Friday, July 30, 2010

Oswalt's value rises in Philly

Roy Oswalt is now a Philadelphia Phillie as another big-name pitcher has been traded to a contender.

Oswalt's enjoyed a fine 2010 so far. To steal a few telling stats from ESPN's Jayson Stark:

He ranks among the league leaders in quality starts (15 - as many as Ubaldo Jimenez), WHIP (1.11 - better than Chris Carpenter), opponent OPS (.652 - better than Tim Lincecum) and strikeout/walk ratio (3.53 - better than all but a half-dozen pitchers in the league). ...

He's allowing a lower opponent batting average (.229), on-base percentage (.280) and OPS (.652) than he has in any season in his fabulous career. His strikeout ratio (8.4 per 9 IP) is his best since his rookie year.

Yeah, Oswalt's been pretty good. The only thing lacking, from a fantasy perspective: Wins. He's 6-12, which is mostly a function of playing for the lowly Astros. Granted, the Phillies have had their offensive problems this year, but Oswalt should get a big boost in run support this summer. Philly is eighth in the league in runs with 481 - or 117 more than 28th-ranked Houston.

Now, there have been whispers that the 32-year-old was perhaps feeling his age - or that he was just disinterested in pitching for Houston - in recent weeks. But I believe you'll see the same old Oswalt now that he's in the thick of a pennant race. And that's a good thing for his fantasy owners.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

T.O. to Bengals; should you care?

Remember this?

And this?

And this?

Of course you do. That's the reason there's so much attention on the Bengals signing a 36-year-old wide receiver who had 800 receiving yards and 5 TDs last year.

Those numbers aren't really popcorn-worthy, and Terrell Owens is no longer the dominating fantasy force he once was. But when you consider he managed the aforementioned stats last year with some of the stiffs Buffalo trotted out at QB throwing him the ball, plus the fact that he had 10 receptions of 25 yards or longer last year (and the Bengals as a team had just 12), there's reason to believe T.O. could find his niche in Cincinnati.

Will he be a fantasy No. 1 or 2 WR this year? No. Will he have a hard time getting consistent targets in a crowded Bengals receiving corps that includes Chad Ochocinco, Antonio Bryant, rookie Jordan Shipley and others? Probably. Will he ruin the team chemistry with a tantrum or other distraction? Quite possibly.

But will Owens benefit from having Carson Palmer at QB and produce enough big plays to be a borderline No. 3 fantasy receiver? I might be willing to make that gamble on draft day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dan Haren's escape from the desert

Another ace is on the move.

This time Dan Haren is leaving behind the hapless Diamondbacks for the Angels as they try to become relevant again in the AL West chase. How does the weekend deal affect Haren's fantasy fortunes?

Haren's been a huge disappointment thanks to a bloated ERA (4.60) and the whopping 23 homers he's allowed in 2010. But let's focus on the positives here: He's tied with Josh Johnson for first in the in NL in strikeouts (141), six behind Jered Weaver for the league lead. He's walked only 29 batters all year. He'll also have the benefit of a better bullpen in Anaheim than the mess in the desert. And it's not like Haren doesn't have experience in the harder-hitting American League; he went 43-34 with a 3.64 from 2005-07 with the A's.

I expect Haren's performance to improve now that he's pitching in more-forgiving Angels Stadium and for a contending team. If you're an owner - or a potential owner - the trade is welcome news.

Photo by The Associated Press

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Keeper debate: Adam Jones vs. Billy Butler

My old pal Sean-Dogg recently hit me up for some fantasy advice, as he's been known to do over the years. He's in a pretty serious keeper league and he's faced with a big conundrum: He's got to give up Alex Rodriguez at the end of the year, so he's trying to entertain trade offers while his team is basically out of contention this season.

His decision right now essential comes down to choosing between Orioles OF Adam Jones and some spare parts, or a package that includes Royals 1B Billy Butler. Neither of those guys is going to replace the overall production of an A-Rod anytime soon, but they're both quality keeper prospects who are relatively young (Jones turns 25 in a few weeks; Butler just turned 24 in April) and have room to grow. So who's a better keeper pick?

To start, we should note that the skill sets are quite different. Butler's not known for being fleet of foot (1 career SB in 4 seasons); Jones has swiped 10 bags in each of the past two years (though he has just 3 so far in 2010). Butler's a career .297 hitter with an average currently hovering at .318; Jones seems to have topped out at around .270. Butler's been a much more patient hitter, as evidenced by his 41/37 K/BB ratio this year; Jones has only walked 10 times in 2010 compared to 79 strikeouts. Both have shown 20-homer power (Butler had 21 last year, Jones 19).

