What’s up, Doc?

For almost any dominant Major League Baseball player, there will come a stretch where they eventually start to decline.  Whether it’s a pitcher’s declining velocity, a batter with slower hands at the plate or  even losing range on the field.  There’s one specific player this year that I’m curious if he’ll be able to rebound, and that’s Roy Halladay.

If you want to know the cliff notes, of how I think Doc will do this year, I already made the prediction that he will finish in the top-10 in the NL CY Young voting.  Although it might sound crazy (nobody gets every preseason prediction right), I do think Halladay will ultimately put together a very successful campaign this year.

Of course there’s several concerns for Halladay, such as his declining velocity (touched 92 MPH once during his first start, but was regularly in upper 80s) and lack of command of his sinker.  Normally I’d say that means it’s the beginning of the end for someone who is 35 years old and has pitched almost 2700 innings in his career.  But you have to realize, a lot of pitchers aren’t nearly as good as Halladay.

First, a short history lesson.  Halladay came up through the Blue Jays organization as a hard thrower, who threw significantly more over the top than his current arm slot.  Struggling to find consistent success, he eventually lowered his arm and changed his mechanics.  In doing so, he became one of the most dominant pitchers in Major League Baseball from 2002-2011.  If a guy is smart (not to mention talented enough) to change his mechanics once he’s already made it to the major leagues, it’s hard to bet against him finding a way to figure out how to be successful once again.

Although his 2012 wasn’t great (11-8, 4.49 ERA), people have to realize that he was struggling with several injuries.  If he’s back to near 100 percent (I don’t know how many baseball players in their mid to late 30s are ever 100 percent healthy), he should be able to be much more consistent with his mechanics.

During his first start of the 2013 season, Halladay showed that he still has what it takes to get batters out.  Although he lasted only 3 and 1/3 innings, he was able to record nine of the ten outs via strikeout.  Sure, he left a few sinkers up in the zone, and the Braves made him pay for those, but not only do most teams not have nearly as powerful of a lineup as the Braves, but Halladay will also learn to execute his pitches better as the season goes on.

All things considered, I’m still very much a believer in Halladay.  He probably won’t go 18-5 with a 2.75 ERA, but I do think he’s going to quiet the critics by putting in a very good year.



The tricky part about R.A. Dickey

First and foremost, let me start off by saying that I’m a fan of R.A. Dickey.  His story is an incredible one and I’ve yet to hear anything negative about him.  In all of the interviews I’ve seen and read, he comes across as a humble and intelligent individual.  He’s clearly an easy guy to root for and Toronto fans should be happy to have him on his team, but seeing as this blog is dedicated to my thoughts on fantasy baseball, I feel inclined to share my thoughts about him on the field.

Coming off an incredible 2012 season (20-6, 2.73 ERA) where he won the NL Cy Young, the New York Mets decided to trade Dickey rather than giving him an extension (he was still under contract for the 2013 season, so it wasn’t a move they needed to make).  At the time I thought it was a great move for the Mets, who picked up several prospects in the trade (my favorite being catcher Travis d’Arnaud).  Call me a skeptic, but I don’t think Dickey will come close to repeating his success while he’s in Toronto.

Watching him pitch during the World Baseball Classic, I noticed that a lot of his knuckleballs happened to be elevated and lacked any significant movement (especially in comparison to how he looked last year).  The problem with knuckleballs that don’t knuckle (a fancy way to say they aren’t moving), is that they’re often hit very hard.  What happens to 80 MPH balls left up in the strike zone?  Those are also hit very hard.  Put the two together and it could lead to trouble in Toronto.

Now I’m not saying I think Dickey is going to have a terrible year, I just think he’s more likely to pitch like a guy who deserves to be in the middle of the rotation, not like an ace.  Famous baseball statistician Bill James projects Dickey to go 16-8 with a 3.58 ERA, but I just don’t see that happening.  Realistically, I could see Dickey winning that many games thanks to Toronto’s newly improved offense, but I think his ERA will be closer to 3.90 than 3.50.

If there’s a silver lining about his rough first outing, it’s that a lot of owners might get quickly frustrated with Dickey, and might be willing to trade him for a lot less than he’s actually worth.  It’ll be interesting to see how fantasy owners will react if he has two or three bad starts to begin the season.  If his value gets low enough (look at him like a middle of the rotation guy), I think you might be able to steal him for a lot less than you would have before the season began.

