Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What to do with Upton, Big Z?

I like B.J. Upton's upside. Always have. But this weekend may have tarnished his image, not just in baseball, but in fantasy circles as well.

How many times can a player dog it, before getting called out? Whatever that number, Evan Longoria felt lighting had struck twice and not in a good way. Longoria dialed up Upton's number in the dugout, unleashing a good old-fashion tongue-lashing for not hustling on two plays in a recent Rays game.

Good for Longoria. Nothing's worse than seeing a guy not hustle. Here's the chewing-out session.

Fantasy spin: This may finally shake Upton to be the player everyone though he would be. But I doubt it. Generally, guys are hustlers or they're not. Upton's history of going less than full-speed has been well-documented and Joe Madden may want to end this experiment with an off-season (or trade deadline) deal, depending on if they can resign Crawford. Any system short of the Angels would mean a decrease in Upton's steals. But that aside, Upton's average has been hovering around the Pena, er, Mendoza Line for too long now to take him serious as a fantasy star anymore. If you can get a Top 75 value for him, it's probably worth it.

Zambrano suspended after blowup

A unremarkable Cubs season unraveled on Saturday as Carlos Zambrano blew a major circuit with Meltdown No. 78 over his Cubs career.

If the Cubs unofficial mantra is "Wait 'til Next Year," most Cubs fans would settle for "Wait 'til Big Z is traded."

Zambrano's big beef was that Derek Lee, playing with a bad back, didn't dive on a ball down the line hit by the White Sox's Juan Pierre. Lee had little to no shot at the ball, but Big Z thought otherwise and went all John McEnroe in the dugout before being separated from Lee.

If you've been living under a rock, here's some video footage:

This seems to be the last straw for Jim Hendry and the Cubs, who suspended Zambrano and are ordering evaluation and anger-management treatment. And when Big Z returns, sometime after the All-Star break, it will be in the bullpen.

It's also the final verse for most Cubs fans, who find themselves humming "Go, Carlos, Go."

But how do the Cubs get rid of a loose-cannon such as Zambrano? If this was football, he would be on careerbuilder.com by now. But his 5-year, $91.5 million contract signed in August of 2007 makes waiving him about as improbable as Harry Caray making it to the 7th-inning stretch without a cold Bud.

The Cubs will try to quickly rehabilitate his image and hopefully Milton Bradley Zambrano, as in trading him to any taker out there for an equally bad contract. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a contract in the same stratosphere as Zambrano's, now that Vernon Wells has revived his career from the dead. Maybe for Carlos Lee perhaps? The Yanks' Kei Igawa?

All the so-called experts say the Cubs need to blow this team up, if not now, after the season and start from scratch.

Whoooooooooo dere. Not so fast. This is MLB not slowpitch softball.

How in the name of Bob Brenly will the Cubs be able to find takers for guys like Alfonso Soriano ($72 million, 4 years left) and Aramis Ramirez (owed a minimum $16.5 million for one more year)? Not to mention Zambrano.

This is Hendry's mess and he's gotta find a way out of it and his job might depend on it. But this is far worse than the Milton Bradley catastrophe of 2009. This is multiple players with bloated salaries who are not living up to expectations.

Good luck with that.

Or as Cub fans might be thinking: "Wait 'til 2014."

Fantasy Spin: Most owners have ridded themselves of Big Z (only 33 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues) and those who still have him might be either on vacation or asleep. Once a top-tier SP option, Big Z will be in the bullpen for likely the rest of the year. His value is almost zero. As for Soriano, Ramirez, Lee, etc., there seems to be little life left in the Cubs' well right now. A momentary surge on Sunday was met with a 2-1 loss to the juggernaut Pirates. Harumph. Best thing to do is try to limit the number of Cubs as possible. The trio of Lee, Ramirez and Soriano are all borderline droppable in very shallow mixers, but I can't recommend that. Not yet anyway. Too much track record to go cold turkey.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Buy low or sell high (hitters)?

Playing the stock market perfectly is fairly impossible. Same could be said of trading players in fantasy baseball.

Or could it?

A lot can be learned over the years. Knowing which guys are historically slow and fast starters helps, but common sense can yield helpful tips.

Here's a list of under/overachieving hitters and what you should do, whether you own the player or not.

