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Archive for the tag “Francisco Liriano”

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2011: The Pitchers

Tommy Hanson

Image via Wikipedia

The following pitchers are among the players I will target on Draft Day.  The value they will accrue during the course of the season should exceed their relative Draft Day position and / or cost.

Some of these pitchers were a disappointment last season; others were injured.  Pitchers, even more so than hitters, fluctuate dramatically from year to year as far as their production is concerned.  And that’s why your opportunities to discover the pitchers who will be “sleepers” in 2011 are plentiful.

In no particular order, then, here are your fantasy baseball “sleeper” pitchers for 2011:

Brandon Morrow – Blue Jays: There is a damn good chance that Morrow will lead the A.L. in strikeouts this year.  He struck out 178 batters in only 145 innings last year.  Although he might not reach 200 innings pitched this year, he is capable of striking out 200+ batters in 180 innings.  He struck out 17 batters in an August game against Tampa Bay last season, and he is capable of that kind of dominating performance every time he takes the mound.  His ERA was high last year (4.49), but he has just about learned how to pitch.  At 26-years old, he is ready to take the next step forward.

Ian Kennedy – Diamondbacks:  He pitched better than his 9-10 record indicates.  On Draft Day, some of your fellow owners will focus too much on his win-loss record, but that’s how you find your bargains.  Wins tend to be a fickle category.  Case in point:  Kennedy posted a 1.55 ERA in five September starts last year, along with a 0.93 WHIP.  But he was not credited with a single win to reward his performance.  Like Morrow, Kennedy is 26-years old.  Take him in the mid-rounds and reap the benefits.

Max Scherzer – Tigers: Yet another 26-year old future ace.  Scherzer was inconsistent last season, pitching better at home than on the road.  But he improved dramatically as the season went along.  Over his final 15 starts, he posted a 1.14 WHIP and averaged about 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.  He throws hard, and if Morrow doesn’t end up leading the A.L. in strikeouts, Scherzer could.  Detroit figures to improve on its .500 record last season, and so, too, should the 12-11 Scherzer.

Francisco Liriano – Twins:  The 27-year old Liriano is now almost three years removed from Tommy John surgery.  His performance last year was solid:  14-10, 191 innings, 201 strikeouts.  But he is capable of doing even better than that.  Could very well land on someone’s fantasy team as a #3 or #4 starter, but is likely to pitch as well as many #1 or #2 starters.  He should break 200 innings this year to go along with 200+ strikeouts and a declining ERA of around 3.25.  What’s not to like?

Tommy Hanson – Braves:  Some observers might believe that Hanson had a somewhat disappointing season last year, as indicated by his 10-11 record.  But few pitchers in baseball were victimized by poor run support and a faulty bullpen as much as Hanson was last year.  Admittedly, he did get pounded in a few of his starts.  But after July 1st, he posted an ERA of 2.40.  You’ve got to love those young pitchers who finish strong.  At just 24 year of age, Hanson is even younger than many of the others on this list.  He is growing into a future ace.  The fifteen wins he should have enjoyed last season are a nice starting place for what you can conservatively expect from Hanson this year, along with about 200 strikeouts and an ERA somewhere between 3.00-3.50.

James McDonald – Pirates:  No, that’s not a typo.  There really is a Pirates pitcher on this list.  So how does a pitcher who was just 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA pitching for one of the very worst teams in baseball qualify as a sleeper?  Because he has averaged a little under a strikeout per inning so far in his brief Major League career, fanning 122 batters over his last 135 innings pitched.  At 26-years old, this former Dodgers prospect is finally receiving an opportunity to display his stuff at the Big League level.  You will be able to land him late in your draft, but he could end up paying dividends at a bargain-basement price.

Jhoulys Chacin – Rockies:  Don’t worry; I don’t know how it’s pronounced either.  What I do know is that, in 21 starts last season, this 23-year old struck out 138 batters in 137 innings, and posted a very impressive 3.21 ERA while calling Coors Field home.  His 61 walks in 137 innings could be cause for some concern, but his raw talent should not be overlooked.  If you find that he is overlooked during your Draft, by all means, grab him.

