The day we’ve long waited for is back. I know there were a couple games in Japan last week, but how many people who didn’t have anyone from their fantasy teams playing really noticed? My attention was still more turned towards the battles going on in the final week of spring training and preparing for the biggest draft weekend of the year. But still, the games did count and the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics split a pair. Those in NL only leagues probably didn’t even bat an eye.
This week will be different, however, as every major league team will start their 2012 campaign. Fantasy players will be hoping their top draft picks start to pay dividends from the outset. While everyone knows this is a marathon, it’s still disconcerting to see ones fantasy team get off to a slow start, languishing in last place. I resist the temptation to get overly confident if my teams start with a bang and, conversely, don’t get nervous if they start with a whimper. I really don’t pay much attention to my fantasy teams except for planning free agent or FAAB pickups for players who might have gotten injured so I don’t have any dead roster spots going into week two.
Instead, I revel in the fact that real baseball is back and watch or listen to as many games as I can, trying to glean as much information as possible about teams and players in games that count. I have a couple of things (more in my mind than written down) for each team that I am wondering about or concerned about as the 2012 campaign starts off and I’ll go through some of them here.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Not if but how much will Ian Kennedy regress from his Cy Young challenging 2011 season? Which version of Aaron Hill will 2012 more closely resemble – the 2011 Toronto Blue Jay model that hit .225 in almost 400 at bats or the 2011 Arizona Diamondback model that hit .315 in 124 at bats.
Atlanta Braves – Jason Heyward had problems with southpaws in 2011. Has he made the adjustments necessary to avoid a platoon again this year? The Braves haven’t been shy about bringing up their youngsters. Tyler Pastornicky was in line to be one of them this year but has really struggled at the plate this spring. His job is safe for now but one has to wonder if Jack Wilson or Andrelton Simmons will be called upon if Atlanta gets tired of waiting for the 22 year-old to provide some offense.
Chicago Cubs – Bryan LaHair will start the season at first base but will he provide enough offense to keep Anthony Rizzo in the minor leagues? Kind of an obvious one but does Starlin Castro – everyone’s up and coming darling - continue to build upon what he’s already done or have we seen the best he has to offer – not that that’s bad. There are some non-believers. I believe.
Cincinnati Reds – There certainly is enough offense here, but the question remains will this rotation – even with the addition of Mat Latos - be able to hold opposing offenses in check. To complicate things even more, Ryan Madson had to succumb to TJ surgery and now Sean Marshall will be closing out games. Will he be able to hang onto the role for the duration?
Colorado Rockies – Will Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy to produce enough to justify his lofty draft position – top five and first overall in some leagues? Color me skeptical. Early signs are very encouraging but does Juan Nicasio have the mental and intestinal fortitude to forget about his horrifying injury last year?
Houston Astros – How bad will this team be and will Brett Myers build up enough trade value as closer to be dealt before the deadline? I’m sure Jed Lowrie would want to make the Boston Red Sox regret trading him but will he be able to? That I’m not sure of but comparing the Astros to the Red Sox isn’t exactly comparing hot dogs to hot dogs.
Los Angeles Dodgers – With Ervin Johnson, et al, at the helm will ownership have enough money left over to actually run the team? On the field, what is the over/under for saves before Javy Guerra gives way to Kenley Jansen (I say 13)? Dee Gordon is reputed to be the fastest man in baseball. How many stolen bases will he get the green light for – 50, 60, 70? My vote is 60 but he’ll certainly be fun to watch whatever the number is.
Miami Marlins – Hanley Ramirez gets pushed to third base and reportedly isn’t real happy with it. Will it spur him to another level or will he languish in self pity. Many are predicting a career year for Jose Reyes but will he stay healthy enough? It’s going to be very interesting to see if Ozzie Guillen can soothe the savage beast of Carlos Zambrano and channel his emotions to being a successful pitcher or will he again self destruct. I’m betting Ozzie will reach something inside Zambrano. In fact, I’m betting on Guillen to lead the Marlins to a division title.
Milwaukee Brewers – A couple things on my mind are will Ryan Braun perform well after the whole PED test thing and will Mat Gamel take a step up this year. I stand in the affirmative for both of them. Aramis Ramirez needs to help the Brew Crew forget Prince Fielder.
New York Mets – Will Johan Santana defy the odds and be a good pitcher over a full season? Even though it’s for the cross town rivals, I’m hoping he does. The fences of CitiField were lowered and brought in. Will that result in more balls going out of the park for David Wright and Jason Bay?
Philadelphia Phillies – After being signed to a big free agent contract, will Jonathan Papelbon lead the NL in saves? Me thinks so. I do not believe Ryan Howard is a near 50 home run hitter anymore (even if he was healthy). I even think mid 30’s is pushing it. As a result, I have some real concerns for the Phillies offense this year.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Overall, I think this team is interesting and will be fun to watch – especially Andrew McCutchen and Alex Presley. I believe McCutchen is a 30/30 player in the making. Conversely, I’m concerned for Pedro Alvarez. The number two overall pick from 2008 may be fighting for his career. I’ll be pulling for him but don’t have much faith.
San Diego Padres – Some don’t believe in Cory Luebke but I do and I’m sorry I haven’t been able to roster him on any of my fantasy teams. Pitchers like him are special – especially in Petco Park. I’m just skeptical there’s enough offense here to enable him to have a .500 record.
San Francisco Giants – Will the Giants stop screwing around with Brandon Belt? I hope so. How long will management continue to allow Barry Zito to steal a roster spot? Buster Posey has been working on swipe tags at home plate this spring. It will be interesting to see if old habits are harder to break than his leg was. He could benefit from watching film of Jorge Posada who never blocked the plate (sorry, pet peeve of mine).
St. Louis Cardinals – Not that anyone can, but who will pick up the mantle from Albert Pujols? There is a serious offensive shortfall here that Carlos Beltran has no hope of filling. There are huge question marks with Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. So much so that will the Cards be forced to accelerate the timetable of Shelby Miller?
Washington Nationals – This is another team I’m going to like to watch. There are some promising positional youngsters and the rotation isn’t as barren as we’re used to seeing. Everyone will be watching Stephen Strasburg’s comeback from Tommy John surgery and newcomers Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to the starting five. Then there’s the pool in every office in Washington when Bryce Harper will make his appearance.These are just some of the things I’ll be looking at and for over the first part of the season. What will you be on the lookout for in the National League?
Ryan Carey did a great job on his installment of this topic for the American League a couple weeks ago. I got some inquiries about a National League version and actually kind of started last week with a list of pitchers I like near the end of a draft or for a few dollars in an auction that could return a few dollars or more of profit for their owners. I continue this week going through the rest of the positions and listing some of the players I think could wind up the year in a better position than their current ADP dictates. As Ryan did in the AL, the ADP’s are in parentheses and are based on a mixed league to give all readers an overall point of reference.
So, without further ado, here is my NL All-Underrated Team for 2012.
C – Carlos Ruiz, PHI (296) – At 33 years old entering the season, Ruiz is no spring chicken. Well, compared to me he is. But he is playing in a good park and has a good eye, drawing as many walks as the number of times he strikes out. You’ll get a good batting average (think .280 plus), with the potential for double digit home runs. The power total was disappointing in 2011 but I consider that an aberration considering a 30% decrease in HR/FB over his career mark even though FB% was up.
1B – Adam LaRoche, WAS (344) – 2011 was a major disappointment for the 32-year-old as it was cut short by shoulder surgery. As a result, it was the first year since 2007 that Adam failed to hit 25 home runs. Twenty home runs should be a lock if he gets 450 AB with 25 a decent possibility. You can get a batting average about 30 points higher but it will come with barely double digit home runs from a position I want power at, not necessarily a good average. In the case of James Loney (287), that pick will come almost 60 spots earlier in the draft.
2B – Aaron Hill, ARI (199) – While I certainly don’t expect him to repeat 2009, I am expecting a lot better than 2011 with the Toronto Blue Jays. After being traded to Arizona, there was an increase in BA from .225 to .315 and an even more impressive jump from .313 to .492 in slugging percentage. Hill is still in his prime and a season of mid-teens HR and SB with an average in the .265 - .275 range is certainly in the cards.
SS – Alex Gonzalez, MIL (363) – Definitely a case of getting no respect according to his ADP. At 35 years O.D. Gonzalez is the oldest player on my list. Yet he still managed to hit 15 home runs for the Atlanta Braves last year. Miller Park played slightly better for home runs than Turner Field in 2011 so there could be a bump in HR total in 2012. So why is Stephen Drew (271) going 92 picks earlier?
3B – Mat Gamel, MIL (280) – I’m already on board with Gamel as a post-hype sleeper and have him in at least one league so far with the intent of increasing my ownership. He will be playing first base for the Brew Crew but will have third base eligibility in most leagues. Mat has hit pretty much all through the minors but hasn’t done much at The Show as of yet. I think he could put together a pretty good year. So far this spring, the former fourth-round pick has hit four home runs and stolen three bases (a bonus). The average will still be an issue but if he can get it up to the .250 range with power and a few more steals than projected he will out earn his draft spot.
MI – Jason Bartlett, SD (361) – Not spectacular, but for your middle infield spot you can do worse than the seven year major leaguer. Bartlett is what he is but playing for San Diego – a team that will struggle to produce runs – the shortstop could swipe more than his projected number of bases with an average that won’t kill you.
CI – Bryan LaHair, CHI (318) – The 29-year-old got a quick look last year and managed a .288 batting average, but do not expect that over the long haul at this level. LaHair’s game is hitting home runs and the replacement for Carlos Pena at first base could hit 20–25 of them if he gets enough at bats. I’ll take that from my corner spot in an NL-only league any day.
OF – J.D. Martinez, HOU (256) – With the departure of Hunter Pence, Martinez was able to stick the whole season in the Houston Astros outfield. The 24-year-old acquitted himself well, hitting six home runs and batting .274 in 53 games. No one is really sure what his power ceiling is but mid-teens HR with a pretty good average isn’t a bad thing. Martinez leads the ‘Stros with 12 RBI this spring and will get plenty of time at whichever outfield spot they play him.
OF – Chris Heisey, CIN (293) – Entering his magical age-27 season (for those that put stock in that), Heisey has the type of power that will play well in Great American Ballpark. The outfielder hit 18 home runs last year in only 279 at-bats to go along with six SB and a .254 batting average. While he will lose some AB to Ryan Ludwick, I see the majority of the playing time still going to Chris with 20+ home runs a likely outcome. He’ll even steal you a handful of bases.
OF – Alex Presley, PIT (301) – Not considered much of a prospect, the young outfielder made an impression when he was brought up after hitting .333 at Triple-A and stuck for the remainder of 2011. Alex responded with a .298 average with four home runs and nine stolen bases in 52 games. Even though GM Neal Huntington said he would lose time against the top left-handers in the league, 450 at-bats seem like a lock with 20 stolen bases to go along with an average that could threaten .300 are possible.
OF – Jason Kubel, ARI (236) – A new team preceded by a season with a lot of time lost to injury will help to push the former Minnesota Twin under the radar a bit. Jason never seems to get any love but has produced 20 home runs pretty consistently when given the playing time. Moving to the desert from Target Field should only serve to assure the likelihood of the 29-year-old hitting home runs in his peak power years for the Diamondbacks with a bit more upside.
OF – John Mayberry, PHI (219) – At 28 years of age, Mayberry isn’t a young prospect. But he got a chance last year after Domonic Brown didn’t do anything to warrant keeping a big league spot. The 2005 draftee of the Texas Rangers responded, hitting .273 with 15 home runs and eight SB in 267 at- bats. At 6’6” and 235 pounds, the outfielder certainly has the size, plays in a great ballpark for power hitters and could wind up outperforming his draft position.These are some of the guys I think could produce at a better clip than their ADP going into the season. It might not be considerably more but in a non-mixed league, you need to find as many tidbits of profit as possible if you want to walk away with the trophy at the end.
As long as I can remember playing this game, the conventional wisdom was to spend much more on hitting (whether it be auction dollars or high draft picks) than on pitching. That has generally been borne out to be the best strategy as pitching was too unpredictable. Or maybe it is that hitting was much more predictable. Either way, the end result was the same – hitting trumped pitching. I’m sure someone could provide an example where a team with a heavy pitching budget went on to win their league but I’d be willing to bet that was the exception rather than the norm. So this year, I’m going to follow the same path in constructing my fantasy teams.
Last year starting pitching came on to the point 2011 became known as the year of the pitcher in many circles. It seems like we’re heading into a cycle where the pendulum might be starting to swing from MLB being dominated by hitters to pitching at least being on a comeback. Some might say that, since pitching may be on the rise and hitting might be falling back a bit, that fantasy players should be leaning more towards pitching than they have in the past. While that might seem intuitive to some, I don’t subscribe to that theory.
I do believe that hitting is on a bit of a decline. Total homeruns per team in all of baseball (National League and American League combined) have steadily fallen from an average of 190 per team in 2000 to an average of 152 per team in 2011. Likewise, total runs scored per team have dropped from an average of 832 per major league team in 2000 to 694 per team in 2011. On the pitching side, the average ERA for all teams was 4.76 in 2000 and 3.94 in 2011 while average BAA went from .270 in 2000 to .255 in 2011.
If, as the evidence suggests, overall hitting is on the decline, I want to make sure I get as many of the studs as possible. Conversely, if pitching is becoming better or more of a reliable asset to fantasy teams, that’s even more a reason for me to wait longer to draft them or spend less to acquire them in an auction. I won’t need that expensive upper tier of pitching if I deem it too expensive for my taste. I would be perfectly happy to fill out my pitching slots with a bunch of guys from the third or fourth tier of hurlers. To that end, I will go through some of the pitching names I will be looking to own in as many fantasy leagues as possible this year.