Albert Pujols: Can we really complain about Pujols' production this year? Yes. And as a Cubs fan, I urge you to do so at every possible moment. 15 HR, 50 RBI and .311 for most any player is a career year. For Pujols, it's run-of-the-mill. The RBI will probably be in the 110-120 range by year's end, but the long balls are on a much slower pace this year, unless you factor in 2007, when Pujols only hit 32. And Pujols is a career .333 hitter. Verdict: Buy-low. Matt Holiday is heating up and that will give Pujols more protection and some extra fastballs moving forward.

Chase Utley/Ryan Howard: Both players are underperforming with regards to expectations. Utley quite a bit worse (11 HR, 33 RBI, .265) Howard, until last week, would have been a prime buy-low candidate, but has woken up the past 5-6 games and is now up to 14 HR, 52 RBI, .297. Of course, Howard is a perennial slow starter, so a savvy league would not have discounted him much. Verdict: Surprisingly, I'm going to say sell-high on both. Sell high? My gut feeling is something isn't right in that Phillies clubhouse. Almost to the day of MLB busting Philly for stealing signs, their run production has been cut in half. Coincidence? Can't all be. But both Utley and Howard have perceived bargain-bin numbers, they might actually be overhyped in the end, if an owner is factoring their big second halves that will bring them back to their normal numbers. If you can still get late-first-round/early-second-round value, by perhaps the diehard Phanatic in your league, I'd definitely sell.

Mark Teixeira:
Always, always, always a slow starter. Always. His career April average is 40 points less than any other month and the April home run numbers are half what Aug. and Sept. are. Verdict: Time to go shopping on the clearance rack. And if you have time, get your inseam measured for this Teix. That window, however, may have gotten a little snugger with the Grand Salami.

Prince Fielder: Stat of the year. In the last month, Fielder has actually hit for decent power (6 HRs), but the RBI (8) are on the back of a milk carton. It's nearly impossible to accomplish this feat from a cleanup hitter, but alas, the doubles just don't seem to be coming this year. For the season, Prince has 13 HR and 27 RBI, hitting a pedestrian .257. Verdict: Early in the season, there where whispers that Prince had a wrist thing. Makes sense. Nothing concrete on that injury, but something clearly is affecting his swing. Not playing like $20 guy, let alone a $40 guy. The looming contract might be playing with his mind. If you can get third round value or better, I'd sell now. Something not right.

Ian Kinsler: Possibly the granddaddy of all fantasy disappointments. I'd make Kinsler a buy-low. His value, other than playing in Arlington, has really dropped off the shelf. Just 1 HR 19 RBI, 6 SB from a guy who has hit mostly 3rd in the Rangers lineup. If it wasn't for the speed, Kinsler would be unownable right now in most mixed leagues. Verdict: Kinsler could still hit 25, but I'm not expecting more than 15 this year. If you know the Kinsler owner is beside himself, making him pull out his hear, this is the perfect opportunity to offer him Uggla, Weeks or Stewart and see what happens.

Jose Lopez: Raiser your hand if you've taken a flyer on Lopez in your league. His 25 HR and 96 RBI in 2008 has pretty much flown the coup. But a 2008 return to form is possible (17/89/.303) would keep the locals happy. Verdict: Buy low off the 25 percent off shelf, but don't give up too much. Lopez doesn't swing like the same player from last season and he's being yanked all over that lineup, which can't help his cause either.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jim Joyce honored by MLB players

Like him or hate him, Jim Joyce has become a household name in baseball.

The umpire who botched one of the biggest calls in recent history was given an honor recently, voted MLB's best umpire by major leaguers in an ESPN poll.

Of course, this vote came just days after Joyce blew a call at first base that literally cost Detroit's Armando Galarraga a perfect game.

Here it is one more time if you have been living under a rock the past two weeks:

Of course, immediately what comes to mind is that players gave Joyce the vote because they felt bad for the guy. Nobody seemed to take the blown call worse than Joyce, who was as professional as they come, apologizing to both Jim Leyland and Galarraga just minutes after he saw the replay.

He even gave Galarraga a hug, tearfully regretting his mistake.

But in two previous Sports Illustrated polls, Joyce was ranked 2nd among all umpires in both 2003 and 2006, so the ESPN results do have some merit.

I, however, like to look at this as a reward for being a stand-up guy. Yes, Joyce is one of the best umpires from a technical standpoint, but even moreso, he represents what is right about sports.

He admitted his mistake immediately and confronted a very tough situation, apologizing to both the manager and player he had wronged. Still probably didn't sleep well that night, but the outpour of support he received in the following days was reportedly overwhelming to the 22-year veteran umpire.

One last parting word about sportsmanship. Young Galarraga, who was robbed of the perfect game, did not argue the call. He didn't make any gestures. Didn't say a word to the umpire.

If only our kids playing little league -- and even adults playing softball -- could learn from this example of playing the game the right way, we would all be better for it.

By the Numbers:

0.32: ERA of Reds RP Arthur Rhodes, who according to the MLB network today said he's either 56 or 57 years old. His nickname is "Moses," as most players think he's been around since the beginning of time. Rhodes now has 26 straight scoreless innings. Has only given up 1 run all year, in his second outing in April. No wonder the Reds are in first. Fantasy spin: Rhodes is worth a flier in very deep leagues or those with a hold wherever those may be (although somehow, I happen to play in one).

6: Consecutive games Carlos Pena homered in last week, hitting 7 total. Remarkably, those 7 HR accompanied just 10 RBI. Still, if you traded Pena or dropped him before the surge, you probably kicked yourself with every click of the Rays box score. But that's Pena for ya. Fantasy Spin: Now would be about the worst time to deal for this guy. Sure, pick him up if he's somehow still around on your wire, but he hits in streaks and after an 0-for-4 day Sunday, it appears this one has run its course. But sell-high if you can. Maybe you can package him to the Ryan Howard owner in your league.

1-for-27: David Ortiz's latest slump, dropping his average from .275 to .237 in less than a week. Big Papi responded with a 6-for-14 weekend vs. Philadelphia and is back over .250. Fantasy spin: Ortiz's big number days are over. Might wanna hit the eject button on the next mini-power surge, if you can get a taker.

Last 10 pickups (in a 11-team mixed league):

Mitch Talbot
Jason Vargas
Freddie Garcia
Tyler Clippard
Placio Polanco
Juan Rivera
Pedro Alvarez
Kevin Slowey
Felipe Paulino
Jason Hammel

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Strasburg, Stanton here to save the day

Step aside politics. There's a new Super Tuesday in town.

And both campaigns are in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

What are the chances that both Steven Strasburg and Michael Stanton make their debuts on the very same night?

In the same state? At 7:05 p.m.?

This is not just a big night in fantasy baseball history, but baseball lore as well. The two mega-prospects will debut 309 miles apart, connected by baseball enthusiasts and Interstate 76.

If you have a pulse at all and have not been hanging out, eating bugs in a cave, you surely know about the Strasburg story.

He dominated AA and AAA with Tim Lincecum-type numbers. In six AAA games, he posted the following numbers: 33 1/3 IP, 38 Ks, 1.08 ERA, 0.75 WHIP. The biggest news came in his last start, when Strasburg and his triple-digit heater gave up his first home run. That's right, 1 HR in 55 minor league IP.

Some experts think he may be baseball's best pitcher already. High and lofty praise. And certainly there will be an adjustment period. But his dominance in college and the minors made him worth adding back in March.

Through the wonders of technology, we even know how he'll fare against his first batter:

But then there's Stanton, who you may not know as much about. If your team lacks power, you may have latched onto him already. Somehow, he's still only 43 percent owned in Yahoo leagues. Although, that's up from 7 percent not even a week ago.

Stanton, 20, is young, which makes you wonder if he'll be able to make the leap as successfully as Strasburg. I say yeah. Look at what he did in AA Jacksonville.

In 52 games: 21 HR, 52 RBI, 41 runs, .311 avg., .441 obp.

You won't get the average from Stanton, who has struck out 53 times this year. But don't let that sway you. The power is legit.

Folks who have seen him talk endlessly how the crack off Stanton's bat is different. Judge for yourself. Here's a Spring Training HR off one-time stud pitcher Wandy Rodriguez.

With every once-in-a-decade type prospect, there's an equally legendary story to go with him. Stanton's is a 500-plus-foot home run in the first week of May that turned him from just another top prospect to The Prospect in the minors.

Florida RP Dan Meyer, on a rehab assignment with the Jacksonville Suns, was on hand for the mammouth HR that cleared the scoreboard. There's no available footage of the blast, but listen to Meyer describe the shot.

It's hard to predict how the debuts of each player goes tonight. I wouldn't be surprised if Strasburg threw a 4-hit gem, striking out 8, while Stanton went 2-for-3 with a HR and 4 RBI.

But they both could bomb under the intense pressure. Still, both are must-adds in any format, even a 6-team league, if such a thing exists. Very soon, possibly even next spring, these guys may be first or second round picks.

Strasburg, Stanton, Heyward....you are seeing the next wave of youth movement spring up before our eyes, an exciting time in baseball.

Even better if you can latch on to one of these guys at the ground floor.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Griffey retires; Detroit pitcher robbed of perfect game

Just when you thought you've seen everything in baseball.

Not even a couple hours after Major League Baseball was shocked with the news of Ken Griffey Jr. retiring, an even more stunning development happened in Detroit.

Detroit Tigers RHP Armando Galarraga sent 26 batters back to the dugout when Jason Donald, Cleveland's No. 9 hitter came to the plate.

Donald hit a slow chopper to 1B Miguel Cabrera, who threw it to Galarraga covering first.

Galarraga clearly beat Donald to the bag on a close play.

Perfect game!!!!.......Tiger fans go crazy ..... whoa, dere .... wait just a minute.

Inexplicably, first base umpire Jim Joyce, a 22-year veteran who is widely considered one of the best umps in the business, called Donald safe, effectively robbing Galarraga from tossing just the 21st perfect game in baseball history.

Here's a twitpic that's crystal clear. And here's the video:

To Joyce's credit, he quickly admitted being wrong and regretted the call.

"I just cost that kid a perfect game," Joyce told AP. "I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay."

Jim Leyland, never shy about giving an umpire an earful, argued after the play, then really gave Joyce the business after the game ended one batter later on a harmless grounder to third.

But the damage was done.

"I don't blame them a bit or anything that was said," said Joyce, who was voted by the players twice in a Sports Illustrated poll as the 2nd best umpire in all of baseball. "I would've said it myself if I had been Galarraga. I would've been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me."

Benefit of the doubt clearly went out the window on this call. Tie goes to the runner? Usually. When a perfect game is on the line? Uh, yeah. And then some.

But as critical as many will be about Joyce's missed call, plenty of credit should be due to how he handled the aftermath. Joyce personally went to both Gallaraga and Leyland and offered a heartfelt apology. Reports were that Joyce hugged Galarrag and was even tearing up when offering his apology.

According to Galarraga, Joyce told him "I'm so sorry in my heart," The Free-Press reports. "I don't know what to tell you.

"He feels so bad," Galarraga continued. "He's sitting in there in his whole uniform."

Galarraga responded kindly, telling Joyce, "Nobody's perfect."

And on this night, unfortunately, that included Galarraga.

His 1 hour, 44 minute gem would have been the third perfect game in the past month with the Phillies' Roy Halladay spinning one Saturday and Oakland's Dallas Braden doing the same in early May. By comparison, there has been only one decade (1990s) that have seen three perfect games.

So, yeah, the debate is effectively on. Should instant replay be expanded to all field calls in baseball? This sure adds a couple logs to the fire. And maybe a gallon or two of gasoline. I'm still not in favor of expanding it, but the case could clearly be made tonight. And I'm finding less reasons to argue against it.

Some say another perfect game -- the fourth in less than a year -- would have been even bigger news than an umpire costing a pitcher the same feat.

I guess we'll never know.

Griffey retires: After 22 years and 630 home runs, Ken Griffey Jr. has announced his retirment from baseball Wednesday. Griffey, who started in Seattle, then later moved to Cincinnati, returned to Seattle last year but injuries and age (40) finally caught up with the 1997 MVP.

Many of us first were introduced to Griffey's star power with the hype of his rookie baseball card, a 1990 Upper Deck card that was as simple as it was hugely popular.

Recently, Griffey had gone a week without playing and after a report of Griffey falling asleep in the Mariners clubhouse during the late innings of a game, there was tension in the clubhouse about whether or not he would get regular at-bats.

Here's a shoutout to Griffey, the .284 lifetime hitter, who played the game the right way, helped bring baseball back in the 90's and led countless thousands to fantasy titles throughout the past two decades.

First-ballot Hall-of-Famer, no questions asked.