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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
odate such optimism. Even local writers scratch their heads about whether the team has a plan.
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.
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.
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.
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.