Archive for April, 2009

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Fantasy Baseball: Hidden Power Potential

April 30, 2009

Edit: Mark Shapiro reads my blog.

I would imagine that anyone reading a blog about sports would have at least a basic grasp as to what fantasy baseball is. Unfortunately, there is a disappointing lack of Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones and a baseball diamond composed of brain waves emitted during R.E.M. sleep. By the way, the fact that Ray Liotta both bats and throws with the opposite hand of Shoeless Joe Jackson still irritates me when I see that movie. But this is all moot; back to fantasy baseball!

At this point in the year drafts are finished, and other than trades the only way to add to your team is through the waiver wire. Matthew Berry may be an ESPN fantasy expert but every time he suggests a player to add they’re either already on a competitor’s roster, or they’re on my own. He and others like him may be good at what they do, but tips like “Add Ryan Franklin,” “Aaron Hill may have value” or “Pick up Nick Swisher,” don’t do much good when you play in a deep league where these players may have been drafted.

What I would like to do is offer some predictions on players that will not necessarily tear the league apart in the coming months, but guys who can contribute well in at least one category and are not likely to be owned, even in a deep league.

Homeruns:

Dingers! Everyone’s favorite statistic. Unfortunately for anyone scrambling with a roster of Carl Crawford, James Loney and Chone Figgins, they are not easy to find. They’re the most important fantasy stat; every homerun adds not only a tally in its own category but also at least one rbi, a run, and upticks in batting average and OPS. As such, they’re can also be difficult to come across. At the end of last season, no league I was in had a free agent who hit even 20 homers.

However, we don’t need to dig up a full season’s worth of power. We’re looking for someone who can contribute a decent number in a short time, maybe 5-10 in a 4-8 week span. The best place to dig for this is the minors. Here are two players who could get a call up and can contribute homeruns to your roster:

Matt LaPorta: Was drafted in only 6% of Yahoo leagues and is currently owned in even less after not making the club in Spring Training. He will get a call up sometime this season, even if it is only in September, and he will hit for power. He’s currently fourth in the International League with a 1.142 OPS and .338 ISO and 5 homers.

Brandon Wood: Wood is a curious case, fantasy wise. He was called up two weeks ago, and many (myself included) added him to their rosters hoping to see some of the power he’s displayed in the minors. A 1.260 OPS and .577 ISO along with 4 homers in only 30 plate appearances were right along the lines of his minor league career, in which he’s hit 83 homers in 1311 at bats. Unfortunately he’s only started one game since his call up, and the Angels are brutally mismanaging their young slugger. I imagine he will be back down to the minors soon, with another chance later this season likely to yield better results. Best yet, he is not only eligible at third but shortstop as well, enhancing his potential value all the more.

Strikeouts:

In looking for some guys who can help you over the top in the k category the key isn’t to necessarily find the best pitcher. By mid-season every quality starter is going to be long gone, as will most good relievers. So we look to mid-season call ups, and try to find someone who will not just contribute strikeouts but will do so without hurting you in other categories. And since they are owned in most leagues right now I won’t try and pass off David Price or Jordan Zimmerman as sleeper pickups.

Tommy Hanson: Almost made the rotation out of Spring Training, and was drafted in quite a few leagues, but is now a free agent in almost every one. Hanson is a complete pitcher, with a career 1.09 WHIP and absurd 10.5 k/9 ratio (402 k’s in 343 1/3 minor league innings!).  So far this season, in his first foray into AAA baseball Hanson has a 1.11 WHIP, 4.14 k/bb and 1.55 FIP in 20 2/3 IP. Hanson could get a call anytime, though late summer or September is most likely.

Clay Buchholz: I suppose it is kind of funny to write about the top pitching prospect for one of the most famous sports franchises in the world, a guy who has already thrown a major league no hitter, as someone to watch for. But that’s really quite true, as Buchholz is pretty much not owned at all. If the no hitter doesn’t tell you what kind of stuff he has, than check out his k/9 line: in 98 major league innings, 8.57, and in 359 minor league innings, 10.8. He’s also got a 1.09 WHIP thus far this season. He has a few hoops to jump through if he wants to pitch in the majors this season (Brad Penny, John Smoltz and a career 4.7 bb/9 innings), but  if he makes it up then he will not only have value as a strikeout pitcher, but playing for Boston should help him net a few wins as well.

These guys aren’t necessarily unknowns, but they are hopefully un-owned. The key is not to give you names to add now, but to keep a lookout for their chance to play, and be the first one to scoop them up. The nice thing about power categories is that younger guys, even with unrefined skill sets, are often ready to contribute those stats. Being able to pick out a player or two who can push you over the top in even one category will often be the difference between first place and another disappointing finish.

