Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw breaks down four of the major stories in baseball right now that could impact your fantasy team.
Ichiro Suzuki Traded to the Yankees for Two Minor Leaguers
The Yankees added another legend to the fold in the form of right-fielder Ichiro Suzuki. The future Hall of Famer is in the midst of his second disappointing season, as his average dipped from .272 a year ago to .261 entering last night. He also isn’t drawing many walks, which explains the .288 on-base percentage.
The Yankees are hoping a move out of Safeco will do some good for Ichiro, who is hitting .297 on the road this season. Ichiro has also been great in his career at Yankee Stadium, with a .333 batting average and a.492 slugging percentage. The move is an absolute boon for fantasy managers.
Colby Lewis Out for the Season
The Rangers are in first place this season, which has as much to say about their pitching as their hitting. One of their top hurlers is Colby Lewis, who owns nearly a 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, that ratio will not change as Lewis has been placed on the DL with an elbow injury and is lost for the season.
The loss of Lewis is a big blow, as he has been a star in the postseason with a 4-1 record and 2.34 ERA. The only good news is that Rangers fans will get a chance to see their top prospect Martin Perez again, but really, this is an injury that could force the Rangers hand to make a big deal.
Anibal Sanchez Going to Detroit
And just like that the Marlins are sellers again. Anibal Sanchez is just 28 years old, ranks among the top strikeout leaders and has really improved his control over the years. Regardless, the Marlins are not in the mood to pay him big this offseason, even though it did not stop them from acquiring Heath Bell last season.
A move to the American League is typically bad news for pitchers, but with the Tigers, Sanchez will have a lot of run support and play for a contender. Also dealt was Omar Infante, who offers some pop and speed from second base. Jacob Turner was moved to Miami but he is very much unproven, similar to a pitcher by the name of Andrew Miller, who never quite lived up to his hype despite being acquired for Miguel Cabrera from the Tigers several years ago.
Ryan Dempster Rumors
With a 2.11 ERA, Ryan Dempster is considered by many to be the best hired arm on the trading block. However, Dempster seems to enjoy Chicago and as a 10-5 player, he has the option of rejecting any trade. The Braves, meanwhile, see an opportunity to win an NL Wild Card spot and hope to acquire the veteran hurler. In the deal, Randall Delgado, who has mixed results, would be sent to Chicago. If Dempster does move to Atlanta, he is bound to do better than his current 5-4 record, while Delgado will see his value decrease even more.
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By E. Gardner //
Every season has its surprises. But not all unpredictable events are alike.
Take Matt Kemp. The LA Dodgers outfielder is on pace at the moment for 41 HRs and 46 SBs, totals that surpass the most aggressive, optimistic projections coming into the season. Still, it’s hard to flag Kemp’s superlative production this year as a shocking surprise. Such a season seemed to be within Kemp’s reach given all the right turn of events. Scouts had long viewed Kemp as being a potential 40/40 player. And though Kemp had a disappointing 2010 campaign, the guy who was once touted as the next Manny Ramirez is still only 26 years old.
Let’s take a look at true curveballs. Here’s five player performances to date we’re pretty confident that nobody saw coming:
- Jeff Francoeur’s stolen bases: He’s currently got 15 steals, which ties him with Hanley Ramirez, Juan Pierre, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos Gonzalez. Frenchie never had more than 8 steals in a full season before this one. What happened? As we pointed out early this season, the Royals are certainly being more aggressive on the basepaths, which has gone a long way. We also have to imagine that Francoeur is tired of the reputation of being a former top prospect who amounted to a good-for-nothing. Otherwise, there’s not much else to explain Francoeur’s new-found burst of speed. His strikeouts, walks, and on-base rate are all about on par with previous years. He just has the green light now.
- Asdrubal Cabrera’s home runs: Cabrera’s currently got 16 HRs, already more than his total from 2008-2010. Perhaps just as impressively, his slugging ability has remained pretty consistent throughout the season. In April, he hit 5 HRs, more than any other month, but April is the only month this season where Cabrera’s OPS was below .800. His HR/FB rate has jumped from a terrible 3% last season to nearly 15% this year, but even adjusting for some luck, he’s showing legitimate 20 HR ability — which this year, thanks to a strong start, could mean he’ll finish with 25 HRs or more.
