Thursday, March 15, 2007

Undervalued

Rotisserie (or fantasy) baseball is now played under so many variations that providing generic rankings is a waste of time. Hopefully you're a spreadsheet wiz and have built your own rankings from a set of projections. If not, make sure the website you're pulling rankings from has a form that allows you to customize their rankings to fit your league or keeps rules similar to your own league's in mind when ranking players. Above all, avoid using one of the annual magazines as your draft guide. A lot can change during spring training and forecasts that go to print in January won't hold up against their internet counterparts.

With the above in mind, I will point out several players that for various reasons may be undervalued. Bump those that follow up a few spots in your own draft rankings or auction values where applicable.

Travis Hafner [DH, CLE] - It's hard to argue that any serious rotisserie player is going to undervalue one of the best hitters on the planet. However, Hafner presents a unique problem in most leagues because he fails to qualify at any position other than designated hitter. As any hitter in baseball can be used as a designated hitter in rotisserie baseball, Hafner's production has to be weighed against the best hitters in the game regardless of position. This decreases his value, but Hafner's situation might change this season. Cleveland manager Eric Wedge has said that Hafner might see as much as one start a week at first base in order to prepare him to take over the team's first base duties during inter-league play. This means Hafner is going to start the season without first base eligibility in most leagues, but is probably going to gain it during the year. Once Hafner becomes eligible at first base, he's arguably the second best fantasy first baseman overall. As a first baseman he's an easy first round pick, but currently ranked as a designated hitter he can be had in the second round of most mixed league drafts. If you take Wedge at his word, plan on one start a week, figure out how long it will take Hafner to gain first base eligibility in your league, and rank or bid accordingly.

Javier Vazquez [SP, CHW] - It seems like Vazquez is on my list of undervalued players to target every year. This begs the question, why I haven’t I learned my lesson yet? Every spring I look back at Vazquez' numbers from the previous season, and every spring I see a pitcher who is better than his earned run average and won-loss record suggest. Vazquez had a disastrous June (7.50 ERA) and July (6.82 ERA) last season which can be explained away in large part by an abnormally high batting average on balls in play (.390) and unusually low percentage of runners stranded on base (57%). In other words, Vazquez was very unlucky for the middle third of last season and is a lot better than his 4.84 ERA last season would lead most people to believe. White Sox general manager Kenny Williams has my back on this one, as Chicago inked Vazquez to an extension this off-season. Don’t count on a lot of wins as the White Sox are treading water in the toughest division in baseball, but Vazquez will provide rotisserie teams with a good number of strikeouts and a solid earned run average.

Delmon Young [RF, TB] - Young is one of the two best hitting prospects in baseball and an interesting player to forecast. He has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues at just 21 years of age and will enter the season as the Devil Rays' starting right fielder. Young has amazing ability to make contact and great plate coverage to go along with good speed and power. His one weakness, however, is plate discipline. He doesn't have the most selective batting eye, and while most scouts think Young will be a perennial all-star during his peak, his pitch selection could cause him to struggle in 2007. An interesting development this spring has been manager Joe Maddon's experiment with batting Young third. For a young hitter who makes a ton of contract but doesn’t draw any walks (the Kirby Puckett/Vladimir Guerrero school of hitting), batting behind speedsters Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford would not only increase his RBI opportunities, but could also result in Young seeing a greater percentage of fastballs as opposing teams try to curb the Devil Rays running game. For a free swinger like Young, the prospect of seeing fewer breaking balls and off speed pitches is significant. The closer your draft is to opening day the better. If Young enters the season hitting third in the Rays' line-up, don't be afraid to buy into the hype.

Carlos Quentin [RF, ARI] - Quentin is poised for a breakout season. His contact rate and batting eye are those of a .300 hitter, and Quentin slugged .530 in limited time last season despite hitting only .253. Playing half his games in Arizona inflated his power numbers, but Quentin is going to play home games there this season as well. Surrounded by other budding young players like shortstop Stephen Drew, center fielder Chris Young, and first baseman Connor Jackson, the Snakes line-up looks to be much improved. Quentin should see plenty of RBI opportunities batting in the heart of what should be a solid offense for seasons to come.

Alexi Casilla [2B/SS, MIN] - I don’t trust the Twins infield to stay healthy. Second baseman Luis Castillo has a history of leg problems and third baseman Nick Punto set a career high for games played last season with a pedestrian 135. If either get hurt, Luis Rodriguez is an unimpressive, run-of-the-mill utility infielder and Jeff Cirillo can only hit lefties. Even if everyone stays healthy, it took a career year from Punto to turn himself into a useful regular and he may be hard pressed to maintain his level of play. Casilla will most likely start the year in the minors and might not be up with the big league club until September, but he’s a major source of speed and could swipe forty-plus if given a full season’s worth of plate appearances in the show. He’s a clone of the Marlins-era Luis Castillo at the plate with the range and arm to play short. If Casilla gets a chance to play regularly for the Twins this season, he’s the kind of impact speedster that can swing stolen bases in your favor. That Alexander Machado has been knicked up this spring can't hurt Casilla's chances of reaching the majors. Who knows, he may even break camp with the big league club. The Twins do see him as their 2008 starter at second, so wherever he plays, the organization wants him getting at bats. As scare as steals are, and as boring as the Twins’ infield is, if your league allows you to stash minor leaguers away for later, make sure you grab Casilla. If not, AL-only leaguers shouldn't hesitate to pick Casilla up when he gets called up to the big league club.