Although I’ll be rooting for him (until he faces Detroit), I caution you to not overvalue him based on his performance from the last couple years.  Instead, give him a few starts to see how he adjusts to pitching in the American League and especially for his starts at home.

Ten crazy predictions

Everyone likes to predict the boring stuff.  I’m not different, I just wrote a BLOG doing just that.  But this list of predictions is much more fun, and much more challenging for me.  I’m going to tell you ten crazy things that could happen this year, even though you probably won’t believe me.

1. Roy Halladay finishes in the top 10 in NL Cy Young: A lot of people have been writing Doc off, but I think he’s going to quiet a lot of critics as he enters the last year of his current contract.  Although his velocity has been down the last few years, he’s a smart enough pitcher to find a way to figure it out.

2. The Seattle Mariners will finish with a winning record: Behind Felix Hernandez, I think the Mariners have the potential to surprise a lot of people this year.  Michael Morse could have a good year, Raul Ibanez proved in October that he’s not done yet and Kendrys Morales was a quiet but solid pickup.  Not only that, but Jesus Montero and Dustin Ackley should improve a bit this year, and Jason Bay is a complete Wild Card.  I don’t think it’ll be enough for the Mariners to make it to the playoffs, but I do think they’ll turn in a solid year.

3. The New York Yankees don’t make the playoffs: I wrote a BLOG a few days ago about the Yankees. Simply put, I just don’t think they’ll be able to overcome their injuries, and several players will struggle with the added pressure.

4. Bryce Harper makes the top 10 in MVP voting: I could very easily see Harper putting together a year similar to the one Mike Trout had last year, albeit with a much lower batting average.

5. Mike Trout does NOT make the top 10 in MVP voting: Listen, I like Trout as much as the next guy, but I think his numbers are going to fall back to reality.  He could still hit .300 with 20 home runs, but ultimately I think he’s going to suffer a slight sophomore slump.

6. Miguel Cabrera does NOT lead the Tigers in batting average, home runs or RBIs: Coming off a MVP season, I do not think Cabrera will able to repeat his success in 2013.  With that being said, I think he’ll have a solid year (32 home runs, .315 average, 110 RBIs), but ultimately none of those end up leading the team.

7. The Tampa Bay Rays win the AL East: I understand the hype about the Toronto Marlins, (I mean Blue Jays), but the fact of the matter is the players they traded for weren’t able to win in Miami, so why should they be able to win in Toronto?  I think R.A. Dickey will struggle against a tough AL East division, and the Rays find a way to pass them in early September.

8. Nick Castellanos wins the AL Rookie of the Year: Despite not starting the season with the Tigers, I think Castellanos hits well enough in Toledo that it forces the Tigers to call him up in May.  Placed in the middle of a very potent lineup, Castellanos puts up a good enough year to pass Wil Myers in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

9. Somebody steals 70 or more bases: It hasn’t happened since 2010 when Jacoby Ellsbury did it, but there’s a few people who might get a chance in 2013.  From Billy Hamilton in Cincinnati (assuming he gets called up early enough) or Michael Bourn in Cleveland, I think someone gets there.

10. Somebody hits 50 or more home runs: Whether it’s due to enhanced PED testing or something else, nobody has hit more than 50 home runs since 2010 (Jose Bautista, 54).  There’s plenty of players with enough power to once again break the 50-home run plateau.  I’m not sure who will do it, but I think it’s going to happen.

Here’s Jhonny!

When it comes to the 2013 Tigers, there’s not a lot of players that I’m really concerned about.  For the most part, you pretty much know what you’re going to get out of each position.  If there was a position player I’m intrigued to watch, it’s Jhonny Peralta.

With a limited selection of shortstops available in the offseason, the Tigers decided to exercise their option on Peralta.  Coming off arguably the worst offensive season in his career, it’ll be interesting to see how Peralta will be able to rebound in 2013.  If he’s looking to sign a semi-lucrative contract as a free agent, he’ll need to rebuild his value.

