>Nick Blackburn Update: Still Good

>Brief post time:

I was able to watch his game against the Brewers and noticed something: his good starts are effortless. He didn’t strike out a ton of batters (two). In fact, he was underwhelming in the strikeout department. But his fantasy owners shouldn’t be expecting that at this point. Blackburn and Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire have said repeatedly that this is a classic “pitch to contact” starter.
Looking to my last Blackburn post (Nick Blackburn is Actually Good) there may be an interesting trend starting up:
First, Blackburn pitched his second consecutive complete game. Yes, it was in loss. But Blackburn has pitched a combined 25 innings in his last three starts. For every fantasy “expert” who claims this guy should be dealt really needs to check themselves. Listening to the Twins’ announce team tonight, every member stated not only that Blackburn’s record hasn’t truly reflected how good he is… but he’s pitched BETTER than staff “ace” Kevin Slowey.
Second, Blackburn’s defense let him down BIG TIME tonight. Joe Mauer’s off-target throw into left field (over Joe Crede’s head) cost the Twins and Blackburn the win tonight. I know, I know… I praised the Twins defense in my last post… but I think that’s more the reason to buy into Blackburn. This isn’t something that will happen often.
Lastly, if there’s an owner in your league that’s looking to deal Blackburn right now, you should consider making an offer. I’m not saying this is a top-of-the-order stud, but he’s an awesome, awesome 4th or 5th starter in any league… especially when he’s facing a two-start week (LIKE NEXT WEEK!!!).
Enough of me proving myself correct for now… just a weekly “Nick Blackburn Rocking” update.
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Filed under Fantasy Baseball, Kevin Slowey, Minnesota Twins, Nick Blackburn, Ron Gardenhire

>Carlos Quentin: Major League Disappointment (Continues…)

>Here’s the latest from last year’s MVP candidate via The Sports Xchange:

“We’re aware that if a relapse happens where the tendon ruptures even more, well, that’s major,” Quentin said. “That’s something that’s going to take longer, maybe even the rest of the season. So we’re thinking that if that tendon goes, that’s a two- to four-month recovery. Where we’re at in the baseball season, two-to-four really doesn’t work out as far as being able to play again this season. That’s more of the concern right now.”

Wow.  Personally, I am a horribly disappointed Carlos Quentin owner in a 12-team keeper league.  When I saw this news, my initial impulse was to throw something… hard.  Or, better yet, punch something… hard.  That impulse, however, reminded me of last season… when Carlos Quentin broke his hand in frustration…

The combination of two thoughts (the first being how much I hate Carlos Quentin and the second being my concern for my own hand) prevented me from taking any physical action.  The above is the latest in an on-going injury plagued career for such a promising young major leaguer, in Carlos Quentin.
Nearly two years ago, when I skimmed the pages of the 2008 Baseball Prospectus, I almost immediately stumbled upon the name “Carlos Quentin.”  Why?  Well, he played for the D-Backs at the time and BP is displayed in alphabetical order.  In Quentin’s bio, the guys and gals at BP noted that he had a world of talent, but was too injury prone.  The projected meager stats, and Carlos Quentin made them look silly….
…or did he?
If anything, 2009 has shown what an aberration 2008’s MVP campaign was for Carlos Quentin.  Furthermore, it displayed how scarily accurate Baseball Prospectus can be.
So… fellow Carlos Quentin owners, what’s our next step.  Well, for anyone who’s late to get on the bandwagon, Quentin is almost “drop-able.”  Yes.  It pains me to say so, but if you’re in a single-season (non-keeper) league, Quentin’s foot ailments and news of *almost* shutting it down puts him in the red-zone.  Here’s who we all should be looking at as potential replacements:
Cody Ross: In most leagues, this guy’s available.  He started off like a bat out of hell but really, really, REALLY cooled off for most of April and the early parts of May.  Over the last 5 weeks, however, Ross has averaged nearly 26 points/week in points based leagues.  Not to mention his OPS of nearly .900 during his last 15 games.  While other studs like Hanley Ramirez take over the spotlight in Miami, look for a hard-nosed break-out player in Ross to help ease the loss of someone as spectacular as Carlos Quentin.
Juan Rivera: I remember young Juan fumbling around the Yankees’ outfield in the early part of the new millennium.  While his average and arm left something to be desired, he still had that little “Ricky Ledee” in him that all Yankee fans wanted to grasp on to as a token of their championship years.  Well… Ricky Ledee’s probably warming someone’s bench right now (maybe in the independent leagues?  It’s not important enough to look up, to be blunt) and Juan Rivera is doing his best impersonation of Bernie Williams (yes, THAT Yankee favorite of the Dynasty years).  Over his last 15 games, Rivera’s OPS is in vintage Big Papi territory at nearly 1.000.  And he’s averaging around 23 points/week over his last five weeks.  Kudos to ESPN’s Matthew Berry for having such a man crush on this guy that he stuck out in my mind.  Rivera’s dominance probably will not last… but it doesn’t mean you can’t ride him into the ground, Dusty Baker-style!
Nolan Reimold: Yes, one of the many man-crushes of my blog, Reimold has done nothing but impress since his call to the bigs.  The Greenville, PA product has averaged 20/week in points based leagues–with the potential to do a bit more.   It’s hard to put all your faith in a rookie, but Reimold’s OPS of .951 over his last 15 games is enough to warrant consideration in most leagues.  Hold him as a 3rd – 4th OF for your team.  This guy has the make up of a 2nd half sleeper and may be worth it on your team’s turn-around run.