Jeremy Hellickson – Rays:  Other than perhaps David Price, Hellickson is the most talented pitcher to come out of Tampa Bay’s remarkable farm-system over the past few years. He most certainly has future ace stuff, as his incredible Major League debut revealed last year.  His most impressive stat, just eight walks allowed in his first 36 innings pitched.  He also struck out 33 batters, and averaged over nine K’s per nine innings in Triple A last year.  By 2012, Price and Hellickson could very well be the best 1-2 punch in Major League baseball.

Shawn Marcum – Brewers: At 29-years old, Marcum may be a little older than you think.  But that certainly doesn’t mean his career isn’t trending in the right direction.  Pitching in baseball’s toughest division last year with Toronto, he posted a 1.15 WHIP in 195 innings pitched, along with a respectable 3.64 ERA.  Keep in mind that despite Marcum’s 13-8 overall record last year, he was 12-2 when NOT pitching against the Yankees, Red Sox, or Tampa Bay.  This year, in the N.L. Central, he should thrive.

Brett Anderson – A’s: Some Fantasy Baseball owners will be scared off by Anderson’s elbow problems last year.  While not trying to downplay the injury, the talent here outweighs the risk, assuming he looks healthy in Spring Training.  Only 23-years old, Anderson already has nearly 300 effective innings pitched under his belt as a Major League starter.  A mid-round pick here could pay-off nicely for you in 2011.

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Baseball Predictions, 2010: A Look Back

Joey Votto, spring training 2008.

Image via Wikipedia

Having been foolish enough to have committed my player and team predictions for the recently departed (regular) baseball season to a couple of blog-posts several months ago, I find I have little choice but to go back and analyze my, uhm, analysis.

Let’s start with my team predictions.

As a Mets fan, I was not optimistic going into this season.  I wrote an entire blog-post about why I thought Jason Bay was a bad signing.  Turns out I was wrong about Bay.  He wasn’t just bad.  He was horrible.

Meanwhile, I predicted the Mets would win somewhere between 78-84 games, probably coming in right around .500.  Allowing Oliver Perez to pitch the Mets to disaster on the last day of the Mets season, the Mets lost to Washington 2-1, thereby securing a 79-win campaign.

Oddly, I had predicted the Mets to finish in a third-place tie with the Marlins.  The Marlins actually won just one more game than the Mets, so I feel vindicated.

Staying in the N.L. East, I picked the Phils to win and the Braves to earn the Wild Card.  Good for me!  The Nats, of course, were predicted to come in last.

In the N.L. Central, like virtually everyone else, I thought the Cardinals would win without a serious fight.  I stated that, “The Reds are an enigma.”  I still think they are an enigma.  But here’s what I had to say about Joey Votto:

Joey Votto Don’t bother reminding me about his anxiety problems.  This year, the only people who will experience anxiety problems will be the pitchers who have to face him.  26-year old pure hitter in a nice hitter’s park.

For some reason, I picked the Brewers to finish in second place.  They actually finished third.  But that’s not saying much in this sorry division.

I had the Cubs, Houston and the Pirates finishing in 4th, 5th and 6th.  The Astros actually finished just a game ahead of the Cubs, so…not bad.

In the N.L. West, my picks were terrible.  I predicted the Padres would finish in last place, the Giants in fourth place, and Arizona in third place.  And I thought the Dodgers would finish second to the Rockies. 

Here’s what I said about the Rockies:

I really like the Rockies.  Their pitching staff might be the most underrated in baseball, and in Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, they have two of the most exciting young players in the league.  Plus their terrific second-half last year should carry over into this season.

Well, I stand by my characterization of Tulo and Gonzalez being two of the most exciting players in the league.  If Tulowitzki didn’t miss a significant part of the season due to injury, I still think this was the team to beat. 