It seems that year after year fantasy players are lamenting the depth at second base. But there has been a deepening of the pool of second basemen in the National League in recent years. It’s not only the few at the top of the NL rankings that I would want to have on my team. This is a year I wouldn’t mind waiting a bit to take a second baseman to shore up a position elsewhere. To that end, I was happy to roster two of my top seven in the CBS NL analysts league this year. So here are my top ten choices for second base in the NL this year.
This year brings my second foray into a CBS Analysts League. Last year I represented Mastersball in the AL version. This year I switched over to the National League to match up with the context of my weekly missive. Even though my writing has covered the senior circuit recently, this would be the first NL-only league I have done in many years so I was very interested to see how things would fare. As this league’s auction was held a few days prior to NL LABR, I didn’t have those results to benchmark from as I would have liked. As a matter of background, this league is the same as the AL-only in that there are 12 teams with the standard 5x5 roto categories and 23 man rosters with a $260 budget.
Trading is allowed in this league and that would turn out to factor into my auction strategy as it developed on the fly. My initial strategy was to try to stick to a 65/35 hitter/pitcher split but wound up slightly more to the pitching side – 62/38.
This auction opened as many do with a good number of the big boys being thrown out right away and a lot of money was going off the table quickly. I made my first purchase not too far into the proceedings as I rostered Roy Halladay for $33, which I felt was fair value with Clayton Kershaw going for $34 and Cliff Lee $31.
The most expensive player off the board was Joey Votto at $44. Falling in line behind Votto was Carlos Gonzalez and Ryan Braun ($43), Matt Kemp ($42), Troy Tulowitzki ($39), Justin Upton and Hanley Ramirez ($36), Giancarlo Stanton ($34). It was then I decided to add my first offensive player in Andrew McCutchen for $32 which was a few dollars over value but someone I wanted at this point. Rounding out the $30 players were Brandon Phillips, Matt Holliday, Hunter Pence, Jose Reyes – all at $30 even. David Wright was the most expensive third baseman, selling for $29.
Brian McCann was the top selling catcher at $21 with Buster Posey ($20) and Miguel Montero ($20 to yours truly) close behind. The first closer auctioned off was Craig Kimbrel at $23. Jonathan Papelbon was the second and I joined in and jumped the bid from $16 to $19 and had my first closer. Joel Hanrahan came up and I secured his services with a $17 bid. I had these closers valued at $21 and $20 respectively. Not too long after, Jason Motte was tossed out. Bidding really started to slow after about $10 - $12 and I decided to jump in with the initial thought of price enforcing but hoping I could get him at a good price under value. The bidding crawled to $14 and I went to $15 and had a third closer for $4 less than my projected value.
Bidding for Motte was the point where I deviated from my pre-auction plan of acquiring two closers as I recognized I could get three at good value, build up a nice cushion in saves, ERA and WHIP, then use one of the three as trade bait for something later on. The auction continued and I filled out my roster. Buying my third closer contributed to me missing out later on players like Michael Morse ($26), Michael Cuddyer ($24), and Freddie Freeman ($20) – one of whom I was hoping to get for first base. But since this is a trading league, I felt I could deal for a first baseman later in the season. Motte was the point where I zigged while everyone else was zagging.
Below is my entire roster, including seven man bench.
C - Miguel Montero (20), Chris Snyder (3)
U – Roger Bernadina (1)
In the end game of the auction I was down to two pitching slots. Surkamp was one of my targets going into the auction and I was able to get him for a one dollar bid. When it was my turn to nominate my last pitcher at $1 my choices were Wells, Westbrook, and Moscoso. However, I looked and quickly saw the last five owners still needing to fill positions all had a max bid of $1. Realizing that I didn’t pick until ninth in the reserve draft I bypassed the three aforementioned pitchers and won Shelby Miller with my last one dollar spot. I decided to make this speculative play at this point because many of the top minor league players (including Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado, Wilin Rosario) were taken in the auction and Miller probably wouldn’t make it to me at pick nine. I was rewarded by still being able to get the top three pitchers I wanted in the reserve draft.All in all, I’m strong in runs, RBI, and SB on the hitting side and saves, ERA, and WHIP on the pitching side. With good in-season management of FAAB and the trade market, I can leverage these strengths into helping me in BA, HR, K, and W.
The first ever successful appeal of a 50-game suspension is old news now with Ryan Braun being reinstated by MLB. Whether the arbitrators did the right thing by overturning the suspension; whether Braun feels vindicated and MLB vehemently disagrees with the decision; whether the chain of custody was properly followed; whether Ryan was using and got away with it due to a technicality. All these things have been debated ad nauseam and nothing, really, has been solved. And I don’t think anything will be.