In 2012, Peralta saw his batting average drop from .299 to .239.  That wasn’t the only thing that dropped for Peralta, as he hit for eight less home runs, scored 10 less runs and had 23 less runs batted in.  Is this a cause for concern or is this a normal fluctuation?

First, you have to realize that Peralta went from batting after Victor Martinez, to hitting behind Delmon Young.  A lot of people will say that lineup protection doesn’t mean much, but if the guy batting in front of you is on base, you have a much better chance of also reaching base.  This should bode well for Peralta, as he should have plenty of opportunities to bat with runners on base this year.

For his career, Peralta is a .264 hitter who is averaging 18 home runs.  Although he didn’t acheive either of those numbers, it doesn’t mean that it’s a cause for concern.  You have to realize that players will regularly perform above and below their career averages.  It’s very likely that 2011 will be the best offensive year Peralta will have in his career, so it’s not fair or reasonable to constantly compare his numbers to that.

I do think Peralta will rebound nicely in 2013, as the Tigers will easily have their most potent lineup within the last 25 years.  If you’re looking for a late-round shortstop, I think Peralta is an excellent option.  The fact that he struggled last year will mean that he’ll likely be available longer than he should be.

Fantasy profile: Brennan Boesch

Now that Boesch has found a new home in the New York Yankees, will this increase his fantasy value at all?  Although the answer is yes, I’m still not sure he’ll have enough value to make him enticing to fantasy owners this year.

I will start by saying this, if you’re playing in a large league (16 teams or more), then Brennan Boesch has a decent amount of late-round value.  However, there are plenty of better options available if you’re playing in an average-size league.

First, let’s start off with the positives.  If Boesch stayed with Detroit, there was almost a better chance of him starting the season in Toledo than opening the season with the Tigers.  Signing for the Yankees not only gives Boesch a very good chance to start the season at the Major League level, it almost certainly guarantees him a decent amount of playing time.

One of the things that I’m sure attracted Boesch to the Yankees is that he bats left handed, and has shown that when he’s going good, he has above-average power.  The short fence in right field should make Boesch’s numbers look a bit better than would be in most ballparks.  Although it’s a small sample size (30 games in the last three years), Boesch has hit .367 with only one home run at Yankee Stadium.  For stadiums where he played at least 30 games, Boesch never batted higher than ..281 anywhere else (Target Field).

So where’s the risk in drafting Boesch?  For me, the biggest issue is the fact that Boesch hasn’t put up a solid half season since the beginning of 2011.  I’m not saying the potential for another good stretch isn’t there, I’m just not confident that it is.  Boesch has often gone through stretches where he’s looked lost at the plate.  Whether it’s discipline, lack of focus or just pitchers figuring him out, we’ll never really know.

Last year Boesch opened the season in arguably the most enviable spot in any lineup, batting 2nd in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.  Although he was projected to have a career year, he struggled, and eventually found himself towards the bottom of the lineup.  The way I look at it, if you can’t hit batting in front of the guy who won the triple crown and MVP, then when are you going to be able to hit?

The good thing for Boesch is that he’s still young (he’ll be turning 28 in April), so he still has plenty of time to figure things out.  Of course the flip side of that is how many more chances are teams going to give him?  Unless you’re desperate for an outfielder, it’s probably best for you to pass on Boesch.

Finding balance

Last night I helped a friend do a draft for his newly created fantasy baseball league (10 team keeper league), and I was reminded of a trend that a lot of fantasy baseball managers seem to fall into.  No matter what kind of league you’re playing in, it’s important to make sure you try to find balance amongst your players and their talents.

Simply put, you don’t want to have a team full of low average but high power guys in your lineup.  It’s an easy trap to get yourself in, but not one that usually bodes well for your team.  Although it’s good to have a few guys who are above average in certain categories, you need to look for weaknesses your roster may likely have.

This is especially important if you find yourself in a rotisserie scoring league, as being in last place for one or two categories can quite possibly enough to eliminate any chance you might have of winning.  You’ll notice that a lot of players with high home runs tend to get drafted early, and that’s not at all a bad thing.  The problem comes when you realize you need people who hit for average, steal bases and score runs.

