Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw and Analyst Alex Burwasser recap the top five shortstops this fantasy season as well as the top three busts.
TOP FIVE PERFORMERS
5. Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs
After a fantastic sophomore campaign in the big leagues which saw him lead the league in hits (207) and make the All-Star team, Starlin Castro put together another solid year for the Cubs. He did not hit .300 this year but he hit a very respectable .283 while stealing a career-high 25 bases. A good sign going forward for him is his consistency against left and right-handed pitching, hitting over .280 against both this year. However, an area where Castro needs work is his plate discipline, where for the third straight year he drew less than 40 walks (36).
4. Jose Reyes, SS, Marlins
It would have been really difficult for Jose Reyes to duplicate his 2011 season when he won the NL batting title. A season that turned out to be his last with the Mets when he signed as a free agent with the new-look Marlins. A lot was expected of Reyes and the Miami team as a whole moving into a brand new ballpark and it seemed both were wilting under those expectations. Unlike the team, however, Reyes redeemed himself by hitting .312 after the All-Star break and ending the season with his standard double-digit triples (12) and 40 steals. In fact, he was hitting in the three hole for the Marlins by the end of the year, so if that continues in 2013, expect even more production for Reyes.
3. Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals
One of the best stories in baseball this year was the Washington Nationals, and one of the leading characters in that story was 26 year old shortstop Ian Desmond taking the next step and becoming an All-Star player. Not only did his batting average drastically improve from last year moving from .253 to .292 but he had an enormous spike in power hitting 25 home runs this year as compared to only 8 in 2011. Added with his speed, swiping over 20 bases for the second year in a row (21), Desmond looks like he is a player on the rise for the Nationals and possibly for your fantasy leaderboards next year.
2. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
Derek Jeter has been around the top of this list for basically the past fifteen years, so why would 2012 be any different? He had 216 hits this season, which was his most since 1999, as well as 47 extra base hits which was his most since 2007. He also hit over .300 (.316) for amazingly the twelfth time in his sure-to-be Hall of Fame career. The only question with Jeter is how long he can possibly keep this up, especially given his unfortunate ankle injury in the ALCS against Detroit, but it would be hard to start counting him out now.
1. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies
Jimmy Rollins, much like Derek Jeter, has been at the top of this list for over a decade now, but Rollins went mostly under-the-radar this season because his team was such a huge disappointment. Obviously, Rollins was not the reason why, blasting his most home runs since his MVP season of 2007 (23) as well as knocking in a solid 68 RBI. A very underrated part of Rollins game has always been his speed, and that was certainly on display this year when he stole 30 bases for the second year in a row and added over a hundred runs scored (102). Rollins is only 33 years old, so there could be a few more years of these type of numbers coming from a premium fantasy position like shortstop.
TOP THREE BUSTS
3. Jhonny Peralta, SS, Tigers
A first time All-Star in 2011, Jhonny Peralta had his best season as a pro for Detroit hitting just under .300 (.299) while providing some serious power with 21 home runs and driving in 86 runs as his Tigers won the AL Central. Detroit again won the AL Central again in 2012 but Peralta was not nearly as big a factor seeing his batting average dip 60 points to .239 as well as his home runs (13) and RBI (63). Peralta needs to hit for power and drive in runs to provide any fantasy value whatsoever because he does not steal bases or hit for a high average.
2. Yunel Escobar, SS, Jays
In a somewhat surprising move given his potential, the Braves traded Yunel Escobar to the Jays after a disappointing start to the 2010 season. It was looking like a steal of a trade for Toronto after a 2011 season that saw him hit .290 with 11 home runs and 77 runs scored. However, he really declined this past season when his average dropped 37 points to .253, but what was most alarming were his walks almost being cut in half from 61 to 35 which left his on-base percentage at a measly .300. For a player expected to be at the top of the lineup for years to come, getting on base three out of ten times will just not cut it for the Jays and for your fantasy team.