Daniel Cabrera [SP, BAL] - Cabrera is a bit of a real life Rick Vaughn, only taller and with a better curve. Cabrera has teased rotisserie players for the past two seasons striking out more than a batter an inning while walking more batters than those that managed to get hits off the six-foot seven-inch flamethrower. There were high hopes last season that Orioles' hire and pitching guru Leo Mazzone would be able to help Cabrera with his control problems but on the surface the results were disappointing. Cabrera walked a staggering 104 batters in just 148 innings pitched. However, Cabrera started sporting glasses for the last third of the 2006 season and cut his walk rate nearly in half. The Dominican Wild Thing gave up 8.13 walks for every nine innings pitched from April to July, but cut that rate down to 4.20 for the final two months of the regular season. Cabrera had lasik eye surgery to correct his vision this off-season and with his ability to miss bats, if he can maintain the walk rate he posted in August and September last season, 2007 should be the breakout season everyone has been waiting for.

Joel Peralta [RP, KC] - Joe Nelson has labrum problems and will probably miss half of the 2007 season. With Octavio Dotel owning injury concerns of his own, Peralta is a great dark horse candidate for saves, not that the Royals will provide whomever their closer is with many opportunities. It's not that Peralta is particularly good, just better than the rest of the Royals' supporting cast. He won’t be drafted in most leagues and can be had with your last pick. At least keep an eye on him.

Tom Glavine [SP, NYM] - Glavine will be 41 this season, and that usually means a significant decline in performance isn't too far off on the horizon. However, Glavine did post a 3.82 earned run average last season despite having a rough June (4.93 ERA) and July (6.00 ERA). We'll never know how much of Glavine's mid-season struggles coincided with the blood clot in his throwing shoulder that some thought at the time might end his career. After a stint on the disabled list, Glavine was able to return in mid-August and posted a 3.45 earned run average over his last nine regular season starts. His injury risk is high, but he's a pretty safe bet to repeat his numbers from last season. For a 40-something pitcher, that's saying a lot.

Matt Murton [OF, CHC] - Murton has the upside to hit .300 and sock 20 home runs if given 500 at bats. He has been clobbering opposing pitching this spring, posting a line of .308/.398/.615 through 26 at-bats and has seen significant time batting second in the Cubs' order. However, the Cliff Floyd signing has cast his playing time into serious doubt. This makes him a great end game flier in mixed leagues, and someone to target in the late middle rounds NL-only leagues. Floyd is anything but durable and when he lands on the disabled list this season Murton will shed his platoon status and see time as a regular. If Murton plays well enough, he may help general manager Jim Hendry finally see how expendable Jacque Jones is and get the at-bats he deserves. Keep a close eye on prospect Felix Pie, however. He will force his way into the Cubs outfield plans eventually. If Pie starts tearing up Triple-A it could further complicate things for Murton. Still, Murton has a lot more ability than the vast majority of fourth outfielders in baseball and can probably be had for a bargain.

Jamie Shields [SP, TB] - Shields will never be an ace in the major leagues, but he'll be a very good second or third starter in the very near future. He has an excellent minor league track record and held his own pitching as a rookie in the American League East last season, which is far from a good pitching environment. Sheilds threw fewer than 70 innings in Triple-A between 2005 and 2006 in making his move from Double-A to the show. Even still, he posted solid strike out, walk, and home run rates and should continue to make steady progress this coming season. Shields is also a very consistent pitcher. Most rotisserie players won't be looking past Scott Kazmir in the Rays' rotation, but Shields is a solid back-end starter in mixed leagues and good middle-of-the-rotation starter in AL-only formats.

Frenando Cabrera [RP, CLE] - Keith Foulke has retired and Joe Borowski has struggled with closing games in the past. The Cleveland bullpen is far from stable, and this time last season it was Cabrera who was supposed to be the closer of the future. The young righty struggled in the first half, posting a 6.46 earned run average before the all-star break. His second half showed promise, though, and Cabrera kept his earned run average down to a respectable 3.90. One constant was his ability to miss bats. Cabrera rang up 70 batters in just 60 1/3 innings. If you grab Borowski this season, you need to handcuff Cabrera to him. Personally, I'd rather let someone else draft Borowski, take Cabrera a few rounds later, and collect all of the Indians' saves when Borowski falters.

I'm looking forward to another great season of baseball, and am really excited about the changes taking place this season at GameDay. Good luck in your rotisserie auctions and fantasy drafts and be sure to pick up a copy of GameDay whenever you frequent the Metrodome this summer.

No comments: