Indians’ Rotation — Hoping for Production from the Top: Losses are a terrible stat, but when your team’s top two starters combine for 32 losses in one season, that’s probably a bad sign. Alas, 2012 was a rough year for Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, who combined for almost 400 innings with an ERA above 5.00 to go along with those 32 defeats against just 20 victories. For Masterson, the problem was an inability to get out left-handed batters (.613 OPS vs. RHB and .825 OPS vs. LHB), which has been a career-long issue for the 27-year old. Masterson continued to induce a high percentage of groundballs (55%), but experienced an uptick in both his walk and HR rates. In 2013, the Indians hope Masterson can revert back to his 2011 self when he limited lefties to “just” a .745 OPS and finished that season with a 3.21 ERA. For fantasy owners, Masterson doesn’t have a huge upside and represents significant risk until he improves this deficiency.
As for my good friend, Ubaldo, it’s safe to say I won’t be predicting 180 Ks and a sub-4.00 ERA like I did last preseason. Jimenez has now lost nearly 4 mph off his fastball since 2010 and has seen his strikeout percentage drop from 23% that season to just 17% in 2012. In 2012, his BB/9 spiked to 4.84 while his HR/9 jumped from 0.81 in 2011 to 1.27. He also became a flyball pitcher as his GB% fell from 47% to 38%. All told, Jimenez was one of the worst pitchers in baseball. To think he’s going to recover from such a poor season to the point that he’s a fantasy commodity is tough to see. I don’t believe he’s even worth a late round add in deep leagues.
Indians’ Bullpen — It’s all Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano: The Indians enter 2013 with their 8th and 9th innings set in stone. Vinnie Pestano, the best reliever on the Tribe, will pitch the 8th with Chris Perez continuing in his closer’s role for the 9th. Perez posted just a 5.88 K/9 in 2011 and his 5.01 xFIP (compared to a 3.32 ERA) screamed regression for 2012. However, Perez saved 39 of 43 games a season ago and recorded a respectable 3.59 ERA thanks to regaining an ability to miss bats. Perez’s K/9 jumped to 9.21, his walk rate fell by about a batter and a half per game and he improved his GB% by 12% to a career-high 40%. On the other hand, Pestano’s 2.57 ERA is a bit deceiving. His K/9 fell from 12.17 in 2011 to 9.77 in 2012 and his 3.74 xFIP was more than a run above his ERA. His overall numbers were still strong, but Pestano wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was in 2011. Pestano’s worth adding as a good source of strikeouts and will be the first in line for saves if Perez really struggles or gets traded at some point.
Reds’ Leadoff Spot and Outfield — Shin-Soo Choo to the Rescue: The Reds’ leadoff hitters had the lowest OBP of any team last season so they went out and acquired an OBP-machine in Shin-Soo Choo to bat first and man centerfield. The good news for fantasy owners is that Choo should leadoff in front of a much better lineup than he did in 2012, although I highly question the move to play him in center where he’s only played one game during his MLB career. But fantasy managers don’t care about defense, so let’s focus on what Choo will produce offensively in 2013. In 2012, Choo bounced back from a poor 2011 to post a career-best 23% LD rate to go along with a 13% HR/FB mark. He finished with 16 HRs and 21 steals while batting .283. For this season, our projections take into account the Reds’ lineup and peg Choo to enjoy an uptick in his counting stats from last season. Overall, Choo’s value is that he can provide reliability to your fantasy team. He’s going to hit between 15–20 HRs, score 85–90 runs, steal around 15–20 bases and bat in the upper .200s with a strong OBP. As for the other Reds’ hitters, especially Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Ryan Ludwick, the Choo acquisition should mean an increase in RBI opportunities since the former Indian will be on-base significantly more often than the Reds’ leadoff hitters in 2012. Overall, this was a great move by Cincinnati and bolsters the fantasy value of several players, including Choo himself.
Reds’ Rotation — Will the Cuban Missile Soar as a Starter?: One of the most interesting spring training stories is Cincinnati moving Aroldis Chapman from the bullpen to the rotation in the hopes of maximizing the pitcher’s value. The Reds are purposefully being quiet on the specifics of the plan this spring and currently have Chapman as their 6th starter behind Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake. Last season, Chapman tossed 71 innings, posting a 1.93 xFIP, 1.51 ERA and striking out more than 15 batters per nine innings. His chase rate was also an impressive 34%. Clearly, Chapman’s stuff is incredible. For fantasy managers, however, Chapman now represents a high risk, high reward option. Can he adjust to not being able to throw maximum effort on each pitch? Will he sustain a high level of performance in the second half, considering his career-high innings in any professional season is 118 for his Cuban club in 2009? Can he harness his change-up to be an effective third pitch to offset his electric fastball and slider? And, can he steer clear of off-the-field trouble after several incidents during his first big league season? If Chapman manages to answers these questions affirmatively, his fantasy upside is off the charts.
Cardinals’ Rotation — How Good will Skinny Lance Lynn be in 2013?: Lance Lynn enjoyed a great 2012 season where he finished with a 9.20 K/9, 24% strikeout rate, 3.78 ERA and 3.49 FIP to go along with 18 wins. Despite such strong numbers, Lynn finished the season out of the bullpen for St. Louis after a rough August and the return of Chris Carpenter. Manager Mike Matheny also questioned the right hander’s commitment to keeping himself in shape (he ballooned to 280 pounds last season) and didn’t guarantee him a rotation spot heading into spring training (although with the loss of Carpenter, it’s unlikely Lynn loses his spot now). Lynn seems to have taken notice and entered camp last week 40 pounds lighter than he weighed at the end of last season, thanks to working out six days a week during the offseason. Assuming Lynn remains a starter, the Cardinals will want to see him improve against lefties, who posted a slash line of .268/.384./456 against him in 2012. In terms of fantasy value, Lynn’s ERA and WHIP are in line with most decent SPs, but what separates him is his ability to miss bats. It’s difficult to find a pitcher for a few bucks or a mid-to-late round pick that can potentially punch out 180–190 batters in a season, but Lynn’s one of those guys. Lynn’s risky, but for the right price, he could be a steal in 2013.
Cardinals’ First Base — Allen Craig, Top 5 Fantasy First Baseman: Allen Craig won’t hit like Albert Pujols in his prime, but the St. Louis first baseman has a real shot at being a top 5 fantasy first baseman in 2013, behind Joey Votto, Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez. Craig broke onto the fantasy scene last season by posting a .307/.354/.522 slash line to go along with a .215 ISO and 22 HRs. He also owned a 22% LD rate and 17% HR/FB rate. However, if you looked closely at Craig’s career minor and major leagues numbers through 2011, his 2012 breakout makes more sense. In 219 plate appearances with the big league club in 2011, Craig owned a .240 ISO, 18% HR/FB rate and batted .315/.362/.555. And before that, he had clubbed 18+ HRs in four straight professional seasons while tallying batting averages in the high .290s/low .300s. At 28-years old, Craig is in the middle of his prime and should be one of the best first base plays in 2013. I expect more than 25 HRs, 100 RBI and 90 runs to go along with a batting average around .290.
Around the league
Curtis Granderson (NYY, OF): Injuries are a part of baseball, but usually players get at least one full spring training AB under their belt before something happens. That wasn’t the case with New York’s Curtis Granderson who got hit by a pitch in his first AB of the spring on Sunday. Initially thought to be a deep bruise, x-rays confirmed a fracture of the forearm that will put the outfielder on the shelf for about 10 weeks. That puts his return around mid-May, after a likely extended rehab assignment since he’s missing all of spring training. From a fantasy perspective, this screams opportunity for those in leagues that have not had an auction or draft yet. Granderson can now likely be had for a discount since he’s missing a chunk of the season. Considering he has 40+ HR potential in a full season, posted 100+ RBI and runs in 2012 and will likely enjoy an uptick in his batting average this season (assuming he improves upon his career-low .260 BABIP in 2012), I’m very comfortable taking the chance on adding him and waiting out the injury time.
Jake Peavy (CWS, SP): The oft-injured Jake Peavy was a fantasy stud during the first half of 2012, posting a 2.85 ERA and 0.99 WHIP before tiring in the second half and recording a 4.00 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Peavy’s full season numbers (3.37 ERA, 4.00 xFIP) indicate he enjoyed a degree of luck so it’s unlikely the right hander will maintain an ERA in the low 3.00s again in 2013. What I like about Peavy is that he owned a 7.97 K/9 and 22% strikeout rate, so a season of a 3.75 ERA and 180 Ks seems like a good bet — assuming he can stay healthy. After throwing just 111 IP in 2011, and increasing his workload to 219 IP in 2012, I have some concerns about Peavy’s ability to toss another injury-free 200 innings. That said, Peavy should be a valuable starter this season, but don’t overpay for his 2012 campaign.
Anibal Sanchez (DET, SP): While not the sexiest name in your fantasy auction or draft, Anibal Sanchez is a reliable, consistent SP that can provide value in all league formats. Sanchez has now tossed three straight seasons of 190+ innings with ERAs of 3.55, 3.67 and 3.86. His FIP marks during that same span (3.32, 3.35, 3.53) indicate the right hander hasn’t been lucky — just good. His strikeout-to-walk rates have improved from 2.24 in 2010 to 3.16 in 2011 to 3.48 in 2012, and he recorded a career-best 46% GB% last season. Moving to the American League hinders Sanchez’s value a bit, and he is unlikely to ever match his 2011 K/9 rate of 9.26, but, nonetheless, he’ll provide a bunch of solid innings for little risk.
Greg Holland (KC, RP): If you’re searching for an under-the-radar closer, Greg Holland is your guy. Holland’s peripheral stats from 2012 indicate he can be an elite closer in 2013. In 67 innings last season, Holland posted a 12.22 K/9 with an outstanding 32% strikeout rate to go along with a 2.96 ERA and 3.17 xFIP. The right hander also allowed just 2 HRs all season and saved 16 of 20 games. Missing a lot of bats and keeping the ball in the park is a recipe for success for any pitcher. My one concern with Holland is his walk rate, which, at 4.57 BB/9, contributed to a 1.37 WHIP in 2012 (a .346 BABIP also inflated Holland’s WHIP). He’s always had fairly high walk rates, so I doubt he improves on that by much this season. Still, while other managers pay premium dollar for Jonathan Papelbon or Jason Motte, Holland should put up better strikeout numbers while saving around 30 games.
Chase Utley (PHI, 2B): Chase Utley participated in his first spring training game on Saturday, playing three innings and going 1-for-2 with an RBI. The Phillies’ second baseman is saying all the right things about his health, but the bottom line is he hasn’t topped 515 plate appearances since 2009 and is now 35 years old. Second base is a thin position, so the approach I’d take with Utley is to play him as part of a platoon. He can still hit and run when he plays — 11 HRs and 11 steals in 83 games last season — so start him on his healthy days and, when he’s out, plug in cheap/late round guys like Daniel Murphy or Omar Infante. You won’t get Robinson Cano production, but this approach can keep you fairly productive at second base while mitigating some of the injury-risk associated with Utley.
Scott Baker (CHC, SP): Scott Baker threw a 45-pitch bullpen session on Saturday, although there is no date for when he’ll make his Cactus League debut. Baker is coming back from Tommy John surgery and is hoping to build off his solid 2011 campaign where he posted a 3.14 ERA and 3.45 FIP to go along with an 8.22 K/9. Pitching in Chicago isn’t ideal for a guy like Baker, who is a primarily fly ball pitcher, but he was trending in the right direction, before his injury last year, with his peripheral stats from 2009 to 2011. During that span, Baker had lowered his HR/9 and BB/9 while improved his strikeout rate each season. With that trajectory in mind, I’d keep an eye on Baker in deeper leagues as a potential late round draft pick.
Roy Halladay (PHI, SP): After four straight seasons with an ERA under 3.00, Roy Halladay regressed in 2012 by posting a 4.49 ERA in just 156 IP. While his 3.60 xFIP indicates Halladay wasn’t as bad as his ERA, Doc still didn’t provide his fantasy owners with much value. He struck our fewer and walked more batters compared to his 2011 season and, worse, gave up significantly more HRs (0.39 HR/9 in ’11 vs. 1.04 HR/9 in ’12). So, even though we’re in the early stages of spring training, it was good to see Halladay have a solid outing on Sunday against the Tigers. The right hander struck out two and allowed one run in two innings of work. Now that he’s fully recovered from a shoulder strain last season, Halladay should have some velocity back on both his fastball and curveball and is a nice bounce back candidate — even at age 35.
Carlos Carrasco (CLE, SP): Carlos Carrasco is hoping to have a successful return from Tommy John surgery that has kept him from pitching since the middle of the 2011 season. He started against the Rays on Sunday and allowed 3 ER in one inning of work. Carrasco has potential to have fantasy value in deeper leagues at some point, but it’s not likely to be in 2013. He posted a 4.07 xFIP in 124 innings in 2011 after debuting with a 3.42 xFIP in 44 innings in 2010. He was the marquee name coming over from Philadelphia in the Cliff Lee deal and enjoyed success in the high minors between 2008 and 2010. For now, Carrasco is someone to keep in the back of your mind, but he’s unlikely to be a contributor to fantasy teams this season.
Kyle Seager (SEA, 3B): Kyle Seager went 2-for-3 on Sunday against the Padres and is somebody to keep an eye on in 2013. Seager had a nice 2012 campaign, hitting 20 HRs, stealing 13 bases, posting a .163 ISO and knocking in 86 RBI. At just 25, Seager is entering his prime and, while he may not ever be an all star, he can put up solid numbers at a tough-to-fill position for fantasy teams. With a 22% LD rate, Seager was unlucky to own a .286 BABIP, so I expect his batting average to rebound into the .265-.270 range in 2013. With the new Mariner acquisitions this past offseason, Seager may drop out of the cleanup spot but should still hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup and have RBI chances. We’re projecting 21 HRs and 11 steals, which isn’t too shabby for the hot corner. Considering it shouldn’t take much to acquire him in your draft or auction, Seager’s a guy I’m targeting in deeper leagues.
Derek Jeter (NYY, SS): Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman announced on Sunday that Derek Jeter is likely to make his spring training debut on March 10. Jeter ran on the infield dirt on Saturday and will initially DH in spring training games as the Yankees slowly bring him along. At some point Jeter will decline, but the past two seasons he’s hit .297 and .316. Last season, he also posted his highest LD% since 2006 and his highest ISO (.113) since 2009. Looking at his numbers, nothing points to a decline in 2013, but The Captain can’t be good forever. Take Jeter knowing that offseason ankle surgery and his age make for a risky option, even at a high-need position like SS.