February 2012

Why Matt Kemp must be number one

Despite his first-place finish in fantasy player rankings in 2011, Matt Kemp is not the first name called in a lot of ’12 drafts.  That’s a big mistake.  Kemp offers the most attractive package for fantasy owners who are lucky enough to get the top spot this season.  Let’s look at the five standard categories and what we should expect from the Dodgers star slugger.

Homers – Kemp’s power has been on a steady rise, as his body matured towards its physical peak.  From age 23-26, Kemp’s homer total went like this: 18-26-28-39.  Now that he’s in his prime, Kemp should settle in as a 30-35 home run player who has the potential to flirt with 40, like he did last season.

Steals – This has been Kemp’s most consistent skill.  In ’10 he sulked, fought with management and seemed to put less effort into his game.  In the other three of the past four seasons, his stolen base totals were 34,35 and 40.  At age 27, it’s unlikely that he base stealing abilities will start to decline so another season with roughly 35 steals should be expected.

Batting Average – Despite his subpar effort in ’10, Kemp still owns a .294 career batting average.  That average was attained from age 21-26, while he was developing his power stoke.  Now that he’s in his prime, Kemp should hit at least .290 and more likely will be around .300.  With some good luck, he can be near the .324 mark he produced last season.

Runs – The Dodgers center fielder has topped 90 runs in three of the past four seasons.  Last year he went off, to the tune of 115 runs, helped by his increased power hitting ability.  100 runs scored is a good prediction for Kemp, even in a weak Dodgers offense.  He could score 115 times in a good offense but his lack of protection will keep him from being great in this area.

RBIs – Over the past three seasons, Kemp has averaged 105 RBIs.  That includes last year’s breakout bust also ‘10’s letdown so it’s a pretty reasonable total to consider.  It will be hard for him to drive in 126 runs against in such a weak offense but he should be good enough to maintain the 105 mark he’s established in recent years.

A stat line of 33-100-105-35-.300 puts Kemp near the top of draft boards.  I’ll give you one more number that should vault him over Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun to the top of your ’12 draft list – 600.  Kemp may be the most reliable player in baseball when it comes to showing up in the lineup every day.  He’s exceeded 600 at-bats in each of the past four seasons.  Over those four campaigns, he’s missed a total of 11 games.   Even the ultra-consistent Pujols has missed 34 games over that span, Braun has missed 32 games and Cabrera has sat out 17 times.  Kemp is one of the surest bets in baseball to stay healthy all season.

Kemp’s ability to help significantly in all five categories makes him the best way to start your ’12 draft.  It allows you flexibility to take your highest ranked player in rounds two and three without feeling like you have to make up for a deficiency in a certain category.  He doesn’t have the pressure of a massive new contract and moving to a new league, which is what Pujols has to deal with.  He doesn’t have to adjust to a rapid weight loss and added defensive pressure from a move across the diamond, like Cabrera.  And, he doesn’t have to deal with the pressure of proving he wasn’t enhanced by PED’s, which will likely affect Braun this season.  He’s the safest, most complete player at the top of the draft board and he’s coming off being the most valuable player in fantasy baseball in ’11.  Why would you start your draft with anyone else?

Spring Training Notes – February 26

Ryan Braun, freed!

The conclusion of Braun’s suspension appeal has been well documented, so there’s no need to go into those details here.  For fantasy owners, Braun’s early return to action means another option in the top five picks.  In last weekend’s LABR Mixed League selection, Braun went sixth — a little low in my opinion.  A case can be made for the Brewers outfielder as the No. 1 pick, and I can’t find a reason to push him lower than No. 3. I like him better than Miguel Cabrera, whose slimmer body and position change could affect his offensive production.  Matt Kemp has a similar profile to Braun, with 30/30 expectations, and it’s hard to bet against Albert Pujols.  But in my opinion, no other player can match the numbers that Braun will likely put up.

Grady Sizemore is already hurt again

The Tribe brought back Sizemore on a one-year deal in hopes that he could put his injury woes behind him.  Less than a week into Spring Training, Sizemore is already on the injury report.  This time it’s a back injury that will likely keep the outfielder out of action until sometime in April.  Sizemore’s not worth a late-round pick in most mixed leagues, and those in AL-only formats will need to think long and hard before bidding even a few dollars for a player who’s unlikely to reach 400 at-bats.

Roy Oswalt plays the waiting game

Oswalt has indicated that he he’ll sit around the house for the first half of the season, evaluate his options and then sign with a contender this summer.  While this ensures the right-hander of competing in a postseason push, it makes him virtually undraftable in most leagues.  In mixed leagues, he should start the season on the waiver wire.  In AL or NL-only formats with early drafts, I would use a final-round pick on Oswalt and hope that he ends up signing with a team during March.  There’s always a chance that one club will suffer a significant pitching injury during Spring Training and make Oswalt an offer he can’t refuse.  That gamble is worth more for a fantasy owner than picking Omar Vizquel or any similar low-upside last-rounder who will be available for free during the season’s first week if Oswalt is still unemployed.

Scott Sizemore suffers a left knee sprain

A bad week to be a Sizemore!  The A’s infielder sprained his knee shortly after arriving in camp and it’s not yet known how much time he’ll miss.  It’s too early to change Sizemore’s draft ranking, since there’s a good chance that he’ll be back in action within a few weeks.  Slated to get the bulk of playing time at the hot corner for the A’s, Sizemore is a decent late round gamble in mixed leagues.  He needs improve against right-handers but offers a little power and speed. If the 27-year-old ends up missing regular season games, Josh Donaldson, Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales would become late-round AL-only fliers.

