Saturday, February 27, 2010

The "All Antacid" Teams

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Branyan / LaPorta / Brantley

Contrary to previous expectations, Russell Branyan is apparently going to be Cleveland's regular first baseman.  This not only significantly affects his forecast but also impacts both Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, both of whom are now in a competition for the job in left field.

First, where Branyan is concerned, I'm leaning towards a fairly big upgrade in the next edition of the forecasts, likely boosting him to around 130 games and 475 at bats.  If he gets that much playing time, we'll be looking at a forecast for 25-30 home runs and around 80 RBI.  He may not be as good as he looked last year with Seattle but he's definitely got unquestioned power.  A career .210 hitter against lefties, that's one reason why we can't take him to 500+ at bat territory as he's just not going to play every day no matter how dedicated the Indians are to giving him playing time.

As for LaPorta and Brantley, both forecasts are going to take a hit in the next edition and we'll be watching this situation throughout spring training.  I will now be very surprised if both players make the opening day roster, barring a spring injury to one of Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo or Travis Hafner.  If LaPorta wins the spring battle with Brantley, he's capable of hitting in the high .260s with 20-25 home runs and 85+ RBI over a full season.  If Brantley emerges as the winner, we don't expect him to match last year's strong big league debut average (after all, he hit only .267 at Triple-A last year in more than 450 at bats) but he could hold his own with an average around .260 and 30+ stolen bases if he ends up as a regular.  He doesn't project to hit for power at this stage.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The "All Safe" Teams

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Branyan, J. Molina

Russell Branyan will apparently join the Indians with a remote shot at regular playing time at first base.  More likely, he ends up picking up 300-350 at bats without ever having a well-defined job.  In such a situation, playing with Cleveland, I'll be forecasting him to hit around .250-.255 with close to 20 home runs and 50-60 RBI.  Though he's obviously never going to become a batting title contender, he has improved enough in the past few years to show that he's capable of hitting .250 instead of .230 and of course, his power has always been unquestioned.  At thirty-four now, last year's 31 home runs in only 116 games may still have been a slight overachievement.  Also, Progressive Field in Cleveland is a much tougher home park for left-handed power hitters than he faced even in Seattle last year.

Jose Molina signed with Toronto this week and almost exactly fit into the gap we had left at Toronto's catcher position.  We don't expect him to end up as a full-time player nor did/do we expect John Buck to take over there either.  Look for an ongoing rotation through players such as Buck and Molina with other non-starter possibilities such as Raul Chavez (who now becomes an increased longshot to even make the team) all just buying time for J.P. Arencibia to prove that his 2009 batting average struggles were a fluke.  The most interesting aspect of Molina's contract is that the Blue Jays added an option year for 2011.  We suspect this is new GM Alex Anthopolous trying to ensure that he doesn't have to go through the same exercise next off-season and thus can give Arencibia whatever time is needed with an eye on being Toronto's starting catcher by the start of 2012.  If he proves he's ready by the end of this year, then that will be a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Barajas, More Damon

It's looking increasingly likely that Rod Barajas will land with the Mets on a surprisingly light contract, possibly even a minor league deal.  Barajas didn't hit particularly well last year with Toronto, batting only .226, but he does have some power (19 home runs last year that went with a somewhat flukey 71 RBI) and could help the Mets get through this year.

If he ends up here, neither his nor anyone else's forecast on the team will change too much, though Josh Thole's forecasted 201 at bats would mostly disappear as Thole would then likely head back to the minors.  For Barajas, we'd probably forecast an average closer to .250 than last year's .226 average with around 10 home runs and 40 RBI over around 300 at bats.  When we published the previous forecasts, we already considered that the Mets might go out and sign someone else for catching depth so massive downgrades to other catchers will not be needed.

By the way, I've already mentioned Johnny Damon a couple of times recently but it seems everytime he is reported to have a fairly likely destination, the target moves.  Yesterday, all sources seem to report that now the White Sox are in the lead for his services.

If he lands with the White Sox, a couple of things will happen to his forecast.  First, I'd likely take the games projection up to around 125-130 games.  I just can't go any higher than that no matter where he signs, not because I don't believe he'd find opportunities to play as much as he's a huge injury risk at thirty-six, especially without having cleared the 145 game mark since 2006.

