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DOs And DONTs: Texas Rangers

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DOs And DONTs: Texas Rangers

Posted on 12 March 2012 by Jeff Coleman

Greetings once again, baseball and fantasy fans! In this edition of DO’s And DON’Ts, we will be taking a look at the AL Champion Texas Rangers. Coming off a stellar run in the 2011 Regular Season, the boys from Arlington ran into the tenacious St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic. Playing tooth and nail with their opponents, the Rangers ended up just short of capping a season of hope and promise with the World Series title they failed to nab in 2010.

Some folks like Texas more than others...

The Rangers have made some interesting moves in the off-season, and some pieces of their puzzle have shuffled off to elsewhere (apparently C.J. Wilson, pictured above, didn’t find enough to like about Texas). But we are hoping to sort through the craziness and give you some people to play, and people to maybe not like so much:

  • DON’T look for Yu Darvish to be the next Cy Young (instantly).

The Japanese phenom was the Rangers’ biggest pick-up in the offseason as they tried to offset the losses of Wilson and Brandon Webb to free agency. The (Hokkaido) Nippon Ham Fighters’ ace put up straight amazing numbers in his Pacific League career, tallying over 1000 Ks in five years, winning no less than 12 games, and averaging an ERA of 1.72 and a WHIP of 0.890. Numbers like that would be enough to make any team thrilled to have his services, and Texas got the luck of the draw. However, the track record for pitchers coming over from Japan is spotty at best. Darvish has the raw talent and seasoning to be a multiple All-Star caliber talent. The thing he does NOT have is Major League experience. The talent levels ARE different from Japan to the States, and it will take Darvish some time to establish a repertoire against MLB-style batters. The Rangers will likely throw him into the rotation immediately out of need and talent, and he will struggle to start as he gets into the groove. If someone has the stomach to handle the downs as well as the ups (especially in a keeper league), Yu Darvish will come into his own and be a major boon for them.

This one is a little hard to read, but there are several facets to Josh Hamilton’s potential year. He dealt with a broken arm (ouch) in April and May of last year, but recovered well. He had surgery to repair a sports hernia (again ouch) this past November, but stated at Rangers camp recently that the rehab went well. He is coming off of a second relapse in his substance abuse recovery earlier this year, but seems to have found renewed strength, drive, and determination. Plus, he is coming into his free agency season, but has stated that he will not discuss his contract once the Regular Season starts. It’s not hard to cheer for a guy to succeed in the face of so much chaos, but it is hard to see where there might be a bright side. Purely stats-wise, Hamilton’s numbers in 2011 were a few shades lower than his career averages, but were certainly no low water marks: Sporting an OPS of .882, a BAbip (Batting Average on balls in play) of .319, and slugging 25 HR in a year where you miss the majority of the first two months is nothing short of eye-catching. You have to dig deep to find a statistical flaw in Hamilton’s game; his infield pops have been on a consistent rise in his career (7% last season, up from 5% in 2010), and his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 3.6 and RAR (Runs Above Replacement) of 38 were nearly halved from 2010, a campaign that saw him have only a handful more plate appearances (571) than 2011 (538). Stats like those are a long way to go to find a vulnerability in someone’s game. The bigger deciding factor this year for Hamilton’s performance will be his mental character and toughness. Will the off-field distractions upend him? Will he be able to keep his focus on baseball with contact talks looming? I will be pulling for Hamilton to persevere, but I have seen stranger things happen.

  • DON’T expect a big year from Ian Kinsler, but DON’T be too surprised by one either.