The only person who knows for sure what happened is Ryan Braun himself and he’s denying everything. So we as fantasy players have to decide for ourselves how we are going to treat the situation as it relates to Braun’s past performance and what it means for his projection this year. From my perspective, I would have to think (and has been reported by more than one outlet) the outfielder has been tested previously and nothing has shown up. So there is a track record of performance to go on that wasn’t tainted and that could be used as a reliable basis for this year’s projection.
I’m also not going to downgrade his projection due to any kind of psychological effect of media pressure or having to perform without the use of any kind of enhancer. To me the prudent thing is to treat the whole situation as if nothing happened as far as his projection goes. Going under that assumption, my top ten players as I would draft them in an NL-only league follows.
Ryan Braun – The top spot belongs to the Milwaukee Brewers left fielder in my mind because his batting average is more stable. I see just as many home runs and not as many stolen bases as the number two player on my list with an edge in RBI and runs scored thanks to a better surrounding cast. He is the defending NL MVP and deserves top billing until someone knocks him out of his perch.
Matt Kemp – Last year’s runner up to Braun in the MVP voting had a great season. The main differences for me are twofold. First, I see Kemp as a .290’s hitter, not a .300 hitter whereas Ryan is a legitimate .300 hitter. Second, his Brewers counterpart hits in a much better lineup that will provide more opportunities to add to the counting stats of RBI and runs. I don’t see these as huge differences but enough to relegate Kemp to number two status.
Joey Votto – The top of the first base rankings in the NL has become a ghost town with the departure of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder for the American League. And Votto is the sole resident. While I don’t believe Votto is a 40 home run threat, he will hit enough (low to mid 30’s) and add double digit stolen bases and over 100 RBI and runs scored along with a .300 average at a scarce position.
Justin Upton – This spot is so close to the next one they could be 4A and 4B for me. I pick Upton because he is a little younger and, in my opinion, has the higher ceiling. Last year was a bit of a breakout for the 24-year-old and I think there’s enough octane in the tank to separate him from the next player. I believe Justin has the talent to one year be a 35/35 player but don’t expect that in 2012, although there will be growth.
Carlos Gonzalez – While he and Justin Upton are neck and neck right now, I don’t believe the Colorado outfielder has quite the ceiling as his younger Diamondbacks counterpart and is much closer to his top end than Upton is. He will provide great production but for 2012 he is still very slightly behind in my rankings.
Troy Tulowitzki – Easily the top dog at his position, the Colorado shortstop is still young enough that we haven’t seen his best season yet. While not as scarce as first base, it is enough of a factor that Tulo could be ranked higher, but I’m not ready to do that given the injury issues of the past two seasons. 30 home runs and double digit stolen bases out of the position to go along with a .300 batting average warrant the ranking for me.
Andrew McCutchen – The Pittsburgh Pirates have become interesting again and McCutchen is one of the reasons why. I’m going to enjoy watching them in 2012. He had a spike in strikeouts last year and his batting average suffered as a result, but he is good enough to make adjustments to get that back up while putting up a 20/30 season.
Matt Holliday – With the St. Louis Cardinal outfielder you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Holliday is as consistent as they get with production if he’s in the lineup, and for the most part he has been. He missed some time last year but most of that was of the fluky variety (appendectomy, moth in his ear, swinging a bat in the on-deck circle). None of these are the type of injuries you would be concerned with carrying over from one season to the next. I want this type of ‘as sure as you can get’ production in the first round.
Hanley Ramirez – Ramirez had a second surgery on his left shoulder this off-season (the first was in 2008) but hasn’t had any lingering effects from it and has declared himself healthy. His move to third base to make room for Jose Reyes at shortstop will help deepen the pool at the hot corner for fantasy players and give them roster flexibility after he gains eligibility. If he comes at a slight discount after a disappointing 2011, I’ll readily scoop him up as I expect him to regain most of his prior form.
Mike Stanton – The Miami Marlins right fielder had an impressive first full season as he smashed 34 bombs in 516 at-bats. His 166 strikeouts limited his batting average to .262 and that will be an issue going forward. But he’s one of the few players now who could be as sure a thing as you can find for 40 home runs every season. If I can get that kind of power in this age of the pitcher, I’ll find my batting average someplace else. With a bounce back from Hanley Ramirez and now Jose Reyes in front of him, that bodes well for Stanton seeing a lot of at-bats with ducks on the pond.I guess obvious by omission is any pitchers on this list. That isn’t a mistake. There are so many good pitchers I’m not going to risk a first or second round pick on any of them. The earliest I’ve taken a pitcher in any draft this year is the fourth round of a 50-round NFBC draft, but that’s a story for another day.