It is for reasons like this that players like Mike Trout and Ryan Braun have exceptional value in a lot of baseball leagues, because they’re the perfect combination of batting average, power and speed.  You won’t find a lot of players like them, and if you don’t have a top three pick, you need to look for some more creative options.

As a general rule of thumb, most centerfielders tend to be guys who will steal plenty of bases for you (not always, but more often than not), so if you have a utility spot on your roster, you may look to add an extra centerfielder to pad that category.  This isn’t always your best option, but if you’re lost in the later rounds, it’s a pretty good fallback plan.

Another example of this that you’ll see is when it comes to pitchers.  Although I’m usually an advocate picking pitchers who play for winning teams (increased likelihood for wins and saves), there’s nothing wrong with choosing someone for their talent instead of their team.  A lot of leagues have a category for WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), so you might want to look at starting pitchers who have consistenly low WHIPs, especially in the later rounds.  Guys like Felix Hernandez are obviously going to get taken early, but there’s plenty of non-flashy options that exist for other teams.

So the next time you find yourself in a fantasy baseball draft, try to keep track of what categories you’re not especially strong in, and use a late-round pick to try to fix it.  The more categories that you can be competitive in on a weekly basis, the better chance you have to be successful.

Cabrera vs Trout

So it’s draft day and you find yourself in the difficult position of having the first pick in your fantasy baseball league.  Most fantasy baseball experts will tell you that there’s only two options to choose from, and that’s Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.  The good news is that they’re both exceptional players.  The bad news is that you have to choose between the two.

Now this isn’t a debate about whether or not Trout should have won the AL MVP in 2012, but it’s about which player is going to increase your chances of winning your fantasy league in 2013.  First and foremost, I don’t necessarily think it’s a mistake to take either player, but I’m going to do my best to explain who I would take and why.

First let’s take a look at Trout, who had a season for the ages last year.  In his rookie season, Trout posted a .326 batting average, .399 on base percentage, stole 49 bases, hit 30 home runs and scored 129 runs.  Not bad for a guy who didn’t even start the season on the Major League roster.  So what will Trout have in store for his encore performance?

Perhaps I’m a bit pessimistic, but I don’t think Trout will come close to repeating his numbers in 2013.  This isn’t to say that I think he’s going to have a bad year, in fact far from it.  You just have to realize that it’s very likely that Trout’s career year came in his rookie year.  If you look at the projected numbers posted on Fangraphs, only Bill James thinks Trout will find similar success during his sophomore season.  Although it’s possible he could repeat his performance (which James actually thinks he’ll outperform), I think that’s overly optimistic.

I would expect to hit around .300 with 25 home runs and 40 stolen bases.  Most teams would love to have a leadoff hitter post numbers like that, but keep in mind Trout has no track record to prove he’s guaranteed to do it.

Much like Trout, Miguel Cabrera also had quite a historical season in 2012.  Not only did he manage to win the Triple Crown (lead the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in), but he did it while playing a position he hadn’t played since 2008.  Now that he’s settled in at third base, could he actually find a way to improve offensively in 2013?

It’s not fair to project a player to win the Triple Crown, but Cabrera has the kind of talent where you can never really rule it out.  Yes, he’s that elite of a hitter.  Although his .330 batting average was below the .344 he posted in 2011, he managed to increase his home runs and RBIs (career highs in both).  There’s not too many players that you can easily predict to hit .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, but there’s also not a lot of players like Miguel Cabrera.

Since 2004, Cabrera has never batted below .292 in a single season while averaging more than 34 home runs a season.  With the kind of numbers Cabrera has already put up in his career (.318 batting average and 321 home runs), he might already be considered a Hall of Fame player.  Not bad for a guy who has only played 10 seasons and is just entering the prime of his career.

Much like Trout, I think it’s reasonable to think that Cabrera will not match his 2012 numbers, but I think you can expect him to hit .315 with 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs.  With numbers like that, it’s also possible Cabrera might be the first player to win the AL MVP in consecutive years since Frank Thomas did it in 1993-1994.

So who should you take with the first pick?  Based solely on consistency, I think Cabrera is the better option of the two players.  If you could guarantee me that Trout will come close to what he did last year, I’d obviously give the edge to Trout, but too many players seem to struggle in their second season.  They’re two great options to choose from, but I really don’t think you can go wrong with either.