This is a pretty tough call. As I told the Dogg, I want to give Butler the edge because he's younger than Jones and yet he's already proven more at the major league level. The ability to hit .300 for a season is a impressive skill, and last year's .301/21/93 stat line speaks volumes about Butler's talents. However, while the average is for real, I wonder if he can improve on those power numbers and jump up to the class of the 30- and 40-homer first basemen that dominate a deep position.

Jones' potential as a five-category contributor are intriguing, but they're still just that, potential. Until I see better results and an improved approach at the plate and more aggression on the basepaths, I have to declare Butler the better keeper prospect by a hair.

Hope that helps, buddy.

Photos by The Associated Press

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Podcast: Fantasy All-Stars

Podcast partner Jason Dill and I took a closer look at the first-half fantasy all-stars in our Fantasy Focus podcast. Crank it up and let the debate begin.

Second-half reinforcements

Looking for an arm or two to bolster your pitching staff for the second half? Here are a few friendly suggestions:

Brett Anderson has been phenomenal this year - whenever he's available to pitch, that is. The Oakland ace has compiled just 30.2 innings this year because of lingering elbow tendinitis, but oh, what a memorable 30.2 innings they were (22 strikeouts, 4 walks). Anderson's currently on a rehab assignment, and while he's still rounding back into form (4 innings, 7 hits in a Rookie League start Thursday), you may be able to scoop him up off waivers if he's been forgotten in your league. Lots of upside here if that elbow's healed.

Edinson Volquez is another overlooked, injured hurler who demands your attention. The former Tommy John patient hasn't pitched in the majors for a year and a half, but his minor-league rehab has gone well this year (4-0, 1.45 ERA in six starts), and he's due to make his return Saturday vs. Colorado. Be prepared for some bumps - witness Francisco Liriano's rocky 2009 comeback from Tommy John surgery, among other horror stories - but Volquez's strikeout and win potential with the Reds can't be overlooked.

Perhaps you're looking for a breakout rookie pitcher? Try San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner, a 2007 first-rounder and owner of a career 34-6 record, 2.00 ERA and 4.09 K/BB ratio in his minor league career. Since his call-up at the end of June, the lefty is sporting a 2.57 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 21 strikeouts against five walks. Still plenty of room on the bandwagon.

If relievers are more your speed, why not take a shot at Boston setup man Daniel Bard? The flamethrower has been one of the league's top setup men (1.90 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, league-leading 19 holds), which along with his strikeouts (45) make him valuable enough as it is. Add in the fact that he's the Red Sox closer of the future and has already vultured a few saves off the volatile Jonathan Papelbon and Bard gets even more intriguing.

Photo by The Associated Press

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

First-half Fantasy All-Stars

Since we've got a few days without a meaningful baseball game (unless you buy that "this time it counts!" nonsense from the MLB All-Star Game), it's a great time to take a step back and evaluate the first half of the fantasy season.

As always, there's no fan voting, no managerial or player choices, no stuffing the ballots and no popularity contests here. Just the cold, hard stats to tell us who are the 2010 Fantasy All-Stars so far.


Joe Mauer
and Brian McCann are bigger names, but it's journeyman Miguel Olivo who leads all catchers in RBIs and is in the top three in runs, homers, steals and average. Sure, a lot of that is due to the Coors Field factor - Olivo's hitting .400 at home, .215 on the road - but he's still been the best backstop this year.


What a turnaround for Miguel Cabrera. He entered the season as a big question mark because of last year's drinking incident and now stands as a legit Triple Crown contender thanks to a .346 average, 22 homers and 77 RBIs, all of which lead the majors.


For all the discussion about Hanley Ramirez loafing it in the outfield, he hasn't been a slouch at the plate, where he's in the top five in each of the big five categories among shortstops.


Robinson Cano might not steal bases (2), but he does everything else exceptionally well - .336 average, 16 HR, 58 RBIs, 61 R. Sure, it helps that fantasy stalwarts Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia are hurt, but Robbie was already outpacing them before their injuries.


Remember when everybody was upset about David Wright's power outage (10 HRs) last year? He's got 14 so far this year, along with the most RBIs (65) in the NL. He's also got the most steals (14) among third-sackers and is hitting .314.


The underappreciated Carl Crawford is putting together a career year with .321 average, 31 steals, 70 runs scored (tops in the big leagues). Good timing for the soon-to-be free agent.

Josh Hamilton has put a down 2009 in his rearview mirror. The fully healthy Texas slugger has 22 homers, 64 RBIs, 59 runs scored and is hitting a robust .346 with 1.015 OPS.