But I have no excuse for the rest of my picks in that strange division.

Over in the American League, my player evaluations were better than my team evaluations (with a couple of notable exceptions.)

Let’s take the players first.

From the A.L. East (which I predicted Boston to win), I said this about second baseman Dustin PedroiaThis 26-year old has already won an MVP award, and offers a nice power / speed combination.  Scores bushels of runs, and plays in a great hitter’s park.  What’s not to like?  There is no downside here.

I also predicted that Boston’s first baseman Kevin Youkilis and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury would have nice seasons, and that Mike Cameron would prove to be a valuable pickup.

Those four key players combined to miss an astounding total of 405 games.  Yes, the Yankees had their share of injuries.  But no team in baseball saw so much potential run production vanish so quickly and for so long.

Considering that the Red Sox still managed to win 89 games and finish just six games behind the second place Yankees, I still think the Bo-Sox could have, at the very least, won the Wild Card if their injury caseload had been more manageable.

I picked the Yanks to finish in second place, and I declared them to be a rapidly aging team.  I may have been a year premature.  But age has certainly taken its toll on both Jeter and Posada.  Jeter had one of his worst seasons ever, and 38-year old Posada managed just 383 at bats.  Here’s what I predicted for Jeter:

First ballot Hall of Famer will see at least a 20% decline in his overall offensive output from last season, but still has enough to offer at age 35.  Will be drafted too early in most leagues due to rep and weak position.

As for Tampa Bay, I thought they would finish a strong third place.  I generally liked Carl Crawford, but I really didn’t like first baseman Carlos Pena.  Here’s what I said about Pena:

[He is] The 31-year old Latin Dave Kingman.  Steer clear.

Pena’s final line:  28-84-.196  Very Kingmanesque.

Pointlessly, I picked Baltimore to finish ahead of Toronto.  Baltimore ended up being even worse than I imagined.  I thought losing Roy Halladay would signal the death-knell to this Toronto team, but they overcame his loss pretty well, finishing with an impressive record of 85-77.

In the Central Division, I didn’t think the Twins could win with just two excellent players: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.  Here’s what I said about the Twins back in March:

I keep reading about the Twins killer offense, but Cuddyer and Kubel should, in fact, be a platoon tandem, since one primarily kills lefties and the other can’t hit them at all.  Morneau either gets injured, or slumps badly in the second half.  It becomes the Joe Mauer show, but one man can’t do it all.  And Joe Nathan being done for the year won’t help.

Nowhere did I see DH Jim Thome rescuing the team about mid-season, when, as I predicted, Justin Morneau got injured.  And the acquisition of Matt Capps to close games was also an unforseeable stroke of genius.

I predicted the White Sox would win this division.  They fell short by six wins.  The Tigers, a team that I considered a dark-horse, were one of only two teams in the Majors to finish with a perfect .500 record, 81-81 (the other was Oakland.)

Picking the Royals and Indians to finish at the bottom was, of course, a no-brainer.

Over in the A.L. West, I bought into the hype that is (or was) the Seattle media machine.  In retrospect, although I predicted the Angels were ready for a fall, and that the A’s would be an also-ran, I definitely underestimated the Rangers.  Thus, I predicted a team that would finish with one of the worst records in baseball (Seattle:  61-101) would have a nice season due to the off-season acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins (remember Chone Figgins?)

My preseason thoughts on the A.L. West:

Many people still pick Angels to win West.  This is a lazy pick.  These are not the Angels of the past few seasons.  Ervin Santana is your ace?  He may win a dozen games.  Too many defections to recover from.  Texas’ pitching will also regress some from last year, and they’ll have their usual assortment of injuries.  Heck, Ian Kinsler is already hurt again.

It was Texas’ pitching that I was most wrong about, although interestingly, their “ace” of 2009, Scott Feldman, did have a poor season in ’10.  He finished with a record of 7-11 with a 5.48 ERA a year after winning 17 games and posting an ERA south of 4.00.