With the approval of the commissioner’s office, the anticipated trade of A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates was completed. The party is officially over and the pie has been retired, although it really wasn’t a regular staple since 2009 – the year of the walk off. That was the year Burnett made it a point to pie anyone responsible for late-inning heroics. A.J. was the pie-er almost as often as Soupy Sales was the pie-ee back on his TV show. Well, not really.
But it was a magical year, to steal a cliché. Burnett kept things fun and lively during the regular season that year even though he didn’t pitch as well in many ways as he did the previous year when he went 18-10 for the Toronto Blue Jays. Yet he still managed to finish with a winning 13-9 regular season record in his inaugural season in the Bronx. Little did anyone know at the time it would be his one and only winning season with the Bombers.
Yet even though Burnett lost more games than he won after 2009, it is fair to say that if it wasn’t for A.J. the Yankees might not have won their 27th championship that year. The series started off with CC Sabathia pitching for the Yankees and Cliff Lee as the starter for the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a series that the Yankees could have faced Lee in three games. Lee dominated the Yankees in Game 1, leaving the Bombers in a Game 2 must-win situation with the prospect of seeing Lee twice more. Yankee manager Joe Girardi sent Burnett to the mound in Game 2 and he answered the bell with a seven-inning gem which the Yankees won to tie the series.
The Yankees went on to win the series in six games with Burnett pitching and losing in Game 5 against Cliff Lee albeit A.J. did pitch on only three days rest that night. It might not seem like it was a tough series but after the Game 1 loss, Yankee fans were very nervous seeing what Lee had done to them and rightfully considered Game 2 to be do-or-die before it started.
Even though he had a record of one win and one loss in that World Series, many people considered A.J. to be the savior and he was riding high. Starting in 2010, however, things were quite different and it was all downhill. Good thing Javier Vazquez was there to take much of the heat and fan ire.
So fast forward to 2012 and it’s time to move the enigmatic A.J. out of town. Enter the Pirates and exit Burnett back to the National League. The question has been asked many times in the past week or so about how he would fare changing leagues. The general assumption of many is back in the NL, in the weak Central Division, and especially away from the American League East, Burnett would automatically be better – almost to the point of a slam dunk. But just as a slam dunk isn’t always automatic in the NBA, neither is it in baseball.
Burnett still has the stuff to succeed with his fastball just under 93 miles per hour, and he demonstrated that with an increase in his K/9 from 6.99 in 2010 to 8.18 in 2011. While that is good news, it comes with the realization that he also had an increase in BB/9 from 3.76 to 3.92. The move to the designated hitter-less NL should bode well for both these ratios.
Another thing to consider, however, is a big increase in the number of home runs Burnett allowed in 2011. A grand total of 31 of them; the most of any season in his career. Things may not get much better in PNC Park as an overlay of the home runs A.J. allowed in 2011 at Yankee Stadium shows virtually the same number would have left the park in the Pirates’ home field. In other words, the dingers Burnett allowed weren’t of the cheap variety. On the good side, an increase in ground balls was met with a corresponding decrease in fly balls. The problem, however, was both were met with an even bigger increase in the HR/FB rate.
Going back to the ground balls, the Yankee defense in 2011 helped Burnett quite a bit more than Pittsburgh’s would have and it remains to be seen how that will play out in 2012, although Pittsburgh should improve. In Burnett’s favor, though, is he will be reunited with catcher Rod Barajas, who caught most of his games when he had the best year of his career with Toronto in 2008.To sum it all up, A.J. Burnett still has the talent (raw stuff) to be a successful pitcher, and, even more so in the weaker NL Central Division. However, I don’t expect him to have another year like 2008 – especially with a much weaker offense than the Yankees had – and probably not as good a year as the initial reactions are. But he is certainly going to be useful in NL leagues as a sure start.
I hope everyone took a little time from your preparation or drafts to spend some time with your better half or significant other. Me personally, I left work early and went home and took my lady out for a nice dinner before sitting down to get out this week’s piece. When thinking about what I was going to write about I decided to keep with the theme of the season and announce my all National League man crush team of 2012. In doing this, I didn’t want to just go through each position and pick the top ranked player at each one. That would be boring and unimaginative. Rather, I chose each player through a combination of ability, playing situation, home park, and how they looked in a baseball uniform. Well, not really the latter. Basically, guys who don’t normally get all the love.
Catcher – Miguel Montero has been the primary catcher in Arizona for the past few years. He doesn’t get the kind of notice that Brian McCann has or, more recently, Buster Posey. But he hasn’t cost as much in an auction or draft either. Montero is still only 28 years old; only one year older than McCann. He has hit at least 16 homeruns in two of the past three years with 2010 being the only exception due to a knee injury. He bounced back in 2011 with the best year of his career batting .282 while hitting 18 homeruns and knocking in 86 – the highest of any catcher. A 20 HR season is only a matter of time playing in the desert. He has the potential to be a 90 RBI guy while hitting .275 - .280 behind the plate.
First Base – There is some question whether Freddie Freeman could be a big homerun hitting first baseman in the majors. However, Freddie hit 21 in his first full season with the Atlanta Braves in a home park that isn’t necessarily conducive for hitting many over the wall. But Freeman is big – 6’5’ and 225 pounds – and if anyone could hit for power in Atlanta it should be him, although it will take a little time. He will hit for a pretty good average right now along with low 20’s power and was good enough to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2011.
Second Base – Fantasy players don’t normally think of this position as being a big source of power for their team. A decent average with stolen base potential has been the stereo-type for many years with few exceptions. Lately, there has been a change at second base as there has with shortstop and we are seeing more players from this position who could put up good power numbers. None, however, more so than Dan Uggla - affectionately known as ‘Ugly’ because of the often unattractive batting average he carries. But average isn’t what he’s about. Dan has hit at least 27 homeruns every year he’s been in the majors and has hit at least 30 in the last five in a row with the only exception being his rookie season. Give me Uggla and I’ll find the batting average someplace else.
Third Base – Call me a believer or a Kool-Aid drinker but I’m on board with Mat Gamel. There are people who have soured on him but, come on; he hasn’t really gotten a shot yet at the main event with only 171 career at bats. The most he had in one season was 128 in 2009 and no more than 26 in any other year. With Prince Fielder leaving for free agency Mat will take over at first base and this could very well be the last chance to plug him in at a thin hot corner. He should get a fair chance this year and I foresee a good shot at 20 homeruns.
Shortstop – If he continues to build upon what he did in 2010, this could be the last year to get Starlin Castro on the cheap. 2011 was his second season at shortstop for the Chicago Cubs and there was no sophomore slump. Starlin’s workload increased by 33 games to 158 last year and he increased his homerun output from three to ten. Castro more than doubled his stolen bases to 22 and was more judicious in his attempts in only being caught one more time. At the same time his batting average up-ticked a bit to .307. He is one of the few bright spots on the Cubs for 2012.
Outfield – Andrew McCutchen saw an increase in power in 2011 but that came at the expense of a batting average about 30 points lower and an increase in strikeouts from 89 in 2010 to 126. However, his OBP was flat from 2010 to 2011. The stolen base total did fall at the same time the power went up – 33 in 2010 to 23 in 2011 with ten caught stealing each year. The decrease in BA and SB might scare some away but I’m looking for the batting average to get back to the .275 - .280 range with a 25/25 season.
Starting Pitcher – I have always had a crush on Yovani Gallardo and, in fact, he has been on at least one of my teams each of the past three years. He isn’t in that upper echelon of starting pitchers but he’s not far from it and could creep up into the bottom of that tier if he continues to build on a strong 2011. Gallardo is still only 25 year old and has been healthy – throwing at least 185 innings each of the last three years with 207 last year. Yovani has also eclipsed the 200 strikeout mark each of those years while winning 60% of his decisions and keeping his fastball velocity at 92 mph in the process. I will again love me some Yovani Gallardo this year.
Closer – This could also be the last year to get Ryan Madson on the cheap. He had a stellar season for the Philadelphia Phillies in successfully finishing off 32 of 34 save chances. Madson added 62 strikeouts for better than one per inning and a very good WHIP and ERA. What more could you want from a closer? He’s on a one year deal with the Cincinnati Reds and will be looking to prove he is worthy of a multi-year deal from a team looking for a closer in 2013. I’m heavily invested already in Madson for this season and that investment should certainly increase with each draft I do.
In many of the drafts and auctions I do, there isn’t much love for catchers. Many players look upon them as a necessary evil. This could be because so many of them are unspectacular while the rest are batting average drains. But every league I know of requires them. If you happen to be in a NL only league that requires two catchers, you’re really feeling the pain.
In a 15 team mixed league that requires two catchers per team, fourteen of them come from the American League while the other 16 come from the National League. This makes sense since there are still two more teams in the NL. But when you look at the catchers that comprise the 30 that are in the positive pool that makes up the quantity required to start, there is a pronounced difference. Only four of the AL backstops have a value less than ten dollars while nine from the NL have a value less than ten dollars. Only one from the AL has a value of five dollars or less while there are five from the NL with the same type of value. In a mixed league, the catchers from the American League are pushed up into the top and middle tiers while the catchers from the National League are more spread out with the bottom tier consisting predominately of National Leaguers.