Corey Hart is a surprising third choice in the outfield, but the guy does have 21 homers and 65 RBIs after all. Not bad for somebody who started the year as a platoon player for the Brewers.


Rangers DH Vladimir Guerrero has enjoyed quite a resurgence in the Lone Star State - 20 HRs, 75 RBIs, .319 average, which place him among the league leaders. So much for being washed up ...


Anybody predict Ubaldo Jimenez to be the league's best pitcher in 2010? Not only does the Rockies ace have a league-high 15 wins, but his miniscule 2.20 ERA and 1.05 WHIP have been helping fantasy squads all year, and his 113 Ks, while fewer than some other aces, are certainly enough to help you stay competitive.

There's no clear-cut answer at closer. Carlos Marmol leads in strikeouts (78). Joakim Soria leads in saves (25). Jose Valverde is tops in ERA (0.92). Mariano Rivera has the best WHIP (0.62). But I'm going with a guy who's competitive in all those categories, Heath Bell of the Padres (24 saves, 1.88 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 50 Ks, 4 wins) by a hair over Billy Wagner, Rafael Soriano, Neftali Feliz and a few other worthy candidates.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cliff Lee trade impact

Cliff Lee's a Ranger.

Not a Yankee. Not a Mariner. Not a Phillie or Indian, either.

In yet another midseason deal, Lee has again changed teams with the hopes of changing the MLB playoff picture.

Texas acquired Lee from Seattle last week for a package of prospects. What's it mean for fantasy players? Not a whole lot, to be honest. Lee's Cy Young-caliber numbers (8-4, 2.64 ERA, 0.95 WHIP) shouldn't take much of a dip.

Granted, he's moving from an extreme pitcher's park to one of the most hitting-friendly stadiums in the league in Rangers Ballpark, and he doesn't have particularly good career numbers in Arlington (7.33 ERA, 1.45 WHIP in 8 starts). But Lee's been arguably the most dominant pitcher this season - he's got 91 strikeouts and just six walks this year, for gosh sakes - and I expect that to continue. So what if his Texas debut didn't go as planned last Saturday (9 hits, 6 earned runs, 2 strikeouts)? Lee still pitched a complete game, his eighth of the season. He'll have a just as good a defense behind him in Texas as he enjoyed in Seattle, plus the added benefit of a much better bullpen, anchored by All-Star closer Neftali Feliz, whenever he's not able to go nine innings. He'll also have much better run support as he leaves behind the hitting-challenged M's.

Lee's ratios may inch up a bit along with the summer temperatures in Texas, but I still expect him to contend for the AL Cy Young and pile up the W's when all is said and done.

As for the other players involved in the deal, the most fantasy relevant is 1B Justin Smoak, who's still a good long-term prospect but probably won't be able to improve on his .206 average much in Seattle this year and probably belongs on your bench for the forseeable future.

And back in Texas, the trade opens up a spot at first for Chris Davis, who hit 17 homers in 295 at-bats as a rookie in 2008 but had been since sent back-and-forth to the minors while struggling at the plate. Davis had been tearing up Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .327 average, .418 on-base percentage and .521 slugging and might be able to provide some power with regular playing time in the big leagues. He's worth a look in deep leagues.

Photo by The Associated Press

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Home run outliers

I was thinking the other day about home run outliers.

Everybody remembers when Brady Anderson hit 50 homers for the Orioles in 1996, one of the all-time statistical anomalies. Anderson never hit more than half that number in any other season - his next highest HR total was 24 in 1999. Of course, we can probably wager a guess as to how Anderson was able to put up such a head-scratching total during what we now know was a steroid-fueled era, even though the notorious workout fiend never actually been implicated in performance enhancing.

There were plenty of other guys with out-of-whack home run numbers from that time: Luis Gonzalez's 57 HRs in 2001 (next highest total: 28); Adrian Beltre's 48 dingers in 2004 (hasn't hit more than 26 before or since); and of course Barry Bonds' record 73 in 2001 (granted, Bonds was a big-time, likely chemically-enhanced slugger, but that number was off the charts, and he never had a 50-homer season otherwise).

That leads us to probably the most famous home run outlier of all time: Roger Maris' 61 round-trippers in 1961. Though we're fairly certain his then-record number of homers had nothing to do with performance enhancing, Maris posted only two other 30-homer seasons in his career - 39 the year before, and 33 the year after.

