano blew out his arm, and would miss all of 2007. He tossed just 76 innings in 2008 and struggled in his full-time return in 2009. That said, he continues to parallel Johnson. This time, in a good way.

Through 14 turns in the rotation, Liriano is just 6-5. His 3.11 ERA ranks among the league leaders, but still doesn’t fully convey how well he has pitched in 2010. For that, we look to fielding independent metrics like FIP and xFIP. By now you know FIP and xFIP measure events a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks and home runs. xFIP drills still further down by normalizing the pitcher’s home run rate to league average.

According to FIP, Liriano has been the major league’s best pitcher not named Cliff Lee. His 2.16 FIP in 2010 is even better than the 2.55 he posted as a rookie in ’06. Looking at his 2.99 xFIP compared to Lee’s 3.11, one could argue that Liriano has been the American League’s best pitcher.

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So how does arguably the best pitcher in the league have just six wins? Run support and bad luck are to blame.

Of qualified starters in the AL, Liriano owns the 10th-lowest run support, according to ESPN.com. For comparison, the Yankees have scored nearly twice as many runs when Phil Hughes toes the rubber as the Twins have Liriano pitches.

In addition to the lack of run support, Liriano has been one of the league’s unluckiest pitchers in terms of batting average on balls in play. The .348 BABIP carried by Liriano in 2010 is the third-highest in the AL; league average BABIP is .302. And while his personal BABIP has always been a bit above the norm (.316 career), his current total is by far the highest of his career.

The large BABIP number is a bit odd given the fact that the Twins employ an above-average defense, especially in the infield. I note the infield defense because 49.8% of the balls hit against Liriano this year have been groundballs, another excellent skill. Even in the absences of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, Minnesota’s backup infielders posted positive UZR (ultimate zone rating) marks*.

*Defensive statistics such as UZR usually take years of data to show true talent levels.

As noted, when looking at factors Liriano can control, he has done a wonderful job. His strikeouts per nine innings rate (K/9) of 9.71 ranks among the game’s elite. His walks per nine innings rate (BB/9) of just 2.43 suggests that his control is back to where it was pre-injury. The one category that may regress in a negative manner is home runs allowed (just two home runs allowed in 92.2 innings). But xFIP suggests that even with regression he is still among the game’s best.

Because his win total and ERA aren’t as fantasy friendly as some other starters, Liriano might be available in trade at a slight discount compared to his true worth – that of an elite starter. He’s been about as good as Ubaldo Jimenez, for instance, but with much less hype. If you own Jimenez and can land a deal that nets you Liriano and, say, a solid bat or half-decent closer, jump on it.

For more on Francisco Liriano and other underrated aces, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits

Joe Mauer and His Power Outage

By Bloomberg Sports //

Last season’s AL MVP, Joe Mauer, has seen his home run numbers drastically decline this season as compared to his 2009 level. Mauer hit a career-high 28 homers during his MVP campaign, but so far this year he has hit only two.
Using Bloomberg Sports’ statistical tools, we can see that Mauer’s home run output both in 2009 and in 2010 were uncharacteristic, and that his power numbers should regulate somewhere in between the two.

First, it must be mentioned that Mauer’s OPS in 2009 was unusually high for his career, and a neutral observer might conclude that 2009 was a fluke. Others could argue that this surge had to do with natural age progression, as he reached the age of 26, a milestone at which many players begin to peak. Thus, despite Mauer’s current career OPS of .887, it could be argued that his 1.031 2009 OPS would have some staying power. Mauer’s monster season prompted the Twins to hand him an eight-year, $184 million contract extension in March.

Mauer’s two homers this year-to-date have thus raised concerns in Minnesota. We can point to his fluctuating home runs per flyball rate as a cause of this season’s power outage – as well as Mauer’s 2009 outlier season. From 2005 to 2008, that rate ranged from 6.5% to 10.8% — league average typically hovers around 10%. However, in 2009, Mauer’s HR/FB rate jumped to a stratospheric 20.4%. Thus maybe this shift, rather than indicating anything in particular about Mauer’s game, indicates that a lot of Mauer’s power in 2009 was the result of a statistical variation. If this dramatic increase had been accompanied by a drastic change in body type it would be understandable, but Mauer’s body did not noticeably change.

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This season, Mauer’s homerun per fly ball out rate has regressed to just 5.7%, a career low, but also closer to the pre-2009 range. The numbers clearly point to 2009 being an outlier in this respect. Granted, a couple of unmentioned variables might be pulling down Mauer’s HR/FB rate this year. One, the Twins’ move to Target Field from the Metrodome might be affecting his power numbers, especially through the early, colder-weather months of the season. Second, pitchers might be attacking Mauer differently this season, following his ’09 power outburst. Let us explore these two possibilities.

Mauer’s new home, Target Field, has been the third-worst ballpark for home runs, in front of only Citi Field and the Oakland Coliseum, according to ESPN.com’s MLB Park Factors. However, through just over one-third of the season, it is tough to say that this phenomenon is reliable or that it will remain constant. After all, it typically takes three years before you can properly trust a given stadium’s park factor. Meanwhile, Mauer’s previous home, the Metrodome, played as roughly home run neutral. The dimensions of the two fields are very similar, so expect Target Field to be less home run-stubborn than it currently is, especially in the warmer summer months. To date, Mauer’s OPS is 80 points lower at home than away.

