Wednesday, April 29, 2009

LaTroy Hawkins? Why not?

I'm filing this blog post under "things I never thought I'd say":

Pick up LaTroy Hawkins.

If you're familiar with Hawkins' work under pressure situations (or were a Cubs fan in 2004), you know what I'm talking about. The reliever - while often excelling in middle relief - has earned a reputation as king of the blown save. By all accounts he's a great guy, but let's just say that time and again he's proven the ninth inning just isn't for him.

So why am I advising you to pick him up? Well, the Houston Astros have placed closer Jose Valverde on the 15-day DL, and apparently Hawkins is their best option to close out games in the interim. That alone makes Hawkins valuable, at least for the short term, particularly in NL-only leagues or wherever saves are at a premium. Hawkins might totally blow up in the role, but if you're simply scraping for saves or are a Valverde owner, it's a logical move. It's kind of like goal-line carries in fantasy football: Whoever's getting save opportunities has value, even if they might stink.

As for Valverde, his strained calf doesn't appear to be a long-term problem at this point, and though he hasn't exactly pitched well so far (0-1, 5.63 ERA, two saves), I'm not ready to punt on a guy coming off back-to-back 40-save seasons. The closer's job is his as soon as he's healthy again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Talkin' trades

I get asked what I think about fantasy trades all the time. I always have to start my answer with the same preface: "Well, without knowing your whole roster or your team needs, here's what I think ...."

That being said, my pal Sean asked me today what I thought of this deal: Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki for Hanley Ramirez. My response was this: If you can spare the steals, do it in a heartbeat.

Turns out he'd be the guy giving up Braun and Tulo, so it was a no-go. But if I was the guy dealing Hanley, I'd be all over it. Sure, he's a beast at shortstop, and you'd be parting with a huge pile of stolen bases in the deal. But even if Ramirez hit 40 homers this year, you're looking at a minimum of 60 from the other two guys. Tulowitzki's probably a bit undervalued, but with him recovering nicely from last year's injury-plagued season, I can foresee him returning to his 2007 form - which would make him a top-5 fantasy shortstop, just a peg below the elite guys like Ramirez and Jose Reyes. Then add in the hefty average and minimum of 30 homers you're bound to get from Braun, and the deal's a winner.

Anyway, I pulled off a deal of my own the other day: I shipped Bobby Abreu for Scott Kazmir. I had a serious lack of pitching with Brandon Webb on the DL and Francisco Liriano and Max Scherzer not meeting my expectations. I was in a pretty good place with stolen bases and have a decent crop of outfielders (Alex Rios, Jason Bay, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron), so I decided to part with Abreu. With eight steals already I figure he's probably already coming up on a third of his season total (30-25-22 the past three years); he's hitting .375 and hasn't topped .300 in a season since 2004; and he hasn't hit a homer yet, which is a little disconcerting. I belive Abreu will have a fine season, just not THAT fine a season at age 35.

I've always been a Kazmir fan, and while he does have his flaws (way too many pitches per start), he's another guy who's a bit undervalued because of some slight injury problems last year. If Kaz can stay healthy for 35 starts, the potential's there for a sub-4.00 ERA, 200 Ks and 15 W's. And that's exactly what my team could use.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

OK seriously ... what's up with Webb?

I've already blogged about Brandon Webb's mysterious shoulder ailment and its fantasy implications. Even though Webb was placed on the DL after one unimpressive start to open 2009, it seemed like the Diamondbacks sinkerballer was making progress in some rehab work.

Now, a setback.

I get concerned when a manager calls an injury "confusing," as Bob Melvin did, or when he doesn't know what the next move will be. And while I appreciate the D'backs' patience in not rushing their ace back too quickly, I'm now extremely concerned about his status for this season.

If Webb is wasting away in your DL slot as you watch contemporaries Tim Lincecum (12 strikeouts Friday) and Johan Santana (10 Ks) light it up, it might be time to consider a major trade for an ace-level pitcher. Two underachieving guys to target: Cole Hamels (0-2, 9.69 ERA, various bumps and bruises) and CC Sabathia (1-1, 4.81), whose values will only rise from this point.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The new Yankee Stadium and fantasy stats

Everyone's making a big fuss about all the home runs that have been flying out of the "new" Yankee Stadium over the past weekend. Obviously when a new park witnesses 25 home runs in its first five games (including exhibition), that gets the attention of fantasy owners. Ditto for the 14-run inning the Indians posted in their 22-4 mashing of the Yankees last week.

So what's the deal? Is it the way the park is situated or the shape of the seating areas, creating some weird wind effects? Some media geniuses are already calling the stadium "Coors Field East." Hah, good one. So does that mean we should start changing how we approach our fantasy lineups whenever we've got guys playing in the Bronx, the way we used to with Denver (in the pre-humidor days)?

I'm not sold.

First of all, the sample size is way too small. Obviously the 22-4 game is going to skew the numbers a bit (eight homers in that one). There have also been two games so far at the stadium in which only one homer was hit.

There's another reason for all the longballs, too: Bad pitching. Two of the Indians' homers were surrendered by someone named Anthony Claggett, making his first major league appearance. Two apiece were allowed by Edwar Ramirez and Damaso Marte (2009 ERAs: 8.44 and 21.00). One came off Chien-Ming Wang, and you know how great he's been this year. Two of the Yanks' were served up by Fausto Carmona (groundball to flyball ratio this year: 0.78).