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Todem Poll

April 24, 2009

As proof I am aware of things besides baseball I’ve got a poll over there to your right. The NFL draft is Sunday and the Jets could do anything from standing pat to choose the best available player to trading their entire draft for the rights to Steven Strasburg. Actually, that might not be a bad idea.

I’d like to know what everyone else thinks they should do, because we all know that Jets fans know best (because the front office certainly doesn’t). So please vote on it, everybody!

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Return Of Sir Philip?

April 24, 2009

Via Peter Abraham’s blog:

UPDATE, 3:41 p.m.: Nardi Contreras just told reporters in Tampa that Wang needs more arm strength and that is sinker is not consistent enough.

I don’t know what injury they’ll claim he has, but every indication is that Wang will be on the DL sometime soon.

This seemed obvious. Options for starting are probably one of Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy or Alfredo Aceves. Hughes and Kennedy are tearing up AAA, and while I have a few reservations about whether or not they can carry some confidence over from the minors to the Yankees I would like to see one of them get the call to start. The next scheduled spot after Wang’s start was skipped in Boston will be in Detroit. Quite a daunting task for one of these young guys. As one of two people in ownership of a Phil Hughes jersey (this is the other) I am especially excited about the possible return of our top prospect to the majors. The situation from which this possibility arises is less than desirable, but getting to see a pitcher currently dominating the minors with major league stuff is always exciting.

And for anyone who thinks the Yankees rotation is in dire straits, the Orioles are there to cheer you up. Any city that can not only employ Adam Eaton but  give him a standing ovation is okay with this blog. Just to refresh your memory, Eaton is the man Phillies fans booed during the World Series ring ceremony. In spite of his gem today Eaton is essentially a terrible pitcher who somehow has stuck in the majors on reputation alone. The particularly puzzling thing is that Eaton’s reputation is as a terrible pitcher. Yeah, chew on that one, baseball fans.

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Melky Cabrera: The Next Barry Bonds?

April 23, 2009

The forgotten man in the Yankees outfield has really roared into the picture this week. After getting only two starts in the season’s first eight games Melky Cabrera has found himself in a position to take advantage of the injuries to Xavier Nady and Hideki Matsui. In his last twelve at bats, Melky has four homeruns, including his pair of jacks today (one of which was a 14th inning walk-off). This is a man who hit 8 homeruns in each of 2007 and 2008, in 545 and 414 at bats each of those years, respectively.

melky Power surges aren’t anything new to him; he hit five homeruns last April in 87 at bats. Not quite what we’ve seen from him this week, but after witnessing that last year I was convinced he had found his power stroke and would develop into a 20 homer center fielder. I had since not only jumped off of that bandwagon, but after the way he hit the rest of the season I hijacked and derailed the wagon completely Melky will probably never develop that kind of power, but even as is he’s a plus defensive outfielder with a very good arm.

If he can maintain even a portion of the power he has shown in brief stretches then he could be a starting caliber player. His on-base skills are abysmal, but if he could manage a .280 batting average than he could be an at least average center field bat.

The combination of Melky and Brett Gardner is hardly a spectacular tandem, and as it stands is probably a below average coupling. But take note, both are under 27 years old (Gardner is, at 26, a year older than Cabrera), and both are athletic defenders whose skills complement well. In one, the other, or both, the Yankees will be fine in center this season, and when Austin Jackson is ready (perhaps next Spring) the pair can perhaps replace Johnny Damon in left field, though neither of their bats play nearly as well for a corner spot.

Gardner is off to a rather slow start, so it is very encouraging to see some offense from Cabrera, who will likely find himself starting in center more and more if he keeps up the hitting, the same way Swisher kept himself in the lineup with his hot stretch even before Nady went down. It may not seem exciting to have a player whose peak is probably along the lines of .290/.350/.420 but I for one would be thrilled if Melky could put up a respectable line like that in center field this season.

By the way, Xavier Nady will not be undergoing Tommy John surgery (yet); he doesn’t have a full tear in his elbow, but rather a sprain, or partial tear. He’s going to rehab the injury and try and get back in as soon as a month (according to him) but hopefully within two months.

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Review on Wang’s Starts

April 19, 2009

Well, to put it mildly, Wang’s start today did not go well. By that I mean the Yankees would’ve been better off setting up a tee for the Indians hitters because maybe then they wouldn’t have been able to go so dinger-crazy.

