Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw discusses the best teams in baseball right now and checks in with some of their top players at the All-Star Game.
Coming into the season it seemed like everyone was high on the Angels and Tigers, two of the more active teams in the off-season. It turns out that the Yankees are the best in baseball and the Nationals are not far behind.
The All-Star break provided a chance to check in with some of the top players from contending teams, and one player we got to chat with was Ian Kinsler, the 42nd-best fantasy player accoring to Bloomberg Sports with 65 runs, 10 home runs and 15 steals. He was one of eight All-Stars from the Rangers, a franchise that has made it to back-to-back World Series.
“It was a good first half,” Kinsler said. “I think as a team we played well. We went through a lot more ups and downs than we wanted to but we played well and we’re in first place right now. And we have eight guys here at the All-Star Game, so we’re happy.”
Another team expected to contend for the title is the Detroit Tigers. Prince Fielder was the major off-season acquisition, but this is Miguel Cabrera’s team. Cabrera is enjoying an MVP-caliber season and right now ranks as the seventh-best fantasy player. He made it clear that the start to the second half will be big.
“We feel okay, you know. We want to feel more comfortable at the end of the season, like win the division, get into first place,” Cabrera said. “I think we’re in good position. I think we’re feeling good right now. We want to start good in the second half, start to be more aggressive and win more games.”
Finally, the Angels are putting some heat on the Tigers. Jered Weaver has pitched like an ace and Albert Pujols has turned things around. While everyone is talking about the superstar rookie Mike Trout, it’s the second-year star Mark Trumbo who ranks as the top surprise. He’s batting .305 with 26 home runs and 65 RBI.
“It’s been really special,” Trumbo said. “The first month of the season is probably forgettable. We were out there competing, just the results weren’t coming in. Sometimes that happens. But since then we’ve been rolling pretty well. People are playing to their capabilities and we’ve had a lot more wins to show for it.”
The Tigers, Angels and Rangers were supposed to be the teams competing for an AL pennant this season and so far they have. If the season ended today, all three would advance to the postseason thanks to the multiple Wild Card spots. However, there is still a lot of baseball to play and several surprise teams are still out there, including the A’s, White Sox and Indians. A big move at the trade deadline or even a key promotion could make the difference.
For more insight, visit BloombergSports.com.
BY ROB SHAW
The top stolen base threat will be Braves outfielder Michael Bourn. Bloomberg Sports forecasts that he is the only speedster who will surpass 50 stolen bases this season. Though he has little power, Bourn has evolved into a fine fantasy option with a high average and as many as 61 stolen bases in a season. In 53 games with the Braves last season following a trade, Bourn swiped 22 bases.
Next, the Yankees and Red Sox both have speedsters as Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are next on the list. Ellsbury will again be an MVP candidate while Gardner’s value depends upon where he is in the lineup.
Ellsbury is projected to again surpass 20 home runs this season with 40-plus steals. The fact that he offers an all-around game has taken away from his stolen bases, but fantasy managers should have no gripes. Gardner, on the other hand, is more of a one-trick pony who relies on stolen bases. If the Yankees wish to take advantage of his high OBP they could have him bat leadoff, which would lead to more runs, but Yankees Manager Joe Girardi seemed to like having him at the back of the lineup last season.
The Oakland A’s will have no need for speed with Coco Crisp on their team. He is a bit injury-prone, but steals with the best of them. Crisp also has a little pop, twice hitting 15 or more home runs in a season. If the A’s lineup shows some improvement you should expect many more runs coming from Crisp.
Finally, BJ Upton has yet to meet his lofty expectations but he does pack some power and should steal close to 40 bases. Last season Upton shined in four categories with 80-plus runs, 80-plus RBI, 20-plus HR, and 35-plus steals. Unfortunately, he only hit .243. There remains some hope he can be the complete package as the 27-year-old once hit .300 for a full season. On the other hand, Upton has finished with an average less than .245 in three straight seasons.
The ultimate sleeper is Dodgers middle infielder Dee Gordon, while his teammate Matt Kemp predicts that he will go 50-50 for the first time in baseball history.
For more fantasy insight visit BloombergSports.com.
by Eno Sarris //
Josh Willingham will be 32 next season and in his final year of arbitration, but the Oakland Athletics saw enough there to trade two fringe prospects for him on Thursday. Perhaps they liked his consistency at the plate.
For the last four years, the Hammer’s full-year statistics in some key categories have not wavered much. Check out his walk rate – it has gone from a ‘low’ four years ago at 10.9% to a high of 14.9% last year. His strikeout rate has stayed in a tight range, 23% to 24.3%, and his isolated slugging percentage has been between .192 and .237 over the past four years. The overall package is one that doesn’t wow anyone from a fantasy perspective (he’s never hit more than 26 home runs or better than .277). But Willingham works well as a late-round mixed league outfielder or a stable deep-league bat. He’s predictable.