Kinsler is one of those talents that you feel hasn’t come into his own, mostly due to injuries suffered in almost each of his six seasons in the Majors (he wasn’t put on the DL at all last year, but was on paternity leave briefly in June for the birth of his second child). The surface number of a .255 BA from last year did not show that he took advantage of being on the field for the most games in a season (155) in his career, but career numbers in runs (121), total bases (296) and walks (89) show some promise. Kinsler is tough to pin down; he has not put together two back-to-back seasons where he has played over 125 games. His power numbers seem to peak when his average is low, and when he bats better, he has less punch. His game is very Jekyll / Hyde, or maybe more appropriately Bruce Banner / Incredible Hulk, and there seems to be very little consistency. However, digging deeper, his OPS has stayed relatively steady (anywhere from .794 to last year’s .832, with the .893 from ’08 as the outlying stat), and his WAR / RAR numbers have been largely similar after his rookie year. It is hard to say which Kinsler we’ll get this year (by the stats, he’s due for a higher average / lower power season), but last season proved that he can play just about the entire year. Another full, DL-free season could start normalizing his numbers and give a more accurate fantasy picture of Kinsler’s worth. All that being said, he’s a definite draft in the earlier rounds, and will provide some statistical boosts. He might hurt you in some categories, but it is that hint and hope of the five-tool player that makes him an attractive draft target.

  • DO take a flyer on Adrian Beltre, but DON’T mortgage the farm on him.

Beltre is one of those players that has shown consistency in the past, scattered with flashes of astounding brilliance and holes in his game that people learned to accept. Blessed with B+ / A- power with 310 career HRs, he’s also shown little patience as power hitters tend to, “sporting” 1219 Ks and a K/BB ratio of 2.24 through his 14 seasons. His early career showed glimpses of secondary tools in his arsenal with his above-average speed, though that is starting to fade later in his career. His defense is a relative liability, though that won’t factor in most fantasy leagues. The bigger concern in my eyes is an inconsistent batting average. His career average is .276, but he’s hit below that in nine out of 14 seasons, including six seasons of .265 or below. Your heavy power hitters still should have an above-average… Uhm… Average; a consistent .275 makes just that many more opportunities for good things to happen. At a 38% XBH career clip, Beltre has a very good tendency to turn hits into big trouble for opposing pitchers. If he could perform like he has the past two seasons in average (.321 in 2010, .296 in 2011), Adrian Beltre will be a HUGE boon for the Rangers. Age and durability are a key, but he has said he’s feeling good, with no lingering effects from the bruised knee that he sustained in last year’s postseason. If the Rangers have Beltre’s services for over 135 games this season, they will be a beast to handle in the AL.

Ulnar Collateral Ligament reconstruction used to be a fickle thing. In 1974, when Dr. Frank Jobe first performed the procedure on the slick, sinker-balling southpaw known as Tommy John. The chances of a pitcher recovering enough to ever throw again were 1-in-100. As of ’09, the procedure has a complete recovery rate of anywhere between 85 and 92 percent. With a combination of increased conditioning and the pure fact that there is a strong ‘ligament’ in place as opposed to the degrading UCL, most pitchers find that they’re able to throw close to what they could at the peak of their careers after the approximately year-long recovery. Joe Nathan is now 2 years out, and he is ready to get back to business. Last year was obviously an off year for Nathan, the months of April and August being rather damning in the final picture. But still, the (career-wise) anomalous 4.84 ERA was netted with 14-17 saves converted, 43 Ks, a .222 average against, and only walking 14. Looking into the deep stat lines, you can see a 79% contact rate (that includes hits AND fouls), a sharp jump from the 67% rate in ’09. Also evident are a dip in his K ratio (32.8% to 22.5%), a jump in his extra base ratio (6.3% to 9.4%), and also his balls-in-play ratio (55% to 64%) is elevated. This seems to indicate that Nathan was still finding his stride after recovery, or that maybe he was coming back too soon. I firmly believe that Joe Nathan is in-line to get back to his better days; going to a team where he has already been told that he’s the closer without a shadow of a doubt is good for one’s psyche. He has the tools and experience to pitch lights out. With the Tommy John well-behind him, and a full off-season and Spring Training in the realm of “normal”, I expect Nathan to hit the Arlington mound running and not look back.