I mentioned last night (in the post just below) that I thought there was a problem with Wang’s delivery, and his release point was not right. He doesn’t seem to be pushing off of the mound like he should, and he’s letting the ball fly out too high. I just took a look at the pitch fx data from his start today, and compared it to last season. All of these charts and data are from brooksbaseball.net, which has data for every game and is an amazing site.

The first graph is from Wang’s best start last season, a complete game against the Red Sox last April in which he did not walk a batter and allowed a single run:

wang4112008

You can see here that his average release point is a shade below 6 feet vertically and -2.5 feet horizontally.

This graph is the same set of data from Wang’s last start against the Indians, May 7th, 2008:

wang572008

Here, Wang’s release is higher than in the start vs. Boston, but still relatively consistent throughout the whole game. On the horizontal axis it is slightly closer to third base than the previous graph, but once again it is consistent through the whole game. This is as high as Wang’s release got all of last season.

This last graph is for Wang’s start today:

wang4182009

And for Wang’s previous shellacking in Tampa:

wang4132009

Not only is his delivery regularly well above six feet, but it varies more frequently horizontally. Each of his starts this season also had many more “outlier pitches,” meaning pitches released farther away from the cluster.

Essentially, Wang’s delivery is completely screwed up. His motion looks okay, but he isn’t putting his usual force on his right foot and it is resulting in his pitches flying high (in the zone and in the stands). A stint in AAA seems inevitable, with perhaps Phil Hughes or Alfredo Aceves getting the nod to come up and make a few starts.

I don’t know if it’s simply confidence, a lack of rhythm from missing so much time last year, or actual physical problems that are the cause of his problems, but hopefully this gets worked out in the short term.

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Is Wang Still Hurting?

April 18, 2009

A day before his third start, I’ve been glancing over Chien-Ming Wang‘s pitch breakdown, seeing if there was any evidence of decline or lingering issues from his injury, since (as his two previous games obviously showed) he is just not sharp.

Wang’s fastball/sinker is averaging 90.5 mph, down 1.3 mph from last season. His slider has also shown a decreased velocity, down from 85.4 to 81.9 mph. On top of this, the main and the most obvious problem to anyone who has seen his first two starts has been his inability to locate pitches. His sinker has often been left up in the zone, and that is only when Wang has even been able to get it over the plate.

Wang’s injury last season was to his right foot. There are a few issues that could be lingering from this. First is that he did not even begin to lightly throw until late October, so he was likely way behind his usual off-season schedule. The second is that his foot is either still bothering him, or was bothering him recently enough that he is afraid to go 100% on it. The right foot for righties is the one used to push off of the rubber. If Wang is unable or unwilling to push off with maximum effort than not only is his velocity going to suffer (like it has been) but he is not going to be able to stay on top of his sinker, and it’s going to linger up and all over the zone from an inconsistent release (as has also been his problem).

Best case scenario is he was simply afraid to push it, and he is not actually injured (it’s been enarly nine months since the initial injury, so it’s likely that the foot is 100% healed). Hopefully it is something that either he or pitching coach Dave Eiland noticed and have corrected before tomorrow’s game, because the A.L. East is going to be brutal and until he recovers his form having Wang out there is simply giving away victories. The majors is not the place to work out mechanical and physical issues. Ian Kennedy has been completely dominant in AAA, striking out 11 in 6 innings in his last start, and Phil Hughes has demonstrated that he has the talent to get major league hitters out (when healthy), and both are better options than an out of sync Chien-Ming Wang.

By the way, I and probably most other Yankee fans were singing the praises of Nick Swisher since he got into the lineup and immediately went on a tear. Anyone who didn’t want him starting over Xavier Nady before certainly wanted it then. Well, Nady is going to be gone for quite awhile, and if his second Tommy John surgery becomes necessary (which it looks like it will) than Nady’s days as a Yankee are likely over. This is not exactly the way anyone wanted it to go down, because Nady is a very valuable hitter, especially against left handed pitching. Swisher will be in the lineup every day, but with Teixeira suffering from an ailing wrist and Matsui with a bum knee already the Yankees former depth is going to be spread very thin. It is a good thing that they assembled a strong bench because it is already becoming necessary. Perhaps this is the baseball gods roaring “You wanted Swisher, you’ve got it!” and striking down three of our hitters to get him in the lineup. Apparently they are not without  a sense of humor. In any case, best of luck to Nady, and hopefully he can get back and contribute later in the year; it’s never a good thing to see someone on your team hurt.

Unless they’re the rocking combo of Damaso Marte and Jose Veras. Fuck those guys.

