Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw and Analyst Alex Burwasser recap the top five first basemen this fantasy season as well as the top three busts.
TOP FIVE PERFORMERS
5. Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
In an offseason move that shocked many, Albert Pujols decided to leave St. Louis, his home for a decade where he won two championships, for the bright lights of Los Angeles in Anaheim. To the delight of jilted Cardinals fans, Pujols got off to a rough start for the Angels, even hearing some cat calls in his home park, but he more than made up for it over his final 105 games where he hit .319 with 26 home runs and 86 RBI. You can make a case that he may not be as dominant a hitter as he once was but he still put up his typical 30-HR, 100-RBI season, which always has fantasy value.
4. Billy Butler, 1B, Royals
Billy Butler has always been a very productive hitter throughout his career for the Royals but has consistently flown under the radar because he plays in relative obscurity in Kansas City. However, this year he was the subject of a national controversy when Robinson Cano decided not to pick him for the Home Run Derby in front of his home fans at Kauffman Stadium. Butler took the high road and did the talking with his bat the rest of the year when he finished with 29 home runs and 106 RBI, both career highs, all while hitting above .300 at .313.
3. Prince Fielder, 1B, Tigers
Much like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder moved from the top of the NL Central to the opposite league in the offseason. Fielder signed a massive nine-year contract which left many worrying about the long-term injury risk of signing a man of his size, but his performance in the first year of that deal quieted all the critics when he blasted 30 home runs and knocked in 108 RBI leading the Tigers to their second consecutive AL Central crown. Though Prince has had more powerful years, he hit over .300 for the first time in his career, checking in at a very impressive .313 on the season.
2. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B, Jays
Encarnacion had been a solid player for Toronto since acquiring him from the Reds in 2009, putting up seasons of 20 home runs and a little more than 50 RBI on average in 2010 and 2011. This season, however, he completely obliterated those numbers with 42 home runs and 110 RBI, more in each category than the previous two years combined. In addition, Encarnacion also improved in other categories, setting career highs in stolen bases (13) and walks (84). What makes this rapid improvement all the more impressive is that he did it without Jose Bautista in the lineup who missed about half the year injured. Next year could be very intriguing for the Jays with those two bats healthy and producing in the middle of that lineup.
1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B/3B, Tigers
There really is not much else you can say about the year Miguel Cabrera had for the American League champion Tigers. He was the first Triple Crown winner since 1967 (led the AL in batting average, home runs and RBI) and he did it before the age of 30! In fact, Miguel Cabrera leads all active major leaguers under the age of 30 in hits (1802), home runs (321), and RBI (1123). We are not sure Cabrera is on his way to his second championship ring this year, but it sure looks like he will be on his way to Cooperstown one day.
TOP THREE BUSTS
3. Mark Teixiera, 1B, Yankees
Every year in his career besides his rookie campaign in 2003, Mark Teixiera has had at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI, but not in 2012 when he hit only 24 home runs and knocked in only 84 RBI. Even more alarming for Teixiera is that he has seen his normally stellar batting average drop season after season. A perennial .280, and some years .300, hitter has not reached those numbers since 2009 when he hit .292. The last three seasons he has not hit above .256 including this year when he hit .251 and had a dreadful on-base percentage of .332. For the Yankees, he provides a lot of value with his defense at first base, but for fantasy owners, his value seems to be slipping fast.
2. Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Pirates
At the beginning of the year, many picked the Marlins and their revamped team with the acquisitions of Jose Reyes and Heath Bell among others to possibly win the NL East. Gaby Sanchez was one of the players set to contribute in the middle of that lineup, but much like the entire team, he was a gigantic disappointment. After the first 55 games of the season while hitting just above the Mendoza line at .202, Sanchez was sent down to the minors and subsequently traded to Pittsburgh. Though he fared better for the Pirates than for the Marlins, he still finished the year with a .217 average and only seven home runs, a huge dropoff from back-to-back 19 home run seasons in 2010 and 2011.
1. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals
During Spring Training, there was a lot of buzz around the Royals that they may be the team on the rise given their farm system and dearth of young talent. One of the centerpieces of this renewed hope was Eric Hosmer, and after his rookie campaign in 2011, it was easy to believe given that he hit .293 with 19 HR and 78 RBI in only 128 games. Much like his team, Hosmer severely underperformed his expectations this year hitting .232 in his first full season in the majors with less home runs (14) and less RBI (60). You would hope that this is just your classic sophomore slump for the third overall pick in the 2008 draft and 2013 is a year he can replicate or even outperform his 2011 numbers.
For more fantasy insight, visit BloombergSports.com.
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.
Bloomberg Sports Anchors Julie Alexandria and Rob Shaw discuss whether or not the fans’ selections for the American League All-Star team were right and who should be starting the All-Star Game in Kansas City on July 10.
Mike Napoli of the Rangers was the fan choice, but White Sox backstop A.J. Pierzynski should be starting in the All-Star Game. Pierzynski is not one of the more popular players in baseball and was actually expected to lose his job coming into this season. However, he is hitting .285 this year with 14 home runs and 45 RBI.
Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays should be starting instead of Prince Fielder. Encarnacion has always had great potential but has been inconsistent in the past. This season, however, he is deserving of a starting spot in Kansas City with a .291 average, 22 home runs, 55 RBI and eight stolen bases.
The fans got this one right, voting in Robinson Cano of the Yankees. He’s batting .310 with 20 home runs and 46 RBI. Not only is he an All-Star but he is clearly the Yankees’ MVP.
The fans chose Adrian Beltre of the Rangers, which is a good pick because he is one of the best defensive players in baseball. Miguel Cabrera, however, is the best third baseman in the American League with a .314 average, 16 home runs and 62 RBI.
Derek Jeter is having a good season, but Elvis Andrus of the Rangers is the best shortstop in the American League right now. He is not a power hitter with just one home run but he’s batting .307 with 32 RBI and 16 stolen bases. The fans should have voted in Andrus instead of Jeter.
Of the three outfielders voted in, only one was the right pick by the fans. It wasn’t a surprise that Josh Hamilton was selected, and he is the right choice. He’s on pace for more than 50 home runs and 140 RBI this season.
Angels rookie Mike Trout should be starting in place of Curtis Granderson. Trout is batting .339 with nine home runs, 33 RBI and 22 stolen bases, and keep in mind that he started this season in the minor leagues.
Adam Jones of the Orioles should have been selected in place of Jose Bautista. Jones has a .302 average, 19 home runs, 42 RBI and 11 stolen bases. He has a bright future and is likely one of the next big stars in baseball.
David Ortiz was the right pick by the fans. He continues to put up big numbers with a .302 average, 21 home runs and 54 RBI this season. This is Ortiz’s eighth All-Star selection.
For more fantasy baseball insight, visit BloombergSports.com.
BY ROB SHAW
To put it mildly, Aramis Ramirez has not had Brewers fans forget about Prince Fielder. While Fielder has already offered the Tigers a .345 average with two home runs, Ramirez has chipped in with just a .129 average and no home runs for the Brew Crew. This is a far cry from the .306 average Ramirez offered last season, not to mention the expectations coming into this season with Milwaukee.
While Ramirez is off to a slow start, he has had a tad of bad luck. Alfonso Soriano robbed him at the left-field wall of an extra base hit on Tuesday, and he already has swiped two bases while nailing two doubles. Plus, Ramirez is a notorious slow starter as March and April are his worst batting months throughout his career.
At this point, fantasy managers should be in a holding pattern, as Ramirez is likely to bounce back. For the first time this season, Ramirez did not strike out in two consecutive games. It looks like he is starting to see the ball better, and that usually leads to a rise in batting average and the power metrics. Patience is a virtue in dealing with A-Ram’s early slump.
There has been a very scary trend in Cleveland for fantasy managers in recent years. We’ve seen players who reach superstardom with the Indians only to lose their luster seemingly overnight due to injuries.
First it was MVP contender Travis Hafner, who went from a .300-plus hitting machine with loads of power to a lackluster DH who struggles to stay healthy. More recently, it’s been all-around sensation Grady Sizemore, who has lost his speed and power in recent years and now is once again on the disabled list for an extended period.
