At Ray's request, I am turning this column into a "fantasy cup of coffee" that will hereby be posted just as those of you on the east coast are getting ready for your day. So, for the inaugural post at this time slot, here is a compendium of weekend fantasy links.
The theme for today's post is what to do with new acquisitions or old hands ascending/returning to starting positions.
- First off, Roto Hardball has a piece up on Twins' pitcher Scott Baker. You may question Baker being considered an ascendant player but remember he missed the better part of the second half of last season.
Baseball Prospectus measures that Baker saved the 9th most runs with his fastball among pitchers who threw more than 100 innings last year.
Additionally, Baker eclipsed 8.0 K/9 for the first time in his career -- which does not seem fluky as he also posted his lowest contact rate (79.6%) and highest swinging strike rate (10.4%) in 2011. And he did this without compromising his control as his walk rate was his lowest since 2007. To put this all in perspective, during the 2011 season there were 13 pitchers who had a K/BB rate of at least 3.5 and a K/9 above 8.0 -- you'll be pretty familiar with most of these names. Here's the full list, in order of descending K/BB rate: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Justin Verlander, Madison Bumgarner, Scott Baker, CC Sabathia, Brandon Beachy, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo and Cory Luebke. That's good company.
So where should you look for Baker at your draft? In either 10 or 12-team mixed leagues, he should be there as your rounding out your pitching staff -- it's no great indicator yet, but Mock Draft Central does not have Scott Baker going within the top 300 overall (or top 80 starters). Baker could be a steal as the final pick in your mixed league draft. He will certainly be within my top 60 starters, and quite possibly within my top 50. In AL-only leagues, he'll likely go behind risky picks like Alexi Ogando, Brian Matusz and his own teammate Francisco Liriano. Reality is, Baker has just as much upside as those three and is also a safer option.
Here's an easy way to do well in your fantasy league, pick Scott Baker before Brian Matusz. If Scott Baker is available and you have picked your top three or four starting pitchers, grab him. He'd be a steal.
More after the jump.
- Next, let's look at the Rays' bullpen situation. Last week, the Rays' traded their platoon catcher John Jaso to the Mariners for relief pitcher Josh Lueke. I will not deal here with any other issues surrounding Lueke because they don't have anything to do with fantasy baseball. Google him yourself if you want to know more. Instead, Rotoprofessor analyzes the prospects for Lueke in the Rays' bullpen.
The fact is Lueke is the quintessential Rays’ acquisition. He’s a player that no one else has on their radars, but his potential to fill a vital part of the team’s bullpen remains high. Keep in mind that, while he struggled in the Major Leagues, he posted a .327 BABIP and 56.6% strand rate.
Lueke was originally acquired by the Mariners as part of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Texas in 2010 and there is a reason that the Mariners wanted him. Over his minor league career he has posted a K/9 of 10.66, compared to a BB/9 of 2.29. While the strikeouts were down at Triple-A last season (7.44 K/9), he still showed tremendous control with a 2.55 BB/9.
Whenever you have a relief pitcher who has the potential to strikeout a ton of batters to go along with good control, you have a potential closer in the making. He should be on the radar of all fantasy owners, though that doesn’t make him a draft day target (outside of AL-only formats). Just keep the name filed away in the back of your mind and be ready to make a move if the opportunity presents itself.
If Farnsworth gets off to a slow start, do not think that the Rays will hold off on making a change. They have proven time and time again that they are willing to do what is necessary to win ballgames. Jake McGee, who was a sleeper prior to 2011, could once again be in the mix but I wouldn’t write-off Lueke’s potential to emerge as well.
Joe Maddon utilizes his bullpen better than any other manager in the majors. Lueke has the potential to work himself into the mix in that bullpen and if he keeps up his minor league numbers, he could be a success. With bullpen help as hard to come by as it is often is, keep a watch out for Lueke in 2012.
- You may have noticed over the weekend that Ramon Hernandez was signed by the Rockies as a replacement for Chris Iannetta. This has two impacts. One is that Wilin Rosario, the Rockies highly touted catching prospect, will likely apprentice for the Rockies with Hernandez. The other is that the Reds will likely have a new starting catcher platoon as they bide their time with their own catching prospect, Devin Mesoraco. What should fantasy owners do with these platooning catchers? Thankfully, the guys at FanGraphs give us some advice. Jack Moore wrote about the Hernandez acquisition for the Rockies.
Hernandez’s 103 wRC+ is built on contact instead of power and walks; with a 12.4% strikeout rate Hernandez makes the most out of his otherwise average profile. Over the short term, the differences between Iannetta and Hernandez at the plate will be indiscernible, merely accomplished in different ways.
In other words, if Iannetta was a desirable fantasy option, Hernandez is probably just as desirable. As Jack points out, Iannetta's wRC+ was 99 to Hernandez's 103. Watch Hernandez and if he is the full-time starter for Colorado he may be worth your time. Rosario is certainly worth your time in dynasty leagues though he may be a couple years out from major league contributions.