That leads us to a few other home run outliers we're seeing in 2010, though none seem to be as egregiously odd or record-setting as those already mentioned. Still, here are guys who've stuck out like sore thumbs on the HR leaderboard so far, and what we can expect from them the rest of the way:

Let's start with Toronto's Jose Bautista, your major league home run leader so far (22). That's pretty shocking since the journeyman's been around the block for a while and is already well beyond his career HR total (The past four seasons: 13, 15, 15 and 16). A lot of the credit has to go to new Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, whose emphasis on driving the ball rather than simply getting on base plays to Bautista's strengths (He is, after all, a career .238 hitter batting exactly .238 as of this posting). Still, 18 percent of Bautista's fly balls are going for home runs this year, and his career average in that department is around 10 percent, which means there's likely to be a significant drop-off sometime soon in the homer department. Bautista is a good sell-high candidate because if the power's not there he doesn't do a lot else for fantasy purposes.

Sticking with the homer-happy Blue Jays, who lead the majors in long balls, we'll next look at shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who's gone deep 16 times this year. Gonzalez, though he does have a 23-homer season on his resume, has been known more for his glove than his bat in his 12-year big-league career. In fact, Gonzalez hit just eight homers last year, yet is on pace to crack 30 this season. Sounds like a possible outlier to me and another potential sell-high candidate, although I'd be more apt to hang on to Gonzalez due to the lack of power potential at the SS position.

Finally, we'll examine Corey Hart, whose 19 home runs have been a pleasant surprise for the Brewers after he hit just 12 last season and started 2010 sharing playing time with Jim Edmonds (yes, he still plays baseball). Hart does have a few 20-homer campaigns to his credit, showed power potential in his minor league career and plays in hitter-friendly Miller Park in a hitting-happy Brewers lineup. Trade rumors and the possibility of a Home Run Derby jinx are concerns going forward, but even if Hart's homer rate does slow down, he's still a proven run producer who can hit for a nice average, which add to his fantasy value.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pirates' Meek shall inherit

Evan Meek has been one of baseball's best kept secrets in 2010.

It probably has to do with the fact he's a middle reliever on the Pittsburgh Pirates, a franchise that hasn't been relevant in a pennant race since 1997, when a gallon of gas cost $1.22 and "Titanic" first hit movie screens.

But Meek's done enough to grab the attention of NL All-Star team manager Charlie Manuel, who named the right-hander to this year's squad.

He's been phenomenal in his set-up role for the Pirates - his 0.98 ERA is the lowest among NL relievers, and he's allowed only 5 earned runs in 46 innings and a 42/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Meek may have been a surprising All-Star pick over teammate Andrew McCutchen, and he doesn't get the fantasy love of Pirates closer Octavio Dotel (19-for-22 in save chances), but the former Rule V draft pick from the Tampa Bay Rays deserves to represent his team in Anaheim next week.

I've always been a fan of using dominant middle relievers to bolster your ERA and WHIP when you can afford the roster space in mixed leagues, and hopefully vulturing some wins or saves in the process. And given the Pirates' dismal record and penchant for shedding veterans at the trade deadline, it could only be a matter of time before Dotel gets shipped off to a contender and Meek is closing out games for Pittsburgh. Grab him now if the rest of your league hasn't caught on.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Utley/Pedroia backup plans

Two of fantasy's best second basemen went down with serious injuries in the past week: Chase Utley (thumb - 8 weeks) and Dustin Pedroia (foot - 6 weeks), major blows to a lot of fantasy squads.

While 2B-eligible breakout performers such as Ty Wigginton and Casey McGehee have long been claimed in most leagues, there are still some other under-the-radar choices that may be able to help:

Rockies 2B/SS Clint Barmes batted .313 in June to raise his season average to a more respectable .250 range after a brutal start to 2010. Don't forget this is a guy who had 23 homers and 12 steals last year.

Pirates rookie Neil Walker is just getting over a concussion, but before that he was hitting .295 with three homers, 12 RBIs and 2 steals in 28 games with Pittsburgh. And before that, he was hitting .321 with 6 homers, 26 RBIs and 10 steals in 43 games at Triple-A. Walker, the Pirates' first-round pick in 2004, will at least get regular playing time with disappointing Aki Iwamura out of the picture and has a chance to prove he's a big leaguer.

One of your leaguemates might have given up on White Sox 2B Gordon Beckham as he was mired in a hideous sophomore slump. But Becks was one of 2009's hottest rookie hitters and has finally begun to show some life (.333, four RBIs, five runs in his past six games) as the calendar flips to July. He's feeling more confident, and when you consider he played just 59 career games in the minors, you realize there's still hope for him to turn it around.

Royals 2B/SS Mike Aviles will never replicate the power of an Utley or Pedroia, but he can definitely help boost your average in their stead. He's batting .322 for the Royals this year.