The question that is plaguing fantasy managers right now is whether Shin-Soo Choo will follow that undesirable path. Following consecutive 20-20 seasons, Choo had a season to forget last year with off-the-field controversy followed by an injury-plagued season. Fresh off his worst season with 8 home runs and a .259 average, Choo is struggling once again. The two-time 20-20 fantasy star has five hits, all of them singles.
The good news is that Shoo is drawing walks and already has two stolen bases while his OBP is north of .400. For now fantasy managers should be in a holding power with Choo. The solid plate discipline suggests that he is seeing the ball well and could bust out of his power outage at any moment. In fact, if you have confidence in the 29-year-old outfielder go ahead and acquire him while his stock is low.
What’s the deal with Mets first baseman Ike Davis? Last season he got off to a excellent start before a bum ankle shut him down for the season with seven home runs, 25 RBI, and a .302 average through 36 games. This season has been the total opposite. Davis has two hits through 28 at bats, and both hits have been singles.
While the Mets are calling Davis healthy, there are some questions as to whether a fungal disease suffered during spring training is still limiting him physically, or if at this point, the toll is mental, as Davis has 10 strikeouts through the first eight games of the season.
To be specific, the ailment that Davis encountered this spring was Valley Fever, a lung disease that could lead to fatigue. It very much should be taken seriously, as the illness once knocked 130 games out of the season from Conor Jackson. So yes, fantasy managers should be on red alert, as the disease commonly found in desert environments such as Davis’ hometown in Phoenix could be an issue.
Some good news is that David Wright returned from his broken pinkie on Saturday and blasted a home run. With Wright’s return to the Mets lineup, there are more likely to be runners on base for Davis to drive home. Furthermore, Lucas Duda has looked very much like a slugger this season with three home runs already. With Duda batting behind Davis, there could be an uptick in the runs scored as well.
Of course, the main focus for Davis right not is to snap out of the slump, then he will no longer hear the whispers of mystery ailments and more concerns about the health of Mets players.
When last season concluded with Tim Lincecum brandishing a losing record, there was not much panic in San Francisco as his 13-14 record came with a superb 2.74 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. On that note, fantasy managers again picked Lincecum early in the drafts this season expecting him to contend with rival Clayton Kershaw for the NL Cy Young award. Through two starts the Giants ace may have already pitched himself out of contention.
Tim Lincecum currently sits at 0-1 with a 12.91 ERA. Fantasy managers are wondering if it will it be sink or swim by the Bay this season for Lincecum. This is a major concern for a number of reasons, but near the top of the list is that Lincecum is usually strong out of the gates. April is usually the best month for him, at 12-3 entering this season with a sub-3 ERA.
Another key concern has been the diminishing velocity. Lincecum is so far throwing his fastball at 90 MPH this season, down from 91 MPH last year and 92 MPH the year before. He relies a great deal on his high velocity since his outpitch is no longer his slider, but his change-up. In fact, Lincecum has mentioned that he will try to avoid use of his slider this season since it puts pressure on his arm. It will be tough to get away with just a fastball and change-up if he can’t reach the mid-90s.
Keep an eye on Lincecum’s next start as this may be a concerning trend. For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com.
BY ROB SHAW
The Tigers made a bold move this off-season when they responded to Victor Martinez’s unfortunate season-ending knee injury by acquiring slugger Prince Fielder.
Fielder is fresh off one of his finest seasons with 38 home runs and 120 RBI while batting .299 for the Brewers. The main complaint on Fielder is that his sheer size will eventually lead to some injuries, however, the same was once said of Miguel Cabrera when the Tigers acquired that star from the Marlins. While Cabrera has had some issues off the field, he is also one of the most consistent and dependable sluggers in baseball over the last five seasons. Similarly, Fielder ranks third in plate appearances since 2006 only trailing Ichiro and Derek Jeter.
Another statistic that should provide some confidence for Tigers fans is the fact that Fielder decreased his strikeout rate and total significantly last season. While Ryan Howard has been a minor disappointment with the Phillies since signing a major contract due to his free-swinging ways, Fielder is more of a contact hitter, which can keep innings and rallys alive.
Desperate for some offense, the Twins signed Josh Willingham during the off-season. The move seems to make some sense as Willingham is fresh off a career-high 29 home runs and 98 RBI and should help replace Michael Cuddyer in the lineup.
The problem is that Willingham also saw his average and OBP take a hit last season from .268 to .246 and from .389 to .332. These numbers are actually lower than Cuddyer posted last season.
The hope for the Twins is that Willingham posted respectable numbers despite the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum and the A’s lineup generated very little protection, suggesting that he should surpass those figures this season. There is a problem with that logic, as Willingham actually performed better at home than on the road and the Twins Target Field is also a pitcher’s haven with a Twins offense that offered little production last season.
No question about it the Twins acquisition of Willingham carries some risk. We will soon find out if Willingham is a one-trick pony that specializes in power or if he can return to his previous year’s level of reaching base more consistently.
The Milwaukee Brewers are reeling right now as Prince Fielder left for the Detroit Tigers and MVP winner Ryan Braun may miss 50 games of the season with a suspension for using a performance-enhancing substance. The lone piece of good news is that the team did acquire Aramis Ramirez over the off-season, which will offer some stability at the hot corner.
In effect, Ramirez will have to replace Fielder as the slugger in the Brewers lineup. The main issue for Ramirez over the years has been his inability to stay healthy. In fact, Ramirez has managed to play 150 games just twice in his 14-year career.
Last year Ramirez was healthy and the result was 26 home runs, 93 RBI, and a .306 average. Ramirez is a solid all-around hitter who often puts the ball in play while also drawing a healthy dose of walks. The one statistic that showed Ramirez to return to form last season was his ability to hit the fastball. After hitting just .236 off the heater last season, Ramirez belted 13 home runs with a .302 average this season.
Ramirez should once again offer a solid bat with some power this season… assuming he can stay healthy.
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By R.J. Anderson //
Over the last three seasons Prince Fielder has hit 130 home runs; or a home run for every 16.1 plate appearances. This season, though, Fielder has hit 15 homers in 340 trips to the plate; a jack per 22.7 plate appearances. Not only that, but Fielder’s .206 ISO would represent the lowest figure of his career since becoming a full-time player. ISO generally stabilizes after 350 plate appearances; with the season nearly halfway over, is it time to start getting concerned about Fielder’s lacking power?
The first thing most analysts will look for when examining a power loss is the percentage of home runs per fly balls hit. Fielder’s HR/FB% is currently a tick more than 17%. This is lower than expected when compared to his career figure of 20.1%. Even when one breaks Fielder’s rates down on a seasonal basis, it shows that this is a low rate of homers per balls in the air:
Fielder is hitting the same number of flyballs as his career rate and also the same number of groundballs. His batting average on balls in play is relatively steady too, meaning he’s not being robbed on screaming liners in the gap, or at least it doesn’t seem like it. Fielder’s just not having as many balls clear the wall as usual.
Given his big build and specific skill set, some would point to this as the beginning of the end for Fielder’s elite status. That seems overly pessimistic. Fielder is only 26 years old and while his belt is roughly the size of an asteroid belt, that doesn’t mean he’d suddenly lose power.
The popular comparison here would be Mo Vaughn. A barrel-chested, lefty-swinging first baseman with a belly and power who reached the majors at a later point in his career than Fielder, Vaughn enjoyed similar success. He hit at least 25 home runs in every season he recorded 450 or more plate appearances. It was in 2003 that injuries swamped Vaughn’s usefulness and he eventually retired, inconveniently early into his free agent contract with the Mets. But at the age of 26, Vaughn actually posted the best season of his career (to that point) with a slash line of .310/.408/.576. The big man could still hit, and did so into his early 30s.
Cecil Fielder is another popular comparison because, well, come on. Other than bloodlines, the pair don’t share too much in common. Besides, the elder Fielder also recorded the best season of his career as a 26-year-old, blasting 51 bombs for the Detroit Tigers. That suggests an early decline isn’t hereditary, nor is it a given based on his size. As this chart provided from FanGraphs shows, Prince is just having an unusual drop that the other two didn’t experience:
In the end, you should probably just keep Fielder on your roster, barring some unexpectedly massive trade offer. Expect some bounceback, because frankly there’s no reason not to.