The Cincinnati catching situation will probably not be as desirable for fantasy owners, as Howard Bender points out.
The obvious move for the Reds right now is to go into spring training with veteran Ryan Hanigan resuming his platoon status behind the plate, this time with rookie prospect Devin Mesoraco as his new partner. Hanigan isn’t the flashiest guy behind the dish, but he has been a dedicated soldier for the Reds over the years and is a solid complementary catcher. His bat doesn’t speak with great volume (a career ISO mark of .093), but he makes outstanding contact (career 91.6%), doesn’t strike out very often (10.0%), and can take a walk when he needs to (12.2%).
As to Mesoraco,
He ripped through the Reds’ system in 2010 and put together an outstanding first full season in Triple-A last year when he, at a very slight expense to his power totals, reduced his K% and posted an .855 OPS. He also did plenty of work to improve his defensive shortcomings and proved that he was ready for the big time. His September stint in the majors was too short to even really acknowledge statistically, but based on his growth and his raw skills, he is going to be a fantastic asset next season.
Grab Devin Mesoraco in two catcher leagues, especially if you have a pretty good starter to man your other catching slot, and wait for him to overtake Hanigan and be the starter. With a good spring, Mesoraco may even win the job outright.
- Two international acquisitions (who haven't technically been acquired but will soon be posted and then acquired) that have attracted massive attention already this season have been Yu Darvish and Yoennis Cespedes. Josh Shephardson has write-ups on both of these guys at The Hardball Times. So, Darvish first.
- In some pleasant news for Chris Iannetta owners, the Angels traded Jeff Mathis. As I stated the other day, the Angels' acquisition of Iannetta made me nervous because Mike Scioscia already ran off one catcher with a strong bat in Mike Napoli so that he could play Mathis and his terrible bat. Thankfully, new GM Jerry DiPoto has saved Scioscia from himself by trading Mathis to the Blue Jays. Jerry DiPoto is a genius. This increases Iannetta's value, just remember that for a catcher the guy has a great bat with power potential (0.198 ISO over the last three years).
- Finally, and it is too early for there to be much analysis available but I'll have links for you in the next couple days, it appears that the "Miami" Marlins have spent some of that new stadium revenue, as they made two big signings this weekend. Sunday night it started to leak that the Marlins signed SS Jose Reyes to a 6-year $106 million dollar deal. This also means that Hanley Ramirez will be the Marlins' new 3B, if you believe the rumors. The other big acquisition for the Marlins was closer Heath Bell. Roto Hardball's Michael Barr wrote that Bell might not be the superstar he was in San Diego once he gets to Miami.
His career ERA is a drool-inducing 1.99 and is fully supported by an 8.87 K/9 and 2.36 BB/9. The scary thing is, he has been even more dominant in recent years with 2011 being especially impressive. He pitched to a 1.44 ERA this year with a 10.71 K/9 and 1.40 BB/9.
Expecting a seamless transition to the majors is too optimistic, but drafting him as a fourth or fifth starter with upside in standard leagues would be reasonable. It's possible he could fail to live up to even that draft cost if his organization chooses to let him get his feet wet in the minors, but the upside becomes too tantalizing to pass up at a certain point even in re-draft leagues.
Cespedes is probably a different story. Shepardson compares him to a guy in a similar position in 2011, Texas Ranger Leonys Martin. Martin and Cespedes have obvious talent but are in need of some polish.
He is strong as an ox and has plus speed to boot. The biggest question is if he'll hit for enough average to take advantage of either tool. In a perfect world, he is a slightly below average to average hitter with elite power (think 70 grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale). A .250-.265 average is palatable when it comes with 30 home runs, above-average stolen base contributions, and strong walk skills that will help his on-base percentage. It's possible he could be an asset come the summer of 2012, but more likely his impact isn't truly felt until the following season.
It's not that Bell has been bad on the road but he certainly has benefited from pitching at Petco, and there's the added uncertainty of not really knowing how the new Miami stadium will play. Some have speculated that it could more favorable to pitchers than the old stadium, which played pretty average. Petco it's not, but it's also not a bandbox.
His K/9 rate fell all the way down to 7.32 - by far the lowest rate of his career. His overall K% went from 28.4% in 2009 to 30% in 2010 all the way down to 19.9% last season. That's pretty notable.
So what's going on here?
Bell is primarily a fastball/curveball pitcher (some of those fastballs are of the two seam/sinker variety, but that's not terribly important for the point at hand). His fastball is every bit as fast, it has similar movement as in the past, and in terms of pitch type values, it has been right around his career average of about 1.4 runs above average per 100 pitches for the past four seasons. But the curveball, which he throws about 30% of the time, became much more hittable in 2011 and was, in fact, well below average overall