- Jacoby Ellsbury’s home runs: Similar to Cabrera above, Ellsbury is flashing power like never before. The Red Sox outfielder has long been known for his speed — he’s got 28 steals so far — but he’s shocking those who watch him by knocking balls out of the park regularly. He’s up to 13 HRs now — the same total as his teammate Kevin Youkilis — after never hitting double-digits in HR totals in the five seasons prior to this one in both the minors and majors. Oddly, his fly-ball percentage is actually down from the past two seasons, meaning he’s either gotten way more powerful or way more lucky.
- Anibal Sanchez’ strikeouts and walks: Hard to believe but the best player that the Marlins got in the famous Josh Beckett trade of 2005 isn’t Hanley Ramirez this year. Instead, as Hanley struggles, Sanchez is showing signs of being a true ace. He’s currently got 123 strikeouts, which ranks him 13th in the majors and puts him on pace for 214 for the season. His 9.28 K/9 rate is certainly the best of his career, but not a huge leap over the 8.71 K/9 rate shown in the 2008 season. No, what’s really impressive is that he’s upped his strikeouts just as he’s managed to cut his walks. He’s allowing less than 3 walks per 9 innings this year. Put that together with the ability to induce more groundballs than flyballs, and we’re looking at one of the best pitchers in baseball.
- Josh Tomlin’s wins: Is it possible we’ll see a 20-game winner from a pitcher who wasn’t even drafted in many deep AL-only leagues? Sure, there’s certainly a good amount of luck that goes into win totals, and Tomlin’s success also corresponds to the surprising success of the Cleveland Indians at large this season . Nevertheless, Tomlin is doing something (besides winning) better than almost everyone else. That something would be showing elite control. His 1.07 BB/9 is second best among all qualifying pitchers in the majors. Only Roy Halladay is walking fewer batters in a typical start. Tomlin barely has a strikeout rate over 5 per 9 IP so he’ll never be a fantasy darling, and maybe hitters will catch on here, but at the moment, Tomlin is doing his best Mark Buehrle impression.
We’d have a hard time putting too much stock in these new demonstrated skills in terms of sorting out rankings going into the 2012 season. At some point, regression is extremely likely.
But for now, all bets are off.
We’re surprised at what we’re seeing from these five players so far, but if Francoeur steals 25 bags this year, if Cabrera and Ellsbury each manage 25 home runs this year, if Anibal Sanchez finishes the year as a top 10 pitcher, and if Tomlin comes close to 20 wins, it won’t come as truly stunning anymore.
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By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Anibal Sanchez
He’s been pitching in the major leagues since 2006, but 2010 was the first time Anibal Sanchez put together more than 30 starts. He still doesn’t have great upside beyond his fine 2010 season (3.55 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) because of his good-but-not-great K rate (7.25 K/9 in 2010, 6.87 career). His groundball percentage improved (45.1%), but if he has a little less luck on home runs next year, his ERA might be closer to four. The rest of his line was pretty luck-neutral, though.
Biggest Bust: Ricky Nolasco
Leo Nunez lost his closer role and Chris Volstad had a poor year that included a demotion, but much more was expected of Ricky Nolasco, so he’s the bigger bust. Nolasco put up some poor stats (4.51 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) and frustrated owners who saw that he’d been unlucky in 2009 (5.06 ERA, 3.35 FIP) and expected a big rebound. Well, he did it again, as his 3.86 FIP in 2010 was much better than his ERA. Nolasco still struck out a lot of batters (8.39 K/9), and walked very few (1.88 BB/9), but all those flyballs keep turning into home runs (1.37 HR/9), and he needs to iron that wrinkle out before returning to the top echelon of fantasy starters.
2011 Keeper Alert: Clay Hensley
It’s not a great idea to keep a closer, with all the volatility in the position, but this team didn’t show any great young arms in the bullpen. Into the breach stepped 31-year-old Clay Hensley, who found that magical combination of strikeouts (9.24 K/9), control (3.48 BB/9), and groundballs (53.4%) that makes him interesting despite his iffy pedigree.
2011 Regression Alert: Alex Sanabia
Alex Sanabia had an xFIP (a number on the ERA scale that strips out batted ball luck and normalizes home run rates) of 4.57 in 2010, and an ERA of 3.73. He’s got great control, but he’s a flyballer without a strikeout pitch, so he’ll have a little more trouble next year. Leo Nunez had terrible luck on the batted ball (.337 BABIP) and could easily return to his role with some positive regression in 2011.