Joel Zumaya faces another surgery

Zumaya is valiantly trying to get his career back on track, but the odds seem stacked against the hard-throwing reliever.  After throwing just 13 Spring Training pitches, Zumaya left with elbow pain and was diagnosed with a torn ligament.  While he’s currently evaluating his options, Tommy John surgery appears likely.  Time to scratch this name off all AL-only draft lists.

Kris Medlen expects to head to the bullpen

Medlen acknowledged that while he would like to be in the mix for a rotation spot, he’s almost certainly destined for the ‘pen.  The Braves have so much pitching depth that they have the luxury of using one of their best young arms in a relief role.  Medlen is still draftable in NL-only leagues, as he should have success as a reliever, but Randall Delgado, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran are better selections.  A couple of those young starters will be in the April rotation, and they all have the talent to make an impact in the Majors this season.

Cano ascends to the three-hole

An underrated story from the first week of Spring Training was the Yankees’ decision to make Cano the centerpiece of their mashing offense.  It’s a smart move, as the second baseman has been the team’s best hitter in recent seasons.  Moving up in the order means a small bump in Cano’s projected numbers.  He should be among the league leaders in runs and RBIs, and could reach 30 homers for the first time this season. Cano doesn’t offer much speed, but his numbers in the other three counting stats, combined with a .310 batting average and 2B eligibility, make him a solid first-round pick.  Once the top four picks are off the board, I don’t see any reason that Cano can’t be considered with Ellsbury, Tulowitzki, Votto and the Gonzalez’s (Adrian and Carlos).  The most direct comparison would be to Tulowitzki, since both are middle infielders.  I’d argue that Cano is more consistent, more durable and has better support around him.  Tulowitzki is a trendy pick this year, but Cano may be the better guy to grab.

Chris Perez unlikely for Opening Day

Perez suffered an oblique strain and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.  If he can stay on the short end of that timetable, there’s a chance the Tribe’s closer will be available on Opening Day — but that seems likely.  Split the difference and call it a five-week injury, which would have Perez begin throwing again on April 1.  With a little extended Spring Training work, he’ll need a DL stint and rehab assignment to get ready for the regular season.  Coming back in the middle of April seems possible, but late in the month is more realistic.  Vinnie Pestano is the favorite for early-season saves in Cleveland and is now worth a late-round mixed-league pick.  Take note, however, that the Indians have several skilled relievers and could opt for a closer committee in April.

LABR Mixed League Draft Results

Spring Training is here and fantasy draft season is back!  It’s a great time to be a baseball fan, and especially one who participates in one of the many fantasy baseball leagues across America.  I pulled up a chair for a spot in the inaugural LABR Mixed League draft on February 25th.  Against a talented group of industry veterans that represented some of the best websites and publications around, I put my winter research to the test.  I came away with a group that I’m pretty happy to call my own, but I must say that Tin Heaney of KFFL and Drew Silva of Rotoworld sniped a few of my picks from me from the fourth and fifth slots!  Without getting into each pick, here are the ones I made that left the biggest impression on me:

Picks I Liked

Matt Kemp (Round 1) – Picked third and nabbed my top ranked player.  Yep, that’s a good way to start!  I love Kemp’s 50/50 prediction for himself this season.  Sure, he won’t come close to it.  But the statement shows that he’s still focused on improving and winning the NL MVP. I’m expecting something in the neighborhood of 35/35.

Ian Kennedy (Round 6) – Without a starter after the first five frames, I crossed my fingers that there would be someone I really liked left at the tail end of the sixth.  Kennedy fit the bill perfectly.  If he can come close to duplicating his ’11 ERA and WHIP, he should be able to win about 17 games on a talented D-backs squad.

Jason Motte (Round 11) – Another pitcher I crossed my fingers on.  When I picked in round 11, I gambled that one of the five or six remaining closers that interested me would still be there in 26 picks.  Motte was the only one to make it back, after Sergio Santos was taken shortly before my turn.  Pairing Motte with Craig Kimbrel gives me a great starting point in saves.  Motte’s a talented reliever and there is no reason to believe that he won’t hold down the closer job all season.

Doug Fister (Round 20) – I have to admit, I was surprised to find Fister on the board this late.  I don’t foresee owning the control specialist in a lot of leagues this year but he fell in my lap as a fifth starter.  Detroit’s shaky infield defense isn’t going to do him any favors but their talented offense and mediocre division foes should ensure that Fister wins around 14-15 games.

Alejandro De Aza (Round 19) – The rebuilding White Sox are expected to use De Aza on a regular basis this season and it looks like he’ll be their leadoff hitter.  From that spot, he should be able to exceed 20 steals and cross home plate 80-90 times.  Add in a decent batting average and you’ve got a great fifth outfielder for deeper mixed leagues like this one.

Picks I Worry About

Elvis Andrus (Round 3) – For ’12 drafts, I feel like the talent really drops off around pick 30.  So, picking 33rd in this league wasn’t a great spot for me.  I reached a bit for Andrus.  I don’t like a lot of shortstops this season, in relation to where I have seen them drafted.  Batting high in the Rangers lineup, Andrus is a candidate to hit over .280 with 40 steals and 90-100 runs scored.  I think his numbers will be very similar to Jose Reyes, with a lot less hype.  Hamilton, Beltre, Young, Cruz, Napoli – the list of talented hitters that follows Andrus seems to be endless.  Still, I’m aware that I did reach for the young speedster a bit and he was slated to go later in the third frame or early on in the fourth.