1. Dee Gordon, SS, Dodgers
Every year fantasy owners seem to fall into the trap of falling in love with a player who comes up from the minors and excels at a particular statistical category whether it is home runs or strikeouts. In Dee Gordon’s case, it was stolen bases. After being called up in June 2011, he burst onto the scene by hitting .304 and stealing 24 bases in 56 games for the Dodgers. In 2012, he was the opening day starter at shortstop for the Dodgers but he never really got off the ground getting sent to the minors in early July after hitting only .228. He still has a ton of speed — he stole 32 bases — but he cannot provide any value if he cannot get on base in the future.
For more fantasy insight, visit BloombergSports.com.
Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw breaks down the five baseball players who have been making a huge fantasy impact over the past two weeks.
5) Alex Rios, OF, White Sox
Rios struggled with the White Sox in 2011, batting just .227. However, he has bounced back this season with a .316 AVG, 18 HR and 67 RBI. In the past two weeks alone, he hit .353 with 14 runs, five home runs, 15 RBI and one stolen base. He is a five-tool talent and his hot streak could continue, especially considering that he plays at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. Be aware, however, that Rios is known for his inconsistency.
4) Adam LaRoche, 1B, Nationals
Like Rios, LaRoche has struggled with inconsistency. Last year was a disaster for him, as he only played in 43 games and had just a .172 average. He is known for getting hot in the second half of the season and he is living up to that right now. In the past two weeks, LaRoche has a .429 average, 10 runs, seven home runs and 14 RBI.
3) Carlos Gomez, OF, Brewers
Gomez is a solid outfielder defensively but is not known for his offense. He hasn’t been able to play every day in the past but he’s been given a chance in Milwaukee and is putting up huge numbers. Over the last two weeks, Gomez is batting .348 with 14 runs, four home runs, 10 RBI and six stolen bases. At 26 years old, he could get a chance to play full time next season.
2) Drew Stubbs, OF, Reds
Stubbs is known to be unpredictable at the plate. He steals a lot of bases and has some power but he kills your batting average. His currently has a .239 season average, but in the last two weeks, he has a .362 average with 17 runs, four homers, 11 RBI and five steals. Stubbs is a streaky hitter, so ride out this hot streak while you can.
1) Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
Pujols had a slow start to the season but he’s been on fire recently, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Angels. Over the past two weeks, he has a .365 average, 11 runs, seven home runs, 19 RBI and two stolen bases.
For more fantasy insight, visit BloombergSports.com.
BY EVAN BLEIER
Although you won’t see his name near the top of any AL Rookie of the Year lists, Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks is putting together a season that should have more folks taking notice. Since being called up to the majors in early May, Middlebrooks been one of the most consistent hitters in the Boston offense despite having his place in the lineup shifted time and again by manager Bobby Valentine. The constant juggling hasn’t seemed to affect Middlebrooks at the plate, as his average has hovered around .300 for much of the season. It currently rests at .299 after career game 64. Pair that average with 13 home runs, 47 RBI and an OPS of .855 and you have the makings of a pretty good rookie season.
In fact, take a look at another first year player’s numbers through 64 games and it’s easy to see why Middlebrooks should be getting a little bit more attention:
BA: .281 HR: 8 RBI: 25 OPS: .817
The numbers above belong to National League Rookie of the Year favorite Bryce Harper. Granted, Harper bats higher up in the lineup than where most of Middlebrooks’ at-bats have come from, so it’s logical that his RBI totals would be lower, but the rest of the numbers more than speak for themselves. Harper does possess superior speed and he walks more than Middlebrooks, but both players struck out at nearly identical rates through 64 games, Harper with 55, Middlebrooks with 61. This is not to say that heralded top prospect Harper shouldn’t be getting his due or that Middlebrooks will turn into a superstar, but the gap between the two players, at the plate at least, is a lot smaller than some might think.