Maybe pitchers are attacking Mauer differently too. This argument could potentially explain some of the catcher’s power struggles. Pitchers, in fact, have been unwilling to throw him fastballs in certain counts, and seem to have replaced them with changeups, and occasionally curveballs. In 2009, on 0-1 and 2-2 counts, Mauer saw a majority of fastballs. However, this season, in the same counts, he’s seen a fastball only about one-third of the time. This change by the pitchers seems smart, as Mauer had a lethal 1.077 OPS against four-seam fastballs from 2006 through 2009. Meanwhile, he now sees almost three times as many curveballs on the first pitch and in 2-2 counts, according to Bloomberg Sports tools, when compared to 2009. This adjustment by pitchers seems appropriate, as Mauer had a .483 OPS against curveballs dating back to ’06. Lastly, Mauer has seen more changeups in 1-2, 2-1, and 2-2 counts, although he has fared well against the changeup in his career, so this adjustment should have had no effect.

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Target Field’s low home run rate and the new approach by pitchers may be hurting Mauer’s home run numbers. But the statistical variation in his HR/FB rate also helps explains the drastic difference between 2009 and 2010. That rate suggests that Mauer’s MVP-type numbers may have been affected by a statistical outlier, and that fans and teams may have to reassess their expectations for Mauer’s power numbers. In regards to how pitchers are approaching Mauer, it seems unlikely that the recent adjustments can explain this year’s low home run total, as he has been a top player in the league since 2004, and pitchers have been adjusting to his tendencies every year. Meanwhile, Target Field has been playing like a large shopping mall – but it does not explain Mauer’s low road home run total, or the fact that he has yet to hit any homers at home.

Expect a middle ground to emerge between the home run binge Mauer showed last season and the drought he’s experienced in 2010.

Bloomberg Sports 2010 American League Central Preview

By Eriq Gardner
The AL Central isn’t the strongest division this year. The Minnesota Twins are accustomed to outperforming expectations on an annual basis, but this year, they start out as the favorites. The strongest competition comes from the Detroit Tigers, who will need a couple of aging veterans to hold up, and the Chicago White Sox, who have resisted full-scale rebuilding, sensing an opportunity to surprise given the lack of quality teams in the division. After trading the team’s best stars last season, the Cleveland Indians are certainly in rebuilding mode. And what can we say about the perennial woeful Kansas City Royals? A huge shocker if they were to make any noise.
Here’s a closer look at each of the teams:
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Minnesota Twins
The Twins will be moving into a new ballpark, Target Field, this season. It’s hard to figure out exactly how the new field will play, but given the cold weather and park dimensions, it could lean toward being a pitcher’s park.
The team features a very underrated staff of pitchers who pound the strike zone and won’t give up too many walks. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and even Carl Pavano are sabermetric-friendly starters with great strikeout-to-walk rates that foreshadow improving ERAs. After an extraordinary performance in winter league ball and spring training, Francisco Liriano is primed for a comeback season and may be key to any playoff run. The injury to Joe Nathan opens some questions about the team’s relief pitching. At the very least, all the team’s pitchers will get support from an improving defense with the additions of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson in the middle infield.
At the plate, the team is extremely well-rounded, featuring the game’s top catcher in Joe Mauer. A core group of Mauer, Justin Morneau, the underrated Jason Kubel, and quietly efficient Michael Cuddyer provide good power and on-base skills. The additions of Hudson and Jim Thome in the off-season should further augment one of baseball’s best offenses outside the AL East.
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Detroit Tigers
The team is managed by the always crafty Jim Leyland, who will need to overcome some issues such as age and a lack of depth to remain competitive.
Miguel Cabrera leads the offense. Some off-the-field troubles made headlines this off-season, but he’s always been a steady producer. The big question will be who produces behind him. New addition Johnny Damon will get on base and score a lot of runs. But the team’s success will largely depend on whether veterans like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen can come back from disappointing seasons and whether youngsters like new 2B Scott Sizemore and new CF Austin Jackson can step up. 
On the pitching side, few young pitchers are better than flame-throwing Justin Verlander. There’s no reason to expect anything less than dominance from him. But the team will need more. Much of the team’s pitching success last year came from a great campaign by Edwin Jackson, who was shipped out in a trade for Max Scherzer, a hard-throwing righty with great strikeout rates but also an injury history and some struggles with going deep into games. Rick Porcello had a great rookie season and projects as a solid mid-rotation guy, or better. Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman make up the back end of the rotation; hold your breath.
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Chicago White Sox
Let’s start out with the big questions: Will Jake Peavy remain healthy? Can Alex Rios rebound? How quickly will emerging star Gordon Beckham adapt to second base? Will Bobby Jenks remain the team’s closer or does that role eventually go to elite set-up man Matt Thornton? What happened to the strong fantasy potential we saw from Alexei Ramirez in 2008? Does Juan Pierre at 32 have enough wheels left to be productive? Will Carlos Quentin recover from a post-breakout injury season? You could make a case for any of these answers going either way.
If all goes well, the team certainly has a good shot to contend. Beyond the majors sits some highly touted, major league-ready prospects, including catcher Tyler Flowers and starter Daniel Hudson. And the starting rotation is deep. John Danks is listed as the team’s #4 starter, behind solid fantasy options Mark Buehrle, Peavy and Gavin Floyd. Not too shabby.
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Cleveland Indians
Nobody is expecting a great deal from Cleveland this year, which might actually benefit the team. The club has experienced a lot of injuries over the years and were forced to shed superstars like CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Victor Martinez.
For the team to take everyone by surprise, Grady Sizemore will need to come back and be healthy. From watching spring training, several scouts aren’t certain he’s 100% yet. Shin-Soo Choo was a great story last year. After years of teasing potential, Choo had a 20/20 season in 2009 with nearly a .400 OBP. Many of the team’s younger hitters, such as Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, and Asdrubal Cabrera, could take steps forward.
The Indians’ major weakness is its starting pitching. The fact that the team holds no pitcher owned by at least 50% of fantasy leaguers should say something. Maybe it’s because Cleveland has the kinds of pitchers (Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook, and Justin Masterson) who produce more real-life value than fantasy value: groundball artists instead of pitchers who whiff a lot of batters. That might be by design: Cabrera is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game.
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Kansas City Royals
The last time the Royals won a division title was in 1985, when starting pitching stud Zack Greinke was just two years old. It would be great to point to reasons why the team has any hope of turning it around soon, but we can’t find any evidence that would accomm
odate such optimism. Even local writers scratch their heads about whether the team has a plan.
The Royals have gone against the conventional wisdom about the value of getting on base, recruiting low-OBP retreads such as Rick Ankiel, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Scott Podsednik. Billy Butler is the one potentially elite offensive player on the roster right now. They’ll need big contributions from Alberto Callaspo, David DeJesus and the recently profiled Alex Gordon just to remain mildly competitive.
Of course, Greinke will give the team a good chance at victory every time he takes the mound. The rest of the rotation is suspect, though. Gil Meche needs to rebound from a disappointing year and mounting injuries, while Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies will be lucky to post league-average performance at the bottom of the rotation. The one wild card is Luke Hochevar, a talent former number-one pick who could benefit from further development and some better luck on balls in play this season.