Brett Lawrie (Round 4) – Lawrie has the upside to be worth a second or third round pick in his first full season.  With good health, he could go 25/25 and put up strong numbers in the other three standard categories.  But, he plays the game so hard that there is a decent chance that the third baseman will wind up on the DL at some point this season.  I was able to add Martin Prado later on, so I won’t be left lacking at third base if Lawrie hits the DL at some point.

Mat Latos (Round 8) – With only two hurlers after the first seven rounds, I felt the need to grab one in the eighth.  Latos was the highest ranked pitcher left on my list but his bust potential is higher than most.  Combine his ’11 DL stint and offseason trade out of spacious Petco Park, and there are two significant reasons to doubt Latos.  If I had it to do over again, I might have dropped further down my list and picked up a more dependable hurler like Dan Hudson to go with Kennedy but I couldn’t resist Latos’ upside.

Carlos Quentin (Round 14) – I needed power and four more outfielders, so Quentin fit the bill at this point.  But, there is a lot of risk in drafting an aging, injury-prone slugger who is leaving The Cell and heading to Petco.  The park effect will cost him some dingers and the lack of a DH spot to nestle into when he has minor aches and pains could cost Quentin some playing time.  Since I didn’t draft any other pure power hitters, I need him to smack at least 25 homers this season.

Overall, I think this is a horse I can ride!  I expect to be among the league leaders in steals, runs and batting average, and I believe that my pitching will do well too.  There are so many variables at this point in the season that for now I just hope my roster is healthy on Opening Day.

You can check out the full draft results HERE.

And, here’s a link to Mike Podhorzer’s wrapup from the draft’s #1 spot.  You can also read recaps from Tim Heaney and Jonah Keri. 

Spring Training Notes – February 22

Brett Lawrie might hit 6th or 7th, Johnson 2nd

Blue Jays skipper John Farrell will try to keep the pressure of their young phenom early in the season by hitting him lower in the order.  That leaves Yunel Escobar hitting leadoff with Jose Bautista third and Adam Lind fourth.  Currently, Farrell is leaning towards hitting Kelly Johnson in the two-hole, which would allow Johnson to go over 80 runs scored.  Combine that total with decent power and speed and Johnson is a solid second basemen for mixed-league owners who miss out on the top tiers.

Casey Kotchman is the Tribe’s everyday first baseman

Indians manager Manny Acta arrived at camp and promptly declared that Kotchman will be getting nearly all the starts at first.  Thanks for coming out, Matt LaPorta!  LaPorta is likely ticketed for Triple-A, unless the Indians totally give up and trade him away during March.  At age 27, LaPorta is no longer a prospect and it’s clear that he wasn’t a good enough return for C.C. Sabathia.  Meanwhile, Kotchman will provide a bunch of ground balls, a respectable batting average and very little power for about 500 at-bats. Don’t look for him to hit .300 again but .280 is reasonable.  He’s a bench player in deeper mixed leagues and a decent corner infielder in AL-only.

Mannyball arrives in Oaktown

Leave it to Billy Beane to think outside the box and take a chance on the disgraced slugger.  Ramirez will need to miss the first 50 games of the season, but he shows he can still hit during Spring Training, he should be the team’s regular DH near the beginning of June.  Manny isn’t worth drafting in mixed leagues but he will be worth a waiver claim in deeper formats once his suspension runs out.  Of course, all of this assumes that he can rip a few doubles this spring and knock a couple balls over the fence too.  Don’t put it past him – Manny’s motivated and he has as much natural talent as nearly any hitter who tapped his lumber the batter’s box in the past twenty years.

Chien-Ming Wang has a sore shoulder

This isn’t something for mixed-league owners to concern themselves with but NL-only types should monitor Wang.  If healthy, he can round out a single universe rotation but with his lengthy injury history it would be foolish to expect more than 100 innings from the 31-year-old.

Expect at least 70 RBIs from Ichiro this season.

Ichiro moved to the heart of the order

After years of setting the table, Ichiro Suzuki is going to hit third when the Mariners open the season in Japan.  It’s a reflection on the lack of power and overall talent in Seattle’s lineup but it should allow the veteran import to earn a career-high RBI total.  It’s also likely that Suzuki will steal fewer bases from his new spot, but manager Eric Wedge may choose to let him run often because of the lack of a traditional cleanup hitter behind him.  Chone Figgins is the new leadoff man, making the 34-year-old worth a buck in mixed leagues.  Don’t forget, Figgins had consecutive 40-swipe campaigns before bottoming out in ’11.  Dustin Ackley will be sandwiched between the two speedsters, and should score his share of runs from the two-hole.  It’s likely that the Mariners will finish last in the AL in scoring, so don’t expect major production from any of their hitters.

Jon Garland hits the open market again

Garland skipped a scheduled physical with the Indians, so he won’t end up finalizing his Minor League deal.  The veteran soft-tosser would have competed with Kevin Slowey and Jeanmar Gomez for the fifth starter job.  The outlook for Slowey is now a little brighter, while Garland shouldn’t be taken in any February drafts.