Here’s how my top 15 catchers rank for the NL.
Much has been said and written about the dearth of talent at the top of the first base pool in the National League with the exodus of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to the American League and the questions surrounding Ryan Howard’s return. This leaves Joey Votto all alone at the top of the first base mountain with a big drop-off after him – a position that fantasy players normally count on for big production.
Third base is another infield position we normally count on for good production. This year, however, it is a little thin at the top with a big group near the middle and an even bigger group at the bottom. To make matters a little more dicey, everyone’s consensus top pick to finish the year with the most value at the hot corner isn’t even third base eligible going into the season. So without further ado, let’s look at third base rankings in the National League.
We have a bit of a drop off to the next group of hitters.
Another drop, this one a bit steeper.
Baseball draft season is upon us. Perry Van Hook, for instance, has written about a few drafts and the first notable experts draft was held this past weekend at the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Conference in Las Vegas. Things will ramp up slowly from here before snowballing through February and into the bulk of the NFBC drafts in March.
Many fantasy baseball sites are getting their projections and dollar values out this month (MB published ours last month) as the public is getting over football and switching to baseball mode. For those who like to use Average Draft Position, there are enough mock draft results to provide a good sample size and this will be getting larger daily.
I don’t really use ADPs but I am preparing for my own auctions and straight drafts. As I mentioned in a previous piece, in most leagues pitching makes up 50 percent of the available points but in most cases is only allotted 30-35 percent of the available funds or relatively few of the top ten draft rounds. One thing I like to do is look at each team and, avoiding the obvious top-tier pitchers, identify one hurler who I wouldn’t mind having on my teams. While I would certainly welcome a Roy Halladay or Clayton Kershaw on any of my teams, 99.99% of the time I wouldn’t be willing to invest the dollars or upper draft picks to actually roster either of them or a comparable pitcher.
I have taken a look at every National League team and here is my list of pitching candidates I wouldn’t mind owning – one from each team.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Ian Kennedy – Many people will look to 2011 as a fluke or one-time deal. While I don’t think he’ll repeat last year’s numbers, I do believe he will be more than useful and will be undervalued to a certain extent.
Atlanta Braves – Brandon Beachy – He is buried deeply enough in the target list by Tommy Hanson, Craig Kimbrel, and possibly Tim Hudson to be able to scoop up. Can strike out a bunch but still has somewhat limited name recognition.
Chicago Cubs – Matt Garza – Not many to choose from, frankly, on this team. Garza is the best the Cubs have but certainly not in the upper tier of starters, so he’ll be available in many of my leagues when I’m looking for a pitcher like him.
Cincinnati Reds – Ryan Madson – As much as I liked Mat Latos in Petco, that’s how much I dislike him in Great American Ballpark. While there are at least half a dozen closers with a higher value than Madson, I’ll gladly wait a bit and add him to my teams.
Colorado Rockies – Rafael Betancourt – See Madson, Ryan. I don’t like spending top dollar on closers and prefer those in the second or third tiers. Betancourt certainly qualifies there, so welcome aboard.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Ted Lilly – Still useful enough for a later round addition and I’m not going to pay what it will take to roster Clayton Kershaw. Lilly may even be available later than Chad Billingsley in some leagues since people might still be waiting for Chad to blossom.
Miami Marlins – Anibal Sanchez – Some might be buying into Carlos Zambrano and a change of scenery but I’m not. Not before Sanchez anyway. I like Josh Johnson but he will not go low enough for me to mitigate the injury concern.
New York Mets – Frank Francisco – He fits the bill as a cheap closer and I did say I’d pick one pitcher from each team.
Philadelphia Phillies – Cole Hamels – There will obviously be two pitchers from Philadelphia taken before Cole and I’ll wait the extra two or three rounds for Hamels.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Joel Hanrahan – Again, he fits the definition of a cheap closer as many will pass him by for more established finishers, downplaying 2011. I won’t be one of those and will gladly take him later than some of the top-tier closers.
San Diego Padres – Cory Luebke – Had a solid 2011 and while some will take him because he plays for the Padres and pitches in Petco, many others will avoid him because he plays for the Padres and won’t get much run support. Not to take anything away from Aaron Harang but look what he was able to do for San Diego in 2011.
San Francisco Giants – Madison Bumgarner – Will go after Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, maybe even Brian Wilson if there’s a run on closers early. I’ll wait for Bumgarner and be happy about it. While we’re on the topic of the Giants, it’s amazing they still have to pay Barry Zito a big chunk of money for two more years.
St. Louis Cardinals – Jason Motte – Another closer I wouldn’t mind waiting the necessary rounds for instead of picking one higher. Adam Wainwright will go much too early for my taste as will Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia.