Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Under-Whelming Rookie Class of 2011

Well, after last year's historically strong rookie class, it only makes sense that this year's class would leave a lot to be desired. We will see a lot of people going crazy and over-paying in this year's drafts for guys like Dominic Brown, Jeremy Hellickson, Mike Moustakis, Dustin Ackley and others. While all of these players, as well as other rookies, will get an opportunity to contribute on a major league stage this year, I would not expect any of them to be major players on the fantasy scene.
After last year, it is easy for fantasy owners to raise expectations for rookies. In the year of the pitcher, rookies shined through extremely bright as well. In 2010 we saw starring debuts by many young stars. Buster Posey, the NL ROY, almost single handedly carried the Giants offense. Jason Heyward showed flashes of brilliance, at age 20. Neftali Feliz, Jamie Garcia, Wade Davis and others shined all put together strong debuts on the mound. At times it looked as if Steven Strasburg was set to take his place as MLB's best pitcher, before a season ending Tommy John Surgery. Mike Stanton and Gabby Sanchez providing very strong debut seasons for the Marlins. I could really go on forever but I am sure you get the point by now. Last year was something special from a rookie standpoint.
It is important to realize what rookies were typically known for before last year when evaluating this years rookie class. While we have occasionally seen stars step right in and pretty much dominate from day one, it is not common to see multiple rookies do this in the same season. While there are some rookies that could really provide quality numbers this year, I don't see any one guy stepping up and dominating. This year's class should provide a return to normalcy with young stars that show flashes but over-all just struggle with consistency. So, with that said, here are some rookies (in no particular order) that I think will be worth a watch this year. I have also provided my projections.

1-Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Rays 181 innings, 12 wins, 4.13 era, 1.24 whip, 170 k's

2-Freddie Freeman, 1b, Braves 546 abs, 283 avg, 17 hrs, 80 rbi, 5 sbs, 72 runs

3-Craig Kimbrel, RP, Braves 63 innings, 3 wins, 27 saves, 2.84 era, 1.14 whip, 71 k's

4-Jake McGee, RP, Rays 53 innings, 2 wins, 16 saves, 3.49 era, 1.26 whip, 51 k's

5-Aroldis Chapman, RP, Reds 62 innings, 4 wins, 14 saves, 2.63 era, 1.11 whip, 79 k's

6-Jesus Montero, C, Yankees 263 abs, 269 avg, 11 hrs, 41 rbi, 1 sb, 33 runs

7-J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays 453 abs, 254 avg, 17 hrs, 58 rbi, 0 sbs, 47 runs

8-Mike Moustakis, 3b, Royals 292 abs, 271 avg, 14 hrs, 48 rbi, 3 sbs, 42 runs

9-Domonic Brown, OF, Phillies 416 abs, 261 avg, 17 hrs, 58 rbi, 14 sbs, 53 runs

10-Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays 337 abs, 273 avg, 5 hrs, 27 rbi, 21 sbs, 46 runs

11-Peter Borjous, OF, Angels 516 abs, 268 avg, 8 hrs, 48 rbi, 28 sbs, 71 runs

12-Kyle Drabek, SP, Blue Jays 178 innings, 11 wins, 4.36 era, 1.33 whip, 143 k's

13-Michael Pineda, SP, Mariners 104 innings, 6 wins, 4.11 era, 1.29 whip, 87 k's

14-Chris Sale, SP/RP, White Sox 142 innings, 12 wins, 3.64 era, 1.29 whip, 121 k's

15-Brandon Belt, 1b, Giants 261 abs, 284 avg, 11 hrs, 31 rbi, 2 sbs, 27 runs

It is important to note position battles to watch with some of these guys. The ones that seem to be locked into a major league job this year are Hellickson, Freeman, Kimbrel, Borjous, Drabek, Sale, Chapman and Arencipia. It is worth noting that I am expecting Kimbrel to close in Atlanta and I think that Chapman will take over that role in Cincy as well. Belt, Jennings, Moustakis and a few others could see more time in the majors with a strong showing in Spring Training.
There are some good keepers in this group but it just seems like it will take them longer to develop than last year's class. Long term, Brown, Hellickson, Sale, Montero, Moustakis, Freeman and Belt could develop into real fantasy stars. Also, there is a reason that Dustin Ackley was left off this list, while he is a top prospect, I just don't see him contributing a whole lot fantasy wise.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Josh Johnson-Not fully Recovered?