Scott Kazmir looks for a new home

Kazmir threw in front of scouts from several clubs on Tuesday and was said to have touched roughly 90mph on the radar gun.  He’ll likely find a taker but it will be a Minor League deal and he’ll almost certainly need to start the season in Triple-A.  Let him fall to waivers in all formats and then evaluate him later in the spring.

Spring Training Notes – February 19

A.J. Burnett dealt to Pittsburgh

Burnett didn’t want to leave the Eastern Time Zone, so he nixed a deal to the Angels.  While few players would rather play in Pittsburgh than Los Angeles, this trade could actually be a boon for the aging hurler’s fantasy value.  Burnett should fare better in the NL, and it could be argued that he is moving from baseball strongest division to the weakest one.  On a mediocre Pirates squad, it will be hard for the right-hander to win more than 12 games, but Burnett’s ERA and WHIP should decline noticeably.  With the ability to strike out roughly a batter per inning, this hard-throwing veteran needs to remain on the radar in deeper mixed leagues, despite his disappointments 2011 results.

Yankees expected to add Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez

While these signings aren’t official, it’s expected that the Bombers will use the money saved in the Burnett trade to ink a couple veteran hitters.  Ibanez would team with Andruw Jones to fill the designated hitter role, with Jones drawing starts against southpaws and Ibanez finding his name on the lineup card whenever a right-hander takes the hill.  It’s conceivable that Ibanez could reach 400 at-bats, which would give him enough playing time to hit more than 15 dingers.  Mixed-league owners can likely find options that have more upside but he’ll be a fine fourth outfielder in AL-only formats.  Chavez would serve as a backup infielder, making him useful only as a last resort on AL-only teams.

Carl Crawford to “miss a few weeks”

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine revealed this week that he expects Crawford to miss the start of the season while he recovers from off-season wrist surgery.  The recovery will seriously limit the speedster during Spring Training, which is exactly what he didn’t need after struggling in Beantown in 2011.  When he gets in the lineup, it looks like Crawford will hit 6th or 7th.  Given his spot in the order and injury problems, it’s hard to project the 30-year-old for more than 500 at-bats.

Kosuke Fukudome tries the South Side

Fukudome held out for a starting gig this winter but couldn’t find one.  In the end, he’ll settle for a fourth outfielder role with the Pale Hose.  Now on the South Side of Chicago, Fukudome will back up veteran Alex Rios, late bloomer Alejandro De Aza and youngster Dayan Viciedo.  That’s not exactly Kemp, Ellsbury and Braun so there is a good chance that Fukudome will play more often than most backup outfielders.  His pedestrian power and speed limits his fantasy value to a fourth outfielder in AL-only leagues.

Tribe gives Jon Garland Minor League deal

Garland missed most of ’11 after undergoing rotator cuff surgery.  The soft-tosser is expected to compete with Kevin Slowey for the final rotation spot.  If he wins the job, Garland’s low strikeout rate gives him very little upside for fantasy purposes.  Slowey would have more potential if he can win the spot, since he has shown a decent strikeout rate and an ability to keep his WHIP down.

Leyland gives Brandon Inge a chance

With Miguel Cabrera’s move to the hot corner, Inge has little chance for regular playing time this season.  The scrappy infielder asked manager Jim Leyland for a chance to compete for the second base job and the skipper went for it.  The 34-year-old is a long shot to win the job, since Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn are superior hitters with more experience at the position.  It’s more likely that Inge will back up Cabrera, picking up a couple starts per week.  He’s a late round pick in AL-only leagues, at best.

Vogelsong will try to show that his '11 success was not a fluke.

Ryan Vogelsong slowed by back injury

Vogelsong is dealing with a back injury (caused by weight training) and is expected to miss the first ten days of organized workouts.  The 34-year-old doesn’t feel that the injury is a big deal and for now fantasy owners can agree with him.  The Giants won’t need Vogelsong until the fourth or fifth game of the season so he can pick up additional work later in March if necessary.  Back injuries can be troublesome but are generally less scary than an elbow or shoulder problem.

And, Jim Johnson too!

Like Vogelsong, Johnson will miss about a week of spring work due to a sore back.  Johnson is the leading candidate to close for the O’s so this is an injury to keep an eye on.  Relievers generally need less spring work than starters so a veteran like Johnson should have plenty of time to be ready for Opening Day as long as he can put the injury behind him by the time our calendars turn to March.

Alex Presley has a leg up on the competition

Bucs General Manager Neil Huntington arrived as Spring Training and disclosed that he expects Presley to win the left field job.  The team brought back Nate McLouth over the winter but it looks like the veteran is ticketed for a backup role.  With a full-time job, Presley could swipe 20 bases, so he needs to be on the radar in deeper mixed leagues.

Mike Cameron retires

Cameron was facing an uphill battle to secure regular playing time in Washington and at age 39, he decided to pack it in instead.  The Nats have been looking for a quality center fielder for a while but will likely be forced to open the season with a combination of Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina.  The other option is to move Jayson Werth to the middle and promote phenom Bryce Harper.  But that move would compromise the team’s defense and could rush Harper before he is ready.