In other words, pitching probably has played the biggest role in all the dingers. Plus, it's only April, so who knows how the winds will change, along with the temperatures and humidity, over the course of the next five months in New York? Even a full season's worth of data might not be enough to really give us a sense of whether Yankee Stadium is homer-friendly. Consider this, as baseball researcher and author David Vincent points out in an article in the Daily News: Washington's Nationals Park averaged 1.85 home runs last year in its inaugural season, and so far this year is averaging 3.5 round-trippers a game. Is it global warming? El Nino? Or perhaps the Nats' awful pitching (team ERA: 5.40)? Or some combination of these, plus a small sample size?

Anyway, I'm not going to rush to pick up Cody Ransom all the sudden and start him in every home game until we get some more information. For now, treat your lineups the way you normally would, and don't overreact. The "old" Yankee Stadium was 14th in the majors in home runs allowed per game last year, pretty much average. Let's see how it stacks up after a full season's worth of games this year before we start to make any big adjustments, OK?

Of course, as I was writing this, three homers were hit at the stadium in the course of an inning and a half, by Kurt Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera. So what do I know?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Welcome back, Aaron Harang

I had huge hopes for Aaron Harang last year. The Cincinnati Reds ace was coming off back-to-back seasons of 16 wins, a sub-4.00 ERA and more than 200 strikeouts, and 2008 was going to be the year he made the leap to elite status.

And then he went out and sucked.

Six wins, 17 losses. A 4.78 ERA. Thirty-five home runs allowed (second most in the league). Only 153 strikeouts.

Not what we were hoping for, big guy.

The Harangatang is back in a big way in 2009, however. He won his first game Sunday against Pittsburgh, a complete-game three-hitter with nine strikeouts and just one walk. He was great on Opening Day, too, when he lost a duel with Johan Santana, allowing just one run on a solo homer.

So what's been the difference? After spending almost a month on the DL last year with forearm trouble in the midst of his career low point, Harang dedicated himself to getting healthy. He shed 33 pounds in the offseason, slimming down to around 250 pounds. If he can keep the ball in the park this year and continues to fan batters, he should get back to where he left off in 2007.

My prediction: Harang finishes the year as a top 10-12 fantasy starter.

Photo by The Associated Press.

Week 1: What we learned

Chris Carpenter can still pitch. The 2005 Cy Young award winner, nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery, took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning of his 2009 debut. Remarkably, that was his first victory since Game 3 of the 2006 World Series. I’m expecting many more from the rebuilt veteran.

Nick Swisher can still hit. Even in a crummy year at the plate in 2008, Swish jacked 24 homers, and two years before that he hit 35. He was supposed to be role player this season with the New York Yankees, but if he continues to tear it up (5-for-10, six RBIs), or if the creaky Yanks suffer any significant injuries, Swisher’s playing time will increase, and so will his value. Ride with him for now.

The Chicago Cubs have a closer controversy. Sure, they SAY Kevin Gregg’s still the man, even though Carlos Marmol picked up his first save a day after Gregg blew his first. The spring training competition between those two may never have ended, which means a lot of fantasy frustration until this situation shakes out. My money’s on Marmol, but Gregg has a leg up for now.

Photo by The Associated Press

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Worried about Webb?

If you own Brandon Webb, there's a decent chance he's your No. 1 starter.

He didn't pitch like it on Opening Day.

Webb gave up six runs on six hits in only four innings Monday before leaving with shoulder stiffness in the Diamondbacks' 9-8 win over the Rockies. Now he's going to skip his next start, although no medical tests are planned yet. It sounds like manager Bob Melvin is just being cautious:

"For a guy like him, this isn't something you can mess around with. I'd hate for him this early in the season to go out there and pitch with some soreness already, or some stiffness."

Webb has made at least 33 starts the past five seasons and has been a model of consistency, so it's not like there were any warning signs. Right now I'd just keep my fingers crossed and hope this is just a false alarm.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Joba's fantasy outlook

SARASOTA, Fla. - Joba Chamberlain has been a popular fantasy pick this year, going somewhere around the 10th-12th rounds in many leagues. That's a little surprising for a No. 5 starter, except when you consider hey, he's a Yankee and a bit of a sensation - from his college phenom days to his compelling relationship with his polio-stricken father to the "Joba Rules" to his off-field, um, activities. So what's his deal for fantasy?

I had a front-row seat Tuesday at Ed Smith Stadium as Chamberlain made his final start of the spring against the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched into the sixth inning, allowing five hits and two runs and reportedly reaching up to 96 mph with his fastball (they don't display the radar gun readings at Ed Smith). He walked three and struck out six.

It's been a pretty successful spring for Joba - 3.60 ERA, eight runs and 20 hits allowed in 20 innings - and the Yankees are adamant about keeping him in the fifth-starter role throughout the year despite his past success as a reliever. There are some legit concerns, however. He's got just two pro seasons on his resume and hasn't pitched more than about 100 innings in either of them. That leads me to believe Chamberlain's going to hit a wall at some point in the second half of the season. The real question is whether the Yanks will be tempted to shift Joba back to the bullpen as Mariano Rivera's setup man - especially if the team is out of the playoff picture or the Damaso Marte/Brian Bruney bridge to Rivera collapses.

The bottom line is Joba's going to have value, but you might want to use him as trade bait in the second half. I'm penciling him in for about 12 wins and more than a strikeout an inning (as his career trends would indicate), assuming he remains in the rotation all season. But I do think New York will have to limit his workload at some point, either by removing him early from games or skipping some turns in the rotation.

Ultimately I believe Joba will be Rivera's heir as closer, but that's another story. If you can get him as a No. 3 or 4 fantasy starter this year, don't hesitate.