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Filed under Carlos Quentin, Cody Ross, Fantasy Baseball, Juan Rivera, Nolan Reimold

>Week 11 Update: Nick Blackburn is Actually "Good"

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I was reading an article at Sportsfrog.com a little while ago… it demanded that I trade Nick Blackburn.  Bronto, the author, suggests:

“Blackburn has benefited from a better-than average BABIP, which stood at .278 before today’s game compared to last season’s .308 BABIP. And he’s walking more hitters too. After walking just 39 last year, Blackburn has walked 25 people this season after walking just 39 in 2008.”

Yes, this is all 100% accurate.  However, with this all know, do we think anyone would be willing to deal anything for Blackburn and if so, what?  Personally, I don’t think you’re going to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes if you’re in a competitive league.  Blackburn is what he is: a nice option in mixed-leagues and a really, really good option in AL-Only leagues.

…and though everything Bronto said was accurate, I’m not ready to sell on Blackburn yet.  I look at his GB-rate and think there may be something more here.  The Twins have historically preached speed and defense to their position players.  This is blatantly obvious in the fact that the Twins lead baseball with only 24 Errors allows all year!  It’s mind-boggling, but it’s true.  With that all said, why not take a chance on a kid who’s decreasing his HR/FB rate and pitching to a better-than-50% GB rate?
My point is that Blackburn’s BABIP is so low because his GB Rate is so steady and his HR/FB is severely decreased from what it was last year.  As Brian Pietrzak suggests in his “Inside Nick Blackburn’s last five starts,” Blackburn’s reputation is a bit misleading:

“Blackburn has garnered a reputation as a “fly-ball pitcher,” especially from Twins’ announcers Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer. However, Blackburn’s ground ball to fly ball ratio is 1.21 through his first 13 starts of 2009. As a contrast, Carlos Silva was often considered by many, including Blyleven and Bremer, to be a “sinkerball pitcher” who induced many ground balls. In his final season as a Twin in 2007, Silva had a ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.41.”

In the end, it comes down to whether or not YOU like Blackburn.  You can find all the stats in the world to support either side as Bronto and Pietrzak deliver above.  For me, I say stick with him.  Let him ride your bench next week and throw him in for two-starts in Week 13.  Unless the Twins trade their top-flight defenders, I’d expect more of the same.

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Filed under BABIP, Fantasy Baseball, Minnesota Twins, Nick Blackburn, SABR

>Weekend Update: Ryan Doumit, Scott Kazmir, Cubs’ Bats

>For those of us who’ve been waiting to vulture Ryan Doumit from the waiver-wire… you may want to wait a little longer.  A few minutes ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gave an update on Doumit’s rehab:

“He’s been cleared to resume baseball activities, which means throwing and swinging a bat. Yesterday was the first time he threw soft toss from 45 feet and also took some dry swings. He did it again this morning. ‘It’s a progression and I’m going to ease into it,’ Doumit said, who’s beginning a two-week throwing/batting program. ‘I’ll do that for a couple of weeks and we’ll see where it goes from there.'”