As I stated in my last article about the Indians, don’t look at this as a Bible to evaluate the talent of the Rangers for your own fantasy roster. Only the fantasy GM knows best what their needs and play style are. However, look at this article (and the other DO’s And DON’Ts articles our excellent writers have published) as “food for thought” and a general guide of insights.

Did I miss a spring stud that looks to bust out in a big way? Did I tout someone that is looking to hit the skids, or worse: the waiver wire? Go ahead and hit the comments below, or find me on Twitter at @JCPronkFan48.

(As a side note, I would like to send my heartfelt sympathies and blessings to the victims of last Friday’s rash of storms and tornadoes. I managed to volunteer in Henryville, IN as a representative of the Air Force Reserves on Saturday the 3rd, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Baseball fans, if you can help these unfortunates in any way at all, please do so… Any little bit helps.)

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DOs And DONTs: Cleveland Indians

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DOs And DONTs: Cleveland Indians

Posted on 24 February 2012 by Jeff Coleman

Greetings, baseball and fantasy fans! In this edition of DO’s And DON’Ts, we will cast a spotlight on the AL Central’s Cleveland Indians. Breaking camp on the 20th, the Tribe is looking for a good run; hopefully a more sustained effort of the 30-15 start of the 2011 campaign. A lot of known names have been invited to get a chance with the Indians (and even some new names for known faces, but more on that later), and there are some intriguing notables to look out for.

Travis Hafner helping Taylor Teagarden do a barrel roll

So let us delve into the 40-man and NRIs for this year’s “Cleveland Indians: Spring Training” edition, and give you some insight on who to look to for help on your own fantasy team… And who to avoid like a fastball to the head (or a freight-training Travis Hafner, shown above):

  • DON’T expect anything out of Roberto Hernandez Heredia this season (but DO expect him back on the roster by the ASB).

If the name does not seem familiar, it’s not. But the number on the back of the jersey is. Heredia, also known as the pitcher currently wearing number 55 and formerly known as Fausto Carmona, is currently on the Indians’ restricted list: meaning he doesn’t count against the team’s payroll, or their 25- and 40-man rosters. He will be there until he returns to the States after going through the due legal process in his native Dominican Republic. Indians GM Chris Antonetti has stated he would like #55 back.  Agent Jorge Brito says #55 has been throwing and keeping in-shape. So while you should expect him back, he would NOT be a good investment. Last year was his worst season in six for several major pitching categories: H (205), ER (110), HR (22), and Hit By Pitch (14). His GO/AO has dropped precipitously from 2008 to 2009, and is at its lowest point (1.78) in his career. To me, this only more damningly points to his pitches being much less in his control, much higher in the zone, thus more hittable. Given that he will not break camp on time, probably won’t be in Spring Training at all, and will be dealing with the backlash from this entire off-season ruckus, it is easy to say that Faustberto’s return to baseball will not be very productive.

  • DO count on Asdrubal Cabrera to bring the same talent and fire to the team this year as he did last year.

While I would not expect the same power numbers from ACab as last year (25 HR from a player that, to that point, had only 18 in his career), his aggregate numbers suggest that his performance was not a fluke. His OPS (.792) was the second highest in his career and his average OPS in five seasons sits at .756, a very respectable number. His BA (.273) was also well in-line with his career average (.281). The “shocking” number from his stats last year, 119 Ks, isn’t so shocking. His K/AB ratio from last year (19.7%) is not that increased from his previous 4 seasons combined (18.0%). The decreased GO/AO ratio of 1.13 shows that either ACab is finding a power stroke that has been missing in his career, or he was trying to make up for the lack of power on the Tribe roster… And did well with it. I would expect ACab to be good for about 15-20 HRs this year, and an overall solid campaign. Of course, this could all be just because of the one-year deal he managed to sign with the Indians; a try-out and break-out two years before a stint at free agency. More on this as the season progresses, of course.