With the White Sox, he would become the full-time DH (there's no playing time for him in the outfield unless someone gets hurt) and in this environment, including consideration of the upgrade in playing time he'd be getting, I'd be forecasting around 500 at bats, an average in the low to mid .270s, around 15 home runs, 80 runs scored, 65 RBI and 10-15 steals.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Florida Rotation

I was surprised by comments made by Larry Beinfest in the Sun Sentinel in which he stated that only Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco have secure jobs in the starting rotation as spring training gets underway.

While it doesn't really have me re-thinking my Anibal Sanchez forecast (I still fully expect Sanchez to get 25-30 starts here if he's healthy at the start of the season), it does have us reconsidering forecasts for Rick VandenHurk and Sean West, both of whom were also projected to clear the 25 start mark in our previously published set.

VandenHurk was ordinary but effective in 11 starts for the Marlins last year and Sean West was a member of the rotation for most of the year and pitched tolerably for a pitcher who had skipped Double-A and was making his big league debut season.

Of these two, I now read VandenHurk's job security as being significantly lower than previously expected and in West's case, I wasn't forecasting him to be as effective as any of the other starters here so a downgrade wouldn't change his value much.  We are currently reconsidering both forecasts as we head into our next scheduled projection set.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ten Free Agents Who Need to Sign Soon

One of the situations that's challenging to any forecaster is projecting a player's performance when you don't even know where or even if he'll play in the season in question.  So much of the outcome is determined by the role a player will have and the home park in which he'll play approximately half of his games.

In particular, the first of those two, knowledge of a player's role, is a critical element for any forecast.  These next statements are relatively obvious but let's review: A pitcher who is in the starting rotation is usually going to get many more innings than when he is expected to pitch in relief.  A player signed to close games is usually going to end up with more saves than when he is signed for some other purpose.  A player signed to be a regular in the lineup is, on average, going to get more at bats than if he is signed by a team looking for a bench player.  A veteran player signed to a big league contract is a safer bet to get playing time than when he is signed to a minor league contract.  And so on...

I restate those well-known facts here because as it stands with spring training fast approaching, there happen to be ten free agents left in our currently-published projection set who had previously been given pretty significant forecasts, in terms of playing time, who need to find a team soon if they're to sustain the sort of projections we offered.  In other words, if exhibition games get underway and these players are not signed, the forecasts we had previously published for these ten are in jeopardy.

By the way, we're not talking about the Carlos Delgados of the world.  Delgado, for example, isn't projected to end up as anyone's regular first baseman (or DH) in our previous forecasts and so his forecast isn't really the kind we would give to a player signed for that purpose.  Of course, if he happens to find a team who needs him to play regularly, and if he's proven healthy, then his forecast could go up.

Today, we're focusing on ten players whose previously forecasted playing time is very much in jeopardy if they don't land a team and a clear role soon.  I'm sure I could have found others in our set (there were still 59 prominent free agents for whom we had published a forecast in the previous set) but the forecasts for these ten really jump out:

Garrett Anderson, of: He's coming off a year that saw his average drop to the lowest level of his career (.268), he's going to turn thirty-eight this year and his skills defensively have declined enough that his best shot at playing time would seem to be as a DH or maybe a move to first base.  He's still good enough to help someone but his particular blend of skills must limit his options.

Hank Blalock, 1b/dh: The moment Vladimir Guerrero signed with the Rangers, Blalock's future as a Texas Ranger seemed to come to a more definite conclusion.  National League teams would likely be justifiably concerned about his durability as a first baseman and in the AL, there aren't many teams left who need at help at DH.

Johnny Damon, of: We mentioned Damon earlier this week and his is a forecast that could actually go up compared to where it is now, this if he finds a team that is willing to give him fairly regular playing time.  We'd be surprised if he doesn't choose his 2010 destination, which could still be heading home and retiring, within the next two weeks.

Jermaine Dye, of: Coming off a season that saw him hit .250 with 27 home runs, 78 runs scored and 81 RBI, you have to believe he will find a new home soon.  Throughout the off-season, we've heard rumblings related to the Cubs, Texas and Boston at different points but nothing concrete ever materialized and all of these teams have lined up other options by now.

Livan Hernandez, p: He always seems to eventually find a team.  He then ends up spending an entire season in the starting rotation without ever having the ability to settle in one place for too long nor without producing much results-wise.  Now about to turn thirty-five and with a career ERA of 4.45, he has started at least 31 games every year since 1997, this as he's played for six different teams in the past four years (seven if we count separate stints in Washington in 2006 and 2009).

Braden Looper, p:  The market level for him was semi-established the moment the Brewers decided not to pick up an option year for 2010 worth $6.5 million.  Since that November announcement, his name hasn't come up much in any rumors of real substance and we had previously expected he would end up as a regular starter.  He gave up a league-leading 113 earned runs and 39 home runs last year and his 5.22 ERA was the worst of his career other than his 4 game major league debut back in 1998.

Felipe Lopez, 2b: Like Dye, there really hasn't been much reported interest for Lopez and I'm not sure why.  He's thirty years old, is coming off a season that saw him hit .310 in more than 600 at bats and .283 the year before and he took 71 walks last year as well (a .383 OBP).  Even if he played the outfield rather than second base, he'd still be of value to someone as a hitter so why he remains unsigned is a mystery.

Mike MacDougal, p: We haven't currently projected MacDougal to end up as a full closer but we had given him a handful of saves and a lot of games and both get less likely the closer we get to the start of the season without him having a new home.  He had an acceptable year last year (20 saves, 4.31 ERA) but he still walked more than he struck out.

Pedro Martinez, p: It's still possible that he does as he did last year and sits out the first portion of the season but his starts with Philadelphia last year demonstrated, to at least a small degree, that he's still good enough to be a regular member of a big league rotation.  He's not the Pedro of ten years ago but he doesn't need to be either.

Jarrod Washburn, p: While he was awful in the portion of last season that he spent with Detroit, his recent career implies that he should be good enough to help someone.  He's started at least 26 games every year since 2000 so I fully expect he'll find a new team soon, likely as a regular member of someone's rotation.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

K. Farnsworth, Damon

The Kansas City Royals' official website published an article today that suggested that Kyle Farnsworth could get a chance to join the starting rotation.  While this is far from a done deal, more of an idea that's been floated really, this is an intriguing proposal.  If it plays out that way in spring training, I would expect to give Farnsworth a rather favorable forecast as a starter in the performance categories like ERA and WHIP.

In our previously published forecast, we had viewed him exclusively as a reliever, pitching just over 35 games with an ERA in the high 3's and close to a strikeout per inning.  The low games projection is more of a reflection of his age (he turns thirty-four in April) than anything else mixed with consideration that he's coming off an injury shortened season in which he pitched only 37.1 innings.  If somehow he were confirmed as a fairly solid member of the rotation heading into Opening Day, something that still seems to be a longshot at this point, we probably wouldn't go higher than about 25-26 starts projected for a pitcher who hasn't been a regular member of a starting rotation since his debut season with the Cubs way back in 1999.

From an effectiveness standpoint, however, he is probably good enough to be an above average starter.  Naturally, his strikeout rate would fall working out of the rotation but if he could clear an average of 5 innings a start, I'd expect something around a rate of three quarters of a strikeout per inning and only the occasional home run given up.  I'll be watching this development with great interest because he could join the ranks of the sleepers if he can get even 120-130 innings this season.  More than anything, it's the durability that has me doubting it rather than the skill.

By the way, Johnny Damon continues to get attention as one of the more well-known free agents who remains unsigned as spring training fast approaches.  His agent is Scott Boras and I'm not sure if either Boras or Damon himself overestimated his potential value on the market.  It's possible that the bar was set too high for too long, even as an initial talking point, and in so doing accidentally excluded the Yankees, who then went out and pursued other options and removed themselves from the discussions.  We had only 98 games projected for Damon in our latest published forecasts but if he can find a team that absolutely needs him as a regular in the lineup, I'd be inclined to bump that up to maybe 125-130 games, accounting for the continued decline that makes even all these recent 140-149 game seasons less likely.  In the right situation and with good luck on top of it, if Damon somehow managed to get the 550 at bats he had last year, I still believe he's capable of hitting .275 with 15+ home runs 15+ stolen bases but he's unlikely to return to even 2008 form at this point.  I suspect clubs know it too and that's why he hasn't got a deal yet.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

If Sleepers Existed: Part 2

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Hudson / Punto, G. Sizemore

At least a few readers were wondering whether the signing of Orlando Hudson by the Twins means that we will be reducing Nick Punto's forecast.

Much as we discussed the other day in this space about San Francisco bringing in Yorvit Torrealba and how we had already expected them to add extra catcher when we had published so few at bats for Nick Hundley, the same applies here to Punto in Minnesota.  We had given Punto only 261 at bats in the previously published forecasts because we believed that the Twins would bring another infielder in to play second base.  It's a real challenge in forecasting that sometimes, you need to give the current candidates the playing time in the absence of other options and in other cases, you just have to believe that certain teams are intent on bringing in another player before the season starts.