Essentially, he’s still a while away from coming back.  Throwing from 45 feet is typically the first of three legs a catcher has to run through to prove his health… not even including working your swing back into… swing.  That all said, Doumit’s return shouldn’t be for at least another 3 weeks.  The good news is that you’ll start getting more regular updates about his condition and training now that he’s starting a regular program.

The St. Petersburg Times also provided a brief update on Rays’ starter, Scott Kazmir, who told reporters he would be starting up a rehab campaign this coming week:

“[Joe] Maddon confirmed LHP Scott Kazmir will start for Class-A Charlotte Wednesday.”

Short and to-the-point.  Nothing that I could find about Kazmir’s shoulder or side-sessions, but I’m sure most of that will be available after his first go-round on Wednesday afternoon.  Check back at the above link for more on Wednesday night or Thursday morning (as usual, I’m sure Rotoworld or MLB Trade Rumors will also have something on this).

Finally, the Chicago Tribune reports the Chicago Cubs fired team hitting coach, Gerald Perry.  Normally, this is a purely cosmetic move, but Perry coached one of the most feared offenses in baseball not even two-years ago.  So, needless to say, he’ll resurface somewhere within the next season or two.  Jim Hendry on the firing:

“Von [Joshua] has had a lot of success with our guys on the way up. We’re really, really struggling offensively for reasons way beyond Aramis (Ramirez) being gone. Every day we have guys in the lineup who have played in the All-Star game. For whatever reason, they’re just not performing anywhere close to the level they’ve performed through their careers.”

That last part is huge.  Owners of Alfonso Soriano, Derrick Lee, and Milton Bradley may start to see some signs of life soon.  Though, Soriano has been struggling, now might be the time to try and make  a trade for the perennial fantasy superstar.  He and the rest of the Cubbies’ bats have the potential for a huge second half.

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Filed under Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs, Derrek Lee, Fantasy Baseball, Gerald Perry, Joe Madden, Milton Bradley, Ryan Doumit, Scott Kazmir

>Nick Swisher: 2009’s Carlos Quentin?

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Well… not quite Carlos Quentin (Swisher will not hit 40 bombs this year), but in Fantasy terms, Nick Swisher‘s initial value (nothing) and long-term value (high-end #2 outfielder) match-up well to Quentin’s 2008 Fantasy Baseball Odyssey.  

What makes Swish so valuable this early in the season was the severe lack of respectable first basemen in last month’s draft.  His dual eligibility (1B and OF)  makes him particularly attractive in leagues that have little to no room on a team’s bench.
All prep aside, let’s take a look at what makes Swisher’s 2009 “Quentin Worthy:”
Above, we see Nick Swisher’s major league numbers.  It’s hard to believe, but this guys only been in the Majors for just over 4 years.  Looking over his career, Swisher obviously had his “career-year” in his sophomore 2006, when he almost slugged at a .500 clip.  Since then, his SLG% has fallen dramatically, resulting in last year’s .410 result with the Chicago White Sox.
Now, we all know Swisher’s bread-and-butter is his on-base percentage… but even that was down in 2008, which begs the question:  “What the hell happened in ’08?”
Well, to start, Swisher’s BABIP fell over 50 points last year, pointing to shitty luck as an immediate culprit in his horrendous 2008.  As Yahoo! Sports’ Matt Buser notes in a February 2007 article, “One of the most interesting things about [BABIP] is that it’s widely acknowledged that luck plays a part in each player’s BABIP. For hitters, there are three things that play a large part: skill, speed, and luck.”
Furthermore, Buser’s ambiguous notion that “skill” plays a role in BABIP eliminates any subsequent discussion about Swisher’s apparent skill, so I’m not going to even go there.  But it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that Nick Swisher is a slow guy.  Again, assuming Swisher has “decent” skill, we have a 1-1 split coming down to luck as the deciding factor.
So me… Swisher was just “unlucky” in 2008.  Much like Quentin’s 2007, Swisher was viewed as a 4th outfielder and a back-up first baseman on a team that already featured two (Jim Thome and Paul Konerko).  Essentially, Nick Swisher had nowhere to play.
His fate seemed similar with his new team, the New York Yankees, as the team vowed to use Brett Gardner in CF rather than the defensively inept Swisher.  This made Swish the number one back-up for Johnny Damon in left, Xavier Nady in right, and Mark Teixeira at first.
That is… until about 2 hours ago when news broke that Xavier Nady will likely miss the remainder of 2009 with a torn elbow ligament.
Now it’s Swisher’s turn to prove that he’s worthy of a full-season of at-bats.  Let’s not forget… it was Carlos Quentin’s white-hot start that placed Nick Swisher in a “back-up” role as a member of the White Sox.  Now, in a ironic twist, Swisher finds himself in a similar position.
During the off-season, I compiled an average “projected points” list using Bill James’ Handbook, Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster, MARCEL, ZiPS, and ESPN.  This conglomerate projects Nick Swisher’s 488.9 points to outscore fellow outfielders Shane Victorino (484), Vernon Wells (475), Jayson Werth (451) and Rick Ankiel (453).  He also places above first basemen Paul Konerko (471), Connor Jackson (481), and Carlos Guillen (451). 
To say the least, Swisher is a must-add bat right now… ESPECIALLY batting in the middle of the Yankees’ potent line-up.  Feel free to confidently add him to your starting line-up for the next scoring period.