  • DO anticipate Casey Kotchman to break camp (and hit the Opening Day roster) as the Indians’ starting first baseman.

The signing of Casey Kotchman was one of those unexpected surprises that you wind up finding out about through the Twitter grapevine. Considering the nearly-unanimous fan traffic about the play of Matt LaPorta, any move was surely a good move to shore up that disaster. Russ Canzler was the first move to get LaPorta some help / some competition / the Hell out the door, but Canzler has had exactly three ABs in the Majors. Kotchman has several (eight) years in the Majors, and will only turn 29 on the 22nd; he is starting to hit the peak part of his career. Last year’s numbers were relatively impressive, and would (do?) have any Indians fans falling over themselves: A .306 BA, an OPS of .800 on the dot, and the ability to find holes in a defense and place the ball in play. Those are key ingredients to a player that will give you solid contact and produce runs aplenty. Kotchman himself attributes a procedure to fix up his eyesight as a huge factor in getting his hitting back where he wants it. The bigger key with Kotchman is his defense. While this will not factor into most standard fantasy leagues, it’s important to note a solid defense is crucial to a pitching staff that pitches to contact, like the Indians do. With several sinker-style arms in the rotation, their defense will get them out of jams early and often. A glove like Kotchman’s over at first only brings hurlers joy, and will affect anyone drafting any pitchers out of the Tribe’s staff. Kotchman is the man to beat at first, and I do not see anyone truly coming out and taking it from him. All of that being said…

  • DON’T expect the Matt LaPorta ‘experiment’ to last much past June with Kotchman in the fold.

LaPorta was highly-touted coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers; the Indians shuffled him over to first from the outfield, and were counting on him being a powerhouse. But sadly, sometimes expectations do not quite pan out. While LaPorta’s numbers last season weren’t completely terrible, that is in comparison to the numbers he put up his prior two seasons. His looked-for power numbers have not come along at all (7, 12, 11 HR over his first three seasons), his strikeouts are high (37, 82, 87 Ks), and it seems like he has the distinct inability to drive in baserunners (21, 41, 53 RBIs). It’s statistically easy to see that he has an uppercuting swing: His GO/AO was 0.62 last year, and he carries a GO/AO of 0.80 overall, so one would think the power would be present. But the truth is this: The time for Matt LaPorta to show what he had was last season, when the first base job was his to lose. The Indians will say that they want to see what he does in Spring Training, but take it from me: The writing was on LaPorta’s locker when Canzler and Kotchman were signed. The future of the Tribe will not include LaPorta wearing #7.

  • DO look for some help in the outfield from the NRI list.

With the entire Indians starting outfield on the DL at some point or another last season, it’s easy to say that was the area needing the most work done. The Kosuke Fukudome trade was a needed late-season boost, but unfortunately that didn’t stick as Kos-Fu was let go of at season’s end. Once again, the Tribe and their fans stood staring at uncertain times of who would patrol the warning track. There are some folks I expect to get back on track: Shin-Soo Choo one year removed from his off-the-field shenanigans, Michael Brantley who showed some promise with full-time play, and the flashy and likable ex-rookie Ezequiel Carrera. There are some I’m not expecting much from; including a gent I’ll talk about in-depth in my next point. However, I believe someone on the non-roster invitee list, and quite possibly two someones, will break camp with a good chance to at least get some time from the bench. My money is on Trevor Crowe, a familiar name in Cleveland, to be back on the roster with the big club out of Spring Training. A fan favorite, Crowe has been with the Indians for three years now. The Tribe is pretty big on Crowe; he hasn’t had the numbers to back it up yet, but his last two seasons have been shortened by some pretty decent injuries. He does not have much pop in his bat, with only 3 career HR. He has shown some slap power and can find holes. He also has a dose of speed (20/27 SB in 2010) that could be useful for the small-ball-style hitting that this team might have to use to win games. The other “X-Factor”, in my opinion, is Fred Lewis. I managed to follow his exploits in San Francisco before I moved back east, and the Giants were pretty high on him. Another speedster (53/76 SB in six seasons), he finds his way on-base with nice regularity (.345 career OBP). He also displays some extra-base power as well (.406 SLG and 139 XBH career). The only problem with Lewis is that he is transitioning back from the NL to the AL; he did play with the Blue Jays in the ’10 season, but the rest of his career has been in the NL. That usually means an adjustment period to learn the pitchers in the new league, but coming into the fold before Spring Training might give him a chance to study tape and lessen that adjustment. My edge would go to Crowe, but don’t be surprised if Lewis’ name is right there as well.