The big storyline to follow in Kansas City may be what happens with Greinke and closer Joakim Soria. Might the team decide to trade either in the middle of this season? The Royals would get a ton in return, especially if Greinke is dealt. The smarter money’s on Soria being the one who goes, though.
For more on Joe Mauer and the rest of the AL Central, check out Bloomberg Sports’ kits

Orlando Hudson and the Hidden Doubles


By Erik Hahmann
 
When one thinks of getting production from second base rarely do the words “Minnesota” and “Twins” come to mind – at least not since the days of Chuck Knoblauch. Over the past few seasons, banjo hitters like Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert, and Luis Castillo have manned the position for the Twins. Last season it was Punto and Casilla teaming up to do the damage, splitting time at the position and posting OPS numbers of .676 and .526 respectively. It was time for a change.
 
Enter Orlando Hudson.
 
Minnesota inked the veteran second baseman to a one-year, $5 million deal this off-season, a small price to pay for such a significant upgrade in talent. Hudson isn’t in the same class as Chase Utley or Ian Kinsler, fantasy-wise. That duo rank as five-star talents in Bloomberg Sports’ Demand vs Scarcity chart, while Hudson earns just one star. Even so, his ability to steadily contribute in a number of categories gives him solid value as a late-round pick.
 
 
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Over the past four seasons Hudson has averaged a slash line of .292/.363/.440 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 10 home runs, 64 RBI and 66 runs scored, more than respectable for someone ranked 24th at his position. Some of that success can be attributed to playing with the Diamondbacks in hitter-friendly Chase Field for three seasons. But Hudson spent 2009 with the Dodgers, where he posted a home OPS of .807 in Dodger Stadium, a tougher park for hitters.
 
Hudson averaged 31 doubles during that same four-year period. Last season, he rapped .283 with 35 doubles, numbers few second basemen achieve. If you sort the Top 10 second basemen by those two stats you can see that Hudson’s combination of average and doubles ranks among MLB’s leaders.
 

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We don’t yet know how Target Field will play, and if the Twins’ new stadium will be friendly to doubles hitters like Hudson. But in an increasingly potent Minnesota lineup, Hudson’s ability to get into scoring position could net some solid runs scored totals. Hudson’s current ADP (Average Draft Position) is 185th, which slots him somewhere in the 15th round in standard 12-team mixed leagues, making him a middle infield target late in your draft.
 
For more information on the top second basemen in baseball, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits

Joe Nathan Suffers UCL Tear; Who Becomes Twins Closer?

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.

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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.

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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.

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We don’t usually take much stock in intangibles, but own Jonah Keri is a Neshek fan. Need proof? Check here and here. Neshek is a talented blogger as well.

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.

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