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Filed under Carlos Guillen, Carlos Quentin, Connor Jackson, Fantasy Baseball, Jayson Werth, Nick Swisher, Paul Konerko, Rick Ankiel, Shane Victorino, Vernon Wells, Xavier Nady

>Shin-Soo Choo: 2009’s Rick Ankiel?

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Okay, wipe the coffee you just spit out off your monitor…

If you’re asking yourself who’s Shin-Soo Choo, then you’re in dire-straights before the season even begins.  Choo, a former starting pitcher in the Seattle Mariner’s farm system, converted to outfielder after a copious amount of arm problems in the minors and has thrived since his trade to Cleveland.
What I found most interesting about Choo’s extended call-up in 2008 (361 plate-appearances), was the fact that his OPS (.924) topped Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley, Carlos Lee, and Josh Hamilton, just to name a few.  Does this mean Choo’s going to top these guys?  No!  Of course that’s not the case, but 2008 may be an indicator that a breakout is on the horizon for Choo in 2009.
Looking back to 2007, there was another converted-outfielder who put up a high-OPS (.863)in limited plate-appearances.  His name:  Rick Ankiel.  In 2008, Ankiel continued more-of-the-same in his PA’s with a .843 OPS.  Ankiel, like Choo, played in a hitter’s park and eventually found himself in the middle of the line-up with Albert Pujols somewhere nearby.
Taking a look at Choo’s projected points/plate-appearance (formula offered here), he’s expected to do much better than some “names” who will be drafted before him:
Bill James:  .842 pts/pa
CBS Sports:   .841 pts/pa
MARCEL:  .875 pts/pa

For Bill James, Choo should be expected to outperform the likes of Jermaine Dye (.83), Andre Ethier (.82), Nick Swisher (.81), Hideki Matsui (.80), Vernon Wells (.80), and Johnny Damon (80) in a points-based fantasy baseball league.  Now, I like the comparables here, BUT the oddball in this equation has to be Andre Ethier.  Like Choo, he’s a younger (27) and in everyone’s favorite “breakout” age.  Due to the fact that Ethier is guaranteed much more playing time, I would elevate him a bit out of the group of mediocrity where Bill James places him.
Moving on to CBS Sports, Choo’s fantasy output (.841) is similar to those of Alex Rios (.841) and Torii Hunter (.841), two guys who will be drafted light-years before anyone even considers giving Choo the time of day.  
MARCEL provides the most favorable points/plate-appearance projection for Choo (.87); placing him in the top-20 OVERALL.  That’s right.  Choo denied Chase Utley a finish in the Top-20 (Utley was 21… not bad).
Of all the players Choo weighs in above, one thing is for certain: your outfield CAN be built late.  In a draft where you’re more concerned with position eligibility, be sure to have post it with “Shin-Soo Choo” written on it somewhere in your notes.  He has the potential to hit 20-25 home runs for Cleveland in 2009 while maintaining a ~.300 BA.
That all said, don’t rely on him as a guaranteed 3rd outfielder in your league.  Draft him as a high-end 4th and watch what happens.  I’m not saying he’s going to be the next Carlos Quentin, but you could definitely do a lot worse than having the 2009 version of Rick Ankiel at your disposal.
(Side-note:  If you believe in the “Age-27” Breakout Theory… then Choo’s also turning 27 this season.  Enjoy.)