As sad as it is to say, the time of Grady Sizemore as the poster-boy of the Tribe is at an end. I think this is in the minds of the Indians front office, even as they inked Sizemore for an incentive-laden, one-year, $5 million contract. What was once a very promising, very aggressive, and showy career seems to have taken a turn towards struggling to regain any part of what was to be. Ongoing knee injuries have robbed Sizemore of some of his major tools (B+ / A- speed and aggressive, flashy fielding), and I think have thrown his batting into a tizzy. He was on a tear first when he first came back in 2011, showing little ill-effect from microfracture surgery on his left knee; his stat line was 378/4/9 in April. The bad news was he could not sustain the effort; this can probably be blamed on a lack of full-blown conditioning. But all sorts of things seem to have changed with that injury; maybe the drive to push himself back to where he was, maybe mechanics. But Sizemore continued to be injured, and continued to not get back in season form. Maybe with a full Spring Training will we see an edging back to the norm for Grady. Considering the last couple of campaigns, however, it’s hard to see Sizemore making a full-blown comeback to the man of old. With any luck, the Indians will have a serviceable outfielder in Sizemore that might wind up trade bait come July. That would be the best outcome out of all of this, and that’s an Indians fan of many, many years saying that.

  • DO look to the Indians bullpen for some late-inning pitching help.

If there were two things that the Indians excelled at last season, it was comebacks and solid late-inning pitching. The mainstays of the “Bullpen Mafia” (Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Tony Sipp, and the baller ‘brothers’ of Rafael Perez and Chris Perez) all had solid years last year. The worst ERA out of the bunch belonged to the “Pure Rage” closer at 3.32, but he ended up sporting a BAA of less than .220 at .215, and was successful on 36/40 SV, solidifying himself as one of the league’s better closers. Vinnie Pestano was a pure beast, sporting miniscule numbers in important categories: 2.32 ERA, .184 BAA, 1.05 WHIP. He did this while hitting big in the good categories with 84 Ks and 23 holds. Smith and Sipp were solid in their short-relief and set-up roles. Even Raffy Perez, arguably the ‘worst’ of the bunch, was more than serviceable: 3.00 ERA, 33 K, .253 BAA, 1.24 WHIP. Plus, his 2.11 GO/AO promises good things with a good defense behind him. The only catch to these gents is that the starting pitching of the Tribe was not nearly effective enough to keep the ‘pen out of being used in a lot of games; they averaged just under six innings a game with only TWO complete games as a starting staff! The result was the bullpen being worn down near season’s end, and being less-than-effective compared to their earlier work. If you do draft anyone out of the Tribe ‘pen, you would be well-served to keep an eye on the Tribe starters as well. If the starters start exiting early in games like they did last season, you may want to have late-season plans prepared.

This article is not the end-all to how to run your fantasy team, of course. Our other writers have been putting together fantastic DO’s And DON’Ts for the other MLB clubs. Like the other articles, however, this one is here to help, and here for comment and debate.

Are there Indians players that I missed that would have impacts on fantasy baseball teams, either for the good or bad? Anything about the players I mentioned I neglected, or just flat got wrong? Go ahead and hit the comments below, or find me on Twitter at @JCPronkFan48.

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