LABR Mixed League Preview

Just call us the Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies.  The fantasy experts league LABR (hosted by USA Today) is expanding in ’12 to add a Mixed League and I’m one of the lucky 15 owners who have been chosen to take spot in the new group.  While the competition’s main leagues will continue to be the AL and NL-only formats that complete their auctions in early March way out in Arizona, the Mixed League will kick off this year’s festivities with an online draft on Saturday, February 25that 7pm EST. The draft can be followed live at mockdraftcentral.com Fantasy owners with some time on Saturday night should check out this draft, since expert leagues are a great way to assess player values and draft strategies each season. As with any experts league, the competition from this group should be fierce.  Just take a look at the competitors and the websites they represent and you’ll see that the depth of baseball knowledge will be second to none (owners are listed according to the draft order that will be used in the 25th).

  1. Mike Podhorzer – FanGraphs.com
  2. Tom Trudeau – Bloomberg Sports
  3. Fred Zinkie – MLB.com
  4. Drew Silva – Rotoworld.com
  5. Tim Heaney – KFFL.com
  6. Bobby Colton – SportsGrumblings.com
  7. Todd Zola – Mastersball.com
  8. Steve Gardner – USA TODAY
  9. Derek Van Riper – Rotowire.com
  10. Doug Anderson – RotoExperts.com
  11. Rudy Gamble/Grey Albright – Razzball.com
  12. Ray Murphy – BaseballHQ.com
  13. James Quintong – ESPN.com
  14. Clay Davenport – ClayDavenport.com
  15. Jonah Keri – Grantland.com

My name popped out of the hopper third, which is a pretty good spot in this season’s pecking order if you ask me.  Without divulging too much about my plans, here’s my guess on how the first round shakes out in most ’12 leagues:

Picks 1-4: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Matt Kemp, Troy Tulowitzki

There’s no consensus number one pick this year.  Those who crave 40-40 potential will roster Kemp, while owners who value consistency should snag Pujols.  Cabrera’s new third base eligibility has made him an intriguing option to be taken number one. Tulowitzki will rarely go first overall, but his dominance at the shortstop position means that some owners will take him with the second or third pick. This is why I’m happy with pick three, as two of these studs will automatically fall in my lap.

Picks 5-9: Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Robinson Cano

Any one of these names could creep into the fourth spot, likely ahead of Tulowtizki, but it’s more likely that they will populate the middle of the first round.  Bautista’s insane power and multi-position eligibility makes him a great choice, while Ellsbury could be this year’s top overall player if he can repeat his ’11 numbers.  The consistent excellence of Gonzalez, Votto and Cano make all three a great way to start off a roster.  The old expression, “you can’t win your league in the first round, but you sure can lose it”, applies here.  It’s hard to imagine Cano or the pair of first basemen letting fantasy owners down.

Picks 10-15: Justin Upton, Carlos Gonzalez, Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Prince Fielder, Curtis Granderson, Hanley Ramirez

As we head deeper into the opening round, it becomes harder to project each specific selection.  However, this group of eight names should cover the options for the final six spots.  Ramirez is the biggest wildcard.  After establishing himself as a top-five pick early on in his career, his sloppy ’11 performance and widely reported bad attitude will force fantasy owners to hesitate before shouting his name this time around.  Owners chasing upside will look no further than Upton. In recent seasons Longoria, Pedroia, Kinsler and Fielder always pop up somewhere in the first 20-25 picks and that type of consistency is valuable.  Similar to Ellsbury, Granderson would be a valuable pick at his current ADP if he can come close to matching his ’11 numbers. Picking on the end wheel isn’t a bad spot this year, as an owner can start things off with two quality bats from this group.

I used the NFBC average draft picks to map out the first round.  The LABR will use rules that mirror the NFBC events (which are great contests for those of you who are ready to join ultra-competitive leagues).  This one major difference in LABR is that trading will be allowed.  The presence of trading will allow these creative competitors the luxury of building an imbalanced roster if they so choose, knowing that they can make deals to shore up weaknesses later on.

It should be a fun ride and it all starts Saturday night!

Good and Bad Places To Pitch

There are several factors that influence a pitcher’s final numbers that are out of his control.  Let’s start that list with:

  • The defense behind him
  • The park he pitches in
  • Luck on balls put into play
  • Luck on timely outs to stand runners on base
  • Run support

With all of those influences, it’s amazing that we even try to predict the final numbers for pitchers!  In this article, I want to look at another factor that is underrated in my opinion – the quality of the pitcher’s competition.

Move a pitcher from the NL West to the AL East and his ERA should rise.  Why?  Because the offenses in the AL East are better. And on top of that, there are plenty of talented hurlers to compete against.  Which teams give pitchers the best chance of having success this season?  Let’s take a look:

Good Places

  1. Cinncinati, St. Louis, Milwaukee – One of these three teams will win the NL Central.  The NL Central lacks any elite offenses and has three of the worst in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Houston.  Pitchers on the top three teams in this division will face several weak offenses and have decent support from their own sluggers.

    2. The NL West – Coors Field isn’t a great place to pitch but groundball pitchers do OK there.  Chase Field doesn’t help hurlers either but the two hitters parks are offset but spacious surroundings in San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles.  On top of the park effects, the offensive talent in this division is poor.  The Padres have a really weak offense, while the Dodgers and Giants don’t scare anyone.  The Rockies start off well but the bottom half of their batting order isn’t good.  Expect D-backs pitchers to rack up their share of wins.

    3. Detroit – Is anyone else in the AL Central trying?  It seems like only the Tigers are making a run at winning the division in 2012.  The Indians have a mediocre offense and no staff ace to compete against.  Ditto for the Royals and Twins.  The White Sox have depth in the rotation but no one special and they have depleted their offense by dealing Carlos Quentin.  It should be easy for Tigers tossers to rack up wins and keep their ERA down.