I just noticed ESPN's latest fantasy baseball rankings and, while not to much has changed since their last update, a major shocker to me was Josh Johnson. He has plummeted to number 76 amidst concerns about his recovery from a shoulder injury that cost him the last 3 weeks of his 2010 season. Many fantasy players, myself included, see Johnson as a potential Cy Young contender this year. I have searched around and failed to find anything more concrete about his current health. This is something to monitor closely in a couple of weeks when pitchers and catchers report for the opening of spring training.
Johnson had Tommy John surgery in August of 2007 and made it back to the majors in July of 2008. While he has had no issues since, it is worth noting that many pitchers have been out much longer after Tommy John surgery. While Johnson, coming off his second consecutive all star season and his first career era crown, could be a great number one fantasy starter, I would not draft him as my top starter until we know more. For any of you with extremely early fantasy drafts, you would be very smart to move Johnson down your draft board. There are just too many pitchers with less to worry about at this time. Stay tuned....................
As an update, mlb.com is reporting that Johnson is fully recovered and has already thrown a handful of bullpen sessions in Florida. However, I think fantasy owners may still want to monitor JJ closely. There is no doubt that this guy is as talented as any pitcher in baseball but he has to throw 200 innings in a season before I can put him in the category of elite. You can check out more from mlb.com here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Keeper Strategy

What is a keeper league?

The most common form of fantasy baseball is the yearly re-draft league. In these leagues, you will draft a completely new team every year and compete with your roster for that season in only. In keeper leagues, you keep some players from one season to the next. There are also dynasty leagues, which I define as any league in which you keep half, or more of your roster. Some dynasty leagues even keep the entire roster from one year to the next.

Dynasty and, to a lesser extent, keeper leagues take more dedicated managers and require those managers to sometimes think outside of the box. In leagues in which you keep 5 players or less, most owners will have a chance to compete every year. The more players owners are allowed to keep from year to year will directly impact the number of owners that have a shot at competing for a title in an individual season. However, just because you can't win this year doesn't mean that you can't make great strides to become more competitive in the near future.

Keeper League Strategies

1-Honestly assess your team- If you are in a league that just keeps a few players, don't take to many chances. Focus on keeping the most reliable players you can and in most cases leave the potential super-stars for others to drool over.

In leagues where you are required to keep more than a third of your roster, you need to know where you stand in relation to the rest of your league. If you lack a Franchise Bat or a Franchise Arm you are more than likely not ready to compete that season. If you view your team as a true contender, identify needs and draft reliability over potential. If you do not view your team as a contender, focus on young players with upside and consider dealing for youth.

2- Seek Age Balance- In keeper and dynasty formats young stars are extremely valuable. However, the most successful owners will have a balance between youth, veterans and players in their prime. While 2010 offered a rich rookie class, most seasons rookies will be very streaky and should not be relied upon for key roles on your team.

If you are playing to win this year, you will rarely want to count on a rookie at a key position without a solid veteran backup. While a guy like Dominic Brown will be very popular this season, his owners would be wise to carry a 4th outfielder that they are comfortable playing on a regular basis. Brown brings a lot of excitement and upside but a player like Nick Swisher or Carlos Lee offer far more reliability. At scarce positions, such as shortstop, second and third base, it can make more sense to gamble on a young star.

If you are working towards being more competitive in the future, take a few chances and be patient. In season, you can also identify young players who are hurting more competitive teams and go after them. Don't be afraid to over-pay for a young star, in season, if you feel that you can replenish it in the next season's draft.

3-Build around Scarce Positions- For 2011, there are several positions that will provide holes in a team's lineup. Shortstop, Thirdbase, Secondbase and Catcher all lack reliable and proven options. It is also important to assess the future of positions. Understand what positions stand to gain or lose strength in coming seasons. For example, third base and catcher are thin right now but they have descent futures with young stars and solid prospects. Second base has a descent future but it has never been a position of strength and likely won't change too much in the near future. Shortstop is a position that I see as a continuing problem in fantasy leagues. Since the end of the steroid era, shortstop has gotten slimmer almost every year. While there are some promising prospects coming along, most of them are better with their glove than their bats. That is not something that will help fantasy owners.

4-Muti position eligibility- While a player like Martin Prado lacks the kind of power most fantasy owners would want from a third basemen, his owners have the luxury of plugging him in at other positions as needed. This is a value in all fantasy formats. However, in keeper formats, it is important to understand what eligibility the player will have going forward. While Prado is pretty valuable in 2011, if he plays the entire season in left field, his value will most likely go down heading into next year.