In some cases, we've gotten this right and in others, we've already been proven wrong and then adjust accordingly.  For example, in our first forecast set, we guessed right on the Atlanta bullpen and decided not to give out the saves in the Atlanta bullpen, expecting they would add a new closer.  They subsequently brought in Billy Wagner.  However, in San Francisco, they played the market in a way we didn't expect and we then had to downgrade players like Buster Posey and others as they added veterans at positions we didn't expect they would be looking to fill.

On a completely separate matter, another reader had asked about Grady Sizemore and the "very risky" tag we've attached to his latest published forecast.  In our previous set, we had published a projection for 552 at bats, a .280 average, 24 home runs, 101 runs scored, 85 RBI and 20 stolen bases.  If he lives up to those expectations, that will be a quite valuable season for those in fantasy leagues.

The reason we must apply the "very risky" tag here is because he missed so much time last year and we're projecting numbers that are so much better than 2009.  I hesitate to say this because I'm sure you could dig hard enough and find an exception but generally, any player who is projected by us to do something they haven't done in the majors in over a year or who is coming off an extended injury will almost certainly get at least a moderate to high risk in our ratings.  Injuries can create risk because there is always the chance that a player does not return to being the player he was previously, no matter how seemingly minor the injury.  A player misses a week with a mild hamstring strain and after he returns, constantly favors it in fear that he will re-injure himself and stops running as hard, for example.  You don't see it with every injury but it does happen.

Beyond the recovery from surgery, Sizemore brings with him the additional problem that he wasn't as good as usual when he did play last year, especially in contrast to our expectations for him for the upcoming season.  So, that's the short explanation of why we're tagging his 2010 forecast as very risky.  If you can tolerate risk, they'll be nice numbers to have on your fantasy team if we end up even remotely close to his actual performance.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Gregg, Torrealba

The past couple of days or so has seen speculation turn to near-reality as Kevin Gregg is reportedly about to sign a deal with the Blue Jays.  Gregg, who has saved at least 23 games each of the past three years, is not being brought in to become the closer here as much as he would compete with Jason Frasor and Scott Downs for the role, a battle that may extend deep into the regular season.

So, if Gregg signs with Toronto, we'll likely be forecasting him, Frasor and Downs to get a similar number of saves, about a third of a non-contending team's saves here as there's no true standout in this equation though Gregg's experience may give him the slightest edge.  Gregg is a better pitcher than he appeared to be last year, when he suffered through a fairly unlucky season with the Cubs that was inconsistent with his recent career, this as he hasn't yet celebrated his thirty-second birthday.

One other signing that looked likely this week was Yorvit Torrealba being ready to sign with San Diego.  He's not being brought in to take over from Nick Hundley and like Hundley, we're not projecting much offensively, especially in this hitting environment.  In fact, our previously published forecast for Hundley already reflected the belief that someone else would be brought in to join Hundley behind the plate, even though we didn't know whom.

We already were fairly down on Torrealba's chances to hit much this year and in San Diego, not unlike what we're saying about Hundley, we're going to be forecasting a very low average (think .230-ish) with maybe 4 or 5 home runs and around 25 RBI over, say, 250 at bats.  In other words, we're about to forecast last year's .291 average in Colorado as a complete overachievement, this from a thirty-one year old catcher with a career .255 average who hit .246 in hitting-friendly Colorado as recently as 2008.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

If Sleepers Existed: Part 1

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Miles for Taveras

Oakland and Cincinnati just completed a deal that sent Aaron Miles (along with a player to be named later) to Cincinnati for Willy Taveras and Adam Rosales.  Immediately after the deal was completed, the A's designated Taveras for assignment, meaning that he may never end up playing for Oakland, even if he clears waivers.

The deal will have little effect on our forecast for Miles and only a bit of an impact on Rosales, who will be projected to hit for slightly inferior power with his home games played in Oakland.

The key change here is what happens to Taveras.  He goes from being a player previously projected to end up with about 330+ at bats and close to 25 steals as a backup with a seemingly secure bench job in Cincinnati to being someone who will now have to fight to even win a spot on a roster somewhere this spring.  We will be downgrading his forecast to around 150 at bats and maybe 10-12 steals in the next edition, this unless he lands on his feet with a pretty secure role somewhere else.