    4. Los Angeles Angels – With the addition of Albert Pujols, the Angels starters will have more offensive support than ever before.  They also have a pitchers park behind them at home and two more within their division (Seattle and Oakland).  Only the trips to Arlington are scary.

Bad Places

  1. The AL East – Pitching for the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox can help a hurler earn wins but there is a lot of offensive talent in this division for pitchers to compete against.  And don’t even consider Orioles starters.  That’s too much of an uphill battle for most pitchers to handle.
  1. Washington, New York Mets – The NL East has a lot of talent.  The Phillies are a terrible team for a starter to face.  They have three aces in their rotation and their offensive is slightly above average.  The Braves have a respectable offense and deep starting staff.  The Marlins should be improved offensively with the addition of Reyes and the maturation of Ramirez, Stanton and Morrison.  The Nationals pitchers have a good home park behind them, which should help.  But, the Mets are in tough.  The fences are coming in at Citi Field and they have less offensive support than anyone else in the division.

2012 Draft #1 In The Books!

Let the games begin!  While, not just yet, but with my first 2012 draft in the books, I’m ready for Spring Training action to get under way.  The results listed below are from the PBY League.  It’s a 15-team group that includes many veterans of the NFBC, Tout Wars and writers from various websites.  Tough competition to be sure, and as the defending champion I felt a little more pressure this time around.  This draft was conducted in a slow format via email during January.  This is a great way to do your first draft of the season and I highly recommend it.  Because you have a lot of time for each pick, you can carefully plan out your roster and evaluate your options.  The players you have to closely consider in your first draft will likely pop up in other ones too, so you might as well take the extra time and make sure you know how you feel about them before you are on a short clock!

Starting your '12 roster with Kemp is a great idea.

Round 1 (Pick 3) – Matt Kemp – Kemp is my number one player for 2012 drafts so I was happy to get him with the third pick.  I briefly thought about taking Miguel Cabrera instead (Pujols and Tulowitzki went with the first two picks) but it wasn’t much of a debate for me.  Just hitting his prime, Kemp should be good for a 30-30 season and could go over 35-35 like he did in 2011.  I wish he had a better supporting cast but I’m still happy to take him over the rest.  I can see the rationale for taking Pujols over Kemp this year but that’s about it.  Cabrera offers a better batting average but not more power and he’ll cost you about 30 steals if taken over Kemp.

Round 2 (Pick 28) – Justin Verlander – I would have taken Roy Halladay or Clayton Kershaw over Verlander but both pitchers were selected shortly before my turn.  I was satisfied to be left with Verlander. I believe that the top three starters for 2012 are a cut above the rest, so getting one in that group should set me up nicely.  Verlander is the consummate workhorse and even though I think his numbers will take a step back from his magical 2011 season (especially with Detroit’s new-look infield defense), he is still a strong candidate to win 20 games in a depleted AL Central. 

Round 3 (Pick 33) – Ryan Braun – A bit of a risk here, for sure.  I narrowly chose Braun over David Wright.  I don’t feel great about Wright’s back injury and declining ability to make contact but the closer fences in Citi Field put him back on my radar.  I’m assuming that Braun’s 50-game suspension will stick but the slight chance that he will win his appeal gives him a lot of upside at pick 33.  If he wins that case, I could have the top two hitters in fantasy baseball.  Combine Braun’s numbers over 100-110 games with that of a waiver wire hitter for the other 50 games and I think the total production from this spot will be something like 24-86-86-19-.295.  The fact that he plays outfield made him more appealing to me because there should be a deep pool of players to chose from late in the draft when looking for someone to fill the spot for the first 50 games of the season.  And, the odds are high that the player I choose to hold Braun’s spot will end up sticking in my lineup, since one of my other OF’s or my utility player could be hurt by the end of May.  I’m willing to take seven outfielders in the first 23 rounds of the draft since there are a lot of talented players at that position.

Round 4 (Pick 58) – Shane Victorino – I was one pick away from nabbing Elvis Andrus, which would have been grand larceny at pick 58.  I also narrowly missed out on Pablo Sandoval and Brett Lawrie and I would have preferred either third baseman over Victorino.  But, I’m not crying over this selection.  Victorino should hit second for the Phillies, allowing him to score close to 100 runs while hitting 15 homers, swiping close to 30 bags and supplying a helpful batting average.  He plays the game hard so I worry a bit about injuries now that the centerfielder is in his 30’s but I wanted him anyways.

Round 5 (Pick 63) – Craig Kimbrel – I’m not a big fan of taking closers really early in drafts anymore.  If you’ve read my article on closers on this Blog Page, you’ll understand my reasoning.  In a nutshell, there’s a deeper group of talented starters to choose from and I like to have a pair of good ones.  I almost picked Zach Greinke but I made an exception for Kimbrel.  In my opinion, he’s special.  His strikeout rate separates him from the other closers.  He’s a legitimate threat to lead all closers in saves, ERA, WHIP and punchouts.  It’s rare to see such a complete package at such a young age.  He’ll allow me the option of avoiding risky two-start pitchers during the season because of the extra K’s he offers.

