BY ROB SHAW
Kyle Drabek was a top prospect when the Blue Jays acquired him from the Phillies for perennial Cy Young contender Roy Halladay. The Blue Jays fan base was hoping that Drabek would be able to make an immediate impact, but that did not occur at all in 2010, as the son of former Pirates All-Star Doug Drabek found some success at Double-A, while also walking four batters per nine innings. That is a statistic that Drabek could get away with in the minor leagues, but a different story in the Majors. Drabek lost all three starts in 2010.
Last season, it was assumed that Drabek would hold a spot in the starting rotation, and sure enough he did open the season with the Blue Jays. The stay did not last long as he ended the season with just 14 starts and a 6.06 ERA. The main issue was his lack of control, as he ranked as the worst in the Major Leagues in BB/9 as well as BB/K.
Now 24 years old, Drabek is getting another opportunity this season and he shined bright in the first two games. In fact, Drabek walked just one batter in his second start as he pitched into the eighth inning and surrendered just one earned run to a solid Orioles offense. Suddenly, Drabek was again en vogue and was a hot pickup in fantasy baseball.
Alas, doubt has returned to the mind of this fantasy expert. Even though Drabek remains undefeated with a 2-0 record and the Blue Jays have won all three of his starts, his control was lost in his last start, as he issued six walks in 5.1 innings. The fact that the Royals did not capitalize has a lot to do with Drabek’s ability to miss bats (he boasts 15 K’s in 18 innings) and a little bit of luck.
On Thursday, the Orioles face Drabek for the second time this season. In many ways, Drabek remains a wild card as he has great stuff, including a 94 MPH heater with movement, but if his control is lost the numbers could take a hit. I’d expect a bit of regression for the next few months of the season. I see Drabek offering up an ERA closer to four and could end up on a career path similar to fellow Blue Jays hurler Brandon Morrow. In other words, Drabek is not for the risk adverse. He will have moments of glory, but also fits of frustration.
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.
For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com.
By R.J. Anderson //
The Orioles’ signing of Mike Gonzalez during the off-season was an odd move. The team had no hopes of competing this year, maybe not even in 2011, yet felt for the talent Gonzalez held, he was too good to pass up for the cost (in draft picks and money).
The start of Gonzalez’s 2010 season was not what the team had in mind when the contract was being crafted. Gonzalez made three appearances over the opening week, completing two innings, saving one game, and taking the loss in the other two. On Wednesday, he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained shoulder. There’s little to no point in looking into the statistics of three outings as anything meaningful. One potential trouble sign did emerge, though: Gonzalez’s fastball velocity was down nearly two full miles per hour.
Replacing him in the closer role for now will be Jim Johnson.
Johnson is a big right-hander who actually saved 10 games for the
Orioles last season and has pitched in 50 games or more in the past two
Johnson certainly could morph into a season-long option. Gonzalez’s struggles had certainly raised the possibility of his closer tag being removed. At the same time, it’s hard to see that occurring now with his injury. At best, Johnson will serve as the temporary closer until Gonzalez returns and proves his health.
The good news is that the rest of the Orioles’ pen looks like a mess. Well, that’s sort of good news, at least. It means Johnson has little to no competition for those save situations, but it also means a few save opportunities could be blown by lesser quality pitchers.
He doesn’t strike out as many batters as you would expect from someone with mid-90s velocity (just 5.0 per nine innings in 2008, an improved 6.3 per 9 IP in 2009), but he is an extreme groundball reliever, which helps to hold his home run totals down. The problem is that the Orioles’ infield defense is rather lackluster, making him a WHIP liability on bad days. That makes young reliever Kam Mickolio a deep sleeper in extremely deep leagues, including AL-only ones.
Despite Johnson’s flaws, he’s well worth a pickup in deeper leagues. If nothing else, you can always hoard saves, then trade them for other assets later. In the meantime, keep an eye on Gonzalez’s recovery, and how Mickolio fares in the early going.
By Erik Hahmann
New York Yankees
New York comes into the season as not only a juggernaut in real life, but in the fantasy realm as well. Their offense is anchored by the best infield in baseball, led by Alex Rodriguez, who fully healthy should go back to putting up MVP-type numbers. The infield is rounded out by Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixiera, each of whom is capable of ranking in the top 3 at their respective positions. New addition Curtis Granderson should flourish in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium – he hit 30 homers in far less friendly Comerica Park last year. Home plate is once again manned by Jorge Posada, who even given his advanced age should put up above-average numbers.
CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett lead a strong rotation, with newcomer Javier Vazquez making for an excellent number-three starter. Phil Hughes moves to the rotation and is a rare Yankees sleeper; he was once an elite SP prospect before he became a lights-out bullpen guy, and he’s the number-five starter to start the season. Joba Chamberlain should get a good amount of K’s in the 7th-8th inning role, setting the table for the always reliable Mariano Rivera to once again be the one of the best closers in the game.
An emphasis on defense led the Sox to acquire several new players this off-season. Adrian Beltre could have a bounceback season at 3B now that he is in a more hitter-friendly park – assuming he’s finally healthy. Marco Scutaro is coming off a career year at age 35, so expect some regression from his 2009 season. Center field is now manned by Mike Cameron, with Jacoby Ellsbury and his 70-steal potential shifting to left. Expect regulars like Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew to continue to put up their usual stellar numbers. Playing in Fenway for a full season, in a solid lineup, could also boost Victor Martinez‘s already high fantasy value.
The strength of the team is the rotation. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett lead the way as one of the top 1-2 punches in the game, with John Lackey a close third. Moving to the AL East should slightly hinder Lackey’s numbers, so downgrade him a bit. The closer position is filled by Jonathan Papelbon for now, with Daniel Bard poised to take over if Papelbon falters.
The Rays set a team record for runs scored last season, and this year’s offense could be even better. Evan Longoria has put up outstanding numbers in his first two seasons and could exceed them this year as he vies for the AL MVP. Last year’s fantasy darling, Ben Zobrist, moves up to third in the order (ahead of Longoria) though he might struggle to approach 2009’s monster numbers. Carl Crawford should make his (probable) last season in Tampa Bay a good one, getting on base and stealing 50 or more bases. Jason Bartlett enjoyed a career season in 2009 and should regress, as his BABIP was a sky-high .364. A player who should stick around all season is Sean Rodriguez, who was acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade last season. He’s hit the cover off the ball this spring and could provide strong multi-positional value at 2B/OF.
The pitching staff is once again led by James Shields and Matt Garza, with Garza a popular pick for a breakout season; both Shields and Garza ranked among the unluckiest pitchers in the baseball for run support, and could both win more games with a little more luck on that front. Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis all offer upside as well, with Davis penciled in as the fifth starter, with a chance to compete for Rookie of the Year honors. Rafael Soriano has looked shaky in his first outings as the Rays’ new closer and has a history of injuries. J.P. Howell could make a good insurance policy for Soriano, assuming Howell himself can return healthy in the near future.
One of the more exciting teams to watch this season might well be the Baltimore Orioles. Rookie starter Brian Matusz has the skills to be an above-average performer this season, even in the rugged American League East. Veteran Kevin Millwood will start Opening Day for the Orioles. Millwood is a workhorse who should give Baltimore much needed innings at the top of the rotation.
What everyone will pay to see, however, is the O’s exciting young offense, led by Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters. Markakis drove in more than 100 runs last season and looks poised to do the same this year. While Jones had a slightly down 2009 season at the plate, he did lower his strikeout rate and up his walk rate, a very good sign for a young hitter. He could attain 20 HR/15 SB status this season. It was hard for Wieters to live up to the hype that preceded him last season, but he did an admirable job. It could all come together this season, with 20 HR and a .290 batting average very real possibilities – big numbers from the catching position.
The Blue Jays might not have the talent to finish even fourth in the division, but they still have a few interesting fantasy options for this season. Aaron Hill was one of the biggest surprises in baseball last season, exploding for 36 HR and 108 RBI at second base. He did have a fairly low OBP (.330) and his 36 home runs were 19 more than his previous career high, so some caution is advised. The other member of the Jays’ lineup to enjoy a breakout season was Adam Lind. The 26-year-old seemed to finally put it all together during his first full year with the team, putting up a .300 AVG+, 30 HR+, 100 RBI+ season. He shouldn’t have an issue putting up similar numbers this season.
An inexperienced pitching staff is led by Shaun Marcum, who hasn’t pitched since 2008. Ricky Romero, a Rookie of the Year contender last season with a 13-9 record and 4.30 ERA, might be the safest play of any of the Blue Jays starters.
For more information on the AL East, check out Bloomberg Sports fantasy kits