5-Build around your bats-This kind of goes back to my discussion of position scarcity. Simply put, there are more quality arms in baseball than reliable bats. Even more importantly, bats tend to be far more reliable from year to year.

6- Keep Power over Speed- Reliable power bats are more valuable than base steelers in keeper formats. In almost all formats, I see guys like Rajai Davis and Michael Bourn borderline keepers at best and these are two of the top base steelers in the game the past two seasons. However, a guy like Andre Ethier or Mike Stanton are definite keepers in almost all formats. The reason for this is simple, stolen bases are a lot easier to find in a draft than homeruns.

7-Over-value Multi-Category Contributers- Simply put, the more players you have who contribute in 4 or 5 categories, the less you have to over-pay to fill the other categories.

8-Keep Value, not the Best Players- In leagues where you keep few players, focus on scarce positions as far as your keepers are concerned. Be willing to let go of higher ranked players at deep positions over lower ranked players at shallow positions. Obviously, I am not suggesting you keep Gordon Beckham over Justin Morneau but I would suggest keeping Jose Reyes over a guy like Mark Teixera in leagues where you only keep a handful of players. The odds of replacing Tex are simply much higher than they are for replacing Reyes.

9-Give Yourself a Clear Time Table- In keeper and dynasty formats, it is easy to get discouraged if you can't win that season. However, if you can set a time line of a year or two to become more competitive, it can keep you more involved. The best keeper formats need all owners to remain active, whether they can win or not. Whether you play roto or H2H, your activity level impacts the standings.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

mlb.com's top 50 Prospect Countdown Show

For those of you who haven't seen it yet, mlb.com and MLB network unveiled their top 50 prospect countdown for the 2011 season. If you missed it, you can view it here. From a fantasy perspective the biggest thing that I got out of the countdown is just how special last year's rookie class was. While some guys do come with a good deal of hype for this season (Hellickson, Moustakis, Brown, Ackley, Freeman and Belt), I just don't see anybody having the major impact that many rookies did last year. The 2010 rookie class was the best I have seen in 20 years of following baseball.
The 2011 class is more in line with what we are used to seeing. There are some very exciting players, from a fantasy stand point, but they all come with some major questions. While I am not ready to go over my rookie rankings yet, I think I have settled on the top of my class. In no particular order, guys that I see topping my rankings will be Hellickson, Brown and Freeman. Dustin Ackley and Kyle Drabek are two that I am starting to like less than many fantasy owners. Both Ackley and Drabek should have long successful careers but I don't see either ever having a significant fantasy impact. Ackley seems to profile as a 15 hr (or less in Seattle) 280 average major league hitter. Drabek looks like a 3rd starter in a good major league rotation, at best.
Well, that was my immediate reaction. What is your opinion?

Prospect Preview

While I like to think that I follow prospects pretty closely and know who the "big guys" are, I can't really call myself a prospect expert by any means. Since I don't have the resources to watch prospects on a regular basis, research is the only way that I have to evaluate prospects. There are many sources online that cover prospects but many are very unreliable.
For those owners that compete in leagues with minor leagues, don't sleep on prospects because the hype machine in fantasy baseball is making them increasingly more valuable. Look at how popular guys like Strasburg and Heyward were in last year's drafts. With the return on investment that these young stars provided, imagine what the hype machine will be for a guy like Bryce Harper. In fact, I own the rights to Harper in my dynasty league and I have already turned away some pretty ridiculous offers. As much as I could get for him now, I think it will be twice as much when he gets close his big league debut.
I will go over some 2011 rookie rankings here in a couple of weeks. In the mean time, I will provide some sites that I reference for prospect analysis.

Baseball America-is probably my favorite. They typically release their top 100 prospect rankings around late February and are typically one of the most accurate.

mlb.com also has descent rankings up by position.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Starting Pitcher Rankings with Projections

When drafting, fantasy owners will often either go with an ace early in the draft or load up later in the draft. Both strategies can work but, if you wait it is even more essential to make the correct selections. There is real value in drafting one of the top dogs in the first few rounds and then waiting several rounds to fill out your rotation. This is the strategy that I usually go with. The depth and general lack of consistency in pitchers makes the few reliable arms even more valuable. With that said, check out my rankings and projections here.