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Filed under Alex Rios, Andre Ethier, Bill James, Carlos Quentin, Chase Utley, Fantasy Baseball, Hideki Matsui, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon, MARCEL, Rick Ankiel, Shin-Soo Choo, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells

>Fantasy Baseball Prep: Castigated Outfielders

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Now that the Bill James-enhanced Fantasy Baseball Prep Chapter has finally come to a close, I’ve been shifting through CBS Sports and Marcel projections over the past few days to really key in on the “popular” choices for breakout players and potential slumping players for the 2009 season.

While I continue working through this, however, I wanted to write a bit about someone who’s name I’ve seen brought up quite a bit on the message boards and who I didn’t really mentioned in my outfield prep post.  Again, it’s worth mentioning that an “average” outfielder has a Fantasy Points / Plate Appearance of 0.81 pts/pa.
The Nationals’ Elijah Dukes had a problem getting opportunities in 2008.  This has to do with a number of issues: first, he has a horrible attitude (best example came against the Mets at mid-season when he felt Mike Pelfrey was throwing at him…), second, he has a problem with consistency, and third, he has enough off-field issues to last multiple seasons.
So why the hype?  Why are owners, in the cold of January, hyping someone who may not even be a regular for the Nationals in 2009?
Bill James: 0.89 pts/pa
CBS Sports: 0.83 pts/pa
Marcel: 0.82 pts/pa

I guess that about sums it up…
While Dukes isn’t head-and-shoulders above average, he has shown the potential to be if given the at-bats.  Two years ago, while working for WFUV as a Yankees’ beat reporter, I bumped into Dukes, then a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  Now, I’ve seen some big baseball players, but Dukes is one of the biggest guys on the field.  If talent were determined by the shier size of a player, Dukes would be among the tops in the game.  However, for some reason, he’s yet to “put it all together” (you’ve heard this so many times before… but I truly believe it when it comes to a guy with, seemingly, all the tools, like Dukes).
So, who should you look to rank Dukes ahead of, if given the ABs?
Marcel projects Dukes’ .82 pts/pa ahead of Hunter Pence (.81), Eric Byrnes (.80), Mike Cameron (.79), and Shane Victorino (.79) — most of whom will be drafted in points leagues (especially if strikeouts are of a minimal penalty).
For CBS Sports, Dukes barely edges Vernon Wells (.82), while also placing ahead of Jacoby Ellsbury (.81), Johnny Damon (.81), and Hunter Pence (again).
Bill James provides the most liberal, abstruse projections with Dukes’ .89 pts/pa topping those of Bobby Abreu (.88), Nate McLouth (.87), Curtis Granderson (.86), Magglio Ordonez (.85), and Pat Burrell (.84), just to name a few (of the guys who will DEFINITELY be drafted before Dukes).
When all is said and done, the most you can do (at this point, anyway) is wait and see what happens in Spring Training for the Nats.  As of now, they’re rolling into the season with Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena, Josh Willingham, Austin Kearns, and Dukes… while also being rumored to have interest in free agent Adam Dunn and the Yankees’ Xavier Nady.  Now, I was never adroit to numbers games, but I don’t think you’re going to have very much sucess fitting upwards of 7 major leaguers in 3 outfield spots.
To conclude, there’s a bit too many pieces to this puzzle to derail my circumspect approach to a player like Dukes.  I know a lot of fantasy participants out there love him, and it’s not hard to see why… but until Adam Dunn signs with another team, the Yankees trade Nady to the Mariners/Pirates, Josh Willingham converts back to catcher, and Wily Mo Pena retires… I’m going to remain an innocent bystander even with the risk of being burned by Elijah Dukes.

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Filed under Adam Dunn, Bill James, Bobby Abreu, Curtis Granderson, Ellijah Dukes, Eric Byrnes, Fantasy Baseball, Hunter Pence, Jacoby Ellsbury, Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, MARCEL, Nate McLouth, Pat Burrell