In my Pre-Season Pitching Preview, here’s what I said about Scott Feldman:

Although he is only 27-years old, he has already had his career season.  His 17 wins last year, despite just 113 K’s in 190 innings, were a fluke.  Yes, he did have a nice WHIP, but look for that .250 batting average against to go up around 20-30 percentage points this year.  And, as we all know, wins are primarily a reflection of the quality of the team for whom you pitch.

But I did not foresee C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter and Colby Lewis finishing with a combined record of 40-25, and all three with ERA’s below 4.00.

As for other players that I liked going into 2010, I was optimistic about Twins starter Francisco Liriano, Padres starter Matt Latos, Brave second baseman Martin Prado, and outfielders Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and outfielder Justin Upton (Arizona.)  Four of the five had very nice seasons.  Upton was disappointing, but still managed 17 homers and 18 steals in his age-23 season.

Here was my take on Liriano:

Last years numbers, 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA and a WHIP of 1.55 will scare away most fantasy managers.  But there are four reasons for optimism going into this season: 1. He is still just 26-years old, and will be another year removed from his elbow operation.  2. His strikeout rate last year remained pretty high despite his problems 3. The new ballpark in Minnesota should play to his strengths 4. He dominated in the Winter League.  Could pay big dividends this season.

In fact, Liriano improved to a solid 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA in 192 innings, striking out 201 batters.

Latos also finished with a 14-10 record for the punchless Padres with an excellent ERA of 2.92 in 185 innings, striking out 189 batters.

And on an awful Pirates team (57-105), McCutchen scored 94 runs, stole 33 bases, hit .284, slugged 16 home runs and 35 doubles, and drew 70 walks.

Finally, here is what I said about Tiger’s first baseman and potential A.L. MVP Miguel Cabrera:

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the two players whose career profiles Cabrera’s is most similar to are Ken Griffey, Jr. and Hank Aaron.  Has a .925 career OPS in six full seasons.  Turns 27 in April.  The A.L. player most likely to win a Triple Crown.

Cabrera had a fantastic season:  38 homers, 128 RBI, 111 runs scored, a 1.042 OPS, and a .328 batting average.  As for the Triple Crown categories, he led the A.L. in RBI, finished second in batting average, and Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista’s It-Came-Out-Of-The-Sky home run total of 54 pushed Cabrera’s home run total down to third place, just one behind runner-up Paul Konerko.

In other words, if you remove Bautista’s outlier season from the mix, Cabrera comes damn close to winning the A.L. Triple Crown.

Finally, here were my picks for the major awards:

A.L. Cy Young:  Felix Hernandez

N.L. Cy Young: Roy Halladay

N.L. MVP: Troy Tulowitzki

A.L. MVP: Joe Mauer

N.L. Rookie of the Year:  Jason Heyward

A.L. Rookie of the Year:  Brian Matusz

I think I got the pitching right.

Tulo got hurt, but had a huge September, at one point hitting 14 home runs in 15 games.  Mauer’s power disappeared, but he still hit .327 on a first-place Twins team.  Heyward might win the ROY award, though personally I’d give it to Buster Posey of the Giants.  Matusz was simply a case of expecting too much too soon from a pitcher who still displayed promise on a very bad Orioles team. 

BTW, I predicted that the Phillies would lose to Boston in the World Series.  I still think the Phils will go to the W.S., but now I think they will beat whomever they face.  Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt is just too deep a rotation to have to face.

So there, I’ve done it again.  Now I have yet another inadvisable prediction to explain away in about a month.  So be it. 

Later this week, I will resume my series, “Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons” with a look at the Chicago White Sox.

On a final note, an essay of mine, “Opening Day 1977: A Swan Song for the Mets,” has just been published in a collection of stories called “Tales From Opening Day,” published online at Baseballisms.com.  Check it out.  It’s free!

Damn, that was a long post.  Until next time,

Bill







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