Round 6 (Pick 88) – Matt Wieters – I’m a big fan of Wieters for ‘12 and I can see a breakout season coming.  He’s hitting the magic age of 26 with significant experience under his belt.  His power numbers rose in the second half of last season and it’s not out of the question that he could smack 30 homers this year.  The Orioles will likely center more of their offense around their star backstop as he continues to show that he can handle the challenge.  I’d be shocked if Wieters had a bad season and not surprised at all if he was in the top three catchers by the start of 2013, which makes him a great option at this point in the draft.

Round 7 (Pick 93) – Michael Cuddyer – Cuddyer’s move to Colorado is a good one.  He should hit second in the order, putting him ahead of two of the best bats in baseball (CarGo and Tulo).  Coors Field is a significant upgrade over the spacious park he left behind in the Twin Cities, which could allow him to smack a few more homers.  He also offers eligibility at first base and outfield, which can be helpful during the season.  I’m expecting over 20 homers, a solid batting average and plenty of runs scored.

Round 8 (Pick 118) – Mark Reynolds – Reynolds was by far the highest rated player on my list at this point and I nearly picked him over Cuddyer 25 selections earlier so I was really happy to see him still on the board.  His batting average will steer a lot of owners in another direction but he fit my needs perfectly.  After rostering speedy outfielders early on such as Kemp, Braun and Victorino, I had a need for a power hitter and for a third baseman. I’ll deal with the .220-.230 batting average in hopes of getting 35 homers. 

Expect a more focused Beckett this season.

Round 9 (Pick 123) – Josh Beckett – I narrowly chose Beckett over Cory Luebke and Matt Garza.  In all honesty, my projections place the two NL pitchers slightly higher on my list.  But, I chose to skip them over because of Beckett’s upside.  On a talented Red Sox team, he has the skills and support to chase a Cy Young award at any time.  I worry a bit about his health but I expect him to be very motivated this season after the embarrassing way his 2011 campaign came to a close.  He’ll be out to prove that he isn’t the problem in Beantown and I expect him to be in good shape for Spring Training.

Round 10 (Pick 148) – Sergio Santos – Just like Kimbrel, Santos’ ability to rack up K’s attracted me to take him over more established closers like Joakim Soria and Brian Wilson.  The Blue Jays committed a lot to Santos by dealing prospect Nestor Molina for him and it would take a lot for Santos to ever lose his hold on the ninth inning.  In a full season as Toronto’s fireman, he should be able to exceed 35 saves while approaching 90 or 100 strikeouts.  I’ll take that from my second closer.

Round 11 (Pick 153) – Martin Prado – I narrowly chose Prado over Neil Walker (notice that I don’t have a middle infielder yet!).  I expect a strong bounceback year for Prado, after a staph infection affected him for much of 2011.  If he hits second for the Braves he could score 90 runs while hitting around .300.  It was the high batting average that caused me to choose Prado over the other options, since he’s a good counterpart to Reynolds.  I also like the multi-position eligibility (Prado can play 3B or OF).  That will come in handy if Reynolds or Cuddyer suffer an injury during the season.

Round 12 (Pick 178) – Angel Pagan – Entering a contract year, Pagan will be highly motivated to stay on the field and produce at the top of the Giants order.  With regular playing time, exceeding 30 stolen bases shouldn’t be hard to achieve.  I expect plenty of runs scored, a respectable batting average and a few dingers. 

Round 13 (Pick 183) – Tim Hudson – I’m banking on good health for one more season from this aging hurler.  Hudson pitches deep into games, earns plenty of wins and keeps his WHIP down.  This pick is unconventional for me, since I usually draft high strikeout starters at this point in the proceedings but I really value Hudson’s consistency. * A few days after making this pick, I found out that Hudson is still dealing with the effects of postseason back surgery and may not be ready for Opening Day.  If I had it to do over again, I would have drafted Anibal Sanchez instead.

Round 14 (Pick 208) – Delmon Young – Young is a classic old-young player.  While it feels like he’s been around forever, the sizeable slugger will be just 26 in 2012.  That’s a prime age for hitter production.  Take a look at the numbers Young put up as a 24-year-old in 2009 and you can see his upside.  He hit pretty well once he got healthy and experienced a change of scenery in the second half.  As part of a strong Tigers offense, I expect plenty of runs scored and RBIs.

Round 15 (Pick 213) – Aaron Hill – Well, I had to break and pick a middle infielder sooner or later!  I’m not in love with this pick but Hill has plenty of upside for this point in the draft.  His approach at the plate was a mess in ‘11 but I’m hoping a winter to clear his head results in a better start this season.  I’m hoping for a .255ish batting average and 15-20 homers.  Anything else is gravy.

Round 16 (Pick 238) – Yunel Escobar – He’s the polar opposite to my previous pick. While Hill could hit 25 homers or 12, you know what you’re going to get with Escobar.  He’ll bat leadoff for Toronto, score some runs and hit for average.  Expectations for homers and steals have to be low but this is a player who has a good track record for health and will almost certainly be a solid shortstop for me this season.  I don’t regret waiting on middle infielder in order to get the players I wanted earlier on.

Round 17 (Pick 243) – Wandy Rodriguez – He’s emerged as one of the more reliable starters in recent seasons.  The win total will be low if he stays in Houston but I’m hopeful for a trade at some point in 2012.  An ERA in the mid-3.00’s and a WHIP below 1.30 makes him a reliable guy to have in my staff.