For more 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.
by Eno Sarris //
Josh Willingham will be 32 next season and in his final year of arbitration, but the Oakland Athletics saw enough there to trade two fringe prospects for him on Thursday. Perhaps they liked his consistency at the plate.
For the last four years, the Hammer’s full-year statistics in some key categories have not wavered much. Check out his walk rate – it has gone from a ‘low’ four years ago at 10.9% to a high of 14.9% last year. His strikeout rate has stayed in a tight range, 23% to 24.3%, and his isolated slugging percentage has been between .192 and .237 over the past four years. The overall package is one that doesn’t wow anyone from a fantasy perspective (he’s never hit more than 26 home runs or better than .277). But Willingham works well as a late-round mixed league outfielder or a stable deep-league bat. He’s predictable.
How will he fare in his new digs? His FanGraphs splits show that he’s a pull hitter – he has a .810 career slugging percentage to left field (compared to .320 to right field). The Nationals’ park was 337 feet to left field and 377 feet to left-center, so it counts as good news that the Oakland Coliseum is 330 feet to left and 367 to left-center. However, dimensions aren’t everything – the Nationals’ park had a 100 park factor for home runs by a righty last year, and the Coliseum a 77 in that category (ESPN’s three-year park factor for all batters was .872). Whether it’s the weather or some other factor, it was definitely difficult for righties to hit it out of the Coliseum last year. So it’s not likely that Willingham will set a career high in home runs at his age and in that ballpark.
In return for Willingham, the Nationals will receive two prospects who were not among Baseball America’s top 10 for the Athletics. Right-handed reliever O’ Henry Rodriguez throws gas (98.8 MPH on the fastball, career) and can strike batters out (more than a strikeout per inning every stop). But he’s also had some trouble with control (4.26 BB/9 IP in his short MLB career, 6.6 BB/9 IP in the minor leagues). If his high but manageable major league walk rate holds, he could be a force at the back of a pen. Drew Storen will likely get most of the save chances for the Nats to begin the season, though.
Minor league outfielder Corey Brown projects as a fourth outfielder and injury fill-in, though with some potential to eke out a starting corner outfield job at some point. As a three-year college hitter, his numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt, but he’s done well at Double-A in a mostly-neutral run environment for two years now (.269/.348/.488 and .320/.415/.502 in 2009 and 2010 in the Texas league, respectively). He walks (11.3% career), has power (.225 career ISO), and speed (48 stolen bases against only eight caught stealing). The problem is that he doesn’t make great contact (31%), so don’t bet on a good batting average. He’s improved that number recently (it’s hovered around 28% the last two years), but the major leagues will boost those strikeouts and keep Brown from being a mixed-league option, at least for now.
With Willingham’s muted upside, Rodriguez’s control issues, and Brown’s strikeouts, each player has a flaw that makes for a tough draft decision. Pick up Willingham late in standard mixed leagues; take a wait-and-see approach on Rodriguez and Brown.
By R.J. Anderson //
Separating current value from future value is a must in the world of transaction analysis; less so in the fantasy world, where so many leagues go with limited (or no) stability from year-to-year. Understanding that is paramount to understanding the negative reaction to Jayson Werth’s signing in the real world. The common critical points arising are that seven years is too long for someone Werth’s age (31), that $126 million is too much, and that the Nationals will not benefit from this deal when they are nearing competitor status. And yet, none of that matters in the fantasy world.
Werth is one of baseball’s best right fielders offensively or defensively. Over the last three seasons he’s hit .279/.376/.513 while averaging 29 home runs per season, 84 runs batted in, and 8 steals. His ability to steal bases and play defense is important to note. Whereas a player like Adam Dunn – whom Werth ostensibly replaces in the Nationals’ lineup – derives much of his value from hitting home runs and drawing walks – like Werth — receives criticism for his skill set that ages poorly, Werth is more athletic and should age better. That does not mean Werth will live up to that line this season, though, it just means don’t expect a sudden collapse.