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2009 Goal: Involve Nick Swisher in Every Post

April 14, 2009

I hope everyone got a chance to watch Nick Swisher pitching last night. It was so amusing that it actually made the loss palatable. Well, not for Jorge Posada:

When Kim Jones, the YES network reporter, mentioned to Jorge Posada that the game “apparently ended with some laughs,” Posada cut off the question. He had caught the first seven innings and did not seem to see the humor in Swisher’s stunt.

“Nobody was laughing,” Posada said. “I think today was embarrassing. It’s just one of those days that everything went for them and nothing went for us. We didn’t pitch; we didn’t do the things we were supposed to do. Nobody was laughing.”

Even the ever stoic Derek Jeter was able joke about Swisher, who was the only Yankee to have a scoreless appearance yesterday. Posada’s anger is understandable, the loss was embarrassing and if this were to happen again in the near future it would be pretty gruesome for the Yankees. But really, how can you be so worked up that for a half an inning you can’t enjoy yourself while your first baseman throws side arm changeups on the mound? Are there really any Yankee followers who didn’t take a bit of enjoyment out of that overall terrible game? Oh wait, I found some! Better yet, they all work in the Yankees’ booth.

John Flaherty: “It’s not a good feeling for the hitter, it’s not a good feeling for Nick Swisher, it’s not a good feeling for Molina behind the plate.”

Swish was laughing it up on the mound, and Molina looked like he was giggling like crazy behind the plate. He even pumped his fist after Swisher got a strikeout.

Michael Kay: “He just took the ball and he tossed it into the dugout. I don’t think that’s pretty cool, you’re in the middle of a game right here, and it’s also embarrassing to Kapler.”

Kapler probably should feel silly, for one. Second, his team is up by ten, I think he’ll sleep okay. Smiling is not the Yankee way! If he did a Joba scream and fist pump after the strikeout I might get the problem, but that wasn’t the case. None of this was as bad as Joe Buck freaking out over Randy Moss fake-mooning the Packer fans who actually mooned him, but still.

By the way, A-rod has moved his rehab to Florida at the Yankees spring training complex, and seems wel on his way to getting back. It isn;t even halfway through April, so his May 15th projection seems pretty accurate, and he’ll even have a shot of getting back a week or so before then. The way Cody Ransom is not only struggling at the plate, but having trouble in the field, he can not return wuick enough.

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(Insert Pun on the Name “Swisher”)

April 10, 2009

Fun stat from today:

Nick Swisher saw 29 pitches today in five at bats. He went full count three times while homering as well. That is classic Yankee baseball.

DNE is going to like this man.

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One Hell of a Start

April 9, 2009

Early season projections are great. Emilio Bonifacio is on pace for 162 steals; six guys have hit a homer in each of their games; Ubaldo Jimenez will not give up a run all season, and Joe Girardi will be fired by Tuesday. Yes indeed, the Yankees are 0-2. We should probably all start panicking now, because starting 0-2 is a harbinger of bad things.

More amusing than the Yankees struggles to hit the Orioles questionable starting pitching is that I wrote last week about how great Bruney, Coke and the Yankees bullpen would be. My, oh my! I don’t think it is anything to fret over, as Coke was on his third inning of work and the homerun was of the shady variety, headed probably inches over the wall. It likely would have been caught by Damon as well, if not for the quick hands of the O’s fans in left field. Boy, I hate it when that happens.

There are way more positives to look at than negatives. My favorite thing to take away from the first two games is how good Cano looks. He’s going to have a monstrous rebound year. Jeter homered today, so the weak wrist/hand that plagued him last year should be no more, and hopefully he has learned his lesson about playing through injuries when they actually impair your capabilities. And even though Wang got knocked around earlier today, he still got on the mound for the first time since last July. It’s been a lot longer than it seems since he started a game.

Essentially, stay away from the New York papers. Any hype drawn from these first two games is just as valid as the red scare. I guess that would make Mike Lupica Joe McCarthy.

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Like Christmas, Your Birthday and V-J Day all Wrapped into One

April 6, 2009

Happy Opening Day!

Yesterday was the “real” opening day I guess, with the Phillies losing to the Braves. But today all but two teams are scheduled to play their official openers, so this is when it really counts.

Unfortunately, the Gods have once again conjured up a punishment for several cities, as rain is expected in Baltimore, and several other cities have already canceled games. At the moment, Royals @ White Sox has already been canceled, as has the Rays @ Red Sox. I’ll update that if any other games are rained out, with the games in Cincinatti and Baltimore also in danger.

Remember to set your fantasy lineups, find a couch, and get ready for seven months of BASEBALL.

P.S. I still owe a preview of the A.L. East outfielders and pitchers. One of those will perhaps be posted later (if it gets finished, I may be distracted!).

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