A little over a week ago, the Tigers announced that Duane Below would earn his first crack at starting this season. The southpaw had certainly earned the opportunity in his second season with the Tigers. Below had yet to issue a walk and the opposition was hitting just .167 against him in 12 scoreless innings. Alas, the opportunity never came as rain pushed the game back and Tigers manager Jim Leyland was not about to alter his rotation just to get Below a spot start.
Since then Below has continued throwing darts. He has added an additional two innings of work to his season total and the opposition has offered just a hit and walk against him without cracking the scoreboard in his last three appearances. Through 14 innings, Below now boasts a 0.00 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, and .174 average against. Simply put, he has been one of the best hurlers in baseball this season.
The big question is whether the Tigers have lucked out with this year’s version of Doug Fister? To answer that we look at Below’s stats in the minor leagues. Though he was a tad too hittable early in his professional career, the numbers have drastically improved in recent years. In fact, in 2011, Below was 9-4 in 18 starts with a 3.13 ERA in Triple-A. He does not get many strikeouts, but he has great command of the strike zone.
Despite some big prospects in the Tigers system, Below has earned the next spot start needed in Detroit. It’s about time for his fantasy managers to hope for an opportunity in Detroit.
BY ROB SHAW
Get to know Drew Smyly, a 22-year-old southpaw nabbed out of Arkansas with a second round pick in 2010. Smyly made his Major League debut last week and the nerves were obvious as he surrendered three walks and gave up four hits in just four innings of work. More impressively, Smyly did fan four batters and allowed just one run as he was removed with a no decision.
In his one year of minor league service, Smyly was dominant. He finished 11-6 with a 2.07 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning and impeccable control. Smyly took the mound on Tuesday against the Royals and was sensational. He this time only walked one batter, and though he surrendered seven hits, they did not lead to any earned runs. Unfortunately, a lack of run support in the early innings led to another no-decision for the rookie.
A true test follows this weekend, as Smyly is slated to face the Rangers on Sunday. Considering how well the Rangers have been hitting, it may be a good idea to keep the southpaw on your fantasy bench. On the other hand, Smyly is becoming a must-start these days with a 0.90 ERA through his first two starts.
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.
For more fantasy insight visit BloombergSports.com.
by Eno Sarris //
Brad Penny once pitched in the American League, and the results were less than stellar. While it’s tempting to say his return to the harder league will go as poorly, there’s little black and white here. Let’s unpack what went so poorly for Penny in Boston, why he returned to grace in the National League, and what that might mean for him now that he’s a Detroit Tiger.
Penny had a 5.61 ERA in Boston and a 2.59 ERA in San Francisco in 2009 – and yet his performances were much closer to similar than would first appear in looking at ERA alone. In Boston, he struck out 2.12 batters for every one walk, and in San Francisco he struck out 2.22 batters per walk. He had an FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching – a stat that runs on a similar scale to ERA, while stripping out defense and luck and focusing on factors the pitcher can control) of 4.49 in Boston; his FIP in San Francisco was a similar 4.35. The big difference was that Penny yielded a very lucky .211 batting average on balls in play while wearing black and orange, pushing his ERA much lower.
Oh, there was one difference worth mentioning. Penny had a 40.8% groundball rate in Boston, and a 53.8% number in San Francisco. As Penny’s strikeouts have tumbled over his career, his groundball rate has climbed – his three best years by groundballs have come in his last four years, for example. That went away in a short stint in Boston, but he re-found his ability to get grounders in San Francisco.
And he continued to coax ground balls in St. Louis last year, before a lat injury cut his season short. In those nine Cardinals starts, he managed a 52.8% groundball rate that would fit in with his recent work in the category. He did refine his cutter with Dave Duncan, and also threw far fewer four-seam fastballs than he had in the past. But let’s not count on the Duncan bounce lasting beyond the friendly confines of Busch Stadium; the Tigers’ curious roster could hurt his new team’s ability to turn grounders into outs as is.
Looking at some comparable American League pitchers given Penny’s statistical benchmarks, we find Fausto Carmona (5.31 K/9, 3.08 BB/9, 55.6% GB), Trevor Cahill (5.4 K/9, 2.88 BB/9, 56% GB) and possibly Rick Porcello (4.65 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 50.3% GB). Those ERAs ranged from 4.92 (Porcello) to 2.97 (Cahill), but use FIP instead, and the range narrows to 4.11 to 4.31. The average FIP in baseball for qualified pitchers last year was 4.08.
The injury concerns are there, even if Penny lost most of the year to a non-arm injury. Given his mix of passable strikeout-to-walk ratios and good groundball rates, Penny should be able to approximate an average major league starter for the Tigers. From the list above, you can see that he might even luck into a stronger fantasy season. But his recent history also suggests that there’s no way you can depend on him. Put him in the leave-a-penny-take-a-penny tray on draft day in standard 12-team mixed leagues, and use him if/when you need him during the season.