What everyone should expect is for Werth’s new ballpark to limit his home runs. Not egregiously, but a few here and there. Citizen’s Bank Park is one of the kindest to right-handed batters in the game. Nationals Park isn’t mean to them, but it’s not nearly as charitable. The other aspect of the Nationals’ organization that may affect Werth is the talent around him. Werth batted behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard last season, sometimes far enough behind that he didn’t benefit fully from their ability to reach base. With Washington, he figures to bat ahead of or directly behind Josh Willingham and Ryan Zimmerman, who both got on base roughly 39% of the time last season.
With young talent like Danny Espinoza, Ian Desmond, and of course Bryce Harper potentially filling out the Washington lineup sooner than later, there’s a chance Werth can continue to knock in 85-plus a season to along with 25 or so home runs and a .275 or so batting average. He shouldn’t rise up your charts because of this signing, but he shouldn’t fall either.
For more on Jayson Werth, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
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by Eno Sarris //
Scouting is a tough business. There is
no scout superpower that allows members of the profession to leap over
tall buildings and see into the future. Otherwise there would be some extremely well-paid scouts and some bulletproof teams out there.
members of the human race are left trying to learn aspects of
successful baseball players, and then look for those aspects in young
prospects. The problem is, you can look great using a metal bat or beating
up on pitchers who can’t locate their fastball and don’t have a
secondary pitch worth worrying about – and yet still fail at the major league level.
Enter Bryce Harper, the #1 pick of the 2010 draft, and current Arizona Fall League wunderkind.
Look at him at the plate thanks to this great video by Joel Henard at Baseball Daily Digest Radio, and you may, like one scout here in Arizona mused, think he has a high-effort swing. There certainly are a
lot of things that have to go right in his swing, even if the best
result is a powerful one. There are scouting mantras
that say swings that can be described as ‘easy’ and ‘loose’ are
the goal. After watching a few more Harper hacks, you might decide that
though it’s high-effort and complicated, his swing does look like it could generate results. You’ll also see how difficult
scouting can be.
Take a look at the list of first-overall picks in the amateur draft and you’ll find some hits and also plenty of misses. For every superhero like Justin Upton and Chipper Jones, there is a superdud like Ben McDonald and Matt Bush. Limit the list to power hitters, however, and it’s a little harder to find busts. If you give Pat Burrell
some credit, and ignore catchers and shortstops who may have been
taken for potential defensive prowess, you might have to go all the
way to Shawn Abner in 1984 to really find a first-pick, power-hitting bust with a capital B. Viewed in that light, Harper’s draft position alone works in his favor.
Harper’s case, we even have some mitigating statistics to help us out.
Though he didn’t play in college, he did pick a junior college that
played with wooden bats – and at the tender age of 17, he put up an
astounding .442/.524/.986 line that could get any pessimistic scout
over-ruled. Now he’s playing against some of the best prospects in
baseball at the Arizona Fall League, and once again his .348/.423/.565
(albeit in a small sample of games) seems to answer most questions.
Except there’s one little
thing… he’s struck out eight times in his first 23 at bats (34.7%). The sample size is not close
to being reliable – strikeout rates usually take more than 150 plate appearances to become predictive. Still, one wonders when the first criticisms of Harper wearing
enough eye black to drown Aquaman will start (image thanks to Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images).
Paired with his age, and the odd high-effort
swing, there is a little doubt here. Even if he does work out, it should
take some time (Adrian Beltre‘s 19-year old, 214-plate
appearance, .215/.278/.369 debut was the youngest significant major league start
since 1975; Ken Griffey, Jr. managed a .264/.329/.420 line at a few months older). His future still looks bright, but don’t expect much, if any impact for at least a couple years.