Round 18 (Pick 268) – Salvador Perez – I love this guy!  Watched him play a lot down the stretch last year and I liked what I saw.  He’s athletic for a catcher and should be durable at his age.  The Royals are ready to go with him as their top guy and I can see why.  He makes contact well enough to hit for a decent average and should develop more power as he gets older, since he has a pretty big frame.  With Perez and Wieters, I’m hoping to get better than a .270 average from my catchers.  They will more than make up for using Reynolds.

Round 19 (Pick 273) – Jason Bay – Bay’s stock continues to plummet and this is a deep discount for a player who isn’t old and had back-to-back 30 homer seasons in 2008-09.  I’m not expecting him to return to vintage levels but the fences are coming in at Citi Field and that’s enough for me to hope for a 20 homer year from my utility player.  The Mets have so much money invested in Bay that if he can get off to a reasonable start in 2012 he will likely hit near the middle of the order in an effort to squeeze as much production as possible out of him.


Round 20 (Pick 298) – Chad Billingsley – Continuing my trend of buying low in the second half of the draft, Billingsley has gone from one of the up-and-coming young hurlers to an afterthought in a short amount of time.  He’s only 27 and has an excellent strikeout rate.  His WHIP should come down and bring his ERA back under 4.00 with it.  He pitches in a favorable park and the NL West isn’t baseball’s toughest division.  Lots of reasons to take him on as my fifth starter.

Round 21 (Pick 303) – Mark Buehrle -The polar opposite to Billingsley, Buehrle has little upside but is as reliable as any pitcher in baseball.  The move out of The Cell and into the NL should be good for his overall numbers.  His strikeout total will remain low but he pitches deep into games, gets his wins and won’t be a problem when rounding out my rotation.

Round 22 (Pick 328) – Omar Infante -My middle infield is complete.  Infante doesn’t excite me but his batting average is helpful and he chips is a little bit in each category.  I was hoping he would fill the two-hole in Miami but it looks like he is going to hit seventh.  If he got up near the top of the order he could score a lot of runs with his high batting average, followed by Ramirez and Stanton.  He’s someone who won’t hurt my team while I look for a replacement during the season.

Round 23 (Pick 333) – James Loney – On my team, he’ll start the season in Braun’s spot and keep it warm for 50 games.  After that, I’ll likely need him to replace an injured player elsewhere.  Loney gets a lot of flak for his lack of power from first base but he has hit over .280 with more than 80 RBIs in four of the past five seasons.  At age 28, the power breakout likely isn’t going to come but he did smack more homers in the second half so there is a slight chance that he could still have hit 20 long flies at some point.

Round 24 (Pick 358) – Felipe Paulino – Paulino posted a 4.11 ERA after being dealt to the Royals last season, and achieved that number despite some bad luck on balls put into play.  He nearly struck out a batter per inning so he has a lot of upside if he can keep a few runners off base.  He’s a good pitcher to round out a mixed league rotation this season.  An owner can use him in two-start weeks, when he’ll likely rack up double-digit K’s.  A favorable home park doesn’t hurt. 
Round 25 (Pick 363) – Rafael Furcal – I’ll use him as a backup and he has enough upside in terms of power and speed to supplant Infante as my team’s middle infielder if he can hit for average.  Infante is the reliable one, who will be in my lineup in early April while I get a feel for Furcal’s health, spot in the batting order and effectiveness.

Round 26 (Pick 388) – Tommy Milone – See Brad Peacock.

Round 27 (Pick 393) – Brad Peacock – Sometimes, you’ve got to trust the men in charge.  There are certain teams that I trust with pitchers more than others, and the A’s are near the top of my list.  When Billy Beane picked up Milone and Peacock via trade this winter, I decided to trust the Moneyball-man that he sees something he likes in both young hurlers.  They each posted quality numbers in Triple-A in ’11.  It’s a virtual lock that one of them cracks the rotation and a pretty decent chance that both start games for the A’s in April.  The A’s traditionally do a great job with young pitchers and their spacious home park doesn’t hurt either.

Round 28 (Pick 418) – Kevin Slowey – I expect Slowey to be highly motivated this season.  He wasn’t happy with how he was handled by the Twins in ’11.  Despite reasonable numbers and plenty of experience, he had to fight for a rotation spot in Spring Training and the team didn’t seem to want him in the rotation. Now with the Tribe, he’ll have plenty of chances to show the Twins and the rest of the AL Central that he belongs in a Major League rotation.  This is a hurler who is still in his 20’s and was being drafted in the first 15 rounds not too long ago.  When pitching well, Slowey keeps his WHIP down and punches out batters at a decent rate.

Round 29 (Pick 423) – Johnny Giavotella – Giavotella didn’t have a great audition in the second half of 2011 but his Minor League numbers indicate that he’ll be able to hit for average, smack a few dingers and swipe some bases too.  He’ll get a long trial this season and it was worth pick 423 to find out if he can take advantage of the opportunity.

Round 30 (Pick 448) – David Hernandez – I believe that a good strategy for early winter drafts like this one is to target a setup man in the final round who would be a clear cut closer if his team’s stopper suffers a Spring Training injury.  J.J. Putz is talented enough to hold his job but his balky elbow could act up in March and if it does, I have a great asset.  Another factor to consider – because Opening Day takes place midweek this year instead of on the traditional Monday, it’s certain that many starting pitchers won’t pitch in the first week of the fantasy season.  For that reason, having a talented reliever like Hernandez gives me a better chance of filling out a full roster for the first five days.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.