How will he fare in his new digs? His FanGraphs splits show that he’s a pull hitter – he has a .810 career slugging percentage to left field (compared to .320 to right field). The Nationals’ park was 337 feet to left field and 377 feet to left-center, so it counts as good news that the Oakland Coliseum is 330 feet to left and 367 to left-center. However, dimensions aren’t everything – the Nationals’ park had a 100 park factor for home runs by a righty last year, and the Coliseum a 77 in that category (ESPN’s three-year park factor for all batters was .872). Whether it’s the weather or some other factor, it was definitely difficult for righties to hit it out of the Coliseum last year. So it’s not likely that Willingham will set a career high in home runs at his age and in that ballpark.
In return for Willingham, the Nationals will receive two prospects who were not among Baseball America’s top 10 for the Athletics. Right-handed reliever O’ Henry Rodriguez throws gas (98.8 MPH on the fastball, career) and can strike batters out (more than a strikeout per inning every stop). But he’s also had some trouble with control (4.26 BB/9 IP in his short MLB career, 6.6 BB/9 IP in the minor leagues). If his high but manageable major league walk rate holds, he could be a force at the back of a pen. Drew Storen will likely get most of the save chances for the Nats to begin the season, though.
Minor league outfielder Corey Brown projects as a fourth outfielder and injury fill-in, though with some potential to eke out a starting corner outfield job at some point. As a three-year college hitter, his numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt, but he’s done well at Double-A in a mostly-neutral run environment for two years now (.269/.348/.488 and .320/.415/.502 in 2009 and 2010 in the Texas league, respectively). He walks (11.3% career), has power (.225 career ISO), and speed (48 stolen bases against only eight caught stealing). The problem is that he doesn’t make great contact (31%), so don’t bet on a good batting average. He’s improved that number recently (it’s hovered around 28% the last two years), but the major leagues will boost those strikeouts and keep Brown from being a mixed-league option, at least for now.
With Willingham’s muted upside, Rodriguez’s control issues, and Brown’s strikeouts, each player has a flaw that makes for a tough draft decision. Pick up Willingham late in standard mixed leagues; take a wait-and-see approach on Rodriguez and Brown.
By R.J. Anderson //
Although the Athletics and Royals did not agree on the first trade of the offseason, they did pull off most-talked about deal thus far. The details have left fielder David DeJesus heading to Oakland, while starting pitchers Vin Mazarro and Justin Marks go to Kansas City. Marks holds some middle-of-the-rotation upside, but clearly the bigger names here are DeJesus and Mazzaro.
DeJesus is a typical Athletics outfielder, or at least typical of the past few years. He plays good defense, reaches base, and does not hit for much power, while going about his business in an unheralded fashion. DeJesus’ line over the last three seasons is .300/.363/.443 with an average of 14 home runs per 700 plate appearances and eight stolen bases; which is to say he is a much better player in real life than in fantasy.
An extra instance of DeJesus’ value in real life being higher than his fantasy value comes in the form of draft compensation. The soon-to-be 31-year-old projects as a borderline Type A free agent. Meaning he could bring the Athletics draft picks in return for being signed by another team next offseason.
DeJesus is not the first former Royals outfielder to head to Oakland either, joining a worthwhile group that includes Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and past/present teammate Coco Crisp. Oakland being an extreme pitchers’ park explains why each of their slash lines dropped (except Crisp) during their time there relative to their Kansas City experience. Expect the trend to hold true with DeJesus, meaning he’ll probably hit below .300 and perhaps closer to 10 home runs than 15.
Meanwhile, the Royals get Mazzaro. The 24-year-old posted a 4.27 ERA during his first full season in the major leagues. A late-season demotion raised some eyebrows and iffy peripherals project to an ERA nearly a run higher (Mazzaro was saved by better performance with men on base than otherwise, and other factors). Mazzaro throws a sinker that theoretically should make him a groundball master, but his groundball rates are pedestrian at 41% for his career. Meanwhile, Oakland’s infield defense was one of the best in the league, while Kansas City’s is not.
Along with the park effects, expect an increase in WHIP and ERA, unless Mazzaro gets better in a hurry. Keep in mind that he does only have 35 major league starts under his belt and barely 200 innings. Pitchers do not age like hitters, but it’s just way too early to proclaim Mazzaro as a bottom feeder unworthy of a major league rotation spot to open the 2011 season.
It’s easy to fall into the rhetoric surrounding Billy Beane and Dayton Moore and assume Beane just pulled a fast one on Moore. Time may prove that to be true, but this trade feels more even than lopsided, even if neither of these players hold much fantasy value.
For more on Vin Mazzaro and mid-rotation candidates check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
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.