For more on Bryce Harper and other young prospects, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise & Regression Alert: Mike Morse
Morse was once a light-hitting shortstop in the Mariners organization – his minor league slugging percentage (.425) and 513 minor league games at shortstop might surprise many that saw him play first base for the Nationals late in 2010 (and slug .519). If you look closer at the numbers, though, the power was developing as he aged (four of his five best slugging seasons came since 2009), and he hit a career high number of flyballs in 2010 (37.9%, 33.8% career), so the progression seems natural. That said, he still strikes out a bit much (24.1% in 2010), his .330 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) may not be sustainable (so the .289 batting average may fall), and the outfield is a little crowded in Washington. He’s probably best thought of as a late-round sleeper in very deep drafts next year.
Biggest Bust: Nyjer Morgan
His career-worst BABIP (.305) may not look so bad, but Morgan has no power (.077 career ISO, .145 is average) and lives by putting the ball on the ground and using his wheels to get on base. After three straight seasons of .350+ BABIPs before 2010’s “stinker,” it’s not outlandish to expect a return to better days for the mercurial Morgan. But in fantasy he’s mostly a one-category guy until that batting average returns. Leave him out there until the end of your drafts in 2011, but don’t count him out completely just because of a few run-ins with authority late in the 2010 season.
2011 Keeper Alert: Ian Desmond
We know Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn are fine keepers in the right leagues, and we know Ian Desmond is a flawed player. He doesn’t walk (5% career), he strikes out a bit much (20.3% career), and he’s poor on defense. Last year, his power also tapered off – his .124 ISO was lower than his career major (.145) and minor league (.129) ISO numbers. But ugly wins in deeper leagues, and his production in the ‘counting stats’ – 10 home runs and 17 stolen bases in particular – plays just fine at a tough position, and he’ll get more chances with plenty of job security. Don’t expect him to grow too much (especially considering his .259/.326/.388 minor league slash line), but if last year’s numbers were good enough to play in your league, he should be able to repeat them.
By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Stephen Strasburg
Maybe it doesn’t seem like Strasburg’s performance was a surprise – he did get his fair share of hype on the way up. That said, plenty of top prospects have flamed out, especially on the mound, so the fact that he came up and maintained his double-digit strikeout rate (12.18 K/9) was very impressive. Even better, his control held (2.25 BB/9), and he got balls on the ground (47.8%). When he was on the mound, everyone was watching, and for good reason. Now we have to wait until late 2011, most likely, as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Biggest Bust: Yunesky Maya
Maya did not live up to his somewhat lofty expectations. After dominating in his home country of Cuba and pitching well at the World Baseball Classic, Maya did not show the ability to harness his secondary stuff in the major leagues (3.81 BB/9). With the mediocre fastball that we profiled here late in the season, he’s also not showing the strikeout ability (4.15 K/9) he needs in order to succeed. As of now, he’s not really fantasy-relevant.
2011 Keeper Alert: Jordan Zimmermann
On the surface, Zimmermann’s statistics don’t seem to argue that he’s a keeper. His 4.94 ERA and 1.32 WHIP were not great in his 31-inning return from Tommy John surgery last year. However, his control was still strong (2.9 BB/9, 2.87 BB/9 career), and he did strike out an above-average number of batters (7.84 K/9). The rest of the reason for optimism comes from projecting his minor league numbers, where he struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings for his career. He’s got the punch, the control, and he keeps the ball on the ground – he’s a great deep-league sleeper keeper.
2011 Regression Alert: Livan Hernandez
Hernandez seems to have a good stretch every year, but in 2010, that stretch lasted all season. No matter. Despite some improving numbers, it’s fair to say that the portly 35-year-old right-hander won’t put up another 3.66 ERA – if only because the last time he bettered that number, it was in an Expos uniform in 2004. He’s not a terrible real-life innings-eater, but as a guy who doesn’t strike people out (4.85 K/9 last year) and allows a lot of flyballs (39.3% groundballs last year), he’s not a good fantasy starter for 2011.
By Eriq Gardner //