Fantasy baseball drafts will be starting soon, if they haven't already, and we here at Fake Teams are approaching the end of our offseason position rankings series. We will be publishing our consensus outfield rankings, projections and profiles next week, followed by our consensus starting pitcher rankings the week of March 3rd.
Once the rankings series is completed, I will turn my attention to player and spring training news, and will offer my thoughts in the Roto Roundup pieces.
Here are my thoughts on some players in the news this week:
Ubaldo Jimenez signs with the Orioles
The Orioles needed a starting pitcher this offseason and waited and waited and waited until last week to sign former Rockies and Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez to a four year, $50 million deal. He moves from the pitcher-friendly Progressive Field to Camden Yards, which is less pitcher-friendly.
Jimenez had a terrific 2013 season, winning 13 games with a 3.30 ERA, 3.43 FIP and 3.62 xFIP. His ERA in the first half was 4.56, but that improved to 1.82 in the second half, as he improved his strikeout rate and, more importantly, he reduced his walk rate, walking just 27 in 84.0 second half innings, after walking 53 in 98.2 first half innings.
The question for fantasy owners is which Ubaldo will we get in Baltimore in 2014. Well, there are some who think his improvement came due to the work of Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway, as he helped him maintain his mechanics more frequently, and changed his pitch mix, and I have to agree. Callaway has done some great work with the Indians pitching staff over the last few years.
But, Jiminez will now be working with Buck Showalter and Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace in Baltimore, so it isn't like he is going to a pitching coach who is green. Reports indicate Wallace did some great work with Ramon Martinez when he was the pitching coach for the Dodgers, as Martinez had similar issues maintaining his mechanics on the mound.
As Fangraph's Eno Sarris wrote after the Orioles signed him, Ubaldo used his split-fingered fastball more than ever last season:
Somehow Jimenez arrested a three-year decline in swinging strike and strikeout rates last season, though. Hey look at that, he threw his split-finger more than ever.
Jimenez has had a split-finger for a long time. But he hasn't used it like he did in 2013 ever before. Over his career going into 2013, he'd thrown the pitch 3% of the time according to BrooksBaseball. Last year that number was 14%. Add a pitch with a 17% whiff rate, even if that whiff rate is basically league average, and you'll see more strikeouts.
Jimenez saw his strikeout rate rise to 9.56 K/9 from 7.28 last season, and with that, his groundball rate improved as well. Here is more from Eno on the Orioles infield defense last season:
There's some evidence that this will be a good fit for the Orioles. Recently, Jimenez' ground-ball rates have been mediocre, but his career number (47.6%) and increased reliance on off-speed stuff suggest that there's some bounce in those numbers. If he can garner grounders, the Orioles are ready. They had the fourth-best batting average on balls in play allowed and the second-best team Ultimate Zone Rating in the American league. They shifted their infield defense more than anyone last year with 470 shifts according to Jeff Zimmerman‘s piece in The Hardball Times Annual.
I am inclined to think that Ubaldo has a good chance at repeating his solid 2013 season pitching under the tutelage of Wallace and Showalter and with that great infield defense behind him.
Yasiel Puig reports to camp overweight
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig can't keep his name out of the news recently. First, he was arrested for driving over the speed limit a few months back, and now he has reported to spring training about 25 pounds over weight. Puig reported to camp weighing 251 pounds, after finishing last season at 225 pounds.
I am not ready to change my ranking of Puig based on this news, as some players, Josh Hamilton comes to mind, reported to camp weighing more than last season. Players tend to lose weight during the season, so some like to report with more weight on their frames so they don't tire as quickly down the stretch.
Puig is slated to bat leadoff for the Dodgers this season, so it is likely he will be running more this season, so he has a chance to increase his stolen base totals this season, assuming he can improve his success rate on the base paths.
Chase Headley dealing with injury
Chase Headley was seen on crutches on Saturday after straining his right calf injured during infield drills, and will miss the next two weeks of spring training. Headley is looking to improve upon his down 2013 season where he hit .250-.347-.400 with 13 home runs, 59 runs, 50 RBI and 8 stolen bases.
Here is more from Corey Brock from MLB.com:
Headley sustained the injury during a rundown drill as he was about to receive the ball. He was later on crutches in the clubhouse to protect the calf.
Headley received ice treatment on Saturday afternoon and will likely have an MRI sometime Monday once swelling in the calf has subsided. The team's medical staff will know more once they receive the results of the test.
Brock goes on to say that Headley had offseason surgery on his left knee and previously strained his left calf, but never the right. We will learn more about the severity of the injury on Monday.
Reds to run more this season
Reds new manager Bryan Price wants the team to run more this season, and we should see some of that in spring training as well. It kind of goes without saying that the Reds will run more this season, really. They have Billy Hamilton, and he could run more than anyone in baseball, assuming he can get on base enough. Even if he gets on base at a below league average on base percentage, Hamilton could steal 50-60 bases this season. He is that good.
A few other Reds who could run more this season are third baseman Todd Frazier and shortstop Zack Cozart. This from Jayson Stark's piece:
Although Frazier is no burner at 6-3, 220 pounds, he's a capable baserunner with above-average instincts. He stole 58 bases over six minor league seasons, and the Reds think he has the ability to steal 10-15 bags.
Cozart is a few years removed from stealing 30 bases in the minors, but I am unsure why he really hasn't run in the big leagues. Maybe it was Dusty Baker holding him back, maybe not. Here is what I wrote in my short profile of Cozart in our Shortstop Rankings a few weeks ago:
It is hard to believe that Cozart stole 30 bases in the minors back in 2010, but Dusty Baker as his manager limited him to just 4 stolen bases over the last two seasons. I am curious to see if new manager Bryan Price gives him the green light in 2014.
I also wrote